New for a New Year

workonwaitingPutting a book together is interesting and exhilarating. It is sufficiently difficult and complex that it engages all your intelligence. It is life at its most free. 

I started in earnest on a new book today.

It wasn’t one I’ve been meaning to write. For some time now, the list of what I’ve been meaning to write has been the same: a next novel (working title, Church + Main, named for a building project those local to Durham might recognize); a non-fiction children’s book (which has been in process For Some Time Now and shouldn’t take all that long once I set my mind to it (famous last words)); and a work of non-fiction for grown-ups, a quasi-historical effort that tells the story my extraordinary Uncle Bob and, in so doing, also the story of my father’s growing up–which is a fascinating story in and of itself. I am still going to write all of these.

But the book I started in earnest today is none of the above.

No. This book was born the morning after Thanksgiving while I was sitting with my husband in our living room. We were enjoying our coffee and talking with real gratitude about the goodness of God in our lives.

And also the things that have been difficult.

Your freedom as a writer is not freedom of expression in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip. It is life at its most free, if you are fortunate enough to be able to try it, because you select your materials, invent your task, and pace yourself.

Later that afternoon while I was walking the dog, the ideas for this book–stemming from that conversation–would not keep quiet in my brain, and I when I got home I told Bill: I’m going to write a book about that.

And he said: Good.

Fast forward some weeks and here we are, with several pages of notes that came all in a rush and then piecemeal for some time afterward. All I did for several hours this morning was to organize these ideas, to figure out how and where they went together and so create a framework for a book.

Shortly, I will type the ideas into a kind of outline (as the grid situation I’ve got for myself won’t do for others) and send them off to a pastor friend who has agreed to give them a look.

And then we’re off to the keyboard, where this skeleton of ideas will gain ligament and sinew, muscle and skin.

It’s no big deal, right? I’ve done this before. Writing, these days, is my job.

The obverse of this freedom, of course, is that your work is so meaningless, so fully for yourself alone, and so worthless to the world, that no one except you cares whether you do it well, or ever.

But for a moment there at the beginning, with my pens waiting, the notebook open and the laptop, some source books within reach, I felt it again: the doubt that, it seems, must come with any creative writing endeavor.

Should this be done? And can do it?

Can I? 

There’s only one way to find out.

Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of maple trees…. Birds fly under your chair. In spring, when the leaves open in the maples’ crowns, your view stops in the treetops just beyond the desk; yellow warblers hiss and whisper on the high twigs, and catch flies. Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair. 

wintertrees

***

This post comes to you with gratitude to the amazing Annie Dillard, from whose The Writing Life the italicized passages come.
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