Brian's Notes - Part 2
How do you balance your hectic travel and speaking schedule, not to mention your pastoral responsibilities, with the task of writing a book. Do you have a discipline, or do you write a little “here and there” when you have the chance?
I love to write, so I don't have to discipline myself to do it. I think I get the same enjoyment from writing that some people get from playing golf or gambling or eating chicken wings or building multinational corporations. So I write whenever I can. I grab an hour on a plane or in a hotel, or I get up early or stay up late. Sometimes I indulge in a whole day - maybe starting at 7 in the morning and writing until midnight. The time flies. I write fast and then revise like crazy. I also throw away a lot of stuff. Of course - I just went to Amazon and read the first posted review for A Generous Orthodoxy - clearly some people wish I'd throw away a lot more!
When I travel, I give talks that often turn into chapters in books. The traveling and speaking gives me a chance to field test stuff. The Q & A sessions, the push-backs, the conversations over meals or in elevators all help me know what's working, what's not, what's important, what's less so.
Being a pastor also nourishes my writing. I have a conversation with someone ... I get an angry email after a sermon ... I have to deal with a tough counseling situation ... I'm thrown in the deep end of real life ... I have someone misunderstand me or spread a boatload of gossip about me, and I need to work it out with them ... I hurt someone, or say the wrong thing, or forget something I should have remembered ... it all helps me keep it real. It would be very easy to catch the talking head disease. Being part of a local church is a good vaccination.
There's a lot of suffering in pastoral ministry, along with a lot of joy. Plus you hear and intersect with so many, many stories of real people. All of that can't help but enrich the writing process.
Sometimes writing is like vision - if you look directly at something, it's hard to see. Sometimes your best vision is peripheral vision. So sometimes, pastoral ministry distracts me from whatever it is I'm writing about - distracts me in a good way, so I'm not looking directly at it. I focus on something else - today it was a wedding, last week it was going to court with a juvenile offender and his family, tomorrow it might be a funeral - and insight sneaks into my peripheral vision to help me write. I'm rambling - but I hope that's helpful in some way.
Before we go on to the next question, I should add that I think preaching has helped me in my writing as much as anything else. The weekly practice of crafting sermons always forces me to think of how sentences feel in the throat and mouth and ear ... their rhythm, their punch, their poetry, their pitch. The best writing, I think, is always connected by a very sensitive nerve to the vocal cords.
Also, preaching keeps me engaged deeply with the Bible each week, more deeply than if I were just reading it for myself. Any writer who pays close attention to the Bible (for its storylines, for its agonizing ambiguities and polyvalence, for its bizarre and beautiful detail) can't help but be stimulated and stretched and inspired.