Category Archives: Web/Tech

Why I Hate Writing Productivity Apps

I hate the WriteorDie App.

No, I really hate it.

It’s as bad or worse than all those intrusive, creativity-killing “productivity” programs. And I have many reasons for my strong dislike….

FullSizeRender_11. If you slow down or stop, you get bombarded by loud alarms.

Yeah, this is helpful. Apparently, you can’t stop writing even for a few seconds to think. Come on–is this really good? How can this lead to good writing? You can’t even turn it off or backspace or make it stop until you keep writing.

2.You have to keep writing, unthinking, even if the words don’t make sense, for as long as you can, ideas tumbling over each other and creating an endless stream of sometimes quite meaningless words.

And did I mention there’s no time to think? That seems an obvious problem because we writers don’t always think in productive sentences. We think in a jumble and good work needs the slow pondering that keeps things more refined and meaningful.

I mean….doesn’t it?

Hmm. Wait. Maybe that’s not entirely true. Maybe the first draft doesn’t need the slow pondering so much as the freedom to be whatever it needs to be. And maybe we don’t always know what that is until we let go and let it out. Isn’t that what I’ve been taught? That we just need to get words out to start and what that requires is less thinking? Isn’t that always what I’ve been told, what I’ve even taught others myself?

Don’t judge the first draft. Just write. 

FullSizeRenderOh my. I was writing a different kind of post here. Dang it.

Maybe the reason I haven’t been writing is this same old fear. Good grief, I’m always thinking too much. I’m the same little kid who overthought everything and hated finger-painting because it would make a mess and I worry too much about everything and especially about keeping things clean and neat. And I get sidetracked by that need for everything to be perfect and manageable and orderly, thinking too much about each word and how it fits, and whether I’m pulling the threads together right and keeping readers interested.

And all the time, what I should be doing is just writing more words….

Crap. Isn’t this the reason I get tripped up and stop writing so often? When people ask if I’m writing and how the book is coming, and I have to answer “not so well,” it’s because I’m overwhelmed by all the considerations I need to make for the chapter, and I got stuck on what I need to edit to make it all work and be what I saw in my head.

But if I could just forget all that and let it be what it is, stop worrying about it so much and just write it….

I might finish. Succeed. Finally. I might still rise.

And how many times have I said this very thing? How is it possible to keep forgetting this truth, so obvious? If I could just stop worrying and write, I’d eventually train my mind to escape the crippling place of overthinking so much and just do what I know I should, what I really want to anyway–produce readable work.

FullSizeRender_2The words and sentences will eventually take care of themselves. I know this. It’s undeniable. The problem is simply habit. What you do over and over will claim you. When you write every day, you make a new habit. And this is how you rise back up and succeed. Simple as that.

Of course you can come back and edit later if needed. With first drafts, you must let it simply be crappy; you know this. Let go of every hangup and concern you have about it not measuring up and not being exactly what you meant, and just get something out. You can fix it later.

I’d meant to write something very different here. But as I wrote, I found what was better, what was truer. Why do we resist the obvious truth? Is it really out of pride and fear of being judged? Of course it is. What else? And so we forfeit the truth and get blocked and hung up again and again for weeks on end.

I don’t write what I know I must because I second-guess it when I sit down, knowing it will be disappointing to those I want to understand it most. It may even hurt them. But I have to come back to this truth over and over, be reminded of it again, even by an app I hate, just to face this frustrating reality yet again.

The Olympic Games have started this week–I’ve wondered what’s my superpower? Maybe it’s this. This is how we rise. And this could be the final time I forget, if I finally believed it and just kept on.

I could finish this book if I didn’t stop and if I ignored the doubts creeping in and stopped letting them shove out the truth I know. It could benefit so many others besides just me, all the writers I speak to, coaching them through their hangups, and work to release their full potential with every week. Don’t they also need me to keep on and commit to saying what I’ve never yet been able to?

And I regret so much that it’s taken so long. As much as I talked about believing, I haven’t believed. The strength of that regret at 42 is powerful, horrifying. Yet what will it be at 82? Don’t even my detractors, whoever they may be, don’t even they need the example of fighting to release these words? Couldn’t it even encourage them, even inspire them to commit to believing too?

We could be producing vital words, express our deepest truth and inspire others–all of this life-giving stuff–if only we’d let ourselves. This is always our choice. Can you forget the hangups and all the reasons this simple truth shouldn’t be true?

For myself, my answer is Yes. Yes, I can. I can choose it because this is God’s gift to all of us: the simple, unmerited freedom to choose. And God knows he’s paid and we’ve all paid a huge price for that inestimable gift–the most valuable gift in the world. 

The freedom to choose to believe.

So let it be. Let us rise. And let me no longer stand in the way of this responsibility I carry. I’m committed now. And somehow just doing that, it becomes less a choice than a duty.

I have chosen. Now I will write.

Thanks, WriteorDie. Now I rise.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

p.s. I used the WriteorDie program to write this post, the first draft of which took me about 4 minutes. I got no kickback from WriteorDie for this post, but I hope you give it a try, especially if you’re a doubter like me. :)

Your Silent Battle

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” –Pogo, Walt Kelly

Reading through my journal I see that back on December 4, I wrote about my process of writing my first new chapter since before I went freelance, over 4 years previous.

I wrote it from pieces that started with the basic action and locations, then researched the locations and built the needed discussion based on where they were in the story and what I knew needed to happen. It took a lot to pull myself away from the myriad other things and books I’ve got to work on, but it was worth it. And it felt good.

flowers5

I initially thought it wasn’t a big deal or somehow cheating since it was built on something existing. I often feel like that, like somehow using something that’s already there is not as valid, not original. But even brand-new rough drafts are built on preexisting thoughts. We all write to get free of something. But nothing we write is truly new; there’s only one ex nihilo creator.

It felt good. Even fiction is a great way to unload my baggage. When I’m willing. My best stuff is where I face the truth and get real, feel what’s buried under so much noise and busy, mind-numbing daily dross. And what’s there? Shame, fear, anger, resentment. The work of writing brings knowledge we’d never realize otherwise—thus reminding us of our undeniable imperfection. And suddenly, magically on the page, what was so easily dismissed everywhere else in our hurry-up world is laid bare, exposed and unmistakable. We are glorious messes and in dire need of a little more honesty and affection.

walk

So often we want somebody to love us but we never stop and love ourselves—just as we are. Who has time?

Last week I wrote about attention as a limited resource. And just today in the New York Times, an article on “The Cost of Paying Attention.”

“Attention is a resource; a person only has so much of it. And yet we’re auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging… In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence—the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.”

Just before I read this, on my Facebook feed, some Christian speaker I’ve never heard of, writes: “When I feel alone, what helps is _____.” I imagine writing something snarky but I resist and unfollow and continue to scroll. Fortuitously, Susan Cain, author of Quiet posted this article just below it. What are the chances?

I’d call it the zeitgeist but it’s probably just this ubiquitous overwhelming feeling these days. Simple flowers are starting to take on much more importance.

flowers2

Andy Crouch’s cover story for Christianity Today this month says, “Social media is leaving us more ashamed than ever.” The point is well taken but the writer looking for an excuse to procrastinate could hardly ask for a more diverting solution than the technology-addicted Internet world we currently live in.

Side note: Early reports that an “iWatch” from Apple will aim to give back some of our time currently being sacrificed to our smartphone’s incessant interruptions and notifications seem a hopeful step toward ending the tyranny of the urgent. But can it also sort the endless feeds and apps and platforms and devices from continuing to proliferate? Can it convince us our attention is becoming more valuable by the day? You might recall smartphones were supposed to make life more manageable and efficient and all of this stuff too. But maybe this time it’s different. (Wendell Berry’s moratorium on technology for humanity’s renewal seems more prescient than ever.)

We need silence and space alone to work out preexistent ideas, emotions and mental states our attention is being continually pulled from. We need our time back to fully love ourselves and our lives, to feel, deal, heal and become real. And then maybe we’ll find ourselves able to love not only ourselves anew, but others, and God as well.

We need to fight for silence.

fairy

Without this novel I’m writing, I’m not sure I’d have gotten free of the resentment I felt for the church and Christianity all my young adult life. And had I been trying to write the original chapters while managing a blog, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and whatever else I’m supposed to add to maintaining my website, I doubt it would have ever happened.

“We are compelled by forces that, like the ocean current, are so subtle and pervasive we take them utterly for granted.” – Art and Fear, 116

And without the practice of writing, I’m fairly certain I’d never take the time to remember my life and that books reconnect me to myself and expand me rather than disconnect me from myself and diminish me. Reading because I want to write has made me read attentively when the whole world has seemed to pay its attention to the Internet. It will end up being the most costly mistake many will ever make.

Yet, maybe once it’s clear how precious our lives truly are, we’ll realize our Faustian bargain with being “virtually connected” and the time we’re losing in the process.

flowers3

Several would-have-been writers may discover something worth writing for in the effort to get clean and clear of our modern enslavement. After all, the worse off we are, the better the story. And in place of the great wars earlier technologies required—from guns to canons to machine guns, tanks and planes and nuclear bombs—the common man’s new objects of liberation and destruction have gone truly viral.

Maybe like me, you’ve doubted you lived something bad enough to warrant your full commitment to this. But maybe you’re living your great fight right now. Believe it: in the days to come, the ability to retain your awareness of what was preexistent will be of great value.

We all write to get free of something. And though nothing we write is truly new, this may be the new battlefield where your true heroism will be forged.

If you’re called, write to connect and to share and to help. We’ll need wounded healers to help the generations to come.

Confronting Harper Lee’s Monster

It came across our Facebook feeds yesterday:

Harper Lee is releasing a new book!

Harper-Lee

It had already been announced and discussed and when I told my wife, she said what we all thought, “Isn’t she dead?”

Almost immediately there were suspicions about it all over the feeds. News and opinions went back and forth without much substance to go on. Was she being coerced or manipulated? Who had actually talked to her about it?

But behind the speculation, some of us sensed a monster lurking, a question we can’t quite answer: are we doing what’s right here?

This wasn’t just about what a beloved author really wanted. It was about what the Internet and media (social and otherwise) is doing to our world. Knowingly or not, Nelle Harper Lee has started a conversation again over the central issue her debut speaks to most presciently: the hopelessness in today’s world of doing what’s right.

Whether it’s the conversation about our country’s Internet and media addiction that none of us want to have, or the one about reparations and systemic injustice, there are winners and losers in this country. And we all have to face how deeply unfair so much of what we call “fair” is just not.

The story of a famously private author finally deciding to release another book is some of the best news fodder we Chatty Cathys could hope for. Think of the traffic being generated! But whatever else it’s about, the story is also a warning, a reckoning, that we could be killing a mockingbird here. If someone is lying or manipulating this living national treasure, they’ll most certainly be published, er, punished.  Ahem.

For all our hopes of another novel, shouldn’t we be asking, Should we just leave her alone?movie

Then there’s the fact that this couldn’t be more fitting to the point of her novel: no question Bob Ewell and his kind of prejudice are evil and wrong, and so is the jury for believing him. But we all know there’s another monster on the loose that we’re not talking about, a deep evil, possibly the greatest of all–a bully with an insatiable hunger for more.

More news. More information. More of the juicy story. More amazing books. And even if you weren’t as excited as I was to hear about this new book, we’re all in danger of becoming sick-drunk with this thirst for more.

Maybe she realizes there are still many innocents who need protecting and maybe her novel can help. Or maybe she still sees herself as Boo Radley as she has said.

Are we taking advantage of her? Remember, even Atticus was ready to force Boo and his own son to face public “justice” for the murder of Bob Ewell, spinning it as positively as he could.

It took the hardened lawman, Heck Tate, to talk sense into him and show him his misplaced faith in people to do what’s right.

This news story and To Kill a Mockingbird have everything to do with how we view right and wrong and our responsibility to seek true justice. Make no mistake, the point here is just like in the novel–doing the right thing may be hopeless, but it’s still worth doing all you can. We must consider the consequences of our snap judgments, and remember that in our modern rush to consume information, we can so easily become ravenous “More Monsters.”

I believe deep down, we all know we’re a mix of great good and deep evil. And because of that evil, Boo Radley wouldn’t really be left alone. Not in the real world.

Wouldn’t we all kill a mockingbird if we had a chance to own her song? As good as he wanted to be, not even Atticus, for all his good intentions, could see that without help.

2Q==To be sure, Go Set a Watchman is a very promising title. Should it happen to be about coming to terms with our tendency to go after those who need our protection, it could inspire discussion again about the importance of limiting ourselves to preserve something good and pure in the world. Maybe it will be about respect and facing our prejudices and dealing with the misguided bullies in our hearts.

We can only hope. And maybe if Nelle’s new-old vision from a grown-up Scout Finch does ignite that vital conversation again, she’ll forgive us for needing the reminder?

Still Loving Ya, Miley: A Final(?) Word

 

Two camps. Two paths. They say that’s all there are.

The low road and the high. Lovers v. haters.

And hate it or learn to love it, no one gets out. Everyone has to decide.

Which way will I go?

The way of the world or the way of the Lord?

We hear of these all our lives and we think we know which one’s good and which is bad.

But it’s not so easy, is it? We’re all in these cages always trying to figure out which way we’re headed, and which way others are going. It’s part are the way God made us. And part is our own making.

Haters wound, thinking they’re loving and that can become part of your cage. But their light is darkness, and as one of the “corrected” I can promise you, they don’t know the truth. And many people need to get free of folks who call hate love. Their ignorance is responsible for much that’s wrong in the world.

Still, they’re human. And they don’t always realize how their words sound. They don’t get how simply opening their mouths can shut someone else’s. And they don’t know all the people they’ll never hear from, never know, never set free because they think they have things all figured. Makes you wish they’d wonder what others sound like some time, doesn’t it? Don’t they want to know?

I guess I’ve been “corrected” quite a bit. But the stink of it is, any reaction from us only proves them right. It’s just like their shock over your new image—it serves to prove you right. But see, it doesn’t mean you are any more than it means they are, and swallowing each others’ scorn, it only makes each side stronger.

So I guess I don’t know where that leaves us. It seems you may fight and blow it off for many years. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to hold onto you with so many people thinking they have a right to you. I think God preserves my relative obscurity as a gift every day.

But don’t let anyone tell you Jesus would ever give anyone a thumbs down.

People can judge all day long. But not him.

He knows hating does no good. And he’s all about doing good.

Unfortunately, people aren’t. Jesus did a whole lot of stuff we can’t. He said don’t resist what you call evil. And for the life of me, I can’t manage that, though I try. I do know when you do, you see what evil really is—just goodness inside out, some love that lost its way. Truth gets twisted. Beauty sullied. There’s no evil without first good. God made it all good and it got all screwed up but we don’t need to fear this. It’ll be all good again someday.

But for now, all we need to know, all you need to know is that the power in us is God-breathed. It’s put there in our tongues and in our words and it’s the very power of life and death.

“Judge not lest ye be judged.” Jesus said that one too, though we argue it away and say it doesn’t mean not judging people.

“Correcting” in love is usually a sham because what’s loving to the person you’re correcting? What feels loved, seen, known? No one really knows. We know love isn’t a feeling but a decision, but Jesus never asked us to be other people’s conscience. He asked us to get in their shoes and walk a mile. And he said to let the blind lead the blind into a pit.

He knows who’s right. I’ll let him sort it out. But here are some ideas I’ve got:

1. Maybe we need to struggle to need him. Maybe that’s the only way we realize we need him?

2. When you stand in authority, someone always wants to knock you down. But kneel in powerlessness and suddenly no one’s left to judge.

3. I don’t know how many people it will take rebelling against God because of “God’s people” before his self-proclaimed defenders finally surrender, but just remember: God never asked us to deny people their freedom. He told us to set people free.

4. Spend as much time as you can imagining all that’s possible when we finally know even in all our “sin” how Jesus not only defends us and lets us off the hook, he sees and affirms us exactly as he made us.

5. If grace is what saves us, may we affirm everyone’s right to experience it. I agree with ending all restrictions on what Jesus made free because his sacrifice was good enough.

6. It’s not our job to save anyone, to set ourselves apart, or do any of the works faith requires. That’s his job. And he does it very well.

And even if you don’t agree and you still hope for a win between the camps, I hope it’s okay if I give up for you and say thanks for all you did to help me see my need to. I’ve needed to surrender to his free-love anarchy more fully. I don’t give up in hopes of anything changing, though I will pray for an end to all restrictions on those who must be allowed to speak without judgment, prejudice or discrimination.

And just remember he says, “Come to Me and I will give you rest.” Rest is not selfish, not what selfish people do. Rest is what you’re made for, next to him and in him and him in you and not ahead or behind or in fear or control.

Everything’s his doing. Give him back your everything and be truly free.

Freedom isn’t always an easy place to live. But there’s nowhere safer.

Progressive Publishing Program, Part 1: Finish Your Book (for Free) with a Writing Coach

Some offers are just hard to believe, aren't they? 

The day I came up with the idea for a "progressive publishing program," I didn't believe it either.   Images-3

But here's a confession: I’ve always been something of a skeptic. As a small(er) babbler, I remember seeing the commercial for the Tootsie Roll pop and I determined to prove them wrong. I stuck with that thing until I licked the stick clean. I probably have some undiagnosed OCD, and coupled with a near-religious devotion to Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers during my newly-verbal years, my ability to persevere through difficult tasks that I enjoyed was virtually assured.

Of course, my mom would tell you, I was one headstrong little snot. I stomped my defiant foot into the deep shag carpet more than once. And as corporal punishment was something of a Christian duty in the 70s, I learned to withstand much pain. 

At school, I followed my own beat stubbornly, even learning to use my spankings to make my punishers cry. But something stuck. I learned self-discipline. And today I use it every day, to edit, write, and not coincidentally, to help authors edit and write.

Research shows that for those who want to write a book, finishing is the #1 barrier. Estimates put it that over 80% of American adults want to write a book, but it turns out life can get in the way. And I could use competition, the TV-addicted childhood, California slacker thing, or my Gen X label as excuses.

Or I could write myself a different story. Images-1

There are plenty of stories for all of us to choose from. But eventually we all need to recognize it's our choice to chose the one most worth fighting for.

Commitment isn’t all we need. But it's like, 9/10s. It may be true that obsessing gets you nothing but ulcers, but devotion is the main defense against the enemy of all great books, this enticing fruit of distraction. Greedy salesmen and barking self-publishers purport to want to help you, but do they care how good your book is? What's in it for them to help you not just publish, but sell well? The vision you initially had for your book when you imagined it finished, is that what you have? Or are you in danger of straying from your path? Opportunists have sprouted up everywhere, even in Christian corners, to prey on your flagging devotion. And they're very convincing.

"Congratulations! You finished writing! Now it's time to publish! Trust us, we're professionals."

Maybe you've noticed the decline in book quality. Or typos. Or simply what Stephen King calls "fast-food books" that bypass anything nourishing and go straight to the bowels. I think they're going straight to authors' heads, making their brains fat and slow, convincing them they can publish bestsellers as quickly and easily as, well, passing some fast food.

My theory, and it's just a theory, is that the major problem is undisciplined authors. They may not tell the lies, but they give them power by believing them. And they sell out their vision before a better book is given a chance to be born. Either too distracted, untrained, or afriad of never reaching the shelves, the majority miss their chance of connecting and selling well.

A glut of entitled sell-outs is dragging down the art and literature of publishing.

And why? Because they believe the hype. A brainless machine can publish your book. The real value is in the wisdom to know what's required to publish a best-seller. Are best-selling books always great books? No. And no one can predict success. But there are common characteristics in the authors who write well and sell well. The easiest way to make money in publishing is in selling false hope. And it costs far less to give people what they want than to commit to high quality work (what they really want, trust me).

If you've got a different kind of story, maybe it needs to be published as a great book. Maybe you are one who should choose a better way.

ImagesYou can do that and make a stand. But you'll also need others around you who believe in that goal really, really stubbornly.

Look at how best-selling authors do it. My newsflash for you after having worked with many successful authors over the past decade is that the good ones committed to the idea that valuable work costs much. They sacrificed for it. They sought out professionals to ensure the highest quality and before they published, they decided they really, really wanted to learn to write and edit well. They learned to tell a story. Armed with this, they managed to wait, to learn to edit, to research the market and others' books, and put themselves through the paces to pull together a refined vision, instead of selling it for scrap.

Choosing a different story than the self-publishers' hype is a new first step to becoming a great author. And only those with the determination to finish well will ever sell a great book.

Stay tuned…part 2 tomorrow.

(Oh, and in case you're wondering how many licks it really takes, I'll tell you over in the forum at the new site…)