Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Writers Have to Choose

Nabbed by Fish

Make some choices.

That's what one of my Manuscript Readers commented, when I was in the late stages of reworking Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places.

What she didn't know (at least I think she didn't) was that I was facing a crisis of identity. I can be lightly humorous at times, but all my Readers seemed more attracted to the poetic aspects of the text. I didn't want to be poetic. I wanted to be liked. People often like funny people. Ergo, I wanted to be funny.

But here was this Reader telling me in no uncertain terms... make some choices.

I think this is one of the hardest parts of writing. From top to bottom. From the big picture down to the individual words. What to leave in, what to leave out. Which face to show and which to hide. Or, if you prefer, which voice to sound or which to silence. (It's one of the reasons I blog and write poetry. In such small spaces, one has GOT to make choices. Good ones at that, to keep a community of readers coming back.)

Someone asked me recently when I first knew I wanted to be a writer. Huh?

I told him I never really wanted to be a writer. Maybe because I knew in my deepest self that, among other things, writing is an exercise in making choices. And for someone as spirited as I am, that was a difficult act of submission. In the end, writing seemed to choose me. Which means I've got to conform to this golden writing rule: make some choices, 'cause good writers have to choose.

Chosen by the Fish painting (don't know the real title!) by Salvador Dali, photographed in Paris by L.L. Barkat.


I loved these thoughts from Erica on her history with poetry

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Blogger Christianne said...

LL, this could not have come at a better time. I've been ruminating on a similar theme, and it really comes down to choices. For me, it partly has to do with writing. But in a grader scheme of things, I think it also has to do with choosing who I want to truly be. Not that we have to be confined to one small portion of ourselves (you can be lightly humorous AND poetic -- they are both part of you), but for me the question becomes, "How do I tailor 'who I am' to different crowds?" Am I being who I really am, or am I motivated to be a different, non-version of my true self? Or my false self? Or my depraved self? Or who God is really sculpting me to become more of?

Big questions. Not easy, clear answers. But this post resonated with me at a timely moment. Maybe just to help me remember that God really is speaking, asking me to pay attention to His questions.

1:02 PM  
Blogger elaine @ peace for the journey said...

OK...been on two blogs today that have left me with some food to chew on:

#1. "Be the evidence..."

#2. "Make some choices..."

Somehow, those declarations seem intricately woven, don't they?


1:22 PM  
Blogger Llama Momma said...

This rings so true to me right now. Choices. I'm with you! I don't like them one bit! :-)

1:26 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

The choices we're given never cease to amaze me. "Really? I get to choose all that?" or, alternately, "I HAVE to choose all that?" Sometimes I want to stand openmouthed and stare at God for the things he trusts me with.

1:40 PM  
Anonymous heather said...

What a great way to put it. It seems to me that writing is about being yourself, and sometimes that crosses a little here and a little there, but I can't really let it be as scattered as my brain. I have to focus it--this is how I'm going to represent me. I don't like it. I want to be all sides of me all the time.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Nikki said...

Choices... ah yes, of course. I notice that they are seldom easy ones. Some of the best writing advice I ever received was to remove from my writing anything I really liked or thought was particularly clever. In other words, I was asked to distrust my own judgment when it came to my own work. I'm self-willed enough to hate that sort of advice, but it has served me well when I have chosen to listen to it. Funny, I never wanted to be a writer either. And now I am not quite sure what I am now that I am not writing/editing for a living. Perhaps I will write in hopes of figuring that out.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

I can really relate to this right now. I'm editing a novel and need to cut about 60 pages to get it down to a more marketable length. So every time I work on it, I'm making hard, hard choices.

And that theme is so pertinent to the economic situation so many find themselves in right now too.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Laure said...

i'm growing less and less motivated by the opinions of others, l.l., and at the same time i am growing more and more intentional about knowing who i am and what i believe and what decisions/actions i make.

it interests me that the more authentic i am and my self expression is in the world, the less i defend myself to others, the less i judge others who don't get me or agree with me, and the less i attempt to homogenize my living experience. my voice is becoming more quiet but also more distilled and pure. interior work is greatly influencing my self expression.

i sense a kind of urgency to get really really clear about these issues i've spoken to here ... particularly in the face of growing turbulence here at home and in the world.

7:27 PM  
Blogger NaNcY said...

i like your choices.


7:48 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Christianne... what you say about choosing who you want to be... that's it really. I mean, as I said in the post, this seemingly mundane aspect of writing had much to do with questions of identity. It took accepting myself to finally make the choice I needed to make for Stone Crossings. Sure, there are still some light passages, but I finally embraced the serious lovely side. Loved all your questions!

Elaine... oh yes, great juxtaposition. After I wrote the post I was actually thinking along the same lines.

Llama... any reason we don't like choices sometimes? What's that about? :)

Sarah... open mouthed and a little anxious. At least for me.

Heather... that made me smile. I do believe we share scattered-brain-syndrome! :) But one must hold it back in the writing.

Nikki... maybe it's about where we are in the process. I think there's a place for going wild, being as clever or funny or poetic or whatever we want to be. As a way to get the best possible stuff out on the table. But then comes the selection process. And this has to be metered, of sound mind and strong hand. You aren't writing? Not editing? I think I missed hearing about that. What are you up to?

Ruth... oh, bless you dear one! What a job. :)

Laure... I was most touched by your observation that such personal work seems important in the world as it is. Interesting thought. And the rest... about becoming yourself... it's a great opportunity that writing offers us if we take it. I like the "you" you are showing to the world, or are simply becoming and sharing.

Nancy... such sweet words. :) thanks.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

I suppose you're quite right here. When I get sloppy is when I'm not nitpicking over choices. Choosing in writing is most certainly important.

And I like your point that one is chosen to be a writer, you just don't choose it. I read and write, partly out of love for words, and for knowledge and life, but mainly because that's just who I am.

That goes to my thought here: I think it just needs to be an expression of who we are, who we Christians are in Jesus as we're being made new in the new creation. This is expressive in so many ways, so that ends up taking us back to where you started. Good writers have to choose. Ha.

12:19 AM  
Blogger GratefulinGA said...

very timely, your speaking to my our thoughts on this matter.

gotta say i'm much like Laure although i attribute mine to life experiences that so vastly changed my world, and compel me to often speak more often in truth and in love.

Sometimes i wonder if i come across as multiple personality because some of my writing is very light (grandkids and learning golf) and then there are those i am drawn to write that are very personal pieces.

don't know, writing at this time, in this way is so new, unexpected and so like breathing.

thank you for sharing these nuggets; i never fail to stop by without contemplating something of value.


9:35 AM  
Blogger Craver Vii said...

I wonder if Dali was thinking about Jonah.

Being "lightly funny" can be costly. Sometimes people expect you to perform for them. Hmph!

Worse than that, if you do too good a job at it, people don't want to take you seriously.

That is why, sometimes I choose simply to listen. I'll attempt to fade into the background.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Leonie e. Brown said...

Hi there, love your blog and thanks for looking at mine. I'm very new at this blogging thing. How do I link to u or get updates when u write new stuff. I couldn't find a 'link to this blog' tab.
Please help.
Thanks Leonie

11:51 AM  
Blogger RissaRoo said...

Beautifully stated! I sometimes hate choices, and yet they makes us who we are. Choose truth, choose purity (of word and deed), choose faith, choose openness, choose to write and speak and live in love...thank you for the reminder (needed daily, hourly even) to be present and think through my choices!

12:07 PM  
Blogger NaNcY said...

i already sent this to random poetry...but, thought you would want to see it too. enjoy!

12:16 PM  
OpenID samwrites2 said...

Nicely poetically put. Your prose does resonate that way and I appreciate it.
For some reason when you mentioned "Stone Crossings" and choices I thought of the process of picking out which stones to skip across a still pond. And which ones do we spot and keep as treasures?

12:52 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Ted... and I'm thinking that the more we put into who we are, the more interesting our writing can be! : )

Tammy... I think we can probably write in many ways. Blogging surely allows for that. The problem with doing that in one book is... well, it does have the effect of "multiple personality", which is annoying to readers. So I'll write books, yes, but I'll keep blogging too. And you... you can rest assured that there's room for all of you in the blogosphere! :)

Craver... oh, that's funny. Maybe. But this looks more like one of those tropical fish. :) I guess that whenever we do something well, humor or otherwise, we create expectations we might have to live up to.

Leonie... you can use different methods. You could add the url to Netvibes, Google Reader, or Bloglines or even to your feeds in your email if you use something like Yahoo which offers that. You can run a google search for Netvibes, Google Reader, and Bloglines to find these things and get info on how to use them. Nice to see you here again. I love your paintings!!

Erica... so true. I guess all of life presents us with choices!

Nancy... curious how you sent it. Are you a member of High Calling Blogs?

Sam... that was sweetly poetic! A side you kind of keep under wraps. :) Nice.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Lynet said...

Very few of my decisions are made so consciously. Just occasionally I'll decide 'Why not try to write another villanelle?' or whatever, but most of the time the little decisions that follow will be by instinct. I think the most significant choices I make come down to 'Does this need editing?' The rest happens quite naturally.

I think I make most of my big and/or artistic choices blindfold, so as not to be distracted by the colours I give things on the surface. Mind you, you can only make choices blindfold if you've spent a lot of time with your eyes wide open first.

'Big and/or artistic' is an interesting category, isn't it?

2:32 AM  
Blogger Miriam said...

L.L., just wanted to let you know I was finally able to get a copy of Stone Crossings, and am SO blessed. I think you chose well, and that you let the Spirit quide you in those choices (isn't that good that He helps us?). Your words, and His, are breath and life to weary souls. Thank you.

9:50 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Dukes Lee said...

I struggle with this so much in my own writing.

Even on my blog. I think people who show up there must think: "Who wrote this one? Because the writer of this post doesn't seem remotely resemble the writer of the previous."

I wonder if we can have a predominant voice, but that our other voices can have some space, too. We're complex beings, and to force any one of us into a box doesn't feel true to me. Don't think my editor would agree with that, though ....
Thanks for making me think.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Billy Coffey said...

I think it was Frost who said that if there are no tears in the writer, there will be no tears in the reader.

It's often that good books are made not by what's been put into them, but what's been taken out. And the choice to take out (or rearrange, or repackage, or etc.) is difficult because it often seems a form of suicide. Our writing is an extension of ourselves. The words we put on the page are taken from our hearts, our souls, and so it's easy to feel as though it isn't our work that isn't good enough, but person from which that work is drawn. The choice to accept the former is much nearer to the truth is perhaps the hardest one we must make.

3:40 PM  
Blogger NaNcY said...

no i am not a member.
oh no, i forgot about the member thing.
i think i just put it into the comments. this ok?

5:57 PM  
Blogger Sojourner said...

It was good to see your footprint in His Garden! I love the comment that writing chose you. It does that doesn't it? Sometimes as a writer it's hard to make choices like you describe. I'll hang around here and browse a bit if you don't mind.

6:38 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Lynet... yes, it's hard to understand how writers make their choices. I think part of it is developing an internal sense of good writing, through reading. And maybe also from writing, and writing, and writing, until one's voice begins to really show patterns and then we weed out the stuff that breaks the good patterns of sound, image, and so forth. I like your poetry, as you know!

Miriam... thank you for your kind words about Stone Crossings. Funny you should say that about weary souls. I think I've told the story here before about how I wanted to quit writing about halfway through. I felt like I was failing at the task. And that verse came... from Isaiah... about "sustaining the weary with a word." It was an encouragement for me to go on, a mission I suddenly realized I had and so God would provide what I needed to accomplish it.

Jennifer... I think we probably do have predominant voices. But also that we are versatile creatures. The thing in a book is that one really must choose, so as not to aggravate readers. I had to discover that the hard way. On your blog, I say be everything you want to be! The medium lends itself.

Billy... sounds like the voice of experience. :) And I LOVE the Frost (or whoever) quote. Well, I did weep when I wrote Stone Crossings, for what it's worth.

Nancy... oh, no problem at all. I just was wondering how you managed to communicate it to them. And did you see? They put in a link to the poem? Sweet!

Sojourner... welcome to Seedlings. Sure, come on in and kick your feet up. Nap if you like. Then ask someone to put the kettle on. I suspect they might even give you a chocolate too. :)

7:59 PM  
Blogger Jenny Jill said...

Choice is an interesting concept. I originally wanted to choose to write about teaching, then toyed with the idea of writing fiction. it all morphed into something else.

Recently,I have been trying to give lessons to parents. I am sending out a message to for those parents wondering what to do about protecting their children.
We have had a terrible time here in Ontario.
We have a Barrie boy who has disappeared. I fear for his safety.
Here is some info to help you protect your children while in the computer or gaming. I hope it helps someone.

12:08 PM  
Blogger Rebekah said...

I can relate to this. Not necessarily as a writer, but as a human living in a world with other humans. :)

"I was facing a crisis of identity."

"I wanted to be liked."

"What to leave in, what to leave out. Which face to show and which to hide. Or, if you prefer, which voice to sound or which to silence."

These statements jumped out at me because they are so familiar.

12:38 AM  
Blogger NaNcY said...

oh they did put in a link to the poem!

very cool !

12:43 AM  
Anonymous Ann Kroeker said...

I hope that if you ever feel the humorous side of you itching to come out full force, you can launch another project and make some more choices, different choices, and enjoy experimenting.

I read a book one time that talked about an artist finding his/her "vein of gold" (I think that was the title). I always remember the example she gave of Meryl Streep. She pointed out what we all know--that Meryl is so amazing and gifted and talented, and has used her acting ability in a variety of roles in just about every genre imaginable, and she's fabulous at everything.


If you had to pick her "vein of gold," that style or genre in which she really shines, it's drama. Maybe even period drama. The author explained it much better than this, but that example stuck with me.

We can experiment--*should* experiment--because we're complex people and aren't one narrow "type." Like Meryl, we might even be pretty good at a lot of different writing styles and projects.

But hopefully we'll discover the one in which our writing gift really shines.

I can't wait to see what's next...what choices you made...and compare.

And one day, we may have a body of L.L. Barkat work to consider, and we'll all nod and agree, "She's great at everything, and I enjoyed such-and-such, but her 'vein of gold' is...."

Didn't mean to get so carried away. Obviously you made me think!

11:05 PM  
Blogger Freedom in the Dance said...

Hi, L.L.,
I appreciate your thoughts because I have gone back and read what I've written and thought, "do I really believe this?"
Then I ask myself if what I've written has come as a result of fear of someone I know reading it and then thinking differently of me, or whether I wrote what I did to get out my anger at them or my frustration with a situation and hope they read it and then it makes them think...all these things have caused me to hit a wall; wondering who is really writing and am I really what I write or am I what I want certain people to see? Ugh...makes me not want to write because of fear that if I REALLY SAY what's inside that's hurting or less than perfect, what trouble will I stir up or is that the person I want to be (or am!)?
Yet, I see that it's already in there and if I write, then perhaps I can 'hear' myself, erase it, and pray, start over and genuinely be my real self, without fear or being miunderstood.
Ugh, again!
Thanks for letting me vent!!!

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Papa Goodyear said...

LL, I think you made excellent choices in Stone Crossings. Poetry is my favorite way to parse pain, and pleasure for that matter. Thanks for stopping by papapoet. If I may be so bold, check out my latest post.

12:25 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

I'm late here, L.L. (The lake with no technology for a week was such a balm!)

Last year I read a book from the 40's (can't remember the name, rats!) in which the author pointed out that the reason for forms and "formality" is to give the reader/listener/viewer an understandable framework through which they can understand what we are communicating. Without FORM (ie. common language/visual/tonal rules, inclusion of some things and exclusion of others) our communication with the world remains largely misunderstood or missed entirely.
His main example was the Romantic era. Lots of emotional music, art and writing was produced, but the trend was to throw off the forms that "bound" previous generations. The works are still beautiful, but require a lot more of their audiences.

Any creative pursuit demands that we make choices. I am slow to learn this lesson. (But have certainly witnessed how much more I like the pieces I've made when I do the hard work of distilling my thoughts and emotions.)

And... please use your blog to write some humor. You've said before that it's YOUR living room and we are just invited guests. I love to laugh with my friends in their own living rooms. :)

12:24 PM  

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