The Fear I’ll be exposed for who I really am

At least once a week I have this overwhelming feeling of mortification and I seriously consider deleting my entire internet presence and going off the grid. It’s a mixture of embarrassment and horror that I would write and then share my work. I’ve been in the blogging game since ’03 (began with Myspace) so you’d think I’d be over this fear. I don’t know if the fear will ever fade.

I’m afraid I’ll be exposed as a fake and a fraud. That someone will call me out for what I really am, just a person thinking they know something about something when they don’t.

The fear is always present and is probably what holds me back with a lot of engagement not just online, but in person as well.

I have to remind myself who and what I am to get past this fear for the moment. I go through that list of identities (husband, son, writer, friend, brother, etc.) and remind myself most of all who I am in Christ.

This is just a reminder to remember who you are, how special and needed you are. Your story, your voice, your friendship, so very much needed.

How I measure my success as a writer

I used to base my success as a writer on publication. When that didn’t happen as often as I hoped, I changed it to how much I could accomplish. But since production varies on my schedule I changed how I measure success completely.

I now ask myself if I’ve done justice to the story. If the answer is no, then I keep writing. If the answer is yes, then I keep writing.

This is what our first drafts do to us

A friend once told me he wanted to write a book about marriage. He described each chapter in detail and told me his three keys to a successful marriage (sex was #3). I thought it was funny because he’d only been married for one year.

It’s thrilling to write what you care about. Some stories should probably wait to be written, allowing experience to sharpen the narrative. But then again, some stories need to just be written, to go through the process; to take in life, to possibly die and rise again.

I hope my friend writes that book and I hope he’s been writing it in the first years of his marriage. For when the story is ready and ripe he’ll see so much more of reality.

That’s what our first drafts do–our throw away and deleted paragraphs–they shape the way we see.

This is what happened when my Labs chased cattle

We had two black labs growing up. They were dumb as rocks and chased after anything that moved: footballs, nerf guns, cars, leaves, deer, cats, shadows, and tails. The sheriff arrived at our doorstep one day and said our dogs had chased some rancher’s cows and they were going to take them away. Apparently it was some kind of canine federal offense to chase cattle and the dogs had to serve the maximum punishment. Probably the death penalty.

My Dad had some friends over at the time doing a baseball fantasy draft back before it was even a thing on the internet. My older brother started crying and threatened to call the cops on these uniformed men who were taking the dogs away. I liked the dogs, but knew if they were gone it’d save me like a millions chores and I wouldn’t have to worry about leaving anything outside to get chewed up. But my brother threw this fit and said he would walk to wherever the dogs were being kept to free them. It embarrassed me in front of all Dad’s friends.

But now I wish I hadn’t been embarrassed. I don’t remember anyone’s face except for my brother’s. I don’t know what I could have done to save the dogs, but I could have done something to help my brother mourn.

It’s just one of those times when I close myself up to everything that’s going on around me. It’s an awareness thing, a selfishness thing, a compassion thing. Does it ever get to a point when what I’m chasing catches up to me? When I’m locked up completely behind my own selfishness and blindness?

This is what writing does for me: it opens locked doors.

I didn’t want to go inside the room with the coffin

I stood outside the room with the coffin and was asked if I wanted to go inside. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to see the body. I thought about my decision and hoped I wouldn’t later regret it, as if refusing to see the dead was like refusing an expensive gift. A gift of what though? Wisdom? Truth? Appreciation for life?

I think about what I would have seen, a pale wrinkled face in a bright and gaudy dress. The dress is blue in my mind and the body’s lips are bright red. If I had decided to see the body in the casket would I now remember? Would it be this real?

Does not seeing, but imagining bring more life to the image? Or more nothing, more imaginings and questions? My life is one where I refuse to go into the room to view the body because I don’t always need to see. I need to imagine.

I’m not talking about death or experiences. Sometimes creatives need to stand outside the crowded room to help us see what we’re really looking at.

Revel in the Process and you’re more likely to make it to the finishing line

Nothing is ever completely abandoned.

I become discouraged from projects without much discouragement. I make lofty long term goals and remind myself of them to stay motivated. But I still get so discouraged. I learned I’m going about it all wrong. These scientists concluded,

External rewards can backfire. Offer a child treats for making pretty drawings and whereas they used to scribble away for the sheer joy of it, now they’ll only put pen to paper for that candy you promised. The difference here is that Fishbach and Choi believe that our intrinsic motivation can be imperilled even without the offer of rewards from a third party. By focusing on the ultimate goals of an activity, we risk destroying our intrinsic motivation all by ourselves…

Visualize your goals to help get yourself started in the first place, but once you’re underway, try to let your long-term mission fade a little into the background. Revel in the process and you’re more likely to make it to the finishing line. (via 99%)

I always thought it’d be the other way around. I focus on having a book finished and published. I don’t even think about it selling well, just published. But my focus should be in the moment of the sentence, the paragraph, the chapter, the characters, etc.

But what happens when you get stuck, when it’s not any fun, when the present moment sucks and won’t make any progress?

One way to move toward creative thinking (heating the crystal) when your thinking has crystallized is to forget your problem and think about some other unrelated subject. Then conceptually blend the two dissimilar subjects to provoke different thinking patterns in your brain. These new patterns will make new connections which will give you different ways to focus your attention and different ways to interpret what you are focusing on. It is impossible to think of two or more dissimilar subjects, no matter how unrelated, without connections being formed.

Think for a moment about a pinecone. What relationship does a pinecone have with the processes of reading and writing? In France, in 1818, a 9-year-old boy accidentally blinded himself with a hole puncher while helping his father make horse harnesses. A few years later the boy was sitting in the yard thinking about his inability to read and write when a friend handed him a pinecone. He ran his fingers over the cone and noted the tiny differences between the scales. He conceptually blended the feel of different pinecone scales with reading and writing, and realized he could create an alphabet of raised dots on paper so the blind could feel and read what was written with it. In this way, Louis Braille opened up a whole new world for the blind. (via PT)

I did this very thing, started thinking about paintings on iPads and then my brain was making all kinds of connections and metaphors to the main subject on my mind.

What’s your intrinsic motivation?
or
What has you stuck?

The Photograph was Different than My Memory


I write fiction in one notebook. And when I have a thought about something outside of my story I write it down in another notebook. I call this, for lack of a better term, my creative non-fiction note book. When I’m stuck I go to my non-fiction. I write what I’ve already experienced and must go back and rediscover in my memory.

This past week I’ve been writing about my two older brothers and specifically a scene with one of them where we found a rock that had split in two. I wrote about the corner of the backyard where we found it. Then later in the week, my father, without knowing about my writing subject, said he found something, and brought down an old picture of my older brother and me, standing in that corner of the backyard I’d been writing about.

The picture was different than my memory. But I don’t think I will change that in my story. My memory feels more real.

But it isn’t the details that are the most affecting, either from my memory or the picture, it’s what I felt. It’s the joy I had of playing in the backyard with my brother, and it’s the joy that returns looking at the photograph of us.

Two memories, two brothers, two pieces of one rock, but one shared and treasured happiness.

What childhood memories do you go back and rediscover?

He has lost the soul of childhood

In my own study of creativity, I continue to come back to memories, especially memories of childhood. Those memories contain a power I hadn’t realized. I will continue to go back to them. For in them is something of a clue or a key. Of which Georges Bernanos touches on through his character Curé de Torcy, a priest:

Poor blokes! They’ve worn everything threadbare–even sin. You can’t have a “good time” just because you want to. The shabbiest tuppeny doll will rejoice a baby’s heart for half the year, but your mature gentleman’ll go yawning his head off at a five-hundred franc gadget. And why? Because he has lost the soul of childhood. Well, God has entrusted the Church to keep that soul alive, to safeguard our candor and freshness.

–from Georges Bernanos’ novel The Diary of a Country Priest

My younger fellow novelists are greatly preoccupied with technique. They seem to think a good novel ought to follow certain rules imposed from outside.

I want to lace together snippets of François Mauriac’s 1953 interview in the Paris Review, specifically where he’s talking about the novel. I lived unaware of Mauriac until I read Gregory Wolfe’s Beauty Will Save the World. His best books I can’t even buy at Powell’s. He was highly influential for many of America’s esteemed writers.

My opinion hasn’t changed. I believe that my younger fellow novelists are greatly preoccupied with technique. They seem to think a good novel ought to follow certain rules imposed from outside. In fact, however, this preoccupation hampers them and embarrasses them in their creation. The great novelist doesn’t depend on anyone but himself. Proust resembled none of his predecessors and he did not have, he could not have, any successors. The great novelist breaks his mold; he alone can use it. Balzac created the “Balzacian” novel; its style was suitable only for Balzac.

There is a close tie between a novelist’s originality in general and the personal quality of his style. A borrowed style is a bad style. American novelists from Faulkner to Hemingway invented a style to express what they wanted to say—and it is a style that can’t be passed on to their followers…

I believe that the crisis of the novel, if it exists, is right there, essentially, in the domain of technique. The novel has lost its purpose. That is the most serious difficulty, and it is from there that we must begin. The younger generation believes, after Joyce and Proust, that it has discovered the “purpose” of the old novel to have been prefabricated and unrelated to reality…

The crisis of the novel, then, is metaphysical. The generation that preceded ours was no longer Christian, but it believed in the individual, which comes to the same thing as believing in the soul. What each of us understands by the word soul is different; but in any case it is the fixed point around which the individual is constructed.

Faith in God was lost for many, but not the values this faith postulates. The good was not bad, and the bad was not good. The collapse of the novel is due to the destruction of this fundamental concept: the awareness of good and evil. The language itself has been devalued and emptied of its meaning by this attack on conscience.

Observe that for the novelist who has remained Christian, like myself, man is someone creating himself or destroying himself. He is not an immobile being, fixed, cast in a mold once and for all. This is what makes the traditional psychological novel so different from what I did or thought I was doing. The human being as I conceive him in the novel is a being caught up in the drama of salvation, even if he doesn’t know it.

The function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different – Italo Calvino

On September 18th, 1985, an Italian writer named Italo Calvino was preparing to fly to Massachusetts to deliver a series of lectures at Harvard University. He’d worked obsessively on the lectures and struggled with what to title them. As his wife tells the story, “Calvino was delighted by the word “memos,” after having thought of and dismissed titles such as “Some Literary Values,” “A Choice of Literary Values,” “Six Literary Legacies,”–all of them ending with “Sei Proposte Per Il Prossimo Millennio” (Six Memos for the Next  Millennium).”

Instead of departing for the US, he was admitted to a hospital in Siena where he died during the night of a brain hemorrhage. His lectures were published posthumously.

Since in each of my lectures I have set myself the task of recommending to the next millennium a particular value close to my heart, the value I want to recommend today is precisely this: In an age when other fantastically speedy, widespread media are triumphing, and running the risk of flattening all communication onto a single, homogeneous surface, the function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them, following the true bent of written language…

My work as a writer has from the beginning aimed at tracing the lightning flashes of the mental circuits that capture and link points distant from each other in space and time…Just as it is from the poet writing verse, so it is for the prose writer: success consists in felicity of verbal expression, which every so often may result from a quick flash of inspiration but as a rule involves a patient search for the mot juste, for the sentence in which every word is inalterable, the most effective marriage of sounds and concepts…one that is concise, concentrated, and memorable.