• Joel Ryan

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

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

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 some 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 fresh start or a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire? We shall see.

But 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.

Heading into the new year, I wanted, therefore, 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

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, born late last year, 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 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 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…

Courage is Contagious

It doesn’t take a lot to inspire or encourage others.

We often feel alone and worry that if we speak up or take a stand for what we believe, we’ll be ostracized and alone. That might be true. However, it’s incredible how many people want to do the right thing but are simply too afraid to be the first one to do it. Sometimes, all it takes is one person to get the ball rolling.

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. So keep writing.

Truth Matters Most

I am someone who values perspective. I believe it’s what makes the stories we tell so unique and so powerful. 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 communicate powerful lies. How we use story matters. And, yes, even stories can inject some really bad ideas into the world.

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 good and true. Any perspective that disregards truth should in turn be disregarded.

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

Regardless of anyone’s views on the pandemic, it’s important to acknowledge that prolonged isolation and the inability to see people face to face is not only socially destructive; it can be detrimental to one’s mental, emotional, and even spiritual health.

In a time where we’ve become hyper-focused on public health, why can’t we discuss and debate the decisions that have a profound impact on actual public 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. Locking people in their homes to try and mitigate the spread of a virus has additional consequences we should not be afraid to challenge.

As writers, we may get used to spending time alone. Sometimes this is important. But this year, I’ve committed 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.

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.

There may be times when you need the eagles of life swoop down to rescue you. It 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 You 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 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 trust that God knows more than I do. And He alone 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 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 new content that encourages you in 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, updates, and more. Thanks again. Now get back to writing!

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