Tag Archives: writer’s fears

Waiting In Bewilderment

“To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass—seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Navel-gazing is one thing. A “colo-rectal theology” puts a whole other spin on it.

So often, we think we’re so smart when we’re anything but.

Most of us think too highly of ourselves while battling low self-esteem. How can this be? I think I’m unworthy of love and I am too certain of myself. You too?


I should be even more honest here. What teachers and adults often thought was quiet confidence, I was both too proud and self-assured, and too terrified of being seen. I was too in control of my world and too afraid to show my feelings and let anyone know me.

If I didn’t show myself, maybe I could remain unharmed. And that worked for a while. Sort of.

Now I write continually asking a different question. Am I willing to show this? And even further, Am I willing to be uncertain?

Because I never know if it’ll be useful. That’s not what’s important. What matters is if I trade my rational control, can I be lost in bewilderment, willing to trust and go forward anyway?

Sometimes, life’s full of inspiration and insight that comes pouring out. But that isn’t its usual state. Life is uncertain. So many people want to tell you what life means. But life means uncertainty.stream

My post last week was about believing that the struggle is a necessary part of the beauty that will eventually be revealed. I quoted three writers on what that struggle to wait looks like for them. Then I said:

“If you understood the truth of the BLESSING coming, you’d understand the magnitude of the battle you are fighting….If you could measure the size of the result of your persistence, you’d know the reason the one thing he asks for is faith.”

It was encouraging to remember that everyone struggles to believe.

On Tuesday the 3rd, when Harper Lee’s new book was announced, I felt God rekindling something in me from long ago that had been burning low: “Will you simply believe and trust Me regardless of what things look like?”

I don’t know why that was the message I sensed, but I wanted to say yes.

I didn’t think being willing to wait in bewilderment was a key measure of maturity, but for me, I think it just might be. When the evidence of my foolishness, my incapability, my lack of conviction and immaturity and fitness to carry this vision I’ve been assigned–when it all comes parading before me, can I accept and wait there in confusion? Can I choose to respond with the all-important willingness to accept “I don’t know,” and write in the darkness anyway?

That’s hard. That’s not certainty or control. That’s something else.

caveThat’s got to be a place of faith. That’s saying yes to God’s question: Will you simply trust and believe? Instead of fighting to prove myself, can I lay that down? Instead of faking everything’s fine, will I just believe he knows what the point of this waiting is?

Instead of giving up, holing up, clamming up,  will I trust that he knows more than I what’s coming, and speak anyway? Instead of making a selfish grab for attention, will I make room for the stabler foundation he is building, i.e. the only thing that can and will speak of a higher purpose?

Don’t you want to say it with me, “YES, Lord?” deer

I want to choose to simply step forward anyway in faith that the guiding light will find me and illuminate the way.

What if beyond characters, our own character is the real point? What if getting this now is what prevents us from getting hurt when we do publish? What if we did get out of this waiting what we really needed by not getting out of it?

Could we give our reader what they truly long for amidst publisher demands and a want-driven market?

Patience. Wisdom. Something larger than yourself and your weak human nature.

All we may need when we’re unsure and afraid is not power or insight, but a powerful trust in the sovereignty of God over all we do. That is the one thing irreplaceable. And won’t we learn it if we’re only willing to endure the angst and pain of waiting in bewilderment for the answer to come?

Maybe the best answer is the simplest:

I don’t know. 


For the higher purpose,


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

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…