I will write.
I will write because it is in me to write, because writing reaches an unreachable part of me. I will write because it is more important to me than almost anything else.
I will write because I can.
I will write because I am a good writer and because words matter to me. I will write because words are full of mystery and potential and magic. I will write because I am a good writer and there is nothing wrong with understanding and doing what I love. I will write because I have been given the gift of wanting to write.
I will write because my heart breaks for writing.
I will write this image: me at seventeen, sitting on the floor of my room in my parents’ house. It is an early evening in August and I am packing my room, packing for college. My girlfriend is there with me, helping me decide what pieces of my life I should take with me and she is restless because she doesn’t really care and because she will break up with me in a week and wishes she could do it right at that moment. She is pretty: full lips and dark eyes and the lithe, toned body of a diver and swimmer, but right now her dusky face is bored and she looks around at anything but me. I understand all this, now, but at the time I only know that I am dissatisfied and broken in some way that I am at a loss to explain. I put something in a box: a photo or book or CD – I don’t remember what. My breath catches in my throat and, inexplicably, tears begin to fall into the box, splashing on the photo or book or CD. She is still silent and I want her to ask, I want her to ask why I’m crying, but she looks away and doesn’t want to notice.
And I don’t know why I’m crying so I don’t know what I’d tell her if she did ask, so I sit and weep as silently as I can for a minute, two, three. Finally she asks what is bothering me. I want to write, I tell her. She is puzzled. You want to write? But she doesn’t follow up the question and so it hangs in the air between us until I finally say: I don’t want to study Broadcast Journalism or History or Education or anything like that. I want to write – I just want to write and be a writer. She is still puzzled. You don’t want to go to college? But that’s not it at all: college sounds good and interesting and worthwhile, but I want to write. I want to be a writer but I can’t, I can’t. She looks at me and smiles a little. It is a good smile. Her eyes come into focus and she isn’t bored anymore. For the last time before she breaks up with me, she is fully present and she wants me to see what I need to see: You should write, then. You’re seventeen. It’s not too late.
And yet I went to college and majored in Broadcast Journalism for a semester. Then Pastoral Ministries. Then Secondary Education and a brief flirtation with Business and then I wanted to major in English, but it was too late and I needed to graduate and I majored in Interdisciplinary Studies. Writing still tugged at me, but it never broke through again like it did in my room the week before college. I went to grad school and studied English and this was a good thing. I found Faulkner and his was prose intoxicating and writing awoke and said this is good, you know. Write, Jack. And to hide from writing I studied medieval English romances and Chaucerian dream visions and I wrote about that because that was not the kind of writing that I needed to do. The writing I needed to do was terrifying and shapeless: a void that needed expression. I finished my M.A. and wrote my thesis and that writing was good, but it was safe and the writing inside me never stirred as I toiled over Chaucer and medieval symbolism and poetic limitations and Troilus and Crisede.
And I went on to doctoral work and I read and wrote and loved every moment, even the moments when I thought I might not make it. I wrote seminar papers and taught classes and passed qualifying exams and began a dissertation on the history of the novel because this, too, was hiding from writing. I studied rhetorical theory, especially the belles lettres rhetoric of eighteenth-century Scotland and I loved my research and I felt that teaching and research and writing about research and teaching was good and good enough and writing might just be ignored.
But what I’ve come to realize is this: the writing I need to do, but have almost never done, is the voice of God in me. To run from writing is to run from God. Or maybe the voice inside that I’ve silenced through idleness and other interests, through research and theory and teaching is really the voice of God calling me to be who I’m meant to be. To not write makes me not me. To put it another way: I am most fully myself when I write and wrestle with the deep mystery of story. To avoid writing is to avoid God, who is saying, I will meet you here, in the words and shapes of words, in the complexity of meaning, in the tangled patterns of story and in this writing you will discover who you are meant to be.
And so I will write because I want to be.
I will write because I want to be who God calls me to be, and I won’t worry about what I know about writing and theory and criticism and aesthetic appreciation of writing. I won’t worry about publishing or success or an audience. The call to write is, for me, a Holy call, a call to completeness and fulfillment and I don’t give a damn if anyone ever reads or cares about what I write. I will write for my seventeen-year old self, weeping on the floor. I will write because writing is how I touch the divine; it is how I experience the holy. I will write because my writing is a sacrament and my blood is transubstantiated, becoming ink on the page.
And so, I will write.