By Chris Fabry
I received an unexpected birthday gift from an acquaintance. I had lost signed copies of treasured books and my friend knew I loved Pat Conroy. She went to his house and knocked on his door. Perhaps it was because she was going through chemo and had a scarf around her head that he scribbled a signature and wrote a personal message:
“To Chris, Happy 50th Birthday. My best to you in your writing life. Go deeper. Always go deeper.”
I’ve thought a lot about what he meant, particularly after his death. I filed the advice along with other tips I’ve read from writers. One of the basic questions we ask is “How do I do this?” It’s easy to focus on mechanics. Write in the morning. Have a dedicated place where all you do is write. Write every day. Turn off the TV. Show, don’t tell. You’ve read these tips and they’re helpful.
I endeavored to follow them. I looked for the perfect desk, the perfect chair, even the perfect ergonomic keyboard. I got up every morning and hammered at stories. I thought if I followed the advice and worked hard, I would succeed.
The hard truth is that there is no magic equation to writing. There is no special font that will guarantee sales. (I did find a good ergonomic keyboard.) There’s no computer program that will pull the content from your soul. The real power of writing that matters is found in going deeper.
But what does that mean? How do I “go deeper”? How do I mine the nuggets of gold in my own soul without wallowing or becoming maudlin or exploiting my own pain and becoming self-focused?
The answer to that gets closer to the bone than mechanics will take me. Being willing to risk is the first step. In a sense, what Pat was saying in those few words was a call for me to get out of the way. To tell my stories with confidence as only I can tell them. To trust the process that brings me to the page. Allow the pain and questions and struggle to propel me. To write hard and clear about what hurts, as Hemingway said.
The hardest part of this is gauging success. If I write a bestseller, have I arrived? If no one reads my stories, have I failed? What if I’m criticized? Applauded? Pat’s words both haunt and encourage. They are a constant call to avoid such equations. Instead, I ask a harder question. Has the process led me to a subterranean region of my heart? Have my words helped me discover what I really believe about myself and the world? And in the journey, have I been able to bring the reader to a different place in their own heart?
Go deeper. Always go deeper.
Chris Fabry is an award-winning author and radio personality who hosts the daily program Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio. He is also heard on Love Worth Finding, Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, and other radio programs. A 1982 graduate of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism at Marshall University and a native of West Virginia, Chris and his wife, Andrea, now live in Arizona and are the parents of nine children. Chris’s novels, which include Dogwood, June Bug, Almost Heaven, and The Promise of Jesse Woods, have won three Christy Awards, an ECPA Christian Book Award, and a 2017 Award of Merit from Christianity Today. His eightieth published book, Under a Cloudless Sky, is a novel set in the coalfields of his home state of West Virginia. His books include movie novelizations, like the recent bestseller War Room; nonfiction; and novels for children and young adults. He coauthored the Left Behind: The Kids series with Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, as well as the Red Rock Mysteries and the Wormling series with Jerry B. Jenkins. Visit his website at www.chrisfabry.com. Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio Tyndale Media Center-where you can download press materials like: Media Alert, interview questions, Author Q & A, author image, book cover image, etc.
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