Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Wandering through a garden of verbal delights

I’ve been trying to write this essay for a couple of days and my thoughts have taken a wandering path around the reasons why I care about the craft of writing. Come along as I retrace that path. I promise we’ll reach our destination, and I’ll try to signal before I make any sharp turns.

I’ve been reminded recently of the importance of being genuine. It’s so easy to wear our “good Christian” masks and pretend that everything is OK, even when it’s not. I’m not suggesting we should inflict our every mood on the people around us, but we need to let the masks down a little, be a little vulnerable. We become brittle shells, trying to hold ourselves together on the outside, when the inside is rotten and weak. Sooner or later, that shell breaks and all the awful stuff inside comes pouring out. But if we let what’s inside show, we open the way for people to come along side us and help us bear the burden, and we can let God heal the hurts. I’ve seen too many examples recently of people who seemed to have it all together on the outside, but were suffering and didn’t ask for help. I love the line in U2’s song “All Because of You” – “I’m not broke but you can see the cracks, You can make me perfect again.” God sees the cracks in our facades, even when we insist we’re not broken, and there’s no shame in asking for his help to fix them.

So what does that have to do with the craft of writing? Hang on, I’m getting there. Last week Mark wrote on The Master’s Artist about suffering for our art. He can wax quite philosophical about such things and I get a bit lost following his train of thought, but one stop along the way held my attention: our art, our writing, arises from a view of God’s world as it truly is. What that tells me is that I need to tell the truth about God and about his world. Sometimes the truth is hard to look at, but God looks it right in the eye. And we can learn to see the world as he does, at least a little.

Can you see where I’m headed with this? How can I tell the truth about God, about his world, if I can’t tell the truth about myself? Maybe I don’t have to bare my entire soul in everything I write, but I’d better be coming from a place of honesty with God when I sit down at my computer and begin to type. The very act of writing these words, which I know to be true in my head, is convicting to my heart. But I know that God is good, if not safe, and he is the one I truly can trust with all my innermost hurts and joys and desires and dreams.

There’s another place along this path toward the writing craft and it has to do with learning to handle the tools of the trade. I’m talking about more than the words – I mean grammar and punctuation and spelling and word usage – all the ways the words go together to make sense. The mechanics of the craft come easier to some than to others, but it’s stuff that can be learned. We’re writers, not mathematicians so it’s a good thing it’s not rocket science.

But why does it matter that much? Just let the words flow, you say. Who cares about stodgy old grammar? That’s what editors are for! But I believe it goes back to being able to tell the truth about God’s world. We may have marvelous insight, we may have a wonderful gift for storytelling, but if we say it in such a clumsy way that our meaning is lost, then we haven’t really accomplished our goal. We haven’t told the truth.

Mary DeMuth challenged us to write about our passion for the craft. I’ll bet she didn’t know she was leading me down the garden path.

1 comment:

violet said...

Linda, for some odd reason, these lines of yours: "How can I tell the truth about God, about his world, if I can’t tell the truth about myself? " reminded me of Katrina. Along with everything else, tragedies of such magnitude also have the strength to tear easy answers out of our hands.

Which is why looking at the truth about myself, how I reconcile the presence of evil with the God I worship is all part of 'telling the truth about myself.' And this, in its many facets, is something one can address in fiction perhaps better than other genres. Thanks for getting me thinking!