The Palpant family line boasts several generations of wood carvers. They were craftsmen whose art, formed by blade and chisel, is uniquely geometric and intricate wood work called chip carving. Their wooden trays, grandfather clocks, and side tables mesmerized me when I was young and do so still. Such artistry required great patience and remarkable attention to detail.
Christians are called to imitate that craftsmanship in their lives and work. Craftsmen do not look down upon hard labor, nor are they averse to discipline and the mundane. They do not shun training in the form of imitation or apprenticeship. Instead, they concentrate on precision and grace, not scattering their energies, but aiming them toward the completion of the consecrated task. They know that “the world’s best work, in the schools as in the shops, is done by the calm, steady, persistent efforts of skilled workmen who know how to keep their tools sharp, and to make every effort reach its mark” (John Milton Gregory). They know that what is built without effort is generally looked upon without pleasure. They know that patience is the hallmark of quality and that everyone praises patience, but few practice it (Thomas A Kempis). They know the secret joy found in a work done excellently. You must be like them, remembering that what separates the successful from those who keep wishing to be successful is simply that the former plod along and the latter, working in fits and starts, wait on inspiration. Do the work because you are duty-bound. Duty is not a dirty, four-letter word, it is a sign of virtue. It is the demonstration of love well-ordered despite undesirable circumstances. When the ecstasy wears off and your writing feels like a chore, your words lacking punch and vibrancy, you should not fear nor grow despondent. Do the work. The beauty of your life will come, but only if you keep working like a craftsman.
Being a good craftsman is the demanded qualification for all writers and artists in particular. Even the Preacher in Ecclesiastes started with good craftsmanship in his sermons: “Besides being wise, the preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected saying” (Ecc. 12:9-11). All Christian writers are called to imitate that preacher in their careful arrangement of words. Success here, like all success, rests on the habits of execution. The preacher made it his habit to prepare his sermons well.
Habits are the hallmark of all durable success, even for those who are not artists. All of life demands faithful labor that does not depend upon good feelings to do the work. Inspiration only gets you off of the runway; habits keep you airborne. Inspiration, as so many other writers have discovered, is found by routine. Those who sit down and write every day and make the Muse their maidservant, summoning her to serve at their command instead of wringing their hands in hope that inspiration will strike like lightning. This regular writing will sustain creativity whether you experience ecstasy or not. Your career–whatever the field–will be a halting one or will falter altogether if you have to self-consciously think about those aspects of the work that should become reflex. You want most of those things to fall into the automatic ruts of your life so that you can focus on the things that demand conscious work, like craftsmanship and all the aspects of listening to the artistry of your vocation. Some of these aspects are emotional, some spiritual, and some intellectual, but they are all ultimately bodily. What are some of the aspects of the generative life that should become habit and how do they take sustainable bodily shape? We will explore some of those habits in no particular order over the next couple of blog posts.