It was just a quotation.
There, on the page, amidst a sea of other pithy passages.
One of those finely honed constructs of words that make it into the quotation collections on my shelf. The kind that make you mumble, “That’s clever,” or, because I’m a writer, “What a great thought; wish I’d written it.”
It was a phrase, a rumination, an explicit reference composed of mere words. Yeah, you may as well say mere dynamite, given the power some word combinations possess.
Words can close the deal, soften the heart, start feuds, set us free, make us cry, give us hope, break a marriage, build a nation.
But, those words must be strung together in just the right way. Like the beads on a bracelet. The pattern on an afghan. The ornamentation on a building. The punch of John 3:16.
This quotation, too, was strung together in just the right way.
Right there. On the page.
It had first come to my attention from my new friend, Cecil Stokes, when he posted it on Facebook. I had liked it. Pondered it. Searched for it (in my books…an old-fashioned way to search, for sure.)
And there it was. In black and white.
Present only on the page, but crowding the room with its profundity.
Thirty-two, one-syllable words found in any dictionary; heck, even a children’s dictionary.
Thirty-two, one-syllable words that, individually, each carry its own denotative meaning, but when laced together into this collective missive, packed so much connotative dynamite that I couldn’t escape it.
It took up space in my mind until I finally went in search of it again.
Why couldn’t I let it alone?
Why wouldn’t it let me alone?
Was I supposed to do something with that phrase?
It read: “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”
It cut through me like a knife.
Was it written for me?
I’m so focused on living into tomorrow, that I miss the nuances of today. The messages of the moment. The possibilities of the present.
The joys of discovery.
I should have written that quote.
And yet I didn’t.
But, I am going to use it as a launchpad to create my own affirmation.
Mine reads: “Dare: To reach life’s end having lived not only its length, but also its depth, width and height.”
Now it’s only eighteen words instead of thirty-two.
Now it’s action-oriented. Provokes accountability. Transforms a wish into a possibility.
Now it’s a dare I want…nay, need…to take on.
But how to put it into action?
When I talk to my client today, will I go beyond the work and ask about her family? Perhaps share a bit about my life, as I so often struggle with in my writing? Depth.
When I stand in line at the DMV, can I muster the courage to turn to the unknown person beside me and pay them a compliment? Perhaps uplift their attitude for the rest of the day? Width.
Can I walk up to a stranger and ask if he knows God? I’m no Beth Moore who always seems to say the right thing at the right time to the right person, but, shouldn’t I try? Height.
Depth – Explore the internal a little more. Polish, revise what is uniquely me. Look inward.
Width – Reach out more. Those to my left and right. Those beyond my door. Those I’ve not yet met. Those with a need. Look around.
Height – Pray and praise more. Trust. Believe. Ask for guidance and then be wise enough to discern the answers. Look up.
Look inward. Look around. Look up. Even as I continue to look into my life’s length, into tomorrow…here, on the Blue Ridge backroads.
If this touches you, tell me how you want to go deeper, wider and higher to explore new possibilities and to take risks. And, please join me, each week, as we explore this affirmation to add depth, width and height to those long lives we plan to live.
It’s Writing Monday…
More on the gloomy voices that plague writers and anyone involved in any creative process:
Gloomy Voice #6 – You waste too much time thinking about what to write.
The truth: You have to think before you can write, otherwise, what are you going to write about?
The biggest percentage of my writing work—and the most demanding part—doesn’t occur when I’m in the act of hitting some keys on a keyboard.
It generally occurs when I’m driving, falling asleep, or taking a walk. Because that’s my thinking time.
For me, thinking involves about 60 percent of every writing task I do. For example, 60 percent of my first non-fiction book, TV Time, was developed in my car and 40 percent at the keyboard. At the time, my son was an infant, so he would sleep in the car seat beside me as I drove two hours to visit my parents each weekend. I kept a small tape recorder and pen/tablet in the console between the seats.
To this day, if I haven’t thought about my work before sitting down to write, then I’m already behind, even though I just sat down.
Now, the time will come, however, when the negative voice will win if you don’t write something.
How do you write that “something” if you’re not inspired?
So you think good writing only comes when you’re inspired…
More truth: Good writing also comes when it hurts.
It comes when it’s a struggle to get out.
It comes after countless rewrites.
My inspiration often is directly tied to my deadlines. The more time I have, the more excuses I generate. The closer I am to the drop-dead hour, the more the juices flow. The negative voices seem to disappear when the piece is due tomorrow.
If it helps, give yourself deadlines, or ask a writer friend to impose deadlines on you.
Next Week: #7 (and final) Gloomy Voice – Publishing will change you; you’ll lose your grounding, your sense of self.
It’s Writing Monday…
More on the gloomy voices that plague writers and anyone involved in any creative process:
Gloomy Voice #5 – When the time is right, the schedule is clear, I win the lottery, and I feel moved, I will write.
The truth: If you truly want to write, you will find the time. It’s a matter of priorities.
You should write every day.
To be able to write, you have to build your muscle: the writing muscle.
If you want that muscle to do much for you, then you’ve got to give it a workout regularly and build it up so that it’s strong when you are ready to give it a full workout.
How do you do that when you’re a new parent with small children, who also has to work outside the home, clean your own house, finish your degree, and take care of aging parents?
Sorry, but you still have time to write, if even for just five minutes a day.
What can you do in five minutes?
Here are just four random ideas:
1. Write the first sentence that comes to your head, then spend five minutes seeing how many ways you can tweak, revise and add excitement or drama or sadness or humor to that one sentence.
2. Select a book and randomly pick a page. Determine what you would tweak to make it better. Spot any useless adjectives? Too much tell and not enough show? Can you punch up the dialogue?
3. Make a grocery list. Instead of saying “large box of Cascade,” build an analogy between its size and a well-known object. Or, you want sweet cereal? Exactly how sweet do you want it? Hot sauce? How hot? The point is to challenge your descriptive powers.
4. Write poetry. I don’t think there is any better way to learn to write tight and light. In poetry, every word must fight for its right to be on the page. What better training ground could there be to develop a command of words?!
Five minutes? Will that really help?
Yes! If you waited until your children were in college before lifting your arm over your head, you probably wouldn’t be able to do it. But, because you’ve used that muscle for at least five minutes per day (washing your hair and pulling on a shirt), you will be able to pick up that dumbbell years from now and build up to more intense exercises. (Please note that I encourage a LOT more exercise than that, but you get the point.)
Likewise, if you use your writing muscle for five minutes a day, then when the children are grown, that muscle will be stronger and ready for endurance testing by way of an article or book.
If putting pen to paper still daunts you, given your schedule, then do other writing efforts: read how-to books on writing, collect examples of good writing, jot any creative thoughts you have and toss them in a file, join a writer’s group and ask the spouse to watch the kids for that two-hour timeframe.
But these efforts are so scattered, you say?
Bear in mind that Solomon (purported by both religious leaders and secular historians to be the wisest man who ever lived…umm, with the exception of Christ, of course) wrote in Ecclesiastes about the cycles of life, each with its own work to do. He said that there is a time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
Now may be your time to scatter by way of random writing efforts here and there. The kind you can do in five minutes.
You can gather those stones together in another season.
Next Week: Gloomy Voice #6 – You waste too much time thinking about what to write.
No, I didn’t hear that sound, but judging by the looks of my home in Georgia, there had to have been an explosion.
In the past two weeks, I’ve slept in four locations along the Blue Ridge (homes in Marpennsylginia and southeast Georgia, a friend’s lakehouse north of Atlanta, and a conference center on Black Mountain, N.C.)
Such a trip requires many bags, clothes, grooming supplies, computer equipment, and apparently enough shoes to open my own store.
After the explosion, I felt overwhelmed. (Okay, mostly I wondered how I’d gotten all this sutff into my car…but the art of packing is a blog for another day.)
There was stuff everywhere and, true to form, my eyes fastened on the mess – the bathroom, the bedroom, my office.
What’s more, in my absence, other things had gone from bad to worse….the kitchen counters, the floors, and when did those spider webs appear?
Even the natural décor of my life needed my time and touch – the grass was long enough to wave at me (tauntingly), tree limbs had blown down, the flower beds were frowning in hopes of being pruned.
I slumped, feeling besieged, defeated.
What’s more, I was annoyed. I had wanted to write. In the week prior to this, I had attended a writers’ conference and had stocked up on enthusiasm…which began to drain away as I took in the scene before me.
How could I open my mind to writing and capturing fresh ideas when the explosion had just quadrupled my to-do list?
Everywhere I looked, there was something that demanded my attention.
And then I remembered: Up.
It was perfect. It was…IS…flawless. There is nothing I can or should do to improve upon it.
I couldn’t even if I wanted to!
So, I grabbed a blanket, a pad and a pencil and headed outside.
Ten minutes later, flat on my back, the ideas were flowing as I watched the drama in the sky (the shifting, changing clouds) transfer to drama on my paper.
When you feel overwhelmed or defeated, I encourage you to do the same. Go outside, lie on your back, and take in the beauty of the sky. It’s calming, refreshing, rejuvenating, because there is nothing…nay, NOTHING…you can do to improve upon it.
Maybe that’s why God kept it out of our reach, eh?
Better still, maybe that’s why we’re covered in sky…so that when we get overwhelmed by the minutiae of daily living, we can always look up…at perfection.
Think about the metaphors in that one.
Better still, I’m heading back outside to write them down…
It’s Writing Monday…
As you may recall, we’re discussing the myths and gloomy voices that plague writers and anyone involved in any creative process.
Gloomy Voice #4 – You Shouldn’t Write Until You’ve Learned How to Do It Better, Otherwise You’ll Just Reinforce Your Bad Writing Habits
The truth: If you wait until you can write better, then you’ll never write because everyone’s opinion of what is considered good—or great—writing differs.
Writing is like learning to ride a bike. You can read about how to do it, watch other people do it, and think yourself through it, but until you get on the bike and try it, you’ll never accomplish riding the bike.
So write whenever you feel compelled to write.
Do it right now.
Better still, do it “write” now.
Then let me be clear about something:
Allow yourself to write poorly… just don’t submit poor writing.
Write, and just get the bulk of it done. Then you go back and refine and edit.
Likewise, don’t place so much importance on the first draft. There’s a reason it’s called a draft. Let it be one.
Books are written in the 3rd, 8th or 50th revision anyway.
Thinking that you have to be perfect when you write means that you are editing and then writing, and that is the wrong sequence! First you write, then you edit.
The vision of writers taking a few deep breaths, pushing up their sleeves, and banging out fully formed and perfect passages as fast as a court reporter is best left to television.
I know a lot of well-known authors, and none of them are confident and excited about what they are writing all the time.
Another tip: Lower your expectations. Lower your standards. Allow yourself to write B- or C+ stuff. You don’t always have to be brilliant, and you don’t always have to turn in peak performance writing. Often “good” work will satisfy your ends. Plus it’s your work, so you will have a chance to revise and polish your C+ work later.
So for now, just start writing.
You can spit, polish and shine the piece later.
Next Monday: Gloomy Voice #5 – When the time is right, the schedule is clear, I win the lottery, and I feel moved, I will write.
It’s Writing Monday…
Welcome back friends to our continuing discussion on the myths and gloomy voices that plague writers and anyone involved in any creative process:
Gloomy Voice #3 – You Must Have the Entire Book (Article, Project) Thought Through Before You Write
The truth: Sure, it’s always ideal to plot and plan your book before writing, but it’s not always possible!
I always encourage writers to plot and plan and outline and cogitate and brainstorm and create character profiles and…you get the picture.
And yes, when writers hear that they say they feel overwhelmed with the massive undertaking of writing an entire book.
But I’m convinced it’s for that same reason that it takes nine months to develop a baby. Imagine having a baby placed in your lap the moment you decided you wanted one!
Who would be ready for that?
Instead, conception is followed by nine months of growth, preparation and development—both yours and the baby’s!
During those nine months, we break down the birthing process into manageable pieces. We shop for baby clothes, equip a nursery, make lists of names, look for day cares and baby sitters, read books on childcare, baby-proof our house, even buy cigars.
So too must we break down and organize the many tasks of writing a book.
The Ideal is Not Always Possible
Back when I was writing non-fiction, I used to laugh at my fiction writing friends when they said their characters changed the direction of their story.
Then, I finally wrote a novel, and now I say the same thing.
Often, I found the story going in a direction that was best for my characters, not the outline I had prepared in advance.
Writing before you’ve plotted your piece (or when you’ve veered from your outline) is merely like driving at night. You can only see as far as the length of your headlights, but you CAN drive all night that way and still get where you want to go.
And hey, if you miss a traffic sign as you’re driving along because your vision is limited, and you take the wrong road, so what? Some of my best trips occurred because I veered off the route I had planned initially.
If your writing leads you in a direction you hadn’t planned, go with it. It might be your muse fighting off the negative voices for you.
Bottom line: Plot and plan as much as possible, but be prepared for your characters to have a say in the direction they go!
Next Monday: Gloomy Voice #4 – You Shouldn’t Write Until You’ve Learned How to Do It Better, Otherwise You’ll Just Reinforce Your Bad Writing Habits
It’s Writing Monday…
Welcome back to the series on those gloomy voices that plague writers and anyone involved in any creative process.
As I explained last week, I will address one of those gloomy-gus voices each Monday. After that, we’ll continue to devote Mondays to writing and creativity. (The rest of the week? Whatever we feel like discussing!)
Gloomy Voice #2: ”You Will Never Be a Real Writer.”
The truth: You don’t need a degree, a rite of passage or a dramatic moment to occur before you can call yourself a “real writer.”
First, let’s tackle that word “real.” Such a distinction suggests an opposite term, and that would have to be “fake” or “fradulant.”
There is no such thing as a fake writer. You can be a fake doctor or a fake attorney, but not a fake writer.
If you write, your writing IS real.
Now, let’s look at the word “real” combined with the word “writer.”
I used to think that my writing wasn’t” real” until it got published.
What that means is that I gave someone else the power to decide when I was a bonafide writer, when in actuality: (1) It wasn’t their decision to make! and (2) I have always been a writer. (Yep, it all started in fifth grade when Mrs. Flamm dubbed my horse poem as “brilliant.”)
Fast-forward many years and I was published!
Yet, I felt no more like a “real writer” than I had before. Sure, I felt validated and successful, but I didn’t see myself as more of a writer than before I was published. Further proof that I’d always been a writer.
More truth about “real” writing: If you feel like you’re being judged or pushed from within to write, then you better honor the “real” assignment.
The assignment? Yes, that’s right: an assignment from a larger source.
I’m a Christian so I firmly believe…nay, I know…that the “larger source” is God acting inside us, and He is nudging us to write.
Your desire to write is a talent. It’s a gift given to you for the benefit of the world.
Therefore, you must write because it’s one of your life’s assignments. To deny it is to deny part of what you are and what your purpose is.
And, the negative results of denying yourself will surface whether or not you believe in a source greater than yourself.
So write! And what do we call someone who writes?
Yep, we call them a writer. A “real” writer.
Next Monday: Gloomy Voice #3 – You Must Have the Entire Book (Article, Project) Thought Through Before You Write.
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