Tag Archives: insecurity

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

Stay In the Process

I received a reply email from an author.

“Looks like I have my work cut out for me,” she wrote.

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She’d been a client for several months and I’d sent my final edit laying out several things she’d need to do before and after sending it to the publisher.

Yes, you do have your work cut out, I wanted to say. Because I’ve invested some considerable time to cut it out for you.

Of course I didn’t say it. I like to pretend. I’m too self-controlled. Actually I’m too shy and insecure. But I felt it. And I felt entitled to say it because I’d given a lot. And the book was far better for it.

Was she even grateful?

Should I say something? 

Then I remembered how it’s always easy to look around at the problems in the world and see the things we’d like to change. But we can only do that if we’ve first allowed God to change us. And the fear and anger in our own hearts can keep us from ever realizing the thing that most needs to change–

Ourselves.

I have to keep saying it until I start believing it: there is only one way to change the world for the better with my truth. And it isn’t by seeking gratitude from clients.

The insight needed to see our truth and our stories requires deliberate self-discovery.  Without that, they won’t change anyone. They won’t have the key to how a story heals: demonstration.

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What I’m really after is not pointing out what others’ should do, but to see what I must do to finally overcome my barriers to telling my story, which means accepting my own fears and insecurities.

I wanted her gratitude because I love playing the hero.

It seems I need yet another revision.

“Who cannot give good counsel? ‘Tis cheap and costs them nothing.” – Robert Burton

Truth is, no one will care how much you know until they know how much you care. I seek to be served because my needs are what matter most when they’re all I can see.

Like everyone, I tend to feel so trapped and alone.

“One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on ‘going it alone.’ Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help.’ The truth is that we are both.” (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection)

We don’t need more writers giving us answers to change the world. We need writers seeking our questions to change themselves.

And when they do, many others will be changed as well.

I say I want to help others. But what I really seem to want is their gratitude. Could reaching out for community help change the way I approach my work, my writing, my life?

The trick to all of this writing life is staying in the process. But that requires accepting help.

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I did write back to my author friend. I told her that wonderfully, yes, she DID have her work cut out now! And, I said, you’re welcome. (winky smile)

I said she might need help and encouragement along the way, to stay in her process and not run away when it got uncomfortable or exhausting. Because that’s what writing means.

And I thought how accepting a calling maybe always requires help. Maybe that’s part of the refining, to realize we’ve got to seek help and use our discernment to find it. Our source of strength is always that connection to the Inspirer, but don’t we also have to give up our stubborn independence and learn to ask and receive from the friends God’s provided?

I’ve needed to stop trying to go it alone.

The last thing I told her was that I’ll be praying for her continued stamina in the journey. And then I said I’d be here–I could always use the companionship myself.

If you’re on an interior journey, you need friends to help you stay in the process.

And always welcome your fellow travelers as friends. And simply stay in the process.

Keep seeking, my friends. You inspire me and so many more as you do…

M

Living the Art: The Make-Over Edition

This writing thing, it takes so long to learn.

Actually, it takes so long to heal and develop better habits.

Maybe that’s the nature of making art: it has to make you over first.

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Sometimes I think I’ve figured something out only to realize I haven’t captured the most important part. Sometimes I think I should be more practical and stop pretending and just amusing myself and my family right into poverty.

But here’s what I’m done with: narcissism that passes for authenticity. This pseudo-vulnerable disease I’m prone to. The tell is in the motivation. True honesty can’t be faked. The ego falls away and the humanity shines through, and you feel known and seen and helped.

I want to experience something real in opposition to the undertow of the ever-deepening mire.

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The higher purpose is in the unfakable connection. It’s fighting to hold to what’s real and learning to avoid the rest. It’s holding to the change we really need and finding the maturity to resist pandering and dismiss more simplistic stuff.

And sure, some days I can’t seem to do it and I forget to set my timer and go AWOL on the ol’ Interwebs. But more and more often, I’m succeeding because I remember that to embrace the mystery of a story is a feeling without parallel and in it, I know I become more fully alive.

But why do we treat those who slow us down to appreciate more of our lives as obstructions rather than the true angels they are? It’s a priceless favor and I’m so grateful to the artists, the poets, the musicians who hold the line against the encroaching chaos, who hold my face up to the smudgy window to see as they’ve seen for a few precious moments with my few remaining breaths fogging up the glass.

See? they ask. See what you could be?

Who can afford to waste one more day in the prison of amusement? A-musement, literally “without thought.” We think of amusement as fun, but what’s fun? Is it fun to escape what’s real? Or is real fun finally escaping into what’s real? What’s ultimately the difference between entertainment and education? Shouldn’t both be for our betterment?

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“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.” – Marshall McLuhan

And yet not everything is equally bettering. I don’t want to make art that amuses because amusement steals the best and replaces it with the good-enough. It panders to provide unhealthy preoccupation and tempt with shadow missions. I know too many of those all too well.

I have no need of amusement. I’ve been called to something better.

Insecurity about this causes me great doubt. And in that compounded self-pity, I accept all the ugliness that forces me to fight still harder for the truth. To write, I must get free of blindness and narrowness to see as Jesus taught with the eyes of compassion, or I’ll only linger at the beginning of this endless journey.

The fearful writers share much in common with the ego-driven—they’re two sides of the same coin.

I know these traps too well.

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But it matters to get to the root of your issues to improve your own core. That’s the artist who is making the art, doing the thinking, wielding the tools.

“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.” –Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Okay, I admit it. That’s why it takes so long. That’s what I want. I’m not looking for perfection. I just want to be an engaged artist. I want the higher purpose, to be bettered so I can better. For the work to be the inevitable result that connects me to a community who’s doing that too. For the art not to stand alone but to be the effect of this greater cause.

When the artist is more patient and mature, the art will be simpler and finer as well.

If you’re blocked or worried or jealous of others, you look at that because it points to what you really want. That’s what artists know. It’s an arrow to what you need to face next.

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St. Lamott: “better to feel it and talk about it and walk through it than to spend a lifetime being silently poisoned.” Blocks and worries and fears and especially jealousy all reveal your dreams.

That’s a fact. And my jealousy tells me I want to be Neil Gaiman, Markus Zusak, John Green, Madeline L’Engle, Harper Lee. That’s terrifying to admit because I immediately hear laughter. Witness the egomaniac! “Who do you think you are?” I’ve heard that voice a long time and I’ve coached writers for years because I need to hear the truth and learn to follow my own advice. If only I could believe that’s not God’s voice, it’s never God’s voice asking that.

pink2Look deeper. Listen more closely. It’s an accusing voice. The Accuser. And we know the only one who can answer that devil question.

And what does he say? He says, “He’s/She’s MINE!”

As I’m in Christ and he’s in me, to be love by his power, that’s never a pride thing. It’s being humble enough not to fear being so honest. To begin truly helping others rather than merely amusing myself I must be who someone needs.

And that someone is me. I experienced this conviction just this week and had to repent of getting sidetracked yet again. Then a decision to be changed was needed:

Am I his? 

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Throughout my journey I’ve seen Christs in my parents, my wife, my siblings and their wives and my kids. I’ve seen him in friends and other writers and in their characters and they’ve become my story too. Thank God for the lives I’ve known. They show me my own journey and why I want to do this work.

I was first changed by Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time 30 years ago.  She was Christ to me. And then so many others too, but I can only contribute if I’ll die to the selfish part that wants approval and realize, as Jennifer Dukes Lee says, I’m already pre-approved (if you struggle with being known and accepted, oh my, get this book).

Do I believe that more than in theory? And does my fear prove that functionally, at least, I really believe the opposite?

So I persevere to preserve the best words I can.

And I write to experience what’s real.