Writing with Rough Edges

A few months ago, my housemate and I were sitting out on the porch of our apartment waiting for dinner to cook. The porch was of a spartan design – a concrete slab that held a grill and a single wooden chair. My roommate sat back, watching the smoke rise from the nearby grill and a cigarette as the sky slowly changed from blue to a vibrant orange. I sat against the doorframe of the sliding glass door that led into the dining room, holding a can of LaCroix in one hand and resting the other on my laptop. It had been a few weeks since I had moved back to California from Atlanta, and I was hard at work crafting a lesson plan for the youth ministry I work for. Even though I had an idea of where I wanted to go and how I wanted to present the material, I couldn’t bring myself to write a few sentences before deleting it all and starting over from the beginning.

My housemate glanced over from watching his dog running around in the backyard, the cigarette hanging from between his fingers. 

“Stuck?” he asked as he scratched his beard, “I get that. I hate trying to write things down. I feel like I want to put it in a particular way and I usually don’t get it the first time.”

He pointed to a cabinet filled with books and notebooks just inside the door. “The funny thing is, a lot of people get me these nice journals that they find because they think I’ll use them. Of course, part of the problem is that I feel like I have this obligation to fill those journals with thoughts or opinions that are equally as nice or polished as the journal that I’m putting it in, so I don’t. So they sit unused, and I just collect all these journals, beautiful things but empty inside.”

I used to write a lot on this blog. I think somewhere between the transition from undergrad to seminary, I began placing an expectation on posts that they should be completed things, refined things. Entries which are deserving of nice journals with beautiful covers. And so, somewhere in the midst of the readings and assignments and moves from state to state, I just stopped writing for the sake of writing. Or for my own sake of being in process, of grappling with concepts and sitting with them to try them out.

I remember getting a copy of Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal for my wife back when we were still dating. As I reflect upon it now, I wonder if O’Connor ever wrote in her journal thinking that someone else was reading it, or whether she wrote it for her own sake and to document how she wrestled with God. A friend of mine once made the remark that if the trend of publishing private and intimate documentation continues, we should expect to see Timothy Keller’s accountability emails on the New York Times’ Best Sellers’ List in fifty years. I don’t think O’Connor found herself paralyzed with the expectation that such an invasion would ever occur. She wrote for herself and for God, and let the rough edges be rough. 

A while ago, the dean of my alma mater’s Honors College once remarked to me that he didn’t really know what he thought until he saw it in writing. It was only then that he could refine, edit, and wrestle with the imprecise, clunky ideas on the page that something better could arise from it. I think I should take his advice – to write not for the expectation I place on the contents of nice journals but for reflection and revision. To start somewhere, regardless of how imprecise or imperfect it may be, and be comfortable being in process from there.

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