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National Novel Writing Month with Young Clergywomen

Once upon a time, a group of writers gathered, furnished with journals and fancy pens, or laptops draped in fun stickers. Pastors and chaplains gathered together with church members at coffee shops, trying not to talk too much and thus impede maximum word count. Young clergywomen took their collars off, even if their stories still dripped with biblical allusions and theological questions, and they brought their Google Docs to the library write-in to make a few writer friends and get away from Advent studies cluttering their tables. These clergywomen were making community with other writers to draft a 50,000 word novel in one month. 1,667 words a day through the month of November– you know, that month when we are ramping up for the chaos of Advent in the sacred world and the holiday crush of the secular world. 

It’s called Nanowrimo: National Novel Writing Month. There is a website to connect writers to communities defined by genre or geography and to share a little about the project, but the main point of the site is to log not the writing itself but the daily word count. For those of us young clergywomen Nanowrimo fans, writing is a spiritual practice and a contemplative experience. In a culture that is so focused on hustling, Nanowrimo is an invitation to sit and be still. While it may seem impossible to add something to an already busy life, writing can be a way to remember and to find the Divine. For those of us in pastoral ministry, November can become a time of chaos prepping Advent worship, and we often lose the contemplative preparation we are urging our congregations to engage in during the season. Making time for writing and creativity during the month of November ignites reflection and purpose as we prepare for Advent, the coming of the light to the world.  

There is also something freeing in focusing solely on word count. The words we write don’t necessarily matter during Nanowrimo. What matters is the act of writing itself. Our critical natures can take a back seat because it isn’t about perfection; it’s just about writing. Nanowrimo gives us the place, time, and community to let go of our own expectations and judgments and just create for the sake of creating. After all, this is not just an invitation of creativity: it is an invitation to join in the work of creating with Creator God. In the first creation story in Genesis 1, God speaks and the world comes into being. Throughout Scripture, God keeps speaking, inviting us to repent and change our stories, or to survive and live new stories, or to work with God to write stories of love and grace no one has imagined yet. Yet, too often we forget this invitation to creativity and instead just focus on getting through the next meeting or accomplishing the next task. Nanowrimo whispers of God’s creativity in asking us to explore and discover new worlds, new characters, and new stories. We– as adults, and particularly as women in ministry– don’t give ourselves the permission to engage with our imaginations often enough. 

And for many of us young clergywomen, writing allows us to explore parts of our identity we might forget when caught up in the tyranny of ministry schedules. One of us started writing in the midst of a struggle with infertility because she needed to remind herself of her ability to keep creating even if she couldn’t mother living children. Another of us started Nanowrimo out of loneliness. Nanowrimo gave her a community of other writers online and also helped her connect to her sister too, on whose advice about the plot she ended up relying. Another of us pointed out that Nanowrimo helps her release her drive for control. When she began writing a Nanowrimo novel last year, she wanted to shape it into a particular thing. But the work that took shape was unexpected and what it needed to be as she wrote to release frustration that she was experiencing in ministry. Writing, including fiction, allows us to reflect more deeply on our own reality and identity. 

If you are looking for a new spiritual practice, a new creative outlet, or a community of storytellers, grab your pens or keyboard and try your hand writing a novel this month!

The NaNoWriMo logo, which is a light blue shield with a coffee mug, computer sxcreen, pen, and stack of papers, with a horned viking helmet above the shield.

The author

My Not-So-Dirty Secret

The author

The author

I first began writing romance novels when my twins were five months old; I was hooked up to the good old Medela breast pump and hunched over the laptop. I’d recently fallen back in love with reading the genre, with its unabashed celebration of female sexuality and romantic love. I was adjusting to my new, stretched-out, machine-milked mom body and what it was like to have two new humans and their dirty diapers in the middle of my marriage. Romance novels helped me hold on to my sense of self, my sexual desire, and to remember my husband was my real-life romance hero even when we were sleep-deprived, cranky, automatons.

At the exact moment when I had the least margin to begin a creative enterprise, I decided to try writing a novel. It wasn’t a Christian, inspirational romance, nor was it ‘sensual’ and full of euphemisms. It was explicit, because I found it liberating to write about people having awkward and imperfect, yet glorious and redemptive sex.

Initially, my books were a dirty secret. I’m the chaplain at an Episcopal day school, after all. The last thing in the world I needed was the thirteen-year-olds I teach reading one of my ‘climactic’ scenes. As I built an online author presence, I dangled my priest-who-writes-romance identity as a titillating hook, but I remained sheepish with colleagues and secretive about my day job when I mingled with writers.

Still, slowly, I began to think of myself as a real writer. I talked with friends about my dual vocations and wrote a lot about the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. I dreamed up my tagline, “Desire is Divine,” and signed my first publishing contract. Read more

Finding Words

ministry lab nov 2016I have finally found my voice. I found my voice after seven years of often squelching, silencing parish ministry. For some reason beyond me, this new sense of purpose and meaning has come in the form of what used to intimidate me: writing liturgy. After my last call came to an abrupt close, I felt the overwhelming push to start writing liturgy — something I had always been much too scared to do before. Truth be told, I was actually still scared to do it but somehow knew that I had to. I started by writing Holy Week liturgies and have progressed through the year from there.

I start with the four scriptures appointed for the day in the Revised Common Lectionary. Since they change each week, every liturgy brings new challenges. I always try to include at least three, if not all four, of the readings. The more liturgies I write, the more I find the scripture speaking for itself. I find myself just picking out the central or pertinent parts of scripture and quoting those with added context. I have been surprised just how many times scripture has simply handed me the prayer of confession, and often it’s been way harsher than I would have attempted writing. I also have found that scripture speaks effectively to our current historical moment, sometimes in ways that feel pointed. Scriptural themes of the consolidation of land and wealth resonate strongly, and I often find myself drawing connections between scripture and the U.S. election. Justice (the non-punitive kind) is still needed, and righteousness (which I define as “right-relationship”) is a struggle both in scripture and in our contemporary context. It has been fascinating seeing these arcs and connections. I write the Opening Prayer last, typically using the themes that I would base a sermon on if I were preaching that day. My liturgies are definitely mini-sermons to me.

The stark reality of my ministry is that right now, writing liturgy for others to use is my ministry. Read more

NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul

This is how it happened: On the first day of this month, I saw a Facebook post about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I had not intended to do this. I had not premeditated my plan of attack. I hadn’t even heard of it. But something about this challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in one month struck me. Before I had really thought it through, I was signing up.

I have a friend who takes a month every year to write one song a day. “Most of them are complete crap,” he says, “but at the end, I have one or two songs that are good, or at least decent starts at being good. And that’s better than having no songs at all.” I’ve always admired his discipline in this. I’ve always wanted to commit myself to that kind of intensive creative process. One of the things you should understand about me is that I am not the kind of person who often commits to a regimen like this and sticks to it. I have begun and given up on songs, poetry, paintings, exercise plans, knitting projects, diets, language courses, book proposals… You name it, I’ve probably tried and not finished it.

Thousands of people committing to the insanity of writing a novel in a month meant I would have lots of support from other crazy people. And if I didn’t finish, well, nobody knew I was doing it anyway.

Except that I immediately told someone. And then another person. And then another. I started making references to needing to “go home to work on my novel.” My senior minister bet me $100 that I can’t finish (he knows how to motivate me). Other people who witnessed this took offense on my behalf; if I finish, they have promised to donate $100 each to the church. Next year I may make this an official fundraiser.

Strange things have happened to me this month. I have become a peculiar person, unknown to me, who prefers to stay home and write rather than going out. I wander around with story lines and characters in my head, and am suddenly prone to shouting, “Oh!” and running for my computer – which now comes with me everywhere, to work, on the train, to the coffee shop, to bed, just in case I should have an idea. I am completely obsessed with my word count, although not so much so that I’ve resorted to the tricks other writers post on the NaNoWriMo forums, which tell me to pad my word count with extra clauses and never use contractions. I haven’t had a decent night of sleep since I began. I forget other deadlines. I’m sure some of my friends think I’ve vanished, and the rest are annoyed and waiting for December 1 to arrive. This process is making me a bit of a lunatic. Read more

New Poems by “Pink Shoes”

This month we feature two new poems by a pseudonymous blogger who writes at Pink Shoes in the Pulpit.

 

Words

You remind me of words
I said long ago
Words that I’d forgotten
and scenarios
I had scrubbed clean away.
You make me laugh
and somehow sad,
not knowing what
this is all about.
I scanned over some
pieces today
that represented
more than the black and white
on the page,
and that conjured up places
I’d allowed to gather dust.
Tile by tile
Piece by piece
Creating a bit of
wholeness.

_____________

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The Holy Spirit Resides in My Mattress

This tradition continued when I went to seminary and started serving three small rural churches in southern Indiana. I would struggle with a sermon or, even worse, have NO IDEA what I was going to preach on, and so I would go to sleep, and wake up with the entire sermon in my head. All I had to do was sit and write it.

It wasn’t that I hadn’t done the work beforehand. I went to a Presbyterian seminary and was schooled in how to do exegesis. I took Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament and New Testament Exegesis, and basic preaching. I knew how to do the outline, how to make the connections, to check commentaries, to read in other translations, to check the context, to talk with other pastors in my lectionary group, and to journal my own thoughts during the week before I get to that point. I did all of these things … but I believe it is the Holy Spirit residing in my mattress that does the real work.

At first my family didn’t understand how this worked. My immediate family came down to celebrate my first Christmas as a pastor with me. (I am one of 8 children, and everyone came except one sister and her husband … it was a full house!) About mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve I still had not finished my sermon and was busy preparing dinner. My family freaked out, “Tricia, don’t you need to go to your office (in the next room) and write your sermon?” “No,” I’d reply, “I’ll go take a nap in a little while, and it will be fine.” Read more