f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Recycled Post: The Curse of Writing, the Cult of Reading

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

Friday, September 10, 2004

Recycled Post: The Curse of Writing, the Cult of Reading

(This post was originally posted on my author site sometime in 2002. It's Friday and I'm braindead so rather than say something useless, I'll steal from myself and hope most of you haven't read it before. )

I’ve started this essay three times now and it’s gone horrendously. Everything I say about living as a “writer” is coming off as either pretentious, precious, or simply boring and I am on the verge of bagging it. I’ll give it a go with one simple illustration and leave it at that.

This is the writer’s curse—that we write about life rather than living it.

In the wake of my daughter’s birth we made the proto-parental gesture of purchasing a video camera. It’s me who’s typically behind the lens and as she began to learn to crawl I found myself torn between trying to capture the moment on tape and frustrated that I was watching this all occur through a lens or on a screen. That video camera put enough objectivity between myself and my daughter that I felt as though I’d missed some part of the moment.

Writing is the same way, except the objectivity isn’t gained through a lens. Instead, we teach ourselves to pull out of certain “interesting” moments (stepping back psychologically) in order to gain enough distance to study and memorize what’s going on. Examples:

Breaking up with a girlfriend? How’s her jaw set? What are my hands doing? Are the people walking by noticing?

Waiting in a doctor’s office for a diagnosis? What’s the temperature of the room? How are the nurses reacting? Can I control my voice when asked a question?

These things then all get stored away to furnish interiors and landscape the exteriors of the worlds that make it to paper. It doesn’t happen all the time—at least to me. It may for the great writers. Perhaps they are always observing and cataloging and sucking up “life” in order to spit it out again on to the page. Perhaps, since it is the fuel that burns so brightly in their writing, they always hold life at arm’s length. And if so, that’s why it is their curse as well.


The cult of reading is similarly oblique and it’s aimed primarily at Christians though it has applications for everyone.

The cult of reading in the simplest terms is the tendency to let others define our experience and understanding—particularly with God. One book alone ALWAYS has the power to judge the heart and yet when our heart stutters in every other chapter of a devotional we read because of some well-turned phrase of unique insight we think that we’ve been changed. I disagree.

My feeling is that relationship with God, with an invisible, unprovable God, is difficult and we do our best to keep our lingering doubts bottled up. Therefore, what we’re responding to in well-written books about faith isn’t always the impact it has on our lives or the change it will bring so much as a thrilling acknowledgement that is HAS had an impact on someone else’s life—and therefore is real. Someone else’s faith is real and therefore, mine however small, must be, too.

But just as writing is life once removed, this is faith once removed and is only valuable for so long. We need to confront God Himself, alone and unshackled from the teachings of others—even those as seemingly wise as Lewis or Lucado or Wilkinson or whatever devotional flavor-of-the-month appeals. We need that faith to be real and ours alone.