Step Two Continued: Atheists Are Writers Too!

Step 2 – Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Okay, I took kind of a long break, but well, you know, life happens. Stupid life.

Let’s recap. For me, a sane writer works to improve their craft, writes on a schedule, and markets themselves and their writing with very little drama. A sane writer lives with the belief that if they continue to write, they will become better.


Now, above, I don’t say the word “God.” But “power greater than” certainly points to some kind of divine force.

Oh, I have such a hard time with the God idea. I’m kind of an all-or-nothing type of guy, and if there is a God, I would want magic fireballs tumbling out of the sky and filling me with inspiration and hope. Some people have had that experience, heck, I’ve even had some of those experiences, but for me to be satisfied, burning bushes would have to happen every day of the week. Yeah, God would have to be a Vegas nightshow act to keep me interested.

However, there are a variety of powers greater than myself that are active in my life. For example, my critique group is a power greater than myself. Maybe for some, maybe for most, they can create by themselves and churn out Shakespearean perfection, but not me. I need an outside eye, a fresh look, a power greater than myself.

Not to say I take everything my critique group says as gospel. Nope. I joke that I get their comments, and then I run it by the committee. Yes, I have a group of voices in my mind, and that group gets to decide on what comments I take and what comments I bid adieu. So even by myself, there is a power greater than myself running amok in my head. A good critique will stick in your craw, and you’ll fight, but in the end, you’ll have to embrace what’s right. And you’ll know. That deep part of yourself will know what is gold and what is complete cow crap.

And as a writer, the entire writing industry is a power greater than me, but that industry, while bent on making cash dollars, is also full of people passionate about books. Yes, there are some evil frakking people out there, but from my experience, most have good hearts and love stories. They can help. Sometimes. Again, the committee gets the final say.


Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of the wonderful Pay It Forward, was told by a well-meaning agent to change her book and have nice people pay it forward to other nice people. Ugh. Part of what makes the book so powerful is taht the people are gritty, real, and not antiseptic clones.  Yeah, Ms. Hyde ignored that bit of “helpful” advice.



The most important part of Step Two is to let outside forces have a peek into your work and into your creative life and then be open to suggestions. A sane writer can take a good critique. And a sane writer knows when people are either stupid, evil, or useless. And you’ll encounter that. Just nod, and say thank you. A lot. I learned that from one of the old warrior writers in my critique group. Just say thank you. Don’t argue. Don’t fuss. Don’t explain. Just say thank you and move on.

In the end, the committee will decide. Or, for those with certain beliefs, the whisper of the Sacred Heart of Jesus inside you will be the final judge. Or Ganesha. I love Ganesha. The elephant-headed God of writers, thieves, and miracles. Which pretty much sums up the writer’s life.
Be open to following directions. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Wouldn’t it be cool if you were writing and Ganesha appeared? How awesome would that be?

Again, for me to be satisfied, he’d have to show up every day. With flowers. Vegas showtime, baby, or don’t even bother.

What Does a Sane Writer Look Like? Step Two and Finding Hope

Step 2 – Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

So we’ve spent weeks talking about step one, which is all about despair and being broken. I’m powerless and my life is unmanageable. I can’t do it alone. I need help.

Cool. Now, the despair drives us out of the smelly basement of our misery and up into the kitchen of hope. Kitchens are hopeful places, yeah? That’s why everyone gathers there during parties.

Step two is all about hope. We came to believe that “something” could fix us. I ain’t gonna talk about God. Okay, maybe I will a little.

A little God. Just a little pinch between your soul and mind, or cheek and gum, or something. God as chewin’ tobacco. Yeah. I can dig it.

Notice how this step says a power greater than ourselves. For some, that is gonna be the full-on trinity: Father, Son, and Paraclete (not parakeet, you slackers, look it up). For others, it might be the other trinity, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. For others, the other other trinity, their editor, agent, and critique group. But the idea is this: we can find help and comfort if we search for it.

I blogged recently about the idea that God can be used as a tool to help us break out of our small thinking and embrace a more creative, unknown path. The “God Idea” can give us thoughts or ideas that we might not have had unless we sought sources of strength and inspiration outside of ourselves.

Step two is about finding the courage and hope that we can be better, that we can be restored to sanity. But what is sanity? What does a sane writer look like?
Everyone is gonna define sanity a little differently, and every writer is going to be sane in a different way.

I’ll tell you what I think a sane writer looks like. A sane writer writes consistently. If I didn’t have to battle my own demons every time before I wrote, I would write every day. If there wasn’t all this drama, I wouldn’t have fantasies of the perfect time to write, and I would write when I could. Might be fifteen minutes. Might be hours on end. But I would be writing consistently.

And a sane writer puts the work first. It’s not about the fame, the money, the glory, it’s about creating quality pages. Not a lot of drama. Not a lot of gnashing teeth in the darkness. Simple work. One of my many issues is that I put my ego first. What if I suck? Who am I to think I can do this? Other people are more talented. And then all of that negative thinking freezes me up solid. Writercicle. Not very chocolatey.

No, sane writers put the work first. Even those getting paid. The work comes before food, or the food never comes.

Sane writers say no to drama. My critique group is full of published writers, and when I go there with my drama, they look at me curiously. They scratch their heads. They poke. They prod. How very interesting. Who is this angsty writer in our midst? They don’t quite get me because they don’t have a lot of drama. They know the game is hard. They know it because they’ve lived it. And drama doesn’t help that. Doesn’t make it easier. Drama just wastes a lot of energy.

Sane writers aren’t afraid of revision. The game is to write a rough draft, and then revise. Revision isn’t a big deal. Even big revisions. It doesn’t mean they suck, or should give up, or they aren’t brilliant. Harper Lee worked for years with agents and editors on To Kill a Mockingbird. So, revision? Not a big deal!

Sane writers are always working on something. They don’t write books, send off query letters, and then start watching lots of T.V. Nope. I talked with a successful children’s book writer and he said, “Always have something in the mail.” Always being querying and looking for publishers even as you work on your newest project. Sane writers do that.

Sane writers love writing. They might not always like it, but deep down, they love it, which probably makes them insane.

So this is my ideal, but I think every writer has to map out for themselves, what does a sane writer look like? What is my ideal self?

Next week, I have an exercise that helped me map this out a little more. More on Step Two next Tuesday, my lovelies!

When Your Back is Up Against the Wall – Final Step One Post

Step 1 – Admitted we were powerless over our art and our creative lives had become unmanageable.

Previously, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, no wait, that’s not right.  Well, last week I talked about all of my wounds. That was last week, in my last 12-Step post, but this week, well, we start the climb out. Still in step one, but inching closer towards step two, where all the hope is. Let’s catch you up.

Last week, me alone, in the basement, gnashing my teeth in the darkness.  I needed a dental dam.

Then, a light shining in the darkness, I realized I needed help. And I found people who were willing to aid a poor wretch like me.

Let’s start at home. If not for my wife, I never would have ended up in Big Sur at that writers’ workshop. She got books from the library on writing, and we went over them. She pointed out that what I was doing wasn’t working and that I needed to change. And it was a bad year, that year. I was willing to pursue this because I was so miserable. Let me tell you, if life were all cotton candy, kitties, and puppies, not much would get done. I had to be willing, and willingness for me generally comes when my back is up against the wall and my ass is suckin’ plaster. That’s also when my mind opens to other possibilities.

You’ll hear such things in 12-Step meetings. It’s colorful. And true.

So, finally, after I realized I had my head up my butt, I started to read books on writing. There are a few around. Did I do it in large chunks? Nope, ten minutes a day. It took me months to go through books, but I learned a ton, and it wasn’t the time suck that I had imagined it to be. The few minutes I spent every day were golden.

The books all said to find other artists, and they also suggested reading books on how to improve, take classes, stuff like that. And as a writer, reading successful books is what you do to improve. As Barry Eisler says, you read like a writer, and write like a reader.

I also found a critique group, I found writers conferences, I found people who could help me, and such things exist for all art forms. We don’t have to suffer alone. Suffering with other people is so much more fun. Which is why 12-step programs work. Because in a group, the suffering can turn into something life-giving.

Working in a community of writers, I got to see a variety of writing, good and bad. Analyzing bad writing is just as important as analyzing good writing. I could see where my own writing needed work. And people gave me critiques and that was crucial. Alone, I couldn’t see the whole picture. With other people, I could be far more objective.

The happy, good news is that every artist can improve, and practice is most likely worth more than natural talent. At a Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I heard a speaker talk about the 10,000 hours idea. Basically, to become an expert at anything takes about 10,000 hours, and those who can discipline themselves to do the 10,000 hours get the talent they want. I can guarantee you, Stephen King did the 10,000 hours before he got rich and famous. Some are luckier than others, but the bottom line is that there is a world of information on how to create better ideas on form, style, aesthetics, and if you only rely on your little brain, you are cheating yourself. The way I cheated myself, for years and years.

But I had to be completely willing to do whatever it took to keep on creating, and this is the magic of Step One.

To be in a position of total surrender.

To do anything to move forward, no matter what.

A lot of these belief systems I found that were holding me back I learned in step 4, 5, 6 and 7, but they all put me in a state of powerlessness and unmanageability. When I started down the path, all I needed for a good Step One was the idea that I couldn’t do it alone, that I was out of ideas, that I was stuck. Once I was there, I was ready to move forward.

I entered into a contest with a friend that the first person to reach fifty rejections would owe the other dinner. And I had another friend who was willing to proofread every query letter.

This worked. I won the contest, found a publisher, and one of my books finally found a home outside of my hard drive. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been willing to really look at how my creative life was unmanageable.

Some questions for you to ponder:

How are you powerless over your creativity?

How is your artistic life unmanageable?

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to move forward? Why or why not?

Next week!  We hit Step Two at last.  I hope you’ll come back!  Step two is where the hope is.