Today it is my pleasure to host Deborah Hining in the Storage Room. Deborah and I met several years ago through our editor, and I am continually impressed by Deborah’s talent as an author and her generosity as a human being. The thing I like best about her novels is the way she seamlessly incorporates faith into the story and leaves the reader feeling enriched by the experience. Without further ado, here is Deborah Hining with some thoughts about why the words come…..
People sometimes tell me that they would like to be a writer, but they can’t get it together enough to sit down and write: they have ideas but lack the discipline to put them down. Or they know what they want to say, but they can’t find the words to say it. I know exactly what they mean. I, too, lack discipline. I have few ideas and my thoughts are fuzzy. I am a dullard of the first order.
Most of my writer friends are disciplined and smart. Their thoughts are clear. They can express an idea lucidly, easily, without having to write and rewrite dozens of times. They find a story, and they go to the trouble to outline it, paying attention to plot and structure before they even begin the real writing. They consistently sit down every day and do not get up again until at least a thousand words have graced the page. I admire these writers and envy their clarity, talent, and discipline.
Yet, somehow, I do manage to get a book written now and then, and in the end, I am always pleased with what I have written. My secret? It’s the same, simple secret of everyone who “somehow” makes it happen. I pay attention to my muse. I let it have its way with me. I let it take over and tell the story it wants to tell, and despite my lack of discipline, my fuzzy thoughts, my laziness, I am a writer because I give in to the impulse to write.
According to Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Big Magic, a genius is not a person who is especially gifted, but rather it is a (non-human) being, a muse, if you will, that literally brings a gift of vision. When people have a creative idea, they have been gifted that idea by a muse. If a person cooperates and allows his or her muse to bring the idea to fruition, then that person becomes an artist. That means that an artist is really nothing special, but merely a cooperative facilitator of the creative process. No matter how talented, educated, or disciplined a writer is, in reality, she might be little more than a secretary, taking notes dictated by her muse.
I think everybody’s muse is different. Mine is a little wild, definitely untamed, for it runs roughshod over me. That is probably because it is a lot smarter than I am, and I have little to offer as a collaborator. I have few ideas of my own, and even when I do, I express them badly. I suffer from lack of concentration. I sit and stare at a blank screen for long periods where nothing of note rises to the surface of my mind. Then, my muse rushes in, all big ideas and harrowing situations, and then the words come, but they hardly seem like my own. Many times when I write, I literally do not know what is coming next. A character stands up to speak, and I have no idea what she will say until the words are spoken. A character finds herself in a prickly situation, and I do not know how she will get out of it until suddenly she has, and I almost have to go back and read what I have written in order to discover it. When I wrote A Sinner in Paradise, I thought Geneva would fall in love with one man, a perfectly wonderful guy, but my muse shoved him aside and lured her into the arms of a different one. I think had a little more control with my most recent release, A Saint in Graceland. I knew who Sally Beth would love, and how she would fail, but I did not know how she would overcome her troubles. My muse had to prod me through a labyrinth of traumatic situations until I arrived, breathless and terrified at the final Happy Ever After ending.
A seasoned, disciplined writer who can summon a muse at will, get it to do its work in a short amount of time, without a lot of fuss is gifted indeed. Such a writer has learned to work with her muse, exercising control and imposing certain standards. Their muses rarely run amuck, and they do not have to go back and straighten out all the havoc their muses have made.
I cannot claim any control over mine. It comes to me only every once in a while, in a rush, from an outside source beyond my control. And when it does, it is overwhelming. Words come faster than I can write them; ideas spill out and throw themselves on my computer screen, taking shape and a life of their own. I work, not in small segments, like my disciplined friends who faithfully sit down for an hour or two every day and write carefully crafted prose, but in long, sustained torrents, hours and hours where I pound the keyboard, forget to eat or drink, and finally glance up when my bladder is screaming at me, my parched mouth begs for water, and my hands are shaking from hunger.
And when the words are quieted, I look back to read what I have written, and I wonder where on earth it came from.
All this makes me believe that the Bible is, indeed, the inspired Word of God. I believe that when St. Paul, James, John, or Abraham sat down with their parchments, they did not completely understand the Divine secrets that flowed from their sharpened reeds. They did not know that the words of many writers, weighty with multifaceted, incomprehensible Truths, would join with theirs to ring in complex, intertwined chords throughout all of Scripture. They wrote the literal as they saw it, perhaps unaware that they also wrote metaphor and poetry because the words did yet not exist to describe what would be revealed slowly, over centuries, and be completely illuminated only at the very end of time. No, I am sure they just plodded along, writing prose and fact, catching only glimpses of the Reality just beyond.
The Holy Spirit is not the Muse for most of us. The ones we have been given are smaller beings, perhaps cousins to angels, gifts, perhaps from the hand of God, sent out to place an idea, enlighten, entertain, astonish, break and mend hearts. I wait for mine while I dig in the garden, change a diaper, make the bed, or stare at the computer screen. When it comes to invade me, I become more than myself, I rise above my inadequacies, and the filling that has come so fully, so excessively bursts out of me. There is nothing to do but write, write it all down as it comes flowing through.
It is imperfect when it comes. No, not imperfect. A mess. The words convey the ideas, but they are clumsy, inexact, and must be tweaked and mended. I stand amid the wreckage of ideas that have been tossed upon the pages without regard to plot or structure and have to make some sense of them. Information must be filled in with the help of research and thought. There are rewrites and then more rewrites and edits and more rewrites still. Half of what has been written must be excised, and what is left is sloppy and incomplete. But it is there, the gift that has come, rarely summoned, usually unbidden. It needs to be smoothed and polished and loved until it is ready to meet the world. After that, I pick myself up, exhausted, dust myself off, and, from the empty void that follows, beg for it to come fill me again.
Maybe someday I will tame it and get it to work for me on sane and temperate terms. Some days I want to. Other days, I’m not so sure.
If you’d like to read Deborah’s latest book, here is a bit more information about A Sinner in Graceland and how to find her books.
Grieving her mother’s death and yearning to see more of the world beyond her mountain home, Sally Beth sets out on a journey that leads her across the American Southwest and ultimately to a remote mission station in Tanzania, where she finds a new kind of freedom in the African plains and the people who dwell there. But when war comes to the mission gates, its horrors shatter her world. She must find a way to rebuild her life and choose whether or not to serve the people she’s grown to love-a choice that will shake the simple faith of her childhood and ignite her passion for a wounded man.