Writing Lessons | Part I
I’ve been writing a long time. I rarely go as fast as I’d like, and I revise a lot. I often use too many words. In the past five years I’ve been changing how I write. Here are some lessons helpful to me.
1. Keep writing. Coaching, advice, reading, and feedback help, but there is no way to improve other than practice.
2. Set an intention, then let your environment cue you. Going the same way to work each day, or a small ritual when you begin (like turning on a desk lamp) signal to body and mind: it’s time to write.
3. Be accountable to someone else.
The number of tasks left on this project is shrinking. Thanks to everyone of you who are hanging with me.
Yesterday and today included some detours. Sometimes life throws up a sign that says go another way! Fortunately, I was able to stop and refocus and find my way back to the path of writing.
In the Writing Club we are invited daily to list Negative Statements. I find it so helpful to externalize the negative things I can say to myself. Today I wrote: “I had to reboot my computer, download some updates and take another call. I feel derailed. But I’m going back to my list and starting over. Maybe I can accomplish something today.”
Any positive statements to replace them? “WAIT! I already have accomplished things: I revised a letter; I reworked 2 course descriptions; I made it half way through revising my teaching statement; I edited a section of chapter 2; I had 2 important phone conversations; I’m about to have 2 more very productive poms.” I wrote very productively for the next hour.
It is possible to stop on Tangent Drive and get back Writing Way. Whew!
Roots and Shoots
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of its roots.
The Second Sunday in Advent brought Isaiah 11:1-10. Upon hearing it in worship, I reached for paper and pen, doodling through much of the pastor’s meditation on peace. I thought how strange it is that when a thing seems completely gone, done in, and over, that can be exactly the moment when new life springs up. Nearly every big thing worth doing suffers from lost confidence, falters in hope, or sees the path run out. In ten years since interviewing the first clergywoman for my study, a number of undeniable moments of faltering and felling have ensued. But the roots are deep, in their lives and in mine, and something new kept growing.
Today I did a lot of pruning, but my hope lives strong that the work of this book will flourish, and a long life lies ahead.
Singing Silent Night to my daughter tonight, I knew what I wanted to say in today’s brief update. Atop of my list of reasons for laboring over Anatomy of a Schism is to transform the future for her generation. Gender is among the most powerful formations – personally, relationally, and socially. It remains a dividing line for inequities of wealth, education, religion, political power, and justice. Just naming it reproduces the inequities, but without naming and understanding its effects, we will never change it.
Today I inched closer to making my contribution toward the work of changing both understandings and inequities of gender. It matters for my daughter and the next generations.
While I labor persistently each day on Anatomy of a Schism, my anticipation for completing the work grows. I am equally committed to sharing Advent joy with my daughter.
To help her understand preparation and anticipation when she was much smaller, we began an Advent door tradition. One tiny gift each day. Some of my Minnesota friends celebrated St. Nicholas today, December 6, with small toys or cookies for their children. We stretch it out for all of Advent. Her excitement each morning is worth the effort to fill each little door.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13)
Today I revised chapter two for 175 minutes (I work in 25 min segments called poms). I managed to cut 524 words. This is very slow work. However, the story, the argument and the analysis are improved in the end.
When I left my office, I heard on NPR Nelson Mandela has died. This evening I heard Nashville in Harmony sing. The work of mercy and justice goes on in great and small ways around me, giving me perspective on the work I do and words I say. This prayer closes my day: Oh, God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.
Footnotes are tedious. Revisions are more difficult. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have a working draft. Thankfully, I have one for every chapter. But saying more with fewer words? Making ideas clear, arguments compelling, and stories faithful? Now that’s hard work.
Sometimes the only way to see the big ideas is to spread a chapter out on the floor. Tomorrow’s task is to cut another nine pages from chapter two. I’m hoping and praying for a clear mind to re-vision.
In academic writing, footnotes are expected. Today I spent 90% of my day revising footnotes in the “Redeeming Humanity” book chapter. Here are five quick things I’ve learned about footnotes…
1. They always take longer than you think to track down and revise.
2. They indicate that you know who you are talking to and what the conversation is about.
3. My chapters average 58 footnotes each.
4. Footnotes should connect to and support the story I’m telling, not just show off what I know.
5. Footnotes should point the way to further exploration for really curious readers.
It was with some guilt that I turned down a coaching opportunity last night for Academic Ladder. I told Coach Susanne about finishing my book and said, “I need to keep my promise to myself.” Sometimes that’s harder than it sounds. She was incredibly gracious in receiving my decision. She even congratulated me on the manuscript and on making and keeping promises to myself. I nearly cried when I read her email.
Today I revised chapter 4: “Redeeming Humanity: How Clergywomen Embody Struggle and Sacred Presence in the SBC.” I cut over 900 words, and the chapter only needs footnotes repaired tomorrow. Feels great to keep my promises to myself, and to the women whose stories I’m telling.
Driving to an appointment this afternoon, I wondered: how long is the longest gestation in the animal world? My memory said elephants. Roughly two years. My memory was on it.
So my book has taken longer than an elephant to gestate?! Well, how appropriate! My book points out a very large elephant in the living room of Baptist life: the ways gender shapes Baptist identity. So it’s time to deliver that story . . .