The Writer’s Life of Insanity

I received the kindest text from a dear friend the other day. One of those texts that you wish you could frame and hang on a wall to read over and over again.

“I’ve been meaning to tell you for MONTHS how proud I am of you and your awesome book-ness and being an Author. Capital A, Author. Like Emily Dickinson, or Charlotte Bronte, or Mary Wollenstonecraft. Minus the crippling insanity, of course. Or maybe with a touch of insanity…it’s all good.”

This text came through at a moment of true insanity, of which I will spare you all the details. I’ll just say that it involved a toddler, an exposed diaper, and flinging excrement.

If that doesn’t define insanity, then…

Insanity

That well-timed text brought encouragement in more ways than one. Besides simply making me smile after a harrowing mothering experience, it also boosted my confidence at a time when I feel like I’m wavering under the strain of this writerly life.

No one tells you that after you finish a book, all the words flee from your brain for a time. Since I turned my second manuscript in to the publisher in September, I’ve felt completely wordless. Everything I type feels silly, boring, and stale. I’m just out of words.

After speaking with a number of writer friends, however, I’ve come to the realization that this is totally normal. I’m not alone in my word fatigue – it’s a real thing.

I’ve wondered in the last few months what it must have been like to be an author back in the days before social media dictated the industry. Writers were always a bit mysterious back then, weren’t they?

By nature, most writers are introverted and reclusive, so the anonymity of writing works to their benefit. Only nowadays, one can  no longer be reclusive as a writer, and even the introverted has to push herself beyond the boundaries of comfort and engage with the masses.

Social media demands that writers stay out there, constantly reminding the people that they can write. There’s no time for any of us to become insane because we can’t hide behind the walls of our cabins in the woods long enough to give in to insanity.

Okay, so most writers don’t have cabins in the woods. Except for maybe Stephen King, but he’s always been a touch insane, so he doesn’t count.

In this digital age, with an emphasis on “platform building”, however, one can feel quite insane in her efforts to stay current and fresh, and to keep writing. So what is to be done? Here are a three quick tips:

1.) Simply refuse to give in

I decided some time ago, after spending several years making myself blog every day even when I had nothing to say, that I wouldn’t write unless it was authentic. At least not publicly.

Behind the scenes, I do write most every day. But writing for public consumption has changed for me. Pushing content out into the world just so people remember me as a writer isn’t really to my benefit, especially if I end up pushing bad writing out.

I’d rather keep it locked up, and retreat into my metaphorical cabin in the woods, than shoot meaningless words out into an already oversaturated market.

2.) Give yourself some space to breath

Writing is an intense practice. It demands all you have mentally, and sometimes physically. It’s emotionally draining, sending you up and down a roller coaster of euphoria and despair as you try to finish your project. Sometimes, you just need to take a break and breath a little.

And you need to know that’s okay.

3.) You don’t suck

I’ve watched this (poor quality) clip from the show Mike and Molly several times, and I cannot stop laughing, because there’s so much truth behind the humor.

What you do, writer, is hard. You don’t suck, and neither does your writing. You’re just wrestling with words, and it’s an esoteric battle that you’re forced to fight in front of the world. So keep swinging, and cut yourself some slack. Don’t set the manuscript on fire just yet.

If the words aren’t flowing, it’s okay. They’ll come again. New stories will flood your mind. A new message will begin to take shape again when you allow yourself a little time to escape.

There’s a reason most writers are reclusive. It’s easier to write in the silence. But there’s also a reason that writers of old were known to be insane – all that alone time fighting battles with words, and riding the emotional roller coaster in seclusion, is bound to make you a tiny bit crazy.

But then so are children, so the truth is I’m probably destined to end up going insane at some point, no matter what.

Awesome…

Respect the Power

“Hey, Mom. In the new story I’m working on, is it okay if I use a cuss word?”

He asked the question casually, as though he were simply speaking to me about the weather. He didn’t look me in the eye, but rather squinted upward, focused on some invisible speck floating above his head.

“Why do you need to use a cuss word?” I asked.

“It just…feels like it will make the story more effective,” he said, the hint of a smile turning up the corners of his mouth. He’s in 6th grade now, and four letter words fly around him at school every single day. He finds them fascinating, and deeply tempting.

“Well, I’m going to encourage you to try hard not to use any cuss words in your new story.” He opened his mouth in protest, and I held up my hand, shushing him with my best mom-look.

“There are always other words you can use. Sometimes a four letter word is appropriate in writing, but you should try to first come up with other words, because if you can’t think of a way to communicate without using a cuss words, then you’re just not trying hard enough.”

And also, you’re my baby, and you kiss my cheek with that mouth, and you’re supposed to stay sweet and innocent forever and ever…and ever.

I left that last part out.

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I’m headed to the middle school today to talk to the kids about the art of writing. It is the Great American Teach In, and many a professional will come in and give these kids a glimpse into their working lives.

Since my working life consists of caffeine, yoga pants, chocolate, and much time staring at a blank screen, I’m having to come up with something more creative. Because to stand up there and tell them that working as a career writer means rejection, emotional exertion, and overall feelings of inadequacy feels a bit like a downer.

Instead, we’re going to talk about the power of the written word, and how with that power comes great responsibility. So basically I’ll be Spiderman in there, only without the skin tight red suit, because my child would disown me.

My sister-in-law recently wrote the most beautiful post about writing. It’s been rolling around in my head since I read it, particularly the last couple of paragraphs.

Before parchment and paper, words meant to last were always cut in with some sort of incision.  The Word was cut in with nail pierced incisions.

If our words are to make a difference today, then how should writers go about the craft?  Sometimes, I throw my hands up in anguish and tell Him that I don’t have enough words to describe Him.  When I try to get Him on paper, I wonder if I’m like a child that’s been locked inside a closet her whole life and yet she is asked to describe the sky.  He is so much more.  There aren’t enough words to contain Him. 

But, if I can offer a piece of my story, then others might get a glimpse of who this beautiful God is.  If I can make an incision into my own heart and let all of the joys and sorrows intermingle out into one grace swirled and bloody mess, then just maybe readers will get a taste of this Good-Good Father who loves deeply.

If we are going to write well, then we must cut into ourselves and bleed out.

Writing with Meaning: The Art of Carving by Becke Stuart

We’re all, writers and non-writers alike, impacted by words, and this is perhaps the message I most long to convey to these young kids.

This generation is growing up in a world full of words. Their entire lives play out in pithy little soundbites, and they’re constantly bombarded with poorly thought through ideas.

We fling words around like they don’t mean anything, constantly stringing together rants and epithets without any thought for the impact those combined letters leave on lives.

But words matter.

The entirety of our history lives on through writing. Everything we know about the early civilizations is because of storytelling and writing. If mankind hadn’t developed the written language, history would have died long ago, or it would be terribly warped.

Imagine if man had simply decided to preserve history by orally telling the generations behind. It would be like a bad game of telephone in which we all ended up believing that we descended from monkeys or something ridiculous like that.

Oh, wait…

The point is this: A great deal of power resides in the written word, and anyone who chooses to chase words and pen them, whether that be in a book, a blog post, an email, or a status update, should respect that power.

Because words matter.

Words ignite imagination. They initiate conversation, reveal new ideas, new ways of thinking, inventions beyond comprehension. Words were written in the beginning, and they tell us of the many great things this world has to offer.

Words are power, and we would do well to respect that power.

Creative You

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I’m back. It’s been a lovely two weeks in which I’ve simply let my soul breathe. I’ve spent little time online, and much time in the very present moment with my family. I feel refreshed, excited, and inspired.

I didn’t know how much I needed the time away.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the creative process in our two weeks on the road. Instead of creating, I’ve thought about the simple art of creating – the act of writing, of photographing, of painting and singing. I’ve watched it and seen it and felt the power of the creative arts.

I stood at the top of the Smoky Mountains, and I marveled at the Creator’s brush strokes – the Hand that carved each path, shaped each height.

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I’ve watched my children laugh and play. I’ve listened to their delight as they discovered the thrill of shooting a sling shot, exploring a creek bed, walking beneath a waterfall. I’ve gasped in motherly fear when one got too close to the edge, and tried to be cool though images of them plummeting over the side gave me more than a few heart attacks.

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We spent a week in Nashville catching up with friends, both new and old. The laughter and shared life gave way to gratefulness. And not once or twice, but more times than I can count, the conversation of creativity came up. It’s not hard to find yourself amidst a group of creatives in a place like Nashville.

The town is teeming with creativity.

For those of us with a bent toward the creative arts, every day has new potential. We wake up with the longing to build, to shape and mold something out of nothing.

Song lyrics.

Stories.

Melodies.

Paintings.

Delicacies.

Decor.

It’s very real, this life of the creative. We don’t always know how to describe it, but we feel it deeply. We know that we were made to create. Some days that creative power flows freely, while other days it tends to bottle up. Life responsibilities sometimes hinder the creative process, but still it sits, waiting for us to tap in and unleash.

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I used to think I was alone in this creative life. It made me feel strange, this need to sit down and write, to pen stories for no reason at all. I wondered if my passion for the written word was frivolous. It doesn’t make me much money, so what’s the point?

The point, I’m realizing more and more, is that this art of creating is my act of worship. When I write, I am in communion with my God. The rhythm of the keyboard is my praise offering to Him.

And for you, my fellow creatives, it is very much the same.

That thing you do? It’s an act of worship. You were created with a love for your art, and it is legitimate and real. What you do is a valid form of worship, so give it back freely and joyfully. Don’t be ashamed of your art, and don’t fight the urge to create. Your creative brain holds purpose in this world.

You are a mirror of the Creator Himself. So create.

Embrace it, feel it, see it, and create it.

This is your act of worship.

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