Wednesday, October 19, 2022

From the ARCHIVES: Tormented by the Big Question


How many times have I asked myself, “Should I be using up all this time writing when I could be… (fill in the blank—helping family or needy friends, getting to know my neighbors, taking on more responsibilities in church, getting involved in the community…)?”

My doubts don’t stop there. I go on to ask myself, “Even if I got published, would it be worthwhile?” Books have such a short shelf life. People read the book… then forget it. All my work, all that time I spent on it, is gone. So I entertained someone for a few hours—is that any kind of substitute for ministry to real live people?

Hoo. Those questions really bother me. I don’t want to waste the time God has given me. I don’t want to neglect someone I should be helping.

On the positive side, I do feel like I’m fulfilling a gift when I write. I’d really love to be able to sing—you know, just belt it out and actually sound good. Instead, at best, I meow. I’d love to be able to paint masterpieces. Instead I blush at my silly stick figures. And how I’d love to be a gourmet cook. Instead I mess up even the simplest of recipes.

But I can write. I come alive when I write. Joy bursts in my heart and radiates out to my skin when I write. Even when I hate what I’ve written, it’s only because I want to be a “10” and nothing less.

Still, the question remains.

Is writing fiction worth all the time it takes me away from ministry to others?

I finally got help from a sermon. The answer surprised me. The sermon was on evangelism—not exactly my strong point. Yet look how Christian fiction writing lines up with evangelism:

First, from Matthew 9:35, the ordinary means of evangelism is teaching and preaching. Hopefully, fiction doesn’t preach, but it does teach. Not overtly, but subtly. There’s no question the author’s worldview comes across in the story. And our characters change from the beginning of the story to the end. They learn something. They’ve been taught something (and the reader with them *big smile*)!

Secondly, the aim of evangelism, from verse 36, is to help the “sheep having no shepherd” find The Shepherd. “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest,” verse 38 says. Wow! Isn’t that who we are as Christian authors? We are laborers, sowing the good seed, helping to bring in the harvest, that the Lord of the harvest be glorified. Yeah, I’m beginning to glow here! *second big smile*

And, lastly, what is the motivation for evangelism? Verse 36 says Jesus was “moved with compassion for them, because they were weary [harassed] and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” In fiction, compassion for our readers translates into their identifying with what happens to our characters.

So, the long and short of it is that fiction-writing can be ministry.

As Christian authors, our stories are seeds sown to bless our readers and glorify God. Doesn’t matter how long our books are on the store shelves, or how many books are sold. What matters is that we are God’s laborers.

Of course, there is that little factor called publication. I’ve come a long ways from thinking you write, ergo you get published. Yeah, bwahahahaha! So, I have no control in that arena. But God does, and I can leave it in His hands. My responsibility is to be a faithful laborer. Learning to write the best I can is my part; getting published, bringing forth fruit—that’s God’s part.

Ahh, at last I’m at peace. (Most of the time.) How about you? Do doubts torment you?

Steph Prichard       

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

A Season of Love - Hate

 This morning, in those foggy, first few moments after waking up, I grasped the edges of a dream still wafting about my brain. Words and sentences formed in my still-sleepy mind. Nearly a paragraph fell into place on a topic that I could use in this very blog post today. A contented sigh preceded several more minutes of half-asleep peace.

I love when that happens, when real life injects itself into a writing assignment or captures the everyday-ness of life and gathers it into a meaningful collection of words that can comfort, educate, inspire, or entertain.  

Unfortunately, those precious, slumbery second-hand trips around the clock erased the meat of the dream-inspired theme I’d celebrated just minutes before, leaving a blank slate in its place. No amount of reaching into my now fully awake mind rescued more than a few random words. I hate when that happens. When will I stop relying on an aging memory to keep safe those impromptu lines that string together in random moments?

Now, today. From this moment forward, I vow to record in a talk-to-text message to myself any and all writing-related ideas, bits of dialogue, catchy phrases, vivid descriptions, snatches of inspiration. As witnessed this day by you, my writing comrades.

The season of transition for my writing life, that I wrote about last month--that I was so excited about--hit several sad, frustrating, emotional snags, before this longed-for season drew its first breath. The best of intentions and well-laid plans dashed. And along with them, my inspiration and motivation evaporated. I hate when that happens.

Now, five weeks later, it’s time for take #2. Because that’s what we writers do, right? We pick ourselves up, dust off the clingy debris of life’s interruptions, and get back on track. I’m counting on my favorite calendar season to inject inspiration and motivation into this second go at a new writing season. The bold splashes of red and orange, golds and browns and yellows seen out my window. The aroma wafting from my kitchen of autumn’s bounty baked into sweet treats. I love when fall happens. And I vow to give this glorious season permission to soothe and warm my weary heart.

Sometimes I hate the solitary nature of writing. That’s why I’ve claimed an “office spot” at a local fast-food restaurant, mostly for the people encounters it offers. And the refillable fountain Diet Coke. But mostly the opportunities to chat a bit and indulge the “people person” part of my personality. I love connecting. So, you can imagine that I’m already hating that my fave writing den will be closed for six to seven weeks for remodeling as soon as the end of October. Grrrr . . . Which means I’ll have to fill my connecting-with-people needs (and my Diet Coke addiction) by other means. Doable but frustrating. I’ll give you a full report next month on how that’s going.

I like all kinds of people connections, but nothing beats connecting with other writers. And next month’s Indiana Chapter meeting will offer a fab opportunity to do just that. Several of our own will share the opportunities and resources they’ve discovered and utilized to grow their craft, set and reach toward writing goals, and ignite and maintain inspiration. So, set aside Saturday, November 5, to join your fellow Hoosier writers via Zoom for a friendly session of iron sharpening iron. All the details coming soon!  

 Beth’s combined experiences teaching the high school Sunday School class, substitute teaching in the public school, and connecting with the teenage staff at the fast-food joint where she claimed a “back booth office” helped inspire her young adult “Choices Matter” fiction series. She's a "cheerleader" for saving sex for marriage and for "renewed waiting" because it's never too late to make wiser choices. Her “Waiting Matters … Because YOU Matter” blog helps people of all ages navigate the choppy waters of saving sex for marriage while her “Slices of Real Life” posts find GOD in the day-to-day moments of real life.

  As a genetic genealogy enthusiast and "search angel," she writes and speaks about her experiences as a "foundling" who located her birth parents. Her journey to find and connect with her biological family is chronicled in the blog series “A Doorstep Baby’s Search for Answers.” She also serves on the executive board of the National Association of Adoptees and Parents. All of her writing endeavors can be found on her website,





Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Raise the Stakes

I hate conflict. While growing up with three siblings, I tried to be the peacemaker in our home. Likewise when I went to college and my friends had fallings out: I always looked for face-saving, conciliatory solutions. Not a bad thing for a Christian, but problematic when I’m writing a novel. Because I hate conflict, I'm tempted to give my characters pleasant surroundings and problems that are easy to solve or, better yet, can be avoided altogether. Here’s an example:

Cherise is a 32-year-old secretary at a middle school who feels she may be wasting her life. Her parents had high expectations for her and encouraged her to train to be a professional; now they are elderly and they often expressed their disappointment. After attending several school board meetings, she begins to think she might get more involved in civic affairs. She could write letters to the editor of her local paper about school issues, gain a reputation as an activist, and eventually run for a seat on the school board. But when her first letter is published, her principal says it’s a conflict of interest and she has to stop or she will lose her job.

OK, stifle your yawn. The principal may call it a "conflict," but it would be an easy conflict to resolve or avoid, and no reader would stay with the story to its whimpering end. So how can I raise the stakes for Cherise?

I could change her circumstances. Suppose one of her parents has died and the other is nearing death. If Cherise doesn’t change the trajectory of her life—and soon--both of them will die disappointed. Hmm.

Suppose Cherise is a single mother with a high-school sophomore daughter who ignores her studies. When Cherise tries to prod her, she says, “What’s the point? Why would I want to end up like you?” Ouch.

Here’s my wife’s solution: Cherise gets a bomb threat at school and police find a real bomb in her office. In a subsequent phone call, the bomber says Cherise is his intended victim. Now the stakes are life or death. (Perhaps Maribeth should join ACFW.)

You get the idea. If my story’s stakes are safe and low, I may be comfortable with its low level of conflict and confident that I can resolve it. But who would want to watch that?

How high are the stakes for your work in progress? How can you raise them? Make your story worth the reader’s investment of time and attention, or she won’t be your reader for long.

Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. His most recent book is Hard Times (Warner Press: 2019). He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth.