Storyteller. Grace Dweller.

I’m Jennifer — wife of an Iowa farmer, mom to two girls, new book author. I believe in you, because I believe in Jesus. You matter to Him, and you matter to me. more »

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Monday 23rd April 2012

The Best Way to Destroy a Story

L.C. Smith typewriter


It’s been one of those days.

Scratch that. It’s been one of those weeks, the kind where you’re not sure about whether you’ve anything left to say that will matter.

Which is a lie, because we all have something to say. But I don’t know a writer who hasn’t entertained that thought a time or fifty.

Someone might call it writer’s block. Someone else might call it stage fright. But it’s something more insidious: It’s believing a lie. It’s listening to a deceiver who wags a wrinkly finger in your face and promises you that personal failure is imminent.

I have believed the lies. I have distrusted God, thinking he will not come through when I sit at an empty screen, a gaping hole that threatens to swallow me up one day.

Here’s the simple truth: I’m scared of cursors.

It’s that single black line winking, like it knows you’re going to mess up bad this time. It’s a steady, blinking reminder that you have no idea what you’re going to write next.

And it makes you think that if you do have something to say, someone else has said it better already.

The better half of my two-faced heart knows the truth. I’ve told the truth to other writers: “Your words matter to God. And your words matter to people.”

Because that’s the God-honest truth echoing down through the ages. Our stories matter. Words matter. If you don’t believe me, visit an airport lobby today, and see what people are holding in their hands. Better yet, try to open the Bible to a page that doesn’t contain someone’s personal story.

Furthermore, believe this: the only person who can tell your story is you. If you don’t do it, it’s not only your loss. It’s ours.

I know this whole self-doubting thing isn’t just me. And I know it’s not just writers.

The deceiver is the enemy of all people, and he tells us us that our lives are sub-par. The oppressor makes you think that your poetry stinks, your parenting offends, your work wallows, your ministry lacks, or that your stories fail to inspire.

I’ve heard your self-doubting words. I have. I heard when you said you’ve been scared to write another story, or to speak into the microphone. I’ve also watched at the Bible study table. I see how you shield your answers in the workbook, and how you’re afraid to share openly because you fear you’ve come to the wrong conclusion. You’ve identified the others at the table as “scholars.”

So maybe all of us are doing it: We’re editing our stories before they’re written, and if they don’t look good enough, we throw our drafts in the trash bin. I stand guilty, on all charges.

This is the very best way to destroy a story: never tell it. Deny yourself the opportunity to make sense of your crazy life or this great big world. Shut the door on the miracle that happens when the cursor leads a story across the page.

Or, maybe we could sit here at the empty screen, and trust in the miracle of story. Tell yours. Uncrumple the paper. Live more of life unedited. Hurt, out loud. Laugh, in community. Find beauty, in rancorous places.

Make friends with the cursor. Follow where the blinking line leads, filling a cavernous space with consonants, vowels and everyday miracles of living and dying and messing up and tripping over ourselves, and finding that God’s arm is not to short to save.

Tell your story, any story, and discover that it means more than just an old knob on the staircase, a long drive, mean girls or messy hands.

And maybe, just before you type the final period, you’ll make the most startling discovery of all: that the Hero of your story was in the room all along, just ahead of the blinking cursor, pulling a single thin line across an empty page.



 Writing in community today with two of my favorite storytellers, Laura and Michelle …

  • I’m feeling a little that way today, mainly because I have so much from my trip that it’s overwhelming to think of where to begin. Did you feel that way after Haiti?

    • Hi Megan …

      I do wonder if, like you, I am feeling overwhelmed with thoughts after returning from my trip. I am sure that it part of it.

      But I have felt this way before — that I have nothing new to say, that I’m plowing old ground, that people tire of hearing these stories. I sense that a lot of it is an internal struggle, but writing through it has helped.

      Thanks for being here, Megan. I so enjoy your writing; I so enjoy YOU.

  • The Liar seems to be on a rampage. I feel as though I am drowning in this sea of his barbed-wire words. The water is so murky that I cannot find my way out. The irrational thoughts seem to seep into my lungs but I am desperate to breathe in the Holy One. And so, with you, I kick furiously to the surface and I suck in as much truth as my body will hold.

    • Jennifer,

      Murky water is an appropriate description for this. Yes, I am right there with you. Let’s hold hands and kick upward. I’m right beside you! 🙂

    • Your words seem very poignant right now. Jennifer Ferguson, are you sure you are blocked? Man…i’ve never seen anyone write about writer’s block with such passion!

  • Thanks for the link, Jennifer, and the post. That little cursor can hold more fear for me than anything else, if I let it =)

    • You’re welcome, Lore. And thank YOU. It has been pure joy to become more acquainted with your writing in recent weeks.

      Isn’t it funny, though? I would have thought that you wouldn’t have that fear. We can make ourselves believe that we’re the only ones who struggle, but that’s not true.

      • Oh my. I’m afraid my writing lies well =)

        I find that THE BEST exercise for me to push past the fear is to just start writing. I don’t normally like sharing posts on other people’s comment forms, but I wrote this in January just to show how frightening it can be for me: http://www.sayable.net/2012/01/in-second-person.html

        Isolating ourselves is the worst thing we can do as writers, which can already be an isolating independent vocation. There’s safety in numbers—even if we are a faltering and frail group =)

  • Was just considering giving up some writing this morning. Never the journaling, just the public writing and for all the reasons you listed. Now if I can just wade through the words in my head and actually put them down by that cursor. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Nancy,

      I hope that you will wade through. You’ve such a beautiful heart and a gift for communicating. Let’s press through these times, when we have to fight for the words.

      Much love to you …

  • I think one of the best cures for being stuck is writing the moment. You’ve done that well, here. I like your last paragraph especially.

    • Brandee,

      Helpful words, my friend. I know you’re right. This, it seems to me, is a daily exercise: to come to the words even if I don’t think they are there. I sit here at an empty screen more often than I’d like to, but He proves faithful. Today was an example. I almost didn’t show up today. I inclined my ear to the deceiver, but fought back with consonants and vowels and a God-Man who called Himself The Word.

      Thanks, Brandee, for being here.

  • Thanks for your authenticity Jennifer. Dawn Gonzalez and I were both saying how much we love that about you when we met inRL on Friday. I struggle with this especially on Monday’s for some reason. I almost dread them because I battle the downward spiral toward the black hole of self defeating thoughts. And knowing you, who have done this so much longer than I have, whom I look up to in so many ways, struggles with this too – that just makes me feel better. Thank you.

    • Shelly,

      This warms my heart. Really. I mean, REALLY.

      It is so good to know we’ve friends who understand the struggle.

      How I love you.

      (And I was so excited to see a photo of you and Dawn together! Are you sharing stories about your meet-up on your blogs?)

      • I’m not sure if there is more to share than what I said in my post today. We only met for about an hour. She actually left the women’s retreat she was leading to meet me during their free time. What a gift! And there are days, like this one that I wish I could sit over a cup of tea and talk to you. Hope to some day.

        • I’ll check out your post, Shelly. Thanks for the heads-up!

  • This was such an encouraging post! And, Jennifer, thank you for being willing vessel to continue to “tell the stories” and encourage others, too.

    • Ruthie,

      Thank you for encouraging me in this space.


  • You have written my heart. Thank you Jennifer.

    • Hi Linda! I don’t wish this form of self-doubting nonsense on anyone. But somehow, it is reassuring to know that others have been there. Thank you for understanding … and thank you for continuing to push through with your own words, Linda. Your words are a gift.

  • You are very good about finding a story in the every day. The people you meet, your kids, and the world around you seem to speak to you in different ways. And not everyone is wired that way. So we try to eek out our words best we know how —

    It’s the good writers, like you, that know how to wring out every bit of meaning in life. And I’m good with that, reading the good ones.

    • That means a lot, coming from you, Mr. Rupert. You’re a rock-star writer who seems to have a deep well of ideas and insights.

  • Dea

    Ditto Linda. I haven’t even attempted a blog post this week because I was writing someone else’s story for (local) publication. (I don’t do that—at least I never have!) So much second-guessing!

    And I am speaking “my story” twice in the coming week–to strangers! What was I thinking???? Uugh. It has been a battle. I want to be real but I have to make sure that I am being real with myself. I covet your prayers that I can be discerning and focus on the Redeemer rather than the accuser.
    I just need to remember the One who “blinks” before me and follow His lead. 🙂

    • How cool, Dea, that you’re venturing in a never-before-attempted-area-of-writing! And speaking, too? Oh my! And yes, yes … praying for you right now, friend.

  • Rick Dawson


    I have shared your fear for a long time in that I have nothing new to say/it’s all been said better already anyways so why bother. I’ve started rejecting that as errant nonsense; I may not be ready to return to the blogging world, but I’ve been needing to get the songs that have been within me for a while out, so once again I’m facing the cursor. In typical grandiose fashion, I’m working on multiple sets of lyric at once, and I do edit myself – but now I’m doing it in the right way and for the right reasons. I simply won’t accept less than my very best work. If I were in someone else’s recording studio, I would have a producer – someone working with me to coax the best possible performance out from within. Here in the office, with the laptop open and only myself to please, the task gets harder, but it is worth the effort – especially since I’m not really working just to please myself. I won’t stop until I’ve completed the songs and get them recorded, and I know you won’t stop writing. It is your calling, and you are still responding. 🙂

    • I still would love to hear you on your guitar, Rick. Are you at Celebrate? I’m trying to remember exactly. Apologies for my memory lapse…

  • Our stories matter. My job on my Demand Poetry is to tell people how MUCH their stories matter… so much so that I will immortalize it for them in poetry.

    It’s harder to do with my own! AH! Thank you, my lovely friend, again.

    • Your Demand Poetry work absolutely fascinates me. It’s brilliant. You’re living this out … right there on the edge of risk. I love that about you, E. I always have…

  • One thing Ann V said this weekend that’s stuck with me is that when we feel we’re empty, that’s when we have to create. And then there’s that bit about how we all have to feed the river and the ocean being less without our drops.

    I never tire of your stories!

    • I saw that in your Twitter feed today, or Ann Kroeker’s or someone’s … about Ann V talking about the empty place. Yes! That is IT! Only she said it much more eloquently than I did here, of course. 🙂

      And thank you, Sandra, for not tiring, for being here, for encouraging, for helping me grow.

  • Getting comfortable with our emptiness–learning to value it–is that a key, then?

    It sounds like something worth pondering.

    • I think so, Sheila. Today and yesterday, I’ve seen some posts about the writers conference in Grand Rapids. It seems this idea of writing out of emptiness and brokenness was an overarching theme at the gathering.

  • Laura

    Oh, how I needed this. Have you been peeking through my windows? That cursor has me running scared these days. I might print this one out, Jennifer. Hang it where my flagging faith will see. *thank you*

    • And I needed to write it, I think. Laura … it’s been a struggle. And you know a lot more of than I’ve shared here. (Bless your heart for listening!) …

      But, I must say, I felt better after writing through it. And today? A good, good writing day.

  • Wise words, Jennifer. And, see, we’re all putting our hands up and sharing how difficult it is to put ourselves ‘out there’ sometimes.
    You do a brave thing, by writing about the difficult things. I so admire your honesty. Thank you.
    Sending blessings & love across the Ocean X

    • Ah Deborah. So wise. Indeed, most of us “get” this feeling. Thank you for pointing that out.

  • Beautiful. I never thought that not telling our stories was as if we were destroying them. It makes me want to push harder for the words, seek grace for the places that make me vulnerable and be ever so obedient to the nudging of God.

  • Oh yes, this is me. I’ve soaked in the lies for so long now, it’s become part of me. It’s taken me years to get to where I am now. And even now I’m frozen, staring at the cursor. Thanks for this. Much for me to think about:)

  • I especially love how you are revealing the spiritual side of these feelings. I am quite a new blogger and thought that that was why my feelings were so crazy. Identifying the enemy wil surely help!
    Blessings to you!

  • You. rock.

    Praise God for this post.
    One to return to time and again.

    Thank you, Jennifer, for bold truth.

  • oh friend. God spoke through you today to me. the only person who can tell my story is me… it doesn’t matter how many people read it, so long as i tell it.

  • A friend sent me the link to this post because she related it to a post I just wrote on this very topic. You have been a huge encouragement to me, more than you know. Thank you so much for this! It has truly blessed me!

  • A friend sent me the link to this post because she related it to a post I just wrote on this very topic. My thoughts have been discovered by you. You have been a huge encouragement to me, more than you know. Thank you so much for this! It has truly blessed me!

  • Jennifer, this is simply beautiful. I feel encouraged to write because of your post. Afresh. Anew. Thanks for sharing your time of doubt. May you feel re-energized and encouraged now to press on with your own story.

    And again, gratitude on my end is bubbling over.

This is what we are all after this Christmas, right? We are all after more light, more Jesus. 🕯🔦💡... So let’s make it happen. Let’s make it all about Jesus. (Latest blog post in the profile) ift.tt/2j8VIGC pic.twitter.com/f1MRQ692QC