Tag Archives: beauty

How to Write Free & Relax About It

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

Frederick Buechner, Now and Then


Sending my socially awkward kid off to high-school brings up everything unresolved in me from that time in my own life that I have trouble concentrating for hoping she can stay relaxed and find the fun where she can because it will be over so fast and being cool won’t matter anymore.


People often talk about writer’s block or writer’s anxiety. Writing is full of anxiety. Writing well is even more so because there’s the expectation of producing something good and worthwhile.

Expectations are a setup. And as every writer knows, with a setup, you have to have a payoff.

The payoff of any expectation is either fulfillment or disappointment. And most often, when the inner critic stands ready to judge what comes out, disappointment is the result.

The conscious mind is very limiting.

This is why to write at all, let alone well, you first have got to get out of your own way.

If you aren’t willing to fail, you aren’t going to get any creative work done.

You’ve got to get past perfection and let yourself pursue play and risk you might likely fail at and have to try again.

You’ve got to be persistent, stubborn, and believe you are here not to produce something beautiful but to learn to let go of your expectations so you can see the beauty in everything.

You must want something better than success. You must want to grow and remain open to what’s next.

That way you never close off, never stop seeking to expand the relaxing comfort your heart truly wants, and the freedom you feel amongst your closest, safest friends. You will find safety and connection with them if you invite it and embrace it and don’t close off.

The world is too loud and dominating and the fight is too difficult not to keep seeking that relationship with God in all his many forms.

And to do this, we’ve got to be able to let go, but also to hold on to our specific grounding in the present moment.

That will release you from the anxiety so you can finally write what you’re able to hear that no one else can.

Remember, nothing is wasted….


After reminding myself of all this, I send off an email of dad-advice to Ellie, encouraging her to know how amazing she is and to always keep her smiley disposition. I let the anxiety push my better self to speak what I know. And the old fears don’t seem to hold the same power they used to anymore.

And no matter what, I think she’ll be okay.


i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

– e.e. cummings

Why editing isn’t just the how but the what  

Whenever I work with new authors, they’re eager and excited. And almost always they want to focus on how they did—whether the structure they used works and how well it “flows.”

But what I find almost 100% of the time is that first, they need help hearing what they said. And without exception, it’s surprising to them to realize what I’m hearing.

We think editing is a matter of mechanics. What we find is, it’s mostly about relevance and authenticity.

More than structure, we need to hear how we sound beyond our own heads.

Picture a singer too focused on all the other instruments to hear what his voice is contributing. Picture a painter thinking only of a person’s shape without perspective and the play of shadow and light on skin.

Language is magic. We don’t control it without patient work. And even then…

Are you open to hearing what you haven’t yet heard?

How else would we expect to learn to affect others with what’s in our minds and hearts that hasn’t yet been said?

The Stories That Come to Know You: Hunting with Dad

It isn't solely my truth to hand you, of course, but I believe a story is built of the same dynamic force as relationship. In relating, it expresses and exchanges the same basic electric magnetism, the attractive-repellant force between any two things.  

A boy learns about this force at an early age, though he'll never fully understand it, even if he felt it warm as daylight as a nine-year-old… 

forest in fog

My father wakes me so early I’m not sure I’ve slept, though I must have since I don’t remember him getting up.
“Time to go,” he says and I hope he isn’t serious. It’s dark. Where is he? “Your shoes are here.” I sit up listening to his boots walking away toward the truck to prepare the rifles.
My arm’s wet from the condensation inside the warm tent. Are we going to eat first? I won’t ask, not because I’m not hungry but because I don’t want to give away that I’m only trying to delay.
Do I know why we’re here, what this really is, this weekend I’ll become a man? He’s surely noticed how my once-bold mimicry has gone subterranean, how time’s shrinking.
Strange, these things you come to know in the stories that come to know you. These well-worn weapons polished to amber….
The glow and crackle of barely-light, perfumed with coffee and pine and damp earth. The cheap thrill of watering any tree you like but working quickly to avoid blood-suckers. You learn to think ahead, to already be where the deer will show up when they’re hungry.
Sometimes hunters don’t tell you the why of things because they know the most important lessons are never spoken. They must be apprehended through observation.
You want mature ones with antlers that have grown many points with each winter survived. You walk against the wind so they won’t smell you coming. You look for cloven prints and droppings though you don’t actually taste the dark pellets he pretends to chew, a mock native, a deer whisperer. He coaxes my reluctant smile, maybe noticed it growing more reluctant as the darkness waned sometime during our quiet steps through the undergrowth.
Even with his gaze on the dark space between the distant trees he’s undistracted, sensing. On another day not far off I will encourage this same heightened awareness while exploring with my own kids.
You’re looking for a depression down a ridge that affords an ample view. You follow the position of the sun so it won’t be in your eyes once it comes up through the canopy lining the sloping horizon of the ridgeline.
You find your protected spot and you begin to wait. And silent hours pass.
Expectancy is a wonder. You can wait so long you forget your legs and the tingling. You may even drift off only to realize in sudden shock that everything has changed. Or it hasn’t yet but it could. Because everything and always is buzzing with it.
But the longer that passes the less likely it seems anything will happen, even right up to the moment in the story that will be recounted often over the years, each time becoming somehow both rounder and more solid.
A foursome of deer, slow, watchful, not 100 yards off, parades into the clearing from the thicket. And a big buck leads them, carrying in on his large twin forks what suddenly flickers to my awareness as the shiny weapon rises quick, fluid, and I straighten my thin arm and plead a whisper.
“Don’t shoot him, Dad!”
He doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t look at me. The deer continue their halting steps.
He doesn’t argue. Just lowers the gun.
Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his gun for his son. 

I’m so disparate, so wholly other, I should repel, but my father, compassion unfailing, his mercies are new every morning. The unlikely moment of all our effort has come and passed by and may never come again and I've mangled it. I'm Fern crying over Wilbur the pig; I'm the ridiculous old woman in The Fox and the Hound.

I've become the wrong character in the stories–and he's surely sorry he's let me read them now. And I know what's in the Happy Meals.

But for that force he felt, a power held but not grasped, in appreciation of something else, something otherwise unrelated, I may not have learned this lesson until much later–the reverence due for that fragile charge between two things.

Life brings endless opportunities to trade relationships. The test of a true hunter is in how well he listens.

Let scientists discover why relationships build intelligence and compassion. Let others sing “It’s love that makes the world go around.” I have seen this fearsome force and it is wholly mystery, pure and clear.
I know the power in a story. And I will work to write it on hearts all my life.
It’s easily forgotten, carrying your familiar stories with you every day, but it's an affective spark that could breathe new life into existence.

Because not everyone hears it, but we all sense it's there, the question–what is this attraction to what so repels? 

Is the answer in the question, there in that spark of recognition?

Is this why a story is always ultimately about hope?

Wait expectantly, dear hunter. Find your stories, these captured sparks arcing through all his created wonders.

Seeing Beauty, Part 4

I came upon a strange little connection last night while I
was playing piano that I never thought of before. Something of a synthesizing
metaphor that may help explain what learning to see beauty really requires. Or at least, what it's required for me.

Are these fleeting thoughts worth grabbing and exploring?

I was playing music, realizing that my old habit of
overusing the sustain pedal was in full swing and trying to resist it, but my
bad habit and the combo of my lack of practicing on this particular song made
it nearly impossible for me to help my foot just riding that pedal. I
remembered my guild judge assessment from elementary school writing something
about it, how I “tended to favor” the pedal a bit too much, and I’m unable to
excuse the fact that it’s been going on that long.

Can I face the truth of that, the deeper implications of
what it may reveal about me?

The point is, I had just made the realization that I’d held
God’s promptings at bay my whole life because of the clichés and deadening
effect of so many sincere, but manipulative Christians using unsubstantiated
“godtalk” (as Petersen so earth-shatteringly talks about–> here <–you owe it to yourself to read this. Often). 

Pastors, leaders, people who should
know better as the “pinnacle of God’s chosen,” are constantly falling and failing in the
morass of banal Christian-speak that extracts the sacred out and makes it
commonplace. I thought how unless the Holy Spirit breathes life into us and our
lives, our words will have no power. Besides that, we’ll have nothing
worthwhile to share. I have been this way too. And the difficulty of remaining open to God’s leading is
why it’s so common to lose the touch, lose the daily, hard searching that gives
us truth and beauty, goodness and love to explore and then share. I think this
is a very big part of the reason so much of Christian teaching is unhelpful.

Ask yourself why the phrase “God is good” so often sounds so

In music, you can’t pretend. There’s no covering up
sloppiness or undisciplined playing because it’s a fundamental lack of
knowledge due to a lack of regular practice. Plain and simple. It's just as true for writers. And in life, the
overwhelming problem for any believer who’s been in church a while is apathy,
the inescapable pandemic. Christians who pretend to have deep current
knowledge of God, many all the while cover up their lack of regular spiritual
practice behind Christianese, lingo, clichéd phrases, and the “God-talk” Eugene
Petersen has identified. Have you noticed? Basically, the world is overrun with walking-dead
Christians trying to hide their unbelief and dead faith. And as anyone who has
mastered a skill knows, you can’t cover a lack of practice.

But many of us probably know firsthand why someone would want to.

You also can’t cover for a lack of insight. So often I see
writing that’s uninspired. I see people with good ideas, passable talent, even
some good editing and shaping skills. But their work doesn’t reveal anything
exceptional. And that’s always because they aren’t focused on what really
matters. I know because I have been there. If you aren’t able to see what’s going on behind everyday reality,
none of your powers of translation will matter. You’ll have nothing of real
value to say.

What big questions are you asking and seeking out answers

Writers have to see what others don’t see. That’s the first
skill to acquire. Knowing how to share it is secondary. And if you’re trying to
cover for a lack of regular practice, neglecting the work of pulling back the curtain to find
what’s really going on back there, it won’t go unnoticed. You can’t cover for
it. It might sound better than it would otherwise, but it’s still going to be
full of mistakes.  

What “mistakes” does it seem God allowed in your life?

It’s easier to ignore the leadings, the moments we get new
thoughts like this. It doesn’t mean anything, after all. Everyone gets them.
And it may take some real time to consider what of use might be there. But this is
the daily choice: will we seek first the kingdom, or will we not? Sometimes we
might not want the answer. We might not believe there is one, or maybe we think
simply accepting is better, and living with the unanswered questions. Is that more dignified? More holy?

At some point, I realized relationship requires communication. Maybe some can just accept. I have to talk (okay, shout). Then I have to listen. Often I'm not ready to. I'm not mature enough yet. I have to wonder if others feel the same. Are we afraid
we’ll get silence in return? If beauty is everywhere, can there be beauty in
the waiting too?

How can we commit to such a painful daily practice of
seeking out the answers, even in the most painful places?

Maybe a better question is, how can we not? It seems to me,
to see beauty, you may first need to be willing to look long and hard at the
opposite. And maybe sometimes to wait there in the uncomfortable spot. Maybe you'll have to yell a bit. But that's the deal. That's all part of it. And for real, seasoned writers, I really believe there's no other way to share the real stuff. Don’t hesitate to take me up on that challenge. Sure, there's real good in easy beauty too, no doubt. But it's not all that. And I guess I want to encourage you not to be afraid of it. You'll make it through if you're honest and don't move on too quickly. Try starting today.


Thank you to Ann, who helped to
inspire this thought.

Seeing Beauty, Part 3

I’m finally feeling like myself today after a full 10 days of the worst flu symptoms I’ve ever experienced—6 days of 102 temperature, complete fatigue, and every nasty thing that comes with it. We all caught it but finally have been smuggled through back to the land of the living. Charlotte never really got it and we realized she probably has natural immunity from her tendency to eat more of what comes from her nose than any other kind of food. Apologies to any other OCD types; it’s generally enough to make my wife gag just thinking about it.


But I promised some reflections on story and structure and I’ve been thinking about it from my drug-addled haze…


We long for story to help explain our lives’ meaning. Stories help us define our experience, validate it and give us comparisons, like juxtaposing contrasting colors. Personalities can clash and reveal countless mysteries to ponder. We thrill in those alternations between confusion and discovery. And this is beauty.


There’s a hint here of the deeper order at work beneath the workings. We didn’t invent stories, just like we didn’t invent language or words or the ability to understand them. We’ve developed them, adapted and changed and manipulated them, but just like we didn’t create the materials we use to create with, we didn’t create the words. The great order did. The deeper order. Even when we don’t see the structure, it’s there always at work underneath.


And the deep romance in this is what we’re ultimately after. How unthinkable it is that God would do all this, create all this, for what reason? We’re not told, and it’s they kind of mystery that’s needed for the romance to thrive. The greater the mystery, the greater the thrill when the answer is revealed. Just like the greater the dissimilarity between the players, the greater the thrill when peace is finally reconciled. This is the story going on and when redemption finds its way to the unlikeliest of characters, we shake our heads and remember how amazing it all is and how little we really know of it. How small we really are. And how grateful must we be….


To see this and explore its supernatural reality through the evidence we have—nature and metaphors and the Bible and prayer—this is the fuel for the journey. Is seeing it something we can choose? Of course, and it starts with as simple an act as recognizing that it’s there for us to choose to see. And it does become easier with practice. When life is hard, sometimes it’s harder to recognize, harder to pry our eyes open. We can never assume it’s truly easy.


But that’s why I want to make it as easy as possible to find for others and to share my amazement. To remind myself and whoever else wants it that just beyond this ordinary, familiar 3D world (the one they’re so excited about recreating for us through technology these days) is a far more interesting one with more unbelievable wonders than you could ever dream up.


And it’s there I want to be deeply exploring, constantly waking myself up to the beauty, order, and romance behind everything we see, feel, smell, hear, taste, and experience.


These are the clues. What’s really behind them?