I have always had a desire to write. That dream has evolved over the years, but the passion has remained the same.
After I became a Christian, I struggled with what I should write. I knew that I should “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed” by God’s sanctifying renewal of my mind (Romans 12:2). I wanted my writing to be a living sacrifice, so that was the litmus test by which I had to measure my writing desires.
So, understandably at first, I wondered why I had no desire to write “Christian” fiction or nonfiction. I wrestled with the idea. Too many Christian-market stories I had read up to that point felt dressed-up and idealized, but I hungered for gritty reality. I wanted the stories I wrote to show the reader a piece of themselves: their worth, their tragic beauty, their depravity, and their need for a Savior.
Through my wrestling, I discovered I wanted to write for the general market from a Christian perspective, promoting a biblical worldview. In other words, I wanted to write difficult, heart-wrenching stories that people from many backgrounds and cultures would relate to, stories that acknowledge and examine human fallenness with the knowledge of our redemptive hope in Christ. This conclusion was my writing purpose, and my first stepping stone for discovering what God was calling me to write, and what ultimately led me to my chosen genres.
If you’re a Christian like me, you may still struggle with this apparent conflict of interest and the question of what you should write. If that’s where you are, don’t put the struggle aside. Keep listening to God’s pull on your heart, keep praying, and keep writing. Uncovering your writing purpose is a lengthy and sometimes heart-changing process that involves growing in our relationship with God, improving our craft, and practicing obedience.
Draw Near to God
Francine Rivers, a Christian romance author, had been writing for the general market for years when she became a Christian in 1986. In her testimony, she says that Jesus gave her “the tool of writing to use in seeking answers from Him.” God continues to use the talents he gave her to connect her and her readers to Christ.
Ephesians 2:10 says that as Christians “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” So naturally, our writing desires will not be the same as they were before we had a personal relationship with our Savior. In sanctifying us to become more like Jesus, our desires should fall into alignment with his. This only happens when we spend regular time with God through prayer, reading the Bible, and discussion, fellowship, and worship with other believers.
God calls us to many different purposes throughout our lives. Your writing purpose may change, and it will not look the same as everyone else’s. Ultimately, though, as Christians, our motivating factor will be based on the sacrificial love of Jesus, and our goal will be to glorify God. Through our writing, we wrestle with God, present and answer questions, and share the gospel both implicitly and explicitly. God relates to us through his Word, and it is by his grace that we can do the same.
Improve Your Craft
If you need help solidifying your writing purpose, the best way to do it is to write. Big surprise, right? The first step is to get words down on paper. Consistently. No artist ever begins with perfect skill. They start from stick figures and move up. The same principle applies to writers. If you’ve been writing for a while, you probably recognize some of your strengths and weaknesses already. Regardless of where you are, here are a few questions to ask yourself that will help you improve your craft and build a foundation for your God-honoring voice.
What do you enjoy writing?
Psalm 37:4 is one of my fallback verses when I am uncertain of whether my passions align with God’s purpose. We are promised that if we seek him and his will, our desires will be brought in line with his.
As I was exploring my writing passions, I discovered the four types of factors in stories as explained by Orson Scott Card, a prominent science-fiction author, in his book Characters and Viewpoint. Stories are driven by settings, ideas, characters, and events. Every author employs one or more of these driving forces in their stories, and we often prefer one or two over the others.
To understand how these factors would affect my own work, I began writing consistently in middle school. I wrote dozens of short stories, primarily fanfiction, to teach myself how to outline, explore characters, create tension, and use imagery to build upon other people’s worlds.
Then I began branching out into original fiction. I learned quickly that I loved creating worlds and plots, but what I loved most was character-driven stories. My characters and their inner and outer struggles take center stage, and everything else falls in around them. Many individual Bible stories are character-driven, which is part of why I fell in love with this style.
It was this early practice that helped me nail down my writing preferences.
What kind of feedback do you get consistently from other people?
In accordance with the spirit of Proverbs 27:17, we need others in our writing journey, especially the opinions of other Christians who read the kind of work we write.
Writing fanfiction and sharing it gave me the opportunity to get accustomed to feedback from strangers early in my writing journey. It was invaluable, and taught me to seek constructive criticism rather than shy away from it. It taught me how to target my readers based on what they liked to read. I would never get constructive feedback from someone who didn’t like the fandoms I was writing in, so I took that lesson into my original work, hunting for beta readers who loved the kinds of stories I wrote.
When I discovered patterns in what my readers were telling me, I made adjustments. One drawback of my fanfiction training was that I often plopped my characters down into existing plot holes with very little plot-building of my own. When I stepped out into original work and started getting critiques, I knew very quickly what I needed to work on based on the comments I got.
Thanks to other readers and writers, I became aware of my writing shortcomings. Once I had that awareness, the second step was fixing the problem. So I learned how to do this by reading.
What do you read the most?
What you read the most—whether books, blogs, or academic papers—is going to teach you how to write. Critical reading is something we all learn in school, and those skills can be applied to almost every kind of writing. I selected books. I researched writers. I took notes on how my favorite authors handled the writing areas I was weakest in. While I studied Scripture, I began to appreciate it not only for it’s universal truth but also for its literary merit.
That being said, if you only read one kind of work, you are only going to know the tropes and trends of one kind of writing. I was lucky because my reading horizons were already pretty spread out: from my native land of science fiction and fantasy to historical fiction, literature, and a variety of nonfiction. It opened me up to a world of different styles and helped me find my writing purpose.
Christ’s sacrifice and love for me moves me to create, but sometimes it’s really hard. For me, part of honoring God with my writing is not giving up. God calls each of us to honor our commitments, regardless of whether we’ve committed to other people or just to ourselves.
The more I read and write, the more I am driven to make something beautiful and challenging that points readers to Christ. I am reminded constantly to think and write about whatever is true, noble, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). I strive to write about evil in the way that Bible does—showing the gravity and horror of Satan’s power while rejoicing in Christ’s victory over it.
If your writing passion is driving you to the four winds and you still can’t determine your writing purpose, go back to step one. Invest more in your relationship with him. Converse with God through prayer. Journal if that helps you. Go outside and enjoy his creation. Remember that your passions won’t lead you to write or act rightly without submission to Scripture and the call of the Holy Spirit. Ask God to guide your writing and commit yourself to following his lead regardless of where it might take you.
This is the second installment of my Faith and Fiction Writing blog series. If you’re interested in the introduction and the year’s topic overview, visit the first installment.
All bible verses are quoted from ESV unless otherwise noted.