Writing is Like Running

I write and edit all day most days. Still, trying to write my own thing after almost a month of keyboard silence is like trying to learn to write for fun all over again. I'm gritting my teeth and frowning at my screen, trying to intimidate it into yielding high-caliber work. So far, all my laptop has done is stare back at me with a bored, mildly amused expression. Occasionally it yawns and asks if I'm done yet. I can take a hint. Maybe (not).

Self-admitted, I'm not a poet—I respect the art, but it's never been my choice of medium. Well, not for a long time. When I first learned that poems didn't really have to rhyme or have any structure, I went poem-crazy. Filled up a notebook at least, with fine work. It was really quality stuff, like:

The sky is blue today
I see the blue sky and the green grass
and I hope to get a letter
from grandma in the mail.

That phase passed, though (to everyone's relief). Now I realize that poetry is in a class alone, especially for communicating emotion and ideas simultaneously. But sometimes it's also in a class of complete nonsense, which nobody admits because It's so deep and beautiful that it thwarts my comprehension. Or, as us common folk would say, I don't get it. In an effort not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I read poetry when I come across it and try very hard to decipher it. I have probably a 60 percent success rate. It's tricky for a total literalist like me, who reads:

I spilled the milk
all over the floor

And thinks, What a bummer. Did you clean it up or did you call the dog in? A skilled poetry-interpreter reads the SAME THING and is on the verge of tears because they see the author grieving over an immeasurable loss that will have more than one implication on his future.

And I'm over here thinking, Never mind, I give up. I'll just try to color inside the lines with my crayons. Let me know when recess starts.

But enough is enough. I wasted a lot of your time with nonsense about poetry (which I really do think is great), because I'm secretly hoping maybe you won't actually get to my poem because YES, writers are occasionally nervous about people reading their stuff.

In the rhythm of life
writing is like running.

Do it all the time
and you'll breeze past obstacles
with long, steady sentences
and barely break a sweat.

Start when you're out of shape
and it's agony
as you try to say something
but can't because
you just

Reading good writing,
like watching people run,
is motivating
Maybe someday I could be that good
but only if you work very, very hard
and I promise it won't always be fun.

And if there's a point
if it's to win a race
or deliver a message
or beat a personal record
then there is delight in the accomplishment.

But if it's obligation
or duty
then word after word feels like
misery and never-ending drudgery.

Start now
practice always
and focus on Someone that matters.

That's the best way to do it
in running too
but especially
in writing.

Your Certain Future


It's interesting how you feel strongly about different things at different points of life. When I was a kid, it was all about fairness with my brothers and sisters. In high school I felt strongly about my independence and how I was right about everything. In college I realized that I didn't know anything in high school. I also felt strongly about wanting friends, relationships, a certain future.

When I graduated, I felt accomplished, and at the same time worthless as I interviewed for multiple jobs and didn't get any of them. When I started my first full-time job, I felt 1 percent secure and 99 percent panicked, afraid of failure and ridicule.

It's easy to forget feeling strongly for those things, because I'm not in any of those stages right now.

I look around and see people who I love and care about in all different stages—waiting for a job, waiting to work their passion, waiting for children, waiting for love, waiting for reconciliation—and I'm reminded that every stage of life has strong feelings. Many of them are marked by waiting for an uncertain future, and many of them are extremely painful.

Part of mourning with those who mourn (and wait, and hope) is understanding that I can't say anything to fix your current situation. I don't know your future.

But God does. And He is good.

Writers: Giving Words Purpose

Letters and words alone have no significance—it's when someone strings them together that they take on meaning. Chip Kidd, in his introduction to Just My Type, says,

"Let's consider the English alphabet: twenty-six purely abstract symbols that in and of themselves mean absolutely nothing, but when put together in the right combinations can introduce into the heads of readers an infinite variety of sounds, smells, tastes, feelings, places, people, characters, situations, feelings, ideas."

Without a purpose, words become meaningless. With a purpose, Chip adds,

Entire universes are born out of just a few sentences, and can be just as quickly destroyed.

Writing well is creating a world that your reader can enter without trying, and communicating an idea so clearly a child could explain it from your description. To give words successful purpose, a writer must know a) what they want to say and b) how to say it.

The purpose without the talent is inarticulate passion.

The talent without the purpose is empty vocabulary.

Why Repetition?

A lot of life is about repetition. We wake up in the morning. Do some sort of workout. Eat. Get ready for work. Go to work. Daily grind, daily grind, finish some projects, eat lunch, daily grind, get off work. Make dinner. Eat dinner. Do dishes. Do a few small things. Go to bed.

Wake up in the morning. Do some sort of workout . . .

You get the point, probably because you do some iteration of it. Over time, we work ourselves into ruts. We eat this for breakfast—because it's what we always eat. We go food shopping at this time—because it's when we always go. We wear this dress to weddings, walk that route to school, listen to this music in the shower—because it's how we've been doing it for years

Repetition makes some things better—if you write every day, little by little, you'll become a more clear, effective writer. If you paint every day, you'll be quicker, sharper, cleaner. If you chop wood, you'll get stronger. If you give IVs, you'll be faster. If you cook, your food will taste better (unless you always burn it or use bad recipes. But that's a different topic for a different day).

Repetition makes some things worse—if you fight with your husband (wife, brother, parent, neighbor) every day, you'll get better at fighting (and conversely, worse at agreeing, and relationships, and being friends in general). If you follow the same mind-numbing routine every day, it's easy to lose sight of the small beauties and tiny moments that make the humdrum magnificent.

There's a two-fold point: 

1) Make sure you're repeating the right things. Choose the good things (creating beauty, loving, being kind) and scrap the bad (picking fights, disrespecting, being malicious). In the long run, when your character ruts run deep, you'll be glad you did. So will everyone else. 

2) Remember why you're doing what you're doing. If you're creating (or any verb) every day, it's easy to become disenchanted with your craft. But when the going gets tough, remember why you began in the first place. Everyone has different reasons, but many artists share at least one:

Because I love it, and I must create . . .

Turn of Phrase

Merriam-Webster, the be-all and end-all of word definitions, capitalizations, and spellings, defines turn of phrase as a way of saying or describing something.

One of the key aspects of being a writer is your turn of phrase. As a writer, if you can't say what you want to say well, no one will listen. If you aren't able to articulate points 1) clearly, 2) concisely, and 3) engagingly (I couldn't think of a good c-word for that one), not many people will read your writing. When you're a writer you have to think before you write, consider the implications of what you've written, and study the back story of what you're covering so you know the whole story.

After all, you want to give the correct impression and send the right message. Writing is a big responsibility.

It's not difficult to pick it out when another writer has good turn of phrase, because their writing makes you want to keep reading or makes you stop and think. It's inspiring because if someone else can do it well, you can do it well too.

The best part about writing is that no matter how you feel about your skills today, there's always room to improve. It's all about 10,000 hours and not stopping when you get there.

*Not a writer? Try replacing writer and writing in the paragraphs above with your noun and verb—politician, librarian, professor, businessman, doctor, pilot, actor—and see if it doesn't apply to you too.

You're Born with Talent

I have written thousands of words today, but promised myself I'd write a post before I a) cleaned a little more and b) went to bed. Thankfully, the post doesn't have to be long. You'll probably like it better if it's short. So will I.

They say you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at anything. That means we're all good at sleeping, and probably before anyone gets too old we're experts at eating too. You're likely also a pro at bathing and breathing, but what do you do that you had to learn (suspend the detail-oriented side of yourself that reminds me you had to learn to eat and bathe)?

What are you good at? What do you want to be good at? What can you do that takes specific knowledge?

Choose something to become an expert at, and then practice. You're born with talent, but you earn skill.

Home is Where You . . .

We've all heard myriad "home" sayings . . .

Home is where the heart is
Home is not a place, it's a feeling
Home is where our story begins
Home is where the anchor drops
Home is where my bunch of crazies are (my personal favorite)
Home is where the horse is
and etc. etc. etc.

Every saying came from somewhere. Someone had an epiphany and wrote it down or made a picture or sang a song. Then they sold it, gave it to someone, or just started saying it all the time. You know what happens next. It's how creating works.

You realize something that's inexplicably true for human nature, and you find out how to express it, and you tell other people, and they realize it's true too. Then the message spreads.

When you're thinking about how and what to create, remember two things:

1) Create with the truth in mind, because that's what people are looking for. 
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (saw Him, proclaimed Him)

2) Create with human nature in mind, because people want to personally relate.
The sun will come out tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar. (optimism, hope)

Create often by these guidelines, because even if you don't become famous for every single (song you sing, picture you paint, word you write) thing, practice makes better, and better is better. And who knows, maybe something you create will catch on.

Settling Down to Write

Sometimes, the hardest thing about settling down to write is, well, settling down to write.

I usually finish dinner, put the dishes in the sink, and sit down to start—then get distracted because I want to clean or cook or draw or read or go outside, or all of the above. These desires seem especially prevalent when I stop moving and start thinking about words.

Sometimes, I give in to my chore-oriented urges. I promise I'll just do something else real quick, but inevitably it takes more time than I planned and soon my train of thought is derailed before it left the station. Gone forever.

The longer and the more I write, the more I realize two things:

To become a better writer, you have to have staying power. If you're getting up and doing something around the house every ten minutes, your writing will show it. It'll be disjointed, and only half-thought out, not to mention it'll take you five times longer to finish things. To get better at something, you have to stick to your commitment to improve, no matter what you remember needs to be done.

To become a better writer, you have to prioritize. When I finished The Cup during my senior year of college, I spent most of August, all of September, and the first half of October inside hunkered over my computer, watching longingly as the autumn days passed in all their charm and mystique. You have to practice to get better, and if you're serious about getting better, you'll have to say no to other things.

When it comes down to it, writing follows the rule of everything else in life: if you want to get better, you have to make some sacrifices.

The Marvel of Christmas

The marvel of Christmas is that God sent His Son to the earth to be human—to breathe like we do, eat like we do, and cry like we do. God dropped His infant Son into a city too full, a temple too suspicious, and a race (the human one) doomed to sin no matter what. He gave heaven's royalty to be earth's sacrificial lamb, so weary, broken sinners could receive eternal life. That's the marvel of Christmas (although there's really so much more).

The marvel of the rest of the year is that it's always true, not just for the month of December. I personally think we should celebrate the meaning of Christmas all year long.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

The Feelings of Christmas

There are two kinds of feelings: the feelings that you feel, and the feelings that you touch. Even though almost one hundred percent of our days are spent experiencing feelings of touch, we focus much more on the feelings that we're feeling (happy, sad, disgruntled, content).

The first Christmas was full of emotional feelings, which we've all thought about before—a virgin feeling wonder at bearing a child, a righteous man feeling responsibility that he would be raising the Son of God, local shepherds feeling terrified at the whole heavenly host showing up at their campground—but we seldom think of the touch feelings when Jesus entered human skin.

The historical assumption is that Jesus was born some time in September, so the Bethlehem climate was warm and dry. Sleeping in the stable with the animals would be no big deal (besides the other obvious hesitations).

Mary didn't give birth on a hospital bed, and maybe there wasn't even a bench or couch. She could have been just sitting on a pile of straw or hay, or even just the dirt. Straw always pokes something—readjust one poke, and you're just getting poked somewhere else. And soon you start to itch.

Mary delivered her baby and wrapped him in a scrap of cloth (whatever they hand on hand) and placed him in a manger. It was likely rough hewn wood, liable to scape his baby cheeks and snag the already rough material.

God, a baby. Mary and Joseph's wonder, befuddlement, and downright astonishment probably left a stronger impression than the itching straw, the warm air, and the wooden crate where they laid the Son of God. But I'm sure they remembered it.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger.