Writing is not the thing

Hi All,

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of getting two blog posts I wrote accepted by my favorite tea company, Adagio Teas. It was one of the first times I specifically remember being paid to write, even after over a decade of writing, and needless to say, I was pretty pumped.

But as I sit here in my beautiful home on this beautiful Easter Sunday, reflecting back on the last few weeks, I’m realizing something. Or rather, confirming something I’ve probably known and ignored for quite some time.

The other day, I had a half-day for Good Friday. After finishing work and watching a movie, I went on a long walk with Jesus on one of the first perfect days we’ve had this year. And as I took a break on a park bench halfway through, as I sat by our big glass door looking out on a gorgeous day with Thor and a bowlful of strawberries afterwards, I realized: I got more pleasure out of that walk with Jesus, out of having a free afternoon to enjoy with Him, than I did with all of the social media likes and pride and congratulations that came from becoming a paid writer, or for those who don’t follow this blog regularly, from fulfilling a life-long dream.

And that’s not to say I’m not grateful for the likes, the congratulations, and the support from family and friends. I am, and for the opportunity to write blog posts (or short stories or novels) that might help, entertain, or teach people.

But writing is not my root of joy. Writing is not the thing that gives me or my life meaning, and writing, as wonderful as it is, is not the most important thing.

Now this might sound simple or obvious to some, and of course if you asked me, I would say the same thing. We’ve all heard of The Christmas Carol, heard the tropes of businessmen who waste their lives making money for a family they never see, but that doesn’t change the fact that with this recent tea blog accomplishment it’s finally been hitting home for me in a more substantive and meaningful way.

And if you’re really smart/lucky, you know the best version of The Christmas Carol

One of the most profound changes I’ve had as a writer over the years has been recognizing that my writing is not the end of my goals, but rather the means. For the longest time, I thought that the best thing I had to give this world was my stories. If I could just get published, the lessons and messages inside my work could change the world, I’d think. If only I could get there.

Now that’s a recipe for severe stress and angst if ever there’s been one, of course, to say nothing of the fact its entirely untrue. But, as with all the untruths anyone ever struggles with, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t something I had to work and fight through.

Because the fact is, what I have to give the world isn’t just stories or blogs or short stories, but me, myself, completely as I am.

Nearly all of the significant things I’ve done in my life, and certainly the ones I have cared about the most and am most proud of, have had little–if not nothing–to do with writing. In fact, most of them haven’t even been big things at all. One of the biggest blessings and mercies of having gone unpublished for so long has been that I can now see that truth.

But even that isn’t the point.

Because the real point is that finding value in any form of doing is poison.

At the Good Friday service at church this week, we took communion. For those who aren’t familiar or might come from a different liturgical background, one of the things we’re supposed to do before taking the bread and cup (eating and drinking bread and “wine” that represent Christ’s body broken for us and our partaking of that sacrifice) is check ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28-29). I’m sure there’s a lot of deep theological work that’s been done on those verses beyond what I understand, but basically for me, I think of it as a sort of spiritual check-in, a reminder of the commitment I’ve made in my life to serve and follow God, to be in relationship with Him, and also an opportunity for me to ask and consider whether there are any areas in my life where I’m not doing so hot and need to repent.

But while I was reflecting this time, the only thing that came to mind, the thing I think the Holy Spirit most wanted to tell me, was this: I want you to accept my love.

I was, in a way, mortified.

But I’m prideful! I’m ungrateful! I’m unforgiving!

Accept my love.

I need ways to get better. I have to have ways to improve!

Accept my love.

I think the thing that scares me most in this world is God’s love.

To be so indebted, to be so undeserving, to have no way to pay it back or cover my debts. There’s nothing that scares me more.

And as a Christian that is, of course, hard to say. But it’s also true.

To admit that someone could, that someone does love me that much. That they love hearing about my interests, my days, my struggles to a degree so far beyond human limitations. That I could never tire them out or have them get tired of me.

Love that deep, that real, that faithful, frightens me. I’m good at performing. It’s safe. When that gets taken off the table, the walls go up. I don’t want God to leave.

But, when I let those same walls down, as I’ve learned (and am still learning) to open up and let Him in, it has also been the most rewarding, satisfying, life- and peace-giving experience imaginable. And He’s always there. He’ll NEVER leave. Do I always feel it, and do I always experience it the same way? No. But I can and do believe He’s there, and when I stop and listen, when I let myself relax enough to open up those cracks, His love comes rushing in.

God loves me more than I could ever comprehend. He knows everything about me and still loves, and He sent His Son to die just so I could be with Him and rise with Him at the end of the age.

I want to be a published author someday. Of course I do. But when I reach the end of my life, when I live it now, writing will not be the thing.

As I wrote this post, two songs came to mind. The first is “Love Like This” by Lauren Daigle from her album Look Up Child, which I think captures pretty well my feelings about God’s amazing love. The second is “Sabotage / Home” by King’s Kaleidoscope from their album Beyond Control, which I think fits the larger theme of this post, that our accomplishments can’t fulfill us the way we think we will and that God is really the only thing we want, even as we chase after and manhandle and offer up these other things–trying to prove to God we’re worth holding and loving when He’s already doing just that. You can listen to both below.

So, how about you? Have you had any experience with chasing the wrong thing? Chasing the right thing? Do you have any songs, stories, or quotes that you think about when you consider this? Let me know in the comments below and if you want more content like this, please follow me her or on social media using the links below or in the sidebar. Thank you for reading!

Confidence and resistance

Hi All,

Just wanted to share something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I wrestle my way through some overarching changes I’m planning for the book I’m working on.

So, as you all know, I’ve been working my way through Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid as part of my quest to learn more about plot structure this year. Someone Shawn works with on a regular basis is Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, a main idea of which is the concept of resistance, or the power/voice/what-have-you that keeps you in doubt, keeps your butt out of your writing chair, and generally keeps you from doing the art you feel called to do. I’ll admit that I haven’t read the book yet, but I find the concept appealing–and painfully familiar.

May or may not feel like a fraud writing about this when I haven’t read it yet…

Resistance (as they’ve said on The Story Grid Podcast, so I promise I’m not completely making all of this up) takes many forms, even just as I’ve listed above. What I didn’t realize until recently, however, is that one of my most prominent forms of resistance comes in the form of a lack of confidence.

Here’s how I figured it out.

So, one of the things I’ve been working on lately has been creating a to-do list of things to change in my book. I got the idea and specific steps from The Story Grid Podcast, mostly between the episodes “First Draft is Done. Now What?” and “Planning the Second Draft.” For context, my final list is close to 400 items long, some of which are super easy to complete, some of which are just questions, and some of which raise deep story issues I’ll need to address.

But as I was wrestling through the last few stages of that process and working my way out to a higher level view again, I started, as many writers do, to have doubt about my story. Serious, despair causing doubt.

The main struts of that concern were, in no particular order, as follows:

  1. I wasn’t sure what my genres were.
  2. Kraven didn’t have any motivation.
  3. I wasn’t sure who my villain is, or, given who I thought he was, what he wanted.

As you can imagine, those weren’t exactly small issues to contend with–still aren’t, and will take some time to resolve. But knowing a few key points from Shawn, first that specificity leads to universality (the more specific we are about our own or our character’s experiences, the more ultimately relatable our stories will be), and second that we should zig when a reader expects a zag, I decided to try a new strategy, starting with Kraven.

Taking a page out of Tim Grahl’s (co-host of the podcast) book, I decided I would write out a big list of all of the different possibilities for Kraven’s character, specifically things that could serve as his “want” or desire in the book (to exact revenge, to heal, to escape, etc.), what could be his ultimate motivator (anger, compassion, grief, regret, etc.), and questions that could potentially change his character (What if he were cocky? What if he were book smart? What if he were the older brother instead of the younger? etc.).

From there, if I found anything that resonated with me or sounded interesting, I could use them to make him more unique, interesting, and most importantly, motivated. It was a fruitful exercise, and I definitely think I’ll be using it again.

However, while interesting, if I were to choose some of those paths for Kraven, it would change my book, not only with potential plot changes and character dynamics, but possibly all the way up to my theme or even genre.

Compound that with the fact that the other genre sounded like it could be more powerful, more profound, and I had a sticky problem on my hands. Change Kraven and potentially everything about the book to get a more dramatic or profound ending (with potentially steeper consequences) or stick with what I already have and be more true to what I originally wanted.

I talked to a writing friend about it, and she suggested that if the only reason I didn’t want to switch was because I was afraid of the work, that wasn’t a good enough reason. Which is true.

But the more I thought about it, the less settled I felt about making the change. Even though I knew the new version could be more ironic, more surprising, darker, and edgier, something still didn’t feel right.

I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

Eventually, I decided to ask God about it (duh, first step next time). I want to tell the stories He wants to tell, so if he told me which one He wanted, I would go with that.

The answer I got back? “You choose. What do you want to write?”

I think this response (or rather the more stringent response I’d been expecting) points to a general and strong misunderstanding I have about how God guides us that could certainly be the topic of another several blog posts, but the thing I want to highlight here is what was at the root of my problem.

Even if the other version could be edgier, could be more ironic or profound, it wasn’t what I wanted to write.

The other version was all about sacrifice, how much it can actually take to walk the narrow road. The original, the one I actually want to write–is about grace, about hope, about forgiveness and community. More saccharine as currently written? Yes. Also more honest, more True, and more to the tune of the world I want to inspire, live in, and create? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Which brings me back to my original problem, which is confidence. See, I’ve been at this for a long time, and most days (at least on the outside) it seems like I don’t have a lot to show for it. I’m still not a published novelist, I still don’t have a book ready to pitch, and when I start digging down into new things like story structure, story physics, and everything else, I feel like I don’t know anything at all.

When that’s the case, it’s tremendously easy for me to get pushed around, by resistance, by others’ opinions, even by myself. I can already think of one specific time that that’s happened with this book, and the results were near catastrophic.

But the truth is, I do know story, and I will know story, and God is going to and wants to get me there. He loves the stories I tell, and whether or not others or even I can see it, He will get them where they need to go. I mean, I wouldn’t even have them if he hadn’t given them to me, after all.

So, is there room for growth? Absolutely. Are there still major things I’ll have to fix for this book, and are those questions I listed above still for the most part unanswered? Yes.

But I know what kind of story I want to write, I know what I want to say, and I cannot hide and run away and constantly change things just because resistance or another person or even Satan himself says so.

I am not as lost as I think I am. God has given me stories, and He’s working with me to get the skills and instinct I need to write them.

I can do this.

Resistance, step aside. I have stories to write.

So, how about you? Have you ever encountered resistance in your art? What was it like? Have you ever read Steve’s book? Let me know what you think in the comments below, and if you want more content like this, please follow me here or on social media using the links in the sidebar or below. Thank you for reading!