It was the only marginally o.k. of times, it was some pretty bad times….
Not much of an opener, right?
I went to a writers’ workshop this weekend, and mystery writer Nancy Pickard offered us some amazing advice on reworking drafts and looking for places to add lift and excitements to our scenes. She shared a template she uses in rewrites, and I highly encourage you to go to one of her workshops sometime if you want to improve your writing. It does not only apply to mystery or crime writers; she gleaned the ideas from reading classics and wondering what makes them compelling over time.
But it was after she shared her template that she offered me an epiphany moment. She said that she would add something new if she were reworking her template – another “s” to add to her list: superlatives!
She asked us to recite the Charles Dickens quote miserably paraphrased above and to a one every writer in the room could say it: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” Now was it really the absolute best of times? Was it truly the worst times ever? Perhaps not objectively, but readers are quite willing to be drawn into these worst and best times as if there could be nothing worse or better.
“Go for the superlative!” she told us. Claim the strong language and then make it real for the reader. She gave us further examples from her own and other writers showing this technique. And it was better writing, stronger writing, more compelling writing. (the best writing? the strongest writing? the MOST compelling writing? – she also said you can take things too far!)
Well, I definitely believe that this will help my writing. But I want to claim that this will help my spiritual practice as well. It may not be as catchy as “Seize the day!” but “Go for the superlative!” is a motto to strive for in our relationship to the Divine. Claim the absolute best you can be and live into it for the sake of the Creator who created you to live into fullness.
I woke up this morning ready to tackle the day. I fed the dog, loaded the dishwasher, organized the canned food cupboard, gathered plastic bags for recycling and put a whole bag of cloth bags in my car so I can stop using plastic bags – all before 6:30 am. It helped that the clock falling back yesterday had me thinking it was 7:00 am, but that’s another blog post!
So after all that action I sat down to my psalm for chanting. “Ugh. I don’t want to do this now. Maybe I’ll feel more like it later. I really need to do the rest of the dishes now. Hmm, I wonder what we have for breakfast….” I had used up all my “superlative” on housework and did not bring my best to God.
God knows that we do not always offer the superlative. Our prayers are often much more like the wishy-washy first sentence of this blog post than the tense, suspense-filled masterpiece that is Charles Dicken’s opening line. My life is neither the best nor the worst that I have to offer – it’s pretty good really, good enough, o.k. My discipleship is sometimes urgent, usually placid, not always compelling to others looking at me and trying to see Jesus.
God often sees the worst of my times, but how often do I offer the best?
This isn’t a cry to make us feel guilty; but it is a demand to be more than lackluster in our calling. When I write for God, I don’t just throw the first thing out there that comes to my head. Even as I edit this now, I am working to create the best that I have to offer for God. That can be true when I’m caring for my child, helping my husband, preaching a sermon, organizing a workshop, or walking with a spiritual directee through a difficult path. It’s a bit of a pain to dig deeper than the superficial, but it is in that digging that we get to the best we have to offer.
So claim the superlative for yourself and for God. You’ll be glad and so will the people who are inspired around you!
What would it look like for you to offer your best to the Divine? To the world? Is it possible to edit in life the way we edit in writing? What was the last “epiphany” moment you had at a conference or event, after reading a book, or after having an interesting conversation? Can an epiphany in one area of your life spill over into your spiritual life?
I want to give a shout out to the wonderful folks who organized and sponsored The Write Place Writers Festival in Statesboro, Georgia this past weekend. Both workshops I attended, by Roland McElroy and William Timothy Murray, offered new insights and inspirations and I enjoyed a lunchtime discussion about motherhood and getting organized so much that I forgot to get Lawrence Green’s wife’s name so I can follow up. I pray our paths will cross again once her baby is born!