In 10th grade, I won a statewide Optimist Club essay-writing contest. This got me a weekend trip to Callaway Gardens with my parents in tow, a small prize check, some local press, and appropriate accolades from my English teacher and my high school principal.
I wrote the essay in approximately 45 minutes the night before it was due for the first round of competition.
Closing in on 25 years later, and hindsight being what it is, I don’t really view the whole thing as a major accomplishment. This is not to say it wasn’t a good essay, or that I am not a good writer. It was, for its purpose and my age, likely excellent–and I am a good writer. But it was too easy. I got lucky. Inspiration struck at precisely the right moment. I didn’t have to work for it. And while this “right thought, right time, right opportunity” sort of thing does happen (every once in a blue moon) for writers, the hard work of the craft, the true measure of any talent, is how hard one works on the days when inspiration is nowhere to be found and the words, despite your earnest effort and your ardent desire and those supposed brilliant thoughts you had over bourbon with friends the night before Will. Not. Translate. to paper or computer screen.
I am so slow to learn this. Just right now I am wishing desperately for the right thoughts and words for a writing project I want very much to do. And they won’t come. I wonder at this. Concentration is not always my forte and I am easily distracted by, as my sister would wryly note, “shiny objects and puppies.”
And yet I know the words are there, somewhere deep in my gut, the things I long to offer the world about what it means to pay attention to this one gorgeous and sometimes awful life we’ve been given, what it means to have your heart broken wide open with the joy and pain of existence and then begin a way towards wholeness, what it means to make room for that which is Holy in our lives and seek a place and way of being in this world that deals honestly with the truth that it is not, in fact, all about me/you and never has been.
These things are hard to get at. They require a level of vulnerability that hurts. A sort of authenticity that can expose more than I’m/we’re comfortable with. Our own private hells and heartaches–these things are what make us who we are, and so often we retreat inside them instead of offering ourselves to the world, shattered hopes and dreams and all, and trust there’s enough love there to accept us as we are, that we might all be more of what God intended us to be.
The hard and monotonous work of writing is the hard and monotonous work of living.
Golden days come, to be sure, but what I know, is that 3am on the gray days is more important. Because it is in this wee hour crevice between that which we long for and know to be possible, and that which holds us back, that the true and difficult and oh-so-worth-it toil of writing and living is to be done.