What I Learned in Oxford – Part I

The view from atop St. Mary’s Tower

My love of telling stories began almost in babyhood, coursing on through childhood, high school age, and my early twenties. However, as adulthood lengthened to my late twenties, I became increasingly disillusioned. My published books, though received fairly well when they were actually read, didn’t sell particularly well. I struggled with marketing and building an audience, and as I tried to begin learning it, so many voices began to clamor at me.

Write more. Change your style. Change what you write about. Change how you write. Change your writing speed. Publish more often.  

And I started to shift with the voices. Every time I sat with my pen, I thought of the reader. The market. Could I get this book done fast enough? Would it be well received? Would it fit within my brand? Could I publish quickly enough? Would it sell?

The more I tried to push speed, the more I tried to listen to the clamoring voices, the less I enjoyed my craft. I rewrote and rewrote, trying to like my manuscript and only partially succeeding. I would learn to love my characters, but never reached a proper level of satisfaction with how I told their stories. Then, the other questions started. Should I dial back on the message of the book? Write books that might sell better? My books weren’t selling; almost subconsciously, I began to shift with the clamor. I still enjoyed writing, but it wasn’t the same as it used to be. Perhaps, it wasn’t supposed to be. Maybe writing should change when you become an author with six books published.

Then, the LORD sent me to Oxford.

I say sent, because every single step of my heading off to the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class, I could see orchestrated by God. When the year began, I had no plans of heading to Britain this Spring, but He did and I never had any doubts that the LORD sent me there.

As I spent a week walking the same streets as C.S. Lewis, hearing and nearly seeming to witness the fiery end of the three martyrs, singing hymns by Newton and Cowper, listening to C.S. Lewis’ written thoughts on writing, becoming immersed in church and literary history, Scripture and hymns, a light seemed to break in my mind. Listening to Douglas Bond speak on writing, read from those gone before, and lay out the meaning and the joy of being a Christian Writer, the passion that I could remember, the excitement that I all but rarely experienced anymore, began to burn brightly again.

I had come with the hope of improving my craft – I left with so much more.

In that week, I re-analyzed my reasons for writing, helped on by discussions with Mr. Bond and my fellow students, who soon became my friends. Long ago, I chose my writing motto; what I wanted all of my books, no matter what they were, to reflect. I spent much time and thought coming up with a sentence that would remind me of it. I wanted to write Bible Centered, Modern Literature.

During my week in Oxford, I regained that vision.

I want to write stories, so well told, that God willing, they will stand the test of time. That, if our LORD tarries, in one hundred, two hundred years, my books might be read and seen as literature, crafted with words and cadence, characters and story-lines that still draw people in.

I want them to have a depth beyond a good story. A richness. I don’t want to merely tickle the fancy of the reader; I want to reach them.

Ultimately, at the end of everything, I want to point my reader to Christ. I want His followers to leave my stories encouraged and blessed in their walk. I want the rest to leave convicted or, at the least, with some knowledge of my LORD and His words. I don’t ever want anyone to question whether I could be called a Christian Writer, because that is exactly what I am.

That does not mean that I won’t still try to navigate the confusing world of marketing. I can’t reach anyone if my books are never read. I’ll still learn what I can, hopefully implement it, and, LORD willing, both gain a growing readership and not lose my sanity completely. It really just means, that I’ve re-shifted my focus.

It also doesn’t mean that I have nothing else to learn about writing. Goodness, do I! I don’t believe the day will ever come when I don’t have something to learn about writing. I shall always be learning.

Since returning home, despite jet lag, getting back into a nannying schedule, and a few others things, I have written more then I did in the two months previous. I began my current manuscript over again and have passed the previous point that I stopped at, and it is better then it ever could claim to be before. I have not had this much joy and inspiration to write in some time, and the LORD used my trip to Oxford to bring that about.

To the KING be all the glory!

3 comments

  1. Aunt Robbyn says:

    I can always count on you to write from your heart, and your heart is beautiful! May you always have stories to tell that point to out Lord.

Leave a Reply