I sit alone, my computer cold on my lap. My fingers lie still and heavy on the home row as my eyes wander around the room. I see the massive, bursting bookshelves along the far wall. I am too far away to read most of the book titles, but I recognize many of the books by spine, having read them so much that a mere glance recalls familiarity. I remember just about every story I’ve ever read.
I have a good memory for it. I recall the roller coaster plot twists, the colorful characters, and the gripping prose. I remember the feelings best. The way I cried at a tragic death or raged at a succeeding villain. I remember wanting to kill and to save, to help and to hinder.
Now I remember my heavy, unwilling fingertips. With great concentration I will them to move, to slowly clack away at the keys. Every clack is a death beat marching me closer and closer to a place I don’t want to go.
I have been trying to write a book for a year now. I say “trying” because I haven’t been the most faithful with it. There have been month-long periods of lethargy, forgetfulness, and discouragement. But when I come back, I read it, hate it, and start over. It’s not the writing that I hate (though it certainly frustrates me). I can get past my inferior, tacky attempts at dialogue. No, it’s not the writing but the pain that gets to me. I cannot willingly cause my characters harm. Or grief. Or despair. It’s cruel to create a character, to give him feelings and relationships, only to tear him down. How dare I injure anyone, even the fictional? It makes me despise myself as a writer.
I have despised many writers in my time. I was nine when I first hated a writer, Brian Jacques, for (spoiler alert) killing off Rose in Martin the Warrior. What a jerk. I soon discovered and hated many others. (Spoiler alert) Wilson Rawls kills dogs. JK Rowling orphans babies. David James Duncan drives a man to insanity. George RR Martin – well, George RR Martin betrays, rapes, flays, and murders everyone. I blame them, and I’ll blame myself.
It shouldn’t even be that hard for me. My job is simple. I have to take a pet away from a six-year-old girl named Ellie. No big deal. She can move on from that. Many have. But I know it’s a big deal to her. For her the world is crashing down, like it did for me when I lost a pet. I know the impending pain, and hard as I try, I cannot give it to her. Ellie’s only six. She likes submarines and kangaroos, and she has no idea what is about to happen. She will suffer, because I made her suffer. And so I pull my punch. After each version, I end up with roughly the same thing: a wimpy, forgettable little moment that no one, not even Ellie, will feel sad about. I’m too scared and too pathetic to cause any meaningful damage.
But great suffering brings great triumph. We read fiction to watch people overcome their struggles. We enjoy tragic moments, because they are purposeful and developmental. Pain can drive a character or a plot to something complex and important. Ellie will get another pet. In a mere few pages, things will be looking up again. She will emerge from her suffering with hope and understanding. I, the bringer of pain, will also be the bringer of new life.
My typing is still slow, but my fingers feel a touch lighter. I plunk along with dread, but I also hope for a brighter ending, perhaps even a joyful one—one people can read again and again.
Laura (Bardolph) Hubers (’10) is wife to Matt, mother to Samuel, and copywriter at Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. She counts the day the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series as one of the happiest of her life.
Matt Hubers (’12) lives with his wife, Laura, and young son, Samuel. He likes to spend his time playing board games, coaching high school forensics, and frolicking with alpacas. His dream is to write picture books.