Writing: always something that isn’t finished yet
I sat down this evening and started working through James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom again – I’d started in on it about a month ago, but have been very busy with my classes for school. In the span of about an hour, it prompted considerable reflection, the vast majority of which is not published below. (I’m sure you’re all thanking me.) There were a few thoughts that simply demanded to be let out, however – not least because the first one prompted me to actually write something again.
Late last year, I started working on the project that was to become – and then not become – The World As It Is, a book that I’m no longer publishing.1 Since that process came to an end, I’ve hardly written a thing. Oh, I’ve published a short post here and there on some technical things over at Designgineering, but I haven’t actually done any real writing to speak of.
There are, I think, basically two reasons for this. One is a sort of mental aimlessness that arose from no longer having that major goal to work toward. Combined with deadlines for work and class that simply made it easy to push that particular bit of writing aside, this malaise meant I simply stopped writing for the most part. An unfortunate turn of events, to say the least, but on my own head be it: sometimes writing simply requires discipline, and I have failed to be as disciplined as writing demands.
A second problem, however, was my lack of surety about where to go next. After reading another book on the arts (one I’ll finally finish reviewing for Mere O sometime in the next week or so), I found myself with a great many thoughts and absolutely no idea how to say them. More: I did not want to say them if I could not say them well and authoritatively. Saying them well is one thing; saying them with authority is another. There is, you see, always another book I could read, always another author with something to add to my perspective. The sheer amount of knowledge available on any given subject is humbling and at times overwhelming. How could I ever say something important without having read everything else others have said about it?
If the question sounds silly, it is – at least, in a way. It came home to me tonight, reading Desiring the Kingdom, because I consciously thought, “I need to incorporate this in whatever I make of The World As It Is.” A number of points Smith makes fit very neatly into some of the categories I was already developing in my manuscript, and his work is already prompting me to reflect in new ways on some of those existing thoughts. This is good.
A moment later, I thought about the thought that had just passed through my mind.2 That experience was catalytic: it is always possible to read something else, always possible to understand more clearly. This is, in some sense, the final, humbling reality that any writer must face. Anything I can ever say will be imperfect, incomplete, insufficiently informed, and at least somewhere erroneous. Inevitably, I will find every piece worthy of modification (at best) or outright redaction (at worst) given sufficient time for reflection after the fact.
Is this not the human experience, though? Words are but a reflection of our lives, and our lives are always a work in progress. We are not static, but ever in flux, ever growing (or shrinking), ever changing and being changed. I know more today than I did yesterday, and will know yet more tomorrow. This post itself stands as a marker not of permanency but of precisely the ephemerality of our states that is intrinsic to our temporality. We are bound by moments.
Yet – and this is the glory of it all – we are also freed by moments. I cannot have the final word; but I need not have the final word. I need but to offer as wise a word as I am able from the vantage I currently hold. If, tomorrow, I may say it better, then I shall endeavor to do just that – but I shall not begrudge my past self his lack of knowledge, only strive to know more and do better the next time. I shall write, and be content not to have all the answers. There is nothing new under the sun, and if God is pleased to let his sun shine and his rain fall on the flowers of these words, that is his business and not mine. My job is merely to do my best to plant flowers and not weeds.
But that means planting, not wondering whether I might somehow first improve the seed.
- As it turns out, my work on The World As It Is began, in a very real way, exactly a year a go today. Odd. ↩
- This happens to me more often than is probably healthy for anyone. All too soon, I’m thinking about the fact that I’m thinking about what I thought, and you can see how quickly that heads down the rabbit hole… ↩