Tag Archives: writers

Seven Deadly Sins for Writers: #7 – Greed

greed

Do you agree? Is it true? Is greed good?

Spoiler alert! Things don’t turn out great for Mr. Gekko. I doubt Michael Douglas’s character would be a good role model.

In fact, another wealthy man, richer even than Gekko, offers a different philosophy:

One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. Proverbs 11:24

But, King Solomon’s words probably won’t make it to Hollywood. Oscar winners won’t likely be quoting it on YouTube. So, which do we believe?

Tangled up with pride, with a bit of gluttony mixed in, this deadly sin is a fistful of temptation. Its methods of pulling us in can be fairly sneaky. When we get sucked into Greed is Good thinking, rejecting the wisdom of Proverbs, its deadliness appears in three modes:

  • My Praise
  • My Pennies
  • My Price

My Praise

We want more than our fifteen minutes of fame. We want every literate person alive to read our works. “Let everyone see my name in print and be amazed at my talent!” our hearts cry. Our esteem soars when we receive compliments on our writing. We can’t wait to get that positive feedback on our latest piece. Of course, joy in a job well done is not all bad. Excitement over success is not either. It’s when the scales tip, and our personal praise is lifted higher than God’s, that things have gotten deadly. (Or maybe that’s just my heart, and I’m projecting. Don’t leave me alone out here. Am I the only one whose heart struggles with this? The only one who enjoys the personal praise?)

The other part of my heart, that which yields to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, knows it’s not all about me. Like everything else, our writing should be about God’s glory, not ours.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31

My Pennies

Not only could we be famous, we could be rich. Write that bestseller and watch the royalty checks roll in. What a life. Think of the house, the boat, the car, the clothes, and the mound of Little Debbie Snack Cakes we could buy with our author earnings. So much could be ours.

Honestly, the material possessions have never been too much of a temptation for me (other than the snack cakes.) But, a life of leisure  – that’s a different story. I dream of having enough money that I can do whatever I want with my time. No more commuting, no more mortgage. I can spend my days at play, enjoying nice weather, writing whenever and whatever I want, sleeping when I’m tired. It’s not gimme, gimme, gimme stuff. It’s gimme, gimme, gimme time and freedom.

Let me do whatever I want, for my own pleasure. I doubt this is any less selfish. It’s still a less-than-biblical motive for money.

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:3

I have been praying for God’s guidance and assistance as I pursue writing goals. I have to frequently do a heart check. What is motivating me to write? Do I only want it to satisfy my own passions? Am I writing for God’s glory, or mine? Ouch. That one hits home. I do pray for Godly motives. Searching my heart, I see the desire to share the Lord with others and glorify Him through writing. But, is this always the case? My score is less than 100% on that test.

My Price

The danger here is two-directional. We can either think we are too valuable for certain work, or we can believe our value is based on our work and what it earns us.

The first direction is paved with pride. “I’m worth more than what that job pays.” “I deserve better than this.” “I shouldn’t have to work my way up.” Thoughts like these keep us from opportunities to learn and grow and from opportunities to serve others. Falsely thinking we cannot afford to do anything “below” us, we hold out for the big breaks, even though these may never come if we don’t ride the smaller waves first. We don’t offer services for free to help someone because our time is too valuable. No pay, no way. In either situation, we are afraid we won’t be paid what we are worth.

I realize there are circumstances that call for discernment, and times when we do need to say no. It’s not unreasonable to desire fair pay, and everything we write does not have to be volunteer work in order to try to serve others.

The problem occurs when we base our personal value on the monetary value of our writing. If I don’t earn much, I’m not worth much. We mistakenly think our value goes up with our net worth.

In truth, our value with God is constant, and based on nothing we have done or can do:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

When we base our value in anything other than the Lord, we are believing the lies we are either telling ourselves or believing from the world.

Retraining

We must steer our hearts a different way. 2 Peter 2:14 states “They have hearts trained in greed.” What does this training get us? Immediately following this statement, Peter describes them as accursed children.

What can our hearts seek instead of Praise, Pennies, and Price?

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

I hope and pray I do this. I don’t want to seek my own glory. I want to base my worth in the Lord. I want to be humble, and generous, and a good writer, and successful in my pursuits – all at the same time, all while accepting God’s will for my life. To accomplish this, I must be ok with never publishing a book if it never happens, accept the value I have in God’s love, and reflect Him to others rather than spotlighting my own glory.

I hope I can sing Francesca Battistelli’s words in a spirit of worship and truth, and honestly say:

I don’t need my name in lights
I’m famous in my Father’s eyes
Make no mistake
He knows my name
I’m not living for applause
I’m already so adored
It’s all His stage
He knows my name

He Knows My Name, Francesca Battiestelli, If We’re Honest, 2014

None of this is possible with greed guiding my way.

Seven Deadly Sins for Writers: #6 – Gluttony

emoticon gluttony2

Some people eat to live. Some people live to eat. I’m a card-carrying member of the latter crowd. Yes, as I sit here with the seven extra pounds I packed on over the holidays I recently ate my way through, I have no doubt about which of these people I am.

My pastor recently said “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels.” I believe that’s a good point. But has he met my life-long pal Deborah?

little debbieslittle debbie logo

I admit the thought of continuous consumption of every sweet treat I can get my taste buds on has its appeal. What also sounds appealing is fitting through the front door of my townhome.

Fortunately, I also enjoy exercise. This wasn’t always true. I remember a time in my life when I referred to that demon as the “e” word. Now, aerobics and I have buddied up, and I enjoy a good sweat-inducing workout and the physical benefits I reap from it.

The result is a fairly healthy balance of input and output. I don’t look like Denise Austin, but I can live with that. The time I devote to early-morning workouts keeps me healthy and balances out the occasional unhealthy snack or party-binge on junkfood. I think I do ok. Without the output though, I could see the scales tipping, so to speak.

The same goes for writing. I doubt I’ll get much argument from a statement about the unhealthiness of overeating. Gluttony is bad. Got it. Why should gluttonous consumption in the area of writing be any healthier? If we can see that gorging ourselves on every meaty morsel will not end well for us, we should be able to see the same application for our craft.

Writer’s Gluttony shows up in three forms. Stuffing. Starvation. Stagnation. Interwoven like the latticework of Mom’s apple pie, these three create a pattern of gluttony that will leave a bad taste in your life.

Stuffing

How many times have we been told to read, read, read? If you’re going to be a writer, you must first be a reader. Ok. We read. Then we are told we must study our craft, learn from the successful writers around us, and research our market. Ok. We study. We read articles. We listen to webinars. We join the ranks of followers reading Michael Hyatt’s tips. We get our hands on a copy of the most recent Writer’s Market. We set up camp at Barnes & Noble, perusing every title in our niche. We research our next topic until we’re blue in the face. We gobble up everything we can about writing. We spend every spare moment consuming all we can, from literary classics to the latest John Grisham. We stuff ourselves so full of knowledge and resources that success should ooze from us like the juices of a well-basted Thanksgiving turkey.
eating book
The problem: Now our stomachs hurt. We are bloated beyond belief. We munched on tales and tips, consumed columns and critiques, and swallowed more self-help than we care to admit. And now we’re sick on it. Why? All we did was consume. We never exercised to balance out the consumption. All input. No output.

As we take in from other wordsmiths, we should spin out some yarns of our own. What that looks like will be different for every writer. Maybe you start a blog. Maybe you write the short story that’s been nibbling at your brain for eight months. Maybe you compose and send that query letter. Maybe you stop procrastinating and start producing. Whatever the step, you end the gluttony by getting into a healthier cycle of consumption and production.

This probably won’t be easy. A habit of eating is a lot easier to form than a habit of exercising. It’s work. Work can be hard (although enjoyable too.) Take this Saturday afternoon I am currently enjoying for example. The easier thing is to cozy myself up on the couch and devour a book. The harder thing is to crack open the laptop and bang out an article. I decided to devote a chunk of the day to exercising my own writing skills. My balance? While consuming a turkey sandwich and some cantaloupe around noon, I read a few pages of Stephen King’s On Writing.

Other deadly sins may try to jump in this battle. As you struggle to produce, gluttony’s pal fear may float to the surface. The key is to do it anyway. Keep putting things in and pouring things out. Lots of it. If it’s not all good, that’s ok. Think of it this way. If you vomit out enough stuff eventually you might discover something worth cleaning up and keeping.

The key is to break the cycle of gluttony. Stop cramming it all in your little notebook and start filling someone else’s.

With this last thought in mind, we can avoid gluttony’s second shape.

Starvation

If we are consumed with gluttony, we take, take, take. We are selfish. We never give. While we gobble up everything we can, we leave others starving.

We are busy meeting our needs (or what we think our needs are) and forget the hunger of others. Where would we be if the writers from whom we are consuming never gave? We need to put some morsels out there for others to sustain themselves. This could take the form of simply writing that book or blog, or pouring into someone on a more personal level. It is likely God has put something in you that no one else could give, based on your unique talents and experiences as a writer. Don’t deny the world of what you have to offer.

Maybe it’s helping a friend with a cover letter for a dream job. Maybe its composing a pro bono article for your church website or local nonprofit organization. Maybe it’s reading a book to a child, or teaching someone how to read. Maybe it’s offering to edit your neighbor’s book. Maybe it’s publishing a book that will have a great impact on its readers. The opportunities are endless. The point is to not be consumed with our own input and instead focus some time, talent, and energy on the input of others.

The formats vary, but the results are the same. We fight off gluttony in ourselves and fill others in the process. Starvation stopped.

As we produce in addition to consume, we not only avoid stuffing ourselves and prevent the starvation of others, we also avert gluttony’s third shape – stagnation.

Stagnation

Mosquitoes, malaria, and the mata mata turtle.

These thrive in stagnant water.

While I’ve come across many small cute turtles, and others so large they were awe-inspiring, the mata mata falls into neither of these categories. In fact, I have read (as part of my healthy consumption-production cycle) that South Americans call unattractive women mata matas. mata mata

My point? Stagnation produces some fairly ugly and unpleasant things, and gluttony produces stagnation.

If we don’t get away from gluttony and move toward a healthier pattern of production, we become stagnant in our writing. Never stretching ourselves to create something new, we only continue to pour into our puddle of knowledge, with no outlet to drain out some of our own thoughts. The result? The rain keeps adding ideas to our little pond but no one ever drinks from it. We find ourselves with a cess-pool of ideas that never flow anywhere. They arrive at stagnation station and stay there.

We need to create some drainage. Stir the waters. Create a culvert. Start pouring words out of our pond. Pour into others. Establish a flow of ideas. Write.

If we never do, we end up bloated and miserable, with a case of malaria, surrounded by mosquitoes and mata matas.

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Up next – Deadly Sin #7 – Greed – if I can spend enough of my unpaid time to write it.

Seven Deadly Sins for Writers #5 – Pride

pride emoticon

 

God opposes it. It comes before a fall.

pride of lions

No, not that.

pride baby

Nope, not that either.

This.

proberbs 16-18 image

Pride goes before destruction,
    a haughty spirit before a fall.

This is the deadly sin that set us in opposition to God, reigns in our hearts, fills us with sin, and takes us over the cliff.

Pride can interfere and take us off track in every area of our lives. How does pride bring about the fall of a writer?

“I’m pretty smart. I can do this. I don’t  need their advice. They can’t help me. I couldn’t possibly learn something from them.”

“Why would I want feedback? I know what I should write, and I know how to write it. I don’t need anyone to review my work.”

“Just because they have two decades of experience doesn’t mean they know more than I do. I have fresh ideas and talent. They should be listening to me.”

“I shouldn’t have to go through all this work. Can’t they just accept my writing as the brilliance that it is and print it?”

“Ask for help? That’s ridiculous. Everyone is busy with their own stuff. I don’t want to be a bother.”

“Offer help? My time is too precious. They will figure it out or find someone else who has more time to spare.”

“Here is my plan. I am determined to carry it out. I don’t care what it takes. I don’t care what else God might have planned. I can do it, and I will.”

Perhaps some of these thoughts are exaggerated. Perhaps not much. Do any of them sound familiar? I must admit they do. They couldn’t have flowed from my fingertips here if they hadn’t crossed my mind at some point.

Since pride traces it’s roots all the way back to Lucifer, I doubt I’m the only one who has experienced these prideful ponderings.

We think we can do it on our own. We won’t listen, seek counsel, learn from others, or humble ourselves and ask for the help we won’t admit we need. For the perfectionistic pride-filled like me, it means not wanting to admit we couldn’t figure it out on our own, or that we tried and failed and now need help to get back on track. Or, we do only that which we feel is profitable for us. Time, effort, finances, editing skills – all are focused on our own agendas and never spent on others’ needs, for we are pridefully convinced we are somehow more important than others.  We make ourselves God. Such hubris.

Why can’t we simply admit our imperfections, our need for others, and our need for God? It is because we are standing on a mountain of pride, unaware we are teetering on the edge.

What can we do to step away from that ledge? How do we get off this prideful path? We have to head in a different direction, for a different location to set up residence.

humility sign

Humble yourselves before the Lord,
and he will lift you up. James 4:10

We can’t do it on our own. In fact, we can do nothing without the Lord. We may think we have it all together. Everything is perfectly in place, and we think we look stunning as we catapult blindly into the ravine.

It is when we are willing to admit we are imperfect, we don’t know everything, we aren’t capable of doing it all, and that we need God to do anything, that we have climbed down off that mountain and humbled ourselves before the Lord. It is when we can see others as not less important than us, but more. It is when we value them as we should.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2:3-4

As Jesus modeled:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:5-8

We know that we will be blessed when we follow this example.

God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. 1 Peter 5:5

He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. Psalm 25:9

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation. Psalm 149:4

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. Proverbs 11:2

How can we follow these commands, receive these blessings, and practice humility as writers?

  • Admit our need for the Lord in all things.
  • Acknowledge our need for others.
  • Put others before ourselves.
  • Pray for the following to be true of our hearts, as David prayed:

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131

As we place our hope in the Lord, as we quiet ourselves to humbly accept our child-like state of fragility and need, as we admit we do not and will never know all, as we model Christ’s love for others, we can put off pride and put on humility.

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Up next – Deadly Sin #6 – GLUTTONY – if I can stop eating long enough to write it.

 

 

Seven Deadly Sins for Writers: #2 – SLOTH

sloth emoticon

An amazing thing happened last Tuesday. A representative from Random House showed up at my home to offer me a publishing contract. I hadn’t written a single query, composed one proposal, or even researched publishing companies. She said one of their editors came across my blog the week before and simply fell in love with my writing. They could not wait to get me signed on before someone else snatched me up.

If you are having a hard time believing that, I don’t blame you. It’s not true. Sadly, this is just a fantasy. My slothful side dreams of writing success to come knocking at my door. In the window of reality, it doesn’t really work that way.

Getting published is hard work. I suppose there may be some exceptional stories out there, but, for us regular folk, the blood, sweat, and tears must flow.

Here’s the truth:

I’ve been researching publishers, writing queries, and submitting children’s stories since the summer of 2012. I have a half-finished Christian nonfiction book I hope to begin submitting to publishers eventually. I have a lot of editing and rewrites to do on that before it’s anywhere near ready. Plus, the proposal process for nonfiction looks daunting.

I have gotten some freelance work. There are several clients for whom I have regularly completed projects. However, these few are the result of dozens and dozens of applications and registrations on writers’ sites.

I say again – this writing stuff is a lot of work.

As I have begun to more seriously pursue my writing goals, I have discovered this second deadly sin to be quite the obstacle. I have also discovered a three-step process to overcome it. (and it’s alliterated, so it must be good.)

1. Admission

I’m lazy. I just want to write. I want it to be easy. This should be fun, right? My passion is writing, not work. I want to simply write what I want and then sit back and wait for my amazing talent to surface one day and sell itself.

I have unrealistic expectations of how things should be – expectations motivated by sloth. I don’t want to have to do all the leg work necessary to actually publish anything.

I procrastinate. I have a lot of ideas that I have not fleshed out. I have started stories and never finished them. I continue to put off the hard part of actually completing a thought.

There. I admitted it. Sloth has a residence in my heart.

Now that I have admitted its existence I can begin to battle it.

2. Action

As a whole, our goals can seem impossible to reach. Take the nonfiction book I am writing as an example. The task seems so daunting I don’t even want to try to tackle any of it. Or, publishing a children’s book. Or publishing anything. As I’ve been in this process, I repeatedly hear stories of how long it has taken other writers to get something in print, or become established. The tales include hundreds of rejections, years of waiting, and so on. Somehow, the point of those stories is supposed to be encouragement to not give up. What I hear is: I have years and years of rejection after rejection to look forward to. How motivating. Thanks.

This is not what my slothful side wants to hear. I want it to be easier than that. Maybe it will be. We’ll see what God has planned for me. In the meantime…I need to act. Do the research. Send the query letters. Submit poetry to websites. Actually sit down and do the editing certain pieces need.

But there’s so much to do!

In order to make these tasks less intimidating, we can create smaller goals. Don’t think about the three dozen steps you will have to take before your book might get published. Focus on the first step. Break it down. Be satisfied with doing a little, today. Set aside just fifteen minutes. Get started. Stop procrastinating. It’s ok if you don’t finish the whole job right now. At least get the ball rolling. Maybe that means writing for seven minutes in the morning and seven again at night. Maybe it’s researching one publisher this week. Maybe it’s posting on your blog each week instead of once every month or so.

Whatever the goal, we should make it realistic. It may seem small, but it’s a start in the fight against sloth. As we see victory in these little goals, we can move forward with bigger ones. Keep moving!

3. Accountability

sloth goonies2

Announce your sloth. It’s not enough to admit it to myself. I need to bring others in to help me with this battle. Hey you guys! Sloth here! Help me stay on track, please!

It may not seem like a very powerful tool, but accountability works. If you have shared with others what you plan to do, and ask them to hold you accountable, you are simply more likely to do it. You are answering to someone other than yourself. This is very motivating. It is especially good to tell these accountability peeps that they should not accept any excuses. Lay it out there for them. This is my plan – remind me, nag me, beat me with a rubber hose – whatever it takes – don’t let me stray, procrastinate, slip into slothful slumber.

I have made it a goal to submit at least one piece of writing per week. This may be publishing a blog post, or submitting a children’s story to a publisher, or finding an online Christian magazine to submit a devotional to, or a poetry site to send a poem to – just get something out there!

I have asked several of my friends to hold me accountable on this goal. As I type this I am thinking of two friends whom I will see tomorrow. They will ask me if I’ve met my writing goals for this week, and I want to be able to say yes. I have not submitted anything yet this week. This fact spurred me to sit down and finally finish this post that I started a couple weeks ago. (Please take a moment here to appreciate with me the irony of having difficulty finishing a post on sloth.) Knowing they are going to ask me about it when I see them helped me overcome my laziness and procrastination.

If you struggle with sloth too, get some accountability. It could be just one person, or a group of people. Choose wisely though. If you pick someone more slothful than you, they may be too lazy to hold you accountable.

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Up next: Deadly Sin #3 – ENVY – if I’m not too jealous to write it.

 

 

 

 

Seven Deadly Sins for Writers

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One Fish Two Fish Read Fish Blue Fish. It wasn’t long after this stage of reading that you began dreaming of writing your own clever yarn. You found the place Where the Sidewalk Ends and could not wait to compose your own prose. Since those Berenstain Bears days, you’ve had the itch to craft a story, tell a tale, smith some words.

You’ve scribbled notes, started journals, maybe even typed a few pages. Perhaps you’ve shared a poem or two with the fam, or told some stories to your kids. Or, quite possibly, the dream never even got that far. You’ve simply loved the idea of writing and spent years dreaming of writing ideas.

The problem is, the ideas never left the mental attic. The dust there is as thick as a Michener tale. You’ve tucked them away with the blanket statement “maybe someday.”

Why?

What is the roadblock on this journey to author status? What makes us stumble when we do venture onto the writer’s path? What is it we must battle?

Seven. Seven roadblocks. Seven stumbling blocks. Seven monsters out to gobble up our pens and pages and spit them in our faces.

As writers, we face Seven Deadly Sins.

Each offers unique temptations, traumas, and terrors. Some you may have already encountered. Some await on the trail ahead. Some will sneak up from behind, no breadcrumbs needed to find you. None get us where we need to go.

Over the next few weeks, I will define, dissect, and offer ways to destroy these Seven Deadlies.

We’ll first tackle the one that seems most rampant. It stops us dead in our tracks. We never even shake the dust off those ideas, much less pursue the life of writing we’ve long desired.

Why? We’re afraid.

Deadly Sins for Writers #1: FEAR

Watch for this post coming soon – if I’m not too scared to write it.