This Writer’s Life

I sometimes say I am not a preacher, but a writer who preaches.

I especially feel this way after a Sunday when someone complains about not being able to hear me well.

I just heard about a writing program that includes little cork boards on which you can post sections and then move them around. The ensuing discussion compelled me to reflect on how I write.

Most of the time, I write in conversation with someone else's writing, in composing a sermon. I read the texts early in the week, and I walk around with them and I drive with them and I sleep with them, and I occasionally take notes at my lectionary group meeting on Tuesday morning on a big post-it and stick that paper in my calendar or my Bible, and around Thursday I think, "Maybe I should make some notes," but usually I simply pick a title and write down a word or a sentence or three and close the Word document and don't look at it again until Saturday.

Then, I despair.

Then, I do laundry.

Then, I go out for coffee.

Then, I do a few other things, which usually include very important checking up on blogs and Facebook and the 11th Hour Preacher Party, whether or not it's my week to host.

Then, lunch.

Then, a little more laundry.

But somewhere between 1 and 5 in the afternoon, usually, and just after I convince myself it will never, ever happen, I become possessed by the ideas that have been wandering around my head all week, and I start writing, and I lose all contact with the world around me, and an hour later, I have 1500 words or so, and that's a draft.

Then, I walk away.

Later, I look it over again, and usually the way I do that is to cut and paste it from Word to Notepad, and then from Notepad to Typepad, where I often catch things that were obviously wrong or repetitive or just silly. Something about looking at it in a different box makes things come clearer to me.

This week I wrote at a coffee shop and due to a wireless hot spot failure got right down to it, though perhaps the attempts to get the wireless to work and the choosing of the coffee stood in for the usual home distractions.

When I'm writing for the newspaper, the process is similar, if abbreviated, since the deadline is Thursday and I have to do other work on Thursdays. But in every case there is that moment of possession, a sense that something has come over me and nothing could stop me from finishing. And there's no question that I bring on that moment of possession both by preparing and by avoiding.

Which is all very weird.

I suffer when I compare myself to Madeleine L'Engle, who wrote all her novels while simultaneously stirring
spaghetti sauce, playing Bach on the piano and reading improving books. But I have a feeling that most writers dance with distractions much as I do.

It's been suggested by a few people that I might consider writing a book, but I don't know what I would write about in that form. One of the freedoms of semi-pseudonymity has been the opportunity to say things about my childhood, and other parts of my life, that I might not want in print with names attached. I'm not a fiction writer, it doesn't attract me, so I suppose I fall into the category of vaguely religious memoirist. Aside from Anne LaMott, is anyone selling those books? 

Although I will admit that there are times I hear a little voice on the inside saying, "Write a book," but thus far the inner writer hasn't said what sort, and since I relate to all meaningful work as calling, I suppose I'm waiting for the message to be more complete. Today I don't know what it could be.

All I know is that writing solves things for me; I am compelled to write things out and through; writing has taken the place of talking to other people endlessly about my minute experiences and my perceived injuries and my activated complexes. Writing here gives me a chance to hear what others think without, I hope, exhausting any particular friend, for as my husband says, I have "high internal conversation pressure."

Sometimes I think about looking for a job at a multi-staff church, perhaps having a less demanding position than the average solo pastor has, but then I wonder, in what other work would I be paid to write every week?

I am a writer who preaches and being a preacher allows me to write, requires me to write.

Perhaps I ought not give that up so readily.

16 thoughts on “This Writer’s Life”

  1. And we love the way you write Songbird, for you have a way with words. Your insights, and the gentle way they are written, are easily absorbed and understood. You provide a way to look at faith and life issues that we can all relate to, and that is such a special gift. A preacher who writes, indeed.

  2. I’m morelike Cheesehead,a preacher who writes.
    I loved the insight into your preparation and process. I’m thankful that there are as many ways to approach the craft as there are writers.

  3. I love the way you write. Have you thought about doing a compilation of sermons, articles and reflections on your life and publishing them. I’d be the first in line to buy one.
    Peace and love,

  4. Again, we mirror each other – though your moment of coherence in sermon prep comes way sooner than mine!

  5. I’ve been simmering my thoughts of being present for part of your sermon-writing process for a month now.
    It was, frankly, extraordinary. Saturday afternoon after naps we sat down together on the sofa, you with laptop and I was, I think, knitting. There was some talking, and various procrastinative items that are clearly part of the creative process, and I was very aware of not wanting to distract you…but eventually you stopped talking and it was all typing.
    The Holy Spirit was there.
    I prayed on the writing, while knitting, and the Spirit’s peace was tangible in that cool, blue room with those big, sleeping dogs.
    Eventually you turned to me and said, “Listen to this,” and I got to hear the roaring, the journey into unknownness, the peace.
    It was Shekinah.
    To your question: I would pay to read you every week, though I’m not sure that’s a very good solution, based on what I could pay. 🙂
    What if, in an associate-type appointment, you still wrote a sermony reflection every week…to keep in practice, to satisfy your need, to hone your craft? It wouldn’t have to be sermon length; it’s possible that it could not be, given the other demands there would be on your time. Would that satisfy the itch? and perhaps open more doors to you? just ideating.
    love you.

  6. I have thought of myself like you, a writer who preaches. But I haven’t written anything (or published anything) to make that true.
    There’s a great little essay by E.B. White that I wish you could read. I’m going to go and try and find it. He talks about how HE writes.

  7. My writing process is similar to yours, very similar. And writing serves a similar purpose for me as it does for you–I write to sort things out and I know I am more articulate when I write than when I speak.
    I just have to say, though, that if you pursue that associate thing, be careful that you find a position that really is less demanding…not sure it feels that way here, but maybe that’s just the wonkiness of where I am.
    I love to read your writing, so I hope whatever else you do, you keep writing.

  8. I love reading about a writer’s process. You articulate yours so very well here. I see myself as a writer who preaches. Mine is a process of AHA! moments through the week that don’t always make it into the text, but usually contribute to it in some way.

  9. I’m a writer by profession, and have to say your process is more organized than my own. I make lists and write notes, hoping A) I won’t lose them, and B) I’ll be able to decipher the lists and notes I didn’t lose.
    In addition to my real writing (articles), I do a weekly column for a local paper, but often have no clue what to write about until my deadline is near. (My deadline is in about 84 minutes and I still have no clue what this week’s column will be about.)
    As your experience shows, 90% of writing is done long before pen hits paper or fingertips strike the keyboard.

  10. This was just wonderful. My process is a lot like yours, although occasionally possession comes weirdly early (only rarely, though).
    I suffer when I compare myself to Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote all her novels while simultaneously stirring spaghetti sauce, playing Bach on the piano and reading improving books.
    This made me guffaw. You and me both sister. Though, you know what? You’re kind of my Madeleine L’Engle. Look at the knitting. Look at the Book Challenge.

  11. Whatever it is you are precisely, you’re good at it. I’ve learned writing is all of the above, and putting it on screen is only the end stage. It is much like making a sauce that takes all week. Pax

  12. I encourage you to write because a larger audience could then enjoy your work.
    It’s up to an editior to decide the market for your work, so you don’t have to worry about this.
    Anyone who says it’s easy to write doesn’t write.
    I love to read whatever you write.

  13. “High internal conversation pressure.” I almost sprayed coffee on my keyboard, so complete was my identification with that.
    You know, Ann Lamott played a large role in bringing me back to the church. I figured if such a mensch as she (or you) could claim the name of Christ, so could I. I would pay big money for a book of yours. And it’s a lagniappe to hear you talk about your writing process.

  14. I would buy and read your writing – books, essays, just thoughts or whatever. As far as other writers doing this sort of thing, maybe Barbara Kingsolver? She write about her passion and you would write about yours. Go for it, love!

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