Friday, October 26, 2012
This is the Way ...
Well, let's hope.
I began to seriously write in the mid 80s, when I started my first novel -- one that will never be published, but that got the creative juices flowing in the (hopefully) right direction. I spent two years writing it. At the time, my husband Rick and I had our three children at home. They ranged in age from 10-13. Rick was a busy pastor, I worked almost full-time at a Christian school. So life was hectic to say the least. Writing that novel in two years was a huge accomplishment for me. Even though my time is much freer these days, it still takes me upwards of 15 months to write my books, but I'd like to get it to under a year. That's my goal for my next manuscript.
Feeling as vulnerable as I'd ever felt, I showed that first manuscript to my husband, then one or two close, close friends with fear and trepidation. I know many of you completely understand when I say it felt as if I stood before them naked, with nothing at all to boast about. Not a good feeling. My palms still get moist when I think about the level of vulnerability I experienced in the early days of writing. I still get nervous when I release a novel to anyone's eyes but my own, but not like I did back then.
During the two years I worked on my first novel, I also wrote non-fiction articles, mostly for my denomination's weekly magazine, which goes into a large number of countries besides the US. I also worked on three non-fiction books with another writer. It was exhilarating to sell those articles, and see them and the books in print. But from day one, fiction has been my passion when it comes to writing.
A very good friend -- one of the two or three I showed my first manuscript to (and she remains a very close friend to this day) -- was the leader of Women's Ministries in our church. She's an excellent Bible teacher and a woman I have long respected. She was reserved in her compliments about the novel, which made me feel even more naked and vulnerable, if such a thing is possible. Her comment was, "Why aren't you writing non-fiction? That's what you should be writing."
That comment, which she repeated numerous times over the years, as well as my inability to sell my fiction, shook me for the longest time. Why don't you stick with non-fiction? I would ask myself. After all, it's the only thing you're selling. Am I out of God's will by writing fiction? That was a question I asked myself for years, because the last thing I want is to be out of God's will. I'd have this debate with myself, over and over, with sincere tears. I'd talk to Rick about it, and I'd pray about it. And always Philippians 2:13 would come to mind: "For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose," or as it says in King James, "his good pleasure."
It was God who gave me the desire and ability to write fiction. Wasn't it? Wasn't it? I was like a dog chasing its tail, going round and round in my mind, answering "Yes" one minute, then asking the question all over again the next minute. And then one day it hit me: when Jesus wanted to get an important truth across, he told a story. He told a story! He. Told. A. Story! That reality finally sunk in, and I didn't battle with that question ever again.
Finally, I had an answer for my friend, straight from the Bible. By the way, it was more than two years after Every Good & Perfect Gift and Lying on Sunday were released before she read them, and only because I gave her the books. While she enjoyed them, and laughed and cried at all the right places, she could take or leave them.
I know what you're thinking: Some friend. But there's a moral to this story.
My friend is not a reader of fiction. She's a Bible teacher, mostly of Old Testament stories, always in King James version. Believe me, she makes those stories come alive when she teaches them, the way a good novelist makes a story come alive. But I reiterate, she's not a reader of fiction. So my first mistake was seeking her advice and approval. My second was nearly letting it derail me.
Not everyone is going to "get" us as writers. Not everyone will view our gifts the way we do. We alone are answerable to God for how we use the talents he gives us. So I urge you to be careful who you seek affirmation from. And I urge you to go with that still, small voice that tells you, "This is the way, walk ye therein."
What have you learned from and about the advice you've received as a writer, whether good or bad? We'd like to know.