Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part conversation between Mark Shea and CatholicMatch. Don’t miss the first installation (on the purpose of prayer) and the second installation (on marketing the Catholic Church).
CatholicMatch is home to many writers and aspiring writers. What advice would you give them?
Oh, well: Write about what interests you and nothing else. That’s my first rule of writing.
That doesn’t mean you have to be a boutique writer, “I can only write about certain things.” The real trick is to cultivate interest in everything. Getting back to Chesterton, he said the world will never starve for want of wonders but only for want of wonder. The problem is not that things are boring; the problem is that people are not interested. Chesterton found everything interesting so he could write about everything.
The trick is to cultivate an interest in more stuff and then your writing will be more interesting because you’re interested.
Editor’s note: Learn Amy Welborn’s writing advice here.
So how do I broaden my interests?
I think it’s kind of like learning to ride a bike. You just do it. A lot of times what helps me is talking to somebody else who is interested in something I find boring because they care about it and they communicate their interest.
I find few things more boring than math and statistics, but I know a guy who is a science writer who uses statistics to construct interesting science fiction stories. You start to realize, “Oh, statistics isn’t dull because you know what you’re talking about.”
We normally get an interest in something because suddenly it becomes connected to your life, you read something because it reminds you of something going on in your own life.
When I write about theology, what I’m trying to do is say: This is not dry, boring information about people who died a long time ago. This stuff is alive and interesting now. There’s a reason St. Thomas was fascinated with X, Y and Z and once you can connect it to your own lives – I think this is one of the things Scott Hahn does so masterfully with Scripture study: He has made a book full of strange alien people with hard to pronounce names who care passionately about what seems to us to be obscure, archaic rituals dressed in funny clothes a long time ago fighting each other to the death over things that just seem to be utterly unconnected to anything in contemporary life. He’s brought all that back to life for a lot of people.
You’re also a great thinker. What has been most helpful in developing your mind?
Read a lot of stuff. Encounter new ideas. Don’t read simply to reaffirm your own prejudices but really talk to people who have different ideas. That doesn’t always mean talking to people who are mortally opposed to whatever it is you believe.
One of the things the Catholic institution affords us is contact with an entire civilization, so learn from that civilization! The Catholic Church is a really big place, and the great thing about it is it’s catholic and it’s made up of a lot of people who aren’t like us, who don’t think like us. Chesterton again: Catholics agree about everything, it’s only everything else they disagree about.
That’s one of the great things about being Catholic you get to encounter people who are really different from you…and that’s important. It gets you out of yourself.
Take that time that seems to be wasted on not getting the thing you want, take it as a feature and not a bug. Use it for cultivating.
Apparently God is not at this point willing you to find a spouse, so ask yourself: What is he willing me to spend my time on now?
We often get what we’re seeking by seeking something else, and we can often fail to get what we want by focusing on it.
If you want health, the last thing you should do is pursue health. Instead you should pursue going on walks and enjoying good food and having a good time and you’ll find that health comes as a byproduct. But if you spent all your time trying to get healthy instead you become a hypochondriac crank. So it’s possible to over-focus on must-get-mate. Instead focus on other stuff, and in particular, focus on: What does God want me to be doing with my life and time right now?