Tag Archives: anxiety

How a Writer Gets Free of the Struggle

“You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart–your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it’s why you were born.”

Anne Lamott


What terrifies you?

It can seem a simple question. But have you tried to answer it?

Disaster, death, so many ways it all could be ruined and the people I love could be hurt or taken from me. Big spiders, embarrassing myself, talking to strangers, these are all lesser fears, but they seem related.

What’s beneath them? When I stop to feel it, I think it’s a terror of missing out on the best in life, whatever that is.  I fear never experiencing the greatest things life has to offer. They could be stolen by circumstances, so simply because I didn’t have the awareness to go after them, or the plain courage.

My biggest, deepest fear seems to center around navigating risk.

Everyone has deep fears, even the most confident people. Find someone who doesn’t trust easily and I’ll show you someone who fears people. We always have good reason. Hard experience has taught us well.

What most of us know beyond conscious knowledge is that until there’s an invitation and opportunity to face the deepest fear, we’ll remain fear-controlled. Everyone in the world. We need encouragement and opportunities. Otherwise, our inner children wait, silent, waiting to be asked, noticed, inspired by love.

If you want to know what’s wrong with most people, think of them as children ignored. It happened, and now they do it to themselves. A child ignored eventually shuts down. Adults forget and flee themselves.

So what we all need most is permission to stop and remember, to listen to the child and let it speak, to be encouraged out. And what I can tell you from my own experience is that what that requires most is trust.

Trust is the absence of fear. Trust is:


You will finally speak when you trust it will be received. To know it’s okay, we let go and breathe easy. That freedom is essential to all you’ll become, all you’ll live, all you want to offer readers. So what you must do before anything else is receive permission to speak your unfiltered, vulnerable, risky truth.

Unjudged and unrestrained.

Remember, much experience has also taught you that when you do, you’ll feel again what’s most important to you. You’ve known it before. It’s just that when you did know that, you also found what scared you most. So to go back, you have to take the risk.

Behind this deepest fear is the storehouse of everything you will write that matters most.

This is what life is all about, what writing is about: surrendering your fight, to receive mercy for your own self. 

Endless mercy, endless grace. That’s permission. It’s okay if you don’t believe you have that or can’t receive it yet. All you need right now is that hope that this is true. The willingness to believe is as good as believing. You can trust this.

How it happened for me was that when I took my faint hope and went ahead and risked asking myself why I feared missing out on what really matters in life, it sounded silly, like not much of a risk.

Who even cares? You’re wasting time. Quit navel-gazing and think about others for a change.

The voice tried to keep me silent. Those voices take many forms–a teacher, a parent, a friend, a sibling, a grandparent, a spouse. We give them authority and take them inside and let them rule us. We feed them and protect them as they tell us what we think we need to hear. They’re the voices of reason, of maturity, of logic, of truth.

Except they aren’t.

The voices aren’t wrong; they’re trying to keep us safe. We’ve had good reason to be afraid. The scars on our hearts prove it. My scars always embarrassed me, proved weakness, unmanliness, impotence. Looking at them revealed how sensitive I was, how “feminized.” The scars were deep, but the denial they even existed went deeper.

And this was my fight.

Only the mercy of God through Sheri, my girls, my family, friends, has released me. Beneath the fear and fight lived the scary adventure I’d longed for.

My fear of failure, of losing those I love, they’re universal fears. Strongest of all, the one more like terror, is of missing out on the life that truly matters, truly contributes, truly rewards.

There is no way to do enough, be enough, the voice says, proving itself with endless evidence, memories of the many times we’ve failed, missed out, been disappointing. So many examples, too many to count.  They’d overwhelm and drag us under, so we turn away and ignore them.

And instead of fully living from the heart of the child, we live not to think of them.

Yoda wisdom
The form may change. But wisdom always remains the same.

What truly matters? What’s a life’s true contribution? What’s most rewarding? We all know the answer in our hearts: Connection. Relationship. Love. Compassion. Kindness. We know this. It changes everything. And we want to live this. But can we surrender the fear of missing out on whatever it is we think we need?

Where else would we find more meaningful connections than in this life we’re living? Who else could offer more than those we’re with? The question is either a foregone conclusion, or the ignorance of a fool.

The fool will control us until the wiser one takes its place. The fool will wonder what all this has to do with writing. The fool will be pulled by the nose toward every unconsidered new thought. The fool will try to ban the insignificant and end up straining out all meaning and substance.

Who but a fool thinks he can judge where or who is most significant? Who but a fool can say “this life is ruined” or “this life is not?” Everywhere and everyone and everything is creation–it is worthwhile, you fool! Be all there and you may just experience exactly what you’ve always wanted. Ignore it and wish for something else, something better or safer for you and you’ll only let fear continue keeping you from the incredible life you could be living right now.


“Give up, and the answer appears. Give up, and you are released. Give up, give up–let the bells toll it throughout your land. Struggle, and clarity of mind disperses. Surrender, and somehow it’s yours.”

– Bonnie Friedman, Writing Past Dark

For the higher purpose,


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

For the Fearless Future

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”

― Simone Weil


It keeps us. Claims us. Owns us.IMG_4712

There’s a line in a famous song that I love: “I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything.”

This is how many people behave when it comes to their fears. Some fears are reasonable, but all fears seem reasonable to people trapped by fear.

And honestly, is fear ever “reasonable?”

People can’t think when they’re being choked. We all know the feeling. Fear takes control and overwhelms all thought. Even possible solutions seem impossible.

Again and again, things happen, fear strikes, and good, intelligent people go ape-shoot crazy. Extremists get attention by manipulating fear, pushing our giant red button and getting us to do exactly what they want. Same old suspects, same old tragic story, same responses of irrational fear, and the same resistance to change.

Remember the character Fear in Inside Out? He was the funny little purple guy, a great chance to laugh at how silly our fears are. It’s a kids’ movie, so like I did with my kids when they were afraid of something, Pixar made Fear funny and he didn’t seem like much of a threat.

But in reality, fear can easily become our strongest emotion.

Think about it–Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust–none of those can convince people to do crazy things the way Fear can. Anger comes close, but anger is so often under fear’s control.

All emotions can be powerful. But fear’s power to hold people hostage is unparalleled. It can totally wipe out joy and cause people to give up trying to reach their dreams. It can make us despair of ever getting free. And it can even make us give up on love.

Some have said the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear. Because love leads to freedom. And fear leads to a prison.

The ridiculous thing about fear is that it tortures its victims and it can’t even stop a single bad thing from happening. But it can rob them of enjoying what’s good.

Fear unifies us all in a global battle against darkness and disconnection.

We always have a choice to see our fear and how its bullying tactics work. Or we can ignore it and let it control our minds.

Fear is an instinctive emotion. But allowing fear control is our choice.

Most people know this, at least in theory. We can’t control feeling afraid (other than learning more so we aren’t afraid anymore). But we can control whether we express our fear. And we can certainly keep it from overwhelming clear thinking.

Seeing peoples’ response to the news this week, can we doubt that this fact is massively misunderstood, yet enormously needed? How many ordinary people truly don’t realize they can stop and consider whether fear is controlling them, and then get fear under control?

IMG_4702The fear I saw on my feed last week was so distressing I could hardly work. How many people have never learned they have power over this fear of foreigners? And how many have never used that sovereign power to escape that cage?

No matter what the foreign thing or person is, this fear will only keep coming up until we realize the key to freedom is in our hands. We must use it. We must realize we’re being controlled.

The only thing strong enough to break persistent fear is the power of personal choice. 

Maybe there aren’t enough stories about this power yet. Maybe the right metaphor hasn’t yet been found to penetrate the public mind. Maybe we need more writers and artists to tell the truth about it and show people the essence of being human is using this unassailable gift from God we call free will to become truly free.

Maybe we haven’t realized that both freedom and fear are weapons–and we can only wield one at a time.

Freedom to choose can protect us against the inner bully of fear. But we have to be willing to use it and acknowledge how fear leads to anger and hatefulness toward others, see how it tries to convince us we’re acting prudently and responsibly, even righteously to close ourselves off to what’s different.

It’s easier to stay ignorant.

IMG_4706All fear has to do is make us believe the real bully is the object of our fear. Then we either attack or retreat back to our cage and shut the door.

Why can’t we see that fear doesn’t hold the power? We do! And we can tell it where to go if we’ll just remember the truth:

“Fear not! You have been given all power over creation. Fear is in your control. And you shall know this truth and it shall set you free…”

But when the bully seems so powerful, so imposing, and it’s been given a free ride on our ticket for years, it’s easy to forget bullies are always weaklings.

Fear is born of ignorance and ignorance comes from old, boring, powerless evil — without it, there would be no fear.

Ignorance is disorder. And disorder is not solved by running away. There truly is nothing to fear but fear itself.

I watch my nine-year-old, Charlotte, set the pillows on the couch and attempt to fall face forward without catching herself.

“It’s so hard not to put my hands up.”

Eventually she does it. And she cheers and I think, habitual safety can be broken. But first it has to be unlearned.

The shadowed veil that hides the truth can be torn away. Its power dissipates when the spell is broken and we stand and reclaim our birthright by rejecting the whispered lies:

“Sssafety.” “Prudenccce.” “Caution.”

Lies. There is no “safety” without the freedom to choose it. There is no “prudence” or “caution” without the ability to reason, to discern what’s best. With fear our hand is forced, and we’re pushed to immediate reactions before thinking. The warnings are a trick to keep us controlled, i.e. “safe.”

IMG_4711Charlotte falls flat on the pillows, arms back. Her face lights with the thrill of overcoming fear and finding herself still safe

and safer still…

This is our limitless power of freedom. We are already safe, held in perfect love. We can let go and overcome this oppression and overthrow fear’s rule.

We can teach this new way. We can cut off the automatic fear–this habit so many have allowed so often it’s become involuntarily and made them smaller and slow-witted.

We can fight this fearful thinking. And we can become whole and human again.

But only if we’re done being manipulated.

And only if we’re ready to show a world strangled by fear that surviving absolutely requires thriving —

in our complete trust of the Fearless One.


To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

– C. S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”

Always for love, always for freedom, always for the Higher Purpose,


Where the Obsession May Lead

Say I was just a little bit obsessed with writing this book.

Would that be so bad?


Maybe we have to become saturated with it, like a painter or an actor, to really convince anyone it’s worth their time.

I suppose the obvious (and well-documented) problem with this is what such an obsession tends to lead to. Fact is, with writers maybe even more so that with other artists, we court a lover far too vast and consuming to be handled.

Our medium is meaning itself. Our tools are the foundational building blocks of life–consciousness, words. Without The Word spoken, the world would not have begun, and without words, it could not be sustained, let alone support meaning. We are helplessly bound up in language, inextricably wrapped around reason and rationality–it is twisted into the very emotional and spiritual fibers that form our being.

When writers seek their medium, don’t they necessarily pull at the cord sustaining their very lives?

Maybe I should take up pottery. I really don’t want to start barking.

The books all say you have to face your fears and pay attention to what’s hard. But don’t we risk our own destruction when we peel back the layers of our lives and our minds to see what we can make of them?

I don’t want to freak anyone out, but are we ignoring the fact that even famous and successful writers seem just a little more unhinged with every new successful attempt?

IMG_6058It’s far more socially acceptable just to clap along and heap on praise for their sacrifices and dedication.

The fear of barking haunts, pursues me, my death and ultimate annihilation never far behind.

The crazy voice, the fear of not mattering, never escaping the intensity of this obsession, not to mention the regret over all I’ve sacrificed and the fallout in my relationships, it’s all on my mind whenever I sit down to the blank page.

This morning as I wrote, I thought how many writers sit down to produce every day, knowing they’re already a little crazy to do it–Why do we do this to ourselves?–even though we know it’s because we can’t help it. The drive pushes us on and makes us crazy.

And can we really be blamed? We only write because we have to and writers only say what they do because what else can they say? These things simply are and we write them because we’re pushed to the edge. And the only thing we can do to live is to fall forward and write the truth.

Honestly, it’s less voluntary than most would like to think.

IMG_6066Maybe it’s more spiritual, like prayer, a letting go of resistance to the conviction that embracing all this is–the good and bad, reasonable and unreasonable, legitimate and illegitimate–is needed to become the integrated people who can write what we must, what we were meant to. And if others don’t understand, maybe it’s because they don’t feel it pulsing and pushing through them like a fog, like the fear of dying.

Maybe they’re just afraid to feel that too.

And I wonder if maybe it’s only those who’ve embraced this fear and accepted the fallout who can experience the transcendent through the pursuit and the product of this fragile art.

The process may necessarily involve some letting go of our central cord. We pursue that release. So won’t a certain instability always follow?

“Plato spoke of the necessity for divine madness in the poet. It is a frightening thing to open oneself to this strange and dark side of the divine; it means letting go of our sane self-control, that control which gives us the illusion of safety. But safety is only an illusion, and letting it go is part of listening to the silence, and to the Spirit.” – Madeline L’Engle, Walking on Water

via Jen McCarthy

Letting go. I suppose this is the ultimate fear. But maybe there’s nothing behind it. And maybe if we simply refused to be afraid and instead trusted the voice, we’d find the confidence we need to remain safe. And sane.

I already know we won’t learn what we need to learn if we don’t embrace a deeper safety than rational thinking can assure. Reason and logic can’t tell us what there is beyond all we’re too afraid to leave.

Why can’t it be this simple? Why can’t the next step be merely to ask our source of strength for the courage to face that cave you still fear to enter? And then to find it surging up as you stand at the mouth and feel its drawing, its tugging at that invisible cord within.

Stretching your ability to comprehend a deeper meaning.

Maybe it’s not the voice of a monster coaxing you at all but something much more wonderful. And maybe he knows you need to let go of all you think you need to know or you’ll remain unchanged and untransformed….

Give that prayer a try today and let me know how it goes.

God be with you in your going, and in your coming to know the source of this call, out there where obsession mingles with the Refining Fire and is known and experienced only as purity.

For the higher purpose,


Face Your Shame

I’m still up on the high of teaching at the Story Vision Fiction Retreat in Seattle. So I’m still thinking about the last session I shared earlier today…

Has what you’ve faced made you realize the value of your story?

When we’ve been through difficult, painful things that laid us out, we can find God has helped us through.

We can see that the way up was in lying down.

Yet we tend to want to avoid these things. We believe we can improve ourselves by doing many things, being diligent, hard-working, etc.

But is that the best way to self-improvement? Maybe we need to get it through our heads there’s a better way.

It may be that the better way to moving up in the world is to move down, to be less concerned with ourselves, less obsessed with our own interests, to remember that when we need God and he does what he does, that’s how we’re enabled to learn more.

Only letting go of our short-sighted goals and accepting help in our need will get us to stop hoping for and expecting joy without pain and life without death.

God turns our desires on their heads and says that for being better selves, we have to get humbled, sometimes broken, and often ashamed.

The trouble is, we have no capacity for embracing that as ordinary human beings.

When I fell from perfection and became mortal, I didn’t want to feel shame for my incompetence and pride. Not even for a second. I couldn’t admit my need for God for a long time after, and I thought I had to do many things in my own strength to prove I was worthy of him, as if my strength even came from me to begin with.

But when life finally intruded on my perfect little world and I finally knew suffering, I realized that if I wanted God to draw near to me, I had to repent and call my heart to account for its arrogance.

And what I found was, God will rescue us if we’ll just turn to him and ask him to.

When I came in humility, broken and contrite, and asked him to redeem my selfish desires to remove the cursed need for validation and seeing myself lifted up? He didn’t even hesitate. I was in.

No worthiness required.

Why couldn’t I simply trust that he would lift me up once I was willing to stop trying to lift myself up?

I had to learn to let myself be helped.

And the demon of opposition is shame. We can’t be afraid of this or we’ll fail. We can’t cling to safety or opt for the circumscribed path. We have to call it out and by name.

When we change one letter in shame, we learn how to defeat it: we share.

Shame wants nothing more than to make us protect ourselves instead of share.

To fear people’s judgment and their rejection for our inadequacy. And this crippling fear could have kept me locked up and silenced forever.

But God knows that before we can set out on our quest and experience the freedom of defeating our great villain and escaping the death it breathes out, we must call it out, confront it and destroy it with the only weapon we have against it.

The worthiness we receive from God’s love.

Shame is always a fear we’re unworthy of connection. And it will always get in the way of our creativity.

To be wholehearted, there is real shame work to be done. If we’ve tied our worthiness to what we produce, to the product? We miss the beauty of the process.

And self-empathy is the antidote to shame.

“Our capacity to be wholehearted is never greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted.” ­–Brené Brown

For the higher purpose,