Monday, April 21, 2008


This is farther than I’ve ever been in the fiction writing process.

1. I typed out a draft of a novel during National Novel Writing Month.
2. I revised and added to it during the next couple of months.
3. I let it rest for a couple of months.
4. I revised it.
5. And now I’ve given it to a few trusted friends to read and give me feedback.

When I get the feedback, I’ll take the advice that seems right and do a polishing up of the manuscript. I might have to do major changes first. After all, I’m only a beginner at this. When I’m satisfied that it’s ready (or I really can’t stand to work on it another damn minute), I’ll look into sending it to potential agents. Lots of work to come!

Right now I’m just enjoying the feeling of having finished a novel.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Following The Advice Of The Three Greats

So, in that paper I posted about C. S. Lewis, Stephen King, and Madeleine L'Engle, their advice was to:

-read and write a lot

-hold true to a vision

-use inspiration

Time to check how that's been working for me. I've been reading A LOT. That almost never changes for me. No matter what, I read. Haven't been writing a lot at all, but that's partly because I finished the first round of revisions on my novel and sent it out to some friends for feedback. It's sit back and wait time. In a sense, the "write a lot" principle is working for me right now. I've never gotten this far in the novel-writing process before. It's all a new experience from here and I'm learning as I go.

Holding true to a vision: I wish I had a clearer or more magnificent vision for the novel I wrote. What I did have was a flash of story and a flash of characters that I pursued. I had finally decided I should write children's novels because that's the bulk of what I read! I've got shelves and shelves of L'Engle, L. M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Betty MacDonald at home.

Did I make use of inspiration? C. S. Lewis's was a spiritual type of ecstasy he called Joy; Stephen King's is a dwarfish muse who carries "a bag of magic"; and Madeleine L'Engle's was faith in the significance of every creature and every act in this world. I don't know. I don't think so. Most of this process felt clunky and contrived to me, but when I got into the flow of writing, I felt the joy of productivity, of creation. The act of writing regularly calmed my soul. But I didn't have any illusions about the beauty of my writing. I thought I was writing a cute little story about a few cute little characters that would turn out to be unprofound. I don't believe I have the talent to go deeper than that. Or maybe it's just that I need more experience at this to really believe in what I can do. Maybe.

What I discovered while typing that sentence up there ("I was writing a cute little story about a few cute little characters that would turn out to be unprofound") is that it doesn't bother me. That sounds all right.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fascinating Things

Read this post about Lewis’s advice to write only about certain things before reading the rest of this post.

What really, I mean REALLY, interests you?

Quickly, without thinking about it, write down 10 things that fascinate you. Read over them. You should be writing about these things.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Matter of Interest for C. S. Lewis

In the letter mentioned in this post, C. S. Lewis told a young girl to write about what really interested her and nothing else. Think about that for a minute.

“Nothing else.”

Monday, April 14, 2008

Do This Now

Before reading this post, read this one about C. S. Lewis's advice to "write with the ear."

Now read a couple of pages of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or a Dr. Seuss book, out loud.

Write whatever comes into your head for five minutes. Read it out loud. Does it have a rhythm? Is it written with the ear?

Lewis's Ear

In a letter to a young girl who wanted to be a writer, C. S. Lewis said, among other things, “Write with the ear, and if it doesn’t sound nice, try again.”

If you’re not sure what he meant by that, read or re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. If you’re still not sure, read it out loud to yourself. The prose flows so well, you can’t imagine it being written any other way.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Three Dos From Three Great Authors - C. S. Lewis Month

This will be a different type of post. Instead of posting a summary of C. S. Lewis's wriing, revising, or publishing advice that I intend to follow, I will post here a brief essay I wrote (for myself) comparing some advice from Lewis, Stephen King, and Madeleine L'Engle.

Authors Stephen King, Madeleine L’Engle, and C.S. Lewis have a lot in common. Two were born in the 20th century and one just before it; two are natives of the northeastern United States (King and L'Engle); two are children’s writers (L'Engle and Lewis); and two were raised by a single parent from an early age (King and Lewis). Two liked to take long walks each day (King and Lewis); two were outspoken believers in God (L'Engle and Lewis); two reported they start writing by 9:00 in the morning (King and Lewis). 

The unifying thread to their work is the impact their stories have on literature and popular culture. So many people have read The Chronicles of Narnia and the Time trilogy and read and watched King’s novels and film adaptations that even in the Online Age most Americans can hold a conversation about these books. All three authors have received the highest honors for their work: among others, King received the National Book Foundation Award, Lewis the Carnegie Award, and L’Engle the John Newbery Medal.

Their published writing advice shows they don’t always agree with each other, but these three masters of the novel all consider the following three practices essential for serious writers: prodigious reading and writing every day, following a vision for the writing, and making use of inspiration that they unscientifically and unabashedly call magical.

According to King, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around those two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut."* He is very specific in his recommendations to the beginning writer. “I suggest a thousand words a day, and because I’m feeling magnanimous, I’ll also suggest that you can take one day a week off, at least to begin with.” He advocates four to six hours of reading per day.

L'Engle urges writers to write every day, and have some fun with it. She doesn’t mean one should write only when it’s fun; she also stresses the importance of discipline and building up a body of work by writing consistently each day. "Many people in walks of life that do not involve creation are completely unaware of the necessity of discipline...few serious artists are able to live lives that are without interruption."** Writing is a serious business, at least in terms of settling down to do it.
The same approach applies to reading: “Read at least an hour a day, something you feel you should read for most of the time and something just for fun the rest of the time.”

Lewis gives instructions about reading and writing in a letter to a child who wants to be a writer. He writes, in 1959, “Turn off the Radio... Read all the good books you can.”*** His own ideal day started with an early breakfast so that he could sit down to write by 9:00 in the morning on the dot. Reading was to occur at mealtimes and after dinner when not out with friends. 

L’Engle's concise direction, “Hold true to your vision,”** elevates the art of writing above a formulaic enterprise. Each storyteller, she asserts, gives the world something special. She supports Jean Rhys’s conception of all writing as an enormous lake into which flow tributaries ranging from small streams to mighty rivers. Regardless of size, each feeds the lake.

In the letter to the young writer, Lewis insists she must write nothing that doesn’t truly interest her. One can imagine her enduring interests will lead her to what she is meant to write or at least make her writing more worthwhile for both writer and reader. To other people, he approaches the idea of vision more literally with descriptions of dreams and pictures on which The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is based. "Images of such things as a faun with an umbrella, a magnificent talking lion, and a queen on a sleigh, increasingly filled his mind."***

Though King doesn’t mention vision by name, he believes it is important to start with characters in a sticky situation, then plunge into the story without stopping long enough to lose the sense and the tone of it. He is a waterskier and the characters are the boat—he simply hangs on to the story as long and as well as he can. The story is in charge. There is never any question of that.

Perhaps the muse has a little control as well. King describes his muse as a cigar-smoking, grunting, bowling-loving “basement guy."* He sits
plainly in awe of what the curmudgeon can do: “It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the midnight oil, because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic. There’s stuff in there that can change your life. Believe me, I know.” That "stuff in there" is the mysterious stuff of inspiration.

Lewis calls on something just as mysterious, his phenomenon of Joy (always written with a capital J), to explain the utmost reaches of what he yearns and works for. He acknowledges a formative passion for "Northern" literature and culture that went well beyond the leadings of preference and influenced his writing forever. As an adult, his continuing search for uncommon truth and beauty brought him to a belief in God that became the focusing point of all his fiction and nonfiction.

L’Engle’s inspiration is the basically spiritual belief that each human being, tiny in the scope of the universe, can make a difference through his or her actions. Faith is her muse. “Why does anyone tell a story? It does indeed have something to do with faith, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”** The novels she wrote, though great fun to read, were written with the idea that they matter, that they make a difference in this world. 

Each of these three authors knew that there are some truths about writing that don’t go away no matter how much one wants them to: A published or aspiring-to-be-published writer will almost always have to sit down and write at regular periods and almost always have to revise, change, adapt, and revise again. Equally important, though, they knew that the work must have a purpose and leading higher than their own mundane consciousness.

What does the aspiring writer take from these observations? Knowing that Stephen King writes from approximately 9:00 to 1:00 each day in a room without a window, that C. S. Lewis took a daily long walk, and that Madeleine L'Engle read the Bible every day doesn’t make one into a great writer. These are simply facts to know about people who are great writers. Their greatness is not contagious; one can’t catch bestselling-author pox by reading their advice and following it to the letter. If only it were possible...! One can, however, learn what they believe is important in their life’s work, take encouragement from them, and get ideas for how to better practice one's art. 

If nothing else, one can gain an even greater appreciation for the authors' skill and vision, and the taste of magic they've left in one's mouth.

*King, Stephen.
On Writing. New York: Pocket Books, 2000.
**Chase, Carole F. "Words of Wisdom from Madeleine L'Engle."
The Writer Jun. 2002: 26+.
 Lyle W. Dorsett, ed. The Essential C. S. Lewis. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. 
****Green, Roger L. & Hooper, Walter.
C. S. Lewis: A Biography. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1974.

copyright 2008 Kristy Shreve Powers