Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rejection Schmection

On Monday Bonnie gave us some great advice on handling rejection. Important stuff, because the only way to escape rejection is too sad to consider. Ask nothing of life and it won't tell you no.

I especially liked Bonnie's suggestion number 6: "Have a concrete plan for improving as a writer." There is such hope, such stubborn faith in that: like praying for rain, and taking your umbrella though the sky is sunny blue.

But I'd like to add a seventh tip:

While you wait, write for someone, somewhere. Publication will be nice when it comes, but it won't make you rich or perfect or erudite. It will make you lovely new friends in unexpected places, but you can make friends now. I suggest you make art, and offer it as a gift.

Write a play for your church. Write a story to read to the children. Write anything for anyone, and get your work out into the world. Just be sure to first follow's Bonnie's advice, and make your best work better.

There are important matters at stake.

I recently ordered a new book by Gregory Wolfe, publisher and editor of Image Journal. Its title is, "Beauty Will Save the World." (Just the sort of title to make me don my beads and sandles and cry out for "truth, beauty, freedom and love!"*)

The reason I want to read this book - besides its title - is that its description hits on the sorts of things that keep me up nights:

We live in a politicized time. Culture wars and increasingly partisan conflicts have reduced public discourse to shouting matches between ideologues. But rather than merely bemoaning the vulgarity and sloganeering of this era, says acclaimed author and editor Gregory Wolfe, we should seek to enrich the language of civil discourse. And the best way to do that, Wolfe believes, is to draw nourishment from the deepest sources of culture: art and religious faith.

Impatient for the book to arrive, today I tracked down an interview in ISI Books, in which Wolfe reveals more of his thinking. He refers to a book that sparked his imagination: "Four Cultures of the West," by John W. O'Malley. As he explains it, O'Malley's book lays out four "languages" we speak as westerners. (I had to read the paragraph a few times to understand, so I'm paraphrasing for you here, but please do read the whole interview.):

  • The religious
  • The academic
  • The literary arts
  • The visual arts

Wolfe goes on:

The first two—the religious and academic cultures—are extremely powerful but they tend toward abstraction and ideology unless they are balanced by the second two—the literary and visual arts—which clothe ideas with concrete metaphors and lived experience.

Do you see what he's saying here? It is your work as an artist to put flesh and bone to the abstractions with which we struggle, day to day, thus making the struggle more human, more eye to eye than fist to fist.

The interviewer asks:

You’ve been a critic of the “culture wars.” Why?

To which Wolfe replies:

Because in the end they have become more about each side preaching to its own choir than a real political struggle over real issues. Cultural change occurs not because of the arguments we win but because the stories we tell are more compelling, more human than those told by others.

Could you tell a more compelling, more human story? Could you try with all your heart and soul?

If so, then what you do is too important to let a little rejection still your voice.

Make beauty. Give it as a gift.

*Moulin Rouge


Wendy Paine Miller said...

You ladies, I tell ya! Constantly blowing me away. I need to get this book!

During a long waiting jag (that actually still hasn't ended ;) I wrote my kids a children's book. I printed it and decorated the pages in a scrapbook. I have no intention to pursue publication with it, but it was something I could give to my kids. I pour so much time into writing, I wanted them to have something from me. This is what I thought of when I read this post.
~ Wendy

Footprints From the Bible by Cynthia Davis said...

I think I may have to get the book Beauty will Save the World. It sounds wonderful.
Like Wendy I wrote a children's book-more for my grandchildren at this point-last year when I was in a 'dry spell'. I enjoyed doing that almost as much as seeing a novel through to completion.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

N. T. Wright in "Simply Christian" writes very much the same thing, that Beauty is a fundamental requirement of humanity interwoven into our most mundane moments, if we but had eyes to see or light to read by.
One of the extraordinary thoughts I discovered in writing was that the enemy of beauty is not ugliness but DARKNESS. However, in the lengthening shadow of the extreme ugliness of the two 'world' wars our world has lost its sense of symmetry, balance, curve, and simplicity in complexity.
And then, in the darkness, through the Telescope or the Microscope God reveals the Beauty of His creation. Once more He is the cure and our task as writers is to continually present His perspective. He'll make sure someone - the person He intended all along - receives it. I love your thought of giving my writing as a gift. If He intends money to be the remuneration He'll supply in the necessary quantities.

Nicole said...

Well done, Katy.

Anonymous said...

You made me cheer.

After several "no thank you" letters for my novel, I'm working on it. Tightening it up. Deepening a character here and there. Pouring more love into it.

I'm also writing short stories on my blog. My friends are the primary readers. It's great to have readers. But it is also so nice to share a piece of myself with those closest to me. Well, and to whomever stumbles across my blog.

Megan Sayer said...

"Cultural change occurs not because of the arguments we win but because the stories we tell are more compelling, more human than those told by others."

That's a quote from the interview on the ITI page. So much in it. WOW!!!!! SO much to think about. Thanks so much for sharing this. I think I need to read this book too.

Kathleen Popa said...

We have the coolest readers here at Novel Matters. I'm glad so many of you are ordering the book. And Wendy and Cynthia, I love that you have already written books for your children or grand-kids. Not only will they treasure those books for years or generations to come, but you are pouring the best of yourself into their lives.

Henrietta, yes, I think you're right. The opposite of beauty is darkness. "The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." (Jn 1:5)

Susie, I'm thrilled you're working to make your novel better, and that you are continuing to write. Cheers to you!

Kathleen Popa said...

Thank you, Nicole!

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, yes, you must buy the book.

And guess what? IT CAME TODAY! Want to know what I've already underlined? Here's a bit:

"Why would anyone demand that art - a subtle medium, characterized by the indiriections of irony, ambiguity, and hidden meaning - preach the "truth" directly? Why categorize artists and writers as good or bad in terms of ideology, rather than of imaginative vision? The root of the problem, I believe, is a misunderstanding of, or aversion to, the nature of the imagination itself."

"Eliot, Picasso, and Stravinsky wanted to break out of a lifeless and complacent materialism. They wanted art to do more than descibe the surface of things or provide uplifting images of an ideal world. They wanted to shock, not merely to be sensational, but in the sense that the artist can help us to see the world anew, as if for the first time, with a shock of recognition."

Anonymous said...

Ooo..."shock of recognition". That is good stuff.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Beautiful, Katy. I love that part about how the literary and visual arts "clothe ideas with concrete metaphors and lived experience." That's exactly what you do in this post, btw. I love how you manage to be so erudite and yet also so real and warm and human.

Oh, and the quote you just made in the comments! I've always loved abstract art and think it's a pity Christian philosophers have tended to see it as a degeneration of the arts. Quite the contrary, as this quote expresses so beautifully.

"They wanted art to do more than describe the surface of things or provide uplifting images of an ideal world." - YES! And isn't that exactly what we want to do through our writing as well.

Megan Sayer said...

"Why categorize artists and writers as good or bad in terms of ideology, rather than of imaginative vision?"

Phwoar...that's a power-statement. I've said here before that I struggle with the concept of Christian fiction, and much of that struggle, I've come to realise recently, is rooted in an old sense of "obligation" to God. You know, I'm a Christian, and I'm really happy about that, so I'd better use what I'm good at to make a difference...give something back to God by writing books that...paint Him in a good light, so to speak.

BUT...and here's the rub...the thing God's been showing me over this last week is that He's made me ME, and the best thing I can do for Him, the thing that makes Him happy, is me being myself, not trying to fit into somebody's mold or expectation. I'm good at being honest, and I'm good at helping people get honest with themselves, and I'm not particularly evangelical in the do-you-know-Jesus-as-your-Lord-and-Saviour sense. And GOD LIKES ME!!! And so, when I write, I can write stories that are honest and help other people reach that core inside them and nobody might ever get saved in those stories or even think about going to church, and that's probably...(still letting go of some old ideas here) okay.
So I'm a Christian writing fiction, but not necessarily writing Christian fiction.
I hate writing that, because it makes me sound like some kind of backslider. Oh heck. But if I believe all that I've just said, then it's true. I will write stories TO God, and use my God-given imagination, and I will write stories FOR God. My stories.

"The root of the problem, I believe, is a misunderstanding of, or aversion to, the nature of the imagination itself."

Ah, now I've talked myself out and probably offended everybody, and if I have I'm sorry. This feels like a massive paradigm shift in the way I perceive my calling. Now off to Amazon to buy that book.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

Megan! I applaud you. See my hands moving toward each other and back out many times creating din that reaches all the way to Tasmania? (from Canada).
There is an artist hear, a song writer called Steve Bell. He has wrestled and come to the same conclusion. "I am a christian writing songs. If the songs reflect my world view...." I can't remember or find the rest of the quote but it's something like, " can I help it? Less would be a lack of integrity."
God is so much wilder than we can portray Him.

Anonymous said...

Megan, I love what you had to share. I too -- and I know it's true of all 6 of us on NM -- struggle with the "Christion fiction" concept. But you put it beautifully: "I am a Christian writing fiction." I'm going to write myself a note to the effect and put it where I can see it on a regular basis. "And God likes me." I need to remember that too. Like Katy said, you're all amazing.

Kathleen Popa said...

Karen, thank you for saying such nice things. Erudite? Really? Aw, shucks.

If you love abstract art, then you want to know about Makoto Fujimura. Crossways commissioned him to illuminate a commemorative edition of The Four Holy Gospels. The other authors on this blog bought it for me as a lavish, wonderful gift, and it is exquisite. Visit Makoto's website at

Megan, dear heart, your assignment today is to watch this video of Brennan Manning:

Yes, he likes you. No, you're not a backslider. You are right to trust his wisdom in making you. He hates it when we try to correct his work. He thinks it's arrogant.

Henrietta, you are so right.

Sharon, mwah!

Kathleen Popa said...

By the way, I posted more about this book on SheReads today: