When I taught college freshmen English, a lifetime ago, we used a textbook titled, Works in Progress. The concept was that any writing is a process of planning, researching, planning some more, writing, editing, and editing, and editing. We would require multiple drafts of the same paper from our students. We emphasized group critiquing to help them find their own mistakes better once they had the easier practice of seeing the mistakes in somebody else’s writing.
In other words, if they learned nothing else, the students learned that writing is most definitely a serious business. But they also learned that writing is a fluid one too. I would remind them that even published poets have been known to interrupt a reading to correct a word and explain that the next time that particular poem was published, the poem would be “corrected.”
Mark Twain put it this way: “Find the right word, not its second cousin.”
Admittedly, my blog posts are thoughts I have prayerfully crafted to convey thoughts I feel the Holy Spirit has laid on my heart to share, but there is an immediacy to blogging that doesn’t lend itself to the laying aside of a finished draft for the needed perspective that makes for truly great editing.
My fiction writing is different. Once I complete a novel, I have to let it set for a while before returning to it. I need the “this is my baby, so it must be perfect” feelings to wear off so I can more truly see the novel for what it is.
I know that there are as many ways to craft a novel as there are people out there trying to do it. Of course, there are core truths to a good story that any good novel should have. If you are new to writing, you should study the kinds of novels or writing you want to do to help you determine those elements and patterns.
Of course, my master’s degree in English is with an emphasis on creative writing. I have even taught creative writing at the sophomore level at university. But, I always have new things to learn about improving this craft that I love.
My latest draft is a spin-off of my last novel, The Texas Stray. It is giving me fits because it covers themes and characters that are outside my comfort zone and experience. One character does not know Christ. Another is on the path to finding Christ again. The novel covers issues like divorce, alcoholism, and adultery because some of my characters are truly broken. My goal is to create a story that shows how God unbreaks us.
There are questions that keep me up at night about this draft. Can I do some of these subjects justice? I am not experienced first-hand with the three issues I just mentioned (by the grace of God). My main hope is to tell God’s truth about these types of things without being judgmental or insensitive. I know it can be done because I have known people who have survived these things and held on to their belief or found their belief in the Creator.
My other worry is how I have labeled my novels so far. I call them Christian Fiction because God is at the core of the writing I do. However, do I mislead? In other words, even though it is possible to grow up in a household where people don’t curse or get divorced or cheat at Monopoly (I know because I grew up in such a household), is it wrong to call a novel a Christian novel if some of the characters are not so good? What if even your main character says a bad word or makes a dumb decision?
These questions are especially perplexing to me with my latest draft because my main characters are really fallen people in a fallen world who have a hard time finding their ways to redemption. They have material distractions, a wavering moral compass, and holes in their souls they don’t even know how to define, much less fill. In other words, I am telling a story that is largely overshadowed by what not to do. Does that make it a less Christian novel in some way?
As I begin the true editing process of this work, I have narrowed down the overriding themes of my first draft. Do I have too many or are they closely-related enough to work together? Most importantly, how do I integrate God’s answers to my characters’ struggles without it seeming to be “preachy” instead of being woven naturally into the narrative?
These are not questions I expect anyone to answer for me. I have to answer them myself. I offer them here as a peek through the looking glass that is the writer’s process. It is a laborious task with very little benefit at the end of it for most. (There can be only so many Francine Rivers or Tracie Petersons out there.) But, I do it anyway because I feel compelled to write.
My goal is not to eventually quit my day job. My thought is that I will continue to labor in full faith that God will get His message to the people He put me here to use this talent to get the message to. That’s why I write a blog as often as I feel I have something to contribute. That’s why I spend my free time sweating over storylines and characters knowing that the finished work will be something I publish myself, my only hopeful goal the other-worldly one we all seek, that of the Father blessing our final journey with these two words: “Well done.”
Like the essays my college freshmen grudgingly turned into their overworked TA so many years ago, this life of mine is too a work in progress. Thank YOU for joining me for part of the journey. This yoke we share is not a heavy one, according to the ONE WHO SAVES. May your burdens this day be light.