Jeanette Hanscome–Ready or Not…
A warm welcome to my guest blogger, Jeanette Hanscome! Jeanette is the author of five books, including Suddenly Single Mom, her first devotional for women. So happy to have her here!
Most of my writing flows from personal experience. My book Suddenly Single Mom is based on what God taught me during my first two years as a newly-single mother who had the added challenge of not being able to drive (I’m visually impaired). Both stories that I contributed to Kathy’s Fiction Lover’s Devotional series—for 21 Days of Grace and 21 Days of Love—include a single mom who is struggling in an area that I understand well. Some would say that I wrote these stories too soon. My husband left in July 2011, I wrote Suddenly Single Mom in 2015 and it was published in March 2016. The Fiction Lover’s Devotional Series stories were written and published around the same time. Looking back, I hadn’t finished grieving yet and still had a lot of baggage to sort through—the dirty, smelly kind of baggage that we avoid opening until the need for clean socks forces us to.
I am confident that I didn’t jump ahead of God or put something out there before I was ready. I might have done that with an article that I wrote ten years ago on a completely different and equally personal topic, but not this time. I often tell people that if I’d waited until I felt ready and qualified I never would have written anything involving divorce or single motherhood. The ideas came, the doors opened, and I went through them ready or not. Writing the Fiction Lovers Devotional Series stories was fun; writing the book can only be described with a cliché: an emotional roller coaster. I consider all three of these stories part of my healing process. Based on this, when I teach writers I no longer give a hard-and-fast timeframe for writing personal stories that will be published (not to be confused with personal stories that we write for ourselves, which we can write at any time). Instead, I tell them to keep these things in mind:
Only God knows when the time is right. His timing is unique to each person and project. I firmly believe that I needed to write the book for single moms when my emotions were still a bit raw, but not so fresh that I couldn’t see through them. I’d attended Divorce Care and another support group, and had just started meeting one-on-one with a Steven Minister, so I’d done quite a bit of healing. But I wasn’t so far down the road that I’d forgotten what it felt like to have the rug yanked out from under my life. There are other stories, however, that I may never be able to write for public viewing.
If you have written a story that repeatedly gets rejected, that might be God’s way of telling you “You aren’t ready yet.” On the other hand, if you are avoiding writing what you can’t get out of your head because someone has told you, “Wait, it hasn’t been five years yet,” get it down on paper and see what He does with it.
Know the difference between writing for therapy and writing to help others. Recently, a friend told me, “I don’t think I could be as gracious as you were in your book.” My response? “You saw the final draft, not the first draft when I spewed thing that could have gotten me sued.” When we finally get our personal stories out for the sake of glorifying God and helping others they offer the reader something besides, “This is what happened to me.” They have a point—that take-away value we hear so much about.
If all you can write is what happened, that is okay and you need to write it, but it’s probably not ready for publication yet. If you have a clear focus and fresh perspective that could benefit a specific audience, you are on the right track.
Be prepared to revisit the past. I attended my first writers’ conference in 1995, so I’d heard plenty of stories that prepared me for an emotional experience when writing Suddenly Single Mom, and even the Fiction Lovers Devotional contributions. But the grief and sadness and anger and confusion that hit while writing some chapters still bowled me over. I ended most writing days exhausted. I am so thankful that I was meeting with a Steven Minister, had a carefully-selected prayer team, and had a prayer partner that I could text at any time. On several occasions, friends recommended counseling as well. Instead, I sought counseling a few months after the book came out.
There is no getting around the emotions that writing authentically stir up, no matter how long we wait to revisit a painful part of our lives. When God makes it clear that it’s time, prepare yourself in advance. Form a prayer team of trusted friends. Pace yourself so you don’t become too overwhelmed. Take breaks (I rarely wrote on weekends, scheduled time out with friends, and looked forward to choir and worship team rehearsals). Know that it is perfectly acceptable to stop to cry. Reach out for support on rough writing days. Journal, paying special attention to how God uses the project to benefit you as much as you hope it will your readers.
Leave the results up to God. The book I wrote for single moms has also encouraged friends of single moms, those who appreciated knowing how to support them, and women who were grieving a completely different kind of loss. This made every teary writing day worth it.
You have no idea how God will use your personal story. But if you have the courage to share it in a way that shows others, “You aren’t alone and you’re going to be okay,” and the discipline to wait on His timing for putting it out there, He will use it in ways you don’t expect.
What experiences are you considering writing about? Pray that God will make His timing clear and give you the courage to follow it.
Bio: Jeanette Hanscome is the author of five books, including Suddenly Single Mom (Worthy Inspired, March 2016), her first devotional for women. Her writing flows from her experiences as a single mom who has lived with low vision since birth. Any leftover creativity is poured into knitting, crocheting, baking, and singing.