Today’s guest post comes from a friend with whom Guy and I laughed ourselves silly during The Great 2010 Washington DC Snowpocalypse following the National Prayer Breakfast (we might have, at moments, engaged in the alternative–tears and hair-pulling–but laughter proved more helpful). We prayed together and then got stranded together in the gorgeous hip-deep snow we waded through to enjoy DC monuments and distract ourselves from where we were supposed to be. And yes, we did participate in the (we heard) record-setting snowball fight in Dupont Circle.
I spent 45 minutes crafting a single sentence last night.
You see, the perfect idea existed somewhere in the back of my brain. I knew where I wanted to say it. I had an idea of how it would help the article come together, but the actual practice of clearly communicating what I wanted to say took more than a little while to get there.
I don’t think I’m the only one.
Anne Lamott, my writing saint of saints, says that it’s merely a matter of getting your butt in the chair. But taking the time to sit down, to wait for inspiration and creativity to come, is oftentimes the hardest practice of all.
On Saturday, I sat across from a young woman who wants to be a writer. She has a book idea down pat, so much so that she’s even carved an outline of its contents.
“So, have you written the book yet?” I asked her. She looked at me and laughed.
“No,” she replied. “I’m waiting.”
I, of course, continued to ask her questions. After all, she asked to meet with me about writing; she wanted to know how I’d gotten from Point A (teaching) to Point B (ministry) to Point C (writing). Naturally, I wanted to know the secret of her waiting game. It wasn’t a matter of time: working part-time, she knew she had more than enough hours in the day.
She was waiting for someone to want her. She was waiting for someone in the publishing industry to hear her great idea and offer her a book contract on the spot. She was waiting for the world to see and hear and believe in her potential, even though she’d hardly done any of the work to get there.
I leaned across the table and locked eyes with her.
Words have always been my thing. I read. I write. I say things. That about sums it up.
As a student, I dreaded math homework but looked forward to English assignments. Given the option of a standardized 80-question test or a five-paragraph essay, I’d choose writing every time. And through writing, I found what my insides really thought and felt and wanted to say. Through writing, healing came. Through writing, I discovered who God intended me to be all along.
Sure, I dabbled in other professions first: I taught high school English, expounding on all the great writers of American and British history. Could I be a great American writer too someday? Surely that wasn’t in the cards. Surely God would have made my path clearer and put a blinking, neon “Be a writer, Cara!” sign in front of me.
Then I spent eight years in outreach ministry to high school and middle school students. At one point, a mentor asked me to tell her three things that gave me life in my job.
“Being in students’ worlds. Mentoring young adult leaders. And writing and speaking – at club, at summer camp, in monthly newsletter communications.” I paused. “If I could do anything in the world, I’d write and speak. That’s what gives me life.”
She paused our conversation this time.
“So, why don’t you?”
Eyes wide, I stared at her, every bone in my body like a deer caught in the headlights. Surely, this wasn’t possible. I couldn’t make money, at least not enough to live in the Bay Area. I couldn’t leave the job and the ministry I’d known for almost twenty years by that point. Who would I be? And all of this would take time: time to find my voice and trust my words and discover the message that was mine alone to give. I’d have to get my butt in the chair and make it a priority – and this was something I couldn’t give at that point in my life.
I wasn’t ready. But mostly I wasn’t ready to give up fear.
I wasn’t ready to say yes to the heart-thumping thing that gave me life. So, for a long time I played it safe, hoping an opportunity would instead come my way, that someone would find my blog and see my words and say, Yes! We’ve found her: the next best writer the world has ever seen!
The latter never happened. But eventually, I began to write, almost every day. Eventually, I began to trust that the Writing Muse would visit me, when the time was right. Eventually, I began to put my work out there, even if I received more rejection letters than is humanly possible.
And eventually, I discovered the creator I was destined to be all along: a maker of words, a crafter of phrases and sentences and paragraphs alike.
So, what is it for you?
Who has the Great Creator made you to be?
And what, I ask, is keeping you from getting your butt in the chair and doing the hard work to get there?
Cara Meredith is a writer and speaker from the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Co-host of the Shalom Book Club podcast and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, she is passionate about racial justice and reconciliation, the great outdoors and dinner around the table with people she loves. She holds a Masters of Theology (Fuller Seminary), and can be found on her blog Facebook or Twitter.