A Writer’s Lent

I am terrible at keeping habits, even “bad” ones! I just cannot keep doing the same thing multiple days in a row, whether it is framed as a program, a spiritual discipline, or a healthy habit. This is good news for my bad habits, because those will pass away soon enough, but not great for Lenten disciplines or my writing practice.

To counteract my known tendencies, my strategy this Lent has been to sign up for writing workshops. Fortunately, multiple leaders have deemed this the right season for contemplative writing Zoom events, (including the Faith+Lead Book Hub I just emceed), a week-long course, and even the online Festival of Faith in Writing.

What has it been like to follow others’ agendas for writing? It is making me write, if not consistently, at least less sporadically than I would do, left to my own devices. It has caused me to branch out, pondering angles I would not gravitate towards on my own.

In a stroke of serendipity, most of these writing sessions have echoed the same theme: slow down, be open to wonder, and pay attention to what is right in front of you. This is just what I needed to hear, to get out of my not-writing rut. I had gotten stuck in thinking that in order to write, I needed to have the insight, the unique thesis, before I could begin. Now, I know this is not true in writing a sermon, as I typically write myself into the point of a sermon, then re-frame it around that point or angle once I’ve found it. Or I at least take notes until something sparks. So, why would I only write essays or articles or stories after conceiving their conclusions?

Finding the Call Out

There is a parallel in my editing work. My final task while editing online commentaries for Working Preacher is to pull a line or phrase (no more than 100 characters) from the article to highlight as a teaser that will appear in the header of the commentary posts, making the preacher want to read the entire commentary. This is referred to as the “call out”. I can see how selecting a call out might cause certain people headaches – the editorial instructions specifically say “don’t overthink it”. But this is the best part of the editing process to me!

Standing between the writer and reader/preacher is a position that delights me. I enjoy asking myself: What is a kernel of insight this writer brings forward, and how can I catch the preacher’s eye with it? Yet every single Biblical scholar sends their commentary in without knowing the phrase – in their own words – that will be lifted up to do that crucial job of getting the reader to read it all. So I’d better not depend on knowing the “call out” for a piece of my own writing, before beginning on it.

Often, I’ve felt hamstrung by my own poor memory in sourcing material to write about. But what the leaders of each of these workshops I’ve participated in have emphasized is not necessarily memory, but noticing details and the responses they evoke in us every day. Being awake to what is right in front of us, and attending to it. I can write about that. There doesn’t have to be a brilliant insight for me to begin writing, but I can start just describing something that I noticed, overheard, or that gave me a twinge of recognition today. Maybe I’ll write myself into what it means. Maybe later it will shape up into a piece that others might want to read. Maybe another editor will determine the “call out” for their audience.

This is a practice even I should be able to embrace.

Photo by Juliana Romão on Unsplash

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