All Writers Are Accountable To Three Things

If I had to point to one piece of advice upon which my writing philosophy is built, it would be the fervent words children’s author Jane Yolen uttered at Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing. She spoke about the importance of addressing faith questions in books for kids: What happens after we die? Is God real? The primary book-buyers for children’s authors are public schools and public libraries, which don’t usually shelve faith stories. Yolen told us to write them anyway. A member of the audience challenged her: Shouldn’t writers be accountable to the book buyers? Yolen got angry. “All writers are accountable to three things, in this order: First, we’re accountable to the story. Second, we’re accountable to ourselves. Only lastly are we accountable to our audience.”

It’s so easy to jumble these priorities! We place the audience first, compromising our needs and curiosity and joy. We confuse and conflate publishers with readers. We rarely consider ourselves worthy of creative investment, or we fear we’re egotistical if we do. Worse yet, we don’t appreciate the story itself as an entity worthy of devotion. The story: a memory, an imaginative ramble, a question pursued with characters and moments in time. “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” writes Muriel Rukeyser. Stories are of us and beyond us. By writing stories we make our world. Stories are a source of life. They have their own energy, their own will. A first draft gives the writer and reader a vague glimpse of this source. Only time and attention—love, that is—lend that life force a body. In the beginning is a story—a mystery—and the writer loves it into being.

 

from “Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice” by @Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew @Skinner House

The Gift of Great Literature – by Sarah Arthur

Many of us, when charting the timeline of our lives, can point to a moment when a story or poem happened. It happened the way an accident or a record-breaking snowfall happened: it was perhaps expected, perhaps not. One moment we were performing the usual routine—pouring cereal, say, or opening the mail—and the next moment we sat motionless with a book in our hands, eyes unfocused, a wave of words washing over us as relentlessly as a newsreel. When we look back and narrate our life, we will remember precisely where we were sitting, what we were wearing, the way the eaves dripped in the fog. Ever after, when we hear dripping eaves, we will remember. The story, the poem, will come back to us like the voice of long-dead grandfather, sharply, as if there has been no time or distance in between. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, or why. What matters is that it changed us.

That is the gift of great literature, a gift that comes to us even at Christmas when so much good art is effortlessly shoved aside in favor of the flashy, the cheap, the temporal. Finding the timeless literature of novelists and poets such as Christiana Rossetti, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Kathleen Norris, Oscar Hijuelos, and Li-Young Lee—people of faith whose works you may never see in a “Christian” bookstore—is like lighting one candle after another. Flame upon flame, light upon light, until the hallowed sanctuary of our quiet devotion becomes something of a shrine.

Winter in the Northern Hemisphere is particularly suited for such encounters and likewise suited to prayer and reflection. We find ourselves more and more indoors, ever in shadow, our bodies slowing to the rhythm of the sleeping woodlands. Silence is not hard to find. And yet crashing into the midwinter quiet comes the most frantic event of the cultural year. Perhaps it is our fear of stillness, of quiet, that drives us to anything but the “silent night” of Christmas: we do not want to know what we might discover in reflection. More likely, it is a consumer economy that thrives on a relentless pace: slow and contemplative people are not shopping people; silence does not sell.

So, the one time of year that we are given to pause and seek the One who seeks us becomes the one time of year that drives us nearly to self-extinction. And, it is this season, of any, when we are least likely to pick up a book and read. Who has time for that? But it is a Word that has come to us, and words that tell the story of that Word from generation to generation. We risk, in our time, losing the words that truly have meaning, the stories and works of substance. What has been said before is said again, in ever more sentimental or sensational fashion—and set to pop music besides, which over time makes us immune.

As I write early on this December morning, snow lies deep in my garden. Night retreats westward; stars slowly start to fade. Two small boys sleep across the hall, resting in the grace-filled inertia of the very young. Many, many things must be done today, not only to sustain a household but also to navigate the cultural expectations surrounding the coming holidays. But I will choose—if you do—to sit. I will choose to breathe in the words of others. Here in the dark, I will seek points of light that cannot be extinguished, no matter how frenetic the world.

Excerpted and adapted from Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany (Paraclete Press, 2014), by Sarah Arthur.

The Sharing of the Crowd

Harnessing the sharing of the crowd will often take you further than you think, and it is almost always the best place to start. We have barely begun to explore what kinds of amazing things a crowd can do. There must be two million different ways to crowdfund an idea, or to crowdorganize it, or to crowdmake it. There must be a million more new ways to share unexpected things in unexpected ways.

In the next three decades the greatest wealth – and more interesting cultural innovations – lie in this direction. The largest, fastest growing, most profitable companies in 2050 will be companies that will have figured out how to harness aspects of sharing that are invisible and un appreciated today. Anything that can be shared – thoughts, emotions, money, health, time – will be shared in the right conditions, with the right benefits. Anything that can be shared can be shared better, faster, easier, longer, and in a million more ways than we currently realize. At the point in our history, sharing something that has not been shared before, or in a new way, is the surest way to increase its value.

– from “The Inevitable” By Kevin Kelly

Taking One’s Time

One of my writing heroes is James Taylor, though our arts are different. He can carry a tune, for one thing.

“Sometimes a song will be finished for a deadline in the studio the day the thing is cast in stone forever,” he once said, talking about the art of crafting pop songs. “I know that songs and arrangements evolve and develop over time,” he went on, “that somewhere around the twentieth time it’s played for a live audience, a song finally completes itself.”

His art and the art I make are different, no doubt. If I learned nothing else from this fellow traveler with whom I have journeyed down different roads all my life, I learned this: if it takes twenty passes for a lyric of a few dozen words to grow into itself, then taking one’s time with twenty or thirty or forty thousand of them is probably not a waste of time.

– Robert Benson “Dancing on the Head of a Pen”

When we are angry

When we are angry about the things that make God angry, that is a righteous, not a self-centered, anger. Moses was angry about all of the right things: slavery, injustice, abuse of power, mistreatment of women, and his own people’s disobedience toward God. Once we are awakened to injustices, it’s time to put this righteous anger to good use.

 

The question the faithful servant of God must face is: What do we do with the anger that so deeply plagues us? For years I have been wrestling with God about the right actions to take in the face of so much injustice. Do I write? Do I protest? Do I leave or stick with a ministry, relationship, or community? Do I withhold funds? Do I speak up? Do I lobby or advocate? Do I vote or educate? Do I use social media? Do I lead or submit to local grassroots efforts?

 

Our responses to injustice and anger may vary from day to day, but one thing is for sure: we don’t have the option of doing nothing. The first righteous step is repenting for our part in injustice, and then we work toward righteous action. At a conference I once had the privilege of sitting at the feet of civil rights activist Rev. Dr. C. T. Vivian. When discussing action and advocacy he said, “It is in the action we find out who we are.” If we don’t take action in the face of injustice, we prove ourselves to be cowards. We must act!

 

*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Our Love of Writing

Readerless writing changes us. When writers—and I refer to everyone who writes as a writer, regardless of whether they publish their work—describe writing as therapeutic or spiritual, usually they’ve experienced the transformative power of journaling or drafting. They find there delight and insight. They like who they’ve become for having written. Writing is essential to writers’ well-being; it helps us be conscious and attentive. It makes us feel alive.

This is important! Too many writers, as we revise and publish, forget to tend these simple joys. We forget that our love of writing makes it worthwhile. Publication, recognition, and accomplishment are all icing on the cake. If we neglect this love, we lose it, along with the grace that love lends our prose. 

 

from “Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice” by @Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew @Skinner House

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