f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Self-Flagellation Part II: We're Not So Bright Either

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Self-Flagellation Part II: We're Not So Bright Either

Yesterday, I tried my hardest to start a bit of discussion by saying that great novels emerge only out of years of work. I didn’t give much explanation, just said it.

You all did a lot of heavy lifting and brought up issues both of first importance and even tangential importance to the topic at hand. Know this: I’m not claiming any sort of high-ground here. Both my novels took about 12 months to write. Last time I checked, 12 months wasn’t years.

Here’s the hard part. Were they publishable at 12 months? Yes. I think so. Could they have been better after 24 or 36 months? Absolutely. I have no doubt. Would they have become works of genius after that time? A.) I don’t necessarily think that it’s the author’s place to think of his works in that way. B.) Doubtful, but who knows. God could have inspired me in that hard work to some substantial thoughts.

In the end, though, I didn’t do the work. I was content with “good enough,” happy with the advance check, and clearly didn’t relish the thought of lingering over word and phrase and paragraph for another 12 months. It was the easy way out. I don’t lay awake at night thinking about it, but neither am I all that proud. What I wrote, I completed as an act of worship to God, but I passed on the hardest work and, in some ways, that seems to cancel out the whole thing. A zero sum game.

Listen, I don’t have an answer for you in how long it should take you to write a book. But I don’t want us to give ourselves an automatic exit ramp in saying, “It’s just popular fiction” or “I’m just trying to write entertainment” or “I’m obviously not a genius.” You will make your choices just as I did. And we will continue to tempt “good enough” books with advances. But I wonder if any of us dare to see what actually sits in that place past good enough. When you’ve done pretty much what you can as a writer and you start to rely on inspiration—holy, we hope—to take it a notch further.

And that leads me to my thought for today.

Our books are shallow. Our themes are thin and don’t reflect the depth and complexity of the spiritual life. Nor do they reflect the AGES of classic thought that’s come before. We (myself included) are an arm’s length from some of the greatest thinking/Christian philosophers in history and yet we don’t make the time. If half of the battle is spending time over each word, the other half is a call to a deeper study of what it means to live as a Christian.

Deborah in The Master’s Artist makes a similar point today. Feel free to tackle her post.