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The Only True Genius in the Family - A Novel by Jennie Nash
Three Intangible Elements : Faith

Three Intangible Elements Every Novelist Must Bring to Their Work

Part 2: Faith

continued from part 1

Once you have imagined a story, the next thing you need is faith. Just like I had to take a leap of faith to choose the right color for my white walls, so do I have to take a leap of faith every time I face the blank page. I have found that there are two critical components to faith: faith in oneself and faith in the whole enterprise of storytelling.

Faith in oneself can be a tricky thing. We all have voices inside our head telling us that our writing is not good enough, that our story has already been told better by someone else, that we'd be better off getting up from our desk and going to the gym instead of hammering away at the same sentence for another hour. Those voices will never go away. Friends of mine who are very accomplished writers — winners of big prizes and big paychecks — say, in fact, that they only get louder. I think the difference is that more seasoned writers find a way to live with these voices. They recognize the doubt as being a familiar thing, and they don't let it get in their way. I love a poem by Richard Wilbur called Source, and keep it by my computer to remind me what to do when the voices of doubt get too loud. This poem speaks to this reality — that no matter how grand or powerful you are, you still must take a leap of faith to tap into your creative source:

As a queen sits down
knowing a chair will be there
or a general raises his hands
And is given the field glasses —
step off assuredly
into the blank of your mind
Something will come to you.

Faith in oneself only goes so far, however, as most religions will tell you. Faith in the whole enterprise of storytelling is also a critical component to a creative life. I think it helps enormously to remember how important stories can be to individuals and to society. To tell a story is to be part of a noble tradition that goes far back in every single culture on earth. There's a reason for this grand history: stories help people understand themselves and each other. They help, they heal, the offer solace and knowledge and joy. Stories matter. Whenever I get discouraged about my own work, I like to think of the great writers whose stories I have loved and in this way, I gain faith; I want to be part of their tradition, even if only a small part. Junot Díaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, writes beautifully about the promise that a writer offers a reader, and how doubt and faith are implicit in that promise. "What we do might be done in solitude and with great desperation," he says, "but it tends to produce exactly the opposite. It tends to produce community and in many people hope and joy." •

Next: Part 3 — Permission »