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On writerlyness and fortune cookies… or the good fortune of writing.

On writerlyness and fortune cookies… or the good fortune of writing.

“…it’s not the published book that makes you a writer. You’re a writer because of the things you notice in the world, and the joy you feel stringing the right words together so they sound like music.”

Susan Henderson

About twenty years ago, when my children were small, I got a fortune cookie once with my take-out order with an interesting message. “You are a lover of words. Someday you will write a book,” it said. It was a funny thing to ponder at the time. I never thought of really writing a book — but I was indeed a lover of words.

I knew what it was like to write for living. I was a women who gave up her radio and advertising work — where I wrote six days a week — to write a different story as a stay-at-home mother. I never regretted it.

Being a parent is one of the only jobs in the world where you have the privilege of writing something on another person’s heart. If you are fortunate, you live long enough to hear the melody you wrote sung back to you. There I was, back in the day, sharing that love of words, and love of The Word, by reading stories aloud to my children, and teaching them to read and write their own little compositions!

I don’t take much stock in fortune cookies, or any other way of discerning one’s future, outside of prayer and hard work. Looking back, it seems maybe the fortune cookie got it right. Some twenty-five years later, I am still a lover of words, and eventually, I did write a book!

More to the point, I have written the equivalent of many books if you add up all the songs, poetry, commercials, research papers, columns, articles, freelance projects, podcast scripts and blog posts I’ve written over time. Writing has been somewhat of a constant, despite interesting detours. Being new to book publishing does not mean that I’m new to the writing craft. It’s just that the word-stringing is more symphonic. There is a whole team that adds their notes to the page.

Over the last fifteen years, I have held other jobs that were less written-word-laden. Some of them were part-time pursuits that fit in well with my need to raise my family. Even though they were not writerly jobs, they allowed me to be creative in other ways, outside of the page. Some of those positions, in recent years, were with the church — and most of those people who have known me, those I have ministered to and with, had little idea about my love affair with words, other than my passion for Scrabble. Many are surprised when they hear I wrote a book. They did not know I was a writer, they say. As if the book makes the writer.

As grateful as I am for the book, this quasi-empty-nester has been embracing that shift from part-time to full time work, and much of that involves a pen or a keyboard. I’m figuring out that writing is still a constant, and still figuring into the midlife script that God seems to be writing.

I was just sharing with a friend that when I finished my Masters in theology I expected to teach, or do faith formation at a parish somewhere nearby, preferably with a short commute. But God had other plans. Now that “parish” looks a lot like the Catholic blogosphere and periodicals, and the opportunity to pray and speak and teach in parishes and dioceses well outside my comfort zone of the little country lane where I raised my kids.

Another friend, a writer with a gift I have long admired, shared that one of her early loves was music. And though her path deviated from pursuing music as a career, I told her I hear music whenever I read her best stuff. Her word-craft is a magnificent voice.

What I keep learning about the writing life, or whatever your field, is that it is important to pay attention to what makes your heart sing. Be it actual music to your ears, or a kind of music that comes silently from your heart when you are doing the thing that you love, the thing you are meant to do. It’s like you can hear God softly singing along.

I’m a writer today because of what Susan Henderson writes above. I notice things and I want to share them, usually by first writing things down. Making the words sing on the page, well, that’s just all part of the fun.

God, not the fortune cookie, got it right with me all along… from taking my love of words as a child, writing little plays for school, or performing in them… or penning song lyrics as a musician and sometimes singer… to my  radio work and copywriting in the commercial marketplace… to filling childhoods with bibles and books…to being the scribe behind church newsletters…  to my word-weavings in Catholic spheres that take me beyond my parish out to new places.

The good fortune of writing is not related to any material success, but to the music you hear in your work… especially if you hear God quietly harmonizing.

The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior,

Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love,

Who will sing joyfully because of you…

– Zephaniah 3 :17

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Comments

  1. What a nice reminder, and an affirmation that you don’t have to be writing a book to be a writer. It’s in how you see the world.

  2. Pat, I felt you were talking about me—not the part about the early career, mine was in newspaper and magazine print media, not radio or advertising–but the stay-at-home mom part. I, too, felt like I was moving from one creative endeavor to another. From sewing to scrapbooking, I always kept writing as my favorite creative expression. I loved to interview people and eventually got a journalism degree and put it all together. My writing genes blossomed in an at-home writing and editing business. You are an inspiration to me. Thanks.