I enjoyed Michael Ward of Planet Narnia’s lecture on C. S. Lewis at Wycliffe College’s Summer School.
Rilke faced with the Archaic Torso of Apollo, with sheer beauty, feels he has wasted his life. His poem ends “You must revise your life.”
I feel like that when I consider that the richness of Lewis’s writing sprang from a lifetime of reading of poetry, myth, literature, the Bible. A life in books.
But then I remember that the world already has a Lewis. That the way for me to find my unique contribution as a writer, “be it less or more, or soon or slow,” is to be myself, to be the woman called forth by the unique circumstances of my life.
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Thomas Merton writes that many writers fail to be really great for the same reason that many Christians fail to be really great Christians. They imitate other people’s poetry or spirituality instead of being the woman called for by all the unique circumstances of their lives. They compromise their integrity.
Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. They never become the man or the artist who is called for by all the circumstances of their individual lives.
They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint.
They wear out their bodies and minds in a hopeless endeavour to have somebody else’s experiences, or write somebody else’s poems, or possess somebody else’s spirituality.
There can be an intense egoism in following everybody else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular—and too lazy to think of anything better.
Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they are in such haste to get it that they cannot take time to be true to themselves.
( Thomas Merton, Integrity, New Seeds of Contemplation).
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It’s all very counter-intuitive. In the blogosphere, one is tempted to write in the same way and on the same themes as bloggers who are succeeding.
Sometimes, I come across several bloggers who write in the same distinctive style, and on similar subjects. And while fitting in with the cool kids in style or subject matter will give you short term success, it will affect your long term success, because you will be suppressing the real you—your unique take on the world, your beauty and ugliness, the secret little experiences, obsessions, preoccupations and convictions which are shared by no one else.
If I had heard that lecture on the literary influences of C. S. Lewis when I was younger, I would have left on fire to read more and write more. And these are good, but now I do not exhort myself to do these particularly. Burnouts and middle-age have left me eager to work in a slow and steady sustainable way. I want to finish the work God has given me to do by the end, not necessarily the middle of my life.
So the counter-intuitive way to success as a blogger or writer is to read the great writers, let your thinking be transformed by them, pick up their themes if they resonate deeply with you, but, above all, be yourself.
If you are a kingfisher, flash fire. If you are a dragonfly, draw flame.If you are a writer or a blogger, be yourself.Be the writer or the blogger called forth by all the circumstances of your life. Write in the way that comes naturally to you, about the experiences your life gives you, and your interests and preoccupations. And, to your own surprise perhaps, you will have stumbled upon the secret of originality, even uniqueness.
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Let me offer you a favourite passage from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.
Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.
This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your while life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose. So rescue yourself from general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beauty – describe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects that you remember.
If your everyday life seems poor, don’t blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches; because for the creator there is not poverty and no poor, indifferent place. And even if you found yourself in some prison, whose walls let in none of the world’s sounds – wouldn’t you still have your childhood, that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attentions to it.
Try to raise up the sunken feelings of this enormous past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will expand and become a place where you can live in the twilight, where the noise of other people passes by, far in the distance. And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. For you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it.