Day 4: Starting at the Bottom

I’ve made my living as a writer since I left college almost 30 years ago. And I’ve tried to write in as many different contexts as possible. For a time, when our first child was a toddler and money was tight, I had a day job as a fundraising writer for a large charity and I also had a moonlighting job as a “stringer” for a local newspaper covering high school sporting events.

One day at church, a young man mentioned to me that he too would like to do some writing. And I enthusiastically suggested that the local paper needed more stringers and that I’d be happy to introduce him to the sports editor. “It only pays $25 per article, but the experience is great,” I told him. “You get your name in print and learn how to write very fast under pressure.”

Suddenly he laughed and waived me off and said, “No, I’m not interested in that kind of writing.” And that was the end of that particular conversation.

I shook my head at the young man’s attitude. While it could be possible that he was secretly writing the great American novel in his spare time, it is probably more likely that he was writing nothing. I was telling him about a very realistic and achievable way to break in to the field of professional writing at the ground level, and he dismissed the idea as soon as I mentioned it. My hunch is that he had a certain notion of “writing” in his mind and local sports journalism just didn’t fit his preconceived picture.

I also had a hunch that he wasn’t truly in love with the process of writing. Putting one word in front of the other and crafting innovative sentences and completing a piece that people really enjoy is how writing works; either you are in love with that laborious and time-consuming work, or you aren’t. I suppose a born writer, someone motivated to do this kind of work, would have jumped at a ground floor opportunity to work in a real newsroom.

I think there’s a spiritual lesson there. I know I’ve been like that young man in other areas. I’ve sometimes wished for good relationships yet balked at the actual, daily, difficult, unpredictable process of building relationships. I’ve wished for peace or justice or fairness or equality without loving the process of making those things happen. But when we arrive at that place of loving the details, of embracing the tasks at the bottom rungs, only then can we master the process and make progress up that ladder.

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