Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Wisdom of Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L'Engle was perhaps one of the most beloved writers of our time. She is most well-known for her book, A Wrinkle in Time (which I read long ago, but barely remember - must remedy that). However, she also wrote a book on writing and Christianity that has a lot of wonderful insights on creativity. Called Walking on Water, it delves into some of the deepest issues that writers and writers of faith face. I'm reading it for the first time right now and really enjoying it.

The following quotes by L'Engle, though, speak to every type of creative person.

"Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it."

"Artistic temperament sometimes seems a battleground, a dark angel of destruction and a bright angel of creativity wrestling."

I experienced both of them in the last two days. Monday night, I decided to sit down and write despite feeling yucky with allergies and a pounding headache. I wasn't quite sure what I was going to write, only that I needed to. 

I started writing a scene that I liked, then realized it would work better in another part of the book. So I cut it, planning to paste it somewhere else. However, due to my befuddled brain (likely caused by the misnomer of 'non-drowsy' allergy medicine), I accidentally cut and pasted something else and ended up deleting the entire scene altogether.


I sighed, muttered a few choice words, then decided there was nothing to do but rewrite the scene. But I started writing the scene again, and this time, inspiration struck, and the scene was much better than the first time around. 

Madeleine was spot on: inspiration comes during the work

Since my allergy symptoms had abated somewhat, I decided to tackle the novel against last night. I also naively thought I'd opened up the floodgates on writing. I was wrong.

Every word I wrote was agonizing. I couldn't get it to work. Yet I knew exactly what I wanted out of the scene. I deleted a whole swath of words and that helped, but it really was like I was battling between destruction and creativity.

Once again, L'Engle's quote was spot on.

In this writing gig, it helps to know that those who went before us and succeeded in the writing business were not so very different from us. They struggled with writing just like we do. 

Which is why community is so important among writers. It helps to know we're not alone.

Thank you, Madeleine L'Engle, for your words of wisdom.


  1. "Every word I wrote was agonizing. I couldn't get it to work. Yet I knew exactly what I wanted out of the scene. I deleted a whole swath of words and that helped, but it really was like I was battling between destruction and creativity."

    You said it so perfectly. How many times I have experienced this! It actually makes me physically tired!

    I'm glad to have writing friends like you-I would hate to go it alone:)

    1. Oh, I agree on it being physically tiring. That's why we always need to have a good supply of chocolate on hand. :D

  2. I love Walking on Water SO SO SO much. I have it handy by my desk for every bad writing day.

    1. I got it via inter-library loan and just ordered my very own copy. I can see myself returning to it again and again!

  3. Madeleine L'Engle's name sounds so familiar, yet the books you mention don't. Must go and google her and find out what books of hers I have heard of!
    Her quotes are spot on aren't they? Writing can be so hard, but when we persevere inspiration follows.
    I'm glad your rewritten scene turned out better. There's nothing worse than accidentally deleting our work. I think we've all done it!

  4. Oh, and I meant to say, I love the background to your blog and how it keeps changing - so pretty!

    1. JT - I remember when I was in junior high and was using an old MS-DOS computer for my writing endeavors. I sometimes lost whole chapters. Devastating!

      And thank you for the compliment on my blog background. I love to update it, especially around the different seasons. :-)

  5. A lovely post, and so very true!! Well said. :)))


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