Dream Walks

Writers find inspiration from many different places. Some are inspired by their faith, some by a person they admire. Others are moved to write by an event that happens in their lives. Whatever the case, I find that the inspiration for writing and the many ways it comes to me is a wonder and a mystery that is very…well, inspiring!

I wanted to talk about one of my chief sources for writing. It’s what I like to call a “dream walk.” Some people go on “prayer walks” and they take time to lift friends up before heaven’s throne, focus on their relationship with God, ask for forgiveness and take in the beauty of their Creator’s world. My dream walks are like that but with a bit of a twist. While some may find the way I walk my walk a bit strange and unorthodox, I find it to be a fascinating trip into the weird and wonderful world that is me, and a really great source for material to put down in words!

I’ve always been interested in dreams and their application to my life. There has been a lot of study devoted to dreams and their meaning. Some think that dreaming is nothing more than a sort of “mental housecleaning” – the mind’s way of rearranging itself electro-chemically after a long day of thinking. I accept the truth of that. After a week of 4-hours-per-day sleeping (I’ve worked overnights!) I understand all too well the need to get a good night’s sleep to reshape my moody mind. Others think dreams are symbols of archetypal longings deep within our psyche. But these explanations lack romance, spirit and life! I know there are lots of dreams and visions in the Bible and every time some biblical character has a dream it has to do with God revealing a new turn in the journey of life and salvation. Moses had his burning bush, Jacob his ladder, and Ezekiel his valley of dry bones. I don’t know if I can say I’ve experienced such a direct call from God, but I’m open to the possibilities of what all that implies.

My approach to dreams takes in the science, the art and the spirit and leads me to a place where I can find meaning in the little mind trips I take each night. When I dream, I’m working through stuff that happened that day and sometimes stuff that happened long ago. When I awake I look for signs and wonders in the dream characters and symbolic meaning in the setting and objects within the dream. I ask myself what God is trying to teach me through the dream and how I can become a better man because of it. When all is said and done, I use the dream to help me connect to that deeper part of myself that ultimately expresses itself in my art.

How this all applies to walking is simple. When I go for a walk, I pretend that I’m in a dream. I ask God to reveal Himself to me as I walk and I pray for the Spirit to give me an open mind and a heightened awareness of my surroundings. Then as I walk, I take notice of what’s around me and imagine that it’s all part of a world that belongs exclusively to me. When I see an object I ask myself what I think it would mean if it were part of a dream. Then I pray through the meaning and allow it to help shape me in my spirit. Sometimes I enjoy the beauty of God’s world and listen to the sweet messages it wants to pass onto me. Sometimes I meet a part of me I don’t like and find I need to get rid of a bad thought by confessing it and letting it go. Sometimes I become incredibly aware of how grateful I am for all the graces I’ve received and I’m swimming in joy. And sometimes I go deeply into myself and receive a spiritual makeover. All I know is that after my dream walks I find I’m in a much better place than when I started, even if I just walked in a giant five-mile circle the whole time! And when that happens, I have so much material churning away in my brain that I can’t wait to get it down in writing!

One day, I was struggling with my attitude toward spiritual leadership and decided to go on a dream walk. As I walked I looked up and saw the sky filled with clouds, blocking the sun. I saw in this “dreamscape” a message of how I was being blocked from the light of the Son (not sun) and allowing the clouds of anger and sadness obscure my vision of what was right. Later that same walk I found a group of nails on a strip, the kind used in a nail gun. I picked it up and meditated on the symbol within the object. What came to me was the idea that one person can build a church using all the nails, or that same person can give one nail to everyone in the church and together they can build the church into something that reflects the efforts and spirit of each member. It was at that moment that the sky began to clear and I saw the sun. I took that as a more direct sign from God that I had gotten the point.

On another day I kept seeing only red or blue cars – seriously, for over an hour, nothing but red and blue cars! I thought about what was happening inside me and I decided to pray over my own lukewarm soul, which at the time was neither hot (red car) nor cold (blue car). At that point, I saw a gray car and then soon after, a white car. I meditated on the truth that if I’m to be pure (the white car) I need to look into the gray areas of my life (gray car) and get real with where I am. I had a lot to think about and a lot of good material for writing that day as well.

It’s like that all the time. I believe that God is in the process, whether directing cars from the depths of eternity, painting cloudy days and opening the sky at just the right moment, or simply unlocking my heart so that I may question how I see the world. I’m reminded of things that have meaning to me in the life that blossoms in the trees, the joyful song of the birds praising God for taking care of them, or in the wind that can sooth my soul in the heat of the day or move me in directions I might not be willing to go. In focusing on the God who is present all around me and within me, I shut out the distractions that stifle my creativity and leave my selfish, prideful and generally confused self behind. It’s a deeply freeing experience – a bit strange as I said, but truly liberating when I open myself up to it!

How much better would we all be if we learned to look at our lives from a dream walk perspective? I think we’d learn to let the annoyances just drift by without moving our emotions, like the car that cut me off today but didn’t ruin my life. We’d come to see the connection to the people around us and stop responding with fear, anger, indifference or disgust.  We’d find joy and tears in the thousand little details that we used to pass by without noticing. And maybe – just maybe – those of us who are writers would find new ways to express the intensity and awesomeness of life within our craft. It’s at least something to think about…maybe on your next walk!

Quit Yer Whining, Ya Big Baby! The Writer's Whining Way

In my life I’ve often been told to quit whining so much about things. While people may not have used those exact words, they still got their message across in subtle or not so subtle ways. In fact, most of the time when people see that I’m down, they offer “helpful” little clichés that are meant to encourage but, in truth never really do. “Always look on the bright side of life!” “The sun will come out tomorrow!” “Pack up your troubles…etc.  and smile, smile, smile!” They all seem so positive, but when I’m in a funk, especially about my writing, they all sound like a happy housewife from the 50s saying, “Have some milk and cookies and cheer up, young man!”  

In defense of all writers out there, I wish to respond to all those Pollyannaish platitudes with a little insight into the complexities of our minds and hearts. For you see, to all those emotional cheerleaders out there, our attitudes may seem like somber brooding or disinterested aloofness; but to us, it’s really the black, boiling caldron of new ideas coalescing in the depths of our inner insanity. The writer’s way is often dark, confusing and full of fascinations that bubble up to the surface of our minds in strange and wonderful ways. I’ve often thought that we must dream differently than the rest of the world; at least I figure I must by the strange looks I get when I relay a nighttime inner journey to my family or friends. But I assure you, it’s all a necessary part of the process of creativity. Without our times of brooding, discouragement, darkness and downright despair, we would never come up with most of the things we write.

I’m not saying that writers are unhappy people. Actually, most of the time, I find myself in my own little happy place, safely locked away from the cares and concerns of the world. I try to love others and see the beauty in their souls. But lately I find the world creeping in more and more with its evils and irrationality. I look at the nature of war and the devastation of natural disasters and it overwhelms me with sorrow. I see the cold and callous ways of people who are so lost in their own struggles that they think the world must revolve around them. And politics? I don’t even try to understand it anymore. I just put my index finger up to my lips and move it up and down as I make a helpless blubbering sound. It’s madness…sheer madness! But how do I cope and respond to this calamity and chaos? It’s the way of my writer’s whining!

By looking at my circumstances and inwardly complaining about them, I actually do a beautiful service to the world! By taking the tragedy and troubles around me and letting them ferment in the inner cellars of my psyche, I gain a new perspective on them. As I wrestle with the difficulties of living and the brokenness of this world, I begin to draw from the beautiful Spirit of God that lives and moves within me and I connect to the truth of eternity. It allows me to take off the glasses that cause me to see everything as either desperately hopeless or prosaically rosy and view life as it is: an imperfect reality populated by beautiful and broken individuals; sometimes dangerous, sometimes fascinating; and a journey with a narrow road that leads to better ways ahead.

When I spend time stirring up the mix of emotional soup in my soul, what comes out is often so incredible that I absolutely know it has come from heaven and not my own prideful ambitions and shattered dreams. I see how God can take the worst of this world, sift it through His loving hands and let it spill out over me in waves of new understanding. And the words that result help me to share my new perspective with others in a way that brings healing and joy.

Now, while this may sound wonderful, for the writer, it’s often a very painful process. It’s often so overwhelming that at times I look at my writing as though it’s all an illusion – something that doesn’t seem real or even meaningful. Because of the way our writing minds work, there may be no one, except perhaps another writer, who will ever fully understand the journeys we take down those dark roads towards the light of new ideas. We would rather avoid them and stay in a place of superficiality and relative calm, but when tough times come around and the television reminds us of the wars we humans wage on the battlefield of life, those who write find we just have to get down in the trenches with our thoughts and struggle against the enemy of our souls and our own weaknesses and worries. It’s who we are and we can’t avoid it. We cannot rest until we work through the worldly forest of gloom and doom and come out to the bright valleys of insight and the heights of new understanding on the other side. And then we must push on further still until we put those new insights down on paper or computer screen for all the world to see.

I’ll close with this. Writers have been people gifted by God with a curse: the curse of taking in the world’s brokenness and letting it sift like sand through our souls until we pick it up, add a little Living Water and build something meaningful for others to see. For my fellow writers out there, as you struggle with your own journey and the weariness of this world, don’t ever forget that you have a special calling. You have been made to make sense of this world and to point the way to the One who is moving it all along in His divine plan toward a perfect tomorrow where all the sadness will give way to the light of an endless new day. God bless!

The Courage of Conviction, The Humility of Humanity

There is a certain grace that is required of all writers: a strength of character and a comfort with the gift that is inside us. To some it may seem like arrogance to take our thoughts and put them into writing we feel is worthy enough to be read by others. Who are we, really, to think that our words have merit and deserve to be preserved for future generations to see? Yet we remain writers, convinced of our giftedness and determined to spill our wisdom onto paper and into the virtual world.

There are many reasons people write, and perhaps I simply romanticize the process of writing too much. I know many write to sensationalize and sell a product, to tantalize and titillate our selfish senses, or to foist misguided ideas or even hatred upon itching ears willing to hear. There is a lot of empty writing in the world: writing that does nothing to raise the human spirit, but only serves to speak to the worst of who we are. But there is writing that speaks to weary souls thirsty for renewal: writing that is meant to raise us on the wings of lofty ideals and blessed hope. For those of us who have the hope of heaven within us, the difference is quite clear. But to the broken and lost of the world our words seem to be illusions created to make us feel good inside or a weapon of intolerance against those who wish to live their lives anyway they choose. Often, when we are confronted by those who have chosen to trade tradition and morality for individual rights and political correctness, we’re tempted to back down, to soften our words or to believe that they don’t deserve to have the impact they once had. How then do we continue as writers in this vast wasteland of confusion, personal preference and wrong thinking and living?

The first thing that we need to have is the courage of our conviction. We often think of courage as unwavering fearlessness in the face of danger. But courage is really determining that what is right and needed outweigh our fear and our weakness. In other words, even though we are afraid of failing or falling, we push forth and do what is right anyway. As believers in the One who pressed on to take the bloody beatings and endure the cruelty of the cross, we must look within to see the spark that God has placed within us and fan it into flame, a blazing fire of words that forge a spirit sword to cut into the hearts of the lost and the weary and perform sacred surgery to shape the new woman or the new man. It’s just too important to ignore, and we must answer the call within us to speak the words that will encourage and heal, admonish and rebuke, and renew and restore.

The second thing we need to have is the humility of our humanity. One of the greatest dangers of being a writer is thinking that our writing is something that we accomplish on our own. Indeed, some writing is of our own making; that is the kind of writing that goes forth into the soil of other lives but bears no fruit. It sows a bitter seed yielding an unsatisfying harvest that does nothing to nourish or meet any need. But the writing that comes from a deeper source, from an eternal river that flows out from our transformed hearts, is life-giving: it channels the power and presence of God into fertile hearts and brings forth the fruit of peace and patience, joy and determination, gentleness and self-controlled living. It connects the God who has spoken to us with the souls of those who are ripe for the harvest and ready for the reaping. It can accomplish this, not because of anything we bring, but only because of what God has placed within us and graced us to do for Him.

When I find I’m too tired to write, when I’ve become discouraged and disgusted with the wrong I see around me, and when I’ve begun to doubt myself as a writer, I find myself coming back to these two eternal truths time and time again. I believe in the power of my writing and ground myself in the source of that power. I take hold of the gift and then release it with all the joy and fervor of a man sold out to the certainty that God can take one such as me and speak His wonderful words through my humanity and my spirit. It’s a truly liberating and satisfying experience – devoid of arrogance, but full of humility and the assurance that being a part of the ever-flowing river of God’s eternal voice can bring.

If He is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5), there is great comfort and great elation in being connected to the source of our life and the power of our giftedness as writers. We share in the tremendous privilege and the awesome responsibility to use our words in His name – to heal and to inspire and bring that same life-giving grace to others who are ready to receive. As you sit down today with pen in hand or keyboard at the ready, remember that you have the courage of your conviction and the humility of your humanity to serve as the fuel to stoke the fire of your spirit and pour forth into speech the words that will bring love and life to others. God bless!

I Quit? Reacquiring My Love for Writing

There comes a time in every writer’s life when he or she begins to despair of writing, when everything that has been produced seems like a collection of empty words, and where the desire to soldier on in pursuit of publishing seems to be a wasted endeavor. I recently went through a weird little writing distemper that took a bit of a toll on my mind and heart. In the past I’ve written about writer’s block but this was much different. When I have writer’s block I still desire to write; it’s just that at that particular moment I can’t. This was much more intense. I experienced a deep sense of loss over my writing – a feeling that nothing of what I had written before had ever really mattered, at least not in an eternal sense. I felt a total lack of desire to write anything of consequence for the foreseeable future, as if the muddy well of ideas within me had gone dry. There were a number of factors that contributed to this. The first was a prolonged period of work-related sleep-deprivation where I was getting only 3-4 broken hours of sleep a day. Added to that were rejections and non-responses from publishers about work I had submitted several months before. There were family issues and a host of household chores that needed my attention and the accompanying guilt that came from knowing I was not giving either my best. To top it off, there were stresses and changes at my work that were thrown into the mix for good measure, and the whole thing just led me to a deep and dark writer’s despair.

For weeks I was too tired and overwhelmed to even approach my keyboard, nor did I even have the desire to do so. I attempted to spend time reading my bible and listening to music, focusing on an upcoming summer hike and throwing myself into exercise, but these activities did little to lift my spirits. I was stuck in a pit of despondency of my own making and was in no mood to do anything as sensible as finding my way out of it. I knew on an intellectual level that writing would help break the cycle as it always had in the past, but emotional and physically stresses won out over the truth. I spent time on one of the writer’s websites I frequent looking for a distraction, but found too many collections of “random” thoughts from authors who were in a similar state of mind. Their brief, negative expressions of angst began to tear into my overly-empathetic soul, dragging me down to the places they now were sitting, adding to the already overcrowded pity party I had been throwing for myself. I thanked God that I didn’t give into temptation and begin writing my own collection of 187 three-lined free-verse poems about how miserable I happened to be feeling at that moment. It wasn’t that the poetry I was reading was meaningless; it’s just that in my inner madness such cries for significance were not what I needed at all.

So how did I break out of my little silly, sleepless, downhearted, dejected, whiny writing funk of which I spoke? The slow and steady beginning came when I made a deliberate choice to focus outside myself, something that seemed counterintuitive to a writer’s mind. My mind, however, needed a serious reboot and remaining in a self-centered state was not what I needed at all. I began by reinstituting family devotions with my wife and children; and to my surprise, I found that they took to them with great enthusiasm. Their insightful comments and beautiful prayers lifted my spirits and gave me a sense of hope. I also forced myself to attend the men’s weekly prayer times at our church, even though I found getting up at 5:30 in the morning a little difficult. Hearing my brothers sharing their struggles and raising their voices in praise broke through to my stubborn soul that was starved for something new. After that I started writing little love notes for my wife and buying flowers and going the extra mile to honor her in all she did for our family; and her response to my efforts was beautiful and gratifying – more than I deserved. Each time I put my melancholy self aside and ventured out into the world of other people’s feelings, I found myself talking another emotional step toward recovery.

We often forget that in order to rediscover the Spirit within that moves us to write, we must visit with Him where He lives and breathes in the lives of other people. We need to recognize Him in the music that each heart sings in its own unique way. We need to hear Him in the laughter and love of our families and friends and touch Him as we reach out to the sorrows and unmet needs of hearts that struggle to fill the emptiness within. We need to soak in the splendor of this world, broken as it is, but beautiful too. We need to get away and become still so that we can listen to the whispering words of the Savior who died to draw us to Himself in love. It’s a matter of reawakening those eternal memories, planted within us by an awesome and ever-living God, so that we can rediscover the timeless truth that we are loved with a perfect love, and that the voice inside us that usually blazes like a fire, can be fanned into a full flame once more. It’s in the connection we make to the world, to our purpose as agents of inspiration, and to the plan of our Great God set forth in time from timelessness, that we find the impetus to write with power and precision once more.

I’m back, writing with a new perspective, searching my soul for new songs and stories and uplifting words to stir hearts and lead weary souls to places of rest and refreshment. I may never be the author I sometimes dream I could be. I may never inspire more than a handful of hearts here and there. If that’s the case, I’ll continue to write anyway, for it’s in writing that I come closer to the One who places those words within my heart and moves me to share them with any ear that will listen. I’ll be content to let them flow out into the ether of the Internet until they find their way to the ones who were meant to read them and find hope and healing. I hope that those of you who write and have found your way out of your own writer’s despair will allow these words to resonate within your fiery hearts, and I hope that you’ll keep on “writing the good write” and pressing on, even when the dark times come and you find the words, “I quit!” bubbling up from within. Together let us fill this broken world with words that renew and refresh as we cause a few quitters to change their minds and chose to start again! God bless!

Meet the Gang – The Schizophrenia of Story Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how God uses those with the gift of words to spread a message of hope and healing to a weary world. For my part, I find that I do that best when I write a story. There’s something mystical and magical about cooperating with the Creator in fashioning my fictional world, filling it with characters, setting the story in motion and letting it take me where it will. It leaves me contemplating the nature of the God who said, “Let there be light!” and then breathed life into the chaos of the universe to set the whole of humanity on a path toward eternity. Now, I don’t mean to compare myself with God, but I will say that the process of writing a story does help me to appreciate the perfection of God’s plan and the meticulous care that He exercises in bringing it to completion.

Story writing mirrors that power in so many ways; and for that reason, I develop a deep emotional attachment to each and every story I create. My characters are a part of who I am, for I’ve fashioned them in my own image and likeness and breathed my own life into them. They reflect my personality, my past experiences, and my future hopes. But, unlike my heavenly Father, my characters also represent my faults and failings, my insecurities and instabilities, and every little longing and striving that is working itself out in my own life. Their tears have been shed by my eyes; their laughter resembles my own; and I find a deep and lasting sense of satisfaction in bringing them through their journeys and guiding them by my keyboard to the fulfillment of the purposes for which they were created.

It is not without its costs, however. While the Lord of the Universe remains the same yesterday, today and forever, I continue to grow and develop one stumbling step at a time. These characters spill out of my innermost self, and they demand unwavering honesty from me. They refuse to be written in a way contrary to who they are and who they are becoming. So, try as I might to water down their personalities or mitigate their actions, they remain true to themselves and true to the overall purpose of the story. Because of them I find myself standing in a place of complete vulnerability. If my story is to remain true to itself – and I desire that with every fiber of my being – I must expose myself through my characters and allow them be all that they are. Otherwise, the story falls short and the characters become ghosts that never truly take on permanent form.

But therein lies the most exciting part of the whole endeavor! In that vulnerability, as I open up the treasure chest of hidden hurts and joyful expectations in my heart, I invite the reader to enter into the insanity that is me: that inner madness and eternal beauty that combine to express who I am and how I see the universe. I give a life to each character in the story: a personality and a set of values and desires that set each one on a journey that works itself out as the story unfolds. Now I confess that I don’t know how this process works for every other writer. I remember going to a seminar on writing and listening while the speaker outlined the process for creating the “perfect story.” As she went over her list of dos and don’ts for novel writing, I found myself unable to check off any of her boxes. We were told to write the entire story without stopping; but I laughed, for my writing was so disjointed and random and open-hearted that to follow that path would have driven me crazy! She talked about outlining the plot before even starting, editing the story as one unit at the end and finding a professional to critique the project (one of the services she also happened to offer!). With each new step in her process I found myself feeling more and more like my writing had evolved out of some insane alternate universe and would never be acceptable to the normal humans on this planet. The fact that she told me never to publish the project into which I was currently pouring my heart and soul, while still offering to critique my writing (apparently to “save it”) didn’t help matters either.

I’ll tell you that the cast of characters from that particular novel were quite pleased that I beat a hasty retreat from her little self-centered world of conventional wisdom. Had I chosen to stay and listen to her advice, they would never have come to life over the airwaves of the radio station where I worked, and they would never have touched a single heart! Somehow, despite my failure to follow the “professional guidance” I had received, the story made its way to its exciting conclusion and the characters fulfilled their purposes and completed their journeys; and it all took place through my strangely wonderful, randomly beautiful way of writing the story from beginning to end.

I have a deep love for the characters in my stories. When I find them going in a direction that puts them in harm’s way or brings them to a sorrowful place, I mourn with them. When they triumph over adversity and discover new insights about themselves, I rejoice with them too. I’ve fallen in love with heroines, raged against enemies and encouraged major characters to continue their journeys to the end. It’s an awesome responsibility and an incredibly transforming experience for the writer to take on the task of bringing the family of characters within a story to life, shaping their inner emotional worlds, their actions and their aspirations, and weaving them into the story that they help to shape. For it is in carrying out this powerful artistic path that we are transformed as well.

Writers really need to embrace their own brand of Multiple Personality Disorder and press on boldly in whatever fashion their imaginative minds chose to drive their stories. If methodical methods are your thing, I say be as compulsively creative as you need to be! If you jump around from scene to scene, allowing your characters to correct your deviations along the path of your story, then leap with all the joy you can muster, knowing that in the end you’ll get there just the same. Make friends with the people you bring to life, love them as you would love those in the “real” world – for they represent a reality that exists on a level that is wonderful and wild and fascinating and free! If it feels like playing God – and it sure does for me – just make sure you pray over your creation with the same kind of love that our Father pours out over His. In the end, you’ll accomplish wondrous things as you draw your readers into your world and connect them to their personal stories and their own inner family as well!

Writer's...Um...Er...Oh Yeah - Block!

It’s the most disturbing occurrence – next to a malfunctioning spell checker – that any writer will ever face. It’s the moment when all time and space compress into a chasm of darkness so deep and so horrifying as to cast doubts on one’s sanity and debunk the meaning of life. It strikes the mind and heart of the aspiring author with a sickness of soul so profound that he or she is forced to question his or her original decision to pick up pen or keyboard in the first place. Yes, we all know it as – (Queue the dramatic music, please!) – “Writer’s Block.”

You may laugh or even get angry with me over my teeny exaggeration; but for a creative writer, going through a period where there is neither the impetus nor the desire to move forward with a writing project is unsettling to say the least. I used to dread the occasional bout of Writer’s Block, not because I saw it as a precursor to some future mental degeneration, but because it gave me time to contemplate my purpose in life as it applied to my yet-unachieved fame as an author. While waiting on my apparently unmotivated muse to supply me with my next prize-winning phrase, I would start to wonder whether my writing had any real value at all and whether I was even a good writer in the first place. But that was before I learned to transform my perception of just what Writer’s Block really is and how it can serve a profound purpose in shaping our craft as writers.

Writer’s Block can indeed stem from a sense of under-appreciation and underachievement. When we’re struggling to give birth to our latest, greatest masterpiece, it’s easy for us to think about the masses of ungrateful publishers and consumers who have yet to notice our greatness and wonder where we went wrong. Our writing is also often derailed by those many “less important” distractions like our families, our jobs, or anything else that seeks to steal time away from our craft. We feel guilty for not spending more memorable moments with our kids and we’re worn out from doing all those day-to-day things we do to pay the bills and relate to the world. When we’re not writing, we feel unproductive, uninspired and unworthy. We’ll do anything to snap us out of our doldrums and reignite the spark we fear we’ve lost. But the beautiful truth is, barring a production deadline for a writing contract (and even then, this still applies), every once in a while we need to face our under-appreciated, under-achieving and totally distracted selves in order to cleanse our creative palates and discover a new idea or a fresh perspective on our writing.

Let me give you an example. Back when I was writing my second novel, I ran into a writer’s roadblock so big I thought I would never get back to my project. It was second part of a series I was finishing, one I feared would never break any Barnes & Noble selling records. In addition, I had started a new job that was demanding and distracting to say the least. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to move on in the story. The scene I was working on involved my version of the antichrist standing on the brink of world domination, poised to implement a world-wide mind-altering mass illusion that would cause the entire planet to fall at his feet in worship and submission. I knew the character needed to say something more than, “Throw the switch, boys!” but I couldn’t find the right words to place in his mouth, no matter how hard I prayed, researched or sought the advice of others. After a while I gave up and put the writing aside – reluctantly, I’ll admit – and decided to be done with it until the right inspiration came to me. 

After two weeks, I was able to move from a place of desperation to one of frustrated waiting, then on to hopeful anticipation, and finally a deeper openness to what the Spirit within wanted to say through me. Then one Sunday in church I was sitting in my seat ready to take notes on the sermon the pastor was about to preach. Suddenly he broke into a talk on Ezekiel, chapter 28. My ears perked up when he got to the second part of verse 12…

 

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“‘You were the seal of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

 You were in Eden,
    the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
    carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
    topaz, onyx and jasper,
    lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
    on the day you were created they were prepared.
You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
    for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
    you walked among the fiery stones.
You were blameless in your ways
    from the day you were created
    till wickedness was found in you.
Through your widespread trade
    you were filled with violence,
    and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
    and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
    from among the fiery stones.
Your heart became proud
    on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
    because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
    I made a spectacle of you before kings.
By your many sins and dishonest trade
    you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
    and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
    in the sight of all who were watching.
All the nations who knew you
    are appalled at you;
you have come to a horrible end
    and will be no more.’”

                                            Ezekiel 28:12b-19

I included the words to show you how perfectly they fit into my novel. It was as if God was saying, “You wanted a bad guy speech? Well, here you go!” It was flawless: the perfect words arriving at the perfect time – the bad guy speech of all bad guy speeches – complete with a neat and tidy built-in prophecy I knew I could never have come up with on my own! God had allowed me to take the time I needed to reform my mind into a vessel ready to receive the right words, right when I needed them! While the rest of the congregation was happily recording little snippets of wisdom from the pastor, I was hastily scribbling notes about how I could adapt this little bit of prophecy to my übervillain and once more hit the gas pedal on my project and bring it to completion. When I arrived home I immediately set to writing and the words flowed like a rushing river moving swiftly until it spills into the mighty sea! I was able to shape the sinister nature of the character while throwing in a good dose of foreshadowing for his fiery finish. After that, the rest of the story practically wrote itself! Eventually I published my novels in print and in audio form for radio – all because I let myself surrender to the lessons I could learn during my time away from my story!

We spend so much time trying to force our writing based on our misperceived notions of timeliness, productivity and worthiness that we forget that the true purpose of writing is to produce a work of art that stirs the hearts that are ready and waiting to receive what we have to say. And along with that, creative writing is meant to express our inner story and shape our own journey as writers and as human beings. That’s the beauty of writing: It transforms both the reader and the writer in the cosmic connection that takes place in the sharing of the written word. I understand the need for deadlines and the debilitating power of procrastination. But the end result that comes when we learn to use our Writer’s Block to transform us is well worth the time. It’s a wonderful reality that can’t be rushed into existence or manipulated into the beautiful form it is meant to take. When the writer allows the true process of Writer’s Block to unfold as he or she crafts a gift of poetry or prose for the ones who were meant to read it, all is right with the world!

So the next time you feel yourself coming to the preverbal brick wall in your writing, don’t give in to the feeling that you’re failing! Let your block become a pregnant pause in the message your heart longs to speak to a weary world. Do something else – go for a run, have a snack, love your family, do your job – whatever comes your way to do. But let the time away from your project help to refashion your mind, and your spirit and make you more open to receiving the message in whatever form it chooses to appear. I look forward to reading all the wonderful words that your next “Writer’s Block” brings out in you!


Mr. Monk and the Writer

I’ve always been fascinated with detective shows. I used to watch “Columbo” whenever it was on. the other day I was reminded of another of my favorite detective shows: “Monk.” For those who might be unfamiliar with the show, Adrian Monk is a former police officer with an Obsessive/Compulsive disorder who solves high profile murder cases. Monk’s wife, Trudy, was killed by a car bomb that was meant for him. The incident destroyed him emotionally caused his disorder to take on an extreme form. And although Monk is no longer able to function as a police officer, he now consults for the police, where his compulsive attention to detail actually helps him to notice things the police miss and in the end, to catch the killer every time.

Now what does this television character have to do with being a writer? It’s all about the reasons why I became so caught up in the show. Monk’s constant hand sanitizing and picture straightening and sidewalk crack sidestepping, make for some good laughs, but, to be honest, when I started watching, I made a decision not to look at the show from a comedic standpoint. I truly enjoy the show’s more serious side, which many people may miss.

Monk is a man who, in many ways, is trapped by who he is. The death of his wife has left him so fearful of life, so filled with self-doubt and so focused on his pain, that he can’t function in “normal” society. It seems as though he blames himself for his wife’s death and has become so obsessed with having every detail of his life perfect in order to either avoid facing that reality or simply to hold onto his sanity. And yet, he is able to use that struggle to his advantage when solving crimes. He can see what the others miss and hold details in a sort of mental storage bank until that part of his mind, always churning away in the background, is able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and solve the case.

I believe many writers find themselves living a “Monk” kind of existence. They have the ability to notice details that others miss and to view those details from a unique frame of mind. They are wired in such a way that everything they notice has a deeper meaning in connection to their own paths. They are able to store the little insights that present themselves each day and to work out their story unconsciously in the background in order to give life meaning and order. It can be a very lonely existence, one that many will not understand, and one that the writers themselves may not fully grasp.

As a Christian writer, I’ve often found myself doubting my call. After all, not too many people have the same passion or appreciate what they see in me. I’ve also found myself a bit out of place when it comes to working in the “real world” – the world of the “real paying job.” There have been times when I’ve been talking to other people who expect me to respond to their questions a certain way (much like Monk at his police review board hearings) and yet, I sit there thinking about the little details of thoughts or feelings or little writing projects floating around in my mind and long intently to share my deeper sense of what is going on in my head and heart. But, alas, I have often been misunderstood, even by family or friends or people at church.

One of the elements of the “Monk” show that many people miss is the fact that the other main characters (Captain Stottlemeyer, Lieutenant Disher, and Monk’s assistants (He had two at different times…) Sharona and Natilie. In a very curious way, they were are very much like Monk in one certain way. They each have their own obsessions: Stottlemeyer wants to look good, Disher wants his boss and Sharona to notice him, and Sharona and Natalie want to be perceived as more than just assistants. At times, the show makes them appear almost as neurotic as Monk himself. However, Monk and all his friends have one thing in common: they shine when they are doing the thing that they have been gifted to do, whether it is doing police work, taking care of Monk’s needs or solving unsolvable crimes. When these people are “right on” – doing what they do best – there is no comedy, no shakiness, and no faltering whatsoever. And Monk is the one who shines the brightest! It’s actually a pleasure to watch those times when Monk confronts and exposes the killer’s motive and actions. It is heroism at its best – to see someone who, though struggling with deep pain and dysfunction, is able to turn that pain to the good when it counts.

That is what keeps me going as a writer: the knowledge that my own struggles and that inner madness unique to me (Monk refers to his own uniqueness as a gift and a curse) is something God can turn to the good in order that I may take on the world and share the message that burns in my heart until I let it out. All the strange perceptions that I let percolate on the back burner of my brain do have meaning and there are times when I truly have that sense of being “right on” and in tune with God’s will. That’s when I’m able to pull it all together and produce something of worth, something I know comes from God’s Grace within me.

This is my encouragement to you, my fellow writers: the quirky, misunderstood, struggling writers who want so desperately to find their niche in this world and let loose the precious story within that only they can tell. Remember the example of Mr. Adrian Monk and keep that hope that all things will indeed work out to the good! Take care!

The Detours of Writing

There’s a delicate balance that any writer must deal with when once he or she decides in earnest to put words to paper, virtual or otherwise. It’s a two-fold aspect of the calling of the writer and I have found myself of late thinking more and more about what it means to my writing. I’m talking about the balance between trying to promote oneself as a writer, and losing oneself in the craft of writing and its sacred purposes. I know I need to find people willing to read, publish and pass on the words I have written, and I know how tempting it is to let that noble goal shape the kind of writing I do. The written word can have intrinsic power, but that power lies dormant if there are no readers who are moved by the words. At the same time, I must ask myself if what I’m writing truly reflects the spirit that moves me to write in the first place.

            In my quest to understand the process of getting published I’ve found that I can write the most wonderful words that express the loftiest of ideas, but there may not be a market for it. I’ve seen writing on websites that appears to me to be trivialities sensationalized or pain promoted for the sake of getting reads, likes and votes. I’ve even seen essays written on how to use certain techniques to increase the number of points on the scoreboard of a particular social media site: Write it a certain length but no more, update often, focus on these trendy topics, and write for this particular audience. People will brag about how their clever tactics have increased their visibility and brought them their fifteen minutes of fame. I’ve had to ask myself if this is truly what the writing game is all about.

            But then in my searching I come across something written in obscurity, written for love alone, written to share truth or artistry or deep emotions and ideas along a life path headed toward a discernable goal. Though I find myself captivated by such works, I also often find that they go relatively unnoticed. In corresponding with those particular authors, I’m lifted further still by the depth of their hearts and the intricacies of their minds. I then fall more in love with their stories and am the better man for it.

            So, is it to be one or the other? Am I destined to dive into the lower realms of sensationalism and pen titillating vignettes in order to make a name for myself; or must I hover in the place of anonymity while remaining true to the character of writing that reaches for lofty heights where hearts are moved and lives changed. And are these questions themselves an exercise in my own puffed up perception of myself? What is the answer for the author who wishes to see his or her work before the eyes of those who will truly appreciate it and cry out for more? I think it lies in detours.

            In my searching, the answer came to me in the form of voices struggling to express their anguish and their dreams in their writing. I went to a writing website and registered a persona, typed in all my information, pointed my future readers to my website and began posting material for consumption. I then began exploring the website and reading stories and poems from aspiring writers from all around the world. As I commented on their writings and sent notes of encouragement and appreciation, I began to build a following. As I continued to get to know these wonderful writers, I found myself bonding with them and sharing in the strength of their character and the struggles of their hearts. After a short while, my goal of reads, likes and votes seemed so inconsequential in comparison to growing in my relationship with these kindred spirits. That first “detour” along this new journey led me to consider what I was putting out on my own page.

            In response to the pain and depth of character I encountered, I began to write poetry that spoke to the particular needs I had found within the words others had written. However, rather than mimicking their angst-driven writing, I allowed their words of pain to transform my writing into something that could speak to both them and to me. I demonstrated my understanding of their struggles – for indeed, they had been struggles I too had endured – but I provided a hope that had grown out of my faith and transformed life experience. As I wrote, I found myself growing more connected to those whose writing I had come to admire so much, and growing more deeply in love with the craft of writing itself. Rather than writing to impress, shock, entice, or scratch ears itching for popular points of view, I wrote to share myself and my perspective.

            I don’t profess to have all the wisdom and insight; indeed, as a writer, I suffer from the same kind of inner madness that all serious writers possess. But I know that in writing from the heart in response to the need, in using words to fill a void or point the way while offering to walk that way as well, there comes a depth that is truly inspired by a muse more powerful than publicity and fame. In choosing to be who I am, a man of words, a wounded healing writer and a humble playwright on the stage of life, I find a profound peace and a sense of satisfaction that goes beyond the words themselves. I connect in the truest sense to the real purpose of writing: to inspire, to heal and to connect with weary travelers on the road we all must travel toward our ultimate home.

            The most amusing result of letting go and allowing the writing to take me where it – rather than I – wanted to go is I received more of those things I was searching for in the first place; only now they were put in their proper perspective. They became a means to meet even more fellow authors and to share more deeply in the joy of writing and its deeper, more eternal purposes!

            As I think about all this, I chuckle because I suppose I haven’t really given an answer to those who might have been seeking some insight into furthering one’s writing career. I suppose I detoured in another direction, and for that I don’t apologize, but simply offer it for what it is. I’ve found that my exceptional writing, the kind that touches people in a deeper part of their spirits, has always come when I allow the detours to come freely. Instead of achieving the goals I set up for myself, I’ve found that those goals are transformed as they are exposed to whatever comes up ahead on the road the detour has taken me. There is joy and freedom in that. Whether it will ultimately lead to more writing contracts and publication is yet to be seen. I do know for sure that my first book came as a result of a detour in the original goal. I had first written my first book as a means to further my career as a youth director, but its rejection led me to consider publishing houses, one of which was willing to invest in my writing and produce a modest little youth training book. My 8 years of radio writing came after I decided on a whim to apply for a full-time radio position and then settled for a small part-time spot on the airwaves better suited for opportunities to produce material and get it out for others to enjoy.

            As you seek to better yourself, don’t stop trying to find those who will read and comment and like and vote on your work. But don’t let it be the end in itself, but rather an avenue for making connections to your readers. Their stories and their hearts will lead you to places you may never have dreamed of going and direct you in ways you never thought possible. I’d love to hear your stories of how the little detours in your life and the balance you found between promotion and inspiration has led to wonderful new paths along the writing road!

The Lonely Way of the Writer: A Message for the New Year

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Every January 1st, many of us decide to come clean with our personal struggles and make resolutions to better ourselves in the days ahead. In the spirit of this new year, I have my own confession to make. I often suffer from periods of sorrow and loneliness so profound that I sometimes wonder how I am able to keep it together. Some of my depression is seasonal and comes from the hours I keep at work and the lack of a really good night’s sleep. Some of it comes from the trials I face and my struggle to endure them with courage and faith. But mostly it comes because, as a writer, I have discovered that I have an intensely empathetic connection to the world and a deep desire to use my words to respond to the pain around me with the love of the cross.

As a believer, I have learned to see the true purpose for my writing behind the delicate and yes, even dangerous, dance that takes place as I ponder the inner workings of my own soul and its relationship to the story of salvation. For the believing writer there is a reason for the deep and personal interior journeys we travel as we take hold of the inspired thoughts within us and fashion them into works of art for all the world to see. My New Year’s resolution this January is to stop apologizing for my inner insanity and to more fully embrace these periods of pain as a part of the madness that stirs the words within me and pushes them out onto the page.

Making the Mundane Meaningful

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I freely acknowledge one could argue that I am using my writing skills to take what appears to be a mundane part of the human condition and turn it into something nobler than it is. I do often wonder why I allow myself to take these little trips through the darkness. After all, who wants to live with a melancholy writer all the time? Certainly not my wife and kids. As a Christian, I should also be seeking the delightful above the despair, the passion above the pit. But there is something about the lonely path I walk that gives impetus and direction to the things I write. It is a powerful thing to take these messy little struggles of life and through my Christian faith create a mini cosmic chaos into which I speak life, call forth poetry and prose, and pronounce it all good.

I suspect I am not alone in this kind of personal struggle. I would think this sadness is a chief characteristic of almost every artist and, as such, is a gift from God. It is a gift because it allows us to travel to those inner realms into which most people dare not look. Like the seed that cannot grow until it is planted in the earth, each tomb-to-womb experience eventually cracks the shell of our understanding and allows the beauty of salvation’s story to spring forth from the fertile ground of God’s grace as a new shoot of hope. In the light of the Savior’s gaze we are able to cultivate the words within us into a beautiful work of art that reflects the great mysteries of the Godhead as revealed in His Son and lived out through His Church. This journey allows us not only to look into the gloom with open eyes, but to see the God of heaven who is light within that darkness. It points us to the love that allowed the Son to give His life for all our sins. It bonds us to the One who rose from the darkness of death and ascended to the heavenly places to experience the joy of redeeming the world. As writers, we take that experience and turn it into hope on the printed page. That kind of power is humbling but it is also glorious. It truly makes all the trials worthwhile!

Godly Writing vs. a Cheap Imitation

In more recent days I have seen a lot of writing that is dark, obtuse, and disordered; and I admit that I have at times been fascinated with the worlds these words explore. Because I want to share the Gospel with the lost, I know I must sometimes venture to where the lost reside, and that includes their writings. I want to understand not only the pain of others, but the lies about living to which the enemy leads them. Like Jesus entering the homes and lives of “sinners,” I need to bring His light to bear upon the darkness of worldly thinking as I lead those adrift on the waves of confusion to the safety of Christianity’s shore. Though I may at times enter into those dark places, I know I need to climb back out again; because, while the words point me to the struggles of these writers, they fall short of the real purpose of writing. 

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Those who dabble in this worldly writing might argue that if the words have taken me to a dark place and forced me for a time to sit and suffer, then the purpose for the writing has been fulfilled. But having seen the heights to which words have taken me, I find I must reject this explanation and refuse to remain in the shadows of such despair. Through my faith I have been called to soar above the clouds of confusion and seek the place where the light is warm upon my face. The suffering we experience in those times is only the thing that points us to something more. Our writing should follow a heavenly call and raise the reader out of the depths of despair and the dull routine of everyday existence. This way, the beauty and purpose of the trials we endure can find their fulfillment and lead us to new vistas and heavenly horizons.

Resolutions and Realizations

New Year’s Day is a call to renewal. I find it both amusing and profound that it takes place right after Christmas and in the middle of winter. One might think that it would be much more natural and practical to begin a new year at the start of spring. But I cherish that the Christmas Season unfolds with the Church year during the dark days of winter. It is a powerful picture of what it means to move from sin to salvation, from uncertainty to understanding. On the journey of salvation, we often come face to face with the darkness and coldness of our own inner winters. It is when we reach the darkest point that we must decide to move once again toward the light and seek the springtime of spiritual renewal in Christ that is to come. 

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God help me if I remain in the places into which my sorrow tries to take me. Lord, forgive me for lingering there too long when I go. I appreciate the lonely places inside my soul, and I am content to accept the darkness, so long as it leads me once more into the light where I am joined to truth and beauty and all that is good. I resolve that the words that are given birth within me by the Holy Spirit will mature into new hope to make the world in which I live a more blessed reality. God bless my writing brethren who understand the lonely life and the profound joy to which each journey can lead us if we take the time to push through the darkness to see the true purpose for which our artists’ hearts have been fashioned. May you embrace the sadness of your winters only long enough to cause you to yearn for the springtime ahead. May your gift for words raise each of you from the loneliness of your inner room to the altar of your keyboard, where your next great work of art is waiting to be composed! God bless!