How to Make an Author Howl in Despair

 

No one ever made me literally howl with despair, as if I was lost in the bleak darkness of the wilderness, but I’ve had that feeling deep in my soul on many occasions when discussing my latest book, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction.

The internal howling in despair often happened before I sharpened my elevator pitch for Reconnect. I told others little tidbits about the aim of the book:

  • It’s a book about using technology too much…
  • It’s a book about how technology makes it hard to pray…
  • It’s a book about how spiritual practices can help us transcend the harm done by smartphones and social media…

Each time I shared little tidbits like this, people naturally compared my idea to existing books—one book in particular came up, in fact.

  • “Oh, it’s like The Tech Wise Family, then?”
  • “Ah, I see. That sounds like The Tech Wise Family.”
  • “Hey, I just read The Tech Wise Family. That’s the same idea, right?”

This is where the internal howling kicked in. Perhaps a sophisticated answer like this passed through my mind as well:

“NNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

There are two really good reasons for this response…

Authors Always Believe Their Books Are Unique

Part of the reason for this response on my part is that every author, for better or for worse, believes their books are precious little unique snowflakes that have deeply unappreciated intricacies that truly sophisticated readers will appreciate.

Even the authors who write Bible studies on the book of Romans or something about fighting the stress of “too busy” with the whisper “you are enough” (don’t forget the flowers on the cover too) think their books are extremely unique. My gosh, it’s still a bit of a miracle that I got a book published in 2008 about “theology and culture” at a time when every white dude with an MDiv was “musing” about such things on their blogs.

Authors can’t help it. And to a certain extent, every book is as unique as the author. Even books that appear identical may find a new angle that benefits readers. And honestly, some topics just have a higher demand that publishers who want to keep the lights on can’t help meeting.

Yet, there is another really good reason for this howling in despair…

Authors Must Distinguish Their Books

One of the most stressful and challenging aspects of writing a book proposal for a publisher is the Competing Works section that lists five or six similar titles and compares them to your proposed book. The competing works is a difficult balancing act because you need to demonstrate an existing market for your book without overlapping completely with an existing work.

I’ve seen promising book proposals fall flat because similar books were either in a publisher’s pipeline or had been newly released.

When I developed a proposal for Reconnect, I listed The Tech Wise Family as a competing work and carefully distinguished my book from it. If I was pitching something that is “the same thing” as The Tech Wise Family, I wouldn’t be able to promote my book to readers, let alone to a publisher.

My internal howling and shouting at comparisons to The Tech Wise Family called to mind the painstaking process of defining my book’s place in the market.

I didn’t know of any other Christian book that merged an awareness of the design of digital technology and its formative impact with an awareness of spiritual formation and the ways technology could undermine spirituality.

When I managed to calm down my internal screaming during these conversations, I put it like this: The Tech Wise Family is accurate and useful, but it’s dealing with the flood  by proposing countermeasures to deal with the reality we have.

I’m seeking to look further upstream…

Why do we have a flood?

What is the design of the flood?

How can we keep the flood from reaching us in the first place?

How can we build a solid foundation of spiritual practices that can save us from being swept away in the flood?

Less Howling, More Silence

I fully endorse and use the ideas in The Tech Wise Family, but I have personally needed a different approach to digital formation. I needed to understand why I’m drawn to social media and my smartphone. I needed to understand the ways these technologies exploit my weaknesses and how spiritual practices can restore my soul each day.

Placing good barriers around my technology use has helped me, but I wanted to know why I needed these barriers in the first place.

Most importantly, I needed a soul restoring alternative to digital formation. For many of us, our excessive smartphone use is scratching at itch for something: distraction, connection, enjoyment, etc.

I wanted to find the alternative to digital formation, and many of spiritual formation’s practices offer helpful alternatives. Digital formation makes us reactive; spiritual formation helps us become thoughtful and aware. Digital formation creates despair and anxiety; spiritual formation helps us wait with patience and hope.

All of this is to say in a very detailed way that my book Reconnect is a precious little unique snowflake that has deeply unappreciated intricacies that only truly sophisticated readers will appreciate.

I trust that you are just that sort of reader and that you are no doubt eager to read it now, rather than telling me it’s just like The Tech Wise Family

 

Learn More about My Precious, Unique Book

Read a sample from Reconnect about “Reactive Mind”

Learn more about Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction

Order Reconnect Today

Download the FREE 4-Session Reconnect Discussion Guide

Reconnect

I Can’t Talk My Way Out of Every Spiritual Crisis

Words don’t always make difficult situations better. I still haven’t been able to shut down my impulse to speak up when I should probably keep my mouth shut.

I’m the kind of person who always wants to help someone going through a tough time. And so I talk, I try to commiserate, and I do my best to think of something encouraging or helpful to say.

Maybe I’ve helped others sometimes, but plenty of other times I’ve felt like reaching into the air to grab the words and stomp them into oblivion before they land in the other person’s ears. I tend to overestimate the good that my words can do, and so I pressure myself to say something, anything, when sometimes I really just need to be present and remain available.

There’s a kind of theme that emerges in my own spiritual practices and in the stories I hear of others who practice contemplation. We want to talk our way out of a spiritual crisis, we want answers, we want definitive statements, we want the doctrine that unlocks the door that will alleviate our doubt, uncertainty, frustration, and pain.

I have imagined myself talking my way through difficult situations, as if my own chatter would somehow compel God to take notice and offer a solution once I reach a magical threshold of prayerful words. Perhaps there’s also a reverence threshold to my words where I try to sound like a prayer book… “Gracious, magnificent, and merciful God, bestow upon me, your servant, the full measure of your goodness…”

And yes, talking through our prayers can work and yes God can give us answers, but I can’t talk my way out of every spiritual crisis. And to be honest, I’m not sure that I would even want to be talked out of a crisis or given a magical solution to every issue in my life.

I imagine a parent holding a sobbing child without words, just offering presence and comfort. We wouldn’t criticize the parent for that kind of presence. There really is nothing to be said in the moment. The pain must be felt and the moment can only be resolved with presence.

There isn’t a physical God on earth to hold us quite so directly, and so I have overcompensated with words until they failed me. And when words failed and I couldn’t talk myself out of a spiritual crisis, I assumed that God had failed me.

But there is quite a lot more to God than the words we speak or the ideas scrolling through our minds. There is presence and comfort in silence, even if such a possibility appears counterintuitive or unlikely.

Even in this space where I only have words, images, and white space, I can’t talk you out of a spiritual crisis. I can’t give you the magic next steps to spiritual prosperity. I can only say that words have failed me, but God has not. If you step into that silence and stillness, there is something else waiting for you there. I can’t tell you what it is or what it will feel like. Even if you do find it, words may fail you.

Perhaps we can find hope in the possibility that we don’t need more words to be present for God. In fact,  I typically find it most helpful to use fewer words.

 

Reconnect with Soul Care

I’ll be sharing more about these ideas in my newsletter and in my upcoming book, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction (releasing June 2, 2020).

Sign up here

Pre-Order Reconnect Today

Reconnect_2

 

Photo by Korney Violin on Unsplash

 

What Am I Actually Looking for on Social Media?

Once upon a time I woke up early and settled down to write in the sunshine of our Vermont home’s cozy living room at 6 am.

The walls had been painted in a rich colonial green color, and the ceiling lined with crown molding that a carpenter friend battled to line up for us. The pine trees surrounding our home filtered the light that shone through the windows that lined the room.

I wrote a lot in that room. Not very much of it was good. Some of it was quite negative and exasperated, but I still look back at those days as a kind of golden age for my writing. There was no better way to start the day than a quiet moment writing in the sunshine of our living room.

A few years later, my mornings had changed dramatically. I was trying to market my first book without the help of a marketing team at my publisher, and I heard that authors were using social media quite a lot.

Gradually, my mornings shifted from immersion in my writing to immersion in whatever people posted on social media.

I told myself that I was making connections for the purpose of promoting my books, that I was connecting with friends, and that I was keeping up with family from far away. I convinced myself that this time spent on social media was productive, but as I reflected on my motivations for using social media in subsequent years, I’ve gotten a bit more realistic in my assessment.

My most important shift in using social media since the days of my cozy Vermont living room has been asking what I’m actually seeking when I log in.

  • Do I have something to share?
  • Am I seeking interaction with any particular people?
  • Do I want to learn from someone?

Those strike me as good reasons to use social media, although they are rarely ever urgent reasons.

However, plenty of other times, my reasons are not so good…

  • I’m seeking distraction, disconnection, or affirmation.
  • I want people to like what I’ve written, I’m stalling in the face of something challenging.
  • I’m avoiding stress and anxiety over a particular situation.

Over time, tuning in to social media has become a habit. The engineers who studied the psychology of habit formation and addiction wanted social media and smartphones to function like a slot machine that can deliver something interesting or affirming at any moment. You need only pull it out of your pocket!

As I use longer blocks on social media, continue to limit my time on social media, and strive to make my smartphone as useless as possible, I’ve found greater freedom from the draw of social media. This is especially true first thing in the morning where it had become a habit of sorts.

By changing my habits, I’ve realized that I don’t really need social media in the ways that I thought I did.

The reality is that social media needs me. It needs my attention for the ads. It needs my engagement so that it can track my preferences. It needs me to become addicted to its features, scrolling endlessly without thinking all that hard about what exactly I’m looking for…

 

Reconnect with Soul Care

I’ll be sharing more about these ideas in my newsletter and in my upcoming book, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction (releasing June 2, 2020).

Sign up here

Pre-Order Reconnect Today

Reconnect_2

 

 

Photo by Szabo Viktor on Unsplash

I Limited My Time on Facebook and This Is What Happened

draw-the-line-boundary-facebook-social-media-for-writers

I have so many reasons to be on Facebook.

I live far away from most of my family and friends. Solution? Facebook.

I work in a relatively isolated profession where my colleagues are spread all over the country and even world. Solution? Facebook.

I write stuff that I’d like people to read? Partial solution? Facebook.

I like to be entertained by witty comments on current events and cultural trends. Solution? Facebook.

I often get stuck with my work and need a distraction. MAJOR PROBLEM: Facebook

It’s so easy to just check Facebook one more time… just one more time… OK, just one more time… MAJOR PROBLEM: Facebook

Despite the benefits of connecting with friends, family, and colleagues over social media, it has a way of invading my free time that should be devoted to family, house work, and, if I’m lucky, a bit of reading. Social media offers me a quick out when I hit a slow point in my day, a difficult part of a project, or a minute of free time in the evening.

I’ve already enjoyed the benefits of the SelfControl App that shuts down any sites I’ve specified for a set period of time. It’s amazing what I can get done at work once I turn on the app and have no entertainment recourses for 45 minutes.

However, the invasion of social media into my free time has been a major concern. There simply aren’t clear lines for me between work time and family time on social media. I’m always connecting with family AND promoting my work. The two are tied together. Feeling the need for stronger boundaries, I opted to set up a limited social media fast for Lent:

No social media after 5 pm on weekdays.

No social media on the weekends.

I’ve learned two really important things about myself so far during this fast.

 

First, I Read a Lot More.

That’s not really a shocker. Without my 5,10, or 20 minute detours into social media, I often find myself looking for something to do in the evening if I’m giving the baby a cat nap or spending a little free time on the couch. Without the siren call of Facebook, the latest Richard Rohr book added to my collection, Eager to Love, quickly shoots to the top of my list of things to do.

 

Second, I Complain a Lot Less

I would have told you that I’m more of a joking complainer. I’m often tongue in cheek, right? Well, no, actually. I never realized how much of social media is actually just a litany of complaints for me until I set some boundaries around myself.

These limits have helped me see the ways I’ve “wasted” my tweets and status updates with complaints.

Mind you, some complaints are warranted. If I can’t rant about my hockey teams on social media, then I don’t really know what else I can do with it. However, each time I’m tempted to complain about the baby’s failed nap, a toddler tantrum, or yet another quirky, boundary-invading person at the café, I now stop and think about what I’m about to do. More often than not, I need to either get back to work, get back to my family, or, if I’m set on complaining, shift my sights on my hockey teams.

 

What Happens After Lent?

I love Lent because it offers a chance to experiment and test out which areas of my life are unhealthy and unbalanced. If giving up something like social media on the weekends feels like such an enormous burden, then it sure seems like some boundaries are really needed.

A few weeks into Lent, I’m sensing that these boundaries are going to become my new normal. Not that I WANT them to be the new normal. Rather, I don’t want these social media boundaries, and that’s what tells me I need them.

 

What are you fasting from during Lent?

Do you have any lessons or changes to report at this point?

 

 

Don’t forget, you can now pre-order my new book Pray, Write, Grow on Amazon for $.99.

grey-PWG-prebuy-button

Nook | Kobo | iBooks | Print

The price goes up on March 11, 2015 when it officially releases.

Download a Sample PDF.

Read the reviews at Goodreads.