The Writer on My Shoulder

In The Seven Storey Mountain Thomas Merton wrote …

But then there was this shadow, this double, this writer who had followed me into the cloister….  He rides my shoulders, sometimes, like the old man of the sea.  I cannot lose him….  He is full of ideas.  He breathes notions and new schemes.  He generates books in the silence that ought to be sweet with the infinitely productive darkness of contemplation.

Most authors aren’t out to become religious contemplatives.  We don’t see the writer on our shoulder as a threat or a hindrance to be brushed off.  It’s who we are, what we do.  That said, I think I understand where Merton was coming from.  The writer on my own shoulder is seldom at a loss for words or ideas.  Sometimes I have to wrestle her into submission.

Unlike Merton, I see writing as integral to my spiritual life.  I need to take it seriously.  Seriously, as in writing whether or not I feel inspired, whether or not it’s going well, whether or not I’d rather be resting after a long day at work by watching the latest NCIS marathon.  Writing is my craft and my calling, and the only way to get better at it is to do it.

I mean, what if Rembrandt let himself off with the occasional doodle?

Of course, writing and art are means of communication, never an end in themselves.  That’s the part the writer on my shoulder doesn’t always get.  She loses sight of the someones beyond the writing.  She also doesn’t get the bit about a time to every purpose under heaven–like, for example, a time to stop whispering in my ear about the next scene or the next book so I can listen to someone else for a change.

It’s up to me to rein her in.  Honesty forces me to admit it’s not always easy, and I don’t always succeed.

But I’m learning.


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