Wednesday, March 07, 2007

PH: The Ten Deadly Sins of Writing

I have been reading some points that John Ortberg shared at this years National Pastor’s Convention. He called the message “The Ten Deadly Sins of Preaching.” I noticed how well the deadly sins might fit into the writer’s arsenal, so I played around with the wording a bit and came up with a writer’s list: (hoping Dr. Ortberg won’t mind loaning it to us.)

#1 The Temptation to be Inauthentic: In order to please readers, I might be tempted to invent a protagonist and world who does and says all of the correct platitudes within the safe setting of a world where a deux ex machina wraps up the heroine’s chaos in a tidy little ball while at home my own world continues to come unraveled never again to be wound back tidily onto the original spool.

#2 The Temptation to Live For Recognition: After my novel lands on the shelves, there is that temptation to hold my breath, waiting to see if the readers approve, tell all of their friends, and then spread the word like mad that a literary phenomenon has entered the world.

#3 The Temptation to Live in Fear: What if I fail? What if I never sell another book? What if I die and my books tossed into the grave after me? What if I write too honestly and the readers turn their backs on me? Our identity must be hidden in Christ and in no other.

#4 The Temptation to Compare: There are only a few famous novelists, especially Christian novelists. But readers tend to flock where other readers flock rather than around writers. If we attend the International Christian Booksellers Convention, there’s that dread of the long line at the bestselling author’s booth and the comparisons we’re tempted to make. The temptation to check the bestseller list as soon as it’s posted is another way we compare. Our culture of celebrity nags us into comparisons even though Christ asks only that we compare ourselves to him.

#5 The Temptation to Exaggerate: I once sat on a platform with T.D Jakes. One novelist sitting next to me said, “You know we can claim now that we shared the platform with T.D. Jakes.” I’m glad she was kidding, but I’ve seen that type of exaggeration when it comes to publicity and how we try and create a measuring stick for readers that makes us appear successful in hopes of creating our own bandwagon. Walt Wangerin once said, “But isn’t propaganda, after all, a lie?”

#6 The Temptation to Feel Chronically Inadequate: (Is John Ortberg reading my mail?) I think that if you add together, 1,2,3, 4, and 5, you get #6. The erosion of the soul, IMHO, is taken into avalanche mode when I deceive myself into believing that by attacking my own worth in God’s plan I’m self-abasing. I’m a lot more effective when I’m focused on the task at hand rather than self-absorbed nit-picking. Surrender mode is a perpetual struggle for me even when I know that it will ultimately give me peace and contentedness.

#7 The Temptation of Pride: It can crop up when we get reader mail or, if unpubbed, when we get the first kudo from an editor or an author reader at a workshop. Pride slides in the door with good reviews, top sales figures, fan mail, a book contract, or awards. The old cliché is “New Level, new devil.” So we have to avoid success? No, just fixing our eyes on it. Think of success as the Medusa of writers. Avert eyes, keep eyes on the cross. A post-it note to myself: “Don’t believe your own fictions.”

#8The Temptation to Manipulate: I am tempted to write overtly evangelical language that might manipulate the Christian reader into believing that because she understands the codes, her unsaved single-mom neighbor will too, (buy my book and your friend will get saved, is the message) when in fact the temptation to do that is rooted in writing in Christian codes to keep our readers close and feeling safe while alienating the people who are blocked from the spiritual message due to a codified language. Instead we need to educate our readers by telling them that Christian-ese wasn’t used by Jesus; therefore kindly remember that while we aim for their friends in our language, our intent is not to overlook the Christian reader but to provide an artful story that might open a closed heart.

#9 The Temptation of Envy: It creeps in when a close writer friend gets a highly starred review or an award. I have to train myself to remember #4. It’s hard.

And finally #10 The Temptation to Be Angry: Writers might get mad at readers who fail to follow and promote their writing ministry; or who email complaining if Christian novels are not overtly Christianized or too overtly Christianized, or if we don’t write fast enough to suit them yet want their books highly and skillfully wrought. A writer might get angry when caught between the cultural gap of Christians who want books that portray a Christian ideal and those who want their fiction kept real. They might get angry when they quit a job to stay home and write and then run out of advance money before the book is finished. Ortberg quotes Henri Nouwen, “This is not an open, blatant, roaring anger, but an anger hidden behind the smooth word, the smiling face, and the polite handshake. It is a frozen anger, an anger which settles into a biting resentment and slowly paralyzes a generous heart. If there is anything that makes the ministry look grim and dull, it is this dark, insidious anger in the servants of Christ.

Patricia Hickman is the author of Earthly Vows and Whisper Town. She blogs at Food For the Journey at Website at


At 12:33 AM, Blogger Christina Tarabochia said...

Wow...when I read posts such as this from all the great authors who blog here, I am so thankful for this time as an unpublished author. I want to absorb this wisdom and use it in the future. To not fix my eyes on success, but on the cross.

Thank you!

At 1:42 PM, Blogger PatriciaW said...

Ditto. The wisdom shared is priceless. These ten sins really give one pause, and not just in the area of writing.

At 5:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this wise list, Patty. I've fallen to most these temptations. Often they're upon me before I realize what they are. Seeing them in print will help with that, or at least help me confess more honestly and get my attention back on the Lord.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Patricia Hickman said...

Me too, Athol.

At 12:22 AM, Blogger Karen said...

Wow. This was like eatting a dab of wasabi, I'm alert!

This post was very encouraging.

At 6:12 PM, Blogger Katie Johnson said...

I love what you had to say about "chrisian-ize"; so true. Jesus was a plain talker for sure and certain. I have to wonder, when a writer falls into using the "secret language of the faith". if it's born of a certain arrogance, or at the least, a lack of humility. Thank you for sharing these wonderful items.


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