Discover more from Once A Week
Prayerless Words and the Leaking Writing Life
Sometimes as a writer I encounter various forms of writer’s block. It comes in different forms and sizes, but it often helps to write about the writer’s block even if I can’t write anything else. I had to do that this week for myself, but I thought it worth sharing my process with you as well. This is a bit of a detour from my normal Theology & Therapy newsletters; perhaps of more interest to writers, but hopefully edifying as I myself am edified when other writers share about the joys and sorrows of the craft.
My ideal writing rhythm takes one of two forms. Starting from previously noted article ideas, sometimes I sit for just a few minutes over the weekend or on Monday, jot down some thoughts or bullet sentences, maybe pull down a book or two for research/inspiration, and then spend most of the week just reading and meditating and praying here and there over what I might write. Then when Thursday comes, with my mind and heart full from prayer and meditation, I am ready to knock out an article in one sitting. Or conversely, I might write the piece on Sunday or Monday and then take the rest of the week to edit and refine it. Usually those pieces have already percolated for a while, and having the extra time for editing allows me to really condense and achieve some brevity. The latter usually turn out to be my favorite pieces in which I say the most with the least amount of words.
But now I have a confession to make. Not everything I have shared in these Theology & Therapy Friday newsletters is new. Lately I have been struggling with inspiration and struggling against a recurring temptation to pull out something from my writing archives that hasn’t been published here. Not that I’m violating any kind of copyright, the way that authors ask for permission to put in book form previously published journal articles. There is nothing technically wrong with returning to old pieces, dusting them off, hopefully improving them, and sharing them with a new audience. So why the confession?
Eugene Peterson wrote that
“Writing is not a literary act but spiritual…In writing, I work with words…But not mere words…but words…as carriers of spirit/Spirit. The moment words are used prayerlessly…something essential begins to leak out of life.”1
I do not want to use words prayerlessly. But that is the best way I know to describe my present writing life, especially for my Theology & Therapy posts. And I am feeling something essential leak from my spirit.
Starting my weekly newsletter/blog in January, 2022 was a very helpful challenge for me as a writer. Although artificially imposed, having a deadline to create something new each week became a spiritual discipline. Regardless of readership and reach, writing regularly pushed me to grow as a writer.
That push increased two-fold last October when I started a 2nd weekly newsletter, Thesis 96, in the theme of apologetics for the abused. I have enjoyed writing those articles, as well as the challenge of creating two pieces of writing each week. But I’m at a point where I have to admit it is a bit more than I can chew, and I will be doing a disservice to myself and my readers to continue at that pace just because I started it.
If I am pulling out old unpublished articles simply to meet a deadline or maintain a committed output, then I am no longer writing prayerfully. Instead I am posting something just because I have to rather than writing with a sense of burden, a burning conviction that this is what I wanted to say and not something else. Now, the temptation to recycle old writing has filled the vacuum created by absence of conviction. Going back to old writing isn’t bad in itself, especially if I take the time to truly edit and improve something. But that too is best done slowly and meditatively (for myself at least; I have no idea what it’s like to have a real deadline with money on the line). And that is what I want and need to return to—using words prayerfully so that they are carriers of spirit.
To that end, I will be resuming my former pace of one newsletter per week each Friday, alternating each week between Thesis 96 and Theology & Therapy.
Since October I have also felt like my newsletter title Once a Week has been ironically dishonest with two posts each week, so realigning with my title brings some additional honest relief. Judging by my Substack stats, the two weekly newsletters get about the same percentage of email opens, so I’m grateful you all appear to be reading both Thesis 96 and Theology & Therapy at the same rate. Still, perhaps we’ll all be better off with just one newsletter from Aaron Hann each week. I pray they continue to fulfill my aims for each section: for Theology & Therapy, to encourage, comfort, challenge, and make you think; and for Thesis 96, to equip Christians with biblical and theological resources to better defend and protect the sheep.
Quote from Rainer Maria Rilke
There is only one way. Go into yourself. Examine the reason that bids you to write; check whether it reaches its roots into the deepest region of your heart, admit to yourself whether you would die if it should be denied you to write. This above all: ask yourself in your night’s quietest hour: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if it should be affirmative, if it is given to you to respond to this serious question with a loud and simple ‘I must,’ then construct your life according to this necessity; your life right into its most inconsequential and slightest hour must become a sign and witness of this urge. Then approach nature. Then try, like the first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose.2
The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, by Steven Pressfield.
What is getting in the way of that thing you need to create? I believe we all have something to create simply because God has called us to create it, that thing that testifies to the beauty of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in creation and redemption. It could be a poem, a painting, a song, an organized office, a self-care habit, a hand-whittled spoon, a new meal, or if you’re my unimaginably creative daughter, custom designed, hand-drawn and painted book covers for the Harry Potter set (see pictures below with draft pencil sketches, can’t wait to see how these turn out now that she’s on to painting!). In the front of all of those creative callings lies resistance in various forms. What form does your resistance take? And can you name it and release it to God and to a trusted friend?
“Fyodor Dostoevsky: God and Passion,” in The Classics We’ve Read, The Difference They’ve Made, edited by Philip Yancey (McCracken Press, 1993), p. 27.
Letters to a Young Poet, trans. & ed. by Charlie Louth (Penguin Books, 2011), p. 8.