Christians and the Creative Writing Process, Part 5
“but [God] disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” – Hebrews 12:10b-11 (NASB)
Themes, World, Characters, Outlining, and Writing: all essential parts of the story-crafting process that remind me of God’s work in our lives and our relationship with Him in various ways. And to end the creative writing process (and this series) is, of course, editing.
I’ve edited less than I’ve written (novel-wise), so I don’t have a complete formula for my editing process. With the few books I’ve edited, I tend to go by this rule for each draft: the first is meant to be a messy gushing out of the story that I can later shape or build upon; the second draft is when I take that mess and make sure the story flows with the necessary scenes and transitions, essentially making it reader-ready; after I’ve gathered a few reader comments, I then take those critiques to further shape the story for a few more drafts; once I’m satisfied with the story progression (its scenes, characters, and the big picture details) I can then attend to the nitpicky details in future drafts: characterization, dialogue, descriptions, and grammar. That’s essentially the process I’ve followed for Our Company of Fools. After gathering readers’ comments with draft 2, I used drafts 3 and 4 to focus on shaping the story progression and scene beats. Drafts 5 and 6 also focused on story by incorporating my growing world, revising for cut characters, and adding whole scene or chapters. Draft 7, my most recent, started the micro-detail edits.
Editing Our Company of Fools has been a long process, marked by setting aside drafts for months and more than a few stops-and-starts over the past three and a half years. It’s been a difficult process at times, too. Sometimes, I hesitated to proceed because I knew I needed to cut something precious (like a scene or character) and just didn’t want to. Other times, I ran into plot holes that I couldn’t figure out how to fix at the time, only to figure out the solution weeks later. Occasional discouragement also led to delays. It’s frustrating when Our Company of Fools stalls and I wonder at times if the book is even worth the effort I’m making.
All these struggles are why the editing stage reminds me of the Discipline of the Lord in our lives. Both are hard, take time to go through, and involve trimming away the things that aren’t good for our lives or stories. Plus, while I know revisions and edits (like cutting characters I love) is necessary to make my story better, it’s hard for me to wholeheartedly embrace this fact. Just like it’s hard for me to embrace the goodness of God and His love for me during the seasons He’s pruning sin or idols from my life.
Which is why, in times where God is disciplining me, I have to remind myself: it is the most loving thing He can do for us, His beloved children. Through the trials of life or taking away the things we love too much, God shapes us into His holy image to be His holy people. It’s not out of spite. It’s not punishment. It’s out of His love for us. His care for us and His desire to see us grow. That’s a hard truth to remember in the face of grief and anger, though. I know from experience.
Thinking about the editing process reminds me of how the Lord views us in seasons of discipline. In writing, often to improve our stories, we have to cut things. Sometimes, it’s easy, like a trouble spot we didn’t really like when we wrote it in the first place. More often than not, though, it’s something we love as writers. A fluffy scene. A character. A hilarious dialogue exchange. But fluffy scenes drag down the pacing of the narrative. Too many characters can be confusing and pull focus. Hilarious dialogue may not have a place in a suspenseful scene. Cutting the things we’re attached to is needed to make the story better, in the long run. A great story has the potential to impact more people than a mediocre one bogged down by unnecessary elements that detract from the narrative arc.
With our lives, I think it’s the same. We love our job or the community we’re in. We like doing what we want to do when we want to do it, regardless of how it affects others. We find security in our possessions. But that can be dangerous for the narrative of our lives and the state of our soul. So, the Lord in His mercy and love for us, sometimes takes away the things we love most so that we can find what matters most in this life: Himself. Once we come out of seasons of discipline, our lives are sweeter, our relationships deeper, and our ministry more effective—all because He’s trimmed away the pieces that keep us from truly following Him wholeheartedly and caring for those around us.
Editing isn’t easy. Neither is discipline. Yet both are what’s best for our stories and our lives. Both, in the end, are very, very good.
Thanks for joining me on this five-part journey as I reflect on how my Christian identity intersects with the Creative Writing Process. Fittingly, in two weeks, I’ll actually be sharing some of the ways the Lord has disciplined me over the past year. Stay tuned for a post on my unexpected, unplanned, unwanted gap year on July 31.
What does your editing process look like?