Ministry, The Inner Landscape, Writing

I am not writing.

The remote office.
The remote office.

It’s Thursday, which is known as Sermon Cave Day around here. Kathrynzj and I meet up in the early afternoon and go somewhere to write. For the past four months, we’ve both been working on sermons. Before that I was writing and revising material I wrote during my sabbatical time, sitting here in our loft or at my remote office.

Now I’ve got nothing.

The truth is, I took a rejection earlier this year very hard. I was just finding direction for a project I hoped to develop into something other people would want to read, and when a piece of it got an unqualified rejection, I didn’t bounce back from it. It didn’t help that this rejection came from a Famous Institute That Gives Workshops for Clergy Writers, and that many people I know went this year. I am happy for them, delighted, in fact; please don’t take this any other way. But I was admittedly discouraged. What did I do wrong? I chose a piece I had been working on for some time. I put other people’s eyes on it and took their feedback seriously. I revised the piece. It was an inventive (I thought) examination of something personal, theological and cultural. It was ruthlessly honest. 

Thank you to the few people who knew and were encouraging nonetheless. I appreciate your efforts.

Even more charmingly, this disappointment came just after I declared myself to be a writer and resulted in limiting my writing almost entirely to things I had to do for my then new job as a Sabbatical Pastor.

Some writer. So embarrassing.

But there it sits on Facebook, for the whole world to see: “Writer at Reflectionary.”

Aargh.

After a summer of writing sermons and liturgy, but not much else, I really don’t know how to start again. My other role, as Director of RevGalBlogPals, is full of detail-oriented tasks right now, to do with the new website and its enormous blogroll and its wonderful community of contributors who need to get signed in to actually use it, in addition to exciting longer term planning about expanding the reach of RevGals’ ministry with more in-person events. It is a currently unpaid, theoretically part-time, call that could end up taking all my time if I let it.

I miss writing, but I am not writing.

I am not blogging.

I am not scribbling in my journal except in response to the Bible or other people’s writing or prayers.

I *am* writing prayers, for myself and for others. That’s something.

But I’m not feeling the way writing used to make me feel. Just as it is solved by writing (Solvitur Ambulando), it is solved for me by writing. Writing always gets me somewhere. Perhaps this is why so many things feel unsolved right now. And while Sunday’s sermon was probably not the last sermon I will ever write, it’s the last one for a long span, and I can’t use “saving it up for the sermon” as a reason not to express my thoughts in writing anymore.

I admit, abashedly, that despite the advice and counsel I could give to others, I stood in the kitchen this morning and had to listen to words I know very well are true, coming toward me from my spouse. “If you want to be a writer, you need to have a thicker skin.”

The home office, when I was still writing.
The home office, when I was still writing.

The last time I read the material I wrote during my sabbatical, I decided it was all terrible, horrible, no good and very bad. I admit I was thin-skinned at the time. I also admit I concluded I wasn’t ruthless enough to write about my life when other people might be hurt by it.

Maybe it’s time to take another look at all those pages. Maybe there is some other way to employ the stories and feelings and memories I explored.

Maybe it’s time to start writing again, whether anyone else likes it or not.

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29 thoughts on “I am not writing.”

  1. Martha, I’ve been there. After my last novel received virtually no interest, I stopped writing for (I think) two years. I painted instead. But I’m a writer, as you are, and my voice wouldn’t be stifled forever. I switched genres, and as you know, I have a novel coming out in a few months. What I did was to pray everyday that God would lead me to the right project. I pray the same for you. You are a writer, and your voice needs to speak.

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  2. oh yes. oh yes indeed. or there are exercises one can do. Do you know the Canadian writer Ann Rule? I heard her in a talk, back when, saying that she writes every day whether she has anything to accomplish, or to say, or not, just the way a dancer goes to the barre every day, so as not to lose the chops, you know? (I think you’d like her writing BTW)

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  3. I have a friend who went to seminary just for herself, with no plans for ministry. She dropped out when she received a B+ in a class. And of course she regrets it.

    That thicker skin is a tough thing for all of us to attain. But if this is you “not writing” I hope you keep it up.

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  4. Not that I have a lot of experience or wisdom (or any really, for that matter), but your post reminded me of a quote by Sylvia Plath: “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” And believe you me, I don’t know a soul who would doubt Sylvia Plath was a writer. Keep your head up and keep trying. I believe in you.

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  5. They might be healed by it too just like surgery is both hurting and healing. What if when you tell the story they come to an understanding they didn’t have before because it’s no longer a secret?

    And, I’d recommend reading “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown. She has powerful things to say about vulnerability and authenticity.

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  6. As I savor the irony of writing about not writing, I still admire your bravery of putting these confessions out there for everyone to see. Everything I have read recently about overcoming writers block universally recommend writing ANYTHING just to get going. This seems like a good start. It might be going slow, but you’re still miles ahead of those of us who are yet to begin.

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  7. Well, you wrote this, and it was very nicely expressed! I feel much better when I write just about anything. I don’t seem to process the world as well if I don’t write about it somehow, somewhere. Of course I don’t aim to publish, so I haven’t dealt with that particular stress. I like the Sylvia Plath quote. The writers I’ve known do seem to have taken that approach. If only one place has looked at that project, maybe you should try a few others.

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  8. Step one: Read the wonderful post you just wrote.
    Step two: Write another.

    In all seriousness, though, don’t let being rejected by that workshop get you down. Most workshops have limited spaces, and for all you know yours was the toughest rejection they had to make – possibly because they didn’t have space for more writers.

    The best writers in history have been rejected. Sometimes it’s bad timing, a low budget, or a judge or editor who’s having a bad day or who simply isn’t qualified for the job.

    Instead of re-reading things you weren’t happy with, re-read the best things you’ve ever written and remind yourself that you are a very good writer. Then sit down to write something. Anything.

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  9. You are one of my favorite writers (and can put that in your book jacket some day!) but I get what you are feeling.
    Every so often, I read something I wrote in the past and think, “I can’t top this. Why would I try? I’ve used all my words”.
    But then something else needs to be written.
    Maybe this is a time of lying fallow.
    It made me think of Macrina Wiederkehr’s Sacrament of Waiting, which begins like this:

    Slowly
    she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.
    First she surrendered her green,
    then the orange, yellow, and red
    finally she let go of her brown.
    Shedding her last leaf
    she stood empty and silent, stripped bare.
    Leaning against the winter sky
    she began her vigil of trust.

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  10. I haven’t read the other comments, so forgive me if I repeat what others have said. But, my response to the phrase, “Some writer, huh?” was so immediate that I just had to respond.
    I think that you are an amazing and beautiful writer, and I click to your blog every single day just to see if you have anything new. As a Jewish woman, there aren’t a lot of blogs with Christian sermons that I regularly stop at (and read all the way through), but the # of times yours have touched my heart are too many to count.
    Your writing has resonated with me so many many times. You are a writer, whether or not a particular place was smart enough to acknowledge it.

    Also, just a weird personal observation. In my life, my best writing has often come at times of turmoil, or wrestling with something, or sadness, or just trying to find my way. I have found that in the more settled times, I have lived more fully in that contentment, and have ended up writing less. Maybe you are just in a more contented place? Just a thought.

    All the best to you. And please know that you have a loving audience for anything you write.

    –Neighbor Lady

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  11. I know very little about writing, but I do know about creating art… so personal in the process, so vulnerable when others see it… always makes me want to crawl back inside myself. I recommend if you’ve not read it, Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” which is about any creative endeavor and getting “unstuck”… overcoming the obstacles. She’s good… about helping artists of all kinds, writers, actors, painters etc. in getting us unstuck.

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  12. This is me, relating completely to you. Thanks for your integrity, as always. In case you are looking for advice as well as empathy, you might take want to poke around a little at Jen Violi’s site. She has been invaluable to me in helping me find a voice and being brave enough to put it on paper.

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  13. I have been in this place so often! I literally papered my wall with rejections until I decided that was perverse. They were from everywhere: agents, editors, publishing houses, contests, Lily Sabbatical applications. There’s nothing to be done but recover. And start writing again. Do you have a writing group? They can help you nurse your wounds. You are a fine writer, I always enjoy your words. Please be kind to yourself!

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    1. Thank you, Ruth. I would love to be in a writers’ group. A colleague and I were trying to form one in Maine, but I moved. I am not sure how to find one here in PA, where I know so few people. That sounds defeatist, but I don’t mean it that way. I just have limited connections here, thus far.

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  14. I just saw this. I am swimming in writer rejection these days, including one last year from Collegeville, and it’s having a profoundly negative effect on even my sermons. You are an extraordinarily gifted writer; of that I have no doubt at all. But I do get how discouraging rejection is.

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  15. Oh, the rejections are hard! They are part of the process. A really sucky part of the process. It’s why everyone doesn’t write, right?

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