My friend and fellow writer Kelly Belmonte invited me to contribute to a series of blog posts reflecting on writing practice (check out her contribution, and her new poetry book!) I always find it interesting to hear how fellow writers approach their work, so I was glad to put in my two cents, as follows:
1. What am I working on?
My new book, Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms, comes out on October 7 from Ignatius Press (you can pre-order it now!). It’s a thorough revision and expansion of the first edition of my memoir about my journey from atheism to Christian faith, now with the inclusion of much more on the role of imagination and literature in my conversion, and with the account of my subsequent reception into full communion with the Catholic Church.
One of the reasons I’m excited about the new book is that it engages much more fully with literature – in a small way it’s a memoir of my reading life and how books have had such an impact on my life. Each of the 27 chapters has an epigraph, and these epigraphs form an arc of their own that parallels the story told in full in the chapters.
For current work, I am writing a literary-critical book on the modern fantasy novel, as well as quite a lot of academic pieces (book chapters and essays) on C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.
2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?
One way that Not God’s Type is different from other conversion memoirs in that it shows the imaginative element, as well as the rational and volitional elements, of conversion to, and growth in, the Christian faith.
3. Why do I write what I do?
For Not God’s Type, I felt that I had a story – through no special merit of my own – that would be helpful and encouraging to readers. I’m actually an extremely reserved and private person, so writing a memoir is not what I would have expected to do! But in the end, the story is not centered on me. As I write in the first chapter:
… this is not, at the heart of it, a story of what I was clever enough to do, but rather of what I was weak enough to have done to me and for me. It is an account of God’s work, a tale of grace acting in and through human beings but always issuing from Him and leading back to Him. And it is the story of my being brought home.
My academic writing in the discipline of apologetics focuses on imagination and literature, because I find this both interesting and very important. For our culture to be renewed, we need to recover the integration of reason and imagination as ways of knowing – that’s a core part of my work as a professor in the M.A. in Apologetics at Houston Baptist University.
I also write as a C.S. Lewis scholar and a Charles Williams scholar – for instance, I’m the Charles Williams subject editor for the Journal of Inklings Studies, an excellent journal that I recommend to anyone who’s interested in the Inklings. I find Lewis to be an extremely important figure in a number of ways: for Christian apologetics, for literary criticism, for creative writing… Fifty years after his death, there’s scope for so much more scholarship on his work and his influence. I’m particularly interested in Lewis as an “integrated” figure, whose academic literary career was essential for, not extraneous to, his impact as an apologist.
4. How does my writing process work?
I take all my writing through multiple stages of drafting and revision. I generally think through a topic for a while, making notes and letting it ‘simmer’ in my mind. Then I’ll start drafting, getting words down without worrying too much about whether it’s exactly right. I’m very much a non-linear writer; I avoid starting at the beginning, since that’s a good way to get writer’s block in my experience, and instead jump into writing sections in the middle or end of my piece. Then, in subsequent revision passes, I fill in the gaps, tighten it up, and get a structure that I like. Once I have the content and structure down, I revise at the sentence level, polishing and refining. I take great pleasure in this stage of writing! It’s a great joy to find just the right word, just the right sentence structure, to make one’s writing really sing.
Dr. Holly Ordway is the director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, a poet, and the author of Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms (revised and expanded second ed., Fall 2014, Ignatius Press). Her work focuses on imaginative and literary apologetics, with special attention to C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.