Tag Archives: inspiration

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. :)

What Writers Need to Know about Talent and Self-Discipline

The most important thing you can do is a lot of work….

– Ira Glass

 

 

 

They need to slow down.

Sitting with the other parents in the little orange plastic chairs at Charlotte’s cello lesson, I have to force myself to be quiet. The teacher is trying hard to get the other kids (the boys) to go slow and it’s obviously the hardest part of class, the push-back against his instruction, the reasons, explanations and excuses, the playing while he’s talking and continual interruptions.

Can’t they be quiet?

In fact, I don’t think so. At least not for a while. To slow the kids down and get them to pay attention and listen takes at least 10 minutes encouragement before they can relax and take in what he’s saying. But it’s work, and it’s easy to see it’s challenging for him.

It reminds me of how often I’m working hard to get writers to do the exact same thing: to take the time it takes to think their thoughts all the way through and not cut off the process.

Our tech age pushes us faster and faster, teaches us to expect fast. This is bad news for us.

Because we all naturally want to go fast. We want to see quick and easy results. But learning is always first about unlearning that impulse. And to unlearn the other bad habits we’ve accumulated, we’ve first got to slow down to notice many specific deficiencies. How slow can you go is an essential question for anyone learning music (or any art), but it’s a question very few of us truly want to consider because we want to believe we are faster, i.e. smarter than others.

We convince ourselves we already get it because we’re such “quick learners.” Who is telling everyone this same lie?

No one learns quickly. No one can appreciate everything they need to consider about a complex craft, let alone achieve artistic mastery, without a significant investment of time. And every single accomplished person has taken a lot of time to become so. Destroy your shortcuts. 

Because what we’re really talking about here is process over product and enjoying the journey. And that requires self-control, a deeply misunderstood fruit of the Spirit. Yet it’s the topic of this month’s Christianity Today cover article on “ego depletion,” The Science of Sinning Less:

“Because Christianity requires self-control, it logically follows that it also builds it, and thus we can expect active Christians to have relatively high levels of self-control.”

The article goes on to give four general strategies based in the latest science for Christians to develop greater self-control and willpower.  (I highly recommend the article, by sociologist Bradley Wright.)

An uncontrolled person is an impatient person. And patience is only available to those who’ve learned to wait. In other words, those who’ve slowed down.

My wife Sheri teaches piano lessons to kids. Guess what every single one of them needs to learn over and over each week?

Fast doesn’t matter. Fast kills growth. No plant grows fast. Nothing worth living for and having as your own comes fast. You must slow down and think about how much you really want this, how much you’re wiling to commit to it. Slowness is the painful work required to develop patience. And patience is required for a peaceful life.

I work with grownups to form and write their books. Guess what each one wants to do every week? Yes, move on, move forward, make “progress.”

And here’s what all of us need to realize about progress and speeding up: we’re being conned. Life is not about how fast you can live it. And no one cares how fast you can go if you can’t first do it well.

The great violin instructor Dorothy Delay, famously claimed talent is a mood. The truth of that is only acknowledged the more you practice and refine.

A young artist just wants to get all the notes right. A mature artist wants to use the art to express the right ideas and emotions, the mood, and to do it with that essential level of controlled intensity (the key quality of writing well). 

I believe to get every artist to realize what’s needed and then to pursue it, God has to be the great patient teacher, using our frustration and impatience to draw out our passion, and to help us learn to express what the art demands in the way we were specifically designed to do it.

As artists, we sense that to achieve what we want, what the world demands, we need discipline and self-control. And if willpower is more like a muscle than a battery, our goal must be to develop strength and stamina by increasing our capacity and tolerance. It’s easier to let the muscle atrophy by letting it do what it (thinks it) wants: to rest. But to grow, it has to be stretched and strengthened.

Writing is a long-game goal. Every real author I’ve ever known has thought they were the exception to the rule and could go fast and take a few shortcuts–because they were smart and had already gone through so much schooling or written more than most people, or whatever.

But the process is the process. And every song you learn to play well takes the time it takes to learn the fingering, and when to put in the pauses, and how to change the expression and dynamics just right. And every single time, you have to unlearn something you thought you already knew, slow down, and get it right for THIS song.

And every book you write is just like learning to play a new song. Every creative work you ever decide is worth your investment will be just like that. If you want people to take time with your work, then you have to be willing to be the first who took the time with it to understand it well.

Every successful book requires at least four drafts to refine. Everyone’s process is a little different, but slower equals clearer, and from first draft to last, slowing down with each pass is essential, I promise you.

As the kids play together, the song becomes the way they are pulled along to enter the moment. And for a brief half-minute, they’ve slowed-down to find the timing of the harmony, to stay together. It is work, but you can hear how they’ve managed to internalize that slow rhythm, and the effect is beautiful. The learning that’s happening is obvious.

Long bows, and slow resonant notes. They’re getting it.

And I think the parents in the audience are getting it too.

For the higher purpose, 

Mick

Creativity and the Holy Pursuit of Delight

As I came to map out the work week with Sheri this morning, I made space to sit at the dining room table that looks out on the forest, reclaiming an edge from her paper collage experiment.

My desktop image. I call it “voyagers.”

I make efforts to be gentle and remind her not to apologize.

It’s not the laptops and cellphones we should be making space for, after all, but the more uncommon beauty that takes time to be arranged.

It’s not uncommon to find Charlotte hard at work on a project here, or artwork from one of Ellie’s ad hoc drawing games.

They’re beautiful rough drafts, unfinished, forever in process.

And so are their artworks. :)

Often, there’s music notation or photos cut from magazines or several books stacked up for school projects with pages sticking out of them. An unexpected visitor could wonder if we live on a diet of multicolored paper. And we’re obviously over-indulgers.

In fact, you’ll find paper in every room of the house (not even including the rolled kind or the kind that comes in tissue boxes). Multiple books, notebooks, manuscripts, drawings, and plans are stashed, stacked and strewn in their respective locations, waiting to be reingested.

Like cud. :)

And for some reason this morning I stopped to wonder why. We each have our digital devices, but why this deep vice of consuming paper? We hang it on walls, give it as gifts, organize our lives around it. And no one ever talks about reduction, only increase.

If the trees could see in the windows, they might turn on us and start throwing their fruit and pinecones.

An observant person might see all this paper as evidence of an obsession with creativity. Their shared passion is for the words, music and pictures we’re preserving, an insatiable appetite born of a deep curiosity.

I believe it’s a sacred inner fire: the holy pursuit of delight.

How do they determine what makes it onto a page? Some ideas need to be chewed a while, to reshape things in your mind and heart. Some things you keep coming back to over and over, teaching you how to listen and growing your ability to hear them. Some are waiting for their right moment to show you how to more fully engage with life.

Some of the smallest pieces can hold the biggest thoughts you’ve ever had. And I don’t have to watch their faces to know there’s delight in every mark. Whether tentative or confident, every sweep of captured motion hints at a hidden world.

If you came to visit today and we had this discussion over coffee in the morning, or tea in the afternoon (or whiskey in the evening, I suppose, if you stayed that long), I’d submit that this pursuit of delight is our messy, introverted way to honor and delight our creative God.

As we make space for all of this, all we sense him speaking through, we feel a sort of shared delight if you will, equipping us to understand and take in more of our purpose in this journey.

We’re not unique in this, though we each have unique perspectives and gifts. And there’s beauty in all of it, though much of the time experiments fail and don’t live up to expectations. But the more we can realize what we’re really doing, and acknowledge that–“I am pursuing my holy delight”–the better we can pay attention when the voices of doubt and derision come.

What you acknowledge is what gets captured.

And you can write that down and stick it somewhere in your own messy house to come upon later. I share it in the hope that it will reshape you as it has me into someone more confident and less concerned with the appearance of mess.

For it’s a holy pursuit, this creative life. And we take time to be arranged and to realize the delight we’re a part of every day when we determine to capture even one more glimmer.

For it’s your own hearts we’re ultimately reclaiming, for the higher purpose,

Mick

Our Only Real Hope for 2017

Do you do New Year’s resolutions?

I sort of do. I set some intentions based on who I want to be, goals I’d like to accomplish, and barriers I’d like to overcome. It’s nothing super specific or targeted. But this year, with one girl just entering the ‘tween years and one full-fledged teenager, there’s a certain urgency to get busy making that progress toward better health in every area.

I guess the question is, What will we need most in the coming year?

IMG_6452There’s the usual things–eat better, workout more, use better tracking and measures for both. But if these are just ways to improve myself, that’s going to fail. It’s not motivating enough.

Similarly, I know that if I want to improve my parenting, my relationships, my work and my play, I need a higher purpose.

I looked back to previous years’ posts and I saw how I fell short. Maybe it’s because of all the challenges I faced. I got sick, got busy, got distracted, and I forgot God and caring for others around me. Other factors conspired too: bad weather, discouraging words, circumstances. At times I was handed heavy weights of pain.

It was frustrating. But not all those challenges produced were such bad things. They slowed me down, made me reckon with the reality of life.

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Being sick forced me to slow down and just be with God. Being overworked forced me to pray and fight distraction. And being distracted made me better appreciate the value of the gift of time.

If I can simply remember that nothing worthwhile comes easy, that time and again it’s proven–no real struggle, no real progress–maybe I can slash failure out as a possibility for 2017. What I seem to need most are reminders–monthly, weekly, and daily–that every struggle is a chance to depend more fully on God, to embrace my inadequacy.

Why can’t that be my resolution for 2017?

I could seek out the struggling more, stand with the suffering. I could believe that some struggle is necessary if I’m going to appreciate and love God properly. I could trust that without trials and burdens I wouldn’t realize how much I need God.

Is this the good, the true, the beautiful higher purpose to be sought in this new year? To know that struggle and pain brings deeper dependence on God? Isn’t that the freedom from all fear of failure I’ve been seeking? This year, can I resolve not to forget and not to get busy with plans and avoid all the struggle, and miss the real point?

This year, I want to do more than plan to avoid struggle. I want to plan for a new resolution. I want to track my progress toward a higher weekly goal: to remember that God is with me in all things. 

This year, I could resolve to set aside selfish goals for a higher purpose.

…To know that when pain and difficulty come, I can remember to stay open to God’s voice and listen to it, ready to see what he has for me and others there.

I’ve said it all my life: no pain, no gain. Can I lay down my life in this way? Even invite struggling with others, the needy, the ones I’m here to love?

I don’t want to go on protecting my life, seeking my own gain, improving my status and reputation, striving for bigger and better in all things.

I want to resolve not to do that this year.

I want to resolve to remember God’s higher purpose and stand with the suffering.

I want to do this expecting something totally different come next Christmas. I want to finally let go and live what I believe. Because this I know:

Embracing struggle and pain and continuing to hope that God has a higher purpose for it all is our only hope of true progress this year.

This old world will break our hearts and make us despair if we don’t commit to this harder way. If there’s a spark inside you to do something different this year, don’t wait to fan it into a flame. Follow that voice of inspiration, and seek this higher purpose. The new year of blank days stretches out before you….

The new year of blank days stretches out before you….

We can resolve this, and know the thrill of freedom from any chance of failure. With this hope, there is no fail, only gain.

For it’s all for a higher purpose, in all He has in store for us this year,

Mick

p.s. I’ve been heading this way for a few months now, inspired by Ann’s most recent memoir, The Broken Way. If you’d like inspiration in following this idea in 2017, I can’t recommend the book any stronger.

Writing with God

Then he said to him,

“Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
– Lk 17:19

Last week, I shared one of my favorite posts of all time, “Writing into the Light.” (Link here: micksilva.com/writing-into-the-light)
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That post has long served to remind me of why I do this, why I fight to write in the light, day in day out. And we all know how tough it is to keep going when no one’s forcing you to, no one knows what you’ve got to say, and it’s all too easy to think it’s humble and smarter to keep your mouth shut.

Because so often, it is.

But none of that kind of thinking gets a book written. The whole point of writing in the light is not just to write your book but to get something great out of your writing time: being with God. If you go in looking for God, looking for where he is, he will guide you to what’s really important.

The great news is, all you have to do is seek him, and the Bible says you will find him. You can believe that. I know because I’ve seen it happen.

Three times recently I’ve gone into my writing time doing this and I’ve seen him (I’ll share how I knew it was him at the end).

The first one came as I wrote about my main character, basing his desire and response on familiar situations and remembering how it felt to be there. I worked to convey the scene through action and show the emotion and thought process, and the scene felt real and good.

6332db62d348f71c9edfb921134f818aThe second happened the very next day. It was a difficult scene and I was trying to rework it to make a better point and convey a stronger theme. I also had to work in several missing details so it was complicated and I was struggling to bring it all together. I prayed, got focused on the central motive and opposition, and By the time I had to quit, I still wasn’t happy, but I had clarity on what needed to happen next.

The third time God showed up came when I went back to the scene. It wasn’t what I anticipated but it was stronger than it was before. And I saw I didn’t need more complication; the scene worked. I saw I could, and should, save the fuller picture for later.

Three writing sessions, three God experiences. No one else might have seen these as particularly miraculous–and they weren’t. But what’s a miracle other than God intervening in our lives for our benefit? It wasn’t showy, but it was clearly not just me writing alone.

And it felt so much better to know that.

Now, does this mean it’ll always happen right away? No. Or should our writing only be about producing a spiritual encounter? No. Or are others missing out if they just want to get their story down? I think so, but I’m not judging that.

I’m simply saying when you go in realizing you’re writing with God, you can be sure it will produce a better result regardless of what words get inspired and captured. And you can expect your writing time will go better than trying to go it alone.

DSC_0018I’ve long maintained that writing well is one of the hardest things one can do. It requires so much. I’ve justified that by saying the hardest things have the most opportunity to be life changing. And that’s true. The hardest work is the most trying, but it’s also the truest test of your deepest beliefs. And God knows, we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for the promise of that reward. Maybe that’s base self-interest, but I think God takes what he can get. And if it gets us to start writing with God, he delights in taking the work and making it an adventure.

Oh, at times it’ll still be a slog, and it’ll always be a huge undertaking involving lots of sacrifices. But remember that’s what makes it so worthwhile. And there can always be this higher purpose to it too.

I think we can know this is true because it’s based on the upside-down principles of God: in the giving is the getting. In the searching, is finding. In the sacrifices is abundance. Because he is there with us making it all into more than our paltry, half-hearted offerings.

Like discovering unexpected treasure along the way, writing with God is ultimately writing for yourself. You will always be the primary beneficiary.

And yet, because he is God, you may find this is also the best way to write for your readers.

So try it in your writing today. Go with him and trust him to be your guide and best first reader. As He says in Luke, acting on this call in faith is how we writers can come to know we’ve been made well.

Healed. Cleansed. Saved.

You can trust that too. Because he’s always there.

For the higher purpose,

Mick
Continue to “Writing into the Light”…