My message is for all, but especially for my son. As true as this may be, the reality is that I write for myself. When I was young, I often put myself into seemingly inescapable predicaments. I didn’t always know who to talk to. The solutions I was looking for were not found easily. In these times of great distress, pen and paper acted as magnets and drew me toward them. It was in the words that I found my therapy. It was a haven to freely express what was in my mind.
Although writing was instrumental in the dark times, it took years for me to realize its value when things didn’t appear so bleak. Through this medium, I found both a greater sense of direction and purpose. Words on paper was a means to prevent the lethargy that comes with comfort.
Write to please just one person.
Of course, my words are intended as a message for all who would read them. But I cannot do this when I am at odds within. The writing gives me pleasure because it brings me into alignment with my soul. It brings me closer to harmony with the universe. Yes, it is a message for all. But in the end, it is ultimately for me.
The tanks lined up baking in the Georgia sun. Soldiers were trying to find ways to best pass the time. Some were napping, others playing cards, and one was reading. I asked him if it was any good when he finished it. He said it wasn’t bad and then offered it to me. I accepted it desperately looking for something to do to take my mind off the monotony of the day.
It was The Tale of the Body Thief, one of the Vampire Chronicle books by Anne Rice. I remembered watching the movie in the theater a few years before. I enjoyed the movie and thought why not give this book a try. It was the first time since High School that I picked up a book to read solely for pleasure. The year was 1998 and became one the turning points in my life.
That year, I caught a bug. It was a reading bug that I hadn’t had since my elementary days. After finishing that book, I proceeded to read all the Vampire books. Then I read all of Rice’s witch books. Over the next few years, I discovered Wilbur Smith, George R.R. Martin, Robert Jordan, and Bernard Cornwell, and read all the books I could get from them. When I was took a break from them, I went back to classics: Dickens and Dumas with a little Hemingway.
Then a time came in my life when I thought I could do that too. I could be a writer. And so I started to write. The ideas came from all over the place. I thought they were good. But my writing, it was bad. I struggled to convey my thoughts into words that would flow effortlessly onto paper. Yet I was determined to be a writer. After all, I had already told my closest friends that this was finally the calling in my life I had always been waiting for. I was going to make it work.
Then one day a seed of doubt entered my mind. I imagined all these writers were aged men and women of wisdom. I imagined that they had all lived lives full of experience, and only in their twilight years were they able to create their masterpieces. Who was I, one so young and naïve, to be able to compete with that? I had no life-skills other than that of an infantryman. Of the world, I knew very little. I was simply not ready to be a writer.
If you wish to be a writer, write. –Epictetus
I should have taken the philosopher’s advice. What I wanted to do wasn’t supposed to be easy. I wasn’t naturally talented, and at the time I lacked the discipline to keep practicing. When the motivation wore off, I postponed my dreams with the lame excuse of not being experienced enough. And how exactly was I going to get that experience if I wasn’t writing?
There is a silver lining in all of this reminiscing of a misspent dream. Somewhere deep within, I maintained a glimmer of hope that I could still be a writer. My appetite for reading never wavered, and in that I was still developing my literary mind. Of course if I would have kept practicing, my skills as a writer could have been much better. But as much as it pains me to think on this revelation, there is nothing I can do about it. The past is gone, never to be relived. But today, and the days to come, that is another story. That time is not yet spent and can be utilized toward that endeavor. I can become who I dream of being. I can become more disciplined. I can practice this craft and be the best I can be.
Epictetus asked, “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best of yourself?” It is a wise question worth keeping in mind. When standing before the Almighty on the Day of Judgment, you will not be asked how you measured up to your peers and fellow humans. There will be no comparison of bank accounts and social media likes on St. Peter’s ledgers. But if the Master asks you what you did with the talents He gave you, how will you answer? Will you say you buried them and kept them safe? Or will you take the talents you have been given and invest in them and let them grow? You can be a good steward of the gifts you have been given or you can be the lazy one? In the beginning I was the lazy one, but thankfully my eyes were opened before it was too late. In that I was fortunate to be given a second chance.
I loathe this question. It is one that I told myself I never wanted to be asked again. Why? Because your level of fitness is one of the things people, whether they want to admit it or not, notice first. And for someone who is borderline obsessed with strength and endurance, the last thing I dread is for an uncle I haven’t seen in a few years pointing at my midsection.
I work hard to achieve my fitness goals. I willingly share those goals with the idea that those closest to me will hold me accountable. It is my way of staying on the path. It is my way of forcing a little extra discipline in my life in case I get a little too comfortable which happens from time to time. I have faith that I can get where I want to go, but the key to getting there is discipline.
Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence is the key to unlocking our potential. –Liane Cardes
I believe my potential is wrapped in strength and intelligence, but I don’t naturally have them. If I want to build both of these, then I need continuous effort. Discipline. It truly equals the freedom I am seeking.
There is another question I have come to hate hearing. It is a pointed barb that upon hearing strikes to the quick. Once it is there, it is embedded deep and my mind will not let it go.
“Are you still writing?”
I took a two week break from my blog. I didn’t schedule one. It just happened. I allowed other things in my life to take precedence. I veered off the path and started to become fat as a writer. Writing is similar to physical fitness. Once you stop, you begin to digress and become out of shape. The only way to keep from stopping is through continuous effort. Through discipline.
When I began my fitness journey, I had to ask myself some tough questions about whether or not it was worth it. What are the benefits of good health? Are you happy with your present condition? How much more could I do if I was fit? They may seem like they are all selfish questions and to some degree they are, but my fitness impacts my family’s well-being. It impacts my relationships with friends and co-workers. It improves my professional performance.
Last night after being asked if I was still writing, I once again had to ask myself some tough questions. Do I believe I have a message worth hearing? Could I have a positive impact on the lives of my readers? If I believe this is what I was put on this earth to do, then why am I not doing it?
The answer is yes to all of them, and I believe it is possible. This is the direction I have chosen to travel in my life. But if I want to be a strong writer and endure as one, I need to apply continuous effort. I need discipline. Faith alone can only get me so far. However when I couple that faith with discipline, I can truly maximize my potential.
I am a firm believer that physical fitness has taught me the virtues of discipline more effectively than any other method including my time in the Army. I also believe that if I can master discipline in terms of my body, I possess the necessary tools to master it mentally as well. My body is starting to bear the fruit of my labor. I have no doubt that my mind, if practiced in the same fashion, will also bear fruit.
Don’t make excuses for why you can’t get it done. Focus on all the reasons why you must make it happen. –Ralph Marston
The above quote was from the same man that said, “Have faith in yourself and in the direction you have chosen.” I think they go well together. I have to believe in the journey I’m on. I have to believe I can get to my destination. My eyes have to stay on the prize. Excuses won’t get me where I need to go, but a resolute focus on the objective and a continuous effort will.
The things you work on to improve. Your body. Your career. The projects on the side that you hope may replace your current career. The things you imagine to be your future. That’s your garden. That’s the grass you believe is greener on the other side of the hill.
We look to the future. We hope and believe that some day the future we imagine will be our reality. We want for it. We long for it. It is lush and vibrant. After all, it is our garden.
We long for the future, but we live in the present. The garden has only been started. Rather than lush and vibrant, it is filled with young, tender plants. There are weeds. There are old plants that need to be trimmed. Some even need to removed. The garden you have today has a long way to go before it is transformed into the garden of your future. And you know what? It is okay. It is still your garden. It just needs a lot of work.
Over the last few weeks, the nature of my job has changed. I work at the same place, but the role is different. Physically, it is more demanding. Instead of five days a week, I work four. But those four days take up over twelve hours from morning commute to evening commute. By the time I get to my days off, all I can think about is recovering. I am beat physically. I am drained mentally. My goal is to survive and yet, there is my garden to consider. The job isn’t keeping me from tending the garden. To say such is allowing excuses to override my mission. Maybe in the future the fruits of my garden will provide for my living, but right now it is the job. And the job is what I must do and do without neglecting my garden.
What is my garden?
It is my writing. Rough and unpolished now, because I don’t spend enough time cultivating it. Words upon pages never typed. Blank pages patiently waiting for the tip of the pen. I imagine a well-manicured garden, clean and simple with straight lines and free of weeds. Visitors come often to refresh themselves and have a brief escape from the rigors of the day. But I am not there yet. Right now, it is rambling. The lines are uneven; the paths are not smooth. Weeds, or an excess of unnecessary words, have crept in and have yet to be removed. The garden still needs many things to be complete. It may never be complete. That is okay too. As long as I continue to work in it.
Though the job demands much, I cannot forget my garden. I must continue to work it, to shape the land, and to pull the weeds. And after all else, I cannot forget to water it. Water is life, and I must bring it to life.
I had goals for the weekend, but they were loose one. I didn’t have any concrete plans. There were a few things I wanted to do: workout, work around the house, and get in some writing. From a planning standpoint, this was a failure. When looking back on what I accomplished over the weekend, I may have scored a 60%. Failure. I got in all my workouts. Those were already planned out in advance. I may have got about 75% of the chores around the house completed. In terms of writing, I scored a big fat ZERO.
What’s going on with my writing? Almost every day, I have been putting entries into my journal. In addition to my journal, I have been writing on printer paper with the goal of filling up at least the front if not both sides. What I have not been doing is getting these pages typed up, revised, or published. Some of this is due to my current work schedule, but in reality that is a lame excuse. As Epictetus says, “If you want to be a writer, write.” And that is in essence what writers do, they write. Why? Because they make it a priority.
The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. –Steven Covey
Right now, I am not committing enough time for my writing. I am trying to fit it in when I can and then possibly catch up on the weekends. And this is a bad plan, because my writing on the weekend is not happening. I need to make this a priority. I need to go back and look at my goals and create a plan I can adhere to. I need to do better.
How do I do this? How do I become more successful in accomplishing the things I want to accomplish? If I want to win in the long run, I need to win each day. To win each day, I need to make a plan. It does me no good to make a plan on the day of. I need to make it in advance. To win each day, I need to make a plan the night before.
To be prepared is half the victory. –Miguel Cervantes de Saavedra
I usually write in my journal in the morning. It is for the most part a once a day process to get some thoughts out of my head. Occassionally, I write in it at night. But this rare, unless something is really on my mind. I need to make to night time journaling a regular process, and it needs to be done strategically to plan out my next day’s goals. Every night before turning in for the night, I need to write specific goals for three categories.
Body. What am I planning on accomplishing physically? This should be simple, but there has been a few times I woke up in the morning and put together a makeshift workout. Doing this is not strategic and often wastes precious time in the morning. Having my routine ready to go the night before may speed me up 15-30 minutes.
Soul. In terms of my soul, I really consider this a matter of the heart. What am I going to do to become a better human being? When I think of the heart, I think of bravery, courage, love, character, and discipline. Most likely my writing goal will fit in here as well.
Mind. Every day I am searching out new things to learn. What am I reading, want to read, or need to learn? As important as it is to train my body and my heart, it is just as important to train my mind.
Tonight will be my first attempt to write in my journal from this perspective. I will start with a recap. Did I execute? Why or why not? Then I will finish with a plan for the next day.
What is my motive for such actions? It is simply to improve. It is always to improve. My personal development has become one of the greatest driving forces in my life. It is one of the principal lessons I want my son to learn. Become better today, than I was yesterday.
It begins as a lump of steel. It gets forged with heat, so that it can be shaped. Then it gets ground down, filed down, and cut down. It experiences extreme heat and extreme cold. The steel continues to get stressed until it is hardened. Once the blade has its shape and its strength, then it can be polished.
The sword arm starts out in a similar way. It begins as a lump of flesh and bone, but in time it can be shaped. On the training grounds, it can be stressed until it hardens. And once it has its shape and strength, it can be the weapon that is worthy to wield the blade.
Without a sword arm, the sword is useless and dangerous. It could be a decoration on the wall, or it could be a grotesque tool in a clumsy hand. The sword’s true purpose can only be realized by the warrior trained to use it.
The pen is mightier than the sword. –Edward Bulwer-Lytton
It begins as a jumble of words and ideas. Thoughts fluttering in the ether waiting to be caught. Moved to paper, they begin to take shape. They begin to become solid. In the forge, they get ground, filed, and cut. All the superfluities removed. In time, once the process is completed, the result may be something beautiful and polished.
Just as a swordsman must prepare for the day of battle, so a writer must prepare. Daily practice. Daily study. The mind has to be shaped, and it has to be strengthened. The writer will experience extreme heat from the critics and extreme cold from the disinterested. If the writer can overcome these trials, the message can indeed be mighty.
A pen, not used as a decoration, can also be dangerous in the wrong hands. A reader’s mind has to be strong as well. This too can come from practice.
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. –Proverbs 22:6
It was a proud moment coming home from work when my son showed me a large pile of books and a new library card. This soon-to-be six year-old has a voracious appetite for reading and his skills are really accelerating. It is truly exciting to imagine the opportunities if he continues to cultivate this super-power throughout his lifetime.
I loved reading as a child but fell away from it as a teen. It wasn’t until a very boring field exercise in the Army that I started reading again. Once that bug infected me, I couldn’t stop. I developed my skill as a reader through fiction in those early days, and it truly has helped in my ability to read non-fiction. It was in those Army days, that I first began to realize that I, too, wanted to be a writer. But in order to be a good writer, a writer, as Epictetus says, has to write. And back then, I didn’t have the discipline to stick with it. I was arrogant and thought it would come naturally. What foolishness. It is on the training ground that a warrior learns the art that prepares him for battle. Likewise, it is in the training of daily practice, that a writer can master his art.
In regards to writing, what is preventing me from consistency? I know it is something I am passionate about, but something is keeping me from doing the thing that I want to do the most. I have a few theories, and it all starts with planning. I know the direction I want to go, but I struggle with planning. I struggle with finding the right tools that are going to help me stay on task and plan for future events. If I do not have a plan, I am not prepared during my allotted writing times. The effect is my writing is not focused. Even worse, without a plan I am likely to do something else. This is not good. There are things in my brain that do not need to be stuck there. If I can’t get it out of my brain, how can I get it to my readers? If I can’t get the content to my readers consistently, what hope do I have that they will keep coming back? None.
There is this calendar on my phone, which some would suggest is a great scheduling tool. I use it to set the occasional reminder for personal things, but I never have used it for my writing. There is also the pocket calendar I get every year from my employer. I have received seven of these and have never once made an entry into it. Each one sits in my locker until I replace it with the next year’s version.
The great thing about writing out your problems is that you often stumble upon the solution. This year, I want to be consistent. It has to be if I want different results. I can’t expect to do the same things over and over and expect different results. So it has to be different. I have to be different. Tonight I took the first step. I broke out that pocket calendar, dusted it off, and made my first entry. It only took seven years to do so. I downloaded the google calendar app on my iPhone so that it could sync up my non-iOS laptop. It is a great first step. Now I have to stick with it. Consistent behaviors lead to consistent results.
What are consistent behaviors? It is discipline. It is the path that I am looking for in every aspect of my life. Discipline.