Why I Like to Write

by Melannie Svoboda SND on January 11, 2016

I have always liked to write. In fact, I wrote my first “novel” in third grade—in a big red tablet with yellow paper. My “book,” called Sugar, was about four pages long. It was the story of a little girl my age who wanted a pony (Sugar) with all her heart. When she asked her father if she could please, please have one, he said, “Yes, you may have a pony.” In real life, I had wanted a pony with all my heart too, but when I asked my father if I could please, please have one, he said, “NO.” I think I began to write in order to fashion a world more to my liking.

Throughout elementary school I wrote poems for my friends and family and letters to pen-

I wrote my first novel in third grade.

I started writing young.

pals all over the world: Italy, Yugoslavia, South Africa, Japan, Australia, and Singapore. In high school, I wrote for the school newspaper and literary magazine. I also sent stories to Seventeen magazine—which were promptly rejected. During my senior year I began a large diary (7″ x 11 1/2″) on the first day of school. It ended on page 433—the day I left for the convent. As a young nun, I was not permitted to write to pen-pals or write stories, so I wrote parodies and programs for community celebrations instead. In college, I was one of those rare students who loved to write term papers—whether on irony in Hamlet or the conflict between the Amish and state and federal law. Years later, I began writing for publication, starting with articles on education and spirituality. Then came the books. And now, I even have this blog!

The Journal I kept in my senior year. I called her "Kury."

The Journal I kept in my senior year. I called her “Kury”—short for curiosity.

Why do I write? It’s easier to say why I don’t write. I don’t write for money. Only the best-selling writers make big bucks. The rest of us tread water. I don’t write for fame or glory. Sure, it’s nice seeing my by-line on something. And getting a “fan letter” from someone in Tampa or Nairobi is gratifying. But most of the time writing means sitting all by myself in a room with a computer, wrestling with words.

I don’t write because writing is easy. For years I didn’t think I was a real writer because writing was hard work for me. Even today writing demands more discipline than almost anything else I do. Oh sure, sometimes a poem or article almost writes itself, but that’s rare. Very rare. Like most writers, I write and rewrite and rewrite. If something is easy to read, chances are the author rewrote those words many times to get them to flow smoothly.

I don’t write because I know what I think and feel and, therefore, I can’t wait to get it down on paper. No, I write in order to discover what I think and feel. Some say the best way to learn something is to teach it. I’d add, the second best way to learn something is to write about it.

Writing is a scary business. That’s because words are essentially self-revelatory. Every time I write something, I’m sticking my neck out and announcing, “Look! Here’s what I think! Here’s where I stand!” Is there anything more scary than that? But I am quick to add: I don’t write definitively or once-and-for-all, but always provisionally.

Writing entails a lot of rewriting.

Writing entails a lot of rewriting.

Everything I write is implicitly stamped: “This is what I think today. But ask me again tomorrow.” New information or new experiences can alter something I wrote years ago or even last week.

I also write because when I don’t write, I feel bogged down and old. Writing enlivens me and makes me feel young. Writing for me is a precious gift. To work with words, to woo them, to coax them into some sort of meaningful expression, is both a privilege and fun. Writing (like reading) also puts me in touch with what it means to be human—with all its nobility and pettiness, its meanness and tenderness, its ache and its charm.

Writing is humbling. Sometimes after I write something, I say, “Where did that come from?!” And I have this sense that, with my writing, I have tapped into this huge river called Grace. Sometimes a reader says, “What you wrote was exactly what I needed to hear.” I think, “That’s God’s doing. Not mine. That’s Grace.”  My writing is also intertwined with my praying. I resonate with John Henry Newman’s words: “I pray best with a pencil in my hand.”

 

Here are two versions of the song “Who Am I?” by “Casting Crowns.” The first version displays the lyrics against beautiful pictures. The second version is the song sung at a live concert while a group of dancers, dressed in black and wearing white gloves, create some fascinating images to accompany the words of the song.

“Who Am I?” with lyrics:

“Who Am I?” with hand choreography:

Does anything stand out for you in this reflection on writing?

What role does writing play in your life? your prayer? What role does reading play in your life and prayer?

What did you think of the song?

PS: This is the last week to take my survey. (See last week’s reflection.) I will share the results with you and announce the winner of my new book The Lord Is My Shepherd soon! 

 

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Shauna Bankemper January 11, 2016 at 5:04 am

Dear Melannie,

Sister Yohanisa from Indonesia read your blog with me today. Sister is going to study at the Angelicum this semester and is learning to be a better writer. She appreciated your insightful article and all that you do to be a good writer. Keep her in your prayers as she begins her studies.

Sisters Shauna and Yohanisa

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Mary Therese January 11, 2016 at 9:20 am

I love to write too, and filled Big Chief and rainbow tablets with all sorts of plays, stories, poems. I wrote letters for many years, but when I moved back nearer my family that stopped. Every now and again someone shows up with a bag of my letters that they saved “just because” and it’s interesting to read my reflections from days gone by. I don’t write much now because I teach writing at a state university, and that consumes all my time. (At least 25% of my students now come from Asia which presents new challenges for me, )but I love working with writers and I think most of them enjoy working with me. I’m thinking I might just share your blog with my new students that I will meet tomorrow. I truly enjoy your writing Sister Melanie, and look forward to seeing your blog every Monday. Thank you and Happy New Year and best to you in 2016!

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Kathleen January 11, 2016 at 9:26 am

Sr. Melannie,

I write mostly for research purposes. I find writing is mostly rewriting. I really enjoy co-authoring with other academics.

Good discussion!

Kathleen

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JoAnn Welch January 11, 2016 at 10:07 am

I am not a writer…I do keep a journal, but write very infrequently. I just read my journal recently which spans a few years. Since it contains people, events and spiritual thoughts, it was good to see where I was, what has changed and what has not!! Perhaps giving me some direction for the future!! I am not sure why I don’t write more often! I do knit and quilt and mend for the family…so I am blessed to have that creative outlet!!! Thanks, Sr. Melanie…I have read and own some of your books…don’t stop those ideas from becoming articles and books!!!

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Marjorie January 11, 2016 at 10:25 am

Thank you for writing, Sister Melanie. I was given your book about the 23rd Psalm by Betty for Christmas. I have been praying with it these last few weeks and memorizing the version of the psalm in your book. You gave me a bit to think about, and I have taken comfort in “Even when I walk through a dark valley, I feel no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage.” I knew the old, familiar version, but memorizing this version made me think about it more. So, thank you for writing and helping me along my path. Words are so important.

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Betty Nagel January 11, 2016 at 4:37 pm

Hi, Marjorie! Glad you are prayerfully enjoying Melannie’s book on the Good Shepherd Psalm. I gave away all my copies so I need to get myself a copy. I knew it would be good. Melannie, thanks for another inspiring books. Keep them coming. They are a great blessing.

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Mary Schneider January 11, 2016 at 10:27 am

Sr. Melannie: I am not a writer, but am an avid reader. I also keep a daily journal of spiritual readings. Each day I read from scripture, various daily publications, and of course your books. So that I can easily recall a thought or an especially moving reading, I label each one with the author’s name. Yours are labeled Sr. Melannie, except for the day I inadvertently promoted you to St. Melannie, a natural error ;). Keep writing, I await each of your books eagerly.
Mary

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Janis Stavana January 11, 2016 at 10:46 am

I like your statement that “This is what I think today.” We should be influenced by new information, changing circumstances, etc. It really bugs me that we don’t allow this of our politicians. We hold them to what they said and did thirty years ago. If they change their minds they are wishy-washy and unfit to hold office. We need to get over it! Get real! It’s a changing world.

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Jean Hartl January 11, 2016 at 11:08 am

Sister Melannie,
Thank you for another inspiring start to the week.
Jean

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Karen January 11, 2016 at 11:16 am

I too used to keep a journal and dreamed about writing a book. When I was a girl, I was the official chronicler of our family vacations. But what I have been most faithful to has been poetry – both prose and Haiku, although my jobs require so much writing that I don’t devote much time to poetry anymore. I don’t care for the re-writing so much. (I tend to think its great just as it comes out. ) Your post today reminds me that this side of me has to be nurtured too. Maybe I will add it to my New Years Resolutions! Thank YOU for writing each week- I look forward to it as a little bit of welcome quiet time on the ever-hectic Mondays.

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Patty January 11, 2016 at 1:36 pm

Thank you, Sister.

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Sister Lois Wedl, OSB January 11, 2016 at 2:00 pm

You captured so well what happens when I write. Often I don’t know what I really am thinking and/or feeling until I dig deeply inside and remove layer after layer of the more superficial thoughts that are blanketing the truth that is buried deep within me. At times, I am truly amazed and marvel at what I find hidden close to my heart. At moments like that I say, “Thanks Spirit of Wisdom for revealing this hidden truth to me.” Often I find my heart singing in joyful gratitude. I don’t ever find something that disappoints me and/or makes me feel guilty. God is so merciful and knows just how to encourage me to change my ways of thinking to be more in tune with God’s way.

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Josita January 11, 2016 at 2:09 pm

Dear Melannie,
I am so happy that you love to write..and so beautifully; because I am one of the beneficiaries of your talents. I have several of your books and especially love the poetry in ” When the Blue Heron Flies”. I’m not much of a writer but do like to write on occasion…my forte is reading.
Thank you so much for cooperating with the Spirit and keeping us spiritually nourished! I look forward to Mondays.
Many prayers are with you as you continue your writing and speaking ministries. You are blessed! Josita

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Sunnie Poplar January 11, 2016 at 6:51 pm

Loved the hand choreography……….found it very moving, as was the song.
First time I’ve heard it. You are always bringing something new and beautiful to us. Thank you.

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Sister Miriam January 11, 2016 at 7:03 pm

When I read your words ” I write in order to discover what I think and feel” my heart jumped for this is what I do, especially when I’m confused or trying to figure something out. I start writing and then things come together. I then put it in poetry form and keep a journal. Truly enjoy rereading my journal and seeing how my life has grown with the grace of God. You are the highlight of my Mondays, thank you for all your writings.

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Mary January 11, 2016 at 7:38 pm

I could totally relate to your words: “Writing is very humbling. Sometimes…I say, ‘Where did that come from?'” I hated writing when I was in school and wound up doing something as far from writing as possible – teaching math. Thirty years later, I find myself writing reflections for my parish and a spiritual weekly blog for the teachers in the Catholic school where I work. God is a God of surprises! I too am humbled by what winds up on paper and know the Holy Spirit works overtime when I sit at my laptop to write!
P.S. I have written only one fan letter in my life, and that was to you when you began writing for Praying Magazine. I was disappointed when the magazine folded shortly afterward (not because of you!) but am delighted to see your reflections in Living With Christ. Thank you!

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Beverly Palumbo, RSM January 12, 2016 at 8:18 am

Beautiful….perhaps I will begin to write again…thanks and God’s blessings.

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Marion January 12, 2016 at 10:07 am

I read your blog every week and am always inspired by your thoughts and incite . I have journaled for many years and find when I get lazy about writing I becomes anxious and afraid. I have so many memories and topics I desire to write about but have always been fearful to share with anyone..once again your writing has inspired me to move forward and let go of another block that holds me back. Thank you so much and God Bless you.

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Chris January 12, 2016 at 11:43 am

Sr. Melannie,
I don’t write much, but I love to read. I especially enjoy your blog and books. It was interesting to read today your “journey” as a writer. Loved the songs as well. Wishing you God’s many blessings for 2016!

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Tom January 12, 2016 at 9:03 pm

It has taken me a lifetime to appreciate writing, especially fiction, which I dismissed as “made-up stuff.” Now I realize it is a window looking out at our shared humanity, and I can see myself reflected in the window pane. (Now that imagery just popped out of nowhere, again proving how powerful writing can be.)

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Kathy D January 13, 2016 at 9:14 am

Thank you again for another meaningful reflection.

I too, wrote a lot as a child and teenager. Stories, poems, pen pal letters and journals of my feelings.

I studied journalism in college, half expecting to be a sports writer and cover my favorite “Big Red Machine” players. LOL

I landed a job with a legal publishing company, and have stayed put, since it was a great place to work as I had my children.

Today I still do some journaling, but don’t write as much as I did when I was younger. I do love to read, however, and especially enjoy your Monday blog. Keep it up!

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Jean Canatsey January 13, 2016 at 10:14 pm

I write for the same reason that I play the piano and sing…..I have to. It is a necessary component of my life. In High School I worked on the School newspaper and was on the Yearbook staff. However, I did my first serious personal writing at the age of 32 (I’m now 76) when my father was dying and I had so many things I wanted to say to him that I couldn’t seem to put into words. I was surprised by what I had written and had no idea where much of it had come from. I remember telling him that I had read, “A child who walks in the woods with his Grandfather has seen the face of God.”
I journal and I write to a number of inmates. I learn a lot about myself from journaling and the inmates I correspond with tell me that I am their “window to the world”. I have had a number of things published over the years but have never received compensation. I write because I have to.

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Melannie Svoboda SND January 14, 2016 at 4:26 pm

Dear Readers All,

I want to thank all of you who read this reflection–and especially those who responded to it. I’m happy to learn how many of my readers are also writers–whether keeping a journal, writing poems or stories, co-authoring academic articles, helping others learn to write, or writing to prisoners.

I also liked the point Janis made–that we have a right to change our mind! And the point Lois, Miriam, and Mary affirmed: the wealth of wisdom inside of us that writing often reveals. Marion underscored the scary side of writing while Tom reminded us of the value of “made up things” (fiction) in helping us get in touch with our humanity. And I appreciated Jean’s comment too: “I write because I have to.”

Thanks to all of you for sharing your experience and wisdom with all of us!

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Mary Fran January 19, 2016 at 12:19 pm

Dear Mel,
I’m playing blog catch up but reading this one about writing today was perfect and I have new enthusiasm for capturing thoughts in words. Thanks for sharing your early writing history!
Mary Fran

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