Writing is hard. Life is harder. It’s full of tragedies, grueling work, annoyances, setbacks, frustrations, and disappointments. Nothing at all like a fairy tale. Yet fairy tale retellings have become increasingly popular over the last several years—from Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted to Marissa Meyer’s Cinder to Kara Swanson’s Dust. But what is the value of this subgenre besides marketability, and how does it relate to real-world issues?
I used to believe that a writer’s mission was to tell the world important truths through stories. Talk about pressure. If you’re like me, you don’t handle pressure well. I’m generally laidback, but when I start worrying that I’m not as intentional, skilled, or efficient as I should be, my life can get wild in a hurry.
As Christian writers, stories offer us a purpose to fulfill on a daily basis, as well as a pastime that refuels our energy. Whether we’re obsessing over choosing the right theme or admiring the protagonist’s grit in our latest read, one of the reasons we’re passionate about fiction is because we know it has the power to irreversibly change lives. But sometimes we forget that God designed a unique character arc for each of us that predestined when we would meet Him and He’d begin cleansing and shaping us.
Many of us sit down at our desks with a list of criteria we believe we must meet before we can be confident that we’re honoring God with our writing. Our stories need to be thought-provoking, spiritual, and compelling, to name a few expectations I’ve heard or held myself to. The commission to impact others weighs heavily on our hearts because we know that our writing is an outflow of our Christian witness—and we long to capture our Creator’s magnificence in our own small sphere of creativity. But when we ask how our faith should influence and set us apart as writers, the answers vary as widely as all of humanity.
When you think of Christmas shopping, visions of toys, jewelry, clothes, and candy probably dance in your head. That’s if you’re a normal human being. If you’re a little weird and a lot nerdy, you get starry-eyed over Lord of the Rings mugs, graphic T-shirts with famous literary quotes, and stacks of books as tall as skyscrapers. I’m guessing that everyone reading this falls into the latter category. Am I right?
If no one’s ever told you, you’re a liar. And you’re allowed to be proud of it. As storytellers, we’re engaged in a ministry that’s centered around imaginary realities. We carve out mythic spaces and beckon readers to enter in the hopes that they’ll gain a better understanding of themselves, their world, and God’s purpose for them. We’re masters at weaving beautiful lies, but not at ignoring ugly ones.
As writers, words are our swords and pain is the process that tempers those instruments. Death, divorce, disease, job loss—with the crises we face mounting on a daily basis, we may sink into an egocentric realm of despair where we can’t write, can’t ideate. But through these stressful circumstances, God challenges and molds us. And when we endure, we can mine our experiences to commiserate with hurting readers.
Sometimes I worry that we spend more time talking to peers about the ins and outs of being a Christian writer than we do asking God to help us flourish at it. Chatting about ourselves is easy—it’s one of our favorite hobbies as humans. And if the other person shares our interests, we can ramble back and forth for hours. But when we speak with our Heavenly Father, other concerns tend to crowd in. An ailing family member. A sin we need to overcome. A decision we’re not sure how to make. Prayer is the lifeline that keeps us afloat in the whitecaps. We have no doubts about that! But is it necessary to our writing?
Rarely does a day pass anymore without a depressing headline hitting the news. Violence, hate, and fear rampage across your screen. Some days you can’t bear it, so you shut off your devices. You’re done. You want life to be normal again. You want your motivation back. You want to revive the creativity that all of the chaos and uncertainty killed. But ignoring the news will only give you a false sense of peace that won’t last. “Take a walk. Read a book. Visit a friend,” anxiety taunts. “I’ll return when you’re through.”
Three years have passed since we released our manifesto, but some of you may still be wondering how it can help you thrive. A document like this is pointless if it never translates to action. We recently surveyed our audience to see how signers have applied the CSM to their writing, and today I’m going to highlight the five differences it’s made in their spiritual lives, mindsets, and relationships.