A Purposeful WIP Stops Spinning Stories

I have a confession to make: I am a recovering storyteller. You might think this a strange admission considering my chosen profession, however, I’m not referring to the same kind of storytelling that I do on a daily basis—the creation of fiction tales for entertainment’s sake—but the fictional stories that I make up in my head.

Let me give you an example.

Have you ever sent a text to a close friend (or family member) who then does not acknowledge your message? Perhaps the silence lasts several hours or even several days, but regardless of the elapsed time, the more that passes, the more obsessed you become with the lack of a response. You constantly check your phone for new messages and repeatedly read over your note trying to determine if anything you said could have been construed as offensive. You start reviewing every single recent encounter and conversation you’ve had with this person, gathering evidence to corroborate the story that your mind has started spinning in order to explain the silence.

Eventually, you convince yourself that this person is angry with you for spacing on the dinner plans you had the week before, despite your immediate apology and her insistence to the contrary. And now that you’re sure you’ve figured out the problem, your mind continues spiraling down this path of assumptions so that by the time she finally calls you, you’re actually angry with her for her passive-aggressive, retrospective punishment. You listen with an icy removal as she regales you with the reality of the situation. That she wasn’t able to promptly reply to your text because she dropped her phone in the toilet and getting it replaced immediately was impossible because her entire six-person family was at once socked with a vicious flu bug. As she continues in this vain, detailing every horrid detail of her personal nightmare, you begin to feel both relieved that your conjecture was unfounded and ashamed that you believed it even for a second.

Maybe that’s never happened to you, but maybe you’ve experienced something similar. Like a misread meeting with your boss or a misinterpreted interaction with an acquaintance that left you harshly judging both yourself and the other person until you find out the truth: that his reaction was caused by a stressful situation happening in his own life and had absolutely nothing to do with you.

My point is that we are all simultaneously self-centered and prone to making these kinds of assumptions. And aside from the unnecessary worry and anxiety this causes, it is incredibly distracting. We use up our precious resources—our brain power, our energy, our time—trying to interpret clues that often turn out to be false and solve problems that are completely imaginary 99.9 percent of the time. Our attention becomes divided, our focus, fractured, and any progress we might make working on projects or goals or growth in our own life is slowed. And if this happens often enough, that progress can come to a complete standstill.

So my advice to you (and to myself) is simply to Stop Spinning Stories. Stop jumping to conclusions about people and situations when you don’t know the whole truth. Stop buying into the lies about yourself that float through your mind when something doesn’t go as expected.

The easiest way to do this is to literally stop. If your thoughts start to spiral down this road of make believe, Just. Say. No. Say it out loud if you have to. Just stop your mind from getting caught up in those spun stories, because like spider webs, once you’re stuck in them, it’s much more difficult to break free.

Have you ever experienced a time when you were held hostage by your imagination? Or maybe you’ve got a method that you use to keep this from happening. If so, let’s talk about it. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

Made For More

Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

When I was in my late teens, I tried out for and was subsequently accepted to be a dancer/cheerleader for the Dakota Wizards, a local basketball team that was, at the time, part of the International Basketball Association. After about a season or two of half-time performances, sideline cheers, and weekly practices, the dance coach took me aside and told me in no uncertain terms that my presence on the team was no longer welcome. I’d been fired, let go, given a pink slip. (I use these terms loosely as this was strictly a voluntary activity.)

I have a lot of distinct memories surrounding that moment. I remember standing in the entryway of the high school gymnasium where our practices were held. I remember the firmness in the coach’s face. That although this had come without warning, there would be no discussion. I remember her words. That my movements were too small, too timid, and that she wasn’t interested in hand holding or helping me to improve said issues.

I remember feeling the shame of rejection. The hot tears that immediately stung my eyes, preventing any sort of defense for fear that unclenching my jaw would also release a humiliating torrent of uncontrollable sobs. I remember the meekness of my voice when, with my gaze dropped to the floor, I asked the coach to retrieve my best friend—also a member of the dance team—so I wouldn’t have to reveal my burning cheeks to the rest of the team, who’d already been made aware of my dismissal.

As I left the school that evening, I did what any naïve teenager who lacks self-awareness would do. I cursed the coach. I cursed the rest of the team. (Within the confines of my car, of course.) And I took it very, very personally. By the time I sped out of the parking lot, I had convinced myself that my elimination had nothing to do with my skills, or lack thereof. I was certain the other girls didn’t like me and had thus contrived this underhanded scheme in order to get rid of me.

But what hindsight and experience and a removal of about twenty years has given me is perspective. If I had had the knowledge then that I have now, rather than peeling out of that parking lot in a frenzy of spitefulness, I would have been grateful. For what I recognize now that I didn’t recognize then, was the gift that that coach had given me. If I had been paying attention, I would have used her criticism as an opportunity for growth rather than an excuse to sink into self-pity.

Because—although I hate to admit it even today—she was right. I did, and often still do, have the tendency to play small. To approach my writing and my faith and just life in general with a sort of fearful reticence that holds me back and keeps me from growing into the strong and confident woman that God made me to be. And if nothing else, I feel completely secure in the belief that He does want more for me than small, timid movements. I believe He wants more for us all.

So, if you’ve ever found yourself in a similar position. If you’ve ever retreated into a comfortable, confined, compacted box because of doubt or insecurity, I will leave you with this reminder from 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT (which also happens to be my personal theme for 2019): For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

A Purposeful WIP Refocuses Resistance

I started self-editing my manuscript this week. Armed with several reference books—including a dictionary, thesaurus, and The Chicago Manual of Style—and a checklist that I created based on advice gleaned from multiple resources, I am picking apart my work, sentence by sentence. The checklist is long, with suggestions varying from the simple (Are there any inconsistencies in names, descriptions, etc.?) to the complex (Do the characters develop and grow as a result of what they’ve experienced?). And the books explaining proper usage and grammar and punctuation are even longer, filled as they are with examples and exceptions.

I’ll admit it’s a bit overwhelming. So much so that it took me more than an hour on Monday to get through one page. ONE! And it was only a partial page at that. The problem was that, aside from the tedious task of editing, I was also battling a revolving voice of doubt and fear. It said, no matter how hard I try, no matter how many sentences I rewrite, the story will never be good enough. My writing will never be good enough. I will never be good enough.

Round and round I went, reading each sentence aloud while simultaneously contemplating ways to improve the structure and trying my best to quiet that inner critic. You know the one I mean? It’s that little niggle that sits quietly in the back of the mind until we take a step out of our comfort zone and do something to challenge ourselves. Then it pipes up, loud and clear, citing our past mistakes and failures as evidence that we can’t succeed or grow or achieve that goal. And if that doesn’t work, it tries another tactic, another myth dressed up in truth’s clothing: “If you can’t do it perfectly, then why do it at all?”

This voice has another name—it’s called Resistance—and its mere existence creates a constant internal battle and a severe drag on our time and energy. It is exhausting trying to prove ourselves to a naysayer that exists largely in our own minds and bases its arguments on past patterns rather than current fact. But that’s its game. That’s how it often wins.

As I struggled to edit my document, Resistance tempted me to quit. “You’ve abandoned this manuscript before,” it said. “Why not now? It would be so much easier to walk away.” I couldn’t disagree, because I had quit many times in the past and it would be easier to do so again now. But I didn’t. I know better now. I know that rather than giving in and giving up, all I had to do was Refocus that Resistance. Turn it on its head. Tell it that, yes, maybe my manuscript will never be perfect no matter how thoroughly I edit it—even after I submit it, there will likely still be misplaced commas and poorly chosen words—but that doesn’t make me a subpar storyteller or an incapable writer. It makes me human. It means that I am a work in progress just like my manuscript.

And so are you.

Imagine how much we could accomplish if we took all the precious energy that we waste trying to defend and protect ourselves against our enemies—both internal and external—and instead threw it into our goals. What if we didn’t give in every time Resistance reared its ugly head, but rather refocused those negatives into positives? What heights would we reach if we assumed victory instead of failure?

It is in our power to rewrite the narrative of our lives. To reform whatever has held us back in the past into something that will help us in the present. To reshape our view of progress. To remember that success and achievement are not synonymous with perfection. So get out there and go for it! Don’t worry if you backslide. Don’t worry if you stumble and fall because resistance trips you up. Get back on your feet, refocus, and remind yourself that this journey is about progress, not perfection. And progress is always possible if you are purposeful.

What Resistance are you currently facing? What can you do to refocus the negative into something positive?

We Are Cheerleaders

Photo by Nicholas Green on Unsplash

I recently attended what turned out to be my niece’s last volleyball game of the year—the season-ending tournament cut from the schedule due to an unusual and unwelcome October blizzard. Generally, at most games, the parents and other family members sitting in the stands cheer for their kids, offering brief applause and short bursts of vocal encouragement after a point scored or an especially good serve or volley. But sometimes there’s a parent or two whose encouragement leans a little to the side of persistence and like the Energizer bunny it keeps going and going throughout the entire game.

I happened to be seated near one such parent at this particular match. Her shouts, instructing the girls to side-out and help each other were perpetual, and from my nonathletic perspective (What does side-out even mean?), completely unnecessary. The girls had been practicing together for weeks and were, I would guess, fully aware of what playing a successful game entailed. I also assumed that any needed prompts about what to do and when to do it would come from the coach who was conveniently seated on the sidelines and within earshot of the girls on the court.

This is the same opinion I held many years ago when attending my stepdaughters’ sporting events. I learned the other parents’ mannerisms, choosing my seat carefully to avoid the vicinity of the bleacher-coaches. Did these people think they knew better? Did they believe their kids and the coaches didn’t know what they were doing?

But a couple weeks ago, as I sat listening to this woman’s directive cries, I started wondering if I’d gotten it all wrong. Maybe it wasn’t a matter of overbearingness or control or assumptions that the kids and coaches needed her help. Maybe her vocalizations were simply meant as reassurance to her daughter. Little reminders of her presence that said, “Hey, I’m here for you, and I’m rooting for you.”

And maybe that’s the same reason God put us all together on this beautiful planet. Not so we could direct and instruct and boss each other around because we claim to know better. But rather to cheer for each other. To lift and encourage each other. To offer those subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) reminders of our presence and our support.

So, my friends, let me assure you today that whatever you’re going through, whatever you’re seeking, whatever you’re working to achieve—regardless of whether I’ve been there or whether I even know you personally—I am in your corner. I am here for you, and I am rooting for you.

Pass it on.

A Purposeful WIP Quits Quitting

I have good news, my friends! As I had planned (and promised to you and myself), I completed the fourth and final revision/rewrite of my novel manuscript last week Friday afternoon. Although it is a feat worth celebrating, I did so for only about a minute before jumping into the next step of the process: Editing. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I have decided go ahead and complete the edit myself, thereby slaying two birds with one stone. (I.e., rather than waiting on someone else’s suggested edits and then needing to review them myself, I will get both the editing done and the changes incorporated into my document in one swift step.)

To that end, I’ve armed myself with several editing and style guides and have spent the better part of this week re-familiarizing myself with the finer points of proper grammar, punctuation, and usage. Having been writing now for many, many years, I do already have a fairly firm grasp of these principles, however, I see only benefits to brushing up on them. For one thing, I suspect the knowledge will not only make me a better writer, but will also prepare me for future edits. Because as much as I want this to be the last step in the transformation of this manuscript into an actual physical book, I know it’s not. Nevertheless, it is another step forward. It’s progress I would not have and could not have achieved if I hadn’t first addressed my penchant for quitting. Because A Purposeful WIP Quits Quitting.

If you’ve been following my novel-writing journey for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me mention a time or two that I am a seasoned quitter. For the first two years that I was working on my manuscript, I started and stopped more times that I’d really care to admit. I’d come up against an obstacle—usually some form of internal resistance—get stuck and then quit. Eventually, I’d come back to the manuscript only to come up against another (or oftentimes, the very same) obstacle and quit again, etc., etc., repeat ad nauseam.

I won’t say that progress is impossible within that kind of stuttered cycle—I did complete some worthwhile pages in that time—but because of my herky-jerky steps, that’s exactly how my novel read. It was choppy and messy. But when I finally got in the habit of writing consistently, the once unrelated sentences and paragraphs began to flow together, forming a cohesive story.

But writing a novel isn’t the only goal for which consistency is key. Personal growth, improved health, deeper faith, closer relationships, even developing a business. All of these things require regular attention, without which usually involves a reversion back to square one. It’s like weight-lifting. Someone who starts a religious three-day-a-week lifting routine will likely begin to reap rewards within a couple weeks or so, building enough muscle to increase the resistance. If they keep at it those muscles will become stronger yet. But if their motivation flags and they stop going to the gym, chances are good they will lose enough of what they gained that should they start again a month or two later, they’re not likely to be able to pick up where they left off.

Sound familiar? If you’ve ever started and subsequently quit on the same goal or project multiple times, you’re not alone. As I said, I’ve been there and I still struggle with this on an almost daily basis. And the craziest thing about it is this goal or pursuit is usually something we really, really want to accomplish. We really want to write the book or lose the weight or spend more time with family. We might dive in head first, feeling super motivated for a time—maybe after reading a particularly inspiring book or blog or listening to a moving podcast—but as easy as the fire is to light, it is just as easily extinguished.

The hard part is figuring out what causes us to lose that initial momentum and quit, because doing so, in and of itself, is scary. It requires being honest with ourselves. It requires digging deep into our unhealthy patterns and taking responsibility for our lives.

So my questions to you today are these:

  1. What is holding you back? What is causing you to quit on yourself and your goals?
  2. What are you going to do about it?

For example, my issue with quitting generally stems from a combination of fear and doubt. And while investigating those deep-seated emotions requires an investment of time and energy—journaling, life coaching, learning positive self-talk, prayer—it is essential to keeping my inner critic at bay. Dropping the ball on one of these practices usually creates a domino effect of stoppage for all, which then causes the urge to quit to pipe up as loud and clear as the voice telling me I’m not good enough.

Maybe for you, the biggest obstacle you face is distractions. If so, what can you do to limit them? Or maybe it’s an issue of time. What can you do to free yourself up a little? If you feel overwhelmed and immensely busy, search your schedule for time wasters or things that you’re doing simply because you always have.

Whatever it is that habitually hinders your growth and provokes your inner quitter, I encourage you to take some time this week to really dig into it. I won’t lie, it will likely be an uncomfortable quest—I’m often annoyed to find that my biggest hurdles are usually related to my mindset—but trust me, if you want to get off that roller coaster of starting and stopping, starting and stopping, and you really want to make progress, this is a step in the right direction.

If you’re feeling brave or you want some accountability, let’s talk. Feel free to share your own experience with quitting in the comments.