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Thursday, July 8, 2010

What is Christian Writing? - Writing Class Series Week 1

Welcome to "The Inspiration and the Perspiration." This online class is designed to help you seek God for creative inspiration and develop that lump of clay through the writing process to a publishable book. Pull up a desk and make yourself at home. Our topic this week is, "What is Christian Writing?"

In order to discuss what "Christian Writing" is, we must first ask a more basic question. "What is Writing?" To be all academic for a moment, writing is a symbolic activity of meaning making. So what in the heck does that mean? First of all, words are symbols. If I hand you the letters d, o, and g, I am not handing you a dog. I am handing you three letters that make a word. We all understand that the letter symbols d, o, and g together make up the word dog, and that the word dog represents a furry four-legged creature of the canine family. Or maybe it represents an ugly female...hmm. Not a very nice meaning, but the word could be taken that way. It could mean a scary doberman baring his fangs, or a cuddly little puppy.

Are you starting to get the picture? Letters are symbols that make larger symbols called words. Words strung together begin to create meaning. Writing is a symbolic activity of meaning making. But what are we symbolizing? As writers, ultimately we are looking to communicate thoughts and ideas to our readers. As Christian writers, I hope we are sharing something from our hearts as well.

So who can be a writer? Basically, everyone has something to communicate, something to say. We are all creative beings made in the image of a creative God, and each of us has a unique voice. While a great imagination and good grammar skills certainly help, in the end I would say that most people with moderate education and intelligence can be taught to write. I think what really matters for a Christian writer is a) is God calling you to write, and b) are you willing to spend the time and hard work to become a good writer.

Now that we know what writing is and who can undertake the challenge of becoming a writer, let's get to the nitty gritty of defining Christian writing. Some people say that anything written by a Christian is therefore Christian writing. Others say that it must be geared toward a Christian audience or that it must contain an inherent Biblical message.

Francine Rivers, arguably the most famous Christian fiction author of our day, said this a few months ago on the Seekerville blog. "A Christian who writes can write anything, and not necessarily something that is glorifying to the Lord. They write for a market. A Christian writer centers their work on Jesus Christ. He is central to their story. The purpose of Christian fiction is to whet the appetite of the reader for the real thing: a relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and a passion for His Word. It’s not that one writer is better than the other. Each is called to a different purpose. A Christian who writes can still (and often does) weave their 'world view' into their stories. Their goal is to entertain. A Christian writer is focused on presenting Christ. And, of course, both want to sell books."

I'm not sure if I agree with her use of terms, but she brings up an interesting point about the difference in goals and audiences. Entertainment has to be the goal of the Christian who writes for a secular audience because the secular publisher is primarily concerned with business and making money. Although, in some instances, literary quality is also taken into consideration. Christian publishers still have to operate as a business in order to survive, but often have a heart to minister as well.

Due to the difference in audience, the Christian publisher can afford to offer books with ministry value and make money at the same time. Keep in mind that Christian publishers do expect writers to keep their books clean. This is because much of their audience buys Christian fiction in order to avoid profanity, gratuitous violence, and inappropriate sexual content.

On the other hand, I consider Christians who focus on the secular writing market to be doing a form of missionary work. While they are limited in how they can present the gospel, theirs can be a worthwhile ministry. I have a feeling Francine Rivers would agree that if their heart truly is for ministry, these individuals would qualify as Christian writers as well. So, maybe I do agree with her definition after all.

Christian writing should flow from the heart of a Christian where the spirit of God dwells. And whether overtly or subtely, it should in some way communicate God's message to the world. So now I'm going to take my own stab at defining Christian Writing. Are you ready...drum roll please...

Christian writing is any writing inspired by the Holy Spirit with the goal of advancing God's kingdom on earth.

Christian writing is, or rather should be, a writing ministry guided by the Holy Spirit. For some of you this definition may sound simple. A relief even. We have a helper along this journey and a clear purpose for undertaking it. Although we still have a long hard road of writing, revising, editing, publishing, and marketing ahead of us, we are doing this in God and through God. The pressure is off of us. If the work is of him, he will see it through to completion.

Maybe someone out there is thinking, "Great, God's going to hand me my writing on a silver platter." Guess again, buddy! You can't skip through the writing process and expect to create something worthwhile. Even the prophets in the Bible crafted their writing. We will discuss this more in week three.

But I bet for a few others joining us from cyberspace, the definition I offered sounds daunting. You're not quite sure if you know how to be led by the Holy Spirit, how to hear God's voice. Maybe you get vague impressions, but you never feel quite certain they're from God.

Well, don't worry. Next week the subject will be how to receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit. This is an issue close to my heart, which I have been studying and teaching for many years. I hope you'll come back and allow me to share my thoughts with you.

In the meantime, here are some questions for you. Please answer in the comment section below:
Are you called to write? What is your purpose as a writer?
What genre (type of writing as in nonfiction, novels, magazine articles) are you interested in writing?
What books are out there that are similar to what you desire to write?
If you're already a writer, can you hone your purpose and subgenre even more?

Homework: Continue to think and pray about your purpose as a writer throughout the week. Go online and research what is happening in your genre. What is being published today? Who is publishing it? Who is reading it? What books are winning awards? What books are best sellers? Also, please consider reading one popular book in your genre and one writing craft book in your genre over the course of the next eight weeks.

20 comments:

  1. Great for getting the creative juices flowing in a more defined direction. This is my first somewhat structured effort at learning something in this field. I have written more scientific research stuff than anything else, and what kind of creativity does that require? Well, none. So, this is good and new.

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  2. Enjoyed having you in class last night, Rob. I look forward to seeing how all of your science and teaching experience translates to fiction. Should be good stuff. I thought of one other book I have that you'd really like. It didn't pop into my mind because it's a new book by a brand new author and hasn't had time to win any awards yet, but it's getting rave reviews. It's called Rooms and it's sort of an allegory for discovering what's going on inside of you and finding the kingdom of God within. A lot of intimacy with Christ and inner healing stuff. Male author, male protagonist, lots of sports :) So if Arena doesn't catch your interest, we can trade.

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  3. Great start to the classes, Dina! I've known since I was a kid that I was called to be a writer. But in the last couple years I've had to listen closely to the Spirit to figure out what kind of writer I'm called to be. My definition probably still needs some tweaking, but I've certainly discovered that when I'm writing what He wants me to write, it's way more rewarding then when I'm working on something for me.

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  4. Well, Roseanna, I know your books are full of the spirit of God. A Stray Drop of Blood has touched many lives already.

    This year has really been about defining who I am as a writer for me. Especially because God has given me ideas in different genres, but there are certain links. All are geared towards women, all have a literary, lyrical feel, all have some romance, and my themes all center around inner healing, intimacy with Christ, and worship. I'm sure I'll continue refining as I go along as well.

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  5. Thanks for putting this up and giving me the information and I look forward to being in your class Wednesday. I am looking forward to getting a different take on my own personal writing as well as learning to focus my writting in a way that Glorifies God.
    Louise aka Liz

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  6. Hi Liz, I'm looking forward to having you in the live class. So what do you mostly write? Sounded more like poetry or personal journal writing from what you shared.

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  7. This comment is from published CBA author Laurie Alice Eakes. She had a hard time getting the comment section to work for her today:

    "Being called to write and being called to be published are two different aspects.

    And I'm not called to evangelize with my writing. I am preaching to the choir because many people who sit in pews week after week are lost. They may have made a commitment to Christ, but past hurts, sins, fears, misunderstanding, poor teaching is blocking them from experiencing the fullness of God's love and a relationship with Him.

    I applaud authors called to evangelize, and I think my work in the hands of a nonbeliever will show a different version of God than too many people have, but I want to reach the lost within the walls of the church, or Christians who don't go to church."

    My comment to Laurie Alice's comment would be, I think she's doing amazing work for God's kingdom through her writing. Keep up the good work, Laurie Alice. You've been an inspiration to me.

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  8. Yes Dina it is more of the poetry type of writting although I am looking to branch out and actually write a novel.

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  9. Dina I am posting some of my work on my own blog on here and would love to have some feedback if you have the time.

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  10. Wow, deep, and a very nice natural rhythm. I see some areas you could strengthen, but also tons of potential. I'll make sure I find time to teach my basic poetry lesson I did when I taught college lit.

    You can see a few of my favorite poems I've written on my website http://dinasleiman.com I find ways to sneak poetry into all of the books I write.

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  11. Henrietta FrankenseeMarch 23, 2011 at 8:04 PM

    Hello Dina
    I read about this course on Novelmatters and decided to do it. My answer to 'What is my purpose?" surprised me, like God was speaking to me in that moment.
    'My purpose as a writer is to bring God's ideas to life on the page, to put one word down after another until someone else can see and hear and taste and smell and emote and touch in the same dimension as Him.'
    I know I am called to write because things come out the end of my pen that totally surprise me and I know beyond doubt that I could never have thought of that, or that or that. Plot twists, characteristics, philosophical insights, you name it, they come without warning and I am astounded.
    Thank you for offering this resource. It is a guiding light to me as a newbie.

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  12. Yay!!! I'm so excited for you, Henrietta. What an awesome revelation. I think you are right, it sounds like God has definitely called you to this ministry. I hope you continue to receive inspiration and guidance from the lessons :)

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  13. Oh, and what genre are you writing in, Henrietta? I assume novels, but have you pinned it down more than that?

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  14. Henrietta FrankenseeMarch 24, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    Thank you for your encouragement! My genre is sort of speculative. There are two planets far in the future, one set up by the other as a terrasphere, which was set up by another even longer ago going back to a mythical planet called Earth. But I don't give much play to the scientific aspect so I am reluctant to call it sci-fi. It is the human drama that I love and have developed as much as possible. It could be the tale of America going back to rehabilitate Japan or Britain going to restore a colony like Hong Kong. There are lots of prejudices and superiority complexes (on both sides), linguistic divides and cultural misunderstandings. The effort to love someone you don't understand and to do things that might get her to love you. There's lots of Christ and His Bride too, a sort of romance very different from what most people call by that title. Does this help?
    Thanks again, I'm going to start lesson 2 now.

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  15. Sounds fascinating. I love that kind of stuff.

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  16. I’ve just come to the realization that I am called to write and that my writing can be a ministry to others. After writing the first draft of my debut novel, I was so surprised by the twists and turns that were not in my mind at all when I began writing. I loved seeing what could happen by being open to what the Holy Spirit put on my heart to include in the story and feeling the impact of the ending as a reader of the novel, not just the writer.

    My purpose is to glorify God by creating stories that encourage people to listen to the ways in which God speaks to them, big or small.

    My first novel is supernatural fiction, which I’m realizing is also my favorite genre to write. I have two other novels in the works and they didn’t feel right without a supernatural element in them, so I would definitely say that’s the genre I prefer. I love toying with the idea that God still speaks to people the way He did in the Bible, in big ways akin to burning bushes, angels, dreams etc. I’m not saying that He doesn’t do this in the “real” world now, but I think if He did, we wouldn’t be aware of it right away because we have so many distractions pulling at our attention.

    One of my recent favorite books is “When the Day of Evil Comes” by Melanie Wells. It was definitely more ominous and dark supernatural fiction than what my first novel is, but I believe strongly that there is a war between God and Satan going on constantly and I felt Wells explored the idea of good and evil manifesting themselves in tangible circumstances in a realistic way.

    I’m very excited to see how this course will continue to make me look at my writing from God’s perspective instead of just my own. Thank you for offering it!

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  17. Sounds like you're in this for all the right reasons, Allison. I look forward to seeing what will happen with your career. Many blessings.

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  18. Hi Dina,
    I'm really enjoying your online writing course here! Thanks! I was especially excited to hear you talk about the Hebrew word for "meditate", hagah, one of the meanings being to imagine. Joseph Prince teaches a lot about meditating on God's word and he often brings out the Hebrew meanings in such a wonderful way, as you did. Look forward to reading more. Thanks again!

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  19. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Learning that I could engage my "imagination" in meeting with God had a huge impact on my spiritual walk.

    Keep me posted as you work through the class :)

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