I originally wrote this at a time when I was heavily involved in fiction writing. Now, as an agent, I am more involved in editing/preparing fiction writing to be sent out to editors. However, I think the discussion is a good one to have within the Christian writing community.
Setting: The 2008 Festival of Faith and Writing. I attended the FFW conference in order to discover answers. With my thesis defense the following weekend and most of my writing within said thesis exploring elements of the Christian faith, I needed to know exactly what it meant to be a Christian writer.
I attempted this discussion within “The Academy”, as I called it then, to little avail. I doubt that I was asking the wrong questions only that other writing believers didn’t have the answers, either.
The keynote speaker at FFW, Mary Gordon, provided her own insights into my queries, “If your primary purpose in life is to be moral, then your primary goal should be to do good works, not to write.” But, isn’t it possible to write moral lessons within one’s stories? Even Henry James would instruct that literature needs to have a “conscious moral purpose”.
Uwem Akpan, the chapel speaker, started his devotional with, “Let us begin as we always do—in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.” I was lucky to start Sundays that way, let alone my writing. I wanted to be a Christian writer, but did I initiate my writing in prayer?
Mary Karr seconded this sentiment by discussing her prayerful approach to writing poetry. I was beginning to question myself as a Christian, not as a writer!
I left the Festival even more unsure of how to enter a writing career as a Christian. Instead, I began focusing on how I had been trained to write within “The Academy”. And, after gaining some perspective, I started to write.
And I started to publish. In secular journals.
So, I have an MA and an MLIS, my stories are getting published, I’ve begun working for a literary magazine, and I’m teaching as an adjunct faculty at a Christian college. I am living the life.
And then, one of those moments happened where I thought to myself, This will make an excellent blog post later!
One of my students asked me, “So, what do you have to do to be a Christian writer?”
After staring blankly in response and flashing back to a moment in graduate school where I had asked one of my professors a similar question, I stared. I am pretty sure that I responded somewhat intellectually and then quickly went back to the lecture, steering as far away from her question, or the answer to her question, as possible.
Character: So, What is My Answer?
And, am I willing to live with the consequences of my answer?
For example, if I say that being a Christian writer is about only writing Christian or even faith-based stories, am I willing to stop writing the stories at which I excel? My mother would appreciate this; I like to think that the journals to which I am submitting would not.
As I wrote in my own blog post later that day, “And, here is the answer I have (to shamelessly plagiarize Augustine): Love God.”
The answer has absolutely nothing to do with writing or publishing (the people at the Festival knew this). As a Christian, everything I do is spiritual, including my writing.
Everything. I. Do. Is. Spiritual.
Language: These are a Few of my Favorite Things!
As a short story writer, I appreciate the art of crafting each individual word. For me, it’s not about the plot—it’s about making every word count. The language is the story!
Instead of focusing on how many times I use “Jesus” or “God” (and, trust me, some secular novels could probably compete with Christian novels in this aspect!) or even incorporating a redemptive theme, I focus on the playfulness of my words.
I’ve mentioned reading stories aloud. I want someone to be able to read my stories and feel something. I want to move someone with my words. Do I want them to accept Christ after reading my story?
Not necessarily (audible gasp inserted here).
Yes, I care about my readers, but my ultimate goal is to write. In my daily life, with the people I regularly interact—at work, at church, at the grocery store—I strive to emulate the love of Christ however that may look.
Within my writing, I strive to be a darn good writer.
And, occasionally, when I am feeling the need to impress Henry, the purpose of my story is intentionally moral.
What does it mean for you to be a Christian writer?