• Joel Ryan

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

Updated: Jan 22

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 any 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 because we will get through this!

Like many of you, going into this year, I also 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.

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. from Perspectives off the Page 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 writing in the last year.

The Child Changes Everything

This isn’t just a nod to The Mandalorian, though I will be sharing my thoughts on Season 2 in the very near future. As mentioned, there are two reasons why I decided haven’t released much new content in the past few months, well… one big and one quite little.

Not only did my wife and I move into a new home a few months ago, in the final 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 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 writing to will keep you coming back to that work every day even when the writing’s 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

No, I didn’t just contradict my blog’s entire theme in stating this.

I am someone who deeply values perspective. I believe it’s what makes the stories we tell so personal and so powerful.

Stories allow us to see the world in different ways. They expose us to new ideas, introduce us to other people’s experience, and even challenge our perception of what we know or think we know about life, others, and the world around us.

Stories are incredible tools for communicating profound truths; but they can also become powerful weapons to manipulate or mislead others. How we use them matters.

I spend a lot of time on this blog sharing my perspectives on all 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.

For example, I’ve read about a dozen different reviews this week on Marvel Studios’ Wandavision, most with different views on the series. Different perspectives have only affirmed what I think about the show (review coming later this month) and help me understand what others like or dislike about it.

I often have my opinions challenged, sometimes even changed, and usually by stronger arguments. That’s how it should be, but a person’s perspective or ideas should never be silenced just because we dislike or disagree with it. Conformity is not unity. Bad ideas should be overcome by better ones.

And in a marketplace where ideas can be shared, discussed, and debated freely, the truth inevitably finds a platform to rise to the surface.

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

St. Augustine said it best:

“the truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.”

As writers, we have to challenge ourselves to never surrender in our search for the truth. 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 introduced. It’s doing more damage to our society than we can possibly imagine.

Now I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t take precautions or maintain some level of physical distance 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 creatively stifling and emotional draining, it can be deadly to one’s mental health.

We are created to be in 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, on a regular basis.

Closing churches, schools, restaurants, arenas, and movie theaters may help to slow the spread of a virus, but it has additional cultural consequences we cannot be afraid to discuss and even challenge.

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 try.” 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 the eagles of life swoop down to rescue you. You may need a little deus ex machina in your story right about now. 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. Get away from social media every now and then 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 “coincidentally” 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 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 accept that somedays I’ll get knocked down and even get it wrong. But I keep writing and keep living this wild, unpredictable, imperfect life… always sharing what is true and holding on to all that is good.

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.

That said, welcome to a new year, storytellers. Thank you, subscribers, for all of your support, comments, and requests you sent in throughout 2020. I look forward to sharing with you a bevy of new story 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 member, send this to a fellow writer, or subscribe to Perspectives off the Page for news and updates. I’ve got some exciting new projects in the pipeline that I’m excited to share with you.

Until Today, Storytellers

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