Monday, 10 December 2018

Ditching the Black Dog

Photo of the face of a black chihuahua X Shih tzu
Photo copyright Susan J Bruce - all rights reserved

Do you ever find that the difficult patches in the writing life come at unexpected times?
The last part of October and the first part of November was an encouraging time for me. I won the unpublished manuscript section of the Caleb Prize and I flew to the Gold Coast on the following Monday to do a Margie Lawson writing Immersion. For those who don’t know, Margie is an international writing coach, and I was delighted when a place became available in one of her teaching weeks. And yes – it was AWESOME. 
Life was busy when I returned and I lost some of the rhythm that I had built up prior to doing the Immersion. Then I received some negative feedback, had a flare of some health issues and then for some reason I stopped writing. Discouragement struck – and I became stuck. The launch of If They Could Talk: Bible stories told by the animalsan anthology for which I was editor, helped lift my spirits. But even this milestone couldn't fix my writing doldrums.  
Maybe I’m the only one who goes through periods like this. Maybe the rest of you intrepid writers have it together and never feel like a four-wheel-drive bogged to the windows in Gobi desert sand. 
I also have to admit to a tincture of perfectionism somewhere in the mix. Perfectionism would be okay if we were perfect, wouldn’t it? Imagine a first draft that you never needed to revise. Ah, bliss! Cue serene music…
But back to reality.
Discouragement, seeded with grains of perfectionism, can lead to procrastination which leads to more discouragement and more procrastination, etc., etc., etc., which leads to hopelessness and before you know it, the black dog is something other than my cheeky Chihuahua/ Shihtzu cross pictured above.
I wrote nothing, playing a LOT of Sudoku instead. The only good thing that came from it was that I finally beat my husband’s best time on the online version of the game. We’re not at all competitive in our house by the way (cough). Other than that one moment of domestic triumph, I was sad to the core and didn’t know how to break myself out of the funk. 
Then I remembered a section of a book I’d recently read. A friend had mentioned Stephen Furtick’s book, Greater, a while ago and I was intrigued enough to buy a copy. In Greater, Furtick uses examples from the life of the prophet Elisha to encourage Christians to live out God’s vision for their life.
In chapter five, the author refers to the Bible passage, 2 Kings 3. King Joram of Israel enlists the help of King Jehoshaphat of Judah to fight the Moabite army. The problem is that after seven days of marching in the desert of Edom, they don’t have any water left for their animals or their troops. 
Jehoshaphat, being a godly king, asks Elisha to talk to God about their problem. Elisha agrees and God says something strange. He tells them that they won’t see wind or rain but He will make water flow from the hills in Edom. It is easy for God to do this. In several translations (e.g., the NASV) God tells them to make the valley full of trenches – i.e., dig a vast amount of ditches (2 Kings 3:16). 
Imagine being those people. There were no clouds in the sky, just heat and dust and a sense of hopelessness. Two vast armies on the verge of dying of thirst, and God tells them to start digging. It would seem counterintuitive in the extreme. Sweat and toil all night when there’s no visible way of having your need for water met. Yet they did it, and in the morning the valley was filled with water.
Furtick uses this as a prime example of how faith works. He writes: 

It’s as if God says, “If you really believe I’m going to do what I told you I would do, get busy. Show me your faith, and then I’ll show you My faithfulness. Do your part. If you do what I asked you to do, I will be faithful to My word. 
(Greater, p. 66)

I agree with Furtick, but I also think it's one of the best metaphors I’ve ever read on the nature of the writer’s life. 
We need to believe in what we are doing and act on that belief. Most of us reading this have felt the call to write. We know God wants us to do this. So we need to do it, even if the ideas have dried up and the words we thirst for elude us. When discouragement invades and we feel like giving up, we need to seek God. And when we do, we need to act. Even if it's writing just a few words at a time. 
In this instance of depression God told me to ‘remember’. Remember that I have called you. Remember what I’ve promised you. Remember that I love you. Now go and do your thing. Write in faith: one word after another and I will fill your words with my life. Dig the ditches and I will send my rain.
And so I write – and the black dog morphs back into a naughty puppy again – and I have hope. 
How about you. Do you have times in your life where writing is hard? What helps? Does 'digging ditches' work for you? Let's encourage each other in the comments below.

Reference: S. Furtick, Greater: Dream bigger. Start smaller. Ignite God’s vision for your life., Multnomah Books, Colorado, 2017.

Photo of author, Susan J Bruce
Susan J. Bruce, aka Sue Jeffrey, spent her childhood reading, drawing, and collecting stray animals. Now she’s grown up she does the same kinds of things. Sue works part time as a veterinarian, writes stories filled with themes of overcoming, adventure and belonging, and loves to paint animals. Sue won the Short section of the inaugural Stories of Life writing competition and recently won the 'Unpublished Manuscript' section of the 2018 Caleb prize. Sue is the editor of 'If They Could Talk: Bible Stories Told By the Animals' (Morning Star Publishing) and her stories and poems have appeared in multiple anthologies. Her e-book 'Ruthless The Killer: A Short Story' is available on You can check out Sue’s animal art on Facebook.


  1. It's not the inspiration that I have trouble with, it's getting the time and lately get the computer. My husband has learnt how to work it and now hogs it a little too much. But what you say is right I must work when I can, something God has been telling me over and over again. I have ordered a new computer but that won't fix my procrastination unless I make sure that I work when I can, which means that I have to get back to work now. Thank you for your encouragement.

  2. Loved your blog Sue. You are a gifted writer. I'm glad the black dog has gone back to being your cute black dog that brings you joy. :) I really lapped up the analogy you used from the OT. I will remember it when my own wells dry up. My writing has not been up to scratch for ages but I have learnt to go with the flow of life - most of the time. Having said that I seek to be more productive in 2019 and am making sure it will happen. I fully agree that often God wants us to act in faith before He brings about what we seek or what He promises. And that's what faith is isn't it? And trust. May we learn to believe and step out in faith in all areas of our lives. God has been calling me to that in a big way in the last few years and my faith has been strengthened in the process.

    You've had a very productive year my friend. Well done on winning the Unpublished Manuscript Award at the Omega Writers' Conference. That's wonderful. And well done on the book launch of 'If only they could talk'. May 2019 bring you lots of water to keep your valleys fresh and green and your writing reach new heights. Onward and upward. Thanks for a refreshing and beautiful post.

    1. Thanks Anusha. I like how you continued the dog metaphor there. Lapped up the analogy... :) I pray that you also have a fertile and productive 2019. Onward and upward in every way!

  3. Thanks, Helen. It sounds like you are on track. Working a little when we can is a great way to build our writerly muscles. A new computer sounds very exciting. I hope 2019 is a wonderfully productive year for you.

  4. Hi Sue, thank you for your great blog. God has given you so many blessings this year. I'm so glad you got over your fit of depression. I am blessed with the joy of writing. Life is wonderful despite some health issues but both my brother and sister have the black dog of depression as their constant companion. Do pray for them. Hazel Barker

  5. Really encouraged by this, Sue. The black dog gets about a bit. However, your post spoke to me and I was lifted up. Thank you. X

  6. Good morning Sue. Thank you for this wonderful blog post. It really (not removing that word) spoke to me. Yes, sometimes when we are in the midst of a bout of depression, it seems that nothing can drag us out of it. However, I agree that relying on, and trusting in our Lord and Saviour is the best recipe for bringing out the light and transfusing it into our hearts and souls, so that we can move on and succeed in whatever it is that we need to do.

    Congratulations on your win of the Caleb prize for unpublished manuscript, and also congrats on the release of that beautiful book 'If They Could Talk'. I have two copies (at least I did until I gave one away as an early Christmas present), and they are gorgeous. I shall endeavour to read my copy during the holiday break (Leon and I have an agreement that neither of us will work between December 24 and January 7th). As Anusha would say, 'I am looking forward to lapping it all up.' Thank you for your words of encouragement, and your blatant honesty. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in these psychological struggles. God bless xo

    1. Thanks Josephine. I almost didn't write this post as I felt I needed to share too much of me, but it seems to be helping people so it was worth it :). I hope you enjoy 'If They Could Talk'. It was a lot of fun to put together :). I hope you and Leon have a lovely break over Christmas.

  7. You are not alone, Sue. Funny how quick the euphoria of a win can leach out. I'm cultivating the habit of remembering God's blessings from the past and trusting him with the future, but I love the passage you've used here and that call to step out in faith, opening the way for God to act. I've seen that happen over again in my own walk with God. Thanks for an inspiring post.

    1. Thanks, Jenny. Of all the passages referred to in Greater this one stood out to me. We believe, we walk, we see his strength at work.

  8. Currently procrastinating, unfortunately. If I look at it, as you did with yours, I am having difficulty adjusting to major health changes - and time limit - on my life.
    Your post encouraged me. God is in charge, He blesses me even in this. Nothing too hard for God, but wow, those armies must have needed a lot of faith. Thank you for sharing.