I studied the cover of the slim book in my hand: Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.
I was intrigued. Not only by the title but also by the striking design.
Likewise, the author.
I knew Madeleine L’Engle only from her Newberry Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time—a children’s science fantasy. I read it for a Children’s Lit class in college and again when my daughter read it in elementary school.
What could a science fantasy writer have to say about the intersection of faith and art?
Turns out quite a lot.
Walking on Water is not a book on technique. It’s an inspiring discourse for writers (and any artist) on how to live life so we create at our highest level.
The author’s words overflow with wisdom. That’s something in an age bloated with information but hungry for meaning. L’Engle had me when she wrote, “If I leave my work for a day, it leaves me for three.”
Four Practices to Improve a Writer’s Creativity
Four main principles are woven throughout the book. L’Engle proposes that following them will increase our creativity.
We must return to our childhood qualities. The openness that comes naturally when we’re children is vital for the writer. This means we live in a state of expectation and are able to imagine the impossible.
L’Engle drives home her point with this stat: At the age of five, 90% of children measure at high creativity. By age seven, the figure drops to 10%. The percentage of adults with high creativity is only two percent!
As adults, we have to constantly unlearn what the world teaches us.
Consider what she says of Mary: “She was little more than a child when the angel Gabriel came to her; she had not lost her creative acceptance of the realities moving on the other side of the everyday world.”
We must abandon our intellectual control. When we give in to the notion that our writing might take us places we aren’t ready to go, say things that someone doesn’t want to hear, or write from a place that’s real and painful, then something is likely to happen that will startle us during the act of creating.
But because we’re afraid of what we can’t control, we draw boundaries. We limit ourselves to what we know and understand.
L’Engle suggests this is because we don’t dare be co-creators with God. But to be an artist means we allow our whole selves to be placed with absolute faith in what is greater than we are. The artist must be obedient to the work, “whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child.”
“The novel we sit down to write and the one we end up writing may be very different, just as the Jesus we grasp and the Jesus who grasps us may also differ,” she says.
Listen to the Silence
We must seek silence in our noisy world. We must take ourself out of the way to hear. The act of listening in prayer, L’Engle argues, is the same act as listening in writing. And we must stay open to the voice of the Spirit.
“God is always calling on us to do the impossible,” she says. “It helps me to remember that anything Jesus did during His life here on earth is something we should be able to do, too.”
She describes the ideal state like this:
In prayer, in the creative process, these two parts of ourselves, the mind and the heart, the intellect and the intuition, the conscious and the subconscious mind, stop fighting each other and collaborate.
We hold onto the wonder of children, we surrender control, we become still and listen. But something must happen before we can listen.
Keep the Clock Wound
We must work. Writers have to pay for the “gift” of listening through daily practice, our equivalent to finger exercises for the pianist. Here’s how L’Engle summarizes this paradox:
The creative process is incomplete unless the artist is in the best sense of the word, a technician, one who knows the tools of the trade, and studies his techniques, and is disciplined.
Walking on Water is an essay worth reading, Not only does L’Engle create beauty with words, she also inspires and offers much to ponder. So much so that we can forgive her occasional rambling.
What’s something you do that helps you create at your highest level? My ritual, after I pray, is to light a red currant candle. I’m addicted to it. The scent signals my brain that it’s time to work.
“The novel we sit down to write and the one we end up writing may be very different, just as the Jesus we grasp and the Jesus who grasps us may also differ.” #writingcommunity #creativity #faithandart Click To Tweet