Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Slap a Label on Me, God, or Speak in Not Such a Still Small Voice

I've never liked labels. As long back as I can remember I haven't liked them. Maybe it was being part of a family with more than one kid. There was always labels tossed about by others: the smart one, the funny one, the cute one, the musical one, the social one.

And I never like the high school trend of boxing people into nice, neat categories. The jock, the band geek, the brain, the prep.

It all feels so limiting - too confining. As if, if you are one, you can't be another.

I think that's why I've shied away from trying to define myself as a writer. It's one thing to use labels like YA or adult - I guess because they seem very general, and because I know neatly which of those I fit into. But within that, I've kept myself vague.

It's easy to say I don't do fantasy; I don't do science fiction or thriller, and I'm not intending on trying my hand at mystery, although that was my first real try at writing many years ago.

But deciding whether to label myself as commercial or literary - or Christian - feels constraining. In truth, it's not that I don't want to be any of those - it's that just because the last book I wrote might fit neatly into one category, I'm afraid to say all of my writing will fit into that, especially since I don't have an agent or a publisher nudging me to continue in that vein.

It's amazing how critical this feels right now. I am standing at a crossroads and need to decide, because this last book has underscored how important it is to draw the line and land on one side or another. The agents that liked my writing and want to see something else from me want something different than what I wrote before: something distinctly non-Christian, or fully Christian. To please one set of agents is to cross the other off my list. There is no straddling the divide. I have to decide. I have to slap a label on me and go with it.

As a person whose faith has always been very strong, but deeply personal, it feels like a betrayal to make a decision to keep faith out of my writing, or to keep it at a very surface level, and yet I feel very inadequate to write Christian fiction. I wonder: do I pray enough? Do I read the Bible enough? Am I involved in church enough? Am I the kind of Christian that writes books that are inspiring and motivating to other? Am I ready to be so public with it?

Before a person is really, truly serious about writing for publication, one can write anything. You can sit down with a computer and a head full of ideas and just write. But when you look at it as a business as much as a passion, there are other things that come into play... defining yourself is one of them.

And just by thinking that way, I wonder if that doesn't mean I'm not called to be an author of Christian fiction. As much as I can't imagine faith not being an integral part of my stories, I'm not seeing a burning bush pointing me that way for sure, either. And shouldn't there be a burning bush?


  1. I've struggled with this, which seems crazy because I'm not published but I like reading different genres so I'd like to write in different genres.

    My author friend told me you really need to pick a market because agents want writers who want a career. She's written four adult books but would love to write YA.

    It's hard to know what to do. Just trust you'll know.

  2. Patti - I don't think it's crazy at all. I think the struggle comes before you are published just as hard as after. Maybe what I'm hoping is to avoid being like your author friend: getting a few books under my belt and then wishing I could do something else. I want to find a niche and feel good about being there.

    Of course, I can't settle on a blog template, so who am I to think I could pick a genre I'd like for my whole career?? :)

  3. Me neither.

    I know!

    Exactly, me too.

    Oh boy, don't I know it. (although I didn't get enough response to even know that much...)

    Yeah - like, am I really a good representative? what makes me the expert here?

    So true and I think about that a lot.

    I've been thinking about that too- what's my calling? I ain't seeing a burning bush either. I guess this means I have to figure it out on my own...

  4. I think that there are ways that elements of your faith can be portrayed in writing without discussing religion. And why not write both? BTW, I think that I would rather read a book from a Christian who didn't think they were perfect than a Christian who thought they did it all right. There is no such thing as a perfect Christian because we are all human, and that is why we need Christ in the first place.

  5. Jessie - Amen to that!

    Heidi - Yeah. Just yeah.

  6. Labeling makes it easier for everyone else- but not writers. If you wrote to fit a slot, someone would still tell you it wasn't "x' enough or there's too much "y". Just write from your heart and you can't go wrong.

  7. You are a writer with theological elements. You can still have christian elements. i think it is more about marketability (from a marketing perspective). Its unfortunate we have to choose. :( Its just how you pitch it!