Thursday, September 12, 2013

Potter and Clay

Last Sunday at church the scripture reading was from Jeremiah: "The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 'Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words.' So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do. "(Jeremiah 18:1-4 RSV)

The opening hymn was: "Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!Thou art the Potter, I am the clay."

The person giving the children's message brought little tubs of Play-Doh to show the children how much easier it is for God to work with us when our hearts are soft and pliable, like clay, rather than hard and unyielding, like wood or stone.

So of course all this made me think about writing. In particular, it made me think about the revisions I'm struggling with on my cookie jar book, where I'm still uncertain how to reply to critical comments from two of the people in my writing group.

Potters are lucky to work with clay, not marble. The pot gets spoiled in the potter's hand? Smush it back into a pliable lump and place it on the wheel again. I don't know what stone carvers do. They must have some way of recovering from mistakes, as they'd have to be as mistake-prone as any creative person. But it has to be more devastating for them when the chisel slips.

Writers are lucky to work with words. If the words we've written on the page aren't working, we can delete them and write other words in their place. If one plot angle doesn't work, we can veer off in a different direction. If our main character isn't taking sufficient charge of her own story, we can make her do that.  After all, we are the potter. Our story is the clay.

Of course, Jeremiah's potter might have spent considerable time on that first spoiled pot. I certainly spent considerable time on the first draft of the cookie jar book. Time is the one non-renewable resource. We all have a finite amount of it, and so a finite number of pots we can throw and stories we can tell. Still, Jeremiah's potter might have been able to salvage something from his disappointing morning, if only an idea for how he wants the pot to look now. My hunch is that when I make myself sit down to revisions on the cookie jar book, I'll find that I can salvage plenty. Probably all that it needs, really, is a poke here, a dab there, some more clay on this side, less clay on that.

Yes, writing that first draft took time, and writing the next draft will take time, too. But guess what? There is nothing I'd rather spend my time doing than writing, and especially writing books about enchanted cookie jars. It's a rainy day here in Boulder, a good day for thinking about cookies and jars to put them in. It's a good day for being a potter/author, working with her story clay.

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