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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

Please forgive the cheesy Shakespeare reference.  It’s just that I’ve been feeling a little Hamlet-y lately.  You know, troubled, indecisive, grumpy. . .borderline insane.

Actually, I feel much better after making a very difficult decision. I am taking a vacation from writing. A sabbatical.  A breather.  I’m going to look at my situation in January and re-evaluate.

I’m sure, since you are passionately interested in all of my activities and decisions, that you want to know why I would do such a thing after plugging away steadily for five years. I can give you some very credible reasons.

See, I’m a mommy.  I just started homeschooling my oldest son. (That alone would be reason enough.) We signed up for Cub Scouts. He’s playing soccer. All of these things are going to make it murder to get to my critique group meetings.  Plus it’s football season here in this college town, and you know the Holidays are coming up. . .

Are you convinced yet? Some of you are, but I can see you writers out there shaking your head “no.”  If you’re a writer, none of these things would be enough for you to go cold turkey for the next four months.  And they’re not enough of a reason for me, either.  But maybe they should be.

Ah, see, now we’re getting to the heart of the matter.

Time for a flashback. A vivid memory of a conversation I had with my much beloved and respected sister-in-law.  It was when my youngest son was about five months old.  It was getting late and our respective families had gone to bed, but we had stayed up talking. I was telling her about my writing goals for the upcoming year, and I said something like, “Sometimes I wish I could just be a regular mommy with no writing projects to worry about.” She looked at me like I was crazy.  To her, it was pretty clear — if I wanted to be a mommy with no literary entanglements, I could be.  What was the problem?

You writers understand.  You know what it means to decide you’re going to write. Even if you slow down or encounter obstacles, you keep going.  Writer becomes part of your definition. And I’m sure you also understand that sometimes it would be easier if you didn’t have characters making conversation in your head while you’re trying to pay bills/bathe your children/fix dinner/(insert routine task here).

But for months now — maybe even longer — I’ve questioned whether writing was a good use of my time. My time doesn’t belong to me, after all, and I want to make sure I’m spending it well. And when I focus on my writing, I feel very selfish.

Every time I’ve talked to my friends about this, they’ve said, “Well, everyone has their hobbies.  Some people play golf, some people collect Star Wars figures.  You write.” (I know some writers who would be offended at having their writing referred to as a hobby, but I never have been.  Until I gain the credibility that comes along with publishing, I feel like it is “just” a hobby. That doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously.)

I also hear a lot of people saying that having my “own” thing makes me a better mommy/wife/etc.   I’m not really sure I buy that. Even if I did, it’s not like this is the only interest there is for me to pursue.  I have an unfinished childbirth educator certification that’s been in limbo for several months. Not to mention sewing projects.

The point is that I have become too focused on my writing and on being a writer — reading, blogging, listening to podcasts, doing whatever I could to feed that aspect of who I am. I’ve been losing my focus on things that matter more. The fact is, I have kind of an obsessive personality. I tend to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else, and I have to work hard to keep myself in check.

I’ve prayed about it a LOT.  I’ve asked for God’s help in deciding what to do. (What I really wanted was some clear cut sign: I’m gonna lay my manuscript on the table before I go to bed.  If you want me to keep writing, God, please let the manuscript be dry in the morning while the table all around it is wet. ) Instead, He has given me good, godly friends who’ve listened to my concerns.  It’s amazing when several people who you respect all give you essentially the same advice.

In addition to the counsel I’ve received, it was right after I started praying about this question again —  “Should I be writing?” — That I undertook the third revision of my novel.  If you’ve read any of my recent entries, you know how that has gone.

I’ve also considered a few reasons why I might not want to take a break now.  This blog is one.  Because I thought I was fairly close to finishing my novel, I thought it was a good time to start networking a little, maybe create a web presence. It seems a shame to put that effort to waste.

This reason is a little funnier: I finally took subscriptions to Writer’s Digest and The Writer after not getting them for Christmas or birthday gifts for the last several years. So I’ll be getting both of those, along with the Poets & Writers subscription that my darling husband signed me up for as a Valentine’s gift. (Or was it Mother’s Day? — I can’t remember — but what a husband I have. He has been so wonderfully supportive of my dream.)

Another reason not to quit or take a break is that I’m afraid of disappointing people.  My friends who think it’s cool that I’m following my dream. Or long time crit circle — we’ve grown quite close. I don’t want anyone to think I’m wimping out. I’ve always been very concerned — too concerned — about what people think of me.

And what about all the time, money, and energy I’ve spent up until now?  Won’t they all go to waste if I quit now? I guess in one sense they would, but in a bigger sense, because I’ve learned so much about the world and about myself, and I’ve made so many good friends, I can’t call it a waste.

And I don’t know yet if this is THE END of Laura the writer.  I strongly suspect not.

This is the thing — I have to know that I can give it up if I need to. I can’t allow anything in my life that is more important than serving the Lord. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.

I know that it’s possible to bring glory to God through my writing.  I hope that I give Him glory in everything I do — that’s what I’m here for. But the truth is, my primary motivation for writing is that I want to.

I sincerely hope and will continue to pray that this time away from it will give me some clarity, will help me decide what I need to do when January rolls around. I hope I feel like I’m able to come back to it, because I don’t want to quit. It’s been an arduous and tearful decision. Most of all, I hope that if I decide that writing can’t be part of my life, I’ll have the courage and grace to accept it.

If you want to contact me, I’ll still be notified of any comments posted to this blog, and you are more than welcome to e-mail me through the link in the sidebar. And I’m pretty sure I’ll still be blogging some here while my writing is on hiatus.

And I’ve written all of this without crying, which means I’ve made a pretty big breakthrough.

If you’ve stuck with me and read this whole post, I sincerely thank you for your dedication.  If you weren’t already there, you are now officially added to my list of very good friends.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Mt 16:24-26)

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Like many of you, I’ve been watching the Olympics this week. Talk about excitement! Michael Phelps and Nastia Liukin, they take my breath away.

I was thinking this week as I watched how these athletes have worked so hard to make their dreams come true. But the truth is, they were also blessed with natural abilities that made those dreams a possibility. With all the training and practice in the world, I never could have been a Shawn Johnson, even if I had started when I was six.

And that of course, like everything else seems to, leads me to think about this writing thing I’m doing. Part of me wonders–ALL THE TIME–if I should even bother with writing at all. How much natural talent is required, and do I have enough? What if I work hard and keep at it, learn what I can, hone my craft, and my work still isn’t good enough? I know that no amount of work will guarantee that I’ll ever be published. I guess all writers face these doubts.

The thing I keep coming back to is that I really enjoy writing and the writing life. My dear husband reminds me all the time that even if I never get to count writing as more than a hobby, if I enjoy it, it’s worth it.

And the truth is, I don’t aspire to winning a gold medal. I’d be content just to qualify for the games.

~LW

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Have you ever been aware of your own growth? Sometimes I have the sensation of mentally pushing through a membrane to a place I’ve never been. Usually this comes with a deeper understanding of a concept (or concepts), an understanding that allows me to see things in a way I’ve never seen them before.

Let me give you an example. When I took my first fiction writing course in college, one of the primary “rules” that my teacher repeated was to use concrete detail. I can remember her saying over and over that concrete sensory detail was essential to ground the reader in the story. And she was right. But only now, ten years later (wow, that really dates me, doesn’t it?), am I coming to understand how critical it is not just to include sensory detail, but the right sensory detail–the detail that will not only put the readers into the scene, but will also work to reveal something about a character or create resonance in the story.

It’s similar to my growth as a Christian. As a child, I was taught many “rules” for living as one of God’s people. But only as I grow up in Him am I beginning to understand what it really means to, for example, “look not only to [my] own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

As with writing, knowing something doesn’t mean I’m good at putting it into practice. It takes a long time to learn how to show instead of tell, just as it takes time and practice to “be anxious for nothing.” (I guess I’ve got my head buried in Philippians right now.)

The best part is, as I press on as a writer, I am learning skills that I can apply as I strive to walk in the Way. I’m learning perseverance, for one thing. And courage.

How has your growth as a writer paralleled your growth in other areas of your life?

~LW

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One of the dilemmas that I am faced with as a writer is that of reading and recommending books about writing (although this can apply to any type of book). There are many excellent books out there to teach writers ways to improve their craft or increase their chances of publication, but many of them contain material that is offensive to me as a Christian–“filthiness”, “coarse jesting” (See Eph. 5:4), and the like. In some books, this is minimal, and can easily be filtered by the reader the same way we must filter speech we hear in our everyday lives. In other cases, however, this content is so pervasive, that it can make a book unreadable for a Christian.

This is a problem not only in the reading, but also in the recommending of certain books. I have read books that contain a wealth of good information, but were so full of bad language and offensive humor that I felt it was impossible to recommend them. Take for instance Anne Lamott’s classic, Bird by Bird. I confess, I love this book. I think Lamott offers exactly the kind of encouragement that most writers need. But if I recommend it to fellow writers, will they think I approve of the language she uses? One of her chapters is titled, “Shoddy First Drafts.” It has some really important things to say about letting yourself write really awful stuff, because you can fix it later. But it’s title doesn’t actually use the word “Shoddy.” It uses another word with a similar sound.

I could make a list as long as Rapunzel’s hair. James N. Frey’s How to Write a D*** Good Novel is full of useful advice, but even the title is problematic. Stephen King’s On Writing contains priceless knowledge, but is littered with the kind of language and base references you’d expect to find in, well, one of his novels. By endorsing these books, which contain profane material, I fear I could diminish my influence as a Christian and fail to glorify God properly.

So why not just dispense with such books, and stick only with the ones that are relatively clean? That is one good option. I could end the article here, and it would be sufficient. There are plenty of good books about writing that aren’t full of profanity. Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King comes to mind. Rarely will you find such a useful tome, and while there is a smattering of unclean language, it does not dominate the text.

But I suppose I am stubborn, insistent on mining every resource for ore and discarding the slag. So here, in a nutshell, is how I handle otherwise valuable books that are overpowered by objectionable content:

  • Edit as I read. I read with a marker or correction pen and obliterate the undesirable text as I go. Since I’m not planning on selling or distributing my censored copy, I have no qualms about doing so. I know that most authors would rage against me and call me a communist for it, but when it’s my own, private copy, for my own private use, I will do with it as I see fit.
  • Recommend with a warning. If I feel compelled to point someone in the direction of one of my less-than-pristine favorites (perhaps because it addresses a particular problem they’re facing), I do so with a corollary. I let the person know what they’re getting into and make it clear that I don’t approve of the bad content.

This may not be a fully satisfactory way of dealing with these books, but it’s the best I can do for now.

What’s your policy, Christian? Leave a comment to share your suggestions.

~Glenda

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