Friday, September 9, 2011

Beauty in Exile

Sharon and Katy have set a graceful stage this week. And the discussion has been empowering. I’ve read every comment with interest and I’m impressed by the energy and verve behind each one. Clearly writing is an art of passion for each one of you.

Many of you know, I like to dig around behind ideas and the thoughts that generate them (I bet you do too), and so the Friday wrap up of the topics of sweet spots, literary writing, and beauty will focus on some thoughts about the kind of knowledge, understanding, and chutzpah a writer might need to dive headfirst into beauty.

Katy referred to the terrifying state of ‘noble exile’, and while this sounds romantic on paper, in reality it looks a great deal like loneliness. Like your work being passed over while another writer excels. It might look like you ranting in your underwear at a computer screen because you haven’t got an agent to rant at. But lets hope it doesn’t come to that. Before you pitch the fit of the underappreciated in your under-roos, consider the benefit of this exile: the time and freedom to find out who you truly are. A truism: Writer know thyself.

The literary writer is the one who understands just enough about his or her own nature to be leery. They don’t trust easy answers because they can’t find any inside themselves. And they’ve looked. Everywhere. Beautiful writers don’t spin gold; they dance with dross until the gold shakes out. Exile gives you the time and perspective to learn the steps.

Exile gives you time to discover your true inspirations. Everyone can get behind a sure winner, that bestseller that’s just been made into a movie, that book everyone is buying. But given enough time and honesty (see above), a writer can begin to develop his or her taste. Alone with your thoughts, you can examine books that inspire you to experience beauty and why. The goal? It’s not to emulate the writers you admire; rather it is to strive to be as fully impacting as they are.

One of the comments left on Katy’s post: “I’m among you wrestling this angel.” Exile teaches you how to throw a solid right hook. Through experience, it teaches you the power of the struggle. Of why you struggle and don’t give up. Or, it teaches you that this struggle isn’t for you—that you were made for other things. Because sooner or later, the writer who strives for beauty comes to understand that the struggle never ends. And somehow makes peace with it.

Noble exile means you take the time (we’re talking years here) to learn how to ask the right questions. The ones everyone else wishes they could ask aloud. It gives you courage to stand up and say, “Excuse me, is any one as afraid as I am?”

There is courage inside that questioning fear. The courage to giggle when people talk about “branding” themselves as an author. They tinker with a catch phrase while you, the exiled one, understand what branding truly is: having a clear vision of who you are and what you care about enough to write about.

Exile is difficult. Many throw on their sun hats and run back to sweet civilization. Those who remain watch the trails of dust kicked up on the road and envy the comfort that awaits that writer. But, if they stay in exile long enough, they begin to hear the rhythmic beat, the music of beauty. Until one day it sings: Be fearless in your writing, in your vision, and when you have done all else, stand. Don’t back down. Don’t listen to the voices that come against the deep knowing you have about your vision as an artist. No market for your writing? So what. Write anyway. And let your feet begin to dance.

What about you? How's your dancing coming? Or does it look more like a wrestling match? We'd love to hear from you.


Megan Sayer said...

Exile. That's a good word. I've never thought of it like that before, although it pretty much describes my last decade.
Mine is neither a dance nor a wrestling match, but a long, long walk. And, like the Israelites in the Desert I've learned that there will be an end, I've just got to keep walking. And keep trusting.
Yes. Loneliness is the word for it. It's not a lack of company, but a lack of company that truly understands what I'm talking about. Until I discovered this blog I'd never met any other Christian writers; so thanks. You all have no idea how much your input means to me.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, I walked through a Christian book store. I was looking for a book that was something like what I write. Nothing. This particular bookseller only stocked Christian romance because "that's the only thing that sells".

I was more than a little discouraged (I don't write romance).

Living in Grand Rapids, MI with Christian publishing companies coming out of our ears, I would have thought that publishing might be an easier, less painful process. Nope.

I've since found fiction that is similar to my own (ahem...Novel Matters ladies!). But it's not dominating the Christian Lit shelves (which they SHOULD). Seeing a lack of fiction like mine is lonely. The exile of not writing bonnet books.

So, I'm doing things my own way. I realized one day that if I wanted to write short stories on my blog...well, I could do that! And if I wanted to write a novel that may never sell...oh well! I'll write it anyway.

The more and more I embrace this exile, the more I learn that there are others like me. And they are lovely. And we are in community. Not exile.

We're in this together!

Dina Sleiman said...

This is timely for me. I spent three years on my first novel. A year and a half on my second. Now I'm getting to the point in my career where deadlines and pre-contracted books are a serious possibility, and I find myself wondering if I can write artistically on demand.

So I have a question for you ladies. How long did it take you to write your first novels? And how long do you spend on each novel now?

We had this discussion on our Hiswriters historical fiction group and we have writers there who churn out 3 and 4 books a year. Even though I can write fast enough to do that, I can't imagine the books would have the time to simmer and turn out the way they should.

Nicole said...

Lovely, Bonnie. And true.

Self-induced exile. Such as it is.

Latayne C Scott said...

Bonnie, beautiful post. I offer you this poem, in fellowship, dear sister.


This dark night is made tolerable
Only by you, and the distant light
That blinds us when we confront it,
So that we may only proceed
With eyes lowered.
The ship beneath us heaves us about;
We make no pretense of balance
And now we find we no longer protect ourselves
From the bruises from impact
Of timbers and flesh.
The journey stuns our spirits and senses.
The destination haunts us,
Eludes us sometimes like a painful memory.
But we are on a night-shrouded ship
Bound for Ninevah
Because we said we'd go
He asked;
And if I must weep,
I weep only
For those who must travel alone.

Tina Ann Forkner said...

This is SO encouraging. Thank you for this post! I spent two years writing a book simply because I LOVED writing it. I didn't do it for the market and I don't know if my readers will get to read it or what they will think, but writing it was the best experience ever. I want to do it again.

Bonnie Grove said...

Megan, it's all we could have hoped for when we started this blog is to be an encouragement to other writers. And we in turn are heartened for being part of this community. Thanks so much for the great company.

Susie: Reality is always a shock. We pick up an art, but we also need to walk into an industry that is not sitting around waiting for the next thing we write. It's a fluid thing that changes and then changes again. A writer can feel powerless in the face of such an industry, but we're not powerless--we're artists. :)

Sara Richardson said...

Thank you for this wonderful post! Exile is a good way to describe my writing journey so far, but I've recently learned to submit to it. It has been such a good time for me to develop my convictions, and to learn how to be true to those convictions even when it means rejections and no place to "fit in." I know I wasn't made to "fit in" anywhere in particular, but to pursue excellence in whatever I am called to write.

jennifer said...

When I first started writing with the purpose of a finished novel, I had been a injured ballet dancer that shut down her dance studio. I told myself that writing would be like choreography. Instead of dance steps it would be words,carefully and slowly placed one in front of the other. The difference is that there is no recital at the end of the year that showcases how I've spent my year. It is lonely and a little scary..but I will keep dancing. Thanks for the beautiful post, I get so much out of this blog.

Bonnie Grove said...

Dina: For me, it was just under a year writing Talking to the Dead--then another 6 months doing edits with my editor at Cook. I tried to write on the tread mill of a novel a year and I did produce two novels. One I am certain I will never allow to be published, and one that is having a very difficult time finding a home (publishers love it, but they know it will be very difficult to market). I'm just about finished my fourth novel which has taken me nearly two years to write. There are reasons for taking that long which have more to do with me grasping aspects of the craft that I needed to get a better handle on (I took a break from writing to study structure and plan the book).

I do know that our Latayne has produced a stunning number of books in a short(er) amount of time, each one more beautiful than the last. She will have to explain how she is able to do this, but I suspect it has to do with the 25+ years she has spent daily honing her skills and art as a writer.

Bonnie Grove said...

Nicole: Thanks!

Latayne: I love how you have a poem for nearly everything I write about on this blog. It lets me know that, while I'm still wading through fog, I'm on the right path. Mwah!

Tina: There's such encouragement to us all to hear about a writer who writes for love. This is a thing of beauty. The reward is that the world is a better place for you having written it! Thanks for sharing part of your journey with us.

Bonnie Grove said...

Sara: We stand and salute you! The pursuit of excellence is daunting, isn't it? It demands more from us than we can provide. The grace is that it also changes us into people who can rise to meet the challenge. Thank you for the encouragement!

Jennifer: I love the comparison. I'm a child of the theater, so I understand a bit of what you're experiencing. It's a truncated feeling when the book is ready and the stage remains bare. What is the purpose? But in art, there is no waste. Art is purpose enough. Wishing you strength for the dance.

Marcia said...

Bonnie, the funny thing about me is that I've enjoyed my years in exile a little too much. I've developed a protective hermit-like edge to my writing, showing it to no one, living in my dream world, pretending that “someday” if I work hard enough, my writing will evolve into publishable perfection.

Are there any other “lurkers” out there like me, who read this blog but don't want to comment for fear of being caught in print?

I'm so much of an introvert that although I loved all 33 years of being a mother, I rejoiced when the last child hopped from the nest. I got rid of the dog and cat and danced for joy that my hubby and I were truly alone at last.

But all of a sudden, it seems God is calling me out of exile.

Yes, I know, a few weeks ago I was begging, praying, pleading for some “writing allies” to appear out of nowhere. From reading this blog and others I'd finally realized that people rarely succeed in a vacuum. But how does an introvert reach out? Cautiously. Or not at all.

To shorten the story, I saw an ad in our tiny stickville paper that said, “Seeking to Form Writer's Group. Seeking writers of all levels, forms, and genres to gather once a week to read, critique, discuss each others' work. For more information, please contact_____.”

I drew a deep, frightened breath, gathered up my courage, and responded to the e-mail address. Turns out the gal starting the group dated my youngest son years ago, and the other person who responded owns the farm next to my parents' place, so I know him, too. We had our first meeting Wed., and I voiced the equivalent of “Excuse me, is anyone as afraid as I am?” Both assured me they were.

Must submit my first chapter to A. and J. by this evening, and they'll submit something to me. We'll discuss our work next Wed.

End of exile? YIKES!

Latayne C Scott said...

Perhaps it won't be too forward of me to respond to Bonnie's comment.

Of course my first 12 or so books were (with the exception of a children's book by Waterbrook) all non-fiction. For each of the books, I did research and then read all the way through the Bible checking myself for "true" and collecting more notes.

With each successive non-fiction book I began to use more fictional techniques.

My first novel (which was never finished) was meticulously plotted and had reams of notes.

My second novel was meticulously plotted and had more reams of notes. That was Latter-day Cipher. It got good reviews and sales.

My third novel was plotted in detail but no publisher wanted to take a risk on it. So it has lots of notes but not a single written line of text.

Then something threw a switch in my brain.

I began with an idea and made a rough outline and started writing. I have felt such freedom, like deep cool breaths. So I have written or nearly completed three novels in two years.

But Bonnie is right. These are the harvest of years and years of discipline that allow me to tread right at the limits and borders of things.

Sharon said...

Thank you Bonnie. Exile is a lonely place. It is a productive place. It's profoundly productive in self knowledge and self formation, as you say. I have found it, finally, (I'm slow) very productive in the knowledge of the one who called me and who wants to lead and shape my calling. Exile has been showing Him to me as well. I have been coming to him ad learning him. I can't yet express how this aspect will express itself in my craft. Anyway, despite loneliness, exile is an amazing time and place. Thank you again for these comments, Bonnie.glysort

Jack G Hardy said...

Thank you all for letting a "gent" listen in. It's easy to see why some (including a Catholic priest - also a successful author) believe God is a woman. Greeley is his name.

Kathleen Popa said...

Bonnie, this is beautiful, and wonderfully encouraging. I love this passage more every year: "My strength is made perfect in weakness."

Jack, we actually welcome the gents here. It's not meant to be a girls only thing, but like book clubs and even some Bible studies, it looks that way from time to time. But we instructed George Tekeme, the man who designed the look of our blog, to nix the pink and frills and girly stuff. So I hope you'll stop in frequently, get comfortable, and join in.

As to God being a woman (you sweet talker), I hope it's not that simple. I hope the Song of Solomon isn't only about a man and a woman.

Bonnie Grove said...

Marcia: Congratulations on stepping out and joining a writer's' group! I hope it goes very well for you all. I have yet to start/join a formal writer's group in my city. I need to give that some thought. I know Saskatoon is brimming with amazing writers.

Latayne: AND your books you are working on are every kind of amazing. I can hardly wait until you are able to share all of your current projects with us here on Novel Matters. :)

Sharon: I know for a fact that this time of exile has been painful, but the fruit of the novel you've just finished is proof enough of its value. You are exceptional in every way.

Jack, we're glad to have you here. We do have other men who read this blog regularly. They don't always comment, but they are out there! We welcome you with a laurel and a hardy handshake. As for God being a woman: Yes of course! And no. And both and neither. Such is the faith we embrace.

Katy: Mwah! You're wonderful.

Megan Sayer said...

For what it's worth, and just because I have to voice this:
I Did Not Like This Post. It touched too many nerves.
Writing blogs aren't meant to make you cry.

Bonnie Grove said...

Megan: Here's a hug sweet girl.

Anonymous said...

Dina, your comment hit close to home. "Now I'm getting to the point in my career where deadlines and pre-contracted books are a serious possibility, and I find myself wondering if I can write artistically on demand." I know just how you feel, because I wonder about that all the time. And just thinking about it makes me afraid.

I did much of my writing in my "lonely exile" doing just exactly what Bonnie described. I've yet to have to produce a full novel under a contract deadline. My goal is always to complete a novel in a year, but it still hasn't happened. It took 2 years to write Gift, about 15 months to write Lying on Sunday. About that long to write Unraveled, which I plan to release on my own this fall. The one I just completed took 2 long, hard years because of the nature of the book. But the one I'm planning to begin very soon will be much lighter, and I think easier to write. I hope to make it this time -- no more than a year to complete, and hopefully 9months.

Latayne has been on an amazing literary roll of late, and has produced some remarkable work. I can't wait for all of you to be able to read those novels.

I hope that helped answer your question, Dina. What it continues to remind me of is that we're not really alone in our exile. Not when we have companions who understand us completely, and who walk along side us, cheering us on. That's what my incredible NM mates provide for me, and all of you who comment on a regular basis, who have become friends, are right there with us too. I love this group of people!

Bonnie Grove said...

Oops: Seems I answered "Sharon's" comment thinking it was our own dear Sharon Souza commenting. But it is, in fact, another dear Sharon, one whose work I haven't read (yet), but I hope the encouragement can still be taken to heart.

Dina Sleiman said...

Yes, I feel like you ladies definitely answered my question, and also reminded me that as I learn more I am able to write better in early draft. Thanks.

Samantha Bennett said...

Gorgeous. Thank you!

Bonnie Grove said...

Dina and Samantha: You're both very welcome. :)

patti lacy said...

Bonnie, a soulmate writer shared this link, so be encouraged that exiles are transmitting from their outposts:)

History proves this nuance of the artist's life, but it helps to be reminded in such a poetic way.

Thank you!

Bonnie Grove said...

Patti: "Exiles transmitting from their outposts"--that's fantastic. Made me smile. Thank you for your encouraging comment. All of us take heart in knowing that, while we feel lonely, we are not really alone. There are many others hunkered at the outposts.