One of the things that has always intrigued me about artists is the way they sign their work. It irritates me when I see a signature that is too bold, too obvious, too intrusive. I've seen paintings that were, in my mind, ruined by the signature. I was thinking about this the other day, after seeing a lovely pastoral scene I quite liked that had a large signature painted in red across the bottom. It made me sad. And it made me shudder to think that I have been guilty of this in my writing.
While attending a week-long mentoring workshop with Canadian literary icon Rudy Wiebe some time ago, I was shaking in my proverbial boots as he critiqued my submission in front of the rest of the group. I realized I was holding my breath when he smiled and said, "This is good writing," then turned back to the manuscript and said that oh-so-hard-to-hear-word, "But." He pointed out a sentence and looked at me. "You like that one, don't you?" I knew exactly what he was going to say but I admitted that I did. "But," he said again, "it doesn't belong there does it?" "No," I admitted more than a little sheepishly.
Rudy stood and went to the blackboard behind him. He drew a line. "The story is going along well," he said. "We are engaged, intrigued, liking the characters. Then this happens." He drew a bump in the middle of the line. "That stops us, makes us think, hey, that's quite eloquent, what a great turn of phrase. But we have lost the story. We are suddenly thrust into reality. That's not what a good writer wants to do." He smiled at me. "It's a good line, but you have to cut it."
I gulped. Yes sir, I thought. It took a while before I was able to focus on the fact that most of his other comments were positive. It was extremely gratifying for me to hear such words from someone I consider a master of the craft, and I have often thought about that "But."
I've seen that same flaw in other people's writing. The author seems to be yelling, "hey, look at me, aren't I great?" The language is too contrived, too "eloquent" and therefore too intrusive. The story is lost because the author is there, in your face, trying to squeeze between the lines.
And I've seen it, sadly, in my own life. My motives are often flawed, as a painting is by an over-done signature. This is the difference between performance and worship; the fine line between honest prayer and showing off with eloquent words; the border crossing of humility and pride.
The writer of the book of First Corinthians warns about this flaw in our nature, emphasizing that it is not our own righteousness or eloquence or wisdom that accomplishes anything. It is God's power and mercy and grace alone. "Therefore as it is written: "let him who boasts boast in the Lord." " (1Corinthians 1:31).
May we all remember that. Remember the "but."
Marcia's second novel, A Tumbled Stone is now available from any Christian bookstore. Her devotional ebook for writers, Abundant Rain, is available in any ebook format and pdf on Smashwords
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