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Writer’s Block and Overcoming Fear

Two posts in one week! Incredible! If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you will recognize this as a momentous moment. Posts here are as spotty as free coffee shop WiFi. It falls just shy of the standard for miracle-worthy.

So what could justify the sudden escalation of communication?

My former lack of communication. Writer’s block, to be blunt.

You see, Wednesday’s post was weeks in the making. I meant to finish it within a couple days of the idea. Actually writing the post wasn’t that difficult. But it was more difficult letting it be read. I hesitated to publish, rereading it, tweaking a sentence here or there, waiting for the fairy dust that would make it perfect.

I was worried what people might say. I wondered if it was even relevant to this blog. I thought maybe I should keep it to myself. Maybe it was only useful to me and no one else.

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Credit: Alun Salt (https://flic.kr/p/opKr6)

My drafts folder has other posts that may never get published. Some are half-formed thoughts I haven’t taken the time to finish. Others are a topic–a phrase or single line–more than a thesis. I told myself that my life was too busy, that I would blog more if I didn’t have so many other priorities. Meanwhile I watched other bloggers generate new posts every morning.

The same problem appears in writing beyond the blog. It’s gotten to the point that freelance articles take far more hours than they should and I’ve totally given up opening the Word document with my book manuscript.

Last Monday, toiling all evening on an over-due article, I complained to my sister, “When did writing get so hard?” Second only to Christ, being a writer has defined my identity since first grade.

I was thinking about this on Wednesday and why I hadn’t posted anything for so long. Not only could I not publish, but I couldn’t write. I am scared of typing something (which could be easily deleted) because it might not be perfect, it might be misunderstood, it might be rejected. Fear keeps me from both writing and publishing what I wrote.

My writer’s block is nothing more than fear.

I believe fear is one of our greatest dangers. Of course, fear saves us from harm, but it can also hold us back from good. The Israelites refused to go into the Promised Land because they were afraid of the Canaanites living there. They were so intimidated by the size of the Canaanites that they forgot how big God is. The consequence was 40 years wandering the wilderness instead of the land flowing with milk and honey (Numbers 14).

In the Bible, God tells his people repeatedly to not fear. Why do you think humans need this reminder so often? Whenever an angel shows up, the first thing he says is, “Do not be afraid.” When Jesus calmed the storm on the sea, he asked his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). After Jesus ascended, when Paul was traveling to share the good news, the Lord spoke to Paul in Corinth: “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people'” (Acts 18:9-10).

I don’t want to be controlled by fear. I don’t want to be so afraid that I miss out on the Promised Land. I don’t want fear of people to keep me from blessing them, giving them everything I have to offer–even if it’s just a blog post. It’s said we should face our fears, so it seems the best method to overcome my fear of writing is to…write.

That’s why I’m starting a new series on the Gospel of Mark.

I’ve been writing on this blog four years. I’ve reviewed several books in that time. That’s where the title “Reviewed Thought” comes from. But never have I reviewed a book of the Bible. Since Jesus is at the heart of the whole Scripture, I’d like to start with one of the gospel accounts of his life. That leaves Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John. Matthew and Luke get a lot of attention for featuring the Christmas story. John includes many stories of Jesus that were left out by the other writers. John is also known for an unique, personal voice easily accessible to people unfamiliar with the Bible. But what about Mark?

Mark is the shortest Gospel of the four, but it’s believed to have been written before the others, even being used as source material for Matthew and Luke. It was also likely written for a Gentile audience, Romans who didn’t know Jewish history or scriptures. I can’t remember ever giving Mark much thought, so I’ve chosen this Gospel for my first biblical study on Reviewed Thought.

Look for the first post on Monday. I plan to add a new post from Mark every week. Posts on other topics may appear occasionally as well, probably on Thursdays or Fridays. Hopefully this new book study will keep me accountable to write something and not let fear stop me.

When have you felt fear holding you back?

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark 1:1

 

 

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Posted by on March 18, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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“Packing Light”: How to Become a Writer in 50 States or Less

“I wonder if I’m not the only one who panics when people ask that dreaded question—what do you do? There is so much wrapped up in it, so much that has nothing to do with a job. We worry it says something about our identity to say we’re a waitress, or a barista, or a lawyer, or a student.”

–Allison Vesterfelt, Packing Light

Allison used to live in Portland, where she grew up, and taught middle school classes. She probably would have told people she was a teacher, but what she left unspoken was that she actually wanted to write a book.

She also wanted to travel to all 50 states of America. A friend liked the idea and convinced her to take a road trip. She could write her book while her friend played music at gigs across the country. And so Packing Light was begun.

They would have to give up almost everything to make it work: quitting jobs, selling belongings, and putting relationships on hold. They packed everything they thought they would need in Allison’s 1999 Subaru Legacy GT and left the rest behind.

Over time, their perfectly organized car becomes a mess. They can’t find half of the stuff they brought with them, and yet somehow the belongings accumulate and multiply. Several times, they stop to throw unnecessary and unwanted items in boxes to either ship home or give away.

The book’s opening quote by Rick Steves does well to sum up the lesson: “You’ll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags: ‘Every year I pack heavier.’ The measure of a good traveler is how light he or she travels.”

But there are other intangible things, such as parts of Allison herself, that are harder to give up. Changing locations doesn’t change who she is or free her from the challenges she doesn’t want to face. Life on the road is surprisingly similar to life at home.

For instance, it takes her several chapters to realize that she already was a writer before driving one mile. All she needed to do to be a writer was to simply write. Yet in the first week of travel, a new acquaintance asks a question that particularly resonated with me.

Are you a Christian or are you not? That question stuck with me for weeks, even months, after he had asked it,” Allison wrote. “It was an important question—a helpful one—even though it didn’t feel like it at the time. At the time it felt like an attack, like a headlock I wanted to wriggle my way out of. Why did we always have to pick a side? I was a Christian, and I wanted to be a writer, but was I a ‘Christian writer’? I didn’t know.”

What did it mean to be a Christian writer? And was that what she wanted to be? I’ve asked these same questions before.

Perhaps the first question to ask is: what does it mean to be a Christian? I believe Christianity is about more than how I spend my Sunday mornings. It’s not even weeknights at church or going to special conferences and retreats. None of that makes me a Christian.

Being a Christian is a way of life for every day. It means every day is devoted to following Christ and loving him more than I did the day before. This doesn’t allow for any compartmentalizing. Either Christ is part of everything I do, every moment that I’m alive, or he’s not. There’s no sitting on the fence or being lukewarm.

And if that’s the case, how could I not be a “Christian writer”? If being a Christian affects everything else in my life, then of course my writing should be no exception.

Since her trip, Allison has written multiple books and started a business to inspire and coach others to pursue their literary dreams.

“I prayed that He would whisper words to me, and I promised I would commit them to paper,” Allison wrote about one night camping in the Grand Tetons. “Is that what it means to be a ‘Christian writer’? I asked God. Because if it is, that’s the kind of writer I wanted to be.”

Me too.

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2015 in Books

 

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Post-NaNoWriMo 2014: The Book Preview

If you know me, you probably know I finished another round of NaNoWriMo approximately one month ago. And if you’re a reader of this blog, then you might guess my book’s subject. I have continued to pursue the calling I announced last February and March. NaNoWriMo gave me just the push I needed to finish the first draft. For your enjoyment/amusement/criticism, here is a long introductory excerpt from my book, The Prayer Group (working title).

The prayer group photo shoot at the end of the first year.

The varied wacky characters of prayer group by the end of its first year.

Prologue/Chapter 1

“’Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’” Matthew 6:9-13

Praying out loud always felt awkward. I had grown up in a Christian family, but we only prayed together for holidays, dinners out, and the rare family emergency. I liked hearing my parents pray, and I would obediently bow my head and close my eyes. We usually held hands in a circle.

But when asked to pray for the group, by my parents or youth pastors, I got nervous. I don’t know quite why. Maybe I was afraid of saying something wrong or not having anything to say at all. My mind would freeze up. No one taught me how to pray, so I would resort to the usual, “Thank you, God, that we can all get together here. Please bless our food. Amen.”

In ninth grade, a few teenagers from my youth group, my sister, and the youth pastor took a trip to a district conference. We stopped at a fast food place, and when we had all sat down with our trays, the pastor told me to pray for us. I complained, trying to get out of it, but he held firm. He said I needed to learn to pray in groups, that it would be good for me. Something like that. I didn’t get his point.

Wasn’t it good enough that I prayed to God on my own? Why did other people have to listen in on my private conversations with my Creator? Was it any of their business?

I mumbled out some ragged prayer, and we all ate, the pastor seemingly satisfied with my compliance.

I slowly accumulated more practice praying in groups, but it still seemed awkward by the time I attended a private Christian school, Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. When my theology professor asked for volunteers to pray, I avoided eye contact and instead bowed my head.

My first summer after moving to college, I became a camp counselor at a small camp in the foothills of Washington’s Cascades. There, every counselor led a daily Bible study shortly after breakfast with his or her cabin of campers. For six week-long camps, we read and discussed the story of Moses in Egypt. By the sixth week, I practically knew the story by heart and looked forward to sharing it with my campers. But I would still ask different campers to pray for us before lights out each night. This was done under the excuse of teaching them how to express their faith and connect with God. Really, I was avoiding praying myself. Most nights I would anyway, and there were times that I felt it necessary to pray with a camper one-on-one, but I still lacked confidence. I knew the campers looked up to me as a role model, so I often silently prayed for God’s spirit to supply me with the words.

Despite the growth I still needed, I returned to college eager to lead a small group on campus. Whitworth has a built-in campus ministry network that trains, equips, and supports students in spiritually leading their peers. I was partnered with a friend in my dorm to be co-leaders of a group. From the start, my co-leader would call on the group members to lead in prayer. He fully expected them to step up and fearlessly pray in front of the group. We teased him that he picked on us just so he could avoid praying in front of us.

We all did pray, though. As a leader, I again felt the need to set an example and pushed myself to get over my own fears. At the same time, it nagged at me that we should want to pray together. Why were we avoiding the privilege of bringing our thanks and concerns before our Savior? We were intent on studying the Bible and talking about God, but we hesitated at talking to Him, especially in front of each other. Why did it feel like I could only meet with God in private and not with my fellow believers, my brothers and sisters in Christ?

At the same time, a friend of mine was studying abroad in China. We exchanged a few letters and emails, and he mentioned in one that he had heard from some of his friends at Whitworth that they were having a lot of fun together, particularly in pranking each other. I didn’t take much note of it at the time since they were not my friends, and I didn’t know whom he might have been talking about.

Michael returned to Whitworth that January. He quickly made a point of reminding me of the friends he had told me about. He had found out that there was a solid group of friends who met together every night to pray.

“Every night?” I asked. “To pray?”

Michael was excited. He invited me to come see for myself. I had my doubts. A group fanatic about praying together didn’t sound appealing and certainly not something I could easily join. Besides, I had my small group to lead and enough other friends and acquaintances to have a decent social life. I didn’t think I needed another Christian social group. Didn’t I get enough of prayer between church and small group?

Then a mutual friend bumped into me at the campus coffee shop. Anneliese mentioned that I might be interested in a student group that met together to pray. “We’re upstairs every night if you want to come,” she said.

They’re recruiting, I thought to myself.

Within a week or two, I was chatting with Michael in his dorm room. It was a Friday night, but I didn’t have any other plans. The campus is generally quiet all of the January term since many students are gone for short study abroad trips or just taking the month off from school. After visiting a while, Michael said he would head to the prayer group in a few minutes and I was welcome to come along if I wanted to keep talking. Since I had nothing else to do, I decided to follow him and see what the hype was about.

That night, we prayed for at least an hour, possibly the longest I had ever prayed either by myself or with others. The security guard came around to kick us out so he could lock up the student union building. By the time I was back in my dorm room, I had caught the bug. I excitedly told my roommate where I had been and that they would be gathering again the next morning for breakfast and more prayer.

I went that Saturday morning to a room in a dorm across campus. Most of the group showed up, filling the double bedroom. Some group members had brought cinnamon rolls, muffins, clementine oranges, and bananas. We shared the food and sang several worship hymns together. And we prayed.

From then on, I counted myself as one of the group. I kept going, shocked at my own sudden eagerness. There was something that drew me in, something that stirred a longing in the deep recesses of my heart. I realized I was thirsty. The group offered living water. And I met Jesus.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in Books

 

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Ignoring Sensibility to Chase the (Impractical) Dream

I quit job searching today.

Before you ask, the answer is no, I did not get hired today. I should have gotten a call if my most recent application was accepted. But there was no call. And I’m done applying.

You might wonder what this means. Why does one stop applying for jobs before one is hired for decent work? To be honest, I feel a little crazy myself. It doesn’t make sense, and it doesn’t sound practical. But it’s the plan at least for until I move in a few months. When I resettle, I will reevaluate.

Last night, I realized that I’ve tried to do at least 97 different things with all of my “free time.” It’s left me unfocused and exhausted, and I knew something had to change. I then asked myself what it is that I’m most passionate about pursuing in this awkward, transitional season of my life. Immediately, my newest book project came to mind. Huh, I thought. Why am I not focusing on that first?

The answer came easily: I’m afraid. I’ve dreamed about being a full-time author since I was a child, but growing up all but strangled that dream. My dad once told me I’d better get used to eating ramen noodles if that’s the career I wanted. To fully pursue freelance writing would mean taking huge risks. What if I run out of money while working on the book? What if a publisher never takes interest? What if I can never finish the book? Perhaps worse, what if the book is published but fails? What if no one but my mother reads it and all that time and effort was wasted for nothing? I’d just be one more unnoticed wanna-be living with her parents because she was too impractical to get a “real job.”

All those lurking fears had convinced me that I didn’t actually want to write full-time. They lied to me. And I believed them. “It’s just a pipe dream. You could never really do it, so what’s the point trying?” they said. “Try, and you’ll only fail.” So I let fear paralyze me.

But I’m tired of being afraid.

What would it look like if I redirected my energy primarily into the new book? I mean really dedicate myself to it, excluding lesser priorities? First of all, I’d have to reclaim time from any distractions. Such as the many hours spent every week in job searching, writing cover letters, fine-tuning my résumé, and submitting applications. Wasted hours. What have they given me but disappointed hopes for jobs I wasn’t excited about in the first place? If I want to be an author, it’s about time I act on it and stop looking for other opportunities. If I don’t, I may never know if it is possible.

It’s a step of faithBy continuing to job search, I’m only looking for security. I know my passion, but I’ve doubted God’s provision and guidance, anxiously trying to find some “reliable” income. As if God isn’t reliable enough. As if every calling from God looks sensible to the world.

If I waste my time, at least it will be wasted chasing the dream and not by scrolling through job listings. If it doesn’t work and the book fails, I only prove I’m human. If it turns out this isn’t my calling, then God will use even my mistakes to teach me. He won’t abandon me because I took a wrong turn.

I’m done job searching because I have a job. I’m an author.

Update (2/25): That last application I mentioned? I got the call today. It turns out the manager was sick yesterday, which explains why I didn’t hear from her. So now I have a part-time job to support me while also leaving me enough time to continue writing. God does indeed move in his own timing and have a sense of humor.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2014 in Authors, Other thoughts

 

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NaNoWriMo 2013: Another Month, Another Book

2013-Winner-Facebook-ProfileAnother NaNoWriMo has finished. I still feel crazy to have gone through with it, but the greater feeling of accomplishment pays off in the end. The resulting book has the working title of Foster, though I’m still brainstorming other options. A mother-daughter drama, the book covers broad themes such as identity, family, and the need to be loved.

This story begins in Spokane, Washington, a mid-size city on the border of Idaho. A 15-year-old girl named Angela comes home to find out she and her mother are about to be evicted from their apartment. Then her mother is arrested for drunk driving, and CPS picks up the girl to take her to foster care. Everything in Angela’s life depends on whether or not her mother, Cynthia, can take care of herself and her daughter. Angela tries to be independent and responsible for her own life, feeling forced to grow up early. But despite her façades, she still waits for her mother to grow up too and be the adult for the sake of their family. If Cynthia doesn’t, Angela may spend the last three years before legal adulthood in foster care, bounced from family to family, house to house, until she can live on her own outside of the state’s guardianship.

“The eviction notice wasn’t a surprise. I was used to moving. I couldn’t remember spending longer than six months in one location. Such a childhood makes it hard to ever feel settled. You have to stay on your toes. One tip: keep everything precious to you in a backpack. Then keep that backpack in your sight at all times. All times. You never know when you might need a quick escape or when you’ll come home to find the locks changed.”

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2013 in Books

 

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One Week to the End

Once again, I must apologize for infrequent, irregular updating. I preferred to use my time spent writing to write for Nanowrimo than my personal blog. If I’m going to form words into sentences, it might as well be for the 50,000-word behemoth, right?

Yet, even neglecting blog posting has not guaranteed Nanowrimo success. I have 23,945 words written so far, leaving 26,055 to finish by next Friday at 11:59 p.m. That means over three weeks were not sufficient for me to make it halfway. Now I have one week to make up the rest and reach my goal.

My biggest hurdle is to find topics to write about. It feels as if I’ve already used most of my thoughts and opinions that I wanted to say. Now I’m drawing blanks. Why is it when you focus on writing originally that, instead, all your writing comes out bland and boring? Wish me luck, and you will hear from me in a week whether I managed to think up 26,055 more words in time.

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Welcome to National Novel Writing Month

Today is November 2. To most people, this means nothing. For hundreds of thousands, though, it is the second day of NaNoWriMo. They have 28 days left to reach the lofty goal of writing a 50,000-word novel. From scratch.

I have a friend who has taken on this challenge for the past four years. I watched from the sidelines. She struggled through and persevered each year. It never felt as if I would have the dedication to do the same, and what’s the point of starting, if I wouldn’t finish?

But I didn’t used to feel that way. When I was in middle school, I wrote a couple short novels for my own amusement. Only my immediate family had the privilege and honor of reading them. For some time, I imagined I would one day be a full-time, professional author of fiction. J. K. Rowling inspired me. I, too, would have my wildly popular, mass-marketed, world-changing fantasy series.

Now I realize a full day at home, by myself, on my computer, attempting to write for a living, would not be productive and by no means enjoyable. I can see myself breaking down into a frustrated mess, hiding under blankets on the floor to escape the empty Word document on my computer screen. Needless to say, this is not the future I wish for myself.

Rather, it makes me perfectly happy to continue writing in my free time as the fancy strikes me. Then on October 30, I remembered the season had come around yet again to feverishly type into the early hours until a work of art (more or less) emerges. I no longer have homework and studying to steal my sleep, so I thought, why not this year? What could it hurt? Besides my sanity, I mean.

I started last night on my November “novel,” which is actually going to look more like Blue Like Jazz than Harry Potter. That’s the hope, at least. I doubt my experiment will be worthy of a national bestseller or global phenomenon. The book will be a compilation of personal essays, much to do with my experiences as a young Christian woman. A confession of faith, you might say. I mentioned this idea before in my post “Movie Adaptations and the Real-Life Stories.” So far, I’ve written 414 words. This post update will have to cut short, and I’ll work on those 49,586 words left to go.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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