I had fun this past weekend, sharing about writing with children at the Homeschoolers of Maine Convention, just up the coast in Rockport. One of my top tips for writers of any age – and one I live by – is to try to experience whatever it is you are writing about.
For example, a character in a middle-grade novel that I’m working on fly fishes. The only problem, I’ve never been fly fishing. So, when I saw that our local outdoor outfitter, LL Bean, was holding a fishing expo with fly fishing demonstrations, I eagerly packed up the family and down we drove. Granted, standing next to the men’s shoe department beside a man-made pond and watching someone fish, is not the same as standing on the banks of a Maine pond, but I was surprised by how much I learned – and how much of what I’d previously imagined (and written) was wrong.
In my story, I had a fish explode out of the water in a dramatic arc when it was caught. But when the foolish trout we were watching bit the fly, it rolled and flipped under the water, almost like it was caught in a boiling pot, until the fisherman scooped it up with his net. A far different image from what I’d imagined.
Without personal experience, however, I never would have recognized my false assumptions.
In the same way, many people make assumptions about church, the Bible or people of faith, without having personally experienced it for themselves. Or maybe they’ve had a negative experience, by attending a harmful church, flipping through an archaic translation of the Bible or running into a person of faith whose views so strongly differed from their own that they rejected all faith entirely.
Different churches have different cultures, as my mom used to say. While one may or may not be better than another, it may feel more or less comfortable depending on your background and upbringing. The same goes for experiencing different translations of the Bible. Love King James English? There’s a Bible for that. Prefer Australian slang? There’s a Bible for that too! On the less extreme, there are plenty of contemporary versions, such as the New Living Translation, which make Scripture both accurate and understandable.
As for other people, why base your faith on someone else’s ideas when you can experience it for yourself? Watching someone catch a fish is better than merely imagining it. But catching a fish for yourself is the only real way to experience fishing, which is why I was excited to win a brand new fly fishing rod from LL Bean in a drawing. Even better, my husband, Dana, won a guided fishing trip for two on the Androscoggin River! Now I can really write about fishing.
So, during this season of Lent, consider an old writing tip and make time to personally experience God. What false assumptions might you be holding? You’ll never know until you explore faith for yourself.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Backward Easter Egg Hunt, the second book in her Lantern Hill Farm children’s picture-book series, is available now.