Write Hard Things (Advice from Your Favorite Authors) | Plus a Giveaway

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Write Hard Things

I remember the first time that I really allowed my deepest secrets—my deepest pains—to make it into the pages of a novel. I had written a lot of “romance-y” stories and none of them got close to getting published, but then there was a book that broke my heart.

It was the story of a women imprisoned by her enemies and another woman who dared to help her. It was a World War II story that included a pregnant woman abandoned by her husband. I FELT the pain as I wrote. My former boyfriend left me when I was pregnant. My tears fell onto the page as I wrote. And THAT was the book that got published. It was a book that was hard to write, but when we write about hard things we connect with readers in ways that go heart-deep.

I’ve asked some of my other writer friends to share about a time when they wrote “hard things.”

“A couple of years ago I researched and wrote a book about bullying and the power of words called Listen.  I was concerned about the rising bullying epidemic in our culture and the way social media was feeding the monster. I did a lot of research, and it was really painful to read the stories of young people committing suicide because of it.  The book released, and within a matter of days, we learned our own child was being bullied in one of the biggest bullying cases his school had ever seen, involving twenty-three children. So it was a strange twist, writing about something first, then immediately living the very nightmare I wrote about. But in many ways, the writing and researching of the book prepared me for some of the most heartbreaking news of my life.” —Rene Gutteridge

“When I decided to tackle some hard issues in The Men of the Texas Rangers series, I found while writing I was on an emotional roller coaster. In Saving Hope I dealt with human trafficking within this country, especially with young teenage girls. I taught high school, and this was a subject I felt needed to be addressed as well as prescription drug abuse (the subject for Severed Trust). In Shattered Silence I went with another subject I personally dealt with as a teacher: bullying. I hated seeing students being bullied and what it did to them. I have received a lot of mail from people who appreciate that I tackled these difficult subjects.” —Margaret Daley

“I have tackled hard issues in some of my books with situations that were lifted from my life. In The Forgiving Hour, the issue was infidelity and forgiveness. The protagonist in the story, Claire, is called upon by God to forgive the mistress whose affair with the husband ended the protagonist’s marriage. When I wrote this novel, it had been about twenty-five years since I knelt on the floor, took hold of the other woman’s hand, and told her I forgave her. The pain of that time was a distant, though very clear, memory, as were the lessons God had taught me about forgiveness. In Beyond the Shadows, the issue was alcoholism in a Christian home. I cannot say I was delighted when God called me to write this book because it meant delving into a lot of painful memories. I combed through years and years of my journals and poured a great deal of myself and my history into Deborah. In A Promise Kept, which will release in January, I looked at the pain that is experienced when a marriage ends, especially for a follower of Christ who doesn’t want to be divorced and has trusted God to keep a promise to heal the marriage. The story is also a celebration of a God who is able and does restore that which we think is lost. What these three books have in common is the hope that is offered.” —Robin Lee Hatcher

“As my husband lay dying of cancer, I had to write a scene in my Dakota Moons series where a woman’s husband dies from a protracted illness. At the time, my office was a room off the master bedroom that had originally been intended as a sitting room for a kind of ‘master suite.’ From my desk, I had a view of the entire master bedroom, which was a blessing because I didn’t have to worry if I was needed. I could work and care for my beloved. This was many years ago, and I have often had opportunity to look back on that season in my life and see God at work in so many ways—not the least of which was His enabling me to write what needed to be written. In retrospect, I think that the writing gave me a place to put the emotion of what was going on in my personal life. God provided a way for me to deal with it that I never would have expected, and I think it made me stronger for the family—important, because we had four children at home, and the oldest was nineteen then. Two of the books in that series were Christy Award finalists, which has certainly blessed my writing career, but the biggest blessing was God’s provision of the ability to do the work and then leading me to a kind of work that helped me begin the ‘work of grieving’ that would be required of me as a single mother of four. His faithfulness was truly new every morning.” —Stephanie Whitson 

” I started out writing Bible studies. Safe. Practical. Knowledge-based. The Lord slammed that door shut and opened the door for biblical novels. My debut told the story of Job (Love Amid the Ashes). Raw. Personal. Emotional. I had struggled with fibromyalgia since 1997, but in 2002 something else hit. I spent six months in bed and another six months sequestered in a chair—with few medical answers. I asked every one of Job’s questions. Ranted with him. Begged with him. Prayed with him. The Lord hasn’t yet healed me completely. He restored much of my life and gave it new direction, new purpose, new joys. But Scripture doesn’t say Job was fully restored physically, does it? By 2008, when I wrote Ashes, I thought I’d made peace with my lingering symptoms and with my loving, faithful God. But diving into Job’s world meant reliving not only his struggle but mine also. I had to reaffirm the unchanging, unshakeable truth: God is good—no matter what. It’s a daily choice to see God’s goodness with our limited understanding, in our ongoing pain, in spite of our disappointments. But it’s the only choice we have if we’re to live victoriously on this earth.” —Mesu Andrews

” I write contemporary, issue-driven fiction, some of which is loosely based on my own life experiences. Perhaps the most difficult book to write was my debut novel, Words, as it deals with the painful topic of childhood sexual abuse. I argued with God for many years before sitting down and putting fingers to keyboard. I didn’t want to write the book, nor did I feel it was necessary. Others had already done a beautiful job of sharing such stories (Mary DeMuth). I’d been writing articles and devotionals for twenty years and had no idea how to write a novel, but once I began the words, and my own pain, flowed. Words was the first manuscript I sold, and once it reached publication and I began receiving emails from readers who were touched by the story—readers who shared their own pain and stories—I knew the book wasn’t just about me. God was using it to touch the lives of other survivors with the balm of His mercy. Words went on to win a Christy award, which brought new readers to the book, for which I was grateful. It cost me, emotionally, to go back and consider the twelve years of abuse I suffered. It wasn’t a road I wanted to walk, yet in the end, I felt that through writing Words, God assigned purpose to my pain. He also called me to live the theme of the book: The truth will set you free. And it does—He does.” —Ginny Yttrup

” I think so much of our personal lives find their way into our books. The good, the bad and the ugly. When I wrote Tears in a Bottle, a book about abortion, I had the following in mind. I’ve taken it from my website and post it here: ‘There but for the grace of God go I,’ is an expression easy to identify with. It was certainly on my mind while writing Tears in a Bottle, a story of suspense and betrayal that touches the issue of abortion. ‘Why would anyone want to write about that?’ someone asked me. ‘Well, because . . . it happens, it matters and it . . . hurts. It hurts us all.’ I was twenty when I married. Three years later I became a mother. I thought I was prepared and so mature. But nothing prepared me for the heartbreak I felt at discovering my son had Down Syndrome, nor the heartbreak of burying him sixteen months later. When I became pregnant again, the doctor suggested I have an amniocentesis, the implication being I was to abort any child with Down Syndrome. My two succeeding children were perfect, praise God! But God sees the heart, and He knows I was prepared to abort my own child. As horrible as that sounds, it is a decision that someone who is afraid and who doesn’t know the Lord (I didn’t know the Lord then) can mistakenly make. Thousands of women do it every day. And the consequences are grave. The good news is that God is ever ready to forgive and to heal. His love is great enough to cover every sin. We are all sinners saved by grace. All of us need His love, His mercy, His kindness. What a comfort to know He longs to give these to us!” —Sylbia Bambola

“A hard topic for me was writing an abortion scene in Sweet By and By, the first book in the Songbird Novels I wrote with Sara Evans. I actually had a flashback scene where there heroine was on the table in an abortion clinic when she was sixteen. I wanted to be real without being gross. The research started with a friend of mine sharing her abortion story, and much of the events in the room were from her experience. But the afterwards emotional effect on the heroine came from reading story after story on abortion.org. Women posted their abortion stories on the site, and I’d say 90% of them regretted their decision and suffered emotional, physical, and/or relationship loss because of it. It was eye-opening to me what a travesty the choice message is to women. They have no idea how it’s going to affect them. Some women were married, but pregnancy wasn’t right for them at the time. Afterwards, their marriages broke up. Almost all the women suffered from depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts afterwards. Some could not stop crying. Many of them practiced unsafe or naive sexual practices. The end result wasn’t carefree and fun, but brokenness and sadness. It was eye-opening. The reaction from readers? I’m not sure. My guess is that scene is why the book averages only four stars on Amazon. I saw one review where the reader wrote, ‘I disagree with some of the things in this book, but. . . .’ It’s my prayer that the scene lives in the heart and mind of women and inspires them to encourage others to choose Life.” —Rachel Hauck

“It doesn’t work for every author, but for me, this was the path. I too tackled either safe subjects or subjects that hadn’t touched me directly. But my imagination needed the benefit of realism. After a good batch of rejections for those projects, I listened when someone encouraged me to ‘write the story that will cost you the most emotionally to write.’ At the time, I remember thinking, ‘I don’t have a story like that. Oh, wait a minute. I do!’ Although imagination still plays a key role in the storytelling, like all good stories, there’s truth and authenticity in there because I’ve walked at least some portion of the path my characters walk. I had more than empathy; I had identity with the characters and their crises. For me, that meant getting even more real with God. Where was I veering off of God’s path in my thinking or my reactions to the life events that challenged me? Where was my attitude counterproductive to healing or rebounding? Where was I standing in God’s way rather than cooperating with Him? Those wrestling matches, that Spirit-directed introspection shows up in dialogue and narration and internal monologue within my stories. It shows up in the “we-need-to” rather than the “you-need-to” sentences in my nonfiction. Sometimes I’ve worked through an issue—whether relational or spiritual—before I write about it. More often, though, I work through it WHILE I’m writing. But I have to be willing, vulnerable, pliable, teachable, and confident that if I press through, He’ll bless both the efforts and the story.” —Cynthia Ruchti

“I wrote about a hard thing when I tackled my Intervention series, about a family battling their loved one’s drug abuse. It was based on my experiences with my own daughter’s addictions. The books turned out to be Intervention, Vicious Cycle, and Downfall.” —Terri Blackstock

“I’ve written a lot of ‘hard things’ in the way of issues, tough topics etc.. Literally dozens. But one stands out. And whenever I get asked, “What was your favorite book?” I always go back to this title. Finding Alice, inspired by my son’s journey through schizophrenia. It was painful to write. More painful to live through it. But the responses this novel’s received make it worthwhile. It’s one of the reasons I took on more painful topics.” —Melody Carlson

My third novel, Becoming Olivia, was about clinical depression. Been there. Done that. I used a LOT of my story in that book. It was hard to write as it was a very personal struggle for me—and a very hard illness to admit that I had at the time. Since then, I’ve seen God’s hand at work in that story in so many ways. Several readers have come up to me, held up that book, and said, ‘This book saved my life!’ I’ve had emails from counselors telling me they use that book in their clinical practices. I had a note from a young woman whose mother committed suicide from depression. She told me that for years she carried around anger at her mother because she could not understand how she could do that to her family. It was only after reading my book that she finally understood. I’ve had people who have gone through depression tell me that this story is the most accurate description of it they have ever read . . . and they’ve shared the book with their doctors to help them understand. So in retrospect, going through that was all ‘worth it’—I just couldn’t see it until I wrote about it.” —Roxanne Henke


Giveaway

What authors’ books have changed your life? Share with me in the comments below, and you’ll be entered to win one of three copies of Roxanne Henke’s Becoming Olivia! Only those in the contiguous U.S. are eligible to win due to shipping costs. Winners will be announced next week on my blog and on my social media!

Did you hear the good news? A Christmas Gift for Rose is only $2.99 (digital), now through January 6! Get the ebook HERE! AND The Memory Jar is only $1.99 (digital), now through January 5! Get the ebook HERE!

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Comments

  1. Sandy Harrox says:

    The book that has changed and is changing my life is the Bible.

  2. Great advice. Writing the hard things isn’t easy but I’ve discovered when I do it is the post that tends to get the most attention.
    Book that has changed my life… The Bible. I’m looking forward to reading through it with you and the many others this year. Pastor Pete Wilson also really got my attention with his new book, Let Hope In.

  3. Mary McAlister says:

    The Bible, of course, is The Book that changed my life forever. Sarah Young’s devotional Jesus Calling has also been a constant companion in my morning quiet time. I write legal briefs for a living now, but am anxious to write either fiction or non-fiction to help bring women out of the darkness and into the Light of the World.as I build a ministry for them. Thanks Tricia for these stories. They are inspiring to me as I embark on a writing and ministry mission.

  4. Jackie McNutt says:

    Thank you all for sharing the things in your lives as authors. I would also have to say the Bible because it brought me to Christ many years ago. There have been many others that have built up my faith but the writings by Billy Graham also deeply influenced me.

  5. I have always loved L.M. Montgomery and the Anne of Green Gables series as well as Louisa May Alcott and the Little Women series. Reading those books brings me back to simpler times. 🙂

  6. Andrea Woodard says:

    The Bible is the book that changed my life. I grew up in a Jewish home. When my first husband died, I went to our temple and asked them to bury him. Because they told me that he only showed up there to see the kids perform, they would not do it. I started doubting my heritage. I finally found a Rabbi that would bury him and in the 3 hours we talked on the phone,he knew more about my husband, than my Temple ever did.
    But when money got tight, I moved myself and my 2 children to Florida. I was seeking something different, a friend from Ca. took me to her church and I asked if she had a Bible I could read, she lent me one and one night I sat in my livingroom and read it from cover to cover. Something changed in me at that time. After moving to Florida, I met some people, one woman kept inviting me to her church, after my kids went to church with her kids, they asked if we could go. Finally, I said yes, We went to church and about a year later, the 3 of us converted to Christians. Reading the Bible that night from cover to cover opened my eyes and I am still a believer, I know that God has Blessed me over and over and I live for Him now.

  7. I am currently reading Becoming Olivia…LOVE IT! I just wish I could get my hands on the first two books lol

    Other than the Bible, I’d have to say A Confident Heart by Renee Swopes has changed my life. I didn’t think that it would make me more confident when the online bible study started it, but oh my word…it totally did! I feel so much more confident!

  8. Besides the word of God, so many books have changed my life I can’t even share them all or think of which one was that individual one that impacted it the most. I read a book recently by Dr. Braxton Cosby called “The Windgate”. It definitely changed my life as far as how I view spiritual gifts and talents.

  9. Patricia Smith says:

    Other than the Bible, one book that really made me aware of possible reasons for my life going as it has is Lineage Of Grace….the book that tells the story of the women listed in Jesus’s lineage…Has not changed my life because it is 50+ years too late for that, but I realize that like Tamar, I tried to out think God…and did not wait for His time to act…could never understand why God would want my life to be the way it has gone…I now know that He likely had other plans for me and I jumped ahead of them..so now He is just here to support me through the mess I made of things…

  10. I agree that the Bible is a life changer. Women of the Bible taught me a lot about hardships & rewards.

  11. Sharon Miller says:

    The Bible is #1 for me, but I just read RETURN TO ME by Lynn Austin and THIS IS A GREAT BOOK! It’s historical fiction about the Jews returning to Jerusalem to build the temple after their Babylonian captivity. So many great lessons on obedience and priorities and focusing on God and His plan and not me and my plan. So good! sharon, ca wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  12. Other than the Bible, a book that stands out in my mind over the years is “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers. It is a wonderful reminder of how God loves and redeems us in spite of our repeated sin.

  13. Carolyn Deshaies says:

    I just looked through my “Read” books list and so many have stayed with me. The Orphan Train, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Those Who Save Us, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Heaven is for Real are the ones with the biggest impact. I tend to take away a lot from most books I read. Some books just touch me deeper. Ah, actually, the very first book that changed me was Mandy, by Julie Edwards Andrews! I was 9 yrs old and this was the first book that totally sucked me in and I was in the story. It was also the first book that got me excited about storytelling and writing.

  14. A book that changed my life was, “Paul: A Man of Grit and Grace” by Chuck Swindoll. It spoke God’s truth to the situation I was facing at the time and encouraged me to keep trusting God. I shared the book with my husband and with my dad. It impressed God’s love and capability through its message. I’m grateful to God for this book.

  15. “Anything” by Jennie Allen, “Graceful” by Emily P. Freeman, and “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp are among my MANY favorite, life changing books!

  16. tammy cordery says:

    the book that changed my life has to be the women of the bible I love learning about the people of the bible. cool book.

  17. Saundra Bowers says:

    Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. When I was in sixth grade, this was the hot item that started discussions. Among others, but this one really stands out and most impacted my preteen years.

  18. Beth Hixon says:

    Even though I learned to read I found that it was challenging and often very difficult. Then when I was in the seventh grade I went though a day of testing and it was then that I found out that I had dyslexia and at that time there really wasn’t a lot out there to help a child like me. So I went though school being laugh at and being in LD classes. Then a dear friend gave me the book ” Love Come Softly” by Janette Oke for my nineteenth birthday and that book really opened my eyes to reading. Now some thirty years later I always have some kind of a book in my hand and I love reading though it is still sometime hard I stick with it.

  19. The book that changed my life was The Geography of Happiness.

  20. Jackie Tessnair says:

    The Bible is the number one book.And right now Tricia your amish devotional is helping me alot.

  21. Cynthia fernstaedt says:

    The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

  22. Samantha D says:

    Roald Dahl’s books have influenced me as a child on up through adulthood with his short stories for adults. So many lessons can be learned from his sometimes wild and always odd stories.

  23. Francine River’s Redeeming Love. I found my own story buried within the pages.

  24. Bonnie Traher says:

    Too many to list but Bible is at the top of the list.

  25. I can’t think of one particular book that has changed my life. I read Christian fiction and non fiction constantly. Each book I read has affect me in some way or another. I learn something from all of them. Whether it is how to handle a situation or how not to handle it. I can tell a big difference in my attitude and way of thinking since I started reading Christian books many years ago.. I just wish I had discovered them when I was young. It would have saved me from a lot of interesting and difficult learning experiences.

  26. Dee Henderson (God love her heart). I was looking for a new author. Picked up her first book in the O’Malley series. I had been saved as a young child, but had drifted away from church and God. While reading this book, I took the journey with the character of finding my way back to God. I finished reading the series and found received many blessing from it. I am back in church and couldn’t be happier.

  27. shelia hall says:

    The Bible of course! Karen Kingsbury’s books have been great too!

  28. So many… Charles Sheldon (In His Steps), Ravi Zacharias (especially The Grand Weaver), Eric Metaxas, CS Lewis, Kathy Nickerson, Corrie TenBoom

  29. Renee Jackson says:

    The book which changed my life is the Bible! But I will say that those who write about the Amish – they make me want to be a better person!

  30. The comments of the authors are touching and resonate. I pray I can do justice to the stories that draw from my own life. The most important, life-changing books for me are: The Bible, Creating a Life Worth Living, In His Steps, A Gentle Persuasion (a different take on evangelism), and The Cinderella Syndrome.

  31. Susan Fletcher says:

    Wow, what a hard question to answer! I would have to say all the Christian fiction books that I have read. (historical and Amish, mostly) I always seem to be able to identify with the main character and always finish the book with a major lesson learned. I want to thank Christian writers for their gifts and talents they share with the world – and me!

  32. Without a doubt The Bible. There are a bunch of amazing authors like Karen Kingsbury, Lori Wick, Janet Tronstad, Jillian Hart, Dee Henderson and so many more that got me through some really hard times in my life…but there is just nothing like The Bible.

  33. Janet Evanovich brings humor to my life. Laughter is good medicine.

  34. Lisa Cowell says:

    Like so many others who have commented, the Bible is one book that you can read over and over again, and always find something new or something that helps a person through life. During most of my life, I read anything I could get my hands on (I had read through most everything in our small town library by the time I was 7 and then everything on the bookmobile by 7th grade). There was no Christian fiction genre. When the Left Behind series started, a friend lent me a copy of the first book. I returned it several weeks later unread. Sometime later, I got a copy at the library and read it through in one day. I was hooked. I read the entire series, then the kids (teen) series, which was also amazing. Then I started reading Beverly Lewis’ Amish stories, and now I read everything Amish I can find, even nonfiction! I do occasionally read things other than Christian fiction, but not often.

  35. the bible 🙂 I am currently reading through a lot of other books as well!!! There are a few blogs who have had a huge impact on my life as well! 🙂

  36. The book that changed my life was The Torah.

  37. In my humble opinion, I don’t believe any humanly written book has the power to change a life like the inspired Word of God. I have been influenced by many books in many ways. However, as I read the post, I also had to admit that I have not read any of the books mentioned. When I sit down to read, I am escaping from reality. I do like a little adventure or perhaps a dilemma or two, but any book that delves into the reality of all the hurt & sorrow I see & hear daily is not what I read for enjoyment. I don’t want to be “scared silly” or cry “buckets of tears.” Can anyone else identify?

  38. Aside from The Good Book, CS Lewis’s writings, because they have helped to point me to and draw me closer into God’s Word.

  39. Joel Olsteen books. The Bible too.

  40. The Bible totally changed my life. A work of fiction would have to be Anne of Green Gables. L.M. Montgomery totally made me feel so refreshed reading about Anne.

  41. I believe it was Lisa Samson’s “Club Sandwich” which really spoke to me. It gave a name to what I was going through at the time, being a member of the Sandwich Generation- caring for a family and caring for an aging parent.
    Now we are empty nesters and both of our mother’s have passed on, so life has changed and will keep changing.
    Thankful to know that the Lord is in control.

  42. Carol Emmert says:

    The Bible, Charles M. Sheldon’s “In His Steps” and Elizabeth Prentiss’ “Stepping Heavenward.”

  43. The Bible; Celebration of Disciplines by Foster, and Past Forward by Chautona Havig!

  44. Grace For the Good Girl by Emily Freeman and Everything by Mary DeMuth have both been life changing for me.

  45. God and His Word has made the biggest impact on my life, but if your asking about a recent book that has brought scripture alive and encouraged me to step out from underneath myself “When A Women FInds Her Voice” by Jo Ann Fore.

  46. Suzanne Dawson says:

    The Bible changed my life at age 5 when I accepted Jesus into my heart. The second book was “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn”. The family learned to overcome being poor and helping themselves and I have done that all my life.

  47. The Bible and Steps to Christ.

  48. A couple books that changed my life are interestingly are a couple books I read as a child — “The Toothpaste Millionaire” and “100 Pounds of Popcorn”. I “learned” ANYONE could become an entrepreneur even children (okay, so they are far fetched, but still. . . ) I haven’t worked for anyone buy myself in sixteen years! Even in college, I made crafts and sold them. 🙂

  49. Sharon Miller says:

    A book I recently read is RETURN TO ME by Lynn Austin. This is the best book I’ve read this year (2013). It is about the Jews returning to Jerusalem from Babylon. It’s about obedience, listening to God and DOING the right thing. Don’t get drawn in by the culture you live in. sharon, wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

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