Step Eight – Make a list of all the people we had harmed with our writing or in our writing career. All the people we had ignored, betrayed, belittled or just not loved as Christians are called to do in imitation of Christ.
We have learned to spend time in prayer. We have mentioned the need to spend time in prayer before we write. However, how often have we gone into prayer and asked God to show us the people we have sinned against? It is so easy for us to recall all the people who have hurt us. Yet it is so painful and surprising to recall all the people we have done harm to.
This is a special list. It is a list of people we have harmed with our writing. Let’s start with those closest to us, our family. It is important for us to set up a space for our writing. We need time and space to write and do God’s Will for us and to use our talents. However, have we ever deliberately used our writing as an excuse to not do something with our family that we just did not want to do? Did we avoid a visit with that mother-in-law who drives us crazy and use the ‘need to write’ as an excuse? Did we ever skip that family get-together, or reunion – happily waving good-bye to our children and spouse as we pretended a deadline we didn’t have? Have we sat at our desktop looking lost in thought as we avoided that volunteer night at the PTA? Pray now! How many times have you used your writing as an excuse to avoid unpleasant moments with your family?
Here’s another list. How many times have you used your family as a source of characters, humor or even used family history or secrets in your work? I tend to exaggerate and color family moments and foibles to create humor in my writing. There was a time (2 weeks long exactly) when no one in my immediate family was speaking to me because they read my book on surviving cancer and found their own stories embellished and full of hyperbole in the first few chapters. I was trying to take a serious subject and make it lighter with a little fun. However, while the readers may have laughed at my son getting his hand caught in a gumball machine, my son did not find my sharing humorous. My husband didn’t really care much for my take on his odd eating habits in the chapters on nutrition. And my daughter found my rendition of her allergic attack in my chapter on pesticides less than funny. The stories may have sold a lot of books and made a lot of cancer victims laugh but it did nothing for my family relations. This moment of family anger ended. However, there are more serious harms a writer can commit.
Have you ever based an evil character and their appearance on a real person you didn’t particularly care for? Did you secretly hope that they might recognize themselves? We writers can be passive aggressive with our work and even lie to ourselves about what we are doing. How about that particular religious group that wasn’t very friendly to you? Did you dish that group in your work? Or did you just exclude them? Are you a ‘conservative’ Catholic and just can’t wait to portray that liberal organization or priest as heretical? Or are you a ‘liberal’ Catholic who can’t wait to show the social suffering the decisions your old-fashioned parish priest causes? Do you even secretly hope that they recognize themselves and change their ways? What power the written word holds! How have you used the power of your gift? Believe it or not, this is all sin. I didn’t ask permission to use the funny family moments in my book. I didn’t consider family feelings. In one of my novels, I made the protagonist look very much like a friend who had recently hurt my feelings. I don’t think I even realized it at the time. I will always wonder if they recognized themselves and think how little love I used while creating such a character. We writers can live our lives on the fantasy level, and we need to be careful. Especially about our imagination which can easily trip us up.
And then there are the sins we commit in ‘real’ life. Have we talked against that writer whom we don’t like? Did we dish that publisher who turned our work down? Are we jealous of that award the other guy won? There are so many ways our ambition and need for recognition can lead us astray.
Then there are the sins of omission. Did we ever write that review we promised? (I can think of a few pending right now). Did we call our fellow writer and let them know about that opportunity, or did we just keep it to ourselves? Did we tell that publisher about that writer who has just what they are looking for? There are so many sins of omission, so many more sins of omission in our writing life that we ignore. I don’t want to be standing in front of Jesus and have to answer for those sins. Was I supposed to be a blessing for that other writer who is doing the work of God, and was I a block instead? Did I encourage that author with kind words and sage advice, or did I keep silent when God wanted me to be His voice? Is it possible that I even stole another writer’s idea, causing them to stumble on the path to God’s will? Did I plagiarize? Did I steal the spotlight? Did I get jealous? Did I help that new writer? Oh…so many things? I think I need to make a list!
Before you make that list (an actual list because you ARE a writer) pray and take your time. In two weeks, I will tell you about the next step. What to do with that list!
Karen Kelly Boyce is a mother of two and grandmother of two who lives on a farm in N.J. with her retired husband. She and her husband love to camp and take ‘road trips’ around the country. She has published four novels and three children’s books. Her website is www.karenkellyboyce.com