“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” – 1 John 4:18
“You’re a writer. I know you love writing. But do you love what you have written?”
Alison’s voice may have been gentle, but her question cut deep. It pierced every defense I had, sliding right past all my excuses down to where the real fear lay.
I couldn’t honestly say that I love my words. I love what they could be, perhaps, or what I dream they will be. But what they are? How could anybody love that?
There was silence on the phone. At last Alison said, “You’ve got to love your work before anyone else will. Readers can sense things, you know. How you feel comes out in your words.”
I had not imagined such a soft voice could wield so much power.
As many of my readers know, for the past few months I’ve been on a quest. All writers have goals; usually (I’d imagine?) they involve some type of improvement to our writing. Most of my previous quests did, at least. But that was before I realized that great craft does not guarantee making a connection with your readers. In a previous post on autism, I declared my intent to focus on what is “between” the words, rather than the words themselves.
That journey brought me to Alison Gresik. A life coach based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, she specializes in helping creative people get “unstuck” and create balance in their busy lives—thus improving the quality and quantity of their production. Her blog introduced me to Story Is A State of Mind, a fantastic self-guided course that, unlike any I’ve ever taken, actually focuses on the relationship between craft and emotional connection. That led to a coaching session with Alison … where it didn’t take long for her to hit on the root of my struggle.
“Fear cuts deeper than swords,” Syrio Forel tells Arya Stark in A Game of Thrones. Alison may as well have said the same, except that she was holding a phone instead of a rapier. Her antidote?
“Love, Lisa. You’ve got to love your words.”
That notion was a hard one for me to grasp. Many creative people I know are among the most loving I have ever met, yet we often struggle to love our own product. Perfectionism and self-criticism drive us to excel, but at what cost?
For a long time, I thought that if I worked hard at becoming a better writer, I would overcome my own communication deficits, and along with them, the loathing they induced. I worked like a fiend at my craft. I attended every workshop I could and saved my pennies to afford good professional mentors.
But the doubts didn’t go away. Instead, many of my mentors threw up their hands, commenting, “I’ve never met another writer who’s so darn hard on themselves. Give yourself a break!”
If only it were that simple.
Somewhere along the way, I got the vague sense that the battle wasn’t so much with my craft as it was with my mind. Many weeks found me stretched out on my back, staring at the ceiling of my writing room. Frequently I cried out to God in despair to help me get past this sense of total brokenness. And whether or not you personally believe in or practice prayer, I can attest that for me, the answers always came in those darkest of moments.
Alison was one of them.
And so it was that I found myself totally laid bare. For all those years, I had tried to hide my fears behind my words. Instead, my words had revealed them.
So I asked Alison, “How can ‘fix’ this?”
“Love your words” was her only response.
As a child, I was taught to believe that it was selfish to love myself. The highest good was to love others—which meant, in practice, deprecating myself at every opportunity. While I still believe that loving others is a calling of my faith, I no longer believe that in order to do so, I must cut down myself.
Yet in practice, I was still doing this every single day . . . through my words. Small wonder those words, written out of such self-directed anger, failed to move anyone else to laughter or tears.
This is why I had struggled for all these years. Why my writing felt sterile. Why it failed (in my mind, at least) to make a connection.
It is love that connects. Anger and frustration, by contrast, isolate. They chain our words to us instead of setting them free to others.
The real problem wasn’t my ability to put words together, but the state of the mind that birthed them.
Because where there is love, there is no room for fear.
I choose love today.
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