Tuesday, June 17, 2014

God is Not My Audience

Phenomenal cosmic power...
itty bitty audience?
Being involved in Christian writers circles, I've heard over and over, "Write for an audience of One." It can come in variations, but that's the gist. Write what you believe God wants you to write and don't worry if no one else ever sees it. You're doing it for Him, not them.

I could never understand what bothered me so much about the saying. Maybe it was because it seems as though you are writing for God's entertainment. Like, some cosmic bedtime story just for Him--as if He's bored with taking care of the universe and trying to bring His children home, and needs you making up imaginary people that go around having conversions for His escapism. (Does God need to be presented with the Gospel?) Or it's simply obedience--Write what He says to write, and don't worry about it ever getting published or seeing the eyes of other readers. It's just an exercise in you Doing What You're Told. Cosmic busywork.

Yeah, I know, those comments probably ruffle some feathers. It can be argued that writing a story "for" God is like singing to him in worship (of course you may want to read my post here about that before continuing). And obedience is something the Bible commands. We don't always know why we're told to do something. Dip in the river seven times? Walk around the walls blowing horns? Ludicrous. But God sees the big picture. And working on your manuscript may be something in and of itself--a way for God to refine you, to make you think, to give you patience, etc. The end result is not necessarily what you think it will be.

But none of those things makes God my audience. I'm not a performer putting on a show for Him--I'm a person forging a relationship with Him. I'm not trying to wow him with my cleverness, or get Him to gasp over the twist ending I came up with. What I am trying to do is open my heart and soul to Him, to express my awe, to ponder his Creation, to connect with Him.

But the question is--does that mean the end result is just between me and Him? Is the ultimate goal a private conversation, or one others are supposed to overhear, and maybe learn from, maybe discover a new connection with God of their own? And how much am I supposed to consider those readers when I'm writing?

How's this for timing--I started this blog post yesterday. Today, right before I dived back in, I read today's post on Speculative Faith: "Biblical Discernment: The Glory Rule." Basically, if you are supposed to glorify God in everything you do, how does that translate to what you write (and read)?

I think in many ways, this is the same issue I've addressed. What does it mean to glorify God in your writing, and how much of that is directed at an "audience"? My belief on this is that it's different for every person. That we each meet God in a different way, unique to our personalities and experiences--but the key is, again, we are meeting Him, not performing for Him. He is not my audience. He is the one with whom I'm connecting in order to write a story that is going to reach an audience.

When I write, though, am I thinking of them? Yes. But I'm not writing just to please them. I'm writing what comes out of my connection with God. I'm writing the result of opening up my heart and soul to Him, not what comes out of seeing God as an audience of One, and the rest of the world as incidental.

I do, in fact, believe God uses my writing for me--which is what inspired this post. My Sunday school teacher was talking about how preparing lessons for the class benefits him by making him get into the Bible more deeply. My writing does the same for me--it makes me step closer to God, makes me read the Bible more so I can find that connection I so need in order to write.

But I'm not writing specifically directed at me, or at God. I'm writing knowing that someday an outside audience is going to read my words, and see my story, and hopefully find that connection I've forged with God through the process. And I believe that God wants that. My readers are my audience, and the show I put on for them is a story based in a very real connection between me and God. God is a very real part of the story--He is not my audience.

22 comments:

RebeccaPMinor said...

To only write for God as your audience seems, to me, to skip over the biblical admonition to be salt and light to the world. Now, what that means in terms of content in an individual author's writing is another topic that has been hotly debated, and much better expounded upon than I hope to do here. But doesn't "my writing is just between God and me, and it doesn't matter if anyone else ever sees it," an awful lot like "My faith is just between God and me, and it doesn't matter if anyone else ever sees it?" Sure, what God is working out with me, using writing as the vehicle, is one thing, but I personally don't think he would have given me writing as a passion if he thought it shouldn't matter to me whether that writing ever saw a bigger world than my hard drive or the inside of a drawer. I truly think God wants us to take our passions into the world for the sake of magnifying him.

Now, as for me, I see my writing as (hopefully) an opportunity to connect with people I would never meet otherwise if it weren't for our shared love of things fantasy. But I also think it's what they get to know about ME as a person that will expound upon the reality of my relationship with Christ. I see fiction as just a connecting point...the same as golf or knitting or pets are for other folks.

Thanks for your thoughts here, Kat--this is a point that I wrestle with every time I hear it as well.

CKoepp said...

Love it!

I find that some writers claiming to write for God border on arrogance. Writing "for God" becomes an excuse for refusing to be teachable.

Some also use it as a crutch to avoid taking a risk. "God's not done with this yet."

The creepiest are the ones who claim to have direct revelation from God about their stories.

I also find that some Christian writers become militant about removing any and all references to God in the work. These sorts waste no opportunities to take a hammer to the head of anyone "insensitive" enough to include mention of God in a book.

Both extremes are a mistake, I think.

Travis said...

Excellent post!

Sometimes I write God into my stories as a character Himself.

There is nothing I (we) can say that would impress God. I believe that He puts a message in our hearts, not for His entertainment, but so we can be salt and light to others.

Kessie said...

Yay, somebody's taking on the audience of one thing! I'd never heard that until I started circulating in Christian circles. Before then, I'd read about the Ideal Reader--the person who you want to read your book first, and whose crits you value the most.

God doesn't give crits. However, I've found that He'll provide critique partners. :-)

Off topic, but do your kids read your books? I'll bet their feedback would be really valuable. My kids aren't old enough yet. :-)

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thanks for all the comments, ya'll. So glad this post is being taken well by readers :). Love the ideas you are all expressing here!

Kessie--my kids have not read my books. My daughter isn't ready yet, and her brother is being a typical 14 yr old boy and refusing to read them, even though I have told him I have plenty of guy readers. Sigh--not gonna force him. Someday his curiosity will win out ;).

Susan Kaye said...

I started writing about 15 years ago and as a Christian felt it necessary to join certain groups. I quit after a couple of years because, man I don't fit in the audience-of-One crowd, the safe-for-the-whole-family crowd, or the anything-different-from-the-safe-for-the-whole-family crowd. I don't see my writing as a "ministry." It's just what I do. Plumbers plumb and I write. I remind myself that entertaining people is not a bad thing. I also remind myself how readers have shown me passages and themes in my writing that remind me God uses everything we do to His glory.

Fred Warren said...

I'm writing what comes out of my connection with God. I'm writing the result of opening up my heart and soul to Him, not what comes out of seeing God as an audience of One, and the rest of the world as incidental.

I do, in fact, believe God uses my writing for me--which is what inspired this post. My Sunday school teacher was talking about how preparing lessons for the class benefits him by making him get into the Bible more deeply. My writing does the same for me--it makes me step closer to God, makes me read the Bible more so I can find that connection I so need in order to write.


I like this insight. In some ways, I think, writing is akin to prayer, and prayer is about changing us--not manipulating God, but conforming us to His image. And writing, like prayer, can be joyous and uplifting, but it can also be anguished, and angry, and even ugly at times, if we're honest.

Jessica E. Thomas said...

I think people mean different things when they say the "audience of one" thing. I've never been irritated by it myself, although I have seen people use it to escape criticism. If I were to say I write for an "audience of one" I would mean I write to honor and glorify him, not man. When I look at my writing, especially when I'm dealing with difficult topics, and decide what should go in and what should be omitted, I ultimately put the question in front of God and let Him "answer" it for me. No, He doesn't say audibly "yes include it", or "no don't", it's more of an intuitive thing, definitely not black and white. What I *don't* want to do is include something to please man (because I know it will equal sales) when I know it's dishonoring to God. Maybe I should rephrase it to, "I write for an editor of one." :)

Jessica E. Thomas said...

I feel the need to clarify. My intuition isn't a random emotion or "thing", it's based on my current understanding of God's word (the Bible) and promptings of the Holy Spirit. I say "current understanding" because there's always room to grow in my knowledge of the Bible (understatement) and I'm no doubt harboring some misunderstandings and misconceptions about what God's word truly means. But hey, I'm a fallible human being. I do my best within the moment. (Thank you God for your grace and mercy!)

Caprice Hokstad said...

I guess I just don't get it. If it's "just for God" why bother with all the typing? God has this thing called omniscience. He can retrieve the whole story out of my brain, fully finished, even before I know what the ending will be. If it's "just for God" then there is no point to wasting time at a keyboard, and wow, it would be great not to have to bother with revisions or cover designs or any of the other hassles involved in trying to actually make money. Oh wait. We shouldn't want money, because there's absolutely nothing in the Bible about a workman being worthy of his wages.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Jessica--what you say makes sense, and I think most Christian authors want to honor God with their writing--or at least, would not write things they feel would be dishonoring Him. But the way I've heard the "audience of One" thing used too many times is a way of justifying NOT SELLING BOOKS. "Oh, it doesn't matter if no one ever reads or buys what I write! I'm writing 'for' God." Which is why I agree with everything Caprice wrote in her comment above--God can go right into my brain, so why bother putting it on paper?

Kat Heckenbach said...

Jessica--what you say makes sense, and I think most Christian authors want to honor God with their writing--or at least, would not write things they feel would be dishonoring Him. But the way I've heard the "audience of One" thing used too many times is a way of justifying NOT SELLING BOOKS. "Oh, it doesn't matter if no one ever reads or buys what I write! I'm writing 'for' God." Which is why I agree with everything Caprice wrote in her comment above--God can go right into my brain, so why bother putting it on paper?

ashleewillisauthor said...

Wonderful, wonderful post!

Words as Worship said...

Kat, this is thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I agree with you and your commenters. God expects us to use the gifts and talents and passions He placed in our hearts, hands and minds. I'm thankful you are using yours and I'm certain many other readers are, too! The knowing only gets better with age.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I am reminded of scriptures about our talents and how we are all gifted in different ways. Then the verse about letting our light shine ... The thought of how a single candle can bring so much light! As a Christian writer, my audience is everyone...certainly God focused. I write because of God and what we are called to do. We need to embrace and encourage ALL Christian writers! Thank you for sharing your gift with us! Rick

Heather FitzGerald said...

Wow, you read my mail. This "audience of One" idea always seems so narrow and pious but I've never known how to give a proper retort (maybe because I wasn't sure why I disliked it so), without sounding like a heathen :)

Thanks for putting this out there!

Kat Heckenbach said...

Thanks, everyone! I was kinda nervous about dumping my feelings out there on this topic, and I'm so glad I did now :). Nice to know I'm not the only with with thoughts like this.

Kerry Nietz said...

You know for me, the Audience of One idea is more a reminder that I'm not to seek the admiration of men.

Otherwise, there is a danger of being governed by the latest review or comment on Facebook. Seriously, there have been times in the past when a single review (out of dozens, right?) has had me want to chuck the whole thing. That's when I get convicted: What is your motivation? To be applauded by men?

It also keeps me from second guessing everything I've ever written. Should that be there? What about that character? Blah, blah, blah.

Anyway, I see your point, but I think the Audience of One has merit, as well.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Kerry, I get that. And maybe it's just semantics. I don't have issue at all (of course!) with an author feeling that they are accountable to God in their writing as opposed to man. And I'm not talking about writing in order to be applauded by man either.

I think it is the use of the word "audience." If we were talking about a movie, we'd say God is the director, not someone paying admission to see the show.

Daniel Trosper said...

I like Kerry's comment because it is easy to just agree with the post. To me the writing for God is an idea that has merit but goes too far. I think the goal of someone with your talent is to tell stories consistent with your beliefs, which as you also have said, is not easy considering the field that is your passion. The easier road is to just cater to your audience, and I think that is where the "writing for God" idea comes from. A good topic, very thought provoking.

Kat Heckenbach said...

Daniel, I agree that there is a major problem with catering to your audience. Absolutely. I'm not going to write smut just because it sells--which is where I think "God first" comes in.

The problem is when someone takes the "audience of One" thing to the other extreme. "Pah! Who cares about reaching readers! I don't care if I ever sell a book!" Often, this comes across as pious and judgmental of authors who are writing for publication, authors who long to reach readers with their work.

Daniel E. Trosper said...

Good point, everyone has the right to an opinion, whereas judgmental of others is a poor path to take, counterproductive for anyone who is fighting to get published.