The Christian Writer: Playing It Safe

Is everyone copying someone else?

Something a lot of new writers struggle with is their voice, the way they write. Every writer has their own distinct voice. Some are more apparent than others, but no author writes in exactly the same way. However, one thing I struggled with when I began, and something I still find myself falling prey to every now and then, is replicating the voice of another writer.

We all have our favourite artists, and while it’s great to draw inspiration from them, sometimes we may end up copying their style of prose in our own writing. When this happens, it’s usually quite easy to spot, and it comes off as uninspired. What they’re saying may be great, but it lacks something. It lacks one’s own heart and emotion. That’s something that can’t be revealed through another’s words.

I recently read an interesting article on the decline of CCM (here) that talked about how Christian artists these days tend to play it safe a majority of the time. From one who has listened to a lot of CCM, I can stand by this as truth, and it really shouldn’t be this way. I can’t even distinguish one song from another on the radio anymore, and it makes me wonder. Are Christian writers doing the same thing? There are so many Amish lit novels that it’s gotten me questioning the authenticity of the Christian publishing industry. Not to say most women’s fiction is deliberately trying to run with a popular genre only in order to become successful, but because of its oversaturation in the Christian market, it has me thinking, are they all original and inspired? 

The CCM industry is falling further and further into mediocrity, and so is true with every other Christian entertainment outlet. Most Christian films feel safe and uninspired, Christian literature is falling into repetitiveness and sameness, and Christian music is becoming more and more unpopular, as was shown in the aforementioned article.

All this brings another concern to mind. Is the Christian industry only doing it for money? If so, creating what’s popular over what you want to create would be the best way to go. No matter how amazing an album like Sufjan Steven’s Carrie and Lowell may be, listeners will almost always flock to what’s uplifting and happy (I know as it’s what I choose most times as well). No one wants to feel down, uncomfortable, or challenged, and thus we’re creating the same thing over and over to satisfy the masses.

But who are the masses? Who’s the audience? Christians? Non-believers? CCM was born out of the evangelical movement in the 1960s, and it was fresh and creative. When bands like Petra, Caedmon’s Call, DC Talk, The Newsboys, and Jars of Clay, were not only major hits but were also creative and showed that Christian music can be as good, if not even better than its counterpart. And why were these guys hits? They wrote what they wanted to write! They wrote in their own voice, and what they were honestly feeling. It caused mainstream audiences to take notice and wonder. They had songs of worship (i.e. Jars of Clay’s still amazing “World Apart”), and they had songs that were vaguer, that required some digging, and engaged the mainstream audience in a thoughtful way.

In relying on the safety of sameness, the Christian industry has forsaken the very thing (arguably even a Biblical thing) that made DC Talk huge: their ability to give something to not only Christians but secular audiences alike. The same thing is happening with Christian literature. Christian publishers aren’t interested in speculative titles, but on women’s fiction, which is the most popular. It’s caused writers like myself who enjoy speculative titles to look elsewhere. No one’s taking risks anymore, and I think it’s hurting us more than it’s doing good.

As Christians, we need to shine and stand out in the crowd, and how we do that isn’t by taking the safest route. If following God were easy, more would take the path. But it’s not a well-worn path, it’s a path less chosen. It’s a path that needs to be taken more often in the Christian entertainment industry. But that same path is also doused in grace. We’re free to fail because God is always there to help us back up. I think that’s the biggest fault with playing it safe. In following what’s popular, we lose the privilege to fail (yes I called it a privilege). When the freedom to fail is taken away, the only things left are fear and pressure, and we end up creating something that’s stale and bland. Some great albums whose artists took a different route (i.e. the Newsboys’ Love Liberty Disco, Showbread’s Who Can Know It, Switchfoot’s Oh Gravity, and artists such as mewithoutyou and more recently, Twenty One Pilots) may not have been popular with its target audience, and were either amazing, or a failure depending on the listener, but no one would ever forget them.

I want to encourage you today to be yourself, and create what you want to create, what you feel you should share. It may not be what’s popular, but it doesn’t need to be in order to change lives. God wants to use you, not a masked version of yourself; and be feel to fail! Create something different. Be someone different and unique, because that’s who you are. Jesus never intended to create you any other way.