Finding Something to Write About

Sometimes I struggle to find inspiration. This blog is pretty sparse on entries because of it. Sometimes months go by without a post and I don’t even think of the blog at all. Sometimes I work on my fiction instead, because the topics I think of to write about are too complex or hot-button, and I don’t have the patience to write about them thoughtfully yet.

I’ve only rarely forced myself to write a post, and considering the paucity of my blog, it shows. So now, I’m trying to post with more frequency, even if I can’t think of anything to write about. It’s like trying to squeeze water from a stone at the moment.

But you can’t wait around for inspiration, especially if you want to grow as a writer. Do you think Stephen King or John Green waits around for the muse to strike? No! The writer hunts their muse, constructing elegantly worded traps in hopes that she will find something she likes enough to stay. The writer pushes through the dusty undergrowth of their own mind, searching for the elusive muse, the light-footed white hart.

The touch of magic that changes a collection of words into a story or an article. The unifying theme, the flash of the divine. If you have to look for it, it’ll be almost impossible to find.

Frustratingly, I often begin writing projects only to run out of steam halfway through and I’m unable to finish. Inspiration strikes like a hit and run and leaves me with half a story. It’s like waking up from a dream you wanted to finish, but when you go back to sleep, it’s gone. Even if you try to remember it, the flow of it, you don’t know where it was headed.

I’m in awe of writers who manage, miraculously, to finish their work, and even more impressive, they’ve done this more than one time. I wish there were some 7-step plan I could follow or guru I could study with in order to be able to do it, too. Unfortunately, it’s not something I can learn in an online course or a seminar class – writing isn’t a skill you can just pick up offhand.

Recently, I was told that if you write, even if it’s just one story, even if you’ve never finished anything, you’re a writer. I would love to consider myself a writer, but I struggle with impostor syndrome when I can’t finish a project, or when I sit for hours and days working on a blog post that feels like it’s never going to come together.

If only I could finish what I start, I imagine my life would be so much easier. I imagine I could write a blog post twice a week – maybe every day. I imagine I could finish a book or a screenplay. I picture my work in print, sitting in the window of a bookshop, or in the discount book bin. I picture a career where I make a living with words, where my writing supports our household.

Maybe one day, I’ll catch and tame the muse, or maybe I’ll realize I don’t need to. Maybe I’ll learn how to call it up at will. One day, I’ll be able to sit down in front of my computer and punch out a blog post or a few pages of a manuscript in a few hours. It’s the hope of someday reaching that reality that keeps me tapping away at my keyboard.

Build Upon the Rock

Do you know what I find odd? The pervasive expectation of fear and persecution in the American church. It fascinates me, because it doesn’t belong there. Particularly as someone who spent 16 years of my life outside of the church, I can’t understand it at all.

When I was a kid, my elementary school had a Halloween festival every year. But one year, we had to change the name to the Fall festival because the PTA didn’t want to associate a school event with Halloween – a pagan festival. I guess just in case the devil himself might think he would be welcome at a Halloween festival but not a Fall festival. We did all the same things, the cake walk, the pumpkin carving, the costumes, even the haunted house! So, what was the point of changing the name of the festival? We all knew what it really was.

In junior high and high school, if you were white and middle class, everyone just assumed you were a Christian. We even had a Fellowship of Christian Athletes in a public school system. Totally acceptable. Everyone called our winter break a Christmas break, students, teachers, administrators – everyone. The major Christian holiday of the year fell right in the middle of our winter break. What if you were Jewish and wanted to celebrate Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur? You had to ask for the day off – which you were entitled to have, but no Christian student ever had to ask for a day off from school to celebrate a religious holiday.

I went to a Christian college, where everyone knew the right answers. If you died today would you go to heaven? Yep. How do you know? Because the blood of Jesus covers my sins. Boom, aced it.

Does everyone mean the words they sing at chapel? Did everyone who shows up in the dining hall dressed for church actually go to church? What does it mean to believe in Jesus at a Christian university? What do you give up for the sake of Christ when the university culture is predominantly Christian?

When I prepared to go to Austin for graduate school, my church warned me about the dangers of attending a secular university. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before, and if you’ve been a young person attending an evangelical church in the US, you’ve probably heard the same thing. The warnings about the “secular culture” and the “worldly temptations” which could “damage your faith.”

I sensed almost an expectation that my faith would be irrevocably harmed and possibly lost in the dangerous world of the secular university. Step back for a moment and consider this: you raise a child in a church environment, send them to Sunday school (back in the day), send them to Vacation Bible School in the summer, teach them the basic tenets of your faith and then send them out to college where you tell them that the temptations they face will be enough to crush the very seeds of faith that you have spent their whole lives cultivating.

Do you know what happened when I came to Austin? I found a community of Christians who had a faith that was build upon the rock. They valued their beliefs because they had to defend them, not just to their non-Christian friends, but to themselves. They found that being surrounded by a culture that did not assume they were Christian caused them to specifically define what they believed and why. They did this for themselves, so they would know where they found their identity and meaning and worth. So when their belief was challenged, they would not be shaken because their faith was build on the rock of Christ.

Now, maybe you know better than to buy into it, but if you look around at the majority of Christian culture here in America, you find a lot of fear. Fear of sending your kids to public school where they might learn that the earth is a few billion years old. What about the book of Genesis? What will that do to their faith?

Fear that your children might learn about sex in a classroom where they are also taught that birth control and condoms can help prevent pregnancy. But won’t that encourage them to have sex? It’s a slippery slope…

Fear that exposure to the biological sciences or a philosophy class, or a liberal roommate, or a Muslim classmate might cause your child to question what they have been taught. God forbid they have to think critically about their faith! What if their beliefs are challenged?

Fear that your Muslim neighbor might be a sleeper agent. Fear that your gay neighbor has some kind of “agenda.” Fear that giving more freedoms to your neighbor who is different from you might take freedoms away from you.

Why is this fear so prevalent in mainstream American Christianity? Don’t we know that perfect love casts out all fear? Don’t we remember that when we build our house on the rock it cannot be shaken by storms or torn down by tempests? Have we forgotten that our faith should be refined by fire, like precious metals?

I have found that my greatest challenges have come not from an outside force, not from a secular idea or from a non-Christian friend, but from my own heart. My faith can only be as strong as I have built it and if it wavers, it’s because I have not maintained it. The “enemy,” as it were, is inside me.

Your enemy is probably also inside of you, and all the insulation that you build up against the secular culture, your neighbors, your co-workers – whoever and whatever you have designated as the enemy in your life – it won’t protect you from the one and only one able to truly challenge your faith.

You.