Fighting for My (Creative) Life

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“Don’t be a writer if you can get out of it! It’s a solitary job, sometimes a rather lonely one (who’s listening? you say), and it requires relentless self-discipline. The world is not waiting with baited breath for what you turn out. A writer has to be some kind of nut to stick with it. But if, like the psalmist, you say, “My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned,” then perhaps you will have to write.” —Elisabeth Elliot

My writing partner, Laura, and I are up to our necks in another of our famously insane writing challenges. We’ve committed to tossing off eight chapters in our respective books by the end of February—and our husbands have gallantly committed to throwing a little two-person awards banquet at our favorite restaurant after we cross the finish line. Usually at this point in one of our writing sprees I’m starting to daydream about which dress I’m going to wear on the illustrious night, but this time I’m wondering if I’ll even make it to the dinner. Truthfully, this latest challenge couldn’t have come at a worse time for me. Life has been rushing in with such intensity of late that I feel like a very small boater on a very small craft gazing up at a bulging dam that’s about to give way. When I finally sit down to write, I’m so tired and scatter-brained that it has required copious amounts of caffeine just to get the grey cells firing, much less to help me remember where I left my subconscious mind. One day last week I woke rather dazedly from what Laura would call “the world’s most inappropriate nap”: head on my desk, tea grown cold at my left hand. And it’s not because I was bored with the story (at that point). One of my characters had just escaped being attacked by an alligator, for heavens’ sake.*

It was because I was exhausted, body and soul.

On paper, it looked like a great time for a writing challenge. In practice, it has been very, very hard. I keep sending Laura endearing little notes saying things like, “Life is crazy these days. Thanks to you.” And I really mean that with all my heart—thanks to her, I am writing again, for better or for worse. Writing like my life—my real life—depends on it.

Because the only thing ornerier than an exhausted writer is a writer who is not writing. It’s such a proverbial problem I’m actually a little surprised that Solomon didn’t mention something about it: “A writer that’s not writing is like a broken toe or a garden hose with a kink in it,” that kind of thing. It’s agonizingly annoying, reminding you of its noxious reality with every step. And if that hose has been strained long enough, it’s going to start springing leaks, trickling its gift into impervious driveways and patios, missing the garden altogether. I hesitate to carry the metaphor further because, obviously, I’m not Solomon, and I fear this one is getting away from me. But you catch my drift.

On the other hand, the times when I am doing my thing, guarding moments in which to put words down faithfully—whether they are any good or not—are the times in which I feel I am living my life, rather than being swept helplessly along in the current of time. There is a keenness to my days that intimates of eternity, an awareness of the world’s sorrow and loveliness that nearly breaks my heart. I don’t live in my thoughts so much as my imagination: the What If? factor is strong, kindling a madcap curiosity and near-delirious joy in the very ordinary world around me. When I am writing, my life is charged with light and color and music. And I don’t mean when I’m writing well—that doesn’t happen very often, if ever, really—I mean when my body is planted in my chair and my fingers are moving over the keys; when I am daydreaming over a blinking cursor, or, for a change, doodling a fountain pen over a creamy possibility of Moleskine goodness; when I am dancing in rhythm with my own unique drumbeat and actually cooperating with the routine I’ve fashioned to make this thing work.

But it is so hard. As much as I want to do this, I am always taken aback by how devastatingly easy it is to not do it. I am constantly evaluating my priorities, praying over my to-do list and seeking wisdom. Some days, however, I feel like I am pitted against an adversary that is stronger than me when it comes to just getting to my desk. And when I do manage to fight my way there, I have an even greater foe to contend with: the fear that I have nothing to say; the cold, slinking snake of thought that I have won the battle but lost the war. My head swirls with lists of people I need to call, emails I have got to send, things I simply must not forget to do—and a crushing sense of failure that I’ve merely forwarded all this from the day before. It can be as daunting, figuratively speaking, as the very gates of Mordor.

As a woman, I struggle daily to care for everyone and everything that needs me without sacrificing my creative life. (I realize that men struggle too, in different ways, but I obviously have a limited viewpoint on the matter.) And when things get too out of hand, my writing is the first thing to go.

Sometimes it needs to go, of course; there are emergencies.

But not always. That would be wrong, because, for me, the call to love as I have been loved means, among other things, sitting all by myself in a room staring at an often-blank computer screen. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I used to imagine that any resistance along the path of my aspirations meant I’d inadvertently rammed my head against the will of God; I imagined that interruption and discouragement were His way of telling me I ought to be doing something—anything—other than what my heart most longed to do. (Deplorable theology, I know.) I remember one afternoon a few years ago I took a break from my writing to come downstairs and make some tea (caffeine, remember). Casually glancing out the window over the sink, I noticed a sinister haze of smoke tumbling over the kitchen yard and realized to my slow-growing horror that the west pasture was on fire. “Well, God,” I wanted to say, “you didn’t have to go to all that trouble to get me away from my desk!” Mercifully, I don’t see it that way any more: these days, resistance looks more like Apollyon standing arrogantly astride Christian’s path; like the combined forces of the world, the flesh and the devil, pitted against my efforts to follow a call I’ve heard, a summons as wild and strange and full of longing as the cry of wild geese over a winter landscape. Resistance means there is probably something on the other side worth fighting for. Making art is waging war on all the inner demons and the outer distractions that would keep us silent and compliant in this world. But knowing all that doesn’t make the actual war any easier.

One thing that sure helps, though, is the knowledge that we’re not alone. A good flesh and blood comrade is worth more than all the writing books and conferences in the world. Laura really is my lifeline in this exhilarating, often lonely journey of a writing life and I seriously do not know what I would do without her. (Probably not write books, for one.) She and I consistently get dressed up and meet for “writer’s lunches,” complete with trim notebooks and usually a chapter or two to exchange in pretty, flowered file folders. We also bring along our complaints: our gripes with how dratted hard this is; our tooth-and-nail struggles to hear our own voices amid the clamor of life; our failures. One day at the end of last summer we gave over a goodly portion of our Pad Thai to this airing of grievances, until finally, worn-out with ourselves, we stopped and stared at each other across the table.

Allright, that gaze seemed to say. Enough. Just what under heaven we are going to do?

Laura proposed an excruciatingly honest evaluation of how we spent our time—not just days, but moments.

“Call me in a week,” she said, “and tell me what you’re going to give up. And I don’t mean something easy—I mean something that hurts.”

In Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh talks about how women really resent spilling themselves in little trickles that don’t seem to do anyone much good. They long to pour themselves out by the pitcher-full, she writes, to give in a way that is both sacrificial and effective. I am just beginning to understand that sacrificial living means, of all things, sacrifice. It means giving things up—not things I don’t want anyway, but things I want, just not as bad as I want other things. And this is the very point upon which my attempts at a disciplined writing life intersect with my yearnings for a holy life—a life which sings to God, “I love You!”—namely, the more intimate I am with my own struggles and failures and calling as a writer, the more inseparable the act of writing becomes from devotion itself. It’s not just one more thing I want to do; it is my spiritual act of worship. My obedience.

Laura understands this, and it’s like a warm, friendly hand in the dark when I’ve been groping my way through a lightless cave of writerly panic. Even sweeter is the knowledge that she understands, without my clumsy efforts at articulation, just how good is the joy of it all. Even when we’re drowning under our own, self-made deadlines.

Or, perhaps, especially so.

Next time you see Laura, give her a hug (and maybe a bottle of champagne). She’s literally saving my life, one writing challenge at a time.

~

Any of you ladies out there want to weigh in on weapons and means you have found to fight this war of resistance? Of course, the menfolk are welcome to chime in, as well, though the challenges presented often look a lot different on the surface of things. And I have a suspicion, though by no means a scientific one, that women face some really unique challenges in this area. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from your time in the trenches.

(If you are struggling with resistance, I urge you to read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Dreadful language; superlatively awesome book.)

*No promises that such a harrowing episode will make it into the final book—this is, after all, a draft. I’ll have to make sure that Jonathan Rogers doesn’t have a monopoly on the use of alligators in Southern fiction.

Profile photo of Lanier Ivester

Lanier Ivester is a “Southern Lady” in the best and most classical sense and a gifted writer in the most articulate and literal sense. She hand-binds books and lives on a farm with peacocks, bees, sheep, and the governor of Ohio’s leg. She loves old books and sells them from her website, LaniersBooks.com, and she’s currently putting the final touches on her first novel, as well as studying literature at Oxford.


26 Comments

  1. Scott

    I love and hate this at the same time. It pulls all the props from under my arguments against the ideas of discipline and struggle in creating. I am primarily a sculptor not a writer, although I have been known to dabble in the writing of songs and short stories. Therein lies another tale of commitment and distraction. I have recently been able to build a studio and retire from other forms of earning a living and given a time and space to sculpt with abandon. I have not. I have started. I have been inspired to tears with ideas for heroic works. But I ran out of clay. I am home all the time while my wife works and so many things need doing around the house. I am overwhelmed with all that has to be done and so I sit to think, to organize, to prioritize and in so doing do nothing. The snowball grows.
    I have now come to a place where I must do something else. We must refinance to remain solvent and that means a lot of work on the house is needed before the appraisal. I have started. Now a distraction to my art has become my focus and it is assailed at every turn by all the other distractions and my art has become like a dream vacation that has been so often planned and hoped for but sidelined for lack of funds or time or…
    In my other life as a contractor I had the constraints of schedules and deadlines and the needs of those who worked for me to keep me going and focused. Now I have none of that and I often feel as though I am drifting through and wasting this wonderful life God has given. It doesn’t feel far away or unreachable. I just have to buckle down (as my dad used to say) and do it. I know that’s where the discipline and struggle come… Hang on, my phones ringing.

  2. Jaclyn

    Oh, Lanier! This comes to me like a warm hand on my shoulder at just the right moment. Thank you. And thank you to Laura for being such a treasure of a friend to you.

    I struggle with discerning between necessary sacrifices for the sake of my creativity, and mere challenges to my general productivity needing facing or resisting. For example, I often think what I need is a cleared schedule, like Scott describes, but as you mention, a life loosed of schedules and deadlines doesn’t guarantee the formation of a writing/creating time.

    On the other hand, I often find myself in your shoes, Lanier, forever making lists and pushing to accomplish “the important things” first, thinking if I can clear away “this much” (picture my hands measuring the heap of to-do things) then I will have been a good, responsible citizen of the world, and can sit to write guiltlessly. That rarely happens either. Instead, I find myself still alone, but monstrously busy, often working on tasks to a degree of completeness that I imagine meets some unspoken standard, but that is near meaningless in terms of how well I live according to my God-given convictions. Really, how well organized must one’s bookshelf be before it’s functional? How straight must the beds’ sheets be before it’s considered made? How detailed must next week or next month’s plan be before I can say I am prepared for the future?

    What I think I’m beginning to hear from the Lord is that I can only take care of what is absolutely important and timely today, while it still is today. How reliable are our plans and forecasts?–

    Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

    Ha, our future projections are about as permanent as a puff of steam.

    The trick is knowing what is important; it seems to vary. Sometimes, in the name of stewarding my livelihood well, the most important thing is tackling that huge work project that has been looming for weeks. Sometimes the most important thing is bending over to tie a Kindergartener’s shoes, or to pray with a 10 year old who is struggling to adjust to a new school. And sometimes the most important thing is to listen to God’s voice (which I believe is the True muse of every redeemed artist) when He speaks, and to be faithful to record what we hear in whichever medium we’ve been called to use.

    I’ve been recently inspired by Ezekiel and the way God called on Him to communicate God’s coming judgement by exile to Israel–

    Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I will speak to you and listen closely. Go to the exiles, to the sons of your people, and speak to them and tell them, whether they listen or not, “Thus says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 3:10-11)

    Not that our post-canonical writings are akin to Scripture, exactly, but we do know from observing those Scriptures that God is the one that grants understanding to our dull, finite minds, so that we certainly can’t credit our superior hearing for catching a snippet of celestial song. And that being the case, if our ears are unstopped long enough to hear such musical bars of beauty, then methinks we ought to consider it our responsibility to record them, as Ezekiel did, and perform them in whatever way God empowers, for the benefit of all. I say this, of course, because it is the very thing I so often fail to do, thinking what strains I hear everyone else must hear as well, or that surely no one else would be benefited, or interested, or care about them.

    Thanks again, Lanier and Laura, for reminding me that such defeating thoughts are the lies, and God’s gracious call to live and create is the Truth.

  3. Brenda Nuland

    I have been thinking of you all week and HERE you are, over at The Rabbit Room. 🙂

    Here amongst the likeminded… those who, of course would understand. Be they male or female.

    What a good friend of mine calls “the gotta do’s” of life can be overwhelming to the point of draining every ounce of energy. I texted my daughter last night that I need Downstairs Staff.

    I think Sally (wife of Clay, mother of the beautiful Sarah) said it best recently when she wrote that, during her crazy conference season, she has learned to take short breaks to get refreshed and renergized so she has something to give to the ladies who come to hear her speak (that being the Brenda paraphrase).

    Sometimes we have to tweak the rules as we remember our finiteness. Especially when we don’t have Downstairs Staff.

  4. redheadkate

    One thing that I have been working on for the past year is to be careful with my commitments. Just because I’m capable of something doesn’t mean that I need to say yes. Because if I fill my time with everything else, I will never have time to write, create music, make jewelry, etc. That has been a very difficult lesson for this recovering people-pleaser.
    At the same time, I quit some of my previous commitments. So I still teach Sunday school, but I don’t teach in the childrens program or lead music. Picking and choosing forces me to narrow down where I want to focus my time and efforts.
    But even with more time to pursue my creative things, I’ve been struggling lately. I feel mute. I don’t know if it is a motivation problem or something else. For a while I didn’t do anything. Then I decided that wasn’t an option anymore, so I have been making cards and sending them to people. Not much of anything. But it is a creative outlet and that is the important thing. I’m trusting that eventually my words will come back.

  5. Loren Warnemuende

    I have a couple Laura friends (literally named Laura 🙂 ), and one of them likes to write. I’m wondering if I should pursue her as a writing partner. That would be lovely to have, and certainly a motivation to get down and dirty.

    I am distracted by so many things…kids, Internet, other commitments. I start one thing only to find myself somewhere else completely a while later. It seems like I’m constantly asking myself if I’ll ever be able to really write, or if that’s not what God wants me to be doing, and it’s just a selfish whim. I doubt my abilities, and particularly my ability to persevere.

    How do I fight it? Can’t say I’ve come up with a good solution. Once in a while I realize it’s an attack, and I’m able to put my mental boxing gloves on.

  6. Karen Buck

    Thank you, Lanier! Lindbergh’s sentiment desiring to pour out by the pitcherful instead of dribs and drabs resonates. I wear so many hats, and I’ve not really a head for hats- truly and figuratively- wife, mother, daughter, homeschooler, church staffperson, singer, songwriter…even the nurse’s cap gathering dust in my closet. I felt a pang of resentment and jealousy today that revealed that the intimacy of the art has slipped away from me a bit. Peace and joy flow when my art – music, marriage, mothering- is fed by communion with Christ, who measures my productivity in mysterious ways.

  7. Colleen

    I am almost two months in on my writing commitment. I started January 1st and did great for the first three and a half weeks. Then the war began. I started struggling with questions like, “God, do you really want me to sit for hours in front of my computer and pour myself out to it? Or wouldn’t it be a better use of my time if You gave me a family so I could spend hours pouring myself into human beings?” (I’m single and nearing 30.) Then, anxiety kicked in and made my head swim with panic and confusion and more questions. “God, I feel like I’m failing miserably here. Do you really want me to do this or not? How can something so incredibly hard be what I’m supposed to do?”
    Thankfully, even though I get very nearsighted and the enemies seem to intimidate me into relinquishing this commitment to see my project through, God has come in loud and clear through the pages of a Bible study I’ve been going through, Kelly Minter’s ‘No Other Gods’. On the day I was giving up on Him answering my questions, she wrote: “I’m telling you straight up – stay. When you’re too weary and disillusioned to do anything else, keep staying. God is working out your faith…So do whatever it takes…Just don’t leave. Hang in there, you. Upsets are especially thrilling.” Then she proceeded to give a much needed lesson on Abraham going to the place God called him to set out for, even though he didn’t know where he was going. I feel like that so often. I don’t know exactly where I’m going or how in the world I’m going to get there, but I know I’ve been called to set out anyway.
    So here is what is helping me in my battle: basics. Basics like sticking with the Lord through Bible study, spiritual friendship (I have an artistic friend that I regularly meet with just like Lanier has Laura) and scripture memory. I find that these components of commitment are easier for me to keep up with and also end up helping me push through the ‘dead-end’s I think I’ve met with. Also, resting helps me. Laying in bed with a good book renews my creative mind in a way, just like scripture does in a higher way. I do not find that time wasted and sometimes I give myself permission for a short break for the sake of finding the depths of me again.
    Lanier, thanks for putting words to what I’ve been struggling with so intensely the last month! And for recognizing how women long to pour themselves fully and sacrificially into something so it will be effective. That is such an internal conflict in me and it’s comforting to hear other women who struggle with the same thing.

  8. Matthew Benefiel

    Lanier,
    As I guy reading this, and being a father of four, and a husband to a wife of those four children; I have to concur with your thoughts as least in terms of time. The times I have stayed home when my wife is sick I come to grips with the enormous task of rearing children. Not to say I shrink from it or am not capable, but I find I lack the patience and and sweetness my wife has. That task alone drains you and I have yet to even take over their homeschooling as I don’t stay home that often.

    My wife is usually drained when I come home and I try (when I’m not absorbed in selfishness) to help do dishes and cleanup and take over on the children (I do put them to bed every night). That said she doesn’t have much time. She has been considering putting a book together that talks about the importance and honor of saving oneself for marriage as she sees our society shunning such people, but hasn’t made much headway.

    I myself picked up writing about three years ago and I wrote a 33,000 word book that I put out for free in 2011, but I have since slowly re-written the book to be a 60,000 word book with only about 10% of the original surviving the chopping block, so I understand the struggles of writing and how much easier it is to let it go; but as I’m finding out, the call of the writer is stronger, so I try to make time in the morning (about 7:00am to 8:00am) to keep up the pace. But I feel I could make more time.

    Having said all that I do have a point, and that is that as a husband I have not given my wife as much time as I should to help her along in her desire to write, or any other area that she would love to spend time on but can’t. We discussed her book a few times (one time about a couple hours into the night), but nothing more. Perhaps I can find a way to take the time I use poorly (like the evenings after dinner or even right when the kids go to bed) to help her writing along (especially since I can type pretty well and I’ve been writing myself).

    I know I can’t volunteer your husband to help you and it sounds like he is helping by hanging a reward in front of your eyes, but maybe discuss finding some time where you can run off to a quiet place to focus on writing and he can hold down the fort, a Saturday morning or even maybe a day he goes into work later and skips lunch (not the actual meal just the time). A lot of that depends on when you focus the best. Mine is the morning, even if I’m dead tired my brain is going full speed for some reason and I like to write.

    Now that I am think about it, it seems to me that I found out I like to write in the morning. I used to write over lunch times and sometimes in the evening, but I found that I more inconsistent, that I struggled more. Then it occurred to me that I think way too much in the morning. Daydreaming as I drive into work, or taking too long of a shower because I find myself lost in a world of thought (some of my best ideas come during those two times). So I said to myself one morning, “I should write in the morning when I get to work, take my lunch hour early and then eat while working.” It has worked much better. I still struggle, but I find when I make that time available I enjoy much more than later in the day.

    Sorry my post is getting lengthy. I guess to summarize, find that time of day that you have the most creative juices and see if there is a way you can makes some time to write, even if it only happens say once a week, it can make a world of difference.

  9. Lanier

    Wow! Great feedback, everyone. Thanks for your honesty and experience.
    Jaclyn, what you said about perfectionism nailed me. When I’m giving perfectionism its head in my life, it creeps over into my writing and shuts me down entirely. We should be able to ‘live’ in our art as comfortably as we should live in our homes—sometimes that means making messes. 😉 Especially poignant to me was your comment near the end on how we often dismiss the unique music we hear simply because we heard it in our own head: “…thinking what strains I hear everyone else must hear as well, or that surely no one else would be benefited, or interested, or care about them.” Makes me think of an Emerson quote I have to keep going back to over and over again:
    “A man should learn to detect that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet, he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts. For often, don’t you—when you’re starting out to write something—dismiss without notice, a thought because it is merely yours. You get just this split-second side glimpse, a tantalizing flash of wings, before you reject it categorically. “No,” you say, “that couldn’t have been a swallow—much less an angel…”

    Brenda, yes. Downstairs staff would certainly help, hehe…

    Sweet Kate, being the beneficiary of your creative kindness on more than one occasion, I have to say that you are living what you believe about art every single day, whether you realize it (or feel like it ) or not. Blessings to you in your refueling process. I think we underestimate how vital and valid that is. I know I do in my own life, much as I espouse it to others.

    Loren, get thee a Laura.  (And, I’m telling you, I don’t even have children and I struggle with the ‘selfishness’ question. What a bugbear that is…I have no words to express the admiration I feel for you ladies who are trying to make art while raising a family. You all deserve medals of valor.)

    Colleen, Wow. Thank you for drawing the question back to its very underpinnings of basic faith in God. I know all too well the fears and anxieties you are talking about—wondering if it’s supposed to be this hard, if there isn’t something else God wanted me to do that I’m missing, and on and on… Anyway, your faith inspires me and gives me courage for my own fight. Thank you.

    Matthew, I really appreciate your perspective as a husband. That’s one thing that my writing partner and I talk about from time to time: that there are times in marriage when we are fighting, not just for our own aspirations, but to make our spouse succeed in theirs. It’s an honor to be a part of that process in another life.

    For the record, if you folks saw how thoroughly Philip makes way for these dreams of mine in practical ways every single day you would all wonder that I hadn’t written a hundred books by now. He deserves a medal, too. 

  10. Lisa

    Lanier,
    Thank you!

    . This is the hardest part of writing for me: how do I justify all the hours and hours spent in front of my screen doing something that seems so entirely selfish? I can’t even console myself with the thought that anyone else would be blessed by it, knowing the reality of the likelihood of being published. Slim and none. Half the time I think it is a siren call, distracting me from what I “should” be doing instead: loving other people, serving others.
    I’m still in that place where I think, “if I love this so much, it must not be something God wants me to do.” How did you get past that?
    Argh…you are right when you say it helps to know you’re not alone. So thanks again for this “warm, friendly hand in the dark.”

    Lisa

  11. Mitsie

    Being new to the cyber writing world I take great comfort in all the words posted here.
    We, who are compelled to write, are in great company with the apostle John who said in his opening lines about the Word of Life and the fellowship with the Father because of Jesus: “And these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.” 1 Jn 1:4

    Our joy is made complete because of Who we are writing about and the fact that we get write it at all.

    Thank you for the encouragement.

  12. Hannah

    So much of what you mention, Lanier, Scott, and Loren, is where I am with art. I get distracted, look for distractions, misuse time, and find the days slipping away. I guess I should go make that mug of tea and get to work…

  13. Renee Keren Powell

    Lanier … I started writing later in life and have so much learning to catch up on, but the advantage of age is a more paced perspective. I read a book, Chop wood Carry water, which taught me that all aspects of life are spiritual moments with God. So instead of hurrying through the laundry or dishes to get to the writing, I realize the wisdom of daily tasks feed my creativity. Then writing flows naturally and cleans my soul … like the dishwasher 🙂 or fluffs me like the dryer.
    Anyway, I often give myself permission to write in equal measure to my chores … 20 minutes to clean the kitchen is rewarded with 20 minutes of writing/researching/dreaming. And to be honest, my attention span to write is maxed out easily. On the occasional, miraculous day that writing pours out of me, I let the chores go undone.
    I learn from each Rabbit Room article. And am very glad to have connected with artists, like yourself, that are willing to share your experiences. I shall look up the book that your recommended. Thanks.

  14. Matthew Benefiel

    One thing I have learned since I became an author (meaning I actually started writing stories and loved doing it), is not to give myself a hard time. For most of us it is not a full time job nor a full time hobby, we have lives we have to balance. This doesn’t mean to shrug if off an say “Que Sera Sera” like Dorris Day, otherwise you would never get back to writing. Instead take that feeling of discontent (sometimes guilt) of not having written and write. It doesn’t have to be much, just write what you feel and you will find yourself back into writing.

    Doesn’t mean it will be easy, creating something and then having to rework it and re-craft it (not to mention look for spelling, grammatical errors, Microsoft Word errors where they make things worse, and the all that fun stuff) is not an easy hobby, it takes work. But it is very fulfilling work, even if you don’t think you will end up on a best sellers list. By the way ebook publishing is pretty easy, head over to smashwords.com and they will import it (after you have done the work of following their formatting guide which is actually pretty good and when done you can save a template that will help later writing) and then distribute it to everyone but Amazon (who has two different royalty options instead of the standard 70% profit).

    It may not be full publishing but it is a growing field and I’ve had at least 500 downloads on my free copy of my book, though only one review on smashwords (27 ratings on iBookstore).

    Anyway, I’m getting long winded again, long story short, don’t give yourself a hard time, if it is something you enjoy then enjoy it. If it has taken you over three years (as it has me in writing my first book, and now trying to wrap up a complete re-write which I hope satisfies most of the feedback I’ve gotten so far) then so be it, it is something I love to do and I will keep doing it and find ways to do it, but as I tell my wife when I come home and she apologizes for not having the house clean and not doing any work: “It’s okay, you have done plenty in raising our wonderful children, we can clean house later in small steps.” That and the kids will be pulling their fair share soon enough.

    Happy Writing! Don’t give up and don’t give in.

  15. Lanier

    Renee, thanks for the perspective. I will have to look up that book–it sounds quite interesting. Reminds of Brother Lawrence and his ‘practice of the presence of God’.

    Lisa, you asked how I got past the whole “if I love this so much, it must not be something God wants me to do” problem, and I will honestly say that this is something I struggle with on a near-daily basis. The words of Sheldon Vanauken describing his calling to write were enormously helpful to me: “Beyond knowing [that he had received a vocation], I BELIEVE…” We don’t always get unshakeable convictions, but have to live out our callings as an act of faith–just like creation itself. I believe that God has called me to write—in an active sense, not just a hopeful sense—and that gets me through the moments (or days) when I wonder if I’ve missed something. And then, faith-full or not, I go sit down at my desk every day and pound out words. I touched on some of these fears in an earlier post, if you’re interested:

    http://www.rabbitroom.com/2011/05/gods-own-fool/

    Another thing that helps to consider in wondering about how God leads us is to compare it with how He doesn’t. What I mean is, He doesn’t hold out on us when we’re asking for wisdom, and He doesn’t shame us for things that are uniquely us, made in His image. If, as in the quote at the head of this post, “the fire burns” for you with regards to writing, well, I would sit up and take notice.

  16. Jenn

    ” . . . the only thing ornerier than an exhausted writer is a writer who is not writing.”

    So true! Thank you, thank you, thank you for this piece. I’m reading it as I woof down a bowl of oatmeal and prepare to start my “day job” that is both incredibly cerebral and intensely boring all at the same time. It’s basically the exact opposite of the creative pursuit, but the kids are growing bigger and busier, purse strings are tightening, and the creative hours have caved to “productive” (end-meeting) pursuits. It’s life, I suppose — but I so appreciate your candor in the need for sacrifice, the absolute necessity of engaging in your calling whatever the cost. Thank you for the encouragement to give up the desired in order to gain the most essential. This is a blessing!

  17. Michael Hadley

    It’s taken me awhile to finally getting around to having the time to catch up on all the posts on here and this morning I finally got to this one and I have stopped in my tracks. I may not be a woman or have children (I’m a 24 yr old college senior) But it’s as if you’ve expounded upon the words I cannot seem to get out. I think for me mostly it’s finding time between classes and being involved in church. But also, if i’m more honest; deep down it’s not having the courage to write. As of late I have been burnt out by a host of things that are good, but have weighed upon me. So when I finally get around to even thinking about writing I choose to do something else, something unproductive like watching TV. My favorite line here has to be,

    “the more intimate I am with my own struggles and failures and calling as a writer, the more inseparable the act of writing becomes from devotion itself. It’s not just one more thing I want to do; it is my spiritual act of worship.”

    I hadn’t thought of it like that before. Unlike most here I’m not what one would consider a real author. But after reading this, I suppose all writing, when you’re doing it from a well of something deep inside you, is sacred. Whether or not you’re read by thousands or just a handful. I feel as if this is the kickstart I needed to get back on the horse. Thank you and thank you for the art of spiritual subtext podcast. I now have 2 more books on my to-read list! Grace and Peace!

  18. Jonathan Rogers

    Don’t know how I missed this the first time around, Lanier, but this is a truly excellent accounting of what it costs to make things.

    Glad to see you’re writing about alligators. Why shouldn’t you? There are people who write whole novels without mentioning alligators once; I don’t see how they do it.

  19. Amber Joy Leffel

    Oh Mrs. Ivester. Oh, I cannot express the frustration and pain I go through when it comes time to write a paper for my classes. In fact, there’s one due Monday. A ten-pager, even!

    Mrs. Ivester, I just don’t understand my problem. I will sit facing a blank Word document and get so overwhelmed with FEAR that I start weeping and then run from the computer and do something else – probably eat chocolate.

    It sounds a little like you understand my plight. Please HELP! I’m not a writer-for-profit–I’m a Biblical Studies major and I make my meager living by traveling with a singing group–but I DESPERATELY want to write — and, besides, my classes ask for it.

    By the way, hand me a pen and paper and give me freedom, and I’ll write (and doodle) for hours. My journals are constantly full. My text messages are always long (as are my blog comments). My letters are poetic! and beautiful! and heartfelt! and easy! But this demanded-of writing? Nothing of the sort.

    So, so, so hard.

    I do not know if I can come through this–really, I’m not sure that I can. But could you offer some help, would you, please? How I need to be rescued from this…if only for the sake of my sleep on the night before due dates 🙂

    Blessings be yours.

  20. Amber Joy Leffel

    Mrs. Ivester, it sounds like you know a little what I’m going through. Could you please help me?

    My academic discipline, like others, requires (and the requirements only increase with time and class level) much writing. Might I introduce you to my methods and experiences with it?

    I stare at a blank Word document to write this paper and am so filled with fear that I weep – then text my mom, then go do something else–usually eat chocolate. And I only ever make it back to that Word document because time is running out and “the paper’s due in the morning.” But this is not without more fear, more tears, despair, frustration, escapism – the whole lot. Oh, I don’t know what does it. I don’t know what comes over me. But I cannot. write. My fear paralyzes me. (Fear of what?! I know not!)

    Mind you, this is only writing-for-deadlines. Writing in my journal, writing letters, text messages, emails, blog posts (and comments, you see) – these things all come so naturally to me and flow easily. Also, I am proud of those works.

    So it seems that it’s not simply WRITING, but — academic writing? Writing for a grade?

    I don’t understand my problem, but I DESPERATELY want to be healed from it – and, though I will wait as long as He sees fit, I would desire to be cured soon! I have ten pages due Monday!

  21. Lisa

    Lanier,
    Thank you so much for your link to the “God’s own fool” post…it was enormously helpful. Oh, how I can relate! And I have found a kindred spirit in you – Sheldon Vanauken?? Tea??? Yes and yes.
    And the “code word for writing”?? Uh huh. Me too.
    Hoping to hear soon of your impending publication. And if not, I’d be happy to read your unpublished “little manuscript”, any time!!

    Lisa

  22. Lanier

    Oh, Amber. I feel your pain! I have found that the only way to face down that fear is to WRITE THROUGH IT. There is absolutely nothing else to do—except do something else for a while: take a walk, play the piano, go stare at a beehive… sometimes we do need to do something else for a bit—not in a procrastination sense, mind you, but in a replenishing one. But the sad truth is that at some point you just have to open up that blank screen and start typing, even if it’s terrible. Waiting for that first magic sentence is the ultimate muse-killer, in my opinion. (Or the second magic sentence, or the third…) I’m no neuroscientist, but it is actually documented that stress shuts down the language center of our brain—just ask my French teacher, hehe! 😉 I never have “the answer” when I start to write; oftentimes I have an aching, wordless feeling “too deep for tears” that is just trying to get out, and I don’t understand it fully until I have freed it and clothed it with words. Robert Frost said that a poem begins with a lump in the throat—and I’m inclined to add that so does a short story, a novel draft, or an essay. At least that is my experience.

    And, quite frankly, you have to be willing to make a mess in the process—sometimes a huge MESSY mess. I have laughed at (and identified with!!) Anne Lamott so many times when she said that her biggest fear was being run over by a car before she had a chance to fix her, um, “awful” first drafts. I think the angels come to our aid when they see we’re willing to be ridiculous in our pursuit of beauty, truth and goodness upon the page.

    Hope this helps a bit! Read If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and the abovementioned War of Art. 🙂

    I will be praying for you.

  23. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Lanier, thanks for this post.

    Though I’m not of the female variety of writer, and more specifically I’m a songwriter, your post describes the growing struggle I’ve encountered for years. As pressure mounted from various creative successes, from the responses of others, from childhood pressures unseen until God brought them to the foreground, creativity became harder and harder. Procrastination grew. Life became “too busy” for the very thing that had helped create my life – creativity in music.

    But God sent community. He sent this group of people with like struggles. And he sent Rebecca Reynolds. She has shown me creativity isn’t a grasping after the Muse to try to scrabble out a song in the dust. Creativity is a surrender, and a faith-filled expectation of good things to come. It can be work, of course. It requires study, perseverance, patience. But the attitude of creativity in songwriting is the same as the expectation of creativity in soloing during a song. It has everything to do with the attitude of faith and expectation. When I take a banjo or guitar solo, I go into it with a sense of sufficiency, in faith knowing the gift is there and that technique has been built through practice. This allows me to forget myself (not always, but often), forget potential negative outcomes (“What if I mess up? What will so-and-so think?” etcetera).

    Songwriting has opened up as I’ve co-written with Rebecca again and again because I’ve learned to shove all the resistance from my mind: “What will so-and-so think of this melodic line, this chord progression?” and all the blithering nonsense thrown up by the fears and former failures and former successes and wrong perceptions – the inner editor gone awry. The thing to often do is to tell that inner critic to shut his flapping yap and go away, and to come back later when he wants to help edit properly.

    To have someone come alongside when we are dead in the water, to show us patience and understanding and yet remain inexorable in telling us to create – that is a great gift.

  24. Amber Joy Leffel

    Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you. I take your words to heart and will, I am sure, return to them often.

    Blessings on you.

  25. Karen McSpadden

    I have two little ones ready for breakfast and piles of laundry stacked from dining room to living room but I had to take a moment to thank you for writing this article. It articulated exactly what has been on my mind and heart of late with such accuracy that I nearly fell out of my seat. It is a blessing to know I am not the only woman who struggles with this and it is a much-needed kick in the pants to ask myself what sacrificial writing might mean in my daily life. Thank you, thank you for sharing this with honesty and clarity.

    Now if you excuse me, the sausages are done 🙂

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