Saturday, September 05, 2009

Writing Advice

Every once in a while, I get a query from someone who wants to know about how to get started in writing. Here's one from about thirteen years ago. I think the advice I gave her still holds up... see what you think. (I've withheld my correspondent's name to respect her privacy).


Dear Mr. Lemmons,
I am 30 years old with a wonderful husband and 3 children. I have been praying about becoming a novelist. I was hoping you could give me some advice since I heard so many good things about your writing.

I want to write Christian romance novels that are inspirational and not too frivolous. I want to leave my reader inspired and encouraged to walk with God as I guess every Christian author does. Can you give me some advice based on your own experiences? How do I begin and how do I hold on to my inspiration to keep writing for the Lord as my main purpose?

I'm looking forward to writing and already have so many ideas for story plots in my head. I dont want my stories to be frivolous but serious and heartwarming. How can I start and what do I need to look out for? But most of all what will writing require of me? Anything you can share with me will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you
(name withheld)


Dear (correspondent),

Thanks for your note. I'm honored to be of service. I must say at the outset that I can't help too much with specific advice about writing romances, since that's not really my preferred genre.

By way of background, I would say that the most important thing for you to do is focus less on any message you want to send your readers, and focus most of all on telling a good story. I think it was William Faulkner who said something to the effect of "Trust the tale, not the teller." What I think he meant is that a story is something to be handled with care, for its own sake. If you are a Christian, that cannot help but come through in your work. Don't worry so much about leaving your readers "inspired and encouraged to walk with God" as about giving them an honest view of reality as conceived within your heart and consciousness. If you can do that best by writing romances, fine. It really doesn't matter what sort of fiction you write, as long as you bring your passion and your honesty to it. Good fiction is good fiction, whether it's Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or pagan. God isn't well served by bad fiction, even if it's written in His name.

I would advise you to read widely. Read those writers whom you respect, and would like to emulate. Don't be afraid to imitate at first: that's how babies learn to talk. Not that you're a literary infant; it's a valid principle that I still employ. I read authors whom I respect, and try to figure out how they do what they do.

As to what writing will require of you--I think the answer depends on what you want writing to do for you. Writing can demand everything you have. Not necessarily all your time; spending all day writing is a luxury few of us can afford. What I mean is that writing can cause you to face things within yourself that you'd rather not face. Writing (for me, at least) is not a release; it's more of an expense. It's hard to write well, and it demands a sort of uncomfortable honesty about myself and what I'm trying to do.

I hope my rambling has helped you somewhat. Good luck, and God bless. If I can be of future assistance, let me know.


As I reread the above exchange, I can't help wondering how my correspondent is getting along. Lord willing, she's in her early forties now and still has a wonderful husband and three children (some of whom are probably adults by this time). I hope that she was able to write and that the experience was a good one for her. I hope that trying to make the words say exactly what she means and feels has enriched and challenged her, as it has me. If she has been fortunate enough to be published, I hope that someone, somewhere, was touched by her words and changed for the better. And I hope that they let her know.