I’m going to be totally self-indulgent here and go on about my own dilemmas for a bit. I’m at a crossroads with my writing, and I need to figure out which path to take. In such situations, Quakers often form what’s called a “clearness committee,” a small group of good listeners who sit and listen to someone talk about their dilemma. The committee doesn’t give advice, but supports the person by asking questions. I may actually put together a few folks to do this with me in real space, but in the meantime, I decided to write out my dilemma to see how I would explain it to such a group. Since the blogging moms have become a sort of cyber clearness committee for me, I thought I might as well post my dilemma here and see what questions come.
Basically, I have more time now to write than I’ve had in years, and I feel a new energy and sense of mission about my writing. I’ve also felt a lot of joy in the past three weeks as I’ve written articles connecting motherhood and wider social issues. My biggest problem is that I have too many ideas I’m excited about and feel like I could charge off into a big undertaking without “testing the leading first” (which is Quaker jargon for “figure out if this is really what I’m supposed to be doing”).
Here’s some context: I had considered designing more courses to teach at University of the Arts, but at this point I feel clear that I should continue teaching the Apartheid class again in the fall, but no other courses. Other than that, my main work is being available to the kids after 3pm on school days and during the weeks of spring break and much of the summer. We don’t need my income as much as we used to, so I feel free to let go of that consideration and just discern “What am I called to do now?” I also have a sense that I need to think of my writing as service and ask how I can be of the greatest use. This is different than thinking of how I can promote myself. (My agent wants me to “get my name out there” to help sell my book on motherhood.) I have a sense that if I do what I’m supposed to do “way will open” for publication (as Quakers say), but there is part of me that is allured by the idea of a big audience and commercial success. I don’t believe these things are inherently bad, but I know I don’t want them to be ends in themselves. When I look through the glossy magazines and try to think of things to write for them, I never get very far. But almost always when I’ve felt led to write an article, it has gotten published. I have to trust that. On the other hand, I have always felt that my leading as a writer is to make Quaker ideas accessible to a wider, non-Quaker audience. When I look at some of the garbage that gets publicity in our culture, I feel passionate about the need to get alternative viewpoints into the wider culture. This question of how much to pursue an audience and how much to just write away in my little corner of the world is probably the trickiest part for me.
So there are three main options that I can see at present:
1) Focus on writing short pieces, such as articles and blogs. A friend told me yesterday that Momsclub.com (with a readership of 2 million) is asking for mother bloggers to apply to do regular columns. They want five posts per week (5-10 hours?) and will pay $500 per month. I could apply to write for the “Faith and Spirituality” category or the “Making a Difference” category. I’m temped to ask them to call me the “lefty spiritual mom” and make the column about the connections between faith and action. Of course, there are many women who will apply for this opportunity, so all I can really discern here is whether to go for it or not. Who knows if my voice would be right for them.
The exciting things about this option include: the chance to reach a lot more people and make them think about things I care about; the fact that this could potentially help me sell and promote my book; the challenge of having a regular column would keep me writing, which is what I want to do anyway.
The scary things: There would be a pressure to produce that I don’t currently feel. I don’t know if this would help or hinder my writing. I’m also not sure how it would affect parenting during the summer or what would happen when we were on vacation. My biggest fear is that if this isn’t a leading, it could distract me from something else I’m meant to do.
2) Write a book about how we teach our children about race and racism. Last week I wrote an article about this which I’ve sent to a magazine. It poured out of me, and many other ideas came about how to make it into a book, whom to interview, etc. It also connects to my own childhood memories and some of the conflicts I had with my mother, so it’s an issue I’ve been thinking about a lot especially since December, though a concern about racism is not at all new for me. This is the idea that I could most easily launch into right away, though I know from past experiences that sometimes I get great ideas that fizzle after a few weeks. I’m not sure whether I should test the waters by doing a few interviews or just wait to see if the idea lasts. One positive is that there are no books out there similar to what I’m imagining, so hopefully it would be saleable. On the negative side, talking about race is so emotionally difficult that I would feel very vulnerable.
3) Write The Wisdom to Know the Difference. For about ten years I’ve had an idea to write a book about the last line of the serenity prayer. I have a file on my computer and a paper file of relevant articles. I have a sense that I will definitely write this book someday because the idea keeps coming back, but the overall structure is not yet clear to me. It’s a strange mixture of religion, psychology, and politics. I have a sense that this is the book that will reach a wider audience some day, but that I’m not quite ready to write it, despite the encouragement after my blog entry about it. Still, I don’t know if it’s a matter of weeks or years. I’m not sure if I should work on it to see how it feels.
These three options are not mutually exclusive. I could certainly write for a blog and work on a book, though I’ve found that writing a book is much easier when it’s not competing with other things for mental attention. Of course, if the blog entries were related to the book topic, that would help…
I wrote the above this morning at a coffee shop and then headed to Pendle Hill, a spiritual study center founded by Quakers where I used to live. I find this place very centering and thought being here might help me feel clearer. I also love their library and found myself drawn to the books on race. I found a book by Wendell Berry called The Hidden Wound. In the second paragraph, he explains why he feels called to write about racism:
This wound is in me, as complex and deep in my flesh as blood and nerves. I have borne it all my life, with varying degrees of consciousness, but always carefully, always with the most delicate consideration for the pain I would feel if I were somehow forced to acknowledge it. But now I am increasingly aware of the opposite compulsion. I want to know, as fully and exactly as I can, what the wound is and how much I am suffering from it. And I want to be cured; I want to be free of the wound myself, and I do not want to pass it on to my children. Perhaps this is only wishful thinking; perhaps such a thing is not to be done by one man