Posts Tagged 'nameless faculty'

A New Writing Book

I ordered a new writing book from Amazon last week. I have no idea why. No one recommended it. I had no real intentions of ordering any book at all, but I saw it on one of those links from something else I was looking at… to tell the truth, I can’t remember exactly how I came upon it, only that I did and for some reason it looked interesting.

It’s called One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft and it’s by Susan M. Tiberghien, an American-born writer, married to a Frenchman, with French-speaking children and living in Geneva Switzerland. Not the sort of person I’d generally choose for writing advice.

“Tiberghien’s advice, encouragement, and wisdom make this an invaluable book for writers at all stages of their writing lives.”

So says Michael Steinberg, founding editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction and author of Still Pitching. I have no idea who he is, and have never heard of Fourth Genre nor Still Pitching.  I can’t for the life of me figure out why I got this book.

I think it might have been God the Holy Spirit prompting me to do so. I say that because the book came a couple of days ago, and when I opened it up, the very first thing I read, on the page immediately following the dedication was this:

“Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

That quote reached off the page, grabbed me by my shirt and pulled me close. It’s exactly what I had been thinking about, remembering what it was like to actually write a first draft, develop a new world, a new set of characters… It’s been awhile. And this just drove right to the heart of it all.

There’s more to this than just that, though —  the part about the work being done “beyond the reach of one’s intelligence” echoes what I wrote in That Nameless Faculty Again about an aspect of ourselves we don’t understand and can’t control.  The part of our souls that brings forth a story. Or a song or a painting…  Mostly without our conscious control or even awareness.

Anyway, I’ve barely started it. Read the Introduction and part of Chapter One. Already I’ve got underlinings and comments in the margin and things I want to think about, ideas being added to things I have already been thinking about. If all those thoughts coalesce into something coherent, I might even blog about them.

And I did all this and still managed to work a bit on Sky — moved on from page 10 to page 14 in Chapter One (covering material that reached to p 17 in the original so I’ve cut another page…).  Hooray!

That Nameless Faculty Again

Journal Entry – 13 September Tuesday 2011

11:15am  Writing trumps the Y. I’d planned to go to the Y today, but Quigley got me up at 3:30am with diarrhea, then woke both me and Stu up around 4 by barking at something unknown outside, And then he had to go out again around 4:30. When I went out later there were three piles of runny poo so I decided to drive over to Speedway Vet Clinic to get some Fast Balance GI for him, stopped on the way back at Starbucks for an iced mocha latte and scone plus a bag of decaf whole bean Cafe Verona. When I got home, Quig wanted out again — after I gave him a dose of the Fast Balance — and did another poop. While looking for that and cleaning it up, I found a bunch of monster goathead weeds in the back corner of the yard and even more in the alley so I had to pull all those up (goatheads are evil plants; they even look evil, and grow like wildfire — I can’t even pick one of the horned seeds out of my shoe without impaling myself on it). After that, since Quigley was just standing about oddly, I pulled regular weeds while I waited to see what he’d do.

Finally I left him outside for a while (it’s finally cooling down) and decluttered my old files to make room for newer stuff that I’ve got piled here and there. I went over my 15 minute time allotment probably by two times, and by then I started to get upset. Here it is 11:25 now and I haven’t even gotten to Sky.  But agitation is not God’s thinking. It’s my flesh. So… rebound guilt, anger, frustration, power lust, self-pity…

(Oh, earlier I also retyped my routine charts, took stuff out of the morning routine and put it in the afternoon and evening routines– with less in the morning, I should be able to get to the writing quicker… Still, it took up time and suddenly it’s way later than I’d hoped to get started..

So, though I had planned on going to the Y in about an hour,  based on priorities — given all the walking I have do with Quigley, I’ve decided writing can trump going to the Y. So I won’t be going today.

I’ve also been reminded of the importance of… empty time, I guess. Dorothea Brande talked of it, as have others… I know I’ve blogged on it before, but somehow I just keep coming back to this…

“[The writer] will only know that there are times when he must, at all costs, have solitude, time to dream, to sit idle. Often he himself believes his mind is idle, empty… [but] the idleness is only surface stillness. Something is at work, but so deeply and wordlessly that it hardly gives a sign of its activity till it is ready to externalize its vision. The necessity which the artist feels to indulge himself in solitude, in rambling leisure, in long speechless periods… “

I’ve had some of this time of late and it is delicious. It feels right, it feels rich. Peace wells out of it. I find my thoughts going to the story, the world and people of Sky. Not in any purposeful way, just going there.

I always want to find fault with all this. I feel like I’m bad. The world advises you to come up with a plan, to try to control it, force it. It offers the motivation of ambition, greed, jealousy, approbation, money, success… fear. Guilt. None of that jibes with the “something” that is at work, deeply and wordlessly.

Time and again I’ve read about the empty stage, the waiting period, the artistic coma, the “nameless faculty.” I’ve even experienced it, and I believe it’s a part of the creative aspect of our souls, believer and unbeliever alike. I suppose the clearest notion for me is the old, out of vogue right brain/left brain model. The right brain is non linear. It doesn’t communicate in words and lines of logic, but images, sounds, feelings, scenes. It’s holistic. It’s mysterious because much of our existence is governed by left brain things — the logic, lists, categories, plans, execution of plans, problem solving (though of course right brain activity often figures strongly in the latter…) All those things involve activity, doing, accomplishing, solving, actively working. Not just sitting idly. Waiting.

We live in an impatient culture. No one wants to wait. Often — maybe too often– we don’t have to wait. We don’t want to take the time to rest. And, as my husband said recently, “no one wants to pay people to rest on the job,” anyway.  Even if it would make them more productive in the same amount of time.

And yet, the prime element of the Christian way of life IS rest. We’re to fear nothing but not entering His rest.

We don’t understand how the creative faculty works, it just does, often quite independent of our efforts. This is for believers and unbelievers, a part of our brains, that we don’t understand, where processes we can’t follow or explain are taking place. All people have it, some more than others. One minute we’re blank, the next the entire scene unfolds before us and nothing we “did” caused it to happen.

Some Christian books on writing attribute that to the Holy Spirit. Yet it happens with unbelievers, as well as believers, so it can’t be the Spirit, because He doesn’t abide in unbelievers. Which means it’s something about us as humans in general.  A subterranean process we don’t understand, maybe a collating and sifting and ordering of elements beneath our conscious mind, something that reminds us of how much we don’t know even about our own selves, but common to all.

But while I don’t believe the process itself is the work of the Holy Spirit, I do believe He can guide it when it comes to believers. When we have put off the old man and are allowing Him control of our souls, He can guide the elements of that process, unbeknownst to us. Whatever of God’s Word we have learned and understood and believed, and especially that we’ve applied to our lives, He can use in shaping a story… and not in immediate perfection, for the most part, because His purposes are far larger than the generation of the story itself.

No, it’s a slow process, just like spiritual growth is. He could easily arrange it all in an instant and dump it into my head. So why doesn’t He? Perhaps because He wants me to learn to wait. To trust. To stop trying to take control and instead, start trying to listen. To accept. To be at peace.

To rest.

To know HE is the one who’s guiding me, who has the plan, not me. And my only part is to relax and trust Him to do the work, to show me the way I should go. As He’s promised to do.

But there’s more even than that. Because as I’ve written this, my mind has churned on… it’s not just that it takes a long time, it’s that the initial forays into the work are so messy. Wrong turns, ideas with big gaps in them, initial conceptions that change radically as the work develops… why all that messiness?

That’s like spiritual growth too, but more than that. If I relax and trust him and wait, the slow unfolding and all the “wrong” turns can become a wonderful journey. There is something amazing and exciting and just plan fun about having worked with some material for a time, have it seem dead and lifeless and going nowhere no matter what you try to do with it and then, one day, it all comes together. That is awesome!  To not see for weeks or months or even years and then suddenly, “Whoa! So that’s what’s going on here!”

I think it’s a tiny reflection of what it’s going to be like when we reach heaven, where so many things will suddenly come clear. If I just sat down and it all came running out like water, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun and satisfying and edifying in terms of manifesting God’s sufficiency and faithfulness and the value of trust…

So, the reason it takes so long and is so messy and requires struggle is because it’s better that way. More of a blessing that way!


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