It is perhaps a bit unfair that we writers have such a beautiful body of literature exploring the nature of our processes and passions. Titles like THE ELECTRICIAN'S LIFE: Reflections on Creating a Complete Circuit or OF NUMBERS AND DECIMALS: The Payroll Accountant's Way, are in short supply (and, in all honesty, probably in short demand) whereas a comprehensive bibliography can be compiled of must-read reflections on the writing life for those interested in such creative pursuits. Such a list would surely include the likes of MYSTERY AND MANNERS by Flannery O'Conner, WALKING ON WATER by Madeleine L'Engle, and BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. And to that list we can also add THE SOUL TELLS A STORY by Vinita Hampton Wright.
With so much already said about writing, it is no small feat on Wright's part to have added not just an echo, but also new ideas to the conversation. Or rather, she has presented old ideas in a fresh way so as to be, at times, mistaken for new --- the true mark of creativity.
"Creative formation" is the term a friend coined to describe the process of seeking to intentionally shape our creative lives that Wright advocates. The parallel with spiritual formation is no mere accident as she sees creativity and spirituality as inextricably bound.
"I have become a more spiritual person because I write," she says. "The creative process is a spiritual one, and when we receive it as such, it deepens our gifts and edifies us in general. To write true stories, I must encounter truth, and as Jesus said, the truth makes us free. It also brings healing and grace when we attend to it. If I truly open my eyes and express in words what I have seen, then I will have participated in a spiritual act. I receive the vision from beyond myself, and I express it through who I am. This is divinity at work. It may be divinity at its finest, because the whole point of the incarnation was that we understand finally and with clarity who we really are --- made in God's image and possessing gifts with which to express God's very self to the world."
Based on this integrated vision for creativity, Wright spends time attending not just to the personal, sometimes esoteric, aspects of the creative calling, but also to the practical, more community-level dynamics often at play in the life of a writer. She acknowledges that sometimes love for those in your life might mean putting aside a novel to mend a broken marriage or care for an elderly parent. She offers tips for seeking out guidance from a mentor or group of engaged friends. She warns of the unique sexual temptations that those alive to the world can face.
While THE SOUL TELLS A STORY is aimed at writers, the principles involved would surely translate well for those with other creative pursuits and even the most casual of writers would do well to engage the practices Wright suggests. These include exercises to tap inspiration, to engage both the analytical and creative sides of the brain, and to confront the darkness that can be found in creative work.
There are additional, wonderfully practical aspects of THE SOUL TELLS A STORY, but I hesitate to list these components simply because the idea of a list seems to denote "formula" and to imply there is a formula to the creative life would be antithetical to what Wright is trying to promote. At the same time, she provides structure, the idea that a creative life can be an ordered life, even if not a tightly controlled one. And that is a welcome reminder for those of us waking up to the world through a creative calling.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on March 30, 2005