Writers and Faith: A Journey and Exercise
Note: This is Part 2 of Writers and Faith: A Journey and Exercise. If you have not read the first installment, you can find it at: Part 1. It is recommended that you read the articles in order.
Part 2: Verse
My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer. ~Psalm 45:1-3
People of faith who write are often stirred by noble themes. They think of purpose in the work, their hopes for what it will offer readers. They consider the value of it, the potential to touch lives, to open hearts, share insights and guidance. Writers weigh the depictions they purport, the morals and values. They struggle to address their topics fairly and honestly, strive to inspire, to elevate, to instill compassion, understanding, insight and hope itself.
It often shocks writers with faith that all writers do not heavily weigh and judge and consider these things. That all writers do not seek to infuse the work with noble themes or purpose. The truth is some writers write what they or their associates think will sell best and that’s as far as their commitment goes on what to write, how to write it and to market it. Whether or not there is deeper purpose in the story falls down the list of requirements. This or that book had these elements, presented in this way, and the work sold well. Adopt the pattern, they say. And many are very successful doing so.
If that is the author’s choice, that’s fine. Who dares to judge it as not fine when the goal is to earn a living? But when faith enters the work, a different set of responsibilities and purpose comes with it, and simply earning a living isn’t enough to feed the spirit and soul of the writer. Writers hope for that, naturally, but it isn’t their first priority. The contentment, fulfillment of the human being in the writer and for the reader of their work requires noble themes.
It’s my belief that this infusion of a greater purpose in the work is directly relative to the statistics on writers who become alcohol and substance abusers, the number of writers who sadly commit suicide.
Many lay those challenges at the feet of writers for being eccentric artists. Being artistic geniuses, or being a half-step from borderline crazy. In my experience, none of that has proven true. What has proven true is this:
Most writers are business savvy, logical and emotional. And, simply put, the human being in the artist needs purpose and to feel fulfillment in his/her work because that work—being beloved and infused with purpose—is consuming. Writing requires a lot of personal sacrifices and it isn’t a nine-to-five job. It’s a demanding and relentless job that takes all. If money is all there is, it soon proves not enough. The discipline required to do the work is soon hounded by depression and desperation or dissatisfaction. There are many highs and joys, but there are also many lows and sorrows. Coping, as it does in all lives, requires balance and skills that demands make challenging for writers.
This is why it is critical that authors choose what projects they invest in carefully. To stay balanced, anchored, and mentally healthy we must choose carefully. Writers with faith have a lower negative-incident rate. In no small part, this is due to writers with faith deeming their writing a higher calling. It is that higher calling that brings them to the work with goals and aspirations to serve rather than to just have their physical needs met.
I am not diminishing the value of meeting your physical needs. That’s very important to all writers and all people. But writers with faith have an inherent belief that if they are responding to this higher calling, then their needs will be met. They may not see how, know the path that meeting will take, but they have a fixed belief that anything God brings them to, He’ll bring them through. This includes their needs—whether they are physical, emotional or spiritual. All needs, not just physical needs, will be met.
This faith diminishes many of the challenges that other writers face. Those mentioned above, seeking only fortune or, say, fame, are addressing only their physical needs. The physical can make the life you live more comfortable, but it cannot fill your emotional or spiritual needs, and that leaves you with only one strong leg on your proverbial three-legged stool. The other two legs (emotional and spiritual) remain weak. So unless the writer finds something, somewhere that fills the emotional and spiritual need in creating the work or having created the work, those other two legs—emotional and spiritual fulfillment—remain weak. We all know what happens to a three-legged stool when one leg’s strong and two are weak. The stool doesn’t stand, it wobbles, rocks, or tumbles.
Incidentally, this is also why the writer with faith shouldn’t envy other, seemingly successful authors, or fall to temptation in emulating those fiscally successful authors writing works outside the beliefs of faith. Every author has the right to write what s/he chooses, and there is merit in many other works. Different people seek different things in it, so different writers and different works is essential. We’re talking about the contentment and health of the writer and the readers of his/her works. The writer with faith, to be content, needs more levels of his or her needs met. S/he needs noble themes written for purpose as it relates to faith to feed the author on all levels.
My tongue is the pen of a skillful writer… What we say and how we say it matters. Think about this for a second. The pen of a skillful writer is a writer whose noble themes stir his/her heart. Writers relate through stories, create bonds between characters and readers through empathy. What is required to create empathy? Emotion. What is required to touch one emotionally? You must stir the heart. So if the author writes a work that does not stir his/her heart, what are the odds, do you think, of that work stirring the hearts of readers? Especially readers who read to be stirred?
The reader can’t get anything out of work that a writer doesn’t first put into a work. Now the writer might be aware and deliberate and infuse the work with specific things to evoke specific emotional reactions to the work intentionally or be unaware and infuse the work unintentionally, but if the writer doesn’t tap into the emotions when writing, then the reader’s emotions won’t be tapped into it when reading. It’s be like baking a cake without flour or eggs. Or driving a car with no tires or wheels.
So there is guidance and direction offered on content and insight into essential ingredients in the writing related to craft and technique. Noble themes, write what stirs your heart so that other hearts will be stirred, embrace the art of the skillful writer by infusing the work using these techniques.
There’s yet another layer and level in this verse on the tongue. For the writer, think of the tongue as your perception. What you see, the way you see it, how you interpret what you see and the way you see it. Each writer’s view is different and unique. Five can witness the same thing, and all five will see some things the same, but each will note other, different things, too. All things are viewed through the writer’s specific prism (all his or her experiences and attitudes and what s/he deems good and evil and important and insignificant).
This is why no one else can write a single writer’s specific story. Writing, from start to finish, requires choices. One upon another. And no two writers will make the exact same choices consistently through a story or a book.
Each writer has his or her own filters—personal experiences, hot buttons, flashpoints, preferences—and it is through the lens with those filters that s/he sees anything and everything. What that writer sees is his or her truth.
That lends sincerity and authenticity to the work. Infuses the sense that it is genuine, which translates subliminally to the reader. That reader knows this is the writer’s truth. Seated in faith, truth is truth. It is known, felt, and sensed.
This, as well as purpose, is the reason we need more than one author, more than one story, more than one type of book. Each work appeals to readers with similar filters, or ones wanting to explore different filters for different reasons. We are not one-size fits all as people. That remains true in what we read and in how we respond to what we read. We react to our own truth. So when an author’s truth offers insight into our own, the two fuse.
Yet another observation I want to share is that sometimes our tongues are tongues. Writers often speak. They often teach. When they do, their tongues are their pens. This is why we must be cautious about speaking in absolutes—you must do or not do this or that. This is the “right” way to do xyz. That’s the wrong way to do xyz.
The truth is that every writing rule can and has been broken and likely will be broken again by some writer who has a need to break it and unearths a way to break it to accomplish a needed task.
Whether or not you break the rule isn’t significant. What is significant? To know the rule you’re breaking and to break it only for a greater purpose. If the rule best serves the work, heed it. If not, break it, but break it for the purpose of best serving the work.
An example. Following the rule muddies the meaning of something, and trying to shift things within the rule doesn’t make the meaning clearer. Then, break the rule. Clarity is paramount. (Even the most valuable insight is wasted if readers can’t understand what you mean.) But try to change the work to follow the rule first. If that doesn’t work, then break the rule.
The last observation I want to share on this verse is about the power of stories well told by skillful writers. We know thoughts have power, and words have power. We need to understand the power in stories, too. People have read books by little known authors that have altered their lives. Changed the course of their lives forever. That’s powerful—and yet another reason it’s important to have noble themed works.
Every story has the potential to impact readers positively or negatively. To be constructive or destructive. The writer with faith keeps that uppermost in mind.
Stories can open closed minds. Offer insights and understanding that drains anger and replaces it with understanding and compassion. Stories can lift people out of pits of despair, infuse them with hope. Stories can change lives, can inform those lost and seeking of constructive solutions to challenges, or even prove that constructive solutions exist to others who have not experienced them. Stories can impart the truth that if a character can find constructive solutions to challenges, then solutions exist, and readers can find them, too.
When you’re stuck in a dark hallway, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. There are no doors with knobs you might be able to turn to find answers on the other side of them. You’re blind and stumbling in the dark, looking for a way out. Then along comes a writer and through the story, s/he lights a candle.
A single candle obliterates total darkness.
Suddenly the unseen doors are visible. Doors are tried, knobs turned, and hope flares. One of these doors will open and reveal the light—a constructive solution to a problem this reader faces. Or the door will open to another door that reveals the light. The light might be three or four doors away, but the darkness is gone. No longer does the reader feel helpless or hopeless. And momentum has begun—all due to a single visible door.
That’s the power in storytelling, and the upshot of the case for noble themes that stir hearts. That’s the case for purpose writing, and investing only in stories you love enough to give your best.
Part 2 Exercise:
Read the verse again. Note your impressions. Once you have, consider your work. Identify your author theme. (Healing books? Protector stories? Redemption stories? Small town? Second Chances? What is consistent in all of your stories? That’s your author theme.) Now note your responses to the following questions: What is the condition of your three-legged stool? In your work? In your life? How can you strengthen your stool’s legs? What are the traits of a skillful writer in your view? The kind of writer you choose to be or become?