184 – Cures for Common Writers’ Struggles with Guest Heather Iseminger

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Cures for Common Writers' Struggles with Guest Heather Iseminger Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungEvery writer struggles, but not all writers struggle with the same things. Does anyone share our particular struggle, or are we just odd? Even weak? Guest Heather Iseminger, a chaplain at writers’ conferences, is here to share her insights on writers’ struggles and how to find help and understanding in the midst of them.

About Heather Iseminger

Heather Iseminger is a self-proclaimed hoarder of words and caffeine. She holds a BA in English Writing from FSU and an MA in Christian Education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her Prince Charming, Mike, have been married for almost 25 years and have two children, Ella and Caleb. Five days a week Heather’s in her high school English classroom with coffee in hand, surrounded by the students she adores. When she’s not juggling family and teaching, she’s a local photographer and an award-winning freelance author. Her deepest passion lies in teaching others biblical truths, so they understand how to pursue a radical, Jesus-loving life. 

Thanks to our sponsors on Patreon, we’re able to offer an edited transcript of the podcast!

Karen: Hey, guys, welcome to the deep. We’re so delighted to have you here. I’m just so excited about spending another year with you, cheering about God and our writing journey. So, welcome, welcome today, and Erin gets to introduce our guest.

Erin: Yes, we have a guest. It’s Heather Iseminger, and I’m so excited. Heather is another very cool person I had the pleasure of meeting at the Florida Christian Writers Conference where she served as the conference chaplain. That’s going to be fun to talk about today. Now Heather is a self-proclaimed hoarder of words and caffeine, so she’s a sister of my heart there.

Heather: Amen. 

Erin: She holds a BA in English writing from FSU and an MA in Christian education from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her Prince Charming, Mike, have been married for over twenty years and have two children. Five days a week Heather’s in her high school English classroom with coffee in hand, surrounded by the students she adores. 

When she’s not juggling family and teaching, she’s a local photographer—another woman-after-my-own-heart thing—and an award-winning freelance author. Her deepest passion lies in teaching others biblical truths so they understand how to pursue a radical Jesus-loving life. Don’t you love that?

Welcome, Heather. 

Heather: It’s so good to be here. I’ve been so excited about this. 

Erin: Me too. We had some great chats at the conference, y’all. Again, you gotta go to conferences. You meet cool people.

Heather: Yeah. I got the benefit from meeting you as well.  

Erin: Well, thank you. 

Karen: You know, I want to just share a quick anecdote here about you being a teacher with coffee in hand. I didn’t drink coffee until I was out of college, and I taught Montessori for a year, five years old through fifth grade. I taught them French and music. That’s when I started drinking coffee. That’s when I started not being able to face the day or those lovely little monsters without massive amounts of caffeine.

Heather: I think I would need more than caffeine if I had an elementary school classroom. Those teachers deserve triple medals. It’s unbelievable. 

Karen: I watched the other teachers almost mainlining their coffee and I thought, what’s that about? It didn’t take me long to know. I was in line. Gimme, gimme!

Heather: It’s necessary. 

Erin: Well, Heather, what does the deep mean to you? 

Heather: I have thought a lot about this, Erin. I was born and raised in Florida, so the ocean has definitely been a part of my life and who I am. But as I think about the deep, I am terrified of deep sea scuba diving and even getting to a place where I can no longer see my feet. There’s a real fear there. 

I think that when I began to kind of pair that with writing from the deep and being deep with my relationships with others and my relationships with my Jesus, I think that even carries over. I tend to put up walls. I tend to be scared of going too deep with someone because what if they really see me and don’t like me?

I think the deep can kind of go along the way of like the need that I have to formulate deep connections, not only with the people that I’m around, but also with the Holy Spirit and to not be afraid of what that might look like. Or to not be afraid of how that might impact my life in the long run. Because sometimes the deeper we go with Jesus, the more he asks us to do, and that can be scary.

But I also realize that there is great beauty in the deep. Beautiful fish, beautiful undersea life that is there. It reminds me to really be unafraid of going deep, even though my first reaction is to do just that. To be afraid. 

Erin: Yeah, totally understandable. I’m wondering if you’ve ever been out on the ocean? 

Heather: I have. I have been on a cruise, but I didn’t have to think about it. I have not done scuba diving. I’ve done snorkeling and in all of those snorkeling kinds of events, I could see the ground. I can see my feet. So I have not actually been scuba diving.

I had plenty of opportunities to learn, growing up here in Florida, but it has just always been one of those things where I’ve been like, “Oh, I’d rather jump out of a plane, thank you very much.” Which I promised to do with my son when he turns eighteen. He’s twelve, so I have six more years. 

Erin: You have some time, you have six more years, and possibly six years to think of a good excuse! Or not. 

Heather: Who knows? 

Erin: I agree with you, though, about not being able to see what’s in the deep. We want to know what’s coming. We want to be able to prepare because somehow we think it’ll make it all okay if we can prepare. We don’t trust that God is the one who needs to prepare us and that he’s the one who can do it. So, yeah, I get that. 

Karen: It started in the garden when Satan came to Eve and said, “Has God really said…?” And suddenly she started to doubt what she knew. She knew what God had said. Yet Satan put just enough of a suggestion there for her that rebellion and fear started inside of her. “What’s God keeping away from me? What’s he holding back?”

Too many of us on our writing journeys, we have it fixed in our minds where these journeys are going to go. And when they don’t follow that plan, suddenly this journey that we’ve put ourselves and our finances and our energy and our heart and our life’s blood on the page to, becomes an unknown. 

We start second guessing and we start wondering. And if we get around a community of writers like you do at writer’s conferences, it’s so easy to fall into comparison and into fear and envy. Talk to us about, in your work as a chaplain at these writer’s conferences, talk to us about some of the struggles that you’ve seen. Obviously not giving specifics, but just in general, what are some of the struggles that you’ve seen? 

Heather: When I begin to really think about the deep struggles that are facing a lot of writers today, I would say they don’t stray very far from what humanity itself faces. At the last writers’ conference that I was at, I had several women and men that I prayed with who were struggling with cancer, past suicidal kinds of attempts, and deep, dark depressive thoughts. 

Several women struggling with: How do I balance a writing life and a home life? How do I take what I’m doing here and what I know, this part of my life that God’s called me to, how do I take that and still be the wife and mom that I’m supposed to be?

One of the biggest things that I see with writers, because we are artistic people, is that we oftentimes tap into those emotions and our emotions can overwhelm us. They can drive us. Sometimes for great things and sometimes not so great things. So I think the mental health aspect of being a writer can significantly be affected by the evil one and his attacks.

As we try to write God’s word and as we try to understand what it is he wants us to write, we can get caught up in all the things that contribute to an unstable mental experience. 

Erin: Yeah. 

Heather: From depression and anxiety and so on. It’s a big weight. It’s a big weight because we’re taking God’s truth in his word out, and that’s the last thing Satan wants from us. So he’s going to attack us in a thousand different ways. 

Karen: My husband likes to call it being nibbled to death by ducks. All these little things just nibbling at you and chewing on you and chipping away at that certainty that this is the task that God has given me to do. And you know, like you said, doubting yourself and second guessing. 

I absolutely love Psalm 42. In fact, maybe we’ll do a whole podcast on all of Psalm 42. I think that this is the perfect psalm for creatives and for writers because, you know, David goes from, “As the dear longs for streams of water, so I long for you, oh God.” And then, “Day and night, I have only tears for food.” 

How often have we felt that way? And, “My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be.” And then, “Why am I discouraged? Why am I so sad?” Then, “I will put my hope in God” and then, “Now I am deeply discouraged…”

Heather: That’s one of the reasons I love David and I love the Psalms. It’s because we see the realness and the humanity in him. 

Karen: Yes. 

Heather: As someone who ministers to writers, I think that that’s something we need to consistently be reminded of. Just because we experience the highs and lows of life, or just because we may have seasons that we may not be producing what we think we should, does not mean that God’s not going to use us. 

Karen: Right!

Heather: It does not mean that we just shut the door and we decide, “Well, writing’s not for me because I haven’t published anything in five years. Therefore, I’m not a writer.”

I think that we get caught up in thinking that everything’s got to be perfect for us to be able to write about it. No, God wants us to write from the deep. He wants us to write from the scary and from the places where we are impacted. A lot of times he’ll allow us to walk through it so that we can empathize with those who would also struggle. 

Karen: Right. I think that in those struggles, in that up and down and back and forth, we learn just as a child. They talk about the terrible twos, well, there’s so much stimuli coming into that kid, and he is absorbing it all and trying to figure it all out without the capacity to do so. Emotions explode in tantrums and all those kinds of things. It’s not until they start to grow and mature a little that they learn how to manage all that. 

And we learn that sometimes the struggle is exactly what we need to be refined. In our faith, we go through those same steps. Those same tantrums and, “Well, you told me I was supposed to write and my book, nobody wants it.”

God’s just like a loving parent. He’s just listening and nodding and waiting for us to vent and spew all that stuff, and then he talks to us in a voice of peace and a voice of truth. 

it’s so important for us to realize, and we’ve said this quite a number of times, emotions are a very poor measuring stick of reality. Now emotions are valid. We need to feel them and acknowledge them and own them, but we don’t use them to determine what is and isn’t biblical truth.

Heather: Right. I tell my students that quite often. Reminding them, you know, God gave us emotions. Emotions are great. It’s what we do with those emotions that become right or wrong. 

Karen: Yes. 

Heather: Are you going to harbor anger and become bitter? Are you going to act out in violence? So emotions are great, they’re wonderful. It’s the actions that breed from those emotions that they can make or break us. 

I think one emotion, going back to just what I continue to see with so many at writer’s conferences, is oftentimes overall discouragement. Like, if I had to boil it down to what’s at the very bottom of so many of the things that people come to talk to me about, it would be just discouragement. Discouraged in their writing journey and discouraged about what to do next.

“Oh, God can’t use me in this because I have failed so many times.” Or, ” I’m never gonna be able to write that book because I’ve got a thousand other things I have to do. I’ve gotta make money to help my family.”

It’s just this constant discouragement that rears its ugly head, and we allow it to then create emotions in us that don’t drive us to seek God, but rather we turn inside and go, “Yeah, I guess this isn’t the right time. Maybe I’m not supposed to do this at all.” Things like that. 

Karen: That’s the most dangerous detour you can take—turning inside with those emotions. 

Erin: Rather than just turning inside, what we need to be doing is turning and saying, “Okay, God, how do you want to make this happen? What do you want to happen?”

Heather: Right. 

Erin: Karen and I were talking before this podcast, and there was a situation where I wanted two different things. Like, I was the perfect character in conflict between two things that are both very important to me and I could not meet an obligation for both of them at the same time. It was not possible. 

Karen’s like, “Yeah, see God already has this figured out. He’s gonna put you where he wants you and allow you to do what he wants you to do. And you know, you gotta give it up.” 

Karen: it’s not like God is looking at that and saying, “Oh! I didn’t know those two things were gonna happen at the same time. Now what do I do?” 

Erin: But that’s how writers can feel. They’re like, “I need to do this and this and this…” Then they feel like they can’t do it all, and it’s true. 

Heather: They can’t do it all. 

Erin: We can’t. But we can do what God wants us to do if he’s the one that we’re trusting to empower us to do it.

There’s a verse I love about how God is able to make all grace abound to us, so that we can have everything we need to have in order to do everything we need to do. We need to hang on to God’s sufficiency, to God’s grace, and that definitely is something that we struggle with. 

I think, too, when you were talking about how the artistic nature of writers is, it really does make us swing more emotionally. One of the things that I think is nice to realize about that is to know that upfront. There’s a medication I have to take sometimes. I have various issue with fibromyalgia and insomnia, and there’s a medication I have to take sometimes and it depresses me. If I have to take it two days in a row, I am quite depressed and it’s awful. I say, “Why am I so depressed today?” 

But the times when I back up and say, “You know what? This medication is the reason why I’m depressed, and it’ll be okay.”

Heather: Right. 

Erin: I think as creatives we can just be like, “You know what? This is the reason why we’re swinging right now, but it’ll be okay. God made me this way. It’ll be okay.” There’s great comfort in just knowing it’ll be okay. 

Heather: Absolutely. I think so many of us are created to react intensely and emotionally to things that happen to us so that we can then take that reaction and take those things that we’ve experienced so intensely and be able to empathize with the lost world. 

If we aren’t able to empathize with a lost world, then what are we doing here? If we aren’t able to show care and compassion, and hurt for people, with people, then we’re missing the boat on the ministry that God has called us all to, and that’s to know him and make him known to the world. I think that that’s a huge part. 

One thing that has helped me, I think, when I’m in those places of stagnation in writing or when I’m talking to somebody, especially students—I teach seniors and they’re making some crazy-big life decisions their senior year—God has helped me boil it down in my head to: “What is the next yes that God is asking of you?” 

For a writer, it could be saying yes to writing this article. It could be to get out of bed. 

Karen: Or it could be to get into bed. Get some sleep. Get some rest.

Heather: That, too.

It’s so important. In fact, I was literally telling a student this today. “What’s your next yes to Jesus? What is he asking you to do next? What is he asking you to do right now?”

Maybe it’s, you know, get off your phone and get in a book or whatever it is. Ten years from now, you’re going to look back and if you’ve been obedient to the 10 million yeses, you’re going to be exactly where God wants you, doing exactly what he wants you to do, with the people around you that are supposed to be there. 

Erin: There’s a Bible verse, Luke 16:10, that says, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much.” That’s the way you do it. You say yes to the next yes that God wants. I absolutely love that 

Karen: In these kinds of situations, I want to be sure to say, and I know I said this jokingly, but I want to be sure to say that sometimes that yes means you sit on the sideline for a while. It means you step out of trying and struggling and doing what you do. Sometimes it means you step back and step into God and take time just with him and you’re silent.

I just saw something the other day that said: The letters that spell listen also spell silent. Listen to God. Listen and take your struggles and everything to him. You don’t have to do to please God. He will tell you when to do. 

I liken it to being in the military. We foot soldiers don’t decide what hills to take. Those above us who are doing the strategies and who are our commanders, they tell us which hill to attack and what to take and what the next strategic move is. If we are not in some kind of assault, some kind of moving forward, then we are resting and recovering and building our strength and our skills. 

We’re in God’s army as we lead the attacks on the world and the attacks on the lies that have penetrated the world. We need to let God tell us whether we’re supposed to do or whether some days we’re supposed to just be in him. 

Heather: That’s right. Those seasons of waiting, saying yes to those seasons of waiting, sometimes those seasons are years. 

Karen: Yes. 

Heather: They’re not days, they’re not weeks. They’re years. That’s when it can be really hard, and we go, “Are you sure God? Are you sure?” 

I’ve been in that situation at different points in my life, where it has not been just, “I want you to take a break for a couple of months.” It’s, “I want you to take a break for a couple of years because you are not ready for what’s next.” 

Karen: Exactly. God is spending that time refining us and preparing us. All runners run a race, but not everyone receives the prize. The one who continues, the one who stays the course, who follows God’s leading is the one who wins the prize. 

Whatever God’s leading is, you’ve got to follow it. You’ve just got to. 

Heather: Absolutely. 

Karen: I think you all know, as you listen, that these struggles are more or less universal. Now, there may be some things that I struggle with that you don’t struggle with and vice versa, but the enemy is trying to sidetrack us all.

The enemy is doing his best to come into this amazing task that God has given us to write. And remember, God may have asked you to write for yourself. Maybe nobody else will read it, but that’s okay because you’re doing what God has asked you to do. Or maybe he’s called you to write because your book is going to take off and change the world.

Whatever God has chosen for you is perfect for you. Perfect for your impact on the world. I read another quote the other day that said, “You will never know the depth of your influence in this world.” 

Well, the nice thing about being believers is we will know because God will tell us as he gives us that, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” He will tell us the influence we’ve been for him. 

I think that you, Heather, have been an incredible influence in your chaplaincy at writers’ conferences and in the things that you have done to help people dealing with these struggles. I’m grateful for the work that you’re doing for writers, and I’m grateful for the fact that we get to encounter each other and play together in this amazing task that God has given us and that God will use us for his good purposes in his perfect way. 

Erin: Yes! Thanks, Heather, for being here. 

Heather: Thank you so much, both of you, for what you do for writers in this podcast and just the honor and privilege it is to be here and hang out today. It’s been good for my soul. 

Guest @HIseminger, a chaplain at writers’ conferences, is here to share her insights on writers’ struggles and how to find help and understanding in the midst of them. #amwriting #ChristianWriter Share on X
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