Keeping Ourselves & Our Stories as Pliable as Clay

My daughters took a pottery class this past summer. They learned various techniques for manipulating clay—everything from pinching by hand to smoothing it on a pottery wheel. They kiln dried their creations and glazed them.

By the end of the three weeks, they came home with more bowls, cups, plates, and decorations than we’ll ever be able to use! But working with the clay was a valuable experience, one that lends itself not only to the nurturing of their creativity, but also to many life lessons.

I could probably write a book with all the analogies that come from comparing clay to the human spirit. As an adult, my character isn’t fully shaped. I’m still on the potter’s wheel and the master’s hands are gently but firmly plying me. And my children, likewise, are still very much in need of shaping. As a parent, it’s part of my job to continually smooth out the rough edges and mold them into the unique but beautiful works of art they’re meant to be.

And isn’t that true of our stories too? They’re a lot like clay.

As you may remember, this past summer I turned in Book 2 to my publisher. I was certain it was the best story I’d ever written. When my editor finished reading it and told me it would need significant rewrites, I was shocked and slightly devastated (okay, very devastated!). But after a thorough pity-party, I put my head down and got to work. For approximately five weeks, I pushed myself day and night to make some sweeping changes—primarily to the character arcs of both my hero and heroine.

Finally, I finished the rewrites and sent the book back in to my publisher, crossing my fingers and praying I’d finally gotten things right. When I talked with my editor at the writer’s conference I attended a few weeks ago, he’d indicated I was on track but would still have more work to do. Thus, I should have been prepared for the email I got last week. But as I opened the email attachment to see eight pages of notes of additional changes I needed to make, my heart sank.

With tears in my eyes, I looked at my mom who was visiting and said, “This is just too hard. I don’t know if want to keep writing if it’s always this hard.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment. I could see her wise mind churning behind gentle eyes.

“I just want to be able to get it right the first time,” I continued. “It’s so painful to go through all the work only to continue to fail to make my story likeable enough.”

“You need to look at your first draft like a lump of clay,” my mom finally said. “The book isn’t a failure. It’s just not finished. It still needs to be shaped and worked from a lump into a something beautiful.”

My story, a lump of clay. I let her words roll around in my mind.

“Very few people are able to produce a polished product without time on the potter’s wheel,” she said. “In fact, you’re blessed to have a talented team of people who are working with you to shape and polish that lump. They’re helping you make it into something that others can really admire.”

And I knew she was right. I didn’t need to be discouraged about continuing the process of editing my novel. In fact, I should be encouraged that I had the opportunity and the excellent help to mold my story into a book that someday, hopefully, readers will enjoy and appreciate.

That’s true for all of us. When we’re discouraged by how much work our stories need, when we're disheartened by the length of time the writing and editing takes us, or when we’re tempted to toss the lump aside, we need to remind ourselves the beauty comes out of the shaping and molding and polishing. We have to remain as pliable as clay. Both in writing and life.

What about you? Have you ever been discouraged by the amount of work it takes to shape your stories? Are you staying pliable and open to the molding process? Do you have a team who can help you?

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