“All I know,” I told her, “is that I’m not going to write about writing.”
How is it that I’m neck-deep in another writing text?! I have two dozen essays on various back burners but I find myself, almost against my will, writing about the final stage of writing. Ugh. If ever there’s a self-referential subject, this is it.
When this latest idea arrived, I figured I could take care of it in the course of a summer. What I had to say could fit into a pamphlet that I’d then distribute to my classes.
Three months of drafting later, I admitted that my idea needed more space. Maybe this is a downloadable booklet, I told myself, and kept writing.
Three years later, having recently run my eighty-page “booklet” past two dozen beta-readers, I’m humbled once again. Dang it all—I’m writing a book, almost against my will. Which means I’m doing a major overhaul and expansion now. I’ve moved a huge soup pot onto the front burner.
Now I’m a pretty experienced writer. How is it that, after all these decades, I’m still delusional about what I want to write, what form it will take, and how much effort it will require? Writers like to make fun of doctors who say, “Someday I’ll take a few months off from work to write a book,” retorting, “Sure; and someday I’ll take off a few months to learn brain surgery.” But we know this same ignorance, denial, and deception daily.
Isn’t it curious that, in the creative life, as in marriage and parenting, some portion of delusion is good? We don’t see reality clearly, and this allows us to enter the fray. We’re all painfully familiar with the damage too much delusion can do (look at what a post-truth era has done to democratic process), but is it possible that a tiny bit can do good?
Writers often say that if they knew how much work a book would take, they’d never have started to write. Denial sets us on a path of creativity and growth and change, and this path can then gradually open our eyes to reality in a way we can bear. So inasmuch as delusion and denial keep us on the journey, they’re doing good work.
I suspect a similar dynamic is at play with faith. Maybe faith in a divinity or in humanity’s ultimate goodness or in evolution’s movement toward wholeness or in your capacity to write a book is completely delusional. If living with faith locks you down into a creed or despair, fine, get rid of it. But if living with faith opens you up to vitality and creativity, if it sets you on a journey that helps you see reality more clearly, and especially if its fruits are generous and nourishing, isn’t it worthwhile?
Maybe reality isn’t static or final. Maybe we get to make reality by participating in it. That certainly seems to be the case with writing. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Dear faithful blog readers,
Beginning mid-October, I will combine my blog and newsletter. This will help me eliminate an extra publication and streamline my mailing lists. It won’t effect you unless you use a blog subscription service and are not already on my newsletter mailing list. If that’s the case and you’d like to continue reading my blog, please sign up here.
I deeply appreciate you! Know that I draw inspiration and encouragement from you, and hope that my words are able to give you the same in return.
Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.: Wisdom Ways Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions.
Contemplation, as the Buddhist priest and poet Issa illustrates, is a field of intimacy, and writing is one entrance. Guest writer Kyoko Katayama will share observations about writing as a mindfulness practice and lead us in writing exercises that encourage deep listening, responsive creating, and open-hearted becoming.
November 8: Embodying Holiness
Our bodies are trustworthy sources of memory and wisdom. Together we’ll write from our bodies, about our bodies, to our bodies, and with our bodies as a practice of welcoming the Spirit. We’ll also delve into sensory description as a literary technique that invites the reader deep into our experiences.
December 13: Becoming the Stranger
We use the metaphor of a journey to describe the soul’s path because the risks, challenges, and surprises of spiritual growth are so similar to travel. We’ll write memories of leaving home, visiting new landscapes, and becoming the stranger. We’ll also explore how and why writing becomes a spiritual journey.
Friday, November 19, 7:00-9:00 p.m.: Writers Unite! Building a Writing Community
In this evening for creative writers, Lisa Brimmer, Michael Kiesow Moore, and I will share the wide range of possibilities for forming writing community and offer advice on what makes groups or partnerships sustainable. Participants will get to know one another in a series of small-group conversations, connecting around shared genres, levels of experience, interests, and location. We’ll end with social time so participants can exchange contact information and formalize plans.