January 7, Thursday. I wrote an essay “My Writing Life” for my English class on Expository Writing. This class will help me write more of my personal and family history, I hope, and this essay fits with what I have written so far in my journal. Enjoy!
My Writing Life
“Begin with the end in mind” is good advice for writing as it is for life, as Covey and Dillard and Scripture all tell us, but how can you know what your end is until you read what you’ve written? Your life and your writing, like “a wood-carver’s gouge,” will follow the grain and you must follow it or ruin your project. Follow this “epistemological tool” until you come to know, sometimes by a painful “inchworm’s” progress, what your end has been all along. So has been my writing; so has been my life.
Professionally, I wrote as a teacher, principal, or curriculum coordinator. As a teacher, I wrote course outlines, student reports, and lesson plans. As principal, I wrote reports for the school board and staff, statements of Christian perspectives in Science for teachers and parents, and presentations (generally written in full first), to staff, school board, and membership meetings. The professional writing has been fairly simple in that the form was well-defined by custom and the goal was to provide the expected information for the audience. Academically, I wrote as a student. In high school, I wrote exams and assignments and did well in all subjects. In university, it was exams and reports as I did my degree in Chemistry, but in my favourite subject, English literature, I wrote papers. I recall that writing these papers was hard work as I compared the religious views of three futuristic novels. Now at Redeemer I write papers for most of my courses in English, History, and Politics. The academic papers had defined forms and audiences, but the content and its goal had to be worked out by me, and it was demanding to pick the heart – the end – of the essay, and to stay focused on only that. Perhaps the hardest writing I did was during the year I took a sabbatical and earned my Master’s degree in Education. Writing my thesis Identifying World Views Projected by Teachers’ Classroom Discourse was challenging, though the form and sequence of chapters was well-defined and monitored by my faculty advisor. In writing my papers, I had to do lots of research and come to the point – the goal – of my essay. I usually did not start with the “end” in mind; instead, it gradually came to me as I worked through the main ideas I gleaned.
Personal writing has been more reflective of my perceived – and desired – strength to be an integrator, relater, and connector searching for meanings to share with an audience. I recall writing a long essay in green ink to read for our young people’s group on the meaning of the book of Joel, wondering whether the grasshoppers were real or symbolic: the commentators could not agree and I did not have the background to figure this out for myself. I wrote letters to my sister in Inuvik, one a 20-some page letter at guilt for having neglected her for so long, telling the stories of what had been going on in my life. I wrote a short story, “Starting the Tractor,” for Christian Courier to share that scary and humorous experience. I wrote a poem and a song to students in appreciation of their assignments. Starting in the 1980s, I wrote stories of my life for our annual family newsletter. I have written sermons for worship services in a nursing home and enjoy relating Scripture to people’s lives. In all of this personal writing, I start with an idea and the goal to share it with others, usually an audience personally known and met; the meaning I wish to draw out is the heart of what I want to write. Getting to it is not a matter of logically planning it before I write; it rather emerges as I write.
It has been the same in my life as in my writing, and still is. I have learned that all of life is to be, first of all and in all, seeking God’s kingdom and not my own; how well I have managed that and whether I have made the best choices will gradually unfold for me. I have now undertaken a new way of using writing to reconsider and share my search for the purpose and meaning of my life. I have started to write a journal and have posted segments of it on my Facebook page. This writing is intended to help me figure out the meaning and direction of my life and to decide on the focus for how I spend the rest of my days in ways that are profitable for God’s kingdom, for my children and grandchildren, and for my community from local to global. Annie Dillard says that “original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds.” I believe this to be true of both writing and life. I cannot foresee the end result, but am content with that for I also know that all I do and will do is written in God’s book. That’s the writing that counts.