Developing a personal Christian theme changes lives, if you can get in touch with the Holy Spirit throughout your writing process. This takes focus and intentional acts. But, at the very least it will change your life, as a writer.
Susan DeFreitas wrote in a post in Jane Friedman’s blog today, that writers focused on theme, “tend to be driven by a desire to explore themes that have been meaningful in their lives—dreams, for instance, or the concept of generational trauma. Or they may want to explore elements of their own personal history, or their attraction to a certain landscape or setting.”
As I was reading this, the Lord touched me deeply. This is why I write as I do. I have a strong Christian theme, that giving the Lord Jesus control of my life totally transforms how I look at reality. The beauty, joy, and power are breathtakingly beautiful.
Developing a personal Christian theme changes lives
So, like Susan suggests, when I start a new novel, I “proceed by feel, discovering both the characters and the situation of the story as they write.” In this process I am dependent upon the Holy Spirit to reveal this reality to the reader. He’s the one who shows me the connections and how the story will work. I proceed, in faith, trusting the Holy Spirit to touch me supernaturally to real the true meaning of the story.
If that sounds like an unnerving method of writing, it often is. However, like all things in my walk of faith, the results bring transformation for me as a writer—and for the readers, by grace. That is why I write my books. If I can allow the Lord to guide me, He can turn my writing into an anointed work. This can make for compelling fiction, for the following reasons which Susan shared.
Blessing one: Meaning is “baked in”
Starting with my theme, I don’t have to look for meaning, my stories are built around the core of my life for the past forty-seven years. If I can let the Lord share that, I have a good shot at being meaningful to the reader as well. After all, it completely changed my life—and continues to do so, daily.
This is true even writing contemporary urban fantasy. Again, as Susan wrote, “This sense of meaning tends to come through in the story, in a way the reader can really feel, and that’s a powerful thing.”
Blessing two: There is no other story like this story
Stories truly built around my Christian theme add deeply personal experiences, and make them unique. They are all built on witnessing—sharing what I’ve seen and experienced through the decades of walking in the spirit.
The Lord has done marvelous things, consistently and often over the past decades. I get a real joy in sharing what He has done in my life.
Blessing three: Aesthetic appeal
Along with that sense of uniqueness, novels built around a Christian theme have “a strong, particular aesthetic that run through them”. My stories are not just about the characters and what’s happening in the story, but they touch the wonder of an infinitely creative Lord and King. This anointing is about sharing how the Kingdom has invaded my life and the world around me.
Developing a personal Christian theme presents challenges
Starting with this theme definitely offers things which must be dealt with that go far beyond the norm.
Unique challenge: getting cleaned up
As I have written many times, to receive the anointing I need to be cleaned up, and in communication with the Lord. This goes beyond tossing up a quick prayer. Paul calls us Holy Ones. But I need to continually refresh that. The Lord doesn’t require that. I need that. I’m still stuck in this fleshly earth suit. If I don’t specifically seek the Lord and his anointing, it does not happen automatically.
This is why the Lord requires a walk of faith. Most of us live in a walk of assumption. If I’m not careful, I can get into a place where I’m assuming that I’m working under the anointing. But that doesn’t work.
This is something I need to at least daily. Faith is required, because even after all this time, I’m only holy because of the Lord’s presence in my life. And I find that I need to ask for it specifically every time I begin working and writing. The Lord has shown me this is the way to my personal spiritual health.
Unique challenge: it takes time to get the story working
Because my theme is the most important thing to me, I have to discover both the novel’s characters and plot as I write. If I’m not carefully focused and spiritually prepared, I may find that I am tossing bad stuff and rewriting more than most.
The good news is that IF I prepare like I talked about in getting myself cleaned up, the Lord always works well in my life. He promised He would. It is up to me to stay in touch with Him.
But as I’m getting started, it takes a while until I can get myself into a place where I am convinced I have heard from the Lord and that it is time to start. Right now, I just finished a major set of two series in which I was completely immersed for the year. In the past thirteen months, I wrote and published over seven hundred thousand words in this effort, resulting in seven novels and two series. It has taken a while to get my self prepared to write something new.
But I’m definitely getting there and expect to start writing the first book in the next series in the next few weeks. At that point, I’ll be able to get back to my normal ten hours a day, six days a week writing regime.
BUT: I won’t know that has happened until the Holy Spirit lets me know that I’m on the trail of the new story He wants me to write. If that takes another year, I’m ready to do that. Because I need to have that assurance from the Lord I love and serve.
Unique Challenge: Dealing with the unexplainable
Susan asked: “How do you workshop a castle in the sky? How do you critique it? How do you provide meaningful feedback at all? These sorts of manuscripts, while in progress, tend to present a fascinating but impenetrable exterior, offering peers and [potential readers] very little to work with, in terms of how to offer meaningful feedback on it.”
Developing a personal Christian theme will be unique to you and your life. I must accept that this vision is deeply personal. I can usually only explain it after I’ve completed it. I have yet to find an editor who can work under these constraints. Beta readers tend to be scarce also. In a very real way, this is directly working with spiritual guidance. We all know this can usually only be understood in hindsight.
Unique Challenge: getting it published
Let me quote Susan one more time. “For the same reasons that novels like this are hard to workshop, novels like this can be hard to pitch, because they don’t fit into any neat and tidy categories. Describing the novel’s plot often doesn’t offer a good sense of what it’s really about, nor does simply describing the characters and their dramas. As a result, novels like this can be a tough sell.”
Thankfully, the self-publishing capabilities in our culture are very robust at this point. For me, I have fifty years experience in illustration, graphic design, page layout, and publishing. So, with fear and trembling, I work it out by the grace of God.
A final word on working this way
The good news is that I’m working for a great Boss. The Lord is wonderfully supportive, and the results are up to Him. All I’m responsible for is working on being close with Him. As far as I can tell, this is what He wants from me. Developing a personal Christian theme is necessary for me.
If He gives me the grace for the anointing, I know my readers’ lives will be changed. That’s what I live for. Susan put it this way: “People become deeply passionate about books like this, and tend to advocate for them in a way they would not for many of the other novels they read in the course of a year.” I hope that I can pull that off, by the grace of the Lord.
I do want to stress that this method of working is possible. I realize that the call to holiness falls on deaf ears these days. But, my job is to be faithful to my calling. But as it always is in the life of the believer, you need to know who you are and the power that is available to those who seek the Kingdom first, trusting in Jesus to make it all work.
Please, let me know if this helps you. How have you learned to work as you develop your Christian theme?