Tag Archives: writing

Day 31: Surprise (31 Days of Simple Truths)

31daysOfSimpleTruthsWell, I survived.

I must confess, when I started this 31 days writing challenge, I didn’t entirely expect to finish it. I definitely expected to miss some days.

It’s nice to surprise yourself. It’s nice to rediscover a level of grit and perseverance you’d forgotten about.

Maybe there is space in this crazy, uncertain life of mine for a little more creativity and a lot more dreaming. Maybe there’s space in yours too.

What have you given up on? It might be time to start surprising yourself.

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Day 29: Powering Through (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Can I tell you how many times I’ve wanted to quit this 31 days of writing challenge? Well, actually I couldn’t tell because I’ve lost count.

Some days I had something I really wanted to say, but other days involved a lot of staring at the blank screen before any words would form. Some days I was fine with writing for me whether anyone read it or not, but other days my brain was saying, “For the love, is anyone out there? Why am I doing this just for me? Don’t we have journals for that?”

31daysOfSimpleTruthsBut this was really important for me, largely because I’ve allowed all the writing I do at work to overshadow the writing I do for me. I haven’t been investing in my own words, and my creative soul pays dearly for that neglect. It even negatively impacts my work because I end up resentful of the time I need to focus there.

More importantly though, I am trying to unravel myself from the sticky trap of perfectionism. I always feel the need to have all my ducks in a row before really tackling any project. Which means I’ve been accomplishing a whole lot of nothing when it comes to many of my personal goals and ambitions, especially the creative ones.

Next month is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for those unfamiliar); it’s an attempt at utter insanity, I mean, an attempt to write 50,000 words in a single month. There’s no time for overanalyzing yourself or making everything perfect. It’s about getting the words out. And I have a book idea (a few actually), but I’ve allowed everything else under the sun to block me from making it happen. But I need to get it out, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I can.

A feat like that requires consistently writing in big chunks, but it also requires consistently writing in smaller chunks—adding something every single day. I have no excuses now, because I have spent all of October stripping them away. No excuses, because now I know, tired or not, blank screen or not, burst of brilliant ideas or not, I can find the words, even if it’s only 200 of them at a time. I can write something, regardless of what else the day throws at me.

So if for no other reason, it was worth powering through October and reaching for the truth in each day. And now, I think I’ll try to write that book.

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Day 15: The Joy of Books (31 Days of Simple Truths)

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Growing up, I was the kid who would rather be reading a book than doing pretty much anything else, with the exception of playing music. Books were magic. Characters were friends.

I was the rare kid in high school who read every single book that was assigned, plus a few extra. I remember we always had to report on so many pages of additional reading, and while most of my classmates moaned and groaned about this, I didn’t even think twice about it. I knew I’d be able to complete the “assignment” without trying.

In college, I was lucky enough to have a roommate who also loved books, a lot of the same ones I loved and a few new loves she introduced me too.

But then, somehow, into adulthood, the passion began to fade. Maybe it was the demands of teaching and all the time it required. Maybe it was having babies and all the sleeplessness that ensued. I know there was a spiritual leader I admired who made me feel like fiction was a waste of my time and possibly a poison to my spirituality. But then all the non-fiction Christian books started sounding the same. I just couldn’t do it. I stopped reading. And then, without even realizing the connection, I stopped writing too. No more journaling, no more poetry, no more songwriting.

So when I reconnected with a childhood friend and joined her writing group, I found myself so frustrated because I felt like I was choking the words out. They were stiff. They were lifeless. This was not a problem I’d ever had before in my whole life. Writing had always been like breathing, but not anymore.

I was a little slow getting the hint, but it dawned on me one day—words my teachers had said to me, words I had said to my students: If you want to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader.

Last year, I set a goal for myself to read 25 books before the end of the year. It felt embarrassing alongside the lists from friends who were reading 100 books. But it was what I thought I could manage. I made a list and chipped away at it, plus a few extras, and ended the year with 29 books in my brain and a torrent of new words in my heart.

This year, I upped my goal to 50, and I’m well on track to pass that again. And my creativity continues to come alive. Books are my obsession again. If I can’t manage any other creative pursuit because of life’s craziness, I can’t give up reading. It keeps the fire burning until I’m able to write or sing or art journal again. And no one will ever be able to convince me again that fiction is a waste of time.

Stories matter. Far beyond the craft of writing, stories have unlocked empathy and compassion on me. They have given me insight into people and situations. They have given me an outlet when I couldn’t find a way to express what needed to be said. They call me into rest when I would be tempted to push myself too hard. They offer points of connection and relationship. And yes, I’m pretty sure they make me smarter, and I won’t object to that.

So when my six-year old daughter comes to me and says, “Daddy told me you read almost every night before you go to bed. Do you think I could do that too?,” you’d better believe I said, “Yes.” And smiled inside because I’ve been waiting for this day.

Read, people. For the love of all that is wonderful in this world, just read. And tell me in the comments what some of your favorites are; it’s time to start planning my list for next year.

Also, my friend Suzanne is doing a super fun 31 days series on “shelfies”! Check it out and add some books to your list.

31daysOfSimpleTruths

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Day 12: Words (31 Days of Simple Truths)

20151012_220919I love words. I always have. I don’t even have to know what they mean to enjoy saying them and pondering them.

They’re powerful. The right combination at the right moment can quite literally change the world.

Yet words can be really frustrating too. Trying to find the right ones, and the right moment to communicate them, for starters. But more—whatever their dictionary definition may be, words tend to take on a life of their own. They become “buzz words.” They develop volumes of connotations and suggestions depending on the context of who says them or what other subjects they were linked to. The speaker intends them one way; the listener hears them in a completely different way.

There are always those stubborn few who don’t care if the words have taken on another meaning or not; they’re going to say what they want to say, and that’s that. But for the rest of the wordsmiths, we wrestle with this. We are careful with this. Because if we’re not, we end up isolating the very people we were hoping to reach.

It’s a fine line. There’s always going to be someone who misunderstands or misconstrues; if you worry too much about them, you’ll tie yourself up in knots and compromise your voice. Still, it is ultimately on the writer, the speaker, the vision caster to carefully weight the words they want to say, to consider if they are only using those words because they are comfortable and familiar, or because they are truly the best words to reach the hearts of the listeners, truly the words we most wanted to say.

It’s a huge responsibility to carry, one we cannot take lightly.

31daysOfSimpleTruths

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I’m Writing a Children’s Story

My little adventurers

My little adventurers

I participated in a virtual retreat with Story Sessions last week – an opportunity to intensively fuel creativity for a few days.  In our final writing session, we were asked to journal through this question: what is one thing holding you back from the story you must tell?

My mind was ready to fire off the usual excuse – time.  Of course that had to be the answer, the one thing.  Because marriage, kids, job, etc.  All the stuff.  But my heart gave a twinge and raised her voice before I could shush her.  And I knew in an instant the real thing that holds me back from the story I’m working on right now:

I fear not being taken seriously as a writer because I have chosen to write a children’s story.  I fear other writers will view it as “less than”.

But just as quickly as my heart admitted her fear, I knew in my bones what a lie this was.  More importantly, I knew that even if it turns out to be true, even if other writers do look down on this endeavor, I will do it anyway.

Because it is for my children, especially my daughter, but for both of them.  Which is reason enough all by itself.  I am writing the princess story I want them to read – brave, beautiful, fierce, strong and soft all at once.  And I believe in this story.  I believe in the message I am carefully weaving through the characters and actions.  I believe there are big hearts inside little bodies who need the words I am laboring over. (And even crazier – a few big hearts in grown up bodies who might need them too.)

I push back against the fear over what others may think.  I remember what good company I am in – Madeline L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Kate DiCamillo, E.B. White – just a few great writers who invested their words on a younger audience, and yes, please, don’t mind if I do aspire to join them. (With a healthy dose of reality, of course, because Narnia and Middle Earth are rare pinnacles of perfection.)

And just in case I needed any additional convincing to fortify my sometimes quivery heart, I found this nugget of wisdom from Madeline L’Engle – her response when she was asked why she wrote for children:

I don’t.  If it’s not good enough for adults, it’s not good enough for children.  If a book that is going to be marketed for children does not interest me, a grown up, then I am dishonoring the children for whom the book is intended, and I am dishonoring books.  And words.  Sometimes I answer that if I have something to say that is too difficult to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children.  This is usually good for a startled laugh, but it’s perfectly true.  Children still haven’t closed themselves off with fear of the unknown, fear of revolution or the scramble for security.  They are still familiar with the inborn vocabulary of myth.

So there you have it.  I write this story, not only for my children, but for me.  Because I love a good princess story and a good adventure.  And I will pour my best into it so as not to dishonor children or books or words.  No doubt, the process will be painful because that is how it goes when birthing something, but in the end, I expect it all to be quite fun and – dare I say it? – significant.  After all, stories are powerful.  Who knows what could happen?

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Finding My Writing Process

Today I’m the next stop on a “blog tour” from Vanessa Johnson’s God’s Beautiful Mess.  Next week the blog tour will head to Caris Adel.

Image Source: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Source: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What am I working on?

Well, I do have a novel and a few smaller projects on the drawing board right now.  My overarching focus though is on Story 201, an e-course with Elora Nicole, that really focuses on developing a manuscript and fine-tuning your creative process.  As I’m learning and working through the course, it’s serving as a springboard for developing my ideas, getting them out of my head and into actual words.

The novel I’m working on deals with the themes of human trafficking and illegal immigration.  It follows the story of a young Mexican teenager who ends up the victim of traffickers when her father decides to sneak his family into the U.S. and her unlikely but life-saving friendship with an American runaway also in captivity.  It is all at once heart-wrenching and hopeful.

Why do I write what I do?

Human trafficking is in many ways the “trendy” human rights issue of our day, but for millions it is the bitter reality of their every day.  I have worked on several awareness initiatives, including one that involved in-depth research on the issue specifically between the US and Mexico.  The stories were real and heartbreaking and desperate to be heard.  There are also many heroes laying their lives down every single day, and their stories need to be heard too.  I am weaving as many real life accounts into the novel as I can in hopes of giving voice to as many of the voiceless as I can.

With my other projects, I am really passionate about helping people move from the concept of intimacy with God into the reality of it.  We can know Him deeply, but it doesn’t always happen through the religious formulas we’ve been taught.  There’s more, so much more.  He really is concerned with practical, seemingly mundane details of our lives because His sacred mystery is so often revealed in those unlikely places.

How does your writing process work?

I almost want to laugh at this question.  Developing a writing process is one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do.  I have two small children, a part-time job that demands a lot emotionally and spiritually, and my husband has started a new job that is requiring a complete overhaul of our schedule.  Which before the new job was total insanity, but we had learned to cope.  So a lot of my “process” right now is making sure I am getting words out on a consistent basis, at least 4-5 times a week.  I am also learning the importance of daily fueling my creativity – reading new fiction, immersing myself in music (my first love), doing lots of artsy and creative things with my kids, etc.  If I weave these things into my regular daily routine, then when I do finally have time to sit down and write, I don’t have to fight as much writer’s block; my creativity is already brimming and it’s just a matter of channeling it in the right direction.

And however silly it may sound, when I do get to sit and write, pouring a cup of tea or a glass of wine and lighting a candle really help me clear away the chaos and focus.

I want to say specifically to other moms struggling to find space for creativity and feeling like they’re losing themselves in the process of raising kids sometimes – I absolutely do not have all the answers and I struggle with this too, but something has been happening over the last three months that has surprised and delighted me.  The more I focus on developing and feeding my children’s creativity, the more it fuels my own.  I am NOT suggesting neglecting yourself or not feeding your own creative soul; it’s the complete opposite.  Watching them embrace and run with creativity actually inspires me to do what I need to fuel myself.  It’s been the most breathtaking cycle – I invite them to be creative, they blossom, which makes me want to be more creative, which empowers them to be more creative  and on and on.  A lot of days we create together – they paint, I write.  We art journal.  Instead of seeing them as an inhibition to my process, I am making them partners in my process.  It’s amazing.

How’s my work different from others of its genre?

Truthfully, I’m not sure what genre my novel falls into yet.  But I do think one thing that could set it apart is that I am not merely going to tell a story or bring awareness to an issue through the story; I am also weaving into the story the tools ordinary people like you and me can use to make a difference.

And spiritually, my relationship with God has been anything but ordinary or stereotypical.  I think I’ve had some very unique experience both within the church and outside it that help me understand and speak to a wide range of perspectives.

I mentioned having several ideas on the drawing board.  These include a YA coming of age type novel, some children’s books (both picture books and chapter books), Christian non-fiction and a fantasy-type story.  So I really don’t know what genre I belong in!

Next week – the blog tour stops at Caris Adel‘s space.  Caris sees the image of God in people where others might miss it.  It’s a beautiful gift she has.  Definitely be on the look out for what she has to say!

 

 

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Five Minute Friday: Writer

Image Source: A Shared Lens

Image Source: A Shared Lens

Writer.

As a little girl, I knew I wanted to write.  Among other things, but this was one of my favorite pastimes.  I got better and better the older I got.  But one thing was always the same – I claimed writing as something I liked to do, but I never claimed “writer” as someone I was.

That is beginning to change.  It’s hard some days.  You say “I’m a writer” and someone will say “have you written any books?”  I still can’t say yes to that question, but I can say I’m working on one and have ideas for two more.  Even more, I am cultivating the discipline day after day, weaving it more and more into my life.  Even when it’s hard.  Even when life’s demands seem determined to steal my writing time.  Even when the words are feeling tired and empty.  It is still becoming intricately entwined.

So . . . I find myself a little more willing each day to say, “Yes, I am a writer.”  And I work on not comparing myself to other writers.  Because ultimately what makes a writer is someone who found her own voice and told her own stories.  I don’t have to be like anyone else.  My process doesn’t have to play out like anyone else’s.  My book will come out in its own time, its own way.  But for all the writing I will have to do just to get to that point?  I might as well go on and claim it now.

I am a writer.

*Today I am linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday.

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Your Necessary Voice

1521319_10153684799840004_215058137_nIn Story Sessions this week, we were asked what this quote evokes in us.  I’ve been  mulling it over and finding that, well, it makes me squirm a little.  Because I want it to be an elegant process – finding my voice and revealing my soul and reveling in my blessed weirdness.

Does anyone remember the 90s remake of Sabrina – the one with Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond?  Do you remember how Sabrina goes off to Paris, all frumpy and awkward and unsure of herself?  And her mentor there tells her how she was the same when she arrived in Paris.  But then the mentor says: “I went for long walks, I drank coffee, I wrote in a journal and  I met myself in Paris.”

That’s how I picture the process of finding my voice. I just want to meet myself in Paris. (Insert dramatic sigh.)

If only. But back to reality.

It is ruthless – the process of writing and re-writing your words, peeling back the layers of trying to impress someone or sound like someone or not offend someone until nothing is left but your heart, laid bare.

It is relentless – the swirling of thoughts and ideas and stories in your bones, begging to be let out, while other voices are busy telling your mind no one is actually interested in what you have to say anyway.

It is inevitable – the fire shut up in your bones that has to come out one way or another, so you might as well write and write and write.

But where I am floored is in considering the process of finding my voice necessary for personal and collective survival.  I get it personally.  I mean, it’s fire shut up in my bones, so it’s a matter of letting it out or burning up slowly from the inside.

But to be necessary for collective survival?

Deep breath.

Accepting that someone, maybe several someones out there need, actually need my voice?  And perhaps a step further?  They need to see me engage the messy process of unleashing my blessed weirdness?

Exhale.

Yes.  It’s true.  It’s true for me and it’s true for you.  Your voice could sound like a million things besides writing, but whatever the sound, the world needs it.  Maybe not literally the entire world (maybe so).  But someone, most likely several someones out there, need what only we can uniquely say.  And when we engage the process, it infuses others with courage to shake off the dazed slumber and find what their hearts are saying too.

We are all that critical. Embrace it.

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Awakening

Image Source: Messy Canvas

Image Source: Messy Canvas 

My heart has been hibernating.

I’m not sure when exactly the long sleep started.  It was not an intentional choice; there was not a specific moment where I decided to knock it unconscious and hide it away in a dark cave.  Rather, it was a gradual numbing, a slowly drawn out decrescendo until its pulse faded from hearing.

But I am beginning to remember how it was done before I fell asleep.

I remember a little girl, 4 or 5 years old, captivated by musicals and passing the hours imagining herself swept up in song and dance.

I remember a 6 year old girl asking her parents for ballet lessons, in her mind thinking she’d better get started on learning to dance if she was ever going to be on Broadway.

I remember an 8 year old girl spending her spare time writing plays and trying to get all her classmates to act them out during recess.

I remember a 10 year old girl grinning from ear to ear as she gently touched the shiny flute in its velvety case, finally holding the instrument she had been waiting for years to play.

I remember the thrill of a 13 year old girl singing a solo for the first time – being all at once terrified and happier than ever.

I remember so wanting to sign up for a beginning art class as an elective in high school, but being too afraid because I had never been very good with visual art (plus everyone said the teacher was always mean to female students).

I remember my heart breaking as I sat through band and choir classes in a school that had no vision or funding or passion for a quality arts program.

There are countless snapshots in my memory.  I could fill pages and pages because there was never a time when art and creativity were not a part of my life.

***

Several weeks ago, in several different settings, I listened to myself being described by others.  Their words were positive.  They accurately reflected strengths I do have.  But there was not one mention of creativity, of music, of artistry – all the things that most intricately make up the fibers of who I am.  I wasn’t upset at them, but I was jolted by a realization.

I have long stopped thinking of myself as an artist.  And of course, no one else sees me this way; how could they when I have not seen me this way?

There are so many things contributing to this shift over the course of many years – disappointments, failures, closed doors, decisions I made, lies I believed – each one a powerful sleeping pill slowly sedating my heart.

But the composition of my heart has not changed, and the anesthesia is beginning to wear off.  I am stirring, stretching, seeking what it is to feel awake and alive again.

Admittedly, this is a daunting moment – daring to believe it is not too late and mustering the courage to re-weave my life’s story.  Is it even possible to change when you allowed your life to be steered down a far different trajectory?

I have to believe it.  I do not want to journey through life with a sleep-walking heart.  I want to be fully engaged, fully alive, fully on fire.  This is the year for unlocking creativity and artistry again.  This is the year for awakening.

 

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Blowing the Embers

Image Source: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image Source: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have spent most of my life apologizing for myself.

I don’t know who said it first or who said it loudest; the voices have melded over time into a monotonous chant of criticisms all beginning with the word “too”.

Too strong-willed.

Too emotional.

Too ambitious.

Too dramatic.

Too romantic.

Too serious.

Too driven.

Too deep.

Too much.

And I have apologized and tried to be less because I know I am fiery, and I know if you brush up against fire, you end up burned.  I tried to be less “all or nothing”.  Some times I tried to be less to appease others, and some times I tried to be less to give myself a break.  It is wearying to love with such intensity, to be a black and white person in a world tinged with gray.  And when you throw yourself into things with abandon, with all of your heart, there are no such thing as small mistakes; oh no – when I make a mistake, I go down in a not-so-glorious blaze of glory.

Only recently have I come to realize the high price I have paid for the pursuit of “less than”.  At every stage, I have laid down something of my creativity, one piece at a time – first drama, then dance, then instrumental music (I played the flute and saxophone quite well once upon a time), then songwriting, then poetry.  A few weeks ago, I found myself contemplating giving up singing, and the throbbing of what my life would be if I muted myself completely unlocked the realization of how hard I have worked to quench my own fire.  And how beyond the shadow of a doubt that is NOT who I want to be.

The One Who Sees wove my being together this way.  My DNA is threaded with thunder and lightning, flaming fire, roaring rivers, majestic symphonies.   My heart dances wildly – sometimes the fierce dance of a warrior, sometimes the seductive dance of a lover, sometimes the yearning dance of a ballerina, sometimes the carefree dance of a thousand fireflies.  And in His hands, I am not too much.  I daresay, I am an echo of His own passionate heartbeat resonating through the universe.

I declare this heart – my heart – to be holy ground because the Creator of the Universe walks here.  And His whispers have come to blow the embers, to wake the sleeping fire in me.

*This is in response to a prompt from Story Sessions.  Join us?

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