Wednesday 11 May 2016

Writing to Discover Truth … and Yourself

Photo courtesy of moggara12/
Golly gosh, I’ve struggled writing the sequel to Angelguard. The basic story of Angelguard fell out of me. I was a complete novice (well, I still am really) but the story just kept coming. I’d turn up to the blank page and out it would come.

Nine months later it was done. The first draft. Not to be read by any one, oh, except, Fiona my wife who egged me on and kept giving me new ideas and lots of names for my supernatural beings.

Many years later it was finally published. Even though there had been many many changes to that first draft the essence of the original story of that first draft remained.

Angelguard was a very plot-driven story with a relatively simple premise focused on how the supernatural interacts with the natural world and the significance of prayer in dealing with the darkness.

Second time around I’ve found to be a completely different experience. Where Angelguard was dealing with the supernatural at the “macro-level” I wanted to move to the micro for the sequel. What role do angels and demons play in the daily life of individuals in, for example, their thought life?

Plotter vs Pantser

As you will have gathered Angelguard was definitely written by the seat of my pants. I started with two words (which actually survived the many re-writes and edits) and a general idea about involving angels and demons in it.

But I figured plotting would help shorten the production process. Sure, there’s more work up front, but the actual writing should take less time if you do a reasonably detailed outline.

I started out with an outline for a story that I thought I loved. Tried a couple of “outlining” methods that seemed to work okay and then started to draft the story.

But the story just wouldn’t come out.

So I shifted gears and worked on another angle, and then another, still grappling with outlining while struggling to bring the essence of the story (what I mentioned above) into it.

I gave up outlining and went back to pantsing. I handed the story back to my characters to see what they’d come up with. Slowly but surely, the story began to get legs and eventually it came out.


Wrestling with Shadows

During the course of the last couple of years of struggling with the story I was also grappling within myself. Sorting through my own mess, my light and dark.

Having completed the first draft early in the year I was able to reflect a little on the process. What become apparent was I needed to go through my own season of discovery about myself to be able to write the story.

I recently read an article Francine Rivers wrote in the latest Christianity Today (May 2016) where she talked through how most of her novels came out of her “questions of faith.”

“But questions of faith kept rising up and with them, characters, to play out various points of view.”

Similarly, I’ve started doing a course Ted Dekker has created (”The Creative Way”). One of the opening comments he makes about his own journey is similar to Francine’s:

“All of my novels began with a question I was wrestling with. A doubt or struggle in my life that I wanted to explore in the context of story.”

I recall other authors sharing similar things and I believe that’s why the latest story is often the hardest one even if you’ve written fifty of them. Because you don’t know what you’re going to learn about yourself when you’re writing it.

We write stories to discover the truth. And in so doing we discover more about the Lord and ourselves.

Yes, the sequel has always had the title, Wrestling with Shadows. To write it, I’ve discovered I needed to do just that myself so I could take my characters through their own transformation.

Did I envisage it being such a struggle when I set out? Never. Sure, I knew getting the story would be challenging enough but I had no inkling the personal battle would be so strong.

If you’re presently struggling with your story be gentle with yourself. Spend more time with the Lord and His Word. Simply hang out and talk to Him not just about the novel but the stuff inside you. He’ll help you sift through it (and others may help as well) and in so doing free you to take your characters on an even better journey in the story.

Grace and peace.

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Northern Sydney. Ian's first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguard, is available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Angelguard won the 2014 Selah Award for Speculative Fiction. You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter


  1. I love that last paragraph, Ian--thank you. And I'm not surprised to hear what a struggle writing your second novel has been, given the subject matter, that's for sure. Well done to you for persevering and for continually listening to God and seeking to grow throughout the process!

    1. Thanks, Jo-Anne. Appreciate your kind encouragement.

  2. Great post. Thanks, Ian. It's interesting reading about your writing journey and how it doesn't necessarily get easier, especially as you work through the spiritual lessons in your own life. Looking forward to reading Angelguard's sequel.

    1. What I've found so fascinating is the connectedness between self-discovery and character development. I didn't envisage that when I set out on this writing journey. So very different to my Corporate life.

      Thanks again for always encouraging me, Jeanette.

  3. I understand your journey completely. My first book just flowed out of me too, the second? Not so much. In fact, there's a meme which encapsulates my writing struggles perfectly: "Writing that first draft is like pushing a peanut across the floor with your nose." Or something like that. So glad the second one is done!

    1. So tell me how you going with the 3rd? Is that your novella or another? Does it get any easier?

      Appreciate you, Andrea.

    2. Still pushing peanuts ... :)

  4. Ian, thanks for sharing your heart with us. I've been delayed on writing my current wip by a few months. It's frustrating but I can also see how the delay will enrich my story. My recent life experiences have given me a new perspective on a particular story element. All that to say, His timing is perfect and it can be hard to not beat ourselves up when we don't meet our self-imposed goals/deadlines in our timing. I can't wait to read Wrestling with Shadows :)

    1. Thanks, Narelle. Will we be seeing future stories set overseas in Hawaii or Oregon by chance? Yes, don't get despondent. God's not disappointed. Even though there has been a degree of procrastination because there were days I really didn't want to face the struggle, I've always sensed the Lord's encouraging presence.

      Looking forward to hearing of your next story, my friend.

  5. Hey Ian, that's all so relevant to all writers I believe. Well those who want to deliver more than a quick read. I guess every one of my characters are parts of my struggles and discoveries about the Christian Life. And also a wonderful discovery that God is a God of details. I truly believe he has pleasure in our writing and sharing the spiritual truths we have perhaps laboured over before we really 'get' them.

    1. As I mentioned in my reply to Jeanette, I've found the extent of the connectedness between what's going on in us and the development of characters to be so fascinating and unexpected.

      It's why writing Christian fiction is so special because we get to explore God's truth in our vocation.

      Thanks for your encouragement, Rita.

  6. A very encouraging post, Ian. The process usually comes back to a heart question.

    I'm having similar struggles with a long-term novel. I've begun writing snippets of scenes and hopefully they'll all come together.

    1. Thanks, Elaine. Don't be surprised if those scenes come out different to what you planned. Fascinating how God works in crafting the stories He wants us to write.


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