Monday, September 17, 2012

Directed Writing Insight: Focus on the Memoir!

A week ago, I'd have been in the North Carolina mountains to help plan the Create in Me retreat.  We met from late afternoon of September 9 to lunch on September 11.  It's amazing what we get done with an intense focus--it's a good lesson to remember in all areas of my creative life.  I do tend to get a lot done in little chunks, but I should probably make arrangements for a few more times of intense work throughout the year.

I was in charge of devotion time in the morning, and since I didn't know I was in charge until I got there, we did it differently:  no Bible expert giving insight.  No, the first day we did a guided writing assignment and the next day we did a lectio divina experiment.

For more on the exact process of the guided writing, see this post on my theology blog.  We did a variation of a writing assignment that I've often done with my students.  I have my students write to themselves in the voice of their 80 year old selves.  For the group last Monday, we wrote in the voice of our spiritual mentors.  First we thought about places where we needed to be rekindled, either individually or as groups, and then we did a free writing.

Free writing couldn't be more simple.  All you do is write.  You keep writing.  You don't stop, you don't go back, you don't edit:  you simply write what bubbles up.  If nothing bubbles up, you write "I have nothing more to say" over and over again until you have something more to say.

Those of you reading my blog know where I need to be rekindled.  You may have insight that I don't have.  I've been very focused on my job and the future.  Even now, when I've gotten a position in the new, reorganized institution, I'm still seeing it as a temporary reprieve.  The state of higher education overall is shaky.  Many call it the next bubble that's about to pop (like the tech bubble, the housing bubble, all our bubbles).  So it's wise to continue thinking about what comes next.

When I started writing last Monday morning, I thought I might get wisdom about going to seminary.  I had stayed up extra hours on Sunday night talking about seminary.  I thought my free writing might lead to insights about where to move.  After all, moving is my default response to knowing that something needs to change:  pack up and change locations, either locally or across the states.

We wrote about what needed rekindling, and then we started free writing with this prompt:  "What would your mentors say to you about rekindling?"

Here's what I wrote a week ago:  "You've got any number of paths you could follow.  God will make you useful wherever you are.  You can likely do what you want to do without uprooting everything.  Write that memoir.  You want to reach people--that memoir is how you will do it.  People have said that your writing style is like Kathleen Norris'--follow that path.  I cannot stress enough how much people need your words, how urgent it is that you attend to this memoir."

For those of you saying, "Memoir?  What memoir?", go to this post which will explain what I plan to do.  Basically, last spring I realized how few of the memoirs I've read talk about work life in conjunction with spiritual life. I've read plenty of self-help books that claim to do so, although none of them have been useful to me in the ways that I wished they would be when I picked them up.  And then there's the issue of being an artist and being at midlife.  My plan is to write a memoir that weaves all these strands together.  I will organize it by the calendar year.  I'll strive to make it a collection of essays that can be read each one on its own, but of course, my hope will be that the whole collection will be more meaningful when read all at once, that it will be so compelling that people won't be able to put it down.

When I started my free writing, I hadn't been thinking about memoir at all.  As I say, I'd been thinking about going back to school or finding a dream job.  But memoir writing?  I would have said that memoir writing had been far from my conscious thoughts.

I've always found these free writing exercises to yield interesting insights.  Last Monday was no exception.

I return renewed.  I will finish sorting through possibly useful blog posts in the next month.  I will go to Mepkin Abbey with a sheaf of pages, and I will begin the process of taking all the rough work and turning it into something cohesive and meaningful.


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