The Habit Membership is a remarkably hospitable and generous community of writers. I get the impression that people tend to join the membership for the writing instruction (which, I hope, they find to be exceedingly helpful), but they stay for the good fellowship with likeminded writers. Writing can be a lonesome endeavor; it has been one of the great pleasures of my professional life to have built a little space on the Internet where writers can give one another a little more courage and spur one another on to do more and better work.
That spirit of generosity and encouragement has come into particular focus recently in a discussion thread started by writer Katie Williams, called “Writer, I See You (words of encouragement from your Habit friends).”
Here’s how Katie introduced the thread:
Since this community is full of writers, what if we shared some notes of encouragement here regarding the common hardships we all face along the writing road? …
Think of it like getting together with a discouraged writing buddy over a cup of coffee. What would you say to someone if they told you:
- They’re battling imposter syndrome
- They can’t find time to write
- They have the time, but would rather retreat into mind-numbing distractions (like TV, video games, house cleaning, etc. . . . not saying those things are bad, but those of us who struggle with them know how easily they can become a regular alternative to doing creative work)
- They’re facing writer’s block
- They’ve just received a rejection or a negative review and are doubting the validity of their work
- Writing feels lonely
- Writing seems hard:
My hope is that this might become a collaborative little treasure trove of “extra courage,” to be jotted in journals, scribbled in scrapbooks, printed out and posted by the writing desk, or just kept here, in the Habit sphere, to be visited and re-visited whenever the writing road feels especially daunting.
I thought we would all benefit from a few of the words of encouragement that the writers of The Habit Membership are sharing with one another. (And if you’re a writer who would like to join our ranks, we’d be very glad to have you.)
Since Katie Williams started this whole thing, we’ll start with her “Dear Writer Friend” letter:
Dear writer friend,
I see you there, hunkered in the hollow of your fatigue, weary from the pace of living in this frantic whirlwind world. Your mind is tired, your spirit discouraged, and you yearn to escape into the pleasure of simpler tasks and controllable outcomes. Or perhaps you long to retreat into another story, one that isn’t your own, one that will make you feel new things or numb your mind and heart entirely.
Sometimes, sitting down to write sounds so exhausting, so taxing, so hard…and you’ve been working so hard already. Would it really hurt to take a little break? After all, you can always write tomorrow.
Oh, friend, I know this song and dance well. And sometimes, taking a break IS the kindest and healthiest thing you can do for yourself and your creative heart.
But sometimes, there’s more going on than simple fatigue. Take a moment and listen closely. Can you hear it? That subtle, staccato refrain pounding a wearisome tattoo against the walls of your soul:
Why bother trying to write? The words might not flow the way you want them to, or they may not come at all. Is it really worth the risk? If no one else will ever see them, if the words may not even be worth reading in the first place…is it really worth the effort?
“You’re forgetting,” as one of the Solid People says to an artist in C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. “That is not how you began. Light itself was your first love; you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.”
Dear heart, what if the answer to “Why bother” had less to do with your human capacity for results and success, and more to do with God’s divine character and infinite beauty? After all, our Father is an artisan, the eternally unmade Creator who spoke the world into existence, named every star, and knit you together in the quiet mystery of the secret place. Our Savior is a storyteller, the author and perfecter of our faith and the Word-made-flesh who has overcome the dark. The Holy Spirit, our advocate and counselor, is the very breath of Truth, equipping the tabernacle craftsmen in the desert and poured out over the early church in tongues of flame.
And you, my friend—you are a child and heir of this legacy, a beloved image-bearer of the Story-shaping King. You are wired for His beauty and joy, and when you write—even when the words are halting and imperfect—you see beyond the surface of this world to the deeper and truer things to come. When you write, you testify to His goodness, and in so doing, you come awake…and come alive.
And that is a gift your favorite distractions cannot offer.
So the next time you feel the tug to “numb your brain,” try awakening your heart instead. Sit at the desk, take up pen and keys, and tell about what you’ve seen. Once you start, you may be surprised at how quickly you remember your first love…and I pray you’ll recall how much you love sharing the gift of story with Him.
Philip Jorgensen wrote a letter to friends in his life who want to write but haven’t yet let themselves take that dream seriously.
In a moment of what you thought was weakness, you let it slip that you want to write. I saw it in your face; you were weightless as you spoke. As you said the words there was a wind of wilderness about you, like the wind that comes before the rain on a hot day.
You covered it quickly enough. I saw the tarp you threw back over your dreams. Rain, of course, is messy and might be destructive. Even a refreshing rain in hot summer is liable to cause trouble. I saw you recover yourself.
But, friend, now I know—you are like me. You have words rumbling around your veins, sentences beat your very heart, paragraphs form synapses in your brain, chapters and essays and whole books move your limbs to a steady rhythm. And they aren’t just the words and books you’ve absorbed through reading. These are words that have never been strung together before—ever. They are inside you. Stories are beating on your ribcage as if in some prison cell, pleading with you to open the door of your pen and be set free.
Friend, set them free.
Write, for goodness’ sake. Write for beauty’s sake and for truth’s. Friend, I’m begging you, along with those words that are stuck inside, get up and write them down. Set them free as you capture them on paper. Set them free by pulling them out of your brain and into sweet existence.
I know, maybe you’ve tried that before and the words came all came out wrong. They were embarrassing out in the physical world, out in reality. Safer by far to keep them in the prison of your thoughts. Prisoners are safe from hunger and want, it’s true.
But please, take the step and begin to write.
I believe in you. I’ve felt the refreshing wind blow off your imagination as we spoke. It’s yours for the taking.
I can’t wait to see what you will do.
Your friend and your fan,
Rachel Donahue wrote a letter to a writer dealing with Imposter Syndrome:
Dear Suffering Writer,
You are made in the image of God.
Sit with that a minute.
You—uniquely you—were knit together by a loving hand in your mother’s womb.
The gifts and abilities that lie within you are gifts from your Maker, and He delights to see you use them.
When God asked Moses, “What do you have in your hand?” he already knew the answer. “Throw it down,” he told Moses. “Now pick it up again.”
What is it that you have in your hand, dear writer? An idea? A question? An incessant flow of words?
Stop looking around at the other writers. I’m talking to you. What do you have in your hand?
Put it down. Or rather, write it down.
Your Maker didn’t give you that bit of light to hide it.
Put it down in front of him and see what he tells you to do with it.
He may ask you to take it up and carry it with you as you follow him. He may ask you to go confront someone powerful or open up a path for someone who’s trapped. He may be content to leave it where it lies because he’s about to put another thing into your hand.
Don’t you think that part should be up to him?
What’s up to you is to be faithful. To put it down.
And, finally, Tyler Whetstone wrote a reflection on those pieces of writing that derive their value not from their publishing potential, but from the work they do in the writer:
Dear Writer Friend,
I see you there.
You’re staring at that story you wrote with no thought to what you could do with it. You wrote it because, for once, you weren’t intimidated by the tyranny of the blank page and you had something you wanted to put down. You weren’t thinking of it as a first draft to be reworked and resculpted into something more shareable. And now you’re wondering why you still have it, since you can’t imagine ever submitting it anywhere, can’t imagine the audience for it, can’t quite put your finger on what the point of it ever was.
But the point is this: I see you reading it back anyway.
So work on it anyway.
Give it a seventh polish revision. Find something that could stand to be improved and rewrite it. Make it as close to perfect as you’re capable of making it. Because, dear writer friend, while you can’t imagine the audience for such a thing, sometimes it’s enough that the audience is you.
The reason you wrote it is because, for one reason or another, you need those words to exist. They were in you like a fire in your bones (Jeremiah 20:9) and you grew too weary holding them back. They made it to the page because they spoke to your soul, and, for that reason alone, they deserve the blood, sweat and spit-shine. Maybe someday it will be included in your collected previously unpublished work. Maybe it won’t. Let it still stand in tribute to the person who will never read it. Read it as tribute to the friend who can’t read it. Let it speak to you alone as your liturgy in fiction.
Make it better for your betterment, not just for the practice, but to nourish your soul.
Many thanks to Katie, Philip, Rachel, and Tyler for allowing me to borrow their writing this week. And, again, if you’d like to be a part of what is happening in The Habit Membership, find out more here.