Sunday, August 18, 2013

Making Art

I'm speaking this week on the subject of what to do when life looks like the plot of a novel, a cheesy novel that would make an editor say, "Yeah, not believable. Try again."

"But it really happened."

Sigh. "Do you know what we editors call it when a character is faced with that many compounded disasters?"

I flipped through my mental glossary of writer terms. None seemed to fit. "No. What?"

"The Die Hard Series Syndrome."

"Pardon me?"

The editor smiled. "We also call it ridiculous."

"I thought so, too, when I was going through it."

Maybe the series of disastrous family events that started a year ago won't make it into one novel. I may have to spread them out. And I am. A speaking event or two or three. A collection of devotional thoughts. This blog post. Anecdotes for a non-fiction book.

In the September 2011 issue of "The Writer" magazine, Luke Reynolds proposed that it's becoming harder and harder not to see pain as a necessity for creating truth with words--even in writing fiction. He quoted author John Gardner (On Becoming a Novelist) as saying, "Art begins in a wound."

At twelve years old, Gardner accidentally ran over his younger brother with a tractor on their family farm. The younger boy died from the injuries. Gardner battled guilt and depression, but grew to write with a depth of empathy the untouched fail to reach.

"A writer must be able to translate pain--his own or another's--into compassion," writes Reynolds. "As soon as compassion begins, so can creation."

Turning pain into art is what God does every day with the soul that looks to Him. We couch it in different words--words like redeem, reclaim, repurpose...

When we look for the epicenter of pain in great books, we'll find it, there within the art. What seemed coarse or harsh or piercing is rearranged to make beauty.

The tatters, the noxious weeds, the broken pieces, the disappointments of life are the Artist's tools.

I applaud Mr. Reynolds's conclusion to his observations. It is a conclusion that gets to the core of the role of pain or distress in equipping us to write authentically and with meaning. He said, "While Gardner is right that art begins with a wound, we might add that it ends with a way forward--a crack where hope seeps in."

QUESTION FOR YOU: God is in the process of sculpting beauty from shards and difficulty in our lives. How far into the process is He with your story? Do you see the art yet? Is your experiencing being redeemed to impact someone else's story?

Cynthia Ruchti writes about finding art in the ash heap in her non-fiction from Abingdon Press--Ragged Hope: Surviving the Fallout of Other People's Choices. Her recent novel--When the Morning Glory Blooms--links three stories of compassion's redemptive beauty. You can learn more about her books at or


Nicole said...

Cynthia, I've been the "other people" and I've been the one shredded by the "other people". The majority of my heartache in life has been caused by me. I've been around long enough, was finally submissive enough to give in to finding Jesus. It wasn't the end of my foolishness and heartbreaking experiences, but Jesus was the cure, the hope, the inevitable solution - and still is. I write to share that hope with "other people" like myself.

Cynthia Ruchti said...

Solution and resolution. Such sweet words to the thirsty soul. Cheering you on as you spread hope!

Heather Marsten said...

I love the image of God turning our pain into art. I lived one of those Die Hard lives and until I submitted to God, let Him heal me, any writing of it was just bleeding on the page in anger and hurt. Now I see where God was in the midst of the pain and hurt and my writing has changed. The only way a reader can survive a Die Hard rendition of a life is if there is hope at the end. I've found myself toning down some of the incidents of my past (keeping the flavor but not spilling all out on the page). God began to show me where He was in the midst and the message of hope is that God is there even if He isn't there the way we expected Him to be. This is a great post. Thanks for sharing.

Cynthia Ruchti said...

Beautifully said, Heather.