When Writing Becomes Survival

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“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things that people do.”

-William Zinsser

When people find out I’m an editor, they often say they want to write but they can’t find the time.

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And I always nod and smile. I understand. Life happens and our best laid plans get changed. Everyone has to roll with it and learn to adjust.

But the deeper truth is, your life is what you make of it and “rolling with it” doesn’t get books written. Nor does it increase your awareness of the importance of it, or heighten your sensitivity for understanding the universal plight inside your own story.

I believe in being kind and considerate. Writing is for me, in many ways, caring deeply for the burdens others carry. But sometimes, at least when it comes to those trying to write, that consideration of the burden of time and effort writing requires needs to be put aside. A writer must make big sacrifices for the hope and the truth that otherwise won’t get shared.

And if there’s one thing we should know now better than ever before it’s that people are literally dying for the truth.

If we’re called to write, it must no longer take the back seat in our lives.

Of course, the world is not clamoring for our words (most of us, not yet). And even then, we can’t selfishly demand sacrifices from those around us to support our single-minded writing. But if we don’t realize there are sacrifices from everyone for writing, we miss the bigger picture.

Writing always demands huge sacrifice. I’ve worked with all types through all types of stories, and every one has involved incredible sacrifices of time, money, other ambitions, involvements, and even responsibilities to family to do it. A completed book, even if it sells, can’t bring any of this back.

We don’t do this for ourselves. Every writer makes sacrifices to help their readers.

Helping others is part of their core motivation.

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But a deeper motivation forms that heart for others:

Returning to God the gifts, talents, and glory he’s given us is our highest purpose as called writers.

It’s His story. He’s given us the experience and the voices to share them with. It’s all too easy to get distracted from this true goal. How do we continue to press in when life pushes writing out?

Because life always pushes the deeper truths in our stories to the margins.

The truth about writing is, though it seems easy until you try it, its inherent difficulty can be maddeningly complex.

Like fixing a bad golf swing, or designing an exciting roller coaster, the work of helping others with our stories is surprisingly hard. I’ve played just enough golf and built enough rollercoasters (just kidding) to know it’s in the minor adjustments that we gain the efficiency and accuracy we need. Anyone can understand the concept. But the professionals in this business will tell you it’s only in conquering the slight inaccuracies in your head that you become better than proficient.

And when the challenge of facing your own inadequacy comes, the “stick-to-it-iveness” needed can’t come simply from hearing this truth, but from completely changing your mindset from trying to help others or giving glory to God, to accepting your own insufficiency to do either one properly. 

I believe it’s only with that kind of realistic, fundamental humility that great writing becomes possible.

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The secret to overcoming the complex challenge of writing well isn’t merely in forcing yourself to do it, or pushing or demanding others to make the sacrifices for you. It’s disciplining your mind to receive the full truth from God about yourself and your own contribution to your challenges.

What else makes a story live and breathe with authenticity but a writer who sees their inadequacy and humanity and writes that into the characters, into the scenes? And how else would a writer capture that vulnerable truth but by seeing all too clearly how insufficient he or she is for this task?

The only way to survive as a writer is to overcome the fear of realizing your challenges and allowing God to help you overcome them.

One of the most famous quotes about writing is that it has to become something you can’t not do. That is, it has to become your very survival.

I believe that survival is the very start of the higher purpose, by God’s grace, the mindfulness, awareness, the prayer to God that takes us and molds us into our best use, by the slow process of writing.

So release your anxiety and stop forcing the process. Slow down, relax, and refocus your mind on just saying what you have to say.

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And know that in the process, you and your words are being changed into the best form, for the best purpose. If only you are willing.

Be patient. Pray and get settled.

Believe. And don’t forget your real motivation.

It’s all for the higher purpose,

Mick

“Writing is far too hard work to say what someone else wants me to. Serving it as a craft, using it as a way of growing in my own understanding, seems to me to be a beautiful way to live. And if that product is shareable with other people, so much the better.”

– Jane Rule

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7 thoughts on “When Writing Becomes Survival”

  1. Somehow, some way, you’re helping me realize in increasingly realer (is that a word?) ways a huge truth about the motivation of writing being all about doing it to help others. I mean, I’ve thought I understood, but as I am able to believe it bigger and bigger, it’s becoming really GOOD NEWS. Thanks Mick and Merry Christmas to you and yours.
    Lovingly
    Suzee B

    1. Realer. More real. I love it. It’s a word! And an encouraging one at that.

      Thank you, my friend. And praying you write realer today!

      Mick

  2. This bit is my takeaway: “A writer must make big sacrifices for the hope and the truth that otherwise won’t get shared.”

    Thank you. And, many blessings to you as you encourage.

    1. Not an easy thing, for sure. But so important, and so many who are with you and waiting to hear, including the one who calls us to trust him. Thanks, Darlene! -M

  3. And if there’s one thing we should know now better than ever before it’s that people are literally dying for the truth.

    Remind me to put on the old CPAP when I read your posts, Mick. I am so nailed to the chair, I stop breathing.

    “Writing is far too hard work to say what someone else wants me to.”

    Oh dear. This could be the year…

    1. There’s no more denying that call when it’s not working to distract ourselves and let life get busy and full. Only one way will ultimately fulfill the yearning. And I’m pretty sure that deep knowledge is there for a wonderful reason… thanks for sharing your heart here, my friend. Praying for you. -M

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