My Twisted Writer Brain…

Faith and Religious Writing: If You’re Using Your Knowledge to Reflect a POV is This Like “Own Voices”?

This discussion is an off-shoot of a previous post I did about being a better writer and in that post I asked: What’s the Best Advice You’ve Ever Received? When I initially wrote the post, I was thinking more along the line of the craft of writing, but it sparked an interesting conversation about an Orthodox Jew who sees that specific truth as being his strength and special angle in his writing.

If we’ve learned anything in world of writing, it’s that there are simple answers and then those that require a bit more thought and discussion. This discussion, started with my post and then was spurred on by Philip Mann, a fellow Canadian writer.

Here’s the discussion he started on Facebook.

“Blogger and fellow CW member, Faye E. Arcand, wrote a post yesterday asking what was the best advice we had received as a writer. I answered, it was probably the advice from an atheist Catholic and a friend , to include my faith in my stories, since it was my special angle. The follow-up answer was, what difference did it make, one religion, one faith or another? That question allows me to go into a bit more detail, or maybe a lot more.

One response I have received to people who read Dark Muse was that it opened up to them a religion, and a way of life they were totally unfamiliar with. My friend was right, it is a special angle. But there was more to it than that.

For one thing, the adage to write what you know. I hope I don’t beat people over the head with it, but I do follow the orthodox side of the Jewish faith, which means pretty right wing in many ways. I have my questions, my odd but challenging interpretations of many precepts, but that’s my point of reference. It colours my thinking in all sorts of ways.

If some people familiar with Judaism looked carefully at what I wrote in the series, they would see hints at some core beliefs. They would also be scandalized and shocked, but that’s life. Nu, nu as we say in Yiddish. I remain faithful to our core beliefs, but have quite a bit of fun along the way.

But even if I did have doubts about using my faith in the story, a look around here, and at other books, gave me a push.

Christian writers will often use their beliefs to colour their writings. Why shouldn’t I?

So here we are, and thanks for listening.

Philip Mann; FaceBook Canada Writes

Well, this sparked quite a discussion that I found very interesting.

So here’s my question: Is this any different from #OwnVoices?

For those who aren’t familiar here is the definition:

#OwnVoices is a term coined by the writer Corinne Duyvis, and refers to an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about their own experiences/from their own perspective, rather than someone from an outside perspective writing as a character from an underrepresented group.’

Seattle Public Library. Their list of #OwnVoices is here.

So, does “religion” or “faith” fit into that definition?

While it initially related to race, ethnicity, and cultural diversity, it’s also about having a character truly represent a point of view so that it can be read by those who share the identity. So I guess here it would include the LGBTQ community, cultural, extreme political, religious, race… but–yup there’s always a but–does that then preclude others who are not identified as being part of that community from writing in such a persona. Does that make sense? Can a non-Christian represent a true depiction of what an Orthodox Jew character would look/act/think like?

Hmmm….interesting question really. It gets my twisted writer brain going in a lot of different directions. Okay–going back to the the discussion at hand because it raised some interesting questions that people are obviously thinking about.

Jennifer Schell-Snell commented on Phillip’s post:

This is good to read/know. I am currently wrestling with my own memoir that covers the period of my life before I had faith in anything but a good pint of beer and my own instincts to becoming a Christian. I often wonder if the Christian reader will be turned off my by frankness about life before and if the non-believer will stop reading when they see where my story is going…but in the end I have to let it be what it is and let the words speak to those who are open to the message I hope to send…”

Jennifer Schell-Snell used with her permission.Facebook: Canada Writes

I found Jennifer comments intriguing and honest because she’s right–no matter how she presents herself and her writing, there will be those who despise it, dismiss it, or devour it.

While you write what you know, you also write what you don’t know. Sometimes we’re not even aware of how much intrinsic knowledge and experience is within us just fighting to get out. My advice to you Jennifer, is this. Don’t apologize for what you write. If someone is offended because you used to drink and party–well, too bad–that’s pretty judgmental if you ask me. They’re not the buyer of your book.

That’s a huge lesson to learn as a writer.

Read Marilyn Kriete’s Paradise Road: A Memoir. She writes of going from a wild child to a missionary and all the stories, travels, and tribulations that came along with it all. She shares her story from a place of truth–her truth.

You will never please everyone and you may even piss a few off along the way. It’s okay. You need to speak your truth to those who identify with your perspective. The thing is that any marketer will tell you to know your audience. Do you know who you’re writing for?

I admire anyone who speaks their truth. Now that doesn’t mean I’ll read it or agree with it, but I can certainly respect it. For Philip Mann, his faith is such an integral part of who he is, I don’t know how he couldn’t add it.

My opinion…

My slant on the whole thing is that reading religious or overly preachy stuff is a complete turn off to me. I don’t want to be bashed over the head or have someone try and convert me. I am who I am…as are you. Both need to be respected.

Isn’t that just frikken cool how that works?

Now, What I do like is a good story.

If a story can embrace the character, plot, tension, conflict and keep the reader interested…you have a win. I personally know very little about the Jewish religion. Did that stop me from reading The Sisters Weiss by Naomi Ragen? No, not at all. The story was fascinating and eye-opening. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. I learned a lot.

So, while focusing on one topic or trying to beat your reader over the head could limit your readership but if written in a broader sense I say go for it.

Oh, and I just wanted to add…the “write what you know” adage, while still applicable, can be very compartmentalized so to speak.

Getting out of the comfort zone is a good thing. Sometimes we don’t even realize what we think or know….and if your character is always an Orthodox Jew, Hey go for it… different challenges, different situations, and a teaching opportunity.

To Answer My Own Question About #OwnVoices

That was actually a thought that struck me when I read the thread on facebook. The idea of any writer being nervous of representing themselves as part of a particular group (here we’re speaking about religion) with the #ownvoices hash tag probably doesn’t apply simply unless the group is marginalized and needs a voice.

The church and religion have huge platforms throughout the world while some groups/cultures experience that marginalization due to race, oppression, etc.

So, it was just a thought I wanted to explore. Everyone has a right to create their own narrative–whether someone reads it or not, is another story.

The shift in the publishing industry to #BIPOC (Black, Indigeous People of Color) is indicative of #OwnVoices becoming so broad that any group could slip in under the hashtag. I hope I’m making sense here. I understand the need for OwnVoices and BIPOC because for years stories have been fabricated by those not part of the culture or voice.

Like Philip Mann pointed out in the initial paragraph, he is an Orthodox Jew and it is a part of him. That is who he is. Could Philip write a story from the POV of a person living with daily prejudice? Perhaps, but the lane would be Canadian Jewish male…and not an Indigenous residential school survivor.

Okay…I think I’m beginning to babble. I just find this an interesting topic. No offense meant or aimed at anyone. I say, if you’re a writer, write. I don’t care what anyone looks like, sounds like, or comes from– but as a reader, I too have a choice.

Let me know what you think.

Phew…Thanks for the chat Philip Mann.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please feel free to comment below and/or pose a question. All good.

5 thoughts on “Faith and Religious Writing: If You’re Using Your Knowledge to Reflect a POV is This Like “Own Voices”?”

  1. Over all: Stay true to your self. At least that is what I heard as I read all of the various opinions.

    1. Marianna. You are so right. As writers we poke around in all sorts of issues and stuff but we come back to what we know….who we are intrinsically as people. Thanks for reading. It was an interesting discussion. xoxo

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