Tag Archives: persistence

Outsmarting Distraction

“The evolving text was never, for Murray, purely a creation of the writer—it was an active participant in the process itself. He would speak of ‘listening to the text,’ or ‘the informing line’; he would describe the thrill of writing outrunning intention and entering new territory….if the writer was alert to cues and possibilities, and not tied to an outline or a plan. ‘Be patient, listen quietly, the writing will come. The voice of the writing will tell you what to do.’ ”

– Introduction to The Essential Don Murray: Lessons from America’s Greatest Writing Teacher

 

To hear this voice, as Murray said, we must believe in it.

And it’s incredibly difficult when we’re constantly pulled away.

CSC_0024It can seem impossible these days, but if we’re to hear the voice, we have to fight for it.

But we won’t stop being so easily distracted and pay attention.

I believe it’s self-evident most people are chronically over-involved. In church and with friends and family. People have legitimate needs and we have ability to fill them.

We like people dependent on us so we don’t have to face ourselves.

But there are also entertainments and hugely involving activities. In the now-classic Amusing Ourselves to DeathNeil Postman wrote prophetically about the problem now rampant in so many creative people’s lives. We all tend to think we’re above the law–special, unusual, the exception to the universal rule that no one can produce consistently good work when being continually distracted.

With all the crazy modern influences our culture throws at us, we’ve got to realize we’re not an exception to how humans function. And it’s astounding to me how many people think they are! We think we can circumvent natural laws and never have to say no.

DSC_0006We never even consider that God’s law is higher than our limited perspective.

Why do we think our best intentions will escape the consequences of over-involvement?

Why do we trade our best for so little?

It isn’t rare–everyone seems to have a touch of this disease. But most ambitious writers I run into these days seem to be in advanced stages of disarray. They think they can do whatever they want, say yes to everything and never sleep, cut corners and cheat the system. Maybe they believe that’s what it takes to be successful.

And aren’t we all tempted to agree? Maybe we just need to learn to manage. Or maybe that’s our exceptionalism talking.

We’re too dang busy. And we’re distracting ourselves from noticing.

IMG_5944It doesn’t take a psychotherapist to realize we’re running from the truth about many things–situations, people, deeper emotions, issues, pain. We forget that people who run from pain are still being controlled by it. The proof is when their fragile sense of control slips, they become angry or depressed.

We get over-involved and call it normal in order not to face our pain and hide from fear. Pain always forces us to deal with it, one way or another.

And as we all know, with all the convenient distractions available these days, dealing with it head on is far easier said than done.

Yet is there anything more important than to get free of this?

Everyone has to face it or continue to struggle. The pain of life leaves us no choice. And our culture preys on this universal weakness. It’s a war for our attention and we give ours to whatever comes by. Anything flashy or convenient, and we don’t even notice we’re doing it.

Oh, hello beautiful, manipulative advertisement designed to sell me some IMG_5998expendable junk! You want some of my attention? Well, sure! It’s only my most precious possession…

You do this. I know because I do this. And what I’m saying now–in as sincere a way as I can muster–is you’ve got to pay attention!

The Opposition is winning.

So what’s your method to preserve your attention for your greater intention?

We each need a personal strategy, or we’ll end up dead before we get free. We’ve got to begin to fight.

We need a practice to get behind until it becomes effortless, even if initially it takes a lot of effort. Remember, everything worthwhile (like good writing) takes practice.

Everything worth doing is worth doing well. All it takes is patient persistence.

IMG_5988Pain, fear and the Opposition will conspire to keep you silent forever. You’ll only grow more self-centered and incapable of changing anyone, convinced you’re entitled to overindulging your numbing comfort of choice, and trading your dreams for panaceas. That is, if you don’t stop, pay attention, and commit yourself to a better way.

People make their own prisons. It happens. We’ve met them, known them.

Research shows many will choose addiction. They’ll coast through life and sample many things and never achieve what dreams God placed in them. We know about the “quiet lives of desperation” because we could so easily choose them too.

We all have to cut back and slow down even though we don’t want to.

IMG_5949And why? Because the world requires our attention. Practicing discernment and making time for what deserves our attention is the only way to escape the undue demands we face.

The tyrannical dictator of Urgencia tries to demand our allegiance. But we serve the Life-Giver, and our lives require us to learn to live for him and not be afraid.

Our collective destiny is just down the road in Futureland. But first we have to reclaim it from the stickle-backed demon Overwhelm.

In its grip, even heroes lose their minds, can’t think, can’t feel. We’re in the battle for our lives. It would kill our desire to contribute.

Do you truly realize the unlimited value of your Ruler’s gifts to you? You have been given all the power.

Simply decide you won’t allow it to be undermined. Don’t allow your contribution and output to be stolen by inattention.

Reclaim your freedom and breathe in the fresh air of your rekindled dream.

Too much busyness breaks anyone’s resolve.

Don’t go down without a fight.

And if we seem ascetic to some people and family members who don’t understand what we’re doing for the sake of the work, so be it. If we want to make room for the inspired words to become everything to us, it’s a small price to pay.

For until the Inspired Words do become our everything, no one else will see their eternal value either.

“I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.
 
“If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
 
“Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.”
 – Maria Rainier Rilke
For the higher purpose,
Mick

How to Be Sure You Can Write the Highest Quality Books

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” – T. E. Lawrence

The summer heat already bears down now, scorching all inspiration and melting my brain.

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We closed up the house, draw the blinds and cover the skylights, digging down to keep as much of the cool air in as we can. And I’ve stayed in front of the air conditioner, even though I live in Oregon and every Oregonian knows it’s cool and rainy so houses don’t need air conditioning here.

Yeah. This perspiration would like to challenge that notion.

The sun makes the garden grow. But it also shrivels the plants unless you water them daily. There’s a difference between warm and hot. And it gets me thinking how there’s a whole world of difference in these small distinctions between things.

It’s in such seemingly minor differences that life takes on its wonderful variety and meaning. Our balance between what’s delightful and what’s suffocating is much more slight than we tend to realize. And yet we all know having our balance thrown off often reminds us how small distinctions can make a huge difference.

In the old days of this blog, about 10 years ago now, I tried to define the idea of “quality.” I was a younger man, recently 30, and I took it upon myself to try to describe this difficult distinction between types of books that were high quality and low quality. I eventually had to concede much of the difference was in the eye of the beholder. And after flogging it a while more, I let the subject drop.

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Yet I hadn’t understood the primary distinction between high and low quality–far from a snooty or pretentious ideal, books that are refined have a cultured, time-worn truth and beauty. They may be old or new, but the words themselves are distinctive by the refinement they’ve undergone. Very simple books can be elegant. Even rustic, earthy things can be achingly beautiful and unique.

Doesn’t appreciating distinction involve respecting the refining time and the patience to weather the process?

That’s what “quality” means. Appreciating distinction. A high quality book is set apart and special in specific ways if you look for them and take time to appreciate them. When it’s earned through dedication, sacrifice and training, distinction is the quality such books have. And to those who appreciate it, that difference matters. It’s significant. It’s worth recognizing and remarking about.

How did I get here from talking about the heat? Ah, the difference between warm and hot. When you know there’s a difference, you can’t unlearn it. We can’t go back to not noticing. And what’s fascinating to me about this is that this appreciation is a possession that can’t be taken away. Knowing a distinction between things is a special kind of possession that sets you apart. It makes you special. If no one else could feel the difference between a few degrees, when it got too hot, the person who could tell would be very special.

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It’s the same with books. When you can start to tell the little differences between high and low quality, you’re the owner of a unique, specific blessing. Your awareness may make your delicate balance more fragile and precarious, but you’re also now able to employ that unique insight to improve others. And with greater wisdom, you’ll weather the challenges it brings more easily too.

I guess as the sun is going down now and I’m thinking about days of running through sprinklers and enjoying summer with my girls before they’re grown, I believe this distinctiveness is what my writing craft needs. And it’s obvious God is in the business of blessing those who weather their time well. He invests in those who invest.

So I’d like to do so wisely, carefully, persistently, keeping my eyes open and my senses sharp for the new distinctions that will grow my ability to appreciate this amazing life….

And here’s an exciting question: What previously minor distinctions are waiting for us to discover them and broaden our awareness and writing craft this week? 

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” – Calvin Coolidge

Mick

Getting the New Words Down

There’s no other goal.

And yet, so often, it feels like the only thing I can’t manage to do.

So I’m constantly searching for help.

It’s a perk of running a site for writers as long as I have—I get the direct benefit. All the great insights and stories of writers struggling just like all of us, people you’d think have no worries, they’re so prolific and powerful.

But everyone who writes struggles.

This week, I wrote a new chapter. But it almost didn’t happen.

It had everything to do with the fact that in the space of two days, three incredibly inspiring writers shared inspiration from their own struggles.

Anne Lamott, Glennon Melton and Ann Voskamp.

Anne Lamott shared at Facebook.

“I love not writing books. I think it might be what I want to do when I grow up. But other than writing, I am completely unemployable.”

Anne-Lamott-Feature

She said she and her editor were done with her last book Small Victories in early August. That’s the part she said she loves—having a trusted partner help her get the final drafts to their best. But then, nothing for months. And she doesn’t want to do it anymore.

You wait to hear whether anyone likes it, all the time sure “you have squandered your life thinking you could write.” And people start asking what she’ll do next.

And after 16 books, she feels everything’s already said.

She just wants to help people keep their heads above water, She said she doesn’t know what she’s doing and just wants to be of service—“partly because God tells me too, and partly because it is the only way to fill up.”

Glennon Melton shared she was struggling with deep doubt.

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“I regret to inform you that I am currently surrendering to the pull of a dark whirlpool of self-loathing and panic and doubt because during the writing of this second book it has come to my clear attention that I am – as a matter of sad fact – the worst writer in the history of the world…. It is over for me. It was a nice ride, but apparently I have only been able to fake being a writer for six years…. And I also need to change religions because shouldn’t Jesus have TAUGHT ME SOMETHING BY NOW? SOME WISDOM OR SOMETHING? SOMETHING I CAN USE?”

An hour later, she posted a status update.

Hundreds of messages of encouragement had poured in:

Dear G,

Just a thought. What if it’s OK to love and hate hard things at the same time. Like labor. Yes, like giving birth. It’s hard. Everything about it. Before, during and after. Yet 95% of people I know swoon while telling their story. (I did hair for 10 years. I’ve heard a lot of stories). Same thing about having littles. HARD STUFF. Complain all the way through it. Yet 1,000,000 people will stop you and say “enjoy it” because they miss it. You get the idea.

Soooo I say… It’s ok to dislike today in your book number two journey. It’s a part of the awesome story yet to be told. And you’ll swoon over it all later. The mess you feel today. Yeah. Embrace it sister. Your message is coming.”

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And then my own favorite Ann Voskamp, confronted her own fears.

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Dear You,

who doesn’t want to…do that big thing that feels like an impossible thing—okay, yeah, boy, do I hear you.

…You’re meant to do hard and holy things because they are the next thing—to get to the best thing.

…you get to choose: either the Pain of Discipline or the Pain of Disappointment.

…Potential doesn’t add up to anything if you get addicted to perfectionism because perfectionism is slow death by self.

Fire your perfectionism and your procrastination will quit too.

Because here’s the thing: You’re the Presenter.

You’ve been given a gift and you’re the person who is trying to be present to this present moment and do the hard work of unwrapping your gift, your talent, your vision, your God-given dreams. Presenters want to be present to life and their calling and the joy and the work but they know that the path is painful.

Presenters know that the path is painful because behind every corner lurks The Perfectionist Terrorist. The Perfectionist Terrorist is a liar to the nth degree. He tells you that if you’d just get it perfect enough, do it right enough, be good enough—that you’ll be liked by everyone enough.

But the truth of it is? Sometimes you have to accept that you’ll never be acceptable enough for some people. And whether you accept that as their issue or yours is up to you.

The Perfectionist Terrorist claims to have High Road Motives, claims to want to make everything turn out perfect, but his policing pressures you and poisons you and prosecutes you, until it all paralyzes you.

So The Procrastinator tries to protect you, The Presenter, from The Perfectionist Terrorist, tries to intervene with distractions, temptations, and interruptions—or just pushes you to pull out and give up.

…So Who’s missing in this struggling, messy triangulation of The Presenter, the Perfectionist Terrorist, and The Procastinator? The compassionate Words of Perfect Love.

…His Perfect Love who accepts you 100% before you perform even 1%. There is His Perfect Love who speaks Protection and Peace and promises the Power of the Holy Spirit—so you can fire perfectionism and procrastination will quit too.

You fire your perfectionism every time you let His Perfect Love ignite you.

When you rest in Perfect Love, discipline comes easily because you’re being a disciple of Perfect Love, you’re following Perfect Love.

And Perfect Love says you don’t to have show anyone up; you just have to show up.

Perfect Love says you don’t have to impress anyone; you just have to press on.

Perfect Love says when you mess up He’ll pick you up… and when you can’t carry on, He’ll carry you.”

65614cf5b209017449d0bab900147be2If you understood the truth of the BLESSING coming, you’d understand the magnitude of the battle you are fighting.

If you could see the smile of God for what he knows is coming, you’d understand the meaning of beautiful within this temporary suffering.

If you could measure the size of the result of your persistence, you’d know the reason the one thing he asks for is faith.

Belief.

Not in yourself. In his perfect provision.

Just get the new words down today. There is no other goal.