Delightful Drudgery

Three cheers for the delightful drudgery of the writing life!

Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip, hip… what was that? Hit the brakes, Hemingway.

Wouldn’t delightful drudgery be an oxymoron? Yes, I suppose so but I can’t think of anything that more perfectly describes the process of putting words on a page.

Writing is delightful.

Writing is drudgery.

Writing is delightful drudgery and I’m equally familiar with both.

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I know the drudgery of wearing the letters off my backspace key waiting for a sentence or two to show up that’s even a tad worthy of remaining on the page. And I know the delightful feeling of having thoughts tumble out until they almost seem to be writing themselves. Yet another irony of the writing life is how often those two experiences meet in the same bottom-in-chair sessions.

But, here’s the thing. I’ve decided we’re the better for it, that the delight is sweet precisely because we’ve been given the gift of staring that drudgery down, and we can’t have one without the other. And now, I’m not just talking writing anymore…

Someone once said that life is mostly about showing up. Maybe. That might be true, if voting present is the ultimate goal. But for any who want more, God gives opportunities not only to show up to life, but to put our heads down and our shoulders to the plow of whatever tasks He has given us. Not once, but over and over again we’re blessed to ignore the barren landscape and accept the drudgery that feels futile–until that day.

Until that day the seed of our very hard thing germinates and begins to sprout and we pause to wipe our brows and glance down, only to stand shell-shocked at the early shoots reaching up to meet us.

Isn’t this delightful drudgery thing something like what Christ did when He wrapped Himself in our skin? He showed us how to do the everyday things, day after day, until that one glorious day when He set everything right and reconciled us to His Father and ours on the cross. All those days He spent traipsing this earth in dusty sandals was worth it to Him because He knew He was up to more than what the casual observer could see.

This is what lights my word fire. When we refuse to begrudge the drudgery, we get to taste the delight.

Tell me about that hard thing you’ve stuck with that brought delight when all was said and done?

Dangerous Curves Ahead

You hear a lot in writing circles in regards to the pursuit of publication—just persevere. Keep at it. You’ll get there.

DangerousCurvesI heard this a lot when I was going for my ultimate job in nursing. I really wanted to be a flight nurse. After I got the required experience, I began the application process—something like seven interviews later I still didn’t have a flight nursing position.

I’ve spent lots of time theorizing why and I still would love to do this job, but in my heart I think it’s not going to happen. It’s just not God’s will for my life no matter how much I desire it.

It may not be popular to talk about quitting the pursuit of publicaton on a writing blog. But then ER nurses rarely do what’s popular—we do what’s necessary. I was pursuing flight nursing when I was supposed to be serving God writing. Maybe you’re pursuing publication when God has another dream for your life that will impact people more than what you’re pursuing right now.

But just how do you know? I’ve been obsessed with learning God’s will. I often say I wish I’d wake up with a gold note card on my pillow with the answer, but it is never that easy.

TheDipAll truth is God’s truth no matter who writes it. Isn’t that an amazing statement? I think I found some of God’s truth in a little (literally—it’s seventy-six half-size pages) book called The Dip by Seth Godin.

In the beginning, he makes some pretty profound statements. The phrase all of us learned, “Quitters never win and winners never quit,” is profoundly wrong. Godin says winners quit all the time.

“They just quit the right stuff at the right time.”

The trouble is telling the difference. The dip refers to the process of learning when you’re taking on a new project you’re excited about—like novel writing. The dip is that moment you wonder why you started to write the book. You don’t think you can pull it off. You’ll never finish it.

If you can push through these moments of the learning process, then extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.

But, Godin states, the opposite is also true. Extraordinary benefits also accrue to the tiny minority with the guts to quit early and focus their efforts on something new.

Again—it’s telling the difference.

To help, Godin discusses three curves.

1. The Dip: The valley of learning. Successful people don’t just ride out the dip. They lean into it. Push harder—changing the rules as they go. Part of knowing you’re on the right path is that you do get small amounts of positive reinforcement along the way. You final in a contest but maybe don’t win it all. You get positive comments from an agent and/or editor.

2. The Cul-de-Sac: This is where you work and work and nothing much changes. For me in my nursing career—I have never gotten any promotion I ever applied for—in twenty years! Honestly, you would think I was the worst nurse ever. I’m actually a very strong nurse but something has kept me stuck. If that hadn’t happened I would have never pursued publication where the doors opened much easier for me. But perhaps this is the pursuit of publication for you. You’re in the cul-de-sac.

3. The Cliff: It’s a situation you can’t quit until you fall off and the whole thing falls apart. The example Seth gives here is cigarette smoking. Cigarettes are highly addicting, but you do get a good feeling even though it’s detrimental to you—which, in the case of smoking, could be lung cancer and then death.

Godin hypothesizes that The Cliff and The Cul-de-Sac both lead to failure and it’s best to quit these pursuits early and move on to the thing you’d be successful at. That thing for which going through the dip would be worth it.

I would never tell anyone to stop writing—ever. Writing is a creative outlet that soothes the soul and spirit. It can ease tension, stress and frustration because spilled words on the page is cathartic. But—the pursuit of publication is a whole other animal. It takes time, money, resources, and sleep.

And perhaps God is calling you to do something else.

What dream have you had where you’ve persevered through the dip and had great success? On the flip side—is there something you’re pursuing that perhaps you are considering quitting and why? Good things to think through.

All italics are quotes from Seth’s book. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.
This blog first appeared at Seekerville. I hope you’ll check it out!

24 Ways to Develop Your Muse

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Charles Dickens’ Dream

The muse that lives deep in your subconscious is something of a sprite. You can write without her of course, if you don’t mind being methodical. But when the muse shows up, she takes your writing to a whole new level, offering plot surprises, adding in soulful wisdom you didn’t know you possessed, and giving your story a dreamlike quality.

The problem is that your muse is not easily tamed. She comes and goes at her own will. She is notoriously right-brained and knows nothing of schedules and deadlines. And yet, like the stray cat in your neighborhood, she can be lured in.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things that work with my muse. Your muse, I’m sure, has his own personality, so your mileage may vary.

  • Let your mind drift. When your guard is down, as you take a shower, walk the dog or do dishes, great ideas will surface.
  • Ask yourself tough plot questions before you go to sleep. Your mind will get to work on it without your conscious self even being aware.
  • Flirt with writing challenges that are too difficult for you. Your muse will take the dare, if you give her time.
  • Explore scene kernels. Take a snatch of dialogue or a small piece of action and set your mind to simmer for a few days before trying to expand it into a full-fledged scene.
  • Fire your internal editor. You can invite him back later once your muse has completed her work.
  • Release guilt, self-doubt and worries. The muse likes to play, so be a child at play.
  • Read poetry. It will enrich the word creator within you.
  • Write lists of random evocative words. (See above).
  • Take entire writing days. Send the kids to Grandma’s. Take a vacation from your day job. The longer you immerse yourself in the writing, the more your muse will surface.
  • Take breaks from the writing. Muses need their rest too.
  • Write dangerously. Forget the market. Forget your audience. Break a few conventions. You can always scale back later, but a few writing leaps will give your muse room to expand your story.
  • Do your research. Whether you’re writing about a Viking ship or a modern day heart surgeon, your muse can be more creative if she’s well-informed.
  • Say no. No to committee meetings. No to the internet and solitaire. Writing time is golden, and it has to be protected.
  • Follow rabbit trails. Leave the outline, and see where the what-if leads. Sometimes the muse just knows.
  • Sleep well. A rested muse is more creative.
  • Conversely, stay up late. If you’re on a roll, don’t let the muse leave.
  • Do something you haven’t done before. If you’re not a singer, sing out loud. Cook exotic meals. Dance. Hike. Learn origami. Trying something new, especially something physical, releases another part of you.
  • Let your muse free while you immerse yourself in a new book or movie. She’ll extract ideas that become totally original when they mix in with your story.
  • Put it in writing. Notes have a way of kick-starting your subconscious into action.
  • Twist the story without a clue of how it will resolve itself.
  • Go outside. Sunlight and wind and grass invigorate us, and thus our stories.
  • Live mindfully. Taste what you eat. Turn off the TV and listen to the sounds in your home. Feel the words on your tongue as you talk. Bring your senses alive and it will build new grooves into your story.
  • Be patient. If your story is in knots, work on some other aspect. Meanwhile, your muse will be untangling the story threads under the surface.
  • Most of all, don’t try too hard to design the first draft. Ride the story’s waves. Control has its place, but the stories with the biggest hearts come from a place of freedom.

There is more to the mind than we know. It has multiple levels and works in ways we don’t always understand. Give those deeper levels permission, and your muse will work hard for you.

Don’t Take My Advice

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It’s awkward offering advice in a blog post when your advice is to ignore the advice in blog posts.

But that’s exactly what I’m proposing for fellow writers — at least sometimes.

The problem isn’t that there’s a lack of good advice in such posts. I love nothing better than reading some “Ten-Ways-to-blah-blah” post and finding the suggestions so helpful that I immediately implement half of them.

The problem is that, in this age of easy information, we don’t think enough for ourselves. That we see ourselves as consumers of others’ creativity and not inventors of our own. That we leave too much of the imagination to someone else.

Long ago, I had the privilege of writing a piece for Sports Illustrated on Dick Fosbury, the 1968 Olympic high-jump gold medalist. “Foz,” as we Oregonians dubbed him, was a gangly, uncoordinated high school kid and self-admitted high-jumping failure.

Then he got the audacious idea to scrap the traditional “Western Roll” style of jumping. Instead, he did something nobody had done before: he soared over the bar backward, face to the sky, legs bent as if dangling over an exam table.

The short-term results? Laughter from his teammates. The long-term results? He became the greatest high-jumper in the world.

By literally turning his back on the establishment, Fosbury revolutionized high-jumping; since 1968, virtually all jumpers have adopted his style.

That never would have happened had Fosbury not dared to be audacious and think for himself instead of simply settling for “the way everybody else does it.”

But isn’t that how most of us write, edit, and market — based on others’ advice?

It is for me. Then, every now and then, desperation—the same thing that fueled Fosbury’s “about face”—triggers my own creativity.

The rough draft of my nonfiction book about the first World War II nurse to die after the landings at Normandy had become so unwieldy I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

I’d written the 70,000-word book on an 11-inch laptop and I realized I had little idea of what it was long on and short on.

Conventional wisdom whispered: Let a handful of perceptive editors weigh in—and, ultimately, I would do that, of course. But I wasn’t ready for that step just yet. I needed some way to see into my story. To be in my story. And then the idea struck.

I printed out the book, double-spaced. I used colored felt pens to mark nuances I wanted to make sure were spread consistently throughout the book: dialogue, foreshadowing, action, what war smelled like and sounded like, in addition to the standard “what it looked like” perspective. And more.

A newspaper columnist at the time, I then slapped all 250 pages on three walls of our office’s photo studio—picture a dark-walled racquetball court—and, bingo, I was, indeed, inside my story. Literally.

With this perspective, I could see I had Mojave Deserts of dialogue dearth. I went chapters without letting readers hear the sounds of war. I had some chapters far too long, some far too short. I found all sorts of adjustments that needed to be made.

Never mind that nobody else but me could decipher my felt-penned hieroglyphics. In half a day—and despite a few smirks from newspaper colleagues—my mind’s focus went from fuzzy to sharp on what my book needed.

The experience opened me to other self-invented ideas to help my writing, from walking around the block while doing long edits (exercise, baby!) to discovering the gold mine of information that used bookstores offer and the Internet never will.

Among the best lessons I learned while doing the 452-mile Oregon portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (Cascade Summer) was this: hike your own hike.

And so it should be with writing. Seek wisdom from others, sure. But don’t be afraid to seek it from yourself. Like Fosbury, don’t be afraid to be a tad audacious and turn your back on the establishment.

There. Now, feel free to ignore all the aforementioned advice and come up with something better yourself.

WHY are you Writing?

Today, the WordServe Water Cooler is pleased to host guest blogger Kim Zweygardt. Kim recently attended the Re:Write Conference and is here to give us some insight into what she found so valuable about this conference.

Welcome, Kim!

Writing2“I know I can write.”

“I am a writer.”

Writing is more than something I enjoy or can do well. (All those “A’s” in English Comp surely count for something.)

Writing is my calling.

Even so, after a blistering critique in 2014, I spent more time not writing than writing. Doubt crept in, undermining my call.

“I think I can write.”

“At least I think I’m a writer.”

I floundered, not sure how to regain the confidence to write. What would it take to jump start the flow of words onto the page?

In February, I found my answer in Austin, Texas when I attended a different kind of writer’s conference. Re:Write—The Ragged Edge “aims to tackle issues that writers face every day, offering guidance, insight, and a hefty dose of hope along the way.”

The Ragged Edge conference was filled with power hitters. Some I knew and had heard before: Ted Dekker, George Barna, Jim Rubart, Susan May Warren, Mary Demuth, Sandi Krakowski, Mark Batterson.

Others were new to me: Rusty Shelton, Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Chad Allen, the delightful “tour guide” to the weekend–Julie Carr, Rachelle Dekker, Kevin Kaiser, Ruth Soukup, Derek Webb and the lovely Esther Fedorkevich who founded The Fedd Agency and hosted the conference along with author Ted Dekker.

As I listened, I had my mind bent over and over again.

You see, it wasn’t so much about the how of writing but much more about the why. It wasn’t so much about rules for success but in how we see success. It wasn’t so much about the bad news of the economy and publishing and more e-books and less “real” books and Author Chicken Little crying that the sky is falling and much more about the Good News of Who we write for in the first place!

It made such a difference to me that if I hit the lottery or better yet, had a wildly successful book that made me a bazzilionaire, I would call all my writer friends who are struggling and feel alone with their dream or feel they have been put on the shelf by the times or the particular, maybe-not-mainstream story they have been given to tell, the one that burns in their heart to get out onto the page and reserve their place for the 2016 Re:Write Conference.

Registration? On me! Travel expenses? On me! Need a little cash for BBQ at the airport? On me!

Oh, to dream!

But, just in case I don’t hit the lottery or the NY Times bestseller list, you could start saving now and I’ll see you there.

To whet your appetite, here’s a mash-up of what the speakers said in all their different ways.

Don’t be afraid!

Step out of the shadows and take the plunge!

You are not alone!

You are the Light of the World and no one can tell your story but you!

Don’t listen to the nay-sayers!

Write well! Write compellingly! Go deep! Lean on Jesus!

Write as an act of worship and as a spiritual discipline because He has called you to it. And if you are called and you don’t write, you are disobeying the One who has called you.

So now I write. Because I am a writer.

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KimZweygardtKim Zweygardt always knew she wanted to be someone special.  Her heart’s desire when she was 7 was to be a famous ballerina but when she read their toes bled from dancing on them, it became a less desirable career choice. Then Kim decided to be a famous lawyer solving mysteries and capturing the bad guys just like Perry Mason, but as she got older she discovered sometimes it was hard to tell just who the bad guys were.

Instead Kim chose a career in medicine practicing the art and science of anesthesia as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist in rural Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska.

Kim is married to Kary, the man of her dreams, who has done a fabulous job of making all her dreams come true. They have three children but an empty nest and enjoy conversation with friends over good coffee and great food. They enjoy travel, the arts and taking a nap.

Member American Christian Fiction Writers, International Speakers Network, www.bookaspeaker.netwww.womenspeakers.net

Learning to Listen

Have you ever noticed that there is a deep inner peace that descends when you truly listen to someone? Think about it. You focus on what they are saying, sifting through the verbal noise to the subtext that is being laid bare. You take a back seat, allowing them to drive the conversation so that you can lovingly respond. There is a strength in this passivity, a calm in conceding control.

Isn’t that exactly what we are called to do with the Lord?

My world is loud. My email constantly demands my attention – four different accounts for four different reasons. My job revolves around communication and social media, the deadly noise of an electronic culture.

We’ve forgotten the value of letters and phone calls, the connection that comes with face to face. We’ve forgotten how to have a conversation longer than 140 characters, and we sure don’t remember the bond developed by vocally sharing the depth of our thoughts, our hearts. As writer’s we get to connect the gap, to share vulnerability on the page and communicate with the world around us. All too often, I fight that vulnerability. I fight to speak without letting people see the depths of my heart. But as much as I have been called to use my voice in some form or fashion, I must first be willing to listen to my audience of One.

Kariss Lynch oceanI remember a crowded beach in California. Surfers rode the waves, entertainers lined up around the boardwalk, and this misplaced Texas girl walked with my group enjoying the show. About sunset, I found myself alone near the water, the waves roaring in to kiss the shore over and over. All other noise dissipated, and I truly listened.

I see and hear my Creator in the waves and the ocean – His power, His gentle nature, His vastness, His beauty. And I can hear His still small voice in the waves that lap the sand, asking me to drown out the other noise and just listen. He speaks in the quiet moments. He answers when I truly surrender.

Shadowed Kariss LynchWe can’t discern His voice and direction until we give up our need to control and sit back as He shares His heart and mind. I love the childlike faith of Samuel in the Old Testament and the way he simply answers the Lord with “Here am I.” Then He listens and obeys. I want to be defined as a person who delights to do what God desires, who uses my gifts for His glory, who writes without fear. But my surrender comes first. As I finish up my third book, enter a season in between contracts, and pray through what’s next, I want to make sure I am listening more than I am telling the Lord what I want. I want this in between season to be marked by a quietness of spirit as I rest, dream, pray, and enjoy where the Lord currently has me.

With no beach nearby, I’m learning to find my ocean moments in the roar of the big city. He speaks most when I commit to listen. And I’m tired of the noise. I’m sitting on the shore, listening to His voice whisper in the waves.

The Beauty of Lying Fallow

harvested fieldLying fallow isn’t just for fields. If you want to find kernels of ideas to jumpstart your next writing project, you might be surprised to see how much you can glean from the already harvested fields of your finished projects.

Just as farmers routinely allow sections of their fields to remain unplanted for a season in order to replenish the land’s fertility, writers need to leave past projects alone for a time in order to get a fresh perspective on their work – a perspective that often reveals the kernels of ideas that somehow got hidden beneath the framework of that finished work. Every writer knows many ideas that pop into the head during the research and composing process end up getting tossed out in the pursuit of a tightly woven story or narrative. That’s part of the discipline of self-editing: you mercilessly cut out your own words that you might have lovingly slaved over because you realize that, in the end, they don’t make your work stronger.

Ouch. The truth hurts.

The good news, though, is that those same words, those kernels of ideas, might be able to take on their own life in another season of your career–as long as you can find them again. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your notes from a writing project after its completion. Yes, it means you’ve got bulky files sitting unused on a shelf, or on your computer, but it doesn’t mean you’re a hoarder who just can’t let go.

sproutIt means you know that as soon as you get rid of those notes, you’ll find yourself looking for that funky little idea that didn’t quite fit the last manuscript, but would be an amazing starting place for a new project…now that you’ve had some fallow time to let that kernel of an idea begin to sprout all on its own in your subconscious.

I used to think that if I wasn’t working on a new project, I was losing time. Now I realize that my imagination needs as much of a rest as any physical landscape that is cultivated for production. What’s even more delightful is to browse through my bulky files of old projects and find new inspiration just waiting to be gleaned from the rubble of a field I thought I had fully harvested. I shouldn’t be surprised – the Biblical injunction to leave the field fallow in the seventh year was not only to improve its productivity for later, but to provide sustenance for the poor who were free to eat of what was left. In other words, the field might have been harvested, but even in its fallow season, it could give nourishment.

For writers who feel depleted after the long haul to publication and market, it’s reassuring to know that imagination is already replenishing itself.

What kernels have you gleaned from harvested fields?