A monthly column written by an Authorlink contributing editor.

We welcome your questions, comments and input to this page.

ASK THE EDITOR The Spiritual Writer

By Susan Malone

April, 2002

With the success of so many spiritually based books these days, I'm seeing a host of such manuscripts, some fiction, mostly non. Many of these come from counselors of a wide variety; many are scholarly; some from new writers on a spiritual path. The majority of these have one thing in common–they're freeform, just shy of stream-of-consciousness. And while that may indeed by the manner in which we receive the essence of spiritual inspiration, it still must be translated into book form in order to be publishable, and to be accessible to the market.

As with all true gems of knowledge, inspiration, even Truth (and isn't this why all writers write? To convey some bit, no matter how big or small, of something learned along the way), the success lies in the telling.

Now, I'm not here to proselytize for or against any religion, spiritual bent or path, but rather to help writers–whether ones who seek to make a living penning books, to those with only this ONE to get out–fashion their works into true and viable books.

Often the lessons along the way seem quite difficult, and oddly, the "spiritual writer" seems to have the most conflict with accepting criticism and revision, as if to do so would mar the pristine nature of the work.

All writers have that fear to some extent. The spiritually based ones tend to take it to an extreme. After all, if the inspiration came from God, Sprit, The Universe, whatever you may call it in your belief system, the idea is "who am I to question?" I may have missed something, but I never heard God say don't edit the work I do. In fact, the editing itself can be as creative a process as the initial inspiration. It's all in how you go about it.

This mindset, although seemingly mundane, is the point of creating a work that readers can grasp and utilize. Remember, you yourself are not your only audience. Yes, you are a vital one to your own work (that is a lot of why we write). But if you want someone else to read it, you must bring the work into a recognizable form, and one which others can understand.

What I mainly see are works that go "all over the board." In other words, the organization is off. Or, those that need a much narrower focus. If you're going to discuss everything from birth to death, then you're looking to publish something as enormous as the Christian Bible. Most publishers these days won't take that risk. True, those Truths can be put into more concise forms. The BHAGAVAD GITA comes to mind–but remember, that's pretty much poetry, which is much more difficult to produce well than good prose and by its very nature, much more concise.

Without a sharp focus and tight organization, the reader is catapulted all over the pages, unable to find a firm foundation on which to build his understanding. In other words, each chapter must build upon the previous, so that your reader's understanding and knowledge begins to grow from within. Then, specific steps need to follow, in order for that reader to put into practice the new knowledge.

And finally, most of these works, in raw form, beat the reader over the head with newfound spiritual Truths. Much of the time I agree wholeheartedly with the Truths presented. But they get shoved down my throat so hard I gag on them nevertheless. Remember, yours is not the ONLY Truth.

While I'm not in the habit of touting writing how-to books, a great resource exists for a more in-depth study of this. SPIRITUAL WRITING, by Deborah Levine Herman with Cynthia Black discusses some of these points, as well as the marketing end of things–i.e., the various genres within the spiritual market, where yours might fit, and how to identify it. The book also deals with the nuts and bolts of queries and proposals, in a professional manner. And, it provides a section of agents and publishers seeking such works.

The main point here, however, is that writing a spiritually based book is not terribly different from writing a novel, or a manual about child care. All of them need inspiration at the core. All require good writing. And all must have the elements that make up a good book–theme, focus, organization and structure, pacing, flow, vivid characters if those come into play, showing/creating versus telling, substance, etc. You don't get a cosmic pass-go coupon just because you claim God as the co-author. Besides, I've never known God to be a sloppy Creator OR Editor. We're pretty much the ones who create the mess. And we have the God-given intelligence combined with the resources available to clean up that mess. The process is called revision.

Susan M. Malone is author of: By the Book (novel); BodySculpting; Fourth and Long; and Five Keys for Understanding Men, and owns a successful editorial service. Fifteen Malone-edited books have recently sold to traditional publishers! Malone is a contributing editor to Authorlink.com. http://www.maloneeditorial.com