Twelve Strands

Sewing Story to Story: A Review of Twelve Strands

At first glance, I mistakenly assumed from the description that this book was a collection of stories by twelve Asian Christian writers. I was pleasantly surprised as I read on to discover that Twelve Strands is a collection of the stories of how twelve Asians came to be writers (and in some cases, how they came to be Christians). The book provides intimate perspectives into the vocation of writing, and how pursuing that vocation led these writers to a deeper understanding of God and themselves. I liked how Twelve Strands emphasises the journey of becoming a writer rather than the writers’ achievements, and insightfully captures how the creative journey is intertwined with the Christian pilgrimage of faith.

And I have come to learn that there is no instant writer.
Every writer needs to be an excellent re-writer.
This invaluable process has molded us to be humble Christian writers.
How could I write according to His heart if I did not start
from a heart that was in tune with His?
(Eva Kristiaman, “My God-Given Calling”)

Most people conceive of writers and writing in simplified and flattened terms: writers are born with creative talent, writing requires primarily inspiration, becoming a successful writer is about getting your work published, etc. As someone who aspires to write, I have found these notions to be both unhelpful and untrue. Firstly, it puts the emphasis of writing largely on getting end results fast rather than on the process of creation, and secondly, it gives writers tremendous pressure not just to put out ‘finished’ work, but also to be a ‘finished’ person, who has perfectly figured out their writing style and creative vision from the start.

In contrast, I found the stories in Twelve Strands refreshingly honest about the realities and challenges of writing, as well as the imperfections and struggles of the writers themselves. As Catalina Rembuyan puts it in her account, “writers are workers before they are geniuses”: many tell of frequent rejections in their early years of starting out and that criticism from editors, writing groups, conferences and workshops helped to improve their craft. The writers also speak vulnerably about their own fears, weaknesses and frustrations that they learned to confront or overcome along the way. The parallel between the journey of the writer and the act of writing comes out strongly across the different ‘strands’: I saw how each writer was refined in his or her character and skill (much like how texts go through a series of drafts before being published) by the events in his or her life. This showed me that creative work as well as personal growth is more about perseverance and process than about being ‘finished’.

I have discovered — or at least am discovering — that with every act of writing and engagement in the field of literature I see… God’s hand in my life.
(Catalina Rembuyan, “Learning To Write”)

Being focused on Christian writers, this collection also revealed the particularly beautiful insight that God himself is the Writer of writers, often working on the writers’ maturity and personal issues as they write their works. It occurred to me while reading that the struggles particular writers went through enabled them to write with sincerity and depth. For instance, Emily Lim’s story exemplifies this connection through the motif of voices. She describes how losing her literal voice led to her finding her literary voice through children’s books. Moreover, Lim writes that not just children but adults have been inspired and affected by her books, because the stories drew from her personal struggles and epiphanies. Her story, among others, demonstrates that the ministry of the Christian writer flows out of wrestling with issues in life and faith, because the story God wants to write most of all is yours.

I personally would have loved to see a taste of each writer’s work – perhaps a short story, song, poem or devotional – as I feel this would have enabled readers to greater appreciate how their writing influences their faith journeys. But this is a minor objection, as most of the writers’ accounts function as samples of this connection, being generally engaging and sincere prose stories that also offer intimately personal spiritual wisdom.

It’s true that the literature and culture ministry is not like a revival meeting, where one altar call can produce instantly visible, countable fruit. But this is the nature of callings — doing what God has called you to do and not questioning whether you are enough, whether you can do it, and whether there is fruit. This is faithfulness. (Mo Fei, “Jacob’s Ladder”)

Overall, Twelve Strands is an enjoyable and insightful read, whether you have literary ambitions or not. For those who are hungry for authentic stories of what being a writer is like, Twelve Strands presents a complex, heartfelt tapestry of voices that have traversed that wilderness, and paved the way.

You can view a sample of Twelve Strands here.

This review is written by Clarilyn Khoo, an English Literature graduate from the National University of Singapore. She believes in the power of words and stories to bring joy, renew minds and change lives.