I’m totally at ease with the fact that since I gave up one of my day jobs to write more, I haven’t done the writing I planned to do. Very few posts to the blog, nothing for the book of Sad and slow progress with the novel.
It’s teaching me things that I needed to know for sure. And by sure I mean not just in my head, acknowledged as good advice. I mean actually put into practice over again until they are made real.
I heard Anne Lamott* speak a couple of years ago, in a tent, at a festival. All of us would-be-writers sat on the grass, pens poised, notebooks balanced on our knees, waiting for her to share the magic formula that would transform would-be-writers into real writers as easy as the turning of a page.
But apparently the magic formula is this: if you want to be a writer you must write. Sigh.
“But how?” my students ask. “How do you actually do it?”
You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind — a scene, a locale, a character, whatever — and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
This is a terrible truth. The answer to the problem of not being able to write is: write!
That book you have inside you is not going to write itself when the study gets painted, when the kids leave home or when you retire from work. If you don’t discipline yourself to writing now you won’t be able to discipline yourself to writing in an imaginary future when all the obstacles have disappeared.
The even more terrible truth is that what Lamott says about writing is probably true about life and faith too! That ‘life’ you’re planning to live for God, the one that isn’t working out too well right now – it’s going to happen in the busy mess of today or else it will never happen at all.
The things you know in your head about living it right, acknowledged many times in sermons and readings and from the mouth of friends, they’re not real for you in any significant way, until you’ve practiced them over and over again.
Today I’m thinking that this is why Paul In Ephesians 6 tells us to stand, to stand and stand again.
Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place…
Stand, stand again and then stand again. It’s a version of Lamott’s instruction to us writers to sit down at your desk, to sit down, and then to sit down again. And let’s face it, there are things that are more important than getting that book written, like finding peace, feeling loved, having purpose, finding breakthrough and overcoming problems with health, finance and in relationships. I’m being purposefully vague in the hope I’ve included your current struggles somewhere on the list.
This is when it really matters.
And what is more, there’s a little faith stirring somewhere between what I have read, what I have written and what I sense. It tells me that it won’t feel like hard work forever, that once you’ve stood, and stood again, then stood again, you will know something firmer and more secure, the ground of God firm beneath your feet.
Stand, stand again and then stand again.
*If you aren’t familiar with Anne Lamott she writes intuitively about writing and authentically (irreverently!) about faith. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, is great on writing and Stitches, is great on faith.