An Aspiring Writer on Writing – Part Two

Yesterday I called myself out for what can best be described as fiddle farting around with writing. Mostly what I’ve been doing is shuffling around stacks of hastily scribbled notes and occasionally looking busy without actually accomplishing a whole lot. Today I have drawn my own line in the sand and put myself on a writing schedule. Some days the fruits of that labor will show up on this blog; some days it will never again see the light of day. Both are okay. The important thing is that I’ve given myself a tangible goal to achieve each week. It’s one thing to set a goal and not quite make it, and quite another to not really try. I am determined to avoid the latter, since one undeniable truth I’ve learned over the last few months is that words don’t write themselves. They’re kind of stubborn like that.

Today I’m going to take a look at the pros and cons of being a writer. I strongly suspect that the principles here can be applicable to any artistic or practical endeavor that involves stepping outside of the norm, whether that means painting, composing a symphony, getting your carcass to the gym, or launching your own retail business.

One of my biggest issues, without a doubt, is procrastination. Things that I find absolutely no joy in – like cleaning the bathroom, or sweeping the living room, or possibly cutting the grass with a pair of fingernail clippers – take on an immediate appeal when it’s time to sit down and write. Why on earth is that?? I love to write. I find joy and freedom in this form of expression. But man, let me just get these dishes done first, whoops, forgot all about posting that picture on Facebook. Next thing I know, an hour has passed and it’s time to start dinner. Well, maybe tomorrow….

Finding the rhythm to my day, choosing the best time of day to put words onto the page has been harder than I expected. I volunteer in several different capacities, so my schedule is different from one day to the next. However, having a specific goal – whether to produce a certain number of pages or to write for a specified length of time – does lend itself to my OCD nature. I thrive on being productive. Not to say that I have been lately, but it makes me feel better when I am. One of my least favorite questions is, “How’s the book coming along?” because well, honestly, it hasn’t been. I say something like, “I’ve got the outline figured out now,” which is really writer-ese for “I’ve been lazy and distracted and haven’t written a doggone thing.”

Another related factor is distraction. One thing that I have started being more intentional about is unplugging from all electronics throughout the day. I don’t know what it is about that little red notification that is SO very compelling. If I see it, I can’t not check the message. So I try to put my phone down periodically and not even look. John Eldredge calls this “creating soul space,” and rightly so. Even five minutes of stillness and silence can make a huge difference. This continues to be a work-in-progress for me, but each day I increasingly see its value. I can think more clearly and focus on things that matter. My soul is more at peace without these electronic Chihuahuas continually nipping at my heels, demanding my attention.

There’s a certain vulnerability that comes with writing. Publishing, or even sharing with a friend, what you have written is very much like standing on the stage of a very large theater wearing nothing but a very small bathing suit. In that moment it is extremely challenging to feel cool and confident. Exposed is a better description. And that’s kind of the two-edged sword of writing. There are words inside me that are clamoring to get out. A writer simply must write, even if on occasion he is the only person who reads the words. At the same time, each shared piece opens him up to trial by the Court of Public Opinion. Truth be told, I get a queasy feeling in the pit of my gut each time I hit the Publish button on my blog: “Oh no! What have I done? Will anyone like this? Anyone at all? Is it meaningful? Does it make any sense? What was I thinking???”

Having read this far, you may be thinking, “Why doesn’t this lady just get a job selling moderately priced home furnishings at Target and be done with it?” That’s simple: because I love writing! Actually, I love words – the subtleties and nuances and shades of meaning within the English language are fascinating. (Yes, I have known and willingly acknowledged for years that I am a word nerd. There is a certain coolness in being so very uncool.) There are feelings and thoughts and understandings of the world around us that I need to express. Though no writing is ever 100% completely “done”, it brings a degree of satisfaction, to know that a particular piece – whether a chapter or page or paragraph – is as good as I can make it at this moment in time.

I’m not sure that I will ever at any time in my life write something so deeply meaningful that will inspire the masses, but there are times when I learn important truths from the ordinary, the mundane, the easy-to-miss. I figure that if this was a lesson I needed, perhaps someone else does as well.

So, I will be true to myself and write more words. I hope that you enjoy them and find value in them.

If not, no worries. Just be thankful that the cover photo features a cute little kid.

 

 

Photo credit: goo.gl/images/TwJaLq

An Aspiring Writer on Writing – Part One

Two years ago I resigned from my teaching job to become a full-time writer. I dreamed of writing a book about the lives of the Holocaust Survivors I’d met. I spent a month in Israel, reconnecting with my friends on their home turf. We visited, shared meals, and toured historically significant sites. It was truly amazing. Guess how many pages of this book I’ve written? That would be zero.

Then I had the idea of writing a scripture-based devotional for women. I polled a group of friends and asked for some topics they would find interesting and helpful. They shared. I pondered. I made a very long list of ideas and even started an outline. Guess how many pages of this devotional I’ve written? That would be zero.

After a season of prayer and seeking God’s counsel on my writing, I had a thought for a book on the subtle “good” things that we allow to replace the “best” in our lives. I immediately began doing research. I found several reputable sources that touched on similar territory. I read and took careful notes. Three months later, with about three pages of information left to transfer into my notes, I still haven’t quite finished the job. A foggy outline swirls around in my head. Guess how many pages of this book I’ve actually written? Yep. Zero.

There can only be one problem here. Look at the title of this article. See that adjective. That’s the problem.

The thing holding me back is that word: Aspiring.

“Aspiring” is the infinite difference between a Writer and Wanna-Be.

My husband is an electrician, a really, really good electrician. What is the difference between him and me? I think and plot and plan. Jeff does. He gets out there every single day – rain or shine, hot or cold, sick or healthy – and he does his work. He got good at his craft by doing his work. It’s just that simple.

I recently finished reading an amazing book called the War of Art. Man, that Steven Pressfield guy is vicious. And he’s right on the money. I’ve been letting fear and distraction and procrastination rule the day. What I really need to do is show up, turn on the computer and write some words. They don’t even have to be incredibly inspiring and meaningful words. Just words. Black characters on a glaring white sheet. The crafting and sculpting and subtle nuances of meaning will come. It’s okay if they start out ugly and disorganized, with mixed metaphors and boring sentence structure. Right now, I just need to write some words.

So, that’s what I’m gonna do.

Stay tuned.

 

Photo credit: goo.gl/images/G3oDcA

What IF….

At some time or another, I’m sure we’ve all heard some pretty amazing God stories. You know the ones: someone goes on mission trip or participates in a special event in the inner city. Ordinary people find themselves involved in extraordinary encounters which can only be explained by the power of a loving, Almighty God. We are stunned and a bit in awe. It’s easy to listen to these stories with a bit of envy and think, “Well, that’s great for them, but nothing amazing like that ever happens to me.”

But what if it could?

Recently at my church we heard some fantastic God stories from Honduras. What did Jessica do that was so utterly amazing? She said Yes to God’s invitation. Inexplicably prepared by a lifetime of difficult situations, she simply showed up with a willing heart, and then God pretty much took it from there. People’s physical, emotional, and eternal healths were waiting to be transformed, just on the other side of one little Yes.

It’s easy to let fear and circumstances keep us from going deeper in our walk with God:

  • What if it’s dangerous?
  • What if I don’t know what to do?
  • What if I say the wrong thing?

But what if instead of asking those questions, we asked different ones:

  • What if God has been preparing me my whole life for this moment?
  • What if I am exactly the right person for this specific situation?
  • What if God has bigger things in store for me than I ever dreamed?

When I was a very chubby girl, I used to look at lean, healthy people with envy, feeling that somehow something good like that would never, ever happen to me.

Only one day it did. The transformation began when I dared to believe it was possible, then took the necessary steps to change. It took a Yes.

So I ask you, What If?

  • What if you embraced the thought that there are God stories inside you, eager to be written?
  • What if you dared to believe that God has perfectly equipped you for the mission at hand?
  • What if all those God stories are right there, waiting, just on the other side of one little Yes?

What If Jesus said, “Come, follow Me”…and you simply said YES???

 

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Photo credit – https://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/4228

Further Thoughts on “Who’s the Genius?”

Inspired by a comment from my friend Alice, here are some spiritual insights based on last night’s stuck in the mud experience. If you missed the original post, I will copy its text at the bottom, or you can click on the link for the Who’s The Genius post.

Spiritual Insights (in no particular order)

Follow Me –

  • Jesus said quite simply, “Follow Me.”
  • The implication in that statement is for Now, not when we get around to it
  • Good followers trust their leader

He’s Got a Plan –

  • No evaluation on our part is necessary
  • Very often the things Jesus calls me to do make precious little sense at the time, but when He speaks and I listen, I find that what seemed so ridiculous to me in the beginning was actually quite the perfect thing to do. (The caveat here is that I must be listening carefully to the voice of Jesus, not just making up stuff in my own head.)
  • Going my own way was a complete disaster
  • He is ready to take action to get us back on track
  • The mud extraction plan wasn’t obvious to me, but all of the necessary elements were already there

Mud Pits Await –

  • Challenges and hard times are going to come our way
  • We need to navigate carefully through life
  • Sometimes we will get stuck
  • I never saw the mud pit coming, but it was there all the time, had I simply looked around more carefully
  • We need help from others

Scars and Mud Remain –

  • Even when the problem is solved, consequences remain, some more costly than others
  • Scars are not fun to receive, but the mark left on our bodies – and our hearts – can remind us of lessons we’ve learned
  • Challenges can be beneficial if we learn from them

Ever Forward –

  • Falling into a mud pit is one thing; choosing to stay there is another issue entirely
  • Someone may need to help pull (or even snatch) you out of the mud, but then it is up to you to keep moving forward
  • Accept help when you need it, but don’t become entirely dependent on others to do everything for you
  • Solid ground is just ahead
  • You may have to work to get there

Daylight –

  • A deep breath and a step back from the chaos can do wonders for our perspective
  • It all looks a little better in the daylight
  • Psalm 30:5b NKJV says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here’s the original “Who’s the Genius?” post:

Tonight the Haywood’s played a little game called “Who’s the Genius?”

When our paths finally converged this afternoon, Jeff and I met at a building where he needed to do an electrical job after the business closed. When he was finished, we planned to do some Christmas shopping for three little girls who have wrapped themselves firmly around our hearts.

As we walked out to leave, Jeff said, “Follow me.” Sure. That sounded simple enough. The parking area behind the building was like a dirt bowling alley – long and very skinny. We had to drive all the way to the far end, turn around, then head back out the way that we had come in. I didn’t quite understand the logic of that, but Jeff said to follow. So I followed. When he reached the back of the lot and made his turn, it occurred to me that my car needs considerably less space to corner than his truck. I went ahead and made my left turn – right into a giant mud pit. I never saw the gaping expanse until the moment I sank into it. I quickly noticed that I was indeed not the first to slide into its soggy depths. This was no consolation. The hole was about a foot deep, black mud was up to my bumper, and I just so happened to be wearing the single most expensive pair of shoes I own. Face palm. Actually several face palms.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to laugh.

Completely unfazed, Jeff went straight to work. He removed a tiny circle from my front bumper (which I never even knew was there), attached a short bar from the jack, then stretched out the chain that he ever so conveniently had in his truck. With a brilliant rooster tail of black mud, he pulled me right out. Christmas (shopping) was saved!

Some observations:

  1. My husband is an amazing man in both attitude and abilities.
  2. The car extraction plan my brain feverishly conjured up would surely have ripped the bumper right off the car. And I’d probably still be stuck.
  3. I am convinced that southern men with pickup trucks secretly long for the day when they can pull out a big ole chain or a set of jumper cables and rescue people like me who accidentally do stupid things at inopportune times.
  4. Sometimes when you are given directions it is sufficient to follow the general spirit of the instructions. Other times it is imperative to observe the full letter of the law.

 

When The Going Gets Tough

When the going gets tough, the tough go tromping through mud and wet grass for a three-mile run. It was a great plan. I’ve been in such a purple funk lately, fighting my way back to solid ground after letting the circumstances of life toss me about. Over the last few years, running has been both my physical fitness activity of choice and my emotional release from the stresses of life. It was the obvious choice.

I had determined that this summer would be the time I got my running game back on track. Or at least on treadmill. And wouldn’t ya know it, we have experienced one of the rainiest summers in recent memory. On any given day, once I got finished with work or whatever else needed doing that day, the monsoon had begun. I do own a treadmill. It is totally accessible. I just hate using it. So, most days, I don’t.

This particular day was surprisingly sunny, though not surprisingly, humid. I suited up in a cute runner girl ensemble and headed out the front door for a run around our property. To say that I went for a run is, I must admit, a liberal use of the term, but I was running at some points, so you will have to give me the benefit of the doubt here. Truth be told, our land has never been pane-of-glass smooth, but after a visit from Hurricane Matthew last year, it was even less so. Running in the grassy sections would be unwise because there could be a hole there and I would never know it until I found air instead of solid ground beneath my feet. So mostly I was doing some brisk power walking through two sides of the rectangular area and running when I hit the road and my driveway. It was a great plan. Until it wasn’t.

In my closet there are any number of running shoes, various types for various purposes. I wore my old favorites because they are comfortable, and I wasn’t too worried about getting them all muddy. It seemed like a logical choice at the time. I was about halfway through my distance goal of three miles. There were about five running strides left before I shifted back to power walking. Without warning, I did a face plant. I’m not even sure what I managed to trip over, but in a movie-like slow-motion sequence, I watched the muddy ground get closer as my left ankle twist painfully and awkwardly to one side. The ridiculous thought that raced through my mind at the moment I bounced off the terra firma was, “Woman! You have trail shoes in your closet!”

In one slightly less than fluid motion, I picked myself up and scraped the worst of the mud off my legs. The ankle was none too happy but could support weight, so I took a step, then another, and decided to press on with the run. After one slow and steady lap, I felt confident that there was no damage and returned to the running segments. While I was chugging along, I remembered a time when I’d had a much more serious fall while running down a street in near-total darkness. With the help of my friends, I hopped up, ignored the blood, and kept on running. Recalling that incident gave me the courage to not wimp out this time. If I bounced back from a tough run once, I could surely do it again.

That made me think about King David. Long before he assumed the title of king, David was the runt-of-the-litter little brother who was left behind to take care of the sheep while his older brothers, by all accounts burly and impressive young men, who were off having exciting exploits as members of Israel’s army. Only things weren’t going so well for them. David showed up and offered his assistance. When the brawny brothers pointed out that David was indeed a runt, he remembered times in the past when he’d faced tough situations and how the God of Israel had strengthened him. He said, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” (2 Sam 17:37). You might say that David had a giant problem. This is quite literally true because David was about to face off with a giant, not in a figurative sense, but in the original, honest-to-goodness, for real and for true giant named Goliath who was nine feet tall and not at all a nice person.

In that moment, David recalled the way he had faced challenging situations before and triumphed. He knew that his God provided the strength necessary. He didn’t cower in fear and run for cover. He didn’t complain about how he’d been in much better shape when he faced the lion, or that the conditions had been better on that day. But what he did do was remember a success from the past, which in turn gave him the courage to face the giant on this day.

Now I don’t claim to be a David, and getting up after a small stumble may not be that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. But perhaps there are some lessons we can learn here.

  • Remembering the trials we have overcome in the past can give us courage to face different, but equally challenging, difficulties in our present.
  • We often need to think of our circumstances differently. In a crisis situation, it is easy for molehills to become mountains in our minds. Taking a step back and calming down can do wonders for our perspective. When we are calm we simply make better decisions.
  • Sometimes we just have to develop the best plan we can and go for it. I’m sure David’s sling and rock attack didn’t look like an especially wise military maneuver to anyone else. But he trusted his God and slung that rock. The results speak for themselves.
  • My Faith not in my Strength – that comes and goes – but my Strength is in my Faith. More specifically, my Strength is in the One who is the source of my Faith.

Psalm 121:1-2, written by David, this same shepherd boy turned mighty warrior, says, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (NIV)

When the going gets tough, the tough call on Jesus.

Finding a New Normal

I ran today. Well, perhaps that is an overly ambitious use of the verb. I completed three miles today, perhaps a third of which might be considered running. After bringing home a doozy of an upper respiratory infection from Poland, this was my first exercise in almost a month. I honestly did not Want to go running today, but I felt like I Ought to.There was a raging debate when I first woke up. The smart thing to do would have been to put on my shoes and go, but I paused for a split second. This was ample time for the voice of laziness and complacency inside my head to make a fairly solid case for the extreme comfort of my cozy covers. Still, somehow sound reasoning determined not only that I Should get up and go, but that I Would. 

The last couple years have brought a great many changes in my life, some of which I intentionally chose, others, not so much. Some heartbreaking and some truly amazing things have occurred. Through it all though, I’ve felt myself struggling, flailing through life. My two essential foundations – Jesus and Jeff – remained rock solid, but nothing else seemed to quite make any sense. And, I’ve gotta tell ya, Type A people don’t like it when things don’t make sense.  

My new boss is a genuinely fantastic woman with an uncanny ability to “read” people. She suggested I check out the book “Who Moved My Cheese.” If you have not already done so, invest about an hour of your life with this tiny, incredible book. It’s an analogy for business, and for life, told as a modern parable about four mice in a maze searching for cheese. It is neither fancy nor complicated, but it helped so many things suddenly make sense. 

I’ve known all along that I needed to find my new Normal. But try as I might, I simply have not been able to. This has been the source of MUCH frustration, which my family has endured like champs because they love me and know that sometimes I just have to wrestle my way through things. Reading this little story helped me t see that I’ve been trying to make completely new circumstances fit into my old way of doing things, to make the new Normal fit into the same mold as the older one. This is a sure-fire recipe for failure and frustration, and man alive, that’s where I’ve been. 

I used to run almost every single day, raced at least once a month, and consistently placed at the top of my age group. I used to be a pretty doggone good teacher, confident and poised, and ready to bring out the best in my students. Those were great times, enjoyable seasons of life. Today things are different, therefore my approach must also be different. New circumstances require a new ways of thinking.  

So today I went rambling around the pond. It was later in the day, and quite warm, but what a beautiful backdrop! The sun was shining, the squirrels and ducks were each amusing in their own way, and there were other families out enjoying the day. My mind contemplated these things while Daughtery and Def Leppard fueled my feet. I ran and walked and breathed. Then, without warning, I felt my stride shift from awkward shuffle to the smoother glide of former days. Was I as fast as I used to be? Not even close. But, who cares? I don’t need a finisher’s medal to prove that I gave my best. I walked away slimy, completely spent, but absolutely satisfied. 

Seasons of life come and they go. Things change, and that’s more than okay; it’s actually quite exciting. My Should will eventually catch up with my Want To. It’s counterproductive – and impossible – to try to squeeze today into yesterday’s mold. There are too many wonderful things ahead to dwell in the past. Sure. It may still take some time for all the elements of my new Normal to ease into place. But they will. 

Chugging Along

It’s been just over a week since I made my bold declaration to quit moping around and start taking steps toward better health. This update is two-fold: to hold myself accountable; and to encourage others who may be struggling to make positive progress in some area of their lives, whatever it might be.

So far I’ve gone running three times in the past week. There would have been a fourth, but an impending thunderstorm interrupted that idea. In the end, it was a thunder sprinkle, but I am not so keen on the threat of a lightning strike. My eating habits were improved – not perfect, but considerably better than before. The clean- to processed- food ratio inverted itself, and there were fresh, crunchy vegetables at almost every meal. To further add to the encouragement of these small improvements, I’m down a pound or two from this same time last week. That’s not exactly monumental, but still a nice place to start.

As far as the actual running goes, I still have quite a bit of room for improvement. My legs know what to do, but my lungs haven’t completely gotten with the program yet. As I have been shuffling along and trying not to literally gasp for air (I sometimes giggle about what other runners on the trail must think I sound like!), slowly, oh so slowly, I am noticing improvements. Serious runners keep track of their split times, which means how long each individual mile takes over the course of a longer run. While I am still too embarrassed to state outright what my splits have been this week, I will say that today’s outing was 20 seconds per mile faster than the one a week ago. Afterwards, I felt sufficiently tired, but not inches from death. So, there’s that.

As I was wrapping up my last mile today, however, the best thing happened. OK, maybe not as great as being given a private resort/writing sanctuary on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean…but it has definitely been the best part of this new health improvement journey. I noticed that I was THINKING like a RUNNER! Let that sink in for a second. I noticed I had a stride and not a shuffle. My arms were straight and pumping in rhythm with my foot-falls. My mind was calculating what to put in my run bag so I would be ready at a moment’s notice to come running next week. AND I was already mentally planning the next run: what day it could happen, skills to focus on, challenging myself to beat today’s time. Today I wasn’t thinking like a formerly fluffy, formerly thin, getting fluffy again girl just trying to counter the effects of too many Cheetos. I re-found that little something-something that used to drive me on, to set goals and annihilate them. I am a runner. I am a RUNNER! It’s still a tiny spark, but it’s there. Every good decision now is simply more fuel for the fire.