Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Spaghetti Vomit and the Fear of Red Ink

Written by: on February 11, 2022

Spaghetti vomit and the fear of red ink sums up my anxiety surrounding writing. One might ask what spaghetti and red ink have in common. For me, spaghetti is the best image I can produce to describe my since of what I generate on a page and red ink is the teacher’s dreaded criticism of that work. I am aware of the Lord’s gracious hand upon me to be able to persevere and keep showing up to expose my thoughts on paper. This week’s reading has taken me back to some of those hurdles and the techniques that have enabled me to press on. One might ask, why would I volunteer for a program in which reading, and writing is at the very core if it is such a challenge. Sometimes I ask myself the same question, but I have never allowed my shortcomings to limit what I am capable of doing. It is because I know that I have a story, maybe two stories, within me that I need to tell. And for me to be able to tell those stories I need to make the transition from amateur to professional writer. [1]

Stephen King prolific award-winning novelist writes a humorous, insightful, and practical book for the person who is desiring to hone their writing, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. [2] The four parts of this book includes King’s journey as a writer, the “toolbox” [3] of being a writer, components of writing, and the skills which are necessary to continually hone to be a good writer. King’s journey as a writer reveals twists, turns, and bumps in the road. His journey encouraged me to keep showing up and to make the practice of writing a regular rhythmic routine in my day. [4] It reminded me of Brené Brown when she talks about being an authentic wholehearted person, one must come into the situation with their whole self. [5] I realize that I have not allowed myself to fully face the dragons [6] of the dreaded red ink and it has hindered my development as a writer. The fourteen-year-old King’s ability to use his early rejection as a tool of motivation inspires me. [7]

I was able to look into the mirror of King’s toolbox and see that while my top drawer has suffered from deficits of vocabulary and grammar that my victories in overcoming my writing challenges continually add to my drawer. This chapter reminded me that I do have something to say, and it is possible for me to express it in writing. My anxiety around spaghetti on the page and red ink does not have to be today, just because it was in the past. [8]

The components of writing chapter challenged me to practice. That might sound strange, but for me, I have been eager to just get my writing tasks done and I have not really explored the possibility of writing something great. In reading this week’s books, I am reminded of my first year in college when I walked onto the community college women’s volleyball regional championship team. I have many similar feelings of inadequacy and being out of my league. I had sat on the bench of a losing high school team the year before. I was overweight, out of shape, and was lacking in basic skills. But it was in the daily practice of the fundamentals and application of those skills in match play that developed into a love and mastery of the game.

The second text for this week, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, [9] Steven Pressfield takes a different approach to writing. Steven Pressfield is also an acclaimed novelist in the realm of human nature, society, history and classical Greek. [10] Pressfield’s lighthearted look at the barriers that prevents people from engaging in their God given creative side. This easy-to-read book is jam packed with insights that unearths one’s excuses and challenges individuals to embark in an adventure of revealing their creative nature. His core theme revolves around resistance and its role in prevent the individual from becoming all God intended them to be. There are so many nuggets of value for me personally that will need to revisit this book soon. In Pressfield’s discussion on resistance and criticism, he explains that people who are able to “live their authentic selves” [11] causes those around them who have not been able to do the same to react negatively, much like Friedman’s description of the virus of the non-differentiated person. [12]

Below are some random thoughts and questions that I hope to explore further:
• Expect resistance when engaging in a creative endeavor that does not involve immediate gratification. [13]
• Standing alone is the greatest threat to the system. [14]
• Has our faith become more of a consumable product of self-medication that prevents us from doing the hard work of “applying …knowledge, …discipline, delayed gratification” [15] to have a deep meaningful relationship with our Creator that is capable of releasing us into our creative nature?
• How can we help one another discover our individually designed purpose?
• How might the church help people to unearth their personal answers to:
o “Who am I?”
o “Why am I here?”
o “What is the meaning of my life?” [16]
• Am I a scholar? [17]
• Support should never open someone’s cocoon for them. [18]
• What are my dragons, doubts, and fears? [19]

[1] Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles (New York, NY, Los Angeles: Black Irish Entertainment LLC, 2002), 62.
[2] Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Scribner Classics (New York: Scribner, 2010).
[3] Ibid., 111.
[4] Ibid., 65.
[5] Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, 1st ed (New York, NY: Gotham Books, 2012).
[6] Pressfield, The War of Art, 109.
[7] King, On Writing, 41.
[8] Ibid., 128.
[9] Pressfield, The War of Art.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid., 38.
[12] Edwin H Friedman, Margaret M Treadwell, and Edward W Beal, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Church Publishing, 2017), https://www.overdrive.com/search?q=426B7CAF-62B3-434F-90AA-3596E9ACBD34.
[13] Pressfield, The War of Art, 6.
[14] Ibid., 20.
[15] Ibid., 26.
[16] Ibid., 33.
[17] Ibid., 39.
[18] Ibid., 51.
[19] Ibid., 109.

About the Author


Denise Johnson

Special Education teacher K-12, School Counselor K-12, Overseas field worker in Poland,

13 responses to “Spaghetti Vomit and the Fear of Red Ink”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Denise, thanks for your candor about the internal struggle around your writing. I can relate to being your own worst critic. You do have a writing gift! I enjoyed your questions and thoughts at the end of your post. This portion of one sentence struck me especially hard: “Has our faith become more of a consumable product of self-medication that prevents us from doing the hard work…” Wow, so much to explore in that. In your faith journey, have you seen church practice or structures that medicated people rather than facilitating the “hard work?” While I have not used your vocabulary, I’ve felt that we’ve made a good amount of faith the simple act of receiving new spiritual information rather than personal transformation. I would appreciate your thoughts/experiences on that.

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      I agree. There seems to be very little responsibility for the individual’s spiritual growth. It is almost as if we have distracted congregants with Bible studies, church activities, and meetings that keep people feeling good about their involvement. But there is little empowerment or equipping the person in the pew to partner with Jesus to transforming their community. This leads to people becoming discontented with church organized activities.

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Denise: I thought Pressfield helpful, too. He dispenses a lot of nuggets of advice that are helpful to someone like me who is trying to write and have a creative side. do you do some writing on a regular basis where this book was practically helpful to you? I have read many books on writing and all of them are helpful. There is no substitute for sitting down and writing, writing, writing.

  3. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Hi Denise! Great post. I always enjoy reading your blogs and I thought the analogy of spaghetti vomit and the fear of red ink was fantastic. I can definitely relate to the red ink in my previous writing experience too. Were there any positive memories of writing in your life that helped you to focus on desiring to jump to be a greater professional writer?

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Hi Jonathan!
      Jesus is always the one behind my next step into a greater challenge. I know that I cannot do anything without Him. If He is with me, I can do anything, and it will be an important part of my testimony of His faithfulness.
      My English 101 teacher did the most to get me over the hump. She got me writing and not worrying about the form. Just writing. She encouraged me to start by just writing the word “write” until I began to write something else.
      As an educator, I never correct papers in red. Never! In every country I know of red means stop. Why would I communicate that to my students? I always correct with green ink. Green ink communicates goes.

  4. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Thank you for another transparent and vulnerable post, Denise. I was struck by “I have never allowed my shortcomings to limit what I am capable of doing” — I’d love to hear more about where/how that was developed in you, if you can identify it. I’d imagine it also might connect with some of Brene Browns other works.

    I think you are a wonderful example of Phil. 2:12’s encouragement to “work out” our salvation. It is really a gift when you can watch someone actively working through areas of their lives in a manner like you do.

    • mm Denise Johnson says:

      Thanks Kayli,

      Where does my tenacity come from? It started with my family. My grandparents immigrated and made away for themselves. My dad finished his high school diploma in the military, went to night school when I was young, and worked his way from bank teller to manager. As a special educator, I have worked with children who have significant deficits. From them I have learned that anyone can do anything if they are willing and properly trained.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Thanks Denise. Anxiety is a funny (and terrible) thing, is it not! I never would have guess writing causes angst for you. I realize I have only read your blog posts, but I have thought of you as a good communicator, for what that is worth.

    I pray the Lord open the pathway to share all God has taught you and allowed you to be a part of over your career. You have a depth of knowledge and wisdom to share such that others may glean from you (such as myself).

  6. mm Andy Hale says:

    I am grateful for your vulnerability in this post. You are not alone.

    For decades I’ve struggled, not with writing well but editing at a high level. I can find the errors in other people’s writing but can’t find them on my own.

    Grammarly is a fantastic resource.

    So, how do you slay the dragons in your creative process?

  7. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Denise, I have come to anticipate reading your blogs! Your willingness to lay bare your self is beautiful!

    Your question, “How can we help one another discover our individually designed purpose?” reminds me of An Everyone Culture. How might you compare the themes from that book to Friedman’s theme of self-differentiation and then utilize those to begin “writing” an answer to your question? 🙂

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