Friday, March 8, 2013

Writerly Encouragement from Madeleine L'Engle

Who remembers reading A Wrinkle in Time when they were  young . . . or maybe not so young? 2012 marked the fiftieth anniversary of this young-adult classic, which I find hard to believe. Of course, I also find it hard to believe that I am of similar vintage, so there you go.

A Wrinkle in Time was groundbreaking in its day, the first in a quintet of novels in which the late Madeleine L'Engle skillfully blended theology, physics, appealing characters, and marvelous storytelling. One wouldn't think that theology and physics would snare YA readers' attention, which only goes to show that one should never estimate the power of a well written story, or the quirky tastes of young adults.

I've long been a fan of L'Engle's writing, especially A Circle of Quiet, her memoir about living out in the country, and Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage. I heard her speak at a conference once and felt that I was in the presence of greatness--although she would quickly scoff at any such notion, being a warm, down-to-earth mortal just like any other writer. Well, maybe not just like any other writer. But she made it clear that she's been where many of us have been . . . unpublished, unrecognized, and wondering if writing is worth all the angst but compelled to keep writing nonetheless.

As with so many novels that break new ground, the path to publication of A Wrinkle in Time was no picnic. I felt greatly encouraged when I ran across the following passage in L'Engle's classic book about the creative process, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art:

"I started writing A Wrinkle in Time at the end of a decade of nothing but rejection slips. I had accepted myself as a failure as a writer, at least a failure in the world's eyes I was writing because I had to.

"Now I get a lot of absolutely marvelous letters, affirming letters. The only way that I can live with this is I answer them, put my answer in the mail, and forget them. Otherwise I could easily begin to take myself too seriously. And that would be death to creativity."

I'll always be grateful to Madeleine L'Engle for her shimmering stories and thoughtful insights into the writer's life.

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