Incubation

I have learned a valuable lesson.

Here it is:

It takes me three weeks to learn valuable lessons.

I read a bad book on writing. A person probably shouldn’t pay too much attention to a badly written book on writing. There was one redeeming sentence, though, and I took it to heart.

“If you want to be a writer

you need to write one thousand words,

every day,

Monday through Friday,

for the rest of your life.”

Three weeks ago I set out to obey this commandment. I wrote whatever came into my early morning fog-brain. I whined. I complained. I rambled. I typed out numbers and dates to add to my word count. (Two thousand and sixteen — that’s four words.) I stopped at exactly 1000 words every morning for two weeks. I wanted to quit when I read back the blather and twaddle that I found on those pages. Terrible stuff. But I kept going.

After the third week, two things happened.

First, I came to my senses and realized I could make my own rules and set my own goals. I don’t have to follow someone else’s idea of what is required to become a writer. Especially someone who wrote a bad book on writing.  I tweaked the word count and assigned a topic. Monday through Friday, for the rest of my life.

Second, I had a divine moment of clarity. All that drivel I had been spewing for three weeks finally cleared the way for deeper understanding, renewed purpose, and clearer vision. Once the gunk was gone, creativity had a chance to flow.

It was a hard climb, but worth the trouble. Slightly out of breath, I feel like I’m on the edge of a huge scenic overlook and am just now getting a view of a sweeping panorama that I didn’t know was coming. (Cue the soundtrack.) I have been slogging up an incline with nothing in my sights, just plodding along in the underbrush, unaware of how far the climb will be. Then, one day, there is space and sky and vista. (Crescendo violins.)

Incubation time is more necessary than I realized.

Three weeks.

I need to let an idea sit for three weeks and see what hatches.

I need to stick with a discipline for twenty one days to see what develops.

That’s a valuable lesson.

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Wednesday Words: The Closer

I am reading “The Closer” to PB. It is the story of Mariano Rivera, the New York Yankee pitcher who is MLB’s all time saves and ERA leader. For those not familiar with baseball lingo, that means he is the greatest relief pitcher of all time. If you’re still in the dark, Rivera was the guy who came out to the mound in the ninth inning to get the last three outs in a close game. His role was to finish off the game and keep the lead, hence the name, “The Closer”.

This book has given PB and I some things to think about:

1. Rivera was poor kid from Panama, who played baseball on the beach with a glove made out of an old milk carton. His humble start in life kept him appreciative every step of the way.

2. I don’t hate the Yankees anymore. Although the book tells about their many World Series victories, he talks as much about the many play-off games they lost. The insider look at the clubhouse and the dynamics between the players revealed that most of them were very close friends and not money-hungry narcissists. I said most.

3. When Mariano signed with the Yankees, he didn’t speak any English and didn’t realize his signature meant he would be getting on a plane and flying to America. He was terrified of flying and always held his Bible on his lap when in the air.

4. All throughout the book, he gave God the glory for everything that took place. His faith was strong, but not flashy.

5. When asked to give some advise to a young pitcher who was struggling with his mental approach to closing, he said,

“The job is hard enough without overcomplicating it. You don’t want a lot of noise playing in your head. You don’t want doubts. You just have to think about making every single pitch the best pitch it can be. Don’t worry about getting beat. It is going to happen. It happens to everybody, but the best thing you can do for yourself is have a short memory. You can’t take what happened yesterday out to the mound today.”

PB and I think that’s good advise for life.

Lord, help me not overcomplicate things. Drown out the noise that plays in this world that fills me with doubts. Help me to just do the best I possibly can with what You’ve given me. Some days I’ll feel like a loser. That happens to everybody. Give me the grace to let it go and move on so I don’t take yesterday’s failures out to the mound today. Amen.

 

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Four Books

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For Christmas last year, my son-in-law, Dan, gave me a truly creative gift. He offered to read four books with me over the course of the coming year. One of my favorite things to talk about with Dan is books. He was an English Lit. major and has an appreciation for good writing, so I corner him whenever they visit and pick his brain about all things books and reading.

I chose the first book. In January we read “Peace Like A River” by Leif Enger. It’s a great story with fascinating characters, but it was Enger’s writing style that drew me in on page one. I haven’t had the best of luck with fiction, so I felt like I hit a gold mine with this book.

If you are ever standing in the fiction section of a book store and come across “Peace Like A River”, read the second to last chapter. It will take you about eight minutes. I’ve perused Enger’s words many times and they always move me. Better yet, buy the book, take it home and read the whole thing.

Dan’s first pick was “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell, which we are reading together now. I thought it was appropriate to use my “Mark the Bookmark” bookmark in honor of Goliath.

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Gladwell’s book looks at “underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants.” In the introduction, he points out the many ways Goliath was disadvantaged in the show-down with David. Most Sunday school versions of the Old Testament story make Goliath out to be the easy champion and David’s unlikely victory the surprise ending.

Now I’m rethinking all that.

Perhaps David had the odds on his side from the very start.

Maybe being the underdog has its advantages.

“We have a definition in our heads of what an advantage is — and the definition isn’t right. And what happens as a result? It means that we make mistakes. It means that we misread battles between underdogs and giants. It means that we underestimate how much freedom there can be in what looks like a disadvantage.” Malcolm Gladwell

Once Dan recommended a book to me and I read it, but didn’t love it — until I talked it over with him and he pointed out all kinds of things I had missed. Then I realized that I did love it. Discussing “David and Goliath” should make for some interesting conversation with my son-in-law.

I’m learning that talking over a book can be as powerful as reading it.

Wednesday Words: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

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Sometimes when I read a book, I come across words that work so well together I just have to open my college ruled spiral notebook and copy them down. Then I revisit those words from time to time and let them work on me. This collection of quotes and excerpts has grown over the years. I figure there’s no sense in letting them pile up in a stuffy closet. Hence, this series of Wednesday Words.

I have a weak spot for books about books. In “The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin, there is a quote that captures how I feel about her story:

“Every word the right one and exactly where it should be. That’s basically the highest compliment I can give.”

Here are some more gems:

“I like talking about books with people who like to talk about books. I like paper. I like how it feels, and I like the feel of a book in my back pocket. I like how a new book smells, too.”

“Bookstores attract the right kind of people….. A place ain’t a place without a bookstore.”

(For a peek at our local used bookstore, that makes our town a place, click here.)

“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone.”

“We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.”

“You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, ‘What is your favorite book?'”

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Another and Another

I spent a few days with some women who are writers.

Real writers.

Actual published authors.

These ladies knew what they were doing, where they were going and how they were going to get there. They knew their klout score and their social media strategy and how to pitch their book to a publisher. I was in awe of their brilliance. So much good writing is already out there. At the end of the retreat, I had to ask a question:

God, does the world really need another writer?

The answer came at sunrise on the lakeshore.

“Does the world need another doctor? or preacher? or scientist? or teacher? I need another and another and another.

I’ll tell you what I don’t need — a bunch of people questioning and doubting and hemming and hawing about whether or not they should use the gifts I’ve given them. I have already set up divine appointments for your words. Yes, I need another writer.

Next time, don’t ask what the world needs.

Ask what I need.

Then get to it.”

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A Slow Fast

I’ve finally discovered a way to slow down time.

Fast from something for 40 days.

My, how the days do seem to drag on.

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For Lent this year, I chose to give up reading. At first it was nice to have quite a bit of extra time to do other things. But now I’m getting antsy — longing for the feel of a book in my hands. 

Here’s what I’ve been learning on this slow fast:

1. It’s good to have a chance to be alone with my thoughts. When I grab a book every time I have a few minutes (or hours) I’m continually cramming information into my brain. It all gets squished in there and I can’t differentiate between my thoughts and the notions of the five authors I’m reading. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, given a little space to breath, I do think my own thoughts.

2. There has been a feeling of empowerment with denying myself something I assumed I needed. I can look at my TBR pile of books and say, “You’re not the boss of me.” I can drive by the library and gloat, “You have no hold on me. (Or holds for me.) ” I can click out of Amazon and resist the urge to hit “Buy now with 1-Click”. I can.

3. Limiting my reading to only one book (the Bible) has made that precious time delightfully sweet. My eyes are more eager in the early morning hours to open the pages and soak in the words. I’m paying attention better, staying more engaged and falling in love with the words of life.

4. I am learning that I can do without things and it’s not really that hard. What seemed like a lofty and admirable plan on Ash Wednesday, quickly showed itself to be small potatoes. Coffee, chocolate, Facebook, spending money, reading — those things aren’t as big a deal as we think. We could live without any of it and survive.

5. Reading lots of books had become a source of pride for me. I’ve kept track of every book I’ve read over the last twelve years and adding a title to that list was puffing me up a bit. Or maybe a lot. I don’t know who I thought I was impressing, but I didn’t see it for what it was until now.

6. Now I know what it’s been like for PB all these years when he’s wanted to go to sleep and I’ve kept the light on to read. It’s so annoying. But I’m proud of my hubby – he’s read more than I have in the last month.

7. It’s been confirmed in my mind that TV is a wasteland. Outside of watching a few documentaries and basketball games, my only other go-to activity has been to go to bed. I’ve definitely gotten more sleep than usual.

8. On the scale of what qualifies as true sacrifice, giving up reading is pretty weak. It doesn’t come close to donating a kidney or falling on a grenade to save a fellow soldier. My little experiment pales in comparison with what this Lenten season is really all about. The supreme sacrifice will never be required again – my debt has been paid in full. My eternal future has been secured, not because I gave up reading for forty days, but because my Savior gave Himself up for the love of the world.

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Reading Fast

I’m not referring to a speed reading technique here. This is not a “how-to-read-a book-a-day” post. No, this is something different. Much different.

I gave up reading for Lent.

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In Lauren Winner’s book, “Girl Meets God”, she was challenged to give up her voracious reading habit during the six weeks of Lent. When I read that I gasped. No way.  I could never do that. Reading is a huge part of my life. I love reading so much. So very much. So so very very much.

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I argued with myself, “Just because Lauren Winner did it, doesn’t mean you have to do it.”

I pouted and whined, “I’m in the middle of a really good book right now. Can I just finished it first?”

I wrung my hands, “How am I ever going to get through all 180 titles on my To Be Read list if I up and quit reading for six weeks?”

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

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One year I gave up sugar for Lent, but I admit that I was hoping for a little kick-back in terms of improved health for myself.  One year I gave up Oprah – a whole hour of TV watching — and never went back.

If Lent is supposed to be a time to consider the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf, then I need to give up something that makes me gasp at the thought.

For me, it’s books.

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Over the past week and a half, some interesting things have happened.  A good friend handed me a book she had just finished and said, “You are going to love this. All the time I was reading it, I thought – this is a Dinah book.” Then, my public library sent me an email– a title I had requested months ago was finally in and waiting for me. I talked to the librarian to see if I could keep it longer than four weeks. But, no. I told her, “I gave up reading for Lent.”  She gasped.

Then, another sweet friend gave me an unexpected gift – these magnetic page clips.

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That spell R-E-A-D.

I have banned all books but one – The Good Book. I have my bookmark securely placed at chapter 24 of the story I’ll pick back up on Easter Sunday. I’ll put my name on the waiting list at the library once more. Fasting from books for a few weeks isn’t that great of a sacrifice. I will survive. Gasp.