Bearing Daily Witness to Quiet Glories

One of the most familiar complaints of the surly teenager also happens to be one of the most fundamental of theological truths: I didn’t ask to be born. None of us asked to be born, and yet here we all are, waking up every day in a world we didn’t make.

It’s Thanksgiving Week here in the United States—a good time to reflect on the givenness of things.

In preparation for Thanksgiving, I’ve been re-reading Brian Doyle’s One Long River of Song. The book ends with a “Last Prayer,” which Doyle wrote shortly before he died of cancer, at the age of sixty. He prayed,

I could complain a little here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small. But no man was ever more grateful for Your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headed back to the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago.

In the foreword of the same book, Doyle’s friend David James Duncan writes, “Brian Doyle lived in the pleasure of bearing daily witness to quiet glories hidden in people places, and creatures of little or no size, renown, or commercial value.”

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Writing Like a Screenwriter

When I teach creative writing, I often challenge fiction writers to try writing as if they were screenwriters, using only the tools that screenwriters have at their disposal. To put it another way, I challenge fiction writers to stay on the surface—to bring the inner lives of their characters out where the reader can get a good look at them, though dialogue, action, posture, physical appearance, personal effects, etc. 

In real life, you don’t have direct access to anybody’s inner life besides your own. No matter how close you are to another person, you know what she is thinking only insofar as you can judge from what she says, what she does, the expression on her face, maybe what she’s carrying (is she approaching you with a birthday cake or with a baseball bat?). Long experience with this person may make you a better judge of the clues (though this isn’t always the case)…but in any case, you’re judging from clues.

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S2: Ep46: Crystal Downing Talks Dorothy Sayers

Crystal Downing is the co-director of Wheaton College’s Marion Wade Center and an expert on the Inklings and Inkling-adjacent authors. This week on The Habit podcast, I speak with Dr. Downing, about her new book, Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers.

We discuss the dangers of Christian celebrity, the strategy of shock in Dorothy Sayers’ work, and the subversion at the very heart of the Christian faith.

Getting Published, Shipping Work

Seth Godin has a new book out, called The Practice: Shipping Creative Work. I have always found Godin’s work to be exceedingly helpful (though I haven’t read The Practice yet).

I bring up Seth Godin’s new book because Daniel, a reader of The Habit Weekly, wrote to me about it a few days ago. Danile felt that Godin was encouraging in a specific area where I had been discouraging:
[The first line of The Practice] is, “Shipping — because it doesn’t count if you don’t share it.”

This line brought be back to a newsletter of yours that has always bothered me — the one about your advice to the woman who wanted to get published. In the end you walked away sad because you did not think publishing should have been her primary goal.

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S2: Ep45: Charlotte Donlon Knows What Loneliness Is Good For

In this week’s episode of The Habit Podcast, I speak with Charlotte Donlon, author of The Great Belonging: How Loneliness Leads Us to Each Other and host of the Hope for the Lonely podcast.

We discuss the two-way street between loneliness and belonging, the power of stories to de-stigmatize our loneliness, and the crucial difference between loving someone and understanding them.

A Friendship to Give You Hope and Courage

I’m a huge fan of the Trinity Forum, a Washington DC-based organization that seeks to “connect thinking leaders with leading thinkers in engaging the big questions of life and coming to better know the Author of the answers.” In the last few months they’ve been knocking it out of the park with a series of weekly online events with some of the best thinkers and culture-makers out there, including Alan Jacobs, Karen Swallow Prior, Dana Gioia, Tish Harrison Warren, John Lennox, Marilynne Robinson, Makoto Fujimura, James K.A. Smith, Marilyn McEntyre, and Arthur Brooks. That’s a partial list, and just since March! Their YouTube page goes back several years and can keep you busy for a very long time.

It’s Election Day 2020. If you’re feeling pessimistic about the state of American culture and public discourse, I commend the work of the Trinity Forum to you. It will give you reason for hope, as well as a model for ways to contribute to the conversation in meaningful ways.

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S2: Ep44: Dane Ortlund Cultivates Surprise

This summer I started hearing about a new book called Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, by Dane Ortlund. Sam Allberry called it a book “that astonishes us with the sheer abundance and capacity of Christ’s love for us. 

I read the book, and it was as good as I had heard. I very happy when Dane Ortlund agreed to be on this week’s episode of The Habit Podcast. We talk about beauty, theological correctness, and the importance of surprise in the spiritual life.

A Note to Mothers

In my job as proprietor of The Habit Membership, I hear from a lot of mothers who find it exceedingly hard to get creative work done. This is a letter of encouragement to those mothers. (If you aren’t a mother, feel free to read anyway; you might even pass this letter on to a mother in your life.) I don’t wish to mansplain or make assumptions about other people’s assumptions. I’m just saying that I know of mothers who want to write or paint or do other creative work, but feel guilty about taking time away from domestic duties to pursue such “self-focused” interests. If you are among those mothers, this letter is for you.

A Word About Selflessness
Somehow we have gotten it in our heads that creative work is selfish. And selfishness, of course, is incommensurate with the selflessness that we associate with motherhood. I will grant that Picasso and Ernest Hemingway seemed to be spectacularly lacking in maternal instincts. But the creative people I know—many of them mothers—strike me as less selfish than the usual run of people.

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S2: Ep43: Andy Lepeau Wants You to Write Better

This week on The Habit Podcast, I speak with Andrew T. Le Peau, former Associate Publisher at InterVarsity Press, blogger, and author of Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality.

We discuss the simple power of physical exercise to generate creative ideas, as well as the things that get in the way of the writer’s voice. Also, we go back and forth on the constructive tension between my own emphasis on self-forgetfulness in writing and Andrew’s claim that all writing is autobiographical.

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