I had a day off from being all interny today. Lately I’ve taken up the challenge of getting rid of a fallen tree in our back yard, which requires my picking up an axe and swinging it around. I don’t do this all the time, so my hands have some fashionable blisters on them. But I thought “what better to do on a day off from looking professional than take another whack at that tree” (literally). Lumberjacks have a lot of time to think, and I did too while I was chopping.
How Chopping Wood Relates to Life and Writing
There are some things that go into being an effective lumberjack that I think really apply. Granted, I’m no paragon of wood-chopping, writing, or the Christian life. Far from it on all counts. However, they struck me, and so I’ll put them down for whoever might find them useful.
Chopping wood is hard and sweaty work. Sometimes it seems like you’ll never get through this section of wood so you can just move on already! Life is like that sometimes too. Sometimes the current struggles hit us hard. We grow tired and our spirits ache. It feels like you’ll be struggling on the same spot for the rest of your life. And it’s true: some struggles never go away. But “’…with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matt 19:26). The context is Christ talking about its being easier for a camel to get through that teeny-tiny part of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. But just as He makes this possible, He also makes it possible to chop through that wood, to overcome the struggles. With some patience, He’ll see us through the needle eyes in our own lives. Just keep swinging that axe.
The same applies to writing. Keep working through that difficult chapter. Work through the writer’s block and lack of inspiration. Eventually it will be behind you.
I’d been working on that stinking tree for a while. But sometimes I’d swing and land about three inches or more away from my intended target, the spots that needed the axe most. The best way I found to remedy this was to keep my eye on the target the whole time. Watch the spot you want to hit and swing. You might not hit it every time, but your aim will improve, and you’ll work through it. In going through life and struggles, we can wander, missing the mark. When we hit a rough spot, we continue on aimlessly, hoping that we will just wander out of present trouble or that it will go away. But when we deal with heartache and struggle, we need to take aim and keep our eyes on target. Following Christ isn’t easy, but keeping our gaze on him straightens the path and guides our feet. No more do we wander with the North Star to follow.
In writing, we can aim by making goals. What do you want to accomplish in your daily writing? When do you want to have the work itself done? How much do you want to have done by Christmas? It helps to take things in smaller chunks, I find. Try outlining and adding road-markers for each chapter. Make goals and work towards them.
A lumberjack has two main tools: the axe and the body. Keeping them in top condition will make your work easier. How we treat the tools will affect our work.
So, this means reading, among other things. Reading the Bible keeps you sharp, ready, and open to what He’s saying to you. And as a writer, read A LOT. It both improves your work and helps you keep your mind in that train of thinking. How can we know what good writing looks like and work towards it if we don’t look at good examples and expose ourselves to it?
Discipline, too, is important. A lumberjack needs to work his or her body so that the lumberjacking process is easier and better quality. Discipline is necessary also for keeping your eyes on Christ. Read the Word, pray, fellowship with other believers, and praise Him daily. These are all things that go into spiritual discipline.
As a writer, WRITE! Every day. It doesn’t have to be anything profound; just do it. Exercise your writing muscles.
Sometimes I had to come at the fallen tree from a different angle if I wanted to continue making progress. It sometimes meant stepping in a hole or even standing on the tree, but in the end I’d getting more results than when I just hit the same spots over and over again.
So try something new. Eat octopus, ride your bike down some random path, learn the ukulele, do something different to help you see the world and your relationship with Christ differently. Sometimes all it takes is tilting your head a bit to get a different view; I mean that literally. Does your prayer feel stale? Try going for a drive or a walk and just talk to God out loud. Write Him a letter. Change it up. If you feel dissatisfied with where you are in life, try something new. Shoot hoops. Talk to strangers. A little spice makes life interesting.
If you have writer’s block or don’t like the way things are going in your story, try writing a scene from another character’s perspective, changing the voice from third person to first person, or thinking of something random and incorporating it into the story somehow (“and suddenly a giant panda came out of the trees carrying the Sorcerer’s Stone around its neck!”) You don’t have to keep things like this in, but it can be a brainstorming tool and keep things moving.
5.) Taking Breaks
Like I said, chopping wood is hard. Sometimes you just need to let yourself breathe. It’s okay to get fed up with the stupid bee that keeps buzzing around you and walk away. It’s okay to look up when you hear thunder, feel the raindrops fall and, putting down the axe, collapse on the grass, letting the chill rain cool you down from the 90 degrees that dropped by at least 20 degrees when it started raining.
Point is, if we’re always beating ourselves up about not being at a certain point in our lives or our writing and working single-mindedly towards our goals, we’ll burn out.
In our walks, we are told there will be struggle. In our struggles, we’re told to be sober-minded and always looking for Christ’s return. Figuratively awake (1 Thes. 5: 1-7). However, figuratively sleeping is not the same as resting. God rested from Creation on the seventh day, and He instituted the Sabbath so that we can rest like He did (Gen. 2:2-3). He knows that sometimes we need a break, both in body and in spirit. He wants us to rest in Him: “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm” (Prov. 19:23). Christ calls us to this again as both God’s son and Himself incarnate: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Meditate. Find a time to sit in silence, reflect, and listen to Him. Refresh your spirit. In whatever work you’re doing, mind and body will benefit from allowing yourself to recharge.
Sometimes you need a break from your story or whatever you’re writing too. Write something else. Take a day or more to focus on your reading. Come back to it with new experience. This is especially helpful with editing. Come back to your rough work after a break before you edit.
So while the tree is still sitting in the side of the yard, there’s a lot of mess, and I have a lot to clear before it’s all gone, the work is satisfying. I enjoy it, and it’s great to do when I’m fidgety and just need to get up and do something with my hands. I think I’m getting good at it too. Maybe I’ll become a for real lumberjack. Once my internship is up, I’ll move to the Canadian forests and wear plaid all the time. Or maybe I’ll just see what happens. For right now, I’m going to put some band-aids on these blisters.