Writing

I thought I would take the opportunity today to share a bit about my writing journey. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll already know some of this story. For example, I’ve talked about the first book I wrote when I was about nine years old, and you’ll know that I’ve always had a thing for words and writing (see my RTW tribute to my teacher, Mr. Cobbett, for example).

But then, somewhere in my teen years, I forsook fiction. I don’t know if I can pinpoint exactly when, but I think it was somewhere around the ages of 14 or 15. This much I do know: I came to one very misguided conclusion, and one horribly arrogant conclusion that I’m ashamed to admit even entered my head. And you know what? I’m going to share them with you. Excuse me a moment while I don a paper bag to hide my shame. Okay. Ready. Here we go.

Misguided conclusion: My faith is about the truth, and fiction is not truth, so I shouldn’t spend my time dreaming up stories. Besides, no-one will listen to made up stories as much as they will facts.

Horribly arrogant conclusion: Anyone can write stories–heck, even I can write stories. I want to read stuff I couldn’t make up: history, theology, and other non-fiction.

Are you still there? I don’t blame you if you’ve walked off. If I could go back and meet my teenage self, I would have to sit me down, slap me a few times, and then have a serious discussion. Because first of all, there is nothing at all about writing fiction that is at odds with my faith. Nothing at all. I would force teenage me to read NARNIA and ask myself if that’s what I’m saying can’t be done. Sometimes fictional stories can be a very powerful medium for getting across a message (Jesus himself used them quite effectively). And they can also be entertaining. And there’s nothing wrong with being entertaining either. Artistic ability, whether it’s making music, acting, painting, or writing is a divine gift. I would not discourage my theological and historical study (I still enjoy them both very much), but I would caution myself from so easily dismissing the value of fiction.

As for my mind-blowingly arrogant attitude toward novels… I’m sorry, there’s no excuse. And I think this is why I didn’t do so well in English Lit. at school, and why I’m so behind on my reading of classic literature today: I was too full of myself to see the beauty and brilliance of the literary works of others. No matter that if we were talking music, I could extol the virtues of many musicians, and tell you why they’re so good. If it weren’t for this stupid attitude, I probably could have done the same with literature, but no. What would I say to my teen self on this subject? I might tell myself to put the guitar down for an hour or two and read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Really read it, pay attention to the use of language, the characterizations, the structure. Not to dismiss it, but be taken into Harper Lee’s story. Then I would ask myself: “Honestly, could you do better?”

So what happened to change my mind? For years after, I focused mainly on non-fiction, with Sherlock Holmes being my only concession to the fictional world. I still had a healthy imagination, but I didn’t even give fiction a second thought, either reading or writing. I first allowed fiction back into my world around 2000, when I read my kids the NARNIA books. Not that I immediately took up a pen and started writing, but I think that settled my first issue. I began to take an interest in the classics, and I read THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, ROBINSON CRUSOE, and some others. Then, in 2005, my kids asked for my views on Harry Potter, and whether I thought it was okay for them to read. I decided that to be fair, I needed to read the books for myself before rendering a verdict. So I read the first book, then the second, then the third… Soon I was reading them to my kids, and then the thought hit me: I used to write stories like this. Granted, not as good as this, but I used to world-build, and I had characters, and I would make up stories. Wouldn’t it be fun to do that again? And that’s where I came back to what I can honestly say is the desire of my childhood: to write stories, and to communicate ideas.

Now, I don’t consider any of the intervening period totally a waste. I value my theological education very highly, and the non-fiction writing I have done, and will continue to do, is still an important part of my writing journey. But I now fully embrace the power of the novel to affect lives, and stir emotions. I now recognize that I find deep fulfillment in creating stories with words, and I might even have a modicum of ability with that regard. And I offer my heartfelt and sincere apology to every author whose work I put down in my youthful pride. Harper Lee got the last laugh. I remember my arrogant teenage me telling one of my English teachers, having read the first page, that I thought TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was a boring book. He told me that was a “philistine remark.” He was absolutely right. I read the book in its entirety a few years ago; it’s one of the best novels ever written, IMO.

So that’s where I’ve been and where I am. Maybe that gives you encouragement–at least it might help you understand me a bit better.

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10 Responses to Writing

  1. Great story! I think all writers have struggles like this, if not with religion then with self-esteem, doubt, fear. I gave up writing for many years and reading was also the catalyst that sent me right back to my stories :)

    • Thanks, Julie. It’s interesting that one of the things that stopped me writing fiction was quite the opposite of self-doubt! But now I’m back, self-doubt is a constant companion. However, instead of holding me up, I think it pushes me to do better–at least most of the time. :)

  2. This is such an honest post, Colin, and I commend you for that. I think we can all point to misguided notions that we had about this or that thing when we were younger. Younger and a bit stupider :)

    I’m glad that you eventually changed your mind, and I look forward to seeing some of your own fiction (*gasp!*) in print one day!

    • Thanks, Jaime. It still amazes me how arrogant I was back then, and it annoys me to think how many great books I passed up reading as a result. I’m glad my kids have not gone the same route. :)

      I know… my own fiction…! Teenage me would have recoiled in horror. Adult me would kick teenage me’s shins and tell me to get a life. ;)

  3. Writing really is a divine gifting that God can use to build up the Kingdom. Thanks for letting us in on your journey. I find it very encouraging!

  4. We had such creative upbringings, all three of us. We all had so much in our heads that it was inevitable that SOMETHING would come of it! I think the greatest lesson we learn is that staying true to a path doesn’t always mean charging down it with blinkers on. You can stop and look around occasionally, maybe even read or write a book :D.

    Well done on a very honest and open blog. And you weren’t SO bad as a teenager. You introduced me to Monty Python, Doctor Who, Black Adder… Plus the Beatles, ELO, Billy Joel etc etc…

    • Thank you, bruv. Yeah, I guess I had my moments… :D As I said, I don’t regret that I got into non-fiction, especially that I got into Theology (and I still am very much into those things), just as I don’t regret not having piano lessons when I was young and clearly showing an interest. I just hate that I took that attitude, and I’m glad I haven’t passed it on to the next generation of creative Smiths. :)

  5. Each generation builds high on the foundations of the one before :)

  6. Pingback: TTT: The Literary Confessional » Colin D Smith

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