Tag Archives: creativity

Writing into the Light

Like most who pursue this creative life, while writing I’m more dependent on the daily requirements of my existence than I like to admit.


And like most, I’m terrified of losing my routine. The little habits I’ve grown addicted to, of waking and showering and reading, preparing and preserving the ideas and energy for the page, they’ve grown to encompass more of the real world I’m forced to face every day. And it worries me, but the less life demands, the less I have to fight to escape into the lucid dream of my story world.

In the realer world, the one beyond the physical, no mere intellect serves. A writer can visit this world and translate its whisperings as “fiction,” yet the language there is a weirdly enveloping experience. At times, I’ve known only heaven could provide such inspiration so dissimilar to my waking reality, even though it’s like nothing I’ve read in a Bible or heard in church. I can’t claim to know the place even partially—it’s a world I’ve only imagined and barely described with words.

But it exists as surely as I do. And no sanctuary in my experience has been holier.

As I write, I go to this place and my hope is to convey my visits. When I’m not writing, it always waits for me to wake up to it, hoping I’ll remember as I go about my daily business. At times the longing for it grows so strong, I go to write and wake up there, as though I’d never left. Yet eventually, bleary-eyed and squinting, I’m again forced to emerge from the vacuum chamber of a story, to re-acclimate to this dimmer, more tangible place. Sometimes I resist returning, but I always give in, to remain available to my wife, family and the many other things I love.

But as Erasmus said, the desire to write grows with writing.

164819_494124054563_777394563_5801658_7068250_nIf that world didn’t exist, I wouldn’t want to write, for this realer dream is a treasure room of such glorious beauty, and writing of it is how I bring some shining thing back to share, even a tiny spark to inspire others before it disappears and we all have to go about our busy lives once again.

Isn’t it our truest job to allow this attraction to be our strongest longing–at least for a few fleeting moments? Like any obsession, the more invested I am in seeking it, the more I want it.

I know I can’t simply stay in that wonderful place forever. For one thing, I’m always alone there. And it’s fearsome at times and I know I have to come back and share my struggle so other will know it’s normal to be afraid at times and weary, torn between this dingy earth and the mysterious one inside—however alive it makes us feel.

Maybe that conflict is part of the beauty itself: that inescapable pull between life here and life there is the basis of the inspiration born of that stark contrast and endless battle to see and feel it. Maybe this strain we feel between our worlds is what made us creators in the first place, the seekers of wonders known so far only to the original Creator. And either we fight to face the challenge to see all we can and render it faithfully—or we work to forget there’s anything there.


I’ve spent years of study and practice and no one told me about this place. Most haven’t believed in it, or I assumed they didn’t. Others act like it should be an easy matter to find out whatever this world beyond is. But nothing about this struggle to believe is ever easy. To conquer the fear of wasting your time, or of escaping familiar life, that commitment must be new every day. It’s only when I’m seeking the clues of that greater world that the importance of my calling becomes clear, the true gravity of my simple, tiny life.

Because what actually is this place? Isn’t it merely these continually growing and waning flashes of insight, these expansive and microscopic moments birthed by writing into the blank space, and filling it with all my paltry-but-full-of-hope words, tinged by light but tarnished by my clumsy hands? I trade my body and mind for a spirit always more awake than I, and I keep on until all that remains outside melts away and my life grows quiet around me and my inner senses grow stronger. And then I know I’m there and here, at once.

And always, just beyond that bend ahead, my Maker beckons preparing me for when the moment is finally right. I’ll press forward, always sensing the fragility, only a thin string of words left to share until there’s no longer anything stopping me from escaping for that last time…

And then I’ll only be there,


For the Higher Purpose,


Creativity Hack: Forget Goals, Focus on the Process

Have you ever noticed how the best writing reads like it sprung from the page spontaneously with an undeniable clarity and logic, like it wasn’t so much written by the author as discovered?

FullSizeRender_2Watching the closing ceremonies of the Olympics with my wife and daughters last night, it was impossible not to realize to how hard every one of those athletes had trained and worked and sacrificed to get there, not to mention their families and friends. Clearly, they were uncommonly focused on their goals.

But less obviously, in order to endure and continue, in order to transcend raw effort and brute strength necessary to reach the level of play, each of them also had to see the work of training as a process, and largely forget about the product, the result.

Like famed writing teacher Donald M. Murray said, this writing thing has to be about process.

Yes, your processing of life and all the seemingly pointless and repetitive pondering and pontificating is absolutely productive.

It’s true, but some part of you still doesn’t believe that. It’s okay. I have proof….

IMG_7217I make a conscious effort to focus on motivation in these little screeds, and the reason, my dear fighting writers, is that when you write, it’s absolutely essential to know your true motives. At least as much as is possible. And of course, that’s far easier said than done because we’re all strangers to ourselves. But in writing, we’re always teaching, and that demands a certain respect for the fact that often, though we’d like to be helpful, insightful and life-wise, we aren’t even aware of the most basic facts.

For instance, the fact is you have to first possess the instruction yourself before you can give it to readers. It’s one thing to know what’s right–it’s quite another to do it. And so many times, I’ll catch myself saying things to writers I myself haven’t yet mastered or put into practice. 

The other day, I caught myself saying: “It’s important to write every day. Be sure to pay attention to your process and record the challenges and changes you notice. When you fail to write one day, set yourself a more achievable goal for the next day.” 

Seems like practical, logical advice. Maybe I should start applying it….

FullSizeRenderOh, sure. I’m busy with many other books. But everyone is busy. And maybe I’ve got too many stories roaming around my head, but who doesn’t? Those aren’t completely invalid, but they’re still just excuses.

Are you this way too? You’d rather serve as channel for the wisdom? Maybe see others benefit through you rather than be a direct recipient? Why do we do that? Why resist what we know we need? Is it fear of change? Simple laziness? Dogged immaturity maybe?

I think I know, at least in my case. It goes back to something I wrote a while back on fear of success. If I took my own advice and it worked, I’d be forced to admit the time I’ve wasted. And worse, I’d be responsible not just for that, but for the new path I’d be taking and for staying on it. I couldn’t slack off and use the old excuses for my limitations.

And maybe that honest assessment is exactly why I’ve needed this blog for 12 years.

FullSizeRender_3I’ve also learned an essential lesson from all the piano lessons my grandma bought me and my mom forced me to do.  Holding a lot at once to make it come out your fingers is never automatic. The secret is discipline, something none of us have until we learn it.

There’s the process of scales and chords and arpeggios. There’s the process of learning to read music. There’s the process of exercising and strengthening fingers, working through resistance, and becoming aware of all the things you must remember. And who knows how long it will take? But even as that’s all slowly happening, there’s the process of synthesizing it all as your grasp grows.

It’s the same with learning a sport or learning to read or to drive or to write. The process of learning requires processing, and it is productive because that’s how you come to possess the learning.

Processing is how we learn to apply our new ability to produce results, the product of our training.

FullSizeRender_1New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert shares that Tom Waits taught her “about the process of songwriting that can apply also to the process of making art, the process of writing a book.” 

She said Tom said, “Every single song has its own individual character and you can’t treat each song the same way, because it wants to be treated differently and there are songs that are like scared birds that you have to sneak up on over the course of months in the woods.” 

I think that’s true of stories and playing piano and great sport performances as well. There are times when the work and the sweat and the hours of hammering on technique and process fall away and all that’s left is the unvarnished beauty of an artist at play. And that’s what I want to see when I read–that’s what we all want to see and want to produce.

But to get to that product, we have to first love the process. 

Just do your thing today, writer. Show up. And speak the words for the love of this incredible higher purpose…


Helping Someone Else Love It Too

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

– Donald Miller

I used to love Don Miller.


I’ve had many writing heroes: Hemingway. Anne Frank. Alex Haley. But after Blue Like Jazz, I felt like Don really got me. He’d written what I was trying to say.

But then somewhere along the way he changed and became what I probably shouldn’t call “MikeHyatted,” and his self-deprecating authenticity started to feel a bit canned and…commodified.

Forgive me. I got tired of feeling sold to.

But then a writer and pastor in LA I really admire named Dave Brisbin, he posts this quote from Don. “Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.”

And I’m right back there with him, resonating like a struck bell.

I’m ringing with the very proof of his statement there. The fact that sometimes you have to watch somebody love something (like this very fact!) before you can love it yourself, that’s what writers like Don do and my friend Dave, and all my writer friends, including this young mom I know named Jenelle, they remind me to love this thing called writing because it’s prayer and it’s abiding and it’s getting away to be alone with my Inspirer, the anchor of my life. And when they just speak to life their invisible thoughts and feelings, their insights birth something for my journey. I see them loving it and suddenly I want to do it.

We talk about this a lot around here. My “Higher Writers Group” isn’t getting higher for their own kicks and giggles. Well, not merely for that. They’re digging deeper and aiming higher because of what it births in someone else, in the larger group and in the world.

And Don shows me the way to do it by writing it and speaking the truth–as you do when you share yourself. And if you knew how often I feel I can’t remember the love for this writing thing or for speaking my truth, how often I forget its true value, how I can’t do this all the time without seeing someone else love it, maybe you’d feel empowered to know I need this as much or more than you do. And quite often, actually.

That’s hard for me to accept sometimes. I want to be self-sufficient. I don’t want to be prone to the same little distractions and fears and stupid old anxieties a younger man obsessed over. But I am. And now I’m supposed to be this committed writer and a coach of writers, but I still forget the joy and the thrill of it at times–and to remember, maybe I need struggling writers like Don and like you to help me see the beauty again.

I need. There. I can say it. I need…

…to get back to my center. Yes, again. And again and again. And I will never stop needing this. And that’s okay. Because that’s how it is.

Oh, I want to remember that. I want to fight for it. And know it’s necessary and vital.

So Jenelle, this is for you. Dave, this is for you. And Don, I get it. This is for you too.

Higher writers, this is for all of us. Keep going and resounding and repeating because this is how it is but we don’t have to forget if we’ll speak our need and remind others how to love this too by showing them our struggle.

It’s worth it.

For the higher purpose,


Writing to Heal the Hole-Hearted

“The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself.” – e.e. cummings

So many authors wonder how they’ll finally become ready for the “big time.”

I get it. I’ve wanted to know that for a long time too–to know my writing was good enough to be chosen. That would be such a rush of confidence and confirmation of my gifts.

And while I’ve always wanted to believe, a vast majority of the time, I haven’t believed it.

In fact, I never did until I started to want to understand others more than I wanted to be understood….

Tahoe pine

The main reason for this was all the pain and fear that was in the way. And like Holden Caufield, I needed more awareness of the larger world and the conversation I would be contributing to.

But I hadn’t yet grasped that larger context.

Unfortunately, today no one has to know about the existing heritage to contribute their ideas. We don’t even have to know what that involves. But it’s still true that to contribute something lasting to the growing cadre of human thought and experience, you must understand the larger conversation.

Because as T.S. Eliot proved: Every new book stands on the shoulders of the heritage that went before it.

I’ve known this, even wanted to utilize it. But for a long time, I didn’t push myself to become educated. I didn’t believe I could contribute in that way.

Maybe some of you know what I’m talking about. For one reason or another, you feel sabotaged by the hole in your heart.

And it isn’t our fault. As I’ve learned, the “hole-hearted” don’t hear (as the whole-hearted do) the inherent worth of their thoughts and feelings. They don’t yet believe they can have influence in their area. Instead, they still hear other things–maybe dismissal, defensiveness, disgust or disrespect that’s crowding that out. Their personal heritage taught them some useless tools, and so even as they try to live, to create, or to write, they struggle not to alternately disregard and overstate their gifts and their voices.

It’s a profound thought that’s taken me years to come to, but I believe the difference between the hole-hearted and whole-hearted is wanting to understand more than you want to be understood.

And how many sad people, and sad books, can be explained by this all-too-common limitation?

Of course, once you experience freedom–maybe in a book, like I did–it changes you. You start to believe. You may still live/create/write to be acknowledged and find more healing, but the work begins revising you. Slowly, a new heritage becomes established and you begin to get glimpses of your power.

I know this first hand. A new heritage has been calling me out of hole-heartedness, preparing me for my time to face the world and make my true contribution.

Many excellent books have added to my knowledge and helped me identify hidden shame and inadequacy. And beyond fear of embarrassment, I’ve found even the least confident writers can escape their safe cave. With practice and study, they can find what they need to pass on to their readers.

It’s been taking shape all this time, this new heritage. Maybe it’s never finished, but I’m convinced I can’t simply write to be heard, known or successful. I need to be an advocate for people just like me. And that doesn’t come through marketing tricks or good networking. It only comes through real care for readers.

I’ve learned so much from How We Love, Changes That Heal, Boundaries, and Get Out of Your Own Way. These are books based on the authors’ life work. I love Brené Brown’s work. And I love Maria Popova’s BrainPickings.org (from which I pilfered this week’s excellent quotes). All this gives me hope that though we struggle to heal and trust our voices, we can get beyond our sabotage.

Through vulnerability (in life and on the page) we learn to believe in ourselves and add our voices to speak for many. I say it all the time: everyone has a story. And it’s true. But you’ve got to seek it and refine it, and you’ve got to believe investing in yourself in that is ultimately about something bigger than just you.

So how do you find the strength to believe that when it gets hard?


My simple answer? God. I believe God is how you find it. I’ve found it’s true: He is all wisdom and all love and all power. And connecting with him, his presence inside, this is how I realize I have all I will ever need to accomplish far more than I can dream or imagine. Let religious folks say that’s humanism, but the faith to believe you have all you need, it’s a gift, and I believe all you have to do is sincerely, humbly and vulnerably ask for it.

Do you believe that? And do you want to do it?

I keep asking myself these questions: Are you open to what your book has to teach you? Can you stay and dedicate to it in the conviction that you’re the only one who can share what you know in your way? And will you follow the markers along the path of your own new heritage to trade it for whatever deficiencies you faced?

If you’ll do that, I believe you’ll find many more people who are desperate for it. We can change the conversation for so many because we’ve been training for this, and through God’s patient grace, he’s gifted us to contribute our lines, if we’ll only decide to persist when the fear comes.


That’s the battle every great story goes through—and that’s always what they’re really about–believing!

I believe that’s ultimately also how they finally get written down–

By believing.

This belief lives in the soul of humanity, put there by God, and you are already a part of it.

Believe that now, and just make today’s investment of words today, and tomorrow’s tomorrow….

You can do this. Because you were made for this, to fill the hole in your heart and to find the confidence to be the healer you were made to be.

Not because you are better than anyone else, but because you were destined to be.


“Whether you succeed or not, that is irrelevant — there is no such thing. Making your unknown known, that is the important thing.” – Georgia O’Keeffe, in a letter to Sherwood Anderson (emphasis mine)

The Most Creative Time of Year

“As the new year approaches, it’s a great time of year to think about what you really want to spend your time on. Where do you want to place your energy?

“What deserves your attention?”

– Frances Booth, Why It’s the Best Time of Year to Get Creative, Forbes.com


This is the quote that caught my eye.

I think Ms. Booth is on to something.

It’s not immediately obvious, but I think we can all sense it. This is the season when life seems to reach the peak of its intensity.

Maybe it’s in the stark opposing forces, the

The year is winding down, but we’re busier than ever.

There are multiple things going every weekend, but work demands are slowing down.

The contrast is everywhere: wind and snow outside, the fire and hot chocolate inside. The short tempers and anger and the peace and goodwill toward men. The familiar screams of injustice and the horrors of a dying world, and the quiet hush of endless lives stopping to look up, rapt in wonder, expectant for a savior to come.

Time itself is stretched thin. It’s running out. But what remains is more alive.

Sharper. Heavier. Fuller.

It’s potential. 

Do you feel it?

I think it is the best time of year to be creative. I hope you take some time in the midst of the bustle and busy to still and look up, and let the contrasts inspire you to let your art out.

As John Cleese has said, all you need is space, time, confidence and humor:

Time because you must learn to tolerate the discomfort of pondering time and waiting in indecision.

Confidence because nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.

and Humor because it’s the fastest way out of a closed mind.


“What better time to start something new and exciting? Rather than just consuming information, as we often spend so much time doing, by stepping back from scrolling, searching and sending, we can draw on inspiration and create. There’s satisfaction in the creative process itself, and it’s refreshing, too.”


Take time to pay attention. Slow down and live in your skin. Look closely and then capture it. Your future self will thank you.