Saturday, May 18, 2013

Writing and the Instrumentality of Love

I have had the privilege over the last couple of days of participating in a conference on Christianity and Literature at Azusa Pacific University. I’m a bit out of my league here, among experienced teachers of literature, published poets, and writers whose books are celebrated by the universities where they serve. Most of these folks are professionals.

I, however, am an amateur.

I’m not being self-deprecating here. It’s just a distinction. The word amateur comes from the Latin word amator, meaning lover. Amateurs do certain things for the love of it.

Professionals actually get paid.

Anne Lamott, in her excellent book Bird by Bird, talks about teaching writing courses, and how frequently her students’ first questions are about getting published. She says that she tells them they must start in a different place—they must first love writing.

My wife is a quilter. She’s never made any money at it (just like with my writing. (Hmmm. Maybe we have a trend here), but she feels compelled to start a new project as soon as she finishes one. For the most part, she gives her quilts away. She doesn’t seem to care about the potential profitability of her work. She just loves to do it, and the love compels her to remain engaged with the creative process.

Writing can be like that. You labor over an article, a short story, a book, digging for phrases, juggling words like roaring chainsaws (like I just did), rewriting, rewriting again, wrestling with edits, and then submitting the finished manuscript to a publisher who will take a risk with you.

And then you start again.

You start again because there is another idea, another What if? that needles your brain until you start putting fingers to keys in order to make the transfer from head to readable language. It’s painful and frustrating and agonizing.

But you end up loving it.

Many of us have a tendency to want everything to be instrumental—to be for something. We want what we do to have a purpose beyond itself. That’s okay in some areas of life, but in others there needs to be a love for the thing itself.

There’s a phrase in the Bible that often haunts me: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us . . .” (1 John 4:10)

We can try to make love instrumental. We want our love for someone else to be for another purpose—in order to get something in return, in order to be appreciated, and so on. Our love for God, however, appears to lack instrumentality. It’s not unimportant, but it is secondary at best to God’s love for us, which precedes any love we can possibly drum up (or, should I have said, any love up which we can possibly drum? Now I’m in agony again). God’s love doesn’t appear to be instrumental. God doesn’t love so that something else will happen. God loves. If God’s love were instrumental then I would behave better than I do.

There are probably other reasons why we do the things we love. Underneath our passions for our avocations are undoubtedly all kinds of insecurities and desires. That’s alright with me—none of us come to the table with clean hands. But that doesn’t mean we can’t grow into the love of the thing itself.

I must confess that I do hope that one of my books will hit the big time. When you write, you really do want to be appreciated and recognized for your work. But, lacking such recognition, I hope the love remains.


Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful post!

Mike McNichols said...

Thanks, Lise.