Photo credit: Sarah Joslyn of SarsCreative, originally created for SheLoves Magazine.
My friend and fellow writing group partner, Christiana Peterson, invited me to share some thoughts on my current writing projects and writing process. How could I not play? First, take a moment to visit Christiana’s place and read about her process (she’s currently working with words around themes of farming, intentional community living and death – so you don’t want to miss out on any of those ideas!)
1. What are you working on?
I am currently writing a practical theology of adoption. This project weaves together my own stories of adoption, a theological framework for adoption, discussion of the formative aspects of adopted living and ends with a personal declaration of where adoption fits within salvation history. In many ways this is my story and also how I’ve come to articulate it – which is through the biblical text and the ever-present Spirit.
But I do believe this work serves as more than just my personal memoir. I hope this will be an offering to all those touched by the goodness of adoption – with fresh language for what to us is a sacrament and spiritual formation, with a more comprehensive conversation about where our adoptive story fits within the stories of Scripture and encouragement to embrace the full range of adoptive gestures and those included in our tribe. I also hope the community at large will see how adopted ones contribute unique gifts to families, churches and communities. It’s no small task…
Right now I am at the halfway mark – I think!
2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?
Where to begin? The current crop of books that tackle adoption from a Biblical perspective offer a very different description of both adoption and Scriptures related to it. The leading books are written by men, some adoptive fathers, most with conservative theological commitments. I imagine you already see some of my distinctive features!
I write as a woman, as an adoptive mother, as a person who lives between mainline and progressive communities (and comes from a conservative family). I write as bi-cultural parent. I write as one experienced in both domestic and international adoption.
But most distinctive might be the fact that I write as an adopted person with 40+ years of tenure in the company of the adopted. I write from inside adoption as one shaped by it and conversant in its nuances and complexities and stunning goodness.
But I do also write with a different sense of where adoption is connected to the Biblical narrative. I do not see it as connected to evangelism, mission or primarily as an antidote to abortion in a political climate. I see it within the bigger story – where adoption finds true congruence in both Old Testament and New Testament alike. I’m tempted to share more… but you’ll just have to wait for the book!
3. Why do you write what you do?
I write about more than adoption. I love to write about jubilee, justice, hope and the prophetic goodness and challenges I see in Isaiah, Micah and Jesus. I write about community development, stories of hope I uncover in my bi-continental life, the ordinary things and favorite Biblical texts along the way.
I write to discover truths more deeply. I do it to witness to my own development or call out my own blind spots. I do it to cultivate authentic community with others wrestling with similar ideas, stories and questions. I write to encourage deeper transformation within myself and (if God allows) within others.
4. How does your writing process work?
I write in a journal daily – or nearly so. This is a spiritual practice for me and has been formative for, dare I say, decades. So many seeds are deposited in the soil of these blue-lines pages.
I am a firm believer in free-writes as a vital part of the creative process. I do multiple free-writes each week, always on Friday mornings, and turn to this mode of writing when I’m at an impasse. The best advice to those uninitiated in the mechanisms of the free-write – go get Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones at once! (True story: I started writing the adoption project in the margins of this book.)
When I sit to write, I begin by lighting candles to hallow the space and create a hedge of sorts. The candles are lit with a prayer, inviting God to be present in the work I’m about to begin. The flickering candles remind me to stay attentive to the work – aware God answers and is near to me as I write. The sight of the orange flames out of the corner of my wandering eye corral my thoughts, bring me back to the holy task at hand. I also am less likely to roam about the house with candles burning in my writing space!
I use lots of paper and spill copious amounts of ink when I’m working. I have huge sheets of paper when sketching ideas and connections or outlining sections of chapters. Actually, I use as a tablet paper intended to be desk pads. I have two side by side to give me about 60 inches of writing space. I also have a basket of various colors and sizes of post-it notes to annotate and color code along the way. Writing for me is a very concrete practice – I need to feel the pen in my hand and the surge of words skipping across the page like a rock across the surface of a lake. I need to shape the letters, write word clusters, see the written words and allow connections to rise to the surface on the paper. I’m very tactile when it comes to my writing… (This is the reason I’m committed to making my kids practice their penmanship all summer long, every summer. If they become writers, I want them to have the ability to write fast across the page and feel the creativity at work in their very body.)
When I do get stymied, there are a few things I do.
- Always free-write.
- Stand in my living room and begin preaching. Standing as if before an audience and speaking extemporaneously often dislodges whatever was stuck. The words I hunted around for on the paper seem to come out of my mouth when I imagine myself preaching.
- And sometimes I need music to help. I always start in quiet, but if that isn’t working I find music to set a different mood. I love Strauss waltzes to pick up the pace, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to mimic my inner intensity or Ottmar Leibert’s flamenco guitar to offer a subtle melody to encourage a more gentle flow. There have been times I’ve need a song by Sting to help me get into the scene, Under the Desert Moon helping me feel the movement of the Nile River as I write about Moses, Desert Rose with its riffs in Arabic to pull me closer to the tenor of the Middle East as I try to describe the region – you get the picture. U2 and John Lennon have also come to my aid in recent months!
I do move from journal to free-write to outlines and then on to typing the words into the actual document. As I tell my husband, what I really need to write is space and snacks. (They have to be snacks that don’t leave any residue on your fingers, though, because no one wants sticky fingers on the keyboard or slippery ones trying to grasp a pen!)
Now it is my turn to tag a couple of friends to share their writing process, and I turn to an actual couple that I met through Deeper Story. I invite Seth and Amber Haines. Both are talented southern writers given to poetry and lyrical prose, words written with tenderness and acute accuracy, metaphors that penetrate and thoughts that plunge deep. How do they do that? What funds their imagination and draws out their poetic voice? I want to know more…