After the Writing Conference: Reflections

By Sarah Arthur

Last June I flew home from the second annual Frederick Buechner Writers Workshop at Princeton Theological Seminary. I had served for the week as writer-in-residence leading twenty students in the advanced writers course; and, like anyone returning from a gathering in one’s Mother Tongue, I was giddy. I wanted to write forever, for all of you, and especially for my students.

But the plane landed and there were diapers.

And email. And national heartbreak.

And all the other reasons for not getting our writing done [insert yours here]. It’s real life, isn’t it? Here we are, back in the thick of things, and if you’re anything like me the vanishing dream of your good intentions feels all-too familiar, like a form of spiritual defeat. Pair that with general discouragement about the cold metrics of publishing and the cruelty of current events, and we’re tempted to think of a writing conference as a sort of secluded island resort: lovely, unforgettable, but we don’t get to live there.

Fight that feeling.

Remember Frederick Buechner’s quote about “the world’s deep hunger”? That hunger for beauty, or courage, or fidelity, or wisdom, or whatever it is that makes you want to be a writer, that’s your hunger too. And when the world’s deep hunger and your deep hunger find themselves imbued with all the gladness of God, the call is clear. You can’t not write. You never will be truly glad until you do.

Meanwhile, here is the world at your door, still hungry. (Small person sitting next to me has just asked for his fortieth grape.) And so we are given a dance, like the tarantella, a whirling dervish of a reel that can both purge the poison of our writerly discontent and pour us out, like the kenotic hymn, to serve the things of God.

The job of Savior, as one of my seminary professors said, already has been taken. So we open our hands, unclench our fists, recognize that while we can dance with the world, we cannot save it. My small son, who is presently insisting that I’m a mommy flamingo (I’m writing while standing one-legged at the counter, right foot propped against left knee), will not arrive at the end of his breath thanking me alone for showing him the only Savior who can redeem his soul. He also will thank books. He will thank utter strangers who put words on a page and sent those words out into a largely unmoved populace. He will thank you who wrote them, you who edited them, the many dozens of people who proofed and cut and bound and sold them.

He will thank all of you.

As do I. A week like that writing conference was an unrepeatable gift. The gift of yourselves to one another, the gift of yourselves to me, the gift of that too-warm classroom with our brains on content-overload and our fellow writers struggling to pair verbs and nouns fearlessly, as if we do this all the time, for a living, in order to live, which of course we do.

Here is the world,” Buechner said: “beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Write that world. Write those beautiful and terrible things. Write the fear, the courage. Write as if you could salve the hunger, quench the thirst, part light from darkness. Write one-legged at the kitchen counter, amidst the obstinate quiddity of animate and inanimate things, as if a small boy someday will grow up to read your words and climb further into grace.

This is the world.

Be brave. Be generous.

Write on.


Sarah Arthur is a fun-loving speaker and the author of eleven books, including the bestseller Walking with Frodo (Tyndale) and the literary guides to prayer series with Paraclete Press (At the Still Point, Light Upon Light, and Between Midnight and Dawn). Her most recent title, co-authored with friend and colleague Erin Wasinger, is The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us (Brazos Press).