on writing: ego, insecurity, & the life of the beloved
This past year I wrote a book. I worked hundreds of hours. I wrote at least 14,000 words and cut 7,500 of them. On weekday afternoons I worked while I listened to a babysitter play with my kids on the other side of the house. I spent Saturday mornings curled up on the couch in my pajamas sculpting sentences while my husband and kids were off at playgrounds and the zoo and the beach making memories without me.
I did it because it mattered. Getting those words down on the screen and then moving them and cutting them and blessing them—that holy work of telling a good story—was the work I’ve always longed to do. I gave myself to it, even though it meant sacrificing time with my family.
Sometimes I’m still not sure whether or not those sacrifices were worth it.
But I wrote the words it because I needed to tell this story now, while it was still fresh in me, even though my babies are young and my time is vulnerable. I wrote it because the opportunity came and I knew it may never come again.
My book releases in April, and the closer that date moves toward us, the more my soul is looking for confirmation that I made the right choice. What if my book sucks? What if doesn’t sell at all? What if no one connects to it? And what if—worst of all—people make fun of it? What if my life and my sacrifices and the story that has defined my identity for the past five years mean nothing? What if it’s an embarrassment to my sons forty years from now? What if they hide the family copies of the book in the attic in hopes that no one ever finds them?
Here’s my other fear: What if people do like it? What if I have “success” as a writer and actually make a little money? What will be expected of me then? What if I never have another book in me and everyone expects one? What if it all feeds my ego to the point where I become the vainest version of myself? I already sense my ego ballooning on the early praises of friends who have read it. I already sense that people are interested in talking to a person who can be introduced at parties as a “real life author.” And I already sense how much I love the spotlight, how easy it is to talk about myself.
Here’s the thing with creative work: It’s a risk. It’s always a risk. So I’ve been trying to embrace that risk, to lean into the reality of it, so that my fears become more than aimless anxiety. I’m praying that my fears of failure and my fears of my own ego would teach me more of who I am and who God is making me to be.
I’ve been trying not to push those questions aside, and instead dig into them. Why am I afraid of my book failing? If I fail, what will that failure say about my worth? Do I define myself by the praise of other people? Do I really believe God gave this book to me? Do I really believe my value is bigger than the success or failure of my work? Those are questions that speak to both my vanities and my insecurities, because the truth is that both of those selves are false, both are dependent on the praise of others. The Real Me is the Micha God loves, the me that is not defined by others, but only by a loving Creator.
I’ve been trying to practice an imaginative prayer that my former spiritual director gave me recently when I asked for help in preparing my heart for the inevitable criticisms.
Who is Beloved Micha? she asked. Look at yourself and ask God to show you the part of you that is loved and accepted and made whole by Jesus. How does that Micha react to pain and joy? What does Beloved Micha believe about her book?
What if Beloved Micha takes the hand of Vain Micha? What if Beloved Micha takes the hand of Insecure Micha? What if, despite their existence and their frantic presence in my head, Beloved Micha was the one in charge around here?
In that imaginative prayer exercise, after I spend time with each of my three selves, my spiritual director instructed me to allow Beloved Micha to walk hand in hand with Vain Micha and Insecure Micha. Let Beloved Micha lead them to the cross, she said.
The cross: where all three of us are rescued, where all three of us find rest.
I don’t know what it’s like to be told by strangers that my work is worthless or that it’s genius, and I might find out. And if I do, I’m praying Beloved Micha will be in charge that day. I’m praying that she’ll intersect the harsh words and wild praise and she’ll order them first in front of the cross, where all of me—the lovely, the ugly, the in-between—is gathered up under the goodness of grace, and woven whole.
Micha (pronounced “MY-cah”) Boyett is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet. A former youth minister, she’s passionate about monasticism and ancient Christian spiritual practices and how they inform the contemporary life of faith. Her first book, Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer, is available now on Amazon and will be in stores April 1. Boyett and her husband live in San Francisco with their two boys. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and at michaboyett.com.