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I really don’t think of myself as a writer. I’ve written a bunch of books, but that doesn’t make me writer. It just means I type a lot. Writing is different. I know good writers, and they intimidate me. They think about what they are going to say, organize their thoughts, use adjectives, and spell-check, all the things I don’t want to do.

Writing is not my joy and solace. It is more like my 9th grade science teacher, with his arms crossed standing behind me watching me use the cat as a ventriloquist dummy instead of dissecting it. I can feel his presence and I am uncomfortable. I know I’ve been caught, but if I avoid eye contact, maybe he’ll go away.

Anyway, despite myself I’ve picked up a few things over the years, and one recent insight has proved helpful: I’ve learned to recognize the voices inside of me. Not the crazy kind that told me to buy a Ford Pinto in high school and later told me to go to graduate school, but the voices of an audience in my brain bearing down on me, watching me, daring me–DARING me–to write something coherent. My voices have a bit of an edge.

About a year ago, without having been conscious of it before, I came to see that I had always been writing to an audience buried deep in my soul made up of three voices.

  • we are hostile toward you
  • we are ignorant of your topic and we don’t care
  • we are easily bored by anything you say

This phantom audience began to take up residence deep inside me at a very young age. I grew up in a home where one parent tended to dominate a room with monologs–long ones–45 minutes sentences, never noticing that those trapped in the room where getting agitated and bored by topics that interested no one but the speaker.

I only recently became conscious of these memories invading my writing–at a time in my life when I was doing a ton of writing—books, book proposals, essays, articles, and especially blog posts. All that typing seems to have been a form of unintended journaling that brought things to the surface.

When I write (and speak), I have a deep reflex not to produce those feelings in others that were produced in me.

In retrospect, it seems I have always put a lot of energy into my writing to try to counter each of these voices.

  • I assume it is my job to work hard to bring readers to see the value of what I have to say
  • I work at being as clear as I can so as not to require of readers unnecessary effort to grasp the heart of what I am saying
  • I try to find ways to grab my readers to keep them from wanting to stop reading after the second sentence

This is where these edgy voices have led me. It wasn’t planned and I’m not saying I pull it off, but being conscious of these voices is part of my own transition from typing a lot to maybe writing a little. I guess what I’ve learned–as corny as it sounds–is that writers are in touch with themselves. Otherwise, they’re just typing.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.