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Worth Doing Badly

“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” ~ G.K. Chesterton

I am sitting at my favorite coffee shop in Houston, struggling with this writing life, and if I was willing to be fully honest with myself, doing it badly. I arrived at 11:31 with good intentions of creating the most perfect blog post that would bring the audience to their feet in the most boisterous applause.

It is now 1:47 in the afternoon. No one in the coffee shop is on their feet except those in line for the next latte. The only applause I hear are in the live music recordings I am listening to. This almost drowns out the click of my fingers hitting the keyboard for work emails and reviewing work invoices and quotes that were looming over my to-do list. Of course, there was also the intermittent pressing of “refresh” on Facebook.

Then comes the mental heckling:

“Not much of a writer, are you?”

“And how many times have you looked at Facebook now?”

“Oh yeah, I didn’t send that email”

“Oh look … Facebook … again”

“And now a video of how to do the perfect bench press? At least we can justify this as something profitable.”

I often have to remind myself of what my writers’ group says frequently to newcomers, “Have you written something? Then you’re a writer!” Sounds so great in theory, until you realize you have not written one single line of your story for three months, and you see people who wrote their whole book during one month of NanoWriMo. I could blame my schedule and a 50-hour work week. Or, I could blame my lack of balance and time management. It can be disheartening.

So, what do you do when the distractions arise, when the accusations implode within, when the reminders of all things that have taken precedence over your story, article, or song heckle you? I offer some tips, not because these worked for me, but because this is the advice I resolved to follow this New Year as a writer:

1. Take notes. Mentally or physically. Write down a scene or a stanza, something you may want to incorporate when you are able to make time to work on it in more detail. It could be a single line, a character you have fallen in love with as you daydream about when you have free time. Write something. Even if it’s a note to yourself

2. Read good books. I often joke that I drive for a living. There have been some days I spend 6 hours driving through the concrete jungle of Houston. Instead of seeing that time of mindless driving go to waste, I can use that time to journey through worlds of audiobooks using Hoopla and Overdrive through my local libraries. Hearing the story of someone other than the constant narrative and commentary on myself helps prepare the soil for when I can work on the garden of my next work. Podcasts are another means of cultivating a mind of creativity. Listen to storytellers or interviews with people who are making a difference. Something that resembles the world you wish to create, not only in your stories, but in your community.

3. Community. Art is best done in community. The Church is not a building, it is comprised of the various textures found in the individuals within the Body of Christ. Rub up against people, especially if you’re an introvert. Learn their stories. Sit with them over coffee or a good burger and encounter the beauty that exists in the one that God considered worthy to place His image. As C.S. Lewis said, “We have never met a mere mortal.” There is a beauty and intricacy that is found in each person we meet. Find the spark of creativity as Iron sharpens Iron.

4. Listen to good music. A well-crafted song has often fanned the flame of creativity when my fire has dwindled. Our Master Creator orchestrates all of life with His Word and the dance of light we see in the world around us. We can hear the rumors of the world that is yet to come through the journey of a song.

5. Solitude. We spoke to the introvert earlier to find an “Iron” to rub up against. Solitude is harder for the extrovert. It is difficult to create when you’re stuck on the constant move and surrounded by people, action, and the to-dos. Put these aside for a couple hours, tell your work, “No! I will come to you later”. Request a few hours away from the family every couple of weeks and let your art come alive.

6. Sabbath. It’s not enough to just sit. But creating a sense of Sabbath could be utilizing all the tips above. For me, sometimes it’s found sitting on my porch watching a sunset, walking through the woods and hearing the symphony of the created order, or reading a good book. Even if I only have time for five pages. Get out of the city and see something other than what man has made. Devote time to think, but mostly to listen.

7. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly. It is not an encouragement for poor efforts. It is an encouragement to the “amateur” to keep pressing forward even through poor results. As author Richard Bach once incited, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

How do you make time with your busy schedule to pursue writing? Is there a book or podcast that has encouraged you as an “amateur” writer?

Andy Tate is a singer-songwriter in Houston, TX who is also currently working on his first fantasy novel. He helps lead worship at The Haven Church in Katy, is a member of Christian Songwriters in the Round, and frequents local coffee shops.

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