Category Archives: Keys to Success

Why Writing Alone Is Impossible

Writing is a solitary occupation, and one of its hazzards is loneliness. But an advantage of loneliness is privacy, autonomy and freedom.  – Joyce Carol Oates

We all believe this fallacy that writing is a solitary sport.

Of course we write alone. At least, that’s what we tend to think. It’s not a team activity. It’s one writer, sometimes two, but even then, they’re not actually writing together.

The words are your only company and they’re strung together alone.

But every writer knows they’re not truly alone. 

There are people to your right and left, before and behind you. Where you’ve come from, where you’re headed, people who’ve helped and advised you, and those who form the oppositional voices in your head.

They’re all there, waiting and watching as you work to bring everything you have to bear on the draft, saying it all and saying it well.

And then there are your advisors, readers, teachers, coaches, family, editors, agents, publishers, and friends who form your team. Some, obviously, are more helpful than others. Some you’ve internalized, and some give you opinions even when you didn’t ask for them. We all struggle to decide how many and which ones we should give access to. Is their advice or support important or even necessary? And beyond how it makes you feel, how do you know who should be allowed in? What factors or characteristics should qualify them?

Or should we let no one in? Is limiting outside influences best? Or do we cripple our potentially broader appeal when we don’t share?  These are important questions and we can’t afford not to consider them carefully.

In Writing Alone and with Others, writing coach Pat Schnider says, “Writing can be a lonely endeavor, much of the work must be done in solitude. However, too much solitude–or too much conversation with people who do not write, and too little with those who do–can lead to depression and despair. Having a place to listen thoughtfully to new work by others and having the option of receiving response to your own writing can be invigorating, encouraging, and tremendously helpful.” (p 177)

I’ve found that during the first draft, as difficult as it is to write straight through without stopping or looking for outside affirmation, it’s important to limit influences at that early stage. Other than that hopefully short time relatively (maybe 10-20% of the actual work), your select, surrounding influences are very important as you research, rewrite and edit.

Writing may be a solitary sport, in a way. But your influences and internalized voices are always there. And the rest of the process of completing a book (80-90%) is unmistakably about teamwork. 

What’s more, as a writing coach, I get all up in writers’ business. I think it may be that for some writers, other books are their best friends and advisors for the research and revision. Other times, a “translator” helps, someone to guide and discuss the process with.

There’s an essay I love and often refer writers to, written by T. S. Eliot, called “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” In it, he describes how each writer stands upon the shoulders of those who came before her and must draw upon that tradition while emptying of self to attain the highest universality of experience and thought:

“No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists.” (ref. 4)

Figuring out your place in this literary heritage is admittedly for those who seek to contribute significant art. However, every writer has comparable writers. And it may be wise to seek out a respected reader or family member to serve as your “coach” or first editor in this. Ideally, everyone you’re taking advice from would be familiar with your goals and at least some of your literary influences. However, those books themselves are usually the most important sources of feedback on your work, far more than the interpreters of those books, however trustworthy your friends may be.

When it comes to editors, you can’t afford to think about saving money. Almost every writer I know starts out trying to save money. It’s important to be able to pay, of course. And yet, most of us can make sacrifices for what’s really important. And there’s nothing more important than ensuring your editor understands your type of work, your vision, your literary influences, and the vagaries of style to improve your work and make it appeal widely.

For every book that succeeds, there’s an editor who has become an author’s best friend.

This isn’t American Idol–writing isn’t singing. Yes, you’re channeling universal thoughts and emotions, but it’s not only you being heard up there. And even singers have coaches, teachers, and trainers. Neither is writing painting. The brushstrokes aren’t going to all be yours. That’s for your good. You can’t complete your work without a number of dedicated people contributing their colors, content and context.

We all know plenty of books underperform. That’s a failure of community. A competent content editor and/or coach could have helped. Reputable writing coaches would prevent the thousands of books that go unnoticed from getting published without careful scrutiny and vision-casting, not to mention the lack of consideration of the market’s readiness for that message. Qualified readers, other writers, and developmental editors worth their salt can and do prevent many writers from falling on their faces.

The point is, every Higher Purpose Writer needs to be clear on this: Writing is the solitary part. The rest of the journey is teamwork.

Construct your team to succeed.

The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living.  – T. S. Eliot

For the higher purpose,

m

Our Only Real Hope for 2017

Do you do New Year’s resolutions?

I sort of do. I set some intentions based on who I want to be, goals I’d like to accomplish, and barriers I’d like to overcome. It’s nothing super specific or targeted. But this year, with one girl just entering the ‘tween years and one full-fledged teenager, there’s a certain urgency to get busy making that progress toward better health in every area.

I guess the question is, What will we need most in the coming year?

IMG_6452There’s the usual things–eat better, workout more, use better tracking and measures for both. But if these are just ways to improve myself, that’s going to fail. It’s not motivating enough.

Similarly, I know that if I want to improve my parenting, my relationships, my work and my play, I need a higher purpose.

I looked back to previous years’ posts and I saw how I fell short. Maybe it’s because of all the challenges I faced. I got sick, got busy, got distracted, and I forgot God and caring for others around me. Other factors conspired too: bad weather, discouraging words, circumstances. At times I was handed heavy weights of pain.

It was frustrating. But not all those challenges produced were such bad things. They slowed me down, made me reckon with the reality of life.

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Being sick forced me to slow down and just be with God. Being overworked forced me to pray and fight distraction. And being distracted made me better appreciate the value of the gift of time.

If I can simply remember that nothing worthwhile comes easy, that time and again it’s proven–no real struggle, no real progress–maybe I can slash failure out as a possibility for 2017. What I seem to need most are reminders–monthly, weekly, and daily–that every struggle is a chance to depend more fully on God, to embrace my inadequacy.

Why can’t that be my resolution for 2017?

I could seek out the struggling more, stand with the suffering. I could believe that some struggle is necessary if I’m going to appreciate and love God properly. I could trust that without trials and burdens I wouldn’t realize how much I need God.

Is this the good, the true, the beautiful higher purpose to be sought in this new year? To know that struggle and pain brings deeper dependence on God? Isn’t that the freedom from all fear of failure I’ve been seeking? This year, can I resolve not to forget and not to get busy with plans and avoid all the struggle, and miss the real point?

This year, I want to do more than plan to avoid struggle. I want to plan for a new resolution. I want to track my progress toward a higher weekly goal: to remember that God is with me in all things. 

This year, I could resolve to set aside selfish goals for a higher purpose.

…To know that when pain and difficulty come, I can remember to stay open to God’s voice and listen to it, ready to see what he has for me and others there.

I’ve said it all my life: no pain, no gain. Can I lay down my life in this way? Even invite struggling with others, the needy, the ones I’m here to love?

I don’t want to go on protecting my life, seeking my own gain, improving my status and reputation, striving for bigger and better in all things.

I want to resolve not to do that this year.

I want to resolve to remember God’s higher purpose and stand with the suffering.

I want to do this expecting something totally different come next Christmas. I want to finally let go and live what I believe. Because this I know:

Embracing struggle and pain and continuing to hope that God has a higher purpose for it all is our only hope of true progress this year.

This old world will break our hearts and make us despair if we don’t commit to this harder way. If there’s a spark inside you to do something different this year, don’t wait to fan it into a flame. Follow that voice of inspiration, and seek this higher purpose. The new year of blank days stretches out before you….

The new year of blank days stretches out before you….

We can resolve this, and know the thrill of freedom from any chance of failure. With this hope, there is no fail, only gain.

For it’s all for a higher purpose, in all He has in store for us this year,

Mick

p.s. I’ve been heading this way for a few months now, inspired by Ann’s most recent memoir, The Broken Way. If you’d like inspiration in following this idea in 2017, I can’t recommend the book any stronger.

Higher Purpose Writers’ Keys to Success: Recover, Reinvest and Protect Your Time and Attention

“What a man thinks of himself determines, or rather indicates, his fate.” – Henry David Thoreau

As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7

 

Our early founders like John Locke and William Blackstone, regarded private property rights as foundational to our personal liberty.

This is still true. But our bigger fight today is internal.

img_7487We fight against the deplorable disrespect for our time and attention everywhere we look. Advertising is nearly a $100-billion-a-year industry. And the Internet has destroyed the boundaries and distinctions between information, entertainment, and advertising.

How are we as writers to know how to protect and defend our most fundamental liberty of intellectual freedom in this modern world?

We know our work is protected under intellectual copyright law. Yet proving our work is our own is also important, so records with dates notarized or officially recorded is key. Creative work is protected by rights and understanding their proper management is how professional writers thrive.

And all beginning writers must realize that setting words on a page to be sold means entering a business arrangement. They, the small business owner, are selling rights to their property to a publisher. Their interests are protected under “property rights” law. A clear understanding of this ownership and trade bargaining ensures the proper managing and selling of their rights to that work. And this knowledge and wisdom is critically important to success.

Yet every day, you are giving away your most valuable asset.

Just like civilization depends upon property rights (can someone find the actual quote for me? I think it was Locke), a writer’s career does as well. Our legal rights are important to understand and respect. Yet do you realize your attention and your time are your most important property? If you did, would you spend them like you’re doing? If you truly respected these gifts, would you reevaluate how you’re investing them, and seek a better path in several areas?

img_7454I know I would. I wonder if the real question is, Do you respect yourself?

Because here’s the hard truth: you’ve been given dominion over your life, and yet like everyone else–and especially your fellow sensitive writers–you daily give it away for free instead of investing it in what you really want. Your talent and your future is being mortgaged because you allow your attention and time to be stolen from you by those who don’t respect your property or your rights at all.

It’s time to recover and reinvest your time and attention into what you really want.

In the Christian classic Boundaries, Doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend point out, “In the physical world, boundaries are easy to see. Fences, signs, walls, moats with alligators, manicured lawns, or hedges are all physical boundaries. In their differing appearances, they give the same message: THIS IS WHERE MY PROPERTY BEGINS. The owner of the property is legally responsible for what happens on his or her property. Nonowners are not.”

You are legally responsible for what time and attention you invest–in everything. This is your responsibility as a living, breathing, thinking, creating human being.

The churched kids here are thinking about a famous biblical parable right now, which is a good one. But the point is, our boundaries will define us. They say what is mine and what is not mine. And if you’re like me, from a very young age you’ve been stolen from because you allowed it. Maybe you also started resenting people stealing your attention and time. Most people at least sense the injustice and intuit that it’s a personal problem.

But most people either don’t consciously realize it, or don’t assert their rights to do anything about it.

Myself, I’ve taken the protection of my right to my time and attention to unhealthy extremes. Demanding, determined and serious, I made sure from an early age people around me knew they couldn’t take anything from me. I resisted doing or even feeling things I didn’t want to, even concealing that I was affected in any way by something if I didn’t want to give others permission to influence me. It was a child’s rationale, but I did it through willpower and resistance of my powerful mother, who had the strange idea I might embarrass her one day by acting up. My reaction to her animated my childhood and much of my early adulthood.

fullsizerender-4But thanks to books like Boundaries, we now understand more, and over time I’ve learned to relax and express my preferences and expect a reasonable level of consideration. And while this set me up well with the detachment required for supporting my editing clients’ visions, it also left me with a bad understanding of boundaries. I’d lost the ability to receive anything from others.

Through love I’ve learned and continue to learn. Through my amazingly patient wife who sees me as my best self, she helps me grow to see how God sees and cares for me. My daughters do it naturally so well too. I’m blessed with parents who believe in me and support me–and they’ve modeled change to me.

But learning to balance appropriate spending of our time and attention is our primary job, all of the time.

And I believe what this requires is a certain mental and emotional fortitude that every writer needs. To accept this responsibility, our most precious resource we own–our time and attention–we must first determine to prioritize the hard things. And then, we must determine what those harder things are. And this is individual, but there are universal principles.

  • Don’t fall for the common struggle of blaming others for your problems or blame shifting.
  • Don’t think you’re entitled to be heard (or even respected) much of the time unless your words and opinions are considered and measured.
  • Don’t get tripped up by dwelling on perceived injustices.
  • Pursue instead the healthy self-awareness to allow yourself legitimate resistance to unjust demands on your time and attention.
  • And make yourself heard in the fight against louder, dominant demands you face.

We all know the old adage, the things you own end up owning you. Where you spend your time and attention will define you. You know this already. But if you know it, do the hard work and think about how your books, your career, your business and livelihood depend upon your sober consideration of where your time and attention are going.

Of all these essential lessons God’s revealing for me to ponder, I’m convinced this one is most vital for my work and life going forward….

Because He has compelled me to do it all for the higher purpose, for the glory.

Mick