Tag Archives: writing inspiration

When You Finally Know Your Why – What Do You Do Next?

​”A great many Christian workers worship their work….There is no responsibility on you for the work; the only responsibility you have is to keep in living constant touch with God…” 
– Oswald Chambers,
My Utmost, April 23, “The Worship of the Work”

This was one of the fastest posts I ever wrote. Sometimes it comes out this fast because the thing that blocked it is suddenly removed. When I first wrote this, I’d just listened to about 30 book pitches at Mount Hermon, and given the opening talk the previous afternoon, a thought based on a blog post on “writing for one master.”

I always have an amazing time at the Mt. Hermon Christian writers conference. And much of the reason is that it’s always a thrill to connect with old and new writer friends. I’ve written about the essential value of writing friends a lot. But for a week every year over Palm Sunday, I get to receive from and retreat with a whole group of fellow frazzled faithful freaks all at once. And it is always such an amazing time.

If you were ever misunderstood in your life, or felt alone and unimportant to those around you, or if people  put you in a box, or you learned to protect yourself out of necessity, or spent years hoping someone would see you but secretly hoping they’d only see what you wanted them to see, and you’ve struggled to speak in your real voice…then you know what makes this conference so special. That’s the same stuff literally thousands of writers are coming to terms with and finding out they’re allowed to feel and reveal and then deal with so we can heal from it together, and finally become real together in a safe place of grace.

Now you want to come, and I would advise you do. Move heaven and earth to save up and make it happen because it’s not just about the books deals that happen there or even ultimately the professional craft that gets established, but the community of like-minded believers relating together–both sharing their stories and finding connection in deeply personal, universal identification with each other. 

Content, craft, and community are what every writer needs to learn to navigate, and all those things get unpacked, shaped, and embraced in the essential freedom of knowing there’s a big community waking up to God through pursuing the work alongside you.

The path of freedom for Christian writers is always found in seeking God through his always surprising process of inviting you toward the higher purpose, in wonderfully diverse unity together.

But as special as it is, this isn’t about the conference, or the great week I always have there, or even seeing and celebrating the amazing fruit of so many people’s life-investment come to greater fullness.

And the reason this post came so fast the first time is because I’ve finally seen it enough times to believe and know in my heart that God will use anything and everything to draw the world to Himself. That isn’t up to us. But also it is. We are given dominion and ownership over our small part, to cooperate in the work for His higher purposes.

Years have passed and some people leave and are lost to me. But many come back and my heart swells with pride and gratitude to see them still plugging away at this work for the higher purpose. They take what I and others have sown and use it to grow. And I see I’ve had a hand in some amazing stories all because God drew me to seek the joy of refining words for books, and loving the process and the people who pursue them.

Those people are my people, His people. They’re constantly taking their call and calling to others to be connectors in their circles and learning to look beyond the struggle and the pain to all the stories that point to His story endlessly reiterating in reflected refrains throughout time.

That story of what God is doing to unite us and draw all things to himself, it will never end.

My amazing “boost clinic” crew from 2018

So to all my old and new writer friends, know the dream is alive, and can never die. And wherever you are in the process, until we meet again…

Go light your world….

“The thing which is, but is not named, cannot be known. If you have no word for it, you can’t talk about it or think on it or consider it or meditate upon it…To name a thing (as art does) is to clothe it in visibility. To name a thing is to make it knowable.” 
Walter Wangerin, Beate Not the Poore Desk

Forever, for the Higher Purpose,

Mick

 

Don’t Sit Down in the Woods

“Every writer who’s finished has taken the axe into the woods and carved out their path where there seemed to be none before. They broke through their blocked way swinging word after word after word.”

It’s 2018. Are you ready? If you’ve set yourself a goal to finish that book, above all, you’re going to need stamina. You’re going to meet several new characters, and all will have challenges for you.

But don’t stop. Not until you’ve finished the first draft.

You’ll doubt your map, of course. But you learn what you’re writing by writing. You learn how to write by writing. Clear writing is rewriting, but that’s not your concern yet. Everyone who sets out questions the wisdom of plowing ahead when you know so little of what’s coming. But don’t stop. And never back up to revise or allow yourself to be tempted into “just fixing the setup,” etc. Fix it later. Right now, there’s only forward.

You figure out what you have to say by writing. If you’re writing to an outline, as you should be, you’ll think of something you need to add to or cut from what you’ve already written. Fine. Jot a note to adjust the next draft, and proceed as though it’s done. Because it will get done. But only if you keep moving forward now.

If only you knew what a great hope can wash over you seeing the things you’ve dreamed begin to pop out and come into reality.

And if halfway through, you suddenly discover this book is really about Z, and not X or Y, congratulations! You’ve struck gold. But don’t stop. Write as though it’s been about Z all along. Because it will be. If you don’t stop.

And do not give in to the temptation to share your first draft with anyone, even sweet old Grannie. If you get feedback too early, it will trick you into second-guessing and you’ll get lost, which greatly improves your chances of becoming one of the millions who never finish their book(s).

Take this to heart: if you get feedback this early, you’ll only wonder why you didn’t see what they saw and maybe that means you don’t know what you’re doing and you’ll start to believe you can’t do it. Take it from a guy who knows a bit about letting an editor see it too soon: if you stop before you finish the first draft, for any reason, your fatigue will catch up to you and you’ll wonder why you should keep on.

The excuses a tired mind can give for stopping are myriad. You’ll suddenly remember all the times you’ve stalled out before and all the unfulfilled hopes strewn along the path behind you will prove your faint hope was futile, you really don’t know what you’re doing at all, and it’s not going to work this time either.

You hear the lie, don’t you?

But you’re here now and you can kill it.

Just keep on. Keep the words as they are for now, as they’ve come to you, and appreciate all the hard work and truth-sleuthing it took to write it. And then keep on.

Every day you push forward is another to celebrate finishing a chapter. Even a small clutch of words can be a huge step forward, not just in getting the book done and finally out, but in becoming and owning all you’ve captured.

There will be time for another draft when you’re done. And once you reach the end, it will be much clearer what needs to happen next.

FTHP,

mick

 

If You’ll Accept the Struggle

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

– Rumi

Writing is hard–for so many reasons. Is it worth the effort?

I get so many manuscripts from new writers asking me if it’s worth the effort to invest in. I used to try to convince them, but I don’t anymore. Instead, I turn the question around, the way I feel God has done in my life whenever I’ve asked him that question (and I’ve asked it a lot):

Can you accept the struggle?

We’ve all committed ourselves to things that haven’t ended up worth the effort. But it may be that just asking the question proves it could be worth the effort to commit and fight for–if only we’ll accept the struggle.

Maybe it’s always true–sometimes the results won’t be what you’d hoped, but the struggle will always produce positive benefits if you commit to embrace the struggle itself wholeheartedly.

And that’s a bit different than embracing the hope of a positive result, or some specific outcome. And it’s going to be difficult to do. Because a good embrace always involves being grateful.

Being grateful is open-handed, receptive, nonresistant. And only from that place can our art respond to what’s truly relevant about a subject, a theme, a story.

Why does it take such effort? Dang, I wish I knew! But my guess is exertion is just what life requires; effort is where life happens.

And I had it confirmed again recently: it’s struggle that creates the best fruit.

Did you know good grapes come from stressed vines? I learned this from a winemaker. Stressed vines give good fruit, and if the vines have too much water and not enough heat, they won’t produce fruit. They don’t have to struggle to hold on to their water, which makes them not work on creating fruit. Why? Because life requires exertion, I guess.

When he said it, I thought of how baby chicks have to struggle to peck out of their egg or they’ll be prone to “failure-to-thrive” syndrome. How many natural examples of this required exertion are there? Thousands? Millions?

It was just more support for the theory I’ve been slowly coming to: if you want to move forward in your writing, you’ve got to challenge yourself to be grateful for the struggle itself. Maybe that means we’ve got to think more intentionally about the purpose of struggle, and the benefits it brings to our life. And maybe that will convince us instead of trying to defeat it, resist it, run from it, or ignore it, we need to seek out deeper appreciation for it as an essential tool–and a gift.

Instead of defaulting to complaining and looking at the pain of struggle, maybe we can look further. We know pain lies to our brains and says fighting isn’t worth suffering. But there’s so much that is worth suffering for. More than avoiding pain, there’s experiencing joy.

You can’t avoid pain anyway. Life will bring it no matter what. You can’t choose not to experience it–might as well make it good for something and choose to be grateful for the struggle.

And the benefit for making that effort will be good fruit.

Maybe anything less is a waste of time.

I think my earlier mistake was thinking this effort had to be so serious and heavy. It felt hard and not widely appreciated, so I’d push and try to force myself to invite pain through willpower. But in fact, not letting the struggle steal your sense of fun seems much of the point.

Maybe joyless effort was inevitable for me, part of my journey. But I’ve found when you do find gratitude for the hard things you’re up against, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to preserve joy. You’ll see that opposition and resistance isn’t hateful—it doesn’t care. And you taking personal offense as though you’re too special to have to experience this pain, that’s you caring way too much. So you can help yourself out and stop wasting your energy. 

Let yourself off the hook for misunderstanding and taking offense. It’s the most natural thing in the world to resist and get angry. But you can break that habit with a little effort. Yes, you can.

Ask me how I know.

And you’ll be released from having to fight so hard. You can understand that your natural response is unhelpful and unneeded. Don’t curse your nature—just let it go. It can have its uses, just not here.

Struggle, pain, and suffering are inevitable. Don’t be afraid. And don’t waste them.  

“The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference.”
Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Pursuing Conflict

This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: Must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple, “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and lightest hour must be a sign of this urge and testimony to it.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The moment has stayed encased in glass since I was probably 15 or 16.

I don’t even remember what caused the argument. I’ve kept the memory in the dark, cocooned since the day I saw the blind fury in my brother’s eyes. His full mighty pain slashed out and what I saw behind his mask of rage hurt more than anything. Confusion. Neither of us knew anything of dealing with explosive feelings—even of the common kind—fear, inferiority and shame.

Where had it come from? And why think of it now?

cave mouth

I sit here in this time warp thinking back to the family room fight I can barely remember, but I recall how terrified I was and how hot tears sprang from my eyes. Growing up, we’d had plenty of fights, but this was different, lethal. I wept for him, for his future family, what I feared would be much more suffering. I cried for the role I’d played in his history with my criticism and cruelty.

The memory has since brought me to tears again and though apologies were made and life goes on, revealing family dynamics doesn’t conceal scars.

Such history is always new. So what else is here? What use might it serve?

This is the work, this choosing to see beauty in pain, and its specific elements. Why should pain so often be required? Something originated there and we experienced it firsthand in flashing adrenaline, that familiar gasping, a constricting around the throat.

He hit me and though unexpected, I know I deserved it. I’ll feel it at times at the piano in passages that don’t seem to hold any particular charge. Any conflict can uncover it, even indirect. I’ll feel that surge of fear and my heart coils to flee. So many confrontations, pain’s wild claws bared, and that animal awareness mashes out peace, displacing the soft wax of calmer moments.

I feel it now, twisting its shape again of these unspoken words.

Nearly 25 years ago now, my too-hot scrutiny finally pushed the simmering too far, and cumulatively, I can profess to know this now, that I didn’t know then and couldn’t articulate, how fear snaps the senses awake, icy pellets of rain in the face, the metallic sting of electricity.

Doesn’t all beauty birth in pain? Why else would it carry its own flavor and smell?

“God’s job is not to make sick people healthy…. God’s job is to make sick people brave.” – Harold Kushner

reflecting poolIn effort, in difficult circumstance, isn’t struggle with opposition necessary for the rare fortunate result called beauty?

And beauty doesn’t arise in all conflict, but in the fight for goodness amongst great evil. In the valiance of truth contrasted with the dark lie. In the slender stalk rising from the impossibly polluted, irrepressible through iron and concrete, through tangle of challenges, the soft red bud somehow slowly emerging through inhospitable soil.

Beauty is the life that should never have survived.

He struck and whatever went before or came after, I sucked in a breath, suddenly aware that it was just life, its challenges and terrors too impossible to be believed, in all its complexity, and how could any beauty be possible. In later years, I’d experience a panic that seemed it could nearly constrict my throat for good. And I feel the weight of this herenow perfectly balanced in the mysterious symmetry of influences between past and present.

What should I do with it and where should it go now? Should I lift my hand from the jar and let the transformation free? Would it glisten in the warming day? Could it attract attention and be appreciated for what it is, the fusion of ideal conditions, such singular form?

If only we knew the pain that went into every micron, every filament of creation… Wouldn’t our bodies burst with the beauty?

The question is ringing in my heart: how much can you bear?

The pained faces of the starving African children in Saturday morning commercials. The hard anger of so many lives without hope.Maybe the only question is what to do with it. To not grow deadened to it, yes. But what more?

I hear my older daughter reading in the other room, the younger listening. So innocent, unaware. The energy buzzing in my spine won’t forget. I can’t move on to busy work. I must use the essential lesson.

Beneath every lesser impulse, at the bottom, I want us to live. And I want to live this and feel this and share this: don’t be surprised, my soul, by opposition while fighting for birth through this long tunnel of life.

light tunnel

Why shouldn’t we find trouble? Searing pain? Dragons? Fire? Fearsome reflective pools revealing the myriad deaths in all our selfish desires before reaching the goal? Why wouldn’t we have to walk on the fragile skulls of the billion explorers who died in the myriad grimy alcoves?

Why wouldn’t there be thousands opposing us reaching that light?

And why should there be any light at all?

Can I ignore the bald impossibility of such ideal conditions? Can I withhold a single word of unbridled praise for this chance? Protected, suspended in just the right balance for this very experience of what he knew would best teach me the essential truth, could this be anything but another step toward the brilliant treasured world beyond?

When you’ve seen beauty arising from your pain you know it: there’s no answer but that we must be sustained every step by something so powerful, so common, so holy. Such ridiculous beauty flourishing abundant everywhere should not exist.

I cried then and I cry again now. Men learn so young how to bottle their light. But in the pressure, they learn to appreciate stark contrasts. The concentration that squeezes out all else. The darker the tunnel, the brighter the light becomes. This is the struggle I want to live.

As David prayed, “Unite my heart to fear thy name.”

Isn’t this the hope that spurs me continually on, to still seek when all other lights have flickered out?

Everywhere remain depths unplumbed. Who needs the hope our experiences have brought?

We must walk on through the dark, the pain, the inconsolable beauty. We must fight to share our discoveries. And we must venture to the places others would rather not venture, against the pain of even the strongest opposition.

Mick

Seeing Beauty, Part 3

I’m finally feeling like myself today after a full 10 days of the worst flu symptoms I’ve ever experienced—6 days of 102 temperature, complete fatigue, and every nasty thing that comes with it. We all caught it but finally have been smuggled through back to the land of the living. Charlotte never really got it and we realized she probably has natural immunity from her tendency to eat more of what comes from her nose than any other kind of food. Apologies to any other OCD types; it’s generally enough to make my wife gag just thinking about it.

 

But I promised some reflections on story and structure and I’ve been thinking about it from my drug-addled haze…

 

We long for story to help explain our lives’ meaning. Stories help us define our experience, validate it and give us comparisons, like juxtaposing contrasting colors. Personalities can clash and reveal countless mysteries to ponder. We thrill in those alternations between confusion and discovery. And this is beauty.

 

There’s a hint here of the deeper order at work beneath the workings. We didn’t invent stories, just like we didn’t invent language or words or the ability to understand them. We’ve developed them, adapted and changed and manipulated them, but just like we didn’t create the materials we use to create with, we didn’t create the words. The great order did. The deeper order. Even when we don’t see the structure, it’s there always at work underneath.

 

And the deep romance in this is what we’re ultimately after. How unthinkable it is that God would do all this, create all this, for what reason? We’re not told, and it’s they kind of mystery that’s needed for the romance to thrive. The greater the mystery, the greater the thrill when the answer is revealed. Just like the greater the dissimilarity between the players, the greater the thrill when peace is finally reconciled. This is the story going on and when redemption finds its way to the unlikeliest of characters, we shake our heads and remember how amazing it all is and how little we really know of it. How small we really are. And how grateful must we be….

 

To see this and explore its supernatural reality through the evidence we have—nature and metaphors and the Bible and prayer—this is the fuel for the journey. Is seeing it something we can choose? Of course, and it starts with as simple an act as recognizing that it’s there for us to choose to see. And it does become easier with practice. When life is hard, sometimes it’s harder to recognize, harder to pry our eyes open. We can never assume it’s truly easy.

 

But that’s why I want to make it as easy as possible to find for others and to share my amazement. To remind myself and whoever else wants it that just beyond this ordinary, familiar 3D world (the one they’re so excited about recreating for us through technology these days) is a far more interesting one with more unbelievable wonders than you could ever dream up.

 

And it’s there I want to be deeply exploring, constantly waking myself up to the beauty, order, and romance behind everything we see, feel, smell, hear, taste, and experience.

 

These are the clues. What’s really behind them?