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  • Writer's pictureMary

"Let There Be"

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

(*looks at the date of my last post*)

(*looks at today's date*)


Ah well. I'm once again terrible at remembering to write in my blog. Though if it helps, I am doing a lot of writing!

Welcome to November! Or, really, welcome to National Novel Writing Month!

I've been participating in NaNoWriMo since high school. This is my 9th year taking on the annual challenge to hunker down and write 50,000 words in 30 days. Broken down, that's about 1,666 words a day, every day, until you want to tear your project to shreds and cry! And I've been doing it since I was a teenager.

So now you see why I am the way that I am.

In all seriousness, though, I look forward to NaNoWriMo every year. I spend the month of October going over notes for my story, writing new outlines, finalizing details, and doing my best to get inspired and motivated. It's a lot of work, and that's before I even put metaphorical pen to paper and start actually counting words.

Every year is different and every project is different. While the NaNoWriMo website doesn't keep track of the actual text of your stories — you copy and paste in the words to a word-counter on the site to verify your writing amount, but none of it is saved — it does keep track of your past projects in title, description, and whatever "book cover" you choose to upload. I was happy to be reminded that back in 2012, my very first NaNoWriMo story was a piece of Yu-Gi-Oh fanfiction.

Nine years later, I'm working on a novel about trauma in childhood affecting friendships, told in a magical portal-travel road-trip-style story.

So, clearly, my tastes have not changed.

NaNoWriMo is challenging. It's not an easy task to sit down and write that many words in such a short amount of time. It tells you to throw away any preconceived notions of how good you are at writing. No one writes good novels in NaNoWriMo. Everyone writes first drafts, and first drafts, by definition, are absolutely terrible. In the words of Anne Lamott, from her book "Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life":

"I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts."

November is a month filled with the worst writing I can do. And that's exactly why I do it every single year.

Now, you may be wondering why on earth I would spend an entire month writing terrible stories? And that's an excellent question. The answer lies in my own desperate need for perfection.

I don't think a single person in my meager audience can escape the clutches of perfectionism. It haunts us all. For a long time, I didn't consider myself much of a perfectionist. I was a happy silver medalist in all I did. I didn't have to be an A+ student when I could be an A student. Hell, I didn't even need to be an A student if I could slip by with a B. I had a lot of pride in my work, but I wasn't going to beat myself up for it if I made a few mistakes here and there, and really, I wasn't going to stress if I wasn't doing badly.

That, however, didn't translate over into anything I considered myself to be good at already. Sure, I could fail at drawing until I got good at it. I knew it would take practice. But writing? I thought I was good at writing. And if I was already good at it, then I could not allow myself to be anything less than that.

Was I really that good at writing? No, absolutely not. I was no Zadie Smith. I was passable, but I had a lot to learn. I still do. I'm still learning to write better. But that did and still does nothing to diminish my pride in my creations.

If I don't have an excuse to write badly, then I'll stop writing. I sit down at my desk with my laptop open, stare at a page for an hour, typing a few words here and there. I feel like the lyrics of "Hard to Be the Bard" from the musical Something Rotten has always exemplified this process:

So you write down a word but it's not the right word, So you try a new word but you hate the new word. And you need a good word but you can't find the word. Oh where is it, what is it, what is it, where is it! Blah-blah-blah, ha ha, ah-ha -UGHHHHHHHH!

And yes, if you listen to the song, the actor does a magnificent job with that annunciation.

The point is, if I don't do it now, I'll never do it. I keep trying to write pretty prose. I'll try to make my novel good on the first go. I'll keep poking through it until I want to die or until it gets shoved onto a shelf for me to pick up in ten years. With NaNoWriMo, I can throw all of that to the wind. Just finish the first draft. Nothing else matters.

Perfection only hinders the beginning of a project. Perfection forces you to revise over and over and over before you've even finished your full thought. Letting that perfection go is the only way to get that shitty first draft on paper so you can be a perfectionist later on. Save it for draft three.

I'm really feeling the musicals today, because I'm also going to bring up Children of Eden, which I will admit, I've never seen in person.

When I was in college, my sister Margaret performed in a community theater production of Stephen Schwartz and John Caird's 1991 musical Children of Eden. I, unfortunately, was not anywhere near Colorado, so I didn't get to see her perform (though I heard she did a wonderful job). Before that, I had never even heard of Children of Eden, a musical based around the Book of Genesis from the Bible, which, let's be honest, has been adapted by every Vacation Bible School in existence already. Adapting it to a not-quite-Broadway style musical could be extremely interesting. However, it was never really popular, so recordings aren't easy to find.

But my God. The fact that it didn't hit Broadway, or really didn't even come close, is a travesty if not only for the fact that Eve's showstopper 'I want' song wasn't able to win a Tony. I don't think any musical number has hit me quite as personally as "The Spark of Creation", and here's why.

I am a better person when I'm making something. I find myself the most miserable, lonely, and anxious between projects. When there's nothing for my mind to latch onto, nothing to look forward to, or nothing for my hands to busy themselves with, I'm a miserable wretch. I have nothing to make, nothing to create, and I have come to realize that I am a person who was made to create.

The past few years have been very hard for me spiritually. I've bounced around between churches, sat through agonizingly silent prayer times, and for a while, just left the whole thing at the curb. The dry spell has hit me hard, and it has become very clear that something needs to change. I've withdrawn into myself more. There are so many things that I love that I've forgotten that I enjoyed. I stop reading. I stop writing. I stop creating.

Enter November, and a yearly challenge to just write. Just do it. Just get the words out and do something. Anything. Just do.

Because here's the thing:

I love writing. And I forget how much I love it, because I try to make it perfect, when really, I just want to create. I want to make something. And I never feel closer to God than I do when I'm making something that I love.

So, "The Spark of Creation" is a song where Eve is lamenting the fact that her husband Adam just wants to make lists and do exactly what God tells him to do, by the letter, while Eve is realizing that she cannot sit still and follow that way of life. She realizes that there's more outside of the Garden of Eden, and she has a burning inside of her to see and discover and create.

In the song, Eve directly relates her need to create and explore to God's own gift of Creation, and that God must have put something into her, a little bit of that creative inspiration, and now it cannot be satiated. She has God's Creative Spirit fueling her, and she's unable to stop.

And just...these lyrics:

"I've got a feeling that the Father who made us/When He was kindling a pulse in my veins/He left a tiny spark of that fire, smoldering inside/...A bit of the fire that lit up the stars and brought life into the mud..."
"There's things waiting for me to invent them/There's worlds waiting for me to explore/I am an echo of the eternal cry of "Let there be!""

Here's a great version of it, by the way, in case you just wanted to listen to a professional sing it:

50,000 words may seem like a lot of words. On the surface, it seems daunting, but then I remember that I wrote a short story of approximately 15,000 words in a weekend once, because I was inspired, because I loved it. And it turned out wildly well. I wrote 5000 words in a day for another short story only two weeks ago, which I then spent another couple of days revising. And that one also turned out really well.

Sometimes, that spark of Creation builds in my body until I can't contain it any longer, and it comes spilling out: in a document, on a page, in black and white, in vibrant color, until it subsides once again. When I am actively not creating, I forget that the spark is still inside me somewhere. I can't let it die, even if it lays dormant for a long while. I have to feed it, because somewhere, then God was making me, he left a tiny bit of that flame in my own mind.

I have always thought of God as infinitely creative. When I think about planets in space, or stars far beyond our reaching, I think that there could absolutely be life out there aside from us. Because if our God is infinitely creative...why would he stop with us?

I don't have the ability to create planets outside of my own mind (yet...), but I do have other projects. I have pictures to draw. I have canvases to paint. I have instruments to play and songs to create. I really do have a novel to write. And as I look around at all of these things, sometimes I really do feel like an echo of the eternal cry of "Let there be!"

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08 nov 2021

Never stop creating, Mary! You are right - this desire to create is of the Lord. It makes me think of the line in "Chariots of Fire" where Eric Liddell tries to explain to his sister why he runs - "When I run, I feel His pleasure!". The Lord takes pleasure in you using your creative gifts. And so do we!

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