Monday, May 20, 2019

Poured Wide or Drilled Deep?

By Yolanda Smith

Have you ever had a question simmering in the recesses of your heart when suddenly God turns up the temperature, and you find the thing has approached a rolling boil? You know He’s trying to help you latch on to a new thought or challenge your modus operandi, and the question or idea will not let you be.

Here’s the question that keeps pouring, like a river, over the jagged rocks in my brain: are you spread too thin?

And the cry of my heart: Yes! But how do I fix it, Lord?

The answer comes—two simple words—and sets me on a journey to search it out: Go deep.


At the moment, I seem to be running a three-legged race all by myself. While writing this post, I’ve been frantically scouring a recent read so I can share a poignant story from its pages with you. It’s ironic that the book is about slowing down, being intentional, and GOING DEEP. And while I’m skimming through chapter after chapter, the frenzy of activity is clashing with the words that leap from its paragraphs. Words like silence, intentionality, observe, contemplate, slow, depth, imagination.

Although I write notes when reading nonfiction, this time I failed to mark the single most mind-boggling tidbit that has stuck with me long after I closed the pages. Since I can’t find it, I’ll have to paraphrase the information, which, fair warning, will be underwhelming.

When one gallon of water is spread to its thinnest molecules, it can cover an area of nearly five square miles. It would be difficult to see, and beyond that it would be ineffectual for any real purposes. However, if the molecules of that same gallon of water were stacked end to end, it would form a straw that would reach all the way to the center of the earth. The same gallon has the ability to be spread thin, but it is also capable of reaching extreme depths.

This left me wondering, am I being poured wide, or drilled deep? Am I scattered too far to be effective?

The writing industry is a paradox. As writers we are to give away the deep wisdom and secrets others haven’t discovered or can’t articulate for themselves. But that requires us to be living a deeper life. How is this possible when we are expected to possess a working knowledge of all aspects of our discipline including craft, platform building, marketing, speaking, networking, and small business practices? All at once we’ve been stretched too thin, negating our ability to impart anything helpful or insightful.

All the Things

I have the type of personality that wants to do all the things. I’m desperate to read all the books, learn all the hobbies, play all the instruments, collect all the animals, and be friends with all the people. I’m the kind of gal who chases a full-on passion pursuit, which is why my life often looks more than a little lopsided.

How this translates to writing life:
  • read all the books on craft
  • listen to all the writing/marketing podcasts
  • subscribe to everyone’s newsletters
  • sign up for all the webinars and courses
  • hang out in all the Facebook writing groups
  • choose dozens of critique partners
  • stalk learn from all my favorite authors
  • attend all the critique groups, workshops, and conferences
  • apply for all the memberships

After listing all that, I’m tired.

It’s tempting to hop from one new and shiny thing to the next. But in a culture full of clutter (because we like to buy the next trendy thing, then pile it in a corner once it loses its shine), downsizing and minimalist living are becoming increasingly popular. And why not? Decluttering is therapeutic.


So, is it possible to downsize our writing lives? Declutter our inboxes (unsubscribe until it hurts)? Outsource our weaker skills? Cull our commitments?

  • What if you only attended one conference this year, but went home and actually reviewed all your notes, rewrote those notes, listened to audio recordings, and made application of one or two key ideas?

  • What if you found one or two favorite podcasts and listened to the entire chronology over and again until you could teach the information yourself?

  • Would it be possible to zero in on a couple of top-notch craft books and study them cover to cover, picking them apart like a textbook?

One of the teaching pastors at my church suggests finding a handful of books—outstanding, impactful ones—and rereading them every year to mine the deep riches one read-through will never uncover. This goes against my nature. I want to read the latest releases so I can keep up with current bookish conversations.

What does it mean to do one thing well, going deep, no skimming allowed? I’m not one hundred percent sure yet. I have a vague notion of what the destination should look like, and the journey involves a swim upstream. But really, I only know how to take the next step in front of me. It involves sitting still and being quiet.

Do you feel stretched too thin, or are you good at living the deeper life? What wisdom would you offer for those of us trying to sort through the differences?

*The book mentioned above is The Sacred Year by Michael Yankoski

(Photos courtesy of, winnond, and Stuart Miles.)


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