Thursday, May 27, 2010

Corrie Ten Boom and Stephen King on Writing

Over the Christmas holiday (late notice I know, but...) I read Corrie Ten Boom’s autobiography sequel to The Hiding Place entitled Tramp for the Lord. It was wonderful, but it went too quickly. The next day I started Stephen King’s On Writing autobiography. It was quite the juxtaposition, as you might imagine.

Certainly they have entirely different motives, and I won’t judge, make an endorsement, or even compare them. Yet from a writing standpoint, surprisingly some parallels emerged in how they used writing for their life’s work.

#1 – Words have power and can accomplish things bigger than ourselves.

Both individuals used writing as a vehicle to accomplish what they felt they were born to do. For King, that was merely to tell stories. He skewers writers for worrying too much about symbolism and meaning and stressed just telling a good story. For Ten Boom, she wrote simply because she realized it helped her spread the Gospel. And what a message that is for us. How many of us would know her testimony were it not for The Hiding Place?

#2 – Writing is not massage.

Stephen King – Writing is not a way for us to find ourselves or find therapy: "Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around."

King contends that writing is a grown-up’s profession. He scolds anyone who calls himself a writer but isn’t writing four hours a day (even if working full-time in a job other than writing! King wrote what sounds like every waking hour as a young writer and still puts in an eight-hour writing day now.). Also, he considers reading an inseparable part of a writer’s life: "If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."

While Corrie Ten Boom’s autobiography was not specifically about her writing, I was struck by her seemingly inhuman drive and tireless work the world over to spread the Gospel. And over and over she shared personal incidents that demonstrated her pursuit of divine direction from God. What does that have to do with writing? My take is that she approached writing (Library of Congress reflects 24 works she authored) the same way she approached anything else: a God-called task that required her all.

Lessons I’ve learned:

· Write intentionally. While I haven’t written the 4 hours a day King preaches, I do keep a running list of story ideas in my phone, and I’ve written more consistently this year than in past years. I have made it a conscious part of my thoughts to think during the day: “hmm, could that be a story?”

· Think of others. Writing is not just for me to do for kicks at end of day. I should do it because I genuinely have something to say to people.

· I don’t have to have all the answers up front. (King talks about simply starting with a scenario and letting the story tell itself.) If I wait till I have my entire novel plotted to start it, I’ll never get there. Time to just jump in and see where my writing takes me.

King Quotes to Ponder

  • While I’m not endorsing King or his work, some of these quotes are funny, some are argumentative, and some could challenge us as Apostolic writers:
  • "A tragedy is a tragedy, and at the bottom, all tragedies are stupid. Give me a choice and I'll take A Midsummer Night's Dream over Hamlet every time. Any fool with steady hands and a working set of lungs can build up a house of cards and then blow it down, but it takes a genius to make people laugh."
  • “Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule."
  • "The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them--words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they're brought out. But it's more than that, isn't it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you've said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That's the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a tellar but for want of an understanding ear."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Willing to Be a 2nd Rate Artist?

I recently finished For the Beauty of the Church, an anthology on the importance of artists and pastor revitalizing the arts within the Protestant movement. (If you just thought, “Now that sounds different” or “I’ve never heard of that before” then you need to buy the book. If if sounds boring, then skip down to the next post.) The book originated in a conference of pastors and artists in Austin, and includes many great insights, but this quote jumped for me:

"For the evangelical Christian community to develop a living artistic tradition, a mulching ground that generates deeper-going artistry which in turn will not be defensive but have staying power, will take a long time. It will probably take more than one generation of artists, art critics, art public, art patrons, art theorists, art publicists, working together in a communal perspective, to develop the normal body for supporting the numerous second-rated artists that are needed to get the few first-rate ones. . . ."

"Perhaps some Christian body, with resources and authority, can enlarge its long-term vision to give priority to such a ministry in the arts, giving support to a gifted artistic community with a united direction and a holy spirited vision of compassion for those caught in sin and by evil." ~ Calvin Seerveld, Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves

2 + 2 = Tolstoy?
You know all those historic names authors bandy about in the “peers paragraph”-- the generation of wannabes surrounding the first rate artists? Those names that we all kind of chortle over and say, “Why did people think they were good?” Except it takes a lot of Ben Johnsons to get Shakespeare. A lot of Turgenevs and Pushkins to get Tolstoy.

Are you prepared to be that artistic John the Baptist so that someone else can be greater, a more acclaimed and better remembered Pentecostal artist? Our Dante cannot happen until those second rate artists dedicate their lives to do their best in their vocation—even if it means we’re the discarded names in the “peers paragraph.”

The best part? God just asks us to use our talents for his glory—He doesn’t demand that we become first rate artists to enter His kingdom. Love Him so much you’re willing to be a second-rate artist.

Appendix A: Don't Quit Your Day Job

Lit Agent Julie Barer says:

"I know it's somewhat of an unpopular opinion, but I think it's unrealistic to expect that you can support yourself solely as a writer in this economy. Most of the writers I know teach, or have other day jobs to support themselves, so the best way to avoid eating ramen noodles is to not rely completely on your book advance to pay your bills. In the end, the better you make the book, the better the chances that you'll get a healthy advance, and the harder you work with your publisher to promote the book by publishing stories or nonfiction essays to raise your profile, by blogging and keeping your website active, by thinking outside of the box in terms of marketing and publicity, the better your book will do. But at the end of the day it's the quality of the work that matters the most."

Don't miss the comments underneath the interview!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Visions, Revisions & Curious George

Lest any of you Wordians fear I'm writing out of turn, Kent said I may post between Tuesday and Thursday when it's not my week. And I think those rights extend to other members as well...

Two items of note in our continued consideration of faith and writing:

Anna Blanch, a doctoral candidate at St. Andrews, informs us that Corpus Christi College at Oxford is hosting Visions and Revisions: Putting God in Literature, a conference on how the divine is represented by writers. Sounds interesting. Oxford, anyone? If you have a paper to propose, you'll have to hurry. The conference isn't until November 6th, but the deadline is May 31.

An article in First Things explores the role of art in desperate times through the lives of the creators of your favorite childhood books: Curious George! Did you know George escaped the Nazi regime? I didn't either.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Can it be? Has my 5th French month (try to say that 10 times fast) truly descended upon me that fast? This is my penultimate Word post from abroad. For now.

I was trying to think of some writerly thing to tie into living abroad when it hit me: postcards.

Just as landlines are pre-cell phones and snail mail is pre-email, I wonder if postcards could be considered pre-Twitter or Facebook status updates. Space is limited, so only the essential and/or spur of the moment thoughts are written: "Bonjour! I'm sitting here writing this to you in a cafe in the main plaza with a group of friends. The picture on the front is of the same plaza where I am now. I'm learning a lot of French, meeting a lot of people and having a lot of fun. I'll be back before you know it! Bisous!"

Think about it. That typical postcard message is a little bit of a longer response to Twitter's "What's happening?" prompt or Facebook's "What's on your mind?

Every true postcard should have:

1. a greeting or closing of some sort in the native language of the foreign country.

2. an explanation of the picture on the front.

3. a specific comment about your present activity, state or location.

4. a general comment about your trip.

Simple tips from a postcard-loving traveler.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Appendix A: An American in Athens

At the risk of appearing an utter egoist, I'm posting a link to a travelogue I wrote that was published by an online literary journal, The Literary Bohemian. "An American in Athens" just happens to involve an economic exchange and is in no way a commentary on the current crisis of the country in which it takes place. (My authorial intent speaking up here, in case you lit critics are tempted to take too many interpretive liberties in your close reading!)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Escape or Journey? A Post on Writer's Wanderlust

Hello fellow Wordsmiths,
How goes the writing? Echoing Lee Ann's question, what are you writing these days, or is it a secret? I've heard conflicting advice on whether our energies as writers are better spent discussing our work with other writers or putting our proverbial pens to paper. What do you think?

All this talk of writing conferences has me revisiting my notes from the two Nimrod conferences I've attended at the University of Tulsa. In 2008, the theme was "Making Tracks," and I thought it might be interesting to consider writing as means of travel. How do you think this is an accurate metaphor? Or where does it fall short? Do you write with a destination in mind or as an exploration of the territory?

And in answer to Lee Ann's question, I thought I'd share a bit of wandering I did for a creative writing prompt a while back, no further qualifiers:

Entering the office, she felt at once overcome by the generic gray surroundings and comforted by the knowledge that she had a place in the world, a place to do something worthwhile, even though it wasn't what she wanted to be doing.

She was stuck, five days a week, eight hours a day, at a computer, trying to block the stream of office gossip that flowed continuously around her. Intent on doing a good job, fingers flying over the keyboard, she was dreaming up another life, a life that included adventure and exploration in distant places.

She liked to imagine how far she could get from the office in those eight hours.

On foot, she figured twenty five miles. It might be a stretch, but she knew she could walk four miles an hour, but could she keep that pace for eight hours? She'd never tried. She could be back on the farm tonight, walking in the river bottom land as the sun set.

Or, if she took the car, she could be almost to the ranch in Texas, out in the hill country in time for supper. Would Grandma have made soup? She could taste the warmth of cream and onions, celery and potatoes, punctuated with black pepper as the air conditioner in the office kicked back on. The taste of the soup still in her memory, she shivered as frigid air poured down on her from the vent above her desk.

If she were to drive to the airport instead of making her commute to work, she would fly across the whole western US and be in California or Oregon. She would go back in time, and it would still be early there. Early enough to take a long walk and have tea before supper. Then they'd all go down to the beach and remove their shoes, even though it would be too cold to walk barefoot. She could feel the sand between her toes.

It was then she realized she had kicked of her Vaneli heels and was digging her toes into the gray carpet under her desk.

Where does your writer's wanderlust take you? What happens when you return? Are you able to appreciate your present surroundings more fully for having explored other places, real or your in imagination?

What would you write the folks the back home about what you have seen, heard, or experienced in your travels? All the room you have is on the back of a postcard. What would you write?

Image: Road in the Ozarks

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Appendix A: Lost Shakespeare? 10 Rules

* Lost Shakespeare Found? – Is this love's labor no longer lost? A scholar says a play written in the 18th-century is very likely based on a missing work by William Shakespeare.

* Apple Book Aps Super Popular

* Obama prefers "the better story" in Life of Pi.

* 10 Rules on Writing a Novel - from every author you've ever heard of.

* The Iowa Summer Writing Festival has June - July classes on nearly every topic at affordable prices.

* The Nebraska Summer Writers Conference has bigger names teaching, but the classes are pricier.

Go forth and write!