Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How To Keep Writing (Or Questions I Don't Know The Answer To)

"How do you keep writing when you are relationally driven?"

Erica asks me this question as we start in on the second half of the broccolli and swiss quiche that she made for our Monday morning breakfast together. We meet every other week for these meals, red trimmed plates on red place mats, mugs of tea, glasses of mango orange juice, and a candle burning for aesthetics. Mostly, we talk about my spiritual life. What am I learning? How am I growing? What am I afraid of? What does Jesus say, what did he do, what did his followers say and do, that reflect this very human place that I'm in?

But because we both think of ourselves as shaped and even defined by word craft (or perhaps just our love for it), we talk about writing. Today, we are talking about my recent attempts at starting a plan to get to graduate school for creative writing. And how when my old profs, whose good opinion I value more than a little too much, ask me "Who is influencing your writing recently?" in an innocent and engaged voice, I panic. I don't know how to say that I haven't completed any pieces in the last two years. I don't know how to say that the writers influencing me recently are along the mystic and spiritual guide sorts, like Henry Nouwen and Frederick Buechner. That doesn't help them help me to graduate school, even it is helping me sense of life and sense of self and sense of God.

I don't know how to answer Erica's question. She doesn't either. "Let me know when you figure it out!" she laughs. She is a new mother and a campus minister of 8 years and has a book she's been trying to write for a while. But, somehow, for both of us, the people we love and who give us life... we let them step in the way of writing. People keep us going. And when "people" and "being with people" is a key part of your job description, writing alone at a desk becomes a strangely un-urgent activity. In those seasons, I don't even think about how I defined "writing" as part of my life long "vocation" in an essay my senior year of college. I don't know how it works anymore. I don't know how to keep it going.

People say the obvious things. "Schedule in time." [I tried] "Write with others."[who?] "Have you heard about this local and cheap workshop that could help?" [Still above my price range]

Erica encouraged me to accept the season. That the role of writing in my life, or the role of my life in the act of writing, is different. Things are different. They wont' be this way forever. Keep looking for the spaces and moments. Keep looking. Keep trying.

But in the mean time, it would be great to figure out how to solve this problem. How do you keep creatively committed to your craft when you are primarily motivated to accomplish tasks by relational gains?


Jade P. said...


First of all, thank you for writing this. This is me to a T. Being in grad school and writing academically can really set up some interesting obstacles when it's time to write creatively. And when I DO have the time to write, I find I'd much rather fill that space with people; laughing with them, fellowshipping with them, having robust conversations, etc. Just your honesty alone in this piece is inspirational.

I don't have it figured out either. When I get back to Philadelphia, my mother always asks me what I've written lately and I feel that sense of panic as well (p.s. Henry Nouwen is AMAZING. I've been reading him a lot lately, as well). I know a few people feeling this same sense, as well- even after all of the workshops, groups, etc. As we find ways and spaces and times to write, let's keep each other posted on what works.

kem5119 said...

Hey Dana,

We met at Leadership Advance last year and Jade sent me this post (thanks, Jade!). What I've been doing since January 1st is writing before bed, just something. I wrote two sentences the other day. I don't know if you journal but this might at least get you back putting pen to paper. I am starting a writing group soon (not sure yet what that entails - the last one fizzled after I ran out of ideas), and don't worry! It will be free :) Good luck in your grad school endeavors!


Hannah said...

This is so well put. I've just started thinking about it in this way, so I don't know how well it will work. But lately I've been thinking about the role of writing in relationships, and about how maybe they can go together better than I thought.

If I'm sitting alone at my desk, but I'm writing a poem, even a casual one, for someone I care about, then it still feels relational.

If I'm writing an email to someone thoughtful I know, it almost becomes an essay in the original sense of an attempt at something. I've started sending people in my life more writing, and knowing that because I'm sending it to a specific audience I have a reason to write it.

Not exactly sure how to translate that into a grad school app, but I think it might be doable. Maybe write to one friend you care about first, and then revise for a general audience? Just a thought.