Confronting Ugliness in Ourselves and Our Writing
Sometimes we need to bleed
As writers of faith, we must let the word of God sink into our hearts and minds, and, more importantly, we must let it change us.
Sometimes we even have to let it draw blood.
Let the word of God do its work
We have to let it work in our lives and in our writing, to the point where we are willing to face the ugliness in ourselves and in the world around us. We have to let it work to the point where we are willing to struggle with that ugliness as we experience it in our lives and as we portray it in our work.
As Christian writers, we tend to shy away from this
We want to write only about what is pleasant and wholesome, taking our cue from Philippians 4:8. Our novels have to have a conversion experience by the end of the story. Our poetry has to depict only the beauty of God’s creation. There is nothing wrong with writing about those things, but there is much more to the reality of life. Philippians 4:8 does talk about whatever is true.
I think perhaps we stop too soon.
We picture the strong healthy tree but we don’t go where the roots are, sunk deep into layers of things that have died. We stay too much on the surface.
Challenged to go deeper
In his wonderful book, Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach talks about cracking open sentences and bits of writing. He challenges his students to go deeper, to look at where they have remained on the surface of things. To look at where they have slipped into a kind of voice over and distanced themselves from the truth in the story.
We all resist doing this because it might mean we’ll bleed.
There seems to be an underlying belief that facing what is painful and ugly in life is somehow denying the goodness of God. But that is not what the Bible teaches.
“The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” (Psalm 12:6 KJV)
Tried in a furnace of earth
That doesn’t sound pleasant to me. “Purified seven times.” That sounds like struggle and anguish and pain that has been forged into what is pure and wholesome and good.
That sounds like a process, not instantaneous perfection.
Skill, knowledge, and a little mystery
When I was a pottery student many years ago, I discovered there are many skills to be learned to become a potter, some of them quite difficult to master. It takes time to acquire those skills and there is a lot of knowledge to be gained — I discovered a potter has to be a geologist, an electrician, and a chemist.
And then there is the sort of mystical side of it all.
The mystery of what makes a piece of work turn out beautiful, and even, in a way, inspirational.
Pottery as an example
As I began to learn all these things, I found out that you can’t use just any old clay to make pottery. It has to be the right consistency, the right combination of elements. Some clay is too fine. When it’s thrown on a wheel it won’t stand up, won’t keep its shape, won’t survive the heat of the kiln, so a substance called grog is added. Grog is clay that has been previously fired in the kiln, then ground into fine particles. As you throw a pot on the wheel you can feel it scraping your hands.
Grog sometimes hurts. Sometimes it even causes hands to bleed.
Our writing needs grog. We must put the stuff of real life into it, or it won’t hold up. We must write about characters who struggle through the pain to find the redemption and own the truth they say they believe.
It takes courage to write with grog.
Gorillas as an example
A friend of my daughter’s had an amazing experience in Africa some time ago. She went with some friends deep into the jungles of Uganda, into gorilla territory. Led by a guide, they walked for some distance, then the guide stopped and waved my daughter’s friend forward. He spoke quietly. “Go and sit in the tall grass,” he said. “Don’t move; when they come, don’t make eye contact. Remain very still.”
And the gorillas came.
They came and touched her hair, and sniffed her neck. She said it took every ounce of courage she had to just sit there until the gorillas wandered back into the tall grasses. She felt a euphoria that she had never experienced before.
A writer must be willing to sit at the bottom of the pit, commit herself to stay there and let all the wild animals approach, even call them up, then face them, write them down, and not run away. — Writing coach Natalie Goldberg
Like my daughter’s friend, if we are to get to the depths of our writing, to find the real joy and truth in it, we must let the gorillas come.
Creating is God’s gift to us, God’s way of taking the wreckage and broken pieces of our lives and recycling them into something more extraordinary than the original. — Marianne Jones
This is our responsibility
To struggle toward that wholeness in our lives and in our work. To take our work deeper. To make sure it has enough grog in it to ensure that it will stand. To put it through the kiln and ensure that it will be something useful, something beautiful, something inspirational, something healing.
And all to the Glory of God because it’s His plan for us, His plan for our work.
May He find us faithful.
This story is published in Koinonia — stories by Christians to encourage, entertain, and empower you in your faith, food, fitness, family and fun.