On Writing (More)
Last week, I started dreaming about a new writing project. This would be THE project. The One that would challenge and push me. The One that would require an honesty and determination that I’m not sure I possess. The One that captures everything I love in life. But when I began to share it with my husband, he raised both hands to stop me.
“I don’t want to hear about it.”
“You heard me. I don’t want to hear about it. I want you to write it. You write it and then I’ll read it.”
It’s not that my husband is unsupportive of my writing; he’s so supportive, in fact, that he refuses to listen to me talk about writing. With every conversation, he knows that the likelihood I will actually write decreases exponentially . I know this too, and so last week, I also made my 12-year-old daughter swear that she would not let me share ideas with her, either. She has my full permission to instruct me to SHUT YOUR MOUTH, MOTHER when I sidle up to her to tell her about my latest, greatest project.
And so in the spirit of the New Year, I’m publicly resolving to talk less and write more.
It’s not about producing more content so much as taking writing seriously. Over the last five years, I’ve watched (often incredulously) as writing has morphed from hobby to part-time work to vocation. I’ve known for a while that I needed to shift my approach to writing—to act as if it were truly vocation—but I’ve found plenty of excuses not to, counting on the off chance that if I didn’t own it as vocation then I wouldn’t be responsible for it.
But to riff off Miss O'Connor, our callings don't change according to our ability to stomach them. If God has given me something to do, then I'd better get doing it.
No Comment The first step I’m taking toward talking less and writing more is to remove the comment section from the blog. Common wisdom says that a comment section helps build platform because it drives traffic and forms community. Not-so-common wisdom says that the comment section inhibits my writing because I feel responsible to respond to praise, questions, and critique. This is not a statement about the quality or quantity of comments at SAL, but the very likely possibility that I could write a 700 word essay only to expend 1500 words in the comment section.
By removing the comment section, I’m also clarifying what’s happening here. Instead of seeing this blog as a common meeting space, I see it as a workspace --a space where I craft ideas to send out into other spaces. My goal is not for you to discuss ideas here but for you to discuss them with the people you actually live, work, and worship with—your pastor, your wife, your friend.
I don’t want to build a community around my writing; I want my writing to help you build your community.
Having said this, I believe there is value in online community. I have benefited from new ideas and the comfort of knowing that I am not alone in my concerns and joys. But online interaction can very quickly become a closed circuit, especially when the writing begins to support the community that has grown up around… the writing… which now must support the community… which has grown…
I don’t want this for my writing and I don’t want it for my readers. Instead, I want my writing to support the work that’s happening in our real lives, not draw you (or me) further away from it. There may be a day when the comment section won't draw me away, but I'm not there yet.
Social Media Dis-engagement In order to write more, I’m also taking steps to limit my social media engagement. This too flies of the face of current wisdom about How to Become Successful Online (in Ninety Days or Your Money Back).
The problem with social media is that it is primarily about being… social. It rewards extroverts and those who know how to work a room. It rewards public presence and being personally accessible—or worse, for crafting an image of accessibility, for giving readers the impression that you're personally invested in them. In short, social media rewards you for inviting more and more people into your private life.
Which is the exact opposite of what it takes to write well.
Writers serve readers best, not by hanging out in the public square, but by hiding themselves away to actually… write. For some of us, this hiding away is no sacrifice; for others, it is a discipline, an act of self-control rooted in faith and obedience. Writing well requires space for reflection in a “room of one’s own." But in our digital world, that room is often packed with hundreds, if not thousands, of friends and followers.
Beyond simply being a distraction, I’ve also found that social media can actually undermine my motivation to write. For me, writing has always been about working through ideas. Questions pop into my head (yes, they really do *pop* in--most of the time uninvited) and I use the process of writing to resolve them. But as I write, I'm also cutting a path for readers to follow so that they can work through the ideas themselves. Social media allows me to resolve a question without actually having to write about it—or at least write in a way that readers can follow.
Here’s what happens: I’ll read an interesting article or someone will pose a question. My brain immediately starts turning so I respond with a comment or tweet. Someone else engages. We dialogue and 700 words later, the question is resolved; unfortunately, my need to write about it is also resolved. Because the answer is obvious now (to me at least), I don’t feel the need to develop it any further or guide others along the same mental process. And so I don’t write.
Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost more books to Facebook threads and Twitter rants than the Alexandrians lost to fire.
Five years ago, I started this blog as a way to keep myself accountable to write. Today I’m returning to it for the same reason. I understand that being a writer in the digital age means having a social media presence; I also understand that shaping ideas requires community. But I don’t believe God has called me to be a social media magnate. He has called me to write.
And often the work of writing is simply that: work. Work that happens word by word, line by line in quiet consistency. It’s no more glamorous than laying brick or filing medical charts. Or at least, it shouldn’t be. But like laying brick and filing medical charts, writing is good, steady, faith-filled work. And when God has given you the opportunity and ability to do good work, what possible justification could you have for not doing it?