Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Muse on Reading 'Rumors of Water'

Every piece of writing tries to go back to its roots. . .
knows what it wants and needs to be. . . .
 L.L. Barkat 

That the stuff of a writing life is not found in the cheat sheets of Creative Writing for Dummies is one of the important take-aways from L.L. Barkat's new book Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing. No doubt, checklists and pointers and lists of writing do's and don'ts have their uses but as Rumors of Water, a slender volume of 32 one- to four-page chapters, reveals again and again, life is the writer's own best how-to guide.

In Barkat's hands, that guide yields meaning through model and example—of listening actively, observing closely, and telling stories in a voice uniquely one's own.

Grounding her teaching in more than an assay of nuts and bolts, Barkat offers in this very personal book something for every writer, emerging or established, who is willing to get out of her own way to "let the writing be." Every one of her 32 chapters touches on something essential to writing well, or even at all: how to mine subject matter from experience, why cultivating community matters, where to find details to make your writing real, what networking can lead to, how to keep going when rejections come in, why engaging in play matters to the writer you want to become and are, how to use time to advantage. 

Barkat organizes her charmingly titled life-based chapters into a series of broad categories — Momentum, Voice, Habits, Structure, Publishing, Glitches, Time — and subtitles each of them so that no reader can miss the relationship to writing (for example, the chapter "Fame in the Foyer" is subtitled "Can You Find a Small Audience?"). She contains every point about writing within a story, moving effortlessly between that story and the lesson the story wants to impart. Some of Barkat's stories are about the unschooling of her two daughters Sonia and Sara; others are about making Aduki bean salad, drinking exotic teas, weeding (or not) a garden, composing songs while washing dishes outdoors on a red sled, catching fireflies, and, in a chapter I found especially moving, climbing to the top of a lighthouse. 

Writing starts with living. Living starts with somebody caring
so much about something that they need to drag you out
 of your writing chair and take you where you'll be 
surprised to find your words.
~ On Inspiration

Writing can be a tender process, as we open ourselves to our
deepest loves and dreams, as we stir up memories and carry them
along. Our thoughts, like fireflies, tease and beckon. We tease
and beckon too, enamored with the possibility of touching
the magical transience of words and sharing them with the world.
~ On Nurturing Voice Through Tenderness

... remember that the work will ask of us what it needs. If everything
seems like a big mess, at any point in the process, we can take that
as a good sign. The work is trying to speak to us, trying to tell us
what it needs. Our job is not to panic, but to listen and respond.
 ~ On Beginning Structure

As is true of the best teachers and wisest mentors, Barket never condescends and always gently leads; she informs without having to be overt. What she's learning about and shares with us in tightly focused chapters is the way the writing life is rewarded by living, both by appreciation for what the mundane can reveal and by passion for where the imagination can lead if we're willing to open our eyes, look around, and allow ourselves time to "come to the edge of our memories and keep bringing them upward" until "the ready ones, the now stories" offer themselves in the creative moment.

Read an Excerpt from Rumors of Water, which is available in print and Kindle and Nook editions.

L.L. Barkat is the author of two spiritual memoirs, Stone Crossings: Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places (2008) and God In the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us (2010), and a collection of poetry, Inside Out (2009). Managing editor for The High Calling, Barkat also is a staff writer for International Arts Movement's Curator magazine and a small press publisher.

Of related interest: "Passion and Dandelion Seed: A Monday Matters... You Do, Too, Interview" with L.L. Barkat, Parts 1 and 2, December 2009.


Glynn said...

It's a truly fine book. Thanks for sharing your reactions (and insights).

Marilyn Yocum said...

Highly recommended!
I am currently reading, savoring, reflecting, recording my thoughts on each chapter as a lunchtime activity. It's like a little retreat in the middle of each day.

Laura said...

We are also featuring an excerpt from Rumors over at The High Calling today. When you referred to L.L.'s style as "she gently leads", my spirit said, "yes!" That's it, isn't it? She has such a respect for the individual reader, one never feels forced or put upon. She creates a doorway of invitation to create. The book is lovely and so is your review, Maureen.

Louise Gallagher said...

Her writing is lyrical and mystical -- and through her voices she touches the mystical in me.

A beautiful review Glynn.

Louise Gallagher said...

Oops. And that should have read -- Maureen.

(I clicked Submit a second too soon) :)

Joyce Wycoff said...

Thanks for sharing these excerpts ... they are truly beautiful.

S. Etole said...

What an excellent review. It sounds like interesting reading even for those of us who are not writers.

Michael Ann said...

Thanks for the review, it sounds like a really good book that I'll have to get!

Kathleen said...

Thanks for writing about this book and for the excerpts. What a beautiful cover!

Liz said...

Lovely review. I am anxious to read it. The advice about living is so true.