I work in a profession that requires thick skin. I put my heart out there, tapping each beat to the rhythm of my keyboard, and I hand it to a friend, an editor, the world via a blog post, and then I wait for the feedback.
I learned to accept criticism in college. My senior year, the class Writing for the Popular Market would be the training ground for giving and accepting constructive criticism.
That was also the year that I began to associate editing with coffee.But that’s a different topic for a different day.
Once a week, my classmates and I, along with our professor, sat in a circle in the local coffee shop, or on the couches in the room above The Sub, and we’d dutifully hand the ten pages we’d written in our novels that week to the person sitting just to the right.
Then we’d sit back, sip our coffee, and read one another’s words.
There were only six of us in the class, and by the end of the year, we each had a completed manuscript. This would be the first draft of my novel. It was the beginning of learning to communicate through story.
I’m grateful for the lessons learned in that small class. I’m glad I learned to hear someone criticize what I wrote, and not take it personally. It’s a necessary skill, and it’s one that’s served me well over the last fifteen years since I graduated.
When I shared the news that my novel would be published last week, I received so many wonderful, encouraging messages and comments from all of you. And I cried a lot as I read through them, because fifteen years of waiting and dreaming of seeing this book published suddenly took a realistic turn.
I received a lot of rejection letters for the various drafts of my novel. For a long time, I kept every rejection letter I received. After reading Stephen King’s book, On Writing, the notion of a stack of rejection slips seemed almost romantic.
[Tweet “There is a refining power in rejection. It either makes you, or it breaks you. “]
See, when I started the process of trying to get my book published (an earlier version of it that is nothing like the one coming out next spring), I did it the old school way. I mailed letters – actual letters written on paper.
I sent query after query in the mail, along with book proposals and sample chapters. And I included in each stamped envelope, a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) for the publishers to send me his response…which was usually a big, fat no.
Every once in awhile, though, there would be a glimmer of hope. A note, scratched at the bottom of a form letter from the editor encouraging me to keep writing.
Those rejection slips went to the top of the pile.
I tossed the folder of rejection slips when we moved, because I was over the romanticism of it all by then. And the world had moved on to email, so now I had the privilege of receiving electronic form letters, and that felt a little less nostalgic. I wish now, though, that I had that stack of “No’s”
Because I’d love to see it dwarfed next to the contract that says “Yes.”
I haven’t really minded all the rejection, if I’m honest. I’ve been impatient at times, of course. And there were days when I’d feel terribly discouraged over it all. But in all the years of waiting and hoping, it never occurred to me that I should give up on the book.
There are some stories that just get under your skin, and this story that I’ve written is one of them. The characters crawled into my very being, and I knew that someday I’d see them really come to life in print.
So I waited, and I pushed, and I simply refused to take no for an answer.
[Tweet “Rejection doesn’t mean the end of a dream. Rejection says you’re on the right track.”]
If you’re in a place where “No” is the only word you’re hearing, can I just urge you not to give up? Sometimes you have to wade through a whole lot of “No” to get to “Yes.”
And when that happens, you’ll find that the “Yes” is so much sweeter after the waiting.
Because I am so near the end of this pregnancy, I am what you might call…um…large. Great with child? My eleven year old says I’m HUGE. He’s learning tact.
Most nights are, to put it bluntly, completely miserable. I fall asleep quickly, and I sleep well until somewhere between 2:00 and 3:30, at which point I might as well just start getting out of bed and calling it day. Instead, I toss and turn, and mumble about the wicked heat, despite the air being turned as low as my husband will allow it, and a fan pointed directly at my face.
When morning finally rolls around, I try to pull myself out of bed with a good attitude, but generally my first thought is, “Well thank God that’s over.”
Then I suck it up, act like a big girl, drink a little coffee, and move on with my day.
Such is life. We don’t always get what we want, and sleep is overrated anyway, really. Who needs it?
(I do. I really do.)
I’ve also got a To-Do list that’s a half mile long, with two-thirds of it probably residing somewhere on the unrealistic side. Nesting is no joke, you guys. Last week, I took out the strongest cleaner I could find and washed my front door.
I WASHED my FRONT DOOR.
Add that to the list of ridiculous things I feel like I need to finish before baby arrives and you get a small picture of the crazy that is surrounding most of my days. Feel free to pray for my family as they deal with me.
The cherry on top of all of it is my desire to keep creating. I was in a creativity groove this summer, and I love it. I poured myself into my creative pursuits, writing and dreaming up ideas. I started new projects, and continued to push forward on completed projects. I published an ebook, sent out countless queries for my novel, started the proposal for a new book, and wrote blog posts for several different sites.
It was so much fun! My writer heart felt very fulfilled.
Now, however, the time to create has begun to taper, and I know that when the baby arrives there will be a period of time when it stops altogether. Fatigue plays a role in this lack of creativity, as do all those other tasks I want to accomplish. I’m still setting aside some time to write, but not as much as before.
And that is okay.
Living this life as a creative is a constant balance of knowing what I need to do and what I want to do. We creatives tend to be our own worst critics, never feeling like what we do is enough, but in the pursuing of our art, we can so quickly forget to live.
A couple of weeks ago, the kids and I watched the movie Hook and I was struck by the last line of the film. Granny Wendy looks gently at Peter after he returns from the grand adventure in Neverland.
“So,” she says. “Your adventures are over.”
“Oh no,” he replies. “To live – to live would be an awfully big adventure.”
In the quest to accomplish and finish and do, it’s really easy to forget to live. Stepping away from the To-Do list long enough to swim with my children is not a waste of time – it’s living.
Putting aside the writing for today so that I can focus on preparing for the arrival of my daughter is not a waste – it’s living.
Enjoying a game night with my family instead of folding and putting away that laundry is not a poor use of time – it’s living. (And let’s face it – who wants to do laundry anyway, Amirite?!)
It’s all part of the adventure.
So this one is for all the creatives who feel like there just isn’t enough time to create. Don’t be afraid to set it all aside for a little while. Don’t be afraid to live, because to live is the grandest adventure of them all.
Not really, but it certainly feels like I blinked my eyes and went from wide-eyed dreamer to coffee slogging Mama, and the years in between sometimes blend together in a humorous reel of days-gone-by.
I remember sixteen well. It was all angst and Alanis Morisette. It was simultaneously knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life while having no clue what I would do with my life. Sixteen was ripped jeans and boys – toe rings and too much make up. Sixteen was the world at my fingertips without a care in the world, and stress at all the unknowns that seemed to loom before me.
Sixteen was the first time I dreamed of becoming a writer.
The pages of my journal fluttered as I poured out stories, heartache, disappointment and hope. I wrote poems and songs (bad ones, all of them). I wrote short stories and devotionals. I wanted my life to mean something. I wanted to leave a legacy, but at sixteen I didn’t really know what a legacy was.
I thought it meant fame, and maybe a little fortune thrown in for good measure. Legacy sounded like my name in glittering lights. It sparkled with possibility, flashed with grandeur.
This is what I thought it meant: To be inspired, I would have to be an inspiration. I would become someone that others (the world, perhaps?) would look to and think, “Wow. She’s got it going on.”
Then I grew up, and somehow growing up seemed to take a longer time than it should have. I quit looking for confirmation of my gifts in whether or not people knew my name, and I started simply living the life that stood before me in the day to day. I quit looking for the approval of the world, and accepted the approval of One.
I quit seeking to be an inspiration. Instead, I simply looked to be inspired.
Inspired: outstanding or brilliant in a way or to a degree suggestive of divine inspiration.
The word “inspired” can be a bit ambiguous. I mean, what does it actually mean to live an inspired life? The sixteen-year-old me thought for sure she knew – that girl with the Sun-In blonde hair, torn hippie jeans, and clunky Doc Martens. She knew – knew – that her life would be inspired, and thus an inspiration.
The thirty-six-year-old version of me is less sure of the meaning behind living inspired, but I have some thoughts. I’ve traded my hippie jeans for a pair of yoga pants, and my Doc Martens for a more practical pair of flip flops, and I’ve traded my over-confidence in the area of living inspired for a more humble approach to seeking inspiration.
I do still enjoy a little Alanis Morisette, though. For old time’s sake…
– God, the Master Creator, has painted this world with inspiration beyond anything that we, in our human capabilities could ever hope to create, and yet in His goodness, He’s given each of us the ability to tap into His creative powers. It is because of His inspiration that we are able to live inspired. Inspiration is divine.
– We are each created with an innate ability to draw inspiration from our daily surroundings. Yesterday I got my hair done (no more Sun-In for me, thankyouverymuch), and as my friend, and hair stylist, colored my hair I marveled at her ability to create.
“Hair stylists are artists,” I said as she literally painted strokes in my hair. “You’re just using a different canvas.”
Inspiration comes in all forms, not just in the arts. The greatest inventors in history were inspired to create. Advances in medicine are inspired by the great minds of science. All people are inspired – the canvas on which we create is just different.
– Inspiration is innate. You can’t force someone to live a life inspired because “it is suggestive of divine inspiration.” As a mother, I find that my job is not to inspire my children, but to point them toward inspiration. Through the act of creating, of reading, of playing, of laughing, of living, of exploring, of loving, my children will see and feel the inspiration of the Creator.
It will be divine, this inspiration, not manufactured by me, but presented in the world around them.
My job is simply to get out of the way, and let them live inspired.
How do you seek, and find, inspiration on a day to day basis? Is it through nature, through reading, through study…through Alanis Morisette? You can be honest – I won’t judge.
This week, two friends offered me a bit of grace, a little encouragement, and just the kind of nudge I needed to push myself out of my creative funk. How did they do this?
Through a simple text, and a ten minute phone call.
There is no way to really stress the importance of having a few people who “get” you. You need people who will come alongside when you’re feeling discouraged, when you want to give up, when you just feel like it’s never going to happen, and who will remind you why you keep pursuing your dreams.
Tribes are how we live our lives. We are constantly banding together with other people to discuss ideas and share information.
Your church is a tribe. Your job is another tribe. Your group of friends is another. You have a tribe. The question is: Do you know it?
Let’s ditch the jargon and just speak in plain English for a second. A tribe isn’t a fan club or mega, super platform; it’s just a group of people who care about something. And we all belong to a few of those, don’t we?”
The benefit to having a tribe, a group of people who will surround you in pursuit of making one another better, is that you’re never really alone. But you must be transparent and let people in. You have to share your dreams, to be open about the things that inspire you toward passionate living, in order for people to walk alongside and help you navigate the path.
For a long time, I was embarrassed to admit that I was writing a novel. I shared the information only with people I knew intimately. My reasons for doing this were not noble or humble. They were riddled in fear.
I was afraid that if I failed, if I never finished the book, or it ended up being terrible, that I would never be able to survive the humiliation. So I shied away from discussing my writing.
I quickly realized, however, that a secret passion is terribly difficult to chase down. Without the benefit of having encouragers by my side, I had no real motivation to press forward with the project. I could see it beginning to die.
So I told a few people, then a few more. Then I shared a few snippets of the book with my readers, and an amazing thing happened.
My confidence grew exponentially, as did the people who were cheering me on. This gave me the momentum I needed to push forward until I could finally type the words, The End.
I couldn’t have done it without my tribe of people cheering me on. And now? Now I’m in the throes of seeking publication. It is a discouraging process, filled with rejection, all of which can leave a writer feeling less than confident.
Just when I began to wonder if maybe I’d made a terrible mistake in trying to publish this story – maybe it wasn’t written as well as I hoped – I received a text from a friend encouraging me not to give up, and offering a prayer for the days when I feel overcome with doubt.
Two days later, a conversation with a mentor and friend who believes in me, and who has been a champion of encouragement to me throughout this writing process, told me he believed in me, and he believed in my book. His gracious words melted the fears and doubts that had crept in over the last few weeks.
Do you see the importance of surrounding yourself with encouragers?
If you have a dream, a goal that you’re working toward, have you shared that? Have you entrusted your pursuit with someone (or multiple someones) who will spur you on toward the accomplishment of that dream? If not, can I ask why?
Don’t be afraid of your dreams, and certainly don’t keep them to yourself, even if they seem lofty, impossible, or ambitious. With the power of a team (a tribe) backing you up, you will find that in the moments you want to give up completely, someone will be there to dust you off, turn you around, and keep pushing you forward.
Wherever we are, there is always something of beauty that bursts and begs notice – landmarks on our expedition of redemptive return.” Mo Leverett
There is a unique joy in watching someone living in passionate pursuit of life, fully embracing the joys and trials that come with traversing this earth. Beauty takes on so many different forms based on the intricacies of each personality, each gift and talent dispersed, developed, and shared with the world.
Art is not only a painting. It isn’t confined to the space of a page or a canvas. It’s not always wrapped in a stanza, or a lyric, or a ringing dissonant chord.
Art is found everywhere, in all of life. It’s a sunset, a crying baby, the mother humming gently into tender ears. It’s in the sweat of a laborer, fighting for his daily bread. It’s in the dusty feet of the mother who walks miles for water, the father who combs the fields for food.
Art is life. Breathing, circulating, moving in tendrils, in swirls throughout the ebb and flow of daily living. Art is alive and tangible, though you cannot always see it or touch it. You feel it, and you know it, and you recognize it when you’re in its presence.
He’s a musician “striving for poetic beauty and force, for authenticity and passion.” An artist who sways toward the folk and blues genre continuum, Mo seeks to embrace lament as an ordinary part of life, and his music reflects this. In his words, “The thread of compassion is woven through, born of living most of my life among the poor or being materially poor myself these last years.”
Currently, Mo is busy putting together his 12th album. Life, redemption, poverty, family, love, grace, suffering and justice are themes that commonly appear in many of Mo’s original songs, and his current album, These are the Days, continues to draw inspiration from his life in urban ministry, the repercussions of Hurricane Katrina, divorce, personal hardship, recovery, healing and remarriage.
I could keep talking about the album, but I think it would be best for you to hear from someone who knows him well. His producer, Scotty Alderman, shared these thoughts:
Mo is an original – part prophet, part preacher, part troubadour. His gruff voice is powerful and full of soul, while his lyrics paint vivid pictures and evoke strong emotions from the listener. Always affective and potent, Mo can say very hard things in tender ways, and tender things in easliy relatable ways.
Mo writes about pain, loss, injustice, love, and gratitude from a very deep place. His hard-won, hard-earned wisdom is matched with a voice suited to express it. Mo’s music is distinctly American, rugged and pioneering, more specifically steeped in the South, in the soulfulness of Louisiana. Mo’s lyrics are genuine, sincere, ernest, vulnerable, and laced with poetic prose. I think everyone should have the opportunity to hear him – he’s that sort of singer-songwriter. Mo could be one of the greats – I actually believe he already is.”
Dream chasing is rarely achieved on your own. All of us need a team to back us up, to support us as we push toward the actualization of our dreams. Dream chasing requires courage, confidence, and sometimes the asking for a little help.
If you are interested in hearing more music from Mo Leverett’s upcoming album, would you consider visiting his Kickstarter page and offering a pledge to help cover the costs of the album? Every dollar helps, and your pledge will be greatly and deeply appreciated. He is currently only $2,700 dollars shy of his goal with 9 days to go.
This is a small gap to fill!
For more insight into Mo’s heart, and to gain a better understanding of his skill as a writer, I urge you to read his post, The Joy of One Thing. It’s an honor to be a part of Mo’s journey as he strives to create art that is an honest depiction of the life he’s lived and seen. In his words: “The greatest joy that I receive from doing records is the opportunity to play with serious musicians and for them to enter the inspiration sector in one of my little songs. But I am also genuinely encouraged that my music is in any way a source of help and comfort to others.”
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