Sunday, March 28, 2010

Meditating on Moses, 3

Today at church we had a time where people shared their fears. It was a very emotional time of sharing. People were sharing their deepest fears - their deepest pains.
I have had my share of fear and pain, but I am not in that place right now. But I was reminded of what God told Moses when He first called him: God had heard the Israelites crying out. Today I heard my church crying out, and I was convicted that my refusal to move forward with my calling is rebellion.
I know that my books will not solve people's problems. But I know that they will bring hope to some who need it. And to continue to withhold that because writing is so much work or because I listen to the voices of criticism or for any reason is to shirk my calling. So I'm going to keep writing and stop wringing my hands. God gave Moses a tongue to speak, and God has given me a brain and hands to write.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Activism and Writing

Art is subversive. That's why oppressive regimes censor free speech and artists of all kinds. I'm taking this as axiomatic, without going ahead and citing references.
But there is a line between art and activism. The real question is where that line exists. Has Michael Moore crossed that line - are his documentaries too closely associated with his clear activist goals? Hollywood actors often have clear political convictions they like to speak on. Bono, from the band U2, uses his fame to promote his own social justice agenda. I'm not criticizing any of these people. But as artists, I think we need to consider the line.
As a writer, I have something I want to say. I happen to want to say it using fiction, in a variety of ways. I find myself drifting towards extreme topics - dystopia, tragedy, personal dysfunction. But these are the situations where my message finds itself. But I flatter myself that I am keeping my personal activism out of my writing - the story is dominant and the message is defined by the story. My characters do things I wouldn't agree with. Not to mention, there are many areas where I am passionate, and I just can't cover them all in one story.
To quote Anne Lamott from Bird by Bird again, we should write about something. We don't want to write flabby stories where nothing happens, where there is no point. But we also need to be aware of the line between art and activism.
I just finished reading Little Women, and let me tell you, Louisa May Alcott had a point and she didn't hesitate to make it, over and over! Little Women is chock full of morals and life lessons, to the point of being didactic. Yet that doesn't take away from its literary value, because it was written within a certain historical context. We can't afford to be that didactic today. Yet I don't think we should compromise our message either.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Uncovering the story beneath

Last night I read the first half of a short story to my writer's group. In this story, there is a relationship that has been destroyed, but the reason for that destruction isn't revealed until the second half of the story. So my listeners had to theorize and make comments without knowing the whole plot. However, they made some very interesting comments about a deeper theme. What made their comments so interesting is that I know what I have already edited out, and much of that material ties into the deeper theme they observed. I now realize that they were able to help me see a deeper story beneath my story, and I do plan to explore that and reveal it.
This is fascinating to me because many writers talk about listening to their characters and allowing their characters to act. I don't really understand how that works yet (do any writers understand it?), but I believe that's what's happening with this story. My readers heard the subtext in that relationship, a subtext I was dimly aware of but edited out for space reasons (I was trying to shorten the story). The best part is that this subtext makes the story much more powerful and coherent.
Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird recommends writer's groups and I heartily second that. Not only has it been a huge boost to my confidence, but I'm discovering hidden treasures thanks to their insights!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Keeping My Focus

At church this week our pastor challenged us to consider the obstacles blocking our way and to deliberately choose faith and hope instead of the obstacles. It was a good wake-up call for me. I have spent a lot of time thinking up reasons why my writing will not be publishable. That's a waste of time for 2 reasons: It distracts me from the work of writing. And there are plenty of people, in the form of editors and agents, who will figure those reasons out for me.
So the sermon reminded me to keep my focus: what is my reason for writing? Why this book, why now? Why should my book be given a chance to live and breathe outside the confines of my computer and home? My book needs a champion: me. Anne Lamott beautifully calls it like it is: Don't listen to radio KFKD, she says (in Bird by Bird), and she's right. I'm turning the station off and focusing on the work.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Finding an Agent

I am now officially looking for an agent. I am working on a book, and for the last year and a half I have had a lot of excuses to avoid trying to publish it. But my pastor challenged us last week to plant a seed of faith, and this is mine: to look for an agent who might see what I see in my little book: a glimmer of hope in a broken world. This writing venture has transformed from a hobby to a scary dream with this latest new goal.
Fortunately, I have the cats to keep my grounded. As I write this post I have a 17 pound gray and white cat (Pipsqueak) laying on my arms purring.