I recently joined a Facebook group that was formed in response to an invitation from my church's president to fast on Good Friday for relief from the COVID-19 pandemic. The invitation is open to people of all faiths and no faith at all.
Apparently that last part wasn't very clear in the group description, because there have been a lot of posts that sound something like this:
"I'm not a member of your church [or I am but haven't been active, or I don't live according to the Church's teachings]. I hope it's okay if I fast, too."
In my experience, members of my church are generally welcoming and accepting. But I've been amazed at how supportive people have been in their comments on these posts. Several people have later gone back and edited their posts to add something along the lines of, "I'm overwhelmed at the amount of support I've gotten on this post. Thank you!"
I wasn't the only one who noticed. A few days ago, someone posted this in the group (edited for clarity):
"Why am I compelled at every single unsure voice to say 'We want you! We love you! You are worthy! You are accepted!'? I know why, but let me hear your answers!"
As I thought about it and read some of the responses, this was the answer that came to me (which I then posted):
"I think the things we feel compelled to say to others are the things we needed to hear at some point but didn't. We don't want anyone to feel the way we did then."
It struck me that we could say something similar about writing. The things we feel compelled to write are, in some way, the things we needed to read somewhere in our pasts but didn't have access to.
I'm not talking about things we're compelled to write by assignment (term papers, work reports, etc.), although they can fall into this category if we discover a passion for the assigned topic. I'm talking about the stories, discoveries, or insights that light a fire inside us, one we can't keep to ourselves. We may not know why, but we somehow know that the world needs to hear what we have to say. And I think that's because we needed those messages in the past and—consciously or subconsciously—want to make them available for anyone who needs them now.
As I've looked at my fiction from this perspective, I've been surprised. For years, I've been writing about characters who deal with unreasonable expectations from others, lack of support or outright betrayal from loved ones, abuse, mental illness, gut-wrenching moral decisions, and sudden loss. (I guess we do write what we know, even if we're not consciously thinking about it.)
My purpose was always simply to tell good stories; I wasn't trying to "write my trauma" or make statements about mental health, workplace toxicity, or other social issues. But I've found that as my stories have developed, many of them have ended up quietly conveying messages that I wish someone had given me earlier in life:
It's okay to stand up for yourself.
Your parents and other authority figures can be wrong. It's okay to disagree with them.
Trauma isn't something you can just "let go," "get over," or "forgive and forget." You have to heal first, and that takes a long time.
Feelings aren't inherently good or bad—they just are. It's okay to have and express them, even the negative ones.
Sometimes contradictory things can both be true at the same time. Someone can have good intentions and still be abusive, or you can be furious with someone but also miss them.
That said, remember that readers of fiction generally don't like being hammered over the head with the story's moral, point, or whatever you want to call it (religious fiction, take note!). In nonfiction, we can and are expected to state the message outright as a thesis. In fiction, we have to give the readers enough credit to let them figure out the message for themselves.
So if there's a story inside you begging to be told or a truth in your heart begging to be spoken, pay attention to it and start writing. There's a reason you feel that so strongly. The results will benefit not only you but all the readers whose lives you'll touch.
(Thanks to Kelly Sikkema for sharing their work on Unsplash.)