Writing More Than Your Story

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“When the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant, then the writer has been listening. And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect, into adventures we do not always understand."

―MADELINE L'ENGLE

The first task in writing your story is letting go of what you wish your story was. 

When I first wanted to write my story over 15 years ago, I hoped to tell the world what I knew. Telling that would prove I was a writer with something to say. It seemed so simple and guileless.

It took years to shed that notion. And now you'd think I'd have compassion for those starting out there. But I'm here to tell you: I don't. I resent the presumption when writers ask about publishing and publicity, even if they know they're not really ready. They haven't let the story teach them patience, perseverance, perspective. And until they know how destitute they are, I want to insist that they haven't learned the first task.

They haven't let go of what they wish their story was. 

Editing and coaching authors is a way for me to take them to the well to look down and say, Do you see that? That is you. That's me. That's everyone before we've been saved and renewed.

This is why the message must be more than simply what you're hoping to get from it right now.  audience

That process always produces good things. Nonetheless, what I need, even as I'm guiding others, is a deep conviction of my own lack of sufficiency. I don't have the answers. My complete inadequacy brings the needed humility to my conviction. And I can't see my insufficiency when I'm using my editing work to right the injustice of the world or bring me the appreciation I so rightly deserve. 

Yes, I do struggle with this. I hope you're not surprised.

Writer, editor, publisher, whoever–entitled people are the opposite of listening people. Whatever I want is always in the way of what I really need. My desires are not God's. And that's the trouble. That's in my way. That's always what's keeping me from the Way. 

But the question remains and it's in the way of our stories: how will I get what I need to justify the suffering I've endured in my story? If you needed proof, that question should prove how ignorant and unbelieving we are, how far away from The Way our way really is. How great our need for a greater story. 

When I ask "What's in it for me?" I'm prevented asking "What can I do for you?" But when "What can I do" replaces "What's in it for me?" paradoxically, I find the answer every time. 

I think this is the foundational principle of storytelling. This openness, humility, this is the starting place. Letting go of all we may hope to get out of telling our stories–the accolades, acceptance, affection–all those things are completely and utterly forfeit in the light of a higher purpose, dedicated entirely to whatever result your Muse may have for you beyond this lowland where you can't quite see what He so assurredly does. 

Oh, how often I forget! I'm the worst at remembering this–which only proves it to me all the more. As a worker with words, I always go back to trying to twist them into my service, back to not letting my story teach me or anyone else that first task. I need to go back up to the top and read it again now…

When I think I can't be far off from what I need, I'm still expecting something. But when I finally, fully, let go of my way, I'm somehow given the very thing I'm after. 

audience Before the message can liberate others, it must liberate me.

 I have to be reminded of it regularly: show up empty. You can't pick up the daily manna if you're already holding to what you want to say. 

 For this is the lesson: we don't have stories, we become them. They will say what we never could, what we would merely turn into the opposite, if left in our dry wells. 

 

Thank the Lord we never, ever are!

Will you let your story go to let it live beyond you?

What are you after? Acknowledgment? Acclaim? Apology? Validation?  

Let go of it. Let a new, unwritten story take its place. That one can never be taken away.  

audience

He would make you more than a writer. He'd make you a witness unto him. 

Do you want it? Have you encountered it? Have you been waiting for a reminder before you come back and with your empty jar to simply pick up the daily manna again? You need an encounter to bring you back. 

But it doesn't need to be a miraculous encounter. You will find it in the blank pages as you look with the right eyes. As the words rise to the surface, the utterings too soft to be heard until you show up empty.

The writer's soul longs for this desert, this wasteland where the words rise. It's available all the time. Don't wait. Come and listen. 

You will be a witness–and nothing more.  

"All artists are vulnerable. Suppose there is no audience? Suppose no one will read or care about what you have given out of your heart's blood? Suppose the reviewers are brutal in their clever misunderstandings? Suppose that the words are unacceptable after all? It makes no difference. The writer is called to offer. [And] it is the offering that matters." 
 
Acceptable Words, Schmidt & Stickney
 
Mick
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