Category Archives: A writer’s motivation



What is it about these plastic-faced dolls that’s so creepy? Forgive the silly post today. But this was the image awaiting me when I came out to the front room this morning: the little Chucky doll, sitting on the futon, beckoning me into his sick, little world.

It struck me as funny. Why was he sitting there just so? I don’t really want to think about it. It’s too scary.

The True Goal

Young geeks,

Like me, you’ve probably experienced some singularly unhelpful encouragement somewhere along the line to “quit being so weird.” But whether you’ve received outright rejection or physical coercion, it probably hasn’t worked. Many people think the world doesn’t need our kind. So should we call up Extreme Makeover and beg them to help us fit in?

Why didn’t we ignore those bullies and just forget about it? Who knows. Instead, we consoled ourselves with imaginative stories where “our kind” were the unlikely heroes. And eventually tried our hand at writing and set out to find the really great, new, exciting character we’d always wanted to be.

The problem with this is that we just aren’t great, new, exciting people. We’re strange, misfit geeks. New fiction writers all suffer from this common delusion of becoming that really great, new, exciting person. And the delusion obscures The True Goal.

What makes us think stories are going to save us from geekiness? Or worse, why do we think we can convince the world they were missing out on us all those years misunderstanding us? We sort of sense The True Goal deep down is striving toward elusive mysteries. But we need each other to basically keep smacking the good sense back into our heads, that we can’t write fiction to teach. Say it with me: “I can’t write fiction to teach. I can only write fiction to learn.”

As Scott Cairns says, our job is to find out what we don’t know about ourselves. The goal isn’t to be made-over, but to expose our misfit souls and search for the truth. And if we happen to find it—well, we won’t. But that’s our True Goal. And that’s why our really great, new, exciting—and true—work is to revel in the wondrous, geeky people we are.

Okay, young geeks. More tomorrow.

Die, nemesis! Die!

To be perfectly honest, there is a deeper purpose behind my motivation to write. I do hope to convince people of something. Recently, it was well illustrated to me by an incident that happened at work.

During a reading I was giving of Annie Dillard, the point was made that she couldn’t be much of a Christian if she didn’t “take anything on faith.” Behind the guise of courtesy and understanding, I didn’t pounce on this little, gray-haired woman and say, “Of course, she doesn’t take everything on faith, you twit! She isn’t a mindless ninny like you!” In my better moments, I am able to reserve such rancor for the ignorance behind such comments, and not the commenters themselves. Fortunately, I controlled myself and agreed that if Dillard was raising too many unanswerable questions for everyone, we might read something else. A few more people agreed on the grounds that it was fairly thick reading so early in the morning, and we decided to move on to the “something else.”

But this is just the kind of thing over which I have trouble not hopping up on a soap box. The motivating force behind my writing is often this very questioning process that writers like Dillard reveal. And often, if my own search isn’t providing sufficient inspiration, the denouncement of small-minded Evangelical foolishness makes an acceptable stand in. It’s such a temptation to go on a holy crusade to ferret out the proof that the truer Christians are committed to working out their faith with fear and trembling–and the narrow-minded, faith-clingers are the ones responsible for the sad state the church finds itself in today, irrelevant and dying.

But no. I can’t insist others question and probe all things since I certainly don’t (though I aspire to). And if the Bible offers sufficient answers for some people, who am I to judge? While faith does require doubt, it is also not the natural equivalent of ignorance. But I struggle with this. I want to shake up, uproot, shock and frighten others into deeper understanding of the light because of its awesome, vital, and ineluctable weight on my own faith journey. When I read Dillard, I get a sense of running out of words, of finally being able to see beyond the barriers to the truth of life and art and music and beauty where all things intersect and God stands waiting just beyond my reach. And when others don’t see it—or even judge my worship as faithlessness—it is not my place to be self-righteous and judge them back. But there isn’t much that makes me want to start cracking heads more.

Because, on the other hand, can passion for God exist when His unknowable mystery is simply accepted on faith? Seekers are passionate because they realize their weakness, and the inescapable insufficiency of faith. Maybe those with stronger faith don’t need writers like Dillard. But for me, the knowledge of my fragile, incomplete understanding makes me eager and humble before God. I realize I do not possess the faith that can move mountains. Mine is the approximation, and often the masquerade of unswerving faith. I attempt to nudge up to greatness through borrowed words and unwieldy descriptions of the mystery with my stolen powers. And my passion may be mightier, but my heart is paper. And it’s the shame of this weakness that forms the central impetus of my journey.

Could it be otherwise, would I wish it so? It’s hard to say. At times I think it would be nice to feel the assurance of the thing hoped for. But more often, I realize that if I had that, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate Dillard and Buechner and the great faith tradition of seekers who came before me. And I realize that would be the greater loss.


Being an associate editor is kind of like little Mikey on the Life cereal commercials, always handed the stuff no one else wants because Hey, he likes it! He has to like it. He’s the littlest. It’s a bit annoying. There’s only so much you can take.

Actually, there’s only so much of most things you can take. I can’t really think of anything–okay, well, maybe one or two things–that don’t get tired by about the 4th or 5th round. And we’re supposedly creatures of habit and routine. So why do we all tend to resist doing the same thing over and over no matter what it is?

Well, some of us don’t. I’m listening to Rachmaninov. It’s the London recording of the Ampico recordings made in 1979, “Rachmaninov plays Rachmaninov.” (Who else should he play?) So it’s actually him performing his seriously unbelievable music (and some rearrangements of familiar pieces). Some future Jeopardy contestant is out there thinking, But Rachmaninov wasn’t alive in 1979. That’s true. He died in 1943. The Ampico was an original “player piano” presented in America in 1913. The recordings were made from one of these specially-adapted concert grands. All of this is in the liner notes for any inquisitive freakoes who actually care. But it’s incredible to think of the time and energy spent developing this system to keep original performances of this music “alive.” Obviously, it wasn’t made just for Rachmaninov, but I can understand that impulse to commit day after day to bettering one’s piano proficiency. But the technicians who assigned themselves to the tedium of developing a better system for recording and reproducing the music, working for so trivial and secondary a goal to the actual art being preserved, it seems less worthwhile a role to carve out for oneself in history. Yet they had to because it was there, much like climbing the mountain. And it’s a good thing they did, because we would have never heard Rachmaninov play his own music the way it was meant to be played. It truly is a glorious thing to hear.

What the heck this non sequitur silliness has to do with any of my earlier points is that these men dedicated their lifetimes of learning to this endeavor because it was there, it was possible, and it hadn’t been accomplished before. It strikes me that this has been going on for some time now, since the first caveman saw the first mountain and thought, I’d be willing to wager that of yet, none of my cohorts has ambitioned to scale that eminent massif. . . (Okay, it was probably more a series of impassioned grunts and club waving, but you get the idea.)

Want to know what I think? (You’re reading, aren’t you?) I think the entire human race is doomed because that old saying Mom was fond of saying about following your friend over the cliff just because he jumped is actually our inescapable human instinct. We can’t help but push the button on that nuclear warhead because it’s there to be pushed. It’s what so many authors and philosophers and musicians and artists throughout the ages have been saying: Not only can we not save ourselves, we will be our own ultimate demise. We won’t have to wait for Armageddon because if Jesus doesn’t come back and defeat Satan soon, we’ll beat Him to it. The button is waiting to be pushed, God, in case you didn’t notice. I don’t mean to be pushy here, but we keep climbing the mountains, advancing, and pushing the buttons, and pretty soon there won’t be any more to push. The longer we live, the further from fine we be.

And if that isn’t reason to be writing your ever-loving guts out, I just don’t know what is.

Inspiration / expiration

I feel like I’m talking a lot about motivation as it pertains to writing. The major reason for that is writing doesn’t happen without it. With as many people out there as there are, most of whom carrying around some vague, unrealized notion of writing a book someday, how many do you think actually will? Only the ones with sufficient motivation to get their hineys in the chairs.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about motivation–particularly, my motivation when it comes to authoring my book. It’s not easy to justify spending so much time away from family and friends and other worthy pursuits like learning and reading and exercise in order to scribble, which seems such a selfish, unproductive thing to do with your time. But it’s not easy to write either. You don’t just sit down and write War and Peace–or even The Cat in the Hat–without a truly mind-blowing amount of energy and effort, devising and editing and building and organizing and crafting. It’s not sitting by the stream, languidly jotting your musings and ruminations. If you’ve ever actually done it, you know it’s just not.

And besides, it’s likely that drivel you wrote by the stream wouldn’t be readable anyway. It is my strong suspicion that unless writers slog it out in an uncomfortable, dingy hole, sweating, fingers cramping, fighting against the urge to quit with every word, birthing each thought through hard labor without the aid of laudanum, morphine, absinthe or Nyquil, it’s not going to be any good whatsoever. The world is simply not prepared to give you such an easy time of it. Of course, you want to take that at face value and not become masochistic about it. I’m not suggesting you go live in New York or anything.

But I’m convinced it is, in fact, struggle that keeps writers writing. If it was too easy, most would find something else to do–like play with the kids and go on long vacations to deserted islands. Maybe writers, like politicians, defense attorneys, and professional athletes, simply possess a weaker survival mechanism than most, which allows them to court their own expiration with such abandon. Maybe it’s good more people aren’t so motivated.