I had a journalism student–who shall remain nameless–quite a few years ago, who was a marginal student. He did just enough to get by. I found myself constantly having to push him to put enough effort into classes just to pass the class, and I worried about what his career would be like when he graduated. But even though he didn’t put out a lot of effort, he did make a profound statement to me in one of my writing classes that has stuck with me:
“It’s not enough to know how to write. You have to have something to say.”
Out of the mouths of babes. It’s a thought that has permeated my classes since then. Today I challenge my Narrative Writing class by telling them the first day of class that one of their final exam questions will be: “How does your writing reflect who you are?” I mention the concept in other classes as well. And as a Christian university, I believe that we offer something that secular colleges who teach writing can’t offer.
Because it’s not enough to know the rules of writing. It’s not even enough to know the psychology of writing. In the end, you have to have a reason for writing. And the reality is, it needs to be a lot better reason than becoming famous or getting rich.
You can get rich a lot easier by investing in real estate, playing the stock market or becoming a doctor.
And you can become famous simply by putting a wacky video on YouTube.
But writing is a different animal. Every book I write is a peek into my soul. Every character I create is a little bit of me–good, bad or ugly. Every adventure I go on is one I have already had, or one I wish I would have had.
When I write, I am sharing me.
That’s why if you’re a Christian and you’re going to write a Christian novel, what you put in that book will need to come from deep inside you. It’s not what you know; it’s who you are. And the reader can tell the difference.
We write because we must, because we have a story to tell, because we have something to say.
When I ask my Narrative Writing students to answer the question, “How does your writing reflect who you are?” I don’t expect them to have figured it all out by semester’s end. But I want them to have thought about it. The problem is, in this day and age, there is too much focus on action and too little focus on thought. I have yet to have received a really satisfactory response to that question, but I hope that I have gotten some students thinking along the write paths by asking the question.
So tell me: What it is you need to say?