The Christian Writing Revolution: Straight Talk

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It’s never going to happen. This revolution. It’s just not.

It’s always going to be just over the horizon, out of reach, beyond the next bend in the road. Hiding in the shadowlands. Lingering in the space between dreaming and waking.

Our world can’t handle it. The industry will never accept it. The truth is, no one wants to face facts. We all want our cake, our super-sized lifestyles, and we don’t want some stinkin’ revolutionary message messing things up.

We may as well all give up right now.

Ever felt like that? Okay. I didn’t think so. Me neither.

Say what you will, but there’s a very real barrier to anything fresh and new and truly inspired in our Christian books, and I think there’s at least one thing we can point to that explains it. I want to diverge from our recent debate about art as evangelism for today to talk about another very important barrier to the revolution. We all claim to want this industry-wide change to happen, but our outlook is built up to resist it. We claim to want a fresh revelation from God, but we keep flogging the same assumptions, expecting the same thing we’ve always gotten. Maybe we’re afraid of it changing too much or of it not happening on our terms. Maybe it’s easier to use lingo and Christian slang, to speak of vagaries to keep the practical realities from ever infiltrating our daily lives. It’s just easier and safer to “lay it all at the feet of the cross” than to actually do something about it and have our entire lives change.

So why is CBA suffering from a glut of badly-written books, chock full of Christian jargon and unrelenting religiosity?

Why do authors speak in clichés and platitudes?

Why do so many CBA editors complain about the deplorable state of the manuscripts they get to evaluate?

Because just like CBA readers, we editors secretly like it that way. We don’t demand anything better. Second, because writers don’t seek out experienced editors with integrity who don’t allow that garbage to pass by their desks and do something about it. And third, because most editors, publishers, and “gatekeepers” aren’t doing anything to make the situation any better.

If we really believe in this revolution and we’re not just paying lip service to the idea, we need to quit treating publishers and editors like royalty and make them pay for their favored status. Sure, they work hard. They’ve earned their stripes through years of study and real-life book editing. But does that mean we should treat them deferentially as though they don’t owe it to the industry that pays their salary to help earnest, fledgling authors?

There’s too much tip-toeing around in CBA, as though we’re going to offend someone by “bothering” them with our God-given passions. If you believe in the revolution I’ve been flapping about, then stop that groveling right now! One thing I always make it a point to say to any writer’s conference is that any assumption of reverence is completely out of place. We are all in the same sinking ship here and if my hunch is right, when editors get up to the pearly gates, they’ll be told their “talents do not fit the needs at the present time.” They’ll be fortunate to end up with Dante’s book critics.

I made a pledge when I became a book editor to never, ever consider myself worthy of the position. Wordsmith, message-crafter, whatever you want to call it, the skill required is just a skill, like anything else. Now I’m no Stein or Plotnik or Zinsser (And can’t imagine sitting at that table without peeing my pants), but I’ll tell you what: someday I will be. And so will you. And you can bet once you’re there that you’ll realize this fascade of privilege is utter foolishness. So my advice would be to learn to hate it and not even acknowledge its existence. Hate what it does—to me, to other editors, to the business, and to the other poor writers who believe it exists. That’s the first step.

And my other fervent request for the day is for everyone to come on in, let’s have a big, Teletubbies group hug, and realize we’re all working toward the same goal: furthering the Christian Writing Revolution. The only way we’ll ever see it change lives is to allow it to change our own first.

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7 thoughts on “The Christian Writing Revolution: Straight Talk”

  1. Wow! Way to rally the troops, General! But the Teletubbies thing . . . I don’t think that will fly in the CBA. Not since Jerry Fallwell exposed the purse-toting teletubby as gay. Maybe you could just soften that a little — you know, have one of the others share the four spiritual laws, and then the evil tubby can repent of his cross-dressing ways and say the sinner’s prayer, and . . .
    Good word, Mick. I may be too clueless to know better, but I don’t typically tip toe around. And I find editors easy to talk to. The biggest problem I see is the lack of vision and/or courage at the top. Everything comes down to what sells, and someone up there seems to think the only thing that sells is what sold last month. Like people want to read the same story over and over?
    I’m excited to know there are people like you trying to stir the pot from within. Visionary writers may try to push the literary envelope by producing excellent material, but if the marketing team shoots it down for not “fitting our needs at the present time,” we’re back at square one. The industry will eventually stagnate and die, and writers who refuse to fit the mediocre mold will be forced to pursue alternate methods of publication.
    So, what specific course of action do you recommend? How do we make our fresh voices heard? I’m not shy, but I’m not sure I can make it past the gatekeepers for an audience with the king. Any practical tips?

  2. :::officially pulling up my chair:::
    I’m here. :) I met you at a couple conferences this year (a memorable breakfast with you and your Dad at Mt. Hermon and saw you around at ACRW). Glad to be here.
    Mary Griffith

  3. Mary, welcome. Be sure to check out the neighborhood.
    Jeanne, you’re so right about Tinky Winky. I’m just glad La-La and Po aren’t going around with those “Can the Queer” placards anymore…
    Now about your invitation for practical tips—you’re already on the right track. Demand creates supply and not the other way around. We need more people to take a stand and not buy trash. Just say no. Don’t pay for it. You can’t change anything if you’re just supporting the same recycled junk.
    Secondly, educate yourself on the editors at publishing houses who are committed to seeing things change. Go to conferences, websites, etc. Most people are pretty surprised to hear what my team is really into (though admittedly, I’m the blackest of the sheep).
    Great question! That’s the stuff!

  4. Mick, Thanks for this. Your encouragement comes at a good time for me. Our small annual conference in the KC area is this weekend, and I have scheduled critiques of two proposals (fiction and non-fiction) with two different editors.
    One of the editors I’m pitching to is even staying in our home, which is a first for me. I guess some writers would view this as an additional opportunity to hound an editor during every second of his down time, but I just can’t. Editors are people, too, right? :)
    So, I’m going to offer him some good midwestern hospitality and a hearty breakfast. Then we’ll go to the second day of the conference, where he’ll discover I’ve morphed into the annoying, pandering Christian writer from….just kidding.
    I think I’m getting over my hero worship. I’m going to relax and be myself and see what relationships might develop. And maybe keep my eye out for the lady in the wheelchair…

  5. i’ve recently put on the book reviewer/critic hat mick, and i’ll tell you, a lot more energy could be spent in actual editing. with the exception of the eldredges, mannings, and top-dollar pastors, the little potatoes in the editing stew need more help than they are getting.
    the sad state of christian publishing is that we are becoming formulaic (or are already) and lazy. formulaic is bad enough. lazy is just plain unacceptable.
    give me a secular book any day!
    suz

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