Skip to content

When the Work Takes Over

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

This week, I am cohosting the Historical Fiction blog PASTimes with Tiff Amber Miller over at

Keep checking back here often, because I am currently in the process of gathering resources to start a series on active writing, a.k.a. SHOWING vs. TELLING. Hopefully I’ll have time to get that up soon! But until then, here’s something I wrote for an undergrad creative writing class several years ago, which was inspired by this quote from Madeleine l’Engle’s Walking on Water:

“When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens… We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it.”
Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art, Chapter 1, pg. 24.

I sit at the machine waiting. Waiting. A small, upright black bar sits blinking at me, awaiting my next command. Unfortunately, the computer won’t write for me.

I can’t think of anything, so I pray for God to give me inspiration. A scene, a dialog, a new character, a new setting, anything.

Nothing comes.

So, I pull up something I’ve already written. I’ve been meaning to go back and edit it for grammar and structure.

As I start to read it, and make a few corrections – spelling here, a comma there – I find that I have started a new sentence in the middle of an old paragraph.

Wait, that paragraph doesn’t make sense here. I delete the whole thing. I then start writing it over. Yes, this is working. The words are coming from nowhere, everywhere, from inside me, from God.

Now that I’ve started rewriting this paragraph, I see that the entire scene needs something…

Unexpectedly, a character walks into the room and makes a comment that could change the lives of one or more of the other characters, somewhere down the line. Where did that character come from? He wasn’t originally in this scene. He wasn’t supposed to be in this scene.

But this works. His off-handed comment brings about a new, interesting, enlivened conversation between the other characters and causes one of them to make a decision that could affect the rest of her life.

Four pages and a couple of hours later, I sit back marveling at the new twist my old story has just taken. Something that heretofore I’d never even thought of. How could these “people” who exist only in my imagination do things that surprise me? And how is it that when I wanted to write a different story completely, that this is the one I’d end up getting so “inspired” about?

As I sit wondering, scrolling through the rest of the chapter, another character suddenly decides to do something unexpected and show up where she’d never been before. Obediently, my fingers go back to the keyboard as this new inspiration hits.

As my fingers, in service to something unseen, unheard, follow these characters through situations that hadn’t existed before, I marvel at how well they guide me. They are in me, and yet, somehow, not always of me.

Marking the end of the new work, stretching, and yawning, I save the chapter, turn off the computer, and go to bed. In my dreams, a whole new scene takes place.

Good. More to write tomorrow.

  1. Donna Alice permalink
    Wednesday, January 10, 2007 12:12 pm

    That’s exactly how it is sometimes and one reason I have so much trouble plotting out a book—how will I know what’s going to happen unless I start to write and THEY tell me?
    Can’t wait for the showing and telling posts.


  2. Betsy Ann permalink
    Wednesday, January 10, 2007 10:02 pm

    Thanks for the blog comment, Kaye. =) I appreciate your support!


  3. GeorgianaD permalink
    Thursday, January 11, 2007 12:33 am

    Hey, you blog just kicked me off, LOL. Anyway, I was saying that I enjoy inspiration when it happens, but it rarely works that way for me. More often than not I have to “throw in an alligator” to jumpstart a hard scene. (Wish I could remember whose advice that was!)


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: