This week our family went to dinner to celebrate my new book, Family Trees and Olive Branches. Holding this book—one that had been such a struggle to write—felt like an actual miracle.
The idea for Family Trees & Olive Branches came from hearing about so many painful family stories: parents who are heartbroken because of terrible fights with their kids, siblings who had completely lost touch with each other, and toxic in-law drama.
When I proposed this book, I was so hopeful it would give peace to families. But when I began to write the book, I found I was afraid about what to write. Really I was scared of looking too closely at families. I was scared we were doing it wrong in our own house. How could I give advice to anyone else?
And because fear always freezes creativity, I overthought my way straight into writers’ prison. This is where I stare at the blank screen and fake-write. Instead of actually sitting in the painful silence and typing a bad first draft, I procrastinate. I create spreadsheets to schedule time to write. I complain about how hard writing is and I post writing quotes on Instagram.
Through all of this, the mantra in my head was, “This book is a very bad idea. You have no knowledge for this. You have no talent. You will not finish.” My low-grade anxiety about failing was developing into complete panic. I had to find a way to make actual progress on the book.
At night, I took more and more melatonin to try and fall asleep. My mind replayed all the reasons I was going to fail, that this book was a mistake, that I was not equipped to write this.
During the day, I would hear the same advice over and over: Just write. Which is it the very best writing advice there is.
(Also, it’s ridiculous I always forget this advice. After dozens of finished manuscripts, a master’s degree in creative writing, years as a writing instructor, and thousands of blog entries, I know the only thing to do is write. To finish any writing project, you have to keep your butt in the chair and muddle through really terrible ideas and sentences that will be deleted. And. Keep. Writing.)
So, I finally forced myself to do just that. Very early every single morning, I sat in my chair, typed out what I was learning about families, and trusted God would make something out of this. I read research and stories about families who have learned grace. I interviewed dozens of friends about their struggles and triumphs within the generations of their families.
On most days, I felt like I was wearing oven mitts and trying to type because I couldn’t think of anything at all to say. But at the end of about 20 minutes (and the end of my patience), thoughts would break free from my mind’s prison. And I would have something to say.
The book came along so slowly. More panic. More paralysis. Another wasted week. Five days of manic writing. Two days of deleting. And so on.
Pretty soon, I had a really, really rough first draft. But finally I had something to edit and mark-up and change.
After many more days of the oven-mitt typing, I had a better draft and the book and the interviews and the families became interesting to me.
Then I couldn’t be stopped. The book started to come so fast. God gave me the words every day to write what I could.
Then the deadline came and I had finished the whole book. And my editor loved it. I can absolutely tell you with one hundred percent certainty that this was from God. Every single bit of it was a testimony to God saying, “Here you go. Words. Enough for today. I’ll be here again tomorrow.”
So, here is my encouragement for you today. If you have a writing project that’s hanging over your head, stick with it.
Keep writing. Break through. Don’t let the fear win. Trust God for the words.