Many of us write from a burning need to share our story – and for some, that stems from a place of faith.
I interviewed Jerry Jenkins about the Left Behind series last year, and today, he returns to share his tips on how you can write inspirational fiction too.
The more massively important your message — one you feel called to communicate with the world — the more intimidating it becomes to write a story worthy of it, doesn’t it?
Not only do you have to grab your reader’s attention and clearly convey your point, but you also face questions like:
- What if my writing sounds preachy?
- What if it comes off tacky, inauthentic?
- Am I even qualified to write this?
If questions like these haunt you, you and I are a lot alike.
Such challenges overwhelmed me as I sat before a blank screen to write Left Behind in 1995. I’d already written 124 books and worked with many high-profile clients — yet I wondered, can I really do justice to the greatest cosmic event that will ever occur?
I couldn’t blame writer’s block.
For years, I’d taught budding writers to ignore it. Non-writers don’t get to call in sick, saying, “I have worker’s block.”
Writing is my job. Excuses wouldn’t get it done.
Yet I was awash in doubt, unable to write — pacing my office, painfully aware of the poverty of resources I brought to the table.
A sign on my wall reminded me: “The only way to write a book is with seat in chair.”
So I sat back down, honored that Dr. Tim LaHaye had entrusted me with such a message — and opportunity. I prayed for help and asked for the courage to tackle the task.
Then I got to work, simply putting words on the screen.
No one — certainly not I — could have known the impact the Left Behind series would have on my life and the lives of millions of readers.
5 Inspirational Fiction Tips I Learned From Writing Left Behind
Through that writing process, I discovered five truths about crafting a compelling faith-based story which, I believe, led to the books becoming the top-selling Christian fiction series ever:
1. Write From Your Passion
Why do you write?
If you’re an inspirational writer, your answer should have nothing to do with yourself.
I believe God chose the written word to communicate with man — which makes writing a sacred profession. If you’re not writing for God and for the sake of others, the general market would be a better fit.
That doesn’t mean everything you write for the Inspirational market needs to be a sermon, but what is your purpose?
Whatever else the writing life offers, nothing compares to the privilege of seeing God change lives through your words. That doesn’t mean Pollyanna stories in which everyone lives happily ever after — at least this side of Heaven. People suffer, innocents die, but if we cannot crack the door to hope, we dare not call ourselves inspirational writers.
Know why you write, and write with conviction from a carefully considered and lived-out worldview. It will show.
2. Write What You Know
Regardless where you are in your writing journey, always write about not just what really matters to you (see Number 1), but also about what you live.
Had I not believed in the truth behind the fiction I was writing, I could not have faked it. Such an important theme and message had to originate in my soul.
Allen Arnold, former head of the fiction department at Thomas Nelson Publishers, has said, “Your writing will never transcend yourself.” In other words, if you’re not living it, don’t try to write it.
What do you really know and live?
That will draw you back to the keyboard every day.
3. Write for a Single Audience
When I first met with Dr. LaHaye, one of my first questions was, “If I were to attempt this, who would be my target audience? People who agree with us, or the uninitiated we would try to persuade?”
“Both,” he said, beaming.
Charming, but not literarily sound.
“A double-minded book is unstable in all its ways,” I said, parodying the Bible verse about a double-minded person.
I urged Dr. LaHaye to choose one audience. He never did.
While Left Behind became the incredible exception to the rule, experts agree you should write to a single audience.
Consider where your readers are coming from and write with that in mind. I wrote the Left Behind series in layman’s language, not church lingo.
4. Become a Teachable Writer
I’ve written more than 190 books over the past 40 years. My sons accuse me of having written more books than I’ve read. 😊
Yet I remain a lifelong learner. If I’m not growing, I’m stagnating.
That’s why I still attend for writers conferences, buy online courses, and read every craft book I can find.
Teachability is the single biggest predictor of a writer’s success.
Often aspiring authors ask for my opinion on their writing. If I offer constructive feedback and see their faces fall, I realize they never wanted my opinion at all. They wanted to be discovered.
But every so often, when I encounter a writer willing to listen to criticism I know I’ve found someone with a real chance to succeed.
Become teachable. Take courses, join a writers group, read every you can about the craft.
You’ll find many professionals (like Joanna and me) eager to share how they write their books. I get great joy from teaching, which is why I create detailed writing guides like this one.
Find a mentor or a writing accountability partner, and learn to accept input with grace and meet deadlines.
Become a better writer than your spouse, your parents, your editor friends, or even you ever dreamed possible.
5. Reach For the Heart, But Don’t Preach
Jesus Himself used parables to make points. He didn’t explain them. When His disciples asked what in the world He was talking about, He often said, “He who has ears, let him hear.”
Preachiness is the bane of too much writing in the inspirational market. Preachiness on paper offends the reader’s sensibilities.
Ours is a message of hope, of forgiveness, of reconciliation. True art communicates without preaching. Give your reader credit. Tell a story and assume he gets it.
Enjoy the Journey
If books like Left Behind and The Purpose-Driven Life have awakened the general market to the vast potential of inspirational titles, that’s broadened the horizon for us all.
Write with conviction, with your audience in mind. Develop skin thick enough to endure honest criticism, and you’ll have what it takes to make the most of every opportunity God has given you.
The path is crowded and the journey long, but the reward is worth it.
Have you ever been drawn to writing inspirational fiction? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Jerry B. Jenkins is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 190 books, with sales of more than 70 million copies, including the Left Behind series. You can learn more about his books and resources for writers at JerryJenkins.com.
JD Lasica says
These are all outstanding pieces of advice. Point three is overlooked by young authors who often think, “I want everyone to read me!” (We have the same law here in Silicon Valley, go deep in a narrow niche before trying to broaden your reach.)
Jerry’s fourth point is spot on, too, and one I rarely hear authors make. If we’re not growing, our craft suffers.
I would amend point #2 to something like “Write what you know … or can find out.” Certainly I can’t populate my high-tech novels with characters from my somewhat staid home life. But today’s writers can immerse themselves in other walks of life and even foreign cultures as never before, thanks to the Internet.
And Joanna, if by “seat” your sign means “butt,” that’s seriously good advice. 🙂
Deb Gruelle says
Thanks for that great writing advice! Putting our passion into writing to communicate so that the message will be understood is difficult but so worth it!
Marlene A Morphew says
Geat points. These were a refreshing spark in my writing endeavours. One knows these things but to hear them expressed in a fresh way jolts the creative juices back on track. Thank you. I likes the comment “crack the door of hope.” Comments from others interesting too.
Tez Brooks says
Great advice Jerry. I agree, as a non-fiction writer, if I’m not living it or not passionate about the topic, I might try to write about it, but will soon come to a brick wall called “inauthenticity.”
Thank you for the motivation and providing all those great tips. Besides being passionate about writing, it is equally important to know the target audience for the book we are writing which the new authors often neglect.
Earl Robert Key - Strong Boy, Weak Man says
Thanks for sharing this great tips Joanna !
To write a powerful motivational fiction story, you need to have the heart, experience, and generosity to share the things that you think can motivate other people.
Please read my blog: Tips on Writing a Powerful Motivational Fiction Story
Hope this will also help, Thank you!