Today. The word carries such power.
Today. The word carries such power.
After many years here, I've moved the blog to the larger YourWritersGroup site.
But no worries. You'll still find all my unrestrained scribblings there. Come check it out.
“How do you begin? The answer is simple: you decide to. Then you push back your
sleeves and start ... It will be completely awful. It will be unreadable
[excrement]! You won't have a clue how it will amount to anything, ever. And to
that, I say, Welcome. You just do it anyway.”
— Anne Lamott
This wasn't an easy post to write.
I’ve been working too hard, running too fast and too long and burning out.
For some reason, though I know my tendency to try to take in too much and over-think things to death, I still believe I have to catch all the good stuff. And when I'm a one-man show in control of all my issues, then I'll be able to slow down a bit.
Does trying to control your issues only prove you have "control issues?"
Be anxious for nothing...
I'd say I had a breakdown this week, but the truth is less dramatic. I've been broken down in the writing department for a good six months. I'm not exactly sure how it happened. I started an editing business and the writers group, but two years in and I'm still only infrequently dealing with my novel--the book I claim to love and from which I've gotten all my best material for helping frustrated writers.
The soup grows thicker...
Despite so many attempts to rededicate my life (remember those little commitment cards? maybe that's what I need.) and despite untold recommitments to my own advice to write every day, it seems the stronger the impulse gets to go back to this wicked novel, the stronger my desire to flee.
Thanks to Joseph Campbell, I know that cave I fear to enter holds the treasure I seek. But I'm still not going.
I don't want to be vulnerable like this and share that I'm frustrated. But even more, I
don't want to share the true source of my frustration....which appears to be my choking fear of
I recently started running regularly again (probably another subtle way to avoid writing). I told myself I didn't have to run fast, I only had to keep moving. There’s definitely something important there. I need to do less. Think smaller. Quit trying to control so much.
But there’s still the issue of the fear I'm trying to outrun. And until that's resolved, I won't be well.
Let me ask you, when you hear the word vulnerable, do you think like I do,
that it's weakness?
So why when we read someone who's writing with vulnerability do we think, Oh, I wish I could be that strong? (need proof?)
Dr. Brene Brown studies vulnerability. She says that courage comes from the Latin word cor, which means heart. Courage—“to share from the heart, from the core”—is anything but weak.
I suppose the good news is, feeling this way means I recognize the herculean task. I'm all-too-aware what writing this book requires. I don't need restraint. I need encouragement to speak.
My opposition, what Steven Pressfield (his book The War of Art is essential) calls “Resistance,” it all seems to stem from a core complaint: I'm afraid of what I don’t yet understand, and I pretend I don’t care that I don’t understand. If I was simply ignorant, I could fight back with wisdom (i.e. "the fear of the Lord"). But I’m not just ignorant. I’m also arrogant. I'm a spoiled mule, self-sabotaging instead of opening my eyes and seeing God’s all-too-obvious care.
At least part of the trouble is, I've forgotten how to be a child. Simply eating from God's hand.
Though at 39, I do finally know a few things about myself. I know I fear vulnerability in part because I fear being ordinary. And I've known unconditional love, been comforted and nurtured regardless of deserving it, and still I believe I have to be "special" to be worth loving.
Somehow I'm still continually forgetting that it's the other way around and that it's being loved that makes us worthy.
Unmerited. Undeserved. Unearned by any action I could ever perform.
I've told writers that our readers most need our story to fight back fear. I've compared a writers’ story to a weapon, to silence the opposition.
And I know first-hand how writing that way, you may feel like you're dying.
And there's really no choice because staying silent would be an equally deadly killer. Maybe just a bit more slowly. The "quiet lives of desperation" kind of death.
And if we did die while writing for the only One we should be writing for, now that would be a story....
And maybe even in this fearful place, I can en-courage both of us. If anything I can say to you can help at all, maybe it's here, in the encouragement to go ahead and just die. We do all desperately need to see someone giving up their lives for that higher purpose--scared witless maybe, but mindlessly sacrificing everything and throwing themselves to their wolves.
Oh, let's just do it. Yes, I feel that fear coursing through, constricting the throat, the ice in my veins locking my knees, souring my stomach, crippling all control. And I'm going to write anyway.
And as I do, maybe you and me together, can show how that fear that weakens us becomes our greatest chance at freedom...
And ah, yes! I'm remembering now... Thank you, God. It's impossible to ever write alone! All of this and everything is borrowed--ideas, connections, stories, metaphors--even the words! What exactly did we think would be ours to claim as evidence of our worthiness?
Without all that we can finally give up. And give back.
“There’s a strange paradox about writing. It is precisely this: There’s no occupation in the universe that is lonelier, and that at the same time depends more radically on a community, a commonwealth of other writers.... As lonely as is the craft of writing, it is the most social of vocations.” — Walker Percy
I know that feeling inside, that knowledge of having something to say. It must come out. It’s not going to go away. We must speak! It is our gift. Yes, we'll want to ignore it, run from it at times, but it won’t leave us alone. It was put there for us to seek it and speak it, and in the process of learning to love and fear it, to discover its higher purpose--to work in the change that can reclaim and save your very life.
Listen. You hear it as well as I do. And better, because you hear it differently. Just
show up and listen. And keep showing up. So many others are seeking that freedom with you and their journey is completely unique but universal too. This is a sacred tool
and if we'll put it to use in our craft, we may just come to know why it was put there.
But not before.
I will preach this gospel to myself: It's up to you to deny inhibition and be vulnerable. And get it out.
Fred Rogers was asked his thoughts about a shooting that had taken place. The interviewer told him the young man had boasted beforehand about planning “something really big.”
Mr. Rogers had hung his head. “Oh, wouldn’t the world be a different place if he had said, ‘I’m going to do something really little tomorrow’?"
Do something little with me today. Show up and write.
I’ve been working on my novel for over 10 years.
The whole truth is that it’s been closer to 13.
Telling my story has been like dragging a bear out of bed in winter.
What can I say? I’m a slow waker.
But one thing has helped me accept the challenge and rise anyway....
I'm continuing over here today: Jennifer Lee's "Tell His Story" feature.
This morning I was back in the orange shag carpet of my childhood home in Long Beach, California. The light green walls and dark wood panneling capturing that perfect inexpensive elegance...
I recalled the impressionable boy of newly-evangelical parents, the sensitive first-born son of a family "saved" in the California Jesus movement. Campus Crusade, Maranatha music, door-to-door witnessing, and 2 men representing two major streams of influence.
Two representatives of the path he could go.
Both men asked themselves, what do people really need from me? And both delivered their answer.
Having taught writers to consider their influences at conferences and retreats for several years, it finally dawned on me there was a connection to the 2 questions I've heard most often:
"Is this any good?" and
"What can I do to get published?"
I believe both questions are really one:
"Am I good enough?"
It's a fair question. And I want to move fast and furious to the meat of this because certainly, publishing has long been built on the idea that experience and dedication is how you become worthy of the writer's title. But many, if not most who write will spend years learning to pitch, propose, shape and polish just to publish their story of hope and spiritual guidance to a few hundred and is that really worth all the effort?
Why should publishers and agents require such a high standard?
After 10 years in the industry, I was so burned out, I was despairing over the disparity between requiring people prove their worthiness and knowing that very requirement was exactly the same as the vice grip of religion, duty, and legalism that bound so many sad, beautiful souls to the lie of performance.
I soon went into full-scale inner debate:
You can't escape this. You must provide an answer. Which way will you send them?
The immature idealist in me wanted to fling the doors wide, burn the ships and create an enclave of revolutionary artists. The other part of me knew that would seal my fate as Editor of Really Bad Books.
But the question I kept circling back to was, What do people really need from me?
It was this side of 35 that I finally discovered my answer. A book arrived out of the seeming blue to help me slow down and look back to focus on what I really believed. The book was eventually titled One Thousand Gifts and it told a story that was too painfully familiar to be just coincidence.
In time, God revealed that in every situation, people need only one thing from me. It's the answer to that fundamental question: "Am I good enough?" Because strangely, somehow this well-known answer remains a secret. But it's a secret I see now Mr. Rogers knew, and Dr. Dobson as well. At the root, both knew we need to get past the surface to deal with the foundation, to sidestep the mind and get into the heart.
But there's something more than that.
I've posted this video of Mr. Rogers before. This is a courtroom moment more real than any Hollywood movie. This is what I believe all writers need to know when trying to get their message across, whether in a pitch, a book, or a radio interview...
I watch this and consider his deliberately slow way of speaking. I think of the care he uses in his words, the meaning honored by his delivery, how he seems guided by something, or someone higher than himself.
He speaks as a man who knows the answer to What people really need.
Is it true that we can never really know what people need, so why try? Should we just give up trying to "please" people and get busy with whatever we want to get out of our writing?
After all, we're the ones putting in all the work.
Or is writing less about "pleasing" people and saying what we might want, and more about writing what everyone needs? Isn't the real point of being a writer always about just one thing?
God reveals special needs by inspiration directly to our minds, right in the moment sometimes. And those can be great, instructive directions. But more often, the daily foundation of writing what people need from you will come from knowing this one thing. And when you consider the short time you have to grab attention any more, maybe this is something that can help you.
What if we could really get it into our bones what Mr. Rogers said here, what he came to know so well about his true job, the higher purpose of his work that wasn't really work at all? I believe that's the one thing everyone needs: to feel known, really known in all their struggle and anger, and accepted there for who they really are.
If more writers believed this and came together to support each other in that belief, maybe we'd know better what we were called for, and be able to give what all those before us gave, what our brave Savior gave, what those who leave a legacy have always given....
Yes. That one thing. And nothing less.
I never met either man, though my life was heavily influenced by those 2 men who guided me in expressing myself with honesty and restraint. And both were heavily influenced by their friend, Jesus, and so I've been deeply influenced by him as well.
To say I'm grateful doesn't quite cover it. But I still try. Every day.
As a friend of mine says, remembering is the way to be re-membered. All the pieces do make a whole again. And only the One who set the model to follow can use your simple, borrowed words for what you really long for.
Because this is what I've come to know: when I'm writing to give my fullest self to what readers really need, I know I'm good enough because of my friend who is always enough.
The hero’s greatest deed, we remember with quiet awe.
The story itself is the best eulogy possible. Its fearsome holiness stuns to silence.
The death of Jesus, the greatest story, teaches me by including my questions, both literally—“My God, why have you forsaken me?”—and implicitly—“How could this have been God’s will?”
But the largest of questions, it leaves unanswered, to resonate in my unquiet heart:
“How can it be true?”
“And what should I do now that I know this?”
A good story makes you think you'll discover the secret but it always leaves you with the realization that the mystery itself was the real treasure.
Incorporating our questions in the hero’s search for answers provides comfort and helps us identify. His questions prove that in the absence of easy solutions, no one is alone in his longing for an answer.
But there’s an even greater comfort.
The resolution of a good story shows others, namely the hero—and by extension, the author—must also accept the mystery of life and respond.
And the only proper response is the one revealed in the greatest story.
Answers are always elusive. And thank God.
Because to be given what we think we want would ruin everything.
Instead, Love gives us what we really need.
A hero's response to the mystery.
Hymn 15: Taste
O guide my judgement and my taste,
Sweet SPIRIT, author of the book
Of wonders, told in language chaste
And plainness, not to be mistook.
O take the book from off the shelf,
And con it meekly on thy knees;
Best panegyric on itself,
And self-avouch’d to teach and please.
Respect, adore it heart and mind.
How greatly sweet, how sweetly grand,
Who reads the most, is most refind’d,
And polish’d by the Master’s hand.
[quoted in Acceptable Words, Schmidt and Stickney]
“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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
My Dad's spiritual father (my "spiritual grandfather?") sends out this daily email called "Dear Friends." He finds insight in words and linking them to THE Word, which I find so fun.
I thought this gem was worth reproducing in its entirety. He asks,
"what can I possibly contribute to the Lord this morning or any morning?"
Read the email below, then come back up and read Spurgeon... "I am entirely dependent upon Thee for support, counsel, consolation. Uphold me by Thy free Spirit, and may I not think it enough to be preserved from falling, but may I always go forward, always abounding in the work Thou givest me to do. Strengthen me by Thy Spirit in my inner self for every purpose of my Christian life. All my jewels I give to the shadow of the safety that is in Thee—my name anew in Christ, my body, soul, talents, character, my success, wife, children, friends, work, my present, my future, my end. Take them, they are Thine, and I am thine, now and for ever." http://www.spurgeongems.org/prayers.htm
This love is taking over the world. I hope you'll let it take over yours.
Hope you'll be well and feel his presence today.
Begin forwarded message:
From: "Dale Vander Veen" <email@example.com>
Date: February 20, 2013 10:55:30 AM PST
To: "Ahome" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: February 20 - What Do You Have for Me This Morning?
Every morning I begin my time with the Lord asking, “Lord, what do you have for me this morning?” This morning I sensed an instant reply from him, “Dale, what do you have for me this morning?” After some moments of stunned and anxious silence, I replied, “Lord, you know that I have nothing for you.”
Then I turned to my book, Dear Friends: Seeing Our Best Friend in His Word and World, to read today’s entry. I was shocked to discover the title “I Have Nothing,” based on Luke 11:6: “A friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.” Jesus, my friend, has come to journey with me today, and I have nothing for him.
Following today’s Scripture readings in Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year, I read David’s words, “Vindicate me, Lord, for I have lead a blameless life” (Ps. 26:1). I do not have a blameless life to give the Lord. “I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered” (v. 1). There are times when I have trusted in the Lord, but I certainly cannot set before the Lord an unfaltering faith.
After inviting the Lord to test and examine not only his actions, but even his heart and mind, David continues, “I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness” (v. 3). O, my! In comparison to such an offering, what can I possibly contribute to the Lord this morning or any morning?
God has been blameless to me. He has been unfaltering in faithfulness toward me, unfailing in his love for me. “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” (Ps. 116:12). Lord, I have only one, no, two things for you this morning. I have a hand and a voice. The hand shakes, the voice cracks. But I will employ withered hand and wavering voice to answer your question and the psalmist’s question. “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:13). A hand to lift the cup, a voice to call, “Deliver me and be merciful to me” (Ps. 26:11).
That is all I have this morning, Lord. And I know it is enough, for your grace has nerved this paralyzed hand and awakened this muted voice. I gladly join David in “proclaiming your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds” (Ps. 26:7).
Verse for the day: "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Ps. 34:18)
Phrase for the day: "Nothing is enough."
Quote for the day: from “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus” by Robert Lowry (1876)
This is all my hope and peace, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
This is all my righteousness, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow.
No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.
I've long turned to writing as an escape from life.
The guilt of that came on slowly, but it's inescapable now. As my secret's been revealed more and more, the words I've kept inside, reserved for myself, where I believed I'd be safe from those who would judge me for not going out and saving souls like my dad, or loving people more like my mom who was always doing things for people. And I could not even do one thing for anyone, afraid to connect with my neighbors and their needs that would keep me from the little time I had to write and be truly alone with my thoughts.
And all along, I've believed I was wrong. Why couldn't I be more like them, more in love with people?
Am I digging my own grave here, deepening my intollerance to overstimulation? Aren't I only weakening my resilience and strengthening my hypersensitivity? Why do I carry this preference for isolation? And more important, how do I escape it?
The day begins early. Same as always. Feet find floor and check the weather around the flannel-lined island while searching for slippers. Some days she's there, some days not.
But in winter, we always rise to the dark.
The winter of my heart slowly thawed in the consistency of her love. Yet do I need to ask who it was who gave me all of this on which my feet find balance, and every day become more certain and confident?
I know the solid ground on which I am upheld.
I find my books on the small desk. Their well-worn pages wait for someone new to read and value them, to take them in and make them their own. And I'm that man, that someone new each time I read.
I go to the coffee pot to wait and stretch. A bird has left some astonishing art on the skylight. It fans out in a jagged multicolored circle. I reach and realize the distance to my toes is slowly diminishing as I give myself to the strain in my back and legs. The tension lengthens out and gives me that beautiful lightness as I roll back up. So simple. So inescapable.
I look up through the window to the ever lightening day through the reaching trees and I remember it has always been that the world will pass by my windows and I'll stand here catching none of it, all of it escaping through my untrained and semiconscious senses. This is the ordinary ground upon which my island of ignorance rests.
But if I let that reality spoil everything, then I'm the fool.
"The multitude of thoughts that crowd in on us spoil everything...so we must be careful to reject them as soon as we become aware that they are not essential to our present duties." --Brother Lawrence
I take my mug and I go to my spot and sit, fighting even now to escape the insufferable strain against the encroaching thoughts. I open the books and find my place. I read the words waiting, the ones put there for me and no one else to discover. And I am right here and right now and always right where I'm meant to be.
I may not ever help anyone but myself with this, but is anything ever spoiled when we're escaping to listen to his voice in everything? And why shouldn't writing be my escape from one life so I might escape into another? Isn't everything we do held in this tension of imminent escape, from one thing and into another, always and forever in the ever-lengthening love of He Who Holds sure and vast, by whom all is being stretched tight in his grip?
He is our escape into fuller life. And all in his time is made to truly live.
Again and again and again.
Reading slowly, I watch the words rise up and I feel my breath escape. It curls invisibly on the page in whorls, paisleying the cold symbols with tiny fractals of multicolored wind and lifting them into the air to be caught and carried off. Heaven knows where.
And even this is not my own to claim but the very life within me that gives me the breath and calls me to breathe myself alive.
I'm a PK (pastor's kid). So for many years I resisted anything that smacked of churchy Christianity.
But stories could always circumnavigate my barriers.
Jesus knew this too--the story was everything. When he asked which man did the right thing, everyone knew it was the Samaritan. Story sticks in the brain and causes the hearer to rethink their ideas in light of what their minds can no longer deny.
That's because fiction or nonfiction, a story is its own proof. It either works or it doesn't. And when it works, that's something no other method (business, campaign, powerpoint, one-sheet) can match.
Without a story, nothing gets done. Good grief. Case studies abound. If you don't believe the best stories create an unstoppable force by now, it's time to get studying, my friend. For example--check out the video here too ("Unstoppable") Or here: poetry is apparently rocket fuel for brains (think poetry isn't story? think again) Or check out the power of "case studies," i.e. stories.
Your work may be many things. But when we all get home at the end of the day and tell our spouses about it, it's always a story.
Feel free (as I did for many years) to avoid the unbeatable power of story and go for something "better." Technology. Ads. SEO. Fun activities. A bunch of bullet points. A convincing blog post. Plenty of things can assist story. But there is nothing better than story.
It's always inevitably about the story.
As an editor, I urge people not to try to "use" a story as subservient illustration. It may work for some pastors and already-well-known business gurus. But you need to know a good story uses you. Defines you. Creates you. Show you accept this and your readers will respect you. If you don't have an unstoppable story of your own yet (and you probably don't), try to tell others' as best you can. Just be careful: be a user and try to profit from story and you will fail. The new rules favor a new sincerity.
We'll be learning more on the power of story all year with Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook at YourWritersGroup.com.
There are many ways to learn about story, so even if you can't commit to reading this book with us, do yourself a favor and engage your brain in a good story today.
See what you learn...
Do you feel overwhlemed by too much information?
Check out The Wikipedia entry for tittle
"A tittle is a small distinguishing mark, such as a diacritic or the dot on a lowercase i or j. The tittle is an integral part of the glyph of i and j, but diacritic dots can appear over other letters in various languages. In most languages, the tittle of i or j is omitted when a diacritic is placed in the tittle's usual position (as í or ĵ), but not when the diacritic appears elsewhere (as į, ɉ).
"The word tittle is rarely used. Its most prominent occurrence is in Matthew 5:18: "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (KJV). The quotation uses them as an example of extremely minor details. The phrase "jot and tittle" indicates that every small detail has received attention."
Everything is important. But not everything is important for you. Don't rush and try to fill your life with too much information--from others, from the Internet, from the world--or you may miss the tittle. The more important small thing within the few things you're given the ability to really know.
Because if you miss the tittles, at least to you, it will be as though they never existed.
The day has just started and I haave 24 new emails.
I don’t have time to fix that typo...
The Wikipedia entry for distraction is here. It's basically "divided attention."
Here are 2 pics from that page.
I fought to read today’s entry in Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. (I at least know this much, that if I don’t establish the “rule” of connecting with God first thing, my freedom from anxiety in this fight will be forfeit all day.)
I do have to engage the battle. But I don’t have to do it alone.
In Quiet, Susan Cain uses the example of Seth Klarman, one of the great investors of our time, who said he’s "a big fan of fear and, in investing, it’s clearly better to be scared than sorry." Klarman is a world-class worrier, according to the NYT, and he owns a racehorse called “Read the Footnotes.” During the stock market crash, he stuck to his guns and bought when everyone else was panicking. His style is an example of the value of waiting quietly when the world seems to be telling you to rush ahead.
There's another great book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp about learning to stop and write the simple gifts right in front of you. This little book has been my antidote to distraction for 4 years now, like C.S. Lewis, convincing me to slow down and go deeper, but also showing me how to take tangible, practical, daily steps toward the better stuff of life, in the midst of anxiety and chaos.
Fear and anxiety can make us feel ill-equipped by nature, by God. But according to Cain in Quiet, not rushing ahead in the face of strong potential rewards, i.e. maintaining a strong respect for risk and uncertainty, is a powerful, maybe the most powerful predictor of success.
I should check those emails...oh, 2 text messages now...
We need not see distractions as all bad. In fact, in our morning pages today, Sheri and I decided to try an experiment to hold one thing we wanted insight on today. Mine was "distraction."
My hunch is this experiment might help me avoid getting bent out of shape by life’s (and wife’s) interruptions.
Is it any wonder I get frustrated when a practical matter like kids' violin practice or dinner is more pressing?
And though I’m deeply in love with my wife, when I’m hot on the trail of some flash of lacking insight I think God's offering me, I could even turn down a kiss from the love of my life.
I’m happily married, thank God. But yes, this has actually happened.
Obviously not a happy marriage thanks to me.
It’s only with help from some much more level heads--my wife's, parents', friends', even kids'--that I’ve managed to organize my manic mind into some still-very-loose structure (I'd bust out of anything more restrictive).
Work is calling...people waiting...I really should go do something...
Shhh...it's okay. Even so, it isn’t as though my “Noodlings” file isn’t full to overflowing with the brain batter that flings every which way when I’m hot on the trail of a flash of lacking insight (let’s just go ahead and shorten this cumbersome phrase to “HotToFoLI” to save time--which also conjures “hot to trot,” “hot to fly,” as in, my desire to escape this mortal coil and join the spirit in the sky, and “hot to follow” white rabbits of curiosity...also it rhymes with Hot Tamales which are the bomb even if they're no match for Atomic Fireballs. And yes, all of this is applicable.)
But most of all, HotToFoLI is folly. Of the highest order.
It will ruin me. In fact, it has threatened to many times.
There’s nothing wrong with excitement and passion. But when it isn’t kept in check, it can do unspeakable damage. If this needles you in any way, you probably have some apologies to make like I do (and don’t get distracted from the point, but remember to actually follow through with that conviction when we’re done here--it could be very rewarding).
Not only can our excitement overwhelm some of the great wonders of the universe—people we love, and especially sensitive people we’re probably married to, parent, and call friends—we can so dominate them that we drive them away. You know of what I speak.
Trust me, you don’t want distraction to ruin your life. Learn my lesson and learn to submit. As Chambers says, “Obedience is the natural life of a child.” Stop trying to be an "adult." Accept your limitations.
You are not a superhero and you can't catch all the opportunities raining from the sky.
Listen: you don't have to catch it all. You can not catch them all.
So calm down, Junior Executive. Calm down, Missionary Jane. Relax, Hot-to-Trot Author.
Don’t let the endless shadow missions distract you from your true work—this primary job you were given to be right where you are today, swaddled by your Dad...your flailing appendages tight in his straightjacket of love...
What we do when it all comes down says who we are. And who you are is a writer. This work of words. All you do is this...this flinging.
What are you really doing? Anything? Sometimes it doesn’t look like much. People’s huge, busy lives swirl around and you sit here alone. You take so much time for this, do you realize? When all else is stripped away do you honestly believe this is your real work, this constant grappling with concepts extracted from a life that’s not nearly so full as others'? Would anyone be able to take the simple scraps you choose from the heaps of the unsaid and be able to point to why in the world you do this?
I believe you might finally find the answer to that question once and for all today. Sounds too good to be true, right?
Now think about your writing time. Let’s say it’s now (or at least once you’re done reading here). You’ve heard it before: now is all you have. And you write because you believe (however weakly) it’s the work you were given.
It might not look like much—and sometimes it will look bad—but all the work you do here and now makes everything else you could do, at least for you, pointless. I know excuses can pile up like leaves but this shouldn’t need any more establishing: your work is inspiring hearts to prepare them for their true work.
When I was nine, my grandparents took us to the petrified forest. Giant log-shaped rocks lay all over in the scorching desert sun. Chemical reactions, pressure, sediment, I couldn’t follow it, but something to do with the volcanoes and a lot of time had turned these once living things to stone. The park center was basically a room large enough to contain all the signs threatening imprisonment, torture and excruciating slow deaths to anyone considering laying his hands on a piece of their fascinating wood rock (actually, several billboards outside assured children their relatives would be stoned and buried shallow if they so much as thought about stealing rocks). The experience leaves such a strong impression on me that to this day, I can’t look at a big rock without losing a little bit of my bladder. So scared I was (petrified!) of the park officials seeing me eyeing their treasure, I crept around the desert, my hands sweating in my empty pockets, eager to escape.
Altar boys never felt guiltier.
The more people I meet, the more I think there are unbelievable numbers of people feeling this way, day in and day out. They haven’t chosen to feel like outcasts, or worse—suspects. But living as though they're unworthy, and liable to be useless at parties and probably going to steal something given the chance, they miss out on their dreams, on the party, on life.
And I think it's this certainty of hopelessness that most often makes people into real thieves—stealing from their better selves to ward off this false belief they should be ashamed.
You’ve done it yourself. Stealing time. Stealing topics. Stealing words. All to feed a lie.
It’s the writer’s curse. We sit to write and we can't even see the road in front of us. Yes, we’ve proven over and over how useless we are. How can we possibly think we’re supposed to write?
Maybe that’s just it. We can't do it ourselves.
God knows we’re useless. That’s why he’s given us everything we have. We don’t need to steal. We’re free to steal if we want, ignore all the warnings, even our original design, and fling out whatever words we like. But what is really ours? Nothing. And if only we'd finally realize that, maybe we could write what we’ve been waiting to for so long...
This isn’t stealing: take the time you need. What will it finally take to make you realize that we have nothing else because we need nothing else? What would you do with anything else anyway? You could have all the wood rocks in the world but would you write like no one could ever shut you up no matter what threatening realities they flung at you? Would you give up this chance to make something of all the beauty in this homesick world, this sanctuary you're asked to witness and speak to life for someone?
I know it's a dark road, but what if this was your chance, your one chance to give back? To sit here. Alone. And to think about this. Isn’t this why you return again and again?
Are we ever really alone?
What better place to remember the point of it all than right here?
Write, you beautiful, child of the true King. Write, and never, ever stop.
This morning, I headed down to the pond and caught a frog.
I'd never have seen her if she hadn't leaped from the wooden bridge. But when she landed amongst the rocks and ferns, I trapped her with the girls' butterfly net. She was big and made no sound, so I assumed her female, an orangey-brown wood frog with a white underbelly. I couldn't wait to tell the girls, so I wedged the stick with the net between the boards of the bridge so she couldn't escape and I hurried back up to the house.
When we got there the net was empty. My captive had escaped.
It had jumped like mad when I first caught her. I assumed once the initial fear passed, she'd calm down--aren't frogs content staying even in slowly warming water? Well, a net isn't water. And seeing water just below, she must have finally seen it and discovered where freedom was.
"Ah, I'm sorry, girls" I said. "That's disappointing."
"It's okay," Ellie said. She's wanted to catch a big frog for months. Always my gracious Elianna.
"Maybe it got through the boards," Charlotte said, showing me how the stick could fit between them.
"I think you're right," I sighed. "We'll just have to wait and try again."
The past few days I taught at the Oregon Christian Writers conference coaching novelists in revision. I wanted to inspire them to write over the long term, so I tried to share how stilling and seeking the water is all we need to get free. But I always question whether I should have spent more time on practical tips and trends.
It's true: desperation usually makes a bad cologne and writers conferences can stink. But turned in the right direction by staff and speakers--masterfully done by Jim Rubart and Cec Murphey this year--the aroma's greatly improved.
I've met so many writers and as a rule, we tend to strain against the stories holding us captive. I talk a lot about how revision is letting our stories still us so we can reach the end and experience the transformation.
I imagine that frog catching a glint of morning light on the water below, and finally understanding she could simply squeeze through the boards to head down.
Desperate for freedom, the water's call turned her in the right direction.
Life offers continual opportunities for revision.
"I kneel down to toss in the laundry. I set the dial to extra dirty. I stay on my knees and watch the water run into the washer, watch it splash against the circular glass of the washing machine’s front door, hear its gurgling fall. Down it flows. Down, always down, water runs, always looking for yet lower and lower places to flow. I watch water run and spiritual water must flow like this...always seeking always the lowest places—and the washtub begins to rock. I must go lower. I tell myself this, watching water run. That whenever I am parched and dry, I must go lower with the water, and I must kneel low in thanks.
The river of joy flows down to the lowest places.”
-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts
I've forgotten this insight many times. But today a frog has helped.
Writing well requires the revision to turn our desperation in the right direction and go lower. We all forget, so we need reminders to still and seek the water.
We searched the pond but couldn't find her and we turned to pursue our daily business--me to my computer and the girls to enjoying the lazy last weeks of summer. But even up at the house, I'm down at the pond today, turning this lesson of the frog over in my mind, the freedom she figured out. When desperation for freedom turns to straining, stop. Seek the water and simply go down.
To all my new writer friends, you whose books need this too, think of the frog and her freedom won in stilling. I pray you find your way down to the water...