Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Writing Christian Romance: I really want to. But can I?

I've been feeling very conflicted lately. And I know that right now I can't sleep. Way too much on my mind. I feel guilty...but at the same time, if I went to bed I would just toss and turn. I might as well try to get something productive done. Some people might not think writing on a blog as something that is productive, but for me it is. I function so much better mentally when I'm exercising my brain through writing. It helps me get so much off my mind, and often helps me find peace with the things I struggle with. Often when I write it's kinda like a prayer, because a lot of the time I'm directing what I'm writing to God.

One reason I've found the thought of writing stories so overwhelming lately is because I've approached it as if in order to write a story or a book or a novel that encourages and speaks to people, I need to understand completely whatever it is I want to write about. I feel like I need to "have all the answers" for whatever the subject is. There aren't many things right now that I can say that I understand, or that I can explain to other people. But I still have that DESIRE to help others who struggle with things that I struggle with. I don't have the courage as of yet to share ALL my struggles, hopefully that will change someday, but I have to start somewhere.

I read something though on Francine Rivers' website a month or so ago that changed that perspective for me. She said that every book she writes begins as a QUESTION she is asking God. I've been thinking a lot about that. It suddenly seems strange to me that I wanted to write stories for reasons that would never occur to me to be acceptable reasons to talk to people. Do I want to help other people, if God leads me to someone that He has equipped me to help? Of course. But I don't view other Christians solely as people that I need to help. That would be very condescending of me. I view other Christians as people that I want to fellowship with, people that I want to grow closer to God with. If through that I end up helping someone who is struggling, wonderful. But the fellowship, the sharing of a common love, a common purpose, is the goal. The focus is the living and the acting out in truth the Life of the Body that God has called us to, that He has made us for.

Obviously, writing won't be exactly the same as fellowship, as it is usually a solitary exercise, versus a corporate one. But why was my purpose focused on what I could do for others? If that's my focus, I'm going to do more harm than good when I try. If I want to be an encouraging member of God's Body through my writing, He needs to be my focus. I want my writing to be another exercise, another way of my getting to know Him better. Yes, my blog writing is already something that I view that way, but why not my stories? I don't need to have any answers, I don't need to be an expert on a spiritual issue in order to write about it. I just need to begin with a question, a desire to understand something that I don't understand, a yearning to be lead by God to His truth. If that is what drives my writing, and not me trying to have all the answers - which is ultimately just a symptom of me trying to please others - then I will take so much unneeded and harmful pressure off my shoulders, grow closer to God, and maybe even encourage others in the process.

So, Christian Romance. It's on my heart, on my conscience. I believe I can do it. I believe at the very least I can write stuff better than most of what I've seen out there lately. (Of course with the exception of Francine Rivers. If I could ever develop my writing enough to come even close to her talent, that would more than I would ever ask for.) And this isn't a vanity on my part, honestly. I just can't believe some of the stuff that gets published. It doesn't matter how good your story is if you don't develop your characters. If your characters aren't developed, if what they do doesn't seem realistic, then you dehumanize them and they become impossible to relate to. The greatest story in the world, the most elegent prose, is ruined if the characters don't make sense.

Honestly, I kinda want to write those online "webisodes" that I update one to a couple times a week, where people can comment, tell me what they think, and it would be a good developmental exercise for me I think. I don't want to stay with that, I would love to be published someday and have real books with paper and ink sitting on bookstore shelves, but the internet is a very valuable tool that I can use to my advantage - kind of a impromtu education - learning what works and what doesn't, what I need to work on, how I can improve, and what it is I'm capable of. I've tried those writing communities in the past, and they're fun for a while, but that's kind of overwhelming too. It's way too easy to get distracted by what others have written, or to get discouraged because no one comments on what you have written. Of course, I don't know if people will comment on what I'll write this way either, but I think I have a better chance at receiving constructive critism.

So...now I just need to figure out how to build a website where I can do that. I'm not going to invest money yet, so I need one of those free sites. I really love Blogger for blogging, but I think I'm going to try Wordpress. I tried it before for The Chronicles of Jane that quickly died out, but I think that was because I focused too much on the formating rather than the writing. Who cares how pretty my site is if I only write two chapters?

Oh, one more thing. Even though writing is usually a solitary exercise, and I'm not going to try those writing communities anymore, that doesn't mean that a community of other writers isn't important. I don't want to throw myself into building that community any more than I want to completely distract myself by the logistics of writing, but the rest of tonight before I go to bed I'm going to dedicate to finding other people like me: Christian Romance authors who at least talk about their writing, if not share it, online. I don't know if I'll find anything, but I'm going to try.


UPDATE: I've found some good stuff. By far the most encouraging site I've found as far as giving me other options goes is New Christian Voices.

One thing I just found made my jaw hit the floor...wasn't exactly what I was thinking I was going to find. It's an online resource index called Biblical Counsel: Resources for Renewal. The reason I stumbled upon it was because of this page on Christian Fiction. This statement - or disclaimer - is at the top of the page:
"We see no precedent in Scripture for fiction, either Christian fiction or secular novels. Time spent reading fiction is time lost from learning more scriptural truth with the finite amount of time we are given. However, if the mind is fatigued and needs rest and recreation, then do choose Christian biography or Christian fiction over the novel, over the theater, and over the media. Remember the Jesuits have always used the theater, and now Hollywood, to influence the masses with their heretical message."


I'm not sure who the people are that have published this resource guide, and frankly I don't think I'll be visiting this site anytime soon, but they do have a link to some George MacDonald fiction on the page to their credit.

9 comments:

Toolbit said...

Amanda,
You don’t know me and you didn’t ask for my advice, but I can only assume you’re receptive to it if you post on a public forum like FB. I too am considering a writing career and I get the impression we both have the same bad sleeping habits. I’m not an established writer, so utilize what I say as you can and throw away the bones when you’re done.

Two things about your note strike me overall. First, your handle on the English language is solid: concise writing, proper use of punctuation without overuse, and a minimum of cognitive and linguistic eyesores. This means you have the basics, which means you are somewhat realistic with your goals. Second, you seem to be unsure about the direction of your writing. This can be worked out as you develop your writing skills, but determining the scope of your scribbling should be a priority. Writing to express yourself will take you in a different direction than writing to get paid. Nothing says you need a single impetus, but you should know what your impetuses are.

If you want to take writing seriously, I hear two things over and over: there are no shortcuts: if you want to write well, you have to glue your posterior to a chair and write. Read and write to exhaustion. Professional writers know that writing is a job. As the purpose of your writing crystallizes, you will want to ask yourself if the sacrifices of writing – especially good writing – are worth it. The chances that you’ll hit it big are infinitesimally small. More people make their livings as professional athletes than as professional fiction writers. You are likely to work harder and make less money as a writer than you are in a large number of industries. Buckets of passion, self-motivation and tenacity against the naysayers will probably be required. Do you have something to say to the world that pains you to keep it inside? Do you have insight into humanity that you ache to express to as many people as will listen? Do you have at least half a dozen ideas for stories (I would call them “hooks”) in you? My personal opinion is don’t waste your and other people’s time if don’t have these qualities. Life is short and there’s a cornucopia of mediocre literature.

Why do you want to write Christian romance? This is not a rhetorical question for you to ruminate on. Why do your predilections drive you there? Is this something you’ve wanted to do for some time? What do you think you can offer the genre that others can’t? Something to keep in mind: the God-awful Twilight series is bad Mormon romance. Just because it is tripe doesn’t mean there isn’t money to be made.

(cont.)

Toolbit said...

(cont.)

Here’s some numbers to keep in mind. Most writers can generate, on average, approximately one page of high quality fiction a day. This means a typical book takes approximately one year to write. Most writers can’t produce quality material after four hours of writing: experienced writers can do this twice a day, optimally. The authors I’ve listened to will usually start at 4 a.m. To master a complicated task, it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice, which comes out to 4 hours a day for 10 years (Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great book on the subject, “Outliers.”) It’s not unheard of for a book to be rewritten a dozen times, thus the editing process is arguably the most important and most tedious part of publishing. And as you’ve said, writing is a solitary—more apropos, it’s lonely work. Hemingway said this:

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness, but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.

This from a man who blew his brains out, to say nothing of Woolf, Plath, and Dorothy Parker. To live inside one’s head takes a certain disposition. This makes me question the (universal Christian) motive of wanting to 'help' people with their writing. You’re welcome to disagree with me on this, but I believe wanting to please God and help man with authorship should be a distant second to writing for its own sake. If you want to help people, volunteer with Habitat For Humanity. If you write for an audience, you ought to love the process more than the people. This is not the same as writing just to write. To be crass, that’s just mental masturbation. Think like an athlete: an athlete trains and plays not for the crowd, but because he loves the game. Decide if you want to converse with souls via the written word or if you want to become a master at your craft. If you write to simply share a part of your life with the world, frankly, it doesn’t really matter how you go about it. The world is full of faceless bloggers. If you’re going to play for real, you should really love it—not God or people, but what writing itself.

With any luck, I’ve put a bit of the fear of God in you. If after reading this you are even more resolute that writing, either as a serious hobby or as a profession, is what you want to do with your life, I have resources that may help. I also have thoughts on the finer points of writing, but like you, I'm still learning. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think.

Vaya con Dios,
J. K.

IndweltDaughter said...

J.K.,
First of all, thank you very much for your comments. They were very encouraging and challenging at the same time. I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me.

I really like what you said about having an impetus, or a few even. Right now I know I haven't been very committed to the developement of my writing, and even though a lot of that is because of time and life constraints, I know that has hurt my ability to find a direction for my writing. That's what I'm trying to do right now, and I'm committing to writing at least something personal everyday. I appreciate your insight into writing to express myself versus writing to get paid. I want to write to get paid, definitely. But I need to develop first, and I know that writing to express myself helps with that.

My writing does need to become more focused though, and I was challenged - in a good way - by what you said about taking my writing seriously. There are no shortcuts. I just need to do it. And not just do it, work at it. As hard as I've ever worked at anything in my life. That's something I really need to experience in reality beyond the realization in my head.

As for the qualities you mentioned that are necessary in order to have a chance at making it as a professional writer, my answer is yes! to all three. I know that those things aren't enough, but I know they need to be there if I'm really serious about doing this.

(And as far as the Christian romance thing goes, I was thinking more along the lines of Janette Oke, Grace Livingston Hill and L.M. Montegomery rather than Twilight. I thought the series was entertaining to read, but I have no desire to write stuff like that. I want to be a GOOD writer. Not necessarily a popular one.)

The numbers you mentioned are really helpful in that they put things into perspective for me....especially the "10,000 hours of practice."

I really like what you said to about the difference between helping people and just writing for it's own sake. It's something I still have to think about, but I like your perspective on it. I need to remember that no matter how much I want to help people, if I'm not enjoying what I do in the process, it'll end up just being counter-productive. And vice-versa, I can't fall back on my writing as my "helping people" quota. That's putting my spiritual experience and growth in a box, not letting God develop other possibilities in me. This is definitely something I'd like to discuss with you more.

You said:

Decide if you want to converse with souls via the written word or if you want to become a master at your craft.

I want to do both, but I want to become a master of my craft more. There are other ways to converse with people besides writing, and I don't know who God will bring me into contact with, or how He'll want me to fellowship with them.

I'd definitely like to discuss "the finer points of writing" with you. And if you can share these resources you have with me I'd be very grateful. I sent you a reply message on FB too, so we can communicate that way as well. Thank you again for your thoughts, I really enjoyed hearing them. (CB liked them too.) :D

Many blessings
~Amanda

Toolbit said...

Well, thank you for the compliment on liberals. If you ever want to read really scathing attacks against liberals, I’d recommend P.J. O’Rourke. Just warm yourself a cup of tea, google him and enjoy yourself for an hour or two. My newer stuff is not on my blog, but posted notes on FB. Feel free to give them a perusal, though don’t feel obligated. Remember, no one owes you a reading; I’ve had to remind myself of this on many occasions.

I’m glad to hear that you’re still resolute on your dream. Like I said, I’m still learning, so take my advice with a grain of salt. I read through everything you’ve written on your blog this year, so I can’t really comment about your fiction-writing abilities. One area you might want to work on is your vocabulary. Your lexicon seems a bit sparse. You’ll want to fall in love with works. Have romantic trysts with nonplussed paragraphs, sans purple prose. Seduce supple supplicants with scintillating succor. I have a paid account with Merriam-Webster because I love their services. I would highly recommend subscribing to their (or another) word of the day, which I believe is a free service. Bathe yourself in diction and don’t be afraid to use big words to describe yourself. Look up—and use—the word kerfuffle. I cannot overemphasize how important I think this is for any writer.

Also, learn etymologies. Learn why we call it a heart but its study is cardiology. Why the German word for cheese is kase but fromage in French. Where do we get our words for salary, freckle, and barbecue? Why we have different words for animals (deer, cow) than we do for food (venison, beef) and why we don’t seem to know if it’s Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit. Words have biographies: read them.

Lastly, listen to the Grammar Girl podcast. It’s just a wonderful resource.

One playwright I remember reading recommended to any writer that they must read voraciously. She said to keep pen and paper by your side as you read. When an idea comes, write it down. When you’re done writing, keep reading. Later on, go back and flesh out the idea. The key is to maximize reading input. Good writing is infectious, says George Will. I recommend reading four hours a day, which is not an easy habit to maintain.

Toolbit said...

(cont.)

Most people have time and talent for two, at most three, labors in their lives. If you work fulltime, you have time for probably one other thing. If you can manage to not have a fulltime job, you may fit in three. For most people, that means they have a job and one hobby. I cannot foresee anyone being a writer and a spouse and having children and working a job and being any good at any of them. If you want to master your craft, you may sacrifice children or a career.

How badly do you want to be liked? A quality that can hold people back in the arts is honesty and a fear of reprisal. Great writers run a real risk of alienating people with the truth. This isn’t to say you need to blatantly choose to offend, but the will to do so sifts the wheat from the chaff, in my opinion. There are careers for those who placate the masses, but they are neither artists nor masters.

There are two types of authors, those that scribble what people already think, and those who write what no one has ever thought or bothered to put pen to page. This makes me wonder about Christian romance. It’s such a sub-genre, and I personally wonder if I could constrain myself like that. Your constitution probably differs emphatically from my own, but keep that in mind. Real life is bloody and messy and noxious. Christian artistry often falls into the trap of being heavy-handed and soft-boiled; prescriptive not descriptive; idealistic not realistic.

On that subject, and here I venture into sensitive territory, I hope you don’t want to enter this sub-genre because you are in love. I fear the natural inclination to let your emotions pour out onto paper could hurt your perspective as a writer. Too difficult to be objective, too easy to be sentimental. Actually, I would strongly advise at this point in your life to force yourself to not write romance, or at least write other things along with it. Don’t tie your creativity to your circumstances, because circumstances change. Even love changes, even if it’s always there. Bifurcate your and heart and choose the former in your writing and the latter in your discretionary time.

Another exercise to try is regularly try—once a week—write in some kind of metered verse. Write things that force you to squeeze words into small spaces, where they bump their funny bones and get leg cramps. Write poetry that forces you to develop your diction and their economy. Learn to be parsimonious with words. C.S. Lewis is a good study here.

From here on out, I'd have to read some of your fiction to be of any use. Hope some of this helps.

Vaya con Dios,
J. K.

IndweltDaughter said...

Thanks for the advice about focusing on vocabulary. That's something I've been aware of myself, but wasn't exactly sure how to go about developing it. Thanks for the tips. (And nice alliteration by the way. My AP English 12 teacher would be impressed.)

Where do you go to study etymologies? Are there places online? Or would I be better equipped at the library?

As far as reading voraciously, no problem there. :) I've always been a reader, I would read all the time if I could get away with it. I need to remember to keep a pen and paper with me though when I'm reading. I'm wondering, what are your thoughts on re-reading material? I'm the type of person that will re-read books over and over if I enjoyed them enough. I try to balance it with new material though. I doubt that's something I'll ever stop doing, but I was just wondering what your thoughts would be on that.

I see your point about Christian romance, as it is a sub-genre. Also what you mentioned regarding "Christian artistry." I'll definitely keep that in mind. I'm not planning to stay only with Christian romance, it's just where I'm pushing myself to write first. One of the reasons I want to write in this sub-genre though, is because - like you mentioned in your first comments - I believe I can offer something in it that is different, that people don't usually find. The reason I usually find myself disgusted with modern Christian romance, (or just Christian Fiction for that matter,) is the fact that the characters and realism are sacrificed for the message. I fall in love with characters when I read. I want to write characters that people fall in love with. (Which is a relative term. You can fall in love with a character because of how loathsome he or she is. You fall in love with what they add to the story, regardless of whether or not you actually like them.) Do I want my stories to have messages consistent with my own personal beliefs and standards? Of course. I think it would be very difficult to write a fictional story that supported something my own conscience rebelled against. Related to this closely is the issue of writing either to please other people or to please myself. I have to be honest, it's something I struggle with. But I need to actively choose when I write to let myself come through, regardless of what other people think about my ideas or my writing. (This can be especially scary when writing on spiritual issues though, people tend to be quite touchy when it comes to their spiritual-truth boundaries.)

And just so you know, the reason I want to venture into this genre isn't because of my own personal circumstances. I've wanted to write this kind of material ever since I can remember wanting to write. It's one of my favorite genres to read, (provided it's quality literature,) so, naturally, it's the first thing that comes to mind when I think about writing. Beyond that, I also want to write fantasy and historical fiction. I'm just starting with Christian romance and fiction. I'll take your advice into account though, and I'll make sure it's not the only thing I write. I grew up on L.M.Montgomery, Lucy Maud Lovelace, Louisa May Alcott, Janette Oke, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. I've since fallen in love with Tolkien, Lewis, Hassler, Shakespeare, Keats, George MacDonald and Maeve Binchy. These are the people I want to write like. It's their spirit I want to emulate in my characters and in my words.

I've started a new blog over on Wordpress for my Christian Romance writings, I'll link to it in a new post. I'll start another blog as well for other fiction writing, and I already have a poetry blog that I don't update very often. I'll set up links to all of these once they're ready on my blog sidebar. I do have a livejournal account where I do have some fiction and poetry I believe. You can check it if you want. http://www.livejournal.com/pixierose09

Thanks again for your thoughts and insights, I appreciate the time you're putting in to discuss this with me.

~Amanda

Toolbit said...

You know, etymologies are things I've come across. I imagine there are books out there on the subject, and I've found things on google, but I'm not aware of one good place to start. I guess maybe that could be my first book. :) You could try this:

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=book

I'm about 1/3 of the way through a book you might like, Leland Ryken's (ed.) "The Christian Imagination." It's a collection of various Christians on writing, from Lewis to Elliot to Buechner. It's a bit slow going and 500 pages long, but it's got a bit of everything. I think it's a good source for Christian fiction writers.

Otherwise, it sounds like you're off to a great start. One other book to consider, if you haven't happened across it, is "Gilead," by Marilynne Robinson. It has Christian overtones, but I wouldn't call it "Christian literature" in the pejorative sense. I can see you getting a lot out of it.

I'll make some time, probably this weekend, to go through some of your stuff. Good luck and God bless.

Ciao,
J. K.

Toolbit said...

Sorry, missed a question. I think rereading books is great, especially if it's worthy. The best books (The Bible, Plato's Republic, Pilgrim's Progress) yield treasures upon every subsequent reading. Any you'd recommend?

~J. K.

IndweltDaughter said...

Thanks for the etymology link, J.K. And that collection does sound like a good resource. Something to buy and keep on a shelf so it's at hand for whenever you need it. Thanks for the book recommendation, I hadn't heard of it before. I like books like that too, as they usually don't exasperate me as much as modern Christian fiction writing. Jane Eyre is a lot like that. It's obvious through the writing and some of the content that the author is a Christian. But she doesn't submerge you in it as you read, she doesn't force the reader to come to a point of either agreement or disagreement with her own opinions. She stays true to herself, but doesn't put others in a position where agreement is paramount to the enjoyment of her work.

As for books I would recommend to read and then re-read...oofda. Do you really want me to answer that? ;-)

Well, for myself, I would definitely have to put the Lord of the Rings trilogy at the top of the list. Not just because they're so good. They're so long and so dense, that even though I've read them through now 5 times each, everytime I read them I find something I hadn't noticed before.

Anything by Lewis of course, just because he makes me think besides being so entertaining. I especially love his Space Trilogy, and CB got me hooked on The Great Divorce. (That book is amazing.)

I love re-reading the Anne of Green Gables books every few years, because I love Montgomery's characters so much. Jane Austen is another author that I re-read for those same reasons, though some of her books I would re-read more readily than others. (Northanger Abbey is a really fun book, but not as deep as say, Persuasion or Emma. Persuasion I would argue is actually her best book, with Pride and Prejudice coming in a close second.)

One of my favorite books is Watership Down by Richard Adams. Another must-read-then-re-read. Also very dense in character and prose, with a wonderful story.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, and the rest of Ender/Bean series are amazing books and most of them must-read-again's. Those are sci-fi, but he also has a thrilling alternate American history fantasy series under the title of Alvin Maker. Unlike his Ender series, the fact that he's Mormon is much more obvious in these books, but the story is still amazing, and the characters some of the best I've ever found in literature.

An author that I was introduced to in high school is the MN professor and author John Hassler. His book Staggerford is one of the best small town novels I've ever read. If you read and liked Snow Falling On Cedars, (another great modern classic,) you'll like John Hassler's writing.

There are a lot more...but I'll leave you with this for now. :-)

~Amanda