“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention…” Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
Partway through writing A Ranch to Keep, I gave up. I know exactly when it happened. I’d gathered my courage and signed up for the annual Romance Writers of America conference. But I found it extremely intimidating to see so many hundreds of writers all in one place. What could I possibly contribute to this throng that would be the slightest bit original? And then I overheard experienced writers talking about how western novels were dead. No one wanted to read about cowboys any more. And my book was about a cowboy.
That was the moment I lost faith. The story I was so excited about suddenly seemed dull. My newly discovered imagination seemed a feeble tool compared with the confidence and knowledge of the writers around me. I went home and put my book away, pouring my love of writing into teaching my students to write well.
But the writing bug had bit me and I couldn’t forget my book. Six years later I pulled it out again and read what I’d written. My husband read over my shoulder, and his enthusiasm gave me my first shred of faith. “You can do this,” he told me. “You’re a really good writer.”
Clutching that shred of faith like a lifeline, I started writing again. And like any writer, I got stuck. But I wasn’t willing to give up the dream that I’d finally found the strength to reach for a second time. So I prayed. I prayed to get unstuck. I prayed for clarity and creativity. And a few days later, I had an “aha!” moment about my story, and lo and behold, I was unstuck.
And after that, prayer became my secret weapon. (Not so secret now that I’m sharing it with you!) When it seemed like I’d never get to the end of my manuscript, I prayed for stamina. When I couldn’t think of a plot point, I prayed for inspiration. And it worked! Maybe the answer wouldn’t come immediately, but I’d say a prayer, wait, and do my best to trust that I would figure it out. And sometime in the next day or so, I’d find what I needed.
Every experience like this made me believe, a little bit more, that I really could write a book. It was such a thrill to type “The End” on my first complete novel!
It feels a little odd to confess that I pray about my romance novels. And when I pray about my writing, I’m not even quite sure who, or what, I’m praying to. I do believe in God, but I don’t feel very comfortable bothering Him about my struggles with a plot point!
What I’ve been wondering lately, though, is that maybe the power of my writing prayers is in the asking. That by formulating my questions and stating my needs and sending them off, I am fending off the panic of writer’s block. By trusting that the answers will come, I’m giving my mind some unstructured time to mull things over.
Or maybe, by praying, I become willing to let go of the controls and just listen. And that’s why Mary Oliver’s gossamer words whispered to me while I was writing this post tonight. “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention…”