Words at Work


How do authors do it? Have all this time to write, and then all this time to read too?

I get in bed around 11:15 most nights and read for 10 or 15 minutes only. I get so sleepy that I can't do more. I want to read more. I need to read more.

Words are my salvation in so many ways. Words free me from the illusion that this world in which I live is so small. Words give me courage, comfort, and camaraderie. Words calm my monkey-mind and bring me back to the true places inside myself. Words draw me to God, or maybe it's the other way around.

For the past two weeks, most days, I've been sitting in the sun around 2:30 in the afternoon to read a chapter from a book by Robert Benson called Living Prayer. It's a book I read years ago, and recently pulled out again to find a quote for the book I'm working on. And now Robert Benson's book is working on me.

Just to give you a taste of what I'm talking about:

Progress, if such a practical term can be used, is measured not by the amount of ground that is covered; it is measured by the amount of attention that is paid. We must pay attention to the seasons that surround us and we must live the season in which we find ourselves.

I get lots of practice at this directive, with the official start of school today. Summer as we knew it has ended for now, and we have moved on to a new season, the season of lunch boxes, uniforms, spelling lists, nature studies, Latin vocabulary, math fact cards, and reading aloud. Oh, if only it really was this simple.

But Benson's words make the workload feel easier because they remind me of the good that awaits those who pay attention.

So among other things, I try to pay attention to Living Prayer and to my devotional in the morning and to the few pages of a different book I'm reading before bed at night. Sometimes I feel bad that I'm not reading more. I've seen the lists of books that authors read for research, and I wonder where they find the time.

And even while I wonder, I must stay my own course, make my own small progress. I work on this blog post; I send some query letters; I read a book or two, at whatever pace I can go, to help me with my writing.

Most recently I read for research (and fun) the book Mary & Me: A Lasting Link Through Ink, cowritten by Mary Potter Kenyon and Mary Jedlicka Humston. It told the story of two women who have been sending handwritten letters to each other for the past thirty years. It inspired me to keep doing what I love, both the letter writing and this other writing.

I've now moved on to Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, which is my before-bed read. I lay very still and the room is almost dark, but I am moved and my soul fills with light at these words:

At the same instant we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on the earth...

Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist...

We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips. 

I read and underline and think and grow. It's slow going, but I trust that progress is being made because attention is being paid. My heart will keep pumping all through this season of school, and all through my search for an agent, and all through winter. I will use my words as a writer to say a holy yes to my real life. And my kids will learn, and an agent will accept, and summer will come again, and it will be magnificent.