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.
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.