By Amanda Cleary Eastep
“Why are you here instead of writing?”
Author Brett Lott opened his session with this deeply disturbing question at the Festival of Faith and Writing last week. In preparation for the three-day event, I had asked God to speak to me through one of the conference keynotes–to clarify his will for my writing life, to simply part traffic on the Grand Rapids Beltline and deliver me to the promised land of authorship.
My new bright blue festival tote was over my shoulder. My session schedule was check-marked and starred. I sat beside my friend, fellow writer and author. I was surrounded by hundreds of writers and poets.
Surely my favorite author Anne Lamott would prove the conduit for the voice of God on Friday night. But Lott’s question was a pencil behind my ear all day.
Why will I dedicate nearly three straight days to sitting and listening to published authors, but giving an hour each week to crafting my own novel feels like donating a vital organ during an intense game of Farmville?
Because attending a conference is doing something “writerly”.
Yes, there’s great value in a writer’s conference; I’ve attended this one three times. The sessions inspire, teach, and motivate me.
But I’m also aware there is a bit of self-deception in doing things that “look” like writing.
Instead of writing–or whatever it is we know we should be doing–we busy ourselves instead with the periphery.
We drink Diet Coke and wear jogging pants instead of drinking water and actually jogging.
Thus inspired, I took out my notebook and scribbled between sessions, many of which God used to feed me what I needed to hear…through Lott, other presenters, and conversations with my friend.
Then he wrapped it all up with Anne Lamott. During her honest, poignant and funny talk to the masses, the Almighty’s words came through loud and clear, albeit in Lamott’s “I’m tired-when did these pants shrink-are we there yet?” voice.
The words were a weird mix of my favorite writer, my favorite deity, and Nike.
“Put your backside in the chair, and just do it.”
I pictured God as a young mom, and myself–a wayward teen–standing in front of the open refrigerator waiting for lunch to jump out on a plate.
What do you mean there’s nothing to eat? You have everything you need to feed yourself and your friends. There’s the bread. There’s the bologna. There’s the mustard. Look, there are even dill pickle chips. Just make a damn sandwich.
What do you mean you’re waiting for a sign?
You have everything you need to write this book…[start this business…plan that trip.] There’s your notebook. There’s your new pen. There’s the book on how to write personal essays. Look, there are even free blog templates.
Just write the story.