Thursday, December 05, 2013
"The First Five Things Every Spirituality Writer Should Know" -- A Guest Post by Vinita Hampton Wright
There are really only so many things that go wrong in writing. After twenty-three years as an editor, I’ve made thousands and thousands of fixes, but often they applied to the same mistakes made again and again. Here’s a short list of issues I encounter often when editing material on spirituality.
Nothing makes up for poor craftsmanship.
I can say this confidently as a member of the publishing community: The number one reason a manuscript is rejected is that the writing just isn’t good enough. With so many manuscripts floating around, editors can afford to be picky and will dismiss so-so writing—usually after reading a paragraph or two. Most readers are impatient and won’t stay with writing that is mediocre—they will click to another blog or pick up another book. Especially now that cyber tools make it possible to generate and publish material almost instantly, writing must be flawless and beautiful to stand out above all the rest.
Save teaching for the classroom and teaching for the pulpit.
People attend a class to learn or go to church to hear a sermon. They open a book or an article for a different experience. Welcome and respect the reader. Give her an experience, not just information. Walk alongside her as a fellow explorer rather than stand in front of her as an authority.
Fiction is about storytelling, not teaching.
If you want to write fiction, then serve the story above all else. A good story will reach the reader’s heart and mind because it is well written, its characters are interesting, and the plot compels the reader to find out what happens next. Good fiction also contains moral, philosophical, and spiritual content, but it must grow organically from the story. Good fiction is not a moral lesson dressed up with characters and a plot; that’s a fable or a parable—and those have their purpose, too, but they are not novels or short stories.
The reader becomes engaged when she has to do some of the work.
Spiritual writing draws upon the reader to add his experience and story to the mix. It invites the reader to ponder and puzzle. Spiritual writing engages the reader, and to engage the reader, the writer must respect and care about the reader. Also, refrain from spoon feeding information and supplying answers; invite the reader to articulate the questions and wrestle with them.
Personal writing must be transformed in order to work as public writing.
The most powerful writing begins as personal writing—the writer works through an issue, mines wisdom from a memory, or tries to put an experience into perspective. Rarely does such writing automatically translate well to the larger audience. It must go through a revision process before it can be accessible and useful to others. Sometimes the revision is minimal, but more often it’s pretty extensive. When you transform personal writing for public reading, you revise it with the reader in mind, which means that you recede into the background. Which means that some of the material that’s quite meaningful to you will be changed or deleted. In the realm of spirituality writing, this is called service.
Vinita's The Art of Spiritual Writing is now available at fine booksellers everywhere. It's a must read for any writer -- from beginner to expert.