Step by Step, Inch by Inch…Slowly I Turn Around
Like any other person at the turn of 2013, I found myself brushing off the short-comings of the past 52 weeks and resolving to grow stronger in the upcoming ones. And, like any writer, every “resolution” I created consisted of new steps toward a more stable and established career. Personally, I prefer the term “business objectives” to “resolutions”. But Holley Gerth stuffs the phrase with immense inspiration–in her eyes, I am taking steps towards my God-sized dream. A dream woven into my heart by God’s hands before I even existed in my mother’s womb.
Yet, since humans have much less wisdom than God, I am just now beginning to understand that faith-writing is my God-sized dream. And, since people are substantially more frail of heart, I find essential consolation and encouragement from Holley and the women within her ministry.
So, with my newfound friends and fortitude, I am beginning to tiptoe down the path of my destiny. In the previous weeks, I found a workshop for professional writers. I contacted the facilitator, a published author in the area, and signed up. Last Wednesday was our first session and not only did I get extra time to work on my newest project, but I was also afforded the opportunity to network with other established and aspiring authors in my town. Both of which are my two greatest focuses for growing my career this year.
In the first hour of the workshop, we warmed up with a prompt exercise. The leader provided twenty minutes to write whatever we wanted in response to Sharon Olds’ lines of poetry, “I knew little and what I knew I did not believe. They had lied to me so many times.”
The premise of the prompt combined with my unfamiliarity with my immediate audience was paralyzing. What could I share with these strangers about a character who knew little, believed nothing, and had been lied to a lot? I wasted at least five minutes fidgeting in my seat, as fear blocked any thoughts from forming. Much less coherent ones. I glanced around the basement of the host’s home. Aging wooden planks lined the walls. Lemon trees and other fresh greens thrived under fluorescent lights in the corner. A feline with long black fur prowled the walkways, sizing up the new intruders. And we were supposed to be writing. Which everyone besides me was doing.
So I shook off my fear (sort of) and wondered what I would write about. Then I pictured Holley across the room giving me a nod and a “You got this, girl” smile before returning her gaze to her own notepad. “I’m not here to be timid,” I thought to myself.
I took a deep breath, put my pen to the paper, and scribbled down my first sentences. Then scratched them all out. That’s typically how I work. Especially when I know people will read the work immediately after I finish. Take, for instance, this post. It will be edited and readjusted dozens of times both before and after it is published.
I continued that way for the remainder of the exercise. When the timer beeped, the majority of my page was filled with thick, horizontal lines. What little remained had been squeezed in the margins and above scratch-outs:
I feel the pastor preach each Sunday. His message hits me like rainfall.
“Repent and be saved!” he shouts from the pulpit, dabbing his mouth with a white cloth. Miss Harper, the Sunday school teacher, tells us that God is love. Reverend Clark says God will strike you dead if you disobey Him. It’s in Exodus, he says. That doesn’t seem very loving.
I’ve heard a lot about this God, but I know little. After all, if one is telling the truth, the other must be lying. So what I hear, I cannot believe. They had lied to me too many times.
It’s not my best work, but I was glad to have something–as brief as it was–than nothing at all. And I have no idea where the character, an 8-year-old southern Baptist girl, came from. But the other writers in the room responded to it with encouraging and insightful remarks, just like Holley. For that I was grateful and my nerves slowed their dance beneath my skin. Then, when the instructor brought out coffee and brownies, they nearly vanished altogether.
So, during the second (and final) critique of the night, I shared a piece from my novel-in-progress. Their positive comments both floored me and encouraged me to persist with the project. Now, I look forward to this Wednesday night when I get to meet with this group again. To learn, to grow, and to continue taking steps toward my God-sized dream, one Wednesday evening at a time.