“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
This is still true. But our bigger fight today is internal.
We 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?
I 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.
But 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.