Heeding Madeleine L’Engle’s Advice Yet Again!

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As I write this post, I watch a Life Flight helicopter land on the field situated less than 1000 yards away from my bed.  I spot paramedics transferring a person hovering between life and death over to the Life Flight team. I’ve seen this scenario many times over the years we’ve lived here.  The roar of an idling copter never fails to put my problems into perspective.  I’ve just been given a “reality check”.

For various reasons, I’ve struggled more than usual the past week, but as the gifted blogger Kitt O’Malley gently reminded me, “this too shall pass”.  I must remember that just because life is more difficult, that doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to crash into the depths of despair.

For some people who have bipolar one disorder and are stable, dreading a relapse is ever-present. Fortunately, fear of bottoming out doesn’t mean that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Still, unless some kind of miracle occurs, I’ll always be afraid of relapsing.

Last week I deliberately stopped my daily blogging habit, which I had kept up for over four months.  I still can’t believe I didn’t miss a single day.  If sometime told me that a writer/mom with bipolar was keeping up such a demanding writing routine, I’d wonder (perhaps a tad jealously) if that person was hypomanic or manic.  I most definitely was not in either of those states. (thank God!)

Anyway, I ceased writing my minimum of thirty minutes a day, whether it was for this blog, for my book or for freelance articles.  Writing at least thirty minutes a day was a famous rule created by my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle.  I’ve discussed L’Engle’s writing advice in prior posts, and if you’re familiar with my blog you probably know how much I revere L’Engle.

Today I came across an interview with L’Engle about writing that I found to be affirming and fascinating.  She was asked by Scholastic students for the advice she’d give to aspiring writers.  L’Engle told the students:

“I would give the same advice to writers of any age – and that’s keep an honest, unpublishable journal that you don’t show to anyone.  You dump things into it – it’s your private garbage can. Also, you have to read to be a writer. You have to write every day – not necessarily in your journal.  But you have to do it every day. It’s like practicing a musical instrument – you have to practice and stick with it.  I love every bit of it.  I love getting the ideas, and I live with the ideas for a long time before I write them – I may write two or three other books while thinking about an idea.  And I love sitting down to work at the computer and just starting.

L’Engle wrote the Newberry Award-winning, bestselling A Wrinkle In Time and many other amazing books. This prolific writer knew what she was talking about.  I especially appreciated her comparison of writing to practicing a musical instrument.  One of my fondest childhood memories was listening to my Juilliard-trained, Fulbright Award-winning Dad practice on his Stradivarius or his Guadagnini violin almost every single day.  (Yep, I’m gonna namedrop!  And he had bipolar one!)  Dad’s Irish setters Tanya and Amber hung out in this practice room listening to his world-class performances seven days a week, those lucky hounds.  I didn’t realize how disciplined Dad was until much later.  If I had an iota of his work ethic, I’d be stoked.

Oh well.  I thought that the time I freed up from reducing my writing schedule would refresh and perhaps inspire me to write more and that my writing might even improve.  I was dead wrong.  I’ve found myself feeling blah instead of the usual rah regarding writing. This SUCKS!

A few days ago it was my father’s birthday.  He passed away five years ago, and I’ve missed him ever since. The anniversary of his birthday drained me emotionally, but I don’t think that was the main reason I haven’t been gung-ho about writing.  At least I haven’t been depressed, but I’m definitely not where I want to be, and I need to take care of myself.  I’m convinced that part of “taking care of myself” includes scheduling writing time every day unless I’m really sick or there’s an emergency.

Thirty minutes is not that long a time to write!  It’s the length of one “Full House” or “The Nanny” episode, now, isn’t it?  And those episodes roll by in a flash.  I’m guessing that the very act of writing has been like my own version of Lumosity.  My theory? Writing stimulates and exercises certain areas of my brain that are usually not in use.  Furthermore, I’m guessing that consistent writing is serving as a mood stabilizer! How I wish that Madeleine L’Engle was alive today so I could run that supposition by her and hear her opinion.  After participating in two writer’s workshops with her, I learned firsthand that she would tell you exactly what she thought.

So yes, I’m missing my “writer’s high”.  The cardio exercise I’ve been faithfully doing on my NordicTrack gives me a different kind of high – actually, it doesn’t feel like a high, but more of a grounding of my jangled nerves.

For the time being, I’ve decided to give myself the gift of daily writing, and not feel guilty about making it a priority.  I used to journal all the time, and I stopped when the bipolar depression became too much.  Now I’ll either create a private blog for my use as a journal, or buy a blank book.  (Most definitely not for publication, as L’Engle instructs!)  I’m looking forward to feeling better and clearing my brain out, Madeleine L’Engle-style!

Kitt O’Malley’s blog (Life with Bipolar Disorder and Thoughts about God)  is: http://www.kittomalley.com

This link leads to the entire transcript of Madeleine L’Engle’s interview with the Scholastic students and I love it! ;

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/madeleine-l39engle-interview-transcript

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Madeleine in her office at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City – probably sometime in the 60’s with those groovy glasses!

Dy and L'Engle 2Dyane & Madeleine at the Mount Calvary Retreat in Santa Barbara, California, 1997

 

Madeleine L’Engle Inspiration on Writing and Marriage

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The author of A Wrinkle In Time Madeleine L’Engle with her devotee Dyane Harwood at the Mount Calvary Benedictine Monastery in Santa Barbara, California.  I love this picture even though I have a triple chin.  I got that chin in part from eating lots of the delectable, freshly baked cookies made by the monks each day – it was all their fault.

 

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” 

― Madeleine L’Engle

Writing, writers and books are on my mind much of this week while I’ve been primarily homebound with my two sick little girls. (They are getting much better, by the way!)  While I’ve been used to the luxury of being alone while my girls are in school, this week I was faced with the challenge of writing with extra distractions, i.e. the Spongebob Squarepants oeuvre, that set my teeth on edge.

Despite Spongebob’s maniacal laughs, I’ve plowed forth with daily writing because writing has become an ingrained habit.  I feel better when I just do it.  (Ah, Nike, I blame you for planting your smug, little tagline in my brain!)

There have been periods in my life when I wrote all the time, such as my four years majoring in English/American literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz.  Conversely, there were many months in which my bipolar depression prevented me from writing a single word.  While daily writing can seem rather extreme, my rule is that as long as I enjoy it and I pay attention to the other key areas of my life (kids, husband, laundry, and the like) it’s fine.

I also take comfort in the fact that I’m following the advice of Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors.  She asserted, “Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.”  (hmmm, perhaps I could get that tattooed on my writing hand to remind me!)

During my most severe bipolar depressions, one of the few things that took my mind off my mind were the Madeleine L’Engle’s books.  I continue to read her books periodically without experiencing any boredom.  With each re-reading I notice details that slipped by me in the past, which is always fun.

Her books give me a satisfaction akin to easing into a warm, fragrant bath, and I share my appreciation of her work with millions of her other fans of all ages.  It truly amazes me that L’Engle’s classic, Newberry Award-winning book A Wrinkle In Time was rejected so many times by publishers before it made the big-time.

In some of her non-fiction books  L’Engle recounted her decade of writing rejection in which she felt so down that she contemplated giving up writing altogether.  But when she came to the brink of carrying out that momentous decision, her heart and faith (she was highly religious) kicked in.

This revealing quote explains her perspective when she wasn’t a famous writer:

“If I never had another book published, and it was very clear to me that this was a real possibility, I still had to go on writing.  I’m glad I made this decision in a moment of failure.  It’s easy to say you’re a writer when things are going well.  When the decision is made in the abyss, then it is quite clear that it is not one’s own decision at all.”

― Madeleine L’EngleA Circle of Quiet

Apart from her writing advice, L’Engle’s marriage to her husband Hugh Franklin as depicted in her book Two-Part Invention has influenced me deeply.  Two-Part Invention is one of my favorite L’Engle books, and I have probably read it at least twenty times!  The structure of the book starts with present day, in which L’Engle’s husband of forty years is dying from cancer, and shifts to the past revealing how they met and developed their relationship.

Back and forth the narrative flows, in a seamless, beautiful way.  Their marriage most definitely wasn’t without numerous terrible times, many of which were not included in the book, such as the death of their son Bion.  If you haven’t read this book yet, you are in for a treat.  Her “story of a marriage” will make you appreciate your own relationship whether you are married or not, and it will allow you to observe love in action during one of the most difficult times of life: witnessing the death of a beloved.

If you’ve never read one of Madeleine L’Engle’s books before, I strongly encourage you to do so!  A Wrinkle In Time is a great start (billed as a children’s book, but appropriate for all ages) and aside from Two-Part Invention I highly recommend A Small Rain (the first of L’Engle’s books, and semi-autobiographical) and A Live Coal in the Sea.

Happy Reading!

 

“The growth of love is not a straight line, but a series of hills and valleys.”

― Madeleine L’EngleTwo-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

“Love of music, of sunsets and sea; a liking for the same kind of people; political opinions that are not radically divergent; a similar stance as we look at the stars and think of the marvelous strangeness of the universe – these are what build a marriage. And it is never to be taken for granted.”

― Madeleine L’EngleTwo-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

 

This blog post is dedicated to my husband, the author Craig S. Harwood, pictured on the left with his co-author Gary Fogel.  Together they wrote the award-winning book Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West.  I am fortunate to have a husband who encourages me to write and gives me writing/publishing advice when I ask for it.  (And sometimes when I don’t!)

Barnes-Noble book signing copy

 

 

 

To read more Madeleine L’Engle quotes about a wide range of topics, visit: 

395 Quotes of Madeleine https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/106.Madeleine_L_Engle

I Don’t Know How Madeleine L’Engle Did It

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Dyane with Madeleine L’Engle, the bestselling author of A Wrinkle In Time

Santa Barbara, California, 1997

 

I’ve always had concentration challenges when it comes to writing.

I need quiet, quiet, and more quiet.  Sometimes I can write with mellow music in the background; lately I’ve listened to the Pandora Channel’s Hawaiian or Snatam Kaur stations.  I write my best when all I hear is the faint rush of traffic on the mountain highway below our home.

The topic of concentration is on my mind while I’ve been housebound for the past four days with my little girls.  They each caught a nasty bug.  I’ve spent time with them reading one-on-one, doing homework that was sent home by their teachers, and cuddling with them.  Coldy cuddles?  Yeah, that’s crazy, I know, since I don’t want to pick up their colds!  But I’m one foolish gal.

Apart from interacting with my congested kids, I’ve been able to write while they’ve watched Despicable Me 2 and Frozen, or playing the highly educational  Littlest Pet Shop game on my Kindle.  However, I can’t go in another room away from them to write because they want me nearby.  I can’t blame them for wanting me within eyesight when they are feeling so awful.

So I write in a noisy, interruption-filled room, because I’d rather write and make plenty of typos and syntax errors than not write at all.  Which brings me to Madeleine L’Engle.   I’ve always been intrigued by the writing method of Madeleine L’Engle, one of my favorite authors for over thirty-five years.

L’Engle said that she learned how to write virtually anywhere, with all kinds of distractions.  She cultivated the habit while growing up in a girl’s boarding school.  L’Engle was a loner, and while her classmates listened to records or gossiped away, she was able to tune out their chatter.

L’Engle further developed this extraordinary ability when she became a Broadway actress and assistant to the star/director Eva LeGalliene.  The lengthy amounts of time that L’Engle spent backstage provided her with ample opportunity to write.  She also took advantage of writing time on trains when LeGalliene’s theater productions toured the country.  L’Engle didn’t wear ear plugs, either!

Neal Porter worked with L’Engle during his tenure at her longtime publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  He remembered her in a Publisher’s Weekly tribute after the bestselling author died in 2007.  Porter remarked, “When we were on the road together, she would agree to meet me in our hotel lobby at such and such hour.  When I found her, she invariably had a notebook in hand and was scribbling away.”  I would give my eyeteeth for the ability to write well in hectic locations!

I don’t want to slap another label on myself, i.e. ADD, or blame my meds for making me unable to focus.  I’ve had this challenge for decades before I was diagnosed.  I think I can do just fine by continuing to carve out blocks of writing time while the girls are at school.  I also think it’s fine to use headphones and music as a way to tune out distractions as long as I don’t put my children in harm’s way.

Apart from my writing environment, I have another writing-related dilemma that has developed over the past six months. This quandary happens whether I’m in a silent room or a in house full of chainsaws.  (Or in a room where a truck seems about to run into me at my writing desk – see my post “Almost” for more details on that one.)

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I’ve developed a habit I call “Facebook/Twitter hopping”.  You can probably guess where this is going.

Here’s an example: I’m working feverishly on an essay.  Then I become frustrated or bored with what I’m writing about, so I hop over to my perpetually open Facebook and Twitter pages to take a peek.  My peek becomes an extended break, and my writing subject is a distant memory.  Finally I hop back to the writing, sometimes refreshed and able to re-connect with the material, but usually my focus is blurrier.

This “back and forthing” is a guilty pleasure, and it’s so tempting to do!  Hopping is not always such a bad thing, if done in moderation.  That’s where I get into trouble, for I’m often not great with moderation when it concerns Facebook surfing or chocolate inhalation, for that matter.  I’m attempting to cut down on the internet hopping.

We shall see if I stick to my hopping resolution – I don’t want to be eighty when I finish my book Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder!  Thanks for reading, and please, if you like to write too, tell me what your challenges are and what helps you as well.  I’d love to know about it!

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Madeleine’s granddaughter, the writer Lena Roy, writes a brief-but-entertaining blog post about her writing process. Here’s the link:

Two Awesome Madeleine L’Engle Quotes about Writing

“Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle

“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. There are three things that are important: First, if you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair. And second, you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write. The third thing is to write. Just write a little bit every day. Even if it’s for only half an hour — write, write, write.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle

If you like these L’Engle writing quotes, there are 32 more of them at Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=writing%2C+L%27Engle&commit=Search