Tag Archives: fear

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:

confidencebelieffaithcertaintyassuranceconviction.

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.

Surrender.

“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,

Mick

All Writers Be Crazy: Some Thoughts on Why

To write is to struggle. You know this, or at least, you sense it, though to write you have to ignore it often.

The struggle is endemic, so common it’s hardly worth mentioning. And yet, people who don’t write have no idea, no frame or context for this. And so we often wonder why it’s so hard and if it’s only us, and we don’t admit our deep unrest.

Madeline L’Engle famously said, “If you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you.” It’s good advice–you need to be in conversation, in relationship, with your work and your process, and that does need to become a personal, private, and protected connection for you. I think this is easy to understand for Christians who already know the source of inspiration, and the struggle to remain connected with Him.

Like talking about an invisible savior who lives and interacts with us in our hearts and minds, it can sound mmm, a bit “cra-cray.” Writing is an invisible friend of the seemingly crazy and capricious variety, like Bing-Bong in Inside Out.

 

Maybe this is a reason so many people love Bing-Bong (and Jesus): we all know deep down our lives depend on friends we have to use our imagination to see and get to know. 

Of course, no one wants to make too big a deal about this. After all, there’s the very real, corporeal world we have to contend with as adults, and everyone has to grow up and let their imaginary friend die at some point. Right?

Well, writer, Christian writer, what can I tell you? You’re special. 

People aren’t going to respect the fact that you keep a little notebook to write down all the crazy you hear between the lines of conversation at the grocery store. Normal people–let’s call them “muggles,” even though most are harmless and not like the Dursleys…

They don’t care so much about yours; they just have other jobs and callings. And it’s a very good thing too, since we have to live and get our plumbing fixed and find exterminators and things.

In my experience, writers all seem to get this difference fairly intuitively, maybe because this relationship with invisible people started a long time ago for them. We all met a character in a book at some point who was so real, it couldn’t just be the creation of a writer. But it was. And writers beget writers this way all the time.

Until we realize that it isn’t writing that makes us cranky and crazy, or even the muggles, but our own internalized perfectionism and that voice of fear we all hear, we’re prone to the debasing dismissals we tend to get from “the real world:” What have you published? Aren’t you finished yet? Why would you write that? 

Again, they don’t know what they’re doing and don’t mean anything by it (you’re not actually doing anything useful, after all). But they can inadvertently stoke the flames of those hellish fears we all have. But while we’re still breathing, we have to learn to sidestep and dismiss these distracting, irrelevant, unhelpful “real-life” concerns.

Self-doubt is poison to your system.  It’s universal and all authors, even famous, multi-published writers feel it. But the successfully productive ones also deal with it and have learned how to sidestep and disarm it. You don’t get to complete your mission until you learn how to do this.

Step one is to value your process and understand it’s a vulnerable relationship, just like every other meaningful relationship in your life. This is a primary relationship you have to show up to cultivate every day, no matter what other considerations or responsibilities you have.

Step two is to feel what you feel, but deal honestly with it and don’t let it derail you. Express it to a fellow writer or group of writers and don’t try to go it alone. Writing friends are essential.  Know it’s normal, and you aren’t strange for having an invisible, intangible, ephemeral “friend” who helps you and inspires your life.

And step three is to keep showing up every day. Just do what you can manage right now and let it be enough. A great book can start with 5 minutes a day and grow from there. But only a writer who knew it took dedicated time, and learning to say “no” to many other worthy pursuits is able to make the practice of a process their priority. 

Pomodoros can make you more productive. And strategy and planning can keep you producing, because this is all about doing it and not just talking or thinking about it. But in the end, knowing you’re not alone in your imaginary world can calm the voices of fear and that’s what can convince you it’s worth the time and sacrifices to commit.

In fact, everyone has an imagination, so everyone knows what it’s like to hear these voices. Writers are just those who’ve made it their business to face them and choose the right ones to listen to.

And that’s a specific understanding and skill you can enjoy for a lifetime. :)

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

Why You Can Never Fail

I need a story about failure,” I said to Sheri and the girls as we sat down to a Saturday night dinner of take-out pizza.

IMG_0032

“Surely you can help me think of something,” I added, laughing. “Should be plenty of material.” 

But whether they knew something they didn’t want to share, or couldn’t think of anything, no one had an answer. Apparently, I’d also failed to show my appropriate glee in being a miserable failure.

“I once got an F in Old Testament in college,” Sheri offered. “Or maybe it was a D. It felt like an F.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Old Testament was crazy hard.” 

“I once got a B in science,” Ellie added. “Mrs. Sutton’s class in fifth grade. I totally deserved it, but I was devastated.”

“Really?” I hadn’t realized. “Did you mention it and I just forgot?”

“I don’t know.” Her hand paused on her pizza. “I only ever got A’s, until that.”

We’ve lived together every day of her life, but how little I really know about her. Is this my failure to ask about her days? Or maybe to truly listen? It could be she just failed to tell me about it. But even so, maybe she believed I’d fail to offer comfort. “It’s fine,” I could hear myself saying. “A ‘B’ is still pretty good….” 

Whatever the case, I had my answer. My parenting is often so incredibly inadequate. And the fact that my daughters and wife wouldn’t say so directly may only be more proof. 

164819_494124054563_777394563_5801658_7068250_nAnd I’m not just being ungracious to myself here. If I were to open the floodgates and start sharing all the ways I fail constantly–to be who I truly am, the more selfless and giving me–wouldn’t I truly connect more?

Isn’t that what relating really means—to relate your truest stories of your inadequate self that could help someone else relate?

It looks like a giant opportunity stretching out before me, a big, bold solution to several fundamental struggles I have. I always want to accomplish a lot and have big impact, but no matter how much I get done, I end up feeling like a failure, a “dad by default,” a distracted, disorganized, disappointment of a dud. It might take me a few lifetimes to replace this bad habit with a good one, to wake every day and remember that whether I can do everything I feel called to that day or not, sharing my authentic self is the real goal. 

I’ve needed to remember this, to look beyond what I do or don’t accomplish, to the awareness of how I’m doing at noticing, being, and sharing me. 

Because here’s what I know: the big things we want to do aren’t the point. Family and friends are the real point of life. And we can’t help wanting to do more and be more than we are. But to do that, we need to start getting some better mileage out of our failures.

IMG_0616Isn’t this the vulnerability Brene Brown and others have talked so much about? We all want to do such big things and have such great impact, but why aren’t we more honest about our shortcomings? Why don’t we shed our inhibitions and share what we’re bad at, where we struggle, and even our discomfort over appearing inept?

Of course, because of judgment. We’ve been wounded and we took those voices in and let them chastise us relentlessly. And that shaming formed us, formed our self-image to a large extent.

On top of that, as Christians we hear “die to self,” and “the heart is wicked above all else,” and “put aside selfish desires.” And we can struggle for years trying to believe all the Bible memorization and church attendance and prayers and journaling should help.

And why can’t we “Just. Get. Over. It. Already?!”

Everyone else is more resilient than we are, more determined to press on, more spiritual. We’re just failures. And we’re right to be ashamed.

We take all of this in and dwell on it to no end. It’s right and good to care what others think and we never realize this entire foundation is made of sand. 

We could let it all crumble and rebuild on rock. This inner torment could be discarded and we’d be free.

We’ve hidden our feelings and true personalities from this bully God, the one who’s so disappointed in us he can hardly bear to hold on and offer us this supposed “free grace and forgiveness.”

He’s only doing it because he has to. 

We all believe this in our deepest hearts. How could we ever accept that we’re failures? Our deepest fear broadcast and spread far and wide? Come to full life on the big screen for everyone to see?

Are you kidding me?

No one needs to know the pain and suffering we’ve endured. We’re so tired of feeling like failures all the time….

IMG_0763To let that all go and embrace our inadequacy we’d have to accept our deepest fear: our shame. Sharing our stories of failure could be our greatest opportunity to connect, but to do that we’d have to accept and come to believe it’s important to be vulnerable.

And that can seem downright impossible.

I was Ellie’s age when I realized my worst accusers were inside of me. I didn’t want others to see I was afraid of failing, so I held back and tried to stay hidden. Insecurity became my foundation.

But failure isn’t what we think it is. Failure doesn’t kill you. And sharing your failure with others makes them feel better. And that makes you feel better. In fact, when you fail and share it, it can be success. Failure connects us because we’re all inadequate. And we all feel shame about it. But real connection is what we really want deep down, so we have to stop protecting ourselves and yes, “die to self.”

Give up our shields and trade them for true resilience.

We forget that if we couldn’t be embarrassed, couldn’t be shamed, couldn’t be knocked off our high horse because we’re already vulnerable down on the ground,  we wouldn’t need to self-protect.

Upholding appearances is what prevents us from feeling good and successful in our lives, not failing to accomplish the big things we have planned. But our hyper-driven, happiness-worshiping culture keeps us distracted with supposed “free,” guiltless, nutrition-less, connection-substitutes to consume today—we’re “amusing ourselves to death” in binge-watching and window-shopping. The theaters have been full and the churches empty for a long time now.

All our apps and video games and prepackaged foods full of wish-fulfillment fantasies won’t free us. The endless parade of addictive modern fripperies will only make us more inadequate.

We’ve forgotten what healthy connectedness requires. We aren’t the center of the universe. And we need to struggle if we’re to learn anything at all.

I looked at my girls eating happily and said, “Embracing failure can ironically become a new place to succeed.” I tried to explain, but I knew I’d probably fail to convey the full idea.

But it didn’t matter anymore. I could try again. Failure was all I needed to get what I really wanted.

Want to stop being afraid of feeling like a failure? Want to escape the demands of your over-scheduled, under-nourished life? Want freedom? 

Accept your inadequacy and remember who is sovereign. Your failure is not the end of the story–it’s the beginning.

And every experience of failure is a connection story waiting to be shared.

No we don’t have to be achievers or successful or hold these perfect images together. We just have to give up that substitute happiness and our addiction to the numbing, feel-good drug, face the truth, and see that we’re all vulnerable. And we’re all failures. And that’s a very good thing.

We all want to connect and escape shame. And we all have failure stories. Sharing them is how we will succeed.

Do you know someone who could use this freedom? Will you share it with them? And in the process, you’ll remind yourself: this is how we succeed, by sharing our honest stories and connecting. 

And when you do, you may find that you can never fail because every failure is another way to succeed.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

The 2nd Most Powerful Story Tool: Express Pain

 The writing life requires courage…It requires the willingness to be alone with oneself. To be gentle with oneself.

– Dani Shapiro

 

What we don’t know can and does hurt us.

The old saying was never true. We hurt when we’re ignorant, and so does everyone else. In fact, I wonder if ignorance is the main reason we experience so much pain in this life. Not knowing can be excruciating.

truckeeWhat writers don’t know torments them so they go out and find answers. Having worked with and known hundreds by now, I’ve found that curiosity is one of their defining characteristics. They’re even curious about things most people never think about–what instinct means, how stock markets work, what the average temperature in Spain has to do with their tradition of siestas. Who cares? Writers do.

And my theory about this is that they’re precocious children who never quite grew up and are also compensating for at least a somewhat miserable childhood. Pain forces us into self-distraction and we’re shaped by our fears at least as much as our loves.

However, they do mostly realize the struggle this causes them and those they love. Who doesn’t realize this writing life is hard work? Mostly, those not doing it.

wisteriaWho doesn’t realize the contributions writers make to the world? Mainly, only those not paying for that contribution.

Yet who is currently writing the novel, the screenplay, the enhanced reality game that will remind us of our shared humanity? Who is working on the blockbuster that will capture our imaginations and inspire us to remember the sick and needy? Who is writing the story that will bring us back to the dream we had as children of saving the world before we grew too afraid of scarcity and other’s opinions?

At this very moment, a writer is working those stories out. 

Writers are the ones best enabled to inspire the world because they’ve done the hard work of thinking. And above all, in their curiosity and ambition, they need to both push themselves to seek out the pain in their experience, and go easy on themselves to ensure they can (and want to) continue. Every writer requires a delicate balance of determination and grace. Those who don’t write regularly will discount, discredit and dismiss it (an unfortunate side effect of not thinking very hard or very regularly), but working with words to balance truth and strong interest, entertainment and education, a certain skillfulness is required.

And the work keeps writers humble. There’s no calculating the galaxies of experience we’ll never know, but even what we do know is only one person’s experience. Writers have no need to spout opinions as facts or present one-sided arguments as truth. They’ve had to discard biases that blind the less-devoted, and make out the hazy picture of the uncomfortable truth that offends everyone equally in its unexpected, brilliant burn. The writer is basically a risk-taker who wouldn’t quit.

IMG_6066And what will it take to reach the finish line? Maybe primarily, the willingness to risk much, to risk everything if necessary. That necessity to risk is why writing takes courage above all else. Risking pain to seek the deeper truths about yourself and life, and risking sharing what you know. Risking paying close attention when you experience pain or fear, knowing it means you’ve been chosen to understand, express and explain this particular view of it best, and to give the universal aspects specific dimension.

Finishing any work of writing will take risking running toward suffering, and living with the small, seemingly insignificant frustrations, and bearing them patiently so you know how others feel, how difficult it is to feel useful, worthy or even up for the task. It takes risking facing deep feelings of insufficiency, uncertainty, and unacknowledged anxieties and doubt.

You’ll eventually wonder if you’re getting too old and maybe you missed your chance. And even after all that, you may have to risk sharing the childhood wounds you endured, the anger and guilt. And sure, there are amazing discoveries and truly life-enriching parts. But when you risk giving dimension to your emotions and conveying the context to understand its terrifying bigness or its embarrassing smallness, you risk being known and found out for your messy life, your silliness, your ignorance.

People will know you and be able to use that information. You’ll be found out.

IMG_6067But you’ll also be free of it. You’ll have confessed it and released it into the world, and it will be apart from you rather than a part that once controlled you through fear. That’s the thing about pain. While it’s hidden, pain controls us. When it’s brought to light, pain is seen as what it is–common, ordinary, and powerless.

Pain can’t always be changed. It can’t be avoided. But it can be helped. It can be resolved by being exposed. It can stop animating and controlling you. And it can stop being so mean and overwhelming.

When we risk sharing our pain, we find we’re never alone. 

Why do we get distracted so easily from realizing this is what writing is all about? Whatever else it is, writing at its core is the way out of the universal fears specific to these vulnerable, frail lives. Writing is how to get at the truth about life that makes us all a part of something larger than ourselves. It’s the experience of remembering and maybe finally knowing beyond our limited experience that we’re okay and so is everyone else. It’s connecting and reminding and extinguishing the massive power pain always has over us–until we face it, name it, and disarm it.

Seek out your pain unafraid today. Write it and speak it in words that nail it down, give it form. And see if it doesn’t free you and inspire you to keep writing to free others.

There’s a higher purpose in all of this, you know?

  • Mick