Faith and writing: a conversation with Gary Schmidt

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Today’s Christian writers often wrestle with how to incorporate faith in their writing: Calvin College English professor and children’s literature author Gary Schmidt described his own experiences in relation to this issue.

“That is a tough question that many writers have asked me,” said Schmidt when asked to describe how he personally incorporates faith in his writing. “Not that it’s tough to answer, but it is a tough question.”

Schmidt went on to explain that when asking how someone integrates their faith, it implies that there is a trick or a process by which to do so. According to Schmidt, this is simply not the case.

“When you write,” said Schmidt, “you reveal who you are, and if you are a man or woman of faith, your faith will show through.”

Schmidt recalls a moment in his life when this philosophy became evident. It was after he had spoken at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“A man came up to me and thanked me for speaking as a Christian, even though I spoke about nothing specifically Christian.” Schmidt didn’t have to. The man saw that he was a Christian simply by how he spoke.

“I don’t bring out a Christian message at the end of my story or give Jesus a random appearance as some Christian novelists do today,” said Schmidt. “That, I feel, seems forced and even fake.”

Schmidt believes that there is no need to force a message in a story when the goal should be to write a good story.

“I have an obligation to my reader,” says Schmidt.”[Writing a good story] comes first. I then have to trust my beliefs to come through and to trust God to use my work to further His kingdom.”

This, according to Schmidt, is how Christian writers should incorporate their faith in their writing. That being said, writing in a way that reflects the identity of the writer is not always easy.

Schmidt recalls a moment when a friend approached him to discuss one of his published novels. “He came up to me and said he was simply shocked that I had not used a single cuss word in the entire book.”

Schmidt went on to describe how carefully he thinks about each detail of his writing such as whether or not to use a cuss word.

Schmidt spends a lot of time poring over his work and asks himself questions while doing so: Is this truly necessary to the story? Does it detract from the story? Can a reader see a glimpse of my faith from what I have written?

“This is not an easy task,” says Schmidt. “I need to remember that faith should and needs to be involved in everything I do. I also need to trust that grace will have the last word.”

In addition to Schmidt describing how Christian writers should incorporate faith in their writing, he briefly described his next book.

The idea for this upcoming book stems from a true story about a 13-year-old boy who had two children.

“Imagine a middle schooler having two kids,” says Schmidt. “My story explores this question: Can you be a father beyond just the biological sense as a middle school boy?”

Schmidt understands that this book may receive heated feedback based on its subject of adolescent parenting, but he said that “it is important to talk well in a world that talks poorly, and it is also important to challenge readers to think deeply about difficult topics.”

It is often a challenging task to bring Christianity and writing together, but as Schmidt suggested,

“Greater is the implicit than the explicit when it comes to integrating faith in writing,” he said. Writers owe the reader a good story. They need to give that to her and trust that their own faith will show through.