Whenever I teach seminars for aspiring writers at conferences and campuses, I invariably ask a question of the attendees that seems initially to stump them: “Where do you write?”
It’s clear from the puzzled looks that this wasn’t a question they were expecting. They are brimming with excitement to tell me “what” they want to write about—relationships; church history; insights from their devotional lives—but few seem to know what to do with my curious question about geography.
“Do you mean the actual physical location where we do our writing?” one will eventually ask as proxy for the rest. When I nod, the answers slowly begin to emerge.
“At Panera,” one will say, “just as the lunch crowd begins to arrive. I order a macaroni and cheese, and settle into a corner booth. That’s where I do my best writing.”
Our best work—in writing, reflecting, planning and praying—always emerges from some settled spot.
“On my laptop from the top bunk in my dorm room,” another will admit, “though it’s hard to concentrate when my roommate is playing Lady Gaga at 100 decibels.”
“Wherever I’ve got my smartphone,” a third will grin. “My best ideas always seem to come to me when I’m hurrying between appointments.”
Because one of my goals in teaching such seminars is to encourage those with passion and talent to sharpen their skills, I invariably smile and avoid critiquing their responses. But I also note with sadness that those who gave these answers are almost always “unpublished authors”—by far the largest category of writers.
My “geographical question” aims to underscore an often-overlooked reality in the messy, complicated lives we live: our best work—in writing, reflecting, planning and praying—always emerges from some settled spot that we have designated as the place we go to do that task. One of the great illusions of twenty-first century living is that we are all accomplished multitaskers—that we’ve somehow risen above the constraints of time and place and need for quiet that centuries of ancestors have required to write well, think well, plan well, and pray well. We like to tell each other stories about how our “great thoughts” occur to us in the shower or while driving in traffic, as though we’re largely unaffected by the constraints of volume, light, temperature, and pace.
But it’s not for nothing that the great authors, the best architects, and the saints of God have for centuries required quiet, unmoving scenery in which to practice and hone their skills. Most of the authors we love to read, and most of those whose prayers move us toward holiness, have found a spot where, day by day, they practice the rhythms of thoughtfulness or communion with God.
I’m grateful that my Saviour hears the prayers I murmur on the icy overpass as I drive to the General Conference, for there are January days on which I never would have arrived without His intervention. But I’m just as sure that He prefers to meet me, morning by morning, in the quiet of my family room—my back against the leftmost corner of the couch; Bible easily within reach; my overly affectionate cat pressing into the folds of my old bathrobe. There in the rhythm of each morning I speak to Him of things I never would address in mutters between committee meetings or while pushing a grocery cart. And I hear in the predawn quiet, before the first house wrens have arrived for breakfast on the patio, the promptings of the Spirit who has promised never to leave me to myself.
As you assess the gifts of Christmas now just past, give yourself one more at the start of 2019—a quiet, familiar place where you may meet your Lord, at whatever time of day seems best, to speak the language of your heart and know the certainty of His embrace.
Let me predict: from that spot will flow joy and comfort, peace and fullness in the year ahead.