Tag Archives: inspiration

Get Courageous

When I was in graduate school at the University of Iowa, I read in the college newspaper an interview with the director of the Playwrights’ Workshop. The reporter asked for his advice to would-be playwrights. His response was so outrageous, I remember it after a bunch of years.

He advised, if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, get rid of them. If you’ve got a husband or wife, disown them. If you’ve got kids, drown them.

I suspect he was practicing dramatic hyperbole. Yet I, like Saint Paul, agree with the basic principle: lovers and dependents can get in the way of our work.

If you dedicate yourself to writing, at some point you’ll suspect people are conspiring to stop you. They will demean your efforts overtly or by lack of appreciation. Your family will fail to hide their resentment of the time you spend dreaming over the keyboard and the fact that you don’t make as much money as you could if you applied the same effort to pulling weeds for minimum wage.

And when you’re having a creative reverie, or even if they catch you transcribing directly from the spirit, they will interrupt.

We can’t blame them. When pursuing our art, we’re lost to the world. We’re remote, boring, often cranky. We’re loners who may elicit jealousy when our loved ones begin to doubt we really need them.

But most of us do need them, at least in times when we’re not creating. So, if I were asked for advice on this issue, I might suggest we try hard to be extra good to our loved ones whenever we break away from our art. And we might try putting a lock on our office door.

In practicing art, we risk alienating family and friends. That’s a fact. Artists aren’t recognized as the best husbands, wives or parents. But neither are soldiers, policemen or preachers, other occupations that require courage.

As Olga Savitsky taught me, King David was “a man after God’s own heart” because he was both a warrior and a poet. I imagine David composing his psalms with the same focus, zeal, and courage as he used attacking Goliath or the Edomites.

Read on in Writing and the Spirit

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Love Better

From Writing and the Spirit:

In church, Olga said she believed that when people prayed for her, the prayers were effective because the people who prayed loved her. A light flashed in my dim brain and I saw that prayers given in love will always be the ones most acceptable to God.

Because God is love, God exists in a dimension of love, and for us to communicate in that dimension, we have to enter that dimension and speak in that dimension’s language.

Similarly, the more able we are to approach our writing with an attitude of love, the closer we will be to the dimension where the spirit that moves us resides, and the better we’ll be able to translate its message.

In the book of Matthew, Christ says to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that spitefully use you and persecute you.” He explains that if we only love our friends and do good to those who treat us well, we are no better than the worst of humanity. So the more and better we love, the closer we’ll get to being like God, to becoming perfect.

If we need to become perfect before we can make perfect art, then the key to perfecting our art is to grow in our capacity to love, and to exercise that capacity.

In light of the above and Saint John’s injunction that “perfect love casts out fear,” let’s suppose the Beatles were right in singing “Love is All You Need.” Then let’s exhort ourselves to love even the antagonists of our lives and our stories. And let’s allow the power of that love to help us create fearlessly, without worrying about the judgment of readers, editors, reviewers, or the folks who sit next to us in church.

With our hearts and minds lightened by love and the absence of fear, the spirit can easily move us.

What Would Jesus Do?

Jesus would tell a story.

When my son Cody was 14 and more troubled than I can write about and keep from feeling my heart break all over again, I gave him a Bible. I had only recently begun attending church. Sometimes Cody would go with me, but though he would never admit to being baffled, I sensed he didn’t have the background required to take much from the messages. So I bought him a Bible of his own and suggested that if he read at least Matthew and Acts, he’d get some basics that would make church less strange and tedious.

Late that night, he ran upstairs. Sounding more animated than he had in a couple of years, he said, “Hey, I thought this Bible was a lot of preaching, but it’s a great story.”

Didn’t Cecil B. DeMille title his epic film, The Greatest Story Ever Told?
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In his essay “Faith and Fiction,” novelist Fredrick Buechner contends that whether what we call inspiration comes from the Holy Spirit, from the muse (who or whatever she may be), or results from a lucky break in the process of imagining, it’s possible at least every now and then to be better than we are, to write more than we know. And he points out that St. Paul asked, “Do you not know that God’s spirit dwells in you?”

And 1 Corinthians 2:16 maintains, “But we have the mind of Christ.” Which could mean that Christ’s mind has entered ours, thereby giving us its capabilities. Or it could mean that we can use our minds in the same ways Christ used his.

Either interpretation tells me we are capable of tuning in and getting divine help with our essays, poems or stories. And if we aren’t tuning in, if the spirit isn’t helping, the problem may lie with our attitude.

One Sunday Gary Goodell, a pastor and former seminary professor, proposed that it may be through the act of communion that Christ enters our being.

Let’s suppose this is the case. Then having the mind of Christ depends upon receiving communion, and according to 1 Corinthians 11: 23-29, receiving communion (rather than just gobbling it) requires a humble and honest attitude.

So, attitude may be the key to the place (or places) the spirit (or spirits) rests. Our attitude may determine which spirit can move us, as well as how much we hear of what the spirit has to say.

Inspiration or Imagination

William Blake believed every word he wrote came from God. I’m not so blessed as that. Most of my words come from my imagination.

I’m not convinced distinguishing between imagination and inspiration is critical to our stories or our lives, but it could be, so let’s pursue the question.

In a lecture entitled “Imagination vs. Inspiration,” poet Garcia Lorca maintained that the imagination was a form of logic which could do many things but couldn’t “touch the darker forces of nature or the most incandescent light, or the realm of the unknown.” Imagination, he explained, always works with facts borrowed from the “most clear and precise form of reality.”

In my experience, imagination usually begins with connections. I build Juan out of character traits I’ve witnessed. Then I lock Juan in a broken elevator with Lucy, who may have red hair, and I watch what happens. If it charms or excites me, I write it down.

Or a taste reminds me of a hamburger stand named Jub’s my friend Eric Curtis and I used to frequent. Soon I’m writing a scene that happens in Mission Beach, where Jub’s was located.

That’s imagination.

But inspiration appears out of nowhere. Or from somewhere we can’t locate. It could be some as of yet unidentified part of our brains. Or it could come direct from God. Whatever the source or path, it manifests itself in moments that can make us gasp in awe of a truth we hadn’t noticed before.

And it usually gives the kind of truth we can’t express in any other terms than the one we’ve just encountered. If we try to analyze, we may sense that this truth comes from beneath, beyond or above our reality.

It’s the kind of truth we find so often in the Bible. The kind that comes clear yet remains a mystery.

Inspired?

I go to a church where people occasionally stand (or remain sitting) and bring a prophetic word. And I suspect the inspiration they receive that prompts these outbursts may be of identical substance to the inspirations that seem to compel us writers to feel what people call “in the zone,” as if the words we write are coming from elsewhere.

I was having lunch with Charlie Gregg, a pastor and pastor’s kid. He’s witnessed probably thousands of what church folks call “words of knowledge” and also written plenty of sermons, devotions and stories. He agreed with my comparison and added, “I feel most convinced that the promptings are from God when I’m in worship.”

Perhaps that’s a universal experience. If so, and if we could all find a worshipful (or thankful or open-hearted) attitude to write within, we’d likely be more open to the spirit’s instructions.

Spirit?

Morty Sklar founded a publishing venture called The Spirit That Moves Us.

That’s the spirit I mean.

As most earnest writers would agree, we write because we have to. We get depressed when we don’t. Something tells us to write down what we see, feel or imagine. After we’ve followed that direction, something tells us, “Develop that more, you haven’t told the whole story.” When we ask, “What’s the whole story?” something says “You’re only going to learn that by telling it well.”

In the end, when we’ve created a story or poem or essay that seems to transcend what we know and what we intended and that teaches us something new, we probably feel closer to the joy God knows in creation than anybody other than creators can feel.

Maybe the something that urges and compels us is what we Christians call the Holy Spirit. If so, we should pay more attention to that advisor.

On ChristianityToday.com, I read: “I’ve puzzled over a riddle for some time now. It goes like this: Those who call on Jesus for salvation are given the Holy Spirit. It’s through the Spirit’s power that we, simple jars of clay, are able to shine golden and do wonderful things beyond our human capability. So, why do Christians, who claim access to the original creator, so often produce poor art?”

One reason may be that Christians tend not to value their imaginations as much as they value order and discipline. Art can be messy.

I suspect most artists could get diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. But, at least in most cases, I wouldn’t consider that condition a disorder. I’d call it a blessing.

When I start to pray, after a few seconds, my mind drifts, and the prayer gets left behind. I’ve tried meditating. My mind refuses to shut down, or even relax. Now, “prayer warriors” and avid pursuers of meditation would no doubt assure me that practice would bring control over my wandering mind. But so far I haven’t felt God urging me to dedicate myself to lengthy prayers or daily meditation. I have, though, sensed him telling me to write most every day.

I suspect we artists were created to scatter more readily, to be more self-propelled than other folks, and to resist imposed structures. So, maybe our best road for inching or rushing closer to God is the same road that will lead us toward better paintings, songs or stories. Maybe, since God appears to have designed us to make art, we’ll never find peace or please God any other way.

Or maybe I’m nuts.

A selection from Writing and the Spirit, by Ken Kuhlken

A Masterpiece

Long ago, in Chico, California, I was with students in a taco shop after a creative writing class I taught at the state university a few blocks away.

A student, a black-haired beauty incongruously named Mord, said, “Writing is so hard, I wonder if it’s worth our time to maybe spend our whole lives writing stories and maybe not make any money with them.

“Why do you do it?” she asked.

“I have this dream,” I said, “that if I write enough stories and work hard enough, one of them will be a masterpiece.”

“Okay, but how will you know it’s a masterpiece?”

“Maybe I won’t,” I said. “But somebody who reads it might tell me it moved them to have a better life, or to see the world more clearly.”

Later, in Tucson, Arizona, Jonathon Penner, a writer and professor, asked, “How do you think we can draw the distinction between art and commercial or hack writing?”

I thought a while and said, “Beats me.” But over the years I’ve discovered a better response.

Art, I’ll contend, isn’t the creation but the process of giving all our powers to make a creation as superb and honest as we can. The creation may become what we call great art, good art, poor art, or lousy art. But art it is, if the creator gave it his or her all.

And our powers aren’t only about innate talent or developed skill, I’m convinced. The power we have, the one that can make our efforts transcend our talent and skill and birth a masterpiece, is the power to get inspired.

From Writing and the Spirit