Writing

Hey Christians! Stop Ruining Young Writers!

Recently, in an attempt to advertise a site that I no longer write for, I joined a couple of Christian writers groups on Facebook. After I quit the site, I was too lazy to unsubscribe from them (and managing Facebook notifications makes me want to punch a wall), so I still see the new posts. I also follow a lot of Christian blogs, usually by people who claim to be fiction writers.

And a lot of what I see is deeply disturbing to me, both as a Christian and a writer.

The majority of posts focus around what a Christian writer should and shouldn’t do. It makes sense, right? Most of Christianity, when understood simply, is about the do’s and don’t’s. Don’t kill people. Do go to church. Don’t have sex. Do be nice. Etc. So when translated to writing, you end up with questions like, “Do I have to be pro-life to be a Christian writer?” “How do I write a Christian magic system vs. a pagan magic system?”

Not bad questions. The problems come in with the answers.

See, Christians all believe slightly different things after they accept the main basics. And the kinds of Christians that generally join Facebook groups with the word “Christian” in the title are the ones who take “be in the world but not of it” to extremes. They take the second part to heart and kind of ignore the first. The make themselves a nice, cozy Christian bubble and never step outside of it. They associate only with Christians unless they’re purposefully evangelizing, they take in only Christian media, every sentence starts with a Bible reference. You know who I’m talking about.

Obviously this is a caricature. But people try for it. It’s human nature to seek out what’s comfortable, and Christians have the added bonus of biblical mandates.

This will never make a good writer.

(There are all kinds of bubbles, not just Christian. There are trigger-warning non-offensive bubbles. There are young adult genre bubbles. There are chip-on-your-shoulder bubbles. Etc. All are harmful to writing.)

To write well, you need to understand. There’s no way around it. You need to understand human nature (and not just that it’s to sin). You need to understand body language. You need to understand bits of physics and biology, especially if you’re planning to do any world building. You need to understand how people (all people) will react to a word, a phrase, an idea, a choice.

Christians, I’ve noticed, at least the ones that use it as an adjective, aren’t big on understanding. They understand that Jesus Christ is Lord and he died and rose again for the sins of the world. What else needs to be understood?

Well, everything.

So you end up with ignorant answers to ignorant questions, and the young writers who wanted to understand the difference between Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Narnia and how to write it find themselves on the sharp end of the Christian shtick.

But the problem goes deeper than that. It has its roots in the use of “Christian” as an adjective. It’s not about writing a good book, it’s about writing a good Christian book. The emphasis is suddenly off of quality and onto forced morality, and we end up with things like Facing the Giants and Amish romances. And those are on the better end of what’s considered Christian media.

And since that forced morality has to be teaching something to the young Christian or the non-believer—never stop evangelizing!—it’s dumbed down so that it can be understood by a wider audience. And this—this hurts both Christianity and the publishing industry.

“Christian” is a noun. And there are all kinds of Christians. Because there are all kinds of people. I had a Bible teacher who used to say all the time, “There’s no such thing as a Christian sunset.” As in, things are things. People are the dynamic factor.

C. S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (Is it really a post about Christianity if there’s not a little Lewis in there?) Christians love to quote this, but Christian creators need to take it to heart. I don’t need another book about someone who struggles with faith and comes to see everything clearly in the end. That’s not what this quote is talking about. I need a book about a girl facing a full-on leprechaun war who happens to go to a Christian college and pray before meals. I need more books about hobbits destroying rings of power with fully fleshed out creation stories. I need books that are written in the light of Christianity, not books that try to be a candle flame in the darkness of the world. I don’t need someone who’s read Narnia fifteen times and nothing else and tries to write an allegory, only sending it to fellow Christians to critique. Which brings me to my final point.

Stop being nice.

Seriously.

The hands-down biggest problem I see with young writers (and not just Christians, but it seems to be more prevalent there) is people being nice. A young writer writes a draft of a novel. She’s pretty proud of it, but she wants to make it better. So she sends it to friends and family and asks for feedback. They don’t want to hurt her feelings, after all, she worked hard on this, and Christians are never supposed to let unkind words pass their lips. Some of her beta readers truly don’t see anything wrong with it. Some don’t like it, but assume it’s to each their own. Some see that it’s deeply terrible, and figure she’s got time to get better. All of them say, “Wow! I can’t believe you wrote this!” “This is amazing!” “I love this part!” “How’d you come up with that? It was great!” “Good job!” The young writer hears this, and only this, and decides to self-publish. She either clings to the idea that her writing is amazing and it’s not being read because it’s Christian or it’s not everyone’s cup of tea or some other nonsense, or she gets discouraged and never writes again, despite the fact that she had some potential.

Both of those will ruin a young writer.

And both of those ruin the book industry, one bad self-published book at a time.

Giving an honest critique to a writer is one of the most helpful things you could ever do for him. Even if you know nothing about writing, you are a reader with an opinion. That’s important, too. What parts worked for you? Which didn’t? Which were harder to read than the last book you read? For a full guide on how to critique someone’s writing, click here.

And if you’re a young writer, the best advice I can give you is this: Be a writer. Don’t write Christian books, write books with Christians in them. Don’t write Christian fantasy, write fantasy with echoes of Christian themes. Don’t write Christian romance, write a romance set in a church. Don’t label yourself a Christian writer, be a writer who believes in Christ.

And for the love of all that’s good in this world, get feedback from real writers. Hire an editor. Hire an agent. Hire a professional cover designer. If you’re going to claim to be a writer, do it right. Self-publishing crappy books does nothing but drag down the name of Christians everywhere.

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27 thoughts on “Hey Christians! Stop Ruining Young Writers!”

  1. I’ve been looking for other Christians who write literary fiction – with the emphasis on quality rather than morality, but an overall Christian POV. So far I have found ZERO authors who do this (or try to do this) in the forums I have tried. I would really love to hear from anyone who can tell me I am not alone!! In the meantime I really appreciate this post.

  2. I love this post! As a Christian writer, it gave me an awesome perspective and insight that can help me grow and think about my writing in a new way. Thanks for sharing!

  3. God bless you for writing this!

    Lewis is not just my favorite author because I adore Narnia and his other works, but he is the ultimate inspiration of what I want to be as a writer: creates wonderful stories that people of all ages, religions, and backgrounds can enjoy and love, with a added touch of joy to those who would understand the metaphors and references (I have heard praises of Narnia from both a Christian and non-believer, with the Christian thoroughly enjoying the abundant biblical metaphors and the non-believer simply thoroughly enjoying it BECAUSE IT’S JUST WELL WRITTEN AND WONDERFULLY ENTERTAINING). He was a writer who addressed his fellow believers but definitely did not leave out everyone else. His works are so universal that adults can enjoy children’s books and non-believers can enjoy “Mere Christianity,” if at least just on a literary appreciation. It’s extraordinary. And goodness, how big is the fandom for Lord of the Rings? That is a conglomeration of diversity if I’ve ever seen one. The beautiful thing about his was this very description: he was a writer who happened to be a Christian. He wasn’t a “Christian writer.”

    Basically I have yet to see someone so eloquently address this subject and I am so relieved and thrilled that you have. Thank you!

  4. THIS. All of this, THANK YOU. This is such a good post, saying exactly what young writers – AND BETA READERS/CRITIQUERS – need to hear.

    We need more Christian writers, not more people writing Christian Fiction.

      1. What annoys me just as much (or more, actually) as the beta readers who don’t give honest feedback are the (verrrry often Christian) writers who receive honest beta feedback that basically says ‘there’s some good buuuuuut, here, you might want to think about it this way, and that way, and DON’T GIVE UP, but do think about this and this’ (because a large part of the book sucks, even though there’s good in it) and brush it off as ‘negativity’ or ‘you just don’t like this genre’ or ‘you’re a different kind of Christian from me, obviously’… in essence, refusing to accept that they might need to change their writing to make it better.
        A beta reader or critiquer just spent HOURS out of their week impartially and seriously (if they’re good and they know what they’re doing) critiquing your work, and you shrug it off and ignore it because you can’t be bothered to put in the work to really see if you need to change or not.

        AND
        The writers who beta read a book and insist that parts of your book are WRONG because it’s not an overtly Christian book, and it SHOULD BE, since you are a Christian and you do feature Christians in the book.

        I love the writing world, I love writers, I love being able to help writers and network with them, but like every other career world, or even hobby world, it has its cracks, its flaws, and the Christian writer world does SOMETIMES seem to have more than most.

  5. Thank you!! I’ve been trying get published as a Christian YA writer. My full manuscript has made it into the hands of two publishers–one small and one big, and they both told me the same thing: my book is too contraversial, and conservative Christians won’t like it. I struggled for a while until I realized the Christian market wants watered-down stories, not stories and characters with depth and flaws and real life. I won’t be watered down, so I’m going to revise so it’s not a Christian book anymore. My character will still be a Christian, but she’s going to be an authentic person too.

    1. That’s so sad. I’m worried I’m going to run into the same problems when I go to publish—too Christian for big publishers, not Christian enough for Christian publishers. We’ll see. Good luck in your revisions! I hope it turns into exactly what you want it to be and publishers love it.

      1. I do think you’ve brought attention to a general issue with writing from the Christian perspective. But it is a generalization. Back in the 80s and early 90s, it was hard to find well-written fiction from Christian publishers. It’s come a long way since then. At least until the availability of self-publishing which drags down more than just the Christian genre (and yes, this is a generalization too). My favorite Christian authors have depth, show the messy side of life, show the failures, and still find the place to give hope. You don’t have to paint it to look like something else to make it a well-written book. Although, that is not to say I don’t love Lewis, Tolkien, and others like them. I love their worlds and stories! But you can have both strong Christian themes/morals/etc. and still have a well-written book that can be enjoyed by anyone.

      2. That’s definitely true, you CAN have a book that labels itself Christian and is still well-written. They’re just very, very rare. And it’s mostly because of the mindset behind it. But I do agree that self-publishing is dragging down all genres. It needs to not exist.

  6. Okay, so i read this probably a full two weeks ago now and I seriously haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. So I googled it again so I could tell you. 🙂

    For almost a year now I’ve been running a “Christian” blog and I’m starting to realize more and more how confining it is to put everything I write through that filter. I’m part of “Christian” blogging Facebook groups and “Christian” pinterest group boards, and…well, honestly, a lot of what I see is all the same. And it’s written for an audience that isn’t expecting quality content, it’s expecting you to align with conservative values and not cuss.

    All this to say, you’ve inspired me and possibly started a renaissance for my blog. It’s great to know that there are like-minded people out there who realize you can wholeheartedly love Jesus and not have everything you do have the adjective “Christian” in front of it!

    Thank you!

    1. Oh my gosh, you have no idea how encouraging this is. Thank you so much! I’m glad I was able to inspire you, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with for your blog!

  7. Thank you!!

    This post nails it. All the points are so true but I find it particularly encouraging what you’re saying about proofreading and beta reading for Christian writers. I often feel awkward because I feel like the wicked witch when giving feedback because everyone else is just being super nice and telling the person how amazing they are when in reality, there’s always room for improvement (just a note, I always make sure to say something encouraging too and I’m hardest on myself). I just figure that if we’re to do all to the glory of God, we should stop with the shoddy writing. Christian fiction killed any respect I might have had for self-publishing.

    But thank you for this post. I’ve been writing ever since I was young so what you’re saying resonates and it’s helpful to hear someone else saying it too. I’ve given up on writing groups for many of these reasons tbh 🙂

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you agree. It’s so discouraging to me when I see people content with bad writing, especially if it’s in the name of Christianity. I love that there are people out there who still see the merit in trying to write well. I love your point about doing it to the glory of God—that’s so true.

  8. Yes, I feel the exact same way, and this was a huge rule that I set for myself when starting my blog BigContradiction.com. This is something that I feel that I still struggle with, finding the perfect balance for all readers. Not wanting to bash or over convict every reader of my blog. I want a subtle Christianity seam woven throughout my blog. Gently encouraging other young Christians, but mainly sharing my experiences as I struggle closer to God.

    I also struggle to find good authors and I tend to read a lot of the Amish books. Not that I have a problem with them. It just would be nice if others existed.

    I really enjoyed your post. By the way that was a great eye catcher. Amazing I’m lost for words I totally prejudged this post. thinking here goes another writer generalizing all writers who so happen to be Christian. 🙂

    This post was also helpful in showing me a great alternative to attracting attention to posts.

    I am also anticipating that post listing all the authors who are writers and Christian.
    Good luck I have a feeling it will be awesome. 🙂

    1. Ahh thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it. And it is such a hard thing to balance it all—props for attempting it! Best of luck in finding the perfect balance. 🙂

  9. PREACH IT.

    Tolkien and Madeleine L’Engle are my go-to for great examples of this. Tolkien says over and over that his books are not allegories of the Christian faith. Sure, you can definitely SEE Christian themes in his books, but he didn’t write in order to please the church. He wrote because… well, he wanted to create a world for his made up language. And L’Engle! God bless, L’Engle. Her books definitely have Christian themes, but it’s not the focus or purpose. It’s just that Meg and the other Murry family members believe in God and that’s it. They’re humans. Sure, there are great themes in her books, especially A Wrinkle in Time with the good vs evil and love conquerors all, but she doesn’t make it cliche or cheesy.

    Yes, C.S. Lewis wrote Christian fantasy books, but he’s pretty much the exception because he also wrote a lot of Christian theology books and a few books that are strictly Christian even if they have Christian themes. (Some people can do it all apparently. Just kidding.)

    BUT YES. THANK YOU for this because I feel this and I couldn’t quite figure out how to explain it to others. Your words did it. So thank you.

    Several of my favorite books this year happened to be written by Christians yet none of the books were ‘Christian’ books. They’re just stories–stories that may have cleaner elements or maybe explore themes of family and friendship, love and belief, and yes, magic and time-travel. So… it is possible to be both: a writer and a Christian!

    1. Thank you!! YES. To all of this. Madeleine L’Engle and Tolkien are great examples. I want to write something just listing all the authors who are writers AND Christians and explaining why they’re great.

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