Most people think of writers as recluses. They just assume that writers hide out in attics and the deep woods where nobody will interfere with the torrent of words we need to etch on paper. There may be a few writers who can live and work in solitary splendor, but not many.
We writers know that we need a degree of isolation in order to be productive. I had friends in school who did their homework while watching television, but it never worked for me. I simply could not study and watch “Mash” at the same time. I cannot write and watch television, either. I cannot write and talk on the phone. I cannot write and cook dinner at the same time. Writing may intrude on cooking if I get a bright idea while I am waiting for water to boil, but to start a cooking project when I am momentarily stuck for the right phrase to close a chapter is counterproductive.
Nevertheless, I do need family and friends even though productive writing time requires isolation. I am not always sure they love hearing about what I am doing, but telling them encourages me. Sometimes their reactions to my narrative help me to craft a better story or to find a good resource I would never have thought of on my own. The fact that friends and family will ask me how I am doing with my projects motivates me to be sure I am actually making progress. Human relationships nourish me in many ways. I need them in order to be a better writer.
Recently that truth came home in a deeply special way. I have four friends whom I regard as my circle of mutual encouragement in the Christian faith. Only one of them is a writer. Their place in this circle was established over years of shared prayers and conversations about the challenge of living faithful lives. One of them is currently exploring a new direction in her own sense of call to serve our Lord. We recently spent a lovely summer afternoon talking about the art and gift of discernment, trying to clarify together what she perceives as her next step. In the process, I shared with her some relevant insights I had gained while working on my current book draft. She shared with me, and I shared with her.
The next day, I received an e-mail from her. She said to me, “The Holy Spirit is convicting me to further the kingdom through your writing. Would you like to borrow the Interpreters Bible volume on Ecclesiastes you were looking at yesterday?” That e-mail arrived at a time when I felt very discouraged about my project, almost ready to abandon it, even though the day before it had seemed terribly important. My friend could not know that the enthusiasm and confidence I had expressed to her had suffered meltdown as I sat empty-worded in front of my computer screen the very next day.
When I read her mail, it was as if a cool breeze had brushed my cheek on a hot day. The book in question had belonged to her beloved pastor father, a man who now rests among the cloud of witnesses who encourage all of us in faith. She had brought the collection of books out and touched them lovingly, showing me this fabulous resource that she would use in her own studies. For her to let me borrow even one, even if only temporarily, was a huge risk. What if I damaged it or lost it or who knows what? I realized that in this gift God was telling me that this project is important to him. My friend’s faithful encouragement spoke dramatically of God’s desire for me to get over myself and get back on track to do the work he had given me to do.
My friend could not do the work for me. My friend could not discern God’s call for me. All she could do was to hear and obey God’s message to her. Still, if she had ignored God’s nudge, I might still be sitting in front of a blank screen, or worse, I might be off working on some less important task while my manuscript goes dead. Thanks to my friend and her faithful encouragement, my manuscript is growing and my project is alive and well.
I may put words on paper in isolation, but I know very well that I need my friends. We all need healthy relationships with friends and family in order to be the best writers we can be. Jesus said it very well when he said that the most important things in the world are to love God above all and to love our neighbors. When everybody is on track with that teaching, our neighbors love us, too, and that is a rich blessing for a writer.