The Dangerous Sport of Writing

I love safety.  I have no secret dreams of  jumping from airplanes or extreme skiing.  I’m the one who’s fine with waiting beside the fireplace  in the lodge with coffee and a journal.  My love for safety probably fuels my love for writing because, at the start, I found solace in being able to “bleed out” all my deepest-held beliefs on paper and tuck them away safely where no one could question me or make a judgment about it.  Sure, I was a pansy, I’ll own that.  Little did I know what I was in for.

Eventually I began to take my death-grip off these ideals I was writing about and I shared them with a very few trusted souls.  I can remember literally trembling while watching another human being read something I had written – something that I cared about so much that if a person didn’t like it, they didn’t like me.   If the feedback was good, I could possibly trust another set of eyes to it.   Then more.   I grew more and more comfortable over time but it still took me years to call myself “a writer”.  I waited until everyone else started calling me one before I was able to fully own that title.

Now, years later, I’ve become fairly adept at spilling my guts on paper without really thinking twice about it.  But the years-long process of becoming a writer who actually has readers has brought a new reality… that those words better hold up!   Documenting my beliefs and ideals (for better or worse) brings a certain responsibility to be a wise steward of the truth. I couldn’t live with myself if I led someone wrong.   That fact is slightly frightening.  Even more terrifying is the added treat of having to back up my words with my “real life”.  Maybe that doesn’t sound scary to a  “normal” person of integrity but here’s the real reason it’s scary.  (Shhh… this is secret is well guarded from hopeful writers, and they don’t tell you this in school!)   The minute a writer puts something  “out there”  we can be absolutely sure it will be tested by fire on every point!

So here’s the deal.  When writers write about our faith, it’s kind of like we’re enlisting in warfare through some sort of slick recruitment scheme where we think we’re signing up for a cool cash drawing but the line we sign is REALLY an entry form to become a front lines soldier of the truth.

Writing was supposed to be SAFE!  What the heck?!   But when I’m being very honest, I have to admit that I’m not really too shocked to finally recognize this.  Because truly following a living, breathing God means holding no cards under the table… not having a “Plan B” we pull out when life turns up the heat.  It means risk.  But not crazy, irresponsible risk.  Risk that puts all my hope into one basket.  His basket.   Is it reliable?  Yes.  Does it require me putting myself out there at the risk of being a fool.  OH YEAH.  Do I always get it right?  Maybe not.  But I’ll take it.  Somehow the fear is over-taken with something bigger… a mission that isn’t about me anymore.

Sure, I have plenty of days when it’s tempting to stop putting my most treasured beliefs out on the line.  I’ve nearly frozen up more than once because I don’t want to write anything down that I can’t trust with my full weight at any moment.  Heaven only knows what I’ll have to endure if I say it!  But hear this, if you hear nothing else:  Inspiration is not truly inspiration if those words can’t hold up under the test of real life.  Sure, I can write about having “vision” (and I did just last week) but if I can’t go back and read those words back to myself when I am faced with a set of circumstances through which I can’t see (which I did just this week), then what’s the point?

If you write (or you’re thinking about it), proceed with caution.  You will be forced to stand behind your words.  And trust me, you’ll want them to hold up under the ultimate test they will inevitably get.  If they hold up, you will enjoy credibility.  If they don’t, you will hopefully write with a different, wiser filter in the future; or perhaps you’ll want to invest in a helmet.

6 Tips for Surviving Creative Dry Spells

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Life is all about ebb and flow, so when a creative dry spell comes along I’m learning that there’s no need to panic; no reason to question my calling as a writer or doubt that I ever had a grain of ability in the first place.  I now know that when the creative juices are ebbing instead of flowing,  it’s a natural part of life.  These times can also indicate that it is time to put a little extra effort into hearing the Voice of inspiration… to try something different.

Here are six things that help me recharge when I’m feeling uncreative…

1)  Tune out the media for a time. Sure, we like to stay informed, but it’s not like we can control what is happening on the news.  There are so many assaults on our senses during the course of a day, the last thing we need is to fill every second with a barrage of voices telling us what to think, how to feel, and what disaster might be around the corner for us to panic about.   Between the constant diet of marketing messages that greet us on every possible front and the drama that gets ratings for the TV networks… there just has to be a point at which we say “enough is enough” and turn it all off so we can think for ourselves.

2)  Give yourself a change of scenery. I like taking a Saturday drive up to Amish Country a few times a year, but a day trip isn’t always an option.  So for a quick mid-week pick-me-up, it’s nice to stop by a local park over lunch, take a 20 minute drive, visit  a local landmark, or even spend a few minutes  out on the deck for a dose of fresh air.  Breaks keep you refreshed and prevent you from feeling too self-contained.

3) Music. Music. Music. It’s a mystery to me how reading words on a page might be inspiring, but hearing those same words sung and/or played with beautiful music is downright magical.  A half-hour of listening to my favorite songs is like “creativity medicine” for me!

4)  Read something brilliant. Even if you’ve read it 50 times, grab a great book  and allow  it to transport you to a different place mentally.  Books with short readings like poetry collections, short stories (such as the Chicken Soup series) or the Bible offer powerful inspiration in bite-sized portions that serve as a ‘creative snack’ of sorts that we can grab in the middle of the day just as we would grab a cup of coffee or a favorite treat when we’re hungry.

5) Trust the creative process. Contrary to what non-creative people may think, creative excellence isn’t a high-powered faucet that can be turned on and off at will (at least for most of us).  Good ideas might come in spurts, or trickle in slowly (or not at all) some days.  IF the ideas are flowing, go with it!  Write them all down so you can pull them out at a later time (perhaps when the ideas aren’t flowing so easily). Keep showing up, keep working hard, but don’t be hard on yourself when you hit a dry spell.  Use it as an opportunity to do something nice for yourself rather than judging the process only in terms of production.

6) Get ridiculous. If all else fails, write something that has no future except for your own ridiculous amusement.  For instance, I was recently writing something that, no matter how hard I worked, sounded flat, boring and whiny.  So I stopped writing the boring piece and completely diverted from the boring path I was on.  I opened a new document and worked on a Swine Flu Haiku.  I can’t even remember the first thing I was writing because it was so uncreative… and while a Swine Flu haiku isn’t exactly what  I want to be known for as a writer, it did help boost me out of my funk!

Those are just a few of the exercises that help me through less-creative seasons (like the one I am currently experiencing).  How about you?!   How do you nurture your creativity during dry spells?

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