Facing Distractions and Discouragement

How do you respond to distractions and discouragement when you’re seeking direction?

Writing my first book initiated one of the most intense spiritual battles of my life. I worried about my family—especially my seven grandchildren.

I had not been available for their needs with all my blogging, speaking, and writing. Guilty thoughts saturated me like a heavy rainstorm. And worry encompassed me like a dark thundercloud overhead.

Then, a Word broke through the storm clouds like a ray of sunshine: “[T]here is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1 NLT).

My husband, Dan, had scheduled his retirement date just weeks before the deadline to turn in my book manuscript. So my direction faltered, and my thoughts were like a honeybee, flitting flower to flower. Lord, how will I ever finish this book in time?

I completed my book, but not without spiritual battles. Ephesians 6 offers us this truth:

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life.
God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. (Eph. 6:13–17 The Message)

What scriptures have helped you during the spiritual battles of your writing life?

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National Procrastination Week is Next Week… Or, Um, In a Few Weeks. Yes, For Sure…

This post comes from WordServe author Rick Marschall. Welcome, Rick!

CARTOONIST SKETCHES - Donahey TEENIE WEENIES

There actually IS a National Procrastination Week, as most writers know. Or should know. If we didn’t know, we can count on editors to remind us. Or publishers. Or agents. Or spouses. Or neighbors and strangers who eventually figure why we small-talk with them, obsessively, at odd times.

But there is such an observance, appropriately not on a fixed date, usually in early March. If there were a day, not a week, the most ironic date would be March Fourth – because the dreaded P word has nothing to do with marching forth.

Most of us get tagged as being procrastinators. I have heard of writers who awake at, say, 7:28 every morning, commence writing at 10 a.m., take a 45-minute lunch break, and then write again until 4:30. Usually these writers produce several 900-page books a year, a fact that further confounds me. My guess is that if you are one of those writers, you spend most of your free time physically fending off attacks by crazed fellow-writers – i.e., the majority of us – who congregate at the intersection of Jealous Street and Incredulous Avenue, mumbling about you.

Over the years I have shoved out 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles, as well as uncountable scripts, columns, and blog essays. So I actually have been acquainted with deadlines, and, overwhelmingly, met deadlines.

But I write about that near-universal experience of racing the clock, if not the calendar, at deadline-time. I am wont to call them Last Writes, ha. If the profession invented the word Dead-line, then I can play with the term Last Rites. Enough puns here, because I seriously have a view about Writers’ Procrastination I never have heard advanced by anyone. It is a principle of our process, I think. Let me call this Marschall Law (Sorry, that is the last pun).

Whether we meet deadlines or barely meet deadlines, we assume guilt for the “minutes-to-spare” syndrome. Polite friends call it Procrastination; honest friends might call it Disorganization; harsh observers sometimes call it Laziness. Have you ever felt like pleading guilty to any of these? Have you ever finished a book without silently promising yourself to start earlier, write more, self-edit better, and finish sooner, next time?

Here is the realization I had. You have heard the expression, “Some people work best under pressure.” Some people do. We admire stories of Mozart and Beethoven scribbling scores, orchestral parts, mere moments before a first performance. Of Rodin leaving sculptures half-chiseled. Of Tolstoy’s first draft of War and Peace only running through Chapter 3, and his editor finding “etc…” before he squeezed the rest of the manuscript.

Actually, only the Mozart and Beethoven stories are true. (Otherwise, Tolstoy’s book would be known as War and Piece.) (That’s the last pun.) But most of us recognize that feeling. I have a view that if God, in the fullness of time, had not created Last Minutes, very little in this world would get done.

If it is true that some of us work best under pressure, I think it is logical – and, surely, subliminal – that we create our own pressure. Why do we find ourselves, say, reading instead of writing? Straightening out shelves and files when not necessary? Sharpening pencils, when we haven’t used a pencil since the first Bush presidency? Arranging our sock drawers?

Are we processing the next chapter? Reconsidering a plot thread? Praying for more wisdom (non-fiction) or killing off a different character (fiction) (I hope)?

No… we subconsciously create that inchoate factor, that diaphanous monster, called Pressure. Honestly, it is not really a monster. My best books (the most successful, or best-received, or ones I think have stood up) were produced in pressure-cooker scenarios; when I went total-immersion; when I ate, breathed, slept with The Book.

I could not have done that, in all those cases, if a date-book, instead of a Deadline Panic, had ordered my days. Panic worked, has worked, and I suspect for many creators throughout history, will continue to work. It should not change our working modes – we have all reached the limits of excuses – but can lift the guilt a little.

But somehow, I don’t think anyone will designate a National Panic Day…

 

rickmarschallphoto-110x165Rick Marschall has indeed written 74 books and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles. Bostonia Magazine called him “perhaps America’s foremost authority on popular culture,” and trying to maintain that reputation, writes in the fields of history, biography, music, television  history, and children’s books in addition to books, articles, and essays in the Christian field. He has been a political cartoonist, editor of marvel Comics, and writer for Disney. He currently is obscenely late on a manuscript, and while not making light of a writer’s responsibilities, has analyzed writer’s block and creative challenges.

Letter to the Spouse of a Writer

Dear Spouse of a Writer,

Please let this letter serve as a note of gratitude. Though you committed to support this journey, I realize your spouse’s growing career might not look like what you imagined. Within six months, any dreams of grandeur probably transformed into desires for normalcy.

At this point, you might feel frustrated.

Let’s face it, your writing spouse’s hours aren’t always that great. Early starts or late runs are often on the schedule. Deadlines might mean sacrificing a date night on occasion.Old Typewriter

You probably question whether the lack of sleep is worth it, or if they’ll ever sit still and watch a movie with you again. And what’s up with the constant pecking on the keyboard?

Do they have anything to say that people want to hear? (Other than family?)

What is the goal?

Money? Can you actually make money at this writing thing?

Why would anyone pour their heart, their energy, their time, and their soul into something so hard? And why would any spouse in their right mind continue supporting it?

Let me give you three powerful reasons it benefits you to cheerlead your spouse’s crazy dream.

  1. Not only did you and your spouse become one according to the biblical definition of marriage, but your role as cheerleader, coach, and sometimes counselor, means you play a direct role in the creative process. Your spouse cannot reach their full potential without you on board. A happy writer is a thankful writer, and a thankful writer wants to give back. In other words, there is definitely something in it for you.
  2. A marriage is not whole if each partner is not given the ability to explore their healthy passions. How would you feel if your spouse tried to take away the things that made you want to get out of bed in the morning? Maybe you’re driven by golf, fishing, shopping, painting, running, or food. Whatever it is that spurs your energy — liken it to how your spouse feels about their writing. For me, reading is my obsession, while writing is my compulsion. Telling me not to write is like telling me not to breathe. By feeding our healthy passions, we are more fulfilled, energized, and interesting.Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book Cover
  3. The payoff isn’t always calculated in dollars. If one reader is touched, their lives made better, or even saved, no amount of money compares. I’ve received emails from two readers of my latest book, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, who said they didn’t commit suicide because of what I wrote. Though I realize we have to put food on the table, and I work hard to do my part, I remind my husband often, “Writing is about souls more than sales.” By supporting your spouse’s desire to write, you could indirectly motivate another human being, brighten their day, inspire them, or even save their life. You and your spouse together can make a difference.

So to all the spouses of writers out there, thank you for what you do. You are the unsung heroes. Though you are often unacknowledged, you are not unnoticed. We couldn’t change the world one word at a time if you didn’t let us bounce them off of you first. We need your voice of wisdom discreetly influencing what we write.

Signed,

Another Grateful Writer

You’re In My Heart, You’re In My Soul

water droplet pixabayAs the hart (deer) pants and longs for the water brooks, so I pant and long for You, O God.

Psalm 42:1 AMP

When deadlines loom, relationships are challenged, and we get weary in the work to which we are called to perform, our souls can feel like dry, brittle sponges in desperate need of the touch of clear, cold water for refreshment.

Most of us reading this give more than we take or receive. For many of us, our Christian beliefs compel us to give, give, give and then give some more without taking the necessary breaks from performing in order to be nourished and replenished ourselves. Because of this, far too many believers in Jesus are operating out of our fumes, running on an empty tank, rather than out of the overflow of what Christ has for us in His fullness.

When we read the above passage of Scripture, we can easily imagine a deer panting for a drink of water. It isn’t hard to visualize and empathize with a deer who has been chased by dogs in the heat of summer, striving for survival – longing, even crying out, for just a drop of water. While the majority of folks reading this haven’t been in those exact circumstances, it doesn’t take much imagination to know what it feels like to be chased down by the ugly experiences in life like unpleasant financial woes, devastating diagnoses, irritating interruptions, hurtful behaviors by loved ones, and even our own struggles with sin and temptation…just to name a few!

Undealt with Weariness Leads to Unhealed Woundedness

What a refreshing drink of cool water it is to remember that we are no longer like David. We are no longer in need of searching for a place to get a drink of cool water when our throats are parched. While we may need to find a place for our minds and bodies to get necessary rest, our souls are no longer separated from the place of our greatest refreshment!

Here is how I know this: when Jesus came onto the scene and into our humanity, He offered a new way of living, a new way of relating to God and others, and a new way to experience God!

He explained this when he met the Samaritan woman at the well. Take a peek with me into their conversation,

“Jesus answered her, ‘All who drink of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever takes a drink of the water that I will give him shall never, no never, be thirsty any more. But the water that I will give him shall become a spring of water welling up (flowing, bubbling) [continually] within him unto (into, for) eternal life.’” John 4:13-14 AMP

Do you see the difference between David’s experience when he couldn’t get to the temple to worship and what Jesus said He alone could provide to the thirsty woman who had been searching everywhere for love, acceptance, validation, and relationship and never ever experience satisfaction, much less a “continually flowing, bubbling up” source of life?

Read the rest of John 4 and I Corinthians 6:19 (as well as so much of the New Testament) and be reminded that we can now experience God’s refreshment and renewal anytime, anywhere because His very Spirit now resides within us and He has made us one with Him!

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Our place of quiet refreshment now resides within us!

While I am grateful beyond expression for places like the beach, the mountains, a city park or even a library or local spa to enjoy body/mind refreshment, I am in awe of the reality that those places and those experiences cannot come close to providing my soul what it really needs: a holy moment with the One who created my soul for Himself and is always, always, always available to me in full measure.
(This might be a good time for a “Selah” – i.e. a pause-and-think-about-that moment.)

Dearest Lord Jesus, my friend and Savior, thank you for this new way of relating to you, in the Spirit; this new way that allows me to be with you always; to know I’m never alone, I’m never depleted, I’m never lacking what I truly need and desire. Show me in clearer ways how to tap into this truth for my own life so that I grow and mature in this area of soul refreshment, drinking from the Living Water you’ve placed within me in abundance – and may my life reflect this beautiful reality to others out of the overflow of this ever-fresh spring that is operating in my life.

Four Promises for Facing Self-Induced Pressure or Deadlines

Photo/KarenJordan“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32 NLT).

Sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe because of self-induced pressure or someone else’s expectations of me. And at times, I get tired even thinking about trying to follow through on all of the commitments that I’ve made as a freelance writer.

But I know that “God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again” (John 3:17 MSG).

So, when I finally sit down and bring my feelings to the Lord, I remember His promises of freedom, strength, provision, and peace.

Freedom from judgment. Romans 8:1-2 reveals the promise that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death (MSG).

Strength for our weakness. God also promises to give me His strength in my weaknesses. In 2 Cor. 12:9-10, I read,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become (MSG).

Provision for our needs. And did you know that God also promises to provide all that you need in Christ Jesus? “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19 NLT).

Peace through prayer. So, if you’re struggling with self-induced pressure or fighting a battle with judgment or condemnation, I encourage you to stop what you’re doing for just a moment and voice your fears and needs to God. He promises to provide His peace through prayer.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Phil 4:6-7 MSG)

How do you deal with your self-induced pressure as a writer?

Don’t Let Your Muse be a Prima Donna

Granted, there’s nothing particularly sexy about the image here, but that’s exactly the point I hope to make today. I have plenty of writing mistakes behind me, and, no doubt, I’ll probably have more ahead of me, but my biggest mistake, by far, has to have been my slow recognition of how to live with a flighty muse.

I fell in love with words and books as a little kid, and the magic holds as much of a spell on me as it ever did. Even now, watching the letters group up into words and the words into sentences on this page pleases my eyes and settles my soul; only now I know there is nothing mysterious about the magic! I once thought of my muse as this elusive creature who must be cajoled into making an appearance. I had to attend to her every need with just the right coffee/surroundings/writing pad, etc.  Otherwise, like some spoiled prima donna, she might get offended and disappear as quickly as she arrived. There’s a good country word for that sort of thing: bologna!

If I might digress a moment to a much more important subject, I’ll use my last breath on this green earth helping my fellow believers understand that this same principle is applicable to our life in Christ Jesus. I believe it’s vain to wait on some supernatural hunger for God’s word and His fellowship in prayer to bonk us all on the head and propel us to our quiet places. And yet, I know that when we bend our will to His and seek Him diligently, He meets us and begins forming those very desires within us. Now, THAT is good news, any which way you slice it. And now, back to your regularly scheduled writing post.

My muse wears work clothes. She has to, y’all. Deadlines call from every corner. Oh, yes, I love words and writing as much as ever, the process will always feed my soul. But if I were waiting on a flighty muse to show up and perform, I’d be dead in the water.

Like so much else in this life, I’ve found that success comes when one foot, or word in our case, is placed in front of the other, time and time again. I can’t get the hours back that I’ve wasted in the past, waiting on my muse to show up and perform, but that’s okay. Experience is, after all, a mighty fine teacher. I may have stumbled towards the understanding, but I’ve learned that my muse, she is me. I’ve taken the power back, and it feels good. Who knows, if she’s good, I may even treat her to a caramel macchiato!

Do you wait for inspiration, or do you start without it?

Hands and Knees Navigation

“Perhaps the greatest achievement of writing is to become less sure of oneself.”
~ Brian Doyle

The aged rarely hurry. Time and use and strain deplete muscle and bone and marrow of youth’s vigor, suffusing the void with a dichotomy of uncertainty and wisdom which beg measured steps.

Writing likewise begs an unhurried pace. My fingers manage about 70 words per minute when I transcribe the exact words of someone else. My own thoughts might read in my mind with equal clarity and run toward a clear destination, but they’ll crowd over one another and onto a page at a somewhat slower WPM.

What’s more likely is a meeting between a sheet of white before my eyes, strands of understanding and feelings in my mind and heart, and a gripping compulsion in my soul to bring concrete shape to the altogether abstract. My fingers then wander and grasp for each word as they crawl across the page.

For fiction and non-fiction alike, whether my outline and components are defined with precise or rough edges, the navigation of crawling requires the use of both hands and knees. Whatever gift I have, however developed my writing craft, no amount of raw talent and polished skill can bridge the spiritual and mortal without divine empowerment.

“I am like a little pencil in God’s hand. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it.”
~ Mother Teresa

Do I believe I can present some worthy work that originates with me? Or do I simply offer myself to God, asking Him to use me for His work?

If our writing is His means of conveying stories and ideas and a purpose bigger than the entertainment or information transfer we’d otherwise compose, then allowance must be made for God to be actively engaged in our writing.

The suggestion to pray throughout the process of writing may be stating the obvious to you, or it may be a great new idea. Either way, this reminder comes with a few practical pointers:

• Before sitting down to write, check with the Lord for other priorities.
• If writer’s block strikes, be still and wait for the Lord’s leading.
• Allow God to take an idea in another direction than you had in mind.
• Edit with a spiritual eye, asking God’s Spirit what is pleasing to Him.
• Work toward deadlines with intentional room for chats with the Lord.
• Seek God to resolve conflict (with schedule, editor, outline, etc.).
• Prioritize time with God’s Word to sharpen your power with words.
• Shelve preconceived ideas of God’s intent and timing for the end product.
• Recognize, thank, and praise the Lord for every blessing along the way.
• Before considering a work complete, ask God if you missed anything.

[May God] make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.
Amen.
~ Hebrews 13:21 (NKJV)

What other specific elements bring the Lord into your writing?
Do you have a testimony of God at work through your words?