Category Archives: Fear

What to Do When You Suspect It’s Not Enough

“Doubtless some ancient Greek has observed that behind the big mask and the speaking-trumpet, there must always be our poor little eyes peeping as usual and our timorous lips more or less under anxious control.”
- George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1871

So you’re finally ready to get honest? You’re finally ready to admit that your writing is no good?

Congratulations. Welcome to the club! It’s time you knew the secret everyone else who writes already knows: it’s no good because you’re not good enough to write it.

And you’re not good enough for one, inescapable reason (and it isn’t a lack of trying). You’ve suspected it all along. It’s crept up on you time and time again as you waited for the words you knew wouldn’t be right:

You’re not enough.

You know. Everybody knows. It’s not really a secret at all. But here’s the thing–it’s not that big a deal. Trust me, plenty of people aren’t enough. It’s no reason to give up.

It should give you serious pause though. If more people realized this, there’d be far less junk published every year.

The best thing you can do now is take a moment to do yourself (and everyone else) a favor, and figure out what you’re going to do about it.

The vital question, of course, is what now?

1: Start with what IS working. Despite its shortcomings, your book is honest, insightful, revealing, and even inspiring. It achieved much of what you set out to do. It’s simply not what you should have set out to do. And that’s a tough pill to swallow–you’ll have to develop some discernment to sort out what exactly is good about it–but you’ve got time. And you’ve got the patience and skill to figure this out.

2. Go back to the vision. Reevaluate the origination of this book. What was the inception? What were you really after? If you’re like most of us, this is not natural or automatic. You don’t easily decide to change what or how you wrote simply because you need to. It’s hard to discover what you were really after (Teaching a lesson to prove a point? Affirmation or acclaim? Serving God better so he’d bless you?) 

Hey, welcome to the writer’s process!

Everyone who sets out to write a book finds it’s harder than they thought. Hopefully, you realize you’ve got to edit it, but also, you’ve got to let it be what it wants to be, not what you want it to be. Sadly, I don’t think that is ever easy. But less sadly, this is something your book will teach you if you can slow down and listen.

This is what my book taught me: I was after all those parenthetical things above. So going back to the vision to reevaluate was the only way to improve. The first draft wasn’t a waste–I needed to write it to get it out and see it clearly. But I also needed to accept refining (or redefining) the vision as simply the next step in the process.

Reevaluating the vision is what you do when your goal is the truth.

We’re not alone. And we’re not getting off with a “one-time-and-done” edit. This reevaluating will be consistent, ongoing, and require lots of commitment (motivation!) to see what’s really going on.

I know that’s what writing is, but that’s also what life is. We’re really trying to see things as they truly are.

Yeah, that’s a big, deep concept. And yeah, it was always that big. We just don’t like to see it too clearly–it’s scary.

So let this feel overwhelming for a while. It’s okay. Take it slow. And thank God now you can recommit to this deeper goal and finally stop seeing refinement as a barrier to success.

It isn’t. It never has been. Because the truth is exactly what you always wanted.

3. Recommit to the higher purpose. When I started this little blog experiment in 2004, I was working for a national ministry publisher and didn’t have a clue I’d still be editing 13 years later. I had one goal: keep my core motivation of honoring God. From my first post, the Monday Motivations and the “Higher Purpose” tagline was about establishing and evaluating what we’re really after in writing.

I believed this was what made successful writers.

Letting go of all selfish purposes, and deciding to love the journey. This was the one thing I knew I wanted.

Finding your higher purpose is always the real work because we’re fickle, distractable, chronically forgetful people. We are the Israelites. We forget God is working, we forget we’re following and not leading, and we forget the real point isn’t what we’re after but what he’s doing.

We’re always beholden to the work. And God is in it, if we’ll stop to notice and listen. So the real work is always slowing down to pay attention to what we’re really doing and saying, and why. Writing ultimately means leading readers to know what’s most important. But always first, we’ve got to find that ourselves.

If we’re going to be good guides and bring fresh air to many, we have to relax and be healed of our need to perform.

I was talking with another author who suffered unimaginable damage in her life. It’s taken years to acknowledge it was wrong and overcome it. It absolutely floored me that she’d done what I always have, diminishing the pain. “EVERYONE else’s pain was always worse,” she said.

What holds writers back isn’t the pain itself; it’s the struggle to believe it warrants attention.

That’s the unbelievable, secret truth, the debilitating LIE that a writing coach can’t fix. How can I express this strongly enough to convince you: this belief is the great evil in your way. People spend their lives afraid to allow what they suffered to matter, unable to allow the only thing that could break the bonds of that fear: accepting the truth.

We’ve been told over and over again, “No one cares. You don’t matter. Whatever you think happened, it was nothing compared to real struggle. You know nothing of what that’s like.”

Everyone thinks this. It’s designed to keep you safe. Day after day, month after month, how long has it held you silent?

You’re not going to make mountains out of molehills. It was bad enough. You won’t be throwing a pity party. You’re just going to acknowledge it happened and it hurt. You’ll never know real freedom until you call it what it was, and face this fake news playing in your head 24/7.

People care. It does matter. It was real. And it was wrong.

So many people need the freedom of that. And all it takes is your honest, vulnerable courage.

Face it. For justice, for peace, for righteousness and healing.

You were chosen to speak this. No more lies. It’s time to realize what you carry, Light-bringer. Share what you’ve been given, and see it transform out of the ashes of your past. It matters, and no one can change that. Nothing can overcome this–no more dodging.

“Don’t you know that a midnight hour comes when everyone has to take off his mask? Do you think life always lets itself be trifled with? Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?”
- Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, 1843

For the higher purpose!

M

How Professional Writers Get Unstuck

“If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”

Hilary Mantel

 

Before we go any further, let’s get rid of that pesky assumption buried in the title you’re afraid to fully claim as a “professional writer.”

“Professional writer” does NOT mean a writer who gets paid to write. A professional may get paid, or they may still be struggling to turn their work into a money-making endeavor. “Professional” simply means writing is your profession; it means you’ve professed that this is your primary pursuit. Do that, and you’re a professional.

So now, as a professional, you should know that the main trick, your primary skill in this profession is getting unstuck. The main thing that separates the professionals from the amateurs is this one difference. A professional, as pretty much every writing guru on my shelf has said (Lamott, King, McKee, Pressfield, Maass, Shapiro, Gardner, L’Engle, Koontz, et al), treats writing as their job.

Sometimes you’ll like it, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll love it, sometimes you won’t.

The way to become professional is to treat writing like the job you show up for, every day, with at least one day of rest. This trains you to take it as it comes. To “play it where it lies.” If that thought’s stuck in the weeds, well, you take your machete and your wedge and just try to get it back on playable ground.

The other thing about being professional no one ever told me is that when you get stuck–and that’s a when, not an if, especially if you’re writing every day–you’ll need to back off and assess the situation. If you’re prepared with this acrostic, you’ll have a much easier time:

Unplug. Notice. Slow down. Taste and see. Use your senses. Check fear. Kick judgment out. = Unstuck

U – Unplug from the internet, social media, entertainment, even the music. Seek quiet and don’t turn the devices back on until you’ve written.

N – Notice your world around you and pay attention to what’s influencing your heart and mind. There are always multiple factors involved in any moment of time, whether you’re perfectly balanced and thinking clearly, or unbalanced and need a coffee refill first.

S – Slowing down should be first, but I find it impossible to do before unplugging and noticing what I need to take stock of in my situation. The Christian life is all about getting beyond the circumstances influencing you to trade your salvation for a pot of stew, a pot of gold, a pot of raving acclaim. Slowing down needs to be every inspirational writer’s primary setting.

T – We’re all familiar with the scripture verse “taste and see that the Lord is good,” but when you notice what’s affecting you, do you also notice the beautiful leaves, the sound of the rain, the softness of the light? Or are you too unaware of all you have to be grateful for? A writer is someone who’s awake first. That’s how you wake others.

U – Use your senses, all six. If your coffee is strong as mine is, it’ll help. What is that color dripping from the leaves reflecting the soft light? How is the breeze warm and cool at once? But most importantly, the sixth sense, the inner sight: how does it move you to sense God in all he’s still creating for you to name, Image-bearer?

C – No one wants to leave the safe road, but caves don’t exist except in out-of-the-way places. And the cave you most fear to enter is the one that holds the treasure you seek. Did you think being a professional would mean anything less? If it was always easy and well-lit, everyone would be riding this roller coaster. Most get off.

K – “Kick” implies a little violence and it’s intentional here. Judgment will keep you safe and small your whole life if you let it. We Christ-followers have become masters at it: “Don’t do this, don’t do that, and definitely don’t even think about that.” You want to write? Quit with the rules. You’re gonna have to risk offending even yourself. Remember, forgiveness is a blank check you write yourself first. Don’t apologize; you’re a rebel with a cause here. You have infinite permission in the sacrifice you’ve received and agreed to promote with your life.

When you do all of that–Unplug. Notice. Slow down. Taste and see. Use your senses. Check fear. Kick judgment out–you’ll become a professional writer who knows how to get unstuck when, not if, it happens again.

The joy of this process is in the wisdom that it’s never any different. It’s always a choice to remember what you know and go forward into the places others fear to tread. Monsters be there, yes, but so do incredible riches. The riches of what this dusty old checkers game is really about.

Get in there and get your hands dirty, my friend. I promise you won’t regret it.

Happy Monday.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

How a Writer Gets Free of the Struggle

“You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart–your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.”

Anne Lamott

 

What terrifies you?

It can seem a simple question. But have you tried to answer it?

Disaster, death, so many ways it all could be ruined and the people I love could be hurt or taken from me. Big spiders, embarrassing myself, talking to strangers, these are all lesser fears, but they seem related.

What’s beneath them? When I stop to feel it, I think it’s a terror of missing out on the best in life, whatever that is.  I fear never experiencing the greatest things life has to offer. They could be stolen by circumstances, so simply because I didn’t have the awareness to go after them, or the plain courage.

My biggest, deepest fear seems to center around navigating risk.

Everyone has deep fears, even the most confident people. Find someone who doesn’t trust easily and I’ll show you someone who fears people. We always have good reason. Hard experience has taught us well.

What most of us know beyond conscious knowledge is that until there’s an invitation and opportunity to face the deepest fear, we’ll remain fear-controlled. Everyone in the world. We need encouragement and opportunities. Otherwise, our inner children wait, silent, waiting to be asked, noticed, inspired by love.

If you want to know what’s wrong with most people, think of them as children ignored. It happened, and now they do it to themselves. A child ignored eventually shuts down. Adults forget and flee themselves.

So what we all need most is permission to stop and remember, to listen to the child and let it speak, to be encouraged out. And what I can tell you from my own experience is that what that requires most is trust.

Trust is the absence of fear. Trust is:

confidencebelieffaithcertaintyassuranceconviction.

You will finally speak when you trust it will be received. To know it’s okay, we let go and breathe easy. That freedom is essential to all you’ll become, all you’ll live, all you want to offer readers. So what you must do before anything else is receive permission to speak your unfiltered, vulnerable, risky truth.

Unjudged and unrestrained.

Remember, much experience has also taught you that when you do, you’ll feel again what’s most important to you. You’ve known it before. It’s just that when you did know that, you also found what scared you most. So to go back, you have to take the risk.

Behind this deepest fear is the storehouse of everything you will write that matters most.

This is what life is all about, what writing is about: surrendering your fight, to receive mercy for your own self. 

Endless mercy, endless grace. That’s permission. It’s okay if you don’t believe you have that or can’t receive it yet. All you need right now is that hope that this is true. The willingness to believe is as good as believing. You can trust this.

How it happened for me was that when I took my faint hope and went ahead and risked asking myself why I feared missing out on what really matters in life, it sounded silly, like not much of a risk.

Who even cares? You’re wasting time. Quit navel-gazing and think about others for a change.

The voice tried to keep me silent. Those voices take many forms–a teacher, a parent, a friend, a sibling, a grandparent, a spouse. We give them authority and take them inside and let them rule us. We feed them and protect them as they tell us what we think we need to hear. They’re the voices of reason, of maturity, of logic, of truth.

Except they aren’t.

The voices aren’t wrong; they’re trying to keep us safe. We’ve had good reason to be afraid. The scars on our hearts prove it. My scars always embarrassed me, proved weakness, unmanliness, impotence. Looking at them revealed how sensitive I was, how “feminized.” The scars were deep, but the denial they even existed went deeper.

And this was my fight.

Only the mercy of God through Sheri, my girls, my family, friends, has released me. Beneath the fear and fight lived the scary adventure I’d longed for.

My fear of failure, of losing those I love, they’re universal fears. Strongest of all, the one more like terror, is of missing out on the life that truly matters, truly contributes, truly rewards.

There is no way to do enough, be enough, the voice says, proving itself with endless evidence, memories of the many times we’ve failed, missed out, been disappointing. So many examples, too many to count.  They’d overwhelm and drag us under, so we turn away and ignore them.

And instead of fully living from the heart of the child, we live not to think of them.

Yoda wisdom
The form may change. But wisdom always remains the same.

What truly matters? What’s a life’s true contribution? What’s most rewarding? We all know the answer in our hearts: Connection. Relationship. Love. Compassion. Kindness. We know this. It changes everything. And we want to live this. But can we surrender the fear of missing out on whatever it is we think we need?

Where else would we find more meaningful connections than in this life we’re living? Who else could offer more than those we’re with? The question is either a foregone conclusion, or the ignorance of a fool.

The fool will control us until the wiser one takes its place. The fool will wonder what all this has to do with writing. The fool will be pulled by the nose toward every unconsidered new thought. The fool will try to ban the insignificant and end up straining out all meaning and substance.

Who but a fool thinks he can judge where or who is most significant? Who but a fool can say “this life is ruined” or “this life is not?” Everywhere and everyone and everything is creation–it is worthwhile, you fool! Be all there and you may just experience exactly what you’ve always wanted. Ignore it and wish for something else, something better or safer for you and you’ll only let fear continue keeping you from the incredible life you could be living right now.

Surrender.

“Give up, and the answer appears. Give up, and you are released. Give up, give up–let the bells toll it throughout your land. Struggle, and clarity of mind disperses. Surrender, and somehow it’s yours.”

– Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark

For the higher purpose,

Mick

How Embracing Pain Can Prevent Jerkitude

I’m special. I know you’re wondering how I know. But I’ve always known, crazy as that sounds.

In fact, I suspect most people who haven’t experienced big, deep pain probably agree with this. And anyone who has experienced a massive life event that brought them deep pain, they’ll probably confirm it:

Not suffering pain makes you special. Since life inevitably brings giant hardships, having so far somehow escaped proves I’m special. All the myriad pains life could have brought, and maybe should have brought, I’ve managed to sidestep. That obviously makes me fortunate, right?

Or maybe it makes me pitiably common.

Having never experienced great pain, I often think I shouldn’t have to. I think I can avoid it through planning, cunning, skill, and plain inborn specialness–in other words, luck. And at least until something painful enough happens, I’m likely to go on believing in my good fortune and being special.

And like most who’ve been spared, I believe a bunch of crazy things about why. One of my favorite, almost sacred beliefs is that my life should continue this way and progress without much struggle, effort, or especially pain. The longer I go without it, the scarier it becomes, and it embarrasses me to admit this, but I don’t necessarily believe it because I think it’s true, but because I don’t want to admit that it’s false.

Oh, but I know pain is coming whether I accept it or not….

After my freshman year of high-school, I went for a run one summer’s day. Remembering what the football coaches called “hell week” was coming up, I thought I’d try to get in shape. I hoped taking a few weeks to work up to the physical demands would help me avoid some of the hellishness I’d endured last season.

Somewhere around the third week of training, I rounded the corner where I usually turned up the juice to sprint for home, and there was nothing in the tank. I’d increased the distance little by little, but today my noodly legs burned and I was drowning.

If I slowed, I’d never make my goal. I could try again tomorrow, but I only had so many days left, and I’d missed several already. I hadn’t pushed like I should have. I’d never get this chance back, but as my momentum began slowing, I hit the mental wall.

The combo of physical exhaustion and the psychological exertion amplified it into something I’d never felt. That stab of new awareness remains with me to this day, awakening and clearing off everything but the flash of inspiration:

Embracing this level of pain is what everything most worth having in life will require. This is what commitment means.

I have no idea why it broke through my foggy stupor in that moment, or why it was so indelible. And unfortunately, it was a mere blip in my well-ingrained system of pain-avoidance and denial. It’d be several years before I realized rejecting this wisdom was the source of every jerk. But I’ve never regretted experiencing it when life has brought a new, exquisite anguish my way.

I’ve read countless stories of people fighting back after accidents, a fire, a child’s death. Such disasters convince me it’s no big loss I can’t run anymore. My feet can’t take running, but I still push myself to face the discipline it takes to grow. I know every great advance of civilization has required great pain. Why should my life be any different?

But part of me still believes wholeheartedly it should be, because I’m special. And if only everyone could be spared like I have, well, life would be one big 1980s party all the time, just like it’s supposed to be.

Obviously, this dangerous, unexamined belief can’t continue. It has already caused me untold problems. If I took but a moment to notice the fatigue of fighting not to see it, I’d realize this.

Am I truly unaware of how damaging it is? Is there a better definition of a jerk than one who believes he’s escaped pain because of his specialness?

If I could only see all the extra pain this false “specialness” causes–to myself and others. If I could see all the missed, prevented growth because of this evil belief. …

“It is only in the heat of pain and suffering, both mental and physical, that real human character is forged. One does not develop courage without facing danger, patience without trials, wisdom without heart-and brain-racking puzzles, endurance without suffering, or temperance and honesty without temptations. These are the very things we treasure most about people. Ask yourself if you would be willing to be devoid of all these virtues. If your answer is no, then don’t scorn the means of obtaining them.” – Dallas Willard,  The Allure of Gentleness

Do I habitually scorn pain? I may like to sound borderline masochist, but I shun just about every type of suffering, which ultimately only causes more. Is this one reason I seek out safe, imagined pain in stories and entertainment–because choosing purposeful pain is what I need most?

Maybe, in this culture of shallow pursuits and unrelenting selfishness, some people need stories to remind them of the need to choose purposeful pain? Should it be any wonder so many apathetic, depressed, and medicated people suffer for the lack of meaningful pain, the kind that brings growth and must be chosen?

“All we need to do is make an honest and thorough effort to discover what is right and wrong, good and bad, and, when we are convinced on these points, then simply go out and face life for what it is worth.” (Allure of Gentleness)

Why would I think I can escape this difficult fact of life? Should I try to write, live, or do anything without realizing my greatest task is first to understand what every hero must accept about this life and this impulse to flee all pain?

The plain fact is, the pain isn’t the problem so often as running from it is.

There is pain we can choose to face, and there is pain that is chosen for us. Neither comes by random luck. And no pain is improved by not facing it and accepting it as an opportunity to grow. I can’t continue living until I learn this. I have to get this simple, seemingly-impossible lesson between my ears before anything else.

I believe in God, the Almighty Creator of all heaven and earth. I believe he is pure, sacrificial, unconditional Love. Therefore, what challenges me most is always for my good. What causes me to struggle most is always what I need most.

It’s not about seeking out pain, or even welcoming it. But neither can I continue to hate it if I truly want to understand its higher purpose. Like exercise, it’s never completely pleasant, but the day will come where the incredible struggle will seem to fall away, and what’s left will be the exhilarating feeling and the knowledge that pain is not the fearsome enemy I feared.

Facing this is how we grow. That’s certain. How else would we recognize its true value? What else but pain is so important to us, so convincing, so unavoidably, regrettably, intractably interwoven with our existence? What else but God gives life such meaning, weight, and purpose?

Is there a greater, more motivating force in our lives than pain?

And is there any more important decision than to learn to face it well?

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Why Writers Never Have to Worry about Failure

They always say write what you know.

And what I know best is not my few successes, but my endless failures.

Oh, I’m a failer. I fail! Over and over. Stick around long enough and you’ll get to see it!

Or just wait a few seconds.

And I’ve been doing this editing thing for the better part of 20 years, managing book edits, and failing at it big time. All the time.

I miss things every day. I miss deadlines. I forget to call. I don’t follow up. I miss the point and end up frustrating people. Or worse, convincing them to try something that doesn’t work, overwhelm them, or even shut them down.

And worst of all, I miss the point. Again and again. For instance…

I’m not qualified. Honestly, I’ve never felt qualified for this. I just love books and especially writers, learning from them, and listening, asking them questions, and walking with them.

It’s what I love. I don’t love eliminating mistakes, correcting oversights, and condensing. I do it as best I can, but I fail at it.

And today I wonder if I accepted that failure more, if the work could become more, and maybe the books themselves too.

Maybe not—maybe writers don’t want such realness and honesty. Maybe they only want to see I’m extremely skilled and competent. It’s just extremely humbling how often I’m anything but. And when I inevitably mess up, I think there may be a higher purpose in that…maybe even a useful one.

Wendell Berry says it may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work. Practically speaking, if editing is my real work maybe it’s a good sign I don’t actually know how to do it.

But I think maybe my real work is being a good failer and demonstrating that very humbling reality as best I can.

Some part of me loves this idea–could be the lazy me. Or it’s the idea of rejecting that perfectionistic standard people have about professional editors. (Do I need to mention I was a pastor’s kid?)

Excellence is an important goal. But only grace can comfort us.

Can we really love people well without showing grace?

Ask your average writer what book they first loved. I’ve mentioned mine before: Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I loved the passion of Meg Murray. She was a misfit, but that made her special, and her keen observation set her apart. I couldn’t have expressed it when I first read it as an 11-year-old, but it gave me hope knowing that the very thing that made her feel like a fool, like a failure, like a misunderstood misfit, was what made her the chosen hero.

She just had to let it out. Let it show.

We like to think of our heroes, even Jesus, as strong and capable and standing victorious on the mountaintop with the wind blowing in their hair. Why do we think that’s what a hero is when all the stories we’ve ever loved show that’s not a hero at all?

In their failure, they made us feel known, seen, heard, understood, comforted. Loved.

Everyone wants to be chosen. Isn’t it in our weakness, in our wounds and our struggles, that we most need to feel that?

I even fail at this. Which means I can probably trust this is what every writer needs, what every person needs: someone to listen and ask them the simple questions that draw them out and make them feel comfortable and accepted. And I do this every day, and it brings me something too, the very thing I’m looking for. It begins manifesting in my own life, this comfort and acceptance. This assurance of grace.

I don’t know why I got so lucky, and a lot of people think they have the greatest job in the world. And maybe they do. Maybe if they get to do this and embrace their failure for a higher purpose too, I can believe it.

Oh, and I still fail to do it, or even want to daily. I just know every day brings the choice: will you fill your own needs today or fill others? And who among us doesn’t realize which is the best choice?

Yeah, still that horrible fear of not having our specialness seen, loved, chosen, it makes us all choose the selfish way sometimes.

But don’t we also find hope knowing that the failure that makes us feel unworthy is actually irrelevant?

Is this another way to show what sacrificial love means?

We’re afraid and incompetent and selfish and lost–and still worthy of deep, real love!

We can fail to write well. We can fail to write for others. And yet success is what every finished book eventually reveals, even as they’re written and edited by total failures.

Maybe what we need most is also what everyone needs most: grace.

Maybe it’s even okay we forget this over and over. Maybe we’re always going to fail to remember it and maybe that’s why we have to read it and reread it and fail at writing it so many times before we can truly live this way consistently.

I don’t know. Maybe we all just need people willing to risk failing us, willing to risk us failing them.

The struggling, disillusioned, the weary and weak, we all need to see that failure doesn’t matter. Grace is irrespective of failure. I want to start showing that more so my writers can write freer, and maybe (hopefully) start living freer, to show others how to be freer too.

It could be only in finding failure no longer matters that we find our greatest success.

And if so, maybe we don’t even have to worry about failing to remember that.

For the higher purpose,
Mick