The Book Whisperer … “The Art of Spiritual Writing”

Book WhispererArtSpiritualWriting_BlogTour-socialAt Ave Maria Press, I enjoy working closely with authors to help them “develop their craft.” Rewriting and platform-building are two of the most challenging tasks for any writer, so I am always looking for helpful resources. Vinita’s new book, The Art of Spiritual Writing, is one I highly recommend for those new to the spiritual writing genre, or for authors who simply want to write with greater clarity and conviction. (For those looking for a good resource on platform building, I recommend Mike Hyatt’s Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, now available on Kindle for $2.99.)

In The Art of Spiritual Writing, Wright articulates well the difference between “private” and “public” writing, and outlines the process that every writer needs to engage fully in order to connect with readers. She also makes it abundantly clear that the spiritual writer’s calling is different from that of a teacher or preacher — and yet there are some sobering similarities.

“The writer of the New Testament book of James warned Christians not to hanker after … teaching positions, because the responsibility was great, and when a teacher made an error, it affected many people,” Wright explains. “The same is true for writers, and especially true for writers who broach the realm of spirituality. We hanker after those book contracts and speaking engagements. But should we be so eager? Do we realize, from day to day, the power we wield when we send our words out into the world?”

Novice and veteran writers (and editors) alike will appreciate Wright’s practical advice, such as . . .

Five Things Every Spirituality Writer Needs to Know

  1. Nothing makes up for poor craftsmanship. “Writing is a craft, and it is a different form of expression from speaking, teaching or preaching,” Vinita observes. (I’d add that writing a book is a different form of expression from blogging, as sustaining reader interest for two hundred pages requires a different approach than getting a reader to “click through” to peruse 350 words.)
  2. Save teaching for the classroom and preaching for the pulpit. “You want to write so that the matter unfolds and the reader experiences the unfolding. You explore a topic, and the reader comes right along with you. … The writing itself must be seductive. … If you write in a preachy, didactic, and overbearing way, you will attract the audience you don’t want, and you’ll repel the audience you hope for.”
  3. Fiction is about storytelling, not teaching. “With nonfiction writing, often we are building an argument or system of thinking. The structure is probably linear, with one point leading naturally to the next.”
  4. The reader becomes engaged when she has to do some of the work. “Write so that the reader can imagine herself in your situation and growing right along with you. Write with balance: honest but hopeful, encouraging but challenging.”
  5. Personal writing must be transformed in order to work as public writing. “Many of the details that are important to you will be meaningless to readers. … Your task is to pick and choose among the thousands of details, standing back from the story to understand what a stranger would need to know and what would capture the stranger’s interest.” Later in the book, Wright points out that public writing is shaped not according to the author’s needs and preferences, but for the intended audience. “Public writing takes the concrete details of a single, personal experience to generate a discussion of the more universal experience readers will relate to.”

Speaking both as an editor and as an author who understands how difficult it can be, this fifth point is possibly the most valuable skill any writer can acquire. While there must be enough of our own story to let the reader get to know us, and learn to trust us, we need to fully engage the writing and rewriting process, so that our private thoughts are pruned and transformed into something truly life-giving.

The Art of Spiritual Writing is now available as a paperback or on Kindle, through Loyola Press or Amazon.com.

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How Was the Catholic Writer’s Conference Live?

This question has been posed to me by a few friends now.  The short answer is, “Great! Looking forward to next year!”

For those of you wishing for a few more details, I was impressed with the caliber of speakers Ann Lewis and Karina Fabian (who organized the conference) were able to bring in for the first live conference, covering everything from character development and marketing to actual pitch sessions — I counted at least a dozen editors from book, magazine, and newspaper publishing.

Sally Shields, author of The Daughter-in-Law Rules, presented one of my favorite talks, in which she gave us the inside scoop on exactly how to rocket your book to the #1 spot on the Amazon.com bestseller list! She offers an online course for authors who are eager to do the same thing.

The best part of the conference for me, however, was the networking opportunities it afforded. I got to meet Susie Lloyd, whose books Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water and Bless Me, Father, for I Have Kids are laugh-out-loud hilarious. I got to spend some quality time with other good friends (most of whom I’d previous met only online): Pat Gohn, Heidi Bratton (whose book on motherhood is being published by Circle Press), Susan Brinkmann (editor of Canticle), and John Desjarlais (who gave one of the best talks on character development I’ve ever heard!).

Walking the floor was also beneficial — I chatted with the folks at Maximus, and met the producer of “The Catholic Show” as well as a potential Spanish distributer for my Mary book. I also had several nibbles on future articles about EMN, which was also a very good thing!

The very best thing that happened: I found my Edirol recorder (which I’d given up as lost after two months of searching) in a hidden compartment of my computer bag. It was quite a lift!

Next year I’d like to see a bit more time between sessions, so there is more time for informal networking and floor-walking. But overall it was a great experience — and, like I said, I’m looking forward to next year!