Home » Essays
Category Archives: Essays
There are two things I love outside of my family: writing and knitting. Oh, and the color blue. Give me anything blue and I’m the happiest woman in the world! Yet, if I had to choose, I’d write until I had no life left. Unfortunately, Ninja Turtles barge in with swords and masked faces to interrupt all that I hold dear, if for no other reason than to keep my attitude in check so I’m reminded of what’s really important.
Knitting is a lot like writing. It has a tendency to keep you isolated. I could visit my favorite shop and sit with other ladies and knit until my heart is content. But at some point, I always find myself in my favorite chair knitting alone. Writers are also loners. It doesn’t bother them to sit for hours at a time to create a story. I, for one, don’t need anyone to keep me company; and I don’t need to be inside a knitting store to get excited over a new project or new skeins of yarn.
Because I’m wearing a lot of the scarves I’ve made, my knitting projects have come to the attention of many at my congregation. Unexpectedly, knitting is doing something out of the ordinary. It’s drawing people into my inner circle. And this unexpected gift is what has inspired this article.
Weeks ago I had a new knitter come visit me and we sat and knitted while we talked. Since she’s been knitting for a little over a year now, I challenged her to spread her wings and tap into new knitting techniques; to try SSK (slip, slip, knit), simple basket weave patterns, and new ways to cast on. As I tried to demonstrate the Provisional Cast On method, I noticed she continuously asked if this was the only technique used to perform a Provisional Cast On. I said yes, then hesitated, realizing rather quickly there are several ways to perform a Provisional Cast On—with a crochet hook, or with a knitting needle and two different colored yarns.
I wondered: Why does she need a road map for each new technique?
Then something occurred to me. More often than not we all want to know what’s ahead of us. Where is the next turn? How far do we need to go? Will we make it by dark? Is there enough food? Will the pain be bearable or longsuffering? Just how long are patients on a waiting list for a transplant? Will mine occur soon enough? Is there a cure? Will it hurt to die?
I grew impatient with this probe into the unknown. I wanted to get on with knitting. I had a learn-as-you-go attitude. I have no fear of this adventure because I’m accustomed to it. My new knitting partner, however, had no idea where she was headed. She was afraid. Reluctant. And it didn’t take long for her anxieties to transform her lazy way of talking into a rapid, almost breathless screech of despair. Her hands shook. Her voice raised a decibel or two. Without warning, she declared rather loudly that all she wanted to do was knit and purl as before, not be thrown into an abyss.
Can you imagine laboring over half-filled fishing nets, dragging them to shore as you weigh your debts against your menial profit? Then from out of nowhere, a fisherman calls out to you, “Come, follow me!”
I’m certain my initial response would not be: Drop the net and follow the stranger. I don’t care how peaceful or loving he appears, I’m not following anyone I don’t know. My deep, furrowed brow would convey my reluctance and my thoughts would be: Has this guy lost his mind? I’ve got a family to feed.
Dread would surely consume me if an angel entered my dreams and said, “Behold, Donna, the Son of God is growing inside your womb.” No way I’d hear the announcement that I should name the child Emanuel, the Prince of Peace. Not me. This angel chose the wrong woman. Sorry, Gabriel, but you got the wrong house. I think you meant Mary across the street. I’m telling you, I’d leave my bed and take out in a dead run, stopping only when I felt safe and out of harm’s way.
For God to stop me on any road to confront me and redirect my path to Damascus would have scared me so bad that my heart would probably burst open. And not being able to see would have caused sheer panic and soiled garments.
And yet . . .
I can’t find a place in the New Testament where one of the disciples ever asked, Why? Where are we going? How long is the journey? I’ll be right back. Let me call my wife.
Who are these men? What’s driving their faith? Aren’t they worried about the unknown?
To answer these questions, I had to get real and dig deep into my journey as a knitter.
There was always something intriguing about using a single strand of thread (yarn) to create a garment. I desperately needed to know how to manipulate this strand . . . how to twist and stretch and whirl it around so it would lay neat and flat in all its splendor. My curiosity intensified to the point that I ignored fears of entering a store to inquire how to knit. That visit led to another, and before I knew it I was knitting a child’s sweater.
I think that’s the way it happened with the disciples. Jesus didn’t just hastily spring upon them. I tend to believe the coming Messiah was so much on their hearts and minds that they spent hours upon hours hashing and rehashing how he’d appear . . . when he’d appear . . . imagining how much raucous he’d cause once he showed up. John the Baptist’s preaching of the Messiah fed their anticipation, their desire for him reaching unimaginable proportions. By the time Jesus stood along the shore and beckoned them to, “Come, follow me,” they were eager to obey.
See, they didn’t need to ask, Why? They understood why. Of course, their reasons for his coming and what he’d do once he came were misconstrued. But their hearts never waivered at his appearing. Their soul and spirit knew.
We also know.
Amid all the noise, turbulent storms, strife and heartaches, sickness and despair, we know.
We just need reminders. Encouragement. Refreshed hope. (“I take great joy and encouragement in your love, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” Philemon 1:7)
Every last one of us wants a bright and prosperous future. And we don’t want anything to impede our hopes for it. But that’s unrealistic. Broken hearts need mending. Those who promote social injustice need repentant hearts and forgiveness. Truth needs to replace lies. Diseases need to be cured. And the dead, spiritual and physical, need raising.
When prayers for such things go unanswered and the road map leads in another direction, we proclaim God isn’t listening. Surely, if he loved me . . .
“Indeed, all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . . .” (2 Timothy 3:12)
What if God gave you this warning:
“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Look, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will suffer tribulation for ten days. Be faithful even unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.” (Revelation 2:10-11)
Why is any of this significant?
Because God does not promise we won’t encounter hardship. One of you may be overtaken by a deadly disease. Another, by injustice. Yet another, by poverty. And then another, by famine.
If the ire of those who suffer go against God, who will be left to serve and praise him? Are there any righteous among you?
I declare to you: God is alive and hears every plea placed before his throne.
“When He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held the golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8)
God is a fine architect. The finest of all. He has designed a segue of pillars and floors and walls and roofs to protect and keep you safe.
He knows the number of hairs on your head; knows everything about you; and can read the heart of man and discern his intent. (1 Chronicles 28:9)
For us to declare that we know what and how God will do what he sets out to do is foolishness. No matter how we spin it, we will never know the fullness of God until we meet him face to face. My knees shake as I think of what it will be like to see him, to bow in his presence, to feel him, to encounter his endless love.
It is absolutely useless for us to fret over what’s around the corner. We are like children, holding daddy’s hand as he leads us through life’s supermarket of twists and turns. We can no more guess what’s ahead of us than we can predict the return of the risen Savior.
Our time is better spent reflecting and praising God for all that he’s brought us through. It’s time for us to go down Memory Lane and smile at all the times he rescued us from the perils of our own misdeeds. It’s time to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving for his endless mercy. To remind ourselves of the grace we’ve been given and don’t deserve.
Life is indeed a supermarket with gnarled speed bumps in the aisles. Some of those bumps slow us down and hamper our goals toward success. Often those speed bumps are so dangerous that we must choose another route. We often become disappointed and discouraged by these detours, only to find out much later that God had something better in mind for us.
We cannot second guess God. We need to stop trying to do so.
There is, however, one thing certain.
He loves me! He truly loves me!! And he wishes no harm come to me.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
God will never lead you astray, leave you alone, or allow you to fall farther than he can reach. He doesn’t know how to fail. And he surely didn’t fail when he created you. He designed every fiber of your being with his masterful hand. No mistakes made. Everything is set in its proper place. And you, dear friend, are a masterpiece. Unique. One of a kind. Special. Kept completely whole and continuously cleaned by the blood of Jesus Christ.
You are a living and breathing child of God. Only he knows what’s best for you. He’s created a road map specifically for YOUR life. Your destination: heaven. At a long, splendid and elaborately set table is a seat for you and in the next room is a place to lay your head. You know your starting point. You know your end. Everything in between is a marvelous, adventurous journey with testy steep hills, high winds, rainy Sundays, and at last, brilliant Son-Rises. We must find joy while on our journey and not get distracted and sidetracked along the way.
Trust and be obedient to God and he will save you.
“Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the LORD GOD is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2)
The next time you set out on your spiritual journey, pack the sword of truth. Set aside your anguish. Gird yourself with joy, peace, love, and hope. Because just over the hill, to the right, in that bend in the road is a shining light waiting for your arrival. Prepare yourself. Strap in tight. For God Almighty is about to reveal himself in all his glory. And with outstretched arms, he’s soothing all that aches inside you.
Take a deep breath and feel his presence.
Donna B. Comeaux
Let’s face it. Parenting is hard work. Discipline is a constant challenge. Decision-making causes sleepless nights. Babysitters and daycares go awry. And before you know it, you wake up every morning too tired to brush your teeth because you’re worried about it all.
Is this what being a good parent is all about?
Years ago when my children were approximately 10 and 7 I was tested over and over again by these little ones. They had antennas inside them which they were dying to stretch in all directions to see which bad behavior would invoke a clear and audible response. I dare not forget their conniving tactics to pin one parent against the other, proving once again how they could not only raise my blood pressure, but also outwit me.
Since we’ve all started off as children, it baffled me why I couldn’t tune into their behavior and get parenting right. Why didn’t I recognize the many tactics children used? And why couldn’t I predict what comes next?
Ever felt that way?
Though I never had a problem with terribly unruly children, many exist. Spend time in a restaurant or go to a movie theater and you’ll see and hear them within two minutes. I’m not referring to fussy, hungry children. I’m referring to children who will not listen no matter how much their parents threaten or plead with them to behave.
Even more troubling is the generational disconnect between older and younger parents. I have no doubt my mother probably had misgivings about my parenting skills thirty-plus years ago. The most important and common element lost between the generations is our unwillingness to listen to older men and women. It has become the norm to give credence to those with Ph.Ds. What’s interesting about this belief is most of those who’ve earned Ph.Ds are ruled by the governing entities that issued their certificates. Let’s not forget that most also don’t have God as their foundation. (Remember that “it’s your thang, do what you wanna do” era?)
I’m assuming that your willingness to read this means you are also eager to listen to the words of an older woman.
Here is my disclaimer: I don’t know everything. And not everyone will agree with what I have to say. And I’m not about to give you a list of do’s and don’ts, because my methods may not work for you.
However, I do hope I will at least stir your thinking and convince you to do something different so that you and your family can sit at a dinner table and not only enjoy the meal but also enjoy each other’s company. I also hope I’ll say something that helps get your home under control and convince you to allow God to bring you to a place of peace.
Please use this commentary as a platform for discussions on the topic of parenting with older men and women, and from those discussions learn from each other.
Remember, I’m not looking for you to agree with me in everything written here. I’m more concerned about you seriously considering making whatever adjustments God places in front of you and your spouse. (I’m hoping women reading this commentary will also share this with their husbands, and vice versa.)
* * * * *
At the end of each day or each week, you are so tired that you can’t lift your legs to get into the shower. You might feel as though you have to crawl to the bedroom. It may have crossed your mind that parenting isn’t fun anymore. Perhaps fatigue has interfered with your love life and eating habits. Or maybe your home and work schedules have become so disruptive that you’ve contemplated not having another child. If those thoughts ever crossed your mind, you are burned out, fed up, and at your wit’s end as to what to do next to fix your chaotic household.
I remember feeling overwhelmed and as though I was the one doing most of the work.
Doesn’t matter whose fault it is; we’re not here to play the “blame game.” Let’s sit back and look at the main issue.
To illustrate my point, please make a list of all the things that go wrong in your home. It would be especially nice if you can get your spouse to participate in this exercise. But keep in mind that your list is your list. Here’s an example:
- The kids get up grumpy every morning.
- You’ve prepared three different breakfasts and the kids won’t eat any of them.
- One child is slow; the other is fussy; another is bullying.
- Your spouse forgot to take out the trash and it’s the first thing you smell when you move about the house.
- There’s no milk.
- The cable has been disrupted and the kids can’t watch their morning show. Everyone is whining and demanding time you normally use for doing the dishes and sorting the laundry.
- Little Johnny conveniently forgot that he has a project due; and off you go to the nearest store to pick up much needed school supplies. Looks like you won’t meet the girls for lunch today.
- Susie forgot that she needed money for a field trip. You must double back to the house because you forgot your wallet.
This list can go on and on. You can’t list a thing that isn’t valid. Go crazy with this list.
Now that you’ve made this list, think about how your home could be different. What would be a perfect day for you? What does your perfect home look and sound like?
On a separate sheet of paper, make a list of your ideal home life. Go nuts with this list. Be as unrealistic as you dare to be.
Now, you have in front of you two lists. They are as far apart as the sun and moon. It doesn’t seem doable to turn your chaotic home into one that you’ve daydreamed about, does it?
That’s the very problem we should tackle—your belief system.
God never intended for us to live chaotic lives.
- 10This is why I write these things while absent, so that when I am present I will not need to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. 11Finally, brothers, rejoice! Aim for perfect harmony, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (II Corinthians 13:10-11)
- 14And over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity. 15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, for to this you were called as members of one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.… (Colossians 3:14-16)
Today’s social networks foster the idea that busyness is a status symbol. If you have enough chaos in your life with no time to sit and sip coffee with a friend, read a good book, study the bible at least an hour each day, and converse in good wholesome uninterrupted conversation with your spouse, then you’re a part of the “in crowd.” Doesn’t it make you cringe inside when someone tells you, “I’m sorry I didn’t call you back. It’s been so busy. Let’s catch up next week. I’ll call you.” They never do. Anger festers and it’s not long before you develop a hands-off approach to relationships.
Our society is so disengaged that we spill out rehearsed greetings when we bump into one another, never looking into one another’s eyes, never fully understanding what’s been said. Then we have the audacity to express inappropriate last words (i.e., telling someone to have a nice day after they’ve expressed remorse over the passing of their grandmother). It’s time we begin again to make meaningful relationships. I know how hard this is (and my children are grown). I’m an introvert at heart, so I know the difficulty you face. Still, we need to put more effort into being more engaged with one another and paying attention. To do that, we must first begin at home.
Just how do you go about loving your family when your home is in such chaos? Half the time you’re not sure you even like the people you live with. Right?
You must change your belief system. Your home does “not” need to be chaotic. It doesn’t matter how many kids you have, or if your mother or ailing father lives with you, or your spouse is constantly on the road, or you work nights. If you believe God can get you and your family under control, it will be so.
To change your belief system, you must be willing to be submissive to God’s will. This submissive relationship requires that you must first admit that all you’ve done has not worked. It seems like no matter what methods you’ve come up with none of them have worked for you. My personal philosophy is this: “After all this time, if it hasn’t worked, try something different.” God’s intent is for you to come to him and ask for deliverance. He’s the change you need . . . the change you crave.
The change you seek in your home comes about through prayer and action, not reaction to your circumstances. I can bore you with all the methods I’ve used, but all that would prove is what worked for me. What works for you may be a totally different animal. God gets to decide what works for you.
So, this week your assignment is to go before the Father every day and pray for a change. Keep this one thing in mind—if you cannot commit to talk to God about everything that ails you, things won’t change for you. Change comes about through our submission to God. (Simply put, that means after you pray, you must wait on him.) It doesn’t come from a counselor (though they have a place in our lives from time to time). It doesn’t come from preachers. These people are used as tools to get you to go to God. No one knows what you need except the Father.
Kick start your week by devoting time to God in prayer about your home life.
Preparation is key!
Prepare for this time by hiring a babysitter to take the kids to the zoo. Or team up with another parent and share your concerns and objectives then the two of you agree to keep each other’s children for a couple of hours so you can spend uninterrupted time in prayer. Maybe your church has a mother’s day out program. If so, drop the kids off and use that opportunity to get away from the chaos and spend time with God . . . not with a friend . . . time with God.
Please realize that too much shopping and running errands will breed discontent, leaving you tired and unfulfilled. If you say that you will commit this time to prayer and you do something else instead, you will become unfulfilled, guilty, and angry. And you’ll have no one to blame for this but yourself. Don’t commit this infraction. Don’t increase your burden. Instead, stay committed to using those hours away from your family to commune with God. If you can’t see yourself spending a few hours in prayer, look at your list again so you’re reminded how much you need to seek God’s counsel.
Once you begin your heartfelt confessions before God, you’ll soon realize a few hours aren’t enough. When it’s time to reunite with your family, you’ll probably become anxious for the next week so you can pour more on the Father. Seeking him first is precisely the point.
God wants you and I to look to him for the answers.
I pray God will transform your chaos to peace.
by Donna B. Comeaux
January 21, 2017
Several years ago, my husband and I wondered where we should relocate. I got distracted by his shaky hands. I thought about aging. My aging. His aging. That hadn’t worried me before, but I found myself suddenly wondering what in the world would I do without him. I plummeted into a funnel of nostalgic memories.
Our wedding day came to mind—me in a light blue mini dress; he in his red OU jacket. I couldn’t have been one hundred pounds dried and powdered down. A strappling six feet tall, he had a buffed, muscular body, a flawless wide and naughty grin. His afro-styled hair—thick, neatly edged. Fuzz on his upper lip highlighted a handsome, stubbled face. Romantic at heart, he had serenaded me, whisked me off my weightless feet, and swung me around while swearing to care for me all the days of his life. Like so many giddy females before me, I bought into that line. (By the way, guys, that line still works.)
Now, I wondered how long it would be before I might have to take care of him. Unable to face the possibility of losing him, I grabbed his hand with both of mine and looked into his dark brown eyes.
“Should I be worried?” I asked.
“What? What are you talking about?” He frowned and pulled away.
“Your hands. They’re shaking.”
“So. What about it?”
“How long has this been going on?”
“It happens sometimes. I don’t have any other symptoms so it’s nothing. Now, will you stay focused. We need to make a decision to take this job or not. Will it be Savannah? Or Washington?”
As important as the decision to change jobs and move away from home was, I couldn’t indulge in the activity of decision-making that day. I had to figure out how much longer he would be with me.
I got off the couch and moseyed into the kitchen, to the dining room, then upstairs to the bedroom where I cried my eyes out. Rustling leaves tapped against my skylight window above my tub. The sight brought me back to our younger days soon after we married.
I remember walking to the OU campus where I worked at the Law School as a word processor. Our first fall together was a lonely one for me. The strappling football player I married was like a soldier called off to war—gone more in those fall months than I’d expected. I thought we should spend more time together. But when he wasn’t away playing in a football game, he’d be at practice or studying half the night.
I’d only seen snow once in my life. As a young girl, about eleven, it snowed in the deep south for a small portion of the day. It was gone by morning. But outside my office window in mid-October, snow flurries fell from Norman, Oklahoma’s overcast sky. Unbelievable to me, I ran out into the cold and stood on the sidewalk and looked at God’s wonder. Within moments the flurries turned to large flakes and gusty winds forced me back inside.
Right now I ask myself: “Has it really been that long? Forty-one long years?” It didn’t seem that long ago when young football players’ wives and girlfriends laughed and giggled as they dressed for the OU games. We stayed up half the night doing each other’s hair and eating whatever we wanted. After the game, we parted ways, mainly because our chrisitianity wouldn’t allow us to mingle with late night drinkers and party half-naked.
When I heard my husband’s footsteps climb the stairs that day, I was forced to return to my dilemma. After I had dried my eyes, I braced for an inquisition.
“What are you doing? Why did you leave? I thought we would decide this together?” he had asked.
“I can’t do this right now. Can we try again tomorrow?”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“I’m not sure. I think the idea of moving scares me.”
“Well, you think it over. I’m going to the store. You want anything?”
I shook my head. Before I could stop him, he was gone.
As the garage door sounded below, I remembered our first car—a two-door, green Gremlin. It lasted two months before we had it towed to wreckage. Then many months later, after weeks of walking everywhere we went, we bought a four-door blue and white Chevy Impala. A heavy car that proved reliable for the two years we had it. He saved money by doing repairs on the car himself. He made sure I was safe.
He’s spoiled me over the years. I’m as rotten as a teenage girl. I bat my eyes and get any and everything I want. I pout. He appeases. I throw a tantrum. He caters to my every whim.
I look toward heaven and sometimes I plead with God to let me go first. I can’t stand to watch him grow old. I can’t watch him wither away like that. But no matter how loud I cry, my pleas go unanswered. God is nothing like my husband. He can’t be tricked or manipulated. In a way I appreciate God’s silence because sometimes I’m not sure I fully understand what I’m asking from him. It’s not until my spirit is calm that I conclude there’s no comfort in me going before my husband. Death will be hard for us both no matter who goes first.
But he’s not gone yet. Years later, he’s still here with me. He’s healthy. Aging, but healthy. I realize that he’s not the only one getting old. So am I. I smile as I wonder how is he seeing me. Am I still the woman of his dreams? He still spoils me, so I guess I am.
That day long ago, I finally collapsed in a chair and waited for his return from the store. I was anxious. I wanted to press my head to his chest and hear his heartbeat. I wanted to gaze my large brown eyes into his then touch his stubbled face, kiss him warm and tender, grab his large linebacker hands and wrap them around my bulging waistline.
Although our hair is thinner now, our waistlines have disappeared, and we’ve been robbed of our youth, we still have each other. It took me a while, fighting against time, trying harder to control the process of aging, before I realized that it no longer matters how old we get or what condition we’re in when faced with our departure. As long as my husband’s love lives in me, he’s never far away. God is walking me through a process, daily teaching me to spend more of my days enjoying the moments rather than fearing the inevitable.
Donna B. Comeaux
Freelance Writer, Novelist, Poet
When was the last time you did what you really wanted? And when you tried, how often did you foul it up before you finally gave up on the idea? As you sat in the dark and sulked in sorrow trying to pacify your decision to quit, did you calculate the man-hours spent chasing your dream? The reality of it all is enough to send anyone into a deep depression. Lawrence Block(1) once said, “If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.”
I’m sure you’ve felt that way about your dreams.
Sometimes when failures knock me to my knees, I think of Michael Jordan or Walt Disney. Neither had the natural ability to be successful at what they did. Walt Disney(2) threw hundreds of drawings in the trash before one was a success(3). At one point, he was told his idea for a cartoon character wouldn’t work because “a giant mouse on the screen would terrify women.” How silly.
Michael Jordan(4) had one obstacle after another. He lost almost 300 games, missed over 9,000 shots, and 26 times was given the ball to take the game-winning shot and MISSED.
Michael and Walt’s early days are considered failed attempts at success. Who would sit back and watch a young Jordan miss shot after shot then suggest he might one day be one of the greatest players to ever play the game? It’s ludicrous for Walt Disney to think he’d bring moveable cartoons to the big screen? Can you imagine the ridicule? Can you see the bankers cringe at the idea of extending him another loan? For a cartoon character?
With something to prove, these men managed to rise above(5) the mockery and stay focused, using their failures as motivation.
At times I wanted to throw in the towel and turn away from my dream to become a writer. I went through the motions of disconnecting my computer, cleaning my office, and placing every reference book I owned in the trash, only to put them back on the shelf—just in case.
All sorts of things got in my way—work, family issues, and the many voices convincing me I should pay someone to help me. I listened to suggestions to read one website after another so I’d better learn the art of writing. I don’t condemn efforts to help me. Matter of fact, I learned a great deal. But somewhere along the way, I committed a horrible sin. I convinced myself others were far superior and there was no way I’d measure up to their ability to create literary works of art.
No one told me to take critiques in stride or to ignore those who just didn’t get it. No one told me that being a writer was a subjective craft. That one person would look at a scene and immerse themselves in it and feel exactly what was going on, while others would pick the scene apart and find a hundred and one things wrong with it—from the number of times I used “that” to the number of times I split a paragraph in the wrong place.
To keep myself humble, I took everyone’s opinion/critique as gospel and whittled away at my ability to be creative. Before I knew it, my self-confidence was gone. I later realized I didn’t know how to sift through the noise and keep my own voice. In short, I wanted to please everyone—never mind the fact I was the storyteller and could literally do whatever I pleased with my book. One day, amid all my confusion, I asked myself if I could possibly move forward and, if so, how.
There will be days when you can’t write a word. There will even be times when after a bad critique you can’t get out of the dugout and move past your hurt feelings to finish your edits or write fresh material. It’s assured, though, unless you plant butt-in-chair and keep it there, failure will tap you on the shoulder right before it blows a hole in your world.
Not long ago, someone did just that. A lady in my critique group sent me an e-mail and said she’d be happy to critique the first chapter of my family saga. She was kind, professional, and sent me her credentials as assurance of her qualifications. I felt honored this wonderful person would share her time with me. In fact, I was a little giddy about the whole idea and could hardly sleep that night.
I wish I had.
The next day unnerved me. There wasn’t a sentence in the first paragraph that wasn’t ripped apart. Though most of her corrections were right on, she pounded my self-esteem until it resembled sawdust, making me wonder why I had the audacity to think I could write. Needless to say, I decided, “That’s it. I quit.” My husband spent countless hours talking me out of it. Still, my drive was gone, my identity shattered.
To my surprise, within three or four days, I replaced the desire to quit with a need to weed through the painful remarks and validate her critique. I highlighted anything meaningful and I ditched the rest.
The lesson here?
If you think for one minute you can withstand an honest critique, think again. My advice: before you read a critique, think of the worst day in your life then the critique won’t seem so bad. If you still can’t handle it, treat yourself to a day spa, go see a romantic movie, then go home and prop your feet up, ’cause you’re done.
Writing is a very personal experience. Yet, it becomes everyone’s business if you plan to deliver your writing to the masses. It’s not okay to waste people’s time with writing you’ve hammered out in an hour without spending twice as much time proofing it. Neither is it fair to ask a consumer to spend $7.99 to $19.99 for a book that your friends approved. Your readers deserve the best product you can produce. That means you’ll have to go the extra mile to have it proofread and edited. More importantly, you are not being fair to you if you don’t develop a passion for writing (or for anything you decide to do).
Writing should keep you up at night. It’s a common occurrence for me to tiptoe in the dark to my computer and finish an idea swirling around in my head. I’m amazed when I look up three hours later and notice so much time has passed. I can’t tell you the number of times I have tossed and turned in my bed, tiring myself out, before finally getting up to write.
To be honest, I’d rather write than eat. I absolutely hate having to stop in the middle of a scene and go to the bathroom or pause to eat lunch. I’ve skipped more meals than I can count (and still haven’t lost a pound of cellulite) and have gnawed on stale, crusted bread just so I can keep writing and not break my concentration.
For me, there’s something fascinating about the English language that dares me to rearrange every sentence I lay my eyes on. I can’t sit through a scrabble game without making a mental note of an unfamiliar word so I can later look it up in the dictionary. I crave to create words that seem to leap off the page, pound with rhythm, whip through the air, lull you to sleep or sing as soft as the sound of hummingbird’s wings. It’s nice when I dare my readers to love villains and hate heroes.
To accomplish this, I must first believe in myself. I must endeavor to believe that beyond all the dangling modifiers, misused words, run-on sentences, needless adjectives, and wordy sentences (like this one), there’s a story brewing. The healing for poorly written manuscripts are reading and writing, and more writing and reading. Sure, I can spend $199 for an online class. Not a thing wrong with it if you have the cash. Nothing wrong with taking a creative writing course at your community college either. But I assure you, nothing will cure what ails a writer than more reading and writing.
Maybe you don’t want to be a writer. Is something else gnawing at you? How long have you put off teaching that Sunday School class? Or put off starting a ladies group? For the men out there, maybe you’ve been dying to spearhead a men’s retreat. I say, GO FOR IT!!
You will have all types of cheerleaders: those who will say you can’t and those who will say you can. One thing is certain. None of those voices really matter except your own. What good is it if someone says you can, but buzzing inside your head is: “I really can’t do this. I don’t have the expertise.” Those excuses merely explain who you are—a dear soul with a low self-esteem. Are you willing to allow these excuses to lock you in?
Writing is one of the hardest professions in the world, yet, millions have become successful at it. And here are two concrete truths: no two people have the same writing ability, and not all “published” writers write well.
Regardless, you must do as good writers do. Put a new spin on your old idea and make asserted efforts to come up with fresh ideas (good luck with this one). In addition, you must exercise discipline. It’s an absolute necessity that you plant butt-in-chair, fail a half dozen times, throw things, lose sleep, and perhaps go broke to transform your dreams into reality.
Unless you have a physical handicap keeping you from implementing these things, there is absolutely nothing standing in your way to become a writer, a Sunday School teacher, a camp leader, or kick off your first men’s retreat.
So, plant your butt-in-chair and join me on this stressful journey to success. Take whatever idea you have and hammer away at it until you have accomplished every single thing imaginable. There will be roadblocks, so, don’t pretend they aren’t coming. Prepare for them. Think of yourself as abnormal if roadblocks don’t emerge. Nevertheless, determine to move forward through whatever adversity comes your way.
You can do this. So can I. This document proves my success. Show the world yours.
Other writings by Donna can be found in the Archive section of Ruby for Women Magazine and Hope-Full Living, a daily devotional. She has an upcoming novel due for release online through Smashwords Publishing in January 2015. She has also begun work on a religious series entitled “Impact.” Impact will explore the many ways our decisions affect those around us and many throughout the world.
(1) Writing the Novel from Plot to Print by Lawrence Block, Writer’s Digest Books, 1983. http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/39217-writing-the-novel-from-plot-to-print
(2) Bharatbhasa Free Articles. http://bharatbhasha.net/marketing.php/241
(3) The Life and Times of Walt Disney.
(4) Business Insider: Thomas Edison and Michael Jordan were Failures.
(5) Bio.True Story: Michael Jordan.