Updated: Mar 11
I follow quite a few writers on Facebook and Twitter, and I read their blog posts and articles. If a consistent theme exists in all of what writers, and especially Christian writers, say about themselves, it’s that they’re called to write. Christians writers say they’re called by God; others might refer to a muse, an urge, a belief, a feeling.
That theme of calling leaves writers like me in something of a quandary, much like the Christians who accepted faith as a child and can’t remember the exact day, time, and circumstance. I remember the exact time and place of my acceptance of faith – Jan. 26, 1973, about 8:30 p.m. in the basement of a lecture hall building at LSU. But to identify when I became a writer, or why, is not possible for me – it’s buried so far back in the mists of childhood as to be unknowable.
I read early and read often. The first book I remember buying on my own was Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion, spending 59 cents at the local dime store. I was 7. My reading habit was reinforced by the Scholastic Book Club at school and indulged by parents who encouraged reading. One of the earliest memories of my mother was her reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales to me when I as two or three; I still have the book.
But many children and adults enjoy reading without becoming writers. Reading alone can’t explain it.
A critical moment which is more of a “what happened after” writing became important was when I was 10. My father, who owned a printing business, brought home a bound paperback of blank pages. It was a present for me – and a present for me to write a story in. I don’t recall whether he did that on his own or if I had asked him; I rather think it was the former. I do remember what I did with it – I started writing a mystery story about a group of children investigating a grandfather clock that swung away from the wall, revealing a secret passage.
And then came freshmen year in high school when James Bond books and movies were all the rage among 14-year-old boys. My English teacher assigned my all-boys class a short story to write – about a spy. Hands down, it was the favorite assignment of the year.
I enrolled in college in a pre-med program. Within months, I was cured of becoming a doctor by having to take chemistry – and looking at how many chemistry courses were looming in my future. I switched to journalism, and spent a summer teaching myself to type (a requirement for journalism) and my first year learning how to write in journalism style.
My first beat assignments for reporting for the college newspaper were the departments of English and Foreign Languages, which both chose that semester to do absolutely nothing that was newsworthy or even feature worthy. I wasn’t allowed to invade other beats, and the professor required a certain minimum number of published college inches. I learned (quickly) to mine the spaces between official beats. My enterprising ability to find unusual stories must have recommended itself; I was assigned the mother lode of news for the second semester – student government.
After graduating, I worked for a newspaper for a time and then went into public relations, soon finding myself writing stories and then executive speeches. And it was speechwriting that shaped my writing and my corporate career for the next 40 years.
When I began to write my first novel, Dancing Priest, the inspiration was a song. The novel stayed in my head for more than three years; it was how my family was affected by Hurricane Katrina that finally pushed the novel from my head to the computer screen.
Two more novels and a non-fiction book later, I can say that I had a story or stories to tell. But I can’t say I experienced a calling from God to write. In my recently published third novel, Dancing King, I mirror my own experience in a statement by the main character, Michael Kent-Hughes. He’s a minister, and he says that the exhaustion he feels after giving a sermon has been described by others as what happens when you’re the vessel used by God. He says that he doesn’t know if that’s the case or not, but he knows that he’s always tired after giving a sermon.
I sometimes envy the assurance so many writers express when they talk about being called to write. Writing has been an integral part of my life since I was 10. But the most I can say is that I know I have a story to tell. Where that story comes from may indeed be a matter of faith.
Top photograph by Ben White via Unsplash. Used with permission.