This has been one of those “finding the balance” mornings.
I just reread the eight essays I wrote about gratitude. (The format is like an acrostic poem, except t-h-a-n-k-f-u-l is spelled out by the first letter of the title of each of the eight essays, and it just may turn into a book someday. In fact, I’m collaborating with a woman who is both a lovely friend and a crazy-good artist to include black and white drawings of each of the eight letters – which can be used as coloring projects. Stay tuned.)
(But don’t hold your breath or anything.)
So, I just reread these essays, which I have reread and revised and rewritten and agonized over for more than a year. I just hate a couple of them. And I’m not too proud of a couple more – which leaves me with four, maybe, that are tolerable.
I know this is the life of the writer. I am quite familiar with Anne Lamott’s “s#i+ty first draft” (SFD) philosophy. She writes of it extensively in her fabulous and highly-acclaimed Bird by Bird. We all do it. Yes, I get it and I do it. I write badly at first while the ideas spill randomly out of my head and heart in no particular order and with no elegance or beauty. I just want ideas on the page.
But this morning, as I reread what I’ve labored over for a year, my confidence sinks into the deep and I abandon whatever plan I had for a future as an author. As I study my words and thoughts, sentences and paragraphs, I don’t see what Lamott tells us next: all good writers write SFD’s because “this is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.“
People, I’m on what my dad would call my umpteenth draft and the words and style and composition and ideas are just all bruised and beat up, ugly, crumbling into dust, and blowing away.
This is my one-hundredth blog post. Not the most prolific person you know, but not too shabby. But right now, I feel as wobbly and incapable as I did when I clicked on Publish that very first time. Within a matter of minutes, I went from
I’ll just read them this one last time for the final shine and polish. So exciting!
— to —
No one in their right mind will ever spend time or money to read anything I write. Ever. Except maybe my family, and that’s up for debate.
The emotional whiplash that ensues makes me a little nauseous, leaving me in tears with a headache.
What in the big, wide world am I doing?
Where did I get the idea I could write anything of value?
Who do I think I am?
And then I hear the faint voices of friends, family, pastors and teachers…
Nancy Kay Lilja Burton Wolfe, How could you forget?
You are a treasured child of the most high God.
Yes. Yes, I am. My shoulders drop, my tears flow, but in gratitude, and my head clears.
But today, I was reminded of something else.
Almost three years ago, when I longed for direction and affirmation about writing and leaving education and walking away from the security of a well-paying, predictable profession, God answered my prayer. On the first night of a summer writing retreat, I softly admitted to twelve strangers and colleagues, “Why am I here? …to give myself permission to call myself a writer.”
I had no idea what to expect.
On the last morning, we sat around a table on mismatched chairs, listening to words written with authenticity and transparency and read by authors of all stripes and flavors – a memoirist, a woman who wrote romance novels for gay men, another that created edgy alter-egos for American Girl Dolls, a playwright with writer’s block, and a published poet, to name a few. I was included as a rightful member of that friendly, small, and powerful circle, and I boldly read my own short essay. As I finished, a peaceful sense of anticipation spread over me. As I waited, the warm, welcomed silence of reflection and respect drifted across the room.
And, then I heard God’s voice. I heard Him speak clearly through the whispered voice of a listener. “Wow.”
Good golly, what a sweet memory, Miss Molly. I am a writer.
When I recalled that moment today, searching for balance, I learned something else. Something big.
You see, what I thought I was looking for was reassurance that I’m a good writer. Balance and security. Renewed confidence. I thought I wanted to know that my words are as inspirational as my best friends and cheerleaders keep telling me they are. That maybe I’ll grow a significant platform and become a published author. Maybe I’ll write a book the world has needed or wanted. Maybe my words will open the door to the Kingdom for someone who has been looking for years. Maybe.
I was working with a scale where the opposite ends are defined like this:
… where the middle, or balance, must be something like this:
Tepid. As the Peanuts gang would say, “Blech.”
But now, my lovelies, it seems evident. The balance I was looking for is less about I’m awful <—-> I’m spectacular, and more about I’m hopeless <—-> Yep, just get outta my way. It’s less about talent and more about obedience.
Not that I won’t be diligent and write thoughtfully, carefully, with precision. I’m not going to start just flinging my SFDs out into the world, hoping something miraculously wonderful happens. But when I look at the work I’ve done over the year and the years and either hang my head or puff out my chest, I miss everything center – I miss that sense of balance. The sense that today, He let me help enlarge and brighten the Kingdom. Today, my words mean more because He kept His holy hand over them – and me. Today, I listened.
Today, once again, He said, Wow.
Good golly, Miss Molly!
Sometimes that SFD stays s#i+ty – and in the draft pile. But sometimes, He says, “Let’s try this. Now add that… And, now, click Publish.”
“And, by the way, I’m your biggest fan, ever. Let’s get going…”