Twenty-two years ago I started writing a monthly column for my church newsletter. I appreciated the immediate feedback. If a member of my congregation disagreed with something I’d written, I’d hear about it on Sunday. Usually I received a lot of encouragement.
As people outside church expressed interest, I sold subscriptions to the column for $12 a year, printed out copies, and put them in the mail. Eventually the internet arrived, and the blogging phenomenon; I posted my “column” for years before I deigned to call it a “blog.” Nine years ago I added a second monthly entry on writing. A tally of my slow and steady posts is around 370—a figure that stuns me today. Here are some thoughts on the hidden value of all that writing:
- Blogs put a writer in conversation with real people. I started my column as a way to stay in touch with my church community during a period when I was away a lot. It was essentially a public letter, and it worked—people communicated with me. Even now, I’m far more likely to hear readers’ thoughts about a blog than a well-crafted essay in a literary journal, or even one of my books. I like hearing from and responding to readers. Blogging is a way to participate in a bigger conversation, with immediate results.
- I have more patience for the slow work of writing. This might seem like a paradox, but somehow the bi-monthly contact with an audience sates my need for immediate gratification. Thoughtful, creative, book-length literary work takes me six to ten years. I can sink deep into that private, generative place because I have a regular appointment with my readers.
- Deadlines are great. While I believe strongly in letting creative work grow at its own pace, there’s also a serious advantage to having a deadline. I’m forced to produce, regardless of inspiration or mood or quality standards. That’s good for me, a diehard perfectionist.
- Regularity means major productivity! All those enforced deadlines mean that I’m generating massive amounts of prose. Eventually, much of it works its way into books. Reflections on faith become essays; musings on writing have evolved into a craft book about revision. When a blog gets lots of responses, I consider why, and whether I should give the ideas more attention.
- Frequency teaches us about listening. Half the time when I sit down to write a blog, I have no idea what to say. I sit at the keyboard and ask, “What’s rattling around in me? What have I been musing over, without even knowing it?” Something always comes. The writing leads the way. Over the years I’ve come to have great faith in this process.
- Blogs are a bell-weather of what works. Because I receive reactions to some posts, I’m slowly gaining a sense of what material connects my heart to a reader’s, and why. I’ve learned to be more honest; that I don’t need to try so hard; that the conversation within my most intimate being is my best material; that I can be hospitable to my readers without limiting myself with concern over what they’ll think. The experience of real connection with readers teaches me about what makes writing effective.
All of which inspires in me gratitude for this forum and for you, my faithful readers. Here at the beginning of a new year, may we all find rich and fulfilling creative practices. And may our creative work build connections to one another in an ever-growing web of conversation.
Interested in writing spiritual memoir? I’ll teach an introductory workshop on Thursday, February 2 from 6-9 p.m. at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.
Join me on second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., for Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.
January 13: Light and Darkness
Spiritual memoirs inevitably encompass both joy and hardship. What literary tools can help us “wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness,” as Annie Dillard put it, “or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise”?
February 10: Cultivating Love
“What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love,” Rilke told the young poet. Writing memories can be an expression of this love. We’ll grapple lovingly with our past, practice writing as a loving act, and open ourselves to receiving love through the creative process.
March 10: Holy Resistance
Sometimes resistance—to creativity, to spiritual practice—is a sign that our small, limited self feels threatened by the True Self. When we resist the process of writing or the material that arises, how can we open our hearts to transformation?
On third Fridays from 1:30-3:00, there’s a follow-up Seed Writing Group that continues writing and sharing on these topics. Lots of great opportunities to nurture your writing practice!
Set aside a week in 2017 to dive deep into your project. Join me October 2-6, for the Alone Together: Living Revision retreat at Madeline Island School of the Arts.