Seeds of Hope for Discouraged Writers

Discouragement has been a frequently recurring writing companion for much of 2019. Usually, finding the time to write has always been the most difficult obstacle to my writing. But this year, although writing time has certainly been elusive, discouragement has haunted the time that I have been able to dedicate.

Have you ever noticed how interconnected everything in life can be? If I am spiritually dry, it often overflows into other aspects of my life. So, I took some of the very good spiritual advice I’ve received in the past about discouragement and applied it to my writing…and it seemed to jumpstart my brain out of blank page “terrors.” These seeds of hope included:

  • The Cross.
  • Lessons of spring: Pay attention to anything that grows, especially if you envy it.
  • Companionship.
  • Choose the voices you listen to.
  • Take baby steps forward (maybe one a day), no matter how silly, worthless, or unimportant they seem.

Each week for the next couple of weeks, I’ll reflect on one of these “seeds of hope for the discouraged writer” to keep up my own writing and, perhaps, to inspire you when your writing isn’t flowing.

The Cross

“If the Lord loves us—and he does love us—he will permit that in our lives we will have to pass through difficult moments and times, and perhaps through trials. And even if temptations last for a long time, and it turns out as it did for St. Teresa [of Avila]—who remained burdened for fifteen years with temptations and aridity; if your spiritual state has to be such, then your sanctity will be reached only in this way: abandonment in God.”  – Blessed James Alberione

Everyone has bad days. But how do we follow Blessed James Alberione’s advice to abandon ourselves into God’s loving hands when we are living through a difficult season that wears us down emotionally, creatively, and spiritually (and perhaps physically)? Suffering and loss push us into the uncomfortable process of being stripped of the familiar, sometimes of what we most don’t want to let go of. Just as we are feeling the most out of control and at our weakest, when discouragement and sadness haunt our every thought and perhaps our every breath, Alberione advises us to let go but not give up. How do we do that? How can we keep going through seasons of dryness, discouragement, perhaps of temptation, suffering, or loss?

The season of Lent can offer us a very real help here, because of its focus on the cross. We may think of Lent in a very human way, rather than as the invitation it is meant to be. Lent is all about growth: in recognizing, receiving, and responding to God’s saving, life-giving love.

A) Lent is a season.

No matter how long it is, every season will pass, even a “season of darkness.” That alone gives us reason to take comfort. Knowing that this time of dryness or lack of inspiration is temporary makes it easier to accept. No matter how much we fuss, we cannot make winter (or summer) shorter. Just as Lent’s purpose—however unwelcome it may feel to our suffering-averse human nature—is to help us focus on God’s great love for us, every season has its purpose. Accepting our internal “season” is not just helpful but can become invaluable, especially as we move through it.

This doesn’t mean that we are to simply give in to discouragement! But it can be helpful to temper or adjust our expectations: in the past couple of months, I have slowly come to accept the temporary loss of enthusiasm that I usually feel when it comes to writing, and to explore the role that this natural energy has played in my life.

  

B) Lent focuses on life and growth.

Just as in the natural world, seasons are important in nurturing life and growth, Lent immerses us in the Passion and Death of Christ with the purpose of helping us to focus on God’s great, life-giving love for us.

When we are already so immersed in trials or difficulties, we may find it hard to focus on Jesus’ sacrificial love for us—because all we can see is more suffering! Our fear of suffering can blind us to the truth that Jesus’ suffering is not just a profound manifestation of God’s presence, but a promise that in all suffering—including the very real suffering of discouragement—we are never alone.

Whenever I feel tempted to give in to discouragement now, I think of Jesus falling under the weight of the Cross on his way to Calvary. What an experiences of weakness, suffering, and discouragement for the Son of God to allow himself to go through! Yet, he did so for love of me, to show me that I am never alone, even in my darkest, most desperate moments.

And just as Jesus is with me in my suffering, I can choose to deepen my union with Jesus in my suffering. A simple act of intentional love is all it takes.

C) Lent points us beyond this life to God’s eternal plan for us

Natural seasons prepare the way for the next season, but Lent also points us beyond seasons to an eternal reality: God’s great love and plan for us manifested in Christ’s Resurrection. In Lent (and in Christianity itself), Jesus’ Passion and Death are always seen in view of his Resurrection. Jesus knew that his Death on the cross was not the end.

Discouragement may feel like a “death” in our writing life. We may fear:

  • that we will never write again
  • that we will never have an original thought again
  • that we have lost our creativity forever

But no matter what we are going through, no matter how endless and/or hopeless it may feel, it is not the end. Stirring up our belief in God’s loving plan for us—and our writing is part of that plan!—enables us to find a way to continue on. Ultimately, our writing is a gift from God, and God’s fidelity is something that we can count on, trust in, and be grateful for. Whatever this season holds for us, there is a gift of God present here, although perhaps hidden by our expectations. Could God be offering us the opportunity to explore new ways to nurture our creativity? Is this is a time to receive, rather than to create? A time to listen, rather than to speak? A time to grow in honesty? to deepen our knowledge? to discover a “new way” of writing that doesn’t rely on “felt inspiration”?

If the ultimate purpose of our lives is to “fall into the hands of God,” can we not prepare to do this by learning to let the precious gift of our writing fall into his ever-faithful hands?

 

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

How To Get Back into “Creative Mode”

Photo by John Sekutowski on Unsplash

The good news is that I am rewriting or editing at least a little bit on my next book just about every day. The bad news is that after just a couple of days I found myself totally stuck. What I wanted to do with the book and what the book seemed to want to do were at odds.

This book that I am revising (from rough draft to first draft) has a couple of big challenges to the material that I haven’t completely figured out yet. On top of that, some new resources have become available since I started writing, and I need to find ways to work that new content into the book, which, in its rough draft state, is already way too long.

Probably the biggest problem, though, is that I was trying too hard to get too much done too quickly. My best way of writing is to gradually immerse myself into the work itself and into my writing process. And I didn’t really take the time to do that. I’m also very out of practice doing it because the short-form, quick-turnaround, online writing that I have been doing hasn’t allowed for any kind of immersion.

Whenever I have stepped away from writing for a significant amount of time, I seem to always forget:

* Taking deadlines away and pulling the pressure off enables me to write better and faster.

* I am a slow starter when it comes to writing long projects.

So, this past week was essentially a tug-of-war between trying to write fast and on deadline, and slowing myself down to fully enter into the work. And I think that I have finally succeeded. I am not stuck, but am working on two levels: revising a short piece each day and then also stepping back and looking at the work as a whole, so that I can start figuring out how to integrate or interweave the various elements (old and new) that I want to include.

I would like to note the concrete steps I took to slow down and focus, so that next time, I can enter into a project and my writing process more smoothly, thus avoiding getting stuck, freaking out, or plain old running from the blank page. So this list here is for myself for the future. I hope you find elements on this list helpful, too. (Plus, you may have other suggestions to share with me—and please do so!) Here they are:

  • I stopped running from writing, but wrestled with what I was stuck with until I had a grasp of what was wrong (although not how to fix it)
  • I read some short writing encouragement during the week to encourage me to let go and have fun while writing.
  • I stopped worrying about how much I got done each day. (For this project, I don’t have a hard deadline, just a desire to finish. But it is still hard to let go of deadlines!)
  • I went back to my original inspiration and desire for the book, focusing on the project and its (future) readers.
  • I brought it to prayer every day, either in my meditation or in my Hour of Adoration, asking the Lord, “What do You want to say in this book?”
  • I started listening to the work itself, to become an obedient servant of the work (as Madeleine L’Engle so eloquently describes in Walking on Water.) Ultimately, I have been praying to the Blessed Mother to help me become a listening servant to the Holy Spirit to “put words to” the mystery of grace at work in our lives. 

Do you have other ideas that help you get back into creative mode?

Writing Resolutions: Be Gentler!

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I believe that writing, like the spiritual life, has seasons. And perhaps the time away from writing—which I have both regretted and worried over—has been a good thing. (God makes all things work for the good!) After all, God is the One in charge of the seasons of my life, and God has taught me so much in the intervening years! It would be such a blessing to bring those lessons into my writing—both how I write and what I write. So I’ll share here some very personal writing resolutions, as I begin writing again.

I would like…

  • to be kinder and gentler to myself as a writer: letting go of perfectionism when I’m writing rough drafts, letting go of worrying about others’ judgments, and focusing more on listening to God’s voice, to God’s invitations to express what I feel called to say, to be true to myself. (Author and writing coach K. M. Weiland, who produces one of my very favorite writing podcasts, recently released a wonderful episode/blogpost on how judgment and creativity don’t fit together.)
  • to write in a way so that communication is always more “circular”—so that readers can “talk” to me before, after, and while I write for them. I would love for our conversations to become part of each book, even before it is finished! I started trying this years ago, but now I will have the opportunity to pick up that project and complete it!
  • to forge a new relationship with writing: letting go of any guilt when important commitments prevent me from writing, but also not being afraid or apologetic to set writing as a priority. For almost five years, I set writing aside for other (important) matters. Now, I am able to make it one priority among many. I don’t want to feel guilty either for writing (which I used to) or for not writing (which I have also been carrying).
  • to simply enjoy the gift that writing is—to me, and I hope through me, to others. Mother Paula, the sister who brought our congregation here in North America in 1932, used to talk about the new titles we published as being “babies.” And I really feel that way about the books that I write. Every book is an intense labor of love, but each book truly comes to life only when it enters into the lives of its readers…and makes a difference in those lives. I believe that the Lord has a plan for each book, each article, and from now on, I intend to simply follow where the Lord leads.

I’ll start back here blogging very simply, sharing favorite authors, blogposts, and articles about writing, spirituality, artistic practice and the spiritual life. The first resource I’d like to mention is from Sister Nancy Michael Usselmann, FSP, who just published her first book, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics—Theology of Popular Culture, in which she encourages us to become pop culture mystics. I’ll review it soon, and perhaps interview her here. If you have any questions for her, send them in and I’ll ask her!

Do you have a topic that you’d like me to write about on Windows to the Soul? Please post something in the comments below, send me an email, or respond on Facebook. (I am gradually organizing the various social media platforms that I am on so that I can respond in a timely (!) fashion to Facebook and others, and I look forward to many fruitful conversations!)

Above all, know that I keep you—every reader—in my prayers, carrying you in my heart to Jesus in the tabernacle during my daily Hour of Adoration. God bless you!

Gems from the Catholic Writers Conference Online 2017

cwglogoThe Catholic Writers Guild’s Online Conference—just held this past weekend—is a fantastic conference for Catholic writers who are just starting to write, writers who are seeking to publish or are publishing their work for the first time, and for established authors who want the companionship of a like-minded writing community that offers spiritual support (as well as writing support), or for those writers who simply want to explore or deepen the connection between their writing and their life of faith.

This year, my schedule allowed me to participate in only five of the workshops—and I missed three that I really wanted to attend—but I have to confess that I really enjoyed connecting with other writers.

Just a few takeaways:

  • Colleen C. Mitchell’s amazing workshop on integrating our writing with our everyday life, especially her personal witness of how she keeps writing during challenging times. Her witness inspires me.
  • How Terri Ong’s presentation connected St. Therese of Lisieux’s “Little Way”  with the writing life. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that, for me, St. Therese articulates Saint Paul’s spirituality in a contemporary, accessible way. More and more, I see how essential the humility and obedience to the Holy Spirit are to the believer’s ability to respond to their call to write. The Founder of my community, Blessed James Alberione, encouraged us to pray these words often—and now I start every writing session with them: “By myself I can do nothing, but with God I can do all things. For the love of God, I want to do all things. To God, honor and glory; to me, the eternal reward.”
  • Although I have read dozens of writing books, published 7 books, and been studying writing craft for over 15 years, I can always learn something new. I learned a new way to improve the manuscript that I hand in to my editor and some ways to fix problems in developing a scene. But the best part? Connecting with other writers who consider writing a call from God, and a way to serve God’s People. Plus, I was delighted to be able to volunteer to moderate some of the workshops, and so contribute a little back to this lovely writing community.
  • Finally, I was reminded how important writing is to me. For a number of reasons, I have had to put writing on hold—at least, the “deep writing” that I feel called to do. These reasons included transition, a different schedule, new responsibilities, and my preoccupation with several difficult circumstances. The precious gem I received from this conference is a deeper insight into how much “deep writing” energizes me and assists me in doing other important apostolates that I carry out. No matter how busy I am, I cannot completely put it aside any more. I’m eager to find ways to write deeply again—even if it is just 20 minutes a day. 

A profound thank you to the Catholic Writers Guild, and all of those who worked so hard to bless dedicated, hard-working Catholic writers the training, tips, and encouragement we need to continue writing.

Upcoming Conference for Catholic Writers in Chicago area

CWCO_live_smThe Catholic Writers Guild is holding their Catholic Writers Live Conference once again in conjunction with the Catholic Marketing Network Conference, in the Chicago area. Here are the quick facts:

WHEN: July 26-July 29, 2016

WHERE: The Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and Hotel,1551 N. Thoreau Drive, Schaumburg, IL 60173

LINKED TO: The Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show.

THEME: Openness to God’s Will

How can we know what God wants us to do with our careers, how can we follow him best with our talents? Our conference allows you to connect personally with Catholic publishers and retailers, learn more about the art, show your work, learn the craft, and network. Registration is very reasonable, and it’s already open at this link.

I wish I could go–it looks like it will be a fantastic event for writers! Check out the presenters,  schedule, and pitch sessions. 

 

And don’t forget about the upcoming Clay Pots Retreat for Catholic media professionals in October at our St. Thecla’s Retreat House in Billerica, MA:

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Soul of Christ Goes International with Release in India

I know that, as Daughters of Saint Paul, and especially with digital media, we reach people around the world, but it is a special thrill when one of my books is published in another country or in another language! As far as I know, various books have been printed in French (Bread of Life), Spanish (Life for the World), Polish (See Yourself Through God’s Eyes), and our sisters in India have published several of my books in Indian editions. Yesterday, I received word that Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer has just been released in India! Here is a review from one of our sisters there.

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Cover of Indian Edition of “Soul of Christ”

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Cover of American edition of “Soul of Christ”

I’m curious: which cover do you like better?

 

Also, I received e a copy of my book, See Yourself Through God’s Eyes: 52 Meditations To Grow in Self-Esteem, in Polish, after our sisters published it in Poland. If you prefer to read in Polish, or know someone who might be helped by this book, please contact me over email, with who it is for and why that person could use it. (That way if I receive multiple requests, I’ll try to pick who can use it most. Note that I can only mail the book within the U.S.) You can see more about the book in English, with the sample introduction here  and a free sample meditation here. There is also a Reader’s Guide available in English here.

SeeYourselfCoverPolish

 

Reflections on the Writing Life: Catholic Perspectives

list-372766_1280If you read my other blog, you know that I needed to take a bit of a hiatus from blogging and writing. While I continue to reorganize my time, I keep finding some fun and interesting resources for writers on the web. Here are some interesting reflections on the writing life, specifically in the context of vocation and mission:

Vermeer’s Window: An artist’s meditation on living in the present moment by Jerome Miller is a wonderfully profound reflection on what it means to live in the present moment according to Miller’s interpretation of a Vermeer masterpiece, “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher.” Reading (and reflecting on) this meditation is well worth the time it takes to read it. Thank you, America Magazine, for making this available online!

Somehow I missed The Jesuit Post’s  “The Catholic Writing Series,” but fortunately I ran into it this past month by accident. I highly recommend each article–I’ve linked to the entire series, which is contributed to by poets, fiction, and nonfiction writers, all of whom offer a sense of the deeper meaning of the vocation to write, the importance of Catholic writing in our world today, and our role as Catholic writers.

You may have already read the recent announcement that the Vatican is launching a digital library on the Church and communications. Currently in beta form and only in Italian, this new digital library currently offers a very complete list and an excellent search engine for any papal or Church documents on communication. (Note that if the documents are available in English, the search engine will bring them up in English and other available languages.) You can find this new digital resource here:  www.chiesaecomunicazione.com.

Finally, I am returning to the Salt + Light Radio Hour with Deacon Pedro this Saturday and Sunday with a review of the films, Do You Believe? and Faith of Our Fathers, produced by PureFlix, who also produced God’s Not Dead last year.  You can listen on the Catholic Channel on Sirius, on Relevant Radio, find other broadcasters here, or listen via podcast. 

Sneak Peek of Next Week?

I’m delighted to be currently reading GeekPriest: Confessions of a New Media Pioneer by Father Roderick Vonhögen. Although I’m only halfway through it, I can already recommend it as an entertaining and helpful resource for all Catholic communicators. I hope to post up a review shortly.