Against Bingeing

This is bad.  I have been asked to preach at our university chapel in a couple of weeks, and I am feeling somewhat panicked about what I am going to say.  I know what I should be doing, thanks to Prof. Boice: writing a little something every day, rather than waiting until the last minute--say, the Saturday afternoon before--and writing whatever comes to me at that moment in a binge.  But.

But just the thought of doing a little bit of work now and then tomorrow and the next day, in the kind of brief, daily sessions that Prof. Boice recommends, is making me even more anxious than the thought of trying to come up with 1,300 words in a single session.  Which I know I could.  I often do, writing pieces for my blog.  Indeed, I like sitting down, writing for an hour or so, and being able to post whatever it is that I've written right then.  It isn't always brilliant, but occasionally, it's not bad.  Plus, I get to practice writing regularly, which is the whole point, right?

It should be.  But somehow it isn't.  I've managed to get myself in a panic lately even about writing on my blog, telling myself that I should be writing something more substantial here, something closer to what I am thinking about professionally, so as to give myself some practice finding words for the things that I want to say in my scholarly work.  Or even in my (hypothetical) not-so-scholarly work, as, for example, in the sermon that I have been asked to preach.

So why don't I?  Why don't I give myself 30 minutes each day just to sit down and write here, whatever comes into my mind, whether it's brilliant or ordinary, just to give myself practice saying the things that I think about God?  Because, you know, I have lots and lots and lots of thoughts about God.  Perhaps some of them even theologically okay.

Nah.  I'm not a theologian, I'm not smart enough to be a theologian.  Theologians are the real thinkers, the ones who grapple with Big Questions like sin and redemption and the relationship between the persons in the Trinity.  I'm just a dabbler in the pool of such deep wisdom.  I haven't even read through the whole Bible more than once (although I have read certain books, particularly the Song of Songs, more times than I can count).  What could I possibly have to say?

Heh.  I know that is the wrong question to ask; you know that that is the wrong question to ask.  "I" don't have anything to say, but the Holy Spirit might.  The trick is to sit still long enough to be able to listen.  Which I haven't been doing very well for some time now, even with my blog.  I wonder why.  Looking back over the posts that I have written these past (nearly) four years, I am quite honestly staggered: I wrote all of that?  You're kidding, I am nowhere near that wise.  And yet, just searching for the post that I wrote on prayer using the Song of Songs (linked above), I found nearly a dozen posts where I talk about my work ("my" work) on the Song that I had forgotten about (search this blog on "Song of Songs").  And some of them are pretty good.

How was I able to write so much then when I feel like I have so little to say now?  Answer: I've been blocking.  I actually have all sorts of things that I keep thinking to blog about but never quite do.  Because I'm afraid that I don't have the time.  Because it feels too self-indulgent to write for my blog rather than preparing for class.  Because the ideas feel too big.  Because I think that I should be writing something more formal, even here.  Because...because...because.  And then I don't write anything.

Which is too bad.  Just think of all the things that I would never have said if I hadn't been keeping this blog for four years.  See?  Brief, daily sessions do work, at least insofar as they give me the space to try out ideas that I might never allow myself to write about otherwise.  So, again, why haven't I been writing more on my blog?  Answer, as always: I'm afraid.  Afraid of being wrong.  Afraid of saying things that will upset other people, perhaps even incite them to attack me (even if only verbally).  Afraid of exposing myself as a believer (as if I haven't already, but there you go).  Afraid that I simply don't know enough to have an opinion on any of these things.

Afraid that I don't know enough?!  How could that possibly be?  All that I think about (other than Corgis and carbs) is God.  Or God's mother.  Or God's saints.  Or God's word.  It's just all so incoherent, jumbled, no order.  Ah. "You want it to be finished before you even start, don't you?  No wonder you're blocking, it's exactly as Prof. Boice has said: you're impatient.  You imagine that somehow you should be able to write without pre-writing--taking notes, organizing them, allowing yourself time to see the patterns, writing outlines and giving yourself a chance to try out different structures.  You hate the thought that writing might be something you do gradually, rather than something that comes to you in a flash.  You talk yourself out of ideas before you've even given yourself a chance to develop them.  You want to be finished now.

"But at what cost?  In Prof. Boice's experience: never giving yourself time to discover yourself as a writer, never giving yourself time to learn different habits of writing that might actually make writing a normal, regular, comfortable part of your life."  Ah.  And I thought I was anxious before.  This is a truly terrifying thought: "I am a writer."  No, no, no, no, no, no, no!  No, I'm not.  If I were a real writer...well, what?  What would I do differently from what I do now?  Take more small steps.  Spend more time pre-writing, rather than relying on binges to get me through.  Have more confidence in the process of rewriting as opposed to looking always only to the final result.

I can't tell you how terrifying these thoughts are for me.  How terrifying I now realize that it is to think that, yes, I could write anything I wanted, even a novel, even a work of theology, if only I broke it down into steps and worked in brief, daily sessions on those.  I might even publish regularly, a book every few years.  So what's stopping me?  What's stopping me from working in brief, daily sessions?  What's stopping me from thinking of writing as something I actually do?

Because, if I were a writer, people might expect me to have something to say.  And I don't.  Not really.  Not anything that I myself have ever thought.  I'm good at parroting (who on earth am I channeling when I say this to myself?).  I'm good at clarifying what other people have said.  But I am otherwise utterly naive (where is this coming from?!).  "Beware, beware, beware!  Don't put yourself forward, don't presume to tell your betters what to do! Who are you to think that you have an opinion worth expressing?  Who are you to think that you know anything that others have not already thought?"

Okay, this is creepy.  I have never articulated these demons quite so clearly before.  All along, I've been telling myself that I wanted to be a writer, and now I discover that I don't?  That I am afraid to even think of myself as a writer, as someone who might regularly publish articles and books?  That the thought of being a writer fills me not with pleasure, but dread?  That I am terrified at the thought of, say, appearing on television to promote my book or that millions of people might want to read what I wrote?  That I feel much, much more comfortable at the thought of writing nothing more public than this blog?  Or books and articles that only my academic colleagues might read?

I think that my cortisol level just went through the roof.  No wonder I resist working in brief, daily sessions: doing so might make me the very thing that terrifies me most.  Successful at my art.  "My art"?  I can't even write that without panicking.  Okay, I need to take a break.  Breathe.  Move.  Go make myself another cup of tea.  I am starting to feel a bit manic, which is a sure sign of a writing binge.  But what if when I get up, I lose the thread?  Forget everything that I was going to say?  I want to finish this post now and get on with the real work of the day.

Which isn't writing.  Because that would make me a writer.  And I'm too terrified to consider that.

[Oh, look!  I just wrote 1,500 words!]


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