Tag Archives: Writing

Imposter Syndrome

In the early days, to admit that I wanted to be a writer was painfully embarrassing. “What are your hobbies?” someone would ask.

“Um, nothing really.” The asker’s eyebrows would freeze into question marks. But I hated being boring, so desperately I’d cast about for a better answer. “I used to jog, but I have bad knees.” His expression would start to glaze over. “I’ve thought about gardening,” I might stutter. But my husband wouldn’t let it lie.

“That’s not true! You’re a writer! She’s a writer,” he’d proclaim proudly. And the asker would smile and I would turn three shades of pink, throwback to the days when the cute little redheaded boy glanced in my direction.spaces-eclipses-nights

I’m not sure what was so awful about admitting a desire to write. It felt so presumptuous, like Dwight Schrute, Assistant to the Regional Manager. “And I have a purple belt in ka-ra-té.”

You would think the grip of self-consciousness would lessen, especially as writing became a daily thing. Wrote a novel? Check. Sold a story? Check. But for every accomplishment, a failure. Queried an agent—did she accept me? Um. No. But you sold that book you wrote, right? Um. Nope. Did that story actually appear in print? Yeah… no. And later, when I began to blog, the failures just felt more public—the lack of glory evident for all to see. When I sold a book, there was even further to fall.

moon-crescent-skyI know I’m not the only one. Ryan Pemberton, in his book, Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again, confesses the same agony, both as an aspiring author and as a grad student at Oxford. “Imposter syndrome,” he’s told it’s called, the irrational but consuming fear of being found out.

I don’t really belong here, and if I’m not careful, I’ll be exposed. Not a real writer. Not quite… enough.

The world of writing, publishing, platforms, and sales, is a world rigged to take the tuck right out of a person. You struggle to summon up courage to say all the things, to say them plain, to tell the truth. You labor to birth this helpless but lovable infant onto paper and send that baby out into the world, only to be rejected time and again. And then, at last, the book is accepted, the deal inked onto paper. And you just can’t help but hope against the odds for unholy vindication—maybe this will be the next great sensation. Maybe this one will put the naysayers to shame.natural-moon-sky

Ah, but you, wise readers, will have caught my fatal flaw there in the sentences above. All that self-pitying shame is really just the flip side of pride.

Is this something you struggle with, too? The “I’m not yet quite good enough but if I try I can be” line? People usually don’t say the complete sentence, I’ve noticed. We chop it in half and throw an ellipsis in: “I’m just not good enough…” But the dangling, unspoken assumption is that we can be. Probably. Someday.

wafe-ocean-seaMostly our strategy to combat this particular little lie is to tackle the first part. “You are enough,” we tell ourselves, kindness sparkling as we talk ourselves down from the ledge. But maybe we need to also confront the second half of the sentence. Fact is, we never will be—and we don’t have to. When a preschooler hands you a crayon family portrait, the point is not that he’s Michelangelo, it’s that you love his goofy stick figures just as they are.

We aren’t spectacular. We’re just spectacularly loved.

As Tim Keller wisely points out, humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves, it’s thinking of ourselves less. That’s not a strategy that plays well in a platform-driven, personality-parading, click-bait culture. We want to sparkle and shine. But what the world needs isn’t more of me, it’s more of Jesus. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

sky-moon-moonrise-nightHang on, you say, aren’t we supposed to shine? In fact, wasn’t it Jesus who said “you are the light of the world?” Absolutely. But maybe He wasn’t calling you to be the sun. Maybe He was calling you to be the moon.

So—writers, pastors, speakers, leaders, singers, shiners—how do we live that out? How do we drag our eyes away from our stats, our status, our successes and our failures? I think the answer is to look into the mirror less, to look up at the Son more. I think it’s to be faithful, plodding along in anonymity if necessary. I think we have to to gain strength for that steadfastness not by daydreaming about far-off days of glory to come, but by daydreaming about the glory of God right now, shining, as He does, quietly, softly, in our midst.full-moon-dark-night

Sara Groves sang it:

“I am the moon with no light of my own. Still you have made me to shine. And as I glow in this cold dark night, I know I can’t be a light unless I turn my face to you.”  You Are the Sun

Photos on VisualHunt.

When the noise is too much.

I want to work a little

to swim out

past the pea-soup fog

to get clear.

I want to look over my shoulder

and see definitively

the smog

left.

behind.

I want to head upstream

past the sad remains

of yesterday’s convenience

of accidental casualties

of tomorrow’s nightmare.

Enough.

There are still springs

cold as crystal

pure as light.

There is still beauty

fragile as fontanel

above

beyond

distant

where “ossification is incomplete”

where space exists

between thought and implacable fury

imagination and resignation.

space

Up, uphill

up ancient mountains

up forested flanks

beyond human intervention

beyond urban sprawl

past light pollution

and city shrieks

and bombast.

Uphill, upstream

where snowmelt is still clear

where streambanks are unspoiled

where shy mammals venture out

cubs and kits

vulnerable

unafraid.

Up, past treeline

past tundra

past the tiny, risky, alpine blooms.

Past tropo and meso and strato

right off the blue sphere

space

I want to look back

over my shoulder

all the angry babble fading away

that tower of Babel just a speck

a tiny blemish on that blue green jewel

that bright jewel

just a sparkle

on the vast

quiet

sacred

space

significant_1280x1024

the_earth_seen_from_apollo_17

6_large

9 For Nerds: A Book Lover’s Bucket List

Last week we took the kids to a great second hand bookstore called 2nd and Charles.  It was vast.  Since they weren’t bound to recent bestsellers, we found all kinds of treasures that Barnes and Noble doesn’t stock and the library has forgotten.  I found a great copy of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, and my sweet Abbey walked out with a stack of books — $1.50 for Emily of New Moon.  You can’t find that anywhere!

Got me thinking about my deep and insatiable love of books, the slow, sad, extinction of the indie bookstore, and the places I absolutely need to go before I die.  So here’s my Book Loving Bucket List — three author’s haunts to explore,  three experiences to plum, and three places to shop. All of the photos below are links to fuel your own daydreams.  Enjoy!

The Robert Frost Museum
9.  The Robert Frost Museum, Shaftsbury, Vermont

Vermont is one of the only states back east I’ve never visited, and Robert Frost is such a favorite.  While I’m at it, I’d love to swing over to Amherst and visit the Emily Dickinson house (and maybe Mark Twain’s, Louisa May Alcott’s… OK, maybe just a dozen or so in New England.  Why not?)  I think Frost’s words and his landscape were so wedded, you’d feel you were walking into a poem.  “A breeze discovered my open book / And began to flutter the leaves to look.”

 

Jane Austen's House
8.  Jane Austen’s House

There are scads of Jane Austen tours that take you through the countryside she knew and loved, but of course, the must-see spot is her actual house.  I can only imagine it’s packed.  All the time.  Because Mr. Darcy!  Emma!  Says Miss Austen, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”  Wow, Jane.  Don’t hold back.

 

Visit Guernsey shoot at Victor Hugo's Hauteville House
7.  Victor Hugo’s Hauteville House in Guernsey

Little bit influenced by the scenery, not gonna lie.  I am loving reading Les Mis right now, but it is work in spots, for sure.  But Guernsey!  And not only would I need to pack Les Mis, but The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is one of my all-time favorites.  I might need to stay for a week.  Clear the calendar.

 

American Writer's Museum
6.  American Writer’s Museum, coming to Chicago in 2017

Y’all, this looks so great.  Last night when I couldn’t sleep I started daydreaming about a writer’s museum.  Why is there not one?  It was a happy thought, and when I googled it today, lo and behold, there’s one coming!  And I don’t even particularly like Chicago — but now it’s on the list.  Yippee.

 

The Rabbit Room
5.  The Rabbit Room

So The Rabbit Room is more of an online destination, and it is fantastic.  Enough distraction to derail a month of workdays.  But they actually do host really incredible events, often at the Art House in Nashville, pictured above.  They have this crazy idea that art and music and faith and stories all flow out of the same great place.  I don’t have the chutzpah to join in, but I’d love to be a fly on the wall.  From their website, “Through books, movies, theater, and other media, the magic of storytelling has the power to shape not only our minds, but the world around us. And story, like music, has the kind of magic that not only draws people closer to one another, but draws them further up and further into the great Story.”

 

The Glen Workshop
4.  The Glen Workshop

The Glen Workshop is the brainchild of Image Journal and Seattle Pacific’s MFA program.  I torture myself by looking into it every year and then not going.  (Money.  Sad but true.)  Participants in the MFA go to two residencies per year, one in Whidby Island, one in Santa Fe.  The Santa Fe version is open to non-MFA students as well, and brings in an amazing assortment of artists from many disciplines, authors, and crazy respected speakers.  Someday, friends.  Someday.

 

Signs of Life
3.  Signs of Life Bookstore, Lawrence, KS

So it’s not better than Guernsey.  It doesn’t beat Santa Fe.  But it’s practically local, a mere 8 hours away.  I’ve been to Signs of Life (the only one on the list with this distinction) several times, and it’s my favorite bookstore in the world.  So very cool.  Like The Rabbit Room and The Glen, this little gem is saturated in an Art/Faith/Mystery worldview that embraces visual arts, poetry, theology, and literary fiction.  There’s a café for chatting, a gallery for contemplating, and lotsa books.

 

The Last Bookstore
2. The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

I love the whole gutsy story of The Last Bookstore.  You have got to click on the link above and watch this beautiful little story, of a guy who was pretty broken, who nevertheless had vision and determination, who built maybe the coolest bookstore you’ll ever see.  Redeem your next visit to LA with something extraordinary.

 

Hay-on-Wye
1. Hay-on-Wye, Wales

I think I could live here forever.  It is the land of books.  An entire village of bookstores.  And where the books aren’t shelved in shops, they’re shelved up and down the streets and ruined castle walls, honor system style.  Just be sure to buy a round-trip ticket or you’ll spend all your traveling money and be stuck there forever.  Unless that’s not such a bad thing, after all.

Dreamer or Pragmatist, Part II

To Do List
To Do List (Photo credit: Mrs Magic)

I have been thinking a lot lately about goals. There’s been an empire of self-help books built on Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Timely goals, goals that get results. Michael Hyatt, in his recent book Platform, devotes a good deal of time to the subject, giving helpful examples like: “Make one hundred thousand dollars a year doing what I love. Lose 25 pounds and complete a half marathon.” Think big, he says; write down the vision for what you set out to do and work backwards. If I want to lose 25 pounds, what will I have to do? How many calories to cut? How many miles to jog?

It is pragmatic, effective, logical. You decide what you’re going for and dissect the goal into small steps. But where is the intersection of faith and action, dreams and practicality? What if the goals are the wrong goals? It strikes me that there is a big difference between being goals and doing goals — who is it I want to be vs. what is it I want to do? For a writing career, it might look like this:

impactful writing career vs. NYT bestseller list
with discipline, write every day vs. produce one published work every year
pursue excellence in a variety of forms, challenging myself vs. narrowly focus on a currently hot niche and develop a brand
writing as vocation vs. earn a specific dollar amount yearly

The SMART goals, the ones you can really work toward, might propel you into incredible success, but the vaguer, being goals, might shape you into the writer you really want to be. Jane Austen was surely the least popular of her contemporaries, but who remembers any of them? Austen didn’t write to bring home the bacon, and in her lifetime she saw little success, but today she is studied and much-loved. Hyatt would argue that you won’t so much as get a chance to be heard if you aren’t strategic; I can’t disagree. But who will you be at the end of the day?

Isn’t it ironic?

It’s really not hard to conjure up an entire place and time with just a few choice words.

English: Logo of the Groovy project

Who says “bully-o!” anymore?  or “grody”?  (Well, I might, once in a while, but then I also persist in eating creamed chip beef, so apparently I am not really all that rooted in the times.)  Certain foods, once all the rage, have been banned from decent tables; clothing styles not only come and go, but make us scratch our heads and question the sanity of the wearers; grammar is nothing but a fad; and music that made audiences swoon makes us cover our ears and run for the exits (Ethel Merman, anyone?)

I just read a great defense of Les Mis from a NY Times editorial by Stanley Fish.  Great article, and roundly lambasted in the comments by more enlightened viewers, most of whom couldn’t resist being derisive and snarky.  Which is ironic, because the whole point of the article was that Les Mis is out of step with the times in its lack of snark.  It is not ironic enough for our postmodern critics.

But I think old Fish is on to something.  Irony in small doses has of course been around since people learned to crack a joke, but is so prevalent now that I think it is one of those generational tics that will make us instantly identifiable/laughable in years to come.  Pull a Generation X or Y quotation out of context in the year 2100 and ask a reader when it came from.  Irony will be the giveaway.

Here’s what Fish said:  “Irony is a stance of distance that pays a compliment to both its producer and consumer. The ironist knows what other, more naïve, observers do not: that surfaces are deceptive, that the real story is not what presents itself, that conventional pieties are sentimental fictions.

“The artist who deploys irony tests the sophistication of his audience and divides it into two parts, those in the know and those who live in a fool’s paradise. Irony creates a privileged vantage point from which you can frame and stand aloof from a world you are too savvy to take at face value. Irony is the essence of the critical attitude, of the observer’s cool gaze; every reviewer who is not just a bourgeois cheerleader (and no reviewer will admit to being that) is an ironist.”

Ironically, the ironist can’t stand back from his irony and see how commonplace and overdone his smugness really is.

We are trained to be critical, scornful, and haughty. We are too smart to have a simple emotion, too savvy to be taught, and always quite pleased to point out our superiority to the simple peasants who lack our sophistication. For all of our fair-minded, equality-driven lingo, we are a bunch of snobs.

This has to account in hefty degree for the decline of faith in our culture. With the eyebrow always cocked and the smirk never far off, how could we possibly embrace lofty ideals, simple black-and-white moralism, or acceptance of invisible realms and miraculous events? It’s just not possible. Who would willingly throw their lot in with the village idiot?

Matthew Perry Fan Art Wallpaper

Well, I would. But then, I’m also the girl who likes a little cheddary cream on my beefy toast. Clearly I have refined opinions.

How’s the climate in publishing? When was the last time you saw a mainstream book that dared to be simple and beautiful, no whine of sarcastic undertone? Oh, it will happen again, like hipster fashions that make the nerdy new. So subversive! And the Chandler Bings of the world will start to seem anachronistic and vain. At least, that’s what we simpletons are banking on. It’s tough to be so far ahead of the times.

One of those days.

Image

I don’t feel like writing, some days.  Don’t feel like making supper, or cleaning out the refrigerator and identifying the source of that smell.  Don’t feel like doing much of anything, truth be told, but snugging up under the covers and reading about somebody else… somebody who does something besides pull up the covers.

So you sigh, look out at the gray day, pull out the butter, the chicken, stir the sauce.  And slowly the house fills with a nice warm smell (thank goodness), and you aren’t enjoying the fat quilt, but you figure you might as well enjoy dinner. Or you pull out the keyboard, stare down the screen, face down the really purple prose, knock it down and start over. And it’s not as good as that book you were reading, but it’s work, and at least at the end of the day there’s something to show for it. And surely it’s better than Snoopy’s.

Stacking the odds.

“Best part?” he asks every night at supper. And the kids shout out, especially the happy ones,

“Playing with Legos and building a Star Wars/Lord of the Rings/Velociraptor!”

“Eating doughnuts for breakfast!”

“Being here with you, Dad.” That one makes a regular appearance, equal parts delightful and deliberate.

But some days the kids are grouchy, ungrateful, little fists holding their grudges tight. And some days you wake up to gray skies and the dread in the stomach, and the hours stretch in front of you scary. There isn’t liable to be a best part those days.

So what happens if you stack your odds? Make a moment that will make the list, on purpose. Gonna be a crummy day? Let’s have pancakes for breakfast. Pancakes are good. Or I’m not going to get it all done anyway, so let’s take 30 minutes to head to the park. That’s worth a smile. Light a candle, play an 80s song, eat chocolate, wear the funny socks, send a card… And what if you don’t save the best for last, but grab the best first?

I am learning, day after homeschooling day, that being stingy with rewards — the nice thing will come after I get the desired results — is usually frustrating. I am rewarding something that’s not really good enough, or withholding a reward that someone self-righteously feels they deserve, holding the stick and carrot high all the day, wheedling. Why not give big first — this is grace — reap the smiles, sail into the hard things with a breeze at your back and the sun on your face?

I learned this first as a writer from Annie Dillard. In The Writing Life, she says: “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

So wise. The manna hoarded for the next morning turned to rot. The laugh withheld turns to sighs. Might as well start your day happy, and who knows? Maybe that will change the whole day.