Tuesday, 15 November 2016

My Very Non-Christian Writing Group

By Cindy Williams

Writing a novel is like having an assignment with no deadline. So when I arrived in Sydney six years ago one of the first things I did was join the NSW Writers Centre and a writing group.
A new country, a fresh start: this was my chance to get serious about the novel I had been struggling over for the past ten years.

I arranged to meet a prospective writing group and arrived with a sample of the 20,000 words I had so far written clutched in my hand. Would they like it? Would they like me?

My heart sank as I read my piece and had a chat to the two women, not because they didn’t like my writing but because they did. They were as different from me as I could imagine; I could not possibly be in their writing group. I reassured myself that my Christian themed novel would definitely put them off.

A few days later they contacted me to say they would love to have me join their group and I fell to my knees in prayer.

'Surely you don't want me to be with a group of atheists?' I told God. 'It's a Christian book. Wouldn't it be better to be with other Christians?'

The only answer I got was 'Join the group.' Reluctantly I obeyed.

I have so often found that the Lord's plans are very different from my logical reasoning, and sometimes pleading debates, over why my way would be better. It has happened enough times that I would not dare trust my logic over the Lord's guidance. I can look back and see what blessings came out of obedience, and how I would have missed them by insisting on my own way.

So for the past six years I have spent every Tuesday afternoon with a group of encouraging, ruthlessly honest, and talented writers. Sometimes they read out graphic bedroom descriptions with far too much anatomical detail. Often they expound their political and world views which are so opposite to mine. Sometimes they ridicule the church and Christians, and I wonder if they have forgotten that I am one. But none of it bothers me. This group has taught me to write so much better. When something is wrong, they tell me. When the writing is good, they tell me, and it silences that insecure inner critic.

They are in my mind as I write my Christian messages and themes - What will they say about this? How can I write this so they will not recoil? It is the ultimate testing ground for a book targeted at the general public. Often they have raved over a sentence or phrase, proclaiming it as so peaceful, so beautiful, and I smile to myself that it has ministered to their hearts without them realising it is from the very God they say they don’t believe in.

For the past three years my writing group has journeyed with me telling the story of Leah, a Samaritan woman who had five husbands. This week they heard of her encounter with the Messiah at Jacob’s Well. The atheists were dismayed at the Christian turn of the story while another, who is culturally Jewish, wondered who this Jewish Messiah was. I could have become defensive, thinking that surely they should expect a story from the Bible where a woman meets Jesus to have some Christian concepts. But their comments were valid: they needed to be led up to this point more clearly than I thought I had done. My assumptions as a Christian are different to theirs and for that insight, I am grateful.

I have come to treasure my Tuesday afternoons. Not only because it forces me to write at least 1000 words a week but also for the friendship and encouragement. Yes I am still anxious when I read out something clearly biblical; I am not at all an enthusiastic evangelist. But it makes me pray for these men and women and I trust that God has a purpose for me being there despite my fears.

As a child growing up in a culturally rich part of New Zealand Cindy enjoyed writing, not copious screeds, but short intense pieces that brought tears to her eyes and made people think.

Then she became a dietitian – all science and seriously researched facts. She completed a Master of Public Health and a Graduate Diploma in Communication and spent many years as a corporate nutrition consultant encouraging and inspiring people to live a healthy life.

She writes a nutrition blog and was short listed for the 2016 Caleb Prize for her debut novel ‘The Pounamu Prophecy’.

Cindy lives in Sydney with her husband and teenage son.


17 comments:

  1. Great post, Cindy - and what a wonderful opportunity. Such a great way to keep it real. One thing I value about my writing journey is the connections I've made outside the Christian bubble & when they are touched by the Christian hope and values in my writing :)

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  2. Cindy … thank you for sharing this writing adventure with us. It's wonderful that you are all accepted and loved within the group. Like you, I probably wouldn't have thought to join such a group but good on you for seeking the Lord's guidance and being obedient to it.

    I'm keen to read your novel when it's done.

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    1. Thanks Ian. Following the Lord is certainly an adventure!

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  3. Great post Cindy. You've obviously got an atmosphere in that group where people feel free to share what they're thinking without fear of judgement. Good on you for sticking with it. I think as Christians we can too often cloister ourselves away with Christian friends and writers, but I've also learned a lot from secular writing workshops. I'm a member of the QLD Writers' Centre and recently did their Year of the Edit course. A very diverse group of people in that, but we were all able to share our writing and provide valuable feedback. And hopefully your writing friends will continue to be touched by God as you share your writing. Good on you.

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    1. This has been my experience also, Nola.

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    2. Thanks Nola. We have built up trust and respect over the years although reading out this latest part, direct from the Bible and all about Jesus, has been challenging for me to read and the others to hear!!

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  4. Thank you so very much for these thoughts, Cindy. I too have been so blessed in being privileged over the years to be an active member of groups with your similar group dynamics. In fact, only yesterday went to the Society Women Writers Tasmania monthly meeting for some "writer talk". As much as these have been a blessing, of course there has never been quite the same since of deep fellowship as with other Christian writers. Was so thrilled when was able to join Omega Writers.

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    1. I agree Mary. It was a blessing to finally meet and talk to some Christian writers at the recent conference.

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  5. I too have learnt so much from a secular writing group. However, I'm not so confident to have them read my present project (heavily reliant on the faith of one of the major characters) and recently sought out a Christian-oriented group. Your post has made me re-think!

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    1. Thanks Rhonda. I am sure, with prayer, you will know what is best for your book and for the people who might hear it :)

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  6. An excellent post! Like you, I've found the idea of sharing my Christian writing with non-Christians a little scary, but more than worth the effort.

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    1. Thanks Iola. I am the biggest wimp when it comes to speaking about my faith to non-Christians. I think this is the Lord's way of throwing me into something I would not normally do!!

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  7. wow - love this. I am looking forward to what you write. Have you published anything so far?

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    1. Thanks Christine. I wrote 'The Pounamu Prophecy' which was much less threatening to the group as the Christian character was Maori and they could accept her faith as 'culturally spiritual'! Only last week they said, 'But your last book wasn't Christian!'

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  8. Thanks for an inspiring article. I was encouraged to direct my writing to Christian market while attending the Conference, and like you, belong to a non-Christian writing group - bar one other woman. It's no coincidence that she was the one who encouraged me to join the group, and since then I've made writing a huge part of my life. Here I am, two years down the track and your article has given me confirmation. We have a job to do Cindy, so let's press in to God, and press on! Thanks again. ❤️

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  9. A late comment, Cindy, but thanks for sharing your rich experience of being in the writing group from the Writers' Centre. I'm a member of the NSW Writers' Centre too and, while I haven't joined a writers' group there, I've enjoyed quite a few other courses and seminars there.

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