Faith and Writing

I’m starting a new novel. I’m at the point where my mind is hard at work, figuring out who is who and what is what. There’s been a bit of freewriting and outlining, but nothing substantial on the page yet. It’s only been about a week.

It can feel overwhelming to start a new project. The sky is the limit. In a moment of weakness, I can decide that my idea about writing about foster kids is bad, and that maybe I should scrap that and start again and write something futuristic and dystopian. I mean, why limit myself to reality when fantasy could mean fewer limits?

But then again, I’ve always written contemporary novels. I’m in that John Green group of authors who write realistic novels for teens. Why rock that boat, just as it’s gaining steam? Yes, in this case, it’s a steam boat apparently.

All of these thoughts are paralyzing for a writer. We cannot live/work like this, worrying that a split-second decision could derail us and our writing careers. 

So what we must do is have a little faith.

Faith? In what?


1. Faith in ourselves. As a writer, one simply has to believe in one’s choices. If I questioned every idea that came into my head and wondered if it was the right thing, I’d never finish a book, ever. We must believe in our latent ability to make the right choice, so long as we’re following our gut instincts.

This means going for it. When I get an idea, I explore it. I may write a few pages. It may lead me somewhere, and I’ll know if it does based on how it “feels.” If I suddenly think, “Aha! That’s interesting.” It may not lead anywhere. As a writer, I must be willing to throw out a lot of pages. It’s just part of the job. By the way, I never throw anything out. I save it all on my computer in case I want to find it and use it later.

2. Faith in something bigger? A lot of writers definitely don’t want to go here. And that’s fine. Whatever works. For me, I have to have faith that the right answer will come, and I guess what I’m saying is I don’t know how it comes, and where from. Is it from my brain? Is it an interior process? Or is it from outside of me? I simply don’t know. I just know that it happens. If I pay attention, I get information that I need.

When I took a research trip for my last novel, The Porcupine of Truth, I was strongly in that “faith” zone. I simply believed that the right things would present themselves. That if I looked closely, I’d find clues. That the universe was creating for me a mystery, and I was a kind of detective. 

It worked. I found so many clues on my trip, and the book really wrote itself after that. That’s not exactly true; it’s always a struggle to synthesize ideas. But things came together nicely. 

For now, with this book, no trip is planned. I do have plans to volunteer at a foster home, and that should be helpful. I guess I need to have faith that the volunteering will present to me some interesting stuff. And until then, I need to have faith in whatever — myself, God, the universe, my brain? All of the above? — that my thoughts will lead me in a useful direction.