This is part two of a series I’m doing on how to pair faith and writing in what I hope are practical ways.
This time I’m going to talk about content in two different ways, inspiration and process.
I hesitate to use the phrase “inspiration” here because I don’t want to get this confused with the idea of divine inspiration, or for those who aren’t fluent in Christianese, the theology that the Bible is divinely inspired (with a varying spectrum of views on how exactly that was achieved), but it would also be dishonest to say that my ideas come from myself. In my last post in this series, I even talked about God providing exactly the ideas I needed at just the right time. It would be easy to argue that was just my subconscious pulling through at the last minute, and it’s possible that that is true, but I don’t want to take away from God the fact that whatever I use to create ultimately does come from him, whether that’s my mind, grit, subconscious machinations, or a divine bolt straight from the blue.
I’d rather not spend a ton of time describing how that works (since I don’t know), or its merits (of which there are many), so for now I think I’ll leave you with a couple examples of how, on a personal level, this works for me:
- I’m listening to, thinking about, or watching something and God gives me an idea for some kind of art to make, usually paintings or drawings, sometimes writing. For the non-writing pieces, they are usually very specific, even down to the medium sometimes, and are usually tied really closely to faith-related matters. They frequently feel urgent, like I want to get them down right away, though not always.
- I invite God into my work either when I begin or when I finally get stressed out/crazy enough to realize I forgot to, and my writing gets easier, either by a simple smoothing of the process, pieces suddenly clicking, or a brand new idea out of nowhere. This is a lot more of a common, day to day experience, and a habit I try to get into.
There are of course other ways that God inspires me, or catches my attention to things, but that’s not the main thing I want to talk about today. That goes to process.
I think this relates more to how writers work in general. I’m reminded of a Facebook post I saw once that said something to the effect of “I’m not sure how I think/feel about it, let me write about it and get back to you.”
And it’s true. I think many writers would say that they process through issues best when they write about them. I know I’ve seen this in my own life as I’ve struggled through both personal and abstracted problems and ideas, this blog being the prime example.
So, what makes this a faith issue?
A lot of that ties to morality and what I understand as Truth. As a Christian, I believe God’s word is true. I believe His understanding of good and evil is better than mine, as well as that of justice, love, truth, honor, etc., and as I process through what I believe about those things, as I process through telling stories in general and the shaping effect that that back and forth process has on my mind, I want God to have a defining and guiding hand in all of it.
What does that look like on a practical level?
Well, a couple of things. First, I think it means not just telling neatly wrapped moral stories with completely tied up strings. Jesus told parables of course, yes, but life is also a lot more complicated than strict black and white, and the Bible often tells rich, complex stories that don’t provide straight answers. I think as writers we are free to explore those as well and use similar techniques, and, personally, I wish more often we did.
Secondly, I think it means doing the work, whether that means research, thought, or understanding. Anne Lamott talks about this in her brilliant guide on writing, Bird by Bird. I don’t remember any specific quotes, unfortunately, but the basic idea is that to write someone well you have to understand them, spending time in their minds, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, etc. This understanding naturally lends itself to compassion and humanity, a crucial ingredient when processing any issue, in writing or otherwise.
As a side note, I think we have to be careful not to spend too much time in the minds of certain characters/beliefs, but that’s rather a larger topic, so I’ll leave it at using discretion and being careful if we start to see dangerous reverse effects of getting in people’s minds.
Thirdly, I think it means agreeing with God and being careful of what we promote. As a Christian, I believe God is true, that He is love, and that He knows more about any of the topics I mentioned above as well as, well, anything else. Whatever I write, regardless of genre, length, or anything else, I want it to line up (as best as I can understand) with what He thinks about it. That doesn’t mean condemning and judging sinful characters, removing them, or simplifying things down to straight good and evil. That, like in real life, is not my realm. It does mean, however, that if my villain does something villainous, I write about it in such a way that makes it clear, with compassion, that it is villainous.
The best example I think I have of this is in Frederick Douglass’ autobiography. He talks about the wife of his former master. Once kind and willing to teach him to read, he details her transformation into one of the crueler women he knew as a result of the dehumanizing effects of slavery (both on slave and master). I remember while reading being astounded by his compassion. He understood the effects of evil in her life, saw her with compassion, and wrote truthfully about it as a result.
The more we process through these issues (as well as our own personal ones) with God, the easier this becomes. In this sense, I believe I will never become the writer I want to be without God’s transformative power both inside and outside my work.
Fourth, I think it means inviting God in. There have been times when I’ve been writing something and just sensed something wasn’t right. It could just be my attitude that day, feeling like something else needs to happen in my life before I’m ready, or even just the prodding to go deeper or research more. Of all of these tips, I believe this is the most important. I’ve been trying to get better at discerning them. So far, none of them has led me astray.
A final thing I’ll mention is that there’s another, more surprising way that God has worked with my writing, and it kind of goes in reverse. Normally when I’m writing, I’m pursuing something, whether that’s the story, sorting my thoughts, or whatever other goal I might have. But sometimes, God will use my writing to show me truths about Him, myself, or others. Even when I haven’t realized it, there have been times when God has lined things up in my writing to show me things I never expected to discover, one such example highlighted in great depth on this blog. In this sense, it’s like co-writing, a partnership, and it’s super awesome.
It’s rather a larger topic though, so perhaps its best to end here.
Thank you for reading. I hope to have more for you soon!
So, what do you think? Have you ever encountered or noticed different worldviews in stories before? Have you approached content in your work differently than what’s listed here? In what ways and why? Let me know in the comments below and if you want to get more content like this, follow the blog or my social media accounts in the sidebar links.