What will my destination look like after I’ve written the final sentence of a new book? Will the ending be anything like I envisioned when I began the book? Have the characters revolted against the carefully formed storyline I created and gone their own way instead of the way I wanted them to go? Will I have to rethink and rewrite because I’ve exceeded the word count for a certain market? I’ve learned the hard way that the answers to those questions should never take preeminence when a story is emerging. I’ve discovered that the joy in writing lies in letting the process lead me to its destination. I don’t need to adhere to a carefully crafted outline. I don’t need to stifle what my characters want to say because I fear exceeding a certain word count. I don’t need to wrestle them into conformity. If we constrain creativity, we lose the wonder of watching in awe as something new comes to life under our very fingertips. I’m thankful to have learned the invaluable lesson that we don’t need to know the destination when we begin writing – we simply need to let the words pour out and follow them there.
During a recent snow hike, I noticed this small tree bent over by the weight of snow. Without really thinking about it, the thought came to me that this tree resembled a woman bent down with sorrow, grieving an enormous loss. Her pain was unbearable. It was palpable. In that moment, I realized how transformative imagination is. In my mind, it transformed a small, snow-covered tree into a woman utterly broken by unrelenting pain. Without the eye of imagination, I would simply have seen a snow-covered tree and nothing else. Without the eye of imagination, our writing would be barren and uninspired – dry and devoid of life. The eye of imagination is a gift that gives us the best possible vision we could ever hope to have!
When you look at this picture, you may think you’re looking at a piece of fabric. In reality, your’e looking at an aerial view of a wheat field after it had been harvested. Pretty amazing, huh? Looking at this picture always makes me think about how wrong our conclusions can be if we’re not looking at things from the right perspective. When we write something – and especially something that is deeply meaningful – our hope is to give the reader a new perspective so that they can see things in a way that they may never have seen them before. To consider issues in a way they may never have considered them before. To see things as they truly are and not simply what they wish them to be. Charles Dickens did this in Oliver Twist when he ripped the veneer off of well-to-do English society and exposed the obliviousness of wealth to the suffering of poverty. Victor Hugo did this as well when he unmasked mercilessness posing as justice in Les Miserables. It’s all about perspective. It’s a daunting thing to write with the hope of shifting a person’s perspective. And possibly arrogant. But when the intentions are sincere, writing to offer a perspective that will bring clarity and effect good is among one of the most noble aspects of writing.
It snowed overnight where we live. I went out before sunrise to clean the snow off the cars and while I was alone in the darkness, I took this picture of the enormous pine tree on the side of our house. Yes, I still have the Christmas lights on the tree, and yes, I’ll probably leave them on the rest of the winter. 🙂 As I stood outside in the utter stillness and silence, I felt a sense of complete contentment. I reflected on how rarely there is absolute stillness and silence in my life and how beautiful the stillness is. I also reflected on the quality that stillness can bring to our writing. When there is stillness, there is a refreshing of the soul, and there are words that flow from that beautiful emptiness that flow from no other place within us. Silence is so often portrayed as a lonely and desolate place – but maybe we can shift our perspective – to instead, view stillness as a hallowed sanctuary from which beauty emerges.
My husband and I went hiking a while back and came upon this moss-covered log on a pine forest trail. For some unknown reason, it caught my eye, and I spent at least five full minutes gazing at it. Not that I believe in talking trees, but it seemed to have a story to tell and I wanted to take the time to listen. By absorbing that moment instead of rushing away, a poem resulted. The story the moss-covered log had to tell was told. It was a valuable lesson I hope I won’t soon forget – that it’s always a good thing to stop and sit awhile.
The Moss to the Tree Old friend, You’ve fallen But I will cover you with life There on the forest floor You lost your life and more Now, I make my vow to restore They saw you dying Walked by, disregarding Now, They see me clinging And they stop and wonder Stop and ponder Now, Beautiful together I knew you could be free Clothed in my fragility Now, We blend in harmony I saw what they didn’t see Your surrender and nobility Now, They see union in all its purity Once, they looked at you Only when you grew Now, They look at you anew Old friend, You’ve fallen But I will cover you with life
My husband took this picture of the Milky Way last year high on a hilltop in Carrollton, Ohio. When I saw it, it took my breath away. I felt as if I was inhaling something beautiful into my soul. At moments like that, I realize what a gift nature is to a writer. In an admittedly inadequate way, I can now begin to describe the awe-inspiring majesty of the Milky Way because I have witnessed its beauty. Having seen the ocean, I have a heightened ability to write about its primal power in a way that can more deeply affect a reader. I want to always be the kind of person who values the gift that nature is to writing – to always remember that it allows us to inhale something glorious and then exhale it onto the blank canvas of a page so that others can “see” through words the wonder of God’s creation.
Music moves our souls. It is transcendent. And it’s a wonderful source of inspiration for writing. When you need to dig deep to write something especially heart-wrenching, a melancholy piece of music can take you to “that place.” If you need to write something inspirational, listening to upbeat, triumphant tunes can provide the perfect words to put down on paper. My son-in-law pictured here is an amazing composer. His music is one of my first go-to’s when I need inspiration in my writing. So, if you’re having writer’s block, don’t beat yourself up and agonize over your keyboard for hours. Instead, turn up the volume and let music make your heart soar with words born of melody.
Check out my son-in-law’s beautiful compositions at:
It’s probably not wise to admit this while I’m trying to sell books, but I’m often embarrassed when I think about my early writing. Reflecting on my first book, I’ve sometimes felt that it isn’t “deep” enough – that because it’s not classic-type literature, it isn’t worthwhile. But watching You’ve Got Mail tonight – a simple romantic comedy that I’ve watched countless times – I realized that it’s not always the “deep” that touches us most. I go back to You’ve Got Mail again and again, not because it’s profound, but because it makes me feel as if I’m spending time with dear friends. The books that touch us most may not be the ones that are the most profound, but the ones that strike a familiar chord in our hearts and make us feel as if we’re truly among friends.
This picture of our huge pine tree was taken last winter during the holidays. This tree all lit up instantly takes me back to my childhood and the wonder I felt when I got up before anyone else was awake and sat in the dark, staring at the lights on our Christmas tree. Those times evoked a feeling of warmth and safety. Gazing at the lights on our pine tree takes me back to that place. It’s instantaneous nostalgia. So much of writing is born from a place of nostalgia. We give the times we long for a second birth so that others can share in the wonder of our wonder years. I can’t imagine what the world of literature would be without nostalgia. This is the privilege of writers – to take readers back to the times and places they long for with words that bring their yesteryear to life once again.
In April of this year, my husband and I went to Punta Cana with dear friends. During that trip, I went parasailing for the very first time. In this picture, I’m front and center, hands lifted high. Parasailing was one of the most peaceful and yet exhilarating experiences of my life. Floating sixty feet above beautiful blue water, the wind blowing softly, the silence and wonder surrounding me – it was a moment I’ll never forget. I’m typically a very cautious person and many of my friends were shocked to hear that I’d gone parasailing. Oddly enough, I wasn’t afraid. I was eager to do it. And I’d do it again a thousand times. That experience made me realize that to write well, we often have to push ourselves into new experiences. Experiences give us new words, new feelings, new places to draw from as we write. Though I’ll probably never stop being a cautious person, I’ve realized that the exhilaration of new experiences – be they small or great – is something I need to pursue in order to deepen the quality of my writing. For now, though, I’m just going to rake the leaves. 🙂