Writers’ Wednesday

Madeleine L’Engle on Writing

One of my long-time favorite authors–going back four decades now!–and writing mentor (via her written words) always has such sage advice for writers. In fact an article titled “Words of Wisdom” in the June 2002 edition of The Writer was information collected and reprinted from the book I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog–Madeleine L’Engle: Herself–Reflections on a Writing Life (published the previous year). Here is a small excerpt of her advice to writers taken from that article. I think it is timeless and spot on. Not that I always follow it, but it’s great to aim for!

Three Recommendations

Read at least an hour a day. I try to read something I feel I ought to read for most of the time and then for a little bit of the time I read something just for sheer fun. [I do just the opposite these days, although for a long time it was the reverse.] Fun reading is important, and I think we underestimate reading for fun…

Part of your technique of writing is built by writing, and with this you should also have fun. I do think that keeping an honest, unpublishable journal is helpful. Include what you are thinking, what you are feeling, what you are responding to. Include what you are angry about that you heard on the news. Don’t talk about the news in terms of politics but in terms of your own life. What does this mean to you?

Write every day.

 

 

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Into the Darkest Hour

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss—
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight—
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

Madeleine L’Engle

Of Madeleine and Me

Happy Birthday, Madeleine L’Engle!

What a treasure it has been to grow up with her in my life. From my first experience with her—first reading A Wrinkle in Time as a youngster—to enjoying the Austins’ and O’Keefes’ lives with them—then moving on to an assortment of her adult novels (A Severed Wasp is my favorite) and the Crosswicks journals. One thing Ms. L’Engle never did was sanitize life. She presented as it is: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the excruciatingly beautiful. She also expanded my mind in ways it most definitely needed expanding, often through multiple rereads (having an addiction for reliving my favorite authors’ books).

One of my favorite of her quotes is:

“We are homesick not so much for something that was, and was lost, as for something that will be, and is to be found.”

Her words on writing are of enormous encouragement to someone who has always wanted to be a writer–starting in childhood through journal writing (which has never completely stopped, but there have been seasons of life which seemed to painful to write down) and the rare short story, the occasional poem that continued through adulthood, then a short article and book review in a small circulation magazine in my 20s. My 30s were when I had our son and was totally across the country so most of my writing was in email, although around 40 I began to wonder if maybe I could write for publication at some point, but probably not until The Teen was grown and we had finished home education.

But several years ago I realized I didn’t have to wait until an empty nester–Madeleine didn’t–and began reading writers on writing and occasionally starting a short story or collecting ideas for possible writing projects, usually non-fiction. Then I began my blog, which has been more off than on due to my health issues and family priorities and eventually, once my health got really bad, I started binge watching TV or movies because reading was too hard and writing was inconceivable. As my next birthday will be the 50th, I want to make the most of whatever’s in me, so that I can be a conduit of grace to others as she and Elizabeth Goudge, Jan Karon, Judy Christie, Patricia Sprinkle, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Agatha Christie have been to me. It most likely won’t be via fiction writing but whatever I’m supposed to do I’m committing here, on the vigil of the first Sunday of Advent–and our very last day of this liturgical year–to a new outlook.

Recently, the most affirming words I’ve read in a long time came from her journal on her 40th birthday, at a time when she was experiencing piercing pain from publisher after publisher with their rejection letters and she had fallen into such great despondency that she decided she was meant to renounce her writing. But after a day of tears and a typewriter ensconced in a shroud, she finally came to a place where she realized something profound about herself.

I have to write. That’s the gift I’ve been given. And even if I am never, ever published again it is still what I have to do…I’m glad I made that decision about myself as writer in the moment of utter darkness in the pits, because it’s very real…It was a very real decision. And it is a decision we all have to make.

Madeleine L’Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life, compiled by Carole F. Chase, from the chapter “The Discovery of the Vocation.”

In the response to the question, “What book changed your life?” writer Annie Dillard says:

“A Wrinkle in Time” saved me because it so captured the grief and sense of isolation I felt as a child. I was 8 years old when it came out, in third grade, and I believed in it–in the plot, the people and the emotional truth of their experience. This place was never a good match for me, but the book greatly diminished my sense of isolation as great books have done ever since. I must have read it a dozen times.

From: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/25/books/review/anne-lamott-by-the-book.html?ref=books&_r=0

For those interested in learning more, the best website is
http://www.madeleinelengle.com/
where you can find Twitter and Facebook feeds, and a blog with unique and informative posts.

By the way, the day I found a hardcover copy of Wrinkle signed “Tesser well!” by the author was one of the most eerily joyful days of my life, as if I had connected with a writer whose books had helped me and whose words on writing always inspire me to just do it…or as Yoda would say, “Do or do not. There is no try.” And so now I’m doing just that. Thank you, Madeleine, for your honest revelations about the writing life but also thank you for writing, your contributions to your family, community, and the world at large. I look forward to meeting you one day when time has wrinkled for me and I’m no longer bound by chronos time but exist in complete kairos time.

P.S. I find it interesting that today is also C.S. Lewis’ birthday as well, another favorite author…”Coincidence? I think not!”

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