A ‘Real’ Writer?

by Elouise

I’m thinking about my letters to Dad and to Mom. In particular, what I see clearly now that I hadn’t recognized before. I am, and have been for years, a committed writer. A ‘real’ writer! Furthermore, writing these letters has clarified that for me, writing takes priority over thinking or speaking.  Clear thinking and clear speaking are the product of clear writing.

For years I’ve considered myself an amateur writer, not a ‘real’ writer. Why? Because I wasn’t writing properly every day. You know. Sitting down in my protected writing space, putting at least 500 words on paper each day. Whether they ever saw the light of day wasn’t the point. The point was to develop a habit of writing.

This may work great for some people, but it hasn’t always worked for me. Even though I’m doing this now for blog posts, I haven’t just begun a writing practice. I’ve been a committed writer for years.

How do I know this? Because I spent  all my professional life as an academic writer. I’ve had a writing practice for decades. If I don’t or can’t write clearly, I won’t speak, teach, report, persuade, preach or give clear and constructive written feedback to students and colleagues.

What was my hang-up? I thought ‘personal’ writing was the only thing that counted as a writing practice. Yes, sometimes my logic is strange. But that’s the way it was.

Where’s the evidence of my committed writing practice? Just look at my teaching files, piles of personal journals, electronic files of letters, memos, written reports, petitions, proposals, sermons, meditations and more. There is no way I did all of this without being a relentlessly committed writer.

Why is this so important to say? Because for years I’ve felt embarrassed, defensive and even ashamed of my lack of attention to a real writing practice. Also ashamed that for all the writing I’ve done, I have relatively few publications.

Here’s the truth about me. It might not be the truth about you. I find my voice when I’m writing, not when I’m speaking. I came to this startling (but not strange) insight because of the letters I’m now writing to Mom and to Dad. My goal is to think about our relationships with each other.  That means writing about my relationship with each of them is important.

Thinking about these relationships is important, too. Yet it isn’t enough unless I’ve already written clearly and honestly. I could think a long time about my relationship to them, or even have productive conversations with a trusted friend. I often have insights as I’m speaking with others.

Yet for me, the payoff comes when I sit down and begin writing. Exploring. Clarifying. Mucking my way through verbosity to clarity. Finding the words, the approach, the examples, the voice I want to use.

In my letters to Mom and to Dad, it’s about how I talk to them and what I say as an adult daughter in written letters. Knowing, of course, that they can’t answer in writing. It’s about how I acknowledge in writing their positive contributions to the woman I am today.

My goal isn’t to resolve all our relational problems. It’s to better understand and appreciate myself and my relationship with each of them. Writing helps me find new ways of talking and thinking about this. And yes, it’s giving me insight into what may have been happening between us, especially during my childhood and teenage years.

In fact, I consider this part of my ongoing spiritual formation.  A challenge to be who I am, just as I am, without apology.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 February 2015