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My 10 Top Lessons on Writing

Posted on August 25th, 2015

The Emotionally Healthy Leader was my most challenging writing project to date. It required 6 ½ years of journaling, pondering, and prayer, and 1½ years of intensive writing itself. By the time it was over, I wondered if I would ever write again. (My first draft of over two hundred pages, for example, ended up mostly in the trash.

So I reread two of my favorite books about the art and vocation of writing– Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing and The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard. Their insights offered me, once again, both perspective and vision. They put words on the complexity of the writing experience for me.

My top learnings:

  1. Why do I write? I write to become clear (Merton, 10).
  2. I find that it (writing) helps me pray because, when I pause at my work, I find the mirror inside me is surprisingly clean and deep and serene and God shines there… as if He had come close to me while I was writing and I had not observed His coming (Merton, 13-14).
  3. To write with the most complete simplicity and integrity…is a kind of crucifixion. It requires so much honesty that it is beyond my nature. It must come somehow from the Holy Ghost (Merton, 15).
  4. It takes years to write a book –between two and ten years. Perhaps twenty people (on the earth) can write a serious book in a year. Some people lift cars, too (Dillard, 13).
  5. Sometimes part of a book simply gets up and walks away. The writer cannot force it back in place. It wanders off to die (Dillard, 16).
  6. A work in progress… is a lion you cage. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room (Dillard, 52).
  7. Write as if you were dying. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon (Dillard, 68)?
  8. Writings sentences is difficult whatever their subject (Dillard, 75).
  9. At its best, the sensation of writing is that of unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then –and only then – it is handed to you (Dillard, 75).
  10. Write prayerfully in response to the prompting of God. If you are writing for the market, for money, or to become famous, please don’t. Let time pass so that you, and your content, can age like good wine (Scazzero).
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