When Not To Put Your Own Life Experience On Paper

My 85 year old father.

My 85 year old father.

Writers are encouraged to write what they know. Write from life experiences. But some experiences need to ruminate for years in the subconscious mind before they see the printed page. Others never become a subject of an article or the character in a novel. Those parts of life are too painful.

Right now I am in that season of watching my parents decline. My father’s Alzheimer’s is taking him away from his family by degrees every day. I can’t even journal my feelings. It is too hard to think about. My sister and I are working toward placing my dad in assisted living. The stress of all this drama has brought lots of confusion, anxiety and anger into my mother’s life. Another burden for us to bear. More heartbreak.

Diverting focus

These emotions color some of the characters in my latest novel, but even that is but a shadow of the full blown emotional ride I’m experiencing this time in my life. Balancing time for grandchildren, work and writing is challenging enough. For me, focusing my writing on my present struggles would push me right over the insanity hill into depression. Writing about imaginary characters struggling with different issues is a relief. Writing movie or book reviews, devotions and these blog posts are therapeutic. It takes my mind to a different place. When I return to my real life I am more able to cope.

Someday I will probably chronicle my journey as an elder caregiver. Someday I’ll have words of wisdom to dispense that will help my readers cope. I might even create a heroine who walks through these same experiences. Or a hero who is losing his reality. But not today, not this week, this month, this year.

When I’ve absorbed all the pain and gained the knowledge God has for me through this trial, then I will have a complete message to share. A story with believable details. Something that can heal hearts others can relate to. Until then, I harbor no guilt sheltering my feelings.

Tez Brooks wrote his book years after his divorce and single parenthood. The timing was perfect.

Tez Brooks wrote his book years after his divorce and single parenthood. The timing was perfect. https://jubileewriter.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/the-single-dad-detour-tez-brooks-shares-his-journey-and-a-book-giveaway/

Timing is key

I write this post to encourage other writers. It’s ok if you don’t write about everything going on in your life. The hard things can remain private. You are not a reality show participant that needs to embarrass yourself to build a platform for readership. As you grow your fan base and share your life with your readers, it’s like any other friendship—you reveal more to some people than others. Fans and readers fall in that acquaintance category, and until and unless God directs you to write about any particular trial, you can keep it to yourself.

I know of writers who are going through divorces, lost loved ones, loss of their homes and horrendous health issues. Yet they write about everything else and save their immediate trials for their close circle of friends.

Raw emotions injure

Raw emotions are never good fuel for writers. They’re like green wood in a fireplace. They spark and pop while burning, causing injury to those nearest the fire. It creates too much smoke and preserves the pain longer. If you must write while it’s raw, get it all out on paper. Every awful thing you are thinking and feeling. Then DO NOT publish it. File it away to look at when you are in a better frame of mind. I’ve heard of writers destroying their careers by spewing raw feelings in a blog. Wait until enough time has passed so objectivity can rule your opinion. Then shift through your words for those gems of truth. Trash the rest of it. If you are honest, there may not be any gems, only condemning stones.

Writers control their world

Your writer’s life is your own. So, when someone says “You should write a book about that.” Put on your non-committal expression and change the subject. Only you will know when the time is right. Then your words will accomplish exactly what you intended.

What do you do with all the trials going on in your world as you pursue writing? When do you know its time to write about it for publication.

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Welcome Guest Blogger Tez Brooks as he shares from the heart about writing from personal experience.

Author Tez Brooks

Author Tez Brooks

You want me to do what God?

I was struggling with the concept of sharing my journey as a single father. It placed me in a very vulnerable position and I wasn’t comfortable with that.

Still, I knew God had been gently nudging me toward this for years. There was little out there in the way of self-help books for divorced fathers, let alone with a Christian worldview.

I had written plenty of articles from personal experiences that were amazing or fun. I never had a problem sharing my life stories if they were positive. But when I finally did begin writing about my failed marriage it felt as if I were digging through a box of cat litter for someone else’s car keys.

Everything within me screamed, Why should I have to do this? I found my own keys long ago. It’s up to each guy to dig through this doo-doo on his own!

As I pressed on however, I learned the secret to writing from painful experience. It not only helps others in their journey, it brings healing to the storyteller.

It got easier the more I re-visited some of the memories and as each chapter was completed, I was reminded of 1 Peter 4:10:

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

Was my trial a gift?

Somehow it had turned into one. After being removed from that season of life, remarrying, starting a second family—yeah, the recollections I unpacked and wrote about had been transformed into a gift by God’s unbelievable grace.

My critique group and my editors encouraged me onward, impressing upon me the importance of the message I was communicating.

One of the best pieces of advice I received was to include statistical research and stories from other people, enriching the message of hope for dads.

But how was I to handle any of these stories without slandering others? What about facts that included my ex-wife?

One author friend of mine suggested I run those portions by my children, who were now adults, asking if they felt I communicated anything inappropriate about their mother. I found that to be an excellent idea.

When it came to stories of other men, I just changed the name to protect the individual. Before I knew it, I had a very real, authentic manuscript that didn’t cut corners on details but still protected everyone’s reputation.

The Single Dad Detour (Kregel 2015) hit shelves a year later and my head still hasn’t stopped spinning at the wonder of it all. This week alone I have been invited on three radio programs to discuss the book. I was able to minister to a dad who called in to the station asking for help. What a blessing for me.

Although I had been writing for decades, I had no intention of scribing my painful divorce, single parenting days or the mistakes I made as I attempted to navigate through those years. What an honor to be used by the Lord to speak into lives of men who need to be challenged and encouraged.

What about you? What might God be calling you to write about? Are you struggling to re-visit an experience you’d much rather leave well enough alone?

Writing from personal experience may not feel good at first, and God wont force you. But I believe God has beautiful plans for those who are willing to take a risk and watch him turn something mundane or even unpleasant into a testimony of God’s grace.

4360 drive final.indd Tez Brooks latest book the Single Dad Detour is available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. You can find more help for fathers at EverySingleDad.com

Tez and his wife are full-time missionaries with the Jesus Film Project (a ministry of Cru) where he manages a team of journalists. If you’d like to know how you can contribute to their ministry contact tez.brooks@cru.org

If you have questions for Tez about writing from personal experience leave a comment below.

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The Single Dad Detour: Tez Brooks shares his Journey and a Book Giveaway

Author Tez Brooks

Author Tez Brooks

I am excited to welcome my friend Tez Brooks to my blog today. He is a fun guy who loves the Lord and has a passion to help single dads navigate life after divorce. He shares from his own experience in his book The Single Dad Detour.

Each chapter is filled with practical advice and travel analogies as an aid to helping divorced father’s pick up the pieces of their lives. There are lots of scriptures, personal examples and other guys’ stories to make each point he shares come to life for the reader.

Thanks for taking time out of your very busy life to make an appearance my friend. Take a seat on my comfy couch and let’s get started. Tez, share with my readers about yourself. You know, the usual stuff, where you live, job, marital status and other things you think my readers should know about you.

My wife and I live in Orlando. I remarried 13 years ago and we have two little girls as well as two grown kids from my first marriage. Christine and I are full-time missionaries with The Jesus Film Project (a ministry of CRU). I write films that help introduce unreached people groups to Christ and disciple them.

Why did you feel the need to write this book?

I really struggled for several years wondering if I should write this book. I didn’t want to go there again, but the Lord started working in my heart and I remembered how there just wasn’t anything out there for me when I was going through my own divorce—especially with a Christian worldview. What was available was too preachy for me.

What do you hope is the take-away for readers?

I’d like them to walk away encouraged to keep going strong. To understand the Lord is on their side. I want to challenge them to step up as a man, yet still offer hope and the grace to be able to laugh at themselves when they aren’t perfect. There’s too much pressure as it is. If dads can celebrate what they’re doing right, while still leaning desperately on the Savior for hope, it will make the road they’re navigating much easier.

 4360 drive final.indd

How is The Single Dad Detour different than any other books out there for single fathers?

I tried to write something that would encourage guys with a little humor and offer some practical advice. There are way too many books for dads written by someone with a PhD. I really wanted something for the Joe Blows out there. Blue collar guys, who aren’t crazy about reading but need some hope.

I tried to add a lot of humor by laughing at myself. I made some pretty dumb decisions as I raised my kids through those single years.

Finally, I think the action points and the suggested prayers at the end of each chapter help dads have something to think about. I even included a few QR codes for younger dads who like to absorb content from several avenues outside the book itself.

What kind of research did you do to sharpen the content?

In addition to hours of internet research on single parenting, I interviewed a lot of single dads from around the world. Not just divorced men, but widowers and never married dads too. I felt it was important to give readers a well-rounded view, rather than just a book full of my own experiences. Although, there’s a lot of my own story in there.

I appreciated this book so much and I am neither male nor divorced. What value do you feel women or married men might get from reading your book?

Well I’m sure more women are picking up this book than men. They are buying it for a guy they know (maybe their son, brother or nephew who is a single dad). Maybe even a few girlfriends are finding it helpful as they begin dating a single dad.

But yes you’re right about married men too. I think any dad will find it useful as they try to navigate through parenting. These issues I address are not exclusive to single fathers. These are common issues that every single dad (no pun intended) will find useful. These things like our health, self-worth, our identity in Christ, how to shepherd our kids, even cooking and house-keeping issues—all are topics we struggle with as parents—married or not.

What makes you the best person to write about this subject?

You know, I’m not. There are guys sitting next to me at traffic lights that I’m sure are more qualified. I could say it’s my experience with being both a custodial and non-custodial dad. I could say it’s because I was a single dad for 7 years or that I survived blending a family when I re-married. While it’s true I have 4 kids and almost 30 years of parenting under my belt. I didn’t approach the book with that in mind. I’m just a regular dad who screws up even today, who wants dads to be encouraged and filled with hope to press on. They need to laugh at themselves and not be scared of failing from time to time. Single dads are under incredible scrutiny and pressure to perform better than the average single mom. The world doesn’t have much grace for guys going it alone, but God does. Dads, he’s in your corner and he’s cheering you on.

Writer’s Patchwork focuses on helping other writers. So I want to ask in your opinion when is the best time for someone to write something of a personal nature? I know you didn’t write this while you were going through the process.

That’s a great question and I think it’s different for everyone. I waited 17 years. Honestly I would not write from anything painful for at least 5 years after the event is resolved. That being said sometimes that resolution takes decades. You need time to process and to see what God’s bigger plan was. You need that bird’s eye view. I’ve read a few books where it was obvious the author had not given himself or herself time to heal. When you’re writing from pain it’s vital to get your work critiqued by other writers who can be honest with you and point out places that may appear too raw. That may mean re-visiting some of those memories and working through some things you thought you’d resolved already. But that’s the great thing about trusting God. He is bigger than all that and he knows often times, our greatest healing comes from writing about and struggling with our past.

I always ask my guests to share the most important thing or two they have learned on their writing journey.

Surround yourself with successful writers and avoid the naysayers. I once spoke to a group of writers about the importance of choosing your friends carefully and being cautious about who they share their dreams with. Joseph, in the Old Testament told the wrong people his dreams and he ended up in some very difficult places. Not everyone is excited or happy about the dreams God places in our hearts. Writing can be a lonely place if you don’t find a community of like-minded creatives who desire to cheer you on and love to see you succeed. Ask the Lord to bring those people into your life while intentionally seeking out those circles.

Here’s some additional help from Tez for single dads

If you’re a single dad who would appreciate helpful tips, encouragement and few laughs, sign-up for Tez’s monthly emails at EverySingleDad.com and he’ll send you the FREE article, “Five Ways Your Church Can Minister to Single Dads.”

Before Tez and I part company here is my last comment on my friend.

Like many authors, writing is not Tez’s career. He and his wife are actually Christian workers. As full-time missionaries with The Jesus Film, Tez and Christine rely on the generous and faithful giving of financial supporters. Cru holds no central funds to pay their missionaries. If you’d like to learn more about how you can help the Brooks’ to continue creating and using films to share the message of Jesus to millions around the world, log onto www.BrooksCru.com or email Tez at tezwritesgmail.com

If you would like a chance to win a copy of The Single Dad Detour leave a comment with your email address. This is a great gift for the single dad in your life.

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