Monday, 27 June 2016

Writing to Discover Truth … and Yourself

Photo courtesy of moggara12/
Golly gosh, I’ve struggled writing the sequel to Angelguard. The basic story of Angelguard fell out of me. I was a complete novice (well, I still am really) but the story just kept coming. I’d turn up to the blank page and out it would come.

Nine months later it was done. The first draft. Not to be read by any one, oh, except, Fiona my wife who egged me on and kept giving me new ideas and lots of names for my supernatural beings.

Many years later it was finally published. Even though there had been many many changes to that first draft the essence of the original story of that first draft remained.

Angelguard was a very plot-driven story with a relatively simple premise focused on how the supernatural interacts with the natural world and the significance of prayer in dealing with the darkness.

Second time around I’ve found to be a completely different experience. Where Angelguard was dealing with the supernatural at the “macro-level” I wanted to move to the micro for the sequel. What role do angels and demons play in the daily life of individuals in, for example, their thought life?

Plotter vs Pantser

As you will have gathered Angelguard was definitely written by the seat of my pants. I started with two words (which actually survived the many re-writes and edits) and a general idea about involving angels and demons in it.

But I figured plotting would help shorten the production process. Sure, there’s more work up front, but the actual writing should take less time if you do a reasonably detailed outline.

Well that's what all the books on plotting told me.

I started out with an outline for a story that I thought I loved. Tried a couple of “outlining” methods that seemed to work okay and then started to draft the story.

But the story just wouldn’t come out.

So I shifted gears and worked on another angle, and then another, still grappling with outlining while struggling to bring the essence of the story (what I mentioned above) into it.

I gave up outlining and went back to pantsing. I handed the story back to my characters to see what they’d come up with. Slowly but surely, the story began to get legs and eventually it came out.


Wrestling with Shadows

During the course of the last couple of years of struggling with the story I was also grappling within myself. Sorting through my own mess, my light and dark.

Having completed the first draft early in the year I was able to reflect a little on the process. What become apparent was I needed to go through my own season of discovery about myself to be able to write the story.

I recently read an article Francine Rivers wrote in a recent Christianity Today where she talked through how most of her novels came out of her “questions of faith.”

“But questions of faith kept rising up and with them, characters, to play out various points of view.”

Similarly, I’ve started doing a course Ted Dekker has created (”The Creative Way”). One of the opening comments he makes about his own journey is similar to Francine’s:

“All of my novels began with a question I was wrestling with. A doubt or struggle in my life that I wanted to explore in the context of story.”

I recall other authors sharing similar things and I believe that’s why the latest story is often the hardest one even if you’ve written fifty of them. Because you don’t know what you’re going to learn about yourself when you’re writing it.

We write stories to discover the truth. And in so doing we discover more about the Lord and ourselves.

Yes, the sequel has always had the title, Wrestling with Shadows. To write it, I’ve discovered I needed to do just that myself so I could take my characters through their own transformation.

Did I envisage it being such a struggle when I set out? Never. Sure, I knew getting the story would be challenging enough but I had no inkling the personal battle would be so strong.

If you’re presently struggling with your story be gentle with yourself. Spend more time with the Lord and His Word. Simply hang out and talk to Him not just about the novel but the stuff inside you. He’ll help you sift through it (and others may help as well) and in so doing free you to take your characters on an even better journey in the story.

Grace and peace.

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Sydney. Ian's first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguard, is now available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Angelguard was recognised with the 2014 Selah Award for Best Speculative Fiction. You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter


  1. Loved your post Ian. I am a non fiction writer so I don't know if I am a plotter or a panster - yet. All I know is that while I wrote a children's chapter book quite 'easily', when I tried to write an adult fiction book, despite all the plotting I did beforehand, I didn't get far. I have placed it on hold for now, since my calling is to write non fiction but I hope to get back to it one day. I do agree with you that writing causes us to explore themes in our own lives and sort things out. Writing has always been great therapy for me - and yes, I often discover myself in the process. What a gift it is to all of us writers. I think we are especially blessed by the Word of God - that we are called to write and to discover and to pursue Him. All the best with your writing Ian.

    1. Thanks, Anusha. It is wonderful how our writing helps us to better know the Lord. All the very best with your non fiction work.

  2. Good stuff, Ian. Describes my present struggle to a 't'. Not sure how to apply it to my book, though, as my 'question' is a historical one with little - as far as I can see - to do with me, personally. All power to you with your second!

    1. Hi, Rhonda. I expect your characters will reflect aspects of yourself. As they journey through the story seeking the truth to your 'historical' question, little bits of you will be revealed, I suspect.

      I hope we get to hear all about in a future post.

  3. What a journey you have been (and are) on with this sequel you are writing, Ian! But good on you for persevering through all the struggles and seeking with all your heart to grow in God and to learn the lessons God has for you personally via your writing, which could probably not have been learnt in any other way.

    You know, it came to me though as I read your post that, if you are trying to highlight in your sequel how the enemy works in our daily lives, and particularly in our thoughts, that the enemy will not take kindly to that, for sure. There is bound to be a huge battle, during which you will no doubt be tried and tested at all your weakest points. That's just how the enemy works, as you are no doubt pointing out clearly in your novel. So Ephesians 6:10-18 is so important to remember, as I'm sure you know. I hope too you have a few people praying for you and your family as you write, Ian--that can make such a difference.

    1. I so appreciate your insights, Jo-Anne. Thank you. Indeed, there have been times the enemy has had a field day with me and my MS. It's been part of my "wrestle" learning to put on my armour and allow the grace of God to do its thing with me.

      It's sure had its moments.

  4. Thanks Ian. I always enjoy your posts. I love the discovery being a pant-ser brings. I have tried plotting but never seem to be able to stick to the script. It's great to have the Lord on the journey through story too. He always knows 'what happens next'. I understand He must be a plotter but I think His characters want stories of their own!

    1. That's so true, Raelene. The discovery. Our characters do enjoy taking us for a ride sometimes.

      Thanks for your encouragement.

  5. Hi Ian. Thanks for sharing the journey and especially the struggles of writing the second book. I finished my first draft (of what is now the fourth book in a series) in the late eighties/early nineties. It took another twenty years before I started writing a prequel & while it would have been nice to be published in the '90s - I think my work is richer for the delay. I often chaff at God's timing, but He knows best.

    Interesting too that you have being working through & discovering your creative process. Definitely one sized doesn't fit all. BTW I think James' Story Trumps Structure is a great read for a panster :)

    Looking forward to reading Wrestling with Shadows when it's published.

    1. Hi Jeanette, I am looking forward to reading your series too. I didn't consider myself to be a reader of fantasy, however ever since I read your short story in GOL, and also taking a look at some titles by other authors of fantasy, I think I could be hooked. Also thanks for the book reference 'Story Trumps Structure'. Definitely on my 'study' reading list now :-)

    2. Jeanette, I expect there are many other stories in people's bottom drawers that wait for many years before the "time is right" for them to be 'released' into the light. And one of the key reasons being the author's own journey like you describe.

      I have Steven's book and now must get to it having read your recommendation.

  6. Hi Ian, I really enjoyed reading this post. You are on an amazing journey, even though it may be frustrating at times. I am having similar difficulties with my dear brother's fictional memoir, to the point where I have shelved it for a while, to enable me to get on with other projects. It will come out again, but a lot more plotting and planning is required. Just hoping that the Lord will inspire me to finish, before my dear parents pass. I have always been a pantser when it comes to writing - I don't believe that either way is right or wrong. But if I have a basic plan with characters sorted, then hopefully those characters should help me through. I haven't read 'Angelguard' yet, but I intend too as soon as I can. I can relate to the struggles you have been having, even though I haven't published a complete book as yet. A lot of my Charlie's story is going to nut out many of the problems that I have personally had with life ... hopefully. Thanks for sharing Ian, and the best of luck with this second book.

    1. Hi Josephine-Anne. I do wish you well with your brother's fictional memoir. Good on you for taking up the challenge for what can be a confronting exercise. Keep leaning into the Lord and trusting in His nudges.


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  8. Oops, my mind was somewhere else... Just wanted to wish you the best of success with this sequel!

    1. Thanks, Margaret. Appreciate your kindness.

  9. Hi Ian
    Thanks for this post.
    I particularly love your sentence "Because you don't know what you're going to learn about yourself when you're writing it".
    The 'writing for an audience of one' came to my mind - could be the Lord guiding you for you, then to have a wider audience!
    What a great gift and blessing!
    Hope and trust great things will flow from your pen as God, in His good purposes, leads you on your continuing writing journey.

    1. Thanks, Di. It is one of the joys of writing both fiction and non-fiction: not knowing what the Lord will reveal to you during the process.

      All the very best with your writing.