I’ve been an author/writer for years. Since my early years at college and following my Bread Loaf School of English courses, I’ve worked quietly and consistently–plugging away at my vocation. Little known, but read by a small and faithful tribe.
Every writer or author I know (and I know many) writes to be read. He writes to communicate. She usually has something to say.
Some write for self-gratification. Others seek recognition, perhaps for a cause or personal fame. Some hope to make a living at it. Some write to change their tribe or the world. Most write because–know it or not–they have an innate desire to create.
I write because my Father is an author. And His writing has changed my life forever. I know the power of words. I’ve tasted the power of His Word. I’ve experienced the effect of words from both sides–changing and being changed. And I want to see lives changed for the better.
Though many writers may not know or acknowledge it, this subconscious, creative drive to write is in them because they are made in the image of God–who is Creator. Consciously, we all do it because wonderful rewards come from both the finished work and the process itself. Here are some of the rewards for writing well which I’ve been able to identify.
Many write just to write, but writing well can end in recognition. I’m not convinced that those who set out to be recognized get recognized, but it can end up being one of the rewards. Especially for those who write well.
Recognition can lead to influence. Perhaps they desire to influence history or simply a few souls. It can also lead to the next reward.
Some of us go on to receive remuneration. Perhaps we don’t make our living at our writing–though undoubtedly some do–but we receive some form of remuneration. For my first published writing, I received only experience. Then, mugs, thanks, and more assignments. Once editors know that you will deliver and that you meet your deadlines without excuse, invitations increase.
For a while, I wrote for an online magazine that paid nicely and gave me regular work (until the editor left and the new one went in a different editorial direction. It happens). But remuneration–payment–can be a huge motivator and reward.
Joy in the Process
Being in the zone is a great reward of writing well. I love “the zone” I enter when writing. Everything else kind of fades away. My writing mentor–Ron Hansen–once told me, “David, turn off the editor, teacher, preacher, critic, and simply tell the story you have to tell.” Don’t be the perfectionist at the first draft stage. That can come later.
Jeff Goins once gave the same advice. That first write is such a creative act. Just get it out! And when I’m doing it well, I’m in the zone. Perfectly at peace, I’m writing what flows. Sometimes I may need to stop and mull things over, but I try to just keep going.
By the time I’m through, reentry is always amazing. Twenty minutes or several hours may have passed. Then I leave the work. Coming back to it later, I’m always amazed at the material I have to work with. Editing is its own kind of enjoyment for some of us. Hell for others. But nothing tops being in the zone or flow.
Satisfaction at a job well done
Good writers take great satisfaction at a job well done. They love the feeling of reading the finished work. Hearing themselves read to others and having them feedback is almost always rewarding.
I love knowing I’ve done my best. I enjoy knowing that something I wrote worked something good in someone else. That brings us to the superlative reward for writing as a believer.
A reader once told me that my first book literally changed his life. He has a whole new perspective on his value to God. If I never wrote another thing, that would be enough reward for me. Another reader, and friend, actually adopted a child on the basis of something I wrote. It doesn’t get any better for me. Not money, not fame or notoriety, not awards can compete with the joy that comes hearing you’ve altered someone’s life for the better.
I’m sure I’ve left out other rewards for writing well, but these are some of which I’m aware. I’d love to hear why you write.
QUESTION: What rewards for writing well have I left out? Are there some you agree with? Why?
But gradually an urgency to write fiction took over; it was a vocation that seemed so exalted and sacred and beyond me I would not even talk about it. . . . Many writers are agnostic and have as their religion art, but just as many are conscious that the source of their gifts is God and have found thanksgiving, worship, and praise of the Holy Being to be central to their lives and artistic practice.
Yes. I am one of the latter. I believe that vocare (vocation–calling) is the fundamental difference between the writer who happens to be a Christian (and may be rather embarrassed to admit it) and the Christian writer (a disciple of Jesus Christ who writes under compulsion of the Holy Spirit).
The Apostle Paul understood this because he says that he preached under compulsion (1 Cor. 9:16; cf. Ac. 9:15; Rom. 1:14 NIV). Being a Christian writer does not limit us to Christian literature, rather God gives us the freedom and responsibility to explore life and exegete creation–always embodying truth in the metaphors he inspires.
God is also a Speaker. He travels and comments on his work and his writings through the Holy Spirit (who will bring back to remembrance all that is said, leading us into all truth). The best example is Jesus on the road to Emmaus:
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. . . And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:13-15, 27, ESV)
For many years now I have walked in a ministry of speaking the Word. I now sense that God is combining them in my life: writing and speaking. These facts encourage me as a writer and a speaker. I look forward to the doors of opportunity opening wider in my calling. I have a sense, overwhelming at times, of God’s tender oversight and care in what I write and speak. I know him to be moving my writing at times. I see–in the impact it has in readers–a confirmation to continue. I know in the personal correction and discipline in my life that I am being shaped for these purposes.
God is a Reader. Jesus says to the crowds, “Haven’t you read . . . ” implying, he had (Mt. 12:3, 5; 19:4; Lk. 4:16). I am encouraged as a reader and student of literature that God grants exceptional understanding in this discipline as well. Simply read the following passage in Daniel:
“As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” (Daniel 1:17, ESV)
If we will let him, God makes us into readers. Good readers. Readers who see more than what’s obvious, lying just on the surface. We will see the deeper truths behind the words, thoughts, and emotions shared by authors.
I want my writing, speaking, and reading to be filled with the grace and power of God. I hope those of you who know me will pray that God will bring this to pass in my life. That I might be a blessing and that my life would make a significant contribution to the lives of others.
Now in my early sixties, I often feel I’m getting a late start, but I MUST entrust that to Him. For he does all things well and makes everything beautiful in his time.
QUESTION: Do you sense God’s involvement in your writing, speaking, or reading? Please take a moment and share an example with us.
© 2011, David C Alves
Hansen, Ron. Atticus: A Novel. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. 247 pages.
Ron Hansen 1947—
Just when we thought that we would not see any more great American novels, Ron Hansen has given us, not only Mariette in Ecstasy but, far more to my liking, Atticus. Hansen has created a “sundog” with this fine novel.
Hansen paints his characters with words as the lead character, Scott Cody, paints with brush and canvas. Impressions. He daubs his canvas with an attitude, a gesture, a scene that smells, tastes, feels, sounds like life itself. From the moment Atticus sees his first Parhelion, at age sixty, foreshadowing identity issues; until his mysterious encounters in Mexico, we sense that we are there with him in all his pain and sorrow. We watch him and want to help him understand Scott. But we find that impossible. Atticus lives from his Weltanschauung (worldview) and Scott is held prisoner to his own.
The characters that orbit Atticus and Scott come alive and draw our suspicion. We’ve all known Scott, Renata, Stuart, and Reinhardt, even Carmen and Renaldo, yet they are not caricatures. Soon we do not realize we are reading anymore, but we are there, in steamy Resurreccion. The narrative catches us up and carries us along into places we have been and never want to be again. We know that something is wrong, but do not know what. We sense something amiss. Hansen planted clues all along the way. We are not only feeling that we are witnesses, we are.
We know that somehow Atticus and Scott’s relationship is bigger than the sum of its parts. Atticus, the compassionate father, will not let the apparent tragedy rest. Scott’s home is Resurreccion. Atticus must leave the U.S. Surely life can come from death. Just as the phoenix rises, new beginnings can rise from the ashes of hopelessness. Perhaps the natural, mirrors the supernatural: multiple sundogs here for him who has eyes to see, ears to hear. Twin suns in the sky. Scott and Reinhardt. The Codys and the prodigal and his father.
This brings us to the point of the experience. We come to the story within a fine story–Shakespeare’s play within the play. Atticus’s story. Scott’s story within the greater context of all that has brought Atticus to Resurreccion. Merely because the story is there to tell? Or has the author created a divine appointment for his reader? We’re afloat in a paranormal sense of proximity and place very close to divine grace.
Planned or no, the reader is faced with questions of life and death, identity, offense, and forgiveness, sin and redemption. Not only for the characters in the novel, but with a skillful use of understatement, the reader is confronted with herself. Yet never a sense of sterile, impersonal preachiness.
Hansen takes the reader on quite a ride but we find the road has twists and turns that sweep us to the grand finale. We find at the end, what J. R. R. Tolkien termed, the eucatastrophe (Greek: “good resolve”)—the redemptive climax that makes the reading investment worthwhile—the exceptional ending, one that uplifts from mists of melancholy, that draws out the best in the human spirit.
After all, Ron Hansen’s writing is much more than the obscene voyeurism of so many contemporary writers. They find it passé to conclude hopefully or with grace. History will forget them, but my guess is that generations to come will study Hansen’s work in Literature class.
1. Atticus was a finalist for the 1996 National Book Award for fiction.
2. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, also written by Ron has been made into a movie and was released in 2007, starring Brad Pitt.
QUESTIONS FOR READING GROUPS:
Other works by Ron Hansen are in my “Featured Books” list.
(c) 2004, David C Alves, revised 2011. Updated links.