Month: February 2023

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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183 – Got Writer’s Block? Guest Tina Yeager Is Here to Help!

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Got Writer's Block? Guest Tina Yeager Is Here to Help! Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungHow often have you sat down to write, stared at your page, and realized you have…nothing. No ideas, no words. Could it be the dreaded writer’s block? Don’t let it stop you in your writer’s tracks! Guest Tina Yeager is here to help you blast that block to smithereens!

About Tina Yeager

Award-winning author, speaker, and life coach, Tina Yeager hosts the Flourish-Meant podcast and Flourish Today on Christian Mix 106 and publishes Inkspirations Online, a weekly writers’ devotional. She has been licensed as a counselor since 2005. Yeager serves as director of traditional groups with Word Weavers International and as an active member of the Christian Women in Media Association. For life coaching tips or to book her as an event speaker, visit tinayeager.com. Look for her books, Beautiful Warrior: Finding Victory Over the Lies Formed Against You and Upcycled: Crafted for a Purpose.

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

Karen: Hey, guys, and happy February. We’re so glad that you’re here to spend time with us and to hear the things that God has given us to share with you. We are so delighted that we have a guest, Tina Yeager, and Erin is going to introduce her. 

Erin: I’m so excited because I got to know this lovely person at the Florida Christian Writers Conference. It was just a delight to get to meet her and get to know her. And, guys, just a side note, if you’ve never been to a conference, that’s one of the big benefits of going to a conference. You meet cool people!

I met Tina there and we had lots of time to just chat and talk, and I want to tell you about her. She is an award-winning author. She’s an inspirational speaker and a life coach, and she hosts the Flourish-Meant podcast. She publishes Inkspirations Online, which is a weekly devotional for writers.

She has won over thirty writing awards, including a 2020 Golden Scroll award. She’s been licensed as a counselor since 2005 and has over twenty years of experience teaching parenting and writing skills and communications and inner healing and spiritual growth. The list goes on. She specializes in ADHD, stress management, purpose definition, abuse recovery, and esteem building, and she currently runs an online life coaching practice called Divine Encouragement, LLC. 

If that’s not enough, Tina holds a BA in Creative Writing and an MA in Counseling, and she serves on the board of the Christian Authors Network and as a mentor with Word Weavers International. She’s also an active member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, and Christian Women in Media. We’re just delighted to have her here today, bringing her wisdom and experience. Welcome, Tina. 

Tina: Thank you so much, Erin and Karen. 

Erin: Tina, let’s jump in. What does the deep mean to you? 

Tina: I feel like all of us have places within us that feel like they sink deep, where we just get lost sometimes in our own darkness and get lost within ourselves. But the good thing is that God is deeper than our deepest depths and he can reach us there. And when you asked me this question right before the podcast—

Erin: Yeah, little late. Sorry! We put her on the spot, you guys. 

Tina: Immediately I thought about a specific psalm that I really love, and it’s always just kind of echoed in my mind. It’s Psalm 42:7: “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” 

The psalmist actually meant this as God kind of leaving him to be drenched and almost drowned in the waterfalls. But when I think of waterfalls, I think of the beauty and the tranquility and the rejuvenation you experience when you see a waterfall. So there’s two ways that you can experience the drenching presence of God and his depths, and I love the verse that follows it that reminds that psalmist that he’s not abandoned by God in that deep place: “By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.”

That’s what the deep means to me. It means that God meets us in the deepest places that we are, whether those places are dark, or whether they’re receiving that rejuvenating presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Erin: I love that. That’s one of my favorite verses as well. I love the way you explained that and described that. Very cool.

Well, you guys know, if you’ve listened to the podcast now and again, that we often talk about being vulnerable and being authentic on the page. That writers need to go to those deep places and pour that out on the page. 

But one of the things that we really haven’t covered is: what do you do if you can’t access those feelings? If it’s so traumatic that you have blocked it? Or you want to avoid it? Or you just can’t go there? 

When I heard about all of Tina’s experience, I thought that this would be is a great topic to pick her brain about. As a mental health professional, what are your thoughts? What do writers do when they can’t access those feelings and those emotions? What are some thoughts? 

Tina: If it is related to a trauma that you experienced—and I’m not just saying this because I’m a therapist, I’m saying this from my experience as a therapist and as a person—you should access someone who is a professional, a mentor, someone of great experience in the area who can lead you with Christian expertise to find healing. 

If it is something you’ve blocked, then you probably are in need of professional assistance to work through those feelings and find healing. It’s very difficult to do that on your own. I would recommend that everybody deserves healing and your readers deserve to benefit from the healing that you’ll receive and what you’ll be able to offer after you have gone through that healing process. 

It’s painful. Nobody likes to take a broken bone and hand it over to the doctor and say, “Here, reset it,” because it hurts. The resetting of the bone is painful. When they go in to take out an infection that’s gotten embedded deeply beneath your skin and in your tissues, it’s a painful process to get that infection out. 

So, many of us are reluctant to go seek help and to address those feelings. We cover it up and we bury it deeper. Yet the wound is still there. It’s still a sore place and we don’t want anybody else to touch it. But that is exactly what is needed for you to be effective in your writing. You need to work through those feelings, get to the other side, so that you can benefit others. 

Erin: You’re absolutely right. That’s great counsel right there. 

I think sometimes we don’t realize what we’re doing. I’ve been watching somebody deal with this in my life lately. I’m watching another person go through this and they’re just so weighed down with issues that haven’t been addressed. I don’t think they realize the weight on their shoulders. I don’t think they realize how exhausting it is to keep carrying that heavy load. So I’m right there with you encouraging people to get professional help, especially if they don’t realize how weighed down they are.

Karen: It’s interesting, too, how the church has historically been resistant to people going to counselors. Don and I, you listeners who are regular, you know Don and I have had a lot of struggles in our marriage. Don has had a lot of struggles from his childhood, the abuse that he suffered. 

We were married in 1979, and we would talk to people at the church, looking even for older couples to help us. They would tell us that we just needed to pray more. Which I understand, yes, of course, the most powerful thing we can do is pray. Yet the deeply embedded dysfunctions taking place there needed professional counseling. 

I came from a Leave it to Beaver childhood and background. Don came from Nightmare on Elm Street. You marry those two together, pun intended, and you’re gonna have issues. So we needed somebody who could help us sort through those issues. We were in professional counseling for twenty years, all total out of the forty-three years that we’ve been married. 

We would not have survived without the man that God brought into our life. Not only was he able to help us as a counselor, but he was also a believer and he could use his learning and his skill and the grace that God had given him to confront us and to do what was needed. People in the church are so afraid of confrontation. There’s no way they can do what is necessary when you need somebody to really help you dig in to those deep, sometimes ugly, places.

Erin: What do you think, then, if you’ve been through counseling and you’re feeling like you’ve worked your way through it and maybe you’ve already done some journaling and now you want to write about it, but now it’s like, it’s difficult to go there, even though you feel God pushing you that direction? What are your thoughts or tips that might help a writer to deal with that? 

Tina: I think you want to look at whether you’ve really worked through it. That’s the first question because sometimes we can work through layers of those things, and you may still need somebody to mentor you through that writing process. Somebody who has walked through writing from trauma or writing from pain to be your writing coach or your writing accountability partner. Somebody to help you a little bit at a time go through those steps. 

I think every step that you take needs to be prefaced by prayer and meditation and asking the Holy Spirit to come alongside you. Even if you have to physically reach out and grab Jesus’ hand as if you are grabbing a physical hand in the air and say, “Jesus, come with me on this journey.” Ask him to lead you word by word through every page, every scene, whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, to help you direct this in a way that’s going to benefit readers. 

There are two types of writing. First of all, there’s writing that’s cathartic. That’s for your own benefit. Then there’s writing that is to benefit the reader. If you’re doing it to be cathartic, it is not for your reader. It is for you and for your therapist. 

So you need to know which thing you’re doing. Either one is fine. Just know which one you are doing and be targeting that process in that direction. If you are writing a cathartic piece, don’t mistake it and try to get it published because oftentimes a cathartic piece can be too graphic. It can be too wrought with things that will trigger trauma issues in your readers, and that won’t be beneficial to them. 

But if you’re writing from a place of healing, to bring your readers along on that process of healing in their journey, then that is a benefit to the reader. So you can write, after you’ve done the cathartic part and edited all of that and made it so that you could be of benefit to that reader, then you could do that prayer for leading specifically as you write for readers. 

That’s where the Holy Spirit is extremely helpful. Because he knows what your readers need. He knows every person that he intends to read that piece. Visualizing the person that’s going to receive this and praying for your reader as you write, as if you are writing to bring healing to someone else, also helps you get out of yourself and have the courage to address the things that are hard. 

Erin: You know, if I’m remembering right, Karen Ball, author over there, you wrote a novel called The Breaking Point, and I know that was challenging, where you had to dig into the difficulties of your marriage. What kind of things helped you as you were trying to go there again?

Karen: It was interesting when I knew that I was going to be writing about it. It was the book that was based on the struggles we’d been through in our marriage. It was obviously fictionalized. Not everything that happened in the book happened to us, but a lot of it did.

I used my actual journal. The journal that the protagonist, the woman, is writing, all of it is from my personal journal in our struggles. The very first scene that the couple goes through actually happened to Don and me, all except the end where they go off the mountain. They’re in a blizzard in Oregon, driving through a blizzard, and all she can think about is how much she hates her husband.

It was a scary place to go because Don and I had gotten past that and we had reached a point where we were not only married, but we were friends and we enjoyed being together. I was so afraid that going back into the emotions—which I had to do—going back into the emotions would send me in a tailspin in our relationship.

I prayed about it and God gave me the idea to take pictures of Don when he’s happy. When you have the kind of childhood that Don had, seeing real joy on his face is kind of a rarity. So I found all these pictures of him, and I put them all around my computer, on the walls, and on my desk. When I would go into the really intense part of the writing, if I started to feel myself getting sucked into the anger again, I could look at the pictures.

One of the issues we dealt with was his coming from a family of generational abuse. From as far back as any of them can remember, the men abused their kids, except for Don’s generation. They have stopped it with their children. But Don was subjected to just ungodly abuse. So when it came time to write, and I was so afraid of what would happen, I could lean back and I could look at those pictures. I could look at the computer and say, “That was then, this is now. That was then, this is now.” 

The other thing that helped a lot was I had Don read everything that I wrote so that he could see whether I was representing his side of it in the male protagonist view, if I was representing it accurately. I didn’t want to paint it through my filter. I also wanted to make sure that what I was saying from the female’s viewpoint didn’t dishonor him in any way.

So there was all of that. Then I had a weekly group of women, all of whom loved writing, and we prayed together. So I had a lot of undergirding from the pictures of Don, from God’s presence, from my friends, from Don himself. It got me through it. By the time I finished writing that book, it was just a miraculous thing because I found myself more in love with, and with more respect for, Don than I had had even when I began.

Erin: I love that because that matches what Tina said as this just being a Holy Spirit thing. 

Karen: Right. 

Erin: It’s a God thing. God took you by the hand and led you through that. 

Karen: Yeah. 

Erin: From a mental health perspective, what about if writers are just feeling down or discouraged? What are some things that they might be able to address or to do to help deal with that type of thing? 

Tina: I think having other writers in community with you is essential. Whether you struggle with mental health issues or not, we are a very isolated profession. 

Karen: Yeah. 

Tina: It is very difficult to stay encouraged. We face more discouragement as creatives than any other industry that I can think of, other than other creative industries.  

Erin: Yes! 

Tina: It’s very hard not to get discouraged, even if you don’t face mental health issues. Then if you do, you have that additional organic complication of not having enough serotonin and dopamine to begin with.

Some things that can help are making sure that you’re doing things that get you energized, that get you connected with other people. You’re going to have to do things that are hard that you don’t feel like doing. One of those might be getting in community with people when you don’t feel like it . 

Another thing is to make sure that you get some exercise. Believe it or not, the serotonin levels will go up when you get a little exercise. We can sit at our computers all day and write and write and write, but then our mood can drop because we are in that blue screen environment, which is not necessarily good for the brain for all day long. 

Then we’re also not getting that oxygenation of our bloodstream and our brain. We need that for our brain, the organ that allows us to be able to do our job, to function. We need to be able to get some cardiovascular exercise in. Just, you know, fifteen or twenty minutes. It doesn’t have to be “I’m training for a marathon” kind of exercise. Just something to get your serotonin and dopamine up. 

Also make sure you expose yourself to something that’s going to help you laugh. That’s going to give you joy. That’s going to make you smile. Don’t make your whole life centered on obligation. If we are working out of obligation when we’re writing, our writing will suffer, and we will suffer, and we won’t be able to continue. We need to do things that make us laugh. We need to play. 

We also need to see our work as worship, so that when we don’t feel like it anymore, we are giving it as an offering. When we don’t see the results that we want to see, and how often does that happen? I think all of us have been through those periods, or we just continually are in that period, where we don’t feel like it’s having impact and we get discouraged by that.

Writing as worship can help you redirect your purpose for writing toward God and not towards some kind of tangible result you think you’re going to get that really is not standardized. We don’t know what success looks like under God’s design for our lives, and we may be reaching people that we don’t realize with our lives, with our writing, with our writing community. So remembering to do our work as worship is really important. 

Then also just taking care of yourself. Self-care is essential when you are dealing with low mood, and that goes with sleeping, making sure you’re getting enough sleep. Making sure that you’re nourishing your brain. Your brain needs to be fed omega-3 fatty acids. Your brain needs to be fed certain things for it to work properly, especially if you struggle with mental illness, that is critical. 

There are things that are great about people being particularly sensitive as creatives. About having that gamut of emotion that you can pour into your writing. But it could also generate a sense of struggle if you’re not on top of taking care of yourself in the midst of that profession.

Karen: I especially like where you say to do things that give you joy. I find that one of the best things I can do is get down on the floor and play with or pet my two corgis. You know, just snuggle with them, or bring them up on the recliner with me and pet ’em. I find that the physical connection with them is rejuvenating and it definitely brings me joy to do that. Even something as simple as playing with your dog can help to get that flowing. 

Erin: I think that’s great too because joy brings hope, and hope is like the antidote to discouragement, I think. As Christians, we have that ultimate hope. We should be the most hopeful people in the world, even though it’s not always easy to maintain that perspective. 

But that’s something I think we can also be praying for, that God would help us to experience that hope in our hearts, both for what happens in this life and what happens after that. I mean, this is just a warmup show for heaven.

Well, we’re pretty much at the end of our time, Tina. Do you have any last words of encouragement or advice that you’d want to give to our listeners? 

Tina: I would love for everyone to realize that you matter, and the words that the Lord has placed deep within you are important. He has created you on purpose, for a purpose. He shines his message through you. It’s not all up to you. All you need to do is make sure that you show up and stay dwelling and centered in his Spirit so that he can keep you sustained by his energy, and his hope, and his joy, and his truth. Remember that you’re the vessel and you matter because you are the vessel that he created.

Karen: I love that. That whole idea that it doesn’t rest on us. The responsibility that we have is obedience. What happens from there is up to God. We have no control over where our writing goes, where our career goes. But God does and he will do what he will do. We just need to make ourselves available to him.

Tina, thank you so much for your words of wisdom and encouragement. I know that our listeners have been blessed by this conversation, so God bless you. 

Tina: Bless you, too. 

Erin: Thanks, Tina.

Got writer’s block? Guest @teagerwrites has terrific guidance to help you blast that block to smithereens! #amwriting #christianwriter Share on X
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