I once sat next to a writer at a school concert. I knew she was a writer because she had her notebook and pen and was actually writing during the concert. She looked to be about ten or eleven, and she was essentially live-blogging the event, writing down everything she noticed. I could hardly watch the concert for looking over to see what my neighbor was writing. It was this kind of thing:
- After the violin players are finished, some singers come up and sing a song about the red river valley.
- Then a band comes and sings a rock and roll song. They all have glasses except for the drummer.
- Two boys come up to play a song, but one of them forgets his guitar and has to go back to his seat and get it. Everybody laughs, but not in a mean way.
I love the fact that this young writer wasn’t waiting for something fabulous to happen before she started writing. She just gave an account of what she saw. There’s a whole worldview there: she believed that the things she saw in the world around her were sufficiently meaningful to be worth writing about. And in writing about them, she dignified those seemingly mundane events.
I have a journal I kept in college. It’s terrible, terrible stuff. At that time in my life I seemed to have the impression that “real writers” only wrote about big ideas. If I ever made reference to an actual thing that actually happened in the physical world where I actually lived, it was only to turn it into a metaphor for some philosophical or theological notion I had. That journal is intensely boring to read. There are people whose philosophical and theological musings are interesting to read, but twenty-year-old Jonathan Rogers was not one of them.
The sad thing is that I happen to know that my life wasn’t intensely boring at that time. I knew interesting people and did interesting things. I so wish I had had the writerly discipline of that little girl who brought her notebook and pen at the concert in order to make a record of the life she was given that day. Sure, “Here’s what I thought at age twenty” has a certain interest. But I wish I also had made a record of what I did at age twenty, what I ate, where I went and with whom, and how much I paid for gas.
Five years hence, that young writer from the concert might be embarrassed to read her old notebooks. She’ll be a teenager, and by then she’ll probably be under the impression that real writing is about putting big ideas into words. But twenty years hence, she’s going to love reading about the rock-and-rollers who all wore glasses (except for the drummer). She’ll love reliving a day that she would have otherwise forgotten.
Robert Farrar Capon wrote, “Man’s real work is to look at the things of earth and to love them for what they are.” Friends and writers, one way for you to do that work is simply to give an account of what you have seen–not just what you’ve seen in your mind’s eye, but what you’ve seen with your eyeballs.
Shannon A Stephens
Thank you for this word of wisdom. I am grateful.