Crosses & Scribbles: Writing As Christian

My faith defines who I am and how I see and interact with the world. Yet, most people I meet are surprised to learn that I, a Christian, don’t line up with the evangelical right on matters of theology—the stereotypical American believer. I don’t accept, as they do, the Bible as a defacto, clearcut instruction manual without error. I read God’s word like poetry and understand that books like, for example, Genesis are allegory—beautiful, replete with enriching wisdom, but not to be taken literally. So, am I an outlier? No, there are millions like me, who appreciate science, who believe in evolution (God-guided), who believe the nature of how mankind has considered and understood God has changed throughout time, and who delight in His grace and redemption.

However, I am weary of people lumping myself in with the young-earth-creationists and intelligent design theorists types. When I meet new people, especially those I want to make a good impression with, I tend to conceal my faith. I don’t know about you, but I sort of wish I had, jokingly, a business card with a QR code for people to scan, linking them to an online page explaining all the nuances of my personality. Basically, it would say, “look I’m not like those crazy other people and here is why.” I get tired of answering the questions, people are apt to ask, as they explore whether or not I am going to be a problem to them. They are weary of judgement. This is particularly true in the artistic and academic communities—places I hang my hat.

Recently, I joined a writer’s group. Everyone shares what they are writing and offer snips of advice. I was so nervous to attend, and my head was filled with all the worries one can expect when one opens their heart to complete strangers. I wrestled with what I should bring, I thought of reading a current project, or a previous—finished—one; I chose the latter. The problem? It was a Christian piece and, by far, my best writing. If I read this one, these strangers, these artists, might worry if they could be open with their own work around me. People can be rightly skeptical of how judgmental Christians can be. I, of course, am not like those believers. But they didn’t know that.

When the day came, and it was my turn to read the story, I did what I always do: I started with a disclaimer. I sat there, my eyes darting back-and-forth between the others, my bottom lip quivered, and my speech turned to blubber. I managed to say, somewhat cohesively, something like, “You don’t know me, but you will think, after I am finished, that I am reading a Christian story. It is, however, religious themed, but not specifically Christian.” I had practiced that last line on the drive over a dozen times. I did not want to make anyone uncomfortable, and so I stretched the truth to get them to like me. When I was done, my heart bleated in the open, and I counted the microseconds before, I feared, their disapproval would come slashing. However, I was shocked.

They loved my story, they complimented my sentences’ rhythm and its arc, but, more importantly, they loved my story’s theme and idea. I was filled with light, and, then I remembered, I screwed up: I projected my fear onto them. I should not have disclaimed that my work was something different than it was because I feared they would mistake me for some stereotype. To share what one is writing is to share something equivalent to sex. Writing is your intellect naked. I have never been so happy to have worried over nothing.

Perhaps, it is a sign of our times that I would worry that people would not like me if they found out how religious I am. It is easy, for us Episcopalians, to get lumped together with the more vocal, more represented, more controversial and larger evangelical community. Of course, I pass no judgement on them. I have in the past been one myself. We truly believe the same core doctrines, but we have different approaches to reasoning out what Jesus teaches. Sometimes, I refer to myself at school as a Two Great Commandments Christian—see Matthew 22:36-40. I attend a Christian university, and, well, everyone gets my reference. They joke, “ah, you’re a democrat then, lol.” The weight of attaching political ideology to one’s religious perspective is one way, I believe, the American church has gotten it wrong, but that is a discussion for a different time and on a different kind of blog. My point is this: I found this group of artists, painters of words, did not hold any animosity toward the religious, and that I was projecting onto them what I thought they wanted to hear. It turned out a few of them are pretty serious about their faith, too. I should learn to just be myself and let the cards fall where they may—one day, maybe I will be like that, but probably not. The hilarious part of all this is that all of it was in my head; to them, I was just a new guy reading a story. That is it. I think too much.

The next week I shared a darker piece, another, in my opinion, well written piece, but one full of grotesque language, horrific scenes, and themes of rape and abuse. Which brings me to another concern: Have I really, truly, decided if I am a Christian author or not?

I want to say yes. I want to yell from the mountaintops, “I write for God;” I want stand loud and proud. I want to tug the hearts of the faithful, and share God’s truth with the curious. I want to entertain and nourish, teach and entreat my readers. Except, can I be a religious author and tell the truth? As an artist, the most important thing to write is the truth. That truth, for me, is that life isn’t sanitized; in fact, life is often a horror story; if you live long enough, you begin to see this complexity and all its colors—philosophically, the one truth about life is: it is not black and white.

This question, right now, sings by the hour in my head: Can I write as a Christian and not hold back? Am I allowed the freedom to share life as it is—full of sex, lies, triumphs, excuses, noble ambitions, petty revenges, destructions, hypocrisies, coveting, etcetera? If I was to write a Christian novel, I would have to write, like all writers do, a human canvas navigating and experiencing life as it is lived; I would have to write the truth. Think Victor Hugo and Les Miserable! At least, this is what I want to do.

Thank you for reading this piece. I would love to hear your thoughts. In fact, it would be a comfort for me talk these things out with you. Please share your thoughts, and share this post with others. It is no easy thing to be so honest, so naked online, but I do it because I believe writing the truth is the highest virtue in the art of writing. Help me grow my blog by sharing my posts with others and subscribing. God bless.—W. Alexander

More From Me

The Miraculous Rise of Phillis Wheatley

Wheatley achieved the miraculous, the impossible, the unthought of: she a black-African-born-woman did not peel at the edges of prejudice, she slashed it, and all were forced to recognize her gift and confront their misplaced assumptions on the place of women and slavery.  

Book Review: The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James

“Throughout these pages, the reader finds the brushwork of the master, and like all great artists, James can not only paint a story by the prowess of his craft, but, simultaneously, he hangs a mirror of enigmas and human complexity. Every reader can relate to the figurative handcuff’s persons’ finds themselves confined to.” —W. Alexander

Book Review: Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Fantastic!

The arc is the story, and it is worth any writer’s time to learn or refresh their understanding of character arcs. I am an English major with a concentration in creative writing. However, I am close to graduating (this winter), and only one course of mine went over, in detail, character arcs—it was a screenwriting course. As assignments and exercises in my major are understandably smaller stories, —single scenes or single chapters (imagine grading fifty students novellas in a week, lol)—it is refreshing for me to have a road map to writing a larger story.

I think Weiland did a great job with this book, and she uses a plethora of examples to drive her point home. This book is a great tool for the writer’s toolbox. As such, I recommend it!

Happy Reading,
www.w-alexander.com

View all my reviews

A New Novella

If you follow me on twitter, you know I am busy writing a novella. This, when completed, will be my second short story. The goal is forty-thousand words, and is a historical fiction piece. The setting and plot? I’m not sharing.

I am trying my version of the Stephen King-method on writing. The first draft will be written with the door closed (no readers), and then I will take a break from the piece. King recommends a few weeks. After that I begin to revise, and once the second draft is completed, I will seek editing opinions from trusted readers. Unlike my first short story, I intend this novella to be published, and trust me, I think I have a great idea. Of course, these rules could fluctuate a bit—I have never been a fan of systems.

So far, I have written the midpoint, and I am in the process of plotting—story mapping for you muggles. Of course, I have been writing solo scenes to help flesh out my characters, and short bios. Most importantly, I do believe I have my protagonist’s big lie down—the story’s arc.

More from me:

This is exciting stuff!

Using my blog to hold myself accountable for this project is critical. My last short story was twenty-five thousand words, and I wrote it for, believe it or not, a class on novellas last year, and it took me eight weeks. So, dearest followers, buckle up and enjoy the ride; I will be showing you an inside look of the writing process; you get to join me on an ambitious but fulfilling project.

I have to do this around school, and taking care of the kids. My goal is to be done by my son’s second birthday—late July.

Book Review: On Writing, by Stephen King

Photo: Goodreads

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I will start by saying I am not, and I have never been a fan of Stephen King. Not for any other reason than I do not enjoy horror. However, the craft is the craft, and his take on writing was just too appealing to place back on the shelf.

The first one-hundred pages are about how he developed as a writer. This memoir is not a waste of time, and any reviews that suggest otherwise are your C- dreamers. I gained a deeper respect for Mr. King, and his work ethic—which is why he is a success; he simply sacrificed all he could to write.

Like, King, I too read seventy-five plus books a year, and because of this book, I have now spent several weeks waking up at 5:30am to write a specific word count before I do anything else. Not only is this an empowering—I waltz around the house all day feeling accomplished—strategy, but, I am writing. Yes, that’s right, nothing gets in my way. I have this book to thank for the kick-in-the-butt.

I, also, believe his craft-advice for the words on page are well thought out. I am an English major, and his advice pretty much falls on the same lines—cut adverbs, write actively, etcetera. What makes his approach different, is his strategy of writing with the door closed (first draft). Get the story on the page without critics, without advice, without help, without anyone knowing anything—don’t even tell your partner what is on the page. He even shares excerpts of his own crappy first draft writing, and then his revising strategy—second drafts are shown to his most trusted readers, and they can give their thoughts. It is refreshing to see his first draft is just like the rest of ours: blatantly not ready for anyone’s eyes but the writer’s. It turns out, he is just a regular Joe after all; this is wonderful!

King thrashes the ‘literary elite,’ and their postulations of theory and theme, and shares how efficient and clear prose gets the job done. However, King, like me, was too an English major, and, like me, has a deep love for the language; he loves several different genres, and at one-point shares how much he enjoys Harry Potter—bonus points. I don’t share his anti-elite sentiments, but to each-their-own.

What I took from this book? Stephen King is not superman, and neither does the aspiring writer need to be. King makes it clear, writers are made in the trenches, and those who put their nose to the grindstone, and never let anything stop their writing, succeed.

Of course, I disagree with him on his anti-plotting mentality, but, hey, what works for him (writing situationally), and what works for other artists will be different. He understands, and says as much.

It’s a great kick-in-the-ass book for writers. Buy it, read it, love, read it again, and follow his advice.

*P.S. get up at 5:30am and write till you hit your word count. Who cares if it is garbage? Just write. If you want it enough, you will do it!

—W. Alexander

View all my reviews

The Choice to Write: A Reflection, Part 1

            We’re turning the corner, finally, with this pandemic. Soon, within the year, most of us will begin dining out, vacationing, throwing backyard parties, etcetera. I cannot wait. A sense of renewal, of regeneration emanates through the atmosphere. Not unlike, being on the other side of an awful illness; you feel the life, the vitality spreading throughout your body. However, let’s not discount the reality that danger continues to lurk around every corner.

One thing I have done the last few years is journal. I use, like all millennials, an app—Day One. Every night I write a short prayer, something I’m grateful for, add photos, and bullet the key events of my day. And every night, when I open my app—Day One—I can view my entries that I wrote last year, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, etcetera.

            The memories I read, right now, consist of entries from Covid’s first days. I archived news clips of Trump telling us it will all be-over-with by spring (2020). I have my take on folks emptying the shelves of toilet paper, paper towels, and other (never before conceived) essentials. I even saved articles into my diary from the, Washington Post of folks buying up all the hand sanitizer and then selling it on e-bay. I looked ahead a few days and saw where my wife and I purchased a roll of toilet paper from China for $60.00 because there was none left, at all, at the time. This was all in the final days of March. Can you believe it?

            Like most of you, covid killed my work; I was a brand-new realtor, and well, I’m not anymore—I think. I just didn’t have the comfort of walking into other homes, nor did I have the connections needed to survive, and I, most important, didn’t have the time; I was needed at home. I decided, like many, with death looming around, and the fear of catching this virus striking my borderline hypochondria (a joke, but I fear sickness), to reprioritize what matters. My wife played a critic role in this.

I transformed.

            Before Covid, I was the poster-boy of preppy, healthy, and hard-working. I was raised in Appalachia (southwestern Virginia), pronounced apple-at-cha, and I spent my entire adult life trying to separate myself from those early days. I never thought myself better than another, but I certainly didn’t want to live on the bottom. So, I worked, and I became whatever people needed me to be. It was not long, sometime after my father died, my early twenties, that I noticed I pretended so much for everyone else, I didn’t know who I was anymore.

            As the years passed, and I obsessed over saving money (a good thing), and pleasing others, I began to take a much more comfortable route to life, one where getting honest with myself wasn’t required, and, so, I wore a mask, I wore all masks.

            See, I had always wanted to do one thing: write. Well, besides that short season, when I was a kid, that I wanted to be a biologist—I’m obsessed with Darwin and evolution. One of the things I always loved was historical fiction, and if I’m being honest, and I am, I wanted to write and publish historical research. I love that stuff!

            Like many people, I never got the chance to be who I truly was. It wasn’t just that I lacked the courage or the support-system, it is the fact that I never had the chance. I have worked a full-time job since I was fifteen years old.

            When I was in high school, I worked five days a week, 4pm to midnight at a Sonic-Drive-In (I still don’t eat at Sonic, lol). In college, I worked the night shift, 10pm-6am stocking groceries for a couple years (going to class at 8am and sleeping in my car between gaps), and after dropping out, I worked at a factory, 50-55 hours a week for three-and-a-half years, and was a waiter at Applebee’s in the evenings. I’m not complaining, I just had to do what needed to be done: bills have to get paid.

            In short, when I moved to Michigan, interned for Google, and then became a general manager for The UPS Store (a job I held for five years). Money was tight, and I saved what I could, and I struggled, and that’s when the pain that I was throwing my life away really sat in. If I was going to struggle, couldn’t I at least be happy doing it? Having a good job didn’t matter to me. I woke up every day doing something I know I wouldn’t choose to do, if I had the choice (don’t we all?). And only people of privilege say folks have a choice. They don’t know what it’s like to push one bill out, so you can eat. Not the kind of environment where a dream is ideally fought for, or hell, America’s poor would all become success stories.

            Either way, I met my wife in Michigan, and my faith flourished there. But the identity crises began emerging toward the end. I left my job, and took a break, I had a significant amount of money saved, and could live years without working—if I played it right. A friend and I traveled all over America, we went to forty states, and I spent that summer hoping, just like in the movies, under desert stars I would rediscover who I really was. After that, my future wife and I went to Europe, got engaged there and I entered a blissful season, where my identity crises was band-aided—I tied my self-worth to her vision. After all, I had no honest vision of my own; I did not even know who I was anymore.

            I decided money was the common denominator to a peaceful life. I knew it wasn’t everything, but I knew without it, personally, one lives a miserable life. So, I went to Wall Street, and became a MLO at a huge financing conglomerate. My entire time there, training months included, I never worked a week under 60 hours. Not a single one. I made BIG money, but didn’t even have the time to do anything with it. Everyone around me wore Rolex’s and drove black luxury sedan’s, and, although I tried, because I always become what people think is the best version of someone is, I couldn’t sustain pretending that I wanted those things too. I found, I wanted to just save again so much money, I could spend the rest of my life writing. I use to need a few drinks every night to settle these demons down.

            The thought came in one night, my hand under my pillow, my suit still on, four or five whiskey’s drowned, so randomly that I thought I snapped. I remember thinking I was having a nervous breakdown. I hadn’t truly thought of getting serious about my writing in years, though, I did from time-to-time start, but never finish, projects.

            I decided then and there, I would find away, but, again, it never happened. A few months later, I was bogged down, it had been 31 days since I had a full-day off, and my fiancée reveals she had enough with her job, too. She was the envy of everyone around her, but she couldn’t go on pretending either. We decided to move to Boston, a shared dream of ours and look for jobs. She found one first, I quit a couple weeks before we moved, and found, believe it or not, another job as a General Manager of The UPS Store franchise in Beacon Hill. Though I quickly took to operating within five different stores at once. I have always, and I mean always, had a strange knack for leadership. I even like it, but, again, that is just a mask I am great at wearing. Hell, I would have become a stripper before going back into finance. You couldn’t pay me $500,000 a year to do that again (which realistically, is what I would make if I was still there). So, I didn’t mind making less, and having time to see my fiancée again.

            We lived downtown, got married, went off to Paris and Bordeaux, and lived our happy, well-off, healthy young body’s life. Then we got pregnant.

            We wrestled with staying in the city. The cost of daycare was close to 3,000 a month per child, our apartment was 2500 per month, and we would absolutely need to go bigger, but we were unwilling to live outside of Back Bay or Beacon Hill. So, we wrestled and wrestled and wrestled some more with what to do.

            We decided to make another move. You know, get the big house. We loved the city, but we didn’t want to work ourselves to death just to live in a certain zip code. People really put themselves in awful situations over keeping-up-with-the-Jones’s—we are not those people.

            We moved to New Hampshire—closer to her family, and she transferred offices. We got the big house, and a nice spread on our personal P&L sheet—budget. I became a realtor. That was something I had always been interested in doing. My wife told me, “if you do that, you can get pretty flexible with your schedule and write. You’ve always wanted to write. Maybe this will help.” And so, it did.

            However, the winter after our first child was born, Covid hit. Pow! I hadn’t been successful yet in real estate, but it imploded. The day care closed its door to us, we weren’t essential, and we worked from home. Pretty soon, I was daddy-day care.

            Well, I saw the real estate experiment coming to an end long before I allowed myself to think that way. I tried riding that dead horse for months after. I hate failing, and I took it pretty hard. I started drinking for the first time really heavy. My father was an alcoholic, and that scared me, so it only lasted a couple of months before I reigned it in. I was taking some writing classes, because I never went too far away from it, just far enough to not get serious about it, and I decided I would finish my degree. After all, the pandemic was a great opportunity to recenter one’s life.

            And that’s what I have been doing since Covid hit, working on my degree and raising my kids all day. I don’t have ulcers from the stress of pretending anymore. I did struggle pretty hard with telling my in-laws about school. But at some point, I figure they will see that I won’t be much good as a father if I’m miserable. I can’t exactly raise my children by example, if, well, I didn’t pull myself up by the bootstraps and get honest with myself. Sometimes the only way to move forward is to walk all the way back to your biggest regret and strike a new path from there.

            I decided to pursue my dreams and write, finally. And let me tell you, for the first time in my life, I never think about money, and I have learned to write some pretty elegant, at times, prose. I already have two pieces submitted to publishers. This is not a pipe-dream. Somehow, I just know I have it. That this is the path, and I know many fail here, but I don’t worry about that (I honestly don’t). I don’t do it for approval, I do it because it is the most natural thing in the world to me.

To be continued…

A Nod To Derry’s Son

Derry, New Hampshire was the longtime home of Robert Frost. This poem is in dedication to my favorite poetry book: North of Boston, and his poem October.

The Power of Clarity

"Words, Words, Words"—Shakespeare. 

I am compelled as a writer to weave words together, and to connect my readers to the beating-pulse and rhythm of language. Like a perfectly executed waltz, the right word executes without missing a step; a reader trusts me to take their hand and lead them; if I write ambiguous, doubt creates a misstep—a break in attention—which the reader, now, out of rhythm, might misunderstand my intention, and our dance with language threatens to end in catastrophe; I never want the reader to think I am going to spin, when I intend to let go. Word choice is vital.

To use clear, engaging language, we writers must know the meaning of each word we choose to communicate with, and the careful writer thinks about each word’s meaning and seeks the best choice. If I want to be a great writer—a dance master of language—I must commit to clarity, and that means no Janus words—words with contradictory meanings. Clarity is the highest of ideals! 

To my readers: I have over the last weeks plunged into another bout of depression. Like anyone who struggles with depression, you know there is no battle I can fight, no war I can win, no place I can hide; I can only wait-it-out and hold on to my blessings. I don’t ask for prayers or good vibes, and I certainly don’t want advice on how to fight my own demons. So, if my content appears light, knowing my plight, you might understand why. I love you all.

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