Tag Archives: writers groups

The Fearsome Power of Fear

What does it take to find true inner freedom from fear?

I’ve read a lot of authors, a lot of books, heard countless stories, biographies, memoirs, novels. Countless sermons, Bible stories, tv shows, movies. Roughly estimating from the time I was a kid watching Sesame Street to now 39 years later, I’ve probably heard, watched, read and lived well-near a million stories.

And in all of them, the thing that makes them all work? It isn’t heroism or empathy or humility or perseverance. It isn’t even love. It’s all of these things, but none of them on their own.

In a word, I think you’ve got to have one more thing: fear. 

What gives victory it’s power is fear, or more accurately, the conquering of it. I once thought pain was the all-important ingredient to raise the stakes. But pain seems like the child of fear, the physical manifestation of it. The father of pain is Fear and he lives in secret, I think, convincing us all that we are alone and empty and hopeless. And the thing about fear is that it doesn’t just make stories meaningful, it’s the presence of it and the depth and strength of it that makes freedom from it so incredibly meaningful in the end. The greater the fear, the greater the escape, the more worthwhile the effort seems in the end.

Fear is fearsome and powerful and there’s no getting around it. Everyone knows real, heart-pounding fear. And writers will feel it clenching around the throat as they struggle to form words out of nothing but memory. The thin shards of experience. The fear that we won’t remember it right or say it right. Fear that we’ll be found out as a fraud, a phony, a faker. And if we’re humble and God-fearing, we can add the fear that someone will be led astray, misunderstand and be lost because of our insufficient words.

Fear alone can’t make life meaningful. Living with fear is common and suffering its pains may eventually be what it takes to find joy in freedom–but there must be a catalyst to break fear’s grip. Without it, how would we ever know freedom?

Defeating the bully, the contagious virus of fear requires feeling it and facing it. First, accepting what it’s like living on the outside while everyone else looks happy and secure inside.

Everyone fears being the one left out.
Everyone fears being the one left out.

A friend of mine on YWG (where we talk about this stuff constantly), Tina, just posted a thought from a Ben Harper song, “living within our fear limits us to be only what our fear allows.”

It’s true. Fear’s been my jailer for years as well. I’ve feared being shunned, cast out by my conservative Christian community. Even now, I can hear people making the case for remaining in fear…

Another member, Elizabeth, said fear had been a taskmaster. In The War of Art, Pressfield personifies it as “Resistance.” Brene Brown teaches permission to be vulnerable with fellow broken humans, a secret to breaking fear’s strangling grip. And Julia Cameron has helped countless people realize “art is a spiritual transaction” through “The Artist’s Way,” on “Recovering Your Creative Self.”

My own journey out of fear has involved editing books that called me out of hiding as I read them slowly, and worked through them with the authors.

Today I see God gifting writers with words as tools of his creative work to say, “Come out. Your story matters. You don’t have to live blocked anymore. Live fully alive.” 

There’s this unfolding going on with us all. And if only we’d face the fact that we’re all in this together and going around and around on this big ball with the same fears that must be shed before we can be free, maybe we’d realize the opportunity before us all and be a bit more honored and excited for all God’s promised to bring when we come to him open handed.

Rilke: “But you take pleasure in the faces
Of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
Who grip you for survival…”

You, too, can write your response. You can make fear your launching pad today. You can take whatever you were given and fashion that into the bright wings to carry you soaring out over the glassy sea. And if it’s not your time to sail high and far, if it’s your destiny to plunge down yet again, then flap and just reach and feel the wind rushing, smell the air warming and the sharp chill of the water. And rock on the unfailing waves that will embrace you in foamy arms to shore.

And climb again tomorrow with your new wings.

rolling-wave

What If All We Need Is 5 Minutes?

This is an experiment for a class I’m teaching Feb 1: The inaugural 30-Day YWG Story Course at Facebook. Since I’m teaching it, I figured I’d try a taste of my own medicine…

Just 5 minutes together, uninterrupted, in succession.

It seems like a luxury. A luxury I shouldn’t crave and yearn for like homemade lemonade in the desert.

I have the lemons…

This kid gets it.
This kid gets it.

Lemon 1: Work. It’s all-consuming. Just to keep up with the bare minimum takes all I’ve got most days. And that’s not a complaint because I love what I do and if it wasn’t hard, I know I’d get bored. But it’s a lemon.

Lemon 2: Writing. The demand to give myself entirely to it, to escape into the ether with the fantasy I didn’t choose but was chosen by, it speaks and sometimes shouts, to the point where keeping my mind on the task of editing becomes herculean.

Lemon 3: Writer’s group. I manage and moderate a writer’s group site and struggle to keep up with the work load. It, like all the other lemons, is fun and among the most rewarding things I’ve ever been a part of. But, it’s demanding.

How many lemons does it take? Can someone tell me? Anyone...?
How many lemons does it take? Can someone tell me? Anyone…?

I’m not even going to list the other lemons. Because honestly, as it is, there’s a lot more than 3.

We all have a lot more lemons than we really want.

I was talking with a friend recently about this challenge of accepting everything that comes at us, much of it tough and pock-marked and sour-smelling. Naturally, being the spiritual paragons that we are, we gripe and resist and want to crow off the deck about how unfair and how we deserve and why can’t life send flowers?

Typical marmot.
Typical marmot.

And really the problem is time. Time to do it all. Time to spend 5 minutes uninterrupted, in succession on just one thing.

So to combat the continual theft of my time and sanity, I propose every day to write for at least 5 minutes on a topic that pleases me. Yesterday, it was “When All You Have Is 5 Minutes” and how that’s how life is, so you take it and find out it’s enough, because like with most things it turns you don’t really know anything.

I suspect I’m not the only one who doesn’t always use the 5 minutes he has to write because he thinks 5 minutes is a lemon…

The point is: who cares? So it’s a lemon. It’s not what we’d choose. But everyone gets lemons and life is about using the lemons you have. It’s about starting on the lemonade and serving as many people as you possibly can.

And that requires getting on the path and staying there for 5 blessed, uninterrupted minutes in succession.

And then doing it again tomorrow. Even when you don’t want to.

So have some lemonade. I whipped it up in 5 minutes from what I had available. Hope you like it. Can’t wait to taste yours.

What lemons are you currently scowling at?

The Writer’s Cross: Why Writers Need Community

It’s a crazy dark day, the kind we get in Portland in the winter where you have to keep the lights on in the house all day because of the thick gray haze blanketing the world.

It can get into your skin.

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So on this rainy day, I’m pondering about musings. And about how most things in life come down to who you are. What you do with the things life hands you.

Have you noticed?

Take this very post. This way of expressing it. It’s all learned, or more accurately, cobbled together—the language, the choppy sentence structure, the straightforward, hopeful-yet-artfully-detached tone that hopes you’ll read but not presume I care too much. It’s all been stitched into the patchwork I call my writing voice. And I’m just trying to use all I have.

Sure you’ve noticed: it’s those who seem to be using all they have in life that inspire us to be more, to do more. I’m no different. I’ve been impressed by those responding at full tilt to the impulses we recognize and feel but don’t always express so freely and fluently.

This is why a lot of us get into writing. Which is great and perfectly reasonable and good. I think the Inspirer takes what he can get.

But it isn’t long after getting “the call” a writer begins to realize what they’re in for.

And things start to get dark.

Waking Up Dead

Maybe the realization hits them the first night they stay up too late, the blackness outside turning a bluer tinge as they clack away on the keys, inspiration burning off all sense of time and space between them and the inner flash of light.

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They’re a bit nervous at first, but too excited to notice. That is until the kids get up and have to eat and be driven to school before the forty-seven-thousandth trip to the office where the day will really get underway. And the sharpness of the revelation will dissipate in a sour cup of weak coffee, and nodding off in the meeting, and the bothersome business of shuffling around with the other mortals assigned their related cases of self-imposed misery, equally ignorant that they’re the cause of their own lethargy and atrophy.

Scared? The word doesn’t begin to describe it.

How, they think. How am I going to get out of this hole I’m in? They look around at the papers and small office items and think about it—the big leap they know is coming. I should be more grateful to have a job, they think. But last night happened. And now it’s only too obvious they’re no longer their own.

Some voice has woken them up and the memory of it won’t let them go back to sleep.

So what do they do? What should a fresh-faced writer do when they realize they can’t deny the truth any longer? How will they find the strength and courage to commit to the work that will slurp up their margin time, not to mention their family time and sleep time as well?

How do writers remain faithful to the vision they were given?

The Persistent Question

I’ve thought long and hard about this question. As a kid in high-school, I thought the best thing to do was find a mentor, someone who could help me learn to speak the words I felt so strongly, so overpoweringly. My own call came sometime in my sophomore year, though it would be many years before I took it seriously enough to write anything real. In college, I thought books and knowledge would teach me the secret to writing longevity. I figured the books were themselves how other writers had stayed the course, the force of their singular brilliance compelling existence out of finite inevitability.

Like Gallagher.

gallagher

When I became an editor for WaterBrook of Random House, I hoped an intense publishing job would force diamonds out as I navigated acquisitions and profit and loss statements, and slush piles and pitches to the execs in the big boardroom.

And each step helped. But none brought what I needed most.

It wasn’t until breaking down again for the forty-seven-thousandth time that I realized what I was missing. What I’d always been missing. It wasn’t an unusual feeling, this ache of emptiness inside. I’d always attributed it to what Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I figured it was an inevitable burden, something given by God for me to carry. My writer’s cross.

But this time, crying out to God, I felt the slightest shift. I felt it change. It was something I knew as head knowledge but had never felt, like so much of my life in church I’d experienced through frosted glass windows, unaffected, unmoved. Something pierced my heart and I heard: This is what it feels like to be a writer alone.

And in my typical fashion, I resisted it. I protested. No, this isn’t that bad. People are suffering way worse than this feeling. What about those on the street or those trapped in sex slavery or the abandoned orphans who grow up never knowing a parents’ love? They’re far worse off.

And as usual God didn’t argue with me. But the feeling remained.

It felt like a kind of death. A knowledge of being cut off and nothing you can do about it. It’s a familiar feeling—we’re all ultimately alone and no one stops living for our death. It all goes on without us. But writers struggle to go places others don’t or haven’t yet, places others shun.

And this is why I believe the thing we writers need most is people. People who, like us, go to places others don’t. The places we’re compelled to go even when we don’t know why.

 

Carriers of Our Cross

We need the people who won’t ask questions. People who will simply nod, knowing it won’t be easy. But not people to try and talk us out of going.

People for whom such a thing would never enter their minds.

People who know we have to go. People who will carry us when we can’t get there ourselves.

Samwise knew.

There are some people who know something important lies that way, something not unnecessary, something difficult to define but no less real and terrifying. People who know no one can go for us. And we can’t go another way because the road is this way.

And we need these people because the normal, sane people, the people who value things like security and stability and maintaining a respectful distance from the unanswerable questions of life, they know we’ve got it all wrong. And they like telling us we should believe that more. It’s in their eyes if not their words.

They’d have us revoke our allegiances and accept the forced servitude and live safe behind the glass. They’d have us recant and abandon the cause, and give up the fight because isn’t it nicer just to live and accept the easier way? But we were born to write. 

We can argue all day if their way is the way of Jesus, the meek way of receiving the moderate blessings of a simple, quiet life. But if somebody says you can’t do something what are they saying but to squash God’s dream for you?

Maybe it’s them who don’t get it. Maybe for us, the way of Jesus is the way of the cross.

And without the community of like-minded explorers to pick us up when we stumble, to wipe our brows and understand our cause if not our destination, we would not make it.

The friends who’ll give up time, money, prestige and sleep so we can seek this strange, exciting adventure, these are the people who protect the dream and make new books live. And we owe them far more than we can ever repay.

Life, jobs, others will tell us to turn from this way. They say it’s not worth it.

But we will not turn. We are writers. We go the way others will not. And we will meet our fate together.

Have you thanked your community today?

 

God Doesn’t Want Your Book (Yet)

Is a book only as good as the feedback it receives? I've made this claim in my "benefits of membership" at my site, but I think this is one of those questions that’s really hard to answer definitively.

Can a book be written without receiving direct feedback? Of course. But will it be as good a book as it could be?

Doesn't it need the shaping of outside opinion in order to really shine?

I don’t know if it’s possible to live in a vacuum. I’ve never done it. And I’ve never seen a book without at least some outside influence. But I’ve seen plenty without enough. And they’re usually not very well presented. They lack perspective. The author simply doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. And so he writes the best he can and thinks he’s done. And then maybe he publishes it and people read it.

And it doesn’t sell much. And that's because it doesn't do much.

Sure, some people may like the story and even be influenced by it. Maybe some even say they really connected with it and like how personal it felt and it helped them see their lives more clearly.

That's the rare book that can do that without any help.

Publishing a book without having a long acknowledgments page is premature. When you have a full acknowledgements page, then you're ready to publish. We all need a lot of help—both before and after the writing—if for no other reason than that if it was up to us, we'd always sell the vision short.

And largely because we can't see it. That likely isn't our fault. We don't realize how important our stories truly are. We can’t see how much the vision is worth. Or how drastically it could change us in the process if we allowed it to be influenced and shaped by other trustworthy mentors and confidants.

How many people are told that they are the primary reason God gave them the vision for the book in the first place? I believe some writers never hear that, the truth that could make all the difference in their work and lives, because they didn't seek trustworthy opinions about the vision. And that's what I'd give my entire collection of books on writing to put a stop to, once and for all.

The truth is, despite all the misinformation and well-meaning speculation, God gives endless inspiration to those who will receive it, and it's always first and foremost for the recipient (Exhibit A: 1 Samuel 3). And maybe sometimes it’s not for others at all! But so many well-intentioned people have this notion that God only loves us for what we do, and if we’re writers or we're in creative work, then that must mean we'll be more loved if we "submit" to sharing it.

And that is simply garbage.

Is it time you took out the garbage? What vision have you received? Do you believe that message is for you? Hold that thought. Don't do anything with it yet. Don't even think about sharing that vision until you've let it clean you up a bit. It's taken me 10 years of writing my novel for me to realize this: love is not dependent on anything but our bold, guilt-free acceptance.

Forget what may or may not happen later. God doesn’t want your book (yet).

He wants all of your heart.

And for no other reason than because that's all you really have to give.* 

 

*Oh, and he also gave you that heart. Hold that thought too.

Editor to Author: Letter to a Memoir Writer

Dearest Author,

I've been thinking about worth lately.

What's your story worth?

At a recent writers conference I taught a workshop on how I saw publishing changing. Modern publishing, the only time in history when we've had separate "markets" for books, has begun to fracture and redistribute. I've shared several times about how The Shack has shifted things. It isn't just a book, of course, it's a bridge. And those bridges are inevitable because it isn't only spiritual people or Christians who recognize God as creator.  

Blue Like Jazz came well before it and created connections between the Christian and secular markets. Lauren Winner's memoir Girl Meets God made some connection points before that, similar to how Eat, Pray, Love did more recently, from the other side of the spiritual divide. Several spiritual/worldly, secular/sacred books have become best-sellers as bridges in the long history of such books since the beginning of print, and some people have traced this line back to the best-selling book of all time: The Bible.

The Secret. The Purpose-Driven Life. The Alchemist. The Celestine Prophesy. The Late Great Planet Earth. Pilgrim's Progress. Books you've never heard of have sold over 30 million copies: Steps to Christ by Ellen White, In His Steps by Charles Sheldon, late-19th century Congregational minister and advocate of the ever-intriguing idea of "Christian socialism." Even Nikolai Tesla wrote about his life a true spiritual man and world-renouned scientist in My Inventions. The Canterbury Tales, The Odyssey, and The Divine Comedy by Dante, written in 1304, has "sold" more than anyone knows and we have no idea how it or any of these books have changed readers and the history of spiritual thought, becoming seeds for the trees of countless theologies.

But of course, we know this is what books are–seeds. And this is what they do: define life and defy death.

"So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee."

So this story that's a part of you, that is you, that defines your work and all of your effort and sacrifices to share it completely (or as completely as possible) for others to use–what's it really worth?

Don't answer. You can't. Simply try to see the fullness of the question clearly. Continue on…

Do you know where your worth is really found?

Yes, in God's ownership of the life and love he's created you to embody (1 John 4:7-12). His ownership, creating, protecting, guiding and infusing of his great, unchanging spirit into us. He dies that we might live (parents always understand this principle). And we die that others might live through our sacrifices. This is the daily work of writing.

Do you know what that is really worth?

Intimately known and held, seen and heard and helped in every way, this knowledge is invaluable, isn't it? We can talk of worth and value, and shift our understanding of that from copies sold to readers influenced, but it's the knowledge a reader will have by the end of your story that makes what you're doing truly valuable. And this understanding of how God fills us and dies for us is the greatest wisdom, the most valuable in the world. And if you are practicing that, that makes what you're doing invaluable.

I want to give you, as a witness of your discovery of that unchanging love, my invaluable opinion on it, my affirmation that you've been seen and heard and that what you've written down is completely worthy. And with your assurance that it's been well established and others will see it and respond, you can continue, knowing it's incredible and invaluable. 

So do you see what your story is really worth?

Because there's no true price tag you can put on it. There's no proper estimating the value of my work, my seeing it, or others' receiving it either. It's in-valuable. We have to simply trust together that whatever comes of it is just a small piece of its fullest value as a seed for God to use, and not at all connected to the worth of what you've written, or what I've done to help. I know you've sacrificed and given for your story, and I've been brought into the processing of it, but regardless of how it will be published and the realities of our modern marketplace, you must know:

What's your story really worth?

I remain your solid co-laborer in the process of delivering these invaluable words. Never assign its worth to money, public perception, publication, or anything else. Your heart is here, and that's established and it's something you have written definitively, and just as we have agreed together at the outset here, others will when they read it.

We don't know how it will all play out. But I'm on your side and not looking for specific outcomes big or small. Don't think in terms of what's "fair," but decide you will pay with your life what's necessary to give to this project. What you give is directly proportional to what that seed will be able to produce in readers. And in terms of return and profit, I believe Cohelo is right: the universe will conspire in our favor.

So what's your story really worth?

 

Your Loving Editor,

Mick