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.
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.
My 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.
We 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.”
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?
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.
I 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.
What 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.