With a Child-Like Wonder

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

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'I'm a child in my Father's Hand!
He holds me within His palm;
To know that He knows every grain of sand,
And knows me too gives me a sweet calm;
In His Hands, He holds the stars true,
So can He not hold me secure too?'

There comes a time in one's life where childhood dreams and imaginations crumble into pieces of fragmented glass, into the inner ashes of the soul and are found buried deep down as lava and molten rock, cold, unfeeling, even at times hurting. Our dreams vanish through the fog of the window of our hearts and minds into the cold reality of the 'grown-up' world. How truly it was that the Apostle Paul wrote, 'When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but, when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.' - Corinthians 13: 11-13 NKJV

In this stage of my life, I've been struggling with losing those tiny bits of the child in me, as I face more responsibilities and goals than I ever did when I was younger and realize that many things in life that I had seen through the idealistic spectacles of childhood are in fact gritty hard stuff and sometimes just really unpleasant. The grown-up world can be so confusing and complex and 'tricksy' and at times I desperately feel that I don't want to understand it. Yet somehow it seems that from now on I shall feel like I am loosing a little bit more of the element of my childhood that I've clung to for so many years and grow 'old, realistic and serious'. And that fact kind of hurts you know. True, I still have many very childish things which I actually wish and long to 'put away' - immaturity and silliness on life, an irresponsibility that the world sees as the essence of what kids and teenagers are made of (take cue from Jenny's post here which entirely echoes my thoughts on this subject). No, I am sorry, but I do want to be grown-up and mature about life. I want to grow in my faith, as the Scriptures say, in the inner man - like a soldier and a warrior! 

But there is another facet, another aspect of 'the child' that I do not wish to let go of, the 'child' that Jesus spoke about. I long to treasure in my heart the child-like, the heart-felt, the strong and yet simple trusting faith, the love and joy in my Heavenly Father: a childlike trust and sensitivity to His Presence and His Voice not only in the big things of life, but also in the normal, mundane and even apparently silly stuff of every day. I remember those moments as a child sensing Him with me and knowing the quiet joy of His love as I tended my little baby dollies, or play-acted fantastical stories in our sunny little garden; where every blossom was a bloom from a palace garden and every piece of straw had some beauty and delight; where the little ants lining up in perfect order on the path seemed like such a profound wonder. I don't want to give that up. I do not want to loose the awe and wonder and recapturing and treasuring the splendor of God in the life He has given me. Of course, part of life as God made it is growing up - maturing - and it is silly and pointless to cling to childish 'dreams' and idealistic fancies: and yet I also believe there is a treasure in childhood that is beyond 'childish': it is seeing life with wide-eyed amazement and joy at every fresh petal, every smile, every breath of air... and see the face of God, His heart in those around me, my parents, my sisters or friends in the kitchen and in the bedroom; the joy and wonder in the mundane and routine.

But you know, I am starting to realize that the older and stronger I grow in Jesus, the Source of all Life and Joy, the more 'young' and 'child-like' I will be about the world, and the more I will be able to retain the Hope and Joy of my life in Him. I will be able to experience an even more beautiful appreciation for life (the painful, the joyful and the difficult), and gratitude and wonder in God. And my hope that is in God is this. It is that though I now see in a mirror and dimly and seem to loose a lot of that 'child-like wonder', I shall know face to face one day. I shall be amazed all over again. Now I know only in part, as in a fragment of long lost poetry, but then I will know just as I also am known. I may not understand or know now but as through dim windows and mirrors I know from the bottom of my heart that I am held within the hands of my God and I can believe that what He says is true. Though all fails and all turns to darkness, He is the same and unchanging in His love and purpose and character. His love - a love so great that every single love on this earth when compared with His fade into shadows, half-phantoms and ashes - is so strong, so fearful and beautiful and wonderful, so self-sacrificing and unfailing that I am nothing but overwhelmed at the thought that this all-consuming, Holy Love has been poured out and given to insignificant, sinful worms of His creation...to me. And so abundantly, so freely - indeed, He makes all things new and beautiful!

And all I can do is bow down and worship - and be amazed, with a child-like wonder, all over again. 

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” 

G. K. Chesterton 


P.S. this post was based off a journal entry in my diary sometime ago, so if it seems melancholic, a bit random and not very cohesive, I beg your pardon... this is, in a more refined way, the format a typical journal entry of mine looks like - so you are catching another one of those glimpses of my life through reading it!

Imitation, Inspiration, and a Thing Called Voice [Guest Post]

Saturday, 6 April 2013

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I'm not sure if The Trouble with Imitation answered any thoughts writers may have on the subject of inspiration, but I do know it raised more questions!

Joy sent me a sort of follow-up email this week on the subject of, well, "imitation, inspiration, and a thing called voice."  These are all fairly elusive terms - I'm still not sure I could define 'voice' adequately if someone put a gun to my head and insisted on it (although you can bet I would try) - and ones I'm pretty sure we've all wondered about.  I don't know if I will be able to answer all the questions, but I'll give it a shot in the hopes of clearing up some of the muddle that comes with literary talk.

[Question 1]...I have also been mulling over the trouble of plagiarizing and copy-catting too much the books we cherish and authors we respect vs. going to the other extreme of not reading at all so as not to let our writings be unduly influenced! ...Sometimes I struggle with the whole art of learning from ‘The Greats’ and imbibing the skills and virtues they were masters at, without messing up with my own style and voice and especially the genre I am writing in. 

There is a lot of talk in writing and publishing circles today about "voice."  I don't know if it's always been this way and I just wasn't around to notice, or if it is a new phenomenon, but the fact stands: voice is getting a lot of press these days.  I can't count the number of publishing houses and agencies I've run across that specifically state that they're looking for authors with "a distinctive voice."  And on the one hand, that's a good thing: they want writers who are unashamedly themselves, not cheap imitations of other authors' glory.

But there is almost always another hand to consider, and this emphasis has given rise to unwarranted panic among writers who feel like maybe they don't have a voice, maybe their voice isn't distinctive enough, maybe they're losing their voice.  So I'll start out my reply by saying that I do not believe this is something we ought to sweat over.  The long and the short, and the tall and the wide, of voice is that it is your individual means of self-expression.  It does not require that you consciously attempt to be original - especially not as regards grammar and structure, because honestly, they're around for a reason.  Your voice is just you, and it no more needs to be stressed over than does your own identity.

Writing is a form of self-expression (among other things): that is or ought to be what people mean when they talk about voice.  It is not necessarily constant; it can shift from story to story and from year to year, developing in much the same way that the physical voice does.  For new and young writers, that voice has not necessarily presented itself.  It takes time - and usually more than one novel - for it to be recognizable, and more time still for it to be anything like "developed." 

In the meantime (and afterward, because an author's voice shouldn't grow monotonous), writers ought to exercise in two ways.  The first, of course, is by the repeated practice of writing.  Some people say you should write every day; I think that depends on the individual, but certainly we should do our best to keep in practice.  The second means, which brings me to the second part of Joy's question, is reading.

[Question 2] And also, to know what kind of books are helpful, inspirational and beneficial to read or stay away from reading during the process of writing one’s own particular novel has been a challenge; i.e. while writing a historical fiction is reading a fantasy by Tolkien or a mystery by Agatha Christie... or writing a science-fiction while reading a tome by Dickens or Shakespeare beneficial to one’s writing?
The critical thing when it comes to imitation, inspiration, and voice is to make sure we read widely.  What we read, at least as far as genre goes, will never be as important as reading extensively.  If we limit ourselves to a few authors, whether they be classical or contemporary, Charles Dickens or Stephanie Meyer, we will be in danger of imitating them.  It may not be conscious, but it is bound to happen one way or another.  If a stranger should come to look at our shelves, they ought always come away with the opinion that we have varied and perhaps even eclectic tastes.  Don't read only those authors who think the same way you do, or who write the same way you do, for then you will grow insulated and never learn to expand and to think: you will simply plateau.  We need the input, not of one person or of no one at all, but of many different writers in order to develop our own writing identity.  To think we need no one is arrogant; to think we need only a few is foolish.

As far as what particular genres and books we should read, again, I would venture a guess that it varies for every writer.  For myself, I tend to steer clear of similar novels until I've finished my own - not so much to avoid copying as to be able to say that no, Tip Brighton was not influenced by Jack Aubrey or Horatio Hornblower, thankee very much.  Other writers, however, like to read extensively within their own genres to get a feel for trends and cliches.  Either method has its pros and cons, and something in the middle is probably the best way to go. 

Because the process of writing a novel generally takes so long, I wouldn't advise orchestrating your entire reading schedule around the genre you're working with: it is too confining and, I believe, will only limit the range from which you draw inspiration.  Even for science-fiction, inspiration can be drawn from Shakespeare.  And inspiration aside, it can simply be a relief to distance yourself from your own story and read something completely different.  I'm reading P.G. Wodehouse at the moment, which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with my characters, my setting, or my plot: it is just a refresher.

On the other hand, it is true that there are some authors whose style is so different from my own that I find myself floundering in my own writing while reading their books.  This has only happened one or two times, but I figure the best thing to do is either stop reading or just say, "Oh, whatever!" and finish the book.  It may gum up your writing for a little while, but in the long run no individual book will do any damage.  As long as we continue to expand our horizons through the dual process of reading and writing, the development and recognition of our own individual voice will follow.  We need not sweat too heavily over it!

Abigail Hartman is the author of The Soldier's Cross, a historical novel set during the Hundred Years' War. Her debut work, it was published in 2010 by Ambassador Intl. and is newly available in Dutch through De Banier Publishing. Abigail writes both historical fiction and fantasy and also keeps a blog, Scribbles and Ink Stains, where she posts on the topics of writing, reading, and matters in between.