Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

What Joan of Arc Taught Me About Writing

Today was an astonishingly wonderful day. One of the best. Ever. Perhaps even life changing.

Joan-of-arc-statue-1

Joan Faith (my wife) and I took a trip to France to visit Joan of Arc’s birthplace in Domrémy-la-Pucelle. It’s not the kind of place you might run into if you’re merely visiting Paris or another wonderful French city. It’s far off of the beaten path. It’s out in the French sticks as Joan Faith joked today. You have to deliberately decide to visit there and then dare to venture deep into the vast and intoxicatingly beautiful French countryside.

We almost got lost twice as we drove the narrow and winding roads for hours, doing several U-turns along the way, and we nearly ran into a few cows that seemed stranded along the side of an extremely narrow road. Thankfully my lightning reflexes saved them (and us) as I screamed “oh sh…” and swerved out of the way. I needn’t worry about oncoming traffic; we were way out in nowhereland and no one else seemed to want anything to do with the freshly fertilized farmlands.

Joan-of-arc-country-side

We finally made it to Joan of Arc’s hometown about noon and somehow before we saw the sign stating where we were, we knew we had made it to somewhere special. As I suspected, as we drew closer and closer to the village with only spotting scant few cars along the way, the town was practically deserted. It was just too far away from everything for casual visitors.

The first place we came to and near where we parked was a statue commemorating Joan of Arc (pictured above). When we saw the statue we knew we had arrived. Without realizing it we parked directly across from the church Joan of Arc had attended as a child and where she had heard the voices directing her to reunite France and Crown the rightful King.

Joan-of-arc-church

We went in the church and although we have visited hundreds of grand cathedrals, churches, and domes across Europe, including the Notre Dame in Paris and the Speyerer Dom in Speyer, this little church so far away from any major metropolis was the most awe-inspiring I have ever visited.

We were lucky to find the church empty of people and thus we had it entirely to ourselves. I don’t recall taking as much time for any other church. It was as if we didn’t want to leave. In truth, we really didn’t want to leave. Although it was about 600 years old it was very well tended.

Joan-of-arc-church-inside

But there was something else about the inside of the church that I found more interesting and captivating than anything I had experienced before. After a while of viewing the pictures and commemorations, I noticed something anomalous.

It was hard to define at first, but ever so slowly I realized what it was that was unusual. It was silence. It was incredibly quiet in the church. There wasn’t so much as the slightest creak from the building. The silence was overwhelming. So much so that once I became aware of it, it was gone! Suddenly I could hear a car passing and other sounds coming from outside. I shrugged it off and then continued to enjoy my visit.

It wasn’t long before I realized I was wrapped in the silence again. The silence was so peaceful and comforting that I wanted to say something about it to Joan Faith, but then decided not to as she seemed wrapped up in her own visit as well.

I tried to imagine what it must have been like for Joan of Arc so many hundreds of years ago, when there were no cars, or any of the many modern sounds we have today, and quite likely very few travelers coming through the town. The silence in the church in her time must have been tremendous.

Tremendous, indeed. I had many thoughts about how someone could get caught up in the tranquility of the quietness, but then I started thinking about something else unexpectedly. I began to consider how many interruptions we have in our daily modern lives today – from smart phones, to keeping up with friends (both close and distant) via Facebook on an ever increasing basis, to constantly checking Twitter for updates.

In Joan of Arc’s day, things were much simpler and one’s focus was on the here and now. Information was slow and world events were really local events. If you knew about something happening in the world back in Joan of Arc’s time that meant it was happening very close to your residence.

What struck me in the midst of the silence was that I am trying to do entirely too much. I have ADD and I function better when not distracting myself with too many irons in the fire. But then maybe all of us have become a little ADD thanks to the times we live in.

I’m not sure how I got struck with that thought, but the more I considered it the more I realized it was true. Somehow Joan of Arc taught me something in the stillness of that little church.

It was astonishing, but it shouldn’t have been. She taught me that I need to slow down in order to focus. Do less so that I can do more, better.

Slow down. Focus.

You’re doing too much. Hone your focus.

No, I wasn’t hearing voices. But my own truth was speaking to me. The quiet allowed me to consider more clearly the issue of trying to keep up with and doing too much.

As a writer I feel compelled to write, publish, blog, market, take online courses to learn more about writing and blogging, participate in webinars, and attend conventions, give lectures, guest post on other blogs, write some more, go to work (I enjoy a day job), publish some more, and then, of course, I have a life with my wife.

That’s just part of the list, I don’t even want to begin talking about all of the offers I receive every day, every time I turn around I’m asked to promote the latest and greatest author, the latest online class, and I keep getting the message that I need to create my own online course to help writers overcome their writer’s doubts.

It’s just: Too. Much.

Really. It is.

I’ve decided that going forward I’m going to change and I’m going slow it down. I’m going to get back to writing naturally and not over-edited and contrived for the masses. No more being overly concerned with comma splices. Blogging should be more about writing freely, having fun, making friends, and helping people along the way.

I know, I’ve written a thousand times that if you’re going to publish something you must market it. Well, what I realized today is so profound that it has changed my perspective, perhaps forever.

Joan of Arc came from way out in the sticks. Literally. Today we went there by car and on (somewhat) paved roads, and still got turned around several times. I can’t imagine what it must have been like around six hundred years ago and to think the most famous heroine in European history found her way out of from there, a peasant girl, uneducated and unable to read and write.

She didn’t have a lot and she didn’t need a lot, but she had a lot of what mattered, such as determination, drive, and focus, and two primary missions. Her missions were to see Charles VII crowned and to liberate and unite all of France. She accomplished both, one, making it possible to crown King Charles VII before the age of 19, and the other came after her death but no less due to her efforts during her life.

How in the word did she do it? She didn’t have TV, she didn’t have Facebook, and she really didn’t have much of any means beyond what a peasant girl would have in the 15th century.

What St. Joan had was a calling and she focused only on that calling. She didn’t multi-task with 45 other missions pulling her left and right, she focused like a laser and did what she was meant to do.

Joan-of-arc-angels-statue

I don’t claim to understand, much less, know, The Maid of Orleans, but somehow in the small quaint church in Domrémy-la-Pucelle I realized focusing primarily on your calling is more important than trying to be everything to everybody and doing everything everyone tells you that you need to do in order to be successful.

Slow down. Focus.

I don’t need to be the next master marketer like Seth Godin. I don’t. And I am exhausted from trying to be. It’s not my calling.

My calling is to help others through my writing, to help you and other writers overcome doubt, to help you write with courage and audacity. I need to focus on that mission.

What this might mean for you

Writers have become the ultimate multi-taskers and so many of us feel boxed into corners because everyone is telling us what we absolutely must do in order to succeed as authors. It’s quite a lot we have to do and consequently actually writing has become the least of it all.

However, I must admit, I don’t see too many people becoming very successful authors by wearing so many different hats. I now think it’s because our focus has been compromised and so divided that it is affecting not just the amount we are writing, but also the quality.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the amount of tasks we are trying to accomplish and instead focus on the mission that we excel at. In other words, it’s time to do less, better. We should focus more on writing and thus write better.

(If you’re not a writer, then the message is the same for whatever your calling is. Focus.)

Our attention has become too divided.

Practically everyone who is in the know tells us we need to get used to wearing many different hats or else we are going to fail. What if the reason why writers are failing so often in today’s writing, blogging, platform building, and publishing world  is because we are trying to hold down so many different jobs? Marketers, book cover designers, internal book layout designers, self-publishers, platform builders, audience gatherers, and self-pickers (whew!)… the list goes on and on.

The message is clear. Focus on what you do best.

Be the best writer you can be.

The reality is that most people are splitting their focus in so many directions that either a) they’re not able to give their best on each task, b) they don’t finish the main project because they’re too worried about how to complete the other tasks satisfactorily, c) they do everything half-ass because it’s just way too much and half-ass is a natural result of doing too much, or finally, d) they give up.

Of course, some people are natural jacks-of-all-trades and comparing yourself to them isn’t fair.

Sometimes it’s best to be a master of just one or two things and focus your talents there. Joan of Arc just taught me that, or at least that’s what I learned from visiting the unassuming, yet amazingly remarkable church she used to attend in her little village.

What do you think of doing less to do more, better? What are you best at doing? Share in the comments.

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins

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  • This was a really useful post for me for two reasons.
    1. I have Asperger’s Syndrome, which according to my therapist has ADD thrown in.
    2. I’m a Catholic convert and love saints.

    Because I’m so easily distracted it’s hard to focus on any one task to completion. And due to some health problems the energy I have to bear on my daily tasks is limited.

    I am currently trying to improve my blog by blogging daily and by commenting on blogs. That’s how I discovered your blog, Bryan. I think it will prove to be useful and I’ve added it to one of my blog lists.

    Blessings,
    Nissa
    http://myantimatterlife.wordpress.com

  • Stephanie Sanchez

    I usually just read and move on, rarely do I respond (on most any blog emails I receive). I loved this one!

    I remember being SO inspired by the story of Joan of Arc when I was young. Somewhere life and choices muddled that inspiration and I begain just living in my many ‘hats’ as you put it so well.

    Thanks for bringing me back to this little town in the middle of nowhere, where with a little faith and some encouragement from a girl who gave her all; I can get back to me and doing what I really love!

    Thanks Again,
    Stephanie

    • You’re welcome, Stephanie, and thank you for commenting. 🙂

  • Bryan, I too had special reasons for loving this post. 1. St. Joan of Arc is the patron saint of my church, and 2. I visited the church you describe above on my trip to Spain and France last year. I am most struck by your statement, “What St. Joan had was a calling and she focused only on that calling.” May we learn from her, and especially from her lack of fear. In her own words, “In God’s name! Let us go on bravely!”

    • Indeed. “In God’s name! Let us go on bravely!”

      Nice to see yet another person who traveled the French countryside. It’s a small world after all. 🙂

  • Jenny Burr

    Focus, do less in order for it to be more. I like it! I am not ADD but I do have to admit that I do have a couple of writing projects on the go, neither are complete. Focusing on one, then the other is likely best.

  • Completely agree Bryan – thanks for the post.

    I’ve been thinking the same thing lately about the fact that writers (especially ones who want to self publish) are being pulled in too many directions. I love learning about this craft and this industry, but I have to remind myself to focus and just write, as you say.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  • Syed Ali

    Best ever story full of lesson and guidance, feels like my story as I have also visited Joan of Arc’s birthplace in Domrémy-la-Pucelle in 1980, started writing books in 2013, but since today I feel totally changed, a real positive person within me. Thanks so much Bryan. God bless you.

    • Thanks, Syed! I’m glad to see someone else has been there, too! 🙂 Keep writing.

      • Syed Ali

        Hi Bryan, I am lucky to find you. Thanks. Really enjoyed your story which reminded me my own.

      • Syed Ali

        Sorry to be late, as I was distracted, please guide me in response to:

        It is 3:30 A.M PST, excessive information is coming in and I have to transfer it in to a blog.
        1. Someone commented at your story that “I am Catholic….”
        I was disturbed as I don’t want to declare who I am? I am a Human and asking me
        “Was Jesus a Catholic or Mohammad a Muslim?”
        2. A beautiful story written by you about St. Joan of Arc is going to be a controversial piece
        of document which is not wanted by the majority of readers as it is written by “Positive Writer”. Am I going towards Negativity? If so then why, what is the reason in the back of my mind as my heart pretends to be Positive. This tug of war between Brain & Heart goes on and off, I get up if I am in bed and try to be Positive at my keyboard and if I don’t get up then my brain is short circuited and I reach hospital in an unresponsive condition with the help of my son who is presently all alone with me though I have four kids and lost my life partner in 2001 due to lung cancer.
        3. Religion is always the initiator of such type of scenario. Who has invented this word and when it was used first ever in the history?
        I need your guidance to remain Positive as I found you a Real Positive Person. I will be highly grateful.

        • Sorry, Syed. I’m confused by your comment. This post about Joan of Arc is about a visit, and is not intended to be about religion.

          • Syed Ali

            I Know Bryan, visit’s story was beautifully written and I have no point against it. It was a comment (Don’t want to name) that disturbed me. It is merely my fault, nothing of his / her, try to understand, I want to remain positive & trying for that. It is alright if you don’t like my comment, I take it back but will keep following you for learning. I visited Oxford in 2010.

  • Excellent article. One aspect of Joan of Arc that comes to mind, and that is patience, which is another form of faith, especially in ourselves. Our calling, if true, will bear fruit — given time. All too often I find myself juggling too many tasks at once, all because I’m not patient enough to let my writing speak for itself, which takes time — a lot of it. In a world obsessed with instant gratification, it’s easy to lose sight of what we should focus on, and end up derailing our own train through impatience.

    • Well said, E. J. I know I wish I were more patient at times. It’s not easy. But then, maybe it’s not supposed to be.

  • Joy Lennick

    Hi Bryan
    I really enjoyed your article on Joan of Arc and relevant advice. The trouble is the ‘mores’ of the times – which include self-publishing to a much greater degree than ever before – encompasses so much more than the mere writing of a book.I seem to have a creative,almost spiritual hunger to write, but am not technically minded,so therefore find all the extra involvement in computer work a pain in the neck. I’ve been down the mainstream publishing route (a doddle and a joy) and appreciate that we cannot and shouldn’t live in the past, but if only I could just sit and write! Sincerely Joy
    (It’s not going to stop me though…)

  • Bonnie

    Wow, this was a very inspiring message for me. First I am not a writer, I am a story teller ever since I was a child I could tell a story as if a movie was going on in my head and I could stop and start the projector at any time. (now my age is showing lol). My life has gone in various directions, from being a kindergartnen teacher for 9 years, then at 32 I went back to school to be in the medical field as a scar specialist both inside and out. (That means I am a Christian and have a duel degree medical and theology).

    Today I find myself at a crossroad. My path after caring for my father who had cancer lead me to move back to him for two years. now that he is well, and I find myself recently divorced, no set home, new rules and a blank canvas, I have been in the fog that comes in life at times. I have been doing some soul searching. I was the jack-at all trades type, thanks to parents who said you can do anything in life you choose to do. Some just come more naturally then others, so choose wisely.

    Now I am in a state of limbo as an adult, just over 50ish (age is just a number) I sit with a blank canvas and ask myself what now? I have been told by so many people that I should write down my stories, and publish them, from professional writers as well as just friendly people who want to know how the story ends and we are landing from a flight I was on or a patient I am telling one to as a distraction from the procedure I am doing so the won’t feel any pain while awake and they are nervous.

    Your article about slowing down, doing more with less, and seeing the world from a different angle all together is inspiring me. I am a story teller more then a writer. I have had so many adventures growing up, and I can tell them so well that people actually feel they are living them with me. Like your adventure made me feel. Now I face a door wide open, my doubts about being a writer come with many thoughts that I am too old, not great with spelling and punctuation, Trying to get white is in my mind to written form is so much harder when I go there. Telling them to people are easy, the only stopping is when my audience and I are laughing or crying to hard and need get a tissue or move on to the next responsible, phone call, text, place to be, meeting, blah, blah, blah, all the things that tend to steal our time.

    In a week I will be leaving for my beloved childhood home Vancouver Island, Canada to spend two weeks wondering my childhood paths, sitting by the ocean watching seals play, hearing the gulls call to each other, smelling the kelp, seaweed and salt of the ocean mist. I will wonder the tide pools, explore the mountain trails, and do my best to focus on my next stage in life. You made a great point that I have somehow been missing:

    “focusing primarily on your calling is more important than trying to be everything to everybody and doing everything everyone tells you that you need to do in order to be successful”.

    I too am inspired by what you wrote. So now as I leave on my two week journey to once again walk the paths from my childhood. I will take time to reflect and focus on what We do want, finding that quiet time to consider my new future, focusing on what will be best at this stage in my life. It is all in the prospective of how we think in the most inner depts of our mind (heart). Doubt leads to worry, worry leads to fear and fear always binds us up in knots. What is our motivation, joy, peace, love, tenderness, forgiveness, life is a trust to be lived, giving is a wonderful key to open each of thoses doors to our mind and live it with vigor!

    Here is some definitions that help me to think right thoughts, I would like to give back to you in return for you giving:

    The opposites can help over come the challenge :

    The opposite of doubt…….. Is to Believe for the very best that could possibly happen
    The opposite of worry……….. Is to be confidence remember past success be thank-full
    The opposite of fear………….. Is faith-know that you are called, that your writing can inspire others to great joy, laughter and peace.

    Fear isbelieving in reverse:

    F-false
    E-evidence
    A-appearing
    R-real

    Thank you for sharing you Jerry McGuire mission statement, its a blessing when men and woment today are willing to speak up and share in order to help other be their best.

    Blessings will abound back to you,

    Bonnie C
    Henrico Virginia

  • Susan Mary Malone

    “Be the best writer you can be.” As always, Bryan, you kick my butt a bit 🙂 I’m so very guilty of all this crazy multi-tasking, and am especially feeling it now as my novel launches in a month. And I know the marketing is oh-so-important, and I’m doing that as are others (it does take a village!). But I’m feeling so caught up in all of it that just the simple thought: “I don’t need to be the next master marketer like Seth Godin” brought me instant peace.
    Thank you!

    • Hi Susan, I know how you’re feeling. Take a deep breath. Just remember, do what you can the best you can and the rest will take care of itself. Good luck! 🙂

  • Evolet Yvaine

    Those statues are amazing. And like you and your wife, I probably could’ve lived in that silence forever. That’s how I write. I need to write in complete silence. I like the idea of doing less to do more. I’m a newie in the adult romance genre and after struggling through Camp NaNoWriMo last month, decided to just publish my story on my site in weekly installments. Since I don’t plan to make it a career, I thought that would be the best way without having to worry about formatting, professional editing, marketing, blog tours, getting book reviews, etc. I’ll write for me and if people read it, then so be it. If not, no biggie. This is my way of doing less to do more.

    • You know, Evolet, that’s not a bad idea. I know quite a few people, including myself, who have blogged first, then collected the posts and created a book out of them. “The Audacity to be a Writer” is a collection of 50 articles from Positive Writer. So, basically, you seem to be on to something which may help you actually do what you want to do and that is to, write.

  • It’s interesting to note how when we get out of our usual environment, we can be more open to such powerful and life-changing experiences. It seems to me this is a great example of that. And I love the lesson about slowing down. I know I needed to hear it today. Thanks!

    • Absolutely, Lisa. I need to ‘get out’ more often. 🙂 I think we all do. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Love this post Bryan! So much truth in it. My first book was released July 1st and all I’ve done is rush around like mad trying to launch, market, etc. and frankly I’m tired! I DO feel this book is part of my calling. Your post reminds me I need to focus on doing my best but without the stress of feeling like I need to do it all today. And as E.J Godwin notes in his comment- I must be patient. One thing at a time. Less crazy, more quiet.

    • I love that, Tracy: “Less crazy, more quiet.” 🙂 I know how you feel.

  • Saschia Johnson

    Wow, that was fabulous! Your so right! I was literally just in car speaking with my blogging bestie that I am not trying to juggle all “that.” I just want to write my blogs and become a better writer. For now my blog is my focus but once all my research is finalized my focus will be my book. This confirms my thoughts! Thank you for sharing.

  • Very good advice, Bryan, thank you! I do enjoy the social media and marketing side of writing, but with having a day job as well, it certainly does eat into my writing time. Occasionally I will impose a ‘media blackout’ on myself just so that I can focus on writing. I regularly subscribe to blogs which look interesting and then unsubscribe a couple of months later when I realise that I literally do not have time to read them all! (There is a very real risk that my subscription to your blog may go the same way – but for now, I’m subscribed, on the strength of this post!

    The silence of Joan of Arc’s place of worship, and your description of how you felt whilst under its spell, reminded me that our lives today are so very, very noisy. I remember our very first holiday in Ireland, in a cottage ‘out in the sticks’ (as we call ‘out in the country’ in our neck of the woods) – it was so quiet that my husband discovered he had tinnitus far worse than he had so far realised; and it was so dark at night that I really understood where our fascination with fire must come from – total darkness is actually rather terrifying! Returning home to our suburban Surrey home and the background noise of the nearby M3 was something of a shock. No wonder that so many of us are unable to focus, feel stressed (perhaps without knowing why) and feel the need to ‘get away’ every so often….

    Thank you for your timely reminder about the importance of focus.

    • Thanks, EJ. I agree with you about all of the subscriptions. It can make you feel disappointed when you receive so many great articles from authors you appreciate but have very little time to read, much less comment on them. I also agree about darkness. Getting away is a great way to gain perspective.

  • Carly Monteith

    As I write this comment I am sitting on my wrap around deck listening to a wonderful creek that rambles by. The thought of silence is amazing in today’s world. I moved to this area and I write in the woods for two reasons first the silence and getting in touch with myself and second the internet is so sketchy that I depend on myself and not Facebook Google Twitter etc. I too am trying to focus and write, write and focus. Thank you for this blog it fills my heart and my compass that I’m going in the right direction!

  • Lynnette Jalufka

    Awesome article. Thanks for the reminder to focus on just my writing.

  • Kellie Ashley Tate

    Very timely article, and much needed advice.
    Thank you.

  • Just wanted to say I really enjoyed this piece! Thanks for sharing your realization. It’s very touching and inspiring! I know so many of us can relate to it!