Kelly O’Dell Stanley is a long-time MWW conference attendee and one of our newest committee members. She is full of doubt and full of faith, trying to make sense of it all through words. A graphic designer and writer, she’s always frazzled, always reading, always watching, always waiting to see what she can discover of her mighty God in this magnificent, busy, confusing, contradictory, glorious, upside down world. And she’s trying to learn patience as she waits for her first book, The Art of Praying Upside Down to be released by Tyndale Momentum in 2015. Today Kelly shares with us where her book came from.
My high school years were geared towards being an architect. It made sense. My dad was a professional watercolorist, and I knew I didn’t have his kind of talent, so I didn’t want to be an artist. I was good at math, good at school in general, and I wanted something challenging. Architecture seemed to be a good fit. I was sold.
Until I wasn’t. My mind doesn’t, apparently, work in three dimensions. But oh how I loved the shapes and pattern and abstract design the architecture program started with. I adored my architecture professor, so I listened when he steered me towards graphic design. It made sense, but frankly I was a little disappointed. Shouldn’t a college major — and career — be something more academic? Something hard? I’d spent my whole adolescence writing long letters to international pen pals. Designing a logo and business card for my cousin, who shared my initials and—by virtue of being the older of us—was president of the KAO Club. I wrote letters in the form of colored and illustrated newsletters. I created pictures from rows of Xs and Os typed on a basic word processor. I traced fancy typography and wore out sets of markers coloring patterns in geometric design coloring books. It wasn’t anything special. It was just what I did.
And you know what? It turns out, graphic design was the perfect career choice for me. Twenty-four years after college, I am still pleased to be working full time in this career field.
Last month I turned in the manuscript for my 2015 book, The Art of Praying Upside Down, to my publisher. The biggest surprise as I wrote? Discovering that my book wasn’t some wild departure from what I already knew. Shouldn’t writing a book require some magic? Some hard work?
Well, let’s be honest. It was hard work. But it wasn’t hard like learning a new language, or starting from scratch and having to trudge through an instruction manual line by line. I didn’t have to search far and wide for the content. It just was, much as the newsletters and logos and drawings I played with in high school prepared me for the career in graphic design that I didn’t know I wanted—but which reflected exactly my natural talents and inclinations.
My book came from the core of who I am, from the sum total of my life experiences, personality quirks, spiritual growth, and professional experience. It grew from my relationships, friendships, family, hurts and hardships and highs and lows. It wasn’t a new approach to seeing or experiencing life. It was more like recording and recounting what I already knew, the specific ways I’ve always viewed the world and my faith.
This realization may not seem monumental to you, but it was to me. And the reason I’m sharing this is because I know there are a lot of writers out there—potentially very good writers—who aren’t writing because they’re waiting for that special magic. For a big revelatory moment, with flashing lights around a neon sign and a voice from heaven saying, “Do this unique and special thing that is set apart, that is a total departure from who you are, from how you live!”
For most of us, though, it won’t be a big departure. Who you already are will play a huge part in what you write. If you’re feeling the need to write, but are stymied by the “what,” take heart. You don’t have to go far to discover the answer. Go ahead and spend some time exploring and discovering who you are, how you see things, how you feel, what you love. As much as I’d like to be part of what seems to me to be the more glamorous world of fiction, my natural predisposition is towards creative nonfiction, essays, inspirational pieces. I’m finally OK with that.
Don’t fight your natural tendencies. Write what you know. What you love. What you think. What you feel.
Write from who you are.
And in doing that—whether you write fiction or nonfiction or poetry or fantasy or music or journals or articles or some experimental thing we don’t even know about yet—you will find your direction.