Category Archives: Spiritual

The Best Way Writers Let Go & Get to Work

“…life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds;
From your work, you will be able one day to gather yourself.”

– Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936), trans. Robert Bly

And what is our work?

The great Spanish writer and poet Unamuno said “sowing yourself.”

“Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field,” he says, “don’t turn your face for that would be to turn it to death.” In other words, pay attention, “and do not let the past weigh down your motion.”

***

The rain finally arrived last night. It had threatened all yesterday but skirted around us until it finally fell. Like it thought about it and finally decided there was nothing for it and let go.

I’ve always liked that phrase, “nothing for it.” With some things, there’s simply no remedy.

Sometimes, you just have to accept and let go.

The storm will soon pass and be nothing like the southeast the last couple weeks. But all gratitude to God, it’ll help with the fires.

And like the rain, our work is to let go and get on with sowing ourselves into others’ lives.

Forget the past. Don’t let yourself get distracted. Rather than pointing fingers, or trying to figure out who’s deserving, or how best to rebalance others’ perspectives, we have to simply get to work. There’s no one inferior or superior. Everyone is in need.

The superior way is letting go of your perspective and taking someone else’s.

That’s what writers are: apprentices forever trying to master that skill. Get out of your own limited, inferior point of view and into another’s. That’s the essence of good storytelling. Even before Jesus told stories to teach lessons, stories’ lessons taught him. Stories are how humans make meaning of life. Imagine yourself in another situation and body and your perspective is changed.

Spiritual mastery is a heart humbled by a broadened perspective.

The inferior life is the unenlightened heart. It isn’t joyful because it isn’t at its true work of letting go and sowing into others. It believes lies about its own superiority, typically based in external circumstances.

Imagine if compulsory blood tests revealed the truth of all lineage through DNA’s undeniable story. When truth was known, there’d be no basis for the lie of supremacy.

***

As fall arrives, we begin making changes. We break out the warmer sheets and fans and air conditioners are replaced with space heaters. Nature forces us all to change. We have little choice; the weather chooses for us. No one escapes it, the inevitable. Our only choice is to prepare. The superior choice isn’t resisting but preparing well.

Truth is unchanging. All we can do is respond to it well, allow it, even welcome it. For writers, allowing life, receiving and not getting bent out of shape by life is part of the work of sowing. Forced to change, respond, prepare, if we’ll accept and focus on preparing well, we’ll see we’re also given more life to capture. And our chance to write will come if we can choose to be patient, let go, and let it rain.

One day, you will be able to gather yourself.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

A Word on Writing Progress: Loving and Leaving the Fear Box

So there’s an image I’ve wanted to explore for a while.

(It’s not this one, though I like it…)

 

I call the image “the fear box.” (Not that picture. The mental image I have. Clear on that?)

It’s made of a type of protective, soft material, but very strong. We’re all raised in this sort of cage, and it’s a God-designed, natural, humble place where we recognize our limitations. We all like the feeling of comfort that the thick, restrictive walls give us. The boundaries of the box are so certain and sure and we instinctively know the fear box is good and needed.

For newborns, there’s nowhere safer than the fear box.

As we grow a bit, the boundaries begin to feel like restrictions. Our limitations aren’t as limiting anymore, though we know we still need the box…just maybe not so much or so tight as before. If we’re given help modifying and expanding the box, we’re able to grow and not get in too much trouble.

The many people who promote the benefits of the fear box—its safety, its certainty, its traditional trustworthiness—say you can know that you know the box is for your good.

And it is. You know it. You’ve lived in it your whole life.

But if those box-benefit extollers might also say that people who’ve left their boxes are called “outsiders,” and in a voice that conveys their true feelings, tell you how wrong the outsiders are and how much they need to be made right, you’ll feel a sliver of hesitation. But you’ll agree, of course. The lost need to be found. They need to know the wonderful safety and security you’ve known.

But there’s a love growing in you, a light that can’t be contained. And that sliver of doubt will let some of that light out. And eventually, whether the next day or after several years of fighting with yourself, you know you must leave the fear box.

And what will be more important than any other reassurance as you muster your courage to finally leave, is not how much you need safety and security and traditions, but how love is what’s in you saying no to the fear box. And if you can let that love out now and learn not to restrict it or temper it, it will guide you to your new home.

If love is there, nowhere is unsafe.

***

Another week has passed and very little writing on the novel was completed. The usual work and distractions kept me busy, but again, I could have made time, reserved some for it.

A major hang-up, maybe a main hang-up for me has been imagining the response by well-meaning, lovely church people, people I respect.

Some might say I should respect them less, get irreverent about everything that isn’t God. I don’t disagree. I’ve worked through many barriers and claimed the courage and empowerment to go where I need to and speak what needs words.

But I need to say Christianity isn’t perfect perfectly, winsomely, with the fragrance of Jesus. And this has kept me locked in fear.

Christians hold many things precious—churches, pastors, leaders, teachers and teachings, worship, the Bible, The Church, Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, doctrine, creeds, Christianity itself, and even Christian culture. All the resistance I know I’ll face, constantly reminded by a lifetime of experience, has kept me endlessly revising instead of printing.

It’s fear, obviously. And what works best on fear is not frustration, condemnation, shame, or any of my usual responses. But only love.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

***

Comfort comes swiftly to the loved.

It rushes in to prove yet again no pain or fear can break trust.

That trust is life itself.

The bigger, stronger, higher love will always help,

wipe the tears, and receive the feelings as precious,

wordless truth from the heart, the love box,

from which flow the springs of life.

Fear and pain don’t change reality, only love does.

Love is what’s true,

the ever-present reality to take all cares and keep them.

Love secures, always, always holds safe.

Come what may.

“Oh, love, never let me go…”

***

Must we be willing to break with the old to allow for the new?

Does progress require a sort of irreverence for tradition?

Life is built on an inherited box of foundations and advances. Respect them all. But also risk disrespect and “rebellion” to build what’s needed now.

Every author before you has felt this fear. Whatever this book will add to life, you’ve got to trust that love goes with you. It strengthens and empowers whoever is willing to receive it.

We can face everything that may come.

We can venture out.

Safe is where love is.

 

Praying you’ll know you’re held safe as you seek the higher purpose,

Mick

 

How to Write Free & Relax About It

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

Frederick Buechner, Now and Then

 

Sending my socially awkward kid off to high-school brings up everything unresolved in me from that time in my own life that I have trouble concentrating for hoping she can stay relaxed and find the fun where she can because it will be over so fast and being cool won’t matter anymore.

***

People often talk about writer’s block or writer’s anxiety. Writing is full of anxiety. Writing well is even more so because there’s the expectation of producing something good and worthwhile.

Expectations are a setup. And as every writer knows, with a setup, you have to have a payoff.

The payoff of any expectation is either fulfillment or disappointment. And most often, when the inner critic stands ready to judge what comes out, disappointment is the result.

The conscious mind is very limiting.

This is why to write at all, let alone well, you first have got to get out of your own way.

If you aren’t willing to fail, you aren’t going to get any creative work done.

You’ve got to get past perfection and let yourself pursue play and risk you might likely fail at and have to try again.

You’ve got to be persistent, stubborn, and believe you are here not to produce something beautiful but to learn to let go of your expectations so you can see the beauty in everything.

You must want something better than success. You must want to grow and remain open to what’s next.

That way you never close off, never stop seeking to expand the relaxing comfort your heart truly wants, and the freedom you feel amongst your closest, safest friends. You will find safety and connection with them if you invite it and embrace it and don’t close off.

The world is too loud and dominating and the fight is too difficult not to keep seeking that relationship with God in all his many forms.

And to do this, we’ve got to be able to let go, but also to hold on to our specific grounding in the present moment.

That will release you from the anxiety so you can finally write what you’re able to hear that no one else can.

Remember, nothing is wasted….

***

After reminding myself of all this, I send off an email of dad-advice to Ellie, encouraging her to know how amazing she is and to always keep her smiley disposition. I let the anxiety push my better self to speak what I know. And the old fears don’t seem to hold the same power they used to anymore.

And no matter what, I think she’ll be okay.

 

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

– e.e. cummings

The 6 Spiritual Lies Derailing Your Writing Process

I spoke at the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference this past weekend, where 675 writers came to learn and be encouraged to take the plunge. This is the message I shared.

I was a book editor for over a decade before I realized that Christian writers all share similar delusions about what this work entails. And when I coach writers to embrace the struggle, the first lesson is to keep showing up for practice until that habit breaks through all the usual barriers.

To serve the reader well, all authors must begin by taking their writing more seriously. Memoirists, novelists, pastors, counselors and lots of amazing people have battled these lies and won.

I want to give you some of their fail-proof strategies for beating these lies for good.

But first, we’ve got to realize these lies are common, and they take writers out all the time. They attack your process, your book, and especially you yourself. And the major problem we have in fighting them is that they are spiritual. They aren’t primarily intellectual or physical, or even emotional, though they relate to all those areas as well.

What’s derailing you isn’t any of the problems you have in the external world of your daily life. It’s your lack of spiritual defenses.

How do I know this is primarily a spiritual problem? Because life is spiritual, and trying to live as a WORD-saturated writer is hard. Working to reclaim, recall, and re-establish truth, love, justice, and mercy is incredibly draining. The work itself is incredibly difficult in all the usual ways, but it takes some time to understand that your major barrier is in the spiritual realm, and that you need to bring that down to earth, and deal with it in your physical reality.

The goal is to establish your writing process and create the system that works for you. And everyone’s different, but the calling is the same—writing is holy, sacred ground. You’ve been called to help your brothers and sisters in the faith.

The most important thing for writers is confidence to write free, edit with skill, and move toward publishing a book you can be proud of. Practically, this involves recognizing the scope of this undertaking, and searching out the spiritual truths involved in establishing the process. There will be sacrifice, some vulnerable truth-telling, and most of all, the need to be willing to go where God leads.

The first lie that can stop spirit-led writing is:

  1. Who do you think you are? This is fear of who you may not be. This is about shame and the deep insecurity that comes from not knowing who you are. There are related fears of presumption. Some people become terrified of the attention, the spotlight, the idea of fame. Others crave it as their golden idol. The solution, the middle ground, is to forget what others think and just write the truth for God. His opinion is all that matters and he has said you are the one to write this. Do you trust him enough to simply write and not worry about who you are or aren’t?

That’s the permission you need to claim to get through the first draft. It’s free grace and it’s available to anyone who wants it.

With this one, when Satan tries to tell you you’re nobody, you can just agree and say, “but God says I’m somebody.”

  1. You can’t handle this. / You aren’t ready for this. Fear of all you don’t know. Maybe you’re too incompetent, or the task is too demanding. Maybe you have trouble learning. But none of this has to do with you not being enough. You absolutely have what it takes when you decide not to let your ignorance, inexperience or anxiety over your disqualifications stand in your way. You will be enabled, prepared, and made capable when you believe it’s not about your being enough, but that God in you is enough.

This is a primary lesson of every Bible story. The people in the stories were not enough. It wasn’t about them. Even Jesus. He frequently was overwhelmed and in his humanity, he didn’t have enough to give people. But in his Godhood, he did the miraculous. And he pointed the way to deep faith that releases captives and sets people free.

You might fear you don’t have the time to learn everything you need. Irrelevant. You have as much time as anyone. You make time for what you really want to do. Find it and protect it. Get help and delegate whatever’s stealing your time away. Or maybe you fear you can’t afford that training or the editing you need. Well, maybe you wait and budget and find alternative methods to learn what you need to first from the best books on editing and publishing. Writing is very egalitarian that way: either you can get what you need or you simply don’t need it.

Can you learn to research and discover what you need to adjust for the second draft when it’s time? There will be things you need to augment about your characters, plot, and settings, and things you need to diminish that are distracting. If you can let go of what you don’t know yet and look at the big picture, you can learn to design the intense emotional experience you want to give readers. That’s what matters. You can learn how to do it by doing it. Practicing.

  1. You’re too _____ (Fill in the blank:
    • Uneducated/unsophisticated/slow
    • Broken/damaged/sinful/hurt
    • Old/young/boring/inexperienced
    • Ugly/fat/beautiful/skinny
    • Weird/different/OCD/ADD/SAD
    • Busy/poor/confused/gullible/lost/distractible
    • Isolated/disconnected/easily-missed-or-forgotten

This is fear of the past. The old nature. Things that hold you back. But you already know the old self has died and you know who’s now in charge. It’s not up to the old you. That voice doesn’t matter. Listen to your guide. The past is gone, the new has come. This goes back to the 1st lie and believing you’re trying to be someone you’re not. But writing isn’t some sort of magical in-born talent—it’s not like singing where you’re just gifted with a beautiful voice or you’re not. Writing is a gift, but plenty of bestselling writers have no more natural talent than the average ditch-digger. They’ve just practiced it a lot.

I said it was 6 lies, it’s really 3: the lie about where you are, the lie about where you’ve been, and the lie about where you’re going. And this lie number 3 is primarily about where you’ve been.

The question is, are you willing to believe that stuff doesn’t define you any longer? If you are, then you can start fine-tuning your manuscript draft number 3 by simply accepting that the shaping and fine-tuning of the specific details, set-ups and transitions simply takes practice.

Here’s a trick you can employ next time this one comes up, because it’s a big one for most of us. Like with #1, when you’re worried about being too broken or unworthy, remind that voice that no limitation in you is a limitation to God.

  1. You’re wasting your time. This is fear of judgment, or fear of people rejecting you. Despite all the work and effort you’re putting in, it’s just not going to be enough, and you’ll never be able to achieve that bright vision you’ve seen in your head. It’s too far out there on the horizon. You should just give up and go work on some other pursuit because this one’s a pipe dream.

It’s insecurity, mostly, but it’s got a lot of fear of the unknown mixed in with it. You can’t know what’s going to happen, whether you’ll make money at this (probably not) or fall on your face and be a big failure. More than likely, you are going to fail the first few times out. You can’t win a marathon, let alone break records without failing a bit and getting some hard lessons in the process. Maybe your fear here isn’t so much about others as it is a fear of failure.

Whether you fear failure or success—and those two do go together, don’t they?—it’s the fear that’s the problem. The lies are always going to be there. You can’t do much about that. All you can do is learn to deal with them.

They can’t hurt you if you know how to handle them. If you’re not afraid anymore. Then they have no effect. And that’s the reason you’ve got to face this.

If you can accept that your failure or success is irrelevant to the practice of writing you do every day, then you win. All you can do is show up and prove that a writer isn’t someone who makes a lot of money, or even necessarily publishes; a writer is just someone who writes a lot.

That’s the freedom you need to push through draft 4, to refine the sentences, words and phrases, and focus on choosing the best words to give your work style and help distinguish your voice.

  1. You’re all alone.

This is one of the most basic of all fears.

Many writers nurture a secret fear that they’re the only one who struggles like they do, or the only one who has never read Moby Dick, or who doesn’t know what a split infinitive is. Or who can’t afford to travel for research for their book. Writers have dealt with the writer problems since the beginning, and every writer has been an exception in some way.

You’re not alone. Reach out to the people God brings to your life. Use their help and offer your own to them. Critiques, editing, and coaching are all necessary to becoming the whole writer who can handle reader’s questions (more on how to do that right here).

  1. You have nothing.

The idea, the point of your book, is your reason for writing–but it may change. This is hard to accept. Sometimes it’s very clear why, but sometimes it will change on you, and you’ll hear this lie: See? You have nothing here.

Sometimes you’ll hear it as, it’s been done before. And maybe it has or maybe it hasn’t. All you can do is research and try to stay up on the glut of competing titles releasing every week. But even then, you need feedback as your secret weapon to determine whether it’s hitting the mark or the idea feels dated. Experienced, qualified, and often paid help, is absolute gold for you because they can tell you if you have something or not.

Most of the time it hasn’t been done before, certainly not the way you will do it. And if it ends up too close to what another has done, there are ways to solve that.

But this lie may connect with number 3: You’re too [whatever]. It’s one of the most common one-two punches I see. “It’s over, old lady. Or “Go home, little man. No one cares.” A very effective way for the devil to diminish you, your work, and your heart all at the same time. He mocks you for not seeing your book clearly, and then for caring so much about it when no one else seems to.

Plenty of writers won’t survive this. The ones who stuck with it and got help figured out their angle and proved it wasn’t just them who saw this. And others were helped by it.

You don’t have nothing. You have everything. You can make a difference for someone, for a lot of someones, if you’ll just believe.

I said 3 lies? It’s really just one about you: they all say be afraid! Isn’t that the core of all this? Maybe it’s time to start fighting back, realize it’s just par for the course, and stop getting taken out. Start fighting smarter.

Christian writers, every one of us has to learn how to fight fear on a spiritual level. This is ground zero to your writing process, and you’ve got to start thinking of this as part of the work.

Fear is simply a lack of trust. And if you want to trust God more, you’ve got to start seeing where He’s at work and all you have to be grateful for. Start seeking the evidence. He promises when you seek, you will what? Find.

All you have to do is want it. It’s the wanting that matters.

You don’t have to give the lies power.

Fear not. Believe.

You are loved. And that love is your infinite power.

For the higher purpose!
Mick

Who Owns This Story Anyway? 

Let us build for the years we shall not see.
– Sir Henry John Newbold

I saw it in her eyes first, what I expected to see.

That flash.

“No, Dad. That’s wrong.”


Of course, I can’t blame her. I’d told the story “right” as many times as any story I’ve ever told. And I probably should have written this story down at some point, since it’s such a crowd-pleaser, the way they beg for the telling. Our own little version of Arabian Nights.

But this night, I’m telling it wrong.

“That’s not how it goes,” Charlotte insists, because of course, she has heard this one plenty of times. And this is definitely not the way it went last time. For some reason, I changed it up, and maybe this is why I don’t want to write it down. It’s more fun to think I can change it if I get a streak of creative inspiration. But this will not fly.

“The princess isn’t supposed to remember her name until after the goblins capture her,” Ellie says, trying to be helpful.

“Who’s telling this story?” I ask. I mean to make a signficant change to the familiar tale tonight, one that’s far better than the old familiar draft.

But they don’t want my brilliant revisions. They want the story they know. Apparently, they own this story or something.

I satisfy them and stick to the familiar version with the princess learning her name deep in the goblin mine when she meets her sister and she remembers who she is. Then the king comes and saves them and they ride away to happily ever after.

But at the end, after I tuck them in, I realize it’s not over. There’s more to this story, and they’ve helped me realize it tonight. Something from the sermon on Sunday connects with the story, or the act of telling it, and I need to capture the thought before I forget.

In a way, we’re all like Charlotte, certain we know how this story is supposed to go. Our security and happiness is wrapped up in it going the way we expect it to go, and in our minds, if it does, we will be safe and secure. We think we know what’s best because we’ve got some insight about what will be satisfying.

But we don’t realize that we don’t control the story. And if we were willing to trust the Storyteller, we would realize we don’t actually want to. Unfortunately, all we know is that the story was supposed to go differently, so we want it to go how we expected. So we try to convince the Storyteller we have the better idea, and we don’t realize what greater things we could learn to appreciate.

It seems the more I write, the more I learn to trust the Storyteller. There is much to intentionally control about writing and increase my capacity to hold many ideas and skills. But unless I want it to be the same old familiar story, I’ve got to believe there’s more than what I can bring to this, and I have to trust the Storyteller whose ideas and skills far outstrip mine.

Emily Freeman, in her book, A Million Little Ways, tells of her children planting apple seeds and getting impatient for the seeds to sprout.

“Aren’t we all seven years old, wanting our apple trees to give shade and fruit and wanting it yesterday? We kneel at the altar of our desire to see change now, to move things along, to push open doors. We have uncovered the art we were born to make and want to release the art we were made to live. We ignore the voice of fear and insecurity and are ready to move into our small world alive and awake.

“Yet there seems to be only silence. We don’t want to wait. And so because we can’t see results, we decide it isn’t working….

“Be faithful to plant. Release the growing to God. open up clenched fists and let the seeds drop into the ground, let them burrow down deep and do their secret work in the dark.

“Sacred shaping happens in the waiting.”

I simply have to believe that his greater story is what I truly want, and learn to be patient and listen.

I pray, kiss them, and head downstairs. I force myself to go slow, taking time at the landing to appreciate the feel of the carpet beneath my feet, the solid railing, the fading light coaxing a glow out of the freshly-painted wall.

I’ve got something new to add to the story. For too long, I’ve acted as though the story was my own, and far too often that’s been why it felt small and unsatisfying. Was it ever mine?

It could be such a fantastic story if I’d just let it change, open my hand and accept the freedom of not owning it, not being the one responsible for making it interesting or exciting or even work. The great news is that I’m not in control. It’s not mine to write. I was given a chance to see it and tell it, but I’m only an instrument, a seed-planter.

He’s telling the story. He makes it grow. My work is continually putting the story, my life, back in his hands.

Even if the story ends up nothing like the one I expected, do I still believe the king will save me? Is it too hard to believe because things look dark? Maybe that’s what makes the story such a good one. Who’s the real hero here?

Can I learn to trust and wait? Here is where I poured my hope and where I’ll wait for it to grow. A writer is like a farmer and our lives are like our stories that we’re given to share, but they aren’t ours. They’re being written. We see only the part that’s been revealed so far, but there’s so much more and it’s the king’s to complete. He is the only Storyteller who can give it life.

Trust him to do it.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 

For the higher purpose,

Mick