Category Archives: The Broken Way

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

Letter to an Anonymous Author

“I am a writer. Therefore, I am not sane.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

Dear X,

I appreciated your note, my friend. And I’m grateful for it.

I’ve seen your struggle and I know how hard you’re working to progress and capture everything well, and also accept help. I knew your journey would be a special challenge, and while your issues and the resistance you’ve encountered is unique to you, I find (and I’d think your agent would agree) that resistance is also the most common thing about working on books.

Writers be farking crazy.

I know because I am one, first and foremost. To create a cohesive, authentic story out of your own life experience you have to dig into old emotions and memories and that’s like poking a sleeping dragon. Either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.

Your memories and inner struggles are unique to you, but every writer who dares this work finds that monster in the mirror and has to face it. You’re not alone in that–far from it. I see it over and over again, and it’s part of what drives me to study counseling and psychotherapy.

But my primary motive in all of this is understanding my own issues and my own resistance to progress, to change, and to accepting help for my struggles. I want to learn how to be better, and like you, I’m drawn by something bigger and higher than myself pulling me out and convincing me I’m okay and I can let go of my fear and protectiveness. As I read, my heart says, Yes, that’s true for me too, and I listen to that voice and he shows me where we need to go–to help you, yes, but mostly to help myself.

Early on, I know you didn’t want to accept any changes from me. The less I did, the happier you were. So I stuck to cleaning up the “verbal diarrhea” and made sure the digressions didn’t feel too distracting. I told myself that was enough and your freedom was more important than being succinct and focused.

After rereading it now, I stand by that. It’s conversational, inviting, and down-to-earth, just as you are and I don’t want to change that anymore. You were right to push back against my “literary sensibilities,” and I’m glad you did. I think readers will appreciate your honesty, sincerity, and personable style–just like they do in your other writing.

I’ll let sharper minds than mine decide whether we can trim any further–while there’s always more tightening that can be done, every book has an irreducible flow as well. As I said, I don’t think I’m objective enough to know whether we’re hitting that in every spot, but I can hear you speaking the lines in my head and that convinces me we’ve captured your essential style. I’m not worried at all about the length–never have been. It’s long and I want to let others know we’re aware of that and we don’t think it’s a problem. It’s a work of beauty just the way it is.

I’m sorry for the times I haven’t understood your vision and for pushing you at times beyond what was reasonable. You and your book are a work of exquisite art balanced between extreme contrasts, and like all beautiful works of art, you and your book are symbolic of the creator from which you spring, one-of-a-kind as anything. I appreciate you and your book as such wonders.

Thanks for sticking with it and being true to yourself–you teach me tons, and I’m so thankful to get to work with you.

(Don’t think this means I’m going easy on you if we get another shot at this. The struggle is inevitable and inextricable. And fears be danged, that’s for good, not bad.)

Looking forward to the rest of the journey.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

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.

How to Get what you really want this christmas

What if this short message could absolutely deliver what you really want this Christmas?

Do you know what that is?

What do you really want?

IMG_4721Deep down, we all want the same thing. But so often we don’t know it until we can get quiet and listen to our deeper hearts.

In fact, I think just doing that–just saying no to the destructive demands constantly drawing our attention away–that may be the way to the peace and joy we’re really looking for.

So how? How do we block out the myriad distractions, and open our inner eyes to see better what we really want?

This is what I want most this year. And after the incredible challenges and distractions we faced in 2016, I’m willing to bet this is actually what most of us really want for Christmas.

To get it, we may need to quit ignoring the truth. The truth our deeper selves know.

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Last year, when Charlotte came home from a class Christmas party with her gingerbread house, she said a younger boy had teased and “pretended to attack” the girls the whole time. And her anxiety over that, of being a target of aggression, even the kind that doesn’t actually entail assault, it felt all too familiar.

I remembered I’ve been a target of bullies too.

I wanted to call the cops on this cretinous demon child.

Who does he think he is? Who are his parents? Are they complete jerks?

As a kid, survival sometimes means hiding from the destructive demands of bullies, to live and create and seek beauty another day. As I’ve grown, I’ve learned there are many of us who face this, the quiet ones, the melancholies and creatives, the “deep rollers.” I began to teach Charlotte about boundaries and defending her space, even as I started practicing more myself.

But I believe all of us need to learn to say no to distracting demands.

The message in church had been on the necessity of making room. Of taking responsibility for making room in our hearts for Jesus. As John the Baptist instructed followers, I was convicted to repent of the destruction and distraction I’d allowed others to bring on what I knew was my sacred space. Their demands had long forced out and prevented me hearing the call, and my deeper need.

John’s repentance wasn’t for doing more for God, but remembering our duty to honor him by making room, getting away, and listening for that “voice in the wilderness.” In our distraction today, we’ve filled up our wilderness with all sorts of things we consider our obligations. We, like they, are “missing the mark,” the very definition of sin.

But for the Baptist, getting away from all that distracted from God was “making room” for Christ. This was getting right by Him. This was repentance.

Maybe it’s just me, but I always thought repenting meant being sorry for who I was–a weak, self-centered boy preferring peace and quiet to the real work of loving God and others. And that’s often true. But it’s not sinful to need space to recharge and get away to hear God within. And this year, it might finally make a sort of spiritual sense, at least for me:

Repentance is not merely confessing your sin. Repentance is also making a change to make room for God.

DSC_0201I think this is true whether we’re innies or extraverts or doers or thinkers–or anything in between. It’s only the way I’ve found to embrace the freedom to be me and recognize the primary place of God in my life that provides permission to get away and make space.

It’s been a very freeing idea to pursue this year. Why had it taken me so long not to feel deficient for needing peace and quiet?

You can get so used to feeling weak, so constantly feeling like a broken person, unable to withstand the “normal” busyness and noise of our modern culture. But if you had not just a right, but a duty to act against it, to defend your heart and make space to worship and be changed by God alone, it could free you up to better understand this deep love we all need.

DSC_0044It’s been a radically different view of repentance for me. And it’s still growing in me this year as I come to Christmas once again. I believe that longing for a solitary, one-on-one experience with God is built into the human heart.

I believe this longing for a solitary, one-on-one experience with God is built into the human heart. It’s the comfort and acceptance and permission we all want most, this and every Christmas.

This desire for that kind of unity, just such a singular commitment, this is the oppositional way, the deeper desire his true followers share.

Isn’t this how love might “abound in more and more knowledge and depth of insight?”

And maybe it’s only from this protected space that we can learn to meet the needs of our needy world with any real love to share. Filled up by that primary relationship, we may become recharged and reformed by Him.

That’s what I’m looking for this Christmas.

Safe, embraced and known.

Will you renounce all else and make room in your heart for him this season, to receive the greater gift of a deeper love?

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best….

– Philippians 1:9-10a

For the higher purpose, this season and throughout the coming year,

Mick

The One Responsibility for Writers Seeking a Higher Purpose

“The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.”

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

I remember his eyes the clearest.

They were dark, scowling, and said I had pain coming.

Last night I woke from a dream of facing the playground bully I feared over 30 years ago. He wasn’t the only one I’d face, but he was the first, the first to send my heart racing, my mind scanning for whatever I’d done to deserve this singling out. The attention he called to his domination was as painful in the dream as it had been at my small Christian school. The shock of it, the crippling fear of all the eyes on me completely outweighed the injustice of his anger.

And with no adults around, every kid in the grassy lunch area waited to see what I’d do. The dream brought it all back perfectly preserved, packed away with the animating reactions, the old jagged terror exactly the same. His taunt convicts me again today.

“Whatcha gonna do?” 

The undeniable truth had rung and reverberated inside me: there was no way out of this without much suffering.

And this morning it’s a potent reminder: there are many things to which God calls us every day that will require some suffering. To love Him and others as ourselves. To treat others as we want to be treated. To seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. To act in defense of the defenseless. To offer help to the hurting, disadvantaged and foreigner in our midst. These make up the most important things we have to do today. And they are all the same thing requiring the same thing: a commitment to accept and even embrace the inevitable suffering they will require.

The bullies can be opposed with kindness. But when we don’t heed that call, we slowly become deaf, our effectiveness becomes dulled, and our hearts harden.

With every bully, we have to oppose them with kindness, a love that’s stronger than their fear and rage. Every day the question is posed again: will we now do what we know we must? Will we resist, deny, wait, excuse, reconsider, protest, confuse, delay, distract, misread, ponder, challenge, evade, escape…

Or will we act?

I can’t deny I feel Ann’s book working on me still. Even through the recent election, I’m still thinking and fighting to integrate what it’s taught me, to allow it into my life. It’s a big undertaking, and the change is profound. I see two paths lie ahead. One is a move toward life. To do otherwise is to pursue death.

We have only to pursue that which we know to be true. Yet so often we don’t do what we must because we fear suffering. We act in self-preservation. This I know: the longer I avoid doing what I know in my head is right, the sooner my heart will stop feeling what is right. And my mind, my precious mind I protect and cherish above all else, will close.

Can I forfeit my biggest idol to truly live?

There’s a verse I remember my mom teaching me in childhood: “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” To do what is necessary, what is better for someone else, that is the goal. To make someone else’s life better with love.

Children naturally love to do this. But do we listen? They are not second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. They are first class because they know the secret to love. The poor, weak and needy are not second-class citizens in the kingdom. They are first class because they have experienced the secret too. Every disadvantaged person knows what it is to be afraid, to be on the outside. They know something about being bullied and about the importance of giving to the needs of others. They’ve felt it personally.

That experience forms my beliefs about how to write and sell books of a higher purpose. Instead of the typical self-interested work and self-promotion, I think if we’d return to the essence of love, writing and sharing words could be a way to escape bullies and return to a childlike love of others. Having been an outcast, a poor one, a weak one in need, showing the marginalized how to be empowered and win others’ hearts, this is what our books could be.

There are always good reasons to sell out. But don’t they all have to do with giving in to fear? We fear others having more or knowing this and that and we don’t. But if we could know how kindness defeats fear, we’d have something they didn’t, a knowledge and wisdom of a mindset that liberates and frees us to truly live. If we’d focus on this love against all bullying fear, this is what would become unique about us, defining our passion and loves, and connecting them naturally with others’ needs.

Isn’t this the secret to true success? Being kind to others, even when they’re mean? Applying your natural childlike passion to make others lives happier, however you do that best? However brings you the most joy? Didn’t we know this before the world stole it, that this is our true work?

I know, in my single-mindedness to escape fear, I’ve turned writing into an idol. I’ve allowed it to keep me from what I should be doing in the world, turned it into a retreat from the world and a fighting weapon instead of a cup of water to ease the suffering of those around me, even those closest to me.

And even in this confession, I know it only has so much power to convict me to change. I won’t stop writing because I can’t, but will I do the hard thing necessary to join my true life and make the most of my opportunities?

Will I use the fresh conviction I’ve experienced this time? Time will tell. The season of thanksgiving is here. Will I focus on my true work and love despite what suffering I may face, even the small injustice of politicized talk? Is it too much to ask? Can I allow being right to slip from my hand so I can pick up being love?

Every moment is a crossroads. Will I let fear bully me, or will I meet it with my conviction that kindness is Jesus’ way? Every minute is another decision. Which way will we go? The paths diverge and we must take one or the other. One leads to life. The other…

There may be no way out of this without much suffering.

So be it. Will you take the broken way anyway?

Will we now do what we know we must? 

For the higher purpose…?

Signed,

a very humbled writer