Desperate or deliberate? 

My favorite college literature class focused on American Transcendentalists. A famous passage from that era from Henry David Thoreau reads:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”



Note that Thoreau did not write: “I went to the woods to live desperately.”

Because I think that’s how many, if not most, of us live.

Desperate.

We are the Great Martha (Luke 10:38-42) Generation, the do-ers, the be-ers, the movers and the shakers.

We not only force our own lives to happen, we ultimately force what we believe to be the hand of God in our lives…even onto the lives of others.

We make the plans and then tell God to join us.

Our constant heart cry is, “Are we there yet?” when God wants us to be still and know and perhaps…perhaps to enjoy the ride. Our constant posture is shoulder-to-the-grindstone instead of resting in the easy yoke of His guiding hand.

We forge ahead when God says wait.

I attended the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference this weekend to sit at His feet, to renew my writing purpose, to refocus my all on Him, to clear my mind of everything that distracts and burdens and sucks the marrow out of my soul. The world does those things to an artist. The blessing and the curse of a creative is that we are born with ears that over-hear, with hearts that over-feel, our senses skittish and overwhelmed by all the world tells us we should be doing, rather than what the Creator made us to be. Spending time shoulder-to-shoulder with other writers seeking Him beneath ancient redwoods centers me again. 



Being with other writers and creatives makes me determined again to live deliberately.

Walking with Him, and not sprinting ahead.

Listening for Him, and not talking at Him.

Refusing to act on any muse other than the Spirit moving in my heart.

It is only in that intimacy, only in that grace, only in the mercy of his light and loving load that life becomes worth living.

Only then can story be written.

“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30

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What about you?

Do you live desperately or deliberately? 

Is your burden heavy or light?

What can you do to live more intimately, more in-step, with God, today?

What’s it like when the books arrive?

Terrifying.

That’s what it feels like when my allotment of soon-to-be-released books arrive from the publisher.

I can barely bring myself to cut through the packing tape and pull open the flap, because I know too well what’s underneath the crinkled packing paper.

While some see an accomplishment–and all glory to Him, that it is–I see doubt. Revisions. More doubt. Excitement over a sentence I *think* I might’ve actually written well. Mortification over a sentence that follows that I should’ve written differently. Exhaustion. Glee. Writer’s block. Relief. Not one, but two near-complete re-writes. A roller coaster of years of work all packed up in a little brown box.

It brings to mind the story of the boy in the Bible with the loaves and fishes.

I bet his stomach rumbled as He approached Jesus, terrified to let go of what was perhaps his only chance at a meal for the day. I bet he felt so awkward as the crowd stared and perhaps sneered as he approached the great Teacher. The child’s face must have flushed with the heat of inadequacy and even shame at the pitiful offering held out with hands shaky…dirt caked under fingernails from foraging for bait or from a morning of play…to Jesus.

That’s what it feels like to me when the books arrive.

I don’t know what God will do with my words. Inevitably some folks won’t like the bread and fish I bring. There’s really no telling how many will be nourished by the story I did my best to tell.

All I can do today…indeed every day…is to place the little brown bag in His hands and walk away, leaving the rest to Him.

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What about you, friend? Have you ever released something and been terrified of what would happen afterwards? Maybe you’ve released a job, a career, a child, a loved one, or your own artwork. How does/did that make you feel?

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“One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.” John 6:8-9 (TMV)

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So, you wrote a book. When ya quittin’ your day job?

The short answer:

I’m not.

The long answer:

I don’t blame people for wondering if I’m going to quit my day job.

I do blame the expatriates of the 1920s or perhaps Hollywood’s portrayal of writers for giving the general public the persistent idea that if you write a book, you’ll become not only rich, but filthy rich. And I do blame the news for making 6-7 figure book deals front page news…not because that sort of deal isn’t newsworthy, but because it’s not the norm.

Even if ginormous advances were the norm, unless you keep writing, the money will run out.

Because the money always runs out.

The creativity, however, does not.

At least, it doesn’t have to.

Last week a writer friend of mine posted this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert, the famous author of Eat, Pray, Love. I think it’s one of the most important quotes about writing, especially in the midst of the current state of publishing, that I’ve read in a long, long time. She says this (via GalleyCat):

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“Of course this is the dream of dreams — to make a living by your art — but it is a rare thing, when that works out. Or sometimes it might work out for a few years, and then you run out of money. If financial success becomes the standard by which to determine if you are successful or not, you are likely setting yourself up to feel disappointed in yourself and your work. It’s not fair to your craft, to put this kind of pressure on it. Get a job on the side to pay the bills, and learn how to live an inexpensive, frugal life.”

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Get a job, she says.

Learn how to live inexpensive, frugal, she says.

Because unless you’re Elizabeth Gilbert or John Green or Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steele or Stephen King or a handful of others, chances are pretty good you’re gonna need a side job–if not a full-time job–if you’re a writer.

More important, though, is what she says about how putting financial pressure on your craft, your gifting, is not fair.

I dare say, it’s irresponsible.

Because a gift–and I do believe the ability to write, to paint, to craft in any way is just that, a gift–is something you give away.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I do not believe in the current trend of free or near-free music and books, and frankly, shame on people for expecting free or near-free books and music. I fully support the actions of artists like Taylor Swift who can afford to pull their art from venues which perpetuate woefully discounted music at the expense of the artists who work damn hard to create it.

I do believe that it is the joyous plight of the artist to create in obscurity, to tear one’s heart out unnoticed, to work their fingers and pencils and brushes to the nubs so that the gift of the art remains something wholly from the soul, and not something done under the duress of expectation or obligation or, God forbid, need. 

Art is often born out of the desperation of the heart, but when done desperately, ceases being art.

When I was in college endlessly flip-flopping between majors because I couldn’t decide between the field of medicine and creative writing, my dad, the son of a calloused-handed factory worker, said with all the love he could muster, “Amy. You might want to consider choosing a profession which will allow you to eat more than just beans.”

So I became a registered nurse.

And don’t you know, I absolutely love being a nurse? I’ve been a surgery nurse, an administrative nurse, a pediatric nurse, an educator nurse, and most currently a med/surg nurse. Some of my greatest laughter and deepest sadness and gripping fears have occurred inside the walls of the hospitals in which I work. As a nurse, every day I meet people, see things, experience tragedy, and gain insight in ways I never, ever would otherwise.

So you see,

…my work fuels my writing, and my writing fuels my work.

No.

I’m not quitting my day job.

Even if Angelina Jolie comes along and wants to cast Matthew McConaughey as Solly in my first novel as I imagined him in it, I wouldn’t want to quit being a nurse. (Hey Ang, if you read this, call me? ‘Kay? Maybe?)

Is it hard to write novels and work?

Absolutely.

I, like most authors I know, give up a lot to be a writer. I care for and love on my family and my home, I work, pay the bills, write in carpool lines and sidelines, edit on lunch breaks and Saturday nights. There’s not much left of me after that. I regret that I hardly ever do lunch dates with girlfriends and parties with neighbors and volunteer at the schools.

Some people by now must think I’m either quite rude or a hermit or both.

But when I lamented to a friend about not having time to do Christmas cards this year, do you know what she said?

She said, “Amy. You words are a card to us every day.”

Writing–being an artist of any kind–is a sacrifice.

And sacrifices are worth working for.

Don’t you think?

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