A Syllable of Water
Emilie Griffin (ed.), Paraclete Press
What an inspirational book!
A Syllable of Water consists of 20 Christian writers, each contributing a chapter about their style of writing, how to write a particular genre, and what it means to be a person of faith as they continue to use their God-given gift in this manner.
This is not a typical “how-to” book; instead, it is a book about prayer, faith, perseverance, and spiritual discipline.
As a Christian, to write means to know that we are involved in a creative act, taking seriously our role as co-creators. These writers acknowledge God as the source of their inspiration and as their strength, so that disappointment does not stop their work.
The introductory chapter, by Robert Siegel, titled The Word Made Flesh sets the tone of this book. Siegel says that writing is incarnational. He goes on: “We trust [the words] will incarnate the beauty, terror, and glory of this world even as they lift the reader’s gaze in hope beyond it.”
Siegel’s chapter is the reference point for the following chapters. Part One: Beginnings, Disciplines, Tools & Faith consist of writers tackling key topics.
Harold Fickett’s contribution examines the type of writer (gusher or bleeder?) and John Leax looks at what it means to have a sense of place.
Luci Shaw’s contribution on journal keeping is exquisitely written, as is Emilie Griffin’s A Twitch Upon the Thread: On Writing as an Act of Faith.
Dain Trafton lectures the reader on why they need to read widely and well and Rudy Nelson writes on the subject of research.
These foundational tools lead us into Part Two. Each chapter examines a particular genre, from creative non-fiction, through to playwriting, spiritual writing (Richard Foster), journalism (Philip Yancey) and two chapters on translation.
Part Three, Endings, gives wise instruction concerning the art (or toil?) of revision and of the work/relationship of the editor.
Too many gems to include in a review, so I will leave you with two.
In Chapter Six, “A Twitch Upon the Thread: On Writing as an Act of Faith”, Emilie Griffin, using Evelyn Waugh’s phrase, speaks of being “called” to writing. She refers back to the call of Samuel and to Habbakkuk being commanded to “write.”
The only reservation I have with this chapter is when Griffin tackles the question of whether one leaves paid employment in order to devote more time to the call of writing. She mentions a colleague who took a year’s leave and had not accomplished much.
Griffin felt that her colleague’s vision of the work itself was not strong enough to stop people interrupting her. I take issue with this; it would have been more helpful to analyse the types of people who can write throughout the day and those who can write better over shorter time frames and may find the balance of different types of work helpful.
Another gem was in the chapter about creative non-fiction, by James Calvin Schaap. He mentions a novelist friend making the observation that stories are shaped like Cs – they leave an empty space into which the reader brings his or her perceptions.
Schaap observes that some people like their stories closed as an O, so you don’t have to think too much; some like them very open, with a C nearly stretched out to an I – not to be spoon fed, preferring a larger role in interpretation.
I like to see the opening in the C as God’s space and an entry point for the Spirit to help both the reader and the writer.
A glorious book: each chapter has a For Further Reading section, some include writing exercises, and all are cloaked in prayer.
My own observation about writing: writing is similar to standing on the edge of a swimming pool. You tiptoe along the edge, too afraid to jump in, because you know the water will be cold and unpleasant.
Finally you take the plunge – and the water is fantastic and refreshing; better than you expected or remembered it to be.
Barbara Allen (taking the plunge and doing the research for book number three)
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