Monday, June 7, 2010


Every time - so far - that I have written a post from a state of weariness so deep I could barely walk from one end of a thought to the other, the post has turned out better than many I have written fully rested.

You may be in for a treat. It's been a great but long week.

While I was busy doing more than my usual work and family and social things, Sharon*, Bonnie and Debbie posted some wonderful advice on the staging of scenes and the surviving of a writer's life. In trying to think of a topic as helpful as theirs, I keep circling round to the question: Why exactly is it, that I so often write better when I am tired (and perhaps you do, too)?

My theory is that the censors in our brains that tell us what we can and cannot say in print are a pack of old hags** who badly need their beauty rest, and so they turn in early. Don't stay up too late, they warn. And do please try to behave yourself.

I'll try.

But now that they're out of earshot, I'm going to tell you something I would never tell them: the thing that makes me drop a novel fastest has nothing to do with style and everything to do with yawp! - or rather, the lack of it.

You did watch The Dead Poets Society, didn't you? I'm referring to the line from Walt Whitman's poem, ''Song of Myself:"
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

We Christians rarely sound barbaric yawps. And we need to.

A few premises for Christian authors:

  1. You live in a fallen world.
  2. So does your reader.
  3. You have not - have not - come out unscathed.
  4. Neither has your reader.

I emphasize #3 because so often we pretend that in the act of redeeming us Jesus also unscathed us, so that we no longer bear the marks or even the memories of our wounds. It's a nice thought, and it might be pleasant if it were so, but it's not, and it's not biblical. David made no pretense of living in a powder pink world, and neither did Isaiah or Solomon or Jeremiah or Paul... or Jesus. Redemption - "re-naming" - is meaningless in a powder pink world.

Your reader needs to hear from your barbaric self.

I love to read books that shock me with some fresh recognition of a dark part of my experience, that make me wipe my tears and say, "yes, yes, it's just that way," and then walk me through to the bright light of redemption. I love authors with the courage to look at their own lives with such searching honesty. I know that they have done deep soul work, that perhaps they have journaled tired, so that the words came out uncensored.

In your comments today, I'd love it if you would share the "yawp" moments you have found in your reading. You writers: how have you accomplished it in your own work, and how did the experience affect you?

We love to read what you have to say.

*Bless Sharon for quoting that segment of Dance that I thought my publishers would surely cut - but they didn't.

**Definition for hag:
1. An ugly evil-looking old woman
2. Eel-like cyclostome having a tongue with horny teeth in a round mouth surrounded by eight tentacles; feeds on dead or trapped fishes by boring into their bodies


Wendy Paine Miller said...


I'm sure it wouldn't surprise you I quoted the sweaty tooth madman scene at a party the other evening when trying to describe writing from the gut. I love that scene. O Captain, my Captain.

To write fearless.

I'm currently reading a book that is ripe with swears but some of the author's descriptions are some of the best I've ever read.

Excellent post.

Jan Cline said...

Another helpful post. Im guilty of holding back when it comes to digging deep and pulling out the depth of my character's feelings and life experiences.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I love this post Katy. I must find my barbaric yawp today. I think the old ladies have hidden it and it smells of moth balls!

Bonnie Grove said...

Katy, once again you've left me to pick my jaw up off the floor. Thank you.

I wonder if we shy away from the barbaric yawp because we feel how powerful it is - we fear if we give it voice it will take us over completely.

A comment I heard often in therapy was, "I'm afraid to cry. Afraid that once I start, I'll never stop." We are terrified to let out the noise because we know we will never be able to tuck it away in that box.

And, I wonder, if we fear to let it out because in exposing our fear and doubt and hurt and anger, others might look closely at us and decide we have done it all wrong.

Nicole said...

This is precisely the reason I loved The Passion of Mary-Margaret. The novel yawped and yawped. So wonderfully. (Handle it, girls, yes, it's an adverb.)

How 'bout this fabulous line from Kristen Heitzmann's latest:

"That day on the ledge, when you followed me to the eagle nest? I wanted to make love to you. I wanted to take off your clothes and let the sun shine all over you. That's what I was thinking while we talked about your sister."

Yeah, baby. Real.

Carla Gade said...

Excellent, inspiring, and transforming advice. I better get yawping! I hope to yawp in my own special way.

Patti Hill said...

Katie, you've inspired me to yawp! I'm glad you were tuckered enough to write so beautifully. Now, go take a nap, sweetie.

Anonymous said...

Love this post. Love Dead Poet's Society. (Hate when my wireless keyboard messes up and gets stubborn on me. Hear me yawp!)

Kristen's latest sounds very intriguing. What's the title, Nicole?

Nicole said...

Indivisible, Sharon. (Review up at Into the Fire.)

Kathleen Popa said...

Wendy, I'm cheering with you!

Katie honey, it is kind of horrible that you've never watched The Dead Poets Society. But guess what? There seems to be a playlist for the whole film on YouTube:

If you subscribe to Netflix you can get it that way, or you can buy it on Amazon for not much. I promise - promise you will love this film.

Jan, it is so hard to dig deep, isn't it? And we don't have to do this, either - other people don't. But did you see the smile on Todd's face when he'd finally spilled out something real? It was dark, a mortifying sign of his woundedness and deeply personal, but when he dredged it up to the light of day, nobody could breathe. And he knew what he had done - did you see the way he smiled - the inexplicable joy?

I know that feeling, and I think it's the reason I write.

Bonnie, I think you've nailed it. "Mr. Anderson thinks everything inside of him is worthless and embarrassing." Perhaps we also fear that if we start out in darkness we will never find our way to the bright light of redemption. We almost never think Jesus can calm this storm.

Nicole, because of you, I just ordered The Passion of Mary Margaret.

Debbie, Carla, Patti and Sharon: YAWP!

Nicole said...

Katy, would that I could promote my novels as well as I promote those of others! So glad you ordered this book. I cannot see you being disappointed. Lisa yawps.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I'm encouraged. I know I'm veering slightly from your central point here, but the thing shouting at me from this post is that it's possible to write something worthwhile while tired.

I have a baby. Last night my best sleep occurred between 11pm and 2am. After that I was up and down like a yo-yo. And he's nearly 4 months old. It's been a while since I've had more than 3 hours of consecutive sleep.

At the moment it seems an effort to produce words in sequence, let alone make a cohesive point. But the idea that writing tired might result in something more than drivelly mush? That's pretty mind-bending. More, that my tired brain might somehow spit out prose that's even better than usual?

Katy, you are my new favourite person simply for suggesting such an outlandish thing. You've given me hope. If quality of writing is inversely proportional to hours of sleep, I feel my nonexistent writing career is about to take a quantum leap.


Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

So profoundly, exactly, entirely, adverbly what I needed today.

I wonder if I am not afflicted with Mr. Anderson's mental disease? How often I consider my own offerings worthless and embarrassing.

Now, to summon my inner barbarian...

Word verification: "typhing" - typing with a lisp.

Kathleen Popa said...

Karen, is that your baby in your profile picture? You both look beautiful. Yes, I'd say that if my theory is right, then motherhood should do wonders for your writing. Keep going!

And I'm honored to be your new favourite person.

Ariel, I'm glad I encouraged you. No, your offerings are not worthless or embarrassing. God bless your yawping.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Katy, yes, that's my baby! (My other "baby" is 1 1/2 now). I do happen to agree that he's beautiful. As for me, the bliss of these little thumbnail sized-pictures is that they don't show the baggy bits under my eyes. :)

You're sweet.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Love that movie!

It's so important to write without walls. We need it just as much as our readers do.

Samantha Bennett said...

Oh, Walt. Give me a rooftop, I'm ready to YAWP!