Creative Giants: Ed Cyzewski

March 20, 2013

Today, I’m so humbled and grateful to welcome Ed Cyzewski to my blog.  Ed blogs at In a Mirror Dimly and has written numerous books on topics ranging from theology to Christian unity to creativity.  He’s a fantastic writer, and an all-around super guy.

How David Sedaris Helped Me Write Pretty One DayEdC200

Four years in seminary exposed me to thick, heavy academic theology books. They were all I knew about writing. They were all I imitated.

State a thesis. Defend your thesis. Beat your head against your desk as you format footnotes. Edit to make sure your ideas are clear.

That was writing for me. I thought it was fine. Not great—just something I could do reasonably well.

I’d forgotten the years I’d spent writing silly stories in elementary school.

I’d forgotten the encouragement of my high school English teachers.

I just wrote ideas: bland, simple ideas constructed on a scaffolding of research.

By the time I started to entertain the possibility of writing full time, I happened upon Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. I’d seen it release while working at a Borders Bookstore, but it wasn’t until after seminary that I started to read something other than theology or Christian living books.

Sedaris charmed me with the whit and disarming honesty of his stories. Much like his father, Lou Sedaris, I caught myself saying, “Can you believe this guy?”

After immersing myself in Me Talk Pretty One Day, I devoured the other zany books by Sedaris, such as Naked, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames. These are not profound stories. It’s not like Sedaris had a horribly destructive childhood that he could write about in a bestselling memoir before vanishing from the literary landscape.

Few dramatic things ever happen to Sedaris, and yet he subtly pokes fun at everyday life in such a way that you can’t help joining him. As I reveled in the joy of reading his stories, the thought crossed my mind: “Hey, I could do this!”

I need to step back and make sure I convey my tone. I wasn’t saying, “Easy! I can do this!” It was more of a revelation about my personal calling. “I can do this!” There’s no hope I’ll ever achieve his mastery, but he did shine a light on my path to help me take a key step forward.

As much as I’d immersed myself in research and academic writing in my undergraduate and graduate studies, Sedaris taught me that I could tap into my imagination and turn it loose in my writing. Rather than chaining myself to heavy reference books, I started to ask what it could look like to write books that were true to who I am.

There’s only one David Sedaris. To imitate him would be foolish. However, as I dug deeper into my own creative interests, my gut guided me away from academic books but not necessarily away from Christian writing in general. In fact, I found that I needed to turn my imagination loose on the Bible.

I had to unlearn academic writing. I had to stop beating my readers over the head with authoritative statements. I had to learn how to dance through anecdotes, metaphors, and punch lines. I stopped thinking of arguments and focused instead on observing my surroundings and making ancient stories come to life.

No one could have explained this path to me. In a sense, I needed to see a writer like David Sedaris forging his own way in the world and imitate his example in the pursuit of my own creative calling.

As I’ve let myself write about the Bible in my own way, I’ve found tremendous peace and fulfillment. I know that I’m doing exactly what I was made to do.

Perhaps the greatest artists and writers make us feel comfortable in our own skin. They give us permission to say “Yes” to that part of us that is longing to be set free. I confess, sometimes, when I sit down to work on one of my book projects, I catch myself feeling grateful that David Sedaris had a speech impediment.

Tell us about that special person – who does something that makes you say, “I could do that!”

9 responses to Creative Giants: Ed Cyzewski

  1. I feel like that about Anne Lamott. She is such a vulnerable writer, totally honest, self-deprecating and super funny. I met her once, in New York City and I opened my mouth to ask her a question to which she instinctively knew the answer. “Just keep your butt in the chair and write”, she said.

    She was quoting the advice she wrote in “Bird By Bird” and I remembered it as soon as she said it but I’ve never needed to hear 9 words more in my life! There is something so comforting in knowing that I can write whatever I want, rules be damned. I just have to keep my butt in the chair and write.

  2. I always enjoy your point of view, Ed, and today I found it especially timely. While I can’t immediately think of “a special person” such as you describe, I needed to hear again words like these: “I could tap into my imagination and turn it loose in my writing….I started to ask what it could look like to write books that were true to who I am….There’s only one David Sedaris. To imitate him would be foolish.” I’ll try to remember this concept the next time I find myself concerned that my blog is too shallow compared with someone else’s, the next time I wish that I could “think as deeply” as so-and-so – you get it. Oh, and on second thought…maybe there IS such a special person after all, and his name is Ed!

  3. When I started reading Sarah Bessey it flipped a switch in my brain. Oh, I am allowed to write things that are beautiful (not that I think my prose is even comparable to hers!) or I can make my point without simply stating it. She is a game changer for sure!

  4. Sarah Bessey helped me see that I could put myself out there to the world. Seeing her overcome her fears of public speaking made me see that I could get over my fear of sharing my writing.

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