Courage, Creativity, and Community

Do you want to work and create out of a sense of abundance rather than scarcity? Here’s a good thing to remember: If you are doing good work, everybody else who is doing good work is your ally, not your competitor. To that end, a true story…

Earlier this spring, a friend of mine asked me to contribute a story to a collection he was putting together. I look forward to telling you more about that story collection when the publication date gets closer, but that’s not the point of this letter. The point of this letter is to tell you about something that happened over in the Habit Membership that gave me a lot of hope and served as a reminder of what it means to create in community.

The aforementioned collection was still short three or four stories, so I put out a call for stories to the writers at the Habit Membership. The writers started writing, then they started posting their stories in the membership forum. Then they started giving one another helpful feedback and encouragement, and that emboldened other writers in the group to write and post their own stories, and a virtuous cycle developed, of creativity and courage and excellence.

In the end, Habit members didn’t just contribute three or four stories to the collection: THIRTEEN of their stories were selected, showering the Habit Membership in glory.

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The Habit Podcast Turns 100

“This Week on The Habit Podcast” is usually the last section of this letter, but this week I’m promoting the podcast to the main body of the letter in order to celebrate a milestone: we just released the hundredth episode. To commemorate, we put together a retrospective of the first ninety-nine episodes. I asked listeners to send me their favorite moments from the last two years of The Habit Podcast. Then I sat down with producer/engineer Drew Miller to play through those favorite clips and discuss them. Then Asher Peterson, the podcast’s new producer/engineer, put it all together into an episode that I think you’ll really enjoy. Actually, Asher put it all together into two episodes. This week’s retrospective is part 1 of 2. Part 2 will release next week.

I love doing the podcast because it gives me a reason to do more of what I like to do anyway: I talk to people I want to talk to about the things I like to talk about, then invite people to listen in on those conversations. We start out talking about writing (the tagline, after all, is “Conversations with Writers About Writing”), but since writing touches on all of life, the conversations end up being very wide-ranging.

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Knowledge Is Power. France Is Bacon.

Last week my friend and nemesis John Barber posted a very funny story that first appeared on Reddit ten years ago, posted by a Lard_Baron in response to the question, “What is a word or phrase that you totally misunderstood as a child?”

When I was young my father said to me: “Knowledge is power, Francis Bacon.” I understood it as “Knowledge is power, France is bacon.”

For more than a decade I wondered over the meaning of the second part and what was the surreal linkage between the two. If I said the quote to someone, “Knowledge is power, France is Bacon,” they nodded knowingly. Or someone might say, “Knowledge is power” and I’d finish the quote “France is bacon,” and they wouldn’t look at me like I’d said something very odd, but thoughtfully agree. I did ask a teacher what did “Knowledge is power, France is bacon” mean and got a full 10-minute explanation of the “knowledge is power” bit but nothing on “France is bacon.” When I prompted further explanation by saying “France is bacon?” in a questioning tone, I just got a “yes.” At 12 I didn’t have the confidence to press it further. I just accepted it as something I’d never understand.

It wasn’t until years later I saw it written down that the penny dropped.

My other friend Carolyn Givens asked “does this qualify as a mondegreen?” I didn’t know what a mondegreen was, so I went down a rabbit hole…

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Season 3, Episode 17: Lancia Smith Serves the Whole Writer

Lancia Smith is the founder of Cultivating, a quarterly online magazine, and the Cultivating Project, a nurtured community of writers and artists committed to pursuing spiritual maturity and creative excellence. Lancia writes about brilliant people doing brilliantly good things related to faith, character formation, and the creative arts. She is also a photographer and portraitist. In this episode, Lancia and I talk about the relationship between editing and discipleship, the balance of sensitivity and maturity, and the habit of cultivating wonder.

Ordinary and Clichéd: Not the Same Thing

Last week my son William sent me a link to this conversation between George Saunders (whom I have mentioned several times in the last couple of months) and Jason Isbell, one of my very favorite songwriters. If you have 54 minutes, I encourage you to watch the whole thing. If you only have 43 minutes, I encourage you to watch the whole thing at 1.25x speed.

About six and a half minutes into the conversation, George Saunders asks Jason Isbell where his song ideas come from. Here’s part of what Isbell has to say on the matter:You train yourself to look in the corners that everybody doesn’t think to look in, and you train yourself to hear the conversations that most people aren’t paying attention to, and you get better at pulling those threads out.That’s great advice, whether you write fiction or nonfiction or poetry or songs. For that matter, it’s great advice for those areas of life that don’t directly relate to writing. Pay attention. Notice what other people aren’t noticing and show it to them.

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Objectivity and Subjectivity

Objectivity and subjectivity are terms that get used in so many different ways and with so many different agendas that one is tempted to give up on them. But I think there’s still some goodie left in these terms: they can be especially helpful for a writer trying to figure out what to write next, as we’ll see in a minute. But first, a preface and some definitions.

To speak of objective facts is to appeal to realities that exist outside our own heads. Reality, as I have often said before in this space, is that which continues to exist whether you believe it or not. But as every sophomore has learned, all human knowledge is filtered through the individual’s subjective experience. That is to say, your perception, understanding, and interpretation of reality is unavoidably different in some degree from my perception, understanding, and interpretation of reality. In its least nuanced, most sophomoric formulation, this idea is stated thus: “All truth (or, perhaps, morality) is subjective (or, perhaps, relative).”

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Season 3, Episode 16: Steven Roach Invites You to Be Creative

Stephen Roach is a poet, musician, speaker, and creative coach. He hosts the Makers and Mystics podcast and is the founder of The Breath and the Clay, a creative arts movement. His latest book, a collaboration with Ned Bustard, is Naming the Animals: An Invitation to Creativity. In it, Stephen and Ned make the case that creativity isn’t just a talent given to the chosen few, but an invitation extended to all, an essential part of God’s design for partnership for humanity.

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