I went through a bad burnout period a couple years ago that took me nearly two years to recover from, so I got used to treating myself very gently during my recovery. I tried to give myself the compassion I would give my best friend. In fact, even the compassion I would give a stranger would be better than how I had gotten used to treating myself!
So I was surprised to find myself hearing over and over this idea of — am I truly giving this writing life my all?
It’s a growth mindset and I’ve been feeling myself itching to move from a stable recovery back into growth again. That’s probably why I kept noticing — but quite possibly it was also a matter of hearing what I need when I’m ready. I think God was pushing me to consider some areas of my writing life anew.
I “accidentally” had a Disney movie with Mark Wahlberg on in the background while I was working last week — “Invincible” about a professional football player who was a bartender and former teacher the week before. He was waiting to find out he was cut from the try-outs, but he didn’t get cut. However, the coach yelled at him during the first game that he needed to start giving 100% or he was out.
That was such an inspirational movie that I turned on “Miracle,” which I had already seen a couple times (meaning: so I could work and ignore it, use it as background noise), about the US Olympic hockey team that beat Russia back before they started using professional players. Again, the coach was incredibly tough on those college students, pushing them to give 100% or get out.
Trying again to turn on something I could ignore, I put on “The Blind Side.” Again, I’d seen it several times, didn’t have to get caught up in the story, and I genuinely dislike American football so…ignore, right? But these stories aren’t about sports so much as they’re about the underdog doing more than they think they can.
Fully inspired now, I turned on “The Rookie” today and specifically looked for the most inspiring parts because…the movies weren’t the only things reaching out for my attention.
We’re having a prayer and fasting week at church so I’ve been praying specifically over my writing business. The Bible verse in my Bible app was about — “are you trying hard enough?” The devotional there led me to a book about creativity (The Last Arrow by Erwin Raphael McManus), and the excerpt on Amazon ended with the author asking himself if he was trying enough, praying enough, expecting enough.
Then, because apparently God wanted to be very clear that He’s talking to me and didn’t want me to think some of these things were coincidences, I opened up a devotional book (My Utmost For His Highest) I hadn’t read in a couple years and turned to today, February 9. At this point, I can’t say I was shocked to discover it was asking, “have you given all you have?” And it reminded me to stay aware of my “why” — why am I doing what I’m doing? Because that’s what will keep me going.
By the time I’d had all of these things filling my brain, I was full of questions. Am I giving all I have? Am I giving 100%?
And you know what I decided my answer was? No.
Even though I’ve been working 6 days a week, and 3 nights, too, every week for months to build my writing and coaching business, I’d say I’m giving about 98%. Like Vince, the teacher-turned-bartender-turned-professional-football-player in “Invincible,” there is a small part of my mind that isn’t sure I can do this and is ready to lead the way out when I fail. (Vince was sitting on his bed with his duffle packed waiting for the knock telling him to go home, he was cut.)
Like Vince, it’s easier to say, “Look how far I’ve come, I should be proud of my accomplishments,” and have my duffle bag packed and ready for when someone points out that I’ve failed to build this business but boy, you sure tried hard.
But like the coaches in those movies, and the writer of the Bible verse, and the writer of the devotional — someone is pushing me to just believe and give that last 2%. Because it will change everything!
I was an A student in school. While I tried to get 100% on tests just for the fun of it (and for my pride), I was happy to get a 90 or 95 or whatever other number gave me the highest grade. Sadly, being an A student doesn’t prepare you as well as being a C student. I didn’t learn to work for it; I learned that 98% is generally more than enough.
But 98% is not enough in professional sports.
And apparently Someone is trying to show me that 98% is not going to be enough to achieve what I very much want to achieve.
I genuinely and passionately want to write books that change people and change the world, and I absolutely want to help others finish and publish books that do the same.
But it’s going to take 100% of me to do that.
What are you thinking about right now? What do you need to give 100% to?
Like most of you, I’m a voracious reader – voracious and omnivorous. I love every genre but I tend to binge. Right now I’m binging on historicals—adventure, detective, romance and biography. It started with the publication of a client’s historical seagoing adventure. I really love this client—dedicated, talented, determined – and best of all, his 18th century hero is surrounded by characters so real they practically walk off the page.
The cast of characters includes every walk of life one would find in postcolonial America and the wider world. From merchants to millers to a lesbian frontier woman, a free black family, an Ottoman Turk political fixer to a closeted gay Navel officer, not one of these critical players feels forced or token. There is no preachy message, no particular point to be made from this varied cast. They are simply the natural population of this writer’s historical period, as much as all types and flavors are, and always have been, the natural population of the world. Such characters have largely been written out of history by social convention.
In all this bingeing, I’ve come across a few works where the writer loudly and proudly proclaims they are whatever identity they are as opposed to the conventionally accepted population of American novels—mainly Anglo and heterosexual. These voices can feel strident, in your face, surprisingly aggressive. It feels like preaching and I’m not aware of belonging to any particular congregation. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and tends to get in the way of a good story. But beneath all the militant raging I recognize there’s a message that needs to be heard. And I think about the suffragettes.
The right to vote is so smoothly woven a part of my life that I have to make an effort to remember that these woman got strident, got in the face of convention, got extremely aggressive and unpleasant in order to win a basic human right 100 years ago. Those gutsy women were widely vilified, punished and imprisoned, but they got the message across. That’s how it is done.
Writers have always given us more than just great entertainment. Throughout the ages storytellers have had a major impact on society. Kepler’s Somnium (1634), offered radical ideas (the sun is the center of the solar system!) safely disguised as fiction. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Grapes of Wrath, Sophie’s Choice . . . a huge list of books from writers who humanized and taught us about people and worlds we were ignorant of before. Those authors were, writers are, social warriors.
So I say welcome those strident voices. Be they people of a different skin color or people of a different bent, excluding their part in the stories of life—the stories we write and read – is to diminish the rich tapestry all writers wish to capture. Those walrus mustachioed gentlemen in their stiff collars and heavy suits survived the onslaught of the women’s vote – and thrived. So shall society survive and thrive acknowledging and embracing the existence of those voices that are not presently the conventional idea of the norm. Long live the power of the pen, the impact of the well told tale!
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