My Embarassing Trick to Making Writing Into Easy Self-Improvement

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“…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.

This is Scratchy. He was just outside my window right now so I took a picture of him.
This is Scratchy. He’s not afraid of commitment. He has very little tree squirrel emotional baggage, but he does tend to chew his hazelnuts loudly.

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.

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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.”

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Oh well.

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.

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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….

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10 thoughts on “My Embarassing Trick to Making Writing Into Easy Self-Improvement”

  1. hiya mick, empathy stands out. it may be the key to everything but just as in maturity, it seems we’ll never “arrive”. it’s a journey we take that lasts until we die don’t you think? and maybe even after (which could be exciting.) being a 100% empathetic grownup won’t happen in this life but it’s a gallant goal. you worry too much and i couldn’t know that unless i saw my own reflection in your soul. so i have empathy and sympathy for us both and wish we could lighten up! i sound like a broken record on that subject . . . lightening up. but surely we will as we continue on hoping to really write for the reader’s needs. YOU ALREADY DO, if you can believe that! try to.
    love
    soooooz

    1. So you don’t feel we should take a more active part in writing our story? Or maybe it’s individual–maybe God decides who needs to be more active and who needs to cool off depending on the various factors only he can fully take into account.

      :) I know I think too much. It’s my burden to continually lay down. Thanks for your continual encouragement and friendship, LPF. Couldn’t do it without friends like you.

      M

  2. My simple perspective took this post as a challenge to remember why the heck we began writing our story to begin with. I have 2 stories I’m thinking about, but one is at the forefront lately. It began over 9 years ago, dang! What’s neat is that I was thinking about this very thing all weekend. Why? Why this story of…. ? Why this message of….? I’ve taken a 3 year step back from the piece and worked on another story, and now I’m seeing more clearly than ever before what the reader wants.Can I give it to them? Probably not alone or right now, but I don’t need to think about that do I?

    Nope. I’ll just show up…

    1. Exactly! I love that you’re thinking about what it all means, Jenelle. It’s a strange commitment to show up to let go and give up trying to make that meaning happen. What’s he’s begun will have its purposes as we allow them to change our limits and challenge our assumptions. That’s an adventure worth committing to!

      Thanks for always showing up here and engaging with my prompts. :) Even as you’re heavy with child!

  3. no, one bird…i do i DO think we should take a more active part in writing our story. this is tricky, communication without being in eye to eye mode. you know, like in the same room! gee, i hope that happens again. and BTW, wrangler steve and me are patiently awaiting. you know what!! we’re SO hooked.
    suzee B

    1. Ah–okay. :) I did dive a bit DEEP again here. I could hear you and Jenelle and all my sweet extroverted readers in my head on this one. Never want to tax anyone–but sometimes the metaphors get complicated and resist paring down! :) I do think this comes down to, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”

      And I hear that patience and appreciate you!

  4. Does this notion enter the discussion anywhere? (Am I reading correctly?)
    “For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work”–both to barrel on, full force, or to ease back a bit, focusing on some other project, which may quickly become a refocus on the original project–
    or not.
    As when weeding the garden, trying to decide which is the weed among those little green things, and…
    Oh! kick in the pants! That’s what I need to write!
    Or, just, man am I too weary right how to give a rip. I’ll pray God be
    “at work in me both to will and to work….”
    This God part working whether I sleep or weed or cook (favorite activity) or write.
    The confidence just expressed may come only from having recently had some “Jet propelled-turbo-write” rewriting going on. But I think it’s lastingly true mostly because thoughts regarding another book have recently, insistently resurfaced, within the context that I needed to make it work.
    God, may that be always so; may it be so.

  5. blessings from the father of lights coming through kathleen’s place :-)
    congratulations on your jet propelled-turbo-writing…i am going to waterski behind you on that with the editing process i’m in ze middle of.
    nice image you’ve given me
    love
    suzee B

  6. Thanks for your helps. Maybe one day they will all converge in my head and heart and God will give me the affirmation that writing my story is what He wants me to do and I will. For now I am committed to other things and will do my best at them. Besides the story is still in progress so I will just help it along until further notice from God.
    Sincerely,
    Gayle

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