dropping the ball

Somewhere along the line, I dropped the ball. I had built up a pretty good momentum. I was writing every day. I was enjoying it. I was thriving on the creative moment I got to experience each day. I was looking forward to the time I allowed myself to write.

It was good. No, it was great.

And then I quit.

I’m not sure how. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure when (though I could figure it out from the dates on my posts if I really wanted to). None of this really matters, though. The point is that I quit. And for that, I offer no excuse.

If I am to be a writer, I must write…consistently.

And so, I begin again.

on not writing

Moleskineh

I have not written anything in days. My mind is racing, eager to write but prevented by my own stubbornness. Why? My calendar is packed, as we have two family birthdays and Christmas celebrations in the next seven days. It doesn’t take much time to write, but it does take some…and that precious “some” is what I have been unwilling to yield. And for what? Marginally more available time in the day to cram full of other things? Hardly a good or reasonable answer.

As with any habit, the further away you get from the last time you practiced it, the easier it is to put off yet again. Skip the gym for one day, and it’s easy to get back to it. Skip the gym for a month or so, and it’s nearly impossible to regain your momentum and drive. So it is with writing, reading, family worship, and (fill in the blank).

And so today I write, even if only to write about my lack of writing.

I look forward to taking time away from everything else to write for a few moments each day. I treasure the opportunity as a time to pause, release, and recharge before jumping back into the stream of busyness that surrounds this time of year. The feeling is a distant second to times of prayer and bible reading, but for those who are familiar with this sort of rejuvenation–as I assume many of you are–writing for me is similar. A time to listen. A time to think. A time to create.

Let this exercise today be an encouragement to keep good habits nearby where they may be nurtured and enjoyed, practiced and honed, kept alive and even strengthened. If you want to develop the habit of writing, write. To develop the habit of prayer, pray. To develop any habit, do it…and continue doing it until it becomes part of who you are. Then, when life derails your practice, it is easier to get back to the routine.

photo credit: Creative Commons | Amir Kuckovic via Compfight

day seven: showing up with nothing to say

I’ve been writing on other topics recently–Advent mostly–as part of my daily writing. Yesterday (a Wednesday) was the first day I had missed since beginning my exercise to write everyday, and quite honestly, I truly missed it in the sense of feeling its absence as part of my day. That’s a good thing, I guess, because it means this is becoming a habit.

With that in mind, I come to today. It’s been an insanely busy day at work, Rach and Ali are out of town, so it’s just the trio and me. Honestly, it’s now after nine o’clock in the evening, and the last thing on my mind is trying to think of something to write. I’ve got nothing running around in my head right now but a bunch of mush. Even so, this exercise is enjoyable. It’s a bit of a brain purge. A relaxation activity after a crazy busy day. I’ve nothing to say, but the act of writing is still pleasurable and soothing. This is therapy for me.

What am I learning from today? A couple of things:

  • I need to write every day
  • I enjoy writing every day
  • writing is becoming part of who I am, and

Most importantly, to take on any new habit / skill / behavior, it is essential to show up, daily. I have momentum built up, the beginnings of a habit. If I fail to force myself to find the time on days like today, that momentum will falter and this potential good habit will fall by the wayside like so many other good intentions in the past. In other words, it is essential to show up every day…even if today’s writing is junk…if only to stay in motion and allow tomorrow’s writing to become reality.

day six: looking forward

After almost a week of consistent writing, I’m to the point where I look forward to this time each day. Being a holiday week with strange work hours, travel, and an anything-but-ordinary routine, I haven’t established a set time of day to write; however, I have managed to make time to write daily. Eventually, I would like to write daily at the same time, and quite honestly, I think it would help in establishing a new habit. So far, my schedule has simply not permitted it.

One thing I have observed in a week of writing is that, so far, I have not spent any time thinking about what to write about until I sit down to write. During the day, until I write, I do think about the act of writing, but I haven’t yet given any thought to what I will write about. That is something else I would like to become intentional about–deciding upon a longer range plan for topics to write about. To date, I just sit down when it is time to write and start knocking it out. Sometimes I ramble, sometimes I think of something to write about almost immediately–today is obviously the former as my thoughts are all over the place!

Do I consider myself a writer yet? Hardly. I really am not sure what constitutes ‘ a writer,’ or what hurdle I might have to cross to arrive there. I’m not even sure it is something I’d recognize when I see or achieve it. It is an adjective I look forward to using to describing myself. Not for props, not for praise, not for any reason other than to say, “I’m a writer.”

My next steps? I think I want to create a series of topics about which I’d like to write. Then I can start exploring them, writing about them, and sharing.

day five: a writer’s tools

Using the “right tools for the job” is one of the basic maxims for any sort of work. As a young boy growing up on the homestead of an old Indiana farm, my grandfather and father both taught me the necessity of using the proper tools for whatever job we were preparing to do. With them, you can accomplish just about anything. Without them, you might get things done but you’re more than likely just shaping up to make a mess of things. Years later, as a young Lieutenant on an Air Force flightline, I had the same mantra drilled into my head by crew chiefs and production superintendents with decades of experience fixing multimillion-dollar aircraft. All this sage advice doesn’t mean that I haven’t used an adjustable wrench as a hammer or a screwdriver as a pry bar, but I’ve got the scars to prove that such ‘wisdom’ is usually folly. Now, as a father with my own four children, I try to pass on this wisdom to them–knowing full well they will eventually have their own scars as they, too, learn through the hard schoolmaster of experience.

Writing is no different than repairing a car insofar as both require tools. What is unique about writing, however, is that there isn’t necessary a ‘right’ tool for getting it done. Sometimes I use pen and paper to write. Though as much as I love the pleasing feel of pen on paper or the nostalgic smell of a freshly-sharpened pencil, most of the time I write on a computer. I have tried just about every app you can imagine for writing, both online and offline. There are some really great tools out there for writing, but the one I that is currently my favorite is Draft, by Nate Kontny.

Draft is an online writing tool whose simplicity masks its amazing capabilities. At first glance, it is a pretty basic writing app that looks and acts a lot like many others. Under the hood of this unassuming tool is an amazing compliment of formatting options (including, beyond standard options, markdown, image insertion, footnotes, comments, to-do boxes, etc.), an array of publishing options (to blogs, online storage, etc.), the ability to import/export to just about any format you can imagine (text, html, Evernote, MS Word, Google Docs, pdf, mobi, epub, etc.), killer version control, and the opportunity to have your documents professionally copy-edited (for a fee, of course). As if all this weren’t enough, Nate is continually adding functionality and making it more powerful.

You can use Draft as a simple text editor or you can unleash its capabilities and pretty much forget about the need for any other tools. It’s an amazing app…and did I mention, it’s free?! If you use it a lot, however, as I do, be a sport and purchase a subscription to help Nate keep this fantastic tool alive and continually getting better. He didn’t ask me to say that–or even to write this post–but, hey, it’s the right thing to do.

day four: clicking ‘publish’

Hitting publish can be one of the most terrifying things for a writer to do.

As our mouse pointer hovers over that single word, the thoughts begin racing:
– Will anyone read it?
– Will anyone like it?
– Will anyone comment?
– Will it go viral?

We are tempted (or should I say, trained) to perform a self-evaluation of our writing based on hits, likes, comments, +1s, re-tweets, etc. As a result, it can be especially devastating to pour out your soul into a piece only to watch the stats fail to follow. Social media is a wonderful way to share, but it can be a terrible thing when we base the value of our writing–or worse yet, our self-worth–solely on the responses of others.

Some days it seems like half the material I come across online is focused only on driving traffic, SEO, getting views, and other mechanics of writing for the web instead of containing actual content that I actually want to read. Meh. I’m sure there are plenty of folks who make tons of money writing about these ideas. Here’s the thing, at least as I see it: none of these concepts is life- or world-changing. Very few writers are ever going to publish that viral post that the whole online world reads and adores…and I will venture to say that the ones who do aren’t spending nearly as much time worrying about SEO as they are about creating.

And yet, we are bombarded with the notions that writing is about getting views and that successful writing is measured by its zillions of views.

Don’t fall into the trap of writing only for hits.

Writing isn’t about fame. Poetry isn’t about success. Art isn’t about stats.

Write for writing’s-sake. Create for passion’s-sake. Publish because you have to to, not because you’re chasing the affirmation of others.

Stop checking your stats page. Seriously.

All of this advice is primarily an admonishment to the ‘success’-oriented side of me from the creative side of me. If it’s an encouragement for you, that’s just a bonus.

day three: momentum

So, as I pointed out yesterday, writing daily isn’t a habit for me yet, but I’m gaining momentum. Starting a new habit is an exercise in physics. As Sir Issac pointed out:

An object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an external force acts upon it.

While Newton’s application of that law was physical objects and physical forces, the same can be said for us with respect to creating habits. An object (i.e. you or me) at rest will stay at rest (i.e. without the desired habit) unless an external force acts upon it. That force can be self-imposed–a personal resolution, a daily reminder in your to-do app, a post-it note on your desk, etc.– or it can be something imposed upon us from outside–a deadline at work, a recommendation from your doctor, or even a court order.

The point is simple. Unless something spurs us to change, we won’t. Just as physics teaches us that a stationary object won’t spontaneously start moving on its own, so we won’t spontaneously take up a new habit.

The parallels continue when we think about what is required to create a change in a stationary object. Physics calls this force that creates change ‘work.’ Similarly, it takes work for us to create new habits. Real work and real effort..both of which come with real benefits, including momentum.

Momentum is the other half of Sir Isaac’s law quoted above. In other words:

An object that is in motion will stay in motion unless an external force acts upon it.

Just as it takes work to start something moving, it takes work to stop it. Hence one of the benefits of an action being a habit. It becomes our default. Just as, before creating a habit, our default is to do nothing, so after creating a habit, our default is to do it.

That’s the momentum I want and that I’m working to create.

day two: not a habit yet

Today marks day two of my endeavor to write at least 300 words a day. I can’t exactly call it a habit yet, but I hope that I’m well on my way. I honestly look forward to this opportunity to put my thoughts down on ‘paper,’ even though no one will likely ever read most of what I write here. Some of my ideas will no doubt percolate up into real blog posts, sermon ideas, bible study thoughts, or something of the sort–most of my writing will likely be nothing more than a therapeutic exercise in creativity, kept privately stashed away. And that’s fine.

It’s hard to consider oneself a writer when I don’t regularly write. There are so many blog posts about “creating quality content,” “increasing reader engagement,” and so on and so forth. I need to recognize, however, that I’m not writing to be a so-called professional writer. I’m writing to put thoughts out for the world and to engage people in whatever capacity it happens. My blogging needs to become more personal, less structured, and more frequent. I do some of that on Tumblr, but my WordPress blog is pretty spartan most of the time.

I’d like that to change. I’d like to write more prolifically and more authentically. I’d like to write to capture and share my thoughts, more like a parish pastor than a subject matter expert or academic. After all, that’s what I am. I’m not writing to become famous. I’m not writing to build a fan base. I’m writing because that’s what I feel. Right? That’s what writers do.

This has been a good exercise today. When I started, I had no intention of publishing this, but I am going to anyway, if for no other reason than to be transparent. Maybe another aspiring writer is struggling through the same phase.

I think I’m finding my voice. I hope so, anyway. Maybe…gasp…I’m even on my way to becoming a writer.

Who’d have ever thought it?

on writing daily

Writing daily is never something I have been a habit I’ve managed to cultivate. Over and over I read about how building such a habit is transformational for one’s writing style and abilities. One doesn’t necessarily have to publish every day, but one needs to write.

  • sit down
  • write / bleed (to be Hemingway-esque) until you’ve reached your quota for the day
  • repeat

Don’t worry about inspiration. Don’t worry about writer’s block. Don’t worry about quality or audience or anything.

Just write.

So I am going to try. I am going to try and write 300 words per day. That doesn’t sound like a lot, and in fact, it isn’t…but it’s more than I’m doing now. I have a dismal track record of creating new habits like writing, reading Greek / Hebrew, working out as often as I’d like, etc. Absolutely dismal.

But I hope it can be different this time. I don’t exactly know how to make it different. I haven’t a clue. I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo or anything. I’ve no way to be accountable to anyone other than myself. I haven’t even figured out if I want to put this down in Todoist as a task. No idea. None. Nada.

This is something I want to do. I want to write. I wish I could say I only wanted to write to get my ideas on paper (or electrons). That sounds so romantic and poetic. But there’s definitely a part of me that wants to write to be read–to have my ideas interacted with, torn apart, agreed with, or questioned. I want my writing to make a difference to someone who may have never thought about whatever subject I’m writing on or who may have struggled with the very thing for months or years. I want to write, not for praises, but to make a difference.

Possible?

Absolutely.

new writing endeavors

Reaper RPAS Aircraft Lands at Kandahar, Afghanistan

 

I haven’t given up blogging for Lent, but my blogging will be slowing down for the next six months as I begin my current master’s thesis.  I will be researching and writing a Just War tradition (JWT) evaluation on the United States’ use of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA or “drones”).  The paper will look at both the use of RPA in theory and in practice and see whether the jus in bello (justice in war) facets of JWT challenge us to make changes in either our doctrine or praxis.

My initial hunch is that, while placing a greater burden to be used ethically than traditional weapons systems, there is nothing inherently immoral about RPA.  I also expect to find that our current use of RPA around the world violates the jus in bello JWT principle of discrimination more than other weapons systems.  These are only my initial gut feelings, however, and I am open to whatever my research suggests.

Either way, things will be slower around here for the next few months.  I still plan to post from time to time, though, so don’t abandon me completely!

photo credit: Creative Commons | Ministry of Defence

Blogging again…

After several months off, I’m feeling the bug to begin writing again! Let’s see how it goes this time…

A Break from Blogging…

I’m tired of blogging, at least for now.  My time, it appears, would be better spent reading or writing in other venues, so at least temporarily I’m taking a break.  Maybe for a week, maybe for a month, maybe forever.  I’ve got these words running through my head and can’t offer up an argument to refute them, so I’ll stop trying for now:

You’re caught up in the Internet,
you think it’s such a great asset,
but you’re wrong, wrong, wrong.
All that fiber optic gear
still cannot take away the fear
like an island song.

Thanks for the focus check, Jimmy…