Thursday, August 1, 2013

Take Flight - Writing Advice from a Butterfly

Several weeks ago, I discovered six very stout caterpillars on the parsley I planed in my garden, hoping to attract them. Knowing I had to protect them from my regular Mockingbird visitor, lest they meet a similar fate as the caterpillar who came a week before the rest, I rush-shipped a butterfly habitat from Amazon and brought the whole plant inside.

Let me tell you. If you've never watched caterpillars eat, I hope you get the opportunity. It's pretty much the cutest thing. And it's amazing to see how quickly they change forms and grow.

I hadn't realized this until I did some research on my swallowtails, but caterpillars actually molt their outer skin several times before they form a chrysalis. Even the chrysalis is actually the result that comes from a sloughing off of their often-bright-colored caterpillar skin.

I got to thinking, this process is so much like life, and particularly, writing.

We start of with this tiny dream. Over time, we feed that dream more and more, and it grows, stepping out of its original form and into something bigger. But then one day, we do what swallowtail caterpillars always do before forming a chrysalis: we start roaming around. We start looking for a good, safe spot to make our most important transformation.

Raising butterflies has been one of the most awe-filled, inspiring things I've done all year. Watching them as caterpillars, and then as bigger caterpillars, and then as chrysalises, and then finally spreading their wings as butterflies has been a thing of beauty. Today I'd like to share with you some things God taught me through these creatures. So what follows is a list of writing advice from my butterflies:

  • Guard your caterpillars. Like the parable of the sower and seeds (Matthew 13), many things will come to eat up your caterpillars. It's estimated that only 1 in every 100 caterpillars actually becomes a butterfly. When God plants a dream in our hearts, it often starts out small--as a fancy, or an idea we cherish. We have to feed that vision for it to grow. Otherwise, things of this world feast upon our goals. Self-doubt, pride, comparisons to others, and maybe even condescension are all enemies of dreams. Guard your God-purpose, just as you guard your heart. Don't let it get eaten up.
  • Be flexible and hold on tight. I have been amazed by how strong caterpillars are! They grab on to a stem with their tiny little caterpillar arms, and boy do they hold on. I've watched them bend in half in order to get to a different branch. Sometimes in the writing life, things won't go as planned. The good leaves may be on another stem, and it's easy to feel like you've wasted your time crawling up the wrong branch. Don't despair. Don't give up. Be flexible. Be willing to bend to get to where you need to go. But on the other hand, keep a firm grasp on what really matters. Never let go of the promises of God. Falling can prove very harmful to caterpillars, and to our own hopes and dreams. But as long as we cling to God, He will never let go of us.
  • Be patient and wait for your wings to grow. For the caterpillar stage of a butterfly's life, things change pretty rapidly. Every few days, the caterpillar sheds its old skin and takes on a new appearance as well as a more robust form. The same is true of the writer. Initially when we get that first spark of love for the craft, we eat it up. We grow, and grow, and grow, and we expect that same sort of progress to continue. But then the day comes when that caterpillar becomes a pupa, and let me tell you, the waiting begins! I can't tell you how many times I walked over to my chrysalises and looked at them, wishing I could still see them munching away on the parsley. (So side note, enjoy the "parsley eating" stages of the journey--don't be too quick to rush to that chrysalis until you're ready!) But for twelve days, nothing seemed to be changing on the outside. Yet, on the inside, a great change was being done. Take heart and wait for the Lord when He calls you to a dream. It may seem like He's waiting around, but I'll bet He's doing a work in your heart you may not even see right now. He's growing your wings, preparing them for flight.
  • Metamorphosis involves a melt-down. My pastor recently spoke about the way a resurrection first requires a death. You may feel like being a caterpillar is pretty great. Sure, it's not where you want to end up, but it's comfortable. You have plenty of food and are grounded. If we're not careful, we refuse our own growth because we expect God to keep doing things the way He's always done them before. Then one day He leads us to spin some silk and create our hard-shell chrysalis, and we struggle. Why is the landscape different? Why are we changing? Why does the waiting have to be so hard? Don't despair, and don't resist this stage. Metamorphosis requires a melt-down. God can't bring big dreams into our lives until we're first ready to give up being a caterpillar to become a butterfly.
  • When you do become a butterfly, keep from danger by soaring high above it. The other day, I saw a beautiful butterfly as I was driving. I have a tendency to slow down so I don't hit any butterflies, but this was a busy intersection, and I knew other cars wouldn't care as much--or even see her. I cringed to myself as I watched that butterfly-- hoping, praying it would make it safety across the road. I know that probably sounds a little over the top. But my day was brightened by seeing that butterfly, and I really wanted her to be okay. And you know what? She was. Because she flew high above the cars. I thought to myself, "There's a lesson to be learned in that." When we position ourselves in the intersection of harsh criticism and mean-spiritedness, we make ourselves vulnerable to danger. I'm not suggesting you stick your head in the sand, but I am saying God has made you and your calling something exquisite. Do not devalue your worth by looking for affirmation in a busy intersection of others' perceptions. Flight high. Fly to the heavens, and find rest.
I hope this list challenges you to care for and invest in your writing calling, whether that means feeding it daily with time and effort (maybe even money!), waiting patiently, or soaring boldly through the sky. And if you get the chance to raise caterpillars, definitely go for it! It's such a privilege to see them transform and to know you are giving them a better chance to make it in the wild.

Do you ever feel "grounded" in your writing? What stage do you find yourself-- caterpillar (eating up instruction), pupa (waiting. waiting. and more waiting. and maybe melting down.), or butterfly (you have wings, but now you've got to learn to spread them and fly)? How do you hold on to the vision God has given for your life? 


Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Jill Weatherholt said...

This is a beautiful post, Ashley. I'm definitely in the caterpillar and the pupa stage....always learning and always waiting. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Awesome post today, Ash! Love the analogy!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Ashley, this post is absolutely beautiful, like you. Your depth and encouraging words have spoken to me exactly where I needed it—moving forward in confidence in the calling God has given me to write. I've been scared to go full fledged, which requires me to say no to a number of other things that I like and also that give me fellowship with other friends.

Just this week, He has been speaking to me about either moving forward or not. And the thing is, I can't not write. Not anymore. So, your words are an affirmation of what God's been speaking to me.

Sorry for the wrong response. I just wanted you to know your words spoke deeply to me today. Thanks for sharing your lessons and your beautiful butterfly!

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you. Jill! I'm so glad you stopped by today. Never tire of growing in the craft! :)

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Ames! :)

Ashley Clark said...

Jeanne, that's not the wrong response at all! God knows where He's leading us, and we can always trust Him to care for us and direct us in every season. Thank you for stopping by today and sharing your heart.

Julia M. Reffner said...

I love this, I'm so glad you revisited it after sharing the picture before. LOVE how God uses word pictures to teach us. Speaks to me as always!

Ashley Clark said...

Thank you, Julia! I'm always amazed by how God uses parables and stories to show us things in a deeper way.

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