The last decade or so, we’ve seen a huge surge in spiritually based books. They’ve sold so well (both fiction and non) that most of the big houses have some sort of spiritual imprint, running the gamut from Christian Fiction to Buddhist texts to New-Age works a la Hay House, etc. I’ve seen a host of such manuscripts. Many of these come from counselors of a wide variety; many are scholarly; some from writers on a spiritual path. The majority of these have things in common: either they beat you over the head with their “revelations” (which needs no discussion-we’ve all had this experience!) or they’re free-form, just shy of stream-of-consciousness. And while that may indeed be the manner in which we receive the essence of spiritual inspiration, it still must be translated into book form in order to be publishable, and to be accessible to the market-readers.
As with all true gems of knowledge, inspiration, even Truth (and isn’t this why all writers write? To convey some bit, no matter how big or small, of something learned along the way), the success lies in the telling.
Now, I’m not here to proselytize for or against any religion, spiritual bent, or path, but rather as a writing coach to help writers fashion their works into true and viable books. Often the lessons along the way seem quite difficult, and oddly, the “spiritual writer” seems to have the most conflict with accepting criticism and revision, as if to do so would mar the pristine nature of the work.
All writers have that fear to some extent. The spiritually based ones tend to take it to the extreme. After all, if the inspiration came from God, Spirit, The Universe, whatever you may call it in your belief system, the idea is “who am I to question?” I may have missed something, but I never heard God say, “To edit is of Satan.” Although, of course, many writers would attest to that in general! But in fact, the editing itself can be as creative a process as the initial inspiration. It’s all in how you go about it.
Getting into the right mindset
This mindset, although seemingly mundane, is the point of creating a work that readers can grasp and utilize. Remember-you yourself are not your only audience. Yes, you are a vital one to please (that is a lot of why we write). But if you want someone else to actually read it, you must bring the work into a recognizable form, and one which others can grasp.
As a book editor, I see a ton of such works that go all over the map. In other words, the organization is off. Many need a much narrower focus. The ideas, while they may indeed be unique, go from Texas to Nebraska and back without ever crossing the Red River. E.g., you can’t follow their path to save your danged life. Without a sharp focus and tight organization, the reader is catapulted all over the pages, unable to find the thread of the theme around which everything about the book must be weaved. Each chapter must build upon the previous, so that your reader’s
understanding and knowledge begin to grow from within. And that holds true for fiction and nonfiction.
I edited a wonderful book by Gerald Morton, Never Alone in the Back, which is a collection of stories from an EMT about emergency calls he’s worked. It also weaves his personal spiritual path, and its evolution, through these stories, the inner mirroring the outer, if you will, just as in a beautiful novel. It was tricky making this work, but Morton is a brilliant writer (he’s had both fiction and non published by Traditional houses), and he never misses a beat. Nowhere is the reader confused as to how these stories relate to each other and the broader theme.
When Randy Mitchell wrote Sons in the Clouds, he didn’t shy away from the work I gave him. We focused on novel development and the elements of great fiction. He plunged in, and revised and revised, producing a beautiful book that fires on all cylinders, and which just happens to have an underlying Godly theme. Is it spiritual fiction? Yes. But first and foremost, it’s a great read. And that novel has just been nominated for Global e-book award.
While I’m not in the habit of touting writing how-to books, a great resource exists for a more in-depth study of this. Spiritual Writing by Deborah Levine Herman with Cynthia Black, discusses some of these points, as well as the marketing end of things-i.e., the various genres within the spiritual market, where yours might fit, and how to identify it.
The main point here, however, is that writing a spiritually based book is not terribly different from writing any great book-from a novel to a manual on child care. All of them need inspiration at the core. All require good writing. And all must have the elements that make up a good book-theme, focus, organization and structure, pacing, flow, vivid characters, showing/creating versus telling, substance, voice, etc. You don’t get a cosmic get-out-of-editing-free coupon just because you claim God as the co-author (just ask Morton or Mitchell, referenced above). Besides, I’ve never known God to be a sloppy Creator OR Editor. We’re pretty much the ones who create the mess. And we have the God-given intelligence, combined with the resources available, to clean up that mess. The process is still about writing, editing, revising, rewriting-where, of course, as in everything, the devil is in the details.