Brian's Notes - Part 1

Through the intrepid Jen Lemen (it pays to have friends in high places) Brian has very kindly agreed to an email exchange with me on a short series of questions on writing in general and A Generous Orthodoxy specifically. I'll post one question and answer every couple of days here.

Can you tell us about your writing habits? For instance, are you an avid “journal keeper”?

First, Mike, thanks for the questions. Nobody has ever asked me about these sorts of questions for an "official" interview before. OK - about journaling - I began journaling in my college years (thanks to one of my mentors who suggested I try it, and shared his journal with me). Most of my journaling has been writing prayers, sometimes reflections on Scripture, sometimes poetry or song lyrics as part of my private worship. I'm sure journaling helped my writing a little, but mostly it helped my praying. Of course, maybe praying helps writing most of all!

I've noticed that for the last several years, my journaling has decreased some, although it's still part of me, and I return to it as needed, but not as often as before. I think that writing books has filled a similar function as journal keeping ... helping me think, reflect, process, pray, etc. If journaling was in any way good for my writing, now writing seems to be bad for my journaling!As for my writing habits - I used to be a college writing teacher, and one of the things I'd tell my students is that they needed to find the rhythm of writing that worked for them. Some people write every day - an hour, two hours, or some word-count - a hundred words, a thousand words, whatever. Others go away and write for a week or a month at a time. Others are paralyzed until inspiration hits, which is usually shortly after a deadline has passed.

One of my profs in graduates school - actually, it was my thesis director, a wonderful scholar (Walker Percy's literary confidant) named Lewis Lawson - helped me find my rhythm. He kept asking me for an outline of my thesis, and I kept giving him approximations to an outline, but not a bona fide outline with I's and II's and a.1's and a.2's and so on. Finally one day he said, "It sounds like you just want to go up on stage and sing and see what comes out. Some people are like that - they do their best when they improvise. I think you should just start writing and forget about the outline and see what happens." I had more fun writing that thesis (on Walker Percy by the way - what a writer!) than anything I'd done in school since finger painting in kindergarten. So I'd found my rhythm: just do it. Just let it out. Just start and see what happens.

So that's what I do. Of course, I have to submit an outline with each book proposal, but so far, none of my books has ended up exactly as the book proposal outline promised. I go into the project with a problem or a direction or an image or some combination of them all ... and see where it leads.

Thanks Brian!


bobbie said...

great questions mike!

Rick said...

Annie Lamott once told me to write for 2 minutes a day. She said to commit to only two minutes. Some days I write for two minutes and some days I write for 2 hours. Like Brian, she suggested that I not focus on the content a much, just write. One can always re-write.

This is a great blog! Thanks for putting it together.


Sivin Kit said...

Thanks Mike for asking ...and Brian for answering. Personally, I keep a personal journal as well as a blog and discovered both somehow help me pray, think, dream, interact, etc. They are not the same since the journal is obviously very personal and the blog allows for some conversations with others. I haven't gone into writing that much(apart from assigment papers in seminary or for ordination! Did one book review on The Church on the other side for a magazine though.)But, what Brian shared does make me wonder how I'll do it in my upcoming Masters programme :-)or other chances that come by.

Anonymous said...

my experience is cyclical. i'll want to blog for a few months, and then my desires shift toward paper-and-pen journaling, then the unfinished novel calls for reworking for a season. an ecclectic. my writing hero right now is greg garrett, a writing prof from baylor u. his books seem effortless, but come every summer he sequesters himself and pours himself into his current work. (i last heard he was working on another book with ecclesia's chris seay).

-paul soupiset via http://soupiset.typepad.com