What Taylor Swift Taught Me About Writing

We spent our Wednesday night at the Taylor Swift 1989 World Tour. I can’t remember the last time I was at a giant concert like this, if ever honestly. But it was fun to go with my girls and their friends.

Still, when I got home and tucked the girls in hours past their bedtime, I asked one of them if she had fun.

“Yes, it was fun. I’m glad we went. But I’m okay if we never go again.”

This could be why:

Taylor Swift

Our seats were high, you guys. So high that once we sat down, we vowed to never get back up again for fear of tumbling down the stadium onto the stage.

Some people love the crowds, the lights, the noise. And then others are just old souls even though they’re only eleven and they’d just rather stay home and watch a show and snuggle.

Truly, I’m glad we went. And as the night rocked on, I couldn’t help watching the whole thing like a writer.

As a writer, my job is to pay attention to the world around and within me and then to write what I see. My dad calls it connecting the dots. It’s actually the job of every artist and maybe, one could argue, every human.

While it’s true this concert isn’t one I would have gone to on my own, I was fascinated by it. The evening was a story and she was the narrator. I thought she told the story well as a performer with a hopeful message.

I’ve honestly not followed Taylor Swift’s career much so I can’t speak to her decisions overall. But I remember reading somewhere that she said she seeks to surprise not shock. 

For now, that’s a filter for her content. Every storyteller must choose a filter. For example, my goal in this space is to help you create space for your soul to breathe. Everything I write here goes through that filter.

I won’t write about my messy closet or my frustrations over politics unless I can write about those things in a way that will help create space for your soul to breathe.

Having a content filter helps you make decisions, choose direction, and cast vision.

Whatever your opinions are about if Taylor is doing that well or not, I thought it was a great filter for a pop star. Surprise, delight, entertain? Sure. No need to shock. I like that.

Taylor Swift 1989

Whatever your opinions are about her personality, her music, or her business decisions, the woman has managed to handle fame without falling apart. And that seems like an accomplishment worth noting.

The human soul isn’t made for fame, isn’t designed to carry this much attention. To have hundreds of thousands of eyes on you? Shouting your name? Night after night? This is not normal.

But it also serves as a reminder that even with the amount of attention, admiration, and praise our celebrities receive, it isn’t enough. If it were, Hollywood would be the most peaceful and satisfied city in the world.

They would all be filled with joy, peace, and a profound sense of belonging. But that is not the story the magazines tell.

To me, the celebrities who tell the best stories are the ones who don’t believe their own myth. They refuse to allow all that cheering and attention to be their deepest truth.

Which also, in turn, means they cannot allow the bullying or negativity from their critics to be their truth, either.

Instead, they have a single-minded focus to tell the story they’ve been given, to trust the story enough to follow where it goes without getting in the way, and then offer it as a gift.

What the reader, listener, or audience member does with that story is not the storyteller’s responsibility.

The artists who struggle the most are the ones who are obsessed with how their work is received. This becomes their full time job and one day they discover they’re no longer making art because their profession as an Opinion Manager takes up all their time.

What a wonderful lesson for a writer to learn. And while I’m sure there’s a shake it off reference in here somewhere, I can’t bring myself to make it.

That’s a good lesson for a writer, too. You don’t always have to make the joke. Amen.

What Taylor Swift Taught Me About Writing

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For Those Who Wait in the Fog

At the beginning of this year, I declared that I wanted to practice writing words I can’t take back. I did and I have, but I keep finding myself not doing that consistently.

Like this morning, for example, I had grand plans to drive directly home and begin to write after taking the girls to school, but instead I somehow found myself with one foot in a cute brown boot in the shoe aisle at Target at the productive hour of 8:15.

what happens at Target

Two packages of poster board, one package of stickers, a latte and a library book later, here I sit in my office wondering what is wrong with me. I long for the time to write when the family is home and then avoid it when the house is empty.

I am coming to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong except that I am, in fact, a writer. And putting off writing is often what we do best.

Seriously though, I think sometimes I avoid the page for the same reasons I avoid silence: I’m anxious over what I might find there. 

Or worse, that I might not find anything at all.

In some ways I see my job as a writer as one of turning over rocks: I’m not always sure I’ll understand or like what’s beneath the surface, but curiosity insists I turn it over anyway.

And while it’s true that I would often rather not face what critters might be hiding there and that I would often prefer to sit on the rock and watch Netflix, facing my questions by turning over rocks helps me become more fully myself.

And the way I do that is through writing.

When I don’t know where to begin, it’s good to start with what I know for sure about us, you and me:

We want more connecting and less competing.

We want more laughter and less shame.

We want more love and less fear.

The last few weeks I’ve been digging around in my  soul to find out what connection, laughter, and love means for my life and the life of my family.

Shapes in the Distant Fog - emily p freeman

A month ago I told Marion, my spiritual director, that I feel as though I am in the midst of a transitional time. John is nearly a year into his new ministry (!!), my fourth book is launched into the world (!!) and the girls are settled in to their first few months of middle school.

Many things I have been looking toward are now past and I am living in the exhale.

Marion encouraged me to let this open space remain open, to resist the urge to fill it with the next thing. I agreed with her completely, but as I’ve lived into those words I’m realizing how difficult it is to keep the margins wide.

It’s easier to fill a space then it is to keep it empty.

These words from John O’Donohue help, from To Bless the Space Between Us:

You are in this time of the interim where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out; the way forward is still concealed from you.

You cannot lay claim to anything; In this place of dusk, your eyes are blurred;

And there is no mirror. As far as you can, hold your confidence.

Do not allow your confusion to squander.

This call which is loosening your roots in false ground, that you might come free from all you have outgrown.

Words for Those Who Are Waiting

I don’t have great answers yet, but I see shapes in the distant fog. And for that, I am thankful.

So I will keep writing privately and also here. I will keep turning over rocks. I will keep sitting in the silence even when nothing changes. I will keep listening and waiting and watching. I will keep accepting the invitation of Jesus to be a child in his presence without an agenda.

If you long to create margin but don’t know how, I hope to be kind company, both for your soul and for mine. Sometimes we forget to be kind to ourselves, don’t we? Join me on The Bench for a monthly reminder to create the space your soul needs.

Are you new around here? Welcome! Here is where you can find out more about our little online community.

Will You Help Me Choose My Next Read?

“For some of us, good books and beautiful writing are the ultimate solace, even more comforting than exquisite food.” – Anne Lamott

So I read more than one book at a time and this weekend I realized my current stack is made up of my personal perfect combination of book genres. I will share those genres with you in this post, but I realized I have a bit of a problem.

Will you help me choose my next read?

This year I’m loosely trying to follow Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge and one of the categories is to read a book in a genre you wouldn’t typically choose. But I’m having trouble thinking of something for that category.

I thought it would be fun to share with you what I’m currently reading and then hear suggestions from you of a book outside of one of these genres.

Here are the books I’m currently reading (including affiliate links incase you want to check them out yourself):

Moon Over Manifest by Clare VanderpoolMoon Over Manifest [Audio Book] by Clare Vanderpool (Children’s Literature, Historical Fiction)

Now that the girls no longer attend school in the neighborhood, I spend a lot of time in my car. So I checked out the audio version of this one. The main narrator’s voice grates on my nerves which was almost a deal-breaker for me.

But I have managed to get over that and I’m glad I did. I’m about seventy-five percent through it and look forward to getting in my car so I can listen to it. When I don’t have a fiction book in my life, I’m a little less happy about the world. I chose this book based on the cover.

Hidden in Christ by James Bryan Smith

Hidden in Christ by James Bryan Smith (Spiritual Non-Fiction)

I adore the book of Colossians and this is an entire book about the third chapter. It’s shorter than books I typically read in this genre, but I enjoy being able to read a whole chapter or two each morning.

I credit so many authors who write books in this category for much of my own spiritual formation. But I have an entire stack of books in this genre waiting in the wings so I definitely don’t need any more recommendations like this right now.


Bird by Bird by Anne LamottBird by Bird by Anne Lamott (Writing, Reference)

This is mostly a re-read, although I am realizing as I near the end I’m not sure I ever completely finished it.

I always feel best when I have a book on writing or creativity on my stack and have several more I want to start. These are the kinds of books I like to re-read as I always find something new to apply to  my creative work. I’ve enjoyed my time with this one.



Never Broken by Jewel KilcherNever Broken by Jewel (Memoir)

The older I get, the more I’m enjoying memoirs. The goal isn’t to teach a lesson or make a point but to tell a story.

Because of my continued obsession with Alaska and my love for the show Alaska the Last Frontier (a reality show featuring what life is like on a homestead that just so happens to star Jewel’s family) I ordered this book last week. When it arrived, I sat down and didn’t get up for three hours.

From her experience living on a homestead to living in her car as a homeless teenager to becoming a millionaire singer – it’s the stuff of movies, y’all. Except it’s her real life and it’s fascinating.


These are the four books I’m currently reading in my four favorite kinds of books: fiction, spiritual non-fiction/Christian living, writing, and memoir.

What do you recommend I read outside of one of these genres? Something about space? Science? Gardening? I’m at a loss!

One Thing Change Doesn’t Change


They built a Wal-Mart next to the Starbucks in the shopping center where I write. Once demolition started, they put up fences to keep the traffic out. You could see where the new building would be even though it was mainly construction equipment, piles of debris, and mounds of dirt.

construction zone

It was a parking lot in transition, on its way to becoming a shopping center.

What was is no longer and what will be isn’t quite yet.

When John and I were living in the midst of a vocational transition since he left his job of twelve years, I felt a little like that parking lot. I married a pastor, was involved in our church, felt part of a team of other youth leaders, and then all of that was gone.

It was our choice and the parting wasn’t ugly or painful in any of the ways these partings sometimes are. But it was painful in the ways you might expect – loss of community, an unpredictable future, fear of the unknown.

What was is no longer and what will be isn’t quite yet.

It took me several months to begin to grieve some of those losses as well as to recognize the control and predictability I thought I had before were only illusions anyway.

Slowly we started to carve out a new normal in the midst of the vocational limbo.

Girl Meets Change

I’m always hesitant to embrace change, at least the kind I don’t feel in charge of.

But the biggest reason I hesitate is because I only know what I’m leaving. I don’t yet know what I’m walking toward. And that is the hardest part of the limbo.

“When change puts me in tight places, is it especially dark because his hand covers and protects me too? Can I believe — really believe — it is dark because of mercy and protection rather than abandonment?”

Kristen Strong, Girl Meets Change

growth in change

Walking to my car after leaving Starbucks shortly after construction began, I noticed some of those mounds of dirt in the construction zone had grass and other plants growing out of them.

Grass! And other plants!

This parking lot was in the midst of transition and grass was growing where it had no business. The dirt wasn’t there for keeps, but it was there for now. Even so, seed takes root, burrows into the darkness, and shoots up to the light because that’s what seeds do.

Seeds take root and grow even though things won’t be this way for always, even though all is about to change, even though all seems unsettled, unsure, and unstable.

The one thing change doesn’t change is growth.

The growing still happens even in the midst of transition. But unlike those plants that will be uprooted and tossed aside as that dirt mound becomes a foundation, the growth that happens within me in the midst of change will not be wasted.

Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong

When I look back on my life, the times I have experienced the most important growth have intersected with some kind of life change or transition.

I’m not saying those changes have always been welcome, but when my soul has been asked to move forward, let go of something old, or embrace something new, these are the times when I have become more fully myself.

Change invites me to burrow down deep into the place where God lives with me and find the solid ground of peace, hope, and a whole heart.

I may despise the change, but I never regret the growth.

And so we pause to consider those things we’ve left behind, those strange places where we now find ourselves, and the unknown future we’re walking into. Isn’t that what life is, after all? A series of holding on, letting go, moving forward, and growing in the middle?

Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong
My friend Kristen Strong wrote a whole book about this ever-present, not-often-enough talked about topic of change. She would know – she has traveled far and wide with her air force family, settling in to one community just in time to leave again.

KristenStrongHeadshotAs the wife of a career veteran, Kristen speaks as a woman who has experienced change in many makes and models. And as a friend, Kristen speaks the kind of language I can relate to.

I read Girl Meets Change during a time when I really needed to remember the truth: that God is with me even though things are different.

As my girls are into their first few weeks of middle school, I hold on to that truth.

As I walk with John into a new season of ministry, I hold on to that truth.

As I consider what it means to love, really love, my friends even when we’re all changing, I hold on to that truth.

You can learn more about Kristen and her new book at GirlMeetsChange.com. If you are in the midst of a life change, no matter how big or small, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Kristen’s book today. She’s lovely, kind, and just the kind of company you want beside you in the midst of those unknown seasons of change.

Why I Read More Than One Book at a Time


At the beginning of the year, I made a list of books I hope to read in 2015. For now the stack is too high. But secretly I like it best that way.

Book Stack - Emily P Freeman

Unread books are like kind friendships waiting in the wings. They won’t rush you and they’re willing to move at your speed.

I keep a list of all the books I’ve read so far this year (I write them down in my bullet journal with an actual pen). But I won’t write the book down until I’ve completely finished, even if I only have a few pages left. I always look forward to writing the title and the author’s name on this page – a way to celebrate progress.

Books Read 2015

I am a firm believer in reading more than one book at a time. I might change that habit one day, but for now I like the way the ideas and concepts from different authors hang out together in my soul. They trade ideas, contradict one another, see the world from all different corners.

Sometimes they say things so perfectly in sync with one another I’m sure they must be friends in real life.

That’s a nice reminder for me. As a writer, it’s tempting to think we should always be creating something new, saying something original, dazzling the world with our ingenuity. But as a reader, I enjoy when the books I read repeat the truth. Sure, they may say it a little differently, turn the phrase in a way I’ve not yet heard.

But when old truth is repeated, it gives my soul a place to rest.

I think of my girls when they were toddlers, asking for the same book at bedtime – again, again, again. We find comfort in repetition.

So tell me the truth in your southern accent or through the filter of your time in the war. Show me the truth with your metaphors, the ones you find in your travels or your own front yard. Tell me the lessons you’ve learned and the ones you hope to learn. Weave for me stories of love, of loss, of hope.

Repeat the truth you’ve heard from your mother and your mother’s mother, but say it in your own way. And I’ll read your story and her story and their story, too – one in the morning and one at night.

Book Stack - Emily P Freeman

A stack of books is a pile of promise. Even books we don’t like or don’t agree with teach us something about the truth.

As you make your book lists and add to your piles, it’s always a joy to see a book I’ve written sitting on your bedside table or nestled in a stack on your shelf.

Simply Tuesday by Emily P FreemanMy newest book, Simply Tuesday, releases in 2 weeks. (UPDATE: It’s available now!) If you aren’t yet sure it’s for you, I want to invite you to listen to me read the first chapter to you.

Simply click on this link and you can listen right now.

Or if you prefer, you can download it now and listen later on your walk through the neighborhood or while you finish up the dishes; before you go to sleep or first thing in the morning.

I might talk a little too fast and maybe get carried a way in some spots. But I wanted to record these first 40 pages as a gift to you. May the words be a kind companion for your soul.