Friday, August 6, 2010

Paint the Starry Nights

I am so proud of you.

On Monday, Eric Wilson bravely allowed us to run a post he'd first published on his own blog. I say "bravely" because evidently (I'm scared to look) his post has drawn fire in other parts of the blogosphere. Why a post titled - in all caps - IS IT TIME FOR CHRISTIAN FICTION TO DIE? - should rile up the troops is beyond me, but Eric consented to give you, our readers at Novel Matters, a chance to take a few shots of your own. If you desired.

You didn't.

I don't mean for a moment that you would not be free to disagree with anything he or any of us had to say at any time. But your comments showed that you had read his words in the spirit in which they were offered, and I loved the thoughtful, hospitable discussion that followed.

Then on Wednesday, Latayne had the un-enviable task of following Eric's post, and she did a remarkable job of it with a title that was only less controversial among those who had never read Harrison Bergeron. She wanted to know: The writers who take breathtaking risks in hopes of writing words that will melt the stars - do these writers offend those who simply write good stories, who may, by setting their sights lower, succeed more readily?

Are we presumptuous? Hoity-toity? Maybe not. Reckless? Oh, let's hope we are.

Again, the discussion has been lovely.

I can almost see you out there, head in hands behind your computer screens, honoring us with your visits to Novel Matters, longing to write the star-melting kinds of stories you fear may never find their homes. Like Bonnie said: you don't even know why you must.

But you must.

More and more I believe that God made the Vincent Van Gogh's of the world and told them to paint their starry nights because... well, without them, where would we be? How would we ever remove the little transmitters in our ears and stop the constant noise: "Be practical! You've got to think of the numbers! Do what always works! Everybody knows that stars don't swirl around like that!"

(But you have eyes to see. You know that they really do swirl around like that.)

These are worrisome times. My guess is you spend less time thinking of the stories you will write than you spend worrying about money. And family issues, and health issues. And money. The temptation to get practical can overwhelm you. No offense to Jesus, but you don't want to consider the lilies of the field, thanks very much, and the birds of the air just dropped something on your windshield.

He's such a hippie, our Lord is. He tells us not to let our hearts be troubled. He promises rest for our souls. He upends the tables of the money-changers. He tells us to feed the five thousand with nothing. He tells us to walk on water. To paint our starry nights. (Oh yes, that's in there. Read between the lines.)

Please comment. Tell us about yourselves, your triumphs and frustrations in writing. Tell us what makes the writing life hard for you, and what makes it joyful. If you do, I'll enter your name in a drawing for a copy of Madeleine L'Engle's Walking on Water.


Dawn said...

Your words brought tears to my eyes when you said:

The temptation to get practical can overwhelm you. No offense to Jesus, but you don't want to consider the lilies of the field, thanks very much, and the birds of the air just dropped something on your windshield.

He's such a hippie, our Lord is. He tells us not to let our hearts be troubled. He promises rest for our souls. He upends the tables of the money-changers. He tells us to feed the five thousand with nothing. He tells us to walk on water. To paint our starry nights. (Oh yes, that's in there. Read between the lines.)

It verges on offensive, but it's a beautiful picture of the real struggle between the audacity of living a life of real faith and just pretending at it.

I have enjoyed this discussion this week. I definitely vote for straying from safe and practical. My faith can handle it, and might even be the better for it.

Many blessings.

Jan Cline said...

This post is like a poem to my heart. (dont mean to sound drippy) I cant remember the days and nights I have spent dreaming of what to write and how to write it. Writing has been my therapy, joy, pride and suffering all rolled into one. My biggest struggle is that since I waited so long to get serious about publication, I may not have what it takes to see it through. Im not old, but Im certainly not young. It takes a special person to be an accomplished author - we've all heard it said that it's not for the faint of heart. But for some of us it could be even more challenging starting so late in life. I believe God put words in me and so I will write them no matter what the time table is, because I think the written word is so powerful and we need more good words out there - now more than ever. The practicality of writing is least on my mind. I must continue standing on His promises not matter what it costs. He will provide this little sparrow with whatever she needs.

Katie Ganshert said...

I agree with Dawn. I got goosebumps and tears. Wow. Thanks for this inspiration.

That's so what I want to do. Write stories that are deep, and honesty, and real, and gritty with truth and brokenness.

It's a passion that burns in my soul. I want to do this.

Lori Benton said...

Wonderful post, and just what I needed to reinforce what I've been reading in The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. How I wish I'd read that book back in my post-cancer days when I was finally learning what it meant to battle resistance in my creative life.

What brings me joy is the day by day unfolding of the story that's visited me, that just has to be told. That's why I'm always eager for Mondays. :)

I love the image of Jesus as a hippie. Talk about the ultimate counter-culture movement. In any age. Any generation.

And I was just thinking last night how if I could time travel, Vincent Van Gogh would be on my list of people I'd like to meet and know, though he would likely break my heart. How I long to speak a word of comfort and encouragement to the man he was.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Love that you called our God a hippie. ;)

Reckless, let's hope we are!!! Amen.

What I see consistently on this blog is that you ladies live and write unafraid and I applaud you for that.

None of you can be smashed down into a box. It's beautiful. It's courageous. It's how I aspire to write.

I want to paint starry nights with my prose.

~ Wendy

Heidi said...

Absolutely beautiful post - and exactly what I needed to hear.

I often feel like I'm wasting my time when I look at what's being published now and every single story is just a reiteration of the same tripe fluff. Or when it feels like I'm not going to be able to get published unless I put a vampire in my story.

I've also been told a lot that I need to focus on something that will get me a sure job. People question my choice of university major, and when I tell them I want to write? They think of it as litte girl dreams akin to wishing for wings like Tinkerbell's.

But writing is my passion. Words are what touch my heart, fill my eyes with tears, make me want to dance. Words are powerful. And I want to show the world that my words can be powerful too.

"But you have eyes to see. You know that they really do swirl around like that."

Thanks again for a great post! I love that there's more people out there who see the stars swirl.

Anonymous said...

joyful - the way I feel after a few days of showing up at the page consistently. The peace that comes from obedience, and it spills over into every aspect of my life.

not so much with the joyful - the terrible gnawing fear that I. am. not. good. enough. Not that the writing isn't good enough, but that my stuttering efforts at obedience will, in the end, have happened too late and too inconsistently to have any eternal value.

Anonymous said...

Katy, you and Latayne have hit it out of the park this week. Like all the others who commented, your words bring me to tears, make me remember why I write. I strive to hit the high bar. I don't always make it, but where else could I set my sights in order to find satisfaction in the finite time I devote to my craft? I don't want to write safe. I want to write true.

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

The posts this week and one I joined on another blog have given me heart. As a fiction buyer but also as a reader. There is hope that there are good books coming that have nothing to do with romance or 'perfect characters.' I personally am looking forward to that. Keep at it, I firmly believe that if your book needs to reach the readers it will. Be not discouraged.

We as readers do have the responsiblitly of asking for those books also. I know that I 'nag, hound, bug'... fill in your own word ;-) the publishers when I get a chance. I also get excited when they bring a new author or even a bit different than they normally do. I maybe a voice in the wilderness, but I do try to be loud. (LOL)

I can say to tell your loyal readers let publishers know. We as the veiwing public has shifted Hollywood's opinion of movies and they are making more and more family friendly movies. It is slow but we did it by what we were and are willing to pay top dollar for. It is the same in books.

Keep at it my author friends, there is one reader willing to read your books. I also know several others that are also. :-)

Anonymous said...

Chris, we can't thank you enough for your encouragment. We love having you here.

Kathleen Popa said...

Dawn - Oh dear. I don't mean to offend, and I'm afraid I do sometimes. I'm glad you understood my meaning, and I'm glad you are here.

Jan, I'm looking at your picture and honey, you're not too old. Didn't you love it when Frank McCourt won the Pulitzer for Angela's Ashes? How old was he? Sixty-six, I think. Keep writing. Katie, that goes for you too.

Lori, you must, must watch this clip from a recent episode in Dr. Who, in which the doctor brings Vincent Van Gogh to the present-time Musée d'Orsay to see and hear the impact he has made on the world. All that went before was vintage, fun, corny Dr. Who, but this scene made me cry. Here it is:

If you really love Van Gogh (or if you don't love him yet), I recommend Andy Serkis' portrayal of him (amazing!) on Brian Schama's Power of Art.

Wendy, I wish we lived and wrote unafraid. At least for me, it isn't so. I hope you'll follow your aspirations and let the fear tag along if it must.

Heidi - I was an English major. I have spent my life trying to be useful. I feel your pain.

Accidental Poet - nobody is good enough. The brave people are the not-good-enough's who forge ahead.

Here's something I heard not long ago from an artist friend who weaves wool carpets. She said, "The natural dyes I use are so unpredictable. Sometimes you get a color and you think what's this? But you weave it in. That's what makes it art. You work with what you have."

Doesn't that fit in here in our discussions about writing despite the obstacles? At the very least, doesn't it tell us how to live our lives as artists?

Sharon, you hit the high bar time and time again. It is writers like you who give us reason to hope.

Chris, as you can see, your encouragement is much needed, and much appreciated. Thank you, for being the loud voice in the wilderness, and for beeing our friend.

Anonymous said...

I've had the great privilege to visit the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I spent several hours holding my breath! My favorite of all is his painting of "Old Shoes." I swear, I felt I could step right inside those shoes and imagine allthe places they had walked ... all the stories.

Katy, Mwah!

Bonnie Grove said...

I keep wondering: where does all this fear come from? What is it we creative folks are afraid of? I feel it too, this nameless pressure to be.... what? Just like everyone else, as Latayne pointed out, yes. But. Even more, I often feel judged by other Christians.
And yet - when I look around, talk to people, talk to readers - I find I'm not being judged at all.
It's weird. Am I making sense?

It reminds me lyrics of Prodigal's Song by Don Francisco:

Out on the boundaries of my freedom, I was looking for fences that would keep me in and I found, there were none.
Only your sweet love, Lord. Fool that I've been. You broke the chains to my heartache and pain and I forged them again.

You can hear the song here:

Kathleen Popa said...

Bonnie, you're making perfect sense. It's a great question. I've noticed the same in myself, and like you, I wonder why.

Not only that, but I recently witnessed an incident in which a perfectly reasonable group of Christians seemed to feel they had been persecuted for their faith when in fact they were only being disagreed with on other, more prosaic grounds.

And just this morning I spoke with a man who felt a stranger had been rude to him because of his ethnic origin, when, looking at the man, I doubted a stranger would have identified any particular ethnicity at all.

We humans are touchy, aren't we?
Heaven help us all.

Nikole Hahn said...

I'm working on my first novel. I've always penned short stories. The frustrations I find is battling the inner critic and trying to find a market for my short stories while I write my novel (to pay the bills).

Steve G said...

Jan - you should ask sometime how old the ladies are on Novel Matters...

Hmmm. Never mind - it would be best if we just didn't bring that up again.

On another note, Happy Birthday (yesterday) Bonnie, and Kathleen's is on the horizon. Well, it may have been the same note, but it was a major 5th rather than the minor 3rd.

There is a freedom offered when you write for Jesus. You offer Him the best of what you have, and let Him set it free by His Spirit. Yes, yes we have a brain and are to use it and keep learning, etc, but that is life. Can you imagine the difference between when Peter was called as a young fisherman, and as the head of the church in Jerusalem before he was martyred? Age and life experience add so much to your writing foundation. If now is the time to write, write, and find the joy in the journey.

word verification - bongee: pronounced bong - ee, a crazy person who stalks online chat rooms giving cyber enemas.

Also pronounced bon - G, yesterday a mild mannered coffee shop owner/operator, tomorrow a future world renowned author and winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize and 2013 Man Booker Award.

Megan Sayer said...

Any Dr Who fans out there? Did you see the recent episode with Vincent van Gogh? So gorgeous...

I'm in the somewhat privileged position to be at home without an income anyway, as my children aren't school-aged yet. So I write in between games of Marble Race and Hot Wheels, to the dulcet tones of Yo Gabba Gabba. The challenge is to keep returning to those deep thought places in between bottom-wipes, and to embrace, not resent where God has me right now. The joy is having the freedom to explore worlds in my mind outside my physical one.

My goal is to have enough income from freelance work by the time my youngest is in school that I won't need to go get a "real" job again. Challenge there is pulling myself away from my book in order to write the more mundane stuff!

Julia M. Reffner said...

What keeps me going is the thought that my honest brokenness can speak into someone else's wounds and in some small way be used by Jesus in the healing process. One thing God reminds me of is that it doesn't take publication to do this :)

Julia M. Reffner said...
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Julia M. Reffner said...
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Meg Moseley said...

Jan, I'm a grandma too. I don't think age matters, except it gives us a perspective that younger writers haven't earned yet.

About the fear factor: Writers tend to be introspective, and that can lead to exaggerated fears. Not everybody is out to get us or out to fence us in. It only feels that way sometimes, especially when we're taking risks in our writing.

Has anybody read "Art and Fear" by David Bayles? I haven't but I've heard that it's good. It might be relevant to this discussion.

Marcia said...

“Tell us about yourselves, your triumphs and frustrations in writing,” says Kathleen. “Tell us what makes the writing life hard for you, and what makes it joyful.”

I read the comment section eagerly, looking for some “windows” which would reveal who you all are, who I'm talking to. I'll admit I was hoping those windows would have been opened a little wider. There were a few glimpses here and there, however, and I did appreciate them. Surely it takes a lot of courage to let us really “see” each other.

Jan and Meg, you must both be older, like me. Here's a window I'll open on myself: I'm 55, almost 56, and have three grandchildren. Mature ladies, unite! I'm thinking that we actually have an advantage over those who are younger, because we've experienced a greater depth of living. The younger people in the world need our wisdom to light their paths.

Jan, you said, “I believe God put words in me and so I will write them no matter what the time table is.” Yes! Me, too! Let it be said of us as it was said of the woman who poured perfume over Jesus' feet: “She did what she could.”

I've always prayed that my words would minister to Christ, first, and others second. That I would be obedient and faithful whatever the cost and whatever the outcome. That I would bless His heart above all.

Having written those heroic words, I must honestly admit that my writing life is a mixture of swirling stars and sticky mud.

The swirling stars part is so much fun. It's the part where I get to launch into my right brain and jot down whatever comes to mind.

About a year ago I decided to cut a bunch of little note cards on my paper cutter, and wherever I was, whatever I was doing, I'd just write down every thought that surfaced in regard to my novel. I kind of forsook the manuscript on my computer, quit counting words and began to jot. Now I have a whole Rubbermaid box full of various stacks of card jottings, sorted through and rubber-banded together. Most are in order, some are not. It has been easy writing, and I have a ton of insightful, imaginative material that I'm sure I wouldn't have gotten had I been grinding away at the computer.

A couple of months ago, however, after my last little chick graduated from high school/home school, I realized that it was time to get back to earth. Time to call for a little help from the long-forsaken left brain.

Here's my current situation: my husband, Paul, is handicapped due to a traumatic brain injury, and I take care of him here in our home, with the help of a ceiling lift, a super-duper wheel chair, and some nurses aides who lend me a hand for about 18-20 hours per week. Although Paul requires a lot of care, I do have more time on my hands for writing than I've ever had in my life. (Probably a lot more time than you, Megan S.,with your little children.)

But I'm having trouble adjusting to having this quiet time to myself. It's like I need something to put pressure on me or distract me so I'll have something to struggle against. I know I need to knuckle down, but I feel like I'm spinning my wheels in the mud. I don't want to be disciplined. I want to play. To do digital scrapbooking. To sew. To clean my house. To entertain. To make greeting cards. To shop for books, etc. on the internet. Sometimes, to completely lose myself in a two-day long Bible study. Not that there's anything wrong with any of the above, but this novel isn't getting completed.

Many has been the time I've laid face down on the floor and groaned, “O God, give me the guts, because I don't have the discipline nor the moxy it takes to finish this great story You've given me! It's there, it's burning in me, but I myself am in the way.”

I wonder, is anyone else struggling this hard, or am I just psychotic? Is your mud this deep?


Rosslyn Elliott said...

Wow, Meg. You do face some serious challenges. At the same time, though, what you say about getting in your own way is true for all of us. That's what is BEAUTIFUL about writing. We must learn to be our own friend instead of our own enemy. There is no greater life lesson, and it helps us be kinder to others.

Katy - You had me at the mention of Starry Night. My favorite painting, and just the contradiction between it and the man who painted it makes me cry. I don't care who thinks I'm an overly emotional girl with too much Celtic blood and some Welsh sentiment surely hiding in there too. :-)

Meg Moseley said...

Rosslyn, your comment tells me you've mixed up my name with Marcia's. She's the one who's facing the serious challenges with the handicapped husband.

Marcia, you sound strong and determined and humble. And upbeat. You sound like the kind of person who makes mud pies when you're stuck in the mud. :) I commend you for your perseverance in truly difficult circumstances.

Here's your window into my life. I'm 54, nearly 55, with three grown kids and one grandchild. My husband's retired. Money's tight. Yep, even after selling a book, money's still tight, but we have a roof over our heads and food on the table. The Lord has been very good to us.

Right now, my writing life consists of to-do lists. I'm starting to understand that writing the book is the fun part, and the post-sale stuff is the hard part. But I'm so, so grateful to have a contract. This is just a busy phase, and I'm pouring myself into the mundane tasks that come with a sale.

Here are some of my hard parts and frustrations. I think all of us are torn between our writing and the rest of our lives. If I lock myself up with my writing for hours, I feel guilty for neglecting people. If I set the writing aside for a while, I get cranky. I get out of the zone, I forget my vision for the story, I start questioning whether it's the right story at all.

Right now, one of my "hard parts" is that I'm worried about how readers will react to my novel. It has the potential to offend people, including some of my longtime friends.

But it's the story I had to write, and it's a joy to know that when I found the courage to write about something that I'm passionate about, an editor fell in love with it. It's a joy to be finding my niche as a writer, too. I finally have the answer to "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

I want to be a writer, to my dying day. As a matter of fact, I hope the Lord will let us keep writing in heaven. :)

Marcia said...

Meg, thanks for the encouragement, and for sharing your age! I've got three grown children, too.

Yeah, I do make mud pies--and have a blast at it! As odd as it may seem, both Paul and I are happier than we've ever been in our lives, now that we've both adjusted to his handicap.

After I wrote the last post –high on Anne Lamott's “Bird by Bird”--I was tempted to think I had over-exposed myself. (“They'll think I'm cuckoo.”) Which seems to be a predominant fear among writers. :-)

On the other hand, how can we make friends if we don't open up? I should probably go back and peruse this blog so I could get to know those who post regularly. Once you've written about yourself, I imagine you don't feel like repeating the info again and again, for all the newbies like me who have just arrived at the blog. Is anyone on Facebook? You can contact me by looking up the name “Marcia Stockman Koelln” and sending me a message saying you're connected with this blog.

One way I'm getting to know others is by systematically reading the novels of all the authors on here, too. Gives me another reason to buy books on the Internet. (Which reminds me, Meg, is your book able to be purchased yet? You might have already written something about it that I've missed. I apologize, if that's the case.)

It struck me that maybe the missing link in “success” is networking with live people. Deciding not to be a lone ranger. Maybe I've been huddled in a corner too long under Donald Maas' shadow, trying to implement his advice in “Writing the Breakout Novel.”

Has anyone ever succeeded all by themselves? Without a network of people around you? I'm pretty much tied to my home since my husband needs me in a way that other husbands don't, so I can't go to writing conferences. (Although I've gone to probably half a dozen over the years, prior to his accident. ) We live in the sticks of Texas, in a town lucky to be large enough to qualify for a post office. Most of my networking is going to have to be long distance. Is that possible or favorable? Anybody else out there in that same predicament?

I sometimes feel so disconnected. In my imagination, at least, I think my dear non-writer friends look at me like I have a third eye in the middle of my forehead when I talk about my novel. I feel uncomfortable even mentioning it, and yet it is my alternate world, so it is a large part of who I am.

I need a novel-writing prayer partner.


Meg Moseley said...

Thanks for asking about my book, Marcia. It will be available from WaterBrook next May, and we've just decided on the official title: "When Sparrows Fall."

I hope it will encourage you to realize that conferences and face-to-face time are great, but they're not essential. I wish I'd spent less money on conferences when I was just starting to write. They're great for networking, but you can learn just as much, or more, from good books on writing. And you can find great novel-writing/praying buddies online. That's how I met most of mine.

I live in a big metro area and I belong to a local chapter of ACFW, but I do most of my networking via the internet and phone calls. It really can work.

BTW, I just thought of another advantage of being a middle-aged writer. The older I get, the less I care about what people think. That lets me be more honest in my writing.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Oops! Thanks for the clarification, Meg. But I'm glad it prompted you to tell us more about yourself.

Marcia, it's absolutely possible for most networking to be long-distance. While in-person meetings can be very uplifting, it's hard to find exactly the right people to be your writing peers, especially if you live in a small town. Even in my larger city, it's not always easy. Much of my support network is online. I'll look you up on Facebook! And I know exactly what you mean about non-writers who don't want to talk about writing. I have some dear, wonderful friends who are clearly uncomfortable with that whole side of my life. That's OK - as long as you find others who DO love to talk about it, so you have an outlet.

Just so you know, I signed with my agent having never met her in person and having no mutual connections to give me any kind of advantage. It was truly a 'cold call', to use the sales term. So writers can thrive without in-person networking.

Nikole Hahn said...

Meg, your book may offend or may not offend, but I can't help but think about Mary De Muth's book, Thin Places, when I read your comment. It takes courage to write and put your heart on paper.