Of writing and making meaning

Every week I feel a hum of anxiety around Thursday or Friday….”what am I going to write about this week?” Usually by Friday an idea is forming — an image, a topic, or the sharing of an experience. On Saturday I put words on the page. Sunday is for revising, slashing, and rewriting in order to form a cohesive draft before I fine-tune on Monday morning and finally click “publish”.

Last weekend, I dug out a months-old draft and decided to carry it to completion. I wrote most of the day Saturday — drafting and deleting, writing and revising. By Sunday morning, I had a completed draft. I felt I was about ready to post, so I clicked on the “preview” button at the top of my draft. A dialog box popped up:

I paused, and thinking my most recent changes were the only portion that was unsaved, I took a quick snapshot of the last three paragraphs, and then ‘proceeded’.

To my shock and horror, I lost much more than the last few paragraphs. I lost most of my draft. Because we’d been without power at our home, I had changed locations twice over the weekend, connecting to different internet sources, and had apparently failed to save all of my changes during several hours of drafting the previous day. I fumbled and clicked around the WordPress platform trying to find what I’d lost, but it was all gone.

This Sunday morning, I started with nothing. I had no topic or image on Friday, no drafting on Saturday, not one word on the page at 8:15am. So, rather than staring at a blank screen waiting for inspiration, I just started typing, because that’s what I tell my students, “Don’t just sit there — write something!”

I’m writing from the coffee house at our church while my husband stands one floor above me in the sanctuary, delivering a message about storytelling and how we attach meaning to the events in our lives. He puts a graphic on the screen something like this:

Experience —> Story —–> Feel/Act

He, the therapist (and educator and pastor) explains that all humans have experiences, they tell stories about those experiences, and the stories they choose to tell direct the feelings and actions that grow from those experiences. The stories we tell about our experiences are where we find meaning.

And I realize that I just told you a story about my experience with with my writing last weekend. And I’m starting to tell you a story about my experience with writing this weekend. I’m trying to find some meaning here.

A few times in the past several months, I have come to the keys frustrated — about events that to me seem unjust, inhumane, misdirected, and born of ill motive. On those days, my fingers can barely keep up with the words as they throw themselves onto the page. I dump that draft and then come back later to soften, to add complexity, to explore my feelings, and to find the meaning buried in my messy spill of words.

Other times, when I’m more contemplative, my writing feels like a letter to a friend, a telling of the truths of my life, longing for a listener who will resonate, someone who will say, “Mhmm, I get that.” My fingers move slowly, words coming from my heart and my guts rather than my mind. Often through tears I work to translate emotion into print, to share my story, to create meaning out of pain, joy, sadness, or celebration.

Sometimes I battle thoughts of insecurity, “Why do you think anyone would want to read anything that you write?” Or, fear that I will offend, “Yikes, do you really want to say that? What will your family think? your friends? the people at church?” Or that I will share something too dear and personal for those that I love the most, “Is this story really mine to tell?”

In those moments, I come back to my motive. Why do I write? I write because whenever I put words on the page something shifts for me. As the words form themselves into sentences and paragraphs, meaning takes shape. The shift is subtle. I can’t always tell that it’s happening, but it always does.

Even in my re-telling of last weekend’s lost draft, I see the variety of stories I had the opportunity to tell, I could’ve said, “Sorry, guys, I had an excellent draft, but I lost it. I’ll try again next week.” And certainly the world would’ve kept turning. Or, I could’ve told the story of what an idiot I am — how could I make such a careless mistake? WordPress even warned me! Instead, in the moment, I chose a different way: I gathered myself, and began step by step to rebuild what I’d lost, telling myself over and over, “You can do this. You are not finished. The thoughts that were true in the first draft will find their way onto the second draft. Do not give up.”

I had an experience, I told myself the story of persistence, and I was able, through my frustration, to rewrite the post. All 1400 words of it.

And in coming to the keys this week, having no topic in mind at all, and telling the story of that experience, I have discovered that writing about my process of writing is really writing about more than just that. As I sit in the coffee shop below the sanctuary where my husband is preaching about Jesus’ storytelling and His way of making meaning, I’m being prepared for when I will join him for the second service to take in the meaning he’s been making.

He’s been pouring over scripture, writing his own thoughts, creating the slides that appear on the screen behind him, and practicing his delivery. He’s been staying late at the office, getting up early in the morning, and reviewing his notes as he lies next to me before falling asleep each night.

He, all week, has been putting words onto a page, watching them form into sentences and paragraphs, and, he’s been writing stories, and, in the process, has been making meaning.

I can’t speak for him and how his process works, but I can tell you how it happens for me. Never do I know, when I first sit down, what I will ultimately say in my writing. I come to the page and write about what I have experienced. I share my stories and am often surprised by what I learn as I draft, re-read, revise, and edit. I pay attention to what I keep and what I toss — what resonates and what is dross.

And usually, I discover that the pieces of life that I’ve put on the page have somehow transformed into meaning. It’s as though the experiences have been crafted, or at least allowed, by a Creator who delights in story. The one who wrote us into His own story — imagine it! — allows us the time and space to experience our own stories. He invites us to see the intersections, the co-existence, the interconnectedness — to find meaning.

A lost draft becomes an opportunity to build resiliency. An empty page offers a time to reflect. An hour in a coffee shop becomes a necessary pause — a chance to write and see the making of meaning.

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

Matthew 7:7

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One thought on “Of writing and making meaning

  1. Dross has a word use in the sentence below – maybe you can find the “bargains” from your “molten metal” sheen

    dross
    /drôs,dräs/
    Learn to pronounce
    noun
    something regarded as worthless; rubbish.
    “there are bargains if you have the patience to sift through the dross”
    synonyms: rubbish, junk, debris, chaff, draff, detritus, flotsam and jetsam; More
    foreign matter, dregs, or mineral waste, in particular scum formed on the surface of molten metal.

    Like

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