After a couple of years of sweating over each syllable, I suddenly needed the words. I hungered to write them. On vacations, my family urged me to take a break and I
became cranky. What happened? How did the words begin to grow like wildflowers
that I no longer had to coddle?
The paradox of being a writer is that you are more likely to get outcomes when you let go of getting outcomes: it frees you from the ego's grip. There is a parallel here to the faith journey: seek your life and you will lose it, lose your life and you will find it.
I think that writing is therapeutic. I agree with the psychologist who said that creativity is the successful resolution of internal conflict. But when it comes to autobiography, I myself don’t want the beasts roaring around. It’s not that I’m suppressing them. I know who and what they are. But I think there’s something a bit self-indulgent in feeling that we can say absolutely everything. I think there are things that have happened in our lives that we have to accept and come to terms with, but I don’t think that we necessarily have to write about them.
Forty years ago this month, I took a job as a student pastor in a small nondenominational church in a blue-collar community south of Chicago. I was a middler at the University of Chicago Divinity School–Chicago Theological Seminary, married with an infant daughter, and broke. The church offered $50 a week and a house with three bedrooms, bath and a real back yard.
The child is sitting up in bed, propped against pillows. She is six years old. Her homebound teacher, Mrs. Williams, is due any minute. She is fond of Mrs. Williams—a white-haired lady with a pleasant quavery voice.
Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indispensable. –Walter Benjamin, “The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses”
In her chapter on novel writing in this collection, Doris Betts decries writing teachers who ask their students whether they really have anything to say. It’s the wrong question for a writer. As Betts asserts, “Only allegorists start from that end and work backward.
I recently gave a seminar on memoir at a public library in Talladega, Alabama. To emphasize the importance of place in all good storytelling, I asked the audience to write a paragraph describing a room they remembered from childhood.
Frederick Buechner, 76, is a Presbyterian, but he attends an Episcopal church. He’s ordained, but he’s never been a parish minister. His first book (A Long Day’s Dying) was not supposed to sell many copies, but it turned out to be the only best seller of the 32 books he’s published.