Living is harder than dying.
~ Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
That quote has always struck me. Living is harder than dying. Isn’t it the opposite of what we usually think? We laud those who die for causes they believe in, those who give up their lives for others. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want to diminish those sacrifices in any way. But we rarely recognize those who live, who push through pain and heartache and darkness and chose to keep breathing, keep fighting. I think that sometimes—oftentimes—that’s the harder thing to do. As a Christian, what happens when you die? Heaven! Yippee! It’s far more preferable than serving and struggling and bleeding down here.
I think this is a truth we writers need to remember. I know the original quote didn’t have anything to do with that, but I think it has an important message for artists of any kind. Living is harder than dying. Writing life-filled, light-filled things is harder than writing darkly and morbidly.
I started pondering this idea when someone said something of this sort somewhere (yeah, I obviously don’t remember the details too well): “It’s easier to write depressing things than happy things”. I thought, really? When I think of happy things, I think of fluff. Shallow, meaningless literary equivalents of cotton candy. Isn’t that kind of thing easy to write? Depressing stuff, though—isn’t that deep and hard and an evidence of true craftsmanship? But after thinking about it for a while, I realized that the quote is right. Writing dark stuff is the easy way out.
Now, this isn’t always true, and writing depressing things isn’t necessarily wrong (check out my series about how Christians should view depressing books). However, I do think writers, especially Christian ones, should be very careful when writing purely depressing things. Here’s why.
It is easier to get caught up in the emotions of the moment, to let your fears and frustrations take control and pour out through your words, than it is to find the beauty and hope in the hard situation. The latter requires action, initiative, and courage. Yes, courage, because it’s scary to say that there is good in the bad things. That means there’s someone in control that you have to trust and submit to. It means that this horrible circumstance is actually for your best, and that instead of moping, sulking, and throwing fits, you should actually … give thanks.
I think many of us consider writing dark scenes are being realistic. I’m seeing the world as it is. This is real life, man. But we’re so wrong. Life is in no way perfect, and to portray it that way is simplistic and naive. However, it isn’t just darkness, either, and depicting it as such is just as faulty and unbalanced. Having a biblical worldview means recognizing the evil of the world—and recognizing the One who overcame it and offers salvation from it. As Christians, we are not to shy away from the world and the reality of sin, but we are certainly not to glorify it, either. Writing only depressing things all the time is elevating darkness far too much and portraying an unbiblical and unbalanced view of reality.
Please note, I’m not saying everything you write needs to be overtly Christian with a Christ figure and obvious allegory. However, you are called to glorify God through everything you do, which definitely includes the art you create. You can honor God with implicit, not-obviously-Christian writing, but there is always a message to what you write. Your worldview will come through into everything you make, and if you have a faulty perception of the world—if you forget the light and truth and are too focused on the darkness—it will bleed through into your words.
Also note, again, that I’m not saying writing something purely depressing is wrong. You just need to take care how often you do it, whom you share it with, and if that mentality pervades all of your writing.
Being a writer means the minds and hearts of others are under your control for a brief while, and this is a heavy responsibility. What message will you leave them with? Will you leave them in hope or despair? How will your words influence their souls? You can change lives, for good or for ill. Take care, writers, and choose the harder but more rewarding path of painting life in all its messiness—and it’s beauty. Remember that writing light is harder than wiring darkness.
Remember that it is harder to live than to die.