Tag Archives: writer’s block

A Word on Writing Progress: Loving and Leaving the Fear Box

So there’s an image I’ve wanted to explore for a while.

(It’s not this one, though I like it…)

 

I call the image “the fear box.” (Not that picture. The mental image I have. Clear on that?)

It’s made of a type of protective, soft material, but very strong. We’re all raised in this sort of cage, and it’s a God-designed, natural, humble place where we recognize our limitations. We all like the feeling of comfort that the thick, restrictive walls give us. The boundaries of the box are so certain and sure and we instinctively know the fear box is good and needed.

For newborns, there’s nowhere safer than the fear box.

As we grow a bit, the boundaries begin to feel like restrictions. Our limitations aren’t as limiting anymore, though we know we still need the box…just maybe not so much or so tight as before. If we’re given help modifying and expanding the box, we’re able to grow and not get in too much trouble.

The many people who promote the benefits of the fear box—its safety, its certainty, its traditional trustworthiness—say you can know that you know the box is for your good.

And it is. You know it. You’ve lived in it your whole life.

But if those box-benefit extollers might also say that people who’ve left their boxes are called “outsiders,” and in a voice that conveys their true feelings, tell you how wrong the outsiders are and how much they need to be made right, you’ll feel a sliver of hesitation. But you’ll agree, of course. The lost need to be found. They need to know the wonderful safety and security you’ve known.

But there’s a love growing in you, a light that can’t be contained. And that sliver of doubt will let some of that light out. And eventually, whether the next day or after several years of fighting with yourself, you know you must leave the fear box.

And what will be more important than any other reassurance as you muster your courage to finally leave, is not how much you need safety and security and traditions, but how love is what’s in you saying no to the fear box. And if you can let that love out now and learn not to restrict it or temper it, it will guide you to your new home.

If love is there, nowhere is unsafe.

***

Another week has passed and very little writing on the novel was completed. The usual work and distractions kept me busy, but again, I could have made time, reserved some for it.

A major hang-up, maybe a main hang-up for me has been imagining the response by well-meaning, lovely church people, people I respect.

Some might say I should respect them less, get irreverent about everything that isn’t God. I don’t disagree. I’ve worked through many barriers and claimed the courage and empowerment to go where I need to and speak what needs words.

But I need to say Christianity isn’t perfect perfectly, winsomely, with the fragrance of Jesus. And this has kept me locked in fear.

Christians hold many things precious—churches, pastors, leaders, teachers and teachings, worship, the Bible, The Church, Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, doctrine, creeds, Christianity itself, and even Christian culture. All the resistance I know I’ll face, constantly reminded by a lifetime of experience, has kept me endlessly revising instead of printing.

It’s fear, obviously. And what works best on fear is not frustration, condemnation, shame, or any of my usual responses. But only love.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

***

Comfort comes swiftly to the loved.

It rushes in to prove yet again no pain or fear can break trust.

That trust is life itself.

The bigger, stronger, higher love will always help,

wipe the tears, and receive the feelings as precious,

wordless truth from the heart, the love box,

from which flow the springs of life.

Fear and pain don’t change reality, only love does.

Love is what’s true,

the ever-present reality to take all cares and keep them.

Love secures, always, always holds safe.

Come what may.

“Oh, love, never let me go…”

***

Must we be willing to break with the old to allow for the new?

Does progress require a sort of irreverence for tradition?

Life is built on an inherited box of foundations and advances. Respect them all. But also risk disrespect and “rebellion” to build what’s needed now.

Every author before you has felt this fear. Whatever this book will add to life, you’ve got to trust that love goes with you. It strengthens and empowers whoever is willing to receive it.

We can face everything that may come.

We can venture out.

Safe is where love is.

 

Praying you’ll know you’re held safe as you seek the higher purpose,

Mick

 

How to Write Free & Relax About It

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

Frederick Buechner, Now and Then

 

Sending my socially awkward kid off to high-school brings up everything unresolved in me from that time in my own life that I have trouble concentrating for hoping she can stay relaxed and find the fun where she can because it will be over so fast and being cool won’t matter anymore.

***

People often talk about writer’s block or writer’s anxiety. Writing is full of anxiety. Writing well is even more so because there’s the expectation of producing something good and worthwhile.

Expectations are a setup. And as every writer knows, with a setup, you have to have a payoff.

The payoff of any expectation is either fulfillment or disappointment. And most often, when the inner critic stands ready to judge what comes out, disappointment is the result.

The conscious mind is very limiting.

This is why to write at all, let alone well, you first have got to get out of your own way.

If you aren’t willing to fail, you aren’t going to get any creative work done.

You’ve got to get past perfection and let yourself pursue play and risk you might likely fail at and have to try again.

You’ve got to be persistent, stubborn, and believe you are here not to produce something beautiful but to learn to let go of your expectations so you can see the beauty in everything.

You must want something better than success. You must want to grow and remain open to what’s next.

That way you never close off, never stop seeking to expand the relaxing comfort your heart truly wants, and the freedom you feel amongst your closest, safest friends. You will find safety and connection with them if you invite it and embrace it and don’t close off.

The world is too loud and dominating and the fight is too difficult not to keep seeking that relationship with God in all his many forms.

And to do this, we’ve got to be able to let go, but also to hold on to our specific grounding in the present moment.

That will release you from the anxiety so you can finally write what you’re able to hear that no one else can.

Remember, nothing is wasted….

***

After reminding myself of all this, I send off an email of dad-advice to Ellie, encouraging her to know how amazing she is and to always keep her smiley disposition. I let the anxiety push my better self to speak what I know. And the old fears don’t seem to hold the same power they used to anymore.

And no matter what, I think she’ll be okay.

 

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

– e.e. cummings

Why I Hate Writing Productivity Apps

I hate the WriteorDie App.

No, I really hate it.

It’s as bad or worse than all those intrusive, creativity-killing “productivity” programs. And I have many reasons for my strong dislike….

FullSizeRender_11. If you slow down or stop, you get bombarded by loud alarms.

Yeah, this is helpful. Apparently, you can’t stop writing even for a few seconds to think. Come on–is this really good? How can this lead to good writing? You can’t even turn it off or backspace or make it stop until you keep writing.

2.You have to keep writing, unthinking, even if the words don’t make sense, for as long as you can, ideas tumbling over each other and creating an endless stream of sometimes quite meaningless words.

And did I mention there’s no time to think? That seems an obvious problem because we writers don’t always think in productive sentences. We think in a jumble and good work needs the slow pondering that keeps things more refined and meaningful.

I mean….doesn’t it?

Hmm. Wait. Maybe that’s not entirely true. Maybe the first draft doesn’t need the slow pondering so much as the freedom to be whatever it needs to be. And maybe we don’t always know what that is until we let go and let it out. Isn’t that what I’ve been taught? That we just need to get words out to start and what that requires is less thinking? Isn’t that always what I’ve been told, what I’ve even taught others myself?

Don’t judge the first draft. Just write. 

FullSizeRenderOh my. I was writing a different kind of post here. Dang it.

Maybe the reason I haven’t been writing is this same old fear. Good grief, I’m always thinking too much. I’m the same little kid who overthought everything and hated finger-painting because it would make a mess and I worry too much about everything and especially about keeping things clean and neat. And I get sidetracked by that need for everything to be perfect and manageable and orderly, thinking too much about each word and how it fits, and whether I’m pulling the threads together right and keeping readers interested.

And all the time, what I should be doing is just writing more words….

Crap. Isn’t this the reason I get tripped up and stop writing so often? When people ask if I’m writing and how the book is coming, and I have to answer “not so well,” it’s because I’m overwhelmed by all the considerations I need to make for the chapter, and I got stuck on what I need to edit to make it all work and be what I saw in my head.

But if I could just forget all that and let it be what it is, stop worrying about it so much and just write it….

I might finish. Succeed. Finally. I might still rise.

And how many times have I said this very thing? How is it possible to keep forgetting this truth, so obvious? If I could just stop worrying and write, I’d eventually train my mind to escape the crippling place of overthinking so much and just do what I know I should, what I really want to anyway–produce readable work.

FullSizeRender_2The words and sentences will eventually take care of themselves. I know this. It’s undeniable. The problem is simply habit. What you do over and over will claim you. When you write every day, you make a new habit. And this is how you rise back up and succeed. Simple as that.

Of course you can come back and edit later if needed. With first drafts, you must let it simply be crappy; you know this. Let go of every hangup and concern you have about it not measuring up and not being exactly what you meant, and just get something out. You can fix it later.

I’d meant to write something very different here. But as I wrote, I found what was better, what was truer. Why do we resist the obvious truth? Is it really out of pride and fear of being judged? Of course it is. What else? And so we forfeit the truth and get blocked and hung up again and again for weeks on end.

I don’t write what I know I must because I second-guess it when I sit down, knowing it will be disappointing to those I want to understand it most. It may even hurt them. But I have to come back to this truth over and over, be reminded of it again, even by an app I hate, just to face this frustrating reality yet again.

The Olympic Games have started this week–I’ve wondered what’s my superpower? Maybe it’s this. This is how we rise. And this could be the final time I forget, if I finally believed it and just kept on.

I could finish this book if I didn’t stop and if I ignored the doubts creeping in and stopped letting them shove out the truth I know. It could benefit so many others besides just me, all the writers I speak to, coaching them through their hangups, and work to release their full potential with every week. Don’t they also need me to keep on and commit to saying what I’ve never yet been able to?

And I regret so much that it’s taken so long. As much as I talked about believing, I haven’t believed. The strength of that regret at 42 is powerful, horrifying. Yet what will it be at 82? Don’t even my detractors, whoever they may be, don’t even they need the example of fighting to release these words? Couldn’t it even encourage them, even inspire them to commit to believing too?

We could be producing vital words, express our deepest truth and inspire others–all of this life-giving stuff–if only we’d let ourselves. This is always our choice. Can you forget the hangups and all the reasons this simple truth shouldn’t be true?

For myself, my answer is Yes. Yes, I can. I can choose it because this is God’s gift to all of us: the simple, unmerited freedom to choose. And God knows he’s paid and we’ve all paid a huge price for that inestimable gift–the most valuable gift in the world. 

The freedom to choose to believe.

So let it be. Let us rise. And let me no longer stand in the way of this responsibility I carry. I’m committed now. And somehow just doing that, it becomes less a choice than a duty.

I have chosen. Now I will write.

Thanks, WriteorDie. Now I rise.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

p.s. I used the WriteorDie program to write this post, the first draft of which took me about 4 minutes. I got no kickback from WriteorDie for this post, but I hope you give it a try, especially if you’re a doubter like me. :)

When You’re Afraid to Release It Into the World

“The writer’s job is to abandon their work. To allow others to make judgment of its worth. And to go on to the next story…”  

– William Stafford

 

Did you write from your pain last week? How have you been at facing your fears through writing? 

 

image4

If you’ve attempted it, you know it requires discipline and patience, and extra grace with yourself as you fight to avoid the discomfort. Keep setting short, achievable goals, and reward yourself! Don’t quit!

 

This week it dawned on me that facing fears through writing also prepares us for the fears experienced after having written. Sending our personal, heart-baring work out into the world, it may bring up all sorts of preexistent pain. Those horrors from the past tend to come back to remind you of all the reasons you shouldn’t have tried, shouldn’t have thought you could do this.

 

I don’t know why this isn’t talked about more, the self-doubt that strikes just as you’re about to share the real you through your work. It isn’t you. It’s the life of the writer.

 

And the pain is what always draws you back, out of the present and into the unknowable future which we always tend to assume must contain at least as much pain as the past.

 

But we can’t know that. And instead of releasing our work and releasing ourselves from the fear, we allow that pain to condemn and imprison us. We believe we have no control over it. And we won’t until we receive it, relax into it and let it come.

 

image3The angels, Jesus and God himself always tell us not to fear, as if we can help it.

 

When fear tries to control us, we can fight to control fear. 

 

When we worry our work won’t be embraced, understood, appreciated, we have to fight back. When we’ve done the work and done our best, it’s not our job to judge or worry. Our part is to let it go. Then and only then can we know what the work really was — a chance to know true freedom.

 

One higher purpose of writing is getting free of fear and worry. 

I’ve got a distressing habit of doubting the value and necessity of my work. It’s held me back for years. I know the only way it’ll change is when I realize the imagined pain of others not accepting my work isn’t as bad as the real pain of stifling my talent.

image2“All of us have habits of thought…they include formulas of disbelief in our own gifts. If we cannot let go of the familiar old habits, we will not grow as artists. To grow as a writer, we must open our hearts, grow in our capacity to learn, to deepen our courage…even those truths that are painful will ultimately increase my wisdom, undergird my strength, make possible my art.” – Pat Schneider, Writing Alone

I know this to be true from my own life. The greatest pains have taught me the most. Why would I fear pain? Maybe the fear comes in not knowing how to deal with it or find release. But also, like many kids, I wasn’t encouraged to express my feelings, get comfort and and deal with them. So it’s been hard to find relief and resolve. 

Has anyone been given everything they needed to recover from life?

We carry our wounds and we’d rather not add to them.

Yet if we can fight through fear and allow ourselves to experience pain, knowing it can lead to deeper understanding, we can grow and gain wisdom, character and more of what we truly desire. We can find out what we’re really made of and learn to rely on God and others. We can meet even more difficult tests and know we have what it takes. And we may even stop fearing vulnerable sharing completely.

Can you imagine if that became true for you? 

image1What if you didn’t hold back today and all this week? By the end of it, you’ll be able to say to yourself:

You did it. You demanded the work speak as clearly and honestly as possible. And you let it go. I’m so incredibly proud of you. Will you ever know what this truly means? You’ve lived your commitment, even in the face of powerful doubt and certain destruction. Honor that investment and don’t dismiss the achievement of that. You’re becoming a writer who’s unafraid. And how many people need what you now know? Now you get to marvel at how God uses even his weak and broken ones to be his messengers of love, and to bring life where pain and death had threatened….

Give your all and face the fear as you prepare to share your truth this week. It’s more vital and life-giving than you can even comprehend.

It’s all for the higher purpose,

Mick

How to Break Your Writing Block Forever–for Good

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

– Maya Angelou

For a long time, I believed the common wisdom about being a more productive writer.

IMG_6754I took the usual advice about setting small steps, getting on a schedule and visualizing the end goal. But I could never follow through. Was there something wrong with me? Why couldn’t I stick with the program? Had I just not found the right tool yet?

I began to wonder if I had what it took. Were deeper issues keeping me from achieving my high-minded dream?

I suspected there were many writers like me–I hoped there were–how else could there be so much instruction out there on how to write? But I still felt all alone in my struggle and everyone else seemed able to write a novel in a month or make all the tools and tips work for them. I liked the tips at first, but after a couple weeks, I was unable to keep it up. Maybe it’s only when you’ve tried those tools and found them insufficient that you know you’ve got a deeper issue. Maybe I was fundamentally broken–and emphasis on the mental part.

So I began to wonder, How do you know if you need to deal with a deeper root problem?

Instead of just continuing to feel inadequate, embarrassed, maybe lazy, when is it time to ask why, if you do want to write, don’t you do it?

As a writer, I can honestly say this is the writing problem I’ve struggled with most. And an editor and coach, this is where I’ve decided to specialize because the psychological anguish–the angst of being stymied, blocked, obstructed, hornswaggled, constipated– it turns out the struggle is not unusual.

Most of my authors admit they’ve experienced it–and the rest are big fat liars.

The issue is soul deep, and no matter how simple the “steps to success” appeared, nothing else worked for me before this.

The tools and tips about practices or methods may become useful after sorting out this one thing. But for me, there was a psychological tool I needed that freed me to ignore a lot of practical writing advice.

It was permission.

walk

I know. It sounds weak. But basically, I needed permission to stop focusing on productivity. If you find you can’t be productive, just stop trying, and start be unproductive. If you can’t progress, let go and rest in the process.

You’ve likely been sabotaging yourself.

Despite my best efforts to write, I’d always end up rebelling and running off into ever-more elaborate distractions. I’d get a new tip and write hard for a few days but eventually I’d resent the work again and go numb out on all kinds of surrogate thrills.

Then I’d find another writing coaches’ idea (there are plenty!) about getting a separate computer, or using Pomodoros, or setting rewards. And they’d work for a few days, then completely stop working when I’d fail and become wracked with guilt, lament my hopeless situation again, and swear on Merlin’s beard I’d find the lasting method for ultimate flow and actualizing optimum productivity….

Or whatever.

But now, after well over 10 years of on-and-off-again novel-writing, I found my answer. It’s a deceptively simple method that effectively erases what I produce as the end goal of sitting down to write.

If you’re prone to over-analysis and perfectionism, this could solve your problem of low productivity forever. Ready?

Give yourself permission to stop being productive.

deer

That’s it. Instead of focusing on the product, the word count, the perfect words needed for the Book, focus on the process of getting yourself the cup of tea, cup of coffee, cup of gin. Then sit down, open the document and read some of it.

Okay, probably not gin. But if you ever “use” alcohol, I hope you’ll try this….

And if this isn’t for you, you’ll know it because this will sound stupid and only losers would try it. But sometimes the only way to get a stubborn donkey to move is to stop pushing it.

Show up and open the document and stare at it for a while. Sure it doesn’t look like much. But learn to sit with your words and do not judge them. It does simplify things.

You are hereby not required to try a bunch of productivity tips that will only mask your issue and complicate your process.

And, best of all, you have complete permission not to write a word.

If you struggle with productivity, make this your new intention immediately: shift your thinking to not writing new words but simply reading the old ones you’ve already written.

Do not judge or edit anything; just allow your brain to enjoy what you’ve written so far, i.e. be proud of what you’ve accomplished, i.e. make yourself feel good, i.e. experience what you were ditching your writing for right here.

You know, basically outsmart your inner rebel.

lightBelieve me, before I did this, I’d always find a way to get out of writing. And what changed everything was realizing I wanted to feel good about this.

Oh, I always talked a big game about the “real” work of being diligent and willing to face fear. But something inside, some resentment about having to face hard stuff all the time and write it down, it needed resolving.

And comfort was elsewhere–in myriad other places (at least the quicker, easier, temporary kind).

Until I stopped pushing and saw my writing pain was legitimate and deserved to be felt and dealt with, all my muscling to a word count, or will-power to stay on task was short-lived. And it produced no meaningful work. Distraction was always a step away to grab me and send me back to the start, spiraling toward failure and more self-loathing.

So here’s your ticket to freedom: read your words as part of your process for freeing yourself and gain strength to face the dragon guarding your cave.

Eventually you will win just by showing up.

And each day you do, you’ll have less chance of forgetting that this is how life-changing books get written. Whatever it may seem to anyone else, feeling good about all you’re capturing is how you continue to write your way out. Day in, day out.

One healed piece at a time.

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.”

– Walter Wellesley Smith

For the Higher Purpose,

Mick