"How do you know when you are finished with a piece of writing?"—Evie, age 10 Evie, you've asked a stumper. I wish I had a clear, concrete ... Read More
This is last entry of a three-part series. You can read the first and second entries here:
Every day I live, I must decide if I am still a writer. The way I decide is by what I do. If I sit down with a pad of paper and pen and put my thoughts in paragraph form, I’m affirming the name placed on my lapel. If I read good books about writing, I’m showing concern for my craft. If I take time to think about the topics I wish to address and if I organize scatterbrained thoughts about my book, I’m performing the functions of my calling. If I pray about the words I choose as I sit at my computer screen and type those words into life, I’m focusing on the steps as I take them, but more importantly I’m taking those steps.
Discipline: it’s a daily decision, but I never really understood what that meant until I sat down to write about it. It seems obvious to me now that discipline is formed by daily habits. Of course, it has to be; I don’t know how I missed that before. Maybe I knew on some superficial level, but now that I’ve struggled with words to describe the act, there’s an experiential connection to go along with those thoughts and it feels like the idea has sunken in a little more so that some sort of change is finally beginning to take place. I certainly hope so.
I also never thought doubt could be connected with discipline until I began writing about doubt. During the writing process I stumbled onto this fact: the discipline of writing as often as I can helps conquer the doubt I feel about claiming the writer’s title for myself.
Doubt is a harder battle for me because even after I do the work of discipline – pushing doubt into the corner – once the words are on the screen, he hops up swinging madly. So whether I struggle with who I am or what I’ve done, the questions are there every single day. Like I said, the discipline helps me fight him better, but I have yet to figure out how to get him out of the ring completely, which leaves me with yet another daily decision: do I care enough to fight an opponent today that I will face again tomorrow, and maybe for the rest of my life?
When I first sat down to write this, I didn’t know it would turn into three separate posts. I knew I wanted to share the vision I have for a long-term project. I knew I wanted to start a discussion about how these visions get turned into realities. Then almost immediately, I began thinking about how my idea would be received in this forum. Actually, I worried about it. A lot. The familiar feeling reminded me how much I doubted myself when I first began to write, so I gathered a few of my favorite defenses and pieced them together in ways I hoped you could all relate to.
I also wanted to tell you what I had learned in the throes of developing discipline, and hoped you all would have a few more tips for me on a subject which is much easier to talk about than to actually do. But the Rule of Three dictates that I come up with one last category which will inspire all of us toward more and more love and good deeds, right? So I’ve thought long and hard about this last writing tip and let me tell you, it’s a doozy. Are you ready? Here it is: care deeply. What? You mean, like–to quote one of my favorite movies, Reality Bites–be “a deep person who cares about things deeply”. Sounds a little vague, huh? Well, let me try and explain.
It was the day after Christmas, 2009. I woke up early in the morning after a fitful night of sleep, with the strangest feeling of peace. In my mind I saw two distinct contrasting images: one representing how I used to feel about my conversations with God, and one representing my current view. In my head, I began to write a story where the backdrop changed from one to the other, and as I tried to pray and think at the same time, there was a passing thought about getting up and making myself a cup of tea. And the reason I ignored the thought and continued to lay in bed was this. I knew we only had Chai tea in our house and I just wasn’t in the mood for anything spicy.
We were all going to be getting up and driving for ten hours that day to meet with family at a beach house in Virginia to celebrate the holidays. I wasn’t really looking forward to the drive, but knew it was going to be a really nice get-away once we got there. Finally, I reached a stopping point in my swirl of ideas and got up to have that morning cup of tea and try to capture some of my thoughts at the computer, and you’ll never guess what I found. Nestled in among the burgundy foil packs of Chai was a single red one. I pulled it out and read the front, English Breakfast. My mind jumped back to that passing thought, had I even formed a request? What sort of coincidence could this be and when did that foil packet materialize? I could have spent all day trying to come up with a reasonable solution or trying to convincing myself that I imagined the memory in response to the surprise of finding an out of place tea bag. Instead, I boiled some water and pulled out a mug.
I decided to believe Jesus cared enough about me to send me a caring message, in a physical, tangible way. Maybe it’s too romantic a notion for you to believe but if you only knew the images I saw that morning and the complete conviction I felt of being seen, known, and heard by God. I sat down at the computer and pulled up a passage from Haggai, of all places.
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. – Hag. 2: 7-8
And I think that’s when it began to sink in for me. I began to care more about writing as a means of communing with my maker, and creating a record of our relationship, than I cared about making a name for myself. Sure, I’m still tempted to seek out praise for my words and wit, but overall, I’m finding much more joy in this journey as I realize all the answers he’s led me to as I struggle with questions through essays, poems, and stories. The writing is there for me first. What a gracious blessing! The mind and imagination he gave me is worth conquering doubt and cultivating discipline, so I can give back to him my faith and trust through the words I write. Anything else that comes, if it ever does, will just be the icing on top, and never so sweet as the cake underneath.
So care deeply for your talents, your gifts, and the processes that get you there. Care enough to work with them for God’s glory, but remember often just how deeply he cares for you.