Essaying, part 2

::SPOILER WARNING:: If you’ve not read the first three Wingfeather Saga books, please ignore this post. Instead, go buy the books!

Well, i promised you all a bit more about that essay.

Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga, a four-part heartbreaking whimsical epic, follows three children as they discover that the world, and their destinies, are much larger than they’d realized, and will require much more of them than they are at first prepared to give. There are several adults who join them in their journeys—their mother, grandfather, and uncle, and a family friend. That uncle, properly named Artham but originally known to the children only as Peet the Sock Man, is beautiful and glorious and tragic, and my whole heart loves him. He is my favourite literary character. For Peet alone, everyone should read these books.

My essay explores what we, Peet included, might become in the New Creation, once the brokenness and shame and dehumanization of the Fall have been burned away from us by the holy love of our Saviour.

i hadn’t written an essay, or any form of literary criticism, in over a decade, and the work was difficult. (The first difficulty was in preventing myself from making any use of the word “robiderant.”) It went through three drafts and many more revisions, and i am grateful to say that my husband read every one with a red pen and a gorgeous brain and heart. Trying to sift through the emotions that Peet raises in me as they knock against the thoughts that keep springing up regarding what his story might mean was not the easiest task, and it was so helpful to have aid from another soul who knows both my heart and Peet’s story.

The first draft was, i thought, much too academic. The second was a babbling, rapturous paean (yikes). i thought the third was a good middle ground, but a few revisions in, Jonathan made a good point: i had stripped out the unique contributions i had to offer. i was intending to submit the essay to the Rabbit Room, and Jonathan said, “Lewis and MacDonald are helpful for building rapport and showing that you’re drawing from the same literary canon, but what you want is for Andrew [the author] and Pete [his brother, the website’s editor] to learn something. You want to introduce something new, to contribute something unique to your reading.” i had left in the common canon (C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, several Rabbit Roomers), but had taken out what i’d drawn from Giorgio Agamben, thinking that that was what made the first draft too academic. When Jonathan pointed out that what i wanted to do was not only reflect on Andrew’s mythmaking but also contribute something unique to the conversation, it became obvious that i needed to go back and look at that first draft.

Lo and behold, that first draft contained ideas and synthesis and insights that i’d forgotten i’d written. That happens a lot—i’ll write a thing, think it is not quite what i’m after, then come back to it later and find things i didn’t realize i had said.

It occurred to me also that the folks over at the Rabbit Room are intellectual types and would probably enjoy engaging my synthesis of Peet and Agamben. If that was the case, then all that was left to do was revise and edit that draft. That turned out to be more of a challenge than i’d expected, mostly because the essay was rather long—over 3500 words, or about 7 pages single-spaced, which is not long for an academic paper, but makes for a pretty long blog post. i gathered up several of the longer Rabbit Room posts and ran them through my word counter, and found that the longest ones didn’t exceed 2400 words. Zounds, as the Peterson boys would say. What a daunting percentage of the whole i would have to cut if i wanted my paper to fit within that format. The submission guidelines did not give a word count limit, but i knew that an essay of that length was much, much too long.

What followed was two days of revising and cutting and refining and line-editing. Pete Peterson is fond of saying that revision is his favourite part, the best part, of the writing process. That boggles me. He posted just such a comment while i was editing that essay, actually. But it amazed me to see how empowered i felt as i went line-by-line through my own thoughts, seeing where they could be made tighter, clarifying with fewer words, cutting repetition and rambling. In the end, i was unable to make that essay any shorter than 3000 words, but they are a very tight 3000 words. i am proud of them as i never would have been if i had not spent my intellect and attention on winnowing my essay.

So on Friday afternoon, i sent a short query email along with my essay to Rabbit Room submissions—my very first submission to anything ever. i acknowledged that it was longish, and that they don’t really know me there, but that i hoped they would like it. And then i hit send.

i may not receive a reply from that email, and if i don’t that’s fine. i sent it in expecting nothing. The experience of putting my heart into words, of pulling together disparate sources to find common meaning, of writing and revising that essay, was such an overwhelmingly good and strengthening experience. i sent it off and let it go. Whatever comes of it now, i am proud of my essay and of myself. And now, as my current task is finishing up my seminary application, and as Andrew’s fourth book will arrive on my doorstep in the next week or two, all i have left is gratitude and a feeling that i can do this and the future is beautiful.

If my essay is published at the Rabbit Room, i will be sure to link it here. If it is not, you can expect to see it shining in its own spot on my blog sometime.

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