This compulsion, I believe, is often fueled by the need to process a horrific experience –and writing is an excellent tool. Definitely it is a time to journal feelings and happenings while they are fresh and even raw. But in the throes of intense emotion is rarely the time to write a book—at least one aimed toward publication. Rather, it’s time to let the experience of writing work its healing potential, perhaps for your eyes, or for a few eyes, only.
Our son, Drew, was a junior, sitting in class taking a chemistry test at Columbine High School the day that two disturbed students opened fire in his school. The layers of tragic and heroic events and the spiritual warfare that followed in the community made my writer-juices bubble and boil. I would write a book on Columbine: stories of healing and hope.
Thankfully, publishers were not interested and I had the sense to drop it, as days, months, and years rolled on that were filled with hope in our community, but also dissension and sadness. Finally, ten years after the event two well-researched books have come forth, with the needed perspective on the event. It was my season to journal about Columbine, but it wasn’t the time to write a book.
In 1989, I wrote Incessant Drumbeat, the biography of Larry and Shirley Rascher who were career missionaries in Irian Jaya (West Papua, New Guinea). Their story included a shipwreck during a tsunami and the drowning of their two toddlers. They had rarely even talked about the story with their older surviving children who were not on the boat that day.
I’ll never forget the end of my first evening of interviewing the Raschers, who at the time lived close to me. “I have one thing to ask of you,” Larry said on the front porch, as I was leaving. “If we’re not going to finish, let’s not get started.”
He and Shirley would have to re-live that time. They were up to it for good purpose, but not if it would come to naught.
Be sensitive to the time, and the way to tell a difficult story. And remember that there are great blessings from journaling—from writing for oneself, or one’s family and friends. Whether or not to seek to publish a story is a different matter that may well need time and perspective.