Thursday, September 16, 2010
The Writing Life and the Spiritual Life – Part One - Boers
Pleased with my progress, I was plugging away at a writing assignment when the phone rang. I sighed inwardly when I recognized the voice of an editor that I know well and have worked with often over the years. I had just submitted a piece that he had solicited; I knew what his phone call meant.
“Arthur,” he began, “I liked the article but … .”
I was right to worry: the editor wanted revisions. That’s routine for our craft. Parker Palmer observed: “I am a rewriter. I toss out a dozen pages for every one I keep, and I don’t think I’ve ever published anything that went through fewer than seven or eight drafts.” (Parker J. Palmer, “Taking pen in hand: A writer’s life and faith,” Christian Century, 7 September 2010, 23.)
Even after I’ve done what I think is my best possible work, it’s not unusual for an editor to want more: it’s too long or short, not focused enough, slanted the wrong way, et cetera. Or the editor’s different perspective helps him or her see a fault or flaw that I overlooked.
I reluctantly noted the editor’s comments and promised a revision by the new deadline. By the time I had done the reworking I was pleased. There was a decided improvement. I liked the piece better and would be more satisfied to see it in print.
When I hand-delivered the new text to the editor, I sheepishly noted: “You were right. Editors usually are.” I was not flattering him; I meant it. He did not gloat, but quietly noted: “That’s good to know.” We talked about how helpful an outside perspective can be in writing but also in so many other spheres of life, including the spiritual life.
This set me to thinking.
Two of my most important priorities are being a person of prayer and being a writer. I’ve plodded away at both over the years. Day by day, they shape my tasks, identity, duties, and imagination. The writing life and the spiritual life have many meaningful parallels.
The first thing that I learned about writing is that one must do it, keep at it, and persist in it. Writing first attracted me when I felt compelled or inspired to put something down on paper. Such experiences drew me into wanting to improve my craft. Yet I cannot count on inspiration alone.
Douglas V. Steere, no slouch in either the praying department or the writing department, once observed that the first rule of discipline is to be available in a determined way: “A thousand legitimate reasons will appear that will call you elsewhere, and anyone who has ever written knows how insistent these calls away … can be.” (Steere, Dimensions of Prayer, New York: Woman’s Division of Christian Service,1962, 23-4.)
Thus in order to write, I set aside particular times, preferably a particular day every week. Other friends reserve certain hours each day. On my writing day, I turn on the computer, review assignments, consider deadlines, examine notes, and decide on the day’s priorities. Often I am tempted to sit around, read, wait for the mail (which always comes later on writing days), and hope for email or phone calls.
The praying life is similar. We must do it, keep at it, and persist at it. I was first drawn to prayer as a small child. My hunger for God drew me into conversation with God. I prayed when I was inspired, something moved me, something “clicked.”
Gradually this transformed into a desire to grow in regular, on-going prayer. I could no longer rely only on when I felt like it. There are too many days when I do not. I am too busy, too moody, too preoccupied, too anxious, too discouraged, too hostile, or too apathetic. All the more reason to pray perhaps, but none of those conditions inspire me to pray.
I cannot afford to let prayer depend on my moods. I set aside regular times in special places to pray. I make provisions for privacy, close the door, light candles, and begin.
The call to prayer and the call to write both demand an equivalent commitment: just commence.
Arthur Boers is the author of The Way is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago (InterVarsity) and holds the RJ Bernardo Family Chair of Leadership at Tyndale Seminary, Toronto.
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