A few years ago, my college roommate who is a minister told me about the Alban Institute. Now a part of the Divinity School at Duke University, I subscribe to Alban’s weekly e-newsletter. This newsletter does exactly what their website proclaims: leaders connect and learn from one another by sharing practical wisdom, stories of thriving congregations and transformational models of ministry.
Earlier this spring via Alban, the following headline caught my attention: Interested in writing a better 1000 word personal essay? Register for How to Tell Your Story. This was an on-line class offered by the editors of Faith and Leadership’s e-magazine.
Over the last several years, I have been devoting more time to tinkering with words. I enjoy writing, and this class was designed to help individuals take their writing to the next level.
For me, this meant learning how to improve my very limited publication success. I wanted to see if my skills had the potential to push beyond my current threshold. So, I registered for the class.
Soon orientation information arrived about the technology we would be using. I found this to be a bit of a challenge as my computer skills are very basic. Additionally, we were asked to reach out to our classmates in a “getting to know you” session.
During the month of May, our class met on Wednesdays from 1-2 p.m. Each session was led by two editors from Faith and Leadership. Topics were linked to the class goal of helping us to craft our own 1000 word personal essay.
Also, we had the opportunity via technology to ask questions, and interact with the leaders and classmates. A weekly assignment was posted with a deadline. Included with these assignments were some required reading with the focus on writing styles and how an article/essay comes together.
As we worked through each class, in quick succession came the framing of our essay topic, writing of the first draft, and assignment to an editor.
My work with editors has been limited. Nothing in-depth, even though I had found success in being published in the Upper Room, The Virginia Advocate, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Aside from the Upper Room, feedback and suggestions to rewrite or rework a submission have never happened. Well, that was about to change.
I posted my essay draft and submitted it to my editor.
I was nervous as I awaited her response. Initially, when the essay was returned to me I felt pretty good, but then I figured out how to apply the embedded technology links, and I was mortally wounded.
Sherwin Williams should create a new color name for their charts and call it Raging Red.
Nothing was spared. I felt like the carcass of a Thanksgiving turkey carved to the bone not even a sinew of meat remained anywhere.
It was if I had been flattened by a road paver, there was nothing left, not even a shred that could be peeled off the pavement.
At some point, I communicated to a couple of the editors that I felt like road kill, road kill that had been plucked clean by a turkey vulture.
A friend from the YMCA who is a professional writer told me that editors are “mean” and I guess humorless as well!
I could find nothing to redeem in this deconstructed scarlet autopsy. My confidence level was sub-zero.
So, I started over. I wrote from my heart, not that I hadn’t previously. Took an entirely different approach, and resubmitted a draft.
We were coming down to crunch time for the final posting. My editor returned the rewritten essay, and again raging red was the dominate, reoccurring theme.
I wanted to wave the white flag, but knew I couldn’t quit. Per recommendations, I reworked again this mutilated essay and posted it.
The affirmation for my writing that I was hoping for from working directly with an editor didn’t happen.
I told my senior pastor that I had been critically wounded by an editor. He quoted me Friedrich Nietzsche(Nee ch): “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
So, I thought to myself, ok, stop whining about being splattered in raging red by an editor. After all you are still breathing, and as Coach K would say you need to “move to the next play.”
And as I figure out that next play, I will ponder these words from Acts 2:37: “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
If I want to mend my “cut heart”, my response to “what should I do” needs to be grounded in this quote provided by one of the Faith and Leadership authors, from Augusten Burroughs:
“The secret to being a writer is that you have to write. It’s not enough to think about writing or to study literature or plan a future life as an author. You really have to lock yourself away, alone, and get to work.”
Let us pray:
Heavenly father, as we figure out how to regroup from one of life’s disappointments, help us to know that our hearts can be mended by letting you guide us back to work. In your name we pray, Amen.