Tag Archives: writing life

Higher Purpose Writers’ Keys to Success: Recover, Reinvest and Protect Your Time and Attention

“What a man thinks of himself determines, or rather indicates, his fate.” – Henry David Thoreau

As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7

 

Our early founders like John Locke and William Blackstone, regarded private property rights as foundational to our personal liberty.

This is still true. But our bigger fight today is internal.

img_7487We fight against the deplorable disrespect for our time and attention everywhere we look. Advertising is nearly a $100-billion-a-year industry. And the Internet has destroyed the boundaries and distinctions between information, entertainment, and advertising.

How are we as writers to know how to protect and defend our most fundamental liberty of intellectual freedom in this modern world?

We know our work is protected under intellectual copyright law. Yet proving our work is our own is also important, so records with dates notarized or officially recorded is key. Creative work is protected by rights and understanding their proper management is how professional writers thrive.

And all beginning writers must realize that setting words on a page to be sold means entering a business arrangement. They, the small business owner, are selling rights to their property to a publisher. Their interests are protected under “property rights” law. A clear understanding of this ownership and trade bargaining ensures the proper managing and selling of their rights to that work. And this knowledge and wisdom is critically important to success.

Yet every day, you are giving away your most valuable asset.

Just like civilization depends upon property rights (can someone find the actual quote for me? I think it was Locke), a writer’s career does as well. Our legal rights are important to understand and respect. Yet do you realize your attention and your time are your most important property? If you did, would you spend them like you’re doing? If you truly respected these gifts, would you reevaluate how you’re investing them, and seek a better path in several areas?

img_7454I know I would. I wonder if the real question is, Do you respect yourself?

Because here’s the hard truth: you’ve been given dominion over your life, and yet like everyone else–and especially your fellow sensitive writers–you daily give it away for free instead of investing it in what you really want. Your talent and your future is being mortgaged because you allow your attention and time to be stolen from you by those who don’t respect your property or your rights at all.

It’s time to recover and reinvest your time and attention into what you really want.

In the Christian classic Boundaries, Doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend point out, “In the physical world, boundaries are easy to see. Fences, signs, walls, moats with alligators, manicured lawns, or hedges are all physical boundaries. In their differing appearances, they give the same message: THIS IS WHERE MY PROPERTY BEGINS. The owner of the property is legally responsible for what happens on his or her property. Nonowners are not.”

You are legally responsible for what time and attention you invest–in everything. This is your responsibility as a living, breathing, thinking, creating human being.

The churched kids here are thinking about a famous biblical parable right now, which is a good one. But the point is, our boundaries will define us. They say what is mine and what is not mine. And if you’re like me, from a very young age you’ve been stolen from because you allowed it. Maybe you also started resenting people stealing your attention and time. Most people at least sense the injustice and intuit that it’s a personal problem.

But most people either don’t consciously realize it, or don’t assert their rights to do anything about it.

Myself, I’ve taken the protection of my right to my time and attention to unhealthy extremes. Demanding, determined and serious, I made sure from an early age people around me knew they couldn’t take anything from me. I resisted doing or even feeling things I didn’t want to, even concealing that I was affected in any way by something if I didn’t want to give others permission to influence me. It was a child’s rationale, but I did it through willpower and resistance of my powerful mother, who had the strange idea I might embarrass her one day by acting up. My reaction to her animated my childhood and much of my early adulthood.

fullsizerender-4But thanks to books like Boundaries, we now understand more, and over time I’ve learned to relax and express my preferences and expect a reasonable level of consideration. And while this set me up well with the detachment required for supporting my editing clients’ visions, it also left me with a bad understanding of boundaries. I’d lost the ability to receive anything from others.

Through love I’ve learned and continue to learn. Through my amazingly patient wife who sees me as my best self, she helps me grow to see how God sees and cares for me. My daughters do it naturally so well too. I’m blessed with parents who believe in me and support me–and they’ve modeled change to me.

But learning to balance appropriate spending of our time and attention is our primary job, all of the time.

And I believe what this requires is a certain mental and emotional fortitude that every writer needs. To accept this responsibility, our most precious resource we own–our time and attention–we must first determine to prioritize the hard things. And then, we must determine what those harder things are. And this is individual, but there are universal principles.

  • Don’t fall for the common struggle of blaming others for your problems or blame shifting.
  • Don’t think you’re entitled to be heard (or even respected) much of the time unless your words and opinions are considered and measured.
  • Don’t get tripped up by dwelling on perceived injustices.
  • Pursue instead the healthy self-awareness to allow yourself legitimate resistance to unjust demands on your time and attention.
  • And make yourself heard in the fight against louder, dominant demands you face.

We all know the old adage, the things you own end up owning you. Where you spend your time and attention will define you. You know this already. But if you know it, do the hard work and think about how your books, your career, your business and livelihood depend upon your sober consideration of where your time and attention are going.

Of all these essential lessons God’s revealing for me to ponder, I’m convinced this one is most vital for my work and life going forward….

Because He has compelled me to do it all for the higher purpose, for the glory.

Mick

Writing with God

Then he said to him,

“Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
– Lk 17:19

Last week, I shared one of my favorite posts of all time, “Writing into the Light.” (Link here: micksilva.com/writing-into-the-light)
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That post has long served to remind me of why I do this, why I fight to write in the light, day in day out. And we all know how tough it is to keep going when no one’s forcing you to, no one knows what you’ve got to say, and it’s all too easy to think it’s humble and smarter to keep your mouth shut.

Because so often, it is.

But none of that kind of thinking gets a book written. The whole point of writing in the light is not just to write your book but to get something great out of your writing time: being with God. If you go in looking for God, looking for where he is, he will guide you to what’s really important.

The great news is, all you have to do is seek him, and the Bible says you will find him. You can believe that. I know because I’ve seen it happen.

Three times recently I’ve gone into my writing time doing this and I’ve seen him (I’ll share how I knew it was him at the end).

The first one came as I wrote about my main character, basing his desire and response on familiar situations and remembering how it felt to be there. I worked to convey the scene through action and show the emotion and thought process, and the scene felt real and good.

6332db62d348f71c9edfb921134f818aThe second happened the very next day. It was a difficult scene and I was trying to rework it to make a better point and convey a stronger theme. I also had to work in several missing details so it was complicated and I was struggling to bring it all together. I prayed, got focused on the central motive and opposition, and By the time I had to quit, I still wasn’t happy, but I had clarity on what needed to happen next.

The third time God showed up came when I went back to the scene. It wasn’t what I anticipated but it was stronger than it was before. And I saw I didn’t need more complication; the scene worked. I saw I could, and should, save the fuller picture for later.

Three writing sessions, three God experiences. No one else might have seen these as particularly miraculous–and they weren’t. But what’s a miracle other than God intervening in our lives for our benefit? It wasn’t showy, but it was clearly not just me writing alone.

And it felt so much better to know that.

Now, does this mean it’ll always happen right away? No. Or should our writing only be about producing a spiritual encounter? No. Or are others missing out if they just want to get their story down? I think so, but I’m not judging that.

I’m simply saying when you go in realizing you’re writing with God, you can be sure it will produce a better result regardless of what words get inspired and captured. And you can expect your writing time will go better than trying to go it alone.

DSC_0018I’ve long maintained that writing well is one of the hardest things one can do. It requires so much. I’ve justified that by saying the hardest things have the most opportunity to be life changing. And that’s true. The hardest work is the most trying, but it’s also the truest test of your deepest beliefs. And God knows, we wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t for the promise of that reward. Maybe that’s base self-interest, but I think God takes what he can get. And if it gets us to start writing with God, he delights in taking the work and making it an adventure.

Oh, at times it’ll still be a slog, and it’ll always be a huge undertaking involving lots of sacrifices. But remember that’s what makes it so worthwhile. And there can always be this higher purpose to it too.

I think we can know this is true because it’s based on the upside-down principles of God: in the giving is the getting. In the searching, is finding. In the sacrifices is abundance. Because he is there with us making it all into more than our paltry, half-hearted offerings.

Like discovering unexpected treasure along the way, writing with God is ultimately writing for yourself. You will always be the primary beneficiary.

And yet, because he is God, you may find this is also the best way to write for your readers.

So try it in your writing today. Go with him and trust him to be your guide and best first reader. As He says in Luke, acting on this call in faith is how we writers can come to know we’ve been made well.

Healed. Cleansed. Saved.

You can trust that too. Because he’s always there.

For the higher purpose,

Mick
Continue to “Writing into the Light”…

Making the Effort Count

 

“There is no long run without devotion, commitment, persistence.” – Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

It had been a long, hot summer and school was starting soon. Yet thanks to my tyrannical inbox and the schedule of the self-employed, we hadn’t yet escaped the house.

Where else to go but home to Tahoe?

walking to town

It’s actually my grandma Tillie’s home, but she says it’s mine and I’ve been coming my whole life. And since Mom and Dad moved into the addition, it’s like a 2 for 1 deal.

So the Silva girls and I left Oregon and my bedroom office piled high with books to be read (and the ones being written), and made the 11-hour drive.

Her house isn’t fancy, but we always feel a bit elect returning to this world-class place.

On our last day, after eggs and linguiça, my dad hooked up the trailer with the kayaks and paddleboards one more time and we went to the beach made entirely of pebbles. As we set out the chairs and blanket, I remarked how amazing it was they could come down here any time they wanted.

Donner Beach

“Honestly,” my mom said. “we don’t usually come down unless people visit.”

And because my brain is always working something out, I thought of how hard it can be for us writers to make the effort unless we know someone’s going to read it.

“Because it takes extra effort?” I asked.

She laughed. “I guess so.”

We chatted some about life and its demands and then my wise, 85-year-old Grandma Tillie, the one who paid for my piano lessons all those years my parents couldn’t, showed up and sat near me beneath the umbrellas. “Some people are naturally patient,” she said. “I’m not.” We laughed. “I just don’t have the patience to work at things anymore,” she said.

safran_lakefront
I nodded, knowing the pain she’s in and how she spends every effort to ignore it and not complain, even coming to see the girls learn to use the paddleboards she bought “so they’d come up and see me.” I thought how she’d struggled with her arthritis and sickness during the week, and how I’d struggled to make even a little extra effort after my ankle injury several months ago. I’d learned how selfish I can get about things like comfortable chairs and parking spaces. And I didn’t want to be, but if extra effort involves even relatively small amounts of personal suffering, I start weighing out how much I think it’s going to hurt.

It’s got to be so difficult to hurt like my sweet grandma does. The blood pressure machine and the medication bottles in her bathroom fill in for what she doesn’t say.

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We cheered for the girls standing on the boards. They have no such worries, enjoying making efforts to learn new things nearly every chance they get.

I still recall nearly 30 years ago, running hard to get ready for football. I rounded the curve for home panting like a dog when the lightning bolt struck:

This is the level of effort life requires.

I slowed, staggered a bit. Such severe effort would require unbelievable amounts of commitment, endurance and patience I didn’t yet have.

But in that moment, I knew: my only choice was to make the effort needed.

All week, if we needed something from the store, we walked to town. When we needed sunscreen or water, we found it. On Tuesday, when we’d hiked a couple miles to Snow Lake, we lost the trail and had to bushwhack a few times.

IMG_5813The lesson there? Just keep walking.

Then, after the beach and the local art walk, on our last evening before heading off again, Grandma Tillie joined us in the living room to introduce the girls to the movie Harvey, with Jimmy Stewart as the possibly-simple-minded Elwood P. Dowd. And my dad pulled out the pictures of his high school production when he played Dr. Sanderson and nearly kissed the beautiful Nurse Kelly.

We ate Grandma’s famous triple-chocolate cake and listened to Elwood share his famous life philosophy:

“In this world, you can be smart or you can be pleasant. I was smart for many years. I recommend pleasant.”

And I didn’t say it because, well, the movie wasn’t over and I don’t always make the extra effort. But I thought how life comes down to that simple choice, choosing to make the effort even when it involves some personal suffering. Eventually, despite any help, love and talent you’re given, the thing of true value is your choice to make the effort. Because soon, and sooner than you think, there’ll be no time for anything anymore.

IMG_5823I looked at my kids and thought maybe if we could learn to be patient with ourselves again like we were as kids, maybe the extra effort wouldn’t feel quite so hard.

We talked about many things before we left, of the benefits of xylitol and about the tyranny of social media and email. But all the time I was thinking, Who doesn’t want to be pleasant, giving and full of love? Patient with others? Good-natured about things like joints and ankles and our bodies’ frustrating betrayals? And at least before time runs out for good, to simply relax more?

So if it takes a week’s vacation to remember, that’s okay: to have all those things, I simply have to make the effort and learn to savor each moment.

IMG_5817Making that effort to slow down and be patient is how I’ll eventually learn to endure life’s pains, and in that way hopefully to overcome them.

In all I’ve yet to learn, I pray I can remember what I learned from my grandma and my daughters that week: that the secret is to simply make the effort to choose to accept the great gift of each new day….

whatever effort may be required.

“The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” – Ernest Hemingway

Healing In the Simplicity of Your Story

“Writing is prayer.”

– Franz Kafka

In today’s world with ever-more distracting, inane and attention-grabbing information, it can be particularly challenging for new storytellers to overcome the fear that their story is too simple and uninteresting.

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We’re the worst judges of our own stories. Despite that and the fact that sharing your story honestly and with vulnerability is all that’s needed to reach and teach readers, many new writers think they need to include more, share moral lessons and help readers learn something specific through reading their story.

And it may be true when writing a blog post or a nonfiction article, but with narrative, it just needs to be as truthful as possible.

I thought my story was too boring when I started writing my autobiographical novel. But now having worked with so many writers for over 15 years, I realize people read books not to be shocked or overwhelmed by information, but mostly to escape.

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Trouble was, until I worked out my pain, fear and resentment, I was too blocked to see what my real task as a writer was. I had to accept that I wasn’t there to teach anyone anything. My job was simply to reveal my heart.

But for many years, I wasn’t ready to share my honest truth. I didn’t want to accept my real emotions, the dark embarrassing truth about myself and how I really felt about my life. I figured I could bluff my way through it, just tell the basic story and make up the rest. I figured no one wanted the full truth anyway.

But I was just telling myself that. I’d always told myself that. I told myself a lot of things. Things were fine. I was fine. But things were only fine when life was going well, and as soon as life got challenging, I’d clamp down and stop seeing, stop feeling, stop talking. Stop writing.

We have to realize that as the writer, we have to know the path of healing first to share what readers really need. We can’t accurately assess the situation while we’re denying the truth about our emotions. Because what’s most damning, until we let go of our control, we’ll make decisions about life and writing that only (and often exclusively) benefit ourselves.

Every new author says they didn’t realize how much counseling was involved in writing a book. But once they know, they find out it’s only when you’ve gone through it yourself that you can tell the full truth and not so interested in your own welfare.

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This is why learning to write your story means facing the truth of yourself and your weaknesses, allowing healing bit by bit, and sharing the vulnerable truth of all of that, until the universality of your journey is irreducible.

As Annie Dillard said, “the secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind… [to] hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.” We can’t cause inspiration or make readers learn, we can only take the wisdom into ourselves and try to let it out as clearly and simply as possible.

Writing involves not so much teaching or learning to write well as it does opening your heart to wisdom and letting go of all that stands in its way.

The goal of higher purpose writing is not to change readers but to be changed yourself. For only then will readers be changed.

It isn’t what writing your story will do for others; it’s what writing your story will do for you. And that perspective won’t merely change your writing, it can change everything: the way you live, the way you think of yourself and all your relationships. If you’re called to write your story, is there any goal more worth your investment?

You can find healing in the simplicity of that: you have a story and you can write it because it’s meant the world to you.

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Maybe it’s okay we don’t start out writing to unmask ourselves. Maybe no one automatically wants to do that. But maybe once we realize the higher purpose, at some point it’s no longer an option. To write anything with the profound truth and simplicity we know it must have, maybe the dedication required is nothing less than to fully embrace our very human lives.

I know this is true now because it’s what was revealed to me in the process of trying to write. And I’m not finished with the novel yet, but I share it with you as something I found within my story, not as a lesson to teach, but as the simple truth which has given the work real life and meaning.

And I pray you can find it as well.

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours…”

– Frederick Buechner

Just Beyond This Pain…

You can fight back from injury, full of that feeling of the fire in you to fight back against the pain–pain in your body, in your life, in your past over all the chances you weren’t given–and still end up hopeless.

I sit on the deck in the setting sun, pushing back against the self-pity that traps the weak who feel imprisoned by something in life they think they didn’t deserve.

sunsetThe sad truth is I hurt my ankle in Oct last year. And you might not think a sprained ankle would matter so much. People have lost legs, lost eyes, lost sons. I lost running in the morning and walking without a hobble for a few months–and I even knew it’d be a danger to my equilibrium, my motivation and sense of purpose, not to mention my balance. And it was all that, in more ways than one.

I’d even vowed to keep working out. But time passed and it wasn’t healing, by 6 months later, I’d lost all momentum. My energy, my routine, my stamina, even my motivation–to stay in shape, and to write my book–it all fell flat. And certainly that wasn’t the only reason, but I even faltered at work. All my hope of improving and getting stronger was gone, and everything I used to rely on to empower my writing. Poof!

It sounds ridiculous, I know, to let my physical life influence my mental and emotional, let alone the spiritual aspect. And to let it derail my writing? But it did. Apparently, I’m a big ball of fragile interconnected threads and you pull one and it all gets tangled. I don’t want to believe that’s, but it’s true.

DSC_0014And as I sat watching the light change and listening to the robins call their families home for the night, I felt obligated to believe I could master this though I didn’t know if it was really possible.

I deny the truth and believe I can let some things slide and it won’t affect me. Then, when it inevitably does, I get frustrated and force things, and then get angry when I inevitably slack off, which creates a cycle of dissatisfaction. I know the ease of getting into bad habits, and I’ve begun to resent the taskmaster me.

Even before the ankle, it wasn’t proper responsibility.

Yes, something has to change.
sunsetI watch the sunset. First it’s orange, then pink and finally purple, and I think again how amazing God is, though I don’t see any sign that says “made by God.”

As with so many things, the mystery makes it even more beautiful.

I sit on the deck watching it through the high trees. Photographers call it “framing” when the central object is seen through something in the foreground creating a frame around it. An object’s natural beauty is heightened through obstruction.

As Wendell Berry said, “The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

Or as Chesterton said, “Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame.” I’ve had to learn slowly it’s the pain that obstructs and constrains life that makes it meaningful.

And responsibilities are what make freedom possible.

Maybe the key is what Viktor Frankl talks about in Man’s Search for Meaning–the good tension between freedom and responsibility.

roseThe sunset is over so quickly. I hear Ellie playing violin down in the practice room. Every time she comes to the beautiful minor chord in the song, I wish it could last longer, but it never does. Maybe tension also has to continually resolve for it to be beautiful.

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant,” Emily Dickinson said. “The truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind.” The low sun slants through the clouds and sends its color through the trees and I’m thinking of light bending and rainbows caused by refraction, and how music delights by bending the limits of a song’s established structure.

The devil is opposed to balance and would love to deflate the tension and take me out. But he can’t. It isn’t his call. It’s mine. I’ve been given all authority through Christ.

And if this storytelling life isn’t all about balancing tension and resolve, then I don’t know what it’s about. Don’t I know the freedom that comes in responsibility? When do injured ankles change the truth? With a little pain God brings relief. With a little darkness eventually he brings light. He ordains the contrasts of life to make it rich and meaningful.

skyTo imagine the bland pain-free existence I think I’d prefer…. No injuries to remind me what it means to feel good and strong and healthy. What if instead of complaining next time I’m thrown off by life’s minor chords, I instead partner with God in his process of bringing both good and bad, and believe it’s not so bad when he’s in charge of it?

What else do we have to do to enjoy all of life but to let him be in charge of it all? Like Job, simply to decide to follow him no matter what.

And even now, paying attention to him, I might get out in front of the momentary darkness and feel the light already coming again. …

 

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
– Emily Dickinson
Mick