I’m not a book re-reader on a sort of principle: so many good books, not enough time. But this week, I re-read Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water after more than 20 years away. It was amazing in all new ways this time. Let me see if I can explain.
I first read it as a college student at a time when I was really struggling with who I was in the world. I was moving between two career paths – the same two I moved through for many years: teaching and writing. I knew, even then, somewhere in the core of myself that I was an artist, but I was committed to being a teacher. So I felt like some part of myself was being repressed. That’s when I found L’Engle’s brilliant book on art and faith and creativity and reading . . . and the idea that we can all do the impossible if we just believe.
Then, I read for the affirmation of what I knew – that art was a viable way of making one’s way in the world, that a creative soul needs to be nurtured. Now, sitting fully in my artist self (but not forsaking the teaching either) I read for her specifics about the way we nurture ourselves, about the challenges we face in the world, about the need for open space that sings.
Letting Go of Control
At this moment in my life, I am writing the sequel to Steele Secrets, and L’Engle’s words about the need to listen and about letting go of control reach me at just the right time. As I’ve read this book, I’ve found myself giving into the pulse of direction that sometimes rises in the story, and instead of finding myself mired down in the middle (the middle is often the place I most doubt my writing ability or the value of my story), I am feeling the thrum of new energy.
This quote really sang to me in her pages:
In the act of creativity, the artist lets go of self control which he normally clings to, and is open to riding the wind. Something almost always happens to startle us during the act of creating, but not unless we let go of our adult intellectual control and become open as little children. This does not mean to set aside or discard the intellect, but to understand that it is not to become a dictator, for when it does we are closed off from revelation.
I did find myself, at brief moments, disagreeing with L’Engle but mostly about cultural things rather than anything essential. But all in all, this book has renewed me a bit.
A Writer’s Eye View
This book is divided into chapters that are made up of short meditations on related subjects. I LOVE that. It’s a structure I really understand (and first came to love in Annie Dillard’s For The Time Being*) and appreciate because it frees the writing from building in that connective tissues of transitions and flow and gives the reader the opportunity to make leaps or build bridges between ideas.
L’Engle also interweaves lots of stories from her own life in the pages, and I adore that. I find story so much more effective than abstract conceptualizing or extended metaphors. She also brings in quotes a great deal, which makes the book feel richer and more complex. It also gives me faith in her as a writer who knows the work of which she speaks.
A writerly book in all ways.
L’Engle writes from a definitively Christian point of view, so if that’s not your faith tradition, this book may not be for you – or maybe it is, if you feel okay putting aside what you don’t need. But if you are a Christian and a writer, this book is filled with beautiful meditations that will speak to you as a writer and a believer. It’s also a great book if you have a nonfiction topic about which you want to share and need a model for how to do that structurally. One of my favorite books of all time.
You can get your copy at:
iBooks (Pre-orders now until it releases in a new edition with Sara Zarr on October 11)
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