How Writers Find Their Brave

Madeleine L’Engle should be the patron saint of Christian women writers. Any time I start doubting myself, I pull out Walking on Water and feel like I can stop hyperventilating and breathe again. This morning in Walking on Water I read:

“I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artists and says, ‘Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.’ And the artist either says, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord,’ and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses; but the obedient response is not necessarily a conscious one, and not everyone has the humble, courageous obedience of Mary.” (p. 18)

“When the artist is truly the servant of the work, the work is better than the artist.” (p. 24)

“When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.” (p. 24)

Serve the Work. Get out of the way. Listen.

Yes.

Annie Dillard says something similar in The Writing Life:

“At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it.” (p. 75)

Most days I sit down and write paragraphs of pure junk. It flows so easily. Then I pick back through the rubble like a hurricane victim trying to salvage valuables from the storm. A friend of mine just shared an article with me about how we must first allow the madman to write. That’s what I’m doing these days. Lots of “shitty first drafts” written by my inner madman. (Thank you, Anne Lamott, for empowering us to write what comes first.)

I have a friend who wants to start writing. “How did you get the courage to start?” she asked.

I wrote because not writing was no longer an option. It was more painful not to write than to write. Like plugging a water faucet with your finger, the words were just too pent up. They demanded a release. In Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke says that we should only write if we must.

But I am still learning how to get out of the way and serve the work. It takes a certain faith to believe in the word magic. Elizabeth Gilbert has built her entire career on it, writing Big Magic and producing a podcast called Magic Lessons. It feels like voodoo. But Christian poet Luci Shaw instead names the Holy Spirit as her muse in Breath for the Bones.

Sometimes it helps to over-spiritualize things.

When I meet other writers, they ask me if I want to write a book. “Maybe eventually,” I’ve always said. I still feel like I’m in love with the love of writing, like I’m not ready to commit to this as a profession. It is an affair without the commitment and I don’t want to sacrifice the butterflies for the long-term, daily work of love that includes the non-sexy tasks of emptying the dishwasher and hanging the wet clothes on the line. But the time has come.

The Book is asking me to write it.

I was excited at first. But lately I’ve taken cues from my children and become a fantastic whiner. Just what my husband needs.

I made the mistake of going into Barnes and Noble. Thousands of beautiful books full of billions of words assaulted me. I couldn’t leave quickly enough. They seemed to all be harassing me, screaming, “We don’t need any more of these!”

But hanging on my husband’s neck in the kitchen after the kids had finally quieted down that night, I told him about the abuse I had suffered. I echoed the books’ words: “Why? Why does the world need another book?”

“Think about it like this,” he said. “The world doesn’t need another child, either. There are billions. And yet each one is precious—unique—and a necessary and beautiful contribution to the world. And people just keep birthing them.”

This from a man who consumes over 80 books a year and reads for a living. He has narrated a few horrible books in his lifetime. Surely he would save me from myself if I was way off track.

But he believes I can do it. I don’t think I would have even started writing without him as a coach, editor and cheerleader. God knew I wouldn’t venture out without at least one person in the world telling me I could do this.

So I released my inner madman this morning. He’s running all over the page. I’m listening. I lift my hands in terrified obedience–surrender, even.

Yes. I will serve the work.

Here we go.

 

If you are a writer, how do you find your brave?

 

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What do Annie Dillard, Madeleine L'Engle, Luci Shaw and Rilke have in common?

Why I Write (because don’t we sometimes need to remember?)

I haven’t written in five weeks. Julia Cameron would call this taking time to “restock the pond” or “refill the well.” But it has been out of necessity more than creative intention.

I painted our entire house. Alabaster White now coats the renovated popcorn ceilings and hides the dark wood trim. Sherwin Williams “Silver Strand” cools most of the walls of the house, lending a faint blue, green or grey tint depending on the lighting of the room. There is still more to do, but now that we are living here, we will have to shift furniture and barricade rooms to get it done in the evenings after the kids have gone to bed.

I also took a break from podcasts, instead painting to playlists collected from illegally downloaded music while I was living in China. But I also painted to childhood favorites like the Big Chill soundtrack including “My Girl” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” as well as my Christian youth group culture beloved albums like “Enter the Worship Circle” and the album I listened to freshman year of college—Chris Rice’s “Deep Enough to Dream.”

Becoming more adept at cutting in with the angled paintbrush, I numbly eased into the music of all the women I have been. Escaping into those old identities was more comforting than obsessing over whether or not I was trading those old selves for the American Dream.

But now I have to shut off the music, put down the paint brush and get back to regular life.

I must get back to writing.

But the amount of time it takes to be a writer (not to mention a mother who writes) and live in that headspace begs the question: Why do I write at all? You may write for different reasons, but this is why I do it.

I write to think. I think best with a pen or pencil in my hand. I told a friend once that I am not a verbal processor, but need a pen to work out my thoughts. “So what is that called?” I asked her. “A writer,” she said.

I write to stay sane. (Seriously.) My journal is my personal counselor. If my husband and I reach an impasse in our communication, I’ll grab my journal and hole myself up to write it all out until I’ve figured out what I am feeling and why. I almost always reach clarity through doing this. I have saved thousands of dollars on therapy simply by journaling.

I write to remember and keep a record of my life. I have purposely not bought a fantastic camera because I want to transcribe my memories with words and not just pictures. I rode the bus in China and would experiment with different ways I could describe my experience to friends and family back home who would never have the opportunity to visit. Pictures seemed a less challenging puzzle.

I write to connect. I used to be a letter writer. I still schlep boxes of letters around with me to each place I’ve lived. Blogging, for me, sometimes feels like a polished letter to a friend. It is the state of my heart right now, in this place. But it can also feel one-sided–like standing in a lit room at night with the shades wide open. Others are seeing me from the outside, but I can’t see them. In this way, writing makes me feel exposed. Yet the days I feel most vulnerable as a writer are inevitably the days I get an email from a reader saying, “Thank you.” And “Me, too.”

I write because I am compelled. When I fell in love with my husband, love was a rapid river current that would have been impossible to escape. Writing feels much the same. Since the word “calling,” makes me squeamish, I hesitate to use that word, and yet it is something like that. I’m committed, but I also can’t imagine not writing. Being trapped without a way of getting my thoughts out seems like the worst kind of punishment. Writing is a need, not a want.

And to spiritualize it all (because sometimes we need to do that, don’t we?), I write my life as an offering. I hope God will take my loaves and fish—the simplicity of my days—and use them to feed more than just myself. Writing demands faith because there is always the fear that I am just wasting my time and adding noise to the world. But God delights in creating banquets out of table scraps, abundance out of scarcity, and cool springs from parched land.

I trust that the God who makes tiny seeds grow from dirt can plant my word offerings in the world and cultivate beauty that wasn’t there before.

And so this week I return to work without pay, fame or fanfare. For all its impossible demands on my time and attention, not writing is a far worse torture.

 

If you are a writer, why do you write?

 

**Contains Amazon affiliate links

Why I Write

Ten Writing Tips from The 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop Podcast

Recently I’ve been binge-listening to the NPR podcast The 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop. In it, the host, Virginia Prescott, interviews famous writers about their writing process. She begins each podcast with the question, “Which is harder to write—the first sentence or the last?” Many of the writers chuckle and answer, “the middle!”

Here are some of my biggest takeaways from the hours I’ve spent listening to these talented writers over the past couple weeks:

1. The best way to become a better writer is to be a prolific reader.

2. The other way to get better at writing is to write. There are no shortcuts to sitting in your chair and doing the work.

3. The worst thing new writers do is give up.

4. You have to find what works for you when it comes to daily rituals (though most wake up very early in the morning to write).

5. Every writer said the final product is usually far different from the first draft. They spend a lot of time editing and revising their work. It’s okay to write a shitty first draft (as Ann Lamott talks about).

6. Don’t just write what you know (like so many people advise).

7. Sometimes saying something simply is the best way to say it.

8. When they are stuck, they mix up the routine:  go for a walk, change locations or switch from a computer to free-writing in a journal.

9. At least five writers mentioned Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life as a book for writers to read. Other books mentioned more than once were The Writing Life by Annie Dillard and On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. (I’ve read them all and agree!)

10. Many writers expressed that the work takes on a mind of its own and that they are simply a conduit for the words to get themselves onto the page and out into the world.

 

If you are a writer, teacher or student of writing, I would highly recommend this podcast for ideas on finding your writing flow. Each time I listen, I walk away encouraged and more motivated to share my words with the world.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? Which of these tips most resonates with you at this stage of your writing career?

Check out this podcast to hear quick, fascinating interviews with some of these writers: Salman Rushdie, Alexander McCall Smith, Anita Shreve, Patti Smith, James McBride, Joe Hill, Judy Blume, Jodi Picoult, Colson Whitehead, Krista Tippett and many others!

 

**Contains Amazon affiliate links

If you are a writer, teacher or student of writing, I would highly recommend this podcast for ideas on finding your own writing flow.

When Writing Feels Like a Waste of Time {for SheLoves}

On a rough day, my husband will cheer me up with a dozen yellow roses. For some reason, it’s often before we go out of town, so I immediately think how we will receive a sad, wilted welcome when we return from our trip. It feels like a waste of beauty.

How many days and months go into cultivating a single yellow rose? Daily sunlight, water and fertilizer encourage it to grow. At just the right moment, it is snipped, sold and carried from the store by some well-meaning suitor or lover (or more likely, a female who treats herself to this little luxury every once in a while). All for what? To sit on our crumb-laden kitchen tables for a few days, splashing our rooms with color and assaulting our senses with scent only to be thrown in the trash within the week?

Sometimes this is how publishing a piece of writing feels. When I think about the days, months and years that have preceded putting my thoughts into words, then the hours of molding and shaping them, coaxing out the beauty, the grace, the deeper meaning, it reminds me of these roses. I am the gardener and yet I also decide when my words are ready to be cut and offered to the world. When my offering of words is welcomed, I smile. And yet how quickly the glory fades as my article is overlapped by another, then another, then another article until what felt like vibrant, fresh and life-breathing words become faded and forgotten.

So is writing (without monetary compensation) even worth it?

***

Last night I tried out a complicated new recipe. I sipped red wine, dancing between the recipe on my computer screen and turning up the volume of the “evening acoustic” album on Pandora. My husband wrestled with the kids on the rug in the living room while I chopped onions, garlic and peppers to toss into the simmering oil in the pan. He took the kids out for a dusk walk and I relaxed into the smells, sounds and feel of a kitchen in use. When they returned, we washed tiny hands, strapped kids into high chairs and bowed heads to pray in spite of spoons banging and feet kicking.

If you’re a parent, then you know what came after this seemingly magical moment.

“Yuck,” my son said, pushing his dish away. My daughter picked out a few pieces of food, but also declared my meticulously prepared meal “yucky.” My husband and I finished eating in less than 15 minutes and just like that—after nearly an hour of preparation–it was over.

But here’s the thing. Even though the food was underappreciated, consumed quickly and the process will need to be repeated tomorrow and the next day, it was still worth it. Why?

Because the process of preparation fed my soul. The meal gave us a reason to sit down together as a family. And it provided nourishment for the hungry ones at the table.

Just like your writing.

As you write, God is working out what He is working in you...

Continue reading at SheLoves.