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How To Do Your Real Work.

L.N.Tolstoy_Prokudin-GorskyDid you know Tolstoy had 13 kids when he wrote War and Peace? I’m sure Sophia, his wife, did the heavy lifting, but surely they were loud and underfoot and demanded food several times a day. That’s a fairly hostile environment in which to produce some of the world’s greatest literature.

I discovered that convicting little gem recently in The War of Art by Steven Pressfield and have quoted it several times to friends and loved ones who, like me, are dithering, stalling, procrastinating, rationalizing and otherwise avoiding doing the work God put us here to do, which in my case is write.

What’s your work? What’s the thing you would do forever for no money? Are you doing it? Even a little?

If you’re not sure, or this sounds vaguely familiar, please read Pressfield’s slender little volume and let it roundhouse kick you in the melon until you accept that writing the song, plotting the novel, painting the canvas, playing the music, is easier than making excuses for why you can’t do it.

Start today. Anywhere. Because thirty minutes a day is better than no minutes a day, but beware, this is war.

The writer is an infantryman. He knows that progress is measured in yards of dirt extracted from the enemy one day, one hour, one minute at a time and paid for in blood. The artist wears combat boots. He looks in the mirror and sees GI Joe. Remember, the Muse favors working stiffs. She hates prima donnas. -Steven Pressfield. The War of Art.

My God that’s terrible news.

The dream is freeThat means, rather than point to my demanding job and bizarre travel schedule that keeps me from writing, I need really only to think of Tolstoy or his wife Sophia, who incidentally, along with the 13 kids, was the scribe for War and Peace and rewrote the manuscript seven times. It is over 1000 pages.

Novelist Ann Patchett, whose ability regularly renders me speechless, put it this way in her new memoir This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage:

Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?…Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish, but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it put it away, write another story.

You can read Pressfield’s book in a day or two, which is good, because reading about writing is not writing, it’s preparing to write. Not a bad thing, unless we never write.

So what do you need to write? Sing? Paint? Draw? Invent? Draft? Design?

Why not start today? Then again tomorrow and the next day….

What Is Your Gift?

fall 2005 036I’ve been typing and editing away all week, getting ready for the Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference in Santa Cruz, California.

It’s hard to unpack all the reasons I’m excited about this: Drinking wine with old friends, cavorting among the Redwoods, smelling the Pacific, but mostly I’m thrilled to be taking another step toward what I’m meant to do with my life. It is such a relief.

The Apostle Paul told the Romans, the gifts and call of God are irrevocable, so maybe that’s why I get cranky and anxious when I’m not writing enough.

Until I started reading The Bible, I didn’t understand that while I am capable of many things, I am best at one thing, and God’s got a plan for it. I just have to cooperate.

At Mt. Hermon, they seem to get that. Not only do they round up the publishing industry folk, but everybody gathers to sing and praise the Lord first thing in the morning. It’s as though networking with God is the foundation for networking with anyone else. Evidently, at Mt Hermon somebody decided to take Proverbs 16:9 seriously:

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

For the last eight years, I’ve had a career in corporate insurance sales. That’s what happens when you don’t bother to let God establish your steps. I could do it, but I wasn’t made to do it. When I surrendered my stubborn streak to the Lord, I began writing. On Thursday, I’m getting on a plane with a completed manuscript in hand.

So, even if you have to use your gift on the side of everything else, get busy and do it. Next week we’ll work up strategies for how.