Five Rules for Believing Writers
For those innocent and experienced in the ways of writing, here are some rules to write by daily. Of course, when it comes to making art—to making manifest that still, small voice inside you—rules are more like strong suggestions, nothing hard and fast, so there’s no need to be stringent about the thoughts below. Here are some things I try to keep in mind as an author of faith…
1. Trust the process.
Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, learning to rely on your gut in writing will rarely steer you wrong. It’s important to remember that your life is a poem. And poems that we make on paper are just extensions of our living poetry. As Ephesians 2:10 says, you are God’s workmanship—God’s poemia (where the English word “poem” comes from)—and that’s reason enough to engage this process with confidence. Workmanship implies time, energy, and progression. So it’s best to just go with what comes out while you write, even if it seems to make little sense, appears upsetting, strange, gushing, or sentimental. Those things are just your gut talking, so you should probably listen up! Besides, you can always revise it later.
2. Get away from measuring.
To write well, you must get rid of expectations and standards. Let come what offers itself; put down everything that emerges from you without regard for quality. Never erase or eradicate, simply scratch out things you don’t think you want. Where you are and what you’re doing is just right—nothing more or less is needed; you don’t have to humble or exalt yourself, cower or roar: just be. This world might have told you otherwise, but things are different now. In writing—while you’re creating—there are no gaps, errors, or needless sidetracks. Everything you write could be revised to something more lovely later. Like our faith, our writing is never what it will be when it first presents itself. Put away your high standards and welcome what comes. Its transformation—and yours—will come soon enough.
3. Remember that what you create is something close to holy.
It’s true, though you might not believe it. No matter how flat, ugly, or bizarre, what you’re making in your times of solitude is complete. Even if it doesn’t seem complete in what it says, it is so in what it is. When you create, you reflect the Creator in the opening of Genesis, and you should look down on your little creation and say it’s “good.” Worry about the beauty of the thing later, since beauty and holiness are two different animals, and often unrelated.
4. Practice silence.
When you’re writing, stay focused on the hard work of it—be in that moment. No screens of any kind—turn off the phone, TV, or computer. You might ask: what if I write on a computer? For a month, I’d like you to try the pencil and page. Get a journal or notebook or looseleaf. Paper is silent and simple; computers are filled and connected to all kinds of noise—the bellowing chaos of the news and politics, the blabbering of social media, and the soft, tempting glow of every kind of distraction. Be content—just for a short time—to sit unwired, unbothered, in the quiet of your home. Be still and enjoy it. Do as Christ urges in Luke 12 and consider the lilies—be present, pay attention—don’t cultivate concern but focus.
5. Practice slowness.
Find that place—that physical location—in your daily routine that makes you feel at peace in your life and do your meditation and exercise there if feasible. At home, in the break room at work, in the calm of a cluttered coffee shop—wherever you feel comfortable and can work undistracted. Clear a way for yourself—look outside, calculate, meditate, mull. Chances are you already have a place in mind and that place slows you down, blocks out the speed of the world, or helps you focus; a place that allows you to sit unnoticed. Be intentional about your time and try to set some aside to work in this book at the same time every day. I suggest the morning, when you and the day are both new again. Contemplate, focus, deliberate—take your time and make it sacred again. Designate a space as holy, maybe even to the point where you only utilize that space for writing, for creation and communion.
Dave Harrity is author of “Making Manifest: On Faith, Writing, and the Kingdom At-Hand” available from Seedbed later this year. The 28-day devotional-style book features meditations and writing exercises designed for individual and communal spiritual formation. His poems and other writings have appeared in journals and periodicals stateside and abroad. As Director of Antler, he travels far and wide conducting workshops on faith, imagination, worship, and creative writing. He’d love to come visit your church, seminary, college, or other religious community. Email him here.