I have written enough to endorse my own version of what many writers believe. Writing is easy; good writing is hard; and excellent writing is like landing Apollo 13. It can feel impossible, an effort requiring a brilliance and coordination not easily at hand.
In every work of greatness, there is always something of the miraculous, a wondering of how it happened and how it might be reproduced. Lapidary phrases rarely arrive on command. Black coffee, pacing, some aimless gazing at bookshelves, watching leaves sway in wind: all this, for me, can be part of the ritual of composition. And it takes time. For this reason, blogging poses a challenge: the challenge that comes with the need to update regularly, to post content that goes beyond simply linking to other stories or reacting to others.
Like most writers, I want to offer original content, but I also like time to fine-tune.
In a forum like this where one must deliver material daily, I've come to realize that one will inevitably say things one wishes to have back. The failures of conversation are the failures of writing. The writer falls short. From time to time we say things we don't mean; we communicate a meaning we don't intend. Occasionally one wishes for a mulligan. Over the past few years, I've written some lines that, in retrospect, I wish I could rework or unpublish. In some cases it's because they're inartful; sometimes it's because I've failed to be precise; sometimes it's because, in the interest of captivating the reader, I've been too bold or too dramatic, perhaps even offensive.
As a result of my writing, of the search to find my particular voice, I've found that I feel most fulfilled as a writer when my writing represents an extension of my teaching. I want to do for readers what I hope I do for my students: help make connections, inspire questions, inform, edify, and, in the noble manner of a good coach, challenge.
As a way to keep true to the writer I want to be, I've started to run my posts through a filter of questions. For me, these questions function as a kind of blogging examen, and I'd like to share them with readers. In no particular order, here they are:
- In what I write as a Catholic, am I working toward the genuine good of the faith and the faithful (cf. Romans 1:11-13)? Or am I laboring to publicize a concern that ripens from frustration or ambition? Do I write to enlighten or to provoke?
- Do I recognize that my space in the vineyard is part of a much larger vineyard? Do I realize that my concerns about the Church must be integrated within a broader network of Catholic and Christian action? Am I tempted to select one particular view, or one particular issue, as a proxy for authentic faith?
- Do my writings about Catholicism connect to the concerns that affect humans at their deepest level? This question greets me when I walk through a mall or sit in traffic. There, I am no longer with company that I choose, with minds that share my views, but with people of every kind of belief, behavior, and trial, people who haven’t walked through the densely forested paragraphs of moral theology or constitutional law, people to whom Catholics are the unconverted. If I were to stand before them and read aloud my latest article or essay, would it resonate? Would it interest the random passersby? If not; if my words do not connect to a man or woman who doesn’t share my theological language and presuppositions, what do I make of the value of my theorizing? I realize that, at America, I'm focusing primarily on Catholic education, and it's natural, at times, to use language or discuss issues that connect mainly (and perhaps solely) to educators. But even within this subject, even when I'm writing in a more specialized fashion, I try to think about the person who stumbles upon my work, who might not have any particular training or interest in Catholic education. Does what I say speak to them?
- If faith is rightly thought of as a journey, am I able to sympathize with fellow pilgrims at different points along the way? Do I honor that God is always at work in the lives of others and respect that faith and holiness cannot develop upon a preferred timeline? Moreover, if I feel that someone may not be representing the Catholic faith fairly, do I treat that person as a complex, multidimensional reality, subject to the intellectual and moral limitations that constrain every man and woman? Do I spend the time to ensure that I have justly represented the viewpoints that I might contest? Are my convictions informed by charity?
These questions are not meant to be, and cannot be, exhaustive. They are not the only questions to ask. They are not meant to dispense with legitimate disagreement or the need for courageous witness. Criticism is okay; convictions are important. Rather, they are meant to inspire me to pause and reflect, and to ensure that what I write conveys the thoughtfulness and intentionality to which I aspire.