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If It's Good Enough for Madeleine L'Engle, It's Good Enough for Me

 

I credit Madeleine L'Engle with one writing practice that I’ve kept up with for five years now, journaling. A lot of people poke fun at me about it, as if I’m ten and writing about the boy I have a crush on. But journaling is so much more than “Dear Diary” entries. It's something that I can do with total honesty, without the fear of criticism or rejection, something that I can turn to later and either laugh at myself or marvel at how much an experience shaped my life.

It wasn’t Madeleine L’Engle who introduced the idea to me. Someone gave me my first diary when I was barely old enough to write cohesive sentences. I still have it, with a pink cover on the outside and the progression of my wobbly handwriting through the beginnings of cursive on the inside. It wasn’t a regular thing, but something fun for me to do from time to time, something that made me feel grown up. As a teenager, I tried to keep a more regular journal, but I eventually gave up and checked in maybe once every few months or years to say, “Yep, I graduated from high school” or “Wedding date set for next summer.”

Then in early 2007, I found out I was pregnant. I owned a number of books that I still had not read, and I knew that there was a chance that a new baby would occupy most of my reading time. Included in the list of unread books were a handful of Madeleine L’Engle’s, starting with her famous A Wrinkle in Time. There was also one entitled Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life, which is a compilation of material from her writings, speeches, and workshops. Before I even finished the book, I adopted the journaling habit with renewed enthusiam and vigor.

L'Engle gives three recommendations to writers: "read, keep an honest journal, and write every day" (188). Reading wasn't a problem. And I wrote when I had the time or when inspiration struck, often in spurts. But journaling? I recalled my poor, neglected blank book (I did actually graduate from the pink cover to a Star Wars one at some point), and I had no idea when I'd written in it last. When I finally found the book, I realized that if anyone were to pick it up, my life would seem full of holes. There were many significant events that I had not bothered to document. Organizer that I am, I went through all my old calendars, looking at all that had happened in the years since I’d kept my journal somewhat faithfully, and I began the act of recording. Well over a month later, I sat in a hospital bed, waiting to welcome my first child into the world, and I finished catching up. I’ve kept it up daily ever since.

Sometimes I simply go through the motions: “I woke up late today”; “It was a typical Tuesday”; “I’m too tired to think straight, but here I am, anyway.” If I’m so busy that I hardly have time to pause and write in my journal, it’s even more important that I force myself to do so. Otherwise, it might be a day in which my writing skills become stagnant. Like playing scales on the piano or stretching before a run, this practice is necessary to keep a writer primed. I’ve gone months at a time when my journal was the only place I wrote, and I’m thankful that I had it. So ingrained is the practice now that not doing it would be like forgetting to brush my teeth.

I don't know what inspired me to do so, but I recently re-read Herself. Due to its format (most sections are less than one page), I absorbed it one idea at a time and over the period of a couple months rather than a few days. If I came away with the discipline of journaling five years ago, I left with so much more in the way of writerly advice this time around. I think it’s safe to say that my blogs will contain quotes from her for a while. I admire her for her strength as a person as well as a writer. She stuck with her chosen vocation through a decade of rejection (and she’d already published successfully before that), which inspires me to hold on and persevere through the unfriendly publishing world.

Page 34 says, “Being a writer does not necessarily mean being published. It’s very nice to be published. It’s what you want. When you have a vision, you want to share it. But being a writer means writing. It means building up a body of work. It means writing every day." Many people, knowing that I write but was (for the most part) unpublished called me an aspiring writer. Lack of publication, however, makes me no less of a writer. It’s writing that is the qualifier here. L’Engle gave me permission to call myself what I really am.

One final thing (and I’m culling the list quite a bit here) is her knowledge on writing for children. I do not consider myself a writer for children, per se. In fact, the two stories that I have published (one out of print, the other at Smashwords.com) are not for children at all, although they do have children as secondary characters. If you're familiar with A Wrinkle in Time, a book that is included in the elementary school curriculum of many schools, did you know that L'Engle did not originally write it for a young audience? She simply wrote it, and it was categorized for children later. "To write for children," she says, "it usually synonymous with writing down to children, and that's an insult to [them]. Children are far better believers than adults; they are aware of what most adults have forgotten" (157). I certainly want to write for an audience who believes, so that is the goal I keep in mind when I write. And on that future date when someone (I hope) finds my book worthy of publication, I can worry about which age group wants to read it.