catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 18 :: 2003.09.26 — 2003.10.09


Writing with the Spirit


I have always had this notion of Biblical inspiration that God
breathed on the biblical writers and the words flowed from their pens
as fast as they could write. I have always imagined that process to be
free, fast, and exciting. After all, what a marvelous thing to have
one's voice used by God to speak truths. I have come to wonder, the
more I write creatively, if writing down the Word of God wasn't as much
of a painful experience for the biblical writers as writing is for me.

I struggle. I know the story, but the character turns wooden. I know
the feeling, but it won't come out right. I know the words I want to
use, but I can't get them to hang together. I have parts but no whole.
I sit and I write and I try and I push and nothing comes out sometimes.
Actually most of the time.

And so I wonder if the biblical writers struggled, if David searched
for the right word in a psalm. If John was frustrated that no matter
how he wrote a particular scene, it didn't capture the moment as fully
as he wanted it to. If the epistle writers worried that their cautions
might be taken as dictatorial, or as not being firm enough to worry
about. Yet I also suspect, that though they struggled, there were
times, perhaps many, when they could feel the Spirit working in them. I
suspect it was a great feeling.

I suspect this because, in those rare moments where something does
work in my writing, where something clicks and fits and the words do
come out, I sometimes think that maybe the Spirit of God is working in
me. And when the product is something that seems to me to glorify God,
in those moments, I am sure it is the Spirit.

Chapter 1

I am not writing the gospels. I write dinky little poems that will
likely only see the light of day in an equally dinky little literary
magazine with some name like Thornbrackle Review. I write essays for Christian Educators Journal and *cino—important
endeavors for whom I feel honored to contribute something. I write
short stories that perhaps sometimes illuminate a little tiny corner of
God's tremendous world. I write novels that I send to publishers and
they come back to me a month later with polite refusals. All this is to
say, the Spirit is not working in me like it did in Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John. But I still really do think it is working sometimes.

So here is what I believe about the Spirit. I think it demands that
we be the best tools for it. That means reading a ton and writing a ton
and practicing a ton and praying a ton. Not that hard work is a
guarantee that the Spirit will work in my writing. In fact, like in
life, when my writing feels like it has been blessed by the Spirit, it
seems to be a matter of grace. I have had pieces that I have worked on
through eight and ten and fifteen drafts and they still lie on the
ground like they are dead and can no more soar than they can ride a
bicycle. I have had quirky little poems that I played around with a
couple of times and there they were—well-formed enough to make me
catch my breath. I have had everything in between.

Chapter 2

Sometimes the spirit seems to come in stories hidden between two
words. Sometimes in the moments when the characters of a story seem to
gain a life of their own and head off in a direction I didn?t want them
to go. Sometimes the Spirit comes in a misspelling that seems better
tan the originally intended word. Sometimes the Spirit comes in my life
and hits me over the head when I am stuck on an essay and a real life
event makes it clear what I was missing. Sometimes the Spirit comes in
my dreams and gives me an image that goes with another image in just
the right way. The Spirit can speak to me in the sound of traffic, the
wind through trees, the cry of my daughter, the color of the sky, the
feeling of the outdoors on a cold fall morning, the dead deer I see by
the side of the road as I bike to school, the sound of waves, the smell
of bread, the sight of people dying in a far off country and in an
infinite number of other ways. The world reflects the glory of God and
the depths to which humans have fallen.

Often the spirit comes in revision, at a moment when I am writing at
the kitchen table—seriously, with no candles, no ambience, no new age
music in the background. I sometimes need to remind myself that the
Holy Spirit is no muse who obeys my call, no vague inspiration which
depends upon the mood being right somehow, in sort, the Spirit of God
is not, as C.S. Lewis said about Aslan, a tame lion. Working with the
Spirit is scary, because you have to give up control.

Chapter 3

I am a pretty traditional Calvinist. In the tradition I grew up in
we trust and respect the rational and are uncomfortable with stuff that
seems ungrounded, unclear, or ephemeral. We like the daylight, the
periodic table of the elements, the book of Romans. We are nervous in
the night, uncomfortable with talk of ghosts, and, though we believe in
the miracles of Jesus, we don't want to think about what that must have
been like. And yet, when I think about how I write, about how anybody
writes, or draws, or paints, or composes music, I am confronted with
the undeniable truth that God is mysterious and that, when we make art,
we get to experience a bit of that creative mystery. Things come to me
from somewhere when I write well. To say it is my subconscious is to
miss the point. There is something beyond that. Frankly, it makes me
uncomfortable. But it is so.


So how do I write? What is my process? Do I light candles, play
music, or sharpen pencils to be ready for the page? Do I write in the
morning or at night? Do I use a computer or an old Underwood, or a pen
and a notebook? Do I go on a retreat into the woods? Do I write in a
public library? Do I take notes of people talking on the train? What
books do I read? What is my journal like? What are my influences? How
do I try to get published? What magazines do I write to? Who reads and
critiques my work? How do I handle rejection? Do I plot out my stories
or make them up as I go? How do I know when a story is finished?

All of these questions are easy to answer, but they miss the point.
The important question is, how do I tie into the infinite grace of God
when I write? The answer is, I have absolutely no idea if I do at all.
If it happens at all, though, I am sure that I do not understand it. I
know that it is grace. I know that it is there. That is enough.

Discussion topic: writing

Whether you write down your original ideas once a year or every day,
what is the writing process like for you? Is it easy or difficult? Is
it something you do to intentionally create or something you can't help
but do as an emotional outlet? What inspires you to write?

your comments

comments powered by Disqus