Creativity

Books Are Signposts Along the Way

The novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is a series of stories linked together in the small town of Macondo in South America. It is surrounded by a swamp and thus is known for its isolation.

One day the town was infected by a plague that causes insomnia. The people of the town were not unhappy at first because it meant there was more time to get things done. But there was more to this plague. In addition to insomnia, they began to lose their memory. Marquez called it the loss of “the name and notion of things.”

They countered these symptoms by writing names on things or pinning signs to them. You would walk around the town and see the words clock, chair, dog, wall, and so on. But they were afraid they would forget the purpose of the items. So they would write longer and more elaborate signs with instructions. For example, this is what was looped around the neck of the cow: “This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk.”

This literary exploration of collective amnesia made me think of the purpose of writing books and publishing in general. Writing is a thankless task during the process. But the finished work is a “signpost,” a place of memory or experience. A place where a traveler can go, sit for a while, and later move to another signpost having been affected by their previous reading. Without these books, our society would forget where we came from and where we should be going.

In a small way each book being written, whether for entertainment, education, or inspiration, is a signpost. A stopping place with a set goal of direction. When driving you see signs: “Stop,” “Yield,” “Slow, children crossing,” “No parking,” and more. But even something as simple as the roadside mile marker tells us that we are one step closer to our destination.

Bear with me for a moment and think of the “signs” we find in Scripture. Ones that point to greater things to come (emphasis added):

“I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:12-14).

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:13-15).

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger”
(Luke 2:11-13).

Think about the sign that your book is creating. Signs like “Hope,” “Love,” “Redemption,” “Joy,” “Lament,” “Restoration,” “Create,” or “Beauty.” Make your sign unique and one that makes a reader stop and sit a while.

[Unfortunately, while writing this, the 1971 hit song “Signs” by The Five Man Electrical Band kept playing in my mind. (https://bit.ly/3zXnIlO)]

Your Turn

What is written on the “sign” for your book (fiction or nonfiction)? It can be a single word or two or a phrase up to six words (short enough to remember).

[This is a revised version of a post from December 2012.]

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It’s New to Them

The other day, I was surprised to see an ad for a book published fairly recently regarding Kitty Genovese, a woman murdered as bystanders watched in Queens, New York, in 1964. This case was so notorious for its study of human behavior (Why would witnesses fail to act?) that people …

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The Dreaded Blank Page

by Steve Laube

A clean slate. An empty canvas. A fresh start. A new beginning.
Or a potential nightmare of guilt, failure, and shame.

Thus begins the process of each writing project. This blog post began with a blank page. I wondered why I ever agreed to write a blog. I procrastinated with enough excuses to be described as legion. I told myself that no one cares what I think on any subject.

Once my episode of complaining was done I began to write. Each of my posts begins in a Moleskine notebook written by hand. The pages are littered with half-started ideas and incomplete thoughts. And this was no exception. Today’s post is the fourth one that received some scratches.

The blank page is the universal place where every writer begins. And in that moment and in that place all things are equal.

A place where the artist begins creating verba ex nihilo.*

A place of immeasurable potential and endless possibilities.

A place upon which a treasure map is drawn leading a reader to riches unimagined.

A place where worlds are spun into existence.

A place of creation, inspiration, and wonder.

Remember this as you fill today’s blank page:

The world will be a little different tomorrow because of what you write today.

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Original Writing

Several years ago, I reviewed a proposal on a subject commonly addressed in Christian books and quickly noticed it was not entirely original.  It wasn’t plagiarized from another author, but the proposed nonfiction book was comprised almost entirely of the best-thinking from other Christian authors on the subject. There was …

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The Story We Bring to the Story

by Steve Laube

With all the discussion about the craft of fiction and the need to write a great story there is one thing missing in the equation. The one thing that is the secret to great fiction. And it is the one thing the writer cannot control.

That one thing is the story the reader brings with them to their reading experience. As a reader I have the life I have lived, the people I’ve met, the books I’ve read, and the places I’ve been that I bring with me into the world your novel has created. This makes the reading of every story unique. No two people can read the same story the same way. This is why one person’s favorite book is another’s thrift store giveaway.

In the new memoir The End of Your Life Book Club author Will Schwable writes about the books he read with his Mom during the last years of her life. In his introduction he wrote something profound:

We all have  a lot more to read than we can read and a lot more to do than we can do. Still, one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying. I will never be able to read my mother’s favorite books without thinking of her—and when I pass them on and recommend them, I’ll know that some of what made her goes with them; that some of my mother will live on in those readers, readers who may be inspired to love the way she loved and do their own version of what she did in the world.

This is the secret to the greatest novels of all time. They were written in such a way that my story, the essence of who I am, merged with that story and it became something new. Something unique. Something inexplicable. A new story. And then became a part of who I am…and a part what I bring to the next story I read.

That’s the story I want to read. Can you write it? I can’t wait to read it.

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Success

I am using the 20th year remembrance of the death of Clifton Hillegass as inspiration to make a larger point about the direction an author’s life can take. Clifton (pictured above is his statue in Kearney, NE) was the creator of CliffsNotes and passed away in Lincoln, Nebraska, at the …

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Age Is Just a Number

by Steve Laube

Last Friday in the comments Dr. Richard Mabry wrote, “Tired after doing a few household chores that never used to leave me dragging. Now I’m ready to be up and dancing. Age is just a number, isn’t it?”

Then on Saturday I spoke at the Christian Writes of the West mini-conference where one of the writers asked “Do older writers have a chance? Especially if agents and publishers are looking for a long career investment?”

It is a great question. Does it matter how old you are? No it doesn’t. When your proposal lands on our desk or on an editor’s desk it is the words on the page that speak to us. I rarely even think about the writer’s age, ethnicity, economic status, or any other non-writing ability classification while I’m reading the sample chapters. Of course there are exceptions. A few times I could tell the author was very young by the way they were writing a romance scene…they simply had not yet “fallen in love” and couldn’t quite express it in a full way.

We have a number of clients who are in their 20s we also have a number who are in their 70s. What matters is whether they’ve written a great book and have a platform (for non-fiction) to sell it from.

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A Writer’s Lorica

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which tradition marks as the day of his death. Some mark the day with parades, drinking, and other festivities. I think it’s a great day for prayer, especially for writers, since the famous prayer known as “St. Patrick’s Lorica” (or “breastplate”) is attributed to him. …

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A Cliché Simile Is a Bad Simile

One of the many things I fairly harp on when I teach at writers conferences (full disclosure: I’m a fair harper) is the need to eliminate clichés from your writing. Seriously, they’re old hat.  One of the places clichés seem to creep in most often is in similes and metaphors. …

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God at Auschwitz

Back in 2019, I had the opportunity to travel to a conference in Poland and afterward tour Auschwitz/Birkenau, one of the more infamous Nazi death camps. More than a million people were murdered there at the hands of the SS from 1942 until its liberation by the Russian army in …

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