A few loaves

February 13, 2012

“Writing is like giving away the few loaves and fish one has, trusting that they will multiply in the giving.”

– Henri Nouwen, Reflections on Theological Education (via Luci Shaw’s essay “The Writer’s Notebook”)

Writing wise, this last week was rough. We had to pitch ideas for our semester project in our “Publishing & Being Published” class Thursday, and we were only allowed to say one sentence (a logline, as they call it). I was planning on writing non-fiction essays about my parent’s first couple of years in Africa (I had even begun to interview them), and not at all looking forward to sharing my idea with the class.

For one thing, I know from being at my internship only a week now that personal essays do not sell, because personal essays are not interesting to anyone but the person who is writing them. Fair enough. (Although actually, I love reading personal essays. But I suppose most of the ones I manage to get my hands on–the famous ones–are the exception to the rule.)

The thing is, I really wanted to write these essays. Not because I had anything I wanted to say, and not because I think other people would enjoy reading them, but because when I write, I learn. And I wanted to learn more about my parents, and more about Africa.

But I was terrified to pitch my yet-to-be project, because just the idea of “pitching” gives writing this performance aspect that I find tear-inducing. And so it went badly. (Don’t worry. I didn’t actually cry.  At least in class :)) Not because my teacher was insensitive, but because this is a class about publishing and “the market,” and so I left the studio feeling really weighed down. I felt this enormous pressure to make my piece “worth reading,” and that was never what I wanted it to be about.

And so, after a few hours of panicky, angry thoughts, I decided to switch my project to a less emotionally-charged one. I was too stubborn to consider switching at first, but Christian helped me realize that this just isn’t the environment for the type of project I wanted to do.

I just e-mailed my professor with my new pitch for a novel (a novel that I do not have in me yet, save a few character names), and I am praying that Henri Nouwen is right. I believe he is, and I have found his words above to be true so many times before.

I think it will be good to escape my own inner world for a while, and to enter someone else’s. Of course, I am worried that I won’t have anything to say once I get there, but that’s how writing is supposed to be…not recording, but discovering.

As painter Jasper Johns says,

“I think that most art which begins to make a statement fails to make a statement because the methods used are too schematic or artificial. The final suggestion, the final statement, has to be not a deliberate statement but a helpless statement. It has to be what you can’t avoid saying, not what you set out to say.”

– Jasper Johns, in a 1965 BBC interview