Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Reminder for the Christian Writer

Sometimes what's obvious, isn't so obvious.

Writers can get this more than other people. Sometimes we can't see what's glaringly obvious because we've been looking at the details; we can't see the major flaws of a project just because we've been working on it for months on end.

But this doesn't just happen in writing. Sometimes we can lose sight of the big picture. Sometimes we can get so caught up in doing things that we don't remember why we're doing them.

That's when we need reminders. No matter how well you know something, you always need a reminder, because you'll forget it. Little by little, inadvertently, it'll slip from your mind, even if you've tried to stay focused.

This happened to me this past week. My writing just wasn't flowing. I wasn't feeling inspired. I wasn't feeling motivated. I had a lot of goals and a lot of ideas, but they all felt discordant and disconnected. What was going on?

I decided to sit down and figure it out. It was about midnight, I think; and an unusually cool night. I decided what I needed to do was to review the fundamentals, especially when it came to writing. What was I doing with my writing?

The initial answer came easily. I wanted to glorify God with my writing.

But how?

That spawned this post, which is copied from my “midnight notes”. I went back to the basics—I reviewed the fundamentals. To the question “How can I glorify God with writing?” I discovered four answers, roughly in order.

So. How can I glorify God with writing?

1) By showing his glory.

This seems obvious, perhaps. But it's so much bigger and more meaningful once you get past the “Christianese” that surrounds the word “glory”. Showing God's glory in writing means embodying his love so we can experience it more; his goodness so we might thirst for it more; his joy so we might rejoice in it more; his faithfulness so we might give thanks all the more.

Showing God's glory in writing means taking what's good about God, what's glorious about God, and putting it into a story. It means making it so that we can see it clearer than ever before; sometimes our view of God and his virtues is skewed or veiled. The writer's job is to straighten the picture and unveil the masterpiece. We embed the nature of God in a story so that people can see it in a new light, because they might not be able to see it properly in real life.

Interestingly enough, I sometimes think of How To Train Your Dragon when I review this point. Because what that film did, superbly, is convey a sense of wonder. Whether or not the makers of that movie meant to show the glory of God or not, they did. And that's an attribute of God I appreciate more and more. He's full of wonder. And as much as I like HTTYD, that pales in comparison to the wonder found in Christ! So really, it just reflects us back to him who is ultimately wonderful. As beautiful as John Powell soundtrack is, it's a mere echo to the glory of God.

And that's what our work should be—echoes of the glory of God.

2) By showing our journey.

Showing our journey means embedding our hopes and worries and fears into a story. All of the things that all of us feel. Then we play them out in conflict and in plot; and it shows us, ultimately, how God leads us closer to him, to trust him and to triumph in him.

And this one's more practical. Because if you embed a truth of Scripture in a story, it becomes more than just a story. It applies to life. Just like the story Nathan told David changed him, showed him where he was wrong, a story that tells the truth can change people. If it shows our problem, it can show our solution. It can show the end of the journey. It goes beyond a story into real life.

3) By writing the story he inspires, without compromise.

If the story best glorifies God with explicitly Christian content, write it so. If it best glorifies him with implicitly Christian content, write it so. God's glory, not man's judgment, is paramount.

Does that mean that our stories always have to be explicitly Christian? No. Because if God calls you to write a novel that is implicitly Christian, to disobey that calling is to deny him the glory of us doing what we are called to do.

Without compromise is an important phrase. That means that it should be no more and no less “explicit” than what we are called to. I'm not going to force theology into Will Vullerman because that's not what God called me to do when I wrote it. But I'm not going to tone down the theology of Tornado C, because that's not what God called me to do when I wrote it.

4) By writing the best story I can.

Excellence glorifies God. Simply doing something well brings glory to him. What that means is that when I write, I write with passion, dedication, and the love a craftsman has for his craft. It means a love for detail, for technical and structural mastery. It means raw honesty, truth, and emotion.

And a ridiculously good story.

In summary, I glorify God in writing by showing his glory, showing our journey, and writing the story he inspires, without compromise, as best I can.

If a story does not do this, I have no business writing it.

That's our reminder. Keep focused. Don't lose sight of why we write, and how we put it into practice. Sometimes we have to reexamine the fundamentals in order to find clarity in what we're doing.

I certainly found that to be true in my own life—after doing this, I attacked my projects with renewed vigor, finishing my world-building project today at 10,000 words. Having a clear goal helps you have a clear path.

Now—let's get going! Once we have the goal in sight, we don't have any excuses left to keep us from the road.

Soli Deo gloria!

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for men...It is the LORD Christ you are serving.” —Colossians 3:23-24

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly...And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the LORD Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” —Colossians 3:16-17


Abbey said...

Yes!! I totally agree! Great post! And wonderful verses from Colossians. I especially like the first one. Sometimes I take my "eyes from the prize" and forget I'm working for God, not man. Colossians 3 is a great reminded.

Bluebelle said...

These are awesome points, Jake! This sentence just reached out and punched me in the gut, by the way: "The writer's job is to straighten the picture and unveil the masterpiece." Sometimes I struggle with deciding how much "Christian-ness" to put into my stories, but I forget that my standard isn't what people want to see. It's what God wants. And if He wants it, He'll make it flow naturally through my words. Thanks for this post, Jake!