Building a Life 7

(I’m guest posting over here today as part of Lisa Colon Delay’s Spiritual Guidance for Bloggers Series. She’s so cool, I call her LCD: The Big Screen.)


About half through Shawn Smucker’s latest book, Building a LIfe Out of Words, I thought I had found my favorite chapter. In it he makes a connection between the deadness of his former life as a businessman and the new promise of growth in his wild pursuit of living his life as a writer. Consider this from Chapter Nine:

…I stood on our back deck and looked out over the fields. The small stream that bordered our property ran through the neighboring horse pasture. The distant line of trees emanated a lime green glow—their buds flourished in the warm sunshine. Then I spotted it.

My garden—tiny shoots of green peeked up out of the chocolate brown earth. Those dead seeds had resurrected and pushed up out of the dark. The impossible, the improbable, the ridiculous—it was on the verge of coming true.

Smucker does not just mean that he’d been able to coax plants from seeds and fertile ground. He might be as surprised as anyone that his dream, to make a living as a writer, might actually happen. Readers who have grappled with the soil or with living their true lives will understand: sometimes those audacious decisions we make are just audacious enough to work.

The writer and his family decide, saddled with $50,000 in debt—a number which makes my heart pound with stress—to move into his parents’ basement, paying down the dollars and giving Smucker the chance to follow his dream. He shares with remarkable openness his small successes, his daunting “failures.” We are invited on the journey and root for him.

Now, I’m not usually susceptible to dreams-do-come-true nonsense, and Smucker isn’t either. Most of us working with our words understand we don’t go into it for the glamor or the benjamins. Doesn’t mean we don’t harbor visions of greatness. But Smucker does not share a rags to riches fairytale; he paints both lovingly and realistically, the true experiences of a writer; ups downs and mess-ups.

Other writers contributed essays of advice about the writing life. (Dude. He asked ME to write for the book. I keep waiting for him to figure out I’m the biggest faker ever in the world. Don’t tell him.) These published, working writers give the straight up truth about how to get working as a writer. From publicity to advertising to carving out space as a freelancer, the book is full of solid, foundational information.

As I read, I realized that while the first flush of love would belong to Chapter 9, I played the field. I was smitten, especially with his last chapter, a sort of throwing down the gauntlet kind of thing. Smucker seems to think we are all capable of following our unruly dreams. “I am beginning to realize that what I have chosen is not a specific vocation, but a worldview.” (If I may be so bold, I see connections between his audacious choice and my entree into the runninng world.)

When I finished reading, I tweeted: “It’s heart-nagging, rich and servicey.” By which I mean, I fell headlong into Shawn’s doubtful pit with him, my stomach wrenched into knots. I may or may not have lain awake worrying about that 50 Gs. It may or may not have given me a small case of the hives.  His prose is clean, lilting and raw. It is like a bracing splash of cold water followed by the enveloping warmth of a heated towel.

Writers, artists, creatives will enjoy this book. But so will those of us who are still without the courage to splash out into the world, pursuing our one wild life. Get it. Read it. Love it. Tell Shawn I sent you.

Shawn blogs (almost) daily at He is currently traveling the country for four months with his wife and four children in a big, blue bus named Willie, looking for service opportunities as well as other writers to meet up with. You can find him on Facebook (Shawn Smucker, Writer) and Twitter (@shawnsmucker)