Of course, it helps if you bring extensive experience as a writer, as the author of three previously published books, as the editor and or publisher of four books by other writers (and more on the way), as the managing editor of an online site for faith, culture, work and family, and as a contributing writer for Curator Magazine. And it helps if you’ve been homeschooling your children for several years, and that you were once a public school teacher. But still, it seems something of a stretch.
It works. It works stunningly well. It works so well that I think I’ve just finished one of the best books on writing I’ve ever read.
In 32 pointed and tightly focused chapters, Barkat (and her daughters, Sara and Sonia) walk you through creativity and inspiration, voice, the habit of writing, the structure of writing, publishing, roadblocks and problems, and how and why writing takes time.
Barkat places writing within the context of family and children, within the personal and the everday, within what one experiences in 99 percent of life. She took a similar approach with God in the Yard: Spiritual practice for the rest of us, by spending a set time each day, every day, in her garden. And she found God there, as did the rest of us who read the book.
Without overtly saying so, in Rumors of Water Barkat is telling writers to consider that a children’s game, that minor disappointment, that simple joy of seeing a garden grow, that pain of climbing the steps of a lighthouse are all metaphors – and lessons – for writing.
A visit to a local farm, with her daughters tasting “the reddest strawberries they ever saw,” becomes a lesson in where writing starts: “Writing starts with living. Living starts with somebody caring so much about something that they need to drag you out of your writing chair and take you where you’ll be surprised to find your words.”
A talk about a story her daughter is writing and what to name the main character becomes a discussion of that all-consuming worry most writers have – voice. “Writers worry a lot about this, about voice,” she writes. They are always wondering if they can find one. The truth is that every writer has a voice. It is probably best heard by listening to oneself speak.”
A neighbor teaching her girls about Tai Chi (and how she first heard of it when she saw Sesame Street’s Big Bird in China) opens the door to how to care for your writing: have goals; rest on a weekly basis; choose writer friends carefully; choose share-timing wisely; watch out for siphons.
By telling the stories of Sara and Sonia, Rumors of Water invites you into the Barkats’ home and garden. You are made to feel a welcome guest, and outgoing Sonia might even let you play one of her online games (or maybe not). Sara, shy, will hold back for a time, and watch even if you think she’s not. And then you ask her a question about Sherlock Holmes, and you listen to her respond with the passion and knowledge of a true fan. And in this visit you find yourself enchanted, and a little amazed that you’re understanding your writing in ways you never have before. And you don’t mind when Sonia cons you into weeding her garden, because weeding and pruning are important.
Rumors of Water is more than a book about writing. It is an invitation. And it is a gift.
In addition to Rumors of Water and God in the Yard, L.L. Barkat has also written Stone Crossings: Finding God in the Hard and Hidden Places (one of my all-time favorite books, read straight through one night in the hospital), and InsideOut: Poems. She is managing editor for The High Calling.