Tag Archives: writing

Letter to an Anonymous Author

“I am a writer. Therefore, I am not sane.”

― Edgar Allan Poe

Dear X,

I appreciated your note, my friend. And I’m grateful for it.

I’ve seen your struggle and I know how hard you’re working to progress and capture everything well, and also accept help. I knew your journey would be a special challenge, and while your issues and the resistance you’ve encountered is unique to you, I find (and I’d think your agent would agree) that resistance is also the most common thing about working on books.

Writers be farking crazy.

I know because I am one, first and foremost. To create a cohesive, authentic story out of your own life experience you have to dig into old emotions and memories and that’s like poking a sleeping dragon. Either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.

Your memories and inner struggles are unique to you, but every writer who dares this work finds that monster in the mirror and has to face it. You’re not alone in that–far from it. I see it over and over again, and it’s part of what drives me to study counseling and psychotherapy.

But my primary motive in all of this is understanding my own issues and my own resistance to progress, to change, and to accepting help for my struggles. I want to learn how to be better, and like you, I’m drawn by something bigger and higher than myself pulling me out and convincing me I’m okay and I can let go of my fear and protectiveness. As I read, my heart says, Yes, that’s true for me too, and I listen to that voice and he shows me where we need to go–to help you, yes, but mostly to help myself.

Early on, I know you didn’t want to accept any changes from me. The less I did, the happier you were. So I stuck to cleaning up the “verbal diarrhea” and made sure the digressions didn’t feel too distracting. I told myself that was enough and your freedom was more important than being succinct and focused.

After rereading it now, I stand by that. It’s conversational, inviting, and down-to-earth, just as you are and I don’t want to change that anymore. You were right to push back against my “literary sensibilities,” and I’m glad you did. I think readers will appreciate your honesty, sincerity, and personable style–just like they do in your other writing.

I’ll let sharper minds than mine decide whether we can trim any further–while there’s always more tightening that can be done, every book has an irreducible flow as well. As I said, I don’t think I’m objective enough to know whether we’re hitting that in every spot, but I can hear you speaking the lines in my head and that convinces me we’ve captured your essential style. I’m not worried at all about the length–never have been. It’s long and I want to let others know we’re aware of that and we don’t think it’s a problem. It’s a work of beauty just the way it is.

I’m sorry for the times I haven’t understood your vision and for pushing you at times beyond what was reasonable. You and your book are a work of exquisite art balanced between extreme contrasts, and like all beautiful works of art, you and your book are symbolic of the creator from which you spring, one-of-a-kind as anything. I appreciate you and your book as such wonders.

Thanks for sticking with it and being true to yourself–you teach me tons, and I’m so thankful to get to work with you.

(Don’t think this means I’m going easy on you if we get another shot at this. The struggle is inevitable and inextricable. And fears be danged, that’s for good, not bad.)

Looking forward to the rest of the journey.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Who Owns This Story Anyway? 

Let us build for the years we shall not see.
– Sir Henry John Newbold

I saw it in her eyes first, what I expected to see.

That flash.

“No, Dad. That’s wrong.”


Of course, I can’t blame her. I’d told the story “right” as many times as any story I’ve ever told. And I probably should have written this story down at some point, since it’s such a crowd-pleaser, the way they beg for the telling. Our own little version of Arabian Nights.

But this night, I’m telling it wrong.

“That’s not how it goes,” Charlotte insists, because of course, she has heard this one plenty of times. And this is definitely not the way it went last time. For some reason, I changed it up, and maybe this is why I don’t want to write it down. It’s more fun to think I can change it if I get a streak of creative inspiration. But this will not fly.

“The princess isn’t supposed to remember her name until after the goblins capture her,” Ellie says, trying to be helpful.

“Who’s telling this story?” I ask. I mean to make a signficant change to the familiar tale tonight, one that’s far better than the old familiar draft.

But they don’t want my brilliant revisions. They want the story they know. Apparently, they own this story or something.

I satisfy them and stick to the familiar version with the princess learning her name deep in the goblin mine when she meets her sister and she remembers who she is. Then the king comes and saves them and they ride away to happily ever after.

But at the end, after I tuck them in, I realize it’s not over. There’s more to this story, and they’ve helped me realize it tonight. Something from the sermon on Sunday connects with the story, or the act of telling it, and I need to capture the thought before I forget.

In a way, we’re all like Charlotte, certain we know how this story is supposed to go. Our security and happiness is wrapped up in it going the way we expect it to go, and in our minds, if it does, we will be safe and secure. We think we know what’s best because we’ve got some insight about what will be satisfying.

But we don’t realize that we don’t control the story. And if we were willing to trust the Storyteller, we would realize we don’t actually want to. Unfortunately, all we know is that the story was supposed to go differently, so we want it to go how we expected. So we try to convince the Storyteller we have the better idea, and we don’t realize what greater things we could learn to appreciate.

It seems the more I write, the more I learn to trust the Storyteller. There is much to intentionally control about writing and increase my capacity to hold many ideas and skills. But unless I want it to be the same old familiar story, I’ve got to believe there’s more than what I can bring to this, and I have to trust the Storyteller whose ideas and skills far outstrip mine.

Emily Freeman, in her book, A Million Little Ways, tells of her children planting apple seeds and getting impatient for the seeds to sprout.

“Aren’t we all seven years old, wanting our apple trees to give shade and fruit and wanting it yesterday? We kneel at the altar of our desire to see change now, to move things along, to push open doors. We have uncovered the art we were born to make and want to release the art we were made to live. We ignore the voice of fear and insecurity and are ready to move into our small world alive and awake.

“Yet there seems to be only silence. We don’t want to wait. And so because we can’t see results, we decide it isn’t working….

“Be faithful to plant. Release the growing to God. open up clenched fists and let the seeds drop into the ground, let them burrow down deep and do their secret work in the dark.

“Sacred shaping happens in the waiting.”

I simply have to believe that his greater story is what I truly want, and learn to be patient and listen.

I pray, kiss them, and head downstairs. I force myself to go slow, taking time at the landing to appreciate the feel of the carpet beneath my feet, the solid railing, the fading light coaxing a glow out of the freshly-painted wall.

I’ve got something new to add to the story. For too long, I’ve acted as though the story was my own, and far too often that’s been why it felt small and unsatisfying. Was it ever mine?

It could be such a fantastic story if I’d just let it change, open my hand and accept the freedom of not owning it, not being the one responsible for making it interesting or exciting or even work. The great news is that I’m not in control. It’s not mine to write. I was given a chance to see it and tell it, but I’m only an instrument, a seed-planter.

He’s telling the story. He makes it grow. My work is continually putting the story, my life, back in his hands.

Even if the story ends up nothing like the one I expected, do I still believe the king will save me? Is it too hard to believe because things look dark? Maybe that’s what makes the story such a good one. Who’s the real hero here?

Can I learn to trust and wait? Here is where I poured my hope and where I’ll wait for it to grow. A writer is like a farmer and our lives are like our stories that we’re given to share, but they aren’t ours. They’re being written. We see only the part that’s been revealed so far, but there’s so much more and it’s the king’s to complete. He is the only Storyteller who can give it life.

Trust him to do it.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 

For the higher purpose,

Mick

How We May Finally Recover Ourselves

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

– T. S. Eliot

 

The life of faith is a rescue mission, I thought, listening to our pastor preach on the woman at the well in yesterday’s sermon.

He explained how she wasn’t necessarily promiscuous, since marriage was more a matter of survival in those days, and men could often die early. Her excitement in running to share with her neighbors isn’t likely to have come from being shamed by Jesus for having five husbands, but probably from having her pain and fear so clearly understood.

The living water Jesus really offered, I thought, is the recovery of our life.

As I sat in church yesterday furiously taking notes, it felt like one of those holy download moments where you just know you’re getting a peek through the curtain at the secret to life. I’ve had these a few times in life and they always seem to come at very inconvenient moments. This time, at least I wasn’t driving or in the middle of conversation. And these good, older Presbyterians would probably forgive me for being disrespectful and taking out my phone to capture the thought during the sermon.

I thought about the book I have to finish before I go on vacation next week, a book that’s all about recovering our lost self, the purer one undiminished by so much fear and pain. And I realized that’s the core idea that has made The Shack so successful as well. And really, One Thousand Giftsand How We Loveand so many of my favorite memoirs, novels, and nonfiction guides too:

They’re all rescue missions about a person in search of a thing we’ve all lost along the way.

It was a revelatory moment! Are most books at their heart about this very thing? I wondered.

When I got home, I picked up another book, A Faith of Our Own by Jonathan Merritt. He begins by sharing a quote from Goethe’s Faust:

“That which you have received as heritage, now rediscover for yourself and thus you will make it your own.”

Okay. I think I got it, God. Paying attention now.

You know those times when you sense everything has been leading up to this moment? Yeah. It was one of those times. Jonathan wrote that this is the journey his faith has taken. I think, This is the journey I’ve taken as well….

And maybe it isn’t just with faith and with books. I start to realize I’ve also experienced this same sense of recovery with Sheri, my wife, falling in love and feeling known and somehow re-connected because of her. And it was like that with my first love, writing, too.

Could it be? In love, in faith, in art, in writing, in life the goal may not necessarily be to become ourselves more, but to recover ourselves more?

And in doing so, maybe we do become more ourselves. But in faith, in romance, and in writing–that is to say, the three most influential things in my life right now–the fire may be less in discovering what I never knew and much more in rediscovering what’s been lost.

It’s the resonance–a connection struck with something buried or forgotten–that draws, woos, and delights us. Something inside longs to reconnect with a spirit that is somehow not us but beyond us, some vestige of a place we’ve seen before–even lived in–but hardly remember in everyday life.

We’re seeking to recover that sense of home.

Don’t we all seek this same recovery of home, of unity with ourselves, with God? Like Nicodemus, we’re confused, frustrated by the difficulty: how does one return to the womb?

Jesus said we’re to become as little children again. Similarly, Julia Cameron’s world-famous training for artists and writers, The Artist’s Way, originally described the work as:  “A Guide to Recovering the Creative Self.”  And anyone in love knows the sensation is like something in you feels known, reunited with itself again.

Recovering is the real work of this journey. 

There’s this great word: agency. It’s the capacity to exert power, and it’s used to express the amount of power someone has to help themselves. I believe a lack of agency is the biggest reason most people suffer, and the most misunderstood concept by those who have it. It’s easy to forget others don’t have much agency when we do. When we have it, we tend to think others around us do too. And we’re prone to judge and think they should just use their agency to improve their situation. But if it were that easy, simply exerting power, wouldn’t more people be doing it already?

Maybe higher purpose writers seek the recovery of agency because we’re acutely aware of this universal ambition to recover what’s been lost. Maybe we’ve felt that fear of losing what matters most to us. Maybe we fear we’ve even lost it. Certainly we know others have. And we’ve experienced the thrill of remembering and recovering personal agency from another writer who saw into our deepest heart and spoke hope, comfort, and we recovered our determination.

Accepting others instead of excluding them is the message of Jesus to everyone he encounters. Think of it. Who are you excluding?

Don’t you feel that longing to be reunited with them, free of any exclusion?

Before you write today, close your eyes and imagine them being inspired to go on and write books to inspire others to recover their capacity to exert power over their situations, a power drawn from the Source of Love so great that He gives His power to anyone who asks.

Especially those who feel too lost to be recovered….

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Why You Can Never Fail

I need a story about failure,” I said to Sheri and the girls as we sat down to a Saturday night dinner of take-out pizza.

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“Surely you can help me think of something,” I added, laughing. “Should be plenty of material.” 

But whether they knew something they didn’t want to share, or couldn’t think of anything, no one had an answer. Apparently, I’d also failed to show my appropriate glee in being a miserable failure.

“I once got an F in Old Testament in college,” Sheri offered. “Or maybe it was a D. It felt like an F.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Old Testament was crazy hard.” 

“I once got a B in science,” Ellie added. “Mrs. Sutton’s class in fifth grade. I totally deserved it, but I was devastated.”

“Really?” I hadn’t realized. “Did you mention it and I just forgot?”

“I don’t know.” Her hand paused on her pizza. “I only ever got A’s, until that.”

We’ve lived together every day of her life, but how little I really know about her. Is this my failure to ask about her days? Or maybe to truly listen? It could be she just failed to tell me about it. But even so, maybe she believed I’d fail to offer comfort. “It’s fine,” I could hear myself saying. “A ‘B’ is still pretty good….” 

Whatever the case, I had my answer. My parenting is often so incredibly inadequate. And the fact that my daughters and wife wouldn’t say so directly may only be more proof. 

164819_494124054563_777394563_5801658_7068250_nAnd I’m not just being ungracious to myself here. If I were to open the floodgates and start sharing all the ways I fail constantly–to be who I truly am, the more selfless and giving me–wouldn’t I truly connect more?

Isn’t that what relating really means—to relate your truest stories of your inadequate self that could help someone else relate?

It looks like a giant opportunity stretching out before me, a big, bold solution to several fundamental struggles I have. I always want to accomplish a lot and have big impact, but no matter how much I get done, I end up feeling like a failure, a “dad by default,” a distracted, disorganized, disappointment of a dud. It might take me a few lifetimes to replace this bad habit with a good one, to wake every day and remember that whether I can do everything I feel called to that day or not, sharing my authentic self is the real goal. 

I’ve needed to remember this, to look beyond what I do or don’t accomplish, to the awareness of how I’m doing at noticing, being, and sharing me. 

Because here’s what I know: the big things we want to do aren’t the point. Family and friends are the real point of life. And we can’t help wanting to do more and be more than we are. But to do that, we need to start getting some better mileage out of our failures.

IMG_0616Isn’t this the vulnerability Brene Brown and others have talked so much about? We all want to do such big things and have such great impact, but why aren’t we more honest about our shortcomings? Why don’t we shed our inhibitions and share what we’re bad at, where we struggle, and even our discomfort over appearing inept?

Of course, because of judgment. We’ve been wounded and we took those voices in and let them chastise us relentlessly. And that shaming formed us, formed our self-image to a large extent.

On top of that, as Christians we hear “die to self,” and “the heart is wicked above all else,” and “put aside selfish desires.” And we can struggle for years trying to believe all the Bible memorization and church attendance and prayers and journaling should help.

And why can’t we “Just. Get. Over. It. Already?!”

Everyone else is more resilient than we are, more determined to press on, more spiritual. We’re just failures. And we’re right to be ashamed.

We take all of this in and dwell on it to no end. It’s right and good to care what others think and we never realize this entire foundation is made of sand. 

We could let it all crumble and rebuild on rock. This inner torment could be discarded and we’d be free.

We’ve hidden our feelings and true personalities from this bully God, the one who’s so disappointed in us he can hardly bear to hold on and offer us this supposed “free grace and forgiveness.”

He’s only doing it because he has to. 

We all believe this in our deepest hearts. How could we ever accept that we’re failures? Our deepest fear broadcast and spread far and wide? Come to full life on the big screen for everyone to see?

Are you kidding me?

No one needs to know the pain and suffering we’ve endured. We’re so tired of feeling like failures all the time….

IMG_0763To let that all go and embrace our inadequacy we’d have to accept our deepest fear: our shame. Sharing our stories of failure could be our greatest opportunity to connect, but to do that we’d have to accept and come to believe it’s important to be vulnerable.

And that can seem downright impossible.

I was Ellie’s age when I realized my worst accusers were inside of me. I didn’t want others to see I was afraid of failing, so I held back and tried to stay hidden. Insecurity became my foundation.

But failure isn’t what we think it is. Failure doesn’t kill you. And sharing your failure with others makes them feel better. And that makes you feel better. In fact, when you fail and share it, it can be success. Failure connects us because we’re all inadequate. And we all feel shame about it. But real connection is what we really want deep down, so we have to stop protecting ourselves and yes, “die to self.”

Give up our shields and trade them for true resilience.

We forget that if we couldn’t be embarrassed, couldn’t be shamed, couldn’t be knocked off our high horse because we’re already vulnerable down on the ground,  we wouldn’t need to self-protect.

Upholding appearances is what prevents us from feeling good and successful in our lives, not failing to accomplish the big things we have planned. But our hyper-driven, happiness-worshiping culture keeps us distracted with supposed “free,” guiltless, nutrition-less, connection-substitutes to consume today—we’re “amusing ourselves to death” in binge-watching and window-shopping. The theaters have been full and the churches empty for a long time now.

All our apps and video games and prepackaged foods full of wish-fulfillment fantasies won’t free us. The endless parade of addictive modern fripperies will only make us more inadequate.

We’ve forgotten what healthy connectedness requires. We aren’t the center of the universe. And we need to struggle if we’re to learn anything at all.

I looked at my girls eating happily and said, “Embracing failure can ironically become a new place to succeed.” I tried to explain, but I knew I’d probably fail to convey the full idea.

But it didn’t matter anymore. I could try again. Failure was all I needed to get what I really wanted.

Want to stop being afraid of feeling like a failure? Want to escape the demands of your over-scheduled, under-nourished life? Want freedom? 

Accept your inadequacy and remember who is sovereign. Your failure is not the end of the story–it’s the beginning.

And every experience of failure is a connection story waiting to be shared.

No we don’t have to be achievers or successful or hold these perfect images together. We just have to give up that substitute happiness and our addiction to the numbing, feel-good drug, face the truth, and see that we’re all vulnerable. And we’re all failures. And that’s a very good thing.

We all want to connect and escape shame. And we all have failure stories. Sharing them is how we will succeed.

Do you know someone who could use this freedom? Will you share it with them? And in the process, you’ll remind yourself: this is how we succeed, by sharing our honest stories and connecting. 

And when you do, you may find that you can never fail because every failure is another way to succeed.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Writing into the Light

Like most who pursue this creative life, while writing I’m more dependent on the daily requirements of my existence than I like to admit.

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And like most, I’m terrified of losing my routine. The little habits I’ve grown addicted to, of waking and showering and reading, preparing and preserving the ideas and energy for the page, they’ve grown to encompass more of the real world I’m forced to face every day. And it worries me, but the less life demands, the less I have to fight to escape into the lucid dream of my story world.

In the realer world, the one beyond the physical, no mere intellect serves. A writer can visit this world and translate its whisperings as “fiction,” yet the language there is a weirdly enveloping experience. At times, I’ve known only heaven could provide such inspiration so dissimilar to my waking reality, even though it’s like nothing I’ve read in a Bible or heard in church. I can’t claim to know the place even partially—it’s a world I’ve only imagined and barely described with words.

But it exists as surely as I do. And no sanctuary in my experience has been holier.

As I write, I go to this place and my hope is to convey my visits. When I’m not writing, it always waits for me to wake up to it, hoping I’ll remember as I go about my daily business. At times the longing for it grows so strong, I go to write and wake up there, as though I’d never left. Yet eventually, bleary-eyed and squinting, I’m again forced to emerge from the vacuum chamber of a story, to re-acclimate to this dimmer, more tangible place. Sometimes I resist returning, but I always give in, to remain available to my wife, family and the many other things I love.

But as Erasmus said, the desire to write grows with writing.

164819_494124054563_777394563_5801658_7068250_nIf that world didn’t exist, I wouldn’t want to write, for this realer dream is a treasure room of such glorious beauty, and writing of it is how I bring some shining thing back to share, even a tiny spark to inspire others before it disappears and we all have to go about our busy lives once again.

Isn’t it our truest job to allow this attraction to be our strongest longing–at least for a few fleeting moments? Like any obsession, the more invested I am in seeking it, the more I want it.

I know I can’t simply stay in that wonderful place forever. For one thing, I’m always alone there. And it’s fearsome at times and I know I have to come back and share my struggle so other will know it’s normal to be afraid at times and weary, torn between this dingy earth and the mysterious one inside—however alive it makes us feel.

Maybe that conflict is part of the beauty itself: that inescapable pull between life here and life there is the basis of the inspiration born of that stark contrast and endless battle to see and feel it. Maybe this strain we feel between our worlds is what made us creators in the first place, the seekers of wonders known so far only to the original Creator. And either we fight to face the challenge to see all we can and render it faithfully—or we work to forget there’s anything there.

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I’ve spent years of study and practice and no one told me about this place. Most haven’t believed in it, or I assumed they didn’t. Others act like it should be an easy matter to find out whatever this world beyond is. But nothing about this struggle to believe is ever easy. To conquer the fear of wasting your time, or of escaping familiar life, that commitment must be new every day. It’s only when I’m seeking the clues of that greater world that the importance of my calling becomes clear, the true gravity of my simple, tiny life.

Because what actually is this place? Isn’t it merely these continually growing and waning flashes of insight, these expansive and microscopic moments birthed by writing into the blank space, and filling it with all my paltry-but-full-of-hope words, tinged by light but tarnished by my clumsy hands? I trade my body and mind for a spirit always more awake than I, and I keep on until all that remains outside melts away and my life grows quiet around me and my inner senses grow stronger. And then I know I’m there and here, at once.

And always, just beyond that bend ahead, my Maker beckons preparing me for when the moment is finally right. I’ll press forward, always sensing the fragility, only a thin string of words left to share until there’s no longer anything stopping me from escaping for that last time…

And then I’ll only be there,

Forever.

For the Higher Purpose,

Mick