Writing fiction

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Last night I put the last edits on a fiction manuscript I've been writing. Today I'm spending the time just being grateful to God that I write. Not too long ago, gratitude would not have been part of the process.

Although mine might not be a name you'd recognize, my work has been published and appreciated at what's considered in the literary world a steady pace. It had always just seemed I had to write. Even if I'd wanted to stop, I couldn't have. It would have been as if someone had placed a pillow over my face while I was sleeping; I might have lain there quietly for awhile, but sooner or later I'd kick them in the face so I could breathe!

That, however, didn't necessarily mean that I was always grateful to write. Sometimes I'd meet individuals at parties who would announce dreamily, "Oh, I'd like to be a writer!" I'd smile politely. Meanwhile, I'd be thinking, "Oh yeah? Why?!" It seemed my writing talent had brought some particularly nasty baggage with it. Artistic envy, for one thing - that strong discomfort I felt whenever someone else got the appreciation I thought I deserved.

Awhile back, though, my attitude about my talent changed. At the time it felt like all hell had broken loose! I was pretty sure there'd been gossip about me. Some of it was true. A good deal of it certainly was not.

One day while working on a story, I stopped for a moment to read my Bible, which I often do. I came across this: "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15).

I saw the passage in a way I hadn't before. Quite often, painful events in my life have ended up in my fiction, though much transformed. I realized now that every time I wrote a story, I was "rightly dividing" between fiction and the "truth." That is, I knew the difference between the story as I was writing it and the experience that had occurred. I was bringing compassion and insight to a series of events that, during their actual occurrence, might have contained very little compassion or insight. As I wrote, I was bringing a sense of structure and closure to events that might have seemed senseless without the fiction writer's requisite "beginning, middle, and end."

The insight did not stop there. I saw that it wasn't much more of a stretch to divide between the chaos and discomfort of the events of my past and the truth as God knew it about me - and the others involved.

The Bible says that God first made us like Himself. That He "saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:27, 31). Then, almost as a contradiction, that a "mist" immediately "went up ... from the earth" (2:6). In this second story, man is created of dust. Sins. Dies.

I saw it was up to me to continue to hold to the truth of the first record of creation, when God saw good alone - no matter what "mist" before me obscured the view.

The Christian Science textbook quotes from the classics, from poets, playwrights, and essayists whom the author, Mary Baker Eddy, admired. It speaks of the fundamental need we all have to divide between the real and the unreal, between the spiritual and the material - between truth and fiction: "Understanding is the line of demarcation between the real and unreal" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 505).

From that point forward, I did begin to be very grateful for my writing talent. I realized my steady practice of it had helped me to choose between what was true and what was not. I also began to be grateful for the lives of all the fiction writers I had read and loved.

The great writer of short stories Flannery O'Connor once said, "I have found ... from reading my own writing, that my subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil." Those of us who write fiction might be writing about some pretty tough subject matter. But to the degree that we know the difference between fiction and reality, we just might be performing a service for humanity.

The Herald of Christian Science publishes articles like this one in 13 different languages.

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