Getting Beyond the Shadow of Doubt

When I was a kid I thought I was invincible. In my mind, there was literally nothing I could not do. I climbed trees, played with caterpillars and caught fireflies in jars. I explored my expansive yard and imagined myself as my idol–Wonder Woman! My childhood was not drama free, but my imagination was like a protective cloud into which I would ascend up and away from the mundanities of daily life.

Then I became a teenager and the bubble burst. I was introduced to mean girls and bullies that my imagination could not wish away. Middle school was a war zone and my side was losing!

High school wasn’t much better. By graduation I emerged bruised, but hopeful. The future seemed more promising than the past. However, I underestimated the extent of my psychological injuries. Suddenly faced with the weight of my choices I was overwhelmed by the reality that my future was up to me! While I knew what I loved–books and writing–my former confidence had long since left me. What if I chose wrong? What made me think I could make a living as a writer–“a writer?” Someone scoffed. “You can’t make a living doing that!”

Really?

Unlike the little girl who was undaunted by trees and laughed at the tickle of caterpillar legs, my teenage self was immobilized by fear. Doubt crawled out from under my bed and hovered over my dreams.

“You can’t” became my blanket, covering me when I wasn’t cold.

“You can’t” drove me to a different destination, a detour I never intended.

“You can’t” shouted at me from the stands and stopped me in my tracks.

“You can’t” has held me captive. When will I be free?

When I recognize the signs of succumbing:

  • listening to people who don’t have my best interest at heart
  • believing people who don’t know what God has planned
  • wavering in uncertainty rather than trusting in what I can’t see

If I’m ever to move past this point where I always stall, I must reach back and grab hands with the little girl who didn’t know fear. I must re-capture the imaginative mind that dreamed of possibilities, rather than allowing my thoughts to drift towards all the improbabilities.   If I could only reach out and boldly grasp what God is holding out to me! Overcoming the shadow of doubt may be the hardest hurdle, but it is not impossible.  

Do you believe it? Come with me.  Let’s reach for it and keep reaching!

Cover photo courtesy of Canva.com

In Defense of the Invisible Writer

We see the world through an odd-shaped lens.

We are observers, watching and waiting for moments of significance that we can connect to concepts and form into new realities.  Yet we are often unseen.

Sometimes it is because we escape to a secluded place in order to do this work–the irony being that in order to capture the essence of lived experience we must remove ourselves from it.

Yet, even when visible we remain unseen as conversations inevitably turn to writing as grammar and punctuation, writers as mere trivializers of experience and writing itself as mere trifles. A conversation with a young math and science scholar reveals the devaluation of all things English. “Science,” he says, “is useful. We can learn things about the body, about the physical world, but in English classes we only talk about words and ideas. It is a waste of time.”

Really?

How else would scientists discuss the body and the physical world if not through language? How else would history and psychology be studied and understood if not verbally or in writing? Beyond that, how else would individuals know how to express their thinking on these subjects clearly if there were no discussions about writing and thinking?

Too often intellectuals, in a hurry to get to their destinations, disregard the vehicles that carry them there. Yet, I suppose, if those vehicles broke down they might miss them and, perhaps, then take note of the craftsmanship that made those vehicles run. The same is true of writing and the mastery of language. They are the vehicles by which knowledge is both generated and shared. The study of writing and how it is produced and perfected is not a waste of time, but a science in and of itself. Certainly it will not interest everyone, but neither should it be dismissed as unimportant. We use language everyday. We rely on it to conduct  our business–it is not relegated to the classroom and neither are the principles that are learned there.

Yet, the invisible writer is not necessarily a bad thing. The fact that writing is taken for granted may also be a credit to the skill that is employed by writers who produce such good work that they disappear! The slogans on your cereal box, the catchy phrases splashed on the wall at Zaxby’s, even the clever little phrases on the Taco Bell hot sauce packets were the work of an invisible creative mind. The application forms you fill out for employment, the instructions you rely on to assemble your new gadget, the news you follow on social networks–all the work of a writer you will never know. When the writing is bad, the vehicle breaks down and you wonder about the craft, but when the information flows there’s no thought to the work that went into every jot and tittle.

But believe me, it is work. The words don’t appear magically. It is by blood, sweat and tears that the vehicle is constructed. It is not only in coal factories that work is done, but also in coffee shops, in quiet corners, at raggedy desks in lonely buildings once students have fled and janitors are sweeping through the hallways. Invisible writers tap away at keyboards reflecting on the world they’ve observed, trying to make sense of the chaos, hoping to reshape meaningless moments into objects that can sit in the mouth like peppermint—sweet, refreshing, enlivening—and leave a pleasant, lasting impression even after they disappear.

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Photo by Alexa Mazzarello on Unsplash

Mayhem Monday: Are you Open for Something New?

She sat alone on the metal bench. Her body turned away from me slightly so that our eyes wouldn’t meet. I could tell she didn’t want to talk. Her brow was furrowed and her lips were formed into a tiny rose bud. She folded her arms as her gaze followed the horizon without noticing the sunset.

“Are you enjoying the conference?” I asked, attempting to open her up.
“It’s fine.” She remained closed.

The heat of the day had finally given way to a cooling breeze that lifted the corner of the top sheet of a ream of papers resting on her lap. She lifted the stack, patted it, then gently slid them into her canvas tote.

“What’s your story about?” I tried again.

Her eyes sank into the darkness where her manuscript had disappeared and it seemed as if she were considering whether to climb into that depth with it. Eventually, she dragged herself out to look up at me. “It’s a love story” she sighed, “but apparently they’ve all heard it before.”

Slowly she unraveled the tangled threads: the “they” to whom she referred were all of the agents, editors and publishers whose hands had passed over her precious work. For one reason or another it wasn’t what they were looking for.

“I’m done,” she said. “This is it for me.”

“Have you thought of trying a different approach? Maybe revising the story? Or taking a different path to publication?” I asked.

“No.”

She remained closed. There was only one approach. Only one path. It was either going to happen this way or not at all…

My conversation with this determined, yet dejected author that day got me thinking. It has been said that tenacity and perseverance is the way to achieve goals, and there is certainly anecdotal evidence to prove this to be true, but could it also be true, that on this journey towards success, there’s also a place for compromise?

I think there is something to be said for flexibility and openness. Yes, we should absolutely have a vision of how our future success will look—write the vision, make it plain! Pursue and persevere! Keep your eye on the prize and don’t let anything take you off course! But…

if we persevere and pursue the vision without allowing any adjustments or compromise, might we actually cut ourselves off from the very dream we are pursuing?

I think tenacity cuts both ways. For example:

  • Publishers may be looking for the next best seller, but they don’t always know what that looks like. They base their expectations on what has worked in the past, so they may turn away new proposals that don’t “fit” those expectations; it doesn’t mean the works they turn away are not good. It simply means they aren’t what they were expecting!
  • Likewise, writers who have an expectation that success means acceptance from a major publishing company may also assume there is no other measure of their worth and no other means to accomplish their goal of getting published.

The result is both writers and publishers are looking for one thing and neither is open to looking for something new; so each is missing out on a blessing that awaits them.

Yet, blessings come in many forms! The Jews did not reject Jesus because they weren’t looking for him. They rejected him because he wasn’t who they were looking for. They needed to be open to the fact that their Savior had a different look than they were expecting.

Writers may have to pursue other means of publication in order to demonstrate their merit, and publishers may need to think again about what they assume will make a best seller.

If you’re not a writer, but you’re trying to pursue what feels like an impossible dream—don’t worry! There’s more than one way to succeed! You may just need to consider a new approach.

What are you looking for?

Do you need to adjust your expectation? Maybe what you’re looking for is right in front of you! Beauty and genius will never be confined, pre-packaged or pre-set by pre-determined algorithms.

Beauty and genius emerge from unexpected places, like the silky shadows cast across the horizon that my friend and I watched that evening as we sat on the metal bench at the writers’ conference while authors, agents and publishers passed by—they didn’t see her and she didn’t see them. They would only see each other if they were open to seeing something new!

Happy Monday!

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