On writing and the shofar

Friday night at 11:50 pm I submitted the re-written manuscript for my fourth novel to my editors.

The deadline was midnight.

I’ve probably said it ad nauseum, but writing is hard for me.

Each of my novels have required partial or near-complete rewrites, and this one was no exception. Though exhausting, I welcome the process because editors are phenomenal people who have the talent and expertise required to pull the heart out of a story. They can also see structural problems I often can’t see because I’m so close to the work. Thankfully, my editors are tough enough to be tough with me and gracious enough to allow me to make these changes.

Part of the reason writing is hard for me, especially right now, is because of life change. We just sent our oldest son to college. Our second son is a high school senior. And our youngest is not far behind. Launching these precious babies is rocking. my. world. My already attention-challenged brain has had a really tough time concentrating enough to get to the heart of my characters and myself.

I think another reason writing is hard for me is because I don’t  write genre-based fiction, so each of my novels is very different with a completely unique plot and structure. I write transformative fiction, and no one is more transformed by the Lord as I am as I write.

Each of my novels is inspired by a heart question. In How Sweet the Sound, I wanted to know what healing looks like in the survivor of incest. In Then Sings My Soul, I wanted to know what faith looks like in someone who has had every reason to feel abandoned by God. And in Lead Me Home, I wanted to know where simple faith and simple folks fit in our current climate of overdone, progressive religion.

In this fourth novel, I started researching the scriptures and commentaries about the story of baby Moses, and I wanted to know how the Lord redeems broken motherhood for birth moms, adoptive moms, moms who’ve struggled with infertility, and moms in general.

In short, I’ve spent the last 18 months scooping my heart out with a spoon. 

Interestingly, October 2-4 is the Jewish holiday called Rosh Hashanah. It is their traditional new year, a time to celebrate the harvest, a time to proclaim the majesty and judgment throne of God, and a time to celebrate his compassion. During the holiday, horns called shofar’s are blown, which in Biblical days indicated the start of a trial, a cross-examination of the heart, so-to-speak. Shofar’s are made out of the horns of a kosher animal, and the marrow of the horn has been removed to hollow it out. They are mentioned many times in the Old Testament, for warning (Ezekiel 33:1-6), to proclaim victory (Joshua 6:2-16), to proclaim the Lord’s majesty and worship (Zechariah 9:14; Isaiah 27:130), and more.

I feel like when I write, the Lord transforms my heart into a shofar, of sorts. I empty my mind and heart of the broken and gut-wrenching things I’ve seen and sometimes experienced in the world, and I try to make sense of them. I ask myself hard questions about how I respond and how the world responds to these situations, right or wrong. I try to create characters who wrestle with why bad things happen, and how they can find hope in the midst of them. Then I try to build a story that ultimately proclaims that brokenness can be redeemed.

Like the writing of a novel, autumn is a great time for all of us to examine our hearts before the Lord. Farmers all around where I live in central Indiana are preparing to harvest their crops, maneuvering their combines across the rolling fields to separate the grain from the chaff, and filling storage bins full of golden, nourishing corn.

Lamentations 3:40 (MSG) says,

“Let’s take a good look at the way we’re living and reorder our lives under God. Let’s lift our hearts and hands at one and the same time, praying to God in heaven…”
Like writing, living honestly and fully isn’t ever easy. We risk a lot when we go deep, ask hard questions, and talk about difficult, even taboo topics. But like Eudora Welty said, “No art ever came out of not risking your neck.”

Since finishing this manuscript, I’m a little afraid of what questions I’ll be asking for my next novel. But I know in the end, my questions will be answered with grace and compassion, and most of all, redemption.

So, dear reader, how does the Lord work to transform you? And what  parts of your heart do you need to examine today?

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” Galatians 6:3-5 (MSG)

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