Thursday, September 20, 2012

Writing about Writing

I've been reflecting lately on writing as a vocation and a discipline.  Certainly I was doing so before I read and responded to my sister Chandra's post, "Going Public," on her excellent blog, "several drafts & a loving Editor" (which you should go and read as soon as you're done reading this..., and more so since then.

Like Chandra, I call myself a writer, and again like her, I do not write enough.  If writing is (one of) my vocation(s), one of the things for which I am made and to which I am called, then in a sense I am neglecting that which I was created to do when I am not thus engaged.  If I do not consistently practice this as a discipline, it is difficult to say with any integrity that I pursue it as a vocation.

That doesn't make the writing easy.

Part of what I have been thinking about is that it seems to be easier to write about writing than it is to write otherwise.  Writers whose books I otherwise skim through turn suddenly engaging, insightful, and even funny when they write about writing.  Two examples:

Mark Buchanan (The Holy Wild [Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2003], 9) recounts that God made him “a monk’s failed cousin, a writer. Both callings render you slightly odd, a man alone in a room, denying one part of his manhood in order to awaken another. Both force you to shape silence and darkness and waiting into prayer. Both teach you the agonies of silence and of speaking, and the way God’s voice can brim in each. Both require you to listen much, pray much, study much, plow much. One demands you drink much wine, the other much coffee. I’ll let you figure out which is which. Both are lonely vocations.”

Mitt Romney (No Apology: The Case for American Greatness [New York: St. Martin’s, 2010], 195), remembering the solid foundation in compositional skills he received in junior and senior high, desires for the U.S. a “national rededication to the practice of writing,” but adds parenthetically, "Those who read this book may quarrel with the success" of his school's writing program "in my case.  But at least I gained the confidence to give it a try."

The urgent need for a renewed focus on writing is one of the few points on which Romney and I agree; and of course that commitment to better writing needs to be personal, not just institutional.  Buchanan's description of the writing life as a lonely vocation is one part of what sparked this blog; others have applied the same descriptor to writing, as well as teaching, public service jobs, and other careers (so saith Google, in all its oracular wisdom).  It's a helpful reminder of the solitude, and with it the focus and dedication, one needs in order to call oneself a writer, in order to be a writer.  But for me, it isn't quite as lonely a vocation -- for at least three reasons.

First, whether in my nonfiction writing for academic journals, books, and conference presentations, or in my tiny-but-hopefully-growing record of published fiction, writing and the study that informs it are forms of worship.  As long as I am deliberate about it, then time and energy so spent are spent with and for my Creator, in his presence and for his glory.

Second, all my vocations -- or all the facets of my vocation, singular -- are intimately tied to my role as husband to my wife, Karen.  If I am a helpful resource for pastors and other Christian ministry leaders, it's because I learned (and continue to learn) much of how to do that by discovering what is most helpful to her.  If a point in my teaching or nonfiction writing is clearer and more accessible than it might otherwise be, it's often because I ran it past her first.  And if the artificial intelligences that frequently serve as narrators and principals in my short stories seem more credible, more human, easier to relate to, it's often because she's encountered them first and made suggestions that flesh out the stories and those who relate them.

And third, as this blog's description indicates, writing has company in my life; it's never complained about being lonely.  I am an editor, in freelance capacities for an academic publishing house (hopefully with more to follow) and for projects authored by friends, family, and colleagues.  I am a professor/teacher, both informally and in lecture halls whenever I get the chance.  And lately, I am becoming a manager of The Scaffold, a missional/theological book room affiliated with the TrueCity movement here in Hamilton.  On paper, as it were, that last facet will give me more time and space to write, once it gets going over the next few weeks.  But as with the worship aspect, that will happen only if I am very deliberate about it.  My prayer is that this blog will be, among other things, a means of holding myself publicly accountable to my overall goal -- to pursue my not-so-lonely vocation(s) passionately and wholeheartedly.


  1. Huzzah for bloggery! I second-back your comments from my similar post--here's to continuing to become something we claim, for for being claimed by it and for it on behalf of the Ultimate Claimer.

    Orrrr something.

  2. Thanks for this! Some good fuel for me, who also considers writing part of my vocation and doesn't do it enough.