A Purposeful WIP Values Vulnerability

Similar to last week, I really don’t have much of a writing update this week. I’m still editing the manuscript, still making progress, and actually getting a little more done each day than I had originally planned, so I may even finish earlier than expected . . . I’ll keep you posted.

With that I’m just going to jump right into The ABCs of a Purposeful WIP. Today’s subject is a bit of a touchy one. We’re talking about vulnerability. I say it’s touchy because vulnerability is often seen as a weakness. And for good reason. A quick glance at a thesaurus will show you its synonyms are: open (to attack), defenseless, assailable, and susceptible. Who wants to be identified as any of those things? But I’m here to tell you that as purposeful works-in-progress, vulnerability is incredibly valuable.

Although it is in our nature to flaunt our strengths and gloss over our weaknesses, in one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians in the Bible, he talks about how he actually boasts only about his weaknesses. In this same passage Paul goes on to mention a thorn in his side that he was given to prevent him from becoming prideful. He prays for it to be taken away, but God only says, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”*

And don’t we all have those weaknesses, those thorns in our sides? Those relentless reminders of our humanness that we contend with over and over again. A lack of patience, a short fuse, a habit of procrastination, the inability to see things through. All of these things can prevent us from making progress, from reaching goals, from growing into self-awareness, but they’re also given to us for a reason.

Like Paul’s, the thorns in our own sides serve a purpose. Our not-so-desirable qualities exist both so we don’t become overly arrogant, believing we can get through life on our own merit and without reliance on God, and also so we can help each other. When shared, openly and honestly, our vulnerabilities make us real and raw and approachable. Eleanor Roosevelt says we should learn from the mistakes of others because we can’t live long enough to make them all ourselves. True as this may be, it isn’t possible if we only ever show the filtered, edited, rosy-colored versions of ourselves and our lives. All those images do is add to our vulnerabilities and incite feelings of inferiority.

So we must be brave enough to defy what has become the cultural norm. We must rip off our masks, boldly revealing that underneath we are indeed human beings, complete with the weaknesses and flaws and tendencies that make us who we are. I’ll tell you from experience it’s not easy. These blog posts I’ve been writing these last many months may seem like nothing to some of you, but they’re actually a challenge for me. Every single one of the topics I’ve discussed is something I’ve struggled with at some point and opening up about them has been really difficult. It’s hard for me to sit here and let my vulnerabilities show—like the fear that my words don’t matter.

But despite my inclination to hole up and hide from the world, I felt moved to do it. I thought if talking honestly about my meandering novel-writing, self-growth journey encouraged even one other person to dare to do that thing she’s always wanted to do, then the insecurity that picks at me when I sit down each week to record these words will be well worth it. The thing about this method of outreach, though, is that I don’t always know whether my messages are reaching anybody. I don’t know whether anyone reads them. But I do know that the simple act of showing up, of showing that the pathway to progress is often, if not always, a bumpy one, has helped me in ways immeasurable.

So thank you for tuning in today. Whoever and wherever you are, I hope this message emboldens you. I hope you are encouraged to not only take a leap toward your own goal, but to share the vulnerable truth of your journey with others. Like Paul says at the end of that Bible passage: For when I am weak, then I am strong.* And I will amend that to say for when we are weak, then we are strong. Together.

*Bible passage is from 2 Corinthians 12:5-10 NLT

A Purposeful WIP Unpacks Uncertainty

I really don’t have anything new to report on the novel-writing front as I’m still in the midst of my big final edit, but as I move forward and make progress, approaching the next step in the process, I will say that I continue to be surprised (for lack of a better word) that I have made it this far. One reason for that feeling of surprise is the topic of this week’s ABCs of a Purposeful WIP message. And that is uncertainty.

For anyone—writer or not—who has aimed to reach a goal or make a change or stretch the limits of your comfort zone, feelings of uncertainty, although completely normal, can be downright debilitating. It’s difficult to keep dreaming the big dream, making the plans, and working toward that achievement when we’re not even sure ourselves that we can do it. It’s hard to convince others of our determination when we are terrified to a state of immobility by our own doubts.

I’m here to tell you that I understand. I’ve been there. That state of doubt-induced inertia is one I’ve found myself sinking into time and time again over the last few years. But I’m also here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to allow our doubts to have the last word, or dictate the direction of our lives, or crush our motivation. Progress is possible despite the regular appearance of doubt as long as we know where it’s coming from. If we take the time to unpack our uncertainty, if we determine to understand the cause, then we can acknowledge it, resolve it, and move past it.

But how do we do that? Depending on your level of commitment for digging into your feelings, this can be both simple and not. It’s as simple as getting out a piece of paper and pen and journaling through some prompts, though your responses, themselves, will likely be complicated. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. What is the doubt that holds you back? Identify it, name it, and be as specific as possible. My biggest doubt is that my words are unimportant. And you can imagine how incapacitating such a belief can be on a writer’s morale.
  2. Where does the doubt come from? Listen to the voice that pipes up when you’re in the throes of uncertainty. Is it yours or someone else’s? Mine is a mish-mash. Snippets of pointed conversations and humiliating experiences from years past, the accumulation of which clings to me and weighs me down if I let it.
  3. Write a letter to your doubt. Tell it that while you’ve appreciated its presence in the past—after all, it did save you from failing because it kept you from even trying—you are no longer in need of its assistance. List all the reasons you won’t be buying into its lies anymore (e.g. you’re no longer the same person), then remind your doubt (and therefore yourself) how awesome, capable, and well-equipped you are to accomplish your goal.

I encourage you to repeat this process anytime your uncertainties come back, and unfortunately, they will resurface. But I can tell you from experience, that if you remain diligent, if you don’t allow them to get the upper hand, then any setbacks you might encounter will be minimal.

A Purposeful WIP Thinks Thankful Thoughts

Today’s writing update comes with its own hashtag: #stillediting. As I mentioned last week, the editing process continues to get a little easier because I’m noticing the same grammar and punctuation mistakes throughout the entire manuscript, which make them easy to identify and correct. What’s becoming more difficult, though, is deflecting the urge to turn this into another rewrite. Obviously when I come across sentences that are poorly written or words that I stumble over as I’m reading, those require an adjustment. But I’m finding myself adding and changing more and more as I go.

It’s a bit maddening because I know I could rewrite and re-edit and re-do forever and ever and probably never be fully satisfied. But I also know that I’m going to have to let it go at some point. I’m going to have to call it good enough and take that next step. Doing so may be simply a matter of reaching a level of emotional exhaustion from writing and tweaking the same story for the last three years. Maybe that’s what it really comes down to. Maybe there exists no writer who is actually ready to let go of her work, but she just becomes so tired of it that her only choices are to bury it in the backyard (Good riddance!) or throw her chips into the slush pile along with thousands of other wannabe authors and pray for representation/publication. (Pick me! Pick me!)

It’s all progress, though—getting this far along in the editing process and getting closer to being ready to let go—and for that, I am extremely grateful. And gratitude plays an important role in making purposeful progress. Thinking Thankful Thoughts on a regular basis can give us a tremendous boost toward reaching our goals, being our best selves, living our best lives, and even helping others to be their best. (Imagine the collective elevation of goodness we could create by not only thinking of the reasons we are thankful for those around us, but then also TELLING them!)

I know what a tall order this can be. Given the natural negativity bias of humans, most of us are more inclined to focus on the bad rather than the good, so retraining our minds to think differently takes a lot of energy and determination and practice. Believe me, that consistency is a struggle I greatly understand and likely the main reason I talk (and write) about gratitude so often. I need the reminders because it’s too easy to fall back into old routines and mindsets. But I’m finding that the more effort I put into building a routine of daily thankfulness, the less time I waste getting stuck in unhealthy and unhelpful patterns.

One thing I’ve recently realized on my own journey toward increased positivity is that specificity is huge. Rather than getting caught up in large-scale vagueness—I’m thankful for my house, my spouse, my kids, etc. If we pinpoint detailed activities, situations, things, or traits and/or kindnesses that we associate with certain people for which we are grateful, we not only get in the habit of seeking out the good, but we also become more intent on focusing our often divided time and attention on those specific good things.

For example, instead of saying “I’m grateful for Dolly (my super sweet canine companion),” I would say: I’m grateful for the early morning minutes I get to spend with Dolly. She’s an older dog now, preferring ample personal space over cuddling with her humans. But in the morning, when she’s still groggy with sleep, she lets me nuzzle her. I rest my cheek against the soft fur on her head, scratch her ears, and delight in her contented sighs and snorts. It’s a little thing, but it often turns out that the little things are the big things. And now that I’ve identified it as something for which I am particularly grateful, I’m both more likely to start my day with those Dolly snuggles and also more likely to call up memories of those warm and fuzzy moments anytime her behavior doesn’t necessarily elicit feelings of gratitude. (Like when she whines to go outside every fifteen minutes just to play in the snow.)

So what about you? What are you grateful for? I challenge you today to devote some time to narrowing your scope in order to define at least one specific reason to be thankful and if you can, try incorporating both that thing and the practice of gratitude into your life on a daily basis. You just might be surprised how much an attitude of gratitude can uplift your outlook, refocus your attention, and better align you to more fully experience and embrace progress, contentment, joy, and love.

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.

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?