writing a book

When Vision Races Ahead of Execution

So a few days ago I told you a little secret. I'm working on a book. More accurately, I'm working on a book proposal which is the step before you work on a book. And I shared with you a few of my fears. More accurately, I shared with you a small fraction of my fears because if I shared all of them you would get bored and think I was a self indulgent nit-wit. Which most of the time, I am. But just around that same time, a friend of mine who understands the perils of making a living by making gave me a little gift. It was wrapped in brown paper and twine. It was a thin, rectangular package. It felt a little floppy. I knew it was a book. I just had no idea how it would bless me.

Art and Fear is a book by David Bayles and Ted Orland about how every single day artists everywhere are facing their fears. Some quit. Some don't. And that's the only thing that separates the successful from the unsuccessful. They write, "To survive as an artist requires confronting these troubles. Those who continue to make are those those who've learned how to continue—or more precisely, have learned how not to quit."

When I read that, I felt shored up. Encouraged. Because I know that I know how not to quit. During my two years with Teach for America, I called my mom (and then my husband) every single day crying that I wanted to quit. It was too hard. I wasn't making progress. The gains weren't worth the pain and the exhaustion and the sacrifice. But they helped me keep going. They taught me to continue. And now, in a job I love—I know the same must be true. I can't quit continuing.

david mcleod art

I spoke to a portrait artist a few weeks ago—and he said something that meant a lot to me then, but means even more to me now. In portrait art, in drawing, he said most people stop because they look at a picture they've drawn and say, "Oh, that's horrible!" But David says when he works with new artists, he uses that as fuel to keep them going. "If you can tell that it's not good," David says, "then you're capable of doing better."

This morning, I was reading Art and Fear, (my new morning ritual before pulling out my pen), and the author reiterated what David was trying to tell me. Together, they both hammered home the same idea: more often than not, our vision exceeds our execution. We can see something in our head that doesn't exist yet on paper. We can envision something on the screen that doesn't exist yet on film. We can hear something in our mind that hasn't ever been played.

That could drive us crazy, or it could drive us to the Ultimate Creator.

"Consider the story of a young student who began piano studies with a Master. After a few months' practice, he lamented to his teacher, 'But I can hear the music so much better in my head than I can get out of my fingers.' To which the Master replied, 'What makes you think that ever changes?'" Art and Fear, p. 14.

Perhaps we will always be plagued by this knowledge that what we create isn't exactly what we want to create. We desire better. We desire what is more beautiful. We desire what we see but can't attain.

And maybe that is on purpose. In those moments that I hear the story so much better in my head than I can get out of my fingers, I can be reminded that this three dimensional world is not the only one that exists. There also exists another dimension—the dimension where that thing that I see in my head, or hear in my ears, or feel in my soul—where that actually exists and breathes and sings. I believe God exists in both of those dimensions. He can see and create exactly what he sees. He did it with you. He did it with me.

And He's still creating.

"He who began a good work in you will carry it out to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6.

And if God's still creating—then I can keep creating too.

On how God told me to write a book... and it happened.

Burning Bush MomentHave you ever had a burning bush moment? A moment where heart pounding, feet tingling, you feel the presence of God and sense that what you're hearing is audible and silent and hidden from the world, but apparent to you? I've had one of those moments, and it happened in January, sitting in church, hearing a sermon about Ruth—a message about losing control. The turning point in Ruth comes when she presents herself all gussied up to Boaz, hoping that he might take her as a wife. But then he turns around and basically says, "wait, I need to take care of a few things." Ruth is let waiting, wondering, and completely out of control. She has no power to determine what happens next—it's all in his hands. And behind the scenes, without Ruth's knowledge, Boaz orchestrates everything necessary to redeem her and her husband's land. Though she didn't know it, there were conversations happening outside her earshot that changed her life.

And during that sermon, I felt something stirring in my heart that couldn't be called anything but crazy. TOTALLY CRAZY. It wasn't a voice, it wasn't a literal burning bush. It was this still, quiet thought that entered my heart in the  midst of a song. You need to write a book.

Writing a Book"Sure," I thought, responding to the thought. "I've always wanted to write a book, and I think I will some day." But my best efforts to kick the "book-writing" can down the road were thwarted. The thought kept pestering, breaking through, and finding its way to the pages of my journal where I was keeping notes. It was as if someone was whispering in my veins, Let go right now and be ready to write a bookLike Ruth, forget control and money and your schedule and find out what's been happening behind the scenes on your behalf. 

I've never left church so confused. At the grocery store afterwards, filling our cart with apples and turkey and sausage and orange juice for the week ahead—I told Patrick what I felt I'd heard that morning. He looked dumbfounded. What would I write about? I didn't know. Would I quit everything else and just start writing something? I didn't know. Would it take six years or six days or six months? I had no answers.

A few weeks went by and I tried to forget that I thought that God had called me to write a book. "You are so vain," I told myself. "You just want to write a book so you can be rich and famous. God doesn't call people to write books. People write books because they are conceited and want the world to think they're smart."

Yikes. I stuffed down these self-deprecating thoughts and insults, and smashed down the burning bush moment with them.

Unbeknownst to me, during this time a publisher was making a call to a non-profit in Michigan. Over one phone call, they asked the founder if he thought he could compile a book. Then, that founder called a friend in Nashville and asked if the friend knew any writers. Then that CEO called me.

It had been two weeks since that heart thumping, God-fearing moment in church. My phone vibrated and flashed an unknown number from Michigan. It was Brad Formsma, the founder of I Like Giving. He introduced himself, then asked me a simple question. "Claire, would you be willing to help me write a book?"

I said yes.

I'm telling you this story because I wonder what's happening in your life right now. If God is moving in my life, he's moving in yours. Because he loves me, and he loves you, and he's up to stuff! Perhaps even really big, mountain-moving stuff. And what if we cram it down and ignore it? And what if we label it coincidence instead of calling? We need to tell each other how God is moving. Because telling stories is a beautiful form of praise. We need to hear each others stories—because it reminds us that he is real and good and love. I need your story to keep me believing.

So, will you tell it?