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Writing For Your Life Today

The Story Is Not About Us

The larger point here is simple: the day we stop losing sleep over the success of our business and start losing sleep over the success of our customers is the day our business will start growing again. 

If we are tempted to position our brand as the hero because heroes are strong and capable and the center of attention we should take a step back. In stories, the hero is never the strongest character. Heroes are often ill-equipped and filled with self-doubt.

They don’t know if they have what it takes. They are often reluctant, being thrown into the story rather than willingly engaging the plot. The guide, however, has already “been there and done that” and has conquered the hero’s challenge in their own backstory. 

The guide, not the hero, is the one with the most authority. Still, the story is rarely about the guide. The guide simply plays a role. The story must always be focused on the hero, and if a storyteller (or business leader) forgets this, the audience will get confused about who the story is really about and they will lose interest. This is true in business, in politics, and even in your own family. People are looking for a guide to help them, not another hero. 

from “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller

The Web

The Web has explored the adjacent possible of its medium far faster than any other communications technology in history. In early 1994, the Web was a text-only medium, pages of words connected by hyperlinks. But within a few years, the possibility space began to expand. It became a medium that let you do financial transactions, which turned it into a shopping mall and an auction house and a casino. Shortly afterward, it became a true two-way medium where it was as easy to publish your own writing as it was to read other people’s, which engendered forms that the world had never seen before: user-authored encyclopedias, the blogosphere, social network sites. YouTube made the Web one of the most influential video delivery mechanisms on the planet. And now digital maps are unleashing their own cartographic revolutions.

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson – Riverhead Books

Spiritual writing is true.

It compels us to see the truth and worry over the truth and allow the truth to change us. Sometimes we must reassess what we have seen as truth and believed to be the truth. Sometimes we must see truth from another’s viewpoint, which will reframe truth that for years was familiar and comfortable and that required little from us.

from “The Art of Spiritual Writing” by Vinita Hampton Wright, Loyola Press

On Revision

Writing for writing’s sake is marvelous so long as the writer isn’t in denial about his or her dreams. Most writers, whether we admit it or not, want our creations to be recognizably dynamic, in the private sphere as well as for a broader readership. We write because we want to communicate. When fear of playing to an audience or facing an audience upon completion keeps us from ever developing our work, everyone loses. The writer never experiences the wild ride of revision, nor receives revision’s gifts. No readers benefit. Aborted projects may lead to energizing new projects, but aborted creativity serves no one.

Besides, we can reap the benefits of revision and still choose to keep our work private.

Revision’s bad reputation is based on stereotypes and misunderstanding. As soon as we pen a thought, we’ve already revised an invisible, intangible wisp inside our head into visible, tangible print. Something changes. Like any creative act, writing creates simultaneously inside and outside the creator. Writing helps us receive what experiences have made of us and make something of these experiences, which is how the Jungian Ann Belford Ulanov describes the source of all aliveness. Revision brings us and our work to life. Isn’t this why we initially fell in love with writing? Writing moved us and what we wrote moved others. Writing revised our world.

When we segregate revision from idea generation or journal writing or drafting—when we assume revision is for the professionals, and especially when we imagine revision to be devoid of exploration and surprise—we do a disservice to the creative process. Revision—reseeing—begins when we pen our first thought and continues through the drafting and development of a work, into and beyond publication. Revision is the dynamic, relational work of creating and being created. Isn’t this also the work of love? 

 

– by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew – from “Living Revision”

We are helped to remember

God, through the angel Gabriel, called on Mary to do what, in the world’s eyes is impossible, and instead of saying, “I can’t,” she replied immediately, “Be it unto me according to thy word.”

God is always calling on us to do the impossible. It helps me to remember that anything Jesus did during his life here on earth is something we should be able to do, too.

When spring-fed Dog Pond warms up enough for swimming, which usually isn’t until June, I often go there in the late afternoon. Sometimes I will sit on a sun-warmed rock to dry, and think of Peter walking across the water to meet Jesus. As long as he didn’t remember that we human beings have forgotten how to walk on water, he was able to do it.

If Jesus of Nazareth was God become truly man for us, as I believe he was, then we should be able to walk on water, to heal the sick, even to accept the Father’s answer to our prayers when it is not the answer that we hope for, when it is no. Jesus begged in anguish that he be spared the bitter cup and then humbly added, “but not as I will, Father; as you will.”

In art, either as creators or as participators, we are helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure, we who are children of God by adoption and grace.

from “Walking on Water” by Madeleine L’Engle

Our favorite verses

In the Christian New Testament, Jesus himself admits that he does not know everything there is to know about God. When his disciples ask him to tell them about the end times, he gives them a harrowing description that includes everything but when. “But about that day or hour no one knows,” he says, “neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” 

Passages like these protect God’s autonomy, but most of us prefer those that grant us special privilege. For Christians, the most potent one is John 14:6, in which Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Here is the bedrock assurance that Christians alone have access to God. But why is this verse more important than one that comes two chapters earlier in John’s Gospel? “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me,” Jesus says in John 12:44. Maybe my hearing is off, but those two verses sound different to me. So why do so many Christians know the former saying but not the latter one? Could it be that our favorite verses are the ones that make us feel most right?

– from “Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others” by Barbara Brown Taylor – HarperOne

Writing our way into the mystery

Spiritual memoir entails moving forward by writing what we don’t know-writing our way into the mystery. “I haven’t a clue as to how my story will end,” Nancy Willard writes. “But that’s all right. When you set out on a journey and night covers the road, you don’t conclude that the road has vanished. And how else could we discover the stars?

Consider a simple memory that haunts you. Make two lists: what you know and what you don’t know about the memory. What items from each list interest you most? Write a short paragraph reflecting on the two items.

from “Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Skinner House

External, internal and philosophical problems

Let’s look at how some successful brands we all know about have positioned the purchasing of their products as the resolution to external, internal and philosophical problems.

TESLA MOTOR CARS:

  • Villain: Gas guzzling, inferior technology
  • External: I need a car.
  • Internal: I want to be an early adopter of new technology.
  • Philosophical: My choice of car ought to help save the environment.

NESPRESSO HOME COFFEE MACHINES:

  • Villain: Coffee machines that make bad coffee
  • External: I want better-tasting coffee at home.
  • Internal: I want my home coffee machine to make me feel sophisticated.
  • Philosophical: I shouldn’t have to be a barista to make a gourmet coffee at home.

EDWARD JONES FINANCIAL PLANNING;

  • Villain: Financial firms that don’t listen to their customers
  • External: I need investment help.
  • Internal: I’m confused about how to do this (especially with all the tech-driven resources out there).
  • Philosophical: If I’m going to invest my money, I deserve an advisor who will thoughtfully explain things in person.

from “Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen” by Donald Miller

Competition turns out to be less central to the history of good ideas than we generally think

The pattern of “competition” is an excellent case in point. Every economics textbook will tell you that competition between rival firms leads to innovation in their products and services. But when you look at innovation from the long-zoom perspective, competition turns out to be less central to the history of good ideas than we generally think. Analyzing innovation on the scale of individuals and organizations – as the standard textbooks do – distorts our view. It creates a picture of innovation that overstates the role of proprietary research and “survival of the fittest” competition. The long-zoom approach lets us see that openness and connectivity may, in the end, be more valuable to innovation than purely competitive mechanisms. Those patterns of innovation deserve recognition – in part because it’s intrinsically important to understand why good ideas emerge historically, and in part because be embracing these patterns we can build environments that do a better job of nurturing good ideas, whether those environments are schools, governments, software platforms, poetry seminars, or social movements. We can think more creatively if we open our minds to the many connected environments that make creativity possible.

From “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation” by Steven Johnson – Riverhead Books

Imagination – by Frederick Buechner

EVEN A THOUSAND MILES inland you can smell the sea and hear the mewing of gulls if you give thought to it. You can see in your mind’s eye the living faces of people long dead or hear in the mind’s ear the United States Marine Band playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” If you work at it, you can smell the smell of autumn leaves burning or taste a chocolate malted. You don’t have to be asleep to dream dreams either. There are those who can come up with dramas laid twenty thousand leagues under the sea or take a little girl through a looking glass. Imagining is perhaps as close as humans get to creating something out of nothing the way God is said to. It is a power that to one degree or another everybody has or can develop, like whistling. Like muscles, it can be strengthened through practice and exercise. Keep at it until you can actually hear your grandfather’s voice, for instance, or feel the rush of hot air when you open the 450-degree oven.

 

If imagination plays a major role in the creation of literature, it plays a major one also in the appreciation of it. It is essential to read imaginatively as well as to write imaginatively if you want to know what’s really going on. A good novelist helps us do this by stimulating our imaginations—sensory detail is especially useful in this regard, such as the way characters look and dress, the sounds and smells of the places they live and so on—but then we have to do our part. It is especially important to do it in reading the Bible. Be the man who trips over a suitcase of hundred-dollar bills buried in the field he’s plowing if you want to know what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about (Matthew 13:44). Listen to Jesus saying, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew11:28) until you can hear him, if you want to know what faith is all about.

 

If you want to know what loving your neighbors is all about, look at them with more than just your eyes. The bag lady settling down for the night on the hot-air grating. The two children chirping like birds in the branches of a tree. The bride as she walks down the aisle on her father’s arm. The old man staring into space in the nursing-home TV room. Try to know them for who they are inside their skins. Hear not just the words they speak, but the words they do not speak. Feel what it’s like to be who they are—chirping like a bird because for the moment you are a bird, trying not to wobble as you move slowly into the future with all eyes upon you.

 

When Jesus said, “All ye that labor and are heavy laden,” he was seeing the rich as well as the poor, the lucky as well as the unlucky, the idle as well as the industrious. He was seeing the bride on her wedding day. He was seeing the old man in front of the TV. He was seeing all of us. The highest work of the imagination is to have eyes like that.

 

-Originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words

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