“Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.”
“Tara, do you know what you are?”
My friend sipped her coffee and leveled me with a kind but far too direct stare. The kind of stare that is only earned through truth and years of hard-won trust.
“You’re a rodeo clown.”
I blinked, unable to formulate a reply in the sting of her assessment. I didn’t relish being compared to a clown. All I could see were the floppy shoes and bright-red nose. I contemplated dumping the coffee in her lap when she smiled.
“I don’t mean like Bozo the clown. I mean you stand in front of the crowd doing tricks, telling jokes, making everyone laugh. You see to their happiness while plastering yourself in makeup to give the illusion of a whimsical clown. But sometimes you hide behind that painted smile.”
She was all too correct. It’s easier than some might think to hide in plain sight.
I grew up as a preacher’s kid. I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly in churches. Somewhere along the way, I fell for the lie that approval and love are the same thing, but I was wrong. They are polar opposites.
Approval is a stamp that says, “You meet my expectations.” It drips of condescension and conditions. Love says, “You’re a mess, but I’m crazy about you anyway.” For too long, I lived as a people pleaser, looking for unconditional love in conditionally-minded people. I failed. Over and over again.
Thankfully I grew older and wiser. God brought amazing people—teachers, doctors, and friends—who helped unearth the wounds I kept locked away in the shadowed places of my heart. For a while I thought I had it all figured out . . . until I started writing. That’s when my characters began to teach me things I’m often afraid to confront.
In my debut novel, Engraved on the Heart
, my heroine Keziah battles epilepsy while working as a conductor in the Underground Railroad. She struggles against the expectations of her staunch Confederate family, hiding her frailties from society’s critical eyes and pleasing the brother she adores while still trying to remain true to her own convictions. As Keziah’s story unfolded, I realized I fell for the same lie she had . . . that broken means worthless.
In my latest novel, Where Dandelions Bloom
, Cassie Kendrick escapes her abusive father by enlisting as a male soldier in the Union Army. Cassie hides in plain sight yet fools herself into thinking she is finally liberated from the torment that has shadowed her life. In her quest for freedom, she comes to realize the only thing keeping her captive is her refusal to forgive her father.
While penning these two novels, I came to understand two things. First, I discovered Cassie and Keziah are reflections of my own secrets, the wounds I’ve tried to mask behind grease paint and wide smiles. Second, I realized why I write. Writing to win over the masses or for my own personal ego is a broken cistern of despair, nor do I write to escape. Instead, I start each book with a question I don’t know the answer to and ask God to reveal the answer as the story unfolds. To reveal himself.
In other words, I write to know God.
Many writers think their main goal should be voyaging off un-pubbed island. A noble goal, as long we don’t forget why we write. Published or unpublished, they both have their place and can teach us beautiful things at our particular point along the journey. Be careful not to base your identity in being a published author or as a writer at all. The more you build your identity on something other than Christ, the greater the pain if that identity crumbles.
“The seeker embarks on a journey to find what he wants and discovers, along the way, what he needs.”
Know why you write. The motivation makes a difference.
And if, like me, you discover you’ve been hiding behind face paint and false identities, that’s okay. Write about that too.
Why do you write?
What unexpected discoveries have you learned about yourself or about God as you’ve delved into the world of story?
Do you believe courage is a requirement for being a writer?
Join the conversation in the comments! Thanks to Tara Johnson and Tyndale, one commenter (US only) will win a copy of Where Dandelions Bloom OR Engraved on the Heart!Cassie Kendrick is on the run. Her abusive father arranged her marriage to a despicable man, but she's discovered an escape. Disguised as a man, Cassie enlists in the Union army, taking the name Thomas Turner. On the battlefields of the Civil War, keeping her identity a secret is only the beginning of her problems, especially after she meets Gabriel Avery, a handsome young photographer.
Anxious to make his mark on the world and to erase the darkness and guilt lurking from his past, Gabriel works with renowned photographer Matthew Brady to capture images from the front lines of the war. As Gabriel forges friendships with many of the men he encounters, he wonders what the courageous, unpredictable Thomas Turner is hiding.
Battling betrayal, their own personal demons, and a country torn apart by war, can Cassie and Gabriel learn to forgive themselves and trust their futures to the God who births hope and healing in the darkest places?
is an author, speaker, and passionate lover of stories. She loves to travel to churches, ladies’ retreats, and prisons to share how God led her into freedom after spending years living shackled as a people-pleasing preacher’s kid.
From the time she was young and watched Gone with the Wind
with her mother for the first time, the Civil War has intrigued her. That fascination grew into all aspects of American history and the brave people and stories who make up its vibrant past.
She says, “History is crammed full of larger-than-life characters. Doc Holliday, Annie Oakley, Helen Keller, Daniel Boone, George Washington, Amelia Earhart, and Frederick Douglass are just a few examples of flawed, wounded humans who battled their demons with determination and left an indelible mark on the pages of history. I suppose that’s why people are so fascinating. No matter the era, we all battle the same wounds. Abandonment, abusive fathers, overprotective mothers, loss, grief, rejection, addiction, crippling anxiety, loneliness, or the yearning for unconditional love, to name a few. We all battle the same junk and have to decide whether to fight or cave. Run or stand. Cry or smile. That’s what great characters do. They are a reflection of our struggles, our own wounds. Our own need. And, when written well, they remind us whom we need to turn to for healing.”
Tara has written articles for Plain Truth
magazine and has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth Radio and Enduring Word Radio. Tara is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Todd, live in Arkansas, and the Lord has blessed them with five children: Bethany, Callie, and Nate, as well as Taylor Lynn and Morgan Lane, who are with Jesus.
Visit her website at www.TaraJohnsonStories.com
and connect with her on Facebook