A Nerdy Post about Writing: An Excerpt from My Sent Folder

by Jun 20, 2019Books

A non-Christian friend I talked to many times on the bus asked me a question about whether or not he should take an online fiction-writing opportunity he’d been handed. I appreciated being asked. He’s a neat guy with real talent. I replied, and it gave me an opportunity to talk a little about writing in a way readers and writers might find helpful…

I have always felt averse to writerly self-promotion, partly because Jesus warned against putting myself forward pridefully (Luke 14:7–11) and partly because it always just seemed gauche when someone would have a giveaway that required people to subscribe to his blog for entry. I wanted my writing itself to attract readers. So for over ten years on my personal blog, I have just written things I hoped would be helpful and have hoped that readers would find me. But when my new job at Faithlife in Bellingham gave me the opportunity to stand on a higher platform and reach more people, I didn’t hesitate. Don’t put a bushel on your lamp. I jumped into serving them in just the way I had tried to serve my personal blog audience. And the results (I think!) were positive, for my readers and for my employer and for me. It sounds like you are being handed a platform that other writers would love to have—a motivated readership that is already a community of friends (right?).

Now, I can’t answer any question as if Christianity is irrelevant, and so my mind goes back as it always does to the most important commands in the Bible: love God and love neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). If you don’t believe in God, you can’t obey the greatest command. But if you love the fictional characters and the community of people they have created, you can still benefit from the wisdom in the second greatest command. When you really love something, it comes out. I have little doubt, knowing you, that your love for and interest in that world will be evident to readers. You will pass the most important test of good writing: love. It simply remains to be seen (right?)—and you are the one who needs to know this more than anyone—whether what you write will end up pleasing and serving the community of readers. Take this chance now, and you may find that you simply don’t get results. Readers drop off. But I bet they won’t. I bet they’ll stay, and readership will grow. And that you’ll be glad you got and took this neat opportunity. It seems to me you’re perfectly poised to grab it. And you may never get a chance like this again.

There are many fictional characters who have been taken up by subsequent authors, or who were created in the first place by a team and not an individual. My son loves the Warriors books, and they are a team effort—though plots apparently come from the same mind. The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew—readers don’t seem to mind that Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene are just as fictional as their characters. In fact, I’d say that you should set out to both honor the characters as they are and invest them and their subsequent adventures with your own personality. I was taught that Christian preaching is “truth through personality.” And I have found that writing is the same. I HATE writing that pretends to lack a writer. I just read, or tried to read, several journal articles which were like this. They affected an objectivity that essentially denied the existence of a subject at the keyboard, they really did. And the result was truth, in a way, but uninteresting and uncompelling truth—because it didn’t come through a personality. My favorite writers, even when I disagree with them profoundly, care deeply about truth and have distinctive voices. I think of Stanley Fish, Nick Kristoff, and Marilynne Robinson. There is really nothing quite like the feeling you get when you get to know a person merely through words on a page. The other day I clicked on the title of what looked like an interesting article, and I started reading before I thought to look at who wrote the piece. Within the first paragraph, I just knew. That’s what I aim for in my own writing.

I hope that helps! Thanks for the opportunity to expatiate on a few themes dear to me!


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