Tag Archives: One Thousand Gifts

When You’re Afraid, Focus on the Process

Regardless of how little is left of the day, there’s still time to write the daily clutch of words.

Despite the fact that my brain is doing its usual whirring with all the things to get done, the manuscripts needing edits, consult calls to make, talks and articles to write, courses to plan, a boulder to shoulder up the hill…

IMG_6579But no denying it, the fear is here. And it’s strong. It’s strangling so many great words, the words yet to be spoken. How can I not fight to destroy this barrier?

I’ve been meaning to write this post for weeks, finally face this niggling thought I’ve heard for longer than I can remember:

Can we really edit out fear for good?

fear quote

1. Just write one true sentence.

Ernie Hemingway had one unbeatable word of advice for himself. I’ve repeated it often:

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

IMG_6581If writing the truth is the only way to be truly free, what choice do we have but to stop procrastinating and just write that one true sentence? And yet, it’s not so much about making it happen as it is allowing whatever it is to rise to the surface.

To write the one thing I’ve been waiting so long to speak, I can imagine how good that would feel, and to forget all the many excellent reasons I shouldn’t,  and finally deny all the distractions and do what I must do today, it has to start with a simple willingness.

To stop overthinking it. And to just start with what I know.

 

2. Just do input/output every day.

Here’s a fact: no one is born a writer. What they experienced made them become one. Writing is born of living and reading–good INPUT makes good OUTPUT. So becoming the writer you want to be is not much more than becoming a good scavenger. When you’ve processed enough life and words, you’ll know what to write and how.

It’s by living and reading we learn to distill life into useful words.

Fiction. Daily news. Poems. Memoirs. Read it all, then write and let it be what it is. Our job is only to use what we’re given every day.

It’s the manna principle. Use up the manna every day. And then tomorrow, you’ll find more manna. You have to let go of any other expectation.

IMG_6568When I get afraid, I’m usually thinking my writing won’t be good enough. But writing isn’t about getting fancy. It’s about writing.

And you can quote me on that.

 

3.  Just stop, then go.

I’ve been writing long enough to know it often feels stupid. It starts to seem selfish. I’ll start hearing voices. My limbs will develop phantom pains and I’ll need to arrange or clean or google something. Such as “misplaced attention.”

But I’m getting used to this. It’s just my tricky brain acting up. It’s perfectly normal. At least for writers. So the first step I have to take is…

To stop. Sit still and listen. It’s about mindfulness, but to me that just means cultivating awareness of the deeper reality behind reality. One Thousand Gifts is my guide for this. When I read it, I slow down and remember life can be about finding inspiration in the ordinary, in the hidden love God freely gives through all these things I experience. And then I remember it’s about Jesus and his endless forms he takes in my daily life.

Eventually, after I’m still and silent for a while, I’ll start to get antsy. So to allow the mental space to continue to stretch out, I’ll often have to stop even thinking about where to go next. Pomodoros are a great method for scheduling focused work and breaks. But I also carry a notebook and give myself permission to pause and capture lightning.

IMG_6560When I don’t do all this, I’m often trading the writing for lesser things. There’s always something else I could do. That’s just life. So I either work to control my time and hold my attention, or it will control me.

In the end, this stopping-before-going thing is based on the knowledge that good words don’t come from a desire to express something so much as from a desire to listen. That’s a good thought for me to pause on. Writing can be prayer. And just like prayer, it’s not as much about being sure to ask for the food I need as allowing myself to be fed.  It’s simply acknowledging a relationship is there and it needs my attention.

In this way, I’m trying to make writing into the way I find the thread of whatever thought seems most important to the Inspirer right now, and then following it down the hole, into the doorway, and through the secret garden.

My hope? When writing becomes no more than God-directed thought, then when I write I’ll be praying without ceasing.

So every day, this is what I need: scheduled time to practice finding the words, time to write them down and to shape them, and even before that, the time to live and to read.

That’s it. Three things to focus on. Writing just one true sentence. Thinking about the input and output. And first stopping, and then going.

If there’s more to it than this, I haven’t found it yet. This is just the process for me; and I need this affirmation regularly that this is how I overcome the fear.

And regardless of how long it’s taken me to get here, I can believe once again there’s still time to create that next work I’ve been sensing it’s time to release.

What helps you face your fears as a writer? Do you find release in your process?

For the higher purpose,

Mick

The Last Morning in September

This morning the last one in September, I woke early to finish an edit and got sucked into simply reading.

As I read, I listened to the quiet house waking and the sounds of the day starting. At first there was nothing, then a twittering songbird, whistling briefly until silence again. Then a distant crow, and eventually, the kids’ on the street screeching outside while they grab the last moments before the school bus arrives.

IMG_5817In the hue cast by the closing pages of this novel, it’s become a morning that proves the day can be full of magic moments—if we pay attention and don’t ruin them. So many things can ruin them. Sometimes the days become worried by nothing we’ve done, simply the day’s own trouble. But mostly, it’s our own willfulness, our unwillingness to slow down and recognize what we’re really seeing, what’s really happening, what this chance before us really means.

And a day like this can bring me back to all the things our hearts and souls truly long for—the bright sounds and rich colors and bits of memories that pierce through it all. So many hidden little reminders of why we love this place we get to live in, and how full and happy it can be in the earth’s slow turning.

I needed this book because I need these reminders. I didn’t know it, but I do now. Life will pass and time will be gone and I could have known love in these moments that are ours to inhabit. Or I could still. Even in the moments that at first seem inhospitable, there’s the endless possibility of God’s great, boundless joy.

And we can feel it rising in the waking daylight like the best dare, like an invitation to unwrap the biggest gift of all….

[p.s. I’ll share the book soon….]

For the higher purpose,

Mick

How to Value Your Story to Write The Honest Truth

When you’ve decided you’re going to write your story, you need to know it’s the most important thing you could be doing. But unless you value it highly, this can be the most debilitating obstacle.

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For such a long time, I felt my story wasn’t important. Who wanted to read mine?

I didn’t know who my story had made me. It’d been too buried.

But exhuming it, the healing has been profound, pulling from the ashes of charred memories. With time, the truth emerges, and the past is present again.

And the things I’ve discovered have been treasures.

Recently, I remembered part of my story I’d probably have let die. It wasn’t that long ago, but in 2010, I was ready to leave my safe corporate editing job. We left the security of a regular paycheck, like a couple of nomads.

I thought of how in The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian leaves home and bids farewell to family and friends to journey to a new place he’d never been where he’d have to depend more fully on God. And I just read an article about how when Abraham and Sarah left Ur, they left their position and acquired wealth, believing God was calling them to something else, something less tangibly secure but infinitely more spiritually fulfilling. In my time in publishing, I’d been trained to see many distinctions I hadn’t before and we both learned more how to “follow the pilgrim pathway of Jesus, to take up our own cross on a daily basis, [and] walk in his way of trust and vulnerability.”

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It’s not that I haven’t known or shared this story, but I haven’t I valued it highly enough. Is it because with credit cards and parents we weren’t truly on our own? Or am I afraid of seeming self-important? Both, probably, and plenty of people have had it far worse.

But through writing I’ve discovered that despite all that, protecting and preserving our stories is about discovering God’s story. What he did through us, with us, in spite of us, continually pursuing that story is a matter of faithfulness and obedience, to become aware and invest in this life he’s given. To speak its life-affirming power in proper words and context, it can become the delight of our lives, an endless source of inspiration.

Because the same God of the ancients is the source of it all.

And if you’re determined to seek this, you may need to realize how you’ve diminished yourself. A large part of my struggle was simply missing it. Interestingly, the common definition of sin, hamartia in Greek, means: “missing the true goal and scope of life.”

Have you missed the true value of your life story because of misunderstanding?

Who hasn’t?

In time, God led me to some kindred spirits: my wife, my college roommate, and a couple authors: Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts, and Susan Cain in Quiet, who was recently called “a champion of people who don’t like to advertise themselves.”

I.e., my kind of people.

I found I am who Ms. Cain talks about: “Everything is telling [quiet] kids: ‘Do not follow your actual nature. Be a cheerleader.’ But it’s O.K., and maybe even beneficial, to keep to themselves. There are a lot of kids who wish they were different.”

Quiet-Editorial-Picture-1024x742

Before I claimed permission to be myself, I didn’t write my story–I wrote myself off because that’s what so many others seemed to do all those years I didn’t speak up or want to be in charge. It was easy to be habitually unexpressive.

But thanks to these people and especially this book, I found hope that I wasn’t alone. Many other quiet people felt the same as well.

Quiet showed me that introspection is not self-involvement. It may seem weird to others, but it’s not a malady or “anti-social.” In fact, it shows how connection with oneself enables social connections to happen.

But maybe most importantly for my future, Quiet showed me how valuing your personal story can mean so much more to people if you commit to it, stay in the process of discovery, and write it down.

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If you’ve decided you want to write your story, you may simply need to write it. Who you are matters. God knows that truly caring for others first requires caring enough for yourself—and many writers have found this the secret to finally overcoming the resistance and writing the story.

I truly hope and pray you can find your way to believing in the value of yours.

How to Edit Out FEAR–for Good

It’s still early.

That’s true. A true sentence.

scary bridge
Don’t look down.

Regardless of how little there is left of the day, it’s still early. There’s time yet to write the daily clutch of words.

Despite the fact that my brain is doing its usual whirring with all the things to get done, the manuscripts needing edits, consult calls to make, talks and articles to write, courses to plan, a boulder to shoulder up the hill…

I know the fear is out there. And it’s strong. It’s still strangling so many great works, the words of writers yet to be written. How can I not fight to destroy this most fundamental of barriers?

This post is my Great Rebellion.

I’ve been meaning to write it for weeks, this culmination of thought I’ve listened to and spoken to myself for longer than I can remember…

I believe, despite everything else that’s pressing, there’s nothing else I’m supposed to do but this.

So with that reassurance, I’m ready to face the question:

How do we edit out fear for good?

fear quote
Roosevelt said that. I think.

1. Just write one true sentence.

Fr. Ernie had one unbeatable word of advice for himself I’ve begun repeating often:

Sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

If writing is the only way for you to be truly happy, what choice do I have but to stop procrastinating and write that one true sentence?

To write the one thing I’ve been waiting so long to speak, how good would that feel? To forget all the many excellent reasons I shouldn’t? To finally deny ALL the distractions and do what I was put here to do today, as I draw this breath into my statistically impossible existence from this terrifyingly perfect blue-green spheball?

I’ve got to stop overthinking it. Just start with what I know.

2. Do Input/Output Every Day

There’s a depressing truth I’ve learned: no one, I repeat, NO ONE is born a writer but reading has made them that way. Just starting out or years into it, writing well takes reading–to find good INPUT, to make good OUTPUT. So I’m resigned that the writer I want to be is not much more than a good scavenger. When I’ve processed enough garbage, I’ll know what makes good material, and what doesn’t.

And by reading, I’ll learn to respond by doing it every day.

Fiction. News. Poems. Memoirs. Then I write and let it be what it is. My job is only to use what I have to its fullest today.

And then tomorrow, I’ll find more manna. I have to let go of any other expectation.

When I get afraid, I’m usually thinking my writing won’t be good enough. But writing isn’t about getting fancy. It’s about writing.

And you can quote me on that.

cowardly lion
Mmmm….rrruff!

3.  Stop, Then Go

I’ve been writing long enough to know it often feels stupid. It starts to seem selfish. I’ll start hearing voices. My limbs will develop phantom pains and I’ll need to, absolutely need to google “misplaced attention.”

I’m getting used to it. This is my tricky brain acting up. It’s perfectly normal. At least for writers it is. So first I have to…

Stop. Sit still and listen. Yes, I’m talking about “mindfulness,” but it’s really just cultivating awareness of the deeper reality behind reality. One Thousand Gifts is a perfect guide for this. When I slow down, I find humble gratitude and the inspiration and permission in the love God freely gives through Jesus and his endless reminders in my daily life.

And when I’m still and silent for a while, I get antsy. After I stop, it’s time to go. Pomodoros are a must to schedule focused work and breaks. But out and about, I carry a notebook and give myself permission to be the weirdo who pauses to capture fireflies.

Life is a series of trades and I’m trading everything else I could do for writing. That’s who I am. So I write to control my time and attention, or it will control me.

This stopping and going thing is based on my hunch that writing doesn’t come from a desire to express so much as from a desire to listen. To me, higher writing is prayer. It’s not asking for something so much as feeding and being fed by a relationship. It’s finding a thread of a thought that seems important to The Inspirer, and following it down the hole, across the bridge, and through the meadow.

When writing becomes no more than God-directed thought, then when I write I am praying without ceasing.

So every day I need to schedule time to practice writing the words down, time to shape them, and before that, time to read. And life happens in between that.

Stop, then go.

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

One true sentence. Input/output. Stop, then go.

These are the distilled lessons I’ve set for myself. Certainly there’s more to them than this. But these 3 keep me on the path, stepping forward, and away from the guardrails.

Remembering is how I overcome the fear. And reminding each other is our simple focus at Your Writers Group. It’s a thrilling surprise that with their continual encouragement and support, I’m facing my fears a little easier every day.

Regardless of how long it’s taken me to get here, I believe it’s still early.

[Getting excited to expand on these basics for storywriters in the 30-day YWG Story Course coming up in 2 weeks! Check the event page for details.]

What helps you face your fears as a writer? Would love to hear your secret…

Distraction

Distraction –

The day has just started and I haave 24 new emails.

I don’t have time to fix that typo…

The Wikipedia entry for distraction is here.  It's basically "divided attention."

File:Veddah_girl"

Here are 2 pics from that page. 

I fought to read today’s entry in Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. (I at least know this much, that if I don’t establish the “rule” of connecting with God first thing, my freedom from anxiety in this fight will be forfeit all day.)

I do have to engage the battle. But I don’t have to do it alone.

In Quiet, Susan Cain uses the example of Seth Klarman, one of the great investors of our time, who said he’s "a big fan of fear and, in investing, it’s clearly better to be scared than sorry." Klarman is a world-class worrier, according to the NYT, and he owns a racehorse called “Read the Footnotes.” During the stock market crash, he stuck to his guns and bought when everyone else was panicking. His style is an example of the value of waiting quietly when the world seems to be telling you to rush ahead.

There's another great book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp about learning to stop and write the simple gifts right in front of you. This little book has been my antidote to distraction for 4 years now, like C.S. Lewis, convincing me to slow down and go deeper, but also showing me how to take tangible, practical, daily steps toward the better stuff of life, in the midst of anxiety and chaos.  

Fear and anxiety can make us feel ill-equipped by nature, by God. But according to Cain in Quiet, not rushing ahead in the face of strong potential rewards, i.e. maintaining a strong respect for risk and uncertainty, is a powerful, maybe the most powerful predictor of success.

I should check those emails…oh, 2 text messages now…

We need not see distractions as all bad. In fact, in our morning pages today, Sheri and I decided to try an experiment to hold one thing we wanted insight on today. Mine was "distraction."

My hunch is this experiment might help me avoid getting bent out of shape by life’s (and wife’s) interruptions. 

File:Office_Worker_with_Two_Monitors

Some folks do so many things at once that they have to use two screens.

I don't know when it started or why I forget this so often, but I frequently try to hold too much.

Is it any wonder I get frustrated when a practical matter like kids' violin practice or dinner is more pressing?

And though I’m deeply in love with my wife, when I’m hot on the trail of some flash of lacking insight I think God's offering me, I could even turn down a kiss from the love of my life.

I’m happily married, thank God. But yes, this has actually happened.

Obviously not a happy marriage thanks to me.

It’s only with help from some much more level heads–my wife's, parents', friends', even kids'–that I’ve managed to organize my manic mind into some still-very-loose structure (I'd bust out of anything more restrictive).

Work is calling…people waiting…I really should go do something…

Shhh…it's okay. Even so, it isn’t as though my “Noodlings” file isn’t full to overflowing with the brain batter that flings every which way when I’m hot on the trail of a flash of lacking insight (let’s just go ahead and shorten this cumbersome phrase to “HotToFoLI” to save time–which also conjures “hot to trot,” “hot to fly,” as in, my desire to escape this mortal coil and join the spirit in the sky, and “hot to follow” white rabbits of curiosity…also it rhymes with Hot Tamales which are the bomb even if they're no match for Atomic Fireballs. And yes, all of this is applicable.)

But most of all, HotToFoLI is folly. Of the highest order.

It will ruin me. In fact, it has threatened to many times.

There’s nothing wrong with excitement and passion. But when it isn’t kept in check, it can do unspeakable damage. If this needles you in any way, you probably have some apologies to make like I do (and don’t get distracted from the point, but remember to actually follow through with that conviction when we’re done here–it could be very rewarding).

Not only can our excitement overwhelm some of the great wonders of the universe—people we love, and especially sensitive people we’re probably married to, parent, and call friends—we can so dominate them that we drive them away. You know of what I speak.

Trust me, you don’t want distraction to ruin your life. Learn my lesson and learn to submit. As Chambers says, “Obedience is the natural life of a child.” Stop trying to be an "adult." Accept your limitations.

You are not a superhero and you can't catch all the opportunities raining from the sky.

Listen: you don't have to catch it all. You can not catch them all.

So calm down, Junior Executive. Calm down, Missionary Jane. Relax, Hot-to-Trot Author.

Don’t let the endless shadow missions distract you from your true work—this primary job you were given to be right where you are today, swaddled by your Dad…your flailing appendages tight in his straightjacket of love…

m