Dreams Coming True is a new Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
Welcome Michael Yankoski, author of The Sacred Year, to Dreams Coming True! Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Michael’s latest release.
Tell us a little about yourself
Hmm…. Where to start? Well, currently, I’m suffering from a severe case of “Mountain Withdrawal” right now.
Let me explain: I grew up in Colorado, my wife Danae and I met in California, but we lived most recently in Vancouver, British Columbia for about five years while we were both working toward our master’s degrees in theology at a wonderful place called Regent College. Then, last year, we moved from Vancouver, BC, to Indiana for Danae to start her PhD program in American History at The University of Notre Dame (she wants to be a college professor when she grows up).
Thus we now find ourselves in the Midwest—a strange and very flat land where neighbors knock on the door with plastic containers full of “puppy-chow” the day you move in (if you don’t know what this is, it’s because you don’t live in the Midwest—everybody here seems to know what it is!)
Beyond that, I’m an author and a public speaker, and had the chance to write a book called Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America when I was about 20 years old. This book chronicles my friend Sam’s and my intentional journey as homeless men on the streets of six different American Cities: Denver, Washington D.C., Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix and San Diego. We wanted to better understand what it was like to be a human being, created in God’s image, trying to survive on the streets. And, we wanted to find out—first hand—how people treated us if we didn’t look (or smell!) the way “respectable members of society” looked. Our experiences were eye-opening to say the least, and Under the Overpass details some of the things we discovered.
Now, almost ten years after the release of Under the Overpass, I’m releasing a new book called The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice—How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life.
I’m 50% older than I was when Under the Overpass first came out, and thus I believe that The Sacred Year is a substantially different project than the first book I had the chance to write. I’m asking different questions, engaging life and faith and the world in different ways. Hopefully it’s evidence of growth and maturation as a thinker and as a writer.
How did The Sacred Year begin?
I was launched on the journey that became The Sacred Year by my spiritual director. I had become jaded and disillusioned with my life as a Christian “motivational speaker” in a different city almost every other night, before another crowd. I felt like I was living inside what I call the “Christian Carnival” by which I mean religion that is more façade than an intentional way of “living, moving and having our being in the world.” I was about to throw in the towel, about to call it all quits, when this wise spiritual director encouraged me to stop talking about my faith and start practicing it.
That experiment that came out of that challenge—a yearlong engagement with various spiritual practices—is what The Sacred Year is all about.
What makes your project stand out from the crowd?
There are a LOT of manuals or how-to books about Spiritual Practice on the shelves of bookstores, and while I believe there is goodness in these projects (I have learned much from some of them myself), this is NOT what The Sacred Year is about. The Sacred Year isn’t an instruction manual, nor a how-to guide. Rather, The Sacred Year is the chronicle of my engagement with Spiritual Practices for an intentional period of time. It is very narrative focused. Call it “literary nonfiction,” rather than something explicitly didactic.
I decided to write this kind of book to explore the Spiritual Practices because I believe deeply that spiritual formation is not a “technique” but rather a journey. We are invited into the journey of the Christian life, oriented toward and directed to Christ. And—it seems to me, anyway—that hearing about and learning from one another’s stories can often be a profound encouragement and source of nourishment in our own spiritual lives.
I’m hoping The Sacred Year—both my “successes” and my “failures” of pursuing Spiritual Practices may be potent, encouraging and nourishing for others.
Many have creative ideas but trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly…but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
Somebody once said something like “creativity is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” I have found this to be true. I am someone (like many other creatives) who has lots of ideas, lots of possible stories in my head. In fact, I carry around a small notebook that I fill rather quickly with possibilities. I like to think of these notebooks as “seed packs” like the little 3×5 packs of squash or tomato seeds that arrive at markets every springtime. (I like growing things, and my wife and I are avid gardeners, so maybe this metaphor only works for me.) Not every seed in the pack is going to germinate and grow and bear fruit. Most might not. My responsibility—it seems to me—is to create an environment capable of helping these seeds grow. And, put bluntly: if I never prepare the soil, never plant the seeds, and water them, they aren’t ever going to grow. They’ll remain indefinitely in the seed pack.
On days when I find myself particularly laid-low by “writer’s block,” I usually pick up Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird or Stephen King’s book On Writing (both of which are MUST READS, in my opinion). Both of these writers encourage others to treat creativity like a job (as mercenary as that might sound to some) and DEMAND that they achieve a certain word-count on a daily basis. I have found such regimentation to be immensely helpful, and such a discipline has been central to the writing that I’ve had the chance to do thus far.
Finally, if you really find that you need a kick in the pants, track down a copy of Christy Brown’s My Left Foot. This is the auto-biography of a man who had cerebral palsy, and wrote the entire book with his left toes because that’s the only part of his body he could move. (I find Christy’s story to be enormously helpful in getting me out of that wallowing state of self-pity and back to the actual task of creating).
Describe the behind-the-scenes effort of your project. Where do the ideas come from? How many are involved in the process?
The creative process (for me, anyway) is first and foremost an exercise in becoming more contemplative. And, I mean “contemplative” in its historical sense, that is, derived from the Latin word meaning “to observe.” Creativity is about becoming so very attentive to what is around us and what is going on in our world that we are able to take it up into ourselves, and then shine a different light on it and present a different perspective on it to others. Though some might be able to fake this for a while, ultimately I’m convinced that deep, genuine and authentic creativity demands the ability from the creative to notice, attend, and contemplate the world in which we live so as to create something that helps the listener/viewer/reader see their own world in a fresh way.
For my latest book, The Sacred Year: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice—How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life (Thomas Nelson: September, 2014), I spent a year living into various spiritual practices and noticing how they affected me. Things like contemplating apples, living in a cave, and becoming friends with a woman in palliative care in a local hospital (among many other Spiritual Practices) were hugely transformative in my own life. And, these spiritual practices as well as the experiences they invited me into provided an enormous treasury of stories and reflections and realizations from which to draw for the actual writing process.
What’s been the hardest part about getting The Sacred Year off the ground?
For me, the hardest part about writing a new book isn’t actually the long and arduous hours of research and organization and writing. I actually like all of that, and thoroughly enjoy the process of watching what is in my mind come out onto the page.
What I find most difficult is the process of “marketing” a book I have written. I’m not very good at it, and I find the process of having to basically try and shout louder than everybody else in a crowded marketplace to be an unnatural and discouraging prospect. So, I’m actively trying to figure out ways to work with other authors whom I know and respect, in order to promote their work, rather than my own. My hope is that if we all do this together, we’ll be able to raise the awareness of one another’s work without having to feel like we’re saying “Hey, look at me, Hey look at me!” the whole time.
How can we find your creative dream come true?
Check out www.TheSacredYear.com for more information or to download two free chapters of The Sacred Year.
[Tweet “The creative process is an exercise in becoming more contemplative @michaelyankoski #TheSacredYear”]
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this has me very curious. I look forward to reading it
Thanks for taking time for this interview and sharing your story. I had read your first book when it came out (I went to Westmont, too). Really interested to read this book! So glad to connect with you.
Blessings on this book’s journey!