If your writing doesn’t start with this practice, you’re cheating yourself.
Lauren Winner, author of the wonderful memoirs, Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath, tells about an experience she had when a writing student of hers showed her part of a memoir that was astounding, far better than this student’s usual writing. Winner asked the student what had transformed her writing over the course of just a few months.
The student said she’d gotten stuck on a major piece she was writing and told her priest about it. The priest said, “Have you prayed about this?”
So she did.
And the quality of her writing soared.
Winner says, before that experience, and before she saw with her own eyes the transformation in that student’s writing, “It never occurred to me . . . that there might be a connection” between prayer and writing. But there totally is.
Fifteen or so years ago, I thought I was totally spent as a writer. I’d been through a three-year process of revision and revulsion on one book that had left me doubting my ability, and drained of all enthusiasm for writing.
So I prayed.
I do that when I get desperate and there’s nothing good on T.V.
And God sent me manna from heaven—in the form of an assignment to work on a project called The Prayer Bible. For the next couple months, I spent my workdays praying through the second half of the Old Testament and recording many of those prayers as prayer prompts for that Bible’s marginalia. It was a process that not only revived me, and stoked my prayer life; I believe it saved my writing ministry. It also changed the writing process for me. It made prayer an indispensable part of the process for me—so much so that I don’t know how I ever wrote a thing before I came to see the absolute connectedness between prayer and writing.
God was talking about writing as much as anything when he spoke to Zerubbabel through Zechariah: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6, NIV). If I truly believed that, why would I try to write anything in my own strength, apart from prayerful dependence on God? I pray before I write. I pray while I write. And then I pray after I write that God will even further transform my offering through the work of godly publishers, editors, designers, artists, and so on. I pray, not to change God or others but to change me. I pray for wisdom to manage my time wisely, for discipline to apply my mind to my writing and my butt to the chair. I pray for my memory (at least until I forget). For some writing projects, I’ve assembled a prayer team to support my writing with their prayers, and I’ve tried to keep them up-to-date via email.
If you are at least as wise as me (which is not a high bar at all), you will make prayer your first writing assignment every day. Before you sharpen your pencil or turn on your computer, before you outline, before you jump into a writing exercise or research task, pray. Pray before you write, as you write, after you write. Pray for self-awareness, for focus, for inspiration, for protection. Pray to hear God clearly and to respond to him fully. Pray (as I often do) to write better than you are capable of writing.
Put a Post-It note reminder on your computer screen. Set a reminder on your phone. Enlist a prayer partner. A prayer team, even. You might want to journal your prayers. You might learn to pray God’s Word, the process that rescued my writing. Whatever it takes, if prayer is not your first writing assignment every day, then please believe me when I say you’re cheating yourself, your readers, your editors, and even God, who will partner with you in your writing…for the asking.