Heeding Madeleine L’Engle’s Advice Yet Again!



As I write this post, I watch a Life Flight helicopter land on the field situated less than 1000 yards away from my bed.  I spot paramedics transferring a person hovering between life and death over to the Life Flight team. I’ve seen this scenario many times over the years we’ve lived here.  The roar of an idling copter never fails to put my problems into perspective.  I’ve just been given a “reality check”.

For various reasons, I’ve struggled more than usual the past week, but as the gifted blogger Kitt O’Malley gently reminded me, “this too shall pass”.  I must remember that just because life is more difficult, that doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to crash into the depths of despair.

For some people who have bipolar one disorder and are stable, dreading a relapse is ever-present. Fortunately, fear of bottoming out doesn’t mean that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Still, unless some kind of miracle occurs, I’ll always be afraid of relapsing.

Last week I deliberately stopped my daily blogging habit, which I had kept up for over four months.  I still can’t believe I didn’t miss a single day.  If sometime told me that a writer/mom with bipolar was keeping up such a demanding writing routine, I’d wonder (perhaps a tad jealously) if that person was hypomanic or manic.  I most definitely was not in either of those states. (thank God!)

Anyway, I ceased writing my minimum of thirty minutes a day, whether it was for this blog, for my book or for freelance articles.  Writing at least thirty minutes a day was a famous rule created by my favorite author Madeleine L’Engle.  I’ve discussed L’Engle’s writing advice in prior posts, and if you’re familiar with my blog you probably know how much I revere L’Engle.

Today I came across an interview with L’Engle about writing that I found to be affirming and fascinating.  She was asked by Scholastic students for the advice she’d give to aspiring writers.  L’Engle told the students:

“I would give the same advice to writers of any age – and that’s keep an honest, unpublishable journal that you don’t show to anyone.  You dump things into it – it’s your private garbage can. Also, you have to read to be a writer. You have to write every day – not necessarily in your journal.  But you have to do it every day. It’s like practicing a musical instrument – you have to practice and stick with it.  I love every bit of it.  I love getting the ideas, and I live with the ideas for a long time before I write them – I may write two or three other books while thinking about an idea.  And I love sitting down to work at the computer and just starting.

L’Engle wrote the Newberry Award-winning, bestselling A Wrinkle In Time and many other amazing books. This prolific writer knew what she was talking about.  I especially appreciated her comparison of writing to practicing a musical instrument.  One of my fondest childhood memories was listening to my Juilliard-trained, Fulbright Award-winning Dad practice on his Stradivarius or his Guadagnini violin almost every single day.  (Yep, I’m gonna namedrop!  And he had bipolar one!)  Dad’s Irish setters Tanya and Amber hung out in this practice room listening to his world-class performances seven days a week, those lucky hounds.  I didn’t realize how disciplined Dad was until much later.  If I had an iota of his work ethic, I’d be stoked.

Oh well.  I thought that the time I freed up from reducing my writing schedule would refresh and perhaps inspire me to write more and that my writing might even improve.  I was dead wrong.  I’ve found myself feeling blah instead of the usual rah regarding writing. This SUCKS!

A few days ago it was my father’s birthday.  He passed away five years ago, and I’ve missed him ever since. The anniversary of his birthday drained me emotionally, but I don’t think that was the main reason I haven’t been gung-ho about writing.  At least I haven’t been depressed, but I’m definitely not where I want to be, and I need to take care of myself.  I’m convinced that part of “taking care of myself” includes scheduling writing time every day unless I’m really sick or there’s an emergency.

Thirty minutes is not that long a time to write!  It’s the length of one “Full House” or “The Nanny” episode, now, isn’t it?  And those episodes roll by in a flash.  I’m guessing that the very act of writing has been like my own version of Lumosity.  My theory? Writing stimulates and exercises certain areas of my brain that are usually not in use.  Furthermore, I’m guessing that consistent writing is serving as a mood stabilizer! How I wish that Madeleine L’Engle was alive today so I could run that supposition by her and hear her opinion.  After participating in two writer’s workshops with her, I learned firsthand that she would tell you exactly what she thought.

So yes, I’m missing my “writer’s high”.  The cardio exercise I’ve been faithfully doing on my NordicTrack gives me a different kind of high – actually, it doesn’t feel like a high, but more of a grounding of my jangled nerves.

For the time being, I’ve decided to give myself the gift of daily writing, and not feel guilty about making it a priority.  I used to journal all the time, and I stopped when the bipolar depression became too much.  Now I’ll either create a private blog for my use as a journal, or buy a blank book.  (Most definitely not for publication, as L’Engle instructs!)  I’m looking forward to feeling better and clearing my brain out, Madeleine L’Engle-style!

Kitt O’Malley’s blog (Life with Bipolar Disorder and Thoughts about God)  is: http://www.kittomalley.com

This link leads to the entire transcript of Madeleine L’Engle’s interview with the Scholastic students and I love it! ;



Madeleine in her office at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City – probably sometime in the 60’s with those groovy glasses!

Dy and L'Engle 2Dyane & Madeleine at the Mount Calvary Retreat in Santa Barbara, California, 1997


13 thoughts on “Heeding Madeleine L’Engle’s Advice Yet Again!

  1. How fun! Your decision to write more is a good one. I am finding it’s something I’m almost always in the mood for… I’m really not sure why. But I’m glad to have something that feels consistent for me.

  2. Hey sweet Doreen! I was shocked that once I stopped the daily habit I found out I wasn’t in the mood to write like I had been! Strange. This has definitely been an epiphany and it helps to have validation from a writer I admire so much…YOU! :)))))

  3. While I have not read much of L’Engle’s work, I found her book “Two-Part Invention” to be very moving.

    I pray you are blessed in your writing, whether you are able to maintain a daily discipline of 30 minutes or not. I can appreciate how challenging it is to be consistent when you battle bipolar, and at the same time know how beneficial it can be.

    • Dear Tony, hello! I highlighted your comment in my email’s in-box because I definitely wanted to respond. Sorry to take so long! I wanted to see if you were familiar with any of L’Engle’s many religious works. (You most likely are if you read her fantastic “Two-Part Invention”; I’m so glad you found it moving just like I did.)

      To borrow from Wikipedia, “L’Engle was a very strong Episcopalian and believed in universal salvation, writing that “All will be redeemed in God’s fullness of time, all, not just the small portion of the population who have been given the grace to know and accept Christ. All the strayed and stolen sheep. All the little lost ones.”‘As a result of her promotion of Christian universalism, many Christian bookstores refused to carry her books, which were also frequently banned from Christian schools and libraries. However, some of her most secular critics attacked her work for being too religious”

      I am loathe to admit that although I own some of her religious books, I’ve never read them! Oh, the horror, the horror! But you never know – I might crack one of them open someday.

      I know from reading your blog that you have so much going on right now, so I thank you for reading this post. Thanks for your prayers as well.

      I’ve still been writing daily, probably at least 30 minutes a shot. However, I haven’t been nearly as focused as I was when I published a blog post daily. I wish I could be an early riser or a night owl in order to write when it’s quiet, but my meds prevent me from doing that right now. I’m reducing my nightly dose of Seroquel, so I might be able to get up early to write, and (even better) be more coherent upon rising. We shall see!

      Once again, thanks from the bottom of my heart for taking time to comment. I feel honored!
      take care & God bless, Dyane

      • Thank you for such a thoughtful and thorough response.

        I have not read any of L’Engle’s more theological works and would not share her adherence to universalism. I am much more orthodox in my theology (closer to such writers as G.K. Chesterton, John Piper, and Timothy Keller).

        I’m happy to hear you are writing regularly. It can be an uphill struggle, particularly as we experience the effects of medication. Keep fighting the good fight and in time you will prevail.

      • Tony, you’re a peach! I hope I’ll make the cut as far as your keeping in touch with my blog (I mainly write about mental issues, hint hint!) but even if you don’t (which I understand – I’m following many blogs now & need to do my own spring cleaning!) I’m going to keep reading yours.

        Re: religion – I was born Jewish, although I grew up with a Christmas tree each year. 🙂 Last year I started attending a Methodist church, but I stopped as I relapsed with bipolar depression and now I don’t feel drawn to that church, although the people are wonderful.

        Meanwhile, my psychiatrist is a Christian and is always willing to talk theology with me! I think that’s pretty remarkable. I have not committed to any religion but I value learning about other’s beliefs. Until today I didn’t even know that L’Engle had a universalist take..

        I believe that you are so lucky to have your faith. That’s all I know for certain. I look forward to learning from you, and thank you for your encouragement with my writing. You truly lift my spirit with your words.

    • Keeping social media up to date can seem like a part-time job! But it’s worthwhile…and it’s my pleasure to mention you here and it surely won’t be the last time. I’ve been wanting to reblog one of your posts and it’s only a matter of time when that happens. I’ll give you the heads-up! 😉

  4. As someone new to the blogging world, I’m surprised at what a relaxing time it has been to sit down each night and just spend some time crafting stories. I’ve really enjoyed browsing through yours and catching up on some of your items.

    • I *loved* reading this comment! I am so happy that you’ve embarked on a blog! It’s fun to create a routine in which you write your posts and read others’ contributions & I’m glad your time is relaxing. I am honored that you are reading my blog, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to do so. The more you blog, the more you’ll discover how many wonderful blogs exist. Welcome and have a blast!!!

  5. I am by your side dyane. Writing (if you love it) is the best way. For me nothing has been like painting. I could paint for 4 hours and not know. I can imagine how writing must be for you. I hope that your personal blog/journal bring you all the peace. Much love xoxoxox

    • So glad to have you by my said, my friend! I do love writing. I always felt compelled to write after I graduated from college, but I didn’t realize how much writing meant to me until the past six months.

      Blogging the second time around has been great. Once I start writing I usually don’t want to stop. Lately I’ve had a similar feeling towards just beginning to write that I also have with exercise – It’s hard to get started, but five minutes into it, I’m in the zone. (Although I *do* want to stop working out after 45 minutes because I push myself hard – I’ve always been an athlete and I’m dripping with sweat after 10 minutes!)

      I am so glad that you love your painting!!! I’d enjoy reading some of your blog posts about your current paintings and what they mean to you! :))) xoxooxxo

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