Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dancing in the Minefields


"we went dancing in the minefields//we went sailing through the storms//it was harder than it seemed//but i do believe that's what//the promise is for.."
-Andrew Peterson "Dancing in the Minefields"

We take great pride in saying how much we love writing and how we are called to be writers and many things of that nature. Sometimes I wonder if we understand what we have just said. As with many things in our current culture, our understanding of "love" has fallen prey to what C.S. Lewis aptly described as "chronological snobbery":
Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my "chronological snobbery," the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also "a period," and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.
In current terms, to "love" something means that you have a certain fondness for it that--momentarily--absorbs you. If you really "love" something (or someone), you have that fondness for it to the exclusion of many other pastimes and/or people. You might think that, by this definition, you do love writing. As do I. But here's the thing: our chronological snobbery has totally eradicated the true meaning of love. The popular definition excludes the roots of the thing: it makes void all the rich impulses of honor, dedication, fidelity, service, choice. Shakespeare mused: "Is love a fancy or a feeling?" --neither, I'm bound to say. Of course one cannot justly compare the love of a pastime (like writing) to the love of people, but I am permitted to take poetic license and point out the shadowy similarities. 

Inspiration is like romance: it comes and it goes and you can't keep it past its departure date. At some point in a marriage, the warm-fuzzies will fade (at least for a time) and if your love was built off of romance (as too many are) you will find yourself quite out of love. If your concept of being out-of-love includes booting the thing that fell out of love with you, then you'll find yourself with a divorce on your hands. We see this everywhere. In the same way, you begin to write a new novel with great excitement. The plot and characters were made for each other. You just know this time it will work out. You write multitudinous blog posts on how awesome it is to be a writer, you interview your characters, and the whole darn time you're waltzing along without an idea of the commitment involved. See, like romance, inspiration will fade. By the fifty-thousand word mark you will probably be quite disenchanted and ready to "divorce" this novel.

Now we come to the cross-roads of those who truly love writing, and those who are content with being dilettantes

"He scribbles some in prose and verse,
And now and then he prints it.."

Proper love for something requires a choice to be faithful to that person (thing) even when the romance (inspiration) fades or temporarily disappears altogether. It is a choice, not an overwhelming, mystic thing. It is the husband who doesn't care that his wife is out of humor and refusing to speak to him and leaving the dishes undone. It is the writer who feels like doing anything but getting up at six in the morning and writing her one-thousand-word quota and yet hauls herself out of bed and does it anyway. It's a commitment--a promise--and we have to realize the cost.

Are we willing to "love" writing, knowing what it takes?

This is the main difference between published authors and unpublished. Between "writers" who begin a dozen stories and finish none, and the writers who keep at it and mound up full-length stories in their Microsoft Word files. This would be my number one piece of advice to a budding, beginning writer: you won't always feel inspired, and you won't always love your book. But if you truly love writing you will write blindly, knowing that even if you won't, you must. You must because you've promised, and it's time to take a dance through that minefield.


5 comments:

Julia said...

Really good! :)

Anne-girl said...

Just...just this! You know those pictures of the queen pointing up that sat 'This"? Well we need one of those here in the comments section.

Bree Holloway said...

Excellent point, Rachel! I know some girls who will off-handedly say "Oh yeah, I'm obsessed with writing". And I wonder - "really?" Because those of us that are "obsessed" are also pretty through with it because it's draining. I think the only reason I keep coming back to the blank pages with the desire to fill them is because 1. God's given me a story, and He's pressing me to get it down, and 2. I feel lonely when I don't write. When I am writing/working on a book, I've got a little companion, a little escape. It's a teeth-pulling one, but escapes are escapes. ;) Also, 3. I'm not accustomed to this "giving up". Seems rather weak to me. ;D

Elizabeth Rose said...

Such an excellent post, Rachel. I happen to be partial to Andrew Peterson in general and "Dancing in the Minefields" in particular, so this post really resonated with me. What sort of a writer is the person who abandons ship at the first sight of a storm? Let us take up our pens and "run with endurance the race that is set before us." It is only in this manner that we can truly prosper as authors.

Kaitlin said...

This was very well written, Rachel! I love how you compared writing with marriage and true love. I've never been a person to finish what I've started. To fix that, I've been working on finishing all the projects I've started...clearing up old messes, you might say. While I've never been much of a writer, I am a storyteller. Nothing brings me the same kind of thrill as watching upturned faces mesmerized as you recount a tale of tragedy, smiling when kind deed is recounted, tearing up when a harm is given or laughing at comedic phrases and expressions. The main difference, I believe in writing vs. storytelling, would be the ability to think "off the cuff" and to alter a story to fit your audience in the moment.

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there. Back to the point. I have 2 books/stories I'm writing, and you have inspired me to keep on when it gets tough or when I get "stuck". Thanks, Dear!
-K