Tag Archives: overcoming fear

The Secret Simple Key to Overcoming Overwhelm

  1. No one can tell me when I’m getting overwhelmed.

  2. Pretty much anyone can tell when I’m getting overwhelmed.

These two facts are in my mind the moment I open my eyes Tuesday morning. They have taken me more time to acknowledge than I would like to admit. And yet if there’s one thing I know, it’s that the things we would most like to deny are the things we most need to acknowledge next. Denying overwhelm has caused me to mess up more than I ever would have without the denial. I know for a fact it’s kept me pointlessly working long beyond what I would have otherwise. IMG_8560

I do know I’m the one who has to spur myself on to get to work and keep at it when I want to quit. No one else can do it. I won’t let them, or it simply won’t work. The simple secret to finishing no one had to tell me is the same for you–and I know because when it comes to our work, we’re all the same this way:

Our work is ours. 

How did any major accomplishment get finished? I know from Anne Lamott it had to simply be done “bird by bird,” but just like waking up this morning and knowing I had to get to work on the 18 things waiting for me after a long weekend, it doesn’t get done on someone else’s motivation. It’s my job to find my motivation.

A swift kick to “just do it” can work for a while, but eventually leads to burnout. I know from experience mustering it to muscle it only messes it up and mangles me. More often than not, the impulse to “just do it” denies what I’m feeling in the overwhelm and the real reason for the overwhelmed feeling. The old mind over matter trick is no trick at all, and trying to ignore it to simply cross things off the list is foolish and disintegrating. What I really need is to simply not look at the list.

What I really need is to acknowledge the feeling and consider what it’s trying to tell me. What I need is to slow down and pay attention, to integrate the fear and the excitement, the anxiety and the anticipation of finishing and celebrating. If I can do that and hold both of those and know that my greater good is here, in the stalling to get out of bed and as I get up slowly to begin the process of getting ready for the day. Process over product is the secret. I don’t have to overthink it, but if I can be present to the fatigue and disconnected sensations of all that remains unresolved from the week and the weekend, and the night before, I can forego the swift kick and the burnout that would follow, and experience the fuller experience, rather than relegating so much of it to unconsciousness, and rendering it unavailable and unrealized.

The truth no one has had to tell us, the simple secret to finishing anything difficult we might consider our true work, is that all of it is ours and meant for us to experience and grow from. We can’t numb ourselves to feeling difficult emotions without also numbing the ones we enjoy, nor can we effectively evaluate what should or should not be disorienting, disintegrating, or distancing us from our fuller selves. We don’t know why certain things affect us, and as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we don’t control whether or not they will.

However, each of us does control what we will do about the things that affect us. And acknowledging what the emotions are in the midst of the overwhelm never feels good or particularly convenient, but whatever other ideas we had about our true work, this is it. Whatever we may have thought our work was for today, this being conscious and aware of our full feelings about it is our true work. 

And whatever we might call that–messy, frustrating, 100% inconvenient and completely unwelcome–when we don’t list that work first, we merely add one more impossibility to the list.

Can you trust there’s a reason you’re here and being asked to handle this? Regardless of whether you should be facing all that’s on that list, can you acknowledge there’s a higher purpose in it? Something beyond the drudgery and gripey feeling it gives you? Something you might even now be able to relabel a gift?

We don’t need anyone to tell us this is what we’re here for, whatever else we may have to face today. We don’t need proof there’s a very good reason for the place we find ourselves in–the proof is that we’re here. And if we are, it means God is God and he has his reasons. The question is, what would he have us do, learn, feel, say, know, share?

I get up, shower, dress, go down to find the kid who needs to get to school, drive her and drive back, get to my office and get out my list. It’s only Tuesday but it’s already overwhelming, and it’s already clear I’m going to have to adjust some things. But what can get done will get done, and I’ll trust the rest will find its fulfillment another way. One step at a time, one item at a time, all of this is manageable and meant for more than getting through it.

No muscling. No mangling. Just mercy, and more gifts to be received and given back in their proper way and time. And in the slow, deliberate facing of my feelings, and accepting them, and processing them, I’ll find my way to finish all I was given to do.

The list looks much more manageable from that perspective.

“To be a teacher of a process such as this takes qualities too few of us have, but which most of us can develop. We have to be quiet, to listen, to respond.” – Donald M. Murray, “Teach Writing as a Process, Not Product”


How to Break Your Writing Block Forever–for Good

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

– Maya Angelou

For a long time, I believed the common wisdom about being a more productive writer.

IMG_6754I took the usual advice about setting small steps, getting on a schedule and visualizing the end goal. But I could never follow through. Was there something wrong with me? Why couldn’t I stick with the program? Had I just not found the right tool yet?

I began to wonder if I had what it took. Were deeper issues keeping me from achieving my high-minded dream?

I suspected there were many writers like me–I hoped there were–how else could there be so much instruction out there on how to write? But I still felt all alone in my struggle and everyone else seemed able to write a novel in a month or make all the tools and tips work for them. I liked the tips at first, but after a couple weeks, I was unable to keep it up. Maybe it’s only when you’ve tried those tools and found them insufficient that you know you’ve got a deeper issue. Maybe I was fundamentally broken–and emphasis on the mental part.

So I began to wonder, How do you know if you need to deal with a deeper root problem?

Instead of just continuing to feel inadequate, embarrassed, maybe lazy, when is it time to ask why, if you do want to write, don’t you do it?

As a writer, I can honestly say this is the writing problem I’ve struggled with most. And an editor and coach, this is where I’ve decided to specialize because the psychological anguish–the angst of being stymied, blocked, obstructed, hornswaggled, constipated– it turns out the struggle is not unusual.

Most of my authors admit they’ve experienced it–and the rest are big fat liars.

The issue is soul deep, and no matter how simple the “steps to success” appeared, nothing else worked for me before this.

The tools and tips about practices or methods may become useful after sorting out this one thing. But for me, there was a psychological tool I needed that freed me to ignore a lot of practical writing advice.

It was permission.


I know. It sounds weak. But basically, I needed permission to stop focusing on productivity. If you find you can’t be productive, just stop trying, and start be unproductive. If you can’t progress, let go and rest in the process.

You’ve likely been sabotaging yourself.

Despite my best efforts to write, I’d always end up rebelling and running off into ever-more elaborate distractions. I’d get a new tip and write hard for a few days but eventually I’d resent the work again and go numb out on all kinds of surrogate thrills.

Then I’d find another writing coaches’ idea (there are plenty!) about getting a separate computer, or using Pomodoros, or setting rewards. And they’d work for a few days, then completely stop working when I’d fail and become wracked with guilt, lament my hopeless situation again, and swear on Merlin’s beard I’d find the lasting method for ultimate flow and actualizing optimum productivity….

Or whatever.

But now, after well over 10 years of on-and-off-again novel-writing, I found my answer. It’s a deceptively simple method that effectively erases what I produce as the end goal of sitting down to write.

If you’re prone to over-analysis and perfectionism, this could solve your problem of low productivity forever. Ready?

Give yourself permission to stop being productive.


That’s it. Instead of focusing on the product, the word count, the perfect words needed for the Book, focus on the process of getting yourself the cup of tea, cup of coffee, cup of gin. Then sit down, open the document and read some of it.

Okay, probably not gin. But if you ever “use” alcohol, I hope you’ll try this….

And if this isn’t for you, you’ll know it because this will sound stupid and only losers would try it. But sometimes the only way to get a stubborn donkey to move is to stop pushing it.

Show up and open the document and stare at it for a while. Sure it doesn’t look like much. But learn to sit with your words and do not judge them. It does simplify things.

You are hereby not required to try a bunch of productivity tips that will only mask your issue and complicate your process.

And, best of all, you have complete permission not to write a word.

If you struggle with productivity, make this your new intention immediately: shift your thinking to not writing new words but simply reading the old ones you’ve already written.

Do not judge or edit anything; just allow your brain to enjoy what you’ve written so far, i.e. be proud of what you’ve accomplished, i.e. make yourself feel good, i.e. experience what you were ditching your writing for right here.

You know, basically outsmart your inner rebel.

lightBelieve me, before I did this, I’d always find a way to get out of writing. And what changed everything was realizing I wanted to feel good about this.

Oh, I always talked a big game about the “real” work of being diligent and willing to face fear. But something inside, some resentment about having to face hard stuff all the time and write it down, it needed resolving.

And comfort was elsewhere–in myriad other places (at least the quicker, easier, temporary kind).

Until I stopped pushing and saw my writing pain was legitimate and deserved to be felt and dealt with, all my muscling to a word count, or will-power to stay on task was short-lived. And it produced no meaningful work. Distraction was always a step away to grab me and send me back to the start, spiraling toward failure and more self-loathing.

So here’s your ticket to freedom: read your words as part of your process for freeing yourself and gain strength to face the dragon guarding your cave.

Eventually you will win just by showing up.

And each day you do, you’ll have less chance of forgetting that this is how life-changing books get written. Whatever it may seem to anyone else, feeling good about all you’re capturing is how you continue to write your way out. Day in, day out.

One healed piece at a time.

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.”

– Walter Wellesley Smith

For the Higher Purpose,


Stay In the Process

I received a reply email from an author.

“Looks like I have my work cut out for me,” she wrote.


She’d been a client for several months and I’d sent my final edit laying out several things she’d need to do before and after sending it to the publisher.

Yes, you do have your work cut out, I wanted to say. Because I’ve invested some considerable time to cut it out for you.

Of course I didn’t say it. I like to pretend. I’m too self-controlled. Actually I’m too shy and insecure. But I felt it. And I felt entitled to say it because I’d given a lot. And the book was far better for it.

Was she even grateful?

Should I say something? 

Then I remembered how it’s always easy to look around at the problems in the world and see the things we’d like to change. But we can only do that if we’ve first allowed God to change us. And the fear and anger in our own hearts can keep us from ever realizing the thing that most needs to change–


I have to keep saying it until I start believing it: there is only one way to change the world for the better with my truth. And it isn’t by seeking gratitude from clients.

The insight needed to see our truth and our stories requires deliberate self-discovery.  Without that, they won’t change anyone. They won’t have the key to how a story heals: demonstration.


What I’m really after is not pointing out what others’ should do, but to see what I must do to finally overcome my barriers to telling my story, which means accepting my own fears and insecurities.

I wanted her gratitude because I love playing the hero.

It seems I need yet another revision.

“Who cannot give good counsel? ‘Tis cheap and costs them nothing.” – Robert Burton

Truth is, no one will care how much you know until they know how much you care. I seek to be served because my needs are what matter most when they’re all I can see.

Like everyone, I tend to feel so trapped and alone.

“One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on ‘going it alone.’ Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help.’ The truth is that we are both.” (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection)

We don’t need more writers giving us answers to change the world. We need writers seeking our questions to change themselves.

And when they do, many others will be changed as well.

I say I want to help others. But what I really seem to want is their gratitude. Could reaching out for community help change the way I approach my work, my writing, my life?

The trick to all of this writing life is staying in the process. But that requires accepting help.



I did write back to my author friend. I told her that wonderfully, yes, she DID have her work cut out now! And, I said, you’re welcome. (winky smile)

I said she might need help and encouragement along the way, to stay in her process and not run away when it got uncomfortable or exhausting. Because that’s what writing means.

And I thought how accepting a calling maybe always requires help. Maybe that’s part of the refining, to realize we’ve got to seek help and use our discernment to find it. Our source of strength is always that connection to the Inspirer, but don’t we also have to give up our stubborn independence and learn to ask and receive from the friends God’s provided?

I’ve needed to stop trying to go it alone.

The last thing I told her was that I’ll be praying for her continued stamina in the journey. And then I said I’d be here–I could always use the companionship myself.

If you’re on an interior journey, you need friends to help you stay in the process.

And always welcome your fellow travelers as friends. And simply stay in the process.

Keep seeking, my friends. You inspire me and so many more as you do…


Those Who Can, Do. Those Who Don’t Want to, Teach.

Writing a book is hard work.

Everyone knows that. But what most people don’t realize is that it’s also a skill.

And if that’s true, it can be learned.


That’s why I love teaching my story course. You have to admit, the fact that it’s so easy to email a lesson, show how to apply it, and then evaluate what someone sends back, is pretty cool. What other artistic talent can be so easily developed? We live in a great time.

Of course, writing well isn’t easy or everyone would be doing it. But I believe everyone should be doing it because we all have a story and it matters to tell it in the most compelling and truth-honoring way. It’s not as hard as performing a symphony from memory or painting a Vermeer or even being on So You Think You Can Dance? And if success isn’t some unrealistic American Idol pipe-dream but writing a book you can be proud of, a book you can hand people and know it’s what you wanted to say, anyone can learn to do that.


But just like any challenge worth taking, the best part is what you learn about yourself while building your writing muscles, so to speak.

I’ve been editing books and speaking at conferences for a while, but I’m not a star. I haven’t published my magnum opus. I’m not interested in being a celebrity or getting on the publishing treadmill. Mainly because I don’t relish the end game–I don’t enjoy writing to a deadline or doing it for money or touring or speaking to big groups of people. And I figure until I’m not a young dad anymore, I’d just as soon use my training to train and edit others’ work.  That’s just me.

Maybe I’m fooling myself and I couldn’t hack it. It’s completely possible. Maybe I’m running away from my calling or telling God no, like Jonah. Maybe I’m scared. I’m sure it looks like it to many people.


I’ve never enjoyed attention, actually. When the people I love are happy and interested in me, I love it like anyone does. But I’m a big introvert and always have been. And being the center of any attention feels like death. I’d rather jump out of an airplane or try wrestling a black bear. And with any luck, I’ll never have to feel that pressure.

The path for any Christian author is fraught with difficulty. Writing the book and editing it. That’s the easy part. If you do it well, you can expect to have to continually reject the accolades, esteem and status people try to thrust at you, similar to how Christians do it to pastors and other Christian celebrities. It’s a verifiable fact. I can’t manage my anger and disappointment about that yet. So I’m staying out.

That’s more than you needed to know, I’m sure. But when the question about publishing was posed by someone last week, I had to wonder if my slowness on my novel is related to my loathing of the possibility of public scrutiny. I’ve considered it before, but I have to reluctantly acknowledge that’s been a factor. I do fear success, almost as much as I fear failure. And with all I’ve written about facing fear and overcoming it in the power of trusting God and knowing his love, this is humbling. (Seriously, I’ve been blogging since 2004. It’s a lot.)

But I don’t deny that I can write. And I don’t hesitate to teach it every chance I get. And if there’s a way out of fear, I know it’s no single solution but a collection of God-honoring strategies–prayer, writing and facing fear in community being chief among them. Fact is, I see writing as prayer, and both are life-giving and affirming. And I’ve seen amazing progress in this journey already, so I’m keeping on until God says I’m free and clear to publish. (and technically, I am published.)

But until then, I’ll continue enjoying where I am, smelling the flowers and looking for more brave souls ready to face the truth about themselves and shine a light for others to see their own stories a little better…

If you’re on the fence about committing to your story, I hope you’ll jump with me. The Story Course starts May 1.