All posts by Mick

When There’s Too Much Anxiety in Your Way to Move Forward

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It turns out I have this unconsidered theory that what’s most important is to be comfortable.

And it’s especially true with huge challenges like writing.

One more cup of coffee, I think. Then maybe I’ll be in the zone….

There’s no coffee mug big enough for me. Or coffee hot enough, tasty enough, fresh enough. And soon, the way the perfect light hits the perfect spot on the floor has stolen 5 full minutes of my writing time. It’s not “wasted” time; actually it’s helped me recharge and get my thoughts in order. But it hasn’t gotten words on the page. And there’s a difference between taking a moment to appreciate the light, and stalling out.

Just keep showing up, I think, against all opposition. I was even geared up about it, or so I thought, seeking the answer to something, a recent idea I wanted to capture. So I came early before the day’s work because I know this is the way I work: the day must start here. So just get it down before anything else.

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But I’ve hit a wall and it’s a slog. I’m trying hard to remember the question I had, and it’s not there.

Just press on. You know writing isn’t always easy or comfortable. But when I get in this head space, there’s no denying it: my writing time for the day is slipping away.

There’s too much to do to waste this time, too many tasks and none of them can be rescheduled. The recent sweeping changes have created several places of real need and that’s led to some anxiety and overwhelm. We knew the move to Michigan would be fairly difficult, but the house has needed a lot of help and leaving our friends and family behind in Portland has been harder than we even expected. Bottom line, it’s become uncomfortable.

God knows I need challenges to push me out of my comfortable or nothing changes. I like to think I welcome change and even handle it well. But the truth is I fear it, and in most situations it’s something I resist—

What’s that? You want to introduce something new into my carefully circumscribed life here? Uh, no thank you. I’m good. Move along, please—

When I’m uncomfortable, I just want it to stop as soon as possible. Pain or struggle is evil and needs to be alleviated. It’s not useful for my good. How many times have I heard this truth espoused, and yet still I fight desperately to resist it?

I fight the truth, and I make myself uncomfortable in the process. I make myself uncomfortable in order to stay comfortable.

Which is insane.

We’ve all got to choose to respond to life’s inevitable challenges. Doing nothing is not a choice because doing nothing is still a choice. Believe it or not, accept it or not, life will change on you. Your only choice is how to respond. And when I respond by letting go of what I thought I needed, I’ll find a deeper comfort.

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I have to stand up and walk toward the window, face the light to get a hold of it, the thought comes in such a burst. But letting go of what I previously needed for comfort may be somehow the only way I’ll regain the sense that I’m safe and sound, that things are in control.

Because it will no longer depend on my own efforts to hold on to what I think I need.

In this life, nothing is what it seems. The greatest teacher was right: you have to give up your comfort in order to save it.

I haven’t fully figured this out yet, but I want to believe this. And maybe that’s enough for now. I can feel the release of it coursing through my body, holding me up, and convincing me it’ll be okay despite what it seems.

Accept the responsibility, choose to let go here and now, and you preserve your deeper freedom. You may not get to writing down words today, but there’s tomorrow and if God allows it, the next day.

There’s good, even when things look bad. The truth is always there just waiting to be acknowledged and accepted.

And surrendered to.

Am I required to do or to share anything else? Or is just living this simple truth today enough?

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And maybe next time I’ll remember this sooner, accept it more readily. When discomfort comes, can I surrender to it to keep my deeper comfort?

Only one way to find out, I guess.

“If only we try to live sincerely, it will go well with us, even though we are certain to experience real sorrow, and great disappointments, and will also probably commit great faults and do wrong things. But it certainly is true that it is better to be high-spirited—even though one makes more mistakes—than to be narrow-minded and all too prudent. It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength; and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much; and what is done in love, is well done.” – Vincent Van Gogh, (from Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh (Plume, 1995)

For the deeper, greater, and higher purpose,

 

Mick

Resiliency, Big Life Changes Like Moving and Shopping for Pants

Greetings from Grand Rapids!

I’ve just arrived at work, which means I didn’t get to writing this on Sunday, as used to be the goal. It also means this post will probably be slapdash and not as useful as it could be. (But that’s what editing is for!)

We were busy all day Sunday shopping for all the things. Winter is coming, yeah? Happily, we found what we needed, though it wasn’t easy.

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Do your worst, winter!

Shopping. Ugh. It’s such a luxury. And yet I still tend to prefer a trip to the dentist to trying on pants. Why? Maybe I’m just against having to search amongst so many other glassy-eyed men for the least horrible style, in the least unwearable color, and in my smaller-than-average size. I’d search online but Sheri is unreasonably against me looking like I search online for my pants.

Well, and who doesn’t like that squeaky-teeth-clean feeling from the dentist?

So I’ve got some pants now. And a new shirt and a sweater (not the full-body style above, sadly). I also got some office plants, hoping the investment of some small effort will lead to bigger rewards.

And as I take a deep breath this morning to reflect on all that’s changed since last year (even last month!), the major feeling is one of relief–I’m not too overwhelmed yet. Great gratitude stars go to my wife and daughters for following me here to the northeast, just in time for the winter tundra fun. I’m not just grateful for the commitment it shows to me and my career. It’s also their personal support of the greater enjoyment and engagement in doing challenging things, the adventures we’re always talking about having in life, the kind that I very much long for.

And that ambition, the one for exciting new things to experience and learn and get to enjoy together, is really a desire to progress in life, where life = lots of change. A big move like this can be the birthplace of some amazing contributions to our fellow man and woman.

But I want to parse ambition because ambition for winning a gazillion smackers, on the other hand, can easily take the place of making amazing contributions to your fellow man, and of enjoying and being actively engaged in your life. That’s not the kind of ambition you or I want to have.

Back in August, when I took this new job at Zondervan, the change was fast. Life can turn on a dime. The plan and players can all change, and what might have been (for years and years) may never be again. There’s some loss and real grief to process there, and very little time in which to do it. There are deep heart words to share, challenges to meet, and new opportunities to grow and employ our gifts in myriad ways, seemingly around every corner.

Here, it’s clear, our great need is for resiliency. The ability to withstand change.

The house needs attention, boxes need unpacking, and neighbors need introductions. How true it is that “life will not stop for us to catch up.” If the real work we should be doing is “preparing for the future” it’ll have to wait until we’ve gotten the time change and this eating-and-sleeping-with-some-regularity situation figured out.

Again, resiliency. The ability to resist the undertow. This skill must be acquired.

What keeps you going when the changes beat you down in life? What makes you get up when you experience setbacks and hard things? Brene Brown and several current self-help productivity gurus have familiarized this idea of resiliency, but I see it the ability to respond appropriately when big life changes come. It’s not about ignoring the hard, or denying your emotions. No, it’s responding well to change. Which means many adjustments. Which means preparation should be a primary activity for all of us.

Because you may not be moving across the country soon, but you can be sure there are big changes coming. And even changes for the better bring all kinds of hard stuff too. Keeping your wits about you in order to adjust and prepare and buy your full-body sweaters for winter is why resiliency is so much of the key to everything.

We have so many preparations to make–school, work, travel, money, life goals, and people to meet. It’s overwhelming, of course. And it’ll involve learning to keep our heads together better in the midst of it all, not getting distracted from the small by all the seemingly big. And I have to admit I’m daunted. How am I going to do this?

Maybe another metaphor here: both my girls (one 7th and one 10th grade) are learning new math this year. And we all are. The work of adding up all the preparations we’re learning to complete can be brain-busting. But if we can 1) stick to our process and 2) go bird by bird, it could also be fun to find new capabilities and capacities, be equipped with some new knowledge. Because the thing is none of us knows what we don’t know–we don’t even know that we don’t know it. There’s a bigger plan than all our ambitions can account for, and even good ambition requires a continual recommitment to gratitude for the chance to experience the new and be chosen for such an amazing mission.

No matter what happens, there’s always something you’re being prepared for. There’s so much more to come. And that’s motivating.

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Or maybe it’s just what I need to hear right now as I stare down a mountain to climb. The fuzzy outline of my bigger mission here in Michigan is still emerging. But while it does, it’s good to be reminded to enjoy and keep resiliencing….

It’s a verb. Of course it is. I’m an editor so you can trust me.

In the meantime, you can imagine me sporting some new pants and a new sweater while I search the internet for articles on how to keep office succulents alive.

For the much higher purposes to come,

Mick

Starting Over, Starting Again

Hello from Grand Rapids! We’ve officially moved to Michigan. I accepted an offer for a new job at Zondervan, as Senior Acquisitions Editor responsible for new and several existing nonfiction projects. I’m excited, a bit nervous, and completed surprised by the whole thing. It wasn’t in the 10-year plan at all, and yet when I listened to the job description and considered what I’d actually be doing–working to help authors create great books, mainly–it felt like me from the get go.

Of course, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to two people in particular–Ann, for her loyalty and confidence in me, and for proving to me that being real, vulnerable, and true to oneself is a viable path in this industry, and Sandy, an incredibly kind editor who helped me gain a hearing. Several other influential friends spoke up for me as well, and I’m so grateful.

By freelancing for eight years, I got to know even better the challenge of structuring books that can compete for attention and gain interest. It’s such hard work for authors to learn what it takes. But in this role, it will be much more about finding the chance to meaningfully connect with the rare few who can maintain their sense of themselves and speak with honesty, even under pressure and from a high level of visibility. To do that and still recognize their position in the crowded market, without ego but with true awareness, and probably having worked with an agent or coach who’s helped them identify and refine that particular brand and message, it’s quite a gift. And it comes with a great responsibility to carry well.

The main thing is, this first week has felt charged with potential, like a defining moment, a chance to see if the change that’s been so long in coming to the Christian market is actually, finally here. Of course, to say it like that sounds a bit ridiculous; change is always happening. But specifically, I believe the cult of personality that’s been unfortunately influencing the big retail industry for years has also recently been shifting toward a new thirst for authenticity. And I believe this is what makes the moment feel so weighty with potential. Not because of me, or any one person or factor in particular. But because the spirit of God is moving. And when Aslan’s on the move, you can be sure change is coming, in so many places and so many unseen ways.

And I guess I fee it’s worth investing in that simple hope. A hope that sincere people with a humble commitment to being spirit-led can be a force of change even now.

We’re just getting settled into our new house, the girls into school, and me into my new office. It’ll all bring its share of struggle no doubt as well. I’ll try to share about that as I’m able here. I’ve been neglecting giving the update, overwhelmed by it, and no sure quite how to say it, so when this finally came, it seemed time. Apologies for being out of touch–the move and adjustment were a whole lot to manage.

But I’m feeling excited to get to work and to share now and then about this new adventure. And we do appreciate all the support and prayers.

More soon…

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Free Editing Help and the Secret to Great Writing

After I returned from the Northwestern Christian Writers conference in Minnesota, I was inspired and fired up to get back to my book and keep revising. That often happens after a writers conference. I’d taken a bit of a break when summer hit, but the great conversations and knowledgable speakers had me raring to go again. If you’re wondering about attending a conference near you, trust me, it works….

The class I taught at the conference is shared below, a distilled collection of key questions for all writers I called Manuscript CPR. It’s culled from my experience teaching writers how to do macro and micro edits, and it’s basically how to resuscitate a dying manuscript. :) It also just happens to contain the secret to great writing (great editing, duh!), and I believe it’ll help any writer. It did me.

I hope you’ll feel inspired to make significant progress on your meaningful and needed work this week, and all month long. But more than that, I hope you’ll learn to enjoy the process so you can continue writing for years to come.

Keep aiming for the higher purpose,

Mick

Manuscript CPR+

My Writing Process, Step 3: Read 3 Pieces Before You Start

Dear you,

With tons of help and borrowed insight, you’ve been recovering. That’s so good and hopeful. Don’t forget to celebrate! It’s involved relearning compassion for the small things, and it’s been life-changing, as well as a long time coming. Specifically, you now know you started life like so many men, crying. And like too many men, you could die denying it.

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Don’t.

These lessons naturally have required much thinking about your writing process. Which has also led to some deeper questions and considerations. But you’ve fought the nagging urge to rethink everything and undo the progress, and you haven’t tossed the management of the many details of life, which is the whole trick of getting through this better and healthier. Structure is the schedule that creates routines that work well, better, best.

But don’t forget these three simple steps in your process, especially step three.

Step one – to always go back to the start—motive. And regardless of any second thought, set out to return, submitting to what you do know: that you don’t really know where you’re going. Because you can’t.

Like everything, remembering will become easier with practice. But it’s doubtful you’ll ever outgrow the need to be reminded.

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Step two The theme you think you’re capturing isn’t what you’ll end up with. The theme will arise naturally, unhurried. Wait for it and write on.

Both of these steps are about letting go, and so is this one,

Step three – Start your writing day with three pieces of high-quality reading.

There’s no getting around this: if you’re trying to be original, you’ve got to give that up. Choose reading that’ll disabuse you of that too-common notion.

Practically speaking, this is crucial and also the easiest step. Because when you make your choices and you decide to take daily drinks from three life-giving wells, you also giving up being original in your work for the day. You read a bit and you get all kinds of new, useful food on the table to be savored.

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Here’s the thing: you’ll only become what you consume. And you can’t generate your own food. You can only share what’s borrowed because you’re not that smart. You only have what you’ve been given and all you do is make yourself able to receive it.

And in the words of John Wesley, “Oh, begin!”

(The whole quote is, “What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is lack of reading….And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase…Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this….Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercise. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant. Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer.”)

You’ve heard this now so you’re responsible. You’ve also heard that you’re only as successful as your three best mentors, your three best friends? Well, this also applies to books. Each book is a friend to teach you, like each of these steps, with humility at the center. You come to the page empty, and then you need to be filled. You don’t write the story. It writes itself. You translate it.

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That’s no small task, but it’s a more manageable one than you started out with. Your process will always first be to let go of and unlearn all you think you have or bring. You have nothing. And when you’re empty of self, you’re ready to begin to refill with better food.

Of course, you won’t always want to! Especially when you’re feeling no good or you’re desperate to say something artful or profound. Fine. Put it in your journal. But before you get to work, get free of that. Trying to teach readers when you have so much to learn yourself (!) is like passing out free lemonade when your house is on fire.

And now I make a rule: never tell readers what they can surmise, but always tell them what they can’t. Obviously, this one takes some practice. For example, is it obvious? And if so, did you need to say that?

Writing is tricky, and if you’re doing it to serve readers, good. But set that aside. When you start, don’t try to say something smart. Go to the library. Get acquainted with the people who tried and failed and read them. When you find them, go easy on them, but now you can see what you’re to do.

Now you’re ready to begin.

You want your book to help. Good. If you didn’t, I’d think you forgot the whole point. But to get the church to move toward the oppressed and lost, and away from the corrosive effects of Christian consumer culture and churchianity, you’ve got to give up trying to convince them what you’ve got, and all that well-meaning ambitiousness. Stop selling and start buying the books that came before you. That’s where you’ll find one thing you simply must share.

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This can sound like wasting time. It’s not. Inspiration isn’t yours; you don’t claim it. The sooner you get that, the better.

No one has written your book yet or ever could. But if you think any of this is new, you’re not ready. Reestablish the right motive. Restore your faith. And recover the old lines.

God is not about the new. He’s about recovery work.

You were left to cry, and you know now this is at the core of it all–separation and restoration. It’s too late to go home again, but the search is home. The longing is you. Let that be and don’t fight.

But don’t forget it.

For the higher purpose,

Mick