L’Engle, Madeleine

Madeleine L'Engle

Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007) conducted a writing life that can best be described as one of perseverance. Best known for her award-winning young adult science fiction, L’Engle recorded in detail the long years of rejection of her work as “too dark and difficult for children.” L’Engle was born in New York City, the only child of creative parents who encouraged her talents. Though her writing ability emerged quite early she was labeled shy and dull-witted in school, and those experiences had a lasting effect on her self-esteem.

After graduating college, L’Engle actually starting acting and found modest success in Broadway roles; she also wrote a handful of plays that were produced and published. Hers is a story of triumph following years of silence and frustration. She persisted because she felt compelled to, though she had nothing to show for her labors except rejection slips. Finally, she was rewarded now just with sales of her books, but also more then a dozen honorary degrees and numerous other awards. She also exemplifies the life of the working artist who is also an involved parent. 

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Madeleine L’Engle Quotes

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”

“I have a friend, a beautiful and talented young woman, who is afraid to have a child and who is afraid to use her talent to write. She does not yet understand the joy that follows the pain of birth. I’ve experienced the pain and joy of the birth of babies and the birth of books and there’s nothing like it: when a child who has been conceived in love is born to a man and woman, the joy that birth sings throughout the universe.” (A Circle of Quiet , 1972)

“I had to learn that I was a better mother and wife when I was working than when I was not.” (Walking on Water, 1980)

“Many people in walks of life which do not involve creation are completely unaware of the necessity for discipline. It is not only that few serious artists who live lives of debauchery produce a large body of work but that few serious artists are able to live lives which are without interruption.” (Walking on Water, 1980) 

“Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.”

“To work on a book is for me very much the same thing as to pray. Both involve discipline. Inspiration far more often comes during the work than before it, because the largest part of the job of the artist is to listen to the work and to fo where it tells [her] to go. Ultimately, when you are writing, you stop thinking and write what you hear.” (Walking on Water,  1980)

“If a writer says [she] doesn’t care whether [she] is published or not, I don’t believe [her]. I care. Undoubtedly I care too much. But we do not write for ourselves alone. I write about what concerns me, and I want to share my concerns. I want what I write to be read. Every rejection slip — and you could paper walls with my rejection slips — was like the rejection of me, myself, and certainly of my amour-propre.” (A Circle of Quiet, 1972)  

“Ultimately, you have to sit down and start to write. And even if all you do is type out “I can’t write this morning; I can’t write this morning; oh, bother, I can’t write this morning,” that will sometimes prime the pump and get it started.” (Madeleine L’Engle Herself, 2001)

“To write consistently, I must seize opportunities. I write in airports. I write on planes. I find airports and planes and hotels excellent places in which to write because once I am in them I am not responsible for anything except my work…I am free to write.” (Walking on Water,  1980)

“When i start working on a book, which is usually years and several books before I start to write it, I am somewhat like a French peasant cook.There are several pots on the back of the stove, and as I go by during the day’s work, I drop a carrot in one, an onion in another, a chunk of meat in another… When it is time to start work, I look at everything in the pot, sort, arrange, think about character and story line. Most of this part of the work is done consciously, but then there comes a moment of unselfconsciousness, of letting go and serving the work.” (Walking on Water, 1980)

“Now there are mornings when I joyfully sit down at the typewriter. But there are mornings when it is anything but a joy. There are evenings when I go to the piano and the music comes pouring from my fingers. There are evenings when I’m all thumbs and I have to make myself sit there and go over scales and finger exercises before I can play anything. The same thing is true with writing.” (Madeleine L’Engle Herself, 2001)

“Risk is essential. It’s scary. Every time I sit down and start the first page of a novel I am risking failure. We are encouraged in this world not to fail…I think that is a bad thing that the world has done to us…We are encouraged only to do that which we can be successful in. But things are accomplished only by our risk of failure. Writers will never do anything beyond the first thing unless they risk growing.” (Madeleine L’Engle Herself, 2001)

“When my book was rejected by publisher after publisher I cried out in my journal. I wrote, after an early rejection, “X turned down Wrinkle, turned it down with one hand while saying that he loved it, but didn’t quite dare so it, as it isn’t really classifiable, and I am wondering if I’ll have to go through the usual hell with this that I seem to go through with everything that I write…A writer is far too tied up in his work, if [she] is really a writer, to know whether it is second-rate or a work of genius. And how many writers who have been considered second-rate, and yet have persisted in believing in themselves, have been discovered and hailed as geniuses after their deaths / or writers who have been highly acclaimed during their lives have been forgotten forever shortly after? Or writers who are true geniuses have been discovered at all?…I for once have the arrogance to know in my heart that this is something good. But if it is constantly turned down will I be able to keep the faith that I still have in it? Will I begin to doubt?” (A Circle of Quiet, 1972)

“When we write and are published, we become naked before people…it’s hard for us to open ourselves to rebuff…Every other writer I know, when you get ninety-nine good reviews and one bad review , what review stays in your mind? The bad one. And why? Because it awakens our own doubts. Did I really serve the work? Did I really hear it? Could she really be right and I haven’t done it as I should have? If you’re going to write and be published, you’ve got to expect to have a few arrows thrown at you. They’re going to hurt, and you’re going to bleed. You’re probably going to cry if you’re like me. But that’s just part of it and you have to learn.” (Madeleine L’Engle Herself, 2001)



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