April 25, 2008
The Passionate Writer--Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing
I'm the one in editorial who went to the Calvin Festival and left Dave behind. The thing about being an editor there is that you are torn between going to sessions and having meetings with authors and potential authors. I am always determined to go to the sessions, which stimulate my editorial mind and restore my passion for publishing, so what usually happens is that I am forever walking in late, catching only part of the session and not being quite sure what is going on! But even so, it's always delightful because the speakers are writers who love words and use them well.
One session I can comment on effectively, since it was late night and I was able to catch the whole thing, was Rob Bell's late-night talk "Writing as Pure, Undiluted Slog." He wore black clothing and dark glasses (just as writers always do). He spoke while sitting on stage in a chair with a side table full of books and the Mac laptop that he used to run powerpoint on the screen behind him. I took some notes in regard to his thoughts on writing and publishing. Here you go:
"Great writing pulls you in and then drops you a few paragraphs later."
Quoting Gene Fowler: "Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead."
"We do the work because there's something inside of us that we have to get out, and if we don't get it out we're going to spontaneously combust." Then he quoted Ray Lamontagne, who expressed a similar sentiment aobut music: "Songs are in there and I've got to get them out before they kill me."
Quoting Frederick Buechner: "I was trying too hard and hadn't let the empty space inside me open up."
"Creation always involves risk--like having children." [You don't know quite how they will come out.]
"Do not beome what the market/audience wants. Do not ask an editor 'What's hot? What do people want?'"
These last statements are very important--and echo my own book publishing philosophy: Authors need to write what they are passionate about. They need to write about the thing that God is pressing on them to offer to the world--whether it's a particular approach to spirituality, biblical commentary, ministry paradigm, counseling resource or literary essays. A book is an enormous commitment, and writing simply in order to be published does not generally work. There are a few exceptions to this rule--being invited to contribute to a pre-set series, writing on a hot media topic, journalistic writing, biography, upcoming movie and so forth--but even there the writer is generally working in their field of interest.
One reason I particularly love this "festival" is that it's not simply a writer's conference. It's a celebration of reading and writing. Writer's conferences (which can be very helpful) tend to focus on the mechanics of how to write a proposal and get published. This conference was all about inspiring writers to develop their craft and offering up gems for readers to read. I always discover a few wonderful new books that I want to read when I'm there.
So for me the Calvin Festival was a good reminder to look for the passionate writer: both as an editor in search of books to acquire and as a reader in search of books to enjoy.