Learning to Listen

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I’ve always thought real writers walk around with stories whirling in their brains begging to come out. They write because they can’t not write. But this has never been true of me.

I thought writers studied writing in college and wrote their entire lives. This wasn’t true of me either. I was a late starter

A few years ago, I heard a radio interview with a sixty-year-old man who swam the English Channel. He said that every year he tried to do something he had never done before, and that idea hit me like a sledgehammer. This man, who was about the same as age me, was taking risks and doing new things. What was I doing?

Around that time, I heard Andrew Osenga’s song “The Ball Game.”

Here’s the chorus:

This is not a ball game
It’s not a school play
It’s not a book that lets you bend a page
This is the one life
These are the passing days
I don’t want to look back and see I’ve wasted

The lyrics scared me. Did I have a talent I was wasting?

Another song that impacted me was “Unwritten,”

by Natasha Bedingfield. She sang: 

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

I interpreted that song both metaphorically and literally.

Metaphorically: She was describing my life, being lived in the fearful mundane. I needed to open the windows—dirty with disuse—and taste, touch, smell, hear, and see real life with its risks and rewards.

Literally: Did I have an unwritten book or blog in me waiting to come out? Did I have words that someone might need—words that only I could say? The negative voices told me it was foolish to think anyone would read something I write. But another voice told me that at least I could try. I even had a title that popped into my head: Life Lessons from a Slow Learner.

I decided to join the writers’ group at church. We had writing lessons and assignments. Our leader gave us badly written sentences to improve upon. She brought published writers to speak to our group. We critiqued each others’ work. The accountability of a monthly meeting kept me at it, and I loved it. I went to a writers’ conference and had a consultation with one of the speakers. She read some of my pieces, pointed at me and said, “You are a devotional writer,” which thrilled me.

One turning point was the first Hutchmoot, during a panel discussion of art and community. One of the panelists said that the idea that you write because you can’t not write was nonsense (actually, the word he used was a euphemism for steer excrement!). That statement freed me so much, to hear a real writer say that they don’t automatically have stories pouring out. He said that writers need community for encouragement, inspiration, and sharpening. All the panelists said they had to show up at their writing table and do the hard work of creating.

After several years, the writers’ group took a hiatus, and my writing did too. But last year I attended the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference, and that prompted a flurry of writing, editing, and rewriting. The conference spurred me on to pursue writing again, but it was short-lived. I’m going again this fall.

I’m learning (slowly, remember?) that I’m not too old to start using (or trying out) a talent. It’s not too late, and I don’t want to keep procrastinating, because I don’t know how long I have left to practice and hone the discipline.

I believe God has used all these experiences and people to call me to write.

Maybe I’m finally learning to listen.


7 Comments

  1. Helena

    Sharon, thank you for your honesty! I often feel the same. I didn’t get a degree in creative writing, didn’t start writing seriously until I was 30. If we allow ourselves, we can walk around under the shadow of the lie that everyone else knows something we don’t, has talent we’ll never possess, and got on the ball long before we even woke up to our gifts and desires. Some writers would like us to believe those lies. They are insecure (boy, do I get that), and their insecurity leads them to hole up in exclusivity. How delightful that the RR folks don’t behave that way. They’re open about the difficulties of the creative journey, and they are wise enough to know that it is never too late.

  2. Lisa Smith

    We are kindred spirits! I didn’t start writing until I turned 40, which was a watershed year for me in many ways. I am a slow learner, too. But keep plugging away, and you will get there (wherever “there” is for you). Now, 16 years later, I am hopefully self-publishing a book sometime in the next 12 months. And I’ve loved every bit of the writing journey, so even though I don’t have a lot of publication credentials to my name, it’s okay. God is good.

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