We were at a park, jogging across the bridge that spans a creek where my daughter remembered the water so high and the current so strong, it seemed alive and powerful, threatening to knock her over as she waded in practically up to her hips. She remembered how her feet sank into mud. Slick moss or algae coated the rocks.
The day of our jog, however, the creek bed was empty, dry and lifeless.
I thought about the creek when I read a chapter from Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.
They were talking about concrete vs. abstract. We need to move, the Heath brothers say, from the abstract to the concrete.
Concrete images bring abstract concepts to life.
Take Aesop’s fables, for example. The authors pointed out that Aesop took dry, nebulous, abstract ideas like vanity, greed, and envy, and put skin, fur and feathers on them. Lions, foxes, mice and crows starred in stories that memorably illustrate the dark side of human nature that we know to be true. Vanity, greed and envy are just words—concepts—yet we face them in real-life, concrete situations. Aesop knew that. His stories explore these concepts using concrete examples, helping us grasp and respect their power.
Fables are stories; and the world could use more stories and less talk of things that take us a page to define.
I’ve been encouraging one of my writing students to experiment with stories to add life and energy to her work. Also, I’ve suggested experimenting with simile, metaphor and analogy. These writing tools provide concrete comparisons to something otherwise hard to grasp.
In the course of that conversation, however, I admitted to this student that while I recommend the use of similes and metaphors, I’ve never been very good at weaving them into my work. I feel like my attempts end up clunky and ineffective, even distracting.
She and I agreed we should take more risks.
So I shall.
For example, if I said that my writing has felt uninspired lately, you might nod.
If you’re a writer, you know what that feels like. But would it help if I compare my uninspired writing to that creek bed? Would that add something tangible—something concrete—to an idea that’s sort of vague.
What does it mean to feel uninspired?Not that long ago, my writing seemed to rush across the page, strong, alive and fluid. I don’t know if it inspired the reader or not, but I know that I felt it flowing easily and smoothly from within mind and spirit. I couldn’t wait to sit at the computer and pour it all out. Ideas and phrases flowed smoothly; I merely dipped into the stream and poured onto the screen from the abundance of creativity.Lately, my writing’s been more like a dry creek bed. When I reach for words, ideas or inspiration, I fumble around and grab only a few smooth stones. Writing’s not all that fluid or flowing when all you have to draw from is a handful of pebbles.Today’s post may be nothing more than a lifeless stone; nevertheless, just as a child selects her favorite pebble from the creek bed and holds it out as an offering, I’m handing you this one simple thought from
Not that long ago, my writing seemed to rush across the page, strong, alive and fluid. I don’t know if it inspired the reader or not, but I know that I felt it flowing easily and smoothly from within mind and spirit. I couldn’t wait to sit at the computer and pour it all out. Ideas and phrases flowed smoothly; I merely dipped into the stream and poured onto the screen from the abundance of creativity.
Lately, my writing’s been more like a dry creek bed. When I reach for words, ideas or inspiration, I fumble around and grab only a few smooth stones. Writing’s not all that fluid or flowing when all you have to draw from is a handful of pebbles.Today’s post may be nothing more than a lifeless stone; nevertheless, just as a child selects her favorite pebble from the creek bed and holds it out as an offering, I’m handing you this one simple thought from
Today’s post may be nothing more than a lifeless stone; nevertheless, just as a child selects her favorite pebble from the creek bed and holds it out as an offering, I’m handing you this one simple thought from Made to Stick:
If you want your message to stick, use concrete.
And if you know how to make it rain, creatively speaking, let me know. I’m a little parched these days.
I think this post flows like a river rich with life. And maybe a few of those oaks growing alongside the banks. Seriously, Ann. what a great picture you’ve painted. And when I thought of how dry my writing has felt lately, I wanted to dip my hands in that rush. I’m so glad you came in under the gate tonight!
Thank you for your encouragement, Laura. It took a long time to finish this post, though…clunky first drafts, rewrites, revisions. No flowing. But I’m glad there was something appealing here, like a refreshing creek.
Charity Singleton says
Ann — Laura is right; the post was dripping wet. I hear you, and feel the parched, dusty bottom of that creek bed in my own writing lately. I think it’s come from a dry soul — I’m not drinking deeply enough from the well, most days.
Thanks for these words. Will pray for rain!
Charity, what did I do before I knew you? We got some literal rain today (finally!); perhaps that’s a sign that times of refreshment are upon us? Dry soul and dry writing can go together; but even when I’m reading and pondering and praying, my writing can be clunky. They are often causal, though, and I need to attend to my spirit–or open myself up to the Spirit doing so. Good words, friend. Good words.
Hi Ann –
I loved your post. I was feeling this same way I while back ad I was reminded of Ezekiel 37:1-14. It’s all about how God had Ezekiel prophesy life and breath into some dry bones. I don’t feel like your writing has been dry, but if you are, perhaps you should try to prophesy some life into your writing. And if you are feeling dry and it’s coming into your writing then go to the Living Water and take a drink. (John 4:10) I think sometimes we look at Jesus as only the river that leads to eternal life instead of the River of Life made for us to live in constantly. I will be praying for you…
and I really enjoy your blog! ~Jessica
Thank you so much for this great visual–God gave Ezekiel a concrete image of how the Lord would breathe life into His people, yes? Prophesy to my writing! I don’t know quite how to do that, but I do know how to pray and seek refreshment from the Lord…still, sometimes the writing thumbs and bumps along, even with the Lord’s inspiration in my heart, mind and soul; sometimes the words don’t flow. I don’t know if it’s a phase I’m going through as I age, or this time of year…thank you so much for your comment, insight and wisdom.
I certainly haven’t noticed any dryness in your writing Ann. It all flows and moves beautifully. I am struggling with dryness too. I believe it is a lack of quiet time – just shutting out the noise and letting the Father have a chance to “get a word in.” When I can get a few of those moments, I feel refreshing showers begin to fall.
I love your writing, Ann! I’m so glad I met a fellow writing teacher. Your blog posts are beautiful and rich, and I love your written voice. Since you asked about the parched times, I wanted to offer this: Sometimes I feel uninspired because of the weight of the audience. I start to worry too much about how I’m coming across (and whether it’s “good”) that I lose that authentic flow. In that case, I remind myself to write from a place of love and pray that God helps me disregard the approval or disapproval of the crowd. Do you students worry about this like I do? Do you?