A Syllable of Water

In A Syllable of Water, twenty members of the Chrysostom society write about what they know best: writing. Essays in this cohesive and well-organized collection touch on a variety of topics ranging from how faith informs writing and how writing informs faith, to how to get started writing or escape writer’s block, to the process of revision, to many specific aspects of the craft of writing.

After a beautiful introduction by the poet Robert Siegel, Part One of this book explores writing both as a discipline and as an act of faith. Harold Fickett contributes the opening chapter that explores how to get started on a particular piece, which is complemented well by Keith Miller’s closing contribution to Part One that has the telling title, “Entering into the Dark and Essential Places That Writing Demands: On Writer’s Block”.  In between these chapters, poet, fiction-writer, and nature-writer John Leax discusses the importance of place in how we write, Luci Shaw addresses the (oft forgotten) important writing discipline of journaling, Dane Trafton challenges writers to be good readers, and Rudy Nelson speaks to the importance of good research. Writers who pick up this book especially for spiritual insights will appreciate the chapter by Emilie Griffin, author of nearly twenty books on Christian spirituality, who explores writing as an act of faith

Part Two of the book explores specific genres. With respect to specific elements of craft, this collection of explore an amazing breadth of literary genres including poetry (Scott Cairns), short story (Erin McGraw), novel (Doris Betts), creative non-fiction (James Schaap), drama (Jeanne Murray Walker), journalism (Philip Yancey), spiritual writing (Richard Foster) and memoir (Virginia Stem Owens). The section even includes two chapters on different aspects of translation, one by William Griffin, and one by Eugene Peterson. All these writers are deservedly well-respected for their own writing in the genres they discuss. As Publisher’s Weekly has noted, this book “yields keen insights on poetry, drama, journalism, the short story and memoir.”

The third and final part of the book explores the importance of the less glamorous side of writing: revision and editing, with chapters by Diane Glancy and John Wilson.  As one would expect from writers of the caliber of the contributors of this collection, the essays are not only informative, but well written and enjoyable for their prose. The books can be read and enjoyed from beginning to end, and readers will benefit from all the chapters even on genres that they are not interested in. But individual chapters can also be read along and used as an invaluable resource.  Altogether, as Publisher’s Weekly has noted, the result is a book that is “a valuable resource for aspiring writers…   These writers’ love for their chosen art and craft is contagious.”