One never knows where a teacher might turn up. I found one in the pages of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. A Ghost, a well-known painter in his earthly life, comes via bus from Hell to Heaven. There a Solid Person meets him and does all he can to persuade his guest to stay. What follows is their conversation, condensed and altered for us writers. We’re not Ghosts but there might be something in it for us.
Why didn’t I think to bring my things so I could tell all this?
I shouldn’t bother yet. There is nothing in the world to tell us. For now, we see better than you do. When you’ve grown into a Person—it’s alright; we all had to do it—then there’ll be some things you see better than anyone else. You’ll want to tell us about them. But not yet.
Come and see.
But I’ve had my look. How soon do you think I could begin telling my story?
If you’re interested in the story only for the sake of telling it, you’ll never learn to know its meaning.
Come and feed.
Here the Solid Person takes the lead.
Your first love was Beauty itself. You loved to write only as a means of telling about beauty. What happened?
One grows out of that. One becomes more interested in writing for its own sake.
Pens, plots and words are necessary but they are also dangerous stimulants. But for Grace, every writer is drawn away by them and taken down. Beware the slippery slope when love of Beauty shifts to love of telling. It will sink lower, to a love of one’s personality and then to a love of one’s reputation. Finally, in Deep Hell, writers cannot be interested in God Himself but only in what they say about Him.
Come and drink from the fountain.
When you have drunk its clear, cold water you will be cured of any inflammation. You forget forever all proprietorship in your own works. You enjoy them just as if they were someone else’s: without pride and without modesty.
The lesson leads to an invitation to something—indeed, Someone—far greater than the painter, or a writer, might seek: “He [who] is endless.”