Every once in a while, I have trouble sleeping at night. When that happens other than as a result of intake of caffeine too late in the day, I often find that I have something in my brain that I have to get out before I can fully rest, so I usually get out of bed and start journalling, at which point I typically realize by processing through writing what it is that has been keeping me awake. Last night, I realized that part of what I was processing was the question of creativity and writing and how this all fit, so it made sense to write this next installment of my journey in Lent about my vocation of communications.
As I have had several people observe to me over the past two years, I write a lot and I have been writing for a long time. I'm always taken a bit aback at first when people make that observation, but then I realize just how abnormal it is that I: 1. Write in a public forum regularly; 2. Have a two-decade long history of being publicly published in various media; and 3. Write well enough that people want to keep reading what I'm writing.
I still find myself somewhat flabbergasted when I discover that people seek me out and are deliberate in paying attention to what I say. It's not that I feel as though what I say is not worth the attention or that I do not think that the quality of my writing does not deserve said attention (lack of confidence was never my shortcoming, after all); it's more a sense of genuine surprise and honour that, out of all of the many many voices writing things on the internet, people would choose to spend their time and energy reading what I am writing.
I know I have spent a fair amount of time throughout the history of my blog writing about myself as a writer (most recently in May 2016), so I am trying not repeat myself (even though I recognize that as an almost inevitable likelihood at this point given the sheer volume of material I have produced over the years), but I do think that it is worthwhile for me to look at some of my history as a writer in order to consider where I am at now.
A writer's history
I guess I have almost always been a writer, though I rarely would have characterized myself as such. I do not remember writing much when I was a kid, but I also don't remember a time when I did not have an advanced vocabulary; I was reading books by the age of three, and by the time I was in Grade 5, I had the equivalent vocabulary of a first-year university student. I suppose when you do all that reading that it has to come out somehow, so I was a fairly early adopter in terms of writing.
I started writing for my high school newspaper, The Spark, in Grade 9, and I was part of the editing team soon thereafter. I learned a lot about myself as a writer in those years writing for an audience of a thousand peers, and I'm still proud of the work that I produced, especially in my Grade 12 year when I served as editor. It seems quaint now, especially in the age of the internet, to have written some of the pieces that I wrote at the time in the way that I wrote them then, but it was all part of my journey, and I realize now just how much each of those experiences - like interviewing Wide Mouth Mason or interviewing and writing the excerpt for the special guest for BRIT, our school's popular basketball tournament - helped shape me as a writer.
My initial plan upon leaving high school was actually to be a journalist. At that point in my life, my plan was to enter the world of sports writing and to perhaps be the next Ron MacLean, although now I imagine that I would be more like Sean McIndoe of Down Goes Brown, one of the few hockey writers I still actually follow. In retrospect, I'm not that disappointed that I did not pursue that path, though there is always a small part of me that wonders what the life of a sportswriter might have been, though I suspect that I would not have been satisfied with my life's work had that been my primary focus.
I continued to be involved with the student press when I started at university, both as an editor and as a writer, and I found that I still had an outlet for my ideas. I decided not to pursue journalism as a career at the point at which I recognized that the internet was going to be a tool that I could use for channeling my interests and skills as a writer. Self-publishing through zines and blogs and independent sites was on the rise around 2001, and I quickly realized that anything that I wanted to accomplish as a writer I could do on my own and that the established channels of journalism might actually take away from those possibilities in my future.
I kept on with my work for the school paper, particularly in the areas of Arts and Opinions, and I continued to hone my sense of voice and self. Blogging provided an additional outlet for me in my last few years of writing for the student press, and it still serves a purpose for me today (more on that to come). I occasionally sought other avenues to publish my writing after I finished school, most of which I was able to access through various contacts I had established over the previous seven years. I wrote a couple of articles for Patrol Mag (which is apparently now defunct), and I had one article I wrote about the 2006 TMNT movie published by Relevant Magazine in their "Dailies" section, and I was even published in The Saskatchewan Book of Everything.
But I was also attempting to start a teaching career and get married, so writing took a back seat for several years. Sure, I had a few spikes in my interest and production on my blog (particularly in 2009, the only year to date in which I have neither started nor ended a teaching contract) in those years, but most of my attention went elsewhere; in addition to teaching and marriage, I had constant career changes, church leadership, directing summer camps, and board games that took up a lot of my attention, so writing became less significant as a part of my life. It never left completely, but it was definitely a lot less prominent for a number of years.
That brings me to the present, in which I have been blogging at a furious pace over the past eighteen months: since October 2015, when I really started up again after about eighteen months in which I had been less productive, I have posted 128 times, good for just over 21 times per quarter and an average of a post every 4.28 days - numbers that do not include the forty-or-so posts that are sitting in my drafts folder in some semi-completed form.
The question I am seeking to answer in this season, then, is how does writing fit in as a vocation in my life? Or, perhaps more accurately, is it still vocational, or is it just a hobby that takes up a lot of time at this point? It's a question that has been plaguing me for the past month, and although I'm not sure I'm much closer to an answer, I think it is still worthwhile to examine where I am at now.
My blog is admittedly a mish-mash of styles, subjects, and ideas, and it has been for most of the past decade. Sure, I had some avenues to siphon off some aspects of my writing, but since 2007, it has mostly all ended up here in a big jumble, so I thought I would start this part of my journey by sorting through the morass of topics that have come to make up my scattered consciousness online.
As I can see it, there are a number of different kinds of posts that I publish, some of which I would barely qualify as "writing", as they end up feeling more like BuzzFeed listicles than pieces with any actual analysis or deeper meaning. As I looked through my history - these past eighteen months particularly - I found ten different general ways to categorize the posts that I write.
1. Board games (mostly stats on games I have played and lists of games)
2. Sports predictions and reflections
3. Commentaries and/or opinion pieces on current events and/or politics
4. Commentaries/reviews/opinion pieces on pop culture (music, movies, TV, video games, etc.)
5. Pop culture lists and contextualizations of various canons (authors, works, media)
6. Expressions of thoughts on issues of church, faith, and theology
7. Personal processing
8. Biographical explorations
9. Vocational explorations
10. Random blatherskyte (shout-out to all you Darkwing Duck fans out there)
The first thing that really sticks out to me is that there are some very different categories included on that list, some of which have been more common at different points in my blogging history. There is, of course, a lot of overlap in and amongst those categories, as most of my personal processing also involves some kind of hook with pop culture and/or current events and/or one of my other hobbies, but it's a long way from serious theological discussions to lists of board games (or perhaps not as far, considering how many pastors there seem to be within the worlds of board game reviewing and design).
There are some general groups into which sets of categories could be placed - personal explorations, commentaries, lists, faith, and hobbies, perhaps - but when I break it down into these ten categories, it seems fairly clear that I am lacking focus and vision in my blog; it seems mostly to function as a repository for whatever I am thinking about and feeling the need to communicate at any given time, which makes sense, since that was my original purpose for my blog back in 2004 - a place to publish the things I was thinking about but that did not really belong in one of those other avenues.
I still wonder whether some of these subjects are best left for other fora or forms of media - topical blogs or sites to which I could contribute, or podcasts, for example. Though I have often considered either finding or establishing other places to divert some of those various categories, I have also wondered whether it is worth it to maintain that many different channels online, but I suppose I will continue to have these kinds of internal debates until I finally resolve them - a statement that is certainly tautological, though I'm not sure that it loses much meaning as a result.
I find it really difficult sometimes to have all of these parts of myself combined in one place and I feel unfocused and unable to process what I "need" to write. Sometimes, I recognize that my drive is to write something more diversionary, like the recent week in which I focused on the Oscars and the Nintendo Switch, but sometimes it's much deeper and more meaningful, like this series of posts. As much as I have struggled and continue to have to work through the juxtaposition of all of these types of writing, however, I recognize that they are all here and that they are all a part of me, for better or for worse, and that this blog reflects that fact.
There are a few ways in which I am seeking to solve this seemingly never-ending internal conflict. I am looking to diffuse some of my interests into different platforms; for example, I'm currently working on launching a separate site through which I can process most of my board game geekery. That still leaves me here, of course, with a combination of random thoughts on sports and current events, various pop culture thoughts, and assorted personal reflections. (I had initially started to write a section for this post on my pop culture writing and habits, but I think that it will be best left for another post, considering the already sizeable scope of what I had started writing.)
I have found, however, that my current circumstances and method of blogging have not been naturally adaptable to the kind of confessional long-form writing in which I have expressed interest over the past decade. I have had an idea for a book for seven years and a title for at least four of those, but aside from a couple of fits and starts, I have not made progress on either that book or the ideas that I have had since. I do believe that I will be able to repurpose some of the things that I have written on my blog over the years, but I also know that the process of writing individual blog posts is far different from the kind of sustained focus that is necessary in order to write a full book that has thematic through lines.
This is all to say that it feels as though I need to make a decision as to what I want to do with my vocation as a writer. I could pursue the type of writing that I have wanted to do for years and really press into what that might mean for me, particularly in light of a possible future as a career, but I am honestly not sure that I want to make the kinds of sacrifices of sleep or other hobbies that seem like they would be necessary to make that happen, and maybe that's where it ends for me - after all, if I'm not willing to do what I need to do to be a writer, maybe I'm not going to be a writer.
Then again, maybe there are ways to make this writing vocation work. Maybe it's as "simple" as waking up half an hour earlier and using that time to do the kind of writing that is difficult to do during the day. Maybe it's more complex, though, like having to make some hard decisions about reducing the other kinds of writing that are taking up my time and energy. It's really hard to say, though I do feel as though I am at a point at which I need to take some steps either toward pursuing writing or toward continuing to see it as more of a hobby than a vocation.
I will say, however, that I do feel (again) as though I have a renewed interest in investing in myself as a writer, and I am (again) interested to explore what it might mean to be more intentional about that different style of writing. I'm not sure that this Lenten journey will result in the kind of final decision that I had at one point hoped it might, but I'm certainly not discouraged by the progress that I have made in this area of my vocation over the past month.
I recently read through both of Glennon Doyle Melton's books, and though I have mixed opinions on their total effectiveness, I did find this quotation that really stuck out to me about writing in her first book, Carry On, Warrior, so I leave it here as a sort of benediction for this post and an encouragement to myself and to fellow writers.
"If, anywhere in your soul, you feel the desire to write, please write. Write as a gift to yourself and others. Everyone has a story to tell. Writing is not about creating tidy paragraphs that sound lovely or choosing the “right” worlds. It’s just about noticing who you are and noticing life and sharing what you notice. When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less alone. And if you’re a really, really bad writer, then it might be most important for you to write because your writing might free other really, really bad writers to have a go at it anyway…. If you feel something calling you to dance or write or paint or sing, please refuse to worry about whether you’re good enough. Just do it. Be generous. Offer a gift to the world that no one else can offer: yourself." (25)
I could not have said it better myself. For now, I'm writing as a gift to myself and hopefully for others, and I hope that there is some part of what I write that brings out truth. There's something invigorating about writing, even if it seems like it's a relatively meaningless topic at the time, and there's a sense of life and purpose that I derive from my expository exploits. I do not know what my writing will look like in the future - whether it will stay as it is or whether it will become more vocational - but I am always going to be a writer, period.