Hi, Dave Fessenden here, with a question for my fellow Christian writers: Are you stretching yourself? There are many times in my ministry as a Christian writer in which I feel like I’m becoming stagnant, like I’m writing with my eyes closed. When I feel that way, I try to counteract it by delving into a genre of writing with which I am unfamiliar. Though this is hard, it can be be a great growing experience.
No, I don’t always come up with something publishable that way, but that’s OK; the purpose of the exercise is not to produce great writing, but to retrain your writing muscles in a new way — to stretch yourself.
For me, the stretching often takes the form of switching from non-fiction to fiction. I’ve published four nonfiction books, dozens of articles and hundreds of newspaper stories. So I consider myself something of an expert in the nonfiction area. But when I switched from nonfiction to fiction in writing my first novel (The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, to be released next month), I really felt like a rank amateur, and I had to learn some new skills. And what’s wrong with that? It helps keep you sharp.
I was thinking for instance, of how we often use the passage about Jesus standing at the door and knocking (Rev. 3:20) in an evangelistic sense, calling people to open the door of their heart to the Lord. But the interesting thing is that John was writing to Christians! I wanted to write something about how we crowd our Lord out of our lives with so many selfish things that He has to knock on the door and ask to be let in. I was stuck on how to express it in nonfiction, so I switched to fiction, creating a flash fiction piece entitled “A Knock on the Door.” (Which points up another reason for stretching yourself into unfamiliar genres — it’s a sure-fire cure for writer’s block.)
Stretching myself is also good for my soul. Anytime I start thinking I’m pretty hot stuff, I just look at some of my attempts at fiction, and it knocks me down a peg or two. Humility is one of those virtues that only seems to come the hard way. When a piece of steel gets heated up, it turns a bright cherry red and glows proudly, but that’s the point at which the blacksmith dunks it into the water and returns it to its true color — a dull gray. It may seem cruel, but it’s the only way to temper the metal.
Even when I stay in the nonfiction realm, I find that there are particular genres that I am less experienced at, and so it is helpful for me to delve into those areas once in a while, as a change of pace. Many of us get into a particular specialization in our writing, and that is a fine approach. But by all means, do something outside your expertise occasionally. Are you good at devotionals? Try your hand at a how-to article. Do you specialize in biographies? How about writing a Bible study? It's OK to be specialized, but don't get petrified!
It may also reveal a hidden talent for a certain type of writing that you never realized you had. Joy Jacobs was a devotional writer with a very poetic style. But she was also a counselor, with a strong burden for the problems of single women. Her publisher encouraged her to team up with an editor, Deborah Strubel, to write Single, Whole and Holy, a Christian living book that had a profound ministry in the lives of many women. And all because she dared to try something different.
So go ahead — stretch yourself. Step out in faith and let God teach you something new!
David E. Fessenden is a literary agent with WordWise Media Services and an independent publishing consultant with degrees in journalism and theology, and over 30 years of experience in writing and editing. He has served in editorial management positions for Christian book publishers and was regional editor for the largest Protestant weekly newspaper in the country.
Dave has published six books, written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, and edited numerous books. He is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences. In 2011 he pooled his experience in Christian publishing to produce Writing the Christian Nonfiction Book: Concept to Contract, published by SonFire Media. Dave’s first novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy (coming out this year through Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas), reflects his love for history and for the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan-Doyle.