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A Writer’s Faith

I don’t know how many Christians live in Seattle, but most days it feels like there are roughly fourteen of us. On Christmas and Easter, that number can surge to maybe thirty-seven … thirty-eight max.

I’m not a very impressive Christian. I find some people hard to love. I drop f-bombs under duress. I can beat anyone, with the exception of my friend, Robin, in a Mike’s Hard Lemonade chugging contest. Once, when my daughter was two years old and she wouldn’t get in the car and we were late for summer camp at our church (where I was teaching her class), I yelled, “Get in the f-word-ing car NOW!” #ShiningJesus’Love

My faith is the most important part of who I am, but that doesn’t mean it’s always so strong. Because many close friends and relatives don’t share my faith, I frequently find myself questioning and wondering. Doubting too.

There’s quite a lot to question and doubt. Jonah inside the big fish. The virgin birth. The empty tomb. The Garden of Eden. If the Bible didn’t contain so many outrageous stories (and if Christians loved more often than they judged), church pews everywhere might be a little fuller.

But faith requires a big leap. Faith wouldn’t be faith if there were proof. 

Paul, in the New Testament, says faith is being sure of what we hope for and assured by what we cannot see. In spite of the hard-to-believe Bible stories, I am sure of what I hope for and oddly assured by what I can’t see. I don’t know why, but I am.

I have that same, proofless faith in my writing life. I don’t know why, but I do.

We writers need a Writer’s Faith. We must be certain of what we hope for and assured by what we cannot see, especially in the rocky times all writers face. All writers.

A recent rocky time for me? Last week I sent this SOS text to my two writing partners, Bonnie and Janna.

Me: I just lost 4500 words on Scrivener.

Bonnie: Wait, what? I’m coming over.

Janna: Nooooooo. Still in Canada but this is dire. How about backup drive?

Bonnie: Hang on, hang on, I’m sure they’re still there. I’m calling you.

Then my phone rang, and I enlisted Bonnie’s document recovery knowledge and empathy, and, when my husband came home, I asked for his help. It turns out that the computer science degree he earned in 1994 doesn’t much help with a Scrivener bug.

Yes, I use Carbonite as my backup program. Yes, I save as I go. Yes, I poured over the internet trying to find someone who had experienced a similar fiasco (WU’s Rebeca Schiller did a bang-up job trying to help me via a lovely “DON’T PANIC!” Scrivener tutorial post).

No luck. The words were gone. All was lost.

The day before, my daughter had baked a batch of Nutella brownies so I ate two of those, and I reminded myself what I know:

I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, chocolate in my stomach, a good man in my marriage, and I am knitting a sweater.

All will be OK.

Sure, I had lost three precious days of work, but I could recreate it. The scenes were still fresh in my memory.

All will be OK.

But when I sat down to rewrite, I realized the writing I had lost was Stenographer Writing, the kind of writing where you don’t know where the words and the scenes are coming from, where you don’t feel like they are coming from you at all, but you write them down anyway, probably resembling a cranky, bored-looking stenographer on day eighty of a trial about very dull things.

Stenographers don’t create and they don’t edit. They don’t modify, react or respond emotionally. They don’t pay attention to the content of what they write; they only type what they hear. And apparently, they recall very little of what they transcribe.

The 4500 words I had lost were words I had been transcribing on behalf of whatever magical thing inside us generates Story. Or perhaps on behalf of Story itself. I could recall no more than 287 words.

Three days of work. Poof!

I ate another Nutella brownie then I went on LinkedIn and looked for other jobs. When I found none, I got back to work.

Here’s some proof that we all possess a writer’s faith: We don’t like rejection. We write anyway. We know how terribly rare it is to make a living on our fiction. We write anyway. We don’t yet have tangible evidence of roaring success (a published novel to display on the mantle, a fat check to deposit in our bank accounts, a book touted by Oprah). We write anyway.

We choose writing over sleep, over free time, over social opportunities. We keep writing through rejection or losing an agent or being orphaned at a publisher after the unexpected departure of our editor. We keep working on that next book, honing our skills even when the previous books haven’t sold. We persevere even when our first published book tanks, and we can’t seem to get another book deal.

And yes, we are willing to experience all of this for very little (if any) income.

There are no guarantees that the thousands of hours we spend and the billions of words we write will result in a particular goal. We write anyway. Even when we can’t see the next step of the staircase, each of us here is certain of what we hope for.

Does that make us crazy? Yes. As crazy as those who have faith in a supposedly non-fiction book that contains a vignette about a very large ark loaded with pairs of animal? Even crazier. We writers find assurance even in the intangible.

One of the most important aspects of maintaining one’s faith? Community. It is easier to remain faithful when we are in community with others. It’s good, then, that you are here, certainly more than fourteen of you faithful souls, at the Church of WU, where all are welcome.

Will you share? In what situation has your writer’s faith been challenged or sharpened? From where does your writer’s faith come from? What do you do when you feel closer to despair than hope?

Thank you for being here.

About Sarah Callender [1]

Sarah Callender lives in Seattle with her husband, son and daughter. A crummy house-cleaner and terrible at responding to emails in a timely fashion, Sarah chooses instead to focus on her fondness for chocolate and Abe Lincoln. She is working on her third novel while her fab agent pitches the first two to publishers.