By David Jones
I’m finally calling myself a writer.
It felt weird at first, but it’s getting easier. I’m working on kicking Imposter Syndrome to the curb (kinda), and now that I’ve retired from my government job of 35 years I can finally write without shoehorning it into breaks and lunch.
But I’ve run into a problem.
It’s not the normal problem, where I have all the time in the world to write and now I’m not writing. I write almost every day, even on rest days. No, it’s a problem with my writing attitude.
One day at work a co-worker asked me why I always talk like I’m a lawyer—all big words and enunciation. Another co-worker was positive I had no sense of humor when she first started dealing with me on technical issues, only to tell me later how wrong she was. Some students went to management to complain about my teaching style for adding jokes and not taking the material seriously in their opinion. Others loved my classes because they were fun and down-to-earth.
I actually have a few authentic communication styles; the one I use depends on what I’m doing. As a teacher I enjoy simplifying complex things and help folks understand the information using humor and relatable stories.
But it all comes crashing down because of a book I’m writing.
I’ve been working on this sucker since 2002; I’d write as far as I could and then stop for a while. I’ve wondered what my problem was, and folks had their theories, but now I see I was too early: I simply wasn’t ready to write this thing. I still had a lot of lessons to learn and growing up to do. Thanks to Buddha’s instruction, I think I’m finally ready.
The book is religious non-fiction, for folks going through spiritual deconstruction like I have. I want to reach out to those suffering along that path, to let them know other folks know what they’re going through.
But I’m still writing it wrong. I’m writing it the way I started the project in 2002—as an academic work aimed at scholars and not for folks.
After meditating on this, I’ve realized I’m stuck trying to write an academic book for legitimacy’s sake. I’m not trying to impress anyone with my words or wow anyone at the table; I’m trying to prove that I can have a place at the table to begin with.
When I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I loved—LOVED—having quiet sit-downs with the older folks in the congregation who were the same type of nerdy as me. Talking about texts, religious history, interpretations and understandings and applications (oh my!)—that’s my jam. My library bears it out too: scholarly and academic books are what I enjoy, and even if it takes some doing to wade through them, I’m generally happy to do so.
But my book project isn’t the place for that attitude.
I wanted to write in a scholarly way mostly because I was scared of not being taken seriously. I’ve had a couple of insights.
First, I had a dream where at one point I was confronted by religious people who demanded I do things their way, and I was getting ready to strike back when suddenly a guy named Joe threw his cake in the air because he thought he had to (it’s a long-ish story). I ditched the confrontation to catch Joe’s cake and give it back to him.
Second, there was a recent video from Bart Ehrman, a university professor whose work I adore, where he mentioned his students were eager to read about some topics that friends of his had written about. The scholars said, “Well, just have them read the book.” He revealed he couldn’t put students through dense, inaccessible books just to learn the information.
Regular folks want regular books.
I don’t want to write theological assaults on gatekeepers who’ll just dismiss me regardless. I want to write for Joe—a regular guy who feels trapped in a system that doesn’t understand him but only cares if he obeys the rules and follows orders without stirring up stuff. I want him to know he doesn’t have to give up his cake simply because his religion said he must.
And this change in attitude is so hard for me
So I’m employing my Beginner’s Mind; going back into my research and notes with an open mind while reassuring the little child within that he can totally sit at the adult’s table and have grown-up conversations. I’m reminding myself that Joe is just as much an adult as the academics and intellectuals.
I’m not dismissing my principles by writing to Joe—in fact, I’m finally following them.
I used to worry that readers would just ignore me unless I had a certificate in this or a doctorate in that, but I’ve found that nowadays readers will shrug at a scholar’s book and say, “Huh, it’s a shame he spent all that time getting three degrees because he still doesn’t know anything.” They aren’t the ones to worry about, not while Joe wonders if he can just hold his own cake and maybe take a bite every so often.
I know nothing’s permanent except the constancy of change, but I’m having trouble letting go of my old ways of thinking about this one big thing in my life. I hope by writing this and telling everyone about it I’ll be able to cut my tether to old thinking and let the water’s flow carry me where I need to go.
I can’t let ol’ Joe down.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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