Tag Archives: writing process

My Writing Process, Step 3: Read 3 Pieces Before You Start

Dear you,

With tons of help and borrowed insight, you’ve been recovering. That’s so good and hopeful. Don’t forget to celebrate! It’s involved relearning compassion for the small things, and it’s been life-changing, as well as a long time coming. Specifically, you now know you started life like so many men, crying. And like too many men, you could die denying it.

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Don’t.

These lessons naturally have required much thinking about your writing process. Which has also led to some deeper questions and considerations. But you’ve fought the nagging urge to rethink everything and undo the progress, and you haven’t tossed the management of the many details of life, which is the whole trick of getting through this better and healthier. Structure is the schedule that creates routines that work well, better, best.

But don’t forget these three simple steps in your process, especially step three.

Step one – to always go back to the start—motive. And regardless of any second thought, set out to return, submitting to what you do know: that you don’t really know where you’re going. Because you can’t.

Like everything, remembering will become easier with practice. But it’s doubtful you’ll ever outgrow the need to be reminded.

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Step two The theme you think you’re capturing isn’t what you’ll end up with. The theme will arise naturally, unhurried. Wait for it and write on.

Both of these steps are about letting go, and so is this one,

Step three – Start your writing day with three pieces of high-quality reading.

There’s no getting around this: if you’re trying to be original, you’ve got to give that up. Choose reading that’ll disabuse you of that too-common notion.

Practically speaking, this is crucial and also the easiest step. Because when you make your choices and you decide to take daily drinks from three life-giving wells, you also giving up being original in your work for the day. You read a bit and you get all kinds of new, useful food on the table to be savored.

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Here’s the thing: you’ll only become what you consume. And you can’t generate your own food. You can only share what’s borrowed because you’re not that smart. You only have what you’ve been given and all you do is make yourself able to receive it.

And in the words of John Wesley, “Oh, begin!”

(The whole quote is, “What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear, to this day, is lack of reading….And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase…Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer. You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this….Oh begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercise. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterward be pleasant. Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer.”)

You’ve heard this now so you’re responsible. You’ve also heard that you’re only as successful as your three best mentors, your three best friends? Well, this also applies to books. Each book is a friend to teach you, like each of these steps, with humility at the center. You come to the page empty, and then you need to be filled. You don’t write the story. It writes itself. You translate it.

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That’s no small task, but it’s a more manageable one than you started out with. Your process will always first be to let go of and unlearn all you think you have or bring. You have nothing. And when you’re empty of self, you’re ready to begin to refill with better food.

Of course, you won’t always want to! Especially when you’re feeling no good or you’re desperate to say something artful or profound. Fine. Put it in your journal. But before you get to work, get free of that. Trying to teach readers when you have so much to learn yourself (!) is like passing out free lemonade when your house is on fire.

And now I make a rule: never tell readers what they can surmise, but always tell them what they can’t. Obviously, this one takes some practice. For example, is it obvious? And if so, did you need to say that?

Writing is tricky, and if you’re doing it to serve readers, good. But set that aside. When you start, don’t try to say something smart. Go to the library. Get acquainted with the people who tried and failed and read them. When you find them, go easy on them, but now you can see what you’re to do.

Now you’re ready to begin.

You want your book to help. Good. If you didn’t, I’d think you forgot the whole point. But to get the church to move toward the oppressed and lost, and away from the corrosive effects of Christian consumer culture and churchianity, you’ve got to give up trying to convince them what you’ve got, and all that well-meaning ambitiousness. Stop selling and start buying the books that came before you. That’s where you’ll find one thing you simply must share.

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This can sound like wasting time. It’s not. Inspiration isn’t yours; you don’t claim it. The sooner you get that, the better.

No one has written your book yet or ever could. But if you think any of this is new, you’re not ready. Reestablish the right motive. Restore your faith. And recover the old lines.

God is not about the new. He’s about recovery work.

You were left to cry, and you know now this is at the core of it all–separation and restoration. It’s too late to go home again, but the search is home. The longing is you. Let that be and don’t fight.

But don’t forget it.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

 

 

 

On Process – My Writing Life – Step 1: Set Out to Return

“We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return; prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only, as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again; if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.”

― Henry David Thoreau, Walking

The beginning is in the end. And the end is returning.

The idea of turning again back to the place you started from, it has a particular irreplaceable merit.

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Sheri, Ellie, Charlotte, and I set out on a walk, like every walk, from the home we’ll never stop cleaning up and repairing. We leave it behind for just a while to seek adventure and see the world that beckons beyond the front door. The familiar falls away, and our feet step down into a new place we don’t know. Our neighbors and strangers have come out following the morning downpour to wrestle their yards into their original designs, and apparently, none include knee-high weeds or crabgrass.

We walk to the Catholic graveyard because it’s a place of contrasts, beautiful and spooky, and full of very old and very recent residents. Sometimes we read the headstones, and other times we appreciate the flowers. Today, we’re just trying to get back because there’s too much to do back at home before our guests arrive.

“We need to get back,” Sheri says, and much as I want to stay, I know she’s right. “There’s much to do.”

I want to protest, to stay out and play in the glistening day. But I say, “Okay, let’s go,” because I know submitting quickly is the best way to promote happy wives, and also to continuing the play all the way home and beyond.

And oh, the older I get, the more I know that keeping the play going is pretty much the whole magic trick.

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Or maybe it’s better to say, staying in the play. That abiding is a mindset, of course, an intention of continuous practice, with just enough awareness to the conceptual world in the midst of the actual steps and tangible responsibilities. That balance is a metaphor for any meaningful relationship–it’s my marriage, my family, my writing, our house.

What you want is never what you think it is until you return to the start. Yes, of course that’s hard to understand, but why shouldn’t it be? You have to always give up something real, submit to it, and return to that initial design, to preserve what you really want.

You can’t see what you really want. And of course that makes it hard to submit.

I don’t want the fun walk in the graveyard to end. But that’s not what I really want. It’s deeper: I want the adventure to never end. And I want to do what I see as my job, my constant task as a husband and a dad and a writer–to keep the adventure going. Yet I can’t do that if I see this momentary returning as a subtraction, a quenching of adventure. I can only affirm and submit to my partner and the more important friendship we share.

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You’d think this wouldn’t be such a big deal, wouldn’t you? It’s always a bigger deal than we think.

Because it’s always about more than the surface issue. If I can remember that I don’t want to resist love but to submit to it and continue the adventure, I can respond well here. And I can connect up this inspiration to writing: we must venture out, add to our lives escape and exercise and fun and so many other needed things. But we must also return and realize that has its place, and it isn’t subtraction if we’re fully submitted to it.

Returning, too, can be adventure.

We get to the end of the road and turn around, and I see the sunlight fading through the trees, slanting off the wet limbs and reflecting the multicolored sky. The girls aren’t as resistant and have already found how beautiful the light is now ahead of us as we retrace our steps to crest the low hill and turn back. And suddenly, I’m reminded of a T.S. Eliot quote I’ve always loved, which feels in some way its been waiting until now to speak:

“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.”

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It’s from his “Four Quartets,” written after his conversion to Christianity and understanding of salvation. He continues:

“Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.”

I’ve said it so often to writers I’ve coached, hoping it’d make its way from my consciousness to my lived experience, that our job is simply to follow in submission to the call of inspiration. And at the end, when we read back over, the venture will prove out what the initial design intended, and what we had forgotten to intend. We can’t see it on that first go around. And that’s as it should be.

I want to stake my life on what I’ve returned to on this walk, the surprise of it, and to have it live forever in my heart. The true adventure.

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Returning always means submission, not merely to a spouse or always specific to a person, but to an idea. Sub (under, from below, up) + mitto (to send). From sub+mitto comes “upsend,” which creates our other key definition of submit: to propose or promote a plan. Submitting also means promoting. And in spiritual terms, it means placing oneself under a sending mission.

To go out and let go. And to return to the beginning. What we intend is not what we mean to intend. We must be brought back to ourselves after we’ve submitted and gone out. Being sent is a gift that inspires and intends a return. It’s added, included in the fabric of the eternal tapestry. And we circle back and know our line has been included because we heard and went and trusted

in submission.

Someone said if things aren’t good yet, then you can know this isn’t the end. Stop. Turn around. Start back.

I take her hand and we walk home together behind the girls, the light breeze from their steps lifting their hair in expectation, and the blinding light turning it to waves of willing fire.

“If it be true that God is a circle whose centre is everywhere, the saint goes to the centre, the poet and the artist to the ring where everything comes round again.”

– William Butler Yeats

For the higher purpose,

mick

What to Do When You Suspect It’s Not Enough

“Doubtless some ancient Greek has observed that behind the big mask and the speaking-trumpet, there must always be our poor little eyes peeping as usual and our timorous lips more or less under anxious control.”
- George Eliot, Middlemarch, 1871

So you’re finally ready to get honest? You’re finally ready to admit that your writing is no good?

Congratulations. Welcome to the club! It’s time you knew the secret everyone else who writes already knows: it’s no good because you’re not good enough to write it.

And you’re not good enough for one, inescapable reason (and it isn’t a lack of trying). You’ve suspected it all along. It’s crept up on you time and time again as you waited for the words you knew wouldn’t be right:

You’re not enough.

You know. Everybody knows. It’s not really a secret at all. But here’s the thing–it’s not that big a deal. Trust me, plenty of people aren’t enough. It’s no reason to give up.

It should give you serious pause though. If more people realized this, there’d be far less junk published every year.

The best thing you can do now is take a moment to do yourself (and everyone else) a favor, and figure out what you’re going to do about it.

The vital question, of course, is what now?

1: Start with what IS working. Despite its shortcomings, your book is honest, insightful, revealing, and even inspiring. It achieved much of what you set out to do. It’s simply not what you should have set out to do. And that’s a tough pill to swallow–you’ll have to develop some discernment to sort out what exactly is good about it–but you’ve got time. And you’ve got the patience and skill to figure this out.

2. Go back to the vision. Reevaluate the origination of this book. What was the inception? What were you really after? If you’re like most of us, this is not natural or automatic. You don’t easily decide to change what or how you wrote simply because you need to. It’s hard to discover what you were really after (Teaching a lesson to prove a point? Affirmation or acclaim? Serving God better so he’d bless you?) 

Hey, welcome to the writer’s process!

Everyone who sets out to write a book finds it’s harder than they thought. Hopefully, you realize you’ve got to edit it, but also, you’ve got to let it be what it wants to be, not what you want it to be. Sadly, I don’t think that is ever easy. But less sadly, this is something your book will teach you if you can slow down and listen.

This is what my book taught me: I was after all those parenthetical things above. So going back to the vision to reevaluate was the only way to improve. The first draft wasn’t a waste–I needed to write it to get it out and see it clearly. But I also needed to accept refining (or redefining) the vision as simply the next step in the process.

Reevaluating the vision is what you do when your goal is the truth.

We’re not alone. And we’re not getting off with a “one-time-and-done” edit. This reevaluating will be consistent, ongoing, and require lots of commitment (motivation!) to see what’s really going on.

I know that’s what writing is, but that’s also what life is. We’re really trying to see things as they truly are.

Yeah, that’s a big, deep concept. And yeah, it was always that big. We just don’t like to see it too clearly–it’s scary.

So let this feel overwhelming for a while. It’s okay. Take it slow. And thank God now you can recommit to this deeper goal and finally stop seeing refinement as a barrier to success.

It isn’t. It never has been. Because the truth is exactly what you always wanted.

3. Recommit to the higher purpose. When I started this little blog experiment in 2004, I was working for a national ministry publisher and didn’t have a clue I’d still be editing 13 years later. I had one goal: keep my core motivation of honoring God. From my first post, the Monday Motivations and the “Higher Purpose” tagline was about establishing and evaluating what we’re really after in writing.

I believed this was what made successful writers.

Letting go of all selfish purposes, and deciding to love the journey. This was the one thing I knew I wanted.

Finding your higher purpose is always the real work because we’re fickle, distractable, chronically forgetful people. We are the Israelites. We forget God is working, we forget we’re following and not leading, and we forget the real point isn’t what we’re after but what he’s doing.

We’re always beholden to the work. And God is in it, if we’ll stop to notice and listen. So the real work is always slowing down to pay attention to what we’re really doing and saying, and why. Writing ultimately means leading readers to know what’s most important. But always first, we’ve got to find that ourselves.

If we’re going to be good guides and bring fresh air to many, we have to relax and be healed of our need to perform.

I was talking with another author who suffered unimaginable damage in her life. It’s taken years to acknowledge it was wrong and overcome it. It absolutely floored me that she’d done what I always have, diminishing the pain. “EVERYONE else’s pain was always worse,” she said.

What holds writers back isn’t the pain itself; it’s the struggle to believe it warrants attention.

That’s the unbelievable, secret truth, the debilitating LIE that a writing coach can’t fix. How can I express this strongly enough to convince you: this belief is the great evil in your way. People spend their lives afraid to allow what they suffered to matter, unable to allow the only thing that could break the bonds of that fear: accepting the truth.

We’ve been told over and over again, “No one cares. You don’t matter. Whatever you think happened, it was nothing compared to real struggle. You know nothing of what that’s like.”

Everyone thinks this. It’s designed to keep you safe. Day after day, month after month, how long has it held you silent?

You’re not going to make mountains out of molehills. It was bad enough. You won’t be throwing a pity party. You’re just going to acknowledge it happened and it hurt. You’ll never know real freedom until you call it what it was, and face this fake news playing in your head 24/7.

People care. It does matter. It was real. And it was wrong.

So many people need the freedom of that. And all it takes is your honest, vulnerable courage.

Face it. For justice, for peace, for righteousness and healing.

You were chosen to speak this. No more lies. It’s time to realize what you carry, Light-bringer. Share what you’ve been given, and see it transform out of the ashes of your past. It matters, and no one can change that. Nothing can overcome this–no more dodging.

“Don’t you know that a midnight hour comes when everyone has to take off his mask? Do you think life always lets itself be trifled with? Do you think you can sneak off a little before midnight to escape this?”
- Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, 1843

For the higher purpose!

M

The 6 Spiritual Lies Derailing Your Writing Process

I spoke at the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference this past weekend, where 675 writers came to learn and be encouraged to take the plunge. This is the message I shared.

I was a book editor for over a decade before I realized that Christian writers all share similar delusions about what this work entails. And when I coach writers to embrace the struggle, the first lesson is to keep showing up for practice until that habit breaks through all the usual barriers.

To serve the reader well, all authors must begin by taking their writing more seriously. Memoirists, novelists, pastors, counselors and lots of amazing people have battled these lies and won.

I want to give you some of their fail-proof strategies for beating these lies for good.

But first, we’ve got to realize these lies are common, and they take writers out all the time. They attack your process, your book, and especially you yourself. And the major problem we have in fighting them is that they are spiritual. They aren’t primarily intellectual or physical, or even emotional, though they relate to all those areas as well.

What’s derailing you isn’t any of the problems you have in the external world of your daily life. It’s your lack of spiritual defenses.

How do I know this is primarily a spiritual problem? Because life is spiritual, and trying to live as a WORD-saturated writer is hard. Working to reclaim, recall, and re-establish truth, love, justice, and mercy is incredibly draining. The work itself is incredibly difficult in all the usual ways, but it takes some time to understand that your major barrier is in the spiritual realm, and that you need to bring that down to earth, and deal with it in your physical reality.

The goal is to establish your writing process and create the system that works for you. And everyone’s different, but the calling is the same—writing is holy, sacred ground. You’ve been called to help your brothers and sisters in the faith.

The most important thing for writers is confidence to write free, edit with skill, and move toward publishing a book you can be proud of. Practically, this involves recognizing the scope of this undertaking, and searching out the spiritual truths involved in establishing the process. There will be sacrifice, some vulnerable truth-telling, and most of all, the need to be willing to go where God leads.

The first lie that can stop spirit-led writing is:

  1. Who do you think you are? This is fear of who you may not be. This is about shame and the deep insecurity that comes from not knowing who you are. There are related fears of presumption. Some people become terrified of the attention, the spotlight, the idea of fame. Others crave it as their golden idol. The solution, the middle ground, is to forget what others think and just write the truth for God. His opinion is all that matters and he has said you are the one to write this. Do you trust him enough to simply write and not worry about who you are or aren’t?

That’s the permission you need to claim to get through the first draft. It’s free grace and it’s available to anyone who wants it.

With this one, when Satan tries to tell you you’re nobody, you can just agree and say, “but God says I’m somebody.”

  1. You can’t handle this. / You aren’t ready for this. Fear of all you don’t know. Maybe you’re too incompetent, or the task is too demanding. Maybe you have trouble learning. But none of this has to do with you not being enough. You absolutely have what it takes when you decide not to let your ignorance, inexperience or anxiety over your disqualifications stand in your way. You will be enabled, prepared, and made capable when you believe it’s not about your being enough, but that God in you is enough.

This is a primary lesson of every Bible story. The people in the stories were not enough. It wasn’t about them. Even Jesus. He frequently was overwhelmed and in his humanity, he didn’t have enough to give people. But in his Godhood, he did the miraculous. And he pointed the way to deep faith that releases captives and sets people free.

You might fear you don’t have the time to learn everything you need. Irrelevant. You have as much time as anyone. You make time for what you really want to do. Find it and protect it. Get help and delegate whatever’s stealing your time away. Or maybe you fear you can’t afford that training or the editing you need. Well, maybe you wait and budget and find alternative methods to learn what you need to first from the best books on editing and publishing. Writing is very egalitarian that way: either you can get what you need or you simply don’t need it.

Can you learn to research and discover what you need to adjust for the second draft when it’s time? There will be things you need to augment about your characters, plot, and settings, and things you need to diminish that are distracting. If you can let go of what you don’t know yet and look at the big picture, you can learn to design the intense emotional experience you want to give readers. That’s what matters. You can learn how to do it by doing it. Practicing.

  1. You’re too _____ (Fill in the blank:
    • Uneducated/unsophisticated/slow
    • Broken/damaged/sinful/hurt
    • Old/young/boring/inexperienced
    • Ugly/fat/beautiful/skinny
    • Weird/different/OCD/ADD/SAD
    • Busy/poor/confused/gullible/lost/distractible
    • Isolated/disconnected/easily-missed-or-forgotten

This is fear of the past. The old nature. Things that hold you back. But you already know the old self has died and you know who’s now in charge. It’s not up to the old you. That voice doesn’t matter. Listen to your guide. The past is gone, the new has come. This goes back to the 1st lie and believing you’re trying to be someone you’re not. But writing isn’t some sort of magical in-born talent—it’s not like singing where you’re just gifted with a beautiful voice or you’re not. Writing is a gift, but plenty of bestselling writers have no more natural talent than the average ditch-digger. They’ve just practiced it a lot.

I said it was 6 lies, it’s really 3: the lie about where you are, the lie about where you’ve been, and the lie about where you’re going. And this lie number 3 is primarily about where you’ve been.

The question is, are you willing to believe that stuff doesn’t define you any longer? If you are, then you can start fine-tuning your manuscript draft number 3 by simply accepting that the shaping and fine-tuning of the specific details, set-ups and transitions simply takes practice.

Here’s a trick you can employ next time this one comes up, because it’s a big one for most of us. Like with #1, when you’re worried about being too broken or unworthy, remind that voice that no limitation in you is a limitation to God.

  1. You’re wasting your time. This is fear of judgment, or fear of people rejecting you. Despite all the work and effort you’re putting in, it’s just not going to be enough, and you’ll never be able to achieve that bright vision you’ve seen in your head. It’s too far out there on the horizon. You should just give up and go work on some other pursuit because this one’s a pipe dream.

It’s insecurity, mostly, but it’s got a lot of fear of the unknown mixed in with it. You can’t know what’s going to happen, whether you’ll make money at this (probably not) or fall on your face and be a big failure. More than likely, you are going to fail the first few times out. You can’t win a marathon, let alone break records without failing a bit and getting some hard lessons in the process. Maybe your fear here isn’t so much about others as it is a fear of failure.

Whether you fear failure or success—and those two do go together, don’t they?—it’s the fear that’s the problem. The lies are always going to be there. You can’t do much about that. All you can do is learn to deal with them.

They can’t hurt you if you know how to handle them. If you’re not afraid anymore. Then they have no effect. And that’s the reason you’ve got to face this.

If you can accept that your failure or success is irrelevant to the practice of writing you do every day, then you win. All you can do is show up and prove that a writer isn’t someone who makes a lot of money, or even necessarily publishes; a writer is just someone who writes a lot.

That’s the freedom you need to push through draft 4, to refine the sentences, words and phrases, and focus on choosing the best words to give your work style and help distinguish your voice.

  1. You’re all alone.

This is one of the most basic of all fears.

Many writers nurture a secret fear that they’re the only one who struggles like they do, or the only one who has never read Moby Dick, or who doesn’t know what a split infinitive is. Or who can’t afford to travel for research for their book. Writers have dealt with the writer problems since the beginning, and every writer has been an exception in some way.

You’re not alone. Reach out to the people God brings to your life. Use their help and offer your own to them. Critiques, editing, and coaching are all necessary to becoming the whole writer who can handle reader’s questions (more on how to do that right here).

  1. You have nothing.

The idea, the point of your book, is your reason for writing–but it may change. This is hard to accept. Sometimes it’s very clear why, but sometimes it will change on you, and you’ll hear this lie: See? You have nothing here.

Sometimes you’ll hear it as, it’s been done before. And maybe it has or maybe it hasn’t. All you can do is research and try to stay up on the glut of competing titles releasing every week. But even then, you need feedback as your secret weapon to determine whether it’s hitting the mark or the idea feels dated. Experienced, qualified, and often paid help, is absolute gold for you because they can tell you if you have something or not.

Most of the time it hasn’t been done before, certainly not the way you will do it. And if it ends up too close to what another has done, there are ways to solve that.

But this lie may connect with number 3: You’re too [whatever]. It’s one of the most common one-two punches I see. “It’s over, old lady. Or “Go home, little man. No one cares.” A very effective way for the devil to diminish you, your work, and your heart all at the same time. He mocks you for not seeing your book clearly, and then for caring so much about it when no one else seems to.

Plenty of writers won’t survive this. The ones who stuck with it and got help figured out their angle and proved it wasn’t just them who saw this. And others were helped by it.

You don’t have nothing. You have everything. You can make a difference for someone, for a lot of someones, if you’ll just believe.

I said 3 lies? It’s really just one about you: they all say be afraid! Isn’t that the core of all this? Maybe it’s time to start fighting back, realize it’s just par for the course, and stop getting taken out. Start fighting smarter.

Christian writers, every one of us has to learn how to fight fear on a spiritual level. This is ground zero to your writing process, and you’ve got to start thinking of this as part of the work.

Fear is simply a lack of trust. And if you want to trust God more, you’ve got to start seeing where He’s at work and all you have to be grateful for. Start seeking the evidence. He promises when you seek, you will what? Find.

All you have to do is want it. It’s the wanting that matters.

You don’t have to give the lies power.

Fear not. Believe.

You are loved. And that love is your infinite power.

For the higher purpose!
Mick

Creativity Hack: Forget Goals, Focus on the Process

Have you ever noticed how the best writing reads like it sprung from the page spontaneously with an undeniable clarity and logic, like it wasn’t so much written by the author as discovered?

FullSizeRender_2Watching the closing ceremonies of the Olympics with my wife and daughters last night, it was impossible not to realize to how hard every one of those athletes had trained and worked and sacrificed to get there, not to mention their families and friends. Clearly, they were uncommonly focused on their goals.

But less obviously, in order to endure and continue, in order to transcend raw effort and brute strength necessary to reach the level of play, each of them also had to see the work of training as a process, and largely forget about the product, the result.

Like famed writing teacher Donald M. Murray said, this writing thing has to be about process.

Yes, your processing of life and all the seemingly pointless and repetitive pondering and pontificating is absolutely productive.

It’s true, but some part of you still doesn’t believe that. It’s okay. I have proof….

IMG_7217I make a conscious effort to focus on motivation in these little screeds, and the reason, my dear fighting writers, is that when you write, it’s absolutely essential to know your true motives. At least as much as is possible. And of course, that’s far easier said than done because we’re all strangers to ourselves. But in writing, we’re always teaching, and that demands a certain respect for the fact that often, though we’d like to be helpful, insightful and life-wise, we aren’t even aware of the most basic facts.

For instance, the fact is you have to first possess the instruction yourself before you can give it to readers. It’s one thing to know what’s right–it’s quite another to do it. And so many times, I’ll catch myself saying things to writers I myself haven’t yet mastered or put into practice. 

The other day, I caught myself saying: “It’s important to write every day. Be sure to pay attention to your process and record the challenges and changes you notice. When you fail to write one day, set yourself a more achievable goal for the next day.” 

Seems like practical, logical advice. Maybe I should start applying it….

FullSizeRenderOh, sure. I’m busy with many other books. But everyone is busy. And maybe I’ve got too many stories roaming around my head, but who doesn’t? Those aren’t completely invalid, but they’re still just excuses.

Are you this way too? You’d rather serve as channel for the wisdom? Maybe see others benefit through you rather than be a direct recipient? Why do we do that? Why resist what we know we need? Is it fear of change? Simple laziness? Dogged immaturity maybe?

I think I know, at least in my case. It goes back to something I wrote a while back on fear of success. If I took my own advice and it worked, I’d be forced to admit the time I’ve wasted. And worse, I’d be responsible not just for that, but for the new path I’d be taking and for staying on it. I couldn’t slack off and use the old excuses for my limitations.

And maybe that honest assessment is exactly why I’ve needed this blog for 12 years.

FullSizeRender_3I’ve also learned an essential lesson from all the piano lessons my grandma bought me and my mom forced me to do.  Holding a lot at once to make it come out your fingers is never automatic. The secret is discipline, something none of us have until we learn it.

There’s the process of scales and chords and arpeggios. There’s the process of learning to read music. There’s the process of exercising and strengthening fingers, working through resistance, and becoming aware of all the things you must remember. And who knows how long it will take? But even as that’s all slowly happening, there’s the process of synthesizing it all as your grasp grows.

It’s the same with learning a sport or learning to read or to drive or to write. The process of learning requires processing, and it is productive because that’s how you come to possess the learning.

Processing is how we learn to apply our new ability to produce results, the product of our training.

FullSizeRender_1New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert shares that Tom Waits taught her “about the process of songwriting that can apply also to the process of making art, the process of writing a book.” 

She said Tom said, “Every single song has its own individual character and you can’t treat each song the same way, because it wants to be treated differently and there are songs that are like scared birds that you have to sneak up on over the course of months in the woods.” 

I think that’s true of stories and playing piano and great sport performances as well. There are times when the work and the sweat and the hours of hammering on technique and process fall away and all that’s left is the unvarnished beauty of an artist at play. And that’s what I want to see when I read–that’s what we all want to see and want to produce.

But to get to that product, we have to first love the process. 

Just do your thing today, writer. Show up. And speak the words for the love of this incredible higher purpose…

Mick