Wangerin, Writing, and “…the shape of my days.”

I’m celebrating the work of writing and revising and wrestling with words.  This is partly because of National Novel Writing Month and partly because I need to think about writing more than I allow myself.

I came across a delightful conversation between Mark Neal and Walter Wangerin.  Walter Wangerin is a retired writing teacher and pastor and author of more than thirty books, a few of which I’ve read.  His writing is wide, deep, mystical and searching.

In the conversation, Wangerin talks about the five covenants of writing.  He says of beginning a project that he starts “with something that has possibility,” something he can pursue.  He says, I’m sure for those of us learning from his long record as a writer, communicator, and teacher, “In order to see truth or reality as clearly as you possibly can, you have to empty yourself. And that means emptying yourself of any preconceived interpretive factors.”

He discusses his views of technology and how it’s impacted his own way of writing.  Then Wangerin mentions a friend, Eugene Peterson and how he has ended book writing and taken up letter writing.  Wangerin says,

And his mind is my mind. I’m sure there are authors who do consider what they are sending out, even by email, to be of literary value. But I think letter writing has been profoundly undermined by email. Letter writing used to be a genre of its own that was just a delight. You didn’t have to go back and forth and revise it; you could allow your mind to wander and be shaped by the relationship you had with the person you were writing. And I am sorry that that has been diminished. Because email simply gets deleted.

Is that true in your world?  Do you think that your communications have changed, or, more pointedly, that your writing has lost value because of technology?  When talking about how many people can’t live without devices and gadgets to get things like writing done quickly, he says that “writing shouldn’t be easy or fast.”  And he offers advice to writers and the theme, if I can call it that, is nurturing one’s soul.

When answering one of the last questions in the interview, one having to do with a recent book, Letters From the Land of Cancer, Wangerin talks about what motivates him to keep writing.

But it takes somebody who knows how to write it so the commonality can be discovered and experienced. And that always is the sweet slip of the sea along my boat, the pleasure of that. Why would I stop that? I mean that’s why I’m telling you all this. Not just because it’s a thing I can do, but larger than that, it’s my identity. There are a number of things that make up what I would call myself. I would say all of them are relational. And certainly I am defined by my family, my heritage, just as in the Old Testament, nobody was an individual. But I’m also defined by this thing I can do. This is not a profession, this is a characteristic that reveals the soul, the core. I write, I am a writer. In fact, it has become the shape of my days, which is a pleasure.

To read the full conversation with Walter Wangerin, click here.

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