Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sabbath Reflections: What Biggest Loser Taught Me About Writing

This week, I was watching the most recent episode of Biggest Loser with my family (I think watching other people suffer makes me feel better about dragging myself to work out twice a week). At one point, both trainers were dealing with a problem contestant.

You know, the person with the attitude who flat-out refuses to do what they’re told. The one who’s always whining that they can’t do it when people twice their age are in the background, turning their complaints into sweat by gritting their teeth and working harder.

People like that annoy me. I rolled my eyes as I listened to them give excuses and said something like, “Okay, there comes a certain point where this is a character issue. The people complaining aren’t the ones who are the most physically weak. They just decide to stop working. Anyone can follow orders and keep going when they don’t feel like it.”

Then, later, I realized that I try the Biggest-Loser-wimp line all the time when it comes to writing. “I don’t feel like it. I’m too tired to write today – maybe tomorrow. This project is too frustrating to continue, because I know I’ll just have to rewrite the first five chapters anyway.”

Maybe the people who get the most writing done, the ones we look up to and think, “How on earth did they publish five books in the same year?” know the secret of discipline. Anyone can start, just like everyone can come on Biggest Loser and say nice, happy things about how excited they are to be on the ranch. But not everyone can finish, because not everyone chooses to finish.

Sometimes, I find myself in that last group. There comes a point in any long piece of fiction when writing isn’t fun. I want to be a writer who keeps going anyway.

Don’t get me wrong: there are legitimate reasons to abandon a project, but there are a lot more lazy reasons. When I complain about not having enough time to write, sometimes I really don’t. But sometimes, I just don’t make the time.

On Biggest Loser, the trainers talk a lot about knowing why you’re there. Sure, the contestants want to lose weight. But why? Some are in it to win the competition, others to help a loved one battle their obesity, but most simply realized it was something they had to do for themselves. Knowing that reason gives them the focus they need to fight through those excruciating workouts.

And me? Why do I write? What’s going to keep me going when I just don’t feel like it?

Lots of reasons. I love words, stringing them together in the perfect combinations and finding just the right one to fit in a sentence. I love people, especially people in the age group that I want to write for (upper elementary and early teens). I love the way stories can be used to reveal truth and minister to others. I love the thrill of finishing a long project, looking back at the two-hundred-plus pages and saying, “I wrote that.”

That’s what I need to remember when writing loses it’s fun. None of those things change, even when the writing process slows down for me. Those are my reasons for doing what I do.

Our culture doesn’t put a very high value on virtues like sacrifice, perseverance, and patience, which might be why so many Biggest Loser contestants have to get an attitude adjustment or get lost. They’re used to being selfish. We tell ourselves that’s okay, that immediate gratification is our right, and that anything that becomes too difficult is an unnecessary burden.

As Christians, though, we hear a different message. Sacrifice is a command. Perseverance through difficulties is the norm. And instant gratification? Waiting for our feelings to change before doing what we know we need to? Nope, that’s nowhere to be found in the Bible.

That’s one of the ways I think the Bible mirrors real life so much better than our culture. Even secular programs like Biggest Loser show that reality is counter-cultural: to achieve something meaningful, you’re going to have to suffer, sticking with it even when you want to quit.

That’s why I write. Not because it’s fun. Not because it’s easy. Because there are things I love about writing, even when I don’t feel them, and because I never want to look back and think of a project that could have been, if only I had stuck with it.


  1. This is so true! (i.e. I do this...) I like your take on it--it's very thought-provoking.