21 July 2009

Words from the Wise

Query Status: First draft completed. I'll be sending it to the executioner this afternoon *cue death scene from Braveheart*

Research Status: I've gone through the entire Writer's Market listings of agents and publishers. I had no idea there were so many people out there who disliked fantasy!
My favorite find: agents who refuse to represent you unless you've been published before and publishers who refuse the publish you unless you have an agent. Anyone up for a game of Catch 22?

With that out of the way, I've been thinking for several weeks about doing a series on writing wisdom from various books that I have read throughout the years. I know I haven't read as many books on the craft of writing as I should, but those I have read stick with me and draw me back between their pages at least twice a year. One of those books is Madeleine L'Engle, Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life. It is a compilation of L'Engle's writings, lectures, and essays on writing and the writing life put together by Carol F. Chase. Not only is it chock full of brilliant insight into the craft of writing, but it's also a wonderful window into the life of one of literature's most beloved authors. Her book, A Wrinkle in Time, has been my favorite since I first read it when I was ten years old. It's the book that made me want to become a writer. I thought it only fitting to begin this new series with a look at the writing life through the eyes of Madeleine

"Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work...each work of art...comes to the artist and says, 'Here I am, enflesh me. Give birth to me.' And the artist either says, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord,' and willingly becomes the bearer of the work, or refuses..."

Many people think of writing as a hobby, as means to sorting out thoughts or living vicariously through daydreams. What most non writers (and many writers) fail to realize is that writing is a calling. When you can't NOT write, you know you have been called. I know there are many people who say they write for fun. I write because I must. I have no other choice. When the inkling of a story comes to me, I have two choices. I can jot it down and muse over it, ponder all the directions it's apt to go, mark a path and begin wandering down it, exploring the dark places of an undiscovered terrain. Or, I can shrug my shoulders, mumble something about being too busy, and trudge along on the well-lit path of the everyday.

The latter is safer. It might even make more sense. "But I am too busy! I have this other story I'm working on!" True. And I'm not saying we should stop working just to entertain every flighty thought that flutters through our minds. But I am saying that we should give proper attention to those ideas. They may be just daydreams, little flights of fancy that offer us a moment of respite to ponder a "what if?". Jot them down just the same. When your finished with your work in progress (or that wip is giving you fits and you would just as soon kill off all your characters than work out all their dramas), give this new idea a try. See how far you can run with it. Delight in the new discoveries you'll make as you uncover the meat of the story, the complex personalities of it's characters, the exotic destinations in which they live.

"What if I'm not busy?" "What if I'm not working in the next great American novel?" Even better, "what if I've never even thought about writing a book and I just stumbled onto your blog out because my finger slipped on the keyboard and brought me here by cosmic chance?" Then by all means, see where that story is going to take you! You never know where a new idea will lead. Like I said, it's a dark road to trudge down before all the details come to light. But in the darkness lies discovery. In the darkness lies mystery. Yes, it's frightening, this going into the unknown. And it's hard. Very hard. You have to look in holes, lift up stones, peak into to caverns and over steep cliffs. Sometimes you have to dive into black lagoons and swim to the slimy bottom before you unearth any treasure. Like any good treasure hunt, however, the prize is well worth the effort.

What is the prize, you ask? Why, the discovery of a new tale, a new world. At our finger tips lies the vast eternity of the blank page. The story comes to us. Only we can write it. Sounds ominous, I know, but it's true. If you shrug the call, if you refuse to give even just the tiniest bit of curiosity to the idea, the story is lost. It shrinks back down that dark path and hides. It waits for you. Only you. Why not give obedience a try? The worst that can happen is you have a great story to tell once you're through!

Happy Tuesday,


Stephanie Faris said...

Someone once said "We write because we can't NOT write." I know, double negative, but that says it best. The words just come out of us, whether we want them to or not...and the ultimate dream is to be able to share those words with others.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Really? A lot of agents don't like fantasy? I had no idea.

My friend is having a problem with agents at the moment. She just found out a lot don't like Regency historicals.

Sheesh. What DO they like? LOL!

Jody Hedlund said...

How exciting to be ready to query! I found the agent pile slim when I started querying too.

I've never thought of obedience as a term related to writing. I definitely have to agree that it's an "out" word in our modern culture, but one that my hubby and I definitely are using in training our children.

I think if we know we are called by God to write, if he's given us the gift and talent to write, then it would only make sense that we must be obedient and use that gift.

Thanks for an insightful and thought-provoking post! I'll look forward to more of the sharing from your writing books!

JStantonChandler said...

Stephanie: I've heard that quote as well. I fall into that category of people. I can't NOT write! I've tried and failed, miserably!

Jennifer: The majority of the entries I found stated they were not interested in Fantasy. Second runner up? Not interested in Romance. Boo-hiss...

Jody: You're so right! When we know we've been called to write, do we really have a choice? To answer the call is to be obedient and we will be blessed because of it :)

Sara J. Henry said...

I'd go about it a slightly different way - take books you love in the same genre and search for their agents. Sometimes the agent's name will pop up if you type in the author's name in Agent Query; sometimes you can find it just by googling the author's name and the word "agent."

And I remembered the name of one agent because a writer I admired thanked him profusely in his Acknowledgments - and that's who I ended up signing with.

If you query the right agents with a dynamite query - you don't need many.

JStantonChandler said...


Thank you for that bit of wisdom. I have not thought of going about that route. Looks like I have another project planned for next week!

It's good to hear positive things about the query process.

DG at Diary of a Mad Bathroom said...

That was an inspiring post. I don't really write for publication, but should I ever consider it, I will keep all of this information and inspiration close at hand. There is so much to be learned here.

Ratty said...

A few well known fantasy authors I have read say that a lot of agents and publishers consider fantasy low class. They are also understandably upset about it. I can understand why. Fantasy is my favorite type of story, and isn't all fiction fantasy anyway? A Wrinkle in Time has also been one of my favorite stories. I haven't read it in a long time. I should go back and read it again.

JStantonChandler said...

DG: Madeleine L'Engle has several books just full of writing (and life) wisdom. I am humbled every time I read something by her. I'm so glad you found this post inspiring

Ratty: I've heard that as well. It's rather odd, considering, as you said, all fiction is, in a way, fantasy. It's fine. I can only write that which I am supposed to write. What is it they tell Jo in Little Women? "Write what you know". Fantasy is how I interperet life. Therefore, that's what I write.

Definitely read A Wrinkle in Time again. I get something out of it every time I read it!