A few months ago I led a workshop at a church; only five people showed up so we sat around and swapped writing stories. One an older member shared has stuck with me.
Every Sunday morning while she curls her hair, she composes a haiku. Then she goes to her desk and fills out her offering check. She places it in an envelope, seals it, and writes her haiku on the outside.
In the past she’d been on the committee which tallied money after church. “It’s boring,” she told us. “I want to make those volunteers’ day a little brighter. They love it. They always let me know how much it means to them.”
I respect how this woman’s writing practice is dynamic, holistic. She writes out of delight; she gives her poem as an offering; in the midst of the volunteers’ drudgery they receive a splash of joy; and the writer receives enough evidence of her work’s value to keep her writing. The place we’re called, Frederick Buechner says, is “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This writer found the sweet spot.
The offering envelope might be a humble platform, but it’s arguably more successful (and certainly more sustainable) than most writers’ experiences with publishing. I’ve been thinking about it because it seems to me that when we writers consider our options at the end of a project, we aren’t very creative. And as catchy as Buechner’s words sound, finding our deep gladness or the world’s deep hunger—or, for that matter, the place where they meet—is immensely challenging.
Perhaps the key is starting small. Twenty-three years ago, I moved away from my home church for a spell and decided to write a column for the newsletter as a way to stay in touch. Unlike the book I was working on, which took me ten years to write and publish, I received immediate responses to my column—notes of appreciation, rebuttals, stories told in sympathy. That column closed a loop in my writing life I hadn’t known existed, and it sustained me for the long haul of writing the memoir. It still sustains me; this blog is an evolution of that old column. It’s become a central practice in my writing life.
Not all writers need an audience and not all writing needs publication, but writers who long to communicate need readers, and readers have particular needs that writers can fill. The small ways we find to close this circle are beautiful works of art in their own right. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
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February 9, 9 a.m.-12: Writing the Sacred Journey, an introduction to writing spiritual memoir, at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.
Second Friday spiritual memoir drop-in series:
2/ 9: Dreams, Our Most Intimate Scripture
3/9: Writing as Exercising Forgiveness
4/13: Characters: Real People in Two Dimensions (This session is facilitated by Carolyn Holbrook)
6/8: Adding by Subtraction