Tag Archives: spiritual writing

My #1 Tool for Ultimate Productivity, Part 2

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”
—George Orwell

Do all writers struggle with low productivity?
I believe they do. At least until they get free of having to perform for validation and acceptance.

DSC_0007What? You don’t do that? Well, let’s just see….

As I said last time, first we have to get free of the pressure to produce. Then, we have to get free of the pressure to perform. And if we could all let go of the idea that our worth was by some great talent or our perfect skill, we might finally realize it’s by consistency within inadequacy that we become the writers we really want to be.

And need to be. Because that freedom is also what every reader longs for.

But how do we actually get free of performance anxiety to become productive?

Last time, I shared my #1 tool for eliminating low productivity: instead of focusing on being productive, focus instead on showing up, and merely read what you wrote last. That’s being consistent.

DSC_0002This week, unfortunately, we’re not so lucky. Removing the pressure to perform isn’t so easy. We don’t like inadequacy. We write to feel validated and affirmed (I know, not you, but everyone else), you’ll feel pressure to produce only “good” work—and that causes you to try to control your output. It won’t be honest or true enough, and you’ll be producing junk.

I know. I’ve been there.

Ask any writer if they’ve lived this. Over and over, I’ve tried to remove the pressure by showing up and reading the previous days’ pages, then slowly getting back into it once I felt freer. But when I saw how my own feelings were intricately wound up in the main character’s, I feared writing a book that revealed my true feelings, even through fiction. And I choked.

I was almost 40 when I realized I was writing to have my wounds seen and the damage to my heart known and accepted. It never crossed my mind before; it was just “fiction.”

DSC_0009But it was never just fiction. It was fictionalized autobiography. And as the book grew and became more honest and I had less places to hide from my fear of family and strangers who’d read it and judge me, as I knew they would, I knew writing it would leave me exposed. I’d have to admit I’d felt silenced, dominated and unimportant. And many people experience that and worse, so I was also afraid my story would seem small in comparison. I may never be normal, but I had so much to be grateful for. Others may never know what it really feels like to be free as I had…

And yet. Had I ever been able to write in full honesty or get over my resentment and anger? In the end, it’s always been just too much, and the fear of what might happen if I spoke up held me back. Finally facing that and feeling it was the only way to recover a semi-normal working process. To share it all and escape and begin a deeper level of healing, I had to let it go.

Of course, therapy and loving community is essential too, however you find it. Even though I knew letting go controlling what people saw was the secret to productivity, I still couldn’t show up thinking I was going to write what will heal me. I couldn’t even show up thinking I was going to write, necessarily. I still had to let go of producing something so a non-pressured process could take its place.

And I’m ever in need of prayer and friendship, so the need for validation gets dealt with, diminished bit by bit.
Through showing up and just reading my previous words, I recall my truth, the fears I’ve carried and the wound I’ve caused by diminishing them. And facing that mess, I slowly move through the next stage of healing what led me to writing in the first place.

DSC_0005We can’t aim for it, but it’s only from this redeemed ground we recover anything that may help someone else. And perfectionism dies a thousand tiny deaths…

Sadly, I don’t know if years or books or experience or time ever fully resolve this. And I still want a silver bullet, some beautiful solution, but so far I haven’t found one. I say that with all the empathy I’ve been able to recover so far…

I don’t think there is one.

But there is a beautiful broken way to productive writing, a “secret” to consistent work. We show up, we look at the blocks we’ve set up, why we set them up, who was involved, what it produced, and when…and we can know this: we’ll get free.

Just by willingness to be inadequate, and to let the story deliver what we need.

And maybe instead of perfect examples, we’ll become true writers.

Sadly imperfect. But honest.

Hopelessly unimpressive. But free.

Roald Dahl quote

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Let the Work Do Its Work

My computer hums on my lap. Next to me, my phone buzzes, and Twyla Tharp’s book on “the creative habit” sits with my glass of wine on the side table.

DSC_0006

Behind me is the big window with the tree in full leaf. Beneath the window is the bookshelf stuffed to overflowing with all the books I’m unable to stop pretending I’ll eventually get to read, the best of the best that have stayed with me for reasons mysterious and intentional.

Though life is busy and full of wonderful thinking, I worry what I have to share this week isn’t very interesting.

“To the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place,” as Rilke said. And what writing well really takes is the ability to ignore the doubts and press on in describing the objects that surround us, for they hold our dreams and our truest selves.

DSC_0005To write well, we must struggle, and not least of all because we believe we have to know what we’re doing. And we think that to know what to do, we have to ensure we have all the right conditions perfectly lined up, when really all we need is to look at the space before us and see in it what’s really true. If we can merely do that well, then we apply the right effort and we succeed. Writing well could become inevitable if only we’d stop trying so hard to write well.

Ah, but knowing what’s really true requires really seeing, and this is what we need above all else.

Once we commit—and I don’t pass this off lightly—then we must look hard enough into the story of our lives that’s contained in these objects around us and consider these the relevant props in our current situation.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Illustration from The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

A computer. A phone. A book on creativity. A glass of wine. A table. A window. A bookshelf full of books.

What do these tell you? Can I describe them so it’s clear, so that you can assess what you need to understand about my life from these clues?

Collectively, they may signify a life lived in dedication to the freedom books offer.

On Saturday, I posted a status update on Facebook about how it can feel working on a book I believe could help many people heal. It’s always the author’s healing journey first, yet most of us who write have trouble because we’re broken and blocked by pain and resentment. We can seem fine day to day, but as soon as things get challenging, we cramp up and clamp down. The books on writing don’t often say we have to be healed first to write well and true about ourselves. And so that’s what I’ve chosen to say, believing our words must first be for us but once they’ve healed us, they must be fully matured and become universal, not so dedicated to our own welfare.

DSC_0009This is why my room matters today. And what’s here with me matters—because learning to write well is what I’m doing here while my family pursues other things downstairs. I’m here to face the truth of myself and my dreams and many weaknesses, in hopes it will heal me further and I might grow to see my life more broadly, more universally, that it might be more useful and inspiring. A simple story of a man typing out words to show the things he keeps for this work he pursues, as Annie Dillard says, trying to make all the necessary efforts to become a sail to catch the solar wind.

If we do it right, that is, if we do it daily, this work changes us. And that changes everything. The way I live, and the way I think of myself and all my relationships has grown by my picking up these props for the words I pursue.

They show that I’ve dedicated myself to achieving this big dream of being free. And yet I’m confident that if I can continue, the objects and even the words themselves won’t be so important in the end. For the true benefit will be something else entirely….

“The secret of seeing is, then, the pearl of great price…But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought…I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.” – Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

The Only Master

Because I’m prone to the happy hobbit life, I’m often forced to remember that life doesn’t serve books. Books serve life. And as supporting documents for the journey, they make useful and often life-giving guides.

But they make horrible masters.

IMG_5361

Some writers don’t appreciate this distinction and they end up serving their books in many ways. Though their book only has the power over them that they give it, they allow it to become their master.

And they sacrifice much of their lives in their service.

There are also those who believe there is no life in experience. Set-apart from “the world,” they claim the Bible, prayer and a careful, circumscribed existence is the only proper “life.” And from within a bubble of their own making, they believe those outside are lost and dead.

Yet they’ve also given up life to serve a false master.

waterfall2

The higher purpose for writing is to experience God, both in the writing and in the reading. Yet isn’t God only experienced in real life, in the very act of living?  

Can we experience God while writing?

What if those who serve books and those who serve their safety are missing the very thing that makes the experience of God possible?What if their mistake is forgetting that experiencing God can only happen when we make him alone master and forsake all else?

I’ve been told I must do this or that or the other thing to be a “good” Christian. My commitment has been judged by others’ false ideas as unbiblical, unworthy and wrong.

But if I want to return to finding God in my experience, I can’t let that stop me. As a writer and a Christian, I want to experience him wherever I look, in books and in others’ ideas, regardless of judgment. He is present when I invite him and he’s already there where I need to go next, ready to hand me the faith I need to follow.

Don’t I believe that? 

legs
My pride wants to defend myself. But in humility, he is my life and strength, the only life needed. Receiving him without reservation, he comes again as he has before and shows his power in new ways. And in each new place, I know him and love him as master and more.

If I’ll just remember and trust, it can be like that again, and even better. Because I’ll be even more awake and aware.

The central task to forget serving anything else is to stop and listen. There I’m reminded that the only requirement is to let go of fear and all conceptions that stand in the way of embracing essential, foundational humility. What do I have that doesn’t come from him? So can’t I decide to wait on him for whatever I need?

I’m speaking to myself, but I’m also speaking to you. Do you really believe he is all?

Are you ready to experience him in your real life today again?

IMG_5376

And will you give him your full self to be all in you today? If you will try, then your daily experience and your waking reality will be infused with him and you will know him in a real and tangible way you never could through books or bubbles.

For when you belong to him entirely, there is no part of life that is not active, awakened, alive. For all of it is in him and by him and for him, through him and about him and because of him.

For nothing in this whole world or in all of life here and everywhere cannot be infused and saturated with him.

 

IMG_5323“His humility was simply the surrender of Himself to God, to allow Him to do in Him what He pleased, whatever men around might say of Him, or do to Him.” – Andrew Murray, Humility

“To such a man God is not a conclusion drawn from evidence nor is He the sum of what the Bible teaches about Him. He knows God in the last irreducible meaning of the word know. It may almost be said that God happened to him.” – A. W. Tozer, Man: The Dwelling Place of God

 

Why All It Takes Is 5 Minutes

It may come as a shock, but I’m easily distractible.

It’s not something I’m proud of. Especially knowing how much my work depends on writers showing up and keeping up despite the battering hurricane of demands and requests that fly in through every open window.

It can grow dark quickly underneath the pile of debris atop the little flame of a writer’s voice.

To be seen and heard is always a fight.

Yet maybe being seen and heard doesn’t have to be the goal. Maybe sharing what’s been given you that day in the 5 minutes you have to share it, the flame will shine a little more, and the light will reach out into the dark it’s intended to reach.

Burn, little guy. Burn.
Burn, little guy. Burn.

I know from painful experience how selfish and pointless it can seem to spend much time in a private place that brings you and only you such joy. Especially if so many people depend on you. The responsibility and duty of “real life” can sap the love and light right from you and leave you dark and cold.

But if God’s love for us burns white hot, wouldn’t he want us to forget all else but the true “real life?”

That’s the premise of the novel I’ve been writing over 10 years about a young man who sells his soul for a chance to change his past. It’s been growing in me and growing with me for ages, waiting as I figured out what to do with it and how to write it. It’s grown and shaped me unlike any book ever has, and it’s still not done. But I’m going ahead and opening up about my process now because I can’t wait to share some of the jaw-dropping lessons it’s taught me as I’ve strived to show up between school, raising 2 kids and full-time editing books for publishers.

Jaw-dropping, I tell you!
Jaw-dropping, I tell you!

Some days it’s felt so pointless. But 5 minutes a day adds up. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to write a book this way. And maybe it isn’t–no one said it was good–but for years now, I’ve gotten up and for 5 minutes (which sometimes turned to 10 and 15), I’ve forgotten everything else and reveled in my dream world. It’s changed me, and it’s continuing to as I pull the disparate pieces together and learn to slowly fight back against the crush of too-great demands and urgent life, giving it the best I have, which often isn’t enough, but it doesn’t matter.

God is in it.

Unlike anything else, my book has shown God’s love to me. And I know it’s true because it’s been simple even when it could have and should have been mind-numbingly complex. In the end, I’ve believed the premise, that he wants me to forget everything else but that knowledge of his love. And in 5 minutes a day, I’ve found writing a book can teach you plenty about that.

Every day, I’m hopeful for what it’ll reveal next. If you know what I mean, give me a witness….

For the Higher Purpose,

Mick

Friday Morning Pages

(on slowness)

Many people believe we are living in one of the most stressful times in history. The stress isn’t about being eaten by dinosaurs or how we’ll escape the marauding Vikings. People are now eaten by schedules and crushing poverty.

A friend of mine said recently the modern family is living life at an abusive pace.

And writing takes such a long time.

fireworks flowersI woke early, found my shoes, started the coffee and headed out for the morning run. The house and neighborhood was quiet and I did some extra stretching because of the two days I’d missed.

I listened to Berry’s Port William stories again and thought how long it takes to get as good as he is, the observations and control he has developed, to be able to capture what he does:

“Afterward they watched him from the windows, for his fury had left an influence. The house was filled with a quiet that seemed to remember with sorrow the quiet that had been in it before Thad had come.” 

Such a patient listening. How does one achieve this?

greenbeanI return and eat the last small handful of blueberries right off the bush. I go inside, pour coffee, and walk out to the deck with my other books, sharpened for an answer.

Not yet sharp enough to realize I’ve just passed one.

“Whatever the circumstances may be, that Holy Innocent Eternal Child must be in contact with His Father….I have to see that the Son of God is manifested in my mortal flesh” (My Utmost, Aug. 8, 9)

I leave the book open and peruse the plants growing on the deck from the pots we’ve lined up, the deck that needs cleaning and sealing before the rain returns. The Son of God, born in my mortal flesh, has been my new reality for almost 3 years now. It was there before, but not in any true way, any decided and humble way. And now, now that I feel his love and choose to respond to it by rising to it and being with him, is he getting the chance to manifest himself in me? Or am I still perpetually moving too quickly on to the next thing?

There are beans and tomatoes, zinnias and pumpkins, and none of them are hurrying.

If there is no room in my life for this essential listening, how can I expect to ever write the things that can hardly be felt, let alone spoken?

pumpkin flowerAnd then the obvious hidden spark drops into my head: He is in those plants over there I’m moving so quickly by. Some would argue that’s pantheism. But God save us if we can’t see that he must hold all things together, every atom and fiber of this creation bears his miraculous fusing. And the difference between seeing him and seeing a plant is everything.

He’s in those berries as he’s in me. And my eyes are not so much choosing to see as they are choosing not to continue in blindness.

Let me not forget or become too lazy to know when I am seeing you, or too fearful to know what my own spirit tells me of you.

God, calm me. Still my life and let me listen. Show me your life in me and lead me to the ever stiller communion with you.

And let me share what you would have me share.