On Faith: Trust the Pen
Image by Kelly Sikkema
I’m not religious, not even a smidge. Maybe that’s why it freaks me out that writing requires some amount of faith.
Or (more likely), maybe all of us writers can get spooked when facing down a blank page. We’re never sure, before we write, if our words will work or not. It feels outside of our control.
Of course, there’s plenty we can control about our writing.
We can measure: how many words we write a day, how many hours we work, how many books we read, how many connections we make.
We can systemize: where we write, when we write, how we edit, when we get feedback and how much and from whom.
We can study: craft, practice, punctuation, publishing.
But does any of that mean we’ll actually produce something good?
Nothing guarantees that.
We’ve just gotta have faith, and try.
Sure, all those measurements and systems and knowledge are valuable. They mean we’ll produce something instead of nothing, which is a worthy baseline goal. And they probably mean that, on average, we’re a better writer today than we were yesterday. But averages don’t help me right now, a pen hovering over my notebook, or my fingers poised above my keyboard.
Am I going to be good today, I wonder? Can I tap into that magic right now? These next words that are going to unfurl from my pen, or scamper across my screen—are they going to matter in some way?
No one knows.
Even more harrowing: is this piece I’m working on any good at all? Have all the hours I’ve put in made it better, or am I just picking at a scab?
No one knows.
Image by Klim Musalimov
Without being melodramatic (okay, yes, being melodramatic), writing is stepping forward into darkness, not knowing if you’ll find firm ground at all, let alone a path, let alone a worthy destination at the end of that path. The lantern that lights your way could go out at any moment. Sometimes—maybe even most times—your writing moves along fluidly; but you worry that if you think too hard about how and why, your engine could sputter, and you might never get it going again.
Why does this matter so much? Why is it so scary, despite all the conditions we build around our writing, that we just don’t know whether it’ll be a good writing day or a bad one? Whether we’re chasing our dream or chasing our tail? No one really cares, do they?
Well… I care.
I care that this talent I have will continue to spark; that if I follow my systems, measure my output, and study from the masters, then I will improve; that time and effort and thought will alchemize into something I can believe in. That, if not today, if not every day, then at least most days I’ll be able to tap into the literary ichor that powers good storytelling. That I can perform that magic trick of all great writers, to transform scratch-marks on a page into richly imagined worlds.
We can all probably remember a time when we crept into the dark waters of a story and struggled in cold, lifeless depths. When we got lost in the woods or stuck at a brick wall. When every sentence landed like a sandbag. When our brains couldn’t think past clichés.
But think about the other times, too: when your characters have surprised you or made you laugh out loud. When you started one thing and it turned out to be a different, much more interesting thing. When you showed up to write when you really didn’t feel like it and still produced readable prose. When your words moved someone to tears.
As writers, what we have to believe is that every day can be a good day. This possibility can keep you going a long time.
It just takes a little faith. 💚