The Shortcut to Remarkable Work (or How to Start Writing Daily)

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The shortcut to remarkable work is writing every day.

I’m convinced this is the truth, but I’m already looking for an easier way.

light

I mean, I believe the work changes you as you write and that’s how you slowly learn to truly live. But I’m 41 and finally beginning to commit to the daily practice of writing, and I think I’ve found a secret obstruction we writers all face at some point:

What I believe and what I do is not the same thing.

It’s only the same thing when I’ve gotten fed up enough to do something. I try to apply discipline and establish a new habit of writing every day. And with any luck I’m too chicken to find out what happens if I slack off.

But what if I could actually believe writing every day would change everything?

You see, then I’d have to commit and here’s the trouble: I can write all about commitment on a Monday and how all the best writers seem to know the real work of writing is slow, but consistency and dedication to the process is the key and blah blah blah. And within a day or two I’ll be off back looking for the shortcut again, afraid of how far behind I seem compared to so-and-so, and how desperately I need to make up for lost time.

backMy heart and my head seem to be at odds fighting for different things. One wants what’s best for everyone and is willing to sacrifice everything for it. The other only wants what’s best for me and isn’t willing to sacrifice anything more until he gets it.

I used to rebel when I was approached as a sinner rather than as a loved son of God. Now I stop writing when I realize I’m trying to force compliance through guilt or shaming myself for having no discipline.

See the parallel? The feeling is eerily familiar. How many times do I have to go through this? 

I’m just about the worst guy in the world with “supposed tos.”

Show me a “supposed to” and I’ll show you an “Oh-I-guess-I’m-a-big-disappointment” middle finger.

It’d be funny if it wasn’t such a problem. I just want to finish my dang book.

canopyWe are our only hope for getting where we belong in life. Yes, God does it. But he waits for us to act. And yet our upbringing, our beliefs, our imprints and damage and deficits convince us we’re weak and that others are the reason. We think they are our real problem and we have no real choice. We were given these bodies, these lives, these experiences and what the L are we supposed to do, huh?

I used to think this. I used to think my trouble was my ridiculously strong will that I just couldn’t make behave. See, I was raised to think I simply needed more restriction. Evangelical homes–maybe you knew one. With the best of intentions, they taught good behavior by punishing misbehavior and through training in what we “should do.”

The goal wasn’t wrong. But the method was about180-degrees off. What motivates human beings isn’t thinking they’re “bad-trying-to-be-good” but rather “good-who-sometimes-choose-to-do-foolish-things.”

That’s a big difference.

And the result is that we can stop trying to muscle compliance with elaborate punishments and rewards, hoping to eventually win out, and thinking “I’m really just a loser.” 

treeThis behavior management should be permanently retired. It’s painful. And it doesn’t work.

We need a total overhaul of the system. Let’s try the exact opposite. Instead of believing I’m useless, maybe revise it: “Okay, that’s okay. You’re tired. We can try again tomorrow.”

Maybe the major reason we haven’t progressed faster is because we haven’t felt known and seen and loved as who we are. And our tendency to jump the rails happens when we start feeling worthless and need a hug.

Humans. We get tired don’t we? Even strong controllers like me have ragey-whiney times. We get hangry sometimes, and shockingly we don’t adequately express our emotions very well so they come out in weird ways and at inappropriate times. We’re like big children.

Do you struggle with writing daily? Well, how many times growing up did you hear, “It’s okay. I know you’re upset. You can try again next time?”

Not very often? 

fadingDo you get frustrated thinking about all you still have to do on your book? If so, how do you feel about “supposed tos?”

Interesting.

Maybe this is why you’d rather cheat the system and look for shortcuts. Do you fear you’re hopeless to sustain long discipline?

How many times were your feelings seen, heard, acknowledged and comforted when you were growing up? By my own informal count of writers I meet at conferences, most wouldn’t even know how to express what that looks like let alone be able to do it for themselves and others.

I think it’s safe to say this near-complete lack of emotional acuity is something of an epidemic in the conservative Christian subculture.

For much of my life, I tended to think God was disappointed with me and couldn’t trust me not to screw things up. This has led to a lot of rehashing of the same troubles and boatloads of self-pity.

bdayI went through an angry blaming stage–and blame is a balm that stings like crazy and does nothing to heal. I tried to blame my parents but I knew it wasn’t their fault. They weren’t seen or known themselves. And it wasn’t until my kids came along that I realized discipline has very little to do with what I say and almost everything to do with what I do.

Like many parents, I suddenly discovered I needed to be a better person in order to parent well. I guess it was the universal “oh-crap” light switch we all find at some point. I think all writers who want to write well eventually have to flip a similar switch…

And turn on the blinding light of truth.

Only one thing will help you write well and convince anyone you’ve been writing for years. And that is being a committed writer. It may lead to affirmation, approval or acceptance by others, but only if you let go of seeking shortcuts, supposed tos and affirmation. Ditch the very idea that any of that is going to get you where you belong at all.

Maybe your problem, like mine, has been embracing the wrong goal.

sunsetWhat if we started trying to feel the truth behind our wild ambitions and finally confront the frustration and anger that drives it? Maybe we could deal with that and realize it’s common and accept it. Maybe we could finally let go of it and heal of the resentment that’s held us back. And then maybe we’d really know how to encourage and equip people through our work, how to free them the way writing has freed us.

Once the right goal was in mind maybe we’d find the very thing we were after all along.

If you think about it, that may be the only shortcut: to stop trying so hard and stop and feel what’s in your heart. To let go of the tight control on all the things you’re trying to make work, all the things you want your writing to do, and just let it be. As it is.

It could be you need to finally face that you’re really deeply hurt and sad for the child who wasn’t held and wasn’t comforted when it was so desperately needed.

Let it come naturally, whatever comes. No judgment, no expectations. And see that child. Hear him. Hug her. And then see if that doesn’t free you to write daily, without judgment.

I dare you.

There will be plenty of time for shaping and editing later. You can make it sound pretty after this.

What if you’d just met the love of your life? Wouldn’t you let the love affair take its course before you proposed?

Enjoy finally committing to this daily work. And let go. And laugh.

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21 thoughts on “The Shortcut to Remarkable Work (or How to Start Writing Daily)”

  1. Funny. I think you’ll really enjoy you’re read from me. It seems most of what I’m discovering you have described in this blog. Coming to these conclusions has not been a heap of fun. But being free from it’s burden is astronomically enjoyable. Congratulations on your discoveries. :)

    1. Ooh. I’m looking forward to reading it even more now. Give me a week or so…? Thanks for stopping by, Texas. Love what you’re doing with your amazing mom.

    1. That’s some incredibly important advice, isn’t it Chris? Thanks for the kind words.

  2. here’s what speaks to me in this one about the work. loud and clear and lovely. i like these 3. and a whole bunch of others, especially your clear and present danger risky reference concerning the middle finger.

    1. “What if you’d just met the love of your life? Wouldn’t you let the love affair take its course before you proposed?”

    2. “And our tendency to jump the rails happens when we start feeling worthless and need a hug.” See, I think learning how to be gentle with our’s elves is HUGE. The ripple effect IMPORTANT!

    3. “What I believe and what I do is not the same thing.” Hmmm, sounds like this guy named Paul. “For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.”

    I LOVE YOU,
    suzee B

    1. You see the heart, LPF. That’s probably why I love your comments so much. And if you tend toward “a-musement” at times, it is no shame because you are a heart-thinker. And that’s what this amazing healer I’m getting to know is all about.

      Thank you, for loving. And for all you share of yours elf.

  3. This, right here.
    “We are our only hope for getting where we belong in life. Yes, God does it. But he waits for us to act.”
    Why does it take so long for us to get that?? Even when the instruction is coming through a bullhorn.
    But possibly the reward for finally growing up, even just a little, is that somehow we still get to be our silly selves and God loves us that way. Not that we shouldn’t strive to make changes when necessary, but maybe more importantly, he wants us to step out of shame or guilt or whatever beast has us in its claws, and focus on the victory God has already got lined up for us. If only we’d lay claim to it.

    1. My friend Jim Rubart says it takes so long because we can’t read what the label on our bottle says. We’re trapped inside and need someone else to read it for us.

      I think the Cathy West label says “Truth Warrior. Insight-Seeker. Strong, sarcastic and fun-loving Heart-Sharer, balanced by her power as Truth-Lover and Speaker, with the courage to fight to hold onto it, even wait and believe in it without much external evidence when necessary.” May you know it deep down to be true and live it for all to see! (I know it takes one to know one, but if I’m projecting, you’re an amazing “Truth-Reflector” too. :) (is this too deep for the public comment section? I can’t say. Not sure I much care either.)

  4. Yup! On two counts that struck me as especially germane. First, find and love that little inner kid, and parent him/her well.
    Second, write in a way that honors that kid–good, bad, ugly–write and live with compassion, just as you now parent with compassion, and faith that it will all turn out OK.

    1. Oh, this gives me ideas for a new lens on this timeless topic. So true, my counselor friend. Thank you for that.

    1. Always! We’re just speaking what we all already recognize in our hearts if only someone would say it and acknowledge the kid has a point… Thanks for confirming you know it too. :)

  5. Ha. See I would have said my label looks more like a skull and crossbones toxic warning …
    But I take your kind words to heart, and since it’s not a Thursday, suspect there may be some truth there.
    And it’s your blog, you can write what you want. That’s what the middle finger is for, I believe.

    1. Hahahaha! That’s Life-giving. And a Breath of fresh air. Add those to the label too. :) this is going to have to be a Magnum bottle, I think.

    2. That’s the only way to drink anyway. :P Expensive, but all good things are.
      And what does your label say?

      Yes, I am procrastinating. I do actually have work to do. But at this point in the day I doubt much will get done.

    3. My label says “Label-Reader” for sure. And probably “Over-Analyzer” with the emphasis on Anal. Although, wine helps. So as long as I’m surrounded by drinkers, I should be set. :) Get to work, Catherine.

  6. Emphasis on the anal…! Love it!
    Came back to say I just listened to Josh Groban’s “You raise me up”. For the umpteenth time. Ah, yes, and no end of thanks to the Father and to the many humans who do the raising up, in even subtle ways, that get me/us out of the contorted anal position, and on to the mountains.
    PS. The great photos sometimes hoist me up and on. :-)
    Thnx Mick

  7. I struggle with the guilt, too, when I miss a day (or…gulp…a week). Or, let’s be honest: whole seasons of my life where I wrote about parking lot paving projects and staff satisfaction surveys and pandemic flu research (8 lovely years in healthcare PR/comms).

    I know there is the dogma in “real writers” circles to “show up every day,” “stare down Resistance,” put that “bottom-in-chair. And I believe that’s how it works, generally. You DO have to push through. But I think that we should be allowed some fallow seasons, too. I figure, if GOD takes a day’s rest from His creating, then He’s trying to make a point. We’ve got big bravado if we think we don’t need the occasional timeout, too!

    1. So true, Becky. Thanks for the important no-guilt caveat! If it’s not freeing, it’s not worth it.

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