Tag Archives: spirit

Gifts from the Spirit

A fellow named John, perhaps John the disciple, gets a revelation, a series of visions. As he believes the revelation has come by way of an angel, he writes down his visions.

I’m writing about Mount Shasta, California forty years before I first saw it, and the layout of the town comes to me. Later, a woman who has read the book writes and tells me she lived in Mount Shasta during that time, and she wonders how I got it exactly right.

A novel I’ve labored over most of my adult life, and as yet haven’t mastered, still calls me to go back and fix it, though I’ve been willing to let other manuscripts stay on the shelves for eternity.

Richard Shelton is sitting atop his roof when the phone rings. He’s expecting an important call, so he starts to climb down but slips and falls into a tree, which breaks his fall. He scurries out of the tree and runs into the house but misses the phone call, and in a flash, a whole poem comes to him. He writes it down and submits it to The New Yorker. They publish it. Years later, he can still say it was the only poem he has written that he didn’t revise.

When I tell stories about my relatives and other people I know, I get comments like “How come you get to meet all the interesting people?” One reason I like to use people I have known as the beginnings of characters I fictionalize, is that so many people I have known intrigue me. People we meet can be gifts from the spirit.

Gifts from the spirit may include such occurrences as confidence that although we haven’t a clue where the story is headed, it will find its way and lead us to some event that brings the previous stuff together. Even words, images or lines that spring to mind most unexpectedly may be gifts from the spirit.

For a whole book about writing and the spirit, click here.

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

Why Write?

A prologue: Though I have plenty (probably too much) to say about many subjects, I need to limit my blogging or else give up other pursuits, such as writing novels or helping with my Zoe’s softball. I’d rather limit. A blog post once a week seems to fit my inclinations and circumstances.

The first week of each month goes to a blog for my mystery publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. I try to post something that might be of interest to mystery writers and readers. My day is the 8th.

And as I’m the guy in charge of communications from Perelandra College, I attempt to post on the college blog insights primarily relevant to writers who are Christians, which lots of our students are, though I hope those posts might also resonate with other writers.

The last week of each month I devote lots of time to The Scoop, a newsletter mostly about happenings within the Perelandra College community (you could subscribe through the link on the college website home page).

Which leaves me about a week a month to pursue thoughts about a subject dear to my heart, which is living as a writer, how to do so with the minimum of tragic or debilitating consequences and instead with the maximum of inspiration and joy. So, I’ll try to offer some words on this gnarly topic each month. Please note the word “try”.

Today I’ll tackle a question at the heart of the matter: why do we choose to write, anyway? Because, if we can’t answer that one, how can we begin to make sense of our lives?

I’ve attended dozens of writing conferences. Almost always, the keynote speaker tells the story: How I Got Rich and Famous. I find that story offensive, because in the context it implies that the reason we write is to get rich and famous.

In the film Citizen Kane, the tycoon’s old and wise advisor tells a reporter, “Well, it’s no trick to make a lot of money … if all you want is to make a lot of money.”

If I chose my career for the sake of making money, I would turn to buying, selling and developing real estate, and thereby boost a thousandfold the odds of my getting rich, if not famous.

So if not to get rich and famous, why should anyone choose to be a writer?

Some of us may be cursed by a need for closure. A story idea comes to mind, perhaps as a character or an image, and we get obsessed by a craving to follow it and see where the story goes.

Once I went to a party in a cabin on the shore of Lake Tahoe. In the living room were two distinct groups. One group was reading and discussing the Bible. The other group was passing a joint and laughing about something (probably about the Bible fans). A pretty girl stood between the groups, staring back and forth, appearing bewildered by the decision to join one group or the other. At last, she turned and rushed outside, ran straight to the lake and plunged in. I watched until she came out and trudged in her sopping boots, jeans and t-shirt, away down the beach.

I should’ve run after her and tried to make friends, but I’m shy. So instead I made her into a girl named Jodi, got inside her head and wrote Midheaven.

Even now, some decades later, I love that girl.

I miss her and wonder what became of her after I wrote The End, which I intend to find out in a year or two when she meets Clifford Hickey, another of my favorite people.

By the way, Writing and the Spirit, my book of reflections about inspiration and how to find it, was released not long ago by OakTara Press. Every writer and other kind of artist ought to read it. No kidding.

Tough Guys Like Jesus

Following the lead of my son Cody who at age seven hoped to become a ninja, I practiced Tae Kwon Do for five years, under Master Jeong.  Among his admonitions were, “Don’t fight unless you are willing to die,” and a corollary, “Don’t take black belt test unless you are willing to die. “

The advice is about risk versus reward. If you fight with the least timidity, you probably will lose. The black belt test is meant to push you beyond your capacity.

Soren Kierkegaard offers similar advice about choosing the Christian faith. Making an existential choice, at least one so fraught with peril as following Christ, requires us to take a stand, to commit to an idea, value, or view with the intention of following it to the grave.  Like marriage, for those who take their vows in earnest.  So, wisdom would dictate, “Don’t take a stand, don’t commit, unless you are willing to risk dying for it.”

To commit ourselves is simple enough unless we mean to keep the commitment.  To keep a commitment, we don’t just choose once, but need to make the choice over and over, all our lives.  Remission in our will to stand firm often proves fatal to the commitment, and causes its purpose to backfire.  Again, think of marriage, or of church leaders who get busted for preaching one value and living otherwise and who in consequence bring disgrace and mockery on the faith.

Recently Zoë and I watched The Karate Kid.  The old one with Mister Miyagi.  I was reminded that the Tae Kwon Do spirit is “indomitable spirit”, which I as a black belt am supposed to exemplify.

At first, I felt confronted with a dilemma, and struggled to resolve the insistence on exerting my indomitable spirit with the Christian’s call to die to self, to consider our own power as nothing, but submit to God and rely on His power.

Then I saw that in order to stand up to discouragement, frustration, doubts, and the other forces that attack us all, and to recommit over and over to follow the choice I made, I (at least) need an indomitable spirit.

For those who would remind me that God can give us an indomitable spirit, I will point out that we still need to summon and apply it, and to remind ourselves of it when we feel forsaken, as even the best of us occasionally do.

Ken Kuhlken