Amy Letinsky: Critical Thinker, Crazy about Metaphor

By Elizabeth Griffin

Those who attend Northwest Christian Writers Association meetings regularly know that longtime member Amy Letinsky is a critical thinker, crazy about metaphor, and an avid reader and writer.

A college professor for the past fifteen years, Amy will share her expertise with us at the 2017 Northwest Christian Writers Renewal:

A Writing Workshop: At last! The chance to write at a writers conference! With fresh inspiration received from the conference’s keynote addresses and other workshop leaders, come prepared to flourish your pen or fire up your laptop and take part in guided writing exercises led by a college writing instructor.  (All levels)

How to Read Well to Write Well: Train your Brain for Great Writing: Are Christian writers equipped to pull meaning from a text, or are we becoming lazy-brained? Can we keep up with the intellectual depth that C.S. Lewis championed? Learning to read critically is vital for analyzing writing models, not only for our own understanding, but also to enable us to give our critique partners better feedback. In this class, you’ll learn to recognize classic logic fallacies so you can shine the light of God’s truth on them. Included: hands-on evaluation of different texts and web sources. (All levels)

Q&A with Amy Letinsky

I connected with Amy recently, and she agreed to answer the following questions so we can learn more about her:

Q: What roles have you played in NCWA?

A: Several years ago I let then-president Dennis Brooke talk me into taking on the secretary role at NCWA, and it was a great learning experience. Then I coordinated public relations. And I’ve had several opportunities to teach Write Start and Christian Writer’s Coach segments and lead round tables at the monthly meetings. I’ve also led round tables at the conference a few times.

Q: Who are your favorite writers—the ones you believe we all must read and the ones who have influenced you most?

A: Yikes, that’s like asking me who is my favorite child.

John Milton’s Paradise Lost has been, next to the Bible, the most influential book on my life. Milton’s brilliance in all his writing has greatly contributed to my worldview, challenged me to be a deeper thinker, and encouraged me to boldly involve Christ in every aspect of my writing. Yes, he wrote in the  seventeenth century, but his writing is still very relevant, beautiful, and worthwhile for every reader to approach.

John Bunyan is another favorite for the Christian reader. I’ve had the privilege of teaching Pilgrims Progress a few times, and it’s always been an extremely enriching experience. It’s far less intimidating than Paradise Lost, but it was written in the same time period. Bunyan is the opposite of Milton in many ways. Whereas Milton was highly educated and upper class, Bunyan was very poor, with limited education. Both men fought in the same war for puritan ideals, and both went to prison for their beliefs. Bunyan inspires me for what Jesus can do with so little, and Milton inspires me with what Jesus can do with so much. Bunyan’s suffering comes across in his work like no other writer I’ve encountered.

I think Marilynne Robinson is woefully under-read by Christians. She’s won the Pulitzer Prize and regularly teaches at the most prestigious writing program in the country (the Iowa Writers Workshop). She writes about spiritual issues and is a devout Christian. Many consider her to be our greatest living American writer (I concur). Gilead is her masterpiece. Her prose reads like poetry.

Q: What intrigues you most about metaphor?

A: I’m a metaphor buff. I collect them, study them, and wish that I could be better at writing them. Metaphor, to me, is the core of language itself. Every word we speak is metaphoric, in that it stands in for something else. When I say the word “baby,” the word itself isn’t a baby; the word refers to or stands in for the crying, diaper-wetting, adorable little mess of cute. Some words carry more metaphorical weight than others. They become powerful symbols. Words like “freedom” and “rights” carry meanings that, interpreted differently, can start wars or end them.

As Christians, we serve a God who uses many beautiful metaphors to describe himself and his kingdom. Jesus employed metaphors in his parables. He is the Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep. He is the Gate. He is the Rock. The greatest teacher chose metaphor as a primary way of communicating truth to his followers. To me, that’s the greatest reason of all to pay attention to metaphor.

Q: What do you enjoy most about teaching?

A: I teach in a lot of different capacities: Sunday school, Girl Scouts; I teach writing to professionals and at NCWA meetings and at Champlain College in the Continuing Professional Studies department.

I enjoy teaching all of these levels, but my passion is teaching grownups to read and write. For me, it’s a high calling to train people to think critically and express themselves effectively. I can think of very few life skills that can make such a big difference in people’s lives. Reading is so much more than sounding out the words on a page. When reading at a high level of critical depth, you avoid falling victim to fake news and scammers, you can discern truth vs lies, you can make connections between ideas to see the big picture, and you can find answers to difficult questions.

When I speak to professional writers, the audience already recognizes the importance of writing. But in my college courses I spend much of my time convincing students that writing is important, that good writing is within their grasp, and that it’s worthwhile to invest time and energy into becoming better at it. So much of their lives involve writing, and yet they don’t realize that their inter-office emails and reports count as writing. I also enjoy teaching students the ethics of writing, and the obligation they have to share information and persuade in an honest way for their particular audience: to speak truth in love.

Q: What are the most important things a writer can do to improve his or her craft?

A: “Keep writing.” That’s the advice that Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, gave me when he came to speak at the college where I was teaching at the time. At first, I felt like he was kind of brushing me off. But I’ve come to realize that it’s the best advice for becoming a better writer.

Marilynne Robinson, whom I’ve mentioned above, had very different advice for me. She said, “Feel the difference between what you’ve experienced and what you’re writing and fill in that difference.” I’m still untangling what that means.

As far as practical advice, I advocate reading a lot. To be a good writer is to be a good reader and vise versa. Read good stuff. Read stuff that challenges you, has won awards, and that may not fit with your worldview. Remember: Garbage in, garbage out; Quality in, quality out.

Okay, I’m a writing instructor, so here’s another tip: Write in your books. Mark them up as much as possible. Use a pencil or pen, and argue in the margins. Begin your essay at the end of the paragraph, continuing the line of thought. Circle key points. Fully engage with the text to learn it and apply it in your writing.

Q: How do you balance your career with being a wife and mother?

A: Not well. As my kids are getting older, I’m getting better at it, but it probably has to do more with them getting older than me figuring it out.

I have a strong sense of calling to my career as an instructor and my role as a stay-at-home mom. These two things love to compete with each other. But I have a supportive husband who helps watch the kids, so I can work. My husband is a physician, so he understands the time and mental commitment required for in-depth study. I think he also enjoys how fired up I get about my teaching and writing.

Really, it’s God’s grace that I’ve managed to keep working, stay married, and take care of the kids. I’m not exactly sure how I’ve managed it, but God keeps making it possible. He’s perfectly timed my huge writing projects to when I can get more help with the kids. And God gave me kids that generally sleep well, which is a huge help.

Register today to attend Amy’s workshops at this year’s Renewal.

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Elizabeth Griffin has worked as a writer and editor for a monthly lifestyle newspaper elizabeth_griffin2for the past decade. She has published more than 500 articles in newspapers, anthologies, and magazines, in addition to the books Fragile X, Fragile Hope: Finding Joy in Parenting a Child with Special Needs and Margot’s Story. Elizabeth’s favorite subject matter is true stories about inspirational people. She loves to speak truth into the lives of others and has been a Bible teacher for 15 years. Her current passions are writing for an international network of church planters and her blog Follow the Dots.