AH: Broadcasting Foolishness
I was reading the other night and ran headlong into this quote by Jane Smiley: "If to live is to progress, if you are lucky, from foolishness to wisdom, then to write novels is to broadcast the various stages of your foolishness."
I think that's one of the most profound statements I've read lately. The other day I was talking to a friend about how my theology had changed since I really began to study theology . . . and how I once wrote a novel predicated on the idea that God has a permissive will and a perfect will, and that we can fall short of the latter and have to settle for the former.
"But I don't believe that any more," I said. "I believe that in God's sovereignty, everything I do, even my mistakes, are part of his plan. Why do we always assume that mistakes are bad? That tragedy is undesirable? Because God is going to use even these things to mold us into the people He wants us to be."
Those of us who've been writing for a long time often cringe when we think about our early books because our writing styles have changed--most of us tend to write tighter and leaner with experience. (I edited a book for re-publication the other day and cut out 9,000 completely unnecessary words).
But there are other things that change as well. Novels, like it or not, do put forth a world view; characters learn lessons and change in ways that reflect the author's view of life. So it's crucial that we get it right from an eternal perspective.
The responsibility could be overwhelming, if you thought about it very long or very deeply. Those of us who are believers are presenting and/or justifying the ways of God to man . . . as if He needed our help . . . and yet He chooses to use us.
Jane Smiley says that a novel is an ontological construct, which is a fifty-cent way of saying that a novel says, "the world is like this." Smiley also says "as every novelist has a style, so every novelist has conviction" . . . and convictions can change. Which is a good thing, because, according to Smiley , "if the conviction simply dissipates or grows stale, the novels do, too."
So I'm glad I'm changing some of my convictions and adopting new perspectives. As I grow as a person and as a follower of Christ, my work will grow, too. But if I'm saying "God is like this . . .", I must take pains to speak the truth.
So . . . what have I done about the novel based on a premise I no longer support? I went back and skimmed it again . . . and found that the premise is so subtle, I doubt many people will pick it up. Plus, the book is out of print. And I've written a new book, The Novelist, on the sovereignty of God and how it works in our lives.
But the experience has reminded me of my responsibility as a novelist: to take every care to get it right.
Father, help us in our task and forgive us our foolishness. Make us better writers than we are, for your name's sake.
Jane Smiley quotes are from 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. Angela Hunt quotes are from her computer.