Guest Post for Micha Boyett: How The Examen Empowers Us to Pray and Write

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I’m guest posting at Micha Boyett’s blog this week to talk about prayer and writing, which is pretty much right in her wheelhouse. I met Micha back in 2012, and was totally blown away by the pitch for her (then) upcoming book Found (as of this moment, it’s $3 on Kindle!). If you haven’t read it yet, I think quite a few of us will really relate this book’s stories about her struggles to pray while parenting little ones.  I’m honored to write at her blog about the Examen and how it has transformed both my prayer and writing: 

 

When I try to pray, I often find that my anxious thoughts get in the way.

When I try to write, I often find that I can’t form a single thought.

It feels like feast or famine most days.

How can I face my thoughts for prayerful contemplation without getting swept up in anxiety and worst-case scenarios?

How can I hang on to a few thoughts that are worth exploring through writing before the blank page wins?

Thankfully I’ve found that one practice can help with both problems. The Examen, developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, offers a lifeline to stressed out, over-thinkers like me, while coincidentally prompting writers to address what matters most.

 

Praying with the Examen

Ignatius believed the Examen was a gift given directly from God. After spending a significant time in prayer, he found that prayer could move forward best with this time of reflection and meditation.

The Examen is set apart from run of the mill self-reflection right from the start by its first step: Awareness of God’s Presence. We don’t face the most challenging parts of our lives alone. God is with us as we begin the Examen, and as we move forward into it, that awareness will only grow. In fact, the Examen encourages us to invite God into our days and our times of reflection.

The genius of the Examen is the way it stops the roller coaster of worry and distraction when I begin praying, while still offering a path forward. It provides an orderly, prayerful direction to my thoughts so that I can honestly face what I’m truly thinking without feeling restrained.

Read the Rest at Micha Boyett’s Blog.

Guest Post for Michelle DeRusha: Where Do We Start with Prayer?

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I’m guest posting this week for my friend Michelle DeRusha, the author of the fantastic books Spiritual Misfit and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. I’m sharing a guest post based on my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. While I suggest in my book that prayer practices can help us write, we first need to sort out where we’ll begin with prayer:

 

One of my most intense moments in prayer started on a whim.

I sat down to pray in our living room one morning, and for some reason my mind kept venturing back to the moments of my deepest shame.

The relationships I’d messed up in college.

The many stupid things I said during our first year of marriage.

The time (times?) I placed unreasonable expectations on a good friend.

As I squirmed and fretted over my shame, I had a “revolutionary” thought: “What if I just prayed as if God knew all about this stuff already?”

 

We Bring Our Vulnerabilities to Prayer

I’m not breaking new ground when I say that we can’t hide anything from God or that we don’t have to be perfect in order to approach God. That’s pretty much covered from most pulpits on Sunday morning.

Actually living as if we have nothing to hide and God still loves us is quite another matter.

 

Read the Rest at Michelle DeRusha’s Blog.

Releasing My New Book: Growth in Prayer and Writing Starts in the Same Place

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Today I’m releasing my latest book, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. This book combines the questions: “How do I find more time to pray?” and “How can I improve as a writer?” What if you could grow in both prayer and writing at the same time? What if the time you invested in writing could help you pray, and the time you invested in prayer could help you write? Here is part of the opening chapter that begins to answer those questions:

 

Every time you bow your head in prayer, open up a blank document on your computer, or flip open a journal page to write, you’re taking a leap of faith. Writers choose to believe they can string together another series of sentences that will speak to the needs of readers somewhere. When people pray, they’re choosing to believe there’s a good, loving God reaching out to us, listening to our prayers, and meeting with us.

We have faith that the discipline of writing will pay off. If we keep working at it, keep practicing, keep asking for feedback, keep revising, and keep publishing our work wherever possible, we’ll get better, reach more readers, and take meaningful steps forward. If we face the most challenging and vulnerable parts of our lives, we have faith that we’ll find words that offer clarity and perspective. If we put our words in front of readers, we have faith that some will reply, “Yes! Me too!” If we take the time to continually examine ourselves and care for ourselves, we have faith that the words will continue to come together year in, year out, whatever life throws at us.

We have faith that the practices of silence, praying with scripture, or reciting the prayers passed on to us will bear fruit over time. If we continue to fight through our fears and anxieties in order to sit in silence, we trust that God can meet us, even if it leads to results we aren’t expecting or doesn’t even result in quantifiable progress.

If we continue to cultivate habits of stillness and quiet throughout the day, we have faith that God can meet us and will speak even at moments when we aren’t expecting to hear anything. If we continue to wait on God, we have faith that periods of silence don’t indicate God has abandoned us.

We can even have faith that growing in one practice could lead to growth in the other.

Every time I grow as a writer, my prayer time receives direction.

Every time I grow in my prayer time, my writing has increased clarity.

Writing and prayer stand well enough on their own, but many of the disciplines that help you write better will also help you pray better and vise versa. This wasn’t something I planned out. I never set out to find connections between the two. Rather, I spend significant parts of each day writing and praying, and at a certain point I started to notice how the two converged.

As I prayed, my writing started to shift and grow. Both the disciplines of prayer and the lessons I learned transferred over to my writing, and my writing furthered my personal reflection and helped foster the habits and disciplines I’d been cultivating while praying. When prayer and writing finally started working together in my life, I began to take significant steps forward in both simultaneously.

I suspect that both prayer and writing can offer a lot of benefits by themselves. I certainly don’t think you have to do them together. However, if you’re already inclined to both write and pray, you may as well figure out how they can help each other. And if you’re experienced in one, you may find opportunities for personal or spiritual growth by trying out the other. I would even go so far as saying it like this:

If you want to improve your prayer life, try writing.

If you want to improve your writing life, try praying.

The two require many of the same practices, disciplines, and virtues. Of course you should certainly only pray out of an interest to meet with God on a deeper level, just as you should only write if you have something to say or process. I’m not trying to tap into the commercial writing potential for prayer or to guilt the reluctant into writing. Rather, I want to drive home the point that prayer and writing not only happily co-exist, but also feed off of each other and can benefit each other.

 

Order your copy on Amazon for $1.99 until March 16.
(regular price $3.99)

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Download a Sample PDF.

Read the reviews at Goodreads.

Rohr for Writers: Above All Else, Avoid Success

Rohr forWriters

How many times have I rejected God’s mercy because it came clothed in failure and disappointment?

No one signs up for an exciting new career or work opportunity with the goal of utterly and completely failing. And yet, how many of us have fallen flat on our faces at one time or another?

In my writing I’ve experienced a roller coaster of encouragement and discouragement. Each day is a new adventure in measuring incremental success and trying to reach just a few more readers than the day before.

While working to attract readers, writers are especially at the mercy of others in order to achieve success. If people aren’t interested in our work, then we may as well scribble notes on paper and fold them into paper airplanes. If influential people above us don’t offer guidance, endorsements, and marketing help, we’ll most likely flounder.

It’s hard to see the mercy in failure. When you’re on the outside looking in at those who are enjoying success, it sure seems like the successful figures in the writing world are living the dream, writing books in trendy cafes (mine is full of broken chairs and dust), and talking about their ideas for adoring audiences. We don’t see the inherent drawbacks in success.

Richard Rohr clues us in:

“A too early or too successful self becomes a total life agenda, occasionally for good but more often for ill… Our ongoing curiosity about our True Self seems to lessen if we settle into any ‘successful’ role. We have then allowed others to define us from the outside, although we do not realize it.”

Immortal Diamond, pg 27-28

Mind you, that isn’t to say that every successful writer, especially those who are young, are inherently captive to the demands of his/her audience. Rather, they are the ones who face the greatest challenges when trying to hold onto a clear sense of their true selves when there are so many temptations to seek validation elsewhere. They are the most likely to make a habit of measuring themselves according to the standards of others.

More to our point here, every successful writer I’ve talked to is quick to point out the drawbacks. They are targets for criticism, endure crazy scrutiny in the public eye, and often wonder which new friendships are genuine and which are just trying to take advantage of their success. It’s not all about living the dream each and every day, even if they can afford better coffee than the average writer.

If anything, my successful friends have humbly reminded me that just reaching a point of achievement in your career can be tremendously unfulfilling. At the very least, success can be a fragile thing that is sure to fade at one point. And when it does fade, we are left wondering what remains.

Rohr makes his case in stronger language when he goes on to quote Thomas Merton on pg 28:

“‘Be anything you like, be madmen… and bastards of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only to how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.’ Success is hardly ever your True Self, only your early window dressing. It gives you some momentum for the journey, but it is never the real goal.”

Reading this, I’m well aware that it’s perfectly reasonable to say that Merton was “successful” as a monk and as a writer. We’re still talking about him, aren’t we? That sounds pretty successful to me.

So, if anything, I’m encouraged to read Rohr and Merton’s words on success. Writers can achieve success for a season while still remembering that it is fleeting and ultimately a poor substitute for recognizing our identity as God’s beloved people. The great trap of success is that once people start to notice us, they will begin to try to define us and will most certainly judge us, and we’ll be tempted to give their words tremendous power—even drowning out what God says about us.

Think about that for a minute.

If you’re going to write, you’re going to receive feedback on social media, comments, reviews, emails, and (the introvert’s nightmare) phone calls based on your work. You’re going to see people leave one or two star reviews along with comments like, “Didn’t speak to me.” You’re going to have your faith, integrity, and intelligence questioned.

By the same token, you could be told that you’re brilliant and amazing. You could be told that you’re the hope for the future—the person who could save the church or at least a segment of the church. You’re going to be praised and honored for your achievements.

The crazy thing, according to Rohr and Merton, is this: Praise can be more threatening to our spiritual health than criticism. While negative reviews or insults can be deeply wounding, we can at least see what they are and take steps toward counseling and healing.

There is no ready balm for the damage done by success. Who would think of going into counseling to counteract the negative side of success? We may even tell such a person to stop being ridiculous.

Rohr and Merton remind us that success can exert tremendous power over us, trying to define who we are and what we are worth. If we can’t counteract our steps toward success with the grounding knowledge of God’s love and acceptance, then we are better off having failed in the first place.

There is great mercy in failure. Failure is an opportunity to step into our true selves, as loved and even praised by God as his beautiful creations, even when we don’t receive praise at the times and places of our choosing.

Learn More about Prayer and Writing

Check out my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together to learn simple spirituality and creativity practices you can incorporate into your day right now. It’s $.99 on pre-order until March 11th when it releases.

About This Series

Rohr for Writers is a new blog series at www.edcyzewski.com that is based on the ways Richard Rohr’s writing speaks to writers. We’re going to spend the first few weeks looking at key quotes from Immortal Diamond. Click on the Prayer category to read other posts in the series. 

Rohr for Writers: Stop Calling Yourself a Writer-You Are Loved

Rohr forWriters

What is your identity? Do you call yourself a writer? I would say that you can write, but you are loved by God first.

Your identity should never hinge on something that you have to do. Your identity should rest on what you have already been given, what no one can take away, and what is perfect and irrefutably true.

Richard Rohr writes in Immortal Diamond:

“Your True Self is who you are, and always have been in God . . . The great surprise and irony is that ‘you,’ or who you think you are, have nothing to do with its original creation or its demise. It’s sort of disempowering and utterly empowering at the same time, isn’t it? All you can do is nurture it.”

Before you put your first word on the page, you have a very important question to answer: How do I determine my self worth?

In other words…

  • Does your identity hinge on the response of others to your writing?
  • Will you feel more secure about yourself if readers respond positively?
  • Will you consider giving up if you don’t reach a certain goal with your writing?

So many struggle with calling themselves “writers” because it’s a murky label. Do you need to write for a certain number of people in order to call yourself a writer? Do you need to attain a certain level of success before you can claim that label? Don’t ask me if I know.

Regardless of whether you think you can call yourself a writer, I wonder if Rohr can help us move beyond these labels and consider ourselves on a deeper level. What if our primary identity is linked to what God says about us? If writing is just something we do, something important that some do more professionally than others, then the words we write or the response of readers cannot change us.

Semantically, we can still refer to ourselves as writers, but it may be helpful to remember that writing is something we do. It’s just a small piece of who we are, even if we devote significant hours to it each week. Even speaking of myself, one who pays the bills through writing each day, I have found it extremely toxic to hinge my identity on my writing.

When I centered my identity around being a writer, I endured the misery of setting goals for myself, failing to meet them, and then enduring the doubts and questions that followed. If I didn’t meet my writing goals, what kind of writer could I consider myself? And if I wasn’t much of a  writer, who am I after all? Could I claim any kind of identity?

Constantly maintaining my identity as a writer drained away my joy, prompted me to spend less time with my family, and created a deep aching that drummed away in my mind. My stress and anxiety sky-rocketed.

Something had to give, and Rohr’s Immortal Diamond spoke directly to the heart of my struggle with writing: my identity was based in large part on calling myself a writer.

When I finally let go of the goals I’d attached to my identity as a writer, admitted failure in a few areas, backed off on what wasn’t working, and committed myself to what seemed more sustainable, I felt like a massive burden had been removed from my shoulders.

I had more energy to devote to my family and even to myself, to say nothing of more free time.

My identity isn’t linked to my writing—at least most days. Writing is my work, my calling, and my ministry. It’s not who I am. There are days when I still struggle to maintain those lines. When they start to blur, I can let too much rest on how others respond to my writing—even the most minuscule social media praise or criticism can swing my day one way or the other. That’s typically a sign that something is out of balance.

Rohr writes that nothing can touch you when you find your identity in God’s love. I find that both immensely appealing and extremely difficult to believe.

Nothing? Really?

While I will surely feel pain, suffering, disappointment, and regret when I rest in my identity as beloved by God, the stakes attached to my writing work are now completely different. I’m still disappointed if people don’t like my work, but it’s not the same kind of dread and devastation. I don’t feel the same need to keep fighting and struggling and working.

My drive is now completely different when I get my identity sorted out before writing. I am free to work hard and to put out my best work, but there is so much less riding on the success of my work. I’m in a much better position to accept criticism and failure. Best yet, if things don’t work out, I can just try something else.

I don’t see this identity in God as a card you receive and carry with unwavering assurance every day. It’s not like you either have it or you don’t. I see it as more of a  continuum. While I experienced a freeing epiphany while reading Immortal Diamond, I don’t see myself completely in the clear at this point. 

As you begin writing today, this week, next month, or next year, the first thing you need to know is that you are loved by God—period. You are loved and pursued because there aren’t any footnotes, endnotes, or “syke!” comments in John 3:16. God so loved the world, and if you’re part of the world right now, then that includes you.

Jesus spoke of himself as the vine, and we’re the branches attached to that vine. So if you want to know more about who you are as a branch, the only way to look is back to the vine itself. We can’t do anything to change the vine, and so we can rest in that security and stability.

It will be an ongoing learning process. I doubt I’ll ever be done. However, the crazy thing about finding my identity in God’s love is that I’m now free to enjoy writing for what it is. It’s like writing occupies its own cozy little corner in my life. I want to excel as a writer, but my identity isn’t wrapped up in it.

I’m learning how to be free to write because I’m learning how to receive the freedom of God’s love.

About This Series

Rohr for Writers is a new blog series at www.edcyzewski.com that is based on the ways Richard Rohr’s writing speaks to writers. We’re going to spend the first few weeks looking at key quotes from Immortal Diamond.

Learn More about Prayer and Writing

You can grow in both your prayer and writing by developing the same practices. Check out my new book Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together to learn simple practices you can incorporate into your day right now.

3 Terrible, Stupid Things I Used to Do on My Blog

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I’ve been blogging since 2005, and that means I’m sort of an expert… at least an expert on what not to do. As I’ve tried to figure out what works and what doesn’t work, I’ve seen that I tended to make some really big, terrible, stupid mistakes because I fancied myself a pure, idealistic writer who does not bow to the conventions of the blogging world.

After changing a few things in my approach to blogging, I thought I should confess my mistakes so that you can avoid making them too.

 

Titles Don’t Matter for Blog Posts

I used to think that writing was all about writing amazing stories and sharing super-helpful ideas. If you spelled out the basic ideas clearly, the discerning reader would SURELY recognize my genius, brilliance, and value. These savvy readers don’t demand click bait. In fact, they’re most likely sitting by their computers right now just waiting for me to post something amazing.

But oh gosh, if Buzzfeed has taught us anything, which I highly doubt, it’s that people LURVE click-bait headlines. I should have totally titled this post: “You won’t believe what I used to do on my blog!” or “I teared up after reading the second sentence” or “This is better than tap dancing kittens on YouTube.” You get the idea. You were probably clicking all over those fake headlines just now even though you knew I was making them up and they didn’t have any hyperlinks. Admit it.

While we don’t have to give in to the Buzzfeed headline writing buffoonery that is ruining the Internet for the sake of advertising clicks, titles still matter a great deal. Every serious blogger I know spends a lot of time on their titles. These days I begin my blog posts with a title that plainly states the focus of my post for the sake of personal clarity, but then hack it to pieces and work through a bunch of different options before picking one.

Here’s the thing, there’s a ton of stuff out there on the Internet, and you really, really can’t afford to put up a bland headline that’s something like: “Musings on Stuff I Like.” First off, never, ever use the word “musings” ever again on your blog. In fact, WordPress developers, we need to add a mandatory plugin to the next build that automatically deletes blogs that use the word “musings” in contexts other than Greek mythology. But back to my point, please, for the love, spend some time writing a good blog post title. If you love your little blog posts as much as you say you do, then you need to give them good titles. Otherwise, very few people will be tempted to read your precious little posts.

 

I Don’t Have to Be Vulnerable on My Blog

Blogging used to be about ideas for me. In fact, it was all about ideas for about the first six years or so. I’d rant and rave about things from time to time, but I spent so much time believing that people just wanted to read my little nuggets of wisdom that I rarely inserted myself or my “feelings” into my posts.

I don’t know how I could have missed this for so long. I mean, yeah, people want to read smart ideas, but it would have helped if I wrote with the voice of a real person and share a little bit from my life.

Having said that, I also feared being one of those bloggers that shares all the things from his/her personal life online. I’m not quite in the Ron Swanson school of personal privacy where I’m tossing my cell phone in the sewer and burying gold bricks in undisclosed locations, but I find it really hard to determine when I’ve crossed the line from being authentic and real (in the sense of, “Keepin’ it real… yo”) into overdramatic over-sharing that violates the privacy of my family.

I can see now that vulnerability is essential for writers. Writers really do have to face our demons and set down at least part of that battle on the page.

Writers have to take risks. We don’t have to over-share or compromise the privacy of ourselves or loved ones, but we have to take big, vulnerable risks if we want people to care about our work. We have to work on stepping up to that line that divides authentic vulnerability from over-sharing, wherever it is, and give it a firm poke—just like old school Facebook.

And even if you aren’t particularly vulnerable, you have to at least care a lot about your topic. I’ve labored for hours over posts that I thought had tons of great ideas, only to see a passionate post I’ve dashed off in 20 minutes become the most popular post on my blog for all time. I’ve you aren’t personally invested in your writing, then your readers probably won’t be either.

 

Announcing “Here’s My New Blog Post” on Twitter

No one cares that I’ve just posted a blog post. No one. Probably not even my mother most days, especially if my titles are terrible. And yet, I used to complement my vanilla blog post titles with tweets that I plunked down like dry, crumbly, bland wafers.

One day I saw someone quoting from my blog post on Twitter, and I was like, “That’s awesome! I should try that!”

Now, some bloggers go a bit overboard with the Twitter quotes. They highlight the tweetable parts of their posts in bold, set up “Tweet this” links on their posts, or create little lists of tweetable quotes.

OK, I’m not here to judge anyone. This is personal confession time, and I’m confessing that I’m terrible at tweeting from my blog. Do whatever you like. I’ll just say that I saw some folks doing that, and I was like, “Oh come on! Just write something good!”

What can I say? I was born in the wrong age. I’m all “Get off my lawn!” with these new fangled marketing tactics. Even using a typewriter feels a little edgy some days. But back to my main point about the Twitters…

***

TWEET THIS –> “Even using a typewriter feels a little edgy some days.” @edcyzewski

***

I’ve still seen that people want to share helpful little quotes. Even if I tend to think in 1,000 to 2,000 word chunks, it won’t kill me to share a quote or two from my latest blog post if folks could find it helpful. Mind you, I don’t write for Twitter and may God banish me from all NHL arenas for life if I ever do. I’ve just realized that my resistance to posting a blog post quote on Twitter wasn’t all that smart of me

***

TWEET THIS TOO!!!  –> “I don’t write for Twitter and may God banish me from all NHL arenas for life if I ever do.” @edcyzewski

***

 

In conclusion, I’ve made some really huge, terrible, stupid mistakes as a blogger. These are all pretty basic, simple, run of the mill blogging tips that you can find all over the Internet. And still, there are tons of bloggers like myself who have resisted them. It’s time to get with the program. Adopting a few best blogging practices won’t hurt… too much. We may even get a few new readers along the way.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a blogger?

 

Millennials Should Give Up Their Dreams and Serve Me Coffee

Coffee served by Millennials for career
Oh look, this coffee has a special leaf design on it and someone took a picture of it because clearly no one has ever seen anything like this ever before…

 

I noticed you weren’t steaming the milk with the same vigor this morning. In fact, you didn’t swish my coffee mug enthusiastically as you filled it up, the half and half is empty, and the dishpan is a mess of piled porcelain. I can only deduce that you’ve been reading books or listening to podcasts where successful entrepreneurial older white men are telling Millennials like yourself to fulfill your dreams and to pursue your passions, and now this cafe isn’t cutting it for you.

Stop it. Stop listening to them. Stop dreaming. STOP and listen to me.

It’s clear to me that these experts have found a way to exploit your generation’s obsession with following your passions and pursuing your dreams. I mean, you could try to do these things, but I assure you that this will only result in more news stories and advice columns chastising you for being the world’s most selfish, narcissistic, unrealistic generation. Besides, you will most likely fail at pursuing your passions, so why even bother any way?

I know the business entrepreneurs, gurus, and “ninjas” are telling you to quit your job and pursue your dream and that it worked out for them and “why not you?” Well, here’s the thing: that was OK for them. They weren’t selfish, unrealistic Millennials raised on the hollow promises of a purple dinosaur telling them they were special. They are realistic, generous, and non-stereotypical Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers. I mean, look at them! These business experts left stable incomes to make thousands of dollars telling dissatisfied people how to be like them! That’s about as selfless as it gets! You, on the other hand, are an entitled, starry-eyed egomaniac who can only think about getting what you want… and then taking a selfie when you get it.

Look, serving coffee is a pretty great gig. It’s better than breathing in toxic dust in a mine, losing a finger in a factory, or skimming slag in a steel mill. Do you know how bad a selfie turns out in a mine when you’re wearing a headlamp? Can you imagine texting without a few fingers?

Right, you can’t imagine any of this. You can only imagine sitting in a palace where servants snap selfies for you and money magically appears in your bank account every time you tweet. At least some of you tweet as if that’s what happens.

So here’s my advice:

Don’t take any risks.

Don’t set aside time for self-reflection or prayer.

Don’t ask friends for advice or counsel.

Don’t read any books about things that interest you.

Don’t consider going back to school.

Don’t seek out mentors who could help guide you.

Don’t pursue any kind of professional training.

Don’t learn how to manage your own business.

Don’t downsize your possessions.

Don’t find a more affordable place to live.

Don’t change how you eat or what you buy when you go out.

Don’t cancel your cable service or limit your mobile data usage.

Don’t even think about trading your car for a bike or public transit.

Don’t look for a flexible job that can pay the bills while you try something new.

Give up on your dreams and passions. Stop paying attention to that nagging feeling that you should try something else for your career. These are just trademarks of your selfish entitled generation. The people who came before you could ask those questions and take those risks, but that’s because they weren’t Snapchatting with their shirts off and Instagramming their meals.

Your generation is a lost cause. Take a good look around this coffee shop. I hope you like it. This is probably as good as it’s going to get. Every other generation had the ability to consider ways to advance themselves, to escape the drudgery of cubicles, and to build a career of their own choosing. That stops with you.

You Millennials don’t get to make the same choices as previous generations because you’re not just self-absorbed, you’ve painstakingly documented your selfishness in unique ways that no older generation can replicate or relate to. We can hide our own self-centeredness and avarice behind your massive social media profiles as we convict you of being the worst generation ever.

And if you want your tip to stay at $.50, I suggest you “chop chop” and fill that half and half when I’m ready for a refill. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a number of freelance writing projects to work on with that cup of coffee you just poured. Pursuing my dreams of becoming a writer takes a lot of caffeine, and I need you Millennials to keep serving it.

 

For further reading on this topic from a non-sarcastic perspective:

http://reason.com/poll/2014/08/19/65-of-americans-say-millennials-are-enti

http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/11/18/ask-laura-follow-my-passion-where-exactly/35086

 

Do you prefer sarcasm? Check out this related post from my previous blog:

Millennials Need to Know Church Must Be Boring and Irrelevant

You’re an Amazing Writer and I Hate You

fist-hate-writers

When my friend J.R. moved to Texas in order to take a new job as a pastor, he started tagging every related post on social media with the hashtag: #Texodus. I had the simultaneous reaction of absolutely loving that tag and hating myself for not being so fresh, clever, and inventive.

It’s as if all of the creativity in the world had been bottled up and shipped to Texas that week. Creativity had taken its own #Texodus…

And then the other day, author Jen Hatmaker shared that her family had just discovered this parody of hipster parenting on Pinterest, complete with a fictional child named Quinoa. Hatmaker mentioned on Facebook that she both loved it and hated it because it was so clever.

It was basically a transcript of my own thoughts… just with the implied southern drawl that I add to everyone from Texas on social media.

I love how author Anne Lamott writes with bracing honesty about both celebrating and lamenting the success of other authors. This isn’t just about the fear of fellow authors filling up the coveted spots at major publishers—though I’m sure there’s some fear of that too. This is about guilt and comparison and the fear that we’re never doing enough or never writing anything good enough. Fellow writers become our anecdotal evidence.

See! She’s publishing articles in those journals! I’ll never keep up with her!

He just wrote an amazing book for my favorite publisher. I can’t match that!

It’s also really easy to overestimate the success of other writers. Perhaps I see a writer publish a great book, and I’m filled with envy at his talent and notoriety, but he’s on the other end lamenting that the book hasn’t sold enough to earn back an advance and is looking at the writers above him who are getting bestseller stickers slapped on their books left and right.

And let’s not overlook this: it’s hard to sell books—especially if you want to do everything ethically. Some of my favorite books aren’t bestsellers, and some of the books I hate—I mean with a white, hot, passionate hate—are bestsellers that make someone’s list of amazeball books every year. So when you’re struggling as a commercial or indie author, it’s easy to start making comparisons and to start wondering if your book would do a bit better if you had half of the resources available to another author.

I can’t speak definitively on this, but as I try to sort out the state of my own soul with all of this book publishing envy, jealousy, and carefully controlled hatred, I think most of my restlessness is based on a low opinion of myself. I lack confidence most days in my own calling and in my own developing talent. I forget all of the times that I’ve felt God giving me a steady shove to keep at this writing thing.

Perhaps I even begin to envy the gifts or callings of others. I forget that I have my own style, stories, and messages to pass along, and so long as I’m offering them to others as a gift, I don’t have to worry about the success that others have.

That feels like the kind of cliché line a loser writer believes when he can’t measure up to “successful writers.” However, I always have to remind myself that someone will sell more books and achieve more success. Comparison is its own never ending punishment. You can only break out of it by writing out of a sense of conviction and always improving your work because you’ve been called to do your best as a service to others, not because you want to hit a bestseller list or ten.

As with most things, there’s a fine line here. Every writer needs to read in order to improve. I’ve flipped through memoirs and novels and marveled at how a particular author wove the various storylines and characters together. Those books challenged me to become a better writer.

However, if we aren’t rooted in God’s presence, calling, and strength, we’ll move from disappointment to envy to self-loathing over and over again.

We each have to sort out our own paths to peace and contentment within the callings God give us. What works for me may not work for everyone else. But I do know what has failed me over and over again. I know what other writers have shared with me.

The envy and jealousy that comes with comparing ourselves to others minimizes the work God is doing in and through us. God can work through us, but sometimes we have to turn our eyes away from what everyone else is doing so that we can say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

 

Is Doing What You Love Just a Trap to Work More?

The job you love is a trap?If working long hours for the rest of your life is inevitable, why not work long hours doing what you love?

I’m curious if that statement is behind much of our thinking about work and “doing what you love” today.

In American society, it’s expected that we’ll work long hours, take few vacations, and fill our limited leisure time with a good dose of television and family activities. There really isn’t too much free time left if you’re playing to win.

So those who “play to win” have developed a strategy in order to avoid going insane like those guys in Office Space. The play to win experts have herded us hard-working Americans to the promised land of “doing what you love.” It’s become a cottage industry of sorts with learning communities, conferences, books, blogs, and podcasts.

The key to doing what you love is actually working MORE at first to develop that side business. You have to work two jobs and then, as the job “you love” gets more profitable, you can ditch the job you hate and just do what you love.

It’s hard, but it has to be more fulfilling, right?

But here’s the thing, this solution doesn’t necessarily solve our problems. We have this huge carrot in front of us promising that we’ll be happy if we could just spend our many, many working hours doing the thing we love. What if happiness is found in working less or finding fulfillment outside our jobs?

What if “doing what you love” just confirms work and business success have become an idol?

And even if you end up doing what you love, you may end up hating it if you have to do it all day, every day. In fact, you may discover that you really hate certain parts of it, and that could make you even more miserable because you thought you loved this thing. Now the thing you love has become tainted and you just feel trapped.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do the things that we love. Heck, if you can find a job that jives with you, dive in.

I’m more concerned that we are “treating” our discontent with the wrong medicine. What if we’re miserable at work because we’re investing too much of our time and energy into it?

What if most of us just need to let our jobs be our jobs and find a way to make them sustainable? And even if we do strive to create a job we love, that doesn’t give us carte blanche to revolve our lives around it.

I’m wondering this week if it’s better to ask, “What can I do?” and “How can I best honor God and my family by making that a piece of who I am?”

I’ve never really bought into the “do what you love” mantra because I’ve honestly spent most of my time searching for the areas where I’m at least competent. Never mind whether or not I “love” my work. I’ve just been trying to find work that I can do. Being an aimless failure has its advantages… maybe?

I started writing because I loved it, but the writing work I do to bring in money is based far more on necessity than love. And I’m perfectly OK with that. I wouldn’t complain if my books suddenly took off and I could write them full time. However, even in book publishing, my career of choice, there are some really unsavory parts.

Even the jobs we love have things we hate.

Sometimes we can’t be picky. I’ve had really bad jobs and really great jobs. The freelance writing I do now is the kind of job that A. I can do and B. Fits our vision for our family. I do writing that I love, and I do writing that I don’t love. The former does very little to pay the bills, and the latter does just enough to make ends meet.

I struggle to balance the call to seek God’s Kingdom first and the necessity of making money. While it’s possible that I could serve God “better” by writing inspiring and instructive books all day, it’s not impossible to serve God while writing clear website copy.

My goal isn’t necessarily to find the job I want because I can serve myself or serve God whether or not I love my work.

Loving a job can be a great thing, but it can also be the quickest path to despair and misery when our job fails to deliver what we need the most.

Want to Get Published? Get a Discounted Nonfiction Book Proposal Evaluation This May

 

book-proposal-editingIf there’s one thing that’s tough for new writers, it’s putting together a successful book proposal that effectively pitches a book idea, promotes their qualifications, and demonstrates an ability to market a book to an existing audience of readers.

No one goes into publishing with the experience required to write a good proposal since it combines marketing with top notch writing. Most writers are good at one of those two things, but it’s hard to merge them together into one document.

I’ve been working on book proposals since 2005, and my first book proposal was terrible. I needed someone with experience to help me figure out the best way to make my project clear and appealing. After selling five of my own projects to publishers and advising countless aspiring authors on their proposals, I have an idea of what will and will not work for a nonfiction book proposal.

This past winter I offered a huge discount on nonfiction book proposal evaluations ($200 per evaluation), and I had a great time helping aspiring writers improve their proposals. Now that the end of the semester is here, and I’ll have more time to work on writing projects, I’m offering six discounted evaluations for the month of May at the same rate: $200 per proposal. 

That’s a savings of $100 from my usual price of $300 per proposal. I’ll also toss in a free download of my book A Path to Publishing: What I Learned by Publishing a Nonfiction Book. 

Remember, there are only 6 slots available at this price, and it’s first come, first serve. 

 

 

How does it work? 

Sign up in the form below during May 2014. I’ll write back as soon as I can.

Send me what you have, including 1-2 sample chapters and any marketing information and a summary of your nonfiction book. I’ll set a deadline for the project and will format what you have into a proposal with feedback on what needs to be rewritten or added.

I can’t promise success, but I can promise feedback and suggestions that will improve your chances of catching an editor or agent’s eye.

Sign up today: