Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Impractical Tips for Writers

It's Bonnie's fault.

At Novel Matters, we try to post in themes each week, and the Monday writer gets to pick the theme. So for instance, since Bonnie wrote on Monday a brilliant, you-won't-read-it-anyplace-else post about starting a novel, it would make sense if I wrote an equally brilliant post about ending a novel.

Only I can't.

The reason I can't is that recently, on Bonnie's advice, I fetched John Truby's "The Anatomy of Story" out of the cob-webbed corner where I had flung it in anger, dusted it off, and began to read again. So just this moment I think I know nothing, nothing about writing a beginning or an end or any part of a story. Bonnie says it will get better. And I trust her.

I do.

But there's more. For over a week, in her emails, Bonnie has woven this fantasy that we bloggers at Novel Matters will all live in the same town and share an upper story loft. We'll teach writing workshops in the mornings (you'll all be there) and host evening poetry slams in our café where we will serve organic, fair trade coffee, groats and chocolate. She says I can wear silk kimonos day and night, and maybe get a tatoo, and we'll all spend our days writing about truth, beauty, freedom; but above all things, love.

She has no idea what she's feeding in my psyche.

She doesn't know that I think the movie, "Moulin Rouge" is unutterably deep and profound, or that the song I have sung in the shower (or these days in my upper story claw foot tub) for my entire life has been "Those Were the Days" à la Mary Hopkin. Right now I could sing it all the way through for you, every word. But you don't want me to. That last note is a doozy.

I do trust Bonnie though, and the reason is that she completely understands my desire to write no stories that have been written before. Judging by your comments on Monday, I suspect you understand too. The reason you love her you-won't-read-it-anyplace-else advice is that like me, you have guessed that the fastest way to write stories that have been written a hundred or a thousand times before is to write in the way all those hundreds and thousands of authors have written.

You've set yourself a bodaciously difficult task, my friend. You will have to be reckless and brave.* If you walk this path you will be misunderstood and cranky, you will fail more times than you don't, you will learn more about your dark side than you want to know, and people will think - rightly - that you are peculiar, even without the kimonos and tattoo. And with all of that, you'll get no guarantee of success. I and Bonnie, Patti, Sharon, Latayne and Debbie will walk beside you, along with a great cloud of authors and poets and artists. But we will all be with you in spirit, so you won't always see us, and you will get lonely.

I hope you will stay the course, nonetheless, because there's a prize to be won.

He or she who endures to the end will learn the true and deep meaning of worship, and that worship will ripple in ways beyond your control or imagining.

The Novel Matters ladies recently bought me Crossway's newest treasure, "The Four Holy Gospels," illuminated by Makoto Fujimura. It is a gift so lavish it still makes me weep, but as I have read it morning and evening, allowing words and images to weave together in my thoughts, my thinking about the ultimate best purpose for art has transformed. I have seen that, as an artist (or writer) worships through her work, communing both with God and her reader, then deep calls to deep, and the waves swell and crest. Things happen. Things change.

On Fujimura's blog I came across a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Artist Of the Beautiful." Please read it today. You will feel that your deepest secrets have been exposed by a man who was long dead when you were born. You will feel understood as never before. You will learn what it is you write for.

Then put on your silk kimono and come back here to talk truth, beauty, freedom; but above all things, love. Or if you want something more specific, tell us about a time when the mix of art and worship have changed your life.

We love to read what you have to say.

*And you will have to watch next month for a Novel Matters Holiday you can make your own.


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

*sigh*... What a beautiful daydream. I love this:
"He or she who endures to the end will learn the true and deep meaning of worship, and that worship will ripple in ways beyond your control or imagining."

You know what this post says to me? I need to stop comparing myself with others. Trying to work out where my writing "fits". Wishing I was funnier, more lyrical, less dark, more this, less that. Perhaps - *gasp* - I'm not meant to sound like anyone else at all.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

"You will learn more about your dark side than you will want to know." Truth.

I believe writers are led into a cyclical and profound worship not only through craft, but through all the ways we break in this business. Again and again.

Sometimes I can be simply painting a piece of furniture and know God is moving my hand.
~ Wendy

Dina Sleiman said...

Ahh, this blog feeds my impractical writer's soul. So glad I found it. Thank you Kathleen. I do think of all my writing and life as an act of worship.

By the way, I got my nose pierced last year, and it's so freeing because no one expects me to be normal anymore. LOL. I say go for the kimonos and tattoos. We do a lot of joking like that behind the scenes at Inkwell Inspirations too.

Footprints From the Bible by Cynthia Davis said...

"an artist (or writer) worships through her work, communing both with God and her reader" That is lovely when it happens! Thank you for water in a wasteland week.

Jan Cline said...

This is one I will have to read over and over to grasp all the depth. What an uncommon imagination and deep thinker he was. Oh, that I could write such meaning into an ordinary situation. It always strikes me as funny that authors of that era wrote such long sentences!

Unknown said...

What an affirming post. Katy, you danced through all of it, with the hem of your silk kimono fluttering. Bless you.

I hated Hawthorne in high school. Not until I read "Young Goodman Brown" in college did I ever feel real, soul-sick terror. Just recently I read The Scarlet Letter. It pierced me. And this story-- oh my goodness. I held my breath at points in it, fearful that he had lost the artistry of beauty forever. Thank you, Katy, for this insightful post and for pointing us to that short story.

Bonnie Grove said...

Katy there are much worse things I could be blamed for than being the catalyst for this amazing post. I'm still so surprised I get to do this with such amazing people.

Thank you for the encouragement to suffer.

Uh.... that came out wrong.

Lori Benton said...

Katy, this posts drips with the fragrance of Mary's perfume, spilled on the feet of Jesus. I can imagine so many who witnessed that lavish outpouring thinking, Why did she do it? Not just "that money could have been better spent." But WHY? What prompted such a dramatic outpouring? We writers know. It was love. It was worship. It was an understanding Mary had of who Jesus was, and what he was about to do. Sometimes I've asked myself (and been asked) the same question about the inordinate amount of time I devote to telling stories, to learning the writing craft, to pouring out the hopes and dreams and struggles of fictional men and women, with God in the middle of it all working out His good purpose in their lives, and I think it has a lot to do with what Mary did with that costly box of perfume. My perfume is my time, my naked soul, my desire for connection with Him. I sit here day after day and pour it out, when I could be out there somewhere doing something else. Making money. Making our lives more comfortable in material ways. We could be setting aside a nest egg, building a retirement fund. Instead here I am pouring it all out, hoping to connect with readers eventually, but even more wanting Him to smile and say, "Let her alone. Against the day of my burying hath she kept this."

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Yup, tattooed, pierced but missing the kimono...I need to get one of those!

When I began writing I had grandiose visions of changing the masses, inspiring them to draw nearer to God. And when I say "masses" I mean I thought millions would read my books. Ha. Funny.

Then, in the middle of writing my first novel I realized that the writing was changing ME and drawing ME nearer to God. It inspired ME to forgive someone and rebuild a relationship.

That novel may never see the press, it may never be the great American may never really truly inspire anyone else. But perhaps God used it to communicate with me. And that is humbling.

Kathleen Popa said...

Karen, no, you're not meant to sound like anyone else. My personal sense is that as we grow, we will be less like those around us, not because we contrive in an artificial way to be individuals, but because we cease contriving at all.

Wendy, I do agree. Again and again.

Dina, I'm happy to feed your writer's soul. Hooray for you!

Cynthia, thanks for coming to Novel Matters.

Jan, don't you love that story? Yes, it needs more than one reading.

Latayne, yes, I held my breath too. And understood (unfortunately at times) every painful word.

Bonnie, let me encourage you to suffer. Mwa ha ha.

Lori, yes! I'd meant to say something about that alabaster box in this post, but didn't. Thank you for bringing it in. Writing is just like the Alabaster box. We wish to be useful, practical, but Jesus says, "Let her alone."

Kathleen Popa said...

Susie, the beauty is, the masses are out there, and you are still writing. We don't know the plan. We only know it is to give you a hope and a future. So eat your chocolate and write.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Ha! I WAS eating my yummy milk chocolate yesterday while writing. And then realized that I'd eaten the WHOLE thing. Whoops! It was so good! Thank you!

Steve G said...

It is all Bonnie's fault around here too! She says it isn't true, but...

Myne said...

First time here, and you write beautifully! I loved reading this, and it has soothed some of my doubts. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

No silk kimono for me, lol, but I'd love to come to a writer's workshoplike that!

Thanks so much for the beautiful idea of worshiping while writing.

Now, I'm off to read Mr. Hawthorne.


Kathleen Popa said...

Steve, many good things are Bonnie's fault.

Myne, WELCOME!!! I'm glad you dropped in, and hope you will come back often. I'm glad to have soothed your doubts.

Voni, I hope you like the story as much as I did. Why didn't they make us read this one in school?

Debra E. Marvin said...

oh, A Mary Hopkin fan. I still have the 45rpm record of that song and I loved the one on the back. Of course I don't rememeber the title...

I would love to visit you all and I'll bring some black bean and carob brownies to your poetry night. I'll say "Dina sent me."