by Dr. Rachel Coleman
“Write about writing,” they said. But how do you describe a process that feels as essential for life as breathing and yet is the most arduous and unnatural task you undertake on any given day? How do you articulate something that is both excruciating agony and exquisite ecstasy? Perhaps because writing is such an intensely personal activity, describing it can only be done as personal narrative.
I honestly don’t remember a time when my life wasn’t shaped by reading and writing, and I’d hazard a guess that most of my nearly 21,000 days have included writing as a significant activity. Nearing the end of my sixth decade, writing of various sorts fills my waking hours—scribbled prayers and laments, in-depth analyses of scripture, detailed feedback on student papers, email (endless email!), blogs and devotional writing, sermons, academic work (far less than I would like, too often sandwiched in and around the other kinds of writing), hand-written notes and cards. But those are activities, concrete manifestations of the phenomenon that is writing, not the thing itself. What is writing, in my experience?
Writing is . . . being. For me, writing is so inextricably woven into the fabric of my existence that I’m not sure I can separate out its individual strands. For better or for worse, the written word is where I find my “Rachel-ness.” Therefore, it’s probably no accident that it is through the written Word that the Spirit most often speaks to me, and that through journaling I respond in writing to the Spirit’s work.
Writing is. . . thinking out loud. It is with pen in hand (yes, I’m old school) that my brain functions best; it is in the act of writing that I find the freedom to analyze, question, explore, observe, interpret, and apply new insights and ideas. Writing is a kind of “thinking out loud” that is necessarily prior to engaging new concepts in any sort of collaborative forum; it sharpens my insights, organizes my thoughts, illumines fault lines in my reasoning, allows me to see and entertain other perspectives with calmness, compassion, and patience.
Writing is. . . . hard work. The search for words that give accurate and agile expression to an idea, the choice of a genre or form, the acute attention to the intended audience, the endless revising and editing—the writing process alternates between sublime pleasure and sheer drudgery. Sometimes the only way forward is simply to “Nike” it—“just do it,” just write the next word, then the next sentence, then the next paragraph. Even if it feels like utter rubbish, just get it down on paper, because sometimes it is in the revision process when the flash of insight comes and that muddy lump of verbal clay becomes a transcendent, luminous piece of prose or poetry.
Writing is. . . sheer, terrifying vulnerability. No matter how much we take pleasure in the sheer act of writing, the reality is that most of us are writing with an audience in mind. And ah, there’s the rub! Because writing is such an intimate and essential part of who I am, offering up the fruit of that process to the eyes of others is inescapably terrifying. “Publishing,” in whatever form, is an act of courageous vulnerability. It requires untying the threads that bind my work to my identity and personhood, so that the responses to the former neither threaten nor puff up the latter. I freely admit that I haven’t always had the necessary courage to make that move, that fear of rejection has kept me from pursuing some “serious” writing projects. As the new year begins, this is a hurdle I am committed to clearing with greater frequency and ease.
Agony and ecstasy. . . that is what writing is for me. I can’t imagine life without that bewildering and exhilarating tension.
Rachel (a.k.a., Dr. Nana) lives in Elida, Ohio, with her husband Randy (a.k.a., the Rev), a needy dog, and a sassy cat. Her days are full to overflowing with the blessings of being an adjunct Bible instructor for Indiana Wesleyan University and Asbury Theological Seminary, as well as the regional theological education consultant for Latin America (One Mission Society). You can follow the musings of Dr. Nana at writepraylove660813036.wordpress.com, or follow her on FB or Instagram.