• Joel Ryan

How Should We Then Write? Fresh Perspectives to Start the New Year

Welcome back, storytellers, and welcome to the start of a new year.

I know. We can probably all agree that 2020 was a wild one, a year most of you would be happy to flush, rinse, and never repeat. I can’t blame you.

Many of you have had your faith and finances tested. You’ve held on through the sick cycle carousal of politics, media, and social unrest. And many of you have lost jobs, friends, and loved ones along the way. I feel your pain; and I grieve with you.

Will 2021 be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire? We shall see.

These first few weeks have already shown us that 2021 didn’t erase or resolve many of the struggles of 2020. January 1st wasn’t the end of the ride. There will be more hills to climb, dips and drops to vomit through, and twists and turns to overcome. So buckle up, grab the hand of the person sitting next to you, and press on.

Like many of you, going into this year, I refuse to concede to gloom and despair.

Joy, like hope, is never guaranteed. They must be fought for and held on to, and I’ve done my best to hold onto both. I’m not always successful.

But there are also far too many lessons learned, both creatively and spiritually, to erase 2020 from our memory banks. And there are too many stories to be told, adventures to be had, and sunrises to see and share with others in the days ahead for us all to stop living and stop writing (for those of called to speak truth through the written word).

These are words I’ve been wanting to share with you for quite some time.

But, as many of you have noted, I’ve been a little M.I.A. for the last few months. There’s a reason for that. I’ll explain in a moment. However, heading into the new year, I wanted to start by sharing some of my biggest takeaways that have impacted the best and worst of my personal life and writing in the last year.

A Child Changes Everything

This isn’t just a nod to The Mandalorian, though I will be sharing my thoughts on Season 2 in the near future. As mentioned, there is one big reason why I haven’t released much new content in the past few months... she's actually very little.

Not only did my wife and I move into a new home a few months ago, in the closing moments of 2020 we welcomed our first child into the world.

If any of you have children, you will know just how much power a newborn has to change, affirm, and realign your priorities. That has definitely been the case with our beautiful daughter, who has given me a whole new perspective on life, even influencing when I write, how I write, and the kinds of stories I want to write moving forward.

Not unlike everyone’s favorite Mandalorian and his adorable sidekick, a child has the power to change everything.

Some of you may be parents. Some of you may not. My point is here is that knowing what to write may determine what you put on the page; knowing who you are doing it for to will keep you coming back even when the work is tough and the world seems to be falling apart all around you.

If you truly care about the ones you are writing to, you will find the motivation, courage, and joy to keep writing because you’re doing it for someone you love.

Fear is the Path to the Dark Side

Okay, I’m getting a little carried away with the Star Wars references, but this one was especially true for 2020.

Fear can be the root of many bad decisions in life and yes, it can also be the spark that fans the flames of anger, hate, and eventually suffering.

On and off the page, fear can also cripple writers, preventing them from ever writing, finishing, or submitting their work.

Will their choice to write actually pay off? Will their work sell? Will anyone read it? Will their words do any good or bring any light to the world?

But here’s the real question we should really be asking ourselves: if not now, when?

If not now, when will be the right time to write? If not now, when will we speak up or stand up for what we care about or believe in?

Life is too short, my friends, to be held back by fear; and it is far too uncertain to be sidelined by regret, so make this a year where you push through and dare to write and finish what you’ve started or always wanted to start.

On that note, here’s another takeaway from 2020…

Your Courage Can Be Contagious

It doesn’t take a lot to inspire others to take action.

How many writers will get the push to finally write or speak up this year because of your courage and your example? You never know.

Perspective Matters; Truth Matters More

I am someone who values perspective. I believe it’s what makes the stories we tell so unique and so powerful. No one tells the same story the same way. That's incredible.

Stories allow us to see the world in different ways. They expose us to new ideas and even challenge our perception of what we know about life, others, and the world around us.

Stories are incredible tools for communicating profound truths; but they can also become powerful tools used to manipulate and mislead others. How we use story matters. And, yes, even stories can be incomplete and introduce really bad ideas into the world.

I spend a lot of time on this blog sharing my perspectives on things having to do with writing, books, movies, television, and pop culture. These, of course, are my opinions, and I invite other writers to share their own thoughts and opinions on the stories they love and those they don’t. We may disagree. So what? We should be allowed to discuss our ideas.

However, there is a difference between opinion and truth, and we cannot substitute personal opinion, lived experience, or any notion of "personal" truth over what is actually real, right, or objectively true.

I value perspective. However, I value perspective when it helps us better see, understand, and affirm what is true in life. Any perspective that disregards truth can and should be challenged.

We must get back to valuing what is true over what is convenient, popular, safe, or trendy.

As writers, we have to challenge ourselves to never surrender in our search for the truth; and we cannot afford to be afraid or ashamed to let it loose once it’s found.

We Are Created for Community

Never has this been more evident than this past year; and I will be bold in saying this: "social" distancing is one of the worst ideas ever created. It’s done more damage to our society than we can possibly imagine.

Now I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t take precautions in the midst of the pandemic. Let’s be smart and considerate, people.

However, we also have to acknowledge that prolonged isolation and the inability to see people face to face is not only socially harmful, it can be detrimental to one’s mental, emotional, and even spiritual health.

We are created to be in community and relationship. We need to talk to people face to face, see people for who they really are, and interact with others in person, not just through a screen or behind a mask.

Closing churches, schools, restaurants, arenas, and movie theaters may help to slow the spread of a virus. It also may not. We're learning more about the effectiveness of certain policies everyday. However, locking down society has additional consequences we should not be afraid to discuss and even challenge at times.

As writers, we may get used to spending time alone. Sometimes this is important. But this year, I’m committing to making community a higher priority because I’ve seen what real social distancing, isolation, and division does to us as individuals and as a society; and it’s not good.

You Can Always Dig a Little Deeper

I never knew how much sleep I would lose in the first week of my daughter’s life. I also never knew how strong my wife really was or much we were both capable of enduring and overcoming as new, sleep-deprived parents. But here we are, a month in and still going strong.

It’s been said before. You will never know what you are capable of until you are tried and tested. Likewise, you will never know how strong and persistent you can be until you are stretched, challenged, or pushed to your limits.

No matter how exhausted or broken you may feel coming into 2021, in the words of A.A. Milne,

“you are braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

There may be times when you need the eagles of life swoop down to rescue you. I get it, and may seem like those moments lately haven't come as swiftly or often as you’d like. But hold on! Keep fighting. Keep writing.

Take your breaks. Turn off the television. Step away from social media and get some fresh air. But don’t disengage. This is not the end of the road and certainly not the end of your story.

God is up to Good Even When Life Gets You Down

In her many uncomfortable hours of labor, my wife nearly squeezed the foam out of a red stress ball, which read:

“God is up to Good Even When Life Gets Your Down”

In many ways, this has become my mantra heading into 2021.

I don’t know why certain things turn out the way they do. I don’t always have an answer or explanation for the tragedies and cloudy days of life. But as a Christian and a writer, I’ve learned that it’s not about having all the answers. It’s not even about asking all the right questions. It’s about being honest about what I know and don’t know and daring to trust that God knows more than I do.

In this life, I’ll get knocked down and sometimes get it wrong. But I keep writing, keep living, and keep looking to my God for strength, always sharing what is true and holding on to all that is good because I know where my hope comes from.

There are good if not incredible days to come. Why? Because the best storytellers payoff what they set up, and I truly believe that God has a plan for this next chapter of the story… and it’s good, my friends. It may not be easy, but it’s good if we're willing to fight for it.

That being said, welcome to a new year. And thank you to all of my subscribers for all of your support and feedback. I look forward to sharing with you a bevy of new perspectives to spark your writing and encourage your creative process in the days to come.

And as always, if you enjoy my work, please like this post, leave a comment, send this to a fellow writer, or subscribe for news, exclusive content, and more.

Until Today

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