THE ONLY THING WE KNOW FOR CERTAIN…

My day didn’t start out with me planning to update my website. My year – 2020 – didn’t start out with me planning to become, for all intensive purposes, a hermit. 2019 didn’t start out with me planning on losing my job – a job I’d had for twenty-two years. 2018 didn’t start out with me planning on it being the year I finally heard Jesus knocking at the door and accepted Him into my heart. The last three years didn’t start out with me planning on having to cancel my much-anticipated section hikes on the Appalachian Trail. No – very little in my life has gone the way I’d planned it. And if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that the only thing we know for certain is that change will come – that we can make the best-laid plans but it’s really out of our control. God directs our steps, and His plans for us might not look like what we envision.

I’d have to say that it’s probably a really good thing that we don’t know God’s plans for us – or why He places us in certain positions in our lives – what lessons we are supposed to learn. This year – 2020 – is a perfectly good example of why. I mean, had any one of us known what this year had in store, would we have joyfully celebrated its arrival on January 1st? Would we have made those resolutions and charged on into the New Year, full of determination to make it our “best year yet?” When we look back on it, will we be able to find something positive to talk about? Or will thoughts of having everything we cared about virtually stripped away from us be all that consumes our conversations? I’m right there with you on that – I’ve got a granddaughter who was born in early May that I haven’t even been able to hold yet. My other granddaughter’s third birthday is today, but we couldn’t really get together to celebrate it. Sometimes I wonder just when we will be able to pass each other on the street and NOT have the thought that we could give each other a virus that could kill us (at worst) lurking in our minds. It’s been a year like no other that I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime.

And yet – I know that something good will come out of it. I believe that God’s using this time to teach me something. I can remember back when it all began for me in March, I said that I refused to live in a spirit of fear. Well – I didn’t mean to, but I have to admit that I must have lied. I’ve suffered from anxiety like I’ve never known. The stress has started taking its toll on my physically. It’s become a constant struggle to keep a positive attitude when everything around me seems to be in such chaos. It’s been hard. It IS hard. It seemed that just when things had started to fall into place, it was all suddenly taken away from me. Going to the church twice a week? Gone. Volunteering with the Special Needs Ministry and one of my local middle schools? Gone. Being with my family every weekend? Nope. That’s gone too. Even something as simple as going to the grocery store suddenly looked different. For this very routine-oriented gal, trying to adapt to almost daily change has been beyond difficult.

But through it all, I’ve kept my eyes on God and done my best not to miss what it is He’s trying to teach me. I have no doubt that one of the things He’s been trying to teach me is to appreciate and be content in the place He’s put me. Since losing my job almost a year ago, I’ve been able to begin pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing without having to squeeze my classwork in between my work schedule. I’ve been able to go on long walks each morning – I’ve watched Spring turn into Summer, and now the shadows are growing just a little bit deeper as the sun slowly changes its position in the sky, pointing towards Fall. Yes – I had to give up my hiking plans for this year, but in exchange, I was able to drive my 81-year-old dad up to an isolated cabin in North Carolina so he could trout fish for a week. And I’ve come to appreciate what’s right in my own backyard – walking 9-10 miles each day and just spending that uninterrupted time with God.

Some might be wondering why I’ve chosen to write this post on my author website. It’s because all that’s been going on since March has changed my thoughts on where I want to go as an author. Up until a couple of months ago, I’d envisioned myself to be a Romance writer. But something about it just didn’t seem to “fit.” And then one day, it became clear to me: it didn’t fit because it wasn’t what God wanted me to do – or be. I instantly connected with the Contemporary Inspirational/Christian Fiction genre, and knew that I’d found my place in the literary landscape. Can I say that I know exactly where this path is taking me? No. Sure can’t. Can I say that I feel an excitement in my heart that wasn’t there before? Yes, I can.

I don’t have all the answers. And, you know what? I’ve come to understand that I never will – but I know the One who does, and I know that He’ll be with me as I navigate uncharted waters. Maybe that’s the whole point of this crazy year for me – learning to admit that I am not in control, that I cannot do this thing called life alone, and that I have someone walking with me through it all…someone who loves me as I am, no matter what – imperfections and all. I’ve had to lean on the Lord over these last few months in ways I never knew I could. I can’t claim to do it right all the time, but my faith has grown ten-fold, and knowing that I’ve got that perfect love out there rooting for me has changed my life.

It is my sincere hope that I’ll be able to weave my faith into stories that will encourage and inspire – and if I’m able to help just one person understand that he or she is truly not alone, then I’ll consider it a success. It doesn’t always have to be about wealth or fame. What matters more than either of those things is walking in love for those around me. That might not always be easy, but it will always be right.

A GLIMPSE INTO MY CREATIVE PROCESS

In my last post, I shared Stephen Koch’s motivational words on what it takes write.  I also mentioned that as soon as I read those words, I opened up a new Word document and wrote the first paragraphs of a new story idea.  Actually – it’s an idea that I’d already approached in an earlier draft but felt it was lacking in something.  So, instead of just talking about the simple act of just sitting down and actually writing, I thought I’d share a sample of my work.  The working title is A Light in the Woods, and I don’t know if it will turn into a novel or a short story, geared more towards the women’s fiction genre than romance.   So – here goes nothing!

Jenna Daniels shivered as the cold rain pelted her face.  A knot formed in the pit of her stomach watching the red glow of tail-lights disappear into the fog.  A minute ago, she’d been warm and dry, watching the forest closing in around the small 4×4 pickup truck that had carried her up the washed-out forest service road to the trail-head.  Now, she stood alone in the gravel lot atop Springer Mountain, in water almost to her ankles, with nothing but the woods surrounding her no matter which direction she looked.  The weight of her backpack dug into her shoulders, feeling more like fifty pounds than the thirty-five she’d been so proud of earlier that morning.  The camo rain jacket she’d purchased last minute at Wal-Mart did little to ward off the chill that began to set in as she stood immobile, wondering just what she’d gotten herself into.  There were no signs of what her life had become; no phones ringing; no horns blowing; no yelling; no lawyers; no irate ex-husband; no unanswered calls to her kids – or waiting for return calls that often never came. The gentle rhythm of raindrops tapping on the tree canopy replaced the noise in her life, soothing her frayed nerves – washing the salty taste of her tears from her lips. She wasn’t sure why she was crying.

Filled with the uncertainty of what she was about to undertake, her only options were to dig out her cell-phone and beg her shuttle driver to return to pick her up or put one foot in front of the other and start walking. She decided the time had come – all that had happened in her life had led her to this moment.  She took in a deep breath, then turned towards the eighteen-inch-wide foot path known as the Appalachian Trail.  She didn’t know where she was going – what, or who, she would find when she got there.  All she knew was that she had to go.

So, there you go!  Like I said, I don’t know where this opening will take me, but I’m grateful that I was able to just sit down and start writing!

 

WHAT TO DO (WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO)

It happens to all of us.  We are going along – everything is smooth sailing – and then something happens that brings our creative flow to a screeching halt!  It can something simple.  It can be something that knocks us to our knees.  Whatever it is, we suddenly find ourselves stuck behind that seemingly insurmountable wall known as writer’s block – it suddenly seems as if our creative muse has left the building, leaving us floundering around just trying to stay afloat.  That’s exactly where I’ve found myself for the last couple of weeks.  I just couldn’t find my inspiration.  My passion seemed to have faded away.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make sense of my ideas.  I felt lost.

It’s almost as if the “powers that be” must have been watching – knowing exactly what I needed to hear – or read, that is – because I ordered a book for an upcoming class I’m registered for, and as I sat, thumbing through the first few pages, those words I needed to hear jumped out at me:

“While I’m sure you can think of good reasons to procrastinate, I very much doubt there’s much real merit in any of them.  There is no need to wait for inspiration; no need to find your confidence; no need to know exactly why or what you’re writing; no need to read wise and thoughtful books about how to write; no need to understand your characters; no need to be sure you’re on the right track; no need even for your research to be complete.  No need now.  Later on, it will be very nice indeed to have some or all of these fine things.  You will of course eventually want inspiration and confidence and self-knowledge in your project…But every single one of these things -even the research – comes to you only in the process of writing.  They are the result of writing.  If you let any one of them immobilize you before you write, I can guarantee that a year from now you will still be waiting to begin.”  Koch goes on to say that “[s]o instead of waiting until everything is perfect, begin anyhow, anywhere, and any way.  The result probably won’t be exactly right.  It might not even be close.  So what?  You’re going to persist until you get it right” (pg 4)

~Stephen Kock, The Modern Library Writer’s   Workshop

As soon as I read those words, I got up, went to my computer, opened a new Word document, and wrote the opening paragraph for a new story idea I’d been toying around with in my mind.  In that one paragraph, I pulled together every concept I’d been taught over the course of my MA program.  I opened myself up and wrote from the heart.  And, surprisingly enough, even I thought it sounded okay.  The gratitude I felt towards Mr. Kock overwhelmed me in that moment because his wise words helped me scale the wall of whatever it was that blocked me – that made me feel like I simply couldn’t do it.  It is my sincere hope that his words will touch the heart of other writers who are going through the same thing.  Just remember – you don’t have to be perfect – you just have to start!

Happy Writing, Everyone!

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SELF-DOUBT REARS ITS UGLY HEAD?

I’ll be the first person to stand up and say that I’ve been riddled with self-doubt most of my life.  But, as I successfully proceeded through my Master’s program, maintaining my perfect 4.0 GPA, I slowly began to believe in my abilities.  Early on during the first of two thesis-writing classes, it was suggested that we start putting our work out there by finding/entering as many writing contests as possible.  So, I immediately researched contests for my genre and sent my work off.  Then, the wait began to see if what I’d sent was good enough to make it through to the final round of each of the contests.  The info provided said it could take up to three months to receive notification/feedback, so I went on working on my thesis, pretty much forgetting about it.

Then one day, an email from the chairperson of the first contest arrived in my inbox.  Nervously, I opened it, only to read the words, “Thank you for submitting your work to the (blank) contest.  Unfortunately, it did not make it to the final round.”  I was then advised to download my score-sheets from the three judges.  I was truly disappointed that my work wasn’t chosen, but thanks to that voice of self-doubt, I wasn’t surprised.  I was totally surprised to find that two of the judges had given my work high scores (just shy of what it took to make the final round), while the third ripped it apart – closing the whole thing by telling my that she liked my story idea and to work on refining my craft.  Okay – I’d read about how the key to becoming a successful author was developing a thick skin.  I took some notes from those score-sheets, closed the files, and started trying to revise what I’d submitted.

Last week, a second email arrived from another contest I’d entered.  Once again, the chairperson thanked me for submitting but regretted to inform me that my work didn’t make it to the final round.  When I opened up these score-sheets, the first one looked like it was covered in blood.  The judge warned me that she typically offered a lot of feedback, but I was overwhelmed by all the comments, marks, and suggestions I saw.  Still, when all was said and done, I received a score of 40/50 possible points.  The second judge didn’t cover my submission with red, but gave me a score of 42/50.  As I looked over both score-sheets, I felt my confidence level sink to the point of actually making me consider just giving up on the whole idea of becoming a successful author.  All I kept hearing in my head were the words I’d heard my whole life: “What you’ve done just isn’t good enough;” “You’re almost good enough, but not quite.”  Something I overheard once came echoing back: “She needs to find a real job instead of trying to write some stupid book!”  Let me tell you – that one’s stuck with me for a long time!

And then one day, as I was having a particularly heavy “feel sorry for myself” moment, I told someone I was seriously considering giving up – that my dream of becoming a writer was just that – a dream.  This person made a comment about how when you’re striving to create, you do it because you have to do it, not because you want to make a living out of it.  If it’s what you’re meant to do, things will fall into place.  As I thought about her words, I realized that I’d been working on this particular story for almost 18 years, in one form or another – which meant I must have a story in me that I need tell.  So, I opened all those feedback emails and I re-read each of them, doing my best to look at it as what it’s meant to be: a learning tool.  And I made up my mind, with the help of that person’s wise words, that I’m not ready to give up on something that’s been so important to me for so long.

I can’t say that my confidence level has come back up completely.  I still look at those emails and wonder how in the world I’ll ever be able to revise my work to meet those standards and suggestions.  But what I’m going to try to focus on is this: each of those judges said some positive things about my story – in spite of all the mistakes, suggestions, and comments.  Even the judge who gave me that low score said I had a good story idea in the making.  Perhaps even more important than that is what this story actually means to me – and what it will mean to me to finally complete all of the massive revisions.  I will also have one more person to thank in the dedication.  If she hadn’t stepped in, I would have probably quit!

My point to this very long post is this: don’t let self-doubt talk you out of doing something you feel you are meant to do – something you feel you have to do.  As the song goes, “pick [yourself] up, brush [yourself] off, and try one more time!”

THE QUOTE THAT EXPLAINS WHY I WRITE

If asked what it is I want to accomplish with my writing, I would have to sum it by saying that my goal is to make people feel something.  That being said, I’ve got one quote in particular from author, David Foster Wallace, that says it so much better:

“We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible.  But if a piece of fiction can allow us to imaginatively identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own.  This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside.”  (qtd in Charters 1048)

I know that writing is therapeutic for me, almost as much as listening to my favorite songs, with the only difference being that those songs make me feel something, while my writing is my way of putting that feeling into words.  So, I tend to write for my heart and then worry about revising it to suit the audience expectations of my genre.  To do it any other way would render a work that lacks feeling –

 

Works Cited

Charters, Ann. “Appendix Two: The Elements of Fiction.” The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. MA: Bedford/St. Martins. 2015. pp. 1048.

 

 

OUTLINE OR FLY BY THE OF YOUR PANTS (AKA PANTSER)

You’ve got this amazing story idea.  You think you know your characters inside and out.  So, what happens next?  The age-old battle between developing a story outline versus “winging” it still rages on.  I have to admit that, up until about a year ago, I was what’s known as a “pantser,” meaning that I preferred to just sit down and let the story flow onto the page.  Now, I thought that worked well until I realized something: it really didn’t.  My manuscript is a longer work (80,000-90,000 words), which makes it extremely easy for me to lose track of time.  This is something that I just realized as I was working on revisions.

Why is keeping track of time important, you might ask?  Well, first of all, it can have a huge impact on the development of your setting.  For example, A Gift of Love begins in late October/early November and is set in New York City and Westhampton.  Remember this is crucial to developing a setting and my characters’ actions in order for my story to make sense to the reader.  For example, I wouldn’t want my main characters to decide to go for a swim in the middle of January – if there’s not snow on the ground in NYC that time of year, it’s very cold!  Your goal is to advance your plot through the use of setting, which includes placing your reader into the story in terms of location, weather, and other pertinent details.

How do you keep track of it all?  Because I’m not one who sits down and develops and detailed story outline (although I do have a quick one that helps in preparing a synopsis), I’ve opted to use white-boards, on which I jot down a story timeline.  That way, I’ve can look at what I want to happen when, and prepare the setting, as well as little details of character development such as clothing worn and that type of thing, and weave it together so that it all makes sense.

So, while I’ll most likely never turn into a full-blown outline user, I have definitely learned that some type of tracking is a very useful tool!  I figure that if I can’t even remember what I did yesterday, how am I going to keep track on the daily lives of two or three characters?  The key is to just play around with it until you find what works for you!

Happy Writing, Everyone!!!

A DAY IN THE LIFE…

I like to think that I’m a writer.  But just what exactly does being a writer entail?  What’s a typical day supposed to consist of?  I guess for those lucky, successful writers, their day consists of, well, writing.  That’s how they make their living.  Then there’s the rest of us, who work hard to squeeze in time for our writing amidst all of our other daily demands.  Some of us work full-time, demanding jobs.  Some of us are in school, capturing every spare moment just to keep up with our assignments.  Regardless of the situation, one thing I can say for certain: you can’t be a writer if you don’t write.  You can talk about being a writer, but unless you carve out time to sit down and actually put words on the page, becoming one of those successful authors we all envy probably won’t be in your future.

So, just how can you fit writing into your day?  I think it’s important to schedule the time and go out of your way to keep that appointment!  I can attest first-hand that that’s not always an easy thing to do.  But like the old saying goes, nothing worthwhile is easy.  Isn’t that the understatement of the year!  So, while I’m certainly not the best at following my own advice, the routine I developed over the course of completing my Master’s degree is one I’ve done a pretty good job of following even now.  I spend a couple of hours each night shut away in my little “writing room,” where I try to write as many words as I can…or, at the very least, I try to write something.  I also use the time on those mornings when I’ve got to go to work early to sit in the dark, coffee in hand, just thinking about the next scene in my manuscript, or how I can revise an existing scene to make it better.  It’s quite nice actually.  I also find myself lost in my manuscript when I head outside for a 4-mile walk.  Just listening to my favorite music usually gets the creative juices flowing!  When all attempts fail, I give myself permission to turn my focus elsewhere to try again later.  But one thing is for sure: I always write something each and every day.

I guess there really isn’t a “typical” day in the life of a writer.  We all approach our craft in different ways.  What works for some won’t for others.  I think what matters most is that we rise up and keep trying.  Don’t quit!  Don’t give up!  By all means, write!

Happy Writing, Everyone!

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

Hi Everyone!

If you’ve found your way to my site, let me take a moment to say, “Thanks!”  I’m still learning to ins and outs of making the most of my WordPress site, so thanks for bearing with me during this process!  Please check back soon!