Writing as an Act of Faith
In anticipation of my first Writing as an Act of Faith group meeting, I began musing on the experiences that have influenced my life as a writer. The first was a semester class at Hope College on dependent clauses. Oddly it was the class that really shaped my path as a writer. As I remember, there are eleven types of dependent clauses and a regular, and rigorous, assignment in that class was to write the same thought eleven different ways using each of the clauses. We also were required to diagram our sentences so we could visually see the relationships between all of the various parts of the sentence. This embedded in me the understanding of the logic of sentences as well the value of consciously choosing the best way to shape a sentence.
A job I had on the editorial board of The Church Herald, a now defunct magazine of the Reformed Church in America, taught me that no word or structure in a piece of writing is sacred. But the integrity of the writer is. I spent my days re-writing manuscripts with the editor’s constant caveat that the person who wrote this article had a vision of what it would say and how it would be said. Sometimes I had to defend my revisions not based on how effective the rewrite was, but on what harm or “added value” did it give to the author’s vision.
Probably the most important influence was the writing I did for new adult readers as part of a community-based literacy program that I founded. As my literacy students improved their literacy skills, they wanted something to read, preferably not children’s books. I began experimenting with writing for my individual students. Then I learned about a workshop which would teach me how to do that, conducted by the manager of New Reader’s Press, Robert Laubach, the son of world-renowned missionary and literacy expert Frank Laubach. Frank Laubach was one of my heroes so the idea of learning from his son was a thrill. I learned how to make complex information easier to read by writing shorter sentences, by finding just the right word instead of lazy and wordy phrases, and by replacing multi-syllable words with one-syllable words. I also learned to write to particular grade levels.
As I was learning, I decided to write a book on a first grade level which told the story of a wife and mother who had to learn to take care of her family when her husband left. I could only use words with short vowel sounds and had to stick to a 300-word controlled vocabulary. While writing this book I learned about the importance of holding firm to my my integrity as a writer. The editorial committee at New Reader’s Press wanted to publish my book, but only if I would change the ending. Instead celebrating the main character’s determination to manage without a “no-good man” (something many of my students needed to learn), I was asked to have write a “happy ending” by having her to welcome his return to the family. I said, “Absolutely not!” and the deal was dropped. Two years later the committee came back to me, saying that the one man on the editorial team had left and taken with him the objection to the ending of the book. Would I be willing to have it published with the original ending? Silly question! The book became the first piece of fiction published for new adult readers by that company.
The skill of being able to make complicated ideas accessible has turned out to be my niche. When I began writing in the spiritual formation field, it was with the idea taking the ideas of authors that the ordinary church member would never read and making them interesting and understandable.
The final influence came from a class on blogging during which the instructor’s mantra was, write regularly and you will want to write more. Of course, I had heard this all my life, but I finally decided to try it. I learned that the more you write, the more you write.