What Are You Afraid to Write?


I stumbled into the creative writing class fresh out of cancer treatment, a 48-year-old woman uncertain of her future. I had vague ideas about writing, but I was not even sure who I was anymore.

Cancer had taken all my sentences and scrambled my story.

I didn’t introduce myself as a pastor’s wife. I was Lynne (with an e) on a level playing field with the other college students.

I soon discovered that wearing jeans and a t-shirt like everyone else in the room couldn’t quite cover my wounds. The students wrote of true love and vampires and distant galaxies far, far away and I stared at blank pages. They were 18 and 19. All passion and future.

I was scars. Battle-fatigued. Dried up. Old.

The college professor—a reader of dark stories—disliked pat phrases, cliches, and the status quo. As he stood in front of the class one day, he said:

“The purpose of writing is to put on paper what people cannot say… or are afraid to say.”

Suddenly I discovered I had words. There were lots of things I was afraid to say.

Would the cancer come back? Would I live to see my children grow up? What is the purpose of it all anyway? Where is God?

Maybe that is why I didn’t introduce myself as the pastor’s wife, a careful woman, who would never admit the tumult of doubt, pain, and questions.

So many questions.

I soon realized other students were busy writing too. Apparently I wasn’t the only one with things she was afraid to say.

After writing for ten minutes, we were invited to share what was on our pages.

A heavy-set young man offered to go first and shared about his heroin addiction. A young woman shared about a sexual assault. Another shared about a miscarriage. Another the death of her brother. Another his parents’ divorce.

The readers stepped cautiously into the full noonday sun, all squinty-eyed, with scrunched up faces, unsure, after living in silence for so long, of the reception in the light of day.

As we each emerged, we discovered something unexpected: we were no longer alone. 

Writing is not about life in the suburbs and two perfect children and happily ever after. Ho hum. Pass the butter.

Writing—even from a Christian perspective—is about scars. Questions. Pain. Fear. Redemption is there, but not without struggle.

What are you afraid to write?

Lynne Hartke has a memoir coming out with Revell in 2017. She writes about courage, beauty and belonging at http://www.lynnehartke.com.

9 Replies to “What Are You Afraid to Write?”

  1. This is great! There are plenty of things that I’m afraid to write. For so long, my heart has been on “mute”. Writing what I’m afraid to write might bring my greatest fear. Thank you for putting words to what I am feeling. It isn’t that I *can’t* write…it is that I am afraid to. Thank you.

    1. It remains the challenge for all of us, doesn’t it? Sometimes what we are afraid to write is first for ourselves.

  2. Your story sounds so much like mine. I had nearly finished a novel and then got breast cancer. Fortunately the medical people found it early and it was only stage 1. I was 49 years old and had just been to my 30th high school class reunion. Suddenly, my story seemed boring, uninteresting, and unimportant. I rewrote it as a fantasy novel and I’m just putting the finishing touches on it. Just be brave. you will get through it all and keep writing those inspired stories!

    1. Thank you. I appreciate your encouragement. I was working on a novel and switched to nonfiction after my cancer treatment was over.

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