It is usually the case that, when two or three are gathered together in the Lord’s name, there is politeness, there is civility, and there is good behaviour. I am not saying Christians are perfect, but generally when you put a group of us together, we behave ourselves, especially when we don’t know each other.
Of course, this is a very good thing. We are called to love one another, and that should manifest in our behaviour and our relationships with each other. Most Christians understand this, and what is true for Christians generally is also true for Christian writers. When we gather together, whether for local events, training conferences, or retreats, we treat each other with civility and politeness; and rightly so.
The problem is, we often extend that same politeness and civility to our writing, and that’s where it can all go wrong. This is because our calling as writers is not to be polite, it’s to entertain, to inform, to challenge. We are called to speak the truth. If my writing is merely polite, no one will read it. If my children’s story is full of polite children it will fail. If my theological reflections are just civility, no one will be interested.
So we have to present life as it is, and this principle applies to every genre of the craft, and to both fiction and nonfiction. We instinctively know that this is true, but how can we put it into practice? Here are three tips to help you keep your writing both gracious and honest:
1. Don’t preach, tell a story. Don’t tell me about the theology of lust, tell me the story of how you overcame the temptation. I know bad stuff is bad, what I really want to know is how you overcame it. Don’t tell me your Grannie survived the blitz, tell me the story, with all the darkness and smoke and grief that it entails. Show me a life, not just opinions.
2. Keep asking the question – what is this work really about? This applies whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction. If you are writing fiction, work out what your story is really about and focus on this, relentlessly. If you are writing biography or autobiography ask the question: what is this project really about? And don’t be satisfied with: I am telling the story of person X’s life. Ask yourself why you are writing about this life. Why should anyone read it? The hard questions reveal the best answers.
3. Take out the bits that don’t need to be there. When you’ve written your work, edit and re-edit it. What can you cut out and still tell the story? Which parts of your story do you read and lose yourself in? Keep those. Which parts seem either just nice, or only show off your wonderful skill with prose – ditch them.
In our lives and relationships we should take Jesus at His word and love one another, but when we pick up the pen or start to hit the keyboard, we also have to tell the truth.
Andrew J Chamberlain is a writer, speaker, and creative writing tutor. He is the presenter of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt, a podcast that offers practical direct advice on the craft. Andrew has self-published a number of science fiction short stories, and his novel, Urban Angel was published by Authentic Media. He has also worked on a number of ghost-writing collaborations, including the bestselling: Once an Addict with Barry Woodward. You can reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org