Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Writing and the Christian Life

For years I've dreamed of becoming a published author. And, because of my unique bent (I must be part graduate assistant or something), I invested quite a bit of time in learning about writing.

I subscribed to writing magazines, like Writer's Digest and The Writer, reading the tips and trying to gain the right mindset. I researched genres, like Science Fiction and Mystery, so that I would be as familiar and equipped as I could be to make my run at being published. I watched Book TV on CSPAN2, to hear real authors speak about their books. I listened to the audiobook for Writing Down the Bones, enduring Natalie Goldberg's Buddhist and Lesbian remarks, to try to glean tips about writing. (I got one very important thing from her, which I'll share at some point in the future.)

And then there were the books.

I started hitting up the used bookstores, trying to get my hands on books that would move me further down the path. I filled my bookshelves with books about the craft. I joined the Writer's Digest Book Club to pick up additional titles like Roget's Super Thesaurus, so that I would have the right reference tools on hand.

After that I began the quest to find the rest of the tools necessary to get the job done. I researched software, looking for the right text editor, word processor, notekeeper--anything I could find to help with my mission. Of course, on a limited budget, I didn't actually buy any software, though I did run across RoughDraft, which to this day I use to write just about everything that isn't text based--ie, needs formatting. It's free, and everyone running Windows ought to have a copy of it installed on their computer. Someday I'll finish my review of it and get it posted.

(This software search is an ongoing process, by the way. I still look for writing tools every so often, though I think I've gotten everything that's sensible; one I don't have yet is Writer's Blocks, but that's because it costs $300--that's a lot of money for virtual index cards. Don't even get me started on how many text editors I have installed on my computer...)

Here's where I need to confess something: I'm a sucker for reading about writing. I love it! Among my favorites reads on writing are (in no particular order) On Writing, by Stephen King, Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, by Lawrence Block, and Raymond Chandler's classic essay "The Simple Art of Murder," and the newsgroup musings of J. Michael Straczynski; I even have a book of "meditations for writers" called Walking on Alligators. Then of course, there is the abundance of writing books that sit untouched on my shelves, and though it's ever more likely that I won't be able to read them all, I can't bring myself to part with just yet.

But for all that effort, there was still something missing. I lacked one important element. The important element, in fact. See, in all my efforts to learn about writing, I had forgotten the cardinal rule of writing. The only one you can never break:

Writers write. And I wasn't writing.

It's cliche, I know, but true nonetheless, that for all my research, for all my books, both read and unread, I've learned more about writing by sitting in front of this screen and banging away at the keyboard than from all the rest combined.

Now at this point, some of you are saying "you're over 600 words, man, but where's the Christian life?" Others of you know where I'm going, because it's so predictably easy.

We've been talking about reading books, and about reading the Bible, but unless we're actually doing something, then it's all just an intellectual exercise. We're just going through the motions, and pretending there's something there when there's not.

Reading about Christianity, even the best books by Charnock, Owen, Calvin, and {insert theological heavyweight and/or favorite Christian author here} will not make you a Christian any more than me reading about writing made me a writer.

To be a Christian, you must have a relationship with Jesus Christ; merely passively reading books and yes, even the Bible, will do you no good if nothing happens as a result. So while I think it's great to set reading goals, and read through the Bible in a year, and all the rest, don't make the same mistake I made with writing. Earnestly pursue that relationship with him, so that your name will be published in the Lamb's Book of Life.


Anonymous said...

Excelent post, Bro. The same principle holds true with prayer also. One may read about it , talk about it, study both the doctrine and method of prayer, but the way to really learn it is to do it.

BTW, it is evident that God has given you an unusual ability in the art of writing. Please keep at it.

FloridaGirl said...

What did you learn from Natalie Goldberg?

Gummby said...

I'm quite behind on this reply.

Gary: Thank you for your kind words. Interestingly, prayer was what prompted this post, in a manner of speaking. I picked up D. A. Carson's A Call to Spiritual Reformation, and he kinda made that point, too--many people will spend time reading a book about prayer when they should be praying. Not to say there aren't things to learn about it, only that, like most everything in life, the majority of learning is by doing.

Anyway, thanks again for the encouragement. It means a lot--really!

FloridaGirl: Welcome! It's great to have guests. I haven't forgotten about you...I'm working on a Natalie Goldberg post. I've realized that I was a little hasty in my dismissal of Ms. Goldberg. I've actually thought of three things she said that helped, and (if I can find my old notebooks), I'm going to go through my notes to make sure there wasn't anything else of value there. I will get back to you.