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It is all very well to plan your work of art, to envision, to outline. But a true artist will be open to that great creative spirit within each of us, that inner voice that says, “This is good, but here, let me show you something better.”

Again, quoting from Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle:

“…the artist, too, must be obedient to the command of the work, knowing that this involves long hours of research, of throwing out a month’s work, of going back to the beginning, or, sometimes, scrapping the whole thing…When a shoddy novel is published the writer is rejecting the obedient response, taking the easy way out. But when the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant, then the writer has been listening. And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect, into adventures we do not always understand.” (p. 15)

I had thought I had my beginning to my Beirut story twice before, but neither sat well with me. Then a thought occurred to me the other night (how often flashes of inspiration come in the night for me! One of the many reasons I love the night) and, not knowing quite how it would develop, I began to write today and the ideas began to flow. I scrapped the earlier beginning and put my trust in this new aspect. By the second page, a whole new development in the story opened up, almost of its own accord. I believe I am “listening,” as L’Engle puts it. Now it is only a matter of continuing to write and continuing to listen.

 

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(Part 2 of my series on Madeleine L’Engle’s reflections on faith and art in Walking on Water)

"Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art" by Madeleine L'Engle

The more I read this book, the better I understand my role as a writer and, more importantly, my role as a faithful writer–one who believes in God and Jesus Christ. I find myself re-thinking some of my goals as a writer and that is always a good thing. This life is full of change and we must never become so set in our ways that we are not open to change. Change in ourselves. Change in our work. When it comes to change in our lives, the key question we must ask ourselves is this:

Does this change bring order or chaos?

I’ve been thinking this way because of another quote from L’Engle’s book:

“…all art is cosmos, cosmos found within chaos. At least all Christian art (by which I mean all true art, and I’ll go deeper into this later) is cosmos in chaos. There’s some modern art, in all disciplines, which is not; some artists look at the world around them and see chaos, and instead of discovering cosmos, they reproduce chaos, on canvas, in music, in words. As far as I can see, the reproduction of chaos is neither art, nor is it Christian.” (pp. 8-9)

If God is, indeed, the master artist–and I believe He is–then we should look to Him for an example of how he creates. He takes chaos–unorganized matter–and organizes it into worlds. He is all about order. I don’t know that He needs to write down a plan or an outline first, but I am certain that, at the very least, He draws it up in his mind. Scripture tells us that all things were created spiritually before they were physically created.

As writers, then, we may choose to outline our story first on paper or the computer or in our head…or we may choose to dive into the chaos with one or two single organizing elements (this is usually my method) and then, as the words flow, we begin a collaboration with the Giver of all gifts and, somehow, (in a way most mysterious to me, but then…my ways are not God’s ways) an order begins to form on the page or the screen. And that order gives way to further order, sometimes branching out in surprising directions. Why does it surprise? Because I am not in sole control. My collaborator is the one in control and He can see far ahead and I may find myself inserting an element to the story here and there which only makes sense as I near the tale’s end. Of course, it made sense to Him all along because all things are present with Him.

As I wrote my first novel, I very much felt this way. I felt as if I was being led and the writing truly flowed. With my second novel, it began the same way and then I began to second guess myself (or was I second guessing my writing partner?) and, as a result, the writing stalled. It was only later, when I gave in to the mysterious process again that the words flowed once more. By the end, the words and direction of the book had surprised me yet again…several times.

You might think I would have learned my lesson, but no. I began my third novel and too soon I shared that beginning with fellow writers, seeking their judgment, afraid I was going in the wrong direction. Naturally, my muse fled. And why not? I had not trusted Him. I understand now that my only collaborator in the first draft process can, and should, be the Giver of all gifts. A writer’s group is terrific for second and third drafts, but never the first.

It is only by working with Him in the beginning that I can create true art.

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