Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007)

Madeleine L’Engle, 1918 - 2007

Why does it seem like a lot of my favorite YA authors seem to be leaving Earth this year? I just found out that Madeleine L’Engle died last September 6, at the age of 88. Of the books she wrote, the ones I read and loved were her Kairos books, principally the ones with the Murrys. (Of the O’Keefes, I’ve only been able to read An Acceptable Time).

Lenneth posted a wonderful interview with her: Allegorical Fantasy: Mortal Dealings with Cosmic Questions. I practically couldn’t tear my eyes away from the interview — I felt it had great meaning to me personally, both as a writer and a Catholic.

I’d like to highlight some lines that I felt were very meaningful for me:

[Writing and praying is] not a matter of feeling like it, or waiting when I feel inspired, because both in work and in prayer, inspiration comes during rather than before.

…Freedom comes on the other side of work. If I want to play a Bach fugue, I must practice scales. If I hope for any transcendent experience in prayer, I have to have just done my ordinary, everyday prayers, which is the same thing as practicing my scales. I have to write every day. Freedom and discipline, rather than being antithetical, are complementary. Permissiveness, either from others toward you or toward yourself, ends up being restricting and crippling. If you choose to be a writer and a mother, you have to be incredibly disciplined. Otherwise you won’t manage. Discipline does not imprison you.

This is truly something that I personally have to work on, even though I’ve read this same thing from various places and books, and they all say the same thing. And yet I still don’t get to write on a daily basis — creative writing, that is.

We’ve got to be free to fail. … We live in a world that insists we be successes. If you’re not free to fail, you’ll never be anything but mediocre. You must try to do more than you can really do. Sometimes, you do do more than you can really do. That’s the marvel of it.

I feel there is a lot of truth in this statement, and frankly I feel this is where my biggest difficulty lies, especially in writing. I might go into this in depth at this blog some other time, but basically I’ve been coming to the conclusion for some time now that my biggest barrier in terms of writing is my fear of failure at what I most want to do.

I remember seeing, once back in the Philippines a month or so before I moved to Singapore, these beautiful new editions of her Kairos books. I wanted to buy them, as I didn’t have my own copies (the ones we have are really technically my sister’s) but I didn’t as I was moving. I really should have bought them.


  • Thanks for sharing, Michelle — it feels good to know that someone else knows a bit of where I am personally. My own fear is a mix of what you mentioned, as well as a few other things. When I was much younger I did have a much larger support group — was even part of a few online writers’ group where I met friends who also wrote — but because of a lot of things (college part of it, and my decision to go for a non-literary course) I slowly lost touch with those friends. I’ve continued writing, but very sporatically. (Journal writing continues as normal, of course.)

    I’m not sure of would help very much — but thank you for letting me know of it! Since I come from the Philippines it would be quite difficult for other Filipinos to be buying my books if it was just online, and I’m not so sure if I can “sell” my books myself to the local bookstores. Not that I’d write in Filipino (I suck! I write better in English) but, yeah.

    I’m at work currently but I’ll probably try and flesh out my own fears on this blog soon. Funny that I’m saying it’s a writing blog but I’m not talking about writing much!

    P.S. Thanks for the recommendations! I have not replied as I have no idea what to recommend, other than what I’ve written here. I find it’s personally difficult to recommend books to people as books can be quite personal, hee.

  • Perhaps this is not your reasoning for your fear of failure, but when I was afraid of failing in my writing it was because I never thought I would be good enough to get published, market my book(s), and become at the very least a well known local author (I never assumed national fame :p). I got over that block in a few ways. First, I started posting my stories online. Second, I emailed them to my friends and my mom, who will both be honest and give me constructive criticism no matter what. Third, and most importantly, I discovered where I could self-publish my writing.

    I still don’t think I’ll ever be good enough for that “local author” fame I’d like, but seeing my book in print, designed & written entirely by myself was extremely encouraging. In relation to this post, I felt like that was the one thing that broke the “barriers” keeping me from this freedom in writing. Now I don’t hesitate to write down my ideas or scribble out a few pages, even if it doesn’t mean anything. It was something I made and that I accomplished. Only 3-4 people purchased it (they were all friends and family), but suddenly that didn’t matter anymore.

    Anyway, just an idea. :)