I make my morning cup of tea, sit down at the table, and open my laptop—completely mundane acts on an entirely ordinary day.
A document file opened…a blinking cursor waiting for me to push it forward across the page…a keyboard waiting for my fingers to move.
And as they move, a spark fires in the void. A light appears in the distance—faintly, only barely visible at first, but glowing brighter, stronger. Following its rise from the darkness comes a world, solid and strong, with shape and texture and jagged edges. The building light solidifies into a blazing sun that breathes down onto the raw earth and fills it with color, life, growing things.
A fire burns in my chest and spreads, first to my shoulders, then down my arms, into my hands and fingers as they move faster and faster across the keyboard. I close my eyes, and I am there, standing in the midst of my created world, creating by the power of my will and imagination. In this world I am transcendent, unbound by finite size or capabilities. One moment I trace my finger in the sand of the beach and sketch a line across the miles, over mountain ranges and plains, outlining the borders of kingdoms and countries. The next moment I stand, tiny and insignificant, dwarfed by the towering columns, vaulted ceilings, arches, and domes of the palace that rises from the ground around me in response to my slowly lifting hands. At a wave of my arm, frescoes blossom to life across the ceiling and walls and stained glass materializes to glow in window settings. As I step forward, the bare earth beneath my feet turns to a marble floor, spreading outward like ripples in the water to merge with the walls.
Music pounds from all around me, from within me, from the very fibers of the world. I turn, and find that I am not alone. A crowd of people stands staring at me, waiting for me. Although they stand at many different distances from me, one man stands prominently in the foreground, watching me with a listless but expectant stare.
I place one hand lightly against his chest and exhale. His chest expands as he breathes in my breath, and the listlessness vanishes from his eyes, replaced by burning energy as we move in unison to take each other’s hands. We begin to move in time to the music, but tentatively at first, shy and uncertain. Then the music grown deeper, louder, more powerful, and we draw each other closer, moving now with confidence and nearly telepathic synchrony. Though no words are exchanged, I know his thoughts, his heart, his feelings. His desires resonate with me as clearly as my own. I feel his pain in my own being and look up at his face to see the tears that I feel falling from my own eyes.
I reach up to wipe them away, but before my fingers reach his face he takes me by surprise by spinning me away from him, twirling me under his arm and back to face him again, this time to see the tears gone and his eyes blazing with triumph and all-consuming joy. I try to move into a different set of steps, struggling to understand, but he tightens his arm around me and his grasp on my hand, and pulls me in a different direction, into a pattern I wasn’t expecting, and there is nothing I can do to get away.
The dance intensifies, growing faster and faster, and I am left with no choice but to stop fighting and surrender to the movement, and as I do I find myself lost in a pattern more complex than any I imagined before. A mosaic takes shape on the floor beneath me, and with every step of the dance, every twirl and spin, every moment of eye contact, more pieces materialize in the air and fall into place. I stare wide-eyed, struggling to miss nothing as thoughts, memories, emotions, loves, and fears, none of them my own, flicker to life in the air around me and become part of me. I care about them as much as I care about my own, about this man as much as I care about myself.
And then the music fades to a close and he stops in front of me, still holding my hands and looking into my eyes, this time with a wordless request. With my returned gaze I give my promise to grant his plea, and now it is my mission: to tell his story, to show the world the losses he has suffered, the destiny that has called him, the pain and scars of his battles, the joy of his victories, and the dreams of his future.
He walks away, out into the vast world that I have created but not yet explored, and I stare after him with mixed emotions, knowing that for now he will be close by, that there are many more dances to come…but knowing with just as much certainty that someday I will have to say goodbye, to let go of his hand and watch him walk away forever, to then turn my back and step out of his world, when his story is completed. Destiny will call me to create another, different world, just as it will call him to leave me behind and step into someone else’s world—someone who might break his heart, or fail to see the beautiful soul that I have seen in him—or, then again, into the world of someone who might be searching for him even now, someone who needs him even more than I do. It is that thought that gives me the courage to stay here in this world, to dance with the next person to approach me from the crowd, to fall in love with all of them even though I know I will have to let them go one day. This is my sacrifice, my gift to the ones who do not have my gift to create worlds and breathe life into souls.
Is this how it felt to God when He created a world, breathed life into its people, knew from the beginning their faults and fears, foresaw the day that they would turn their backs and walk away, watched His Son fall in love with them, knowing they would break His heart? Am I sharing the feelings of Elohim the Creator in a way that other people can’t? Are the emotions I feel at the keyboard a communion with God that others never experience? Are the loss, the pain, the heartbreak, gifts? Rare, precious windows into a chamber of God’s soul that those who have never created a world and fallen in love with it have never had the chance to look through? Do writers understand their God in a way that others never could?
In writing, creating, directing the lives of our characters and yet being able to watch them make decisions for themselves whether those decisions ultimately bring them joy or pain, always being there even though the characters don’t see us, feeling every bit of their pain with them, weeping as they weep and question destiny or fate, because we see the happy ending that they can’t, but cannot show it to them, only promise them that it is there; silently asking them to trust us with their hearts, their dreams, their lives, knowing that for some that trust will be rewarded with “happily ever after,” while others will not even live to see the end of the story.
It leads me to fear the mind of God, to see it equally as a place of terrible beauty and unfathomable pain, and yet to write only draws me deeper. The pain can be shattering, and the joy every bit as destructive in its intensity. The beauty of my characters’ souls, and the independent life they take upon themselves, show me how completely unworthy I am to be in this place of control. It sends me running to the feet of the One whose control over my life I no longer fear because I have felt His pain. I have tasted the bitterness of allowing suffering in the life of someone I created, and it makes me want to lift my head even through the worst of the pain and tell Him, “It’s okay—I know You feel my pain as much as I do. I don’t hold it against You. I know You have Your reasons, even if I don’t see them now, and I still trust You.”
We talk about the writing life as if it’s all a carousel of coffee, chocolate, rejection letters, writer’s block, and inspired all-nighters, and we joke about having a “socially acceptable form of schizophrenia” like it’s no big deal. And yes, sometimes it’s good to keep it light to keep from going crazy. But the truth is that there’s much more to it than that.
The moment of creation, the dance with a stranger that sparks a bond as deep as a soul, the anguish, the piercing joy…
These are what it’s like to be a writer.