Sunday, September 30, 2018

Spiderwebs, Katherine Paterson, and Words to Ponder

late September morning 2018
"A friend of mine who writes history books said to me that he thought that the two creatures most to be pitied were the spider and the novelist--their lives hanging by a thread spun out of their own guts. But in some ways I think writers of fiction are the creatures most to be envied, because who else besides the spider is allowed to take that fragile thread and weave it into a pattern? What a gift of grace to be able to take the chaos from within and from it to create some semblance of order." --Katherine Paterson

The spiderweb that revealed itself in the morning light the other day sparkled and begged to be photographed--which I was happy to oblige. Later, curiosity prompted me to seek out words and ideas that might have been written comparing spiderwebs to the writer. I was not disappointed. Ms. Paterson expresses the thought magnificently in the above quote--that of taking fragile threads (our ideas) and weaving them into a beautiful pattern, and creating order from internal chaos. What a great way to describe the challenges a writer faces. Love it!

Ironically, I'm currently reading one of Katherine Paterson's books: Gates of Excellence, On Reading and Writing Books for Children, a classic first published in 1981. We know Ms. Paterson best as author of the Newbery Medal winners Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved, and Newbery Honor Book  The Great Gilly Hopkins. Overall she has written more than thirty books, sixteen of them for children. Along the way she has graciously shared insights from her life and experiences. For example...

On Writing Novels:

"A novel is not born of a single idea," she is quoted as saying. "The stories I've tried to write from one idea, no matter how terrific an idea, have sputtered out and died by chapter three. For me, novels have invariably come from a complex of ideas that in the beginning seemed to bear no relation to each other, but in the unconscious began mysteriously to merge and grow. Ideas for a novel are like the strong guy lines of a spider web. Without them the silken web cannot be spun." (See, there's the spider web again!)

On Reading:

"Read for fun, read for information, read in order to understand yourself and other people with quite different ideas. Learn about the world beyond your door. Learn to be compassionate and grow in wisdom. Books can help us in all these ways."

"The gift of creative reading, like all natural gifts, must be nourished or it will atrophy. And you nourish it, in much the same way you nourish the gift of writing--you read, think, talk, look, listen, hate, fear, love, weep--and bring all of your life like a sieve to what you read. That which is not worthy of your gift will quickly pass through, but the gold remains."

On Life:

"What I have come to believe is that joy is the twin sister of gratitude. I am most joyful when I am most grateful."

"It seems to me that there are two great enemies of peace--fear and selfishness."

"You don't have to fight dragons to write books. You just have to live deeply the life you've been given."

And to think all of these thoughts and words-to-ponder grew out of one simple unassuming spiderweb that twinkled its way into the day and awakened us to a moment of beauty. It was a good day.

Any one quote by Ms. Paterson that resonates the most with you?


  1. Spiderwebs and spiders are a lovely pair. I live in the country and get to see quite a few masterpieces.

    The first quote is my personal truth. It is a tragedy to worry about what you don't have when you have so much to appreciate.

    1. The quote about joy and gratitude is one of my favorites, too, Ann :-) And how true it is that we fail to appreciate all that we have. If only we'd take the time to stop and marvel at all the beauty around us, our hearts would be lighter. Thanks so much for dropping by, nice to hear from you...

  2. I love Katherine Paterson's work. I've read many of her children's books and own a few of them. It always surprises me to realize that she's Chinese American because she writes so beautifully about many different cultures.

    My favorite quote is the last one: "You don't have to fight dragons to write books. You just have to live deeply the life you've been given." I'm certainly no dragon fighter, but I suspect I don't live deeply enough either. Something to think about!

    1. Peggy, I confess I haven't read very many of Katherine Paterson's books but want to read more, starting with my next trip to the library (or amazon order!). And I like the same quote, as well--I'm not a dragon fighter either but still up for exploring life as long as I can! Have a great week :-)

    2. When my son was in Middle School, he didn't care for reading. One of the few books he read (and liked) was Bridge to Terabithia.

    3. What a great testimony for the book! Thanks for sharing :-)

  3. For years after reading *Gates of Excellence,* I had taped to my computer "Before the gates of excellence, the high gods have placed sweat." Your quotes are from her and in this one she was no doubt quoting someone else, but I always remember it. Love all your quotes!

    1. Lanita, looks like I'm way behind on discovering Gates of Excellence--you obviously read it much earlier than I did :-) Good book to pick up, though, no matter where we are on our writing journey. Thanks a bunch for the additional quote. You know how I love quotes!

  4. I have only read two of Paterson's novels: The Bridge to Terabithia, and Jacob Have I Loved. She's a master story teller. I liked all of these quotes. They are such great reminders of what is important. I love the spiderweb analogy. But I, too, loved the quote about gratitude and joy. So true for me.

  5. Elizabeth, I enjoyed putting this post together and in doing so was prompted to read 'Jacob Have I Loved,' too--which I just started the other day. Like you say Paterson is a master story teller. And her quotes have nuggets of wisdom for sure. Glad you liked them...