Top 5 Clichés Christians Use About Their Writing

by Mike Duran · 27 comments

meme-1This past weekend I was privileged to be part of the faculty for the Orange County Christian Writers Conference (OCCWC) 2016. I had a great time and met lots of cool people. Writers are odd enough, Christian writers even more so.  You see, Christian writers have their own cluster of cliches and secret ciphers known only to “initiates.” Not only do we often speak in “Christianese” about our writing, but we’re always dragging God into the biz. Of course, I’m not suggesting that Christian writers leave God on the stoop when they write or market. The problem is when we over-spiritualize the craft and use God as a scapegoat for procrastination, unprofessionalism, and even lack of sales. Like the person who believes God’s “given” them a story and “called” them to write (#5), but are treating that “God-given” story and God-breathed “calling” as if it was optional. Like Moses at the burning bush they find excuse after excuse for either a.) shining or b.) doing a crappy job on what Heaven has laid hold upon them to do. You know, because of the kids, their job, their health, their school — whatever — they just can’t follow through. They say they’re “waiting on God” for the “right timing” but they’re really just waiting on God to sit down at the keyboard and write the darned book for them. Listen, if God’s really  “called you to write,” He wants YOU to learn the craft and make the time to do it, and do it well. Maybe you should stop “waiting on Him” and put your hand to the plow. Anyway, that’s just one example of the unique, sometimes screwy approach that Christian novelists bring to their craft.

And there’s more where that came from.

This last weekend reminded me of the many ways we Christians attempt to hijack God, “baptize” our writing with the “spiritual” seal of approval, and conveniently justify mediocrity. Having frequented Christian writing circles for some time now, I’ve heard all the spiritualized slogans we believers like to regurgitate. So here’s my Top 5 clichés that Christians use about their writing.

5.) “God’s called me to write.”It’s funny how God never “calls” Christians to be plumbers, landscapers, nursery workers, ad agents, or write obituaries for the local newspaper. After all, being “called to write” sounds way more spiritual than being “called to clean toilets.” And then there’s the issue of discerning a genuine “calling” from your own inclinations or dreams. I mean, couldn’t your “call from God” really just be a desire to see your name on a book cover, in a bookstore? Or maybe you’re just wired to write in the same way a chef is wired to cook — it’s not so much a divine summons as it is in your DNA.   

4.) “It just wasn’t God’s will that I… (fill in the blank).” “God’s will” is a favorite “out” for Christian writers. Most often, the saying is followed by things like “find an agent,” “sell a lot of books,” “get published by a traditional press,” “finish the manuscript,” or “advertise aggressively.” Authors love to leverage this against “God’s called me to write,” as in, “God called me to write the book, but I guess it wasn’t His will that I sell very many.” Poor God. I wish He’d get His act together so your career can finally flourish.

3.) “Marketing is not my spiritual gift.”Then you might reconsider #5. Unless God’s also “gifted” you with spare change to hire publicists and marketing strategists, it’s best to assume that if God wants you to write novels, He also wants you to find readers. It’s amazing how many Christian writers feel called to the mountaintop to hear from God only to justify leaving the sacred tablets unread. Perhaps the “call to write” also comes with a “call to market.” Hearing from God means getting the docs into people’s hands. It doesn’t require a spiritual gift, just effort. Funny how hard work can make up for the absence of “spiritual gifts.”

2.) “I want to glorify God in my writing.”Usually this is code for “clean,” alternative, G-rated fare containing redemptive resolutions, biblical references, salvation events, spiritual themes, or subliminal Bible messages imbedded in the story. The question I have is whether God is also “glorified” in a good, well-crafted story. If we can only “glorify God” by specifically writing about God, quoting Scripture, making sure our characters don’t curse and, if they do, get saved by the end of the tale, we reduce God-honoring lit to simply religious tracts. If a Christian writer can only glorify God by writing about explicitly “Christian” stuff, then freelancers, sports reporters, obit writers, corporate copywriters, trade magazine columnists, and even game coders had better find some other way to “glorify God,” because they can’t do it in their writing.

1.) “I write for an audience of One.”Sounds great. But unless He’s also giving you direct revelations, critiquing your novels, correcting your grammar, dialog, characterization, and plot elements, and buying your books, all this means is that you never have to answer to anyone but yourself.

So there you have it! A quintet of cop-outs. My advice to Christian writers: Maybe it’s time we stop over-spiritualizing our craft, hanging the blame on God, and just start digging in.

Johne Cook April 18, 2016 at 8:37 AM

[Slow clap.]

Donna Stanley April 20, 2016 at 10:34 AM

RIGHT ON!!! I agree with you entirely! You read my mind! hahaha….

E.M. Bridges April 18, 2016 at 9:28 AM

Just the kick in the pants needed to get back to the actual “work” of writing. Not that I needed much more after the great #OCCWC Conference.

Jill April 18, 2016 at 9:35 AM

I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but I do at the same time. Re point 3, a good writer is almost never a good marketer, and vice versa. Good marketers are usually really, really crappy writers for the exact reasons they are good marketers. They can sell anything. It doesn’t matter whether it has any substance at all. Screw good marketers. I’m not going to read their writing because it will most likely be a waste of my precious time. I’m thankful that most writers don’t have that as a “spiritual” gift because then there would be even more bilge on Amazon.

HG Ferguson April 18, 2016 at 9:23 PM

Jill, you are dead on. Very, very few creative people have the temperament to be masters of marketing. This is why performers have agents/managers to manage their careers. These two personality types rarely converge. Indeed, they are almost opposites. Despite this hard fact, publishers expect writers to be gods of writing — and gods of marketing. This is why so many have trimmed or eliminated their marketing staff and thrust all of that upon the writers, who must now be Mr./Ms. Sanguine dancing across the table, for we all know the bigger your blog and online presence, the bigger your $ale$. That’s one of the biggest internet lies of all. Authors promoting their work is one thing, a necessary thing, and no author should shrink from it — but not everyone is equipped by temperament, training and expertise to be a marketin god. We’re writers, not salesmen. There was a time when most marketing was left where it belonged, with marketing professionals who were not, as you so adroitly observe, writers. The two are the not the same. Bravo. Thank you.

Ceajones April 21, 2016 at 6:57 AM

I have to disagree here. I am a marketer by profession. My small buisness evolved from the need to market my writing. I have several clients with a broad base of services that I provide.

I am also an award winning writer in various fields including fiction.

Marketing is no different than writing. It is a skill to be studied and applied. Most fear it because it can be overwhelming. But not if you organize it as you do writing.

Marketing is simply connecting with others who can benefit from your products or services. If they don’t know about your products or services, there’s no benefit for either.

Connecting with other individuals is what we do anyway with our stories, articles, or blogs.

I would look at marketing not as a tedious chore but as an opportunity to become a blessing to someone you may have never had the chance to otherwise.

Writing, as a Christian, is using our gifts to heal or help in any given way.

Thanks Mike for the insight.

Dawn Shipman April 21, 2016 at 11:23 AM

Thanks, Ceajones!
The whole idea of marketing scares me; your definition about contacting people who might be interested in our work but don’t know about us helps. Doesn’t seem quite so scary from that perspective.

Ceajones April 21, 2016 at 6:27 PM

Hello Dawn,

So glad my comments helped : )

Marketing can become enjoyable when you find what works best for you.
Blessings in your endeavors.

Jill April 22, 2016 at 8:25 AM

Spoken like a marketer, LOL.

Kerry Nietz April 18, 2016 at 10:36 AM

I think #1 is valid when dealing with reviews. (Good or bad.) The danger with any profession, really, is in focusing on the praise of men, when for Christians that’s not where the primary focus should be. Yes, you’d like to please your readers, your boss, your whatever, but you never will. Not everyone all the time.

Shannon April 18, 2016 at 2:05 PM

Isn’t there a verse somewhere about not sitting in the seat of the scornful? I’ve read and appreciated your perspective for years, Mike, but sometimes you cross the line into dismissing and/or belittling other people’s experience with their writing journey, and committing the same wrong you see on the other side of this issue. Yes, some writers DO feel they’re called to write. Some of us also recognize it’s just how we’re wired, too, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t also sometimes nudged by God, or called, or whatever term you want to use, to use those talents to minister to people. And some of us have felt led into seasons where we focus more on God and His approval than garnering kudos from others. Yes, sometimes that’s tangled up in our need to face our fears and insecurities, but those don’t just go away because someone says “deal with it.” Also, many of us desire to be God-honoring with everything we do, but don’t feel that necessarily means super-sweet, G-rated content. Isn’t this the same kind of generalizing you feel the Christian publishing industry has done to spec writers?

And let’s discuss the professionalism, shall we? The large number of stories dumped out there on the indie market by people who are so impatient to see their work in print, across all genres, that they won’t take the time to really learn how to write WELL. No, this doesn’t apply to all indie-produced works, nor is traditional (or even small press) a guarantee of quality, but it’s still an issue.

I beg you, please be careful. Some of us may not write what you do—and there’s so much variation in the speculative field, with equivalent snobbery between, say, the hard SF and epic fantasy—but that doesn’t mean we each don’t have our place and audience.

Or experience with getting to where each of us may be.

Mike Duran April 19, 2016 at 5:18 AM

Appreciate your concerns, Shannon. Please don’t miss the sarcasm in this piece. I’m not intending to belittle anyone’s experiences, nor am I attempting to justify mediocrity. I’m basically just attempting to humorously goad Christian writers forward. OK?

Shannon April 19, 2016 at 12:44 PM

OK, and thank you. 🙂 Much is lost in translation with the written word … tone, facial expressions, etc. This might not have been an issue were the conversation in person, where the hearer could properly interpret the sarcasm, and good naturedly shovel it right back. 🙂 Heaven knows I’ve been party to many such conversations over the years, in person and not, and said things I shouldn’t have, with attitudes I shouldn’t have. Just seems that there’s SO much division lately among believers, and many who are extra tender because of various hard things going on in their lives … and sarcasm is often a thin veil for a person’s true opinion.

We all need the goading sometimes, yes. 🙂

Carradee April 18, 2016 at 5:35 PM

I think the bigger problem is that folks focus on the “right thing” being said instead of “right thing” being done. All those points you list can be said legitimately, but…they’re also all too easy (and common) to say just to say, because it’s the “right thing”.

Hey, one of the reasons I write the various things I do is that God nudges me, using my conscience and “coincidences” that keep putting me in the position where my words help others—and often, I’m thinking, “Yanno, I’m not sure this is really edifying. Maybe I should pull it.” And then it helps someone.

So yeah, God’s called me to write, and I want to glorify Him…

But also… The general rationales and statements don’t even work. Marketing isn’t a spiritual gift. If you write for “an audience of One”, there’s no reason to publish. And “God’s will” is one of those things that so often claimed as a manipulative tactic that it makes me wary.

Johne Cook April 18, 2016 at 6:56 PM

Hey, one of the reasons I write the various things I do is that God nudges me, using my conscience and “coincidences” that keep putting me in the position where my words help others—and often, I’m thinking, “Yanno, I’m not sure this is really edifying. Maybe I should pull it.” And then it helps someone.

I think you just described ‘writing.’ And that part of the argument, isn’t it – claiming some higher purpose for one’s writing when it might just be ‘writing.’

But let’s set that aside for now. I don’t believe God called Eric Liddell to be a runner but I do believe that Liddell was able to glorify God with his running.
Eric Liddell: I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.

Maybe that’s all there is to it – any of us can do anything we’re good at and when we do it well, we feel God’s pleasure. We don’t need to hyperspiritualize that. Do what you can do to the best of your ability and trust God with the rest.

Carradee April 23, 2016 at 3:15 PM

Hey, one of the reasons I write the various things I do is that God nudges me, using my conscience and “coincidences” that keep putting me in the position where my words help others—and often, I’m thinking, “Yanno, I’m not sure this is really edifying. Maybe I should pull it.” And then it helps someone.

I think you just described ‘writing.’

Equating what I described with “writing” doesn’t work. Plenty of folks write without it actually affecting or helping anyone.

Beyond that, we apparently believe differently about how much God actively affects/designs/influences our lives, so we’re ultimately going to disagree on the particular point of argument regarding what God has or has not called a person to do. 🙂

Ultimately, I feel an urge to write particular things, and the effects of those things suggest that the urge comes from my renewed heart in Christ, not from my original sin nature. Whenever I seriously consider unpublishing something, I get a positive response from at least one reader. I interpret that as a sign that God wants me to keep writing it—which, due to how I define the terms involved, means that God wills/has called me to write it at this time.

Just pointing all that out in order to seek to clarify where we have the disconnect, for the purpose of useful discussion. Nothing wrong with us having that disconnect. 🙂

Iola April 18, 2016 at 8:11 PM

What Carradee says. Don’t just talk about doing the work. Do the work. And the audience of One . . . exactly my thought.

Kessie April 18, 2016 at 6:33 PM

:chortling:

Yep.

Jay DiNitto April 18, 2016 at 7:52 PM

God called me to mow the lawn over the weekend, and I did it. Hallelujah!

Lyn April 19, 2016 at 8:27 AM

I believe God is calling you to mow my lawn this weekend.

Neil A. Waring April 19, 2016 at 8:52 AM

Fun read. Realized as I read that I had some of these thoughts myself. This pretty much says it all.
“The problem is when we over-spiritualize the craft and use God as a scapegoat for procrastination, unprofessionalism, and even lack of sales.”

Rebecca LuElla Miller April 19, 2016 at 10:06 AM

I have mixed feelings about this, Mike. I do think it’s good to prod writers to do the hard work. Too often we think writing should be easy, and when it’s hard, it’s convenient to have a litany of reasons why we’ll get to it tomorrow.

I know not every writer feels called to do so, but some of us feel strongly that we have been. I don’t know why that’s an issue. I also think some are called specifically to shine the light of story or nonfiction prose on God and His work and way in the world. If every Christian doesn’t feel that way, it doesn’t mean it’s invalid or that the only way to glorify Him is to have a conversion story or “write a tract.” I think C. S. Lewis proved that isn’t so. It’s troublesome to me that writers continue to equate putting a meaningful spiritual message into a story with “tract writing.” This simply is not so. That idea confuses the aim with the proficiency to pull it off.

Becky

Dawn Shipman April 19, 2016 at 10:32 AM

This is great, Mike. I’ve gone to conference after conference and heard every one of those cliche’s over and over. I’ve said to others (because I am inherently honest) “I’m not sure I’m ‘called.’ I’ve never seen any handwriting on any walls telling me this.” But…I’ve wanted to write since I was a teenager. It’s how I see the world–wondering how I can use what I’ve seen to write a story. The over-spiritualizing from so many others has been deadly for me. Just write! Learn! Grow! Perfect! (And keep writing!) (And don’t over-use exclamation marks!)
Thanks!

Donna Schlachter April 23, 2016 at 11:07 AM

I suspect, Mike, you’re a little burned out from returning from that conference. I’ve heard all of those excuses before, too, used in the context of explaining why the person doesn’t want to make changes, usually in their attitude about writing, about publishing, about the craft. I went to a particular conference for about five years in a row, saw the same people, heard the same story lines, and the same excuses why they weren’t published. I believe God calls us all to do something to glorify Him and build His kingdom. If what we’re doing, whether that’s writing, cleaning toilets, or mowing the lawn, doesn’t do that, we need to examine our motives. If we look at Scripture, most of those whom God called resisted Him. Think Moses, think Samuel, think Jeremiah. I resisted God’s call on my life to write for many years. And I was miserable. When I finally responded, God needed to cut me down to size. My current agent, Terrie Wolf, before she signed me, took a look at my stuff, and asked why I thought I hadn’t been published yet. I said, “I think there’s something in me that I need to learn, yet. I’m holding me back.” It took me another three years before I published. I pray I never forget the lessons learned. Your message is a tough one, and I don’t believe you’re trying to include all Christians who write in your examples, and you’re not belittling all writers who independently publish, and that’s the spirit I will receive your words in.

Teddi Deppner April 25, 2016 at 11:15 AM

There are many reasons people write. There is a wide spectrum of Christians, with widely divergent ways of interacting with God. Such blanket criticism sounds like you think none of those claims be ever be legit.

Some people write because they love to read and they want to emulate what they enjoy. Some people write because they are creative and full of stories and have a natural bent in that direction. Some people write because they think it would be a fun way to make money (ha!). Some people want the validation of their name on a book cover or dream of being a famous writer the same way others dream of being a famous astronaut or basketball star (with the same non-likelihood of getting there given their lack of necessary action).

Some Christians don’t believe that God speaks to or “calls” people to any particular thing anymore. Some Christians believe that God speaks to people today the same way He did in the Bible. Some Christians “hear” God as a voice in their head (or their ears). Some Christians “hear” God as a nudge or an impression or a tingly feeling in their body. (Not here to debate whether this is legit, just saying that’s their belief.) Some Christians get an idea and assume that if they are a Christian, all their ideas must come from God.

I totally agree with your list as a compilation of common things heard at Christian writers conferences. But I feel the legitimacy of any individual claim is completely dependent on the individual situation — some folks are lazy, and using these claims (“God’s will” or “God’s call”, etc) as an excuse for their own desires, while others have spent years pursuing their faith and intimate relationship with God and practicing their religion in a Pentecostal way wherein they have truly experienced the call or direction of a living Savior who communicates with His people… and who did tell them to write something.

I’m with ya on wanting to express yourself about the junk you see happening around you, and agree that there’s a LOT of folks who are missing the mark with their claims. I agree with your call to STOP THE COP-OUTS. I just wish you’d have given a nod to the fact that some folks really *could* be called, directed and assigned by God to do certain things. (Or is that against your doctrine? I respect that different Christians have different beliefs about how God works, many of which are based on the same Bible despite their disagreements with each other.)

Johne Cook April 25, 2016 at 11:18 AM

fwiw, I took this as an attempt at a humor piece. That might explain some of the tone and lack of deeper whatever.

Rebecca LuElla Miller April 25, 2016 at 12:04 PM

Good thoughts, Teddi. One person I met with (at the same conference as Mike) told me how much writing their particular book had affected them personally. I said, perhaps the author was the one intended as the audience. Which is on Mike’s list of excuses. I don’t see it that way.

It’s presumptuous, I think, to say that all writers must publish books. I know of a writer whose daughter died of cancer and she needed to write the story. To my knowledge, that piece still hasn’t been published, but why isn’t it legitimate for her to write it because she needed to voice what she felt?

I don’t think the things in Mike’s list should be excuses to not pursue excellence, but I don’t think any of us is in a position to judge which people out there are making excuses and which are telling the truth.

Becky

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