Behind the Story: Writing “Choosing Joy”

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“I grew up in a law enforcement household, and knew what it was like to have a lot of the same fears that Kimberly did—except hers became a reality.”

Traci Barrera is a college football writer and a fantastic gospel storyteller. Traci has formed a strong creative partnership with Betsy Lackey, the photographer on this story. You can follow Traci’s blog at www.traceoffaith.com.

Read the story Choosing Joy.

Story Team: One of the habits you’ve developed as a writer on our team is working closely with the photographer, including her in the initial meeting and interview with the subject. How does having the photographer involved impact the storytelling process for you?

Traci Barrera: Having the photographer involved in the storytelling process has been incredibly helpful for me. When Betsy accompanies me on an interview, she brings along a different viewpoint, and asks questions that I sometimes don’t think of, allowing us to get a well-rounded perspective on the story we are working on. After the interview is over, it is nice to process through everything with Betsy, and brainstorm ideas and story content.

ST: What made the story personal for you?

TB: The story was personal for me because I grew up in a law enforcement household, and knew what it was like to have a lot of the same fears that Kimberly did—except hers became a reality. It was hard to listen to someone share the emotions and struggles that I always wondered if my family would ever have to deal with.

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ST: What aspects did you consider that were unique to this project (scheduling interview, traveling out of town, selecting location/environments, etc.)?  

TB: The most unique thing was definitely traveling out of town for a story. That is something Betsy and I had never done as a team, but I also felt like it made for a better experience. On the road trip we were able to recap how we were going to handle the story, such as where to do the interview and where to conduct the photo shoot.

ST: How do you encourage and engage your subjects to be open and vulnerable with you? What were some of the questions you came up with that were specific to Kimberly’s story?

TB: I find it very important to open every interview with prayer, and to invite the Holy Spirit to be present and to lead the conversation. I encourage them to tell their story at their own pace, and share how they feel comfortable, and then I usually follow up with any questions that may be needed to fill in the gaps or to bring clarity to the story.

For Kimberly, I asked her how her identity in Christ has changed since this traumatic event. A difficult question I asked was how she sought joy in her loneliness and sometimes frustration, as a now single parent. I also asked her how she was able to offer forgiveness to her husband’s killer in the midst of suffering.

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ST: How do you typically go about crafting the story after the interview? Do you write immediately or let thoughts sit for a few days first?

TB: When I conduct an interview, I record the whole thing on my phone so that every detail is accounted for. After the interview is over, I usually like to sit on it for a few days, and pray that God would have complete control over the writing process. If I try to tackle it too soon, I feel like my mind is trying to brainstorm too many ideas and be overly creative, and the error in that is that I can unknowingly make it about my talents, instead of God using me to craft this story.

ST: What is your biggest challenge as a writer, and how do you overcome that challenge?

TB: Sometimes I fear that the way I write could never bring this story justice, and that I am not qualified to share this person’s story. So as I sit down at my computer, with the cursor flashing on a blank Word Document, I begin in prayer every single time. I pray that the words I write and the thoughts I have would only be from God and that nothing in the story would be from me. I pray that he would simply use me to share a story that would only ever bring him the glory. And sure enough, the challenges and fears start to fade away.

ST: What tips would you give someone who is learning to write gospel-centered stories? 

TB: Lots and lots of prayer! When writing gospel-centered stories, the goal is to bring glory to God and not to yourself as the writer, or even to the people who are sharing their stories. It’s hard to recognize that you may be doing that, so that’s why I also love working with editors. They keep your theology in check and make sure that Christ is always the focal point. I’d also recommend not deleting your interview recordings until a story is published! You never know if you may need more information, even in the final stages!

Images by Betsy Lackey

Story Team

The Austin Stone Story Team is a community of artists who tell stories of gospel transformation. We are photographers, writers, editors, filmmakers, and musicians on a common mission to use our gifts for His glory.

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