One of the things I love about this time of year is the unstructured days and spontaneous possibilities. I know it’s not everyone’s idea of fun, but I revel in it. Besides, it means I have time to look back over the year that’s just ended.
Maybe you’ve done that too and given 2017 a rating. How well did it measure up to your hopes and expectations? Was it a good year, maybe even a great year, or was it discouraging and difficult?
For me, 2017 was all of those things, but mostly I’d say it was unexpected.
Things have been pretty quiet lately on Write What You See. So, since the new year’s just begun, I thought I’d share a bit about what made 2017 so unexpected for me, and tell you about my plans for 2018.
After the book launch
It’s hard to believe that my first book, Letters to Emma was published just over a year ago! As the inimitable Dr Seuss once wrote:
My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?
At the beginning of 2017 after all the excitement of launching a book into the world, like many writers before me, I found myself in a creative slump. Not for any lack of ideas. In fact, I had an abundance of ideas and that was part of the problem. The other was that I lacked a clear direction.
I felt stuck.
I was now a published author. How amazing! Naïvely, I thought I would just move on to my next big project. But what would it be? How would I know what to do next? I also thought I would get back to regular blogging. And yet, I couldn’t decide if I should just pick up where I had left off or whether I could try something new.
After a while, I began to notice a pattern. I would come up with a swag of fresh ideas and then, after a short burst of enthusiasm I’d be assailed by doubts. Which idea should I pick? Which one was the best? I would spend a morning brainstorming and by lunch time I would have decided on a firm direction for my work. And yet by dinner time I would have talked myself out of it.
I flipped and flopped about like this until my Plan As were replaced by more Plan Bs than you could poke a stick at. Something had to change! And so, after months of frustrating indecision and utter bewilderment, I decided it was time to call in reinforcements. Enter Dan Blank from We Grow Media—consultant, coach and one-man cheer squad for creative people everywhere.
How I got creatively un-stuck
Dan lives on the east coast of the USA and I’m in Sydney—that’s a 15 to 17-hour time difference—so it’s been fun finding a time when we’re both awake and functioning! But we’ve discussed things like how to go about developing goals for creative work, how to connect with an audience and why it’s important to ‘double down’ (a classic Dan catch-phrase) on social media.
Patiently and painstakingly, Dan has been helping me to find a clear direction. And as we’ve exchanged emails and chatted on Skype once a week, I have noticed a change. It’s been achingly slow to come, so nothing worthy of a headline. But for me it’s been essential work. And I’ve actually begun developing plans for 2018, with a focus on just a few of the ideas that had been on a perpetual spin cycle in my head.
Most of my work with Dan has been offline. Having said that, I’ve already done some online preparation, most notably, transforming Write What You See from a blog into a proper website. It took weeks, mostly because I’d never done that sort of thing before. I’ve also created an Author Page on Amazon.com and on Goodreads.com. I now know far more than I ever wanted to about the technical aspects of building websites and author pages!
Finding a way out of being stuck has taken me the whole year. So it’s meant that blogging has remained a comfortable resident on the back burner. The thing is, blogging requires not only ideas, but also choices, conviction, courage and time. As you now know, I had plenty of ideas. But making firm choices eluded me and courage had deserted me.
And added to this were the preparations for my son’s wedding at the end of August—a wonderfully happy and distracting event that nonetheless ensured that non-blogging became an absolute certainty!
But now I’m back—creatively un-stuck and with solid plans I’d love to share with you.
Plans for 2018
First, I plan to blog regularly, once a week. And instead of writing posts only about a specific idea or issue, as I’ve done previously, I want to widen the scope. So I’ll tell you about my everyday writing life—what I do and why—and I’ll talk about some of my discoveries as I do research for my next big project, another book. (By the way, this is one of those posts.)
Second, work on my next book is already underway, though it’s still in the idea-incubation phase. I’m exploring the topic of Time, what it is, what it means, how we experience it as human beings and how being Christian influences that. I find it completely fascinating—a wonderful rabbit-hole with lots of potential digressions and diversions. The more research I do, the more intrigued I become, so I’ll make sure I share some of my discoveries along the way.
Third, I plan to be more active on social media, especially on Facebook and Instagram; in fact, I’ve already begun. I want to include my readers more by giving glimpses of projects in progress and chatting about life and other interesting things. I hope it might encourage you to be part of a conversation and to feel connected.
Trusting God through ‘the year of Plan Bs’
I’ve talked a lot about what I plan to do. That’s because I’m aware that my plans are not certainties and I don’t want to forget that 2017 was ‘the year of Plan Bs’. 2018 might be too.
But when I look back at 2017 and really pay attention to ‘the year of Plan Bs’, I can see how God has been there with me in the everyday—the ordinary stuff of life. He’s been there in the middle of the mess, the confusion, helping me when life didn’t turn out the way I expected.
True to form, true to character, my heavenly Father never failed to show up, though it wasn’t always in the way I wanted. When I craved certainty and clarity, he rolled up his sleeves and gave me the gift of uncertainty and fog. I yearned for foresight, insight, hindsight, any sight! He just squatted down next to me and pointed out the next safe foothold. He graciously gave me opportunities to trust him.
You see, when I long for comfort instead of discomfort, and smooth sailing instead of stormy seas, when I am impatient for relief from difficulty and yearn for obstacles to be removed, I think I know exactly what I need. And so often, I forget that God is way ahead of me.
Whether I sense his presence or not, whether life gets easier or harder, he promises he will never forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). I can be sure of this, if I take the time to remember; because on the cross the Lord Jesus was forsaken for all, so that not one believer who trusts in him will ever be forsaken by God (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46).
My Father in heaven never fails to provide me with daily bread—just the right measure of grace to help me with today’s needs. Just today’s. Not tomorrow’s. He won’t always take my troubles away; in fact often he doesn’t. But he is always there in the mess, sustaining me.
Frustration, creativity and CS Lewis
With a clear-eyed look back over 2017, I can see that my ‘year of Plan Bs’ has been just as joyous, creative and regenerating as it has been difficult, frustrating and confusing. In fact, it’s confirmed the findings of a study I heard about recently, that discovered how much more creative we humans become when we’re forced to work through difficulties and around obstacles. It turns out there’s direct link between doing things the hard way and doing things creatively; the harder something is, the more creative we tend to be.
And I remember something I read years ago about CS Lewis. During World War 2, Lewis volunteered to take into his home a number of children who had been evacuated from London and other cities during the Blitz. He was, by then, a respected Oxford University academic, and a well-known broadcaster and writer. Lewis was also a middle-aged bachelor who often worked from home and had very little experience of children.
Even though he had a housekeeper, there’s no doubt that having unfamiliar young children in his home would have made Lewis’ life and work very stressful. The children would certainly have missed their parents and perhaps wondered if they’d ever see them again. And Lewis, with his bachelor ways, would have been as new and strange to them as Oxford was.
And yet all of this upheaval and disruption in his home would become, for Lewis, the perfect incubator for the beginning of a revolutionary new project—the first book in the much-loved Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. One day, one of the children became curious about an old wardrobe in the house and asked Lewis if there was anything behind it. That was it! As George Sayers, one of his biographers later wrote:
Having children in the house benefited [Lewis] immensely. He had been shy and ignorant of them, but he now gradually acquired the knowledge and affection for them that made it possible for him to write the Narnia books. Without their presence, it is unlikely that he would even have had the impulse.*
I leave the final words of this post to His Eloquence, CS Lewis. They’re from his BBC radio talk, “Beyond Personality” which was first broadcast during wartime on 21 March 1944:
The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you’ll find your real self. Lose your life and you’ll save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep nothing back… But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.*
*Both cited in Gary Thomas, Authentic Faith: The Power of a Fire-tested Life, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2002, p.30-32.
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