Two things religious life taught me about creative writing

I am a practicing Catholic and was blessed to spend nine months in religious formation. I decided in the end that it was not my vocation, long before taking vows or even taking the habit, but as I return to creative writing after leaving, I’ve realized there are lessons to take from religious life and its structure and formality to apply to my fiction.

SCHEDULE AND PRIORITIZE.

Religious life, at least in its monastic forms, is built around prayer: around the Divine Office, also called the Liturgy of the Hours, and around Holy Mass. Everything else fits around that. There was limited time for work, and we had to make work hours count. Leaving religious life, I have worked to try to prioritize prayer in a way I never did before, and that has absolutely kept me grounded and been the right call. After that, I realize that I need to schedule time for writing, editing, and reading daily. I need to SHOW UP, even when I don’t feel like it. As a Christian, I am called to show up to pray every day regardless of my emotions. This can apply here too (though admittedly it’s less important here).

WORKING (WRITING) FOR GOD DOESN’T HAVE TO MEAN WRITING ABOUT GOD.

I used to say “write for you.” And that’s good advice, especially in the sense of “write what interests you, what will help you grow and develop.” But now, I find that I try to write for God, even though my fiction is sword and sorcery fantasy. There’s no contradiction in doing secular work for God. In the monastery, you see, everything you do is for and with God. The entire point of the exterior structure of monastic life is to foster that very goal and mindset. I’ve tried to take that with me. Applied to fiction, it’s meant letting God show me in prayer particular lessons or reassurances through the characters I love so much.

It’s also meant NOT taking a heavy hand to make religious themes explicit as I edit my trilogy for a second edition. No one wants preachy fiction, including me! Instead, just as I used to do my work for God in community, now I just try to let my characters be who they are and let the Holy Spirit (hopefully) work invisibly through what I pray is an engaging story and fun characters just acting as the people they are. I used to try to let the Holy Spirit work through my in secular work at the monastery: daily chores and daily work. So I understand now that I don’t have to make fiction explicitly “religious” for Him to act in it.

I’m hoping my fiction will show certain truths without being heavy-handed about it: truths like the meaning of sacrificial love, the value of remembering that this life does not last forever, the value of pursuing courage and integrity, and the purpose, peace, and joy that can be found when we center our lives around something bigger than ourselves. I hope to serve God in that while simply writing a story that intends to simply be a good story that anyone can enjoy, including and especially people who view life differently than I do.

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