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Entries in Writing (22)


Having a book published is not the be all and end all

This morning I read a really great article called "No, You Probably Don't Have a Book in You." For someone who blogs, this was a great thing to read. The author seems to imply fiction, but it applies for theological writing. Those who write about theology (like bloggers) have a point they want to make.

I write every day. I have been writing every day since I was a kid. I purposely took an Arts degree because I knew it would involve writing. One of the reasons I went to seminary was to write and have it evaluated by people who are smarter and better writers than I. But I do not have a book in me. Although some of the young moms I have taught the Bible to over the years have asked me when I'm going to write a book, I suspect I don't have one in me. At least, it's not uppermost in my mind anymore. I don't know enough to write a book. And I'm not going to take the spiritual struggles of myself or my family and expose them to the world for the sake of trying to have a book published.

Some people write short things that are great reading. That doesn't necessarily translate into a good book. A good book is not a compilation of blog posts. I believe there is an art to writing a good, short article just as I think there are writers who can write great short stories, but not a complete novel. Some writers can produce prose and poetry, but some can't do both. Writing is an art, and it is an individual thing. It is okay to write without having grand designs to produce a book.

Recently, I read the biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I was impressed with the excellent research of the author, Caroline Fraser. In the course of the book, it was apparent that Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, communicated often through letters. Both also wrote regularly in personal journals. It is not common for there to be such volumes of written records by women. That kind of material is valuable. Written records, even if they aren't books, tell a story, too. That is incentive for the writer in you to keep on doing it. Your family may thank you some day.

I don't often save the papers I have written for school. They're all on my Mac, anyway, so I don't need the paper copy. I do have three which I have saved, one from my undergraduate days, and two since starting seminary. I keep them because I worked hard on them, and was pleased with how they turned out. The most recent one was a paper about abortion I wrote for my Moral Theology class. The prof made a suggestion about how I could have improved on it. Being given helpful critique from someone I respect means a great deal. I probably will never write a book, but I have those papers, and they mean something to me.

I write because I can't not write. And if no one but the prof reads it, I am okay with that. I have so much to learn. There is nothing wrong with wanting to write a book, but I write because it's what I do. For the foreseeable future, I better have some good papers in me, because there are more on the horizon. In the process of preparing them, I trust God will teach me many things, both theological and personal.


Experience is not theology

I have been reading the book Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilderby Caroline Fraser. It is a fascinating read. I see many similarities between her and L.M. Montgomery, who also struggled with financial hardship, although not to the extent that Wilder did. Both women wrote fiction based on their own lives which left readers assuming that the work was strictly autobiographical. And of course it was not.

Wilder's books, though based on her own childhood, were works of fiction:

Wilder was not a historian. Instead, her novels would be created from a complex tangle of subjective sources: family lore and letters, old hymnals and songbooks, treasured artifacts of her youth, and her own recollections. Her depictions of the West were drawn less from newspapers and encyclopedias than from her inner life. It was a work of pure folks art.

Wilder's daughter, Rose, a writer herself, had different ideas. She had no qualms about not only presenting fiction as fact, but taking her mother's true experiences and embellishing them to make a good story for herself. The relationship between the two is very complicated, and at times, rather ugly.

How much of a writer's experience is part of what they write? Even when it comes to works of theology, how much of our own experience runs through our writing? How much of it determines how we approach the subject and the very words we choose? What role do our presuppositions play in how we process and analyze the material we do research? 

I am a firm believer in authorial intent. But at the same time, I am aware that there can be a tension between the writer and work even the author may not fully recognize. How accurate are our memories? How biased are our experiences? Research is really important, and Caroline Fraser's excellent research has revealed that Wilder was often incorrect about her memories. This is why we need to remember that it is fiction. 

And when it comes to writing theology, research is even more crucial, because research -- especially research from an opposing view -- will challenge us to look beyond our personal experience and presuppositions. We may most certainly inject personal experience in our writing, but we also remember that our experience, while revealing our theology, is not theology itself.


Women, tell your stories

My brother did one of those DNA tests to learn more about his genetic background. His results are kept in a database, and those who have done the test can contact one another if there is a possibility that they are related. Someone contacted my brother saying that she is related to him. Over the past few weeks, my brother and I have become acquainted with a woman who was adopted and is doing research into her biological father's family. Her biological father was my maternal grandmother's brother. She is a cousin to my mother and to us. And as we have been introduced to this woman, and joined her research group on Facebook, we are learning more about our background. It has been really great seeing the extent of our family's roots.

My great-grandmother, Agnes has always been someone I've been curious about. My mother always talked very fondly about her as did my great-aunt. My grandmother rarely said a thing about her, and I found that curious. The woman had 11 children, and many of them had secrets that were not revealed (at least to my mother's generation) until well after they were dead. My grandmother was a very bitter, unhappy woman. I've wondered what brought this woman to that place considering her own mother seemed to have been so beloved. That she was well-loved was confirmed to me by a man who is her great-nephew. His words to me were that she was "a saint."

We have also learned more about the Indigenous roots of my mother's family. I thought it was only Agnes who was Indigenous but there are connections on her husband's side of the family. It is much more than what I ever knew growing up. I suspect it was hidden because of shame, especially on my grandmother's part. And that shame was embraced to some extent by my mother, who doesn't seem nearly as interested in all this as my brother and his kids or me and my mine.

There is a group on Facebook for those of us interested in hearing about the various branches of the family, and through that group, I have connected with a woman who remembers Agnes; her grandmother was Agnes's sister, Mary. She is willing to talke to me either in person or on the phone (we live only about 3 hours away from one another) about Agnes whom she remembers very well. And they say Facebook doesn't have a good use!

If you are at all interested in the history of women, start with your own family. Famous women are interesting, but within our own families, there are likely a myriad of connections and stories that are just as fascinating. Those stories are what tell us what life was like for them. Birthdates, census records, grave markers, and employment records do not tell the story of ordinary life. And for the most part, there is nothing left behind by the women because they simply did not have the time to record stories, even assuming they were literate enough to write. Those of us who like to write need to get busy. And the ones who have the stories but don't want to write, they can always dictate those stories to someone who does. Published history is full of stories about everyone else but ordinary women, especially if they were a minority or were marginalized somehow. Those ordinary stories are worth hearing.

And as for women my age and younger: write what you remember about your family. Keep records of what your life is like now. Ordinary life is important. It is after all, the majority of life. And you never know who may be interested in those stories.


Writing kinda sucks these days

I love writing. I have loved it since I got my first diary as a girl. I write every day.

I have loved blogging these past almost thirteen years. There are times when it was fun and encouraging, and there were times when it has not been. But I always persisted.

These days, I find blogging a discouragement for many reasons which are not worth getting into. Anyone who has blogged enough knows that it has changed. It has become almost professionalized. The ordinary voices are quiet these days, and especially when it comes to women bloggers, there is a very small group people want to read, so I wonder why I am bothering. 

Yesterday, as my husband and I drove home from a lovely dinner with my daughter and her fiancé, he told me that at my age and with my experience, I am in a position to give counsel to other women. I am not so sure. Certainly, in my local church, there is a place for me to serve, but as for blogging, I just don't know. I am probably both too old and not old enough.

I had an idea for a post last week, and it was my intention since the weather was oppressive in the afternoon and discouraged being outside, that I would work on it. My eforts lasted about twenty minutes, and I ended up watching Foyle's War that afternoon instead. I just didn't feel like writing was worth the effort. That is a new feeling for me.

The summer is at its height now. The warm afternoons encourage quiet pursuits. Hopefully, if I can't write for my blog, I will fill my journal with other matters, and I will get through that "to read" pile. I'm counting the days until school starts again and I can focus on writing for my Greek Exegesis and Synoptic Gospels class. And likely, I'll finish watching all of the seasons of Foyle's War.


If you love writing, read fiction

I am being blown away by words; by fiction.

I started readiing Richard Wagamese's Indian Horse. There is a movie version of it, apparently. The executive producer is Clint Eastwood, someone whose movies I generally like. I don't know if I'll see it. But these words are beautiful. Wagamese wrote beautiful, poignant, prose.

In the section I just read, the narrator, Saul, describes a man with whom he is living:

I knew he missed his wife. He wore it like clothes.

I thought that was a beautiful use of a small amount of words. Not all of his descriptions are that short, but they are all vivid and evocative; the kind of writing where I feel like I'm on the shoulder of the story-teller, watching as he or she moves throughout the narrative. The only other authors who have made me feel that way are Frank McCourt and Margaret Atwood. 

I don't write fiction, although I have stories in my head. Most of my writing is about other things. But every writer who really loves the craft should read fiction.