Friday, December 07, 2007

Writing With 50,000 Coaches

I finished writing Wounded: A Love Story, or rather, I finished the first draft of Wounded. On average now I will write a novel two or three times (a few got twice that many drafts) before it's ready for the world. And if you think I had one big lament after I finished The Exorsistah, I was ready to pack it in when I finished Wounded.

I mean it. I didn't want to write another novel except the last two I'm contracted for. It's an awful feeling to desire to be an artist when you are not. Once I had a talk with one of my editors, a real book guy, much like my agent. I told him I wanted to go through an MFA program so I could learned to write since I was still on the "Hooked On Phonics" stage and he said, "Maybe in a few years. Mair, you've got five underage children at home and you don't even have health insurance. You have to take care of your family." I was so discouraged. I thought, "I have to write enough books to take care of them until I can go learn how to write later." Crazy, huh?

Well, I can say I did learn a few things; I spoke in many voices in this one. Some better than others. I took risks with a structure that is not yet sound, but I can fortify it (I hope) on the rewrite. I wrote a love story for a stigamatist! I wasn't the first, but you just don't see a whole lot of that, so it's kinda different. I poured myself into it, so much so I forgot to fill in gaps for people who don't know me so well. I finished that draft feeling like I was wearing Saran Wrap, not that being transparent is anything new for me, but that doesn't mean I don't feel awfully exposed every single time I am. Here was an experience. For the first time in anything I wrote, the kindness of Jesus' mother upheld me as I wrote. She must like broken people. Jesus is very good to loan her to us.

Pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death.

Thank God for rewrites. That was my passion draft. I tone myself down later, and with a little help from my friends.

Still, I felt awfully alone. I felt afraid. And then I stung with profound disappointment when I'd finished knowing it is so delicate, and not ready for the world.

I punished myself. I cried, and yelled, and snapped, and hurt, and lashed out while cleaning my bookshelves as my family watched in horror. But really I was just scared. Afraid that I've written another mediocre book and some poor tree has to die for it. And everybody will see I'm far from being an artist, and it'll be over before I can even get good at it. Anger is a compelling cover for grief. When I was completely sick of myself I retired upstairs to watch a movie.

I chose Akeelah and the Bee. I bought it when it was first released on DVD, knowing already I'd love it, but I never watched it before. I burrowed myself under my bed covers and put the MacBook on my chest and oh, my. What a journey and a gift. Here's the quote than anchors the story:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

I don't personally want to be fabulous. Like St. Teresa the Little Flower, I want to be small. But I want my work to be fabulous. I want it to be brilliant and gorgeous. And powerful.

I saw so much of myself in Akeelah; the 'hood stuff, the finding yourself suddenly (and unexpectedly) running with the big dogs, totally unprepared, and the wanting it just the same. I knew how scared she was, because I'm scared. I write scared every book. And I have often felt like I only had one coach, and maybe He wasn't so available. Yes, God feels absent many times, even though I don't let on so much. But it's true.

But I'm not alone. Like Akeela, I have 50, 000 coaches; people reading the worst of my drafts and whispering prayers for strength and endurance; publishing friends who trust me to somehow pull it all together and make it the best I can; an agent, who, when I said to him, I'm just not good at this," said, "On the other hand, you might be better than you give yourself credit for."

I have my family who misses me but leave me to do it. Lord, have mercy, an eight-year-old girl who needs me very much, but will content herself to crawl in bed with me if that's all she can get. I watched Akeelah work and work and work with broken tools and she became a champion. I told myself I can do this. I can be an artist. It will take everything, but I can't be afraid or think I'm not capable of working hard, because I am. God helps, even when I can't sense His nearness, suffused with darkness. And he sends 50,000 coaches to get me ready for the task. With so much L-O-V-E, love.

I learn each time I go through edits. I learn every time I try something new, whether I succeed with the effort or fail, at least I would have learned what I did wrong. I'll make a lil' piece of art one of these days.

And, in lieu of a MFA, there are always Writer's Digest books.

Mercy, Jesus!

Just wanted to thank you, Coach.

Pax et Bonum,<-- the movie made me want to learn Latin, too. And it made me fall in love with words again. mair


Wobbly Librarian said...

Congratulations! and thanks for sharing, once again, from your heart.

Heidi Renee said...

I love the thought of you curled up and receiving that wonderful gift of that movie.

The little flower wanted her job to be scattering flowers around the throne room of God - picture each page in your book as a petal of a beautiful rose Raga-dear! Each and every one special because of it's uniqueness.

Who but you could ever write your saran-wrapped words?

I leave you with her words from A Story of A Soul:

"I understood that all the flowers He created are beautiful. The brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily don't take away the perfume of the lowly violet of the delightful simplicity of the daisy... I understood that if all the little flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose its springtime adornment, and the fields would no longer be sprinkled with little flowers...

So it is in the world of souls, which is Jesus' garden. He wanted to create great saints who could be compared to lilies or roses. But he also created little ones, and these ought to be content to be daisies or violets destined to gladden God's eyes when He glances down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what he wants us to be..."

You are the most pleasing to Him when you ARE YOU dear friend! I can't think of anyone who is MORE YOU than you. I am so proud of you!

M. Nole said...

Mair, if you only knew about the gorgeous pieces of love and brilliance that you have scattered around the world...

Several months ago I was spiritually empty and thus humanly wretched, and when I found your blog and saw you writing about your spiritual struggles, I found my relationship with God again. I think I e-mailed you that night and told you.

Then a few months later I felt God calling ME to start writing about my spirituality (other than in my notebook at home), but I felt like I needed to wait until I felt like less of a sinner. You told me that I'm already worthy, just the way I was.

Right now I'm suffering from neck and back problems and cannot write in my journal or read spiritual books because bending my neck to look down causes too much pain. Not having anything spiritual on audio, all I can do to get doses of spirituality during the day is to read bits and pieces on the internet. Blogs about people's spirituality are what are keeping me from feeling hopeless right now - that includes your blog and lots of the blogs of people who leave you comments.

I haven't read one of your books yet, but I know they're good. But I don't even need to get into that. You are helping to do God's work here on earth. I'll say it again. You are helping to do God's work here on earth. I believe we are all spiritual beings, but in some people, the spiritual part is so huge that it bursts through their skin and seeps through their human actions, and to observers it is actually more present than the human part.

You are one of those people, Mair. Your spiritual part makes up most of you. And thank God that people like you have decided to write about God on the internet, because there is no telling how many more people have turned to God because of it.

I'm especially moved by what you said about Mary's help. I need to come clean about some of the things Mary's done for me. I guard them because some are so amazing, but I should probably share more of them.

Congratulations on finishing, and thanks for being here. This is the other Mair (I didn't put mair in my google name out of respect for the original blogger Mair!).

spwriter said...

I want a two-books-in-one edition of your novels that includes not only the version deemed ready for prime time, but that first draft, the passion draft. (I like the way words pour out of you pre-edit as much as I like them post-edit.)

And your agent friend was right: you are better than you give yourself credit for. We all see it, Mair.

Thanks for sharing yourself with us. That makes us better, too.

Hope said...


by Denise Levertov

This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,

She did not cry, "I cannot, I am not worthy,"
nor, "I have not the strength."
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly."

~ Source: from "Annunication" in Breathing the Water

Your consent illumines you. Thank you for your consent. You are closer to Mary than you think.

ragamuffin diva said...

What lovely sentiments. Y'all are freakin' awesome!

Caldonia Sun said...

Congratulations! Take a few deep breaths and watch another movie with your baby girl. Somewhere out of my ole' evangelical mind comes the quote, "He equips those He calls."


Nedra Smith said...

Mair, you ARE an artist made in the image of THE Artist. I hope that discouraging old editor know how far you've come. I don't own a computer but I'm a less than part-time blogger. The Lord is our ultimate resource even when we're working with scraps. It's by His stripes (or scars or whatever we call those wounds) that we are healed. Take joy in knowing that you are loved both online and offline. --Nedra

Alison Strobel Morrow said...

Oh Mair. You are so much more talented than you give yourself credit for. But I understand your pain of having a vision for your art but not being able to create it that way because you just don't seem to have the tools. I've felt that with everything I've ever written. Just remember that you vision may not be the vision God had when he gave you the idea for the book in the first place. Trust Him to make it what He wants it to be and to use it the way He wants to use it. Your writing is so powerful, girlfriend. Trust us when we tell you so.

Jonea said...

YAY!!!! I have been anxiously waiting your return. Not in a waxcky stalker way, just curious how the process was going for you. Congratualations on completing your novel.
It was interesting what you said about getting your MFA...I was thinking about pursuing that too. You know are so fortunate though. Because you are learning from the orignator of words...who speaks words and creates a whole world...hmmm...that's some good writing! :o)
Well anyway...welcome back

lisa said...

"Discouraging old editor?!!!"

Who says I'm old?

(It's rockin' so far.)

ragamuffin diva said...

Did I say discouraging old editor???? You're awesome, Lisa. My only hope to get a real book out of this. :O)

And we sure aren't old! We RAWK!

And I mean that in the humblest, most self-deprecating way.

But we RAWK!

Nedra Smith said...

Oops. I'm sorry about the "old." Down here in VA, we'll sometimes say "ol'" just to be soothing. Like, "bless your heart" to sandwich something. I'm glad you two can still be friends.

lisa said...

No, you didn't say it, Claudia. A commenter did and I just needed to set the record straight, in my own humorous way, 'cause we all know I'm neither of those things, unless of course you're my youngest daughter who wants to wear all my good clothes for dress ups, and then, I'm both old and discouraging!


lisa said...

Love you too, Nedra! (Lived in VA for a while and I love it there!)

Elysa said...

Hoping that you're now feeling well rested from such a mighty endeavor. I love your Saran Wrap self and am so blessed to have found you and your writings.

BTW, what's an MFA? All us non-writer plebes out here are maybe not ALL the non-writer plebes are clueless but I surely am!!!!

ragamuffin diva said...

An MFA is a Master of Fine Arts degree, Elysa. Really, really, really serious writers who don't have to use the word really three whole times get them. And writers with money. :O)

Oh, yeah, just to set the record straight for good, I'd write novels for David C. Cook until the day I die if Lisa kept editing those books.

We're a great team!

paula clare said...

Dear Fabulous Sistuh,
YOU'RE BAAAAAAAAAAACK! YAY! I have missed your bloggy witicisms...and your gut level confessions. You are an AMAZING can you not know that? God equips the ones He calls, you know?

"God doesn't call the able He ables the called." (Paula's paraphrase)

Remember the Indiana Jones movie and the Temple of Doom? He was at a chasm trying to figure out the code in the "book." It said something to the effect of "the leap of faith will save you..." The point is, Indiana didn't SEE the beam UNTIL he took the leap. In the same way, I believe you (we) don't SEE the artist and the incredible writer until YOU take the leap and begin the harrowing process of putting together a novel.

SOOOOOOOOO good to see you back online. You truly do RAWK!!!

Elysa said...

Thanks for letting me know, Mair. Now I really, really, really don't feel like such an igno!;)

joyce said...

mair, it is so good to have a new blog from you...i'm glad you got the first draft done!

[pause for the cause right now mair, breathe three big deep breaths, okay now resume]
...embrace in that accomplishment:)...the advice you gave me in your last comment on my blog is good for you too...give yourself lots of credit for having readers and fans [pause for the cause again, do you know when I was in baltimore two weeks ago no lye i was lookin in all these bookstores for "muder, mayhem, and a fine man" they told me it comes out in feb so i will go back and get it then. i don't do things like that often, so you have a fan in me]
Resume... having stories you have to turn in and that have to be published, and readers who look forward to having to buy them...that's the artist(writer) dream, at least mine, so therefore you are already there in my book...

each story is a learning process, each story teaches you something new about what writing means to you, not anyone else...i think you have talent...i admire you very much...

just keep doing what you are, just keep writing... write what you feel so what if it don't fit what you "think writing should be" that's what you told me to write from my pain, write what I feel...since you gave that advice, fiction has been so hard, because I love writing my truth now...

i can offer you this though for your "writing education" if I can go to the writing program at Naropa University, everything I learn there, I will share with you... I will give you notes from class in emails, talk about the classes with you, give you the assignments to try for yourselves, (and since its so non-traditional maybe the teachers would even give your exercises a read too if i ask them)this could help me stay focus too and inspired...I will share any wisdom I find with you, because you have given me so much...let me know if you want me to do that...


Joni said...

I wish I could express to you how much you have inspired me over the time I've been reading your blog, and while I was reading your first book.

God has placed a very special gift inside you that just explodes in joy when He speaks it out through your written words.

Thank you for allowing Him to do that: "formal" training, or not. The gift is still there, dear friend!

Clay said...

I love you.

Don't know you, my sister, but I sure do love you!

Candy said...

Yea! You're finished! I am so proud of you I could bust. You're writing for all of us, my friend. No pressure. :o) But really, you are amazing and I cannot wait to read it. And, I LOVED Akeelah and the Bee. I can see you in her too. You are powerful beyond measure. You are chosen! How cool is that!

chipotle said...

You don't give yourself enough credit, Mair.

Of course, that's one of the thing I love most about you.


Jennifer L. Griffith said...

cYou ARE an artist. Keep on keeping on, sister.

Paula said...

I love you, Mair. You are beautiful. And your work is beautiful. I love how God just oozes through you and your words to touch our hearts.