Tag Archives: persistence

Writer Pitfalls: When You’re Too Ambishish to Fishish

The hardest part about writing a novel is to fishish. 

– Ernest Hemmingway

I began this novel when our oldest daughter was 1. I’m still not done. In a month, she’s headed to high-school. 

When she was done eating, she’d wave her hands and say, “Fishished!” She wasn’t, of course, but that didn’t matter. She had important things to do. And only a monster could say no to that face.

I wish I could tell God I’m fishished with the book today. I’ve got way too much on my plate and I can’t see how I’ll ever get to it.

Sometimes, maybe many times, I have this automatic response: I don’t want to get all burdened with it again today.

And then of course, immediately comes the guilt.

If I don’t show up to write, if I avoid it and let other more immediately gratifying things take its place, aren’t I abandoning my readers? What else would you call that? Sometimes, most times, I don’t realize that’s what I’m doing. I simply don’t want to get pulled into the vortex of unsolvable problems again, this twisted, complex puzzle of thinking through all my characters’ struggles and concerns, and how to form them into a cohesive, engaging story.

So much about writing is so hard. The truth about the characters and their best way forward is hidden beneath so much good but common stuff. Choosing what to share is hard—what even is the criteria?—and also how to keep it all straight and keep from getting frustrated with the paltry progress. We’re all on our own in figuring this out and deciding what’s most important (and most interesting) to share. It’s a chore just to keep looking, keep showing up day after day.

Margaret Atwood said, “a word after a word after a word is power.” And Neil Gaiman said, “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.” I like best what Steinbeck said, “Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day. It helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.” He wrote that to himself in his own writing journal for The Grapes of Wrath, which went on to win a Pulitzer, of course.

I learned this lesson at the kitchen table in junior high when I had 8 classes and homework in each one. My mom moved the stack of books off to where I couldn’t see them, and suddenly I wasn’t thinking about all I hadn’t done yet.

That was how I finished.

We’ll never know what we could have found if we’d only kept going. New revelations always come. We know this but we get overwhelmed. The solutions will come, and they’ll come in the familiar but also from the wholly new as well. A completely different bush will flower in the wilderness. But we won’t see it until we’ve worked to get right up next to it.

We’ve got to just focus on what we can do in a day or we’ll never find the way out. The scope of the vision and the work yet to do is always too overwhelming.

And Hemmingway could have been a bit more encouraging. Rick Riordian seems to have realized this when he said, “the best part about writing a book is finishing it.” That, I can believe. I just don’t know how I’ll finish yet.

But maybe that’s okay. Maybe I don’t need to contain everything—where would I put it anyway? What’s truer than all the books that say “you’re already enough” is, what we already have is enough to get what else we need. We’ve got to know the truth, have faith, that all we need is stamina, the great, irreplaceable persistence—and what we don’t have yet, we will get it when we need it. Or we don’t need it.

Maybe the problem is related to perfectionism. Perfection is a mirage I’ll keep falling for until I accept I’m going to end up with a book that’s an oversimplification and doesn’t live up to all my hopes and dreams. It will be less than that and different than I expected, but that will be good enough regardless of what I or anyone else wanted. I’ve got to release expectations and appease myself with achieving merely a caricature of reality.

A book is always less than real life, and that’s a big part of its appeal and value: its very limitations. Refinement means reduction.

 Can I accept that and give up trying to fit every idea in just because I like it?

Maybe every writer has to work to the point of failing to manage all they’ve dreamed in order to know which elements / storyline / theme is the one absolute necessity. Maybe at the very end of our abilities is the balance between what’s new and what’s conventional. Accepting limitation is part of the journey, like the end of a favorite story of mine, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Let go the bright dream of perfection. Happiness and your very survival will demand it. You can’t have everything. Some won’t get pinned down this time or maybe ever. It’ll get away from you; that’s okay. Let it go. Decide to be okay never gaining what you hoped and maybe you’ll finally learn to receive something better.

And who knows? It could be that’s the only way a writer ever knows they’re fishished.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Committing to Real Progress

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” 

– Philippians 3:12

I like to think of myself as one who does not accept second best.

But I do it all the time.

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Not from others but from myself. And not physically, but in commitment, in discipline to this vision I’ve carried for so long.

I often give up, I do.

I prefer the comfort of “good enough.”

Sheri and I drive to the mall in peace, insulated from the need and struggle all around us. We’re taking the opportunity of a free weekend night to hit a couple sales and see if there’s anything we like among all the things we don’t need.

It can be so easy to believe nothing is forcing me to push forward.

The girls are happy at home, reading and practicing music. Things are good here. Why risk messing that up with sticking my neck out for idyllic principles no one would understand?

The fears can whisper so comfortingly and convincingly, they sound like my own voice.

CafeJadeBut they’re not mine. They belong to the world shrouded in darkness.

We park and walk past all the retail stores overflowing with new items, the mall already advertising Christmas with garlands and canned music and a giant tree of lights. The other shoppers of all types and ages prove it’s safe to assume no one else here needs any of this either.

There are too many people here. Too many people accepting the convenient comforts and forgetting that progress and true satisfaction only comes from the opposite. From the inconvenient and the uncomfortable.

In this world of ease, doing the harder thing has become the right thing.

Why do I know this so firmly? I don’t own the insight; like all I know, it came to me. I didn’t even ask for it, but it was given to me, like everything I possess. I’m a steward of this and all I possess, and I prove myself a poor one time and again.

I’ve seen true need and it’s in many of these people’s eyes. I want to help them, speak to them. I want to use well all I’ve been given.

I know the gifts that came to me from parents, family, teachers and friends are to be shared and that requires commitment most of all. I know this. So why don’t I commit? What am I afraid of?

And it comes to me as I stand before the giant Christmas tree that the answer to this question is the secret to progressing in my vision and calling.

music-center-christmas-treeThe answer is simple: because it requires sacrifice.

I know all things truly worth having involve sacrifice. To be disciplined, we have to sacrifice. How many of us know it? How many of us will actually do it?

Those who can commit to practicing what they preach are the ones who will succeed at changing lives.

The alternative is wasted chances, stagnation, common imitation and apathy. Am I not pretending I don’t make this choice every day?

But hang on. For many years, like a typical Type-A, I’d hear this advice and think, “I have to try HARDER!”

We don’t need to try harder. We need to get smarter. Remember where the call came from. Remember who you serve.

Love. Love is our motivation. We forget to call on the source of our true strength in our weakness.

If I was braver, I’d stand in front of this bright tree and tell them all, “You are loved and you are called! But you’re loved and called as broken and fallible human beings. Don’t try to fill that need with things, with prestige. Your need isn’t for stylish things or favor, but for love and the purpose only love can bring. Then when you work or play, it’s truly productive, and sacrificing all of this doesn’t matter.”

That’s it. I need that reminder too. Without our Inspirer, we can’t help anyone. We’d only be giving them another distraction. We need patience to forget about immediate results, and let completion and perfection remain far off. But we can joy in the progress, even if it isn’t visible right away. We can commit to the longer journey, the promised fullness underway that’s only beginning.

And we can speak what we know as creatives, reminding ourselves and others that success is inevitable with enough time and commitment.

Maybe this is my first gift of Christmas this year. To commit to the best and discipline ourselves to sacrifice for what really matters—this is how we’ll help others with the resources and wisdom we’ve come to possess, our true possessions to offer through art that reveals its wonder and beauty.

I know I’m being crazy. It’s not like I think shopping is evil or everyone here is bad. And it’s not that I really want to speak to the strangers at the mall; I’m just being theatrical. But part of me really does want to.

But I’m starting with you. And maybe you’ll speak to your people, and together we can beat back some of that noise we too often mistake for ordinary comforts, this easy normal life here in the west.

The one that whispers to forget your dream, your calling. The one that undermines and snickers. The one that’s from a dead-end, defeated, dying world.

And you and I and all the rest of the people just walking around, we need to be reminded sometimes that we all belong to the light.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Helping Someone Else Love It Too

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

– Donald Miller

I used to love Don Miller.

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I’ve had many writing heroes: Hemingway. Anne Frank. Alex Haley. But after Blue Like Jazz, I felt like Don really got me. He’d written what I was trying to say.

But then somewhere along the way he changed and became what I probably shouldn’t call “MikeHyatted,” and his self-deprecating authenticity started to feel a bit canned and…commodified.

Forgive me. I got tired of feeling sold to.

But then a writer and pastor in LA I really admire named Dave Brisbin, he posts this quote from Don. “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.”

And I’m right back there with him, resonating like a struck bell.

I’m ringing with the very proof of his statement there. The fact that sometimes you have to watch somebody love something (like this very fact!) before you can love it yourself, that’s what writers like Don do and my friend Dave, and all my writer friends, including this young mom I know named Jenelle, they remind me to love this thing called writing because it’s prayer and it’s abiding and it’s getting away to be alone with my Inspirer, the anchor of my life. And when they just speak to life their invisible thoughts and feelings, their insights birth something for my journey. I see them loving it and suddenly I want to do it.

We talk about this a lot around here. My “Higher Writers Group” isn’t getting higher for their own kicks and giggles. Well, not merely for that. They’re digging deeper and aiming higher because of what it births in someone else, in the larger group and in the world.

And Don shows me the way to do it by writing it and speaking the truth–as you do when you share yourself. And if you knew how often I feel I can’t remember the love for this writing thing or for speaking my truth, how often I forget its true value, how I can’t do this all the time without seeing someone else love it, maybe you’d feel empowered to know I need this as much or more than you do. And quite often, actually.

That’s hard for me to accept sometimes. I want to be self-sufficient. I don’t want to be prone to the same little distractions and fears and stupid old anxieties a younger man obsessed over. But I am. And now I’m supposed to be this committed writer and a coach of writers, but I still forget the joy and the thrill of it at times–and to remember, maybe I need struggling writers like Don and like you to help me see the beauty again.

I need. There. I can say it. I need…

…to get back to my center. Yes, again. And again and again. And I will never stop needing this. And that’s okay. Because that’s how it is.

Oh, I want to remember that. I want to fight for it. And know it’s necessary and vital.

So Jenelle, this is for you. Dave, this is for you. And Don, I get it. This is for you too.

Higher writers, this is for all of us. Keep going and resounding and repeating because this is how it is but we don’t have to forget if we’ll speak our need and remind others how to love this too by showing them our struggle.

It’s worth it.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Outsmarting Distraction

“The evolving text was never, for Murray, purely a creation of the writer—it was an active participant in the process itself. He would speak of ‘listening to the text,’ or ‘the informing line’; he would describe the thrill of writing outrunning intention and entering new territory….if the writer was alert to cues and possibilities, and not tied to an outline or a plan. ‘Be patient, listen quietly, the writing will come. The voice of the writing will tell you what to do.’ ”

– Introduction to The Essential Don Murray: Lessons from America’s Greatest Writing Teacher

 

To hear this voice, as Murray said, we must believe in it.

And it’s incredibly difficult when we’re constantly pulled away.

CSC_0024It can seem impossible these days, but if we’re to hear the voice, we have to fight for it.

But we won’t stop being so easily distracted and pay attention.

I believe it’s self-evident most people are chronically over-involved. In church and with friends and family. People have legitimate needs and we have ability to fill them.

We like people dependent on us so we don’t have to face ourselves.

But there are also entertainments and hugely involving activities. In the now-classic Amusing Ourselves to DeathNeil Postman wrote prophetically about the problem now rampant in so many creative people’s lives. We all tend to think we’re above the law–special, unusual, the exception to the universal rule that no one can produce consistently good work when being continually distracted.

With all the crazy modern influences our culture throws at us, we’ve got to realize we’re not an exception to how humans function. And it’s astounding to me how many people think they are! We think we can circumvent natural laws and never have to say no.

DSC_0006We never even consider that God’s law is higher than our limited perspective.

Why do we think our best intentions will escape the consequences of over-involvement?

Why do we trade our best for so little?

It isn’t rare–everyone seems to have a touch of this disease. But most ambitious writers I run into these days seem to be in advanced stages of disarray. They think they can do whatever they want, say yes to everything and never sleep, cut corners and cheat the system. Maybe they believe that’s what it takes to be successful.

And aren’t we all tempted to agree? Maybe we just need to learn to manage. Or maybe that’s our exceptionalism talking.

We’re too dang busy. And we’re distracting ourselves from noticing.

IMG_5944It doesn’t take a psychotherapist to realize we’re running from the truth about many things–situations, people, deeper emotions, issues, pain. We forget that people who run from pain are still being controlled by it. The proof is when their fragile sense of control slips, they become angry or depressed.

We get over-involved and call it normal in order not to face our pain and hide from fear. Pain always forces us to deal with it, one way or another.

And as we all know, with all the convenient distractions available these days, dealing with it head on is far easier said than done.

Yet is there anything more important than to get free of this?

Everyone has to face it or continue to struggle. The pain of life leaves us no choice. And our culture preys on this universal weakness. It’s a war for our attention and we give ours to whatever comes by. Anything flashy or convenient, and we don’t even notice we’re doing it.

Oh, hello beautiful, manipulative advertisement designed to sell me some IMG_5998expendable junk! You want some of my attention? Well, sure! It’s only my most precious possession…

You do this. I know because I do this. And what I’m saying now–in as sincere a way as I can muster–is you’ve got to pay attention!

The Opposition is winning.

So what’s your method to preserve your attention for your greater intention?

We each need a personal strategy, or we’ll end up dead before we get free. We’ve got to begin to fight.

We need a practice to get behind until it becomes effortless, even if initially it takes a lot of effort. Remember, everything worthwhile (like good writing) takes practice.

Everything worth doing is worth doing well. All it takes is patient persistence.

IMG_5988Pain, fear and the Opposition will conspire to keep you silent forever. You’ll only grow more self-centered and incapable of changing anyone, convinced you’re entitled to overindulging your numbing comfort of choice, and trading your dreams for panaceas. That is, if you don’t stop, pay attention, and commit yourself to a better way.

People make their own prisons. It happens. We’ve met them, known them.

Research shows many will choose addiction. They’ll coast through life and sample many things and never achieve what dreams God placed in them. We know about the “quiet lives of desperation” because we could so easily choose them too.

We all have to cut back and slow down even though we don’t want to.

IMG_5949And why? Because the world requires our attention. Practicing discernment and making time for what deserves our attention is the only way to escape the undue demands we face.

The tyrannical dictator of Urgencia tries to demand our allegiance. But we serve the Life-Giver, and our lives require us to learn to live for him and not be afraid.

Our collective destiny is just down the road in Futureland. But first we have to reclaim it from the stickle-backed demon Overwhelm.

In its grip, even heroes lose their minds, can’t think, can’t feel. We’re in the battle for our lives. It would kill our desire to contribute.

Do you truly realize the unlimited value of your Ruler’s gifts to you? You have been given all the power.

Simply decide you won’t allow it to be undermined. Don’t allow your contribution and output to be stolen by inattention.

Reclaim your freedom and breathe in the fresh air of your rekindled dream.

Too much busyness breaks anyone’s resolve.

Don’t go down without a fight.

And if we seem ascetic to some people and family members who don’t understand what we’re doing for the sake of the work, so be it. If we want to make room for the inspired words to become everything to us, it’s a small price to pay.

For until the Inspired Words do become our everything, no one else will see their eternal value either.

“I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.
 
“If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
 
“Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.”
 – Maria Rainier Rilke
For the higher purpose,
Mick

How to Be Sure You Can Write the Highest Quality Books

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” – T. E. Lawrence

The summer heat already bears down now, scorching all inspiration and melting my brain.

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We closed up the house, draw the blinds and cover the skylights, digging down to keep as much of the cool air in as we can. And I’ve stayed in front of the air conditioner, even though I live in Oregon and every Oregonian knows it’s cool and rainy so houses don’t need air conditioning here.

Yeah. This perspiration would like to challenge that notion.

The sun makes the garden grow. But it also shrivels the plants unless you water them daily. There’s a difference between warm and hot. And it gets me thinking how there’s a whole world of difference in these small distinctions between things.

It’s in such seemingly minor differences that life takes on its wonderful variety and meaning. Our balance between what’s delightful and what’s suffocating is much more slight than we tend to realize. And yet we all know having our balance thrown off often reminds us how small distinctions can make a huge difference.

In the old days of this blog, about 10 years ago now, I tried to define the idea of “quality.” I was a younger man, recently 30, and I took it upon myself to try to describe this difficult distinction between types of books that were high quality and low quality. I eventually had to concede much of the difference was in the eye of the beholder. And after flogging it a while more, I let the subject drop.

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Yet I hadn’t understood the primary distinction between high and low quality–far from a snooty or pretentious ideal, books that are refined have a cultured, time-worn truth and beauty. They may be old or new, but the words themselves are distinctive by the refinement they’ve undergone. Very simple books can be elegant. Even rustic, earthy things can be achingly beautiful and unique.

Doesn’t appreciating distinction involve respecting the refining time and the patience to weather the process?

That’s what “quality” means. Appreciating distinction. A high quality book is set apart and special in specific ways if you look for them and take time to appreciate them. When it’s earned through dedication, sacrifice and training, distinction is the quality such books have. And to those who appreciate it, that difference matters. It’s significant. It’s worth recognizing and remarking about.

How did I get here from talking about the heat? Ah, the difference between warm and hot. When you know there’s a difference, you can’t unlearn it. We can’t go back to not noticing. And what’s fascinating to me about this is that this appreciation is a possession that can’t be taken away. Knowing a distinction between things is a special kind of possession that sets you apart. It makes you special. If no one else could feel the difference between a few degrees, when it got too hot, the person who could tell would be very special.

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It’s the same with books. When you can start to tell the little differences between high and low quality, you’re the owner of a unique, specific blessing. Your awareness may make your delicate balance more fragile and precarious, but you’re also now able to employ that unique insight to improve others. And with greater wisdom, you’ll weather the challenges it brings more easily too.

I guess as the sun is going down now and I’m thinking about days of running through sprinklers and enjoying summer with my girls before they’re grown, I believe this distinctiveness is what my writing craft needs. And it’s obvious God is in the business of blessing those who weather their time well. He invests in those who invest.

So I’d like to do so wisely, carefully, persistently, keeping my eyes open and my senses sharp for the new distinctions that will grow my ability to appreciate this amazing life….

And here’s an exciting question: What previously minor distinctions are waiting for us to discover them and broaden our awareness and writing craft this week? 

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge

Mick