We recently observed the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight of Freedom, and this might be a good time to look at writing as an expression of our journey and expression of faith.
Regular readers of this blog are most likely members of Catholic Writers Guild – which means we are Catholic, and we love to write. For many of us, these two passions intersect in what we write, as in blogs, articles, or books about being Catholic in today’s world. In nonfiction, this is straightforward. The audience and purpose of such works provide a framework for sharing both the writer’s journey and/or expression of a specific aspect of faith.
Fiction, my personal love, can be a bit trickier. How does an author express their faith within the conventions of their chosen genre? We’ve all read books where it’s done poorly, usually resulting in a preachy tone as grating as fingernails on chalkboard. I’m reminded of Barbara Nicolosi’s comment from the 2012 Catholic Writers Conference Online: My theory is that the secular world is not anti-Catholic as much as it is anti-bad art.
When viewed through that lens, our priority as writers or artists is to learn and hone our craft. It doesn’t matter how important our message is if it is badly executed. Read books on the craft of writing. Take classes. Ask for feedback – and listen to it. The most successful writers recognize that they need to continually strive to improve.
We also have a responsibility to learn and understand our religion. I’m preaching to the choir here, but there is always something deeper, more sublime, more elemental to discover about the challenges (and rewards) of being Catholic. We have to be well-catechized in order to articulate what we need or want to convey in written format.
The great news is, that in fiction, who you are will come out in your writing, even if you don’t spell out your beliefs in the imaginary world inhabited by your characters. Think of St. Francis of Assisi. Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words. Well, we can’t write without words, but we can write great fiction without being overbearing about our faith. Readers will accept just about anything in a character, as long as the character is authentic, has depth and complexity, and is true to his or her motivations, flaws and all.
We’ve all read stories where the characters act in ways that make us cringe or gasp or squirm, but we keep reading because the author has done such a good job. We are eager to accompany the character on his or her journey. That’s our calling. To write so well that readers are willing to follow a character they don’t necessarily agree with because they want to better understand them.
I suspect most of CWG’s members pray before they write (or draw or make music or however we choose to create) and that’s where we all need to begin. Pray. Discern. Perhaps education or beauty is more important than exhortation. Keep in mind that your readers will not be in the same place you are on their spiritual journey – and we are all on a spiritual journey, whether we realize it or not. On a personal level, God has touched me through works of fiction in which I least expected to hear His voice. Never underestimate what He can (and will) do through us, whether or not we are aware.
Take courage, pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and use the gift of talent with which God has graced you. Create art that illuminates a vision of God. None of us can see God, but we can express our experience, and the light we reflect may aid a fellow traveler in life.
Now. Words matter. Go forth, write and create, and bear fruit in a world that hungers for it.
How do you approach your craft in a way that changes our world? How does faith inform your art? Do you think of those concepts as you toil over the keyboard, searching for just the right word to express the idea in your mind’s eye? What gives you joy as you create?