Articles / On Writing

Balancing Your Faith and Your Muse

 

This article is personal. Very personal. I’m going to talk about faith, specifically Christianity. It may seem negative, but I don’t mean it to be. I love my faith, but I am not blind to the flaws—especially among those who profess it.

I feel in a way the subject matter transcends faith. None of us live in a vacuum. Even if you aren’t a person of faith, you will still have people who are close to you who will have strong feelings about what you write. Perhaps they will pressure you or judge what you have written or even be ashamed of you. This article is about that scenario and how you find the balance between writing what you want and pleasing those you care about most.

This is meant to open a dialogue. Please feel free to comment and share your own experiences with this issue and how you dealt/overcame. By doing so, you just may help a fellow author who is struggling.

 

You are a creative person. You see worlds in your head, hear the voices of characters that demand to be written. If someone asked you why you write, you would respond because you have to. It’s more than a career; it’s a calling. You are compelled at every turn to breathe life into the images in your head. It’s just that sometimes those voices and worlds are in direct opposition to a very central part of you—your faith.

But I would ask, is your calling contrary to your moral convictions or is it merely contrary to the perception others have of the way your faith should be lived? That’s a question I’ve pondered for years. Ultimately I decided, for me, the answer is the latter, which led to a path where I had to find balance between my writing and the convictions of those I care about.

It seems that there is strong pressure in Christian circles, and I suspect in other faiths as well, to use “creative” gifts solely for the glory of God. It may not be stated outright, but it is heavily implied to do anything less is “a sin” or even a corruption of your “godly calling.” God forbid you be a person of faith that sings, writes, creates art, acts, etc. in a secular market. You’ll be lucky to get away with only being branded a hell-bound heretic.

I have to ask why that is. Why are only creative individuals and eloquent speakers co-opted into God’s service, but the rest of the congregation is left to live their lives merrily working away in a secular job (that may be quite objectionable on moral or religious grounds)? While Mary Sue Gossipmonger is horrified that you write romance novels, and has made sure everyone in your local congregation is aware of that fact, no one seems to have anything to say about her family’s multigenerational tobacco farm even though smoking is routinely condemned from the pulpit.

As a creative individual and a woman of faith, I find it… frustrating.

Recently, I read an amusing article over at ABC News: 86-Year-Old Utah Woman Writes Romance Novel.  My initial reaction was: Way to go, granny! I thought it was awesome. And I felt the same after finishing the article, but there was something in it that made my eye twitch. The daughter of the woman who had written the novel was lamenting that there was so much “steaminess” in the book. Sigh. Seriously! I just found it to be indicative of what many authors face when dealing with family and friends. While this was a light form of “disapproval,” many authors aren’t so lucky, especially when faith is involved.

I’ve seen the ugly side of this issue, and I’ve experienced it in limited ways as well. I’ve seen women ostracized and shunned by their friends. I’ve seen spouses withhold support and encouragement from a wife or husband that has faithfully supported them. I’ve seen authors who have to bury their talents and write stories that they despise. I’ve seen authors who have had, in very public settings, to weather brutal criticism and judgment from strangers who wield God as their weapon. Who have had to live with the pain of disappointing people they care about because of what they’ve written. I’ve seen authors under threat of excommunication because of their books.

I’ve seen authors walk away from lucrative and fulfilling careers because the people they loved left them no other choice.

It’s heartbreaking.

In my own life, I’ve had to swallow my tears when my husband told me he wished he could be proud of what I do. I’ve had hide my career-making achievements from friends and family. I’ve had to honor my husband’s request to not mention my work on the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy to anyone we go to church with because he’s ashamed. I’ve had to sit back and employ a stiff upper lip when the fruits of my talents were denigrated as “worthless smut” by those who were just ignorant.

And so I play the game of balance. There are probably a lot of you out there that play the game, too. In the midst of all of this pressure, ignorance and judgment, there really isn’t any other option unless you are actually called to write religious books.

See, I’m an editor and a writer who wants to work on something beyond what is acceptable in my local religious bookstore. I suspect I’m not alone. Balance became my answer, but I realized quickly that it’s different for everyone. So where do you draw the line? I’m afraid that is only something you can discover through introspection and by really “counting the cost” of your calling because, in some cases, the cost is steep indeed.

Some author friends of mine write a sex scene and then cut it from the story. Others embrace the fade to black. Others find a compromise they can live with. Some decide to write in genres that won’t rile the frothy religious masses in their lives. And some live the double life—good and holy by day, naughty by night. The ones I admire most just say, “the hell with it,” and do what they want.

Perhaps one day I will find the courage to transition from the morass of the double-life to full creative freedom. I’m still striving, but what I’ve come up with is good enough. For now.

I’ve been on a journey when it comes to finding that balance, and it hasn’t always been clean, free from self-justification, or without tears and a lot of prayer. And it isn’t over. It took years to realize I wasn’t supposed to write Christian fiction. In fact my efforts at Christian fiction are more appropriate for birdcage liner than anything else. But I’ve found what I’m good at writing, and it is on the bottom of the list when it comes to religiously acceptable. I’ve learned to live with it, even embrace it, and I’m much happier now.

But I don’t advertise what I do or what I write. When found out, I don’t make apologies for my characters, my stories, or anything I edit. I’m not ashamed (in fact I’m proud), but like I said before to please my husband I have to ixnay on the haringsay. I’ve learned that being ostracized isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes it just makes room in your life for the people you really need. I’ve become more forgiving. Some people are just ignorant and judgmental. They always will be. And their reaction is more about the sin that lies in their heart than anything I’ve done.

I’m a Christian. I’m an editor. I’m a writer. I struggle to find balance between the three.

I’m called to edit and write in the secular market. I enjoy it. No, I love it. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

The worlds I write are flawed places. My characters are good, evil, hypocritical, humorous, lustful, emotional, strong, weak, damaged, perfect creatures. And that’s okay because so am I.

Maybe that was the point all along.

In short, I’ve figured out that I can’t avoid judgment; I just had to find the levels of it I can live with. It’s my balance, my grand experiment. Is it ideal? No, of course not. But it’s bearable. If you are like me, you’re going to have to seek that balance as well. It may be a painful journey, but I encourage you to try anyway. It is worth it.

 

Talk back to the Divas! How do you find that balance? How do you deal with people who judge you and your writing? How do you stay true creatively yet please those in your life that matter most?

 

*The views expressed in this article are personal—Shay’s—and not reflective of Write Divas, LLC.

 


Comments

  1. I don’t think you’ve found a balance. You’ve found something you can more or less live with I don’t think that’s a happy balance.

    • Sam,

      I’d say that is true to a degree. At times I feel like I have a bit of a split personality, but it’s become the balance I can live with and there is happiness in it, if that makes sense. I think there are many people out there that feel torn between two irreconcilable choices. To me, that’s what I have going on in my life. I do not fault the others in my life for their opinions nor do I fault my own needs and desires. Both have validity.

      I had a opportunity to watch a very intriguing TED Talk recently. It was on true happiness versus “manufactured” happiness. This researcher came to the conclusion that the happiness we make (or choose) is just as valid as other types of happiness. I found that comforting in a way. I guess because there have been times in my life, this included, that I’ve just had to find a place where I can be happy regardless of not totally getting my way. It’s my compromise, and I have found my balance in it. The scale is even, not tilting too far in either direction. Because while I don’t want to indulge my own selfishness, I see no need to enable the selfishness of those in my life either. I don’t see anyone as the wrong party in this type of scenario; they are just holding true to their convictions. And while I’m balancing, I know that the people in my life who love me are also balancing on the tightrope of “I wish things where different, but I can live with this compromise.”

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

      Shay

  2. Thank you so much for writing this article. I have struggled with exactly the same issue – a heartbreaking one at times. I’ve actually decided to take a break from church for a while, as the stress of it all was eating at me. One of the things I find the most frustrating is that violent movies, TV shows, video games and yes…stories, barely raise an eyebrow. I know pastors, elders, and Christian school principals who don’t blink at watching, playing or reading incredibly graphic stories etc that contain serial killing, torture, extreme war violence, abuse of women, and even sexual violence but would be absolutely appalled to know I write romantic, relational stories with love scenes that don’t ‘fade to black’. I thought about just writing PG Christian romance, but I rarely enjoy reading them (I’ve been preached at enough over the years) and I can’t help thinking that I’d still be judged (and mocked) for writing that utter abhorrence…romantic stories with a HEA!

  3. John Magnet Bell Says: September 27, 2014 at 9:11 am

    Shay, as a man who subscribes to no particular religious creed, who does not believe in the actuality of (a) creator god, but is still open to the *possibility* of there being a God — in short, let’s say I am agnostic — I still understand what you’re going through.

    Precisely because nobody lives in a vacuum, and I grew within a moral and ethical framework like every other human on this planet.

    Consider this: your calling may consist in breaking down barriers, both internal and external, and in expanding your creative freedom so that others will benefit from what you write. Sometimes family, though they love us, becomes a cage. You weren’t put on this Earth to live in one. Where you used the word “please,” I would ask you to consider the fine line that divides pleasing from appeasing.

    If you write from the deepest parts of your self and you incur somebody’s displeasure, even though you know you’re doing what you must, and can justify it morally, then you are simply not writing for them. Morality is complex, but it is not immutable (if it were, we’d still be throwing political dissenters off the Tarpeian rock, or is modern equivalent) — what one generation finds right and good and acceptable may not be any of those things to the following generation.

    “Listen to your conscience” is scant advice, I know. But what does my conscience tell ME? That art and literature have the potential to offend just about anyone. And so long as you live by a consistent moral code born of reflection and soul-searching, your work doesn’t owe “freedom from offense” to anyone.

  4. I wish I had advice for you. I don’t. I’m in the exact same place you are, and I don’t know how to “fix” it. I have critique partners who write sweets, and others who write faith-based romances; I can’t do either. In fact, as a romance-writing ghostwriter, I sometimes end up writing things that are contrary to Biblical teachings because doing so puts food on the table and clothes on my kids’ backs, and I just sort of apologize to Jesus and thank him for the provision.

    My husband says that if I truly believe in the sacrifice of our Lord, and accept the fact that He already knows all my sin, then He’s already forgiven me for writing things that aren’t in line with His teachings. But still…I feel guilty.

    In the end, I pray for understanding and an answer; I pray that He will point me in the direction of writing what is pleasing by sending the right projects my way. Your article, I think, is part of that. Thank you! 🙂

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