“…Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me….” – Jesus
I‘ve had this thought before. I’ll bet you have too. But this time, I think I’ve finally figured out how to make it stick.
Maybe it’s not that earth-shattering. Or maybe it is–I don’t know. I want to believe it is because that’s what someone said writers are supposed to do–believe their work is the most important thing in the world, even when they know it isn’t.
But this is sort of about that very belief–believing that our work is too important to let go–and telling it to take a long walk off a short pier.
I’ve needed to confess something about my writing process lately–besides my perpetual habit of not doing it enough. I’ve always seen writing as difficult, because it is. And commitment is definitely involved. But I’ve also believed it’s too big to fail. I mean, it’s difficult–hello, yes!–but also in a very different way.
And I’ve long known this, but the deeper work of writing that is about working to revise my self, that’s never been something I can muscle into submission by force.
Believe me. I’ve tried. That no worky.
In fact, that deeper work of writing seems only to work if I have next to nothing to do with it.
I suspect I’ve merely needed to mature and accept my limits and quit pushing so hard to find that out, i.e. I’m not God.
Further, I suspect we writers tend to try too hard. It may shock you that I stake a claim in this winning characteristic, but all too often I lose perspective and forget I can’t just make all the things happen all the time.
Overcome all my self-defeating behaviors…
Identify all my failed coping mechanisms…
Be the writer of my own life story…
It’s good to know I’m not alone in this failed self-improvement project, but I’d give up the camaraderie to just relax a bit and let God have his way in this writing business, once and for all.
I want to push the river, but it flows by itself.
In life and in writing I get all up in it too much to judge properly. I’m Jonah inside the fish, busy trying to describe what it looks like to everyone outside. They can’t even hear me!
I’ve got to give up and get some distance between me and that fish. Then I’ll finally see what I need to share about my story I believe readers have been looking for without even knowing it.
So how will I get barfed out so I can see as I used to?
(Hmm. This metaphor suddenly seems ill-advised. But I press on, determined to make it work as I heard it in my head!)
If only I could remember what it was like before I was swallowed up by my book, who I was before I’d written the story and finally found my authentic self beneath… then I might break that mental barrier and see what others need from it.
I need to let go, remember who I really am. Give up this idea of “the perfect picture.”
Embarrassingly, I think the trick is that simple. The path to self-improvement through writing is giving up, letting go of all we want from writing and remembering who we truly are: a person simply needing empathy.
Writing is the path to improvement if we can die to self and get out of our own way in order to empathize with a reader. A story requires getting into characters’ shoes as you write, but also into readers’ shoes as you edit. That’s how you improve as a writer. But the trick to improving as a person is remembering what it was like to long for the truth your story shares, how you needed it and how it felt to discover it.
That insight you so desperately wanted to share? Do you remember life before you knew that truth?
That’s where you’ll find the balance between sharing enough but not too much. That’s where you’ll rediscover the revelation that led you to become the writer you now are.
And that’s where your self-improvement lies.
Focus on empathy and let go of your desire to improve yourself, and you’ll improve anyway. You’ll lose your life to save it.
That’s the embarrassing truth: I’ve been going about this all wrong. Giving up would have been a lot easier. If I can remember to write for the least of these, maybe I’ll get exactly what I wanted, automatically.
Maybe we don’t have to worry about becoming great writers. Just let God make a great person and the rest will follow….