Thursday, July 31, 2014

One Thing That's Ruining My Life

To say that the next few weeks are going to be crazy is the biggest understatement I could make right now. I’m going to the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this weekend, which is going to be packed with all kinds of classes like ‘Creating Suspense: 13 Techniques for Making Your Readers Sweat’ and ‘Getting into the Act: Turn Your Readers into Your Marketers’. There’s even a class on advanced metadata! Whatever that is.

At the conference, I registered for a pitch slam — which is basically like speed dating for writers and agents. I’ll have 90 seconds to pitch my book, and the agent has 90 seconds to respond/give feedback. I was excited when I first signed up for the pitch slam, but now I’m just terrified because my novel is NOT where I thought it would be at this point.

The following weekend we’ll be going to the wedding of one of my best friends, Danielle. I’m the matron of honor (which makes me sound so old, doesn’t it?!) which is exciting and terrifying all at the same time.

The weekend after Danielle’s wedding, we are moving into our new apartment.

Then, we go to Lake Tahoe for another wedding.

Oh, and did I mention that we have a new puppy and I haven’t slept through the night for almost a week now?

Needless to say, I’m a little worried. And by ‘a little’, I mean, ‘A LOT’. I’m worried about the pitch slam, I’m worried about flying by myself, I’m worried about meeting new people, I’m worried about Danielle’s wedding and the bachelorette party and the MOH speech which has been written in my head while I lay in bed in an insomnia-driven stupor and I’m worried about the moving and the furniture and how it will fit in the house and the puppy and the…

You get the point.

But the worry is just ruining my life. And my sleep. So I’m determined to not be so worried, but that’s a lot easier than it sounds. Here’s what I’m doing to help with the worry and you guys will have to tell me what you do when you’re worried.

1. Pray. And then pray some more. And then, when that doesn’t work, I keep praying. I really believe prayer is a supernatural thing — every time I pray about something, I do feel better about it. For about five minutes. Then, I have to pray again.

2. Go for walks/exercise. Blowing off some steam outside or in the gym seems to make a big difference. It releases endorphins, serotonin and can even normalize sleep ( And, apparently exercise can help curb depression.

3. Talk with people I trust. I don’t think it’s a great idea to just dump all of my problems on my friends ALL of the time, but there’s definitely a time and a place for it. Like now. This week, as I’ve been sharing my worries with people, it’s genuinely helpful to: 
  1. Be listened to, and
  2. Hear people’s advice and anecdotes

I told my hairdresser about my wedding-planning woes and she told me a horrific story about a wedding she was in that made me feel a lot better about my situation. Sometimes, when we share with others what’s going on in our lives, it makes it seem more manageable than it is in our heads.

4. Try to relax. Emphasis on the try. For me, this means watching America’s Next Top Model (I’m not sure why this show has become my guilty pleasure, but I love it) and take a bath. I probably need to spend a little more time doing this.

What about you? What have you been worrying about lately and what are you doing to worry less?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Text Messages From Emily

In Loving Memory of Emily Aultman

I met Emily in Anatomy class, Spring 2013, 7:20am.

Her red hair was as bright as her personality; her smile, infectious. Despite the ungodly hour of the class, Emily was always cheerful. Throughout the semester, we built a friendship. We exchanged Anatomy notes, encouraged each other before tests and talked about our relationships with God. I’ll never forget when she surprised me with my favorite Starbucks coffee — a gesture that meant far more than just an early-morning caffeine jolt.

After the semester, Tyler and I moved away from Gainesville and I never saw Emily again, but she kept in touch with me. In the short time that I knew her, Emily was always giving to other people. Last summer, she text messaged me asking for prayers for some of her Young Life girls who were struggling in their relationships with God. It was evident in her texts that she cared deeply for these girls; she couldn’t help but pray for them and ask for me to pray for them.

Today, I found out that Emily passed away in a car accident. I was shocked and saddened by the fact that this beautiful soul will no longer reside on this earth. After I heard the news, I went through my phone to read her text messages to me and reminisced about this God-loving redhead. In reading our texts, I remembered that at the end of the semester, Emily had dropped the Anatomy course that we took together. I remembered that it was a time of frustration for her, and that she felt weighed down by her decision.

As I was praying about Emily this morning, I realized how little that Anatomy class matters now. Her soul is no longer earth-bound, the worries of this world mean very little to her now. I know with certainty that Emily, in her eternal state, will not think about that Anatomy class one bit. If anything, she is thinking about us — the people who knew her and love her. She truly had a heart for people and for God, and that is what matters in this life.

Emily will not be remembered by whether or not she passed a class. She will not be remembered for her major, or the fact that she went to the University of Florida. She will not be remembered by these “earthly” things. What she will be remembered by is her incredible love for people, her love for God and her vivacious spirit.

The last text that Emily sent to me, she expressed that she was mourning the loss of a friend that had passed away last year. She said:

 “I’m in a place trying to trust God and praying that I don’t continue to feel the need to know why or the purpose behind her death but that I’ll trust and believe that He does all things well, even in the midst of my hurting heart.” 

Her words ring so true today as I ask God these same questions, and struggle with the same things she struggled with only weeks ago. The encouraging part of all of this for me is that her struggle is over. I don’t know how eternity will work, but I’d like to believe that Emily is with God, and with her friend right now. I think that Emily would recognize that in this life we battle through losses and hardships, but if we are faithful to God, we will come out of it eternally strong.

When I think of Emily, I think of someone who struggled just like all of us do, yet she didn’t give in — she was courageous and spirited. She was an adventuress who trusted God. I hope that I can be that way. And I hope that I will be able to have an eternal perspective about this life — the Anatomy classes of the world will not matter in the long run, so why should I worry about it now?

I ask that all of you join me as I try to focus on the things that really matter in this life: God and the relationships he’s given me. In honor of Emily’s short yet poignant life, and the love that God has given me, I will throw off the worries of this world and live life to the fullest — because that is what we were made for. I hope that you will do the same.

Here’s to you, Emily.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why the Hard Things are Usually the Best Things

Some days, writing is easy. My fingers glide over the keyboard, the words flowing from my heart onto the page and I can just keep going for hours without taking a break.

Today is not one of those days.

Yesterday wasn’t either.

So, what gives? Did I suddenly lose my word-flowing power? Am I destined to be a literary failure? Am I really a writer, or is that a term that I use simply because I don’t know how else to label myself?

All of these thoughts were racing through my head when I saw this quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and I realized that this is exactly what needs to be happening right now. Sometimes, even your dream job has to be hard, or else, is it really worth it?

Most things that are truly rewarding are difficult to achieve. For example:

  • Relationships: usually, the best relationships are the ones that had the most work put into them. It’s easy to look at a healthy marriage from a distance and think that they have it all together and it’s just-so-beautiful, but usually those people with the healthiest marriages have battled through their fair share of ugliness to get to the beauty that we’re admiring now. 
  • Working out: There are rare days when it’s fun to work out. But for the most part, it’s painful. Being healthy, exercising, eating right, etc. can be mentally, emotionally and physically draining. But the results are ALWAYS worth it. And usually, it becomes easier the longer you're committed to the training.
  • School: One of the hardest classes in my entire academic career was Russian. I had to study every single day, sometimes for hours a day, for it to be meaningful at all. But, I LOVED it. The most challenging subjects are usually the ones that are the most gratifying in the end.

I think these same principles apply to most aspects of life, and hopefully they will apply to my book. I’m going to be honest with you guys: I’m tired. I want this book to be done. Yet here I am, doing a total re-write of the book I JUST FINISHED because this is important to me and I want it to be the very best that it can possibly be.

So, right now it’s really hard. But I’m hoping that at some point, it will get easy. And, even if it doesn’t, something tells me that the end result will be satisfying.

Are you going through anything right now that is proving to be more difficult than you thought? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

I'll leave you guys with one last quote from Goethe:

Monday, June 30, 2014

Why My Brother Should Be Dead

Most of you know that for the past 10 days, I've been in the "residency" portion of my MFA degree. While in workshop one day, one of the exercises we had to do was to free-write a story that began with the line: "This is a true story." So I wanted to share this one with you guys (and it is, in fact, a true story!)

This is a true story. We were living in this old brick house with creaking wooden floors in Hialeah. My mom was showing the house to a couple that was interested in buying it. When she came to my brothers’ room, she noticed that the window was open and two little hands, white-knuckled, were gripping the bottom of the window frame. She, of course, screamed and rushed to the window to find my blonde-haired brother beaming up at her, his body dangling on the outside of the red brick house. 

This should not have surprised her. Just before our house went up for sale, we had a permanent fixture at the bottom of our staircase: a queen-sized mattress. The sole purpose of this mattress was to catch my brother whenever he went flying off of the banister of our expansive wooden staircase. The antique chandelier that overlooked the first floor had several crystals and light bulbs missing from the times that Daniel jumped off of the staircase with an umbrella, perhaps in an attempt to fly like Mary Poppins or maybe he simply wanted to see if he could swing off of the chandelier. 

Prior to the mattress, my parents had tried putting up one of those child safety gates at the bottom of the staircase to prevent access. When that didn’t work, they put a net on the outside of the staircase to try to keep him from going through the slots in the banister. A week after the safety gate and the net were in place, my mother found Daniel laying unconscious on the first floor of our house, his blue gray eyes staring up at her. She, of course, screamed and rushed to his side, but after approximately 30 seconds, he jumped up with a grin on his face and ran back to the staircase. After this incident, she scrapped the safety gate and the net and put a mattress down as a last effort to try to keep him alive. This sort of thing became the norm in our house. 

When we moved to our new house in Broward, my parents bought us a large trampoline with a bright orange safety net around it. My dad would pull the trampoline over to the large oak tree in our yard and Daniel would climb to the highest limb, balancing precariously as the branch swayed beneath him. He would then jump from the tree onto the waiting trampoline, which bounced him almost as high as the safety net that surrounded the trampoline. Safety nets were not particularly effective in our household. 

Daniel on the slopes of Steamboat Springs, CO
One time, on vacation in my grandfather’s condo in the Keys, a concerned neighbor pounded on our door to tell us that Daniel was skateboarding off of the top of the two-story parking garage. My mom, of course, ran out of the condo — not to stop my brother, but to record him.

The first question that my professor asked when I finished reading the piece was, "Is your brother still alive??" I'm very happy to say that Daniel is, in fact, still alive. And I hope he stays that way for a very long time.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

What Does "Lights Out" Mean for Me?

All morning, I’ve been struggling with this question: what’s the literary equivalent of an athlete playing “lights out”? (For those who don’t know what “lights out” means, please Google ‘Kawhi Leonard, Heat v. Spurs game 3’.)

As some of you might know, I penned (or, rather, typed) the final pages of the first draft of my novel this last week (hurrah!) Probably for the rest of my life, I’ll be editing and rewriting said novel. Or at least, that’s how it feels.

But, the fact that I have a first draft gets me thinking about the next stage of this beautiful and horrific process. In order to get published by a traditional publisher (that’s the dream), I’ll need to find an agent. Apparently, that’s the hard part. So this summer is going to be spent going to workshops and conferences, networking with people and doing my “lights out” best to find an agent and get published.

This weekend, I’ll be at the Southeastern Writer’s Workshop in St. Simon Island, GA. It’s a small setting, which will hopefully be great for me to meet people and network.

The following week, I’ll be in the June Residency for my Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Tampa. It’s a 10-day intensive program where we’re basically eating, drinking and regurgitating all things book-related.

In early August, I’ll be going to the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC and will be participating in a “Pitch Slam”, which is like speed-dating for writers and agents. They put you in a room with 50 agents and you have 90 seconds to pitch your book to any agent in the room. The agent will then have 90 seconds to respond to you, and potentially request a manuscript from you, and then you move on to the next agent. It’s a great opportunity to meet agents, get feedback, and maybe, hopefully, prayerfully, God-willing….find an agent. It’s a long shot (please see this article), but a girl can hope, right?

To play "lights out" means to leave everything on the court, to hold nothing back, and to do your absolute best. So, here's what I've decided to do this summer in order to be the "lights out" writer/connector/networker that I want to be:

1. I can't be afraid to take risks

I read an article recently that encouraged writers to take risks every day. With this in mind, I'm choosing to "leave everything on the court" with my writing, every single day. I am fighting to stay true to myself as a writer and to be vulnerable in every aspect of my writing. I know I won't ever fulfill this perfectly, but I sure am trying.

2. I can’t be afraid to talk to people and ask questions

According to an article I read this week from Fast Company, 70% of people claim that they’re shy. So, that means that pretty much everyone around me is also afraid to talk to people. So at these conferences, hopefully it’ll be a relief when I speak up (regardless of how awkwardly I do it)!

Also, if you’ve ever taught a class before and had a Q&A session afterward, you know how terrifying it is to stand up there and wait for someone, anyone (pretty please) to raise their hand and ask a question. Any question. Doesn’t matter if you don’t even know the answer or if it wasn’t even related to what you were talking about. So I’m making it my goal to craft a question for the speaker/lecturer for every single class that I attend this summer.

3. I HAVE to talk about my book

So, a few years ago I decided that I was going to learn Russian. I took a class at UF and LOVED it. And, I was actually quite good. However, I refused to speak to native speakers in Russian simply because I was embarrassed and afraid. Needless to say, I didn’t grow that much as a Russian speaker.

In some ways, I can feel similarly with my book. It’s vulnerable to talk about something that is so dear to me, and I’m so afraid of someone scoffing or mocking me or simply thinking not-so-good thoughts about me, that I don’t talk about it.

I’m grateful for my wonderful husband, who ALWAYS brings up my book to people and practically forces me to tell others about it. But now I need to be able to do that on my own. Confidently. With poise. And clarity.

We’ll see how it goes.

4. No matter what, I have to keep hoping, praying and persevering

Let’s say I get through this summer, and the stars did not align, and I didn’t find an agent (which, again, is very likely), I am resolving now that I will not give up. Please remind me of this fact later on.

As I continue in my journey, your prayers and supplications are requested and much needed. Thank you in advance! :)

How about you? Have you set any goals for yourself for this summer? Feel free to share in the comments :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

4 Reasons Why I'm Obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars

(And Why You Should Be Too)

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the book-turned-movie phenomenon The Fault in Our Stars. I read the book a few weeks ago and saw the movie on opening night with my sister-in-law, Amanda. I’m not normally a “fangirl”, but I gotta tell you guys, I’m obsessed. And here’s why:

1. John Green

The only reason I even picked up this book is because I saw a YouTube video of John Green when he was on his way to TIME Magazine’s dinner to honor the “Top 100 Most Influential People” (of which he was named one of them). In the video, Green is downright hilarious (almost without meaning to be) while also portraying a humility that I don’t think is contrived. He is witty, fast-talking and the kind of person you want to be friends with. As soon as I saw this video, I knew I needed to read TFIOS.

2. It’s a book about teenagers who are dying and yet, somehow, it’s hilarious

I’m not really sure how Green pulled that off, but I was very literally laughing the entire first half of the book (and then, alternately, crying the second half…but we’ll get to that). The witty yet raw inner-workings of Hazel Grace Lancaster connected me to the character almost immediately.

Perhaps the funniest (and yet somehow poignant) scene is when Hazel is discussing her support group that her parents force her to go to. Here’s an excerpt:

To be fair to Patrick (the moderator of the group), he let us talk about dying, too. But most of them weren’t dying. Most would live into adulthood, as Patrick had.

(Which meant there was quite a lot of competitiveness about it, with everybody wanting to beat not only cancer itself, but also the other people in the room. Like, I realize this is irrational, but when they tell you that you have, say, a 20 percent chance of living five years, the math kicks in and you figure that’s one in five…so you look around and think, as any healthy person would: I gotta outlast four of these bastards.)

The fact that Hazel/Green is voicing this almost-absurd idea (emphasis on almost) that it’s a “competition” to outlast the other cancer kids is simultaneously heartbreaking and also, at the chance of sounding callous, pretty funny. And that’s how Green approaches the whole thing: he tells the truth, doesn’t sugar coat it and adds in a healthy dose of wit and humor so that you don’t just curl up into a ball and cry your eyes out the whole time.

3. It’s real

Like I said before, Green doesn’t sugar coat anything. He’s straight-forward and raw, which is refreshing. This isn’t a feel-good book about overcoming obstacles or miraculous hearings. This is a book about two teenagers with life-ending diseases who fall in love — it’s not sentimental, it’s not overly romantic, and (spoiler alert) it doesn’t have this spectacular happily-ever-after ending. But the authenticity of it all draws you in and wins you over.

This book also connected me to a world that I have not been in before and gave me a small vision of what it would be like to live with cancer. After Green’s honest examination of Hazel’s life and love, I feel like I’m able to empathize a little more with people who have life-ending diseases. And any book that can open up your world and broaden your horizons is a good one.

The fact that it’s all so real also connects you to the characters, which makes it so incredibly heart-rending as the story proceeds. You feel their struggle, their small triumphs, their grief and their hope. This isn’t an “extraordinary” story, nothing supernatural happens, there are no epic gunfights and no one changes the world. And yet, somehow it is still extraordinary, supernatural and even epic.

4. John Green

He’s brilliant.

In one of his videos, Green remarks about the first screening of TFIOS and how during the last 15 minutes, he got to sit in the back of the theatre. He said:

So, dear friends, if you are going to watch the movie or read the book, bring tissues.

That’s all.

Have you read TFIOS yet or watched the movie? What did you think?

Other articles you might enjoy:

Even After Death: Wedding Day Recollections 

Why I Don't Want You to Read My Book

3 Reasons Why Disney's "Frozen" Resonates with Us

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Does the End Justify the Means?

I just reached the 60,000 word mark on my book (61,975 to be exact)!! I’m currently writing the ending of my book and there are a few things that I’ve been thinking about a lot and would love for you to weigh in on them.

The first is the definition of freedom. I’ve been contemplating what “freedom” means to different people (in a political sense). For one political group, freedom/liberty might mean the ability to do whatever you want within a set of moral principles. For another group, this same freedom might mean the eradication of ownership. Another group might think that freedom is the lack of government.

What does freedom mean to you? Is anarchy somehow synonymous with freedom? Or should freedom have some sort of boundaries (or is that oxymoronic?!)?

The second is this: does the end justify the means? In some of my research I stumbled across this quote from Leon Trotsky:

“The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end.” - Their Morals and Ours

But this got me thinking…is there ever a good reason to kill? Do soldiers have the “right” to kill because that is their job or because someone poses a threat? If your family is in danger, and you kill someone to defend them, does the end (your family’s safety) justify the means (you killing someone)?

I’m forming my own opinions about these things but am interested in what other people think about these issues. Feel free to share in the comments.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Even After Death: Wedding Day Recollections

AKA: All the Things That Went Wrong... And the One Thing That Was Right

The day was actually kind of a blur.

I had a terrible migraine and no amount of medicine from my mom or well-wishes from my bridesmaids would make it go away. The weather was true to Florida: hot and humid, with the obligatory thunder storm in the afternoon. I waited in the back room of the church, surrounded by bright colors and bubble-lettered proverbs, a hand-held fan pointed at me. Naturally, my hair got wrapped around the blades of the fan and had to be cut only moments before my traverse down the aisle. Someone brought me a tropical drink from the reception punch bowl, which had, in a freak wedding mishap, turned green, instead of the tropical-yellow it was supposed to be.

My wonderful friends cutting my hair before I went down the aisle

Eventually, it was time to go down the aisle — at which point I went down too early, and walked far too quickly to be justified as a "wedding march", to a butchered song by a string quintet I couldn't hear anyway. Apparently, according to my dad, I was hyperventilating, but I have no such recollection.

I do recall, however, that the moment I saw him, my migraine went away.

We stood facing each other, holding hands. We ignored the words spoken to us (a fact that is quite evident as I watch our wedding video — our mouths are moving in constant chatter, not with our minister, but with each other). My stomach growled and my feet hurt as I told him that a distant mutual friend got engaged that morning (an occurrence that I just had to share with him at that moment when we were pledging our lives to each other). My worst fear and greatest delight came true: his vows were "better" than mine, if you can say such a thing. He refused, quite elegantly, to utter the requisite phrase, "till death do us part", not as some do nowadays to avoid an indissoluble situation, but because this lifetime would never be enough for him, a sentiment that adorns the ring that he gave me on that day: even after death.

Even after death. A phrase envisaged by a devoted twenty-year-old and a prayer prayed for over a decade now.

Even after death. A precarious wish surrendered time and again to our Creator. I find myself telling Him that I wouldn't be so afraid of the afterlife if I could face it with him.

But I digress.

The remainder of the day can be recalled, not by the truest of memories, but by piecing together regurgitated facts and recorded moments. Three cakes were cut, a bouquet was tossed, dances were danced and toasts were made. I changed out of my dress in the bathroom of the banquet hall — my grandmother's Oscar de la Renta earrings (my "something borrowed") were permanently borrowed by one of our wedding guests. I have my suspicions as to who that light-fingered guest might be, but I'm not a Mr. Holmes and I have never recovered those pearl earrings. My getaway dress was yellow, and had been tailored within an inch of my breath. Surrounded by our well-wishers with sparkling wands, we raced to our car — my grandfather’s Mercedes Benz that we often joked looked like the Bat Mobile (except that his cars are perpetually white. When my family's also-white cars adjoin with his for dinner, it looks like an achromatic car convention).

And then, we were alone.

We had been alone before, of course, but never like this. Not with the express intention of not being seen by anyone we knew for more than a few hours. I'd like to say that once those doors closed and we were off, I was confident and self-assured, but I wasn't.

He assuaged my fears and insecurities in a way that only he could. And he's been doing the same ever since.

Oftentimes, in the beginning of our marriage, I would ask him: “Do you love me?" And he would say, “Of course. I married you," in a matter-of-fact, how-could-you-even-doubt, kind of way. And maybe it's not enough to remind someone that you married them — so much happens after the wedding. And, to some people, being married and being in love can be mutually exclusive events. But to him, that is irrelevant. There is no alternative for him, or for me.

Our wedding day was not perfect, and our marriage is a reflection of that: imperfectly perfect. Over the course of our thirteen-year relationship, this man has become, and always will be, my best friend. Not in the cliche way that preteen girls proclaim when they have BFF bracelets that are broken or forgotten mere weeks later. Or in the sadly reminiscent way that a parent talks about their college roommate. No, Tyler is my best friend in the sense that I want to do anything and everything with him —  and with him alone — as long as there is breath in my body and life in my heart, and, if our Maker would grant us our request, even after death.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

To Curse or Not to Curse?

Yesterday, I read an article written by a pastor in South Carolina who wrote a novel in which he included foul language (as he stated, “PG-13 language”). He was defending/supporting his position as to why he used that kind of language in his book. And it got me thinking…to curse or not to curse?

Stephen King says, “You must tell the truth if your dialogue is to have...resonance and realism. If you substitute [profanity] because you’re thinking about the Legion of Decency, you are breaking the unspoken contract that exists between writer and reader — your promise to express the truth of how people act and talk through the medium of a made-up story.” (On Writing, p. 186)

I would say that a decent amount of writers feel this way — that if you’re using profanity, you’re telling the truth, because real people curse.

The main argument of the aforementioned pastor for using profanity, was that his character was a “fallen” character, which means that he would, realistically, use vulgar language.

After some thought, and a good phone conversation with my parents, here are some reasons why I have chosen to not use profanity in my book:

1. My writing is an extension of who I am.

These words that I write are part of me — I think about them, I mull over them, I go back and forth between synonyms, etc. So every word that is placed in my book is intentional. That would mean that I would have to be thinking about these words in order for me to write them. I don’t feel good about profanity being in my head, and I don’t feel good about those words being in my book — which is, essentially, an extension of myself.

As I was considering this topic, this passage in Ephesians 5 came to mind: 

"Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving."

My hope and prayer is that I can align myself with these principles and that people can see God through my writing, as I hope that they see God through my everyday life.

2. I wouldn’t want to speak curse words in a public reading

Pretty much every writer does public readings of his or her book(s). If I would ever have the privilege of doing a public reading of my own work, I can’t imagine saying foul words in front of my audience. Call me prude, call me whatever you want — but I wouldn’t feel comfortable. I can’t “own” those words.

3. I have a responsibility to my audience

Maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, but for the sake of the argument, I will continue. Every writing advice-giver will tell you that you CANNOT write a book solely for your audience — you will not be able to stay true to yourself. However, I do want to take my audience into account with certain aspects of my writing.

For example, my friend and mentor, LauriAnne Conkling, has said to me on multiple occasions that it’s refreshing when she is able to find a book that isn’t “raunchy” yet is still romantic. I want to be able to provide that for her, not because I feel forced or pressured, but because I want to read those types of books as well!

Toni Morrison has said:

“If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.”

This is the kind of writer I want to be, not just for myself but for other people who desire this same type of writer: one who is honest, yet doesn’t need to use vulgar language. One who is willing to discuss hard things, to get her hands dirty — but not like that.

Besides, if you’re going to put down my book because it doesn’t have any vulgar language in it, well... I’m not sure I want you reading my book, anyway. Ultimately, my real, true audience is God. And I want to write a book that he would be proud of.

What do you think about this? How do you feel about the use of profanity in writing (or in other art forms)? Are there writers that you read who do not include profanity in their writing?

Note: There are a few notable women writers of recent YA novels that have stuck to their guns and not included profanity in their books. I respect and admire these women: Veronica Roth, writer of Divergent, Suzanne Collins who wrote The Hunger Games and Stephenie Meyer, of Twilight fame.

Other articles you might enjoy:

Friday, May 16, 2014

How It Feels to Kill Someone

And Other Crazy Things You Might Google if You're Writing a Book 


The other day, I was writing a scene where one of my main characters just killed someone (defending his family) and I was trying to write about what he felt after realizing that he had taken another person's life (for an excerpt of this scene, click here).

Here's the thing: I've never killed anyone before, so how can I write about how it feels to kill someone? So what did I do? I looked around and made sure no one at Starbucks was staring at me...and then I Googled "How it feels to kill someone". It was informative and helpful in my writing, but also kind of...weird. Aside from being afraid I might end up on some FBI's list of people to watch, it was just strange to type that phrase into my search engine. But it got me thinking about what kinds of strange things we search for on the Internet! I compiled a short list of bizarre or funny things I've had to look up in this writing process:

-How to stab someone (which turned into: Using a knife to defend yourself)
- Parts of a rocking chair
- Code names for spies
-What happens if wheat is not harvested on time
- Replacement for 'no skin off my back'
-How to make dynamite
- The psychology of death
- Songs that make you feel sad
- Letters/telegrams from war
- Spit up rag babies (I couldn't think of what a burp cloth was called!)
- How to throw a knife
- Horse-drawn combine
- Tomato season
- How to start a fire
- Funny Southern sayings
- Parts of a knife
- Other names for 'dad'
- How long will it take an adult to learn to read
-Military sleep deprivation
-Railroads Alabama 1940

I'm sure there will be much more outlandish Googling in my future... What's the strangest thing that you've ever looked up online? Feel free to share in the comments.

P.S. - for one of the more interesting articles I found on "How it feels to kill someone", click here.

Book Update:

I have officially exceeded the 50,000 word mark! :) The month of June will be a big month for me, I have a workshop that I'm attending in Georgia and I entered my manuscript into a novel-writing contest at that workshop. So, if you think of it, you can say a prayer for me about that one :) I also have a 10-day seminar/workshop for my Masters program at the end of June, which I'm really looking forward to. My mentor for this semester will be Kevin Moffett! As always, I appreciate so much your prayers and support.

<--- 3 Things I Learned                                                                   How It Feels to Kill --->
        From My Mother                                                                    Someone: An Excerpt

Sunday, May 11, 2014

3 Things I Learned From my Mother

There’s about a million and a half things I’ve learned from my oh-so-amazing mother. For the sake of time (and everyone’s sanity), I was able to, miraculously, narrow it down to three things I’m really grateful she taught me:

1. Number My Priorities

It was my junior year of high school and I was overwhelmed to the point of tears — my head cradled in my arms on the kitchen table, paralyzed by the amount of work that I had to do for school. My mom sat next to me, with her pen and paper and said, “What do you need to get done?” We sat there, her writing down everything I needed to accomplish, and then together we numbered each item in order of its priority:

    1. Ride my horse (this was usually a priority in the Stearns Family!)
    2. AP Euro paper rough draft
    3. Stats homework
    4. And so on…

This may seem like a really simple thing, but I have continued to use this method for overcoming any feeling of paralysis that might come on due to a long to-do list. I number the things most important to me, and I get those things done in order. If I don’t have time in a day to accomplish all of them, I move on to the next day. And renumber.

2. The Power of Prayer

My brothers will confirm that one of the most consistent sights of our childhood was my mother having her morning Bible study and prayer time. Every day, she would sit at the kitchen table, sipping her coffee, with her rather fat Thompson Chain Reference Bible open in front of her. Our late cat, Perry, found that the opened Bible was her favorite place to sit, and her and my mom would play this game: mom would push her off, Perry would find a way back on.

I remember my mom teaching me how to pray when I was about 7 years old. I came up to her one morning, and she offered me a spot on her lap. She showed me her very-detailed prayer list and revealed to me her “prayer secret”: A.C.T.S.

A: Adoration
C: Confession
T: Thanksgiving
S: Supplication

Every morning, my mom would spend time pouring out her adoration to God, confessing her shortcomings before him, thanking him for everything he’d given her and then appealing to God for her friends and family. Now, if that doesn’t bring you closer to God, I don’t know what will.

Whenever I have something “big” going on in my life, I always tell my mom. For starters, I do this because I love my mom and I want her to know what’s going on in my life. But I also know that when my mom says she’ll pray for me, she's really going to pray for me. And something tells me that she’s got God’s ear.

3. Strong is the New Skinny

My brother, Joey, was in second grade when his teacher remarked on how toned my mom’s arms are, and that she wished her arms looked like that! For some reason, this memory has always stuck with me. My mom is a slender woman, but she is strong. You don’t get to be as good of an equestrian as she is just by being skinny.

When I think of what I want to look like, I don’t think: “skinny”, I think: “strong”. A big reason for this is because of my mother: she never emphasized wearing makeup or having the nicest clothes and she was the first to have a cinnamon roll on horse show weekends but, above all of those things, my mom is a strong, capable woman who is beautiful inside and out. I hope that when people look at me, they see her strength living inside of me.

My beautiful (and strong!) mother on her trusted stead, Patrick

What’s something your mom taught you that you’re thankful for? Share in the comments (or, better yet, share with your mother!)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Keep on Dreaming (Even if it Breaks Your Heart)

Way back on the radio dial
A fire got lit inside a bright-eyed child
Every note just wrapped around his soul
From steel guitars to Memphis all the way to rock-n-roll

Did you ever have that moment like the lyric in this song — a fire lit inside, every note wrapping around your soul?

From an early age, I fell in love with words. Not just in books, but everywhere. I was drawn to country music since before I can remember, not just because of the sound, but because country music is all about telling a story. And I’m a sucker for a good story. I was stirred by Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing” and laughed at Lee Ann Womack’s “I’ll Think of a Reason Later”.

One of the first books I read as a kid on my own brought me into an enchanted place: Black Beauty. I read it under the covers, in the back of the car, and brought it to school with me. I remember the magic that took place on mere pieces of paper, the longing that welled in a seven-year-old’s soul. I was transported to a world that I wanted to be a part of.

I think we all have had moments like this in our childhood, or even as adults: the thrill of your first touchdown, the excitement of successfully organizing an event, the way the notes wrapped around your soul as you learned to play the guitar, the victory of conquering your first calculus problem or the way that all of those horrific science terms just made sense to you.

Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart
Some dreams stay with you forever,
Drag you around but bring you back to where you were.
Some dreams keep on getting  better,
Gotta keep believing if you wanna know for sure.

This has become my mantra: keep on dreaming. Even if doors get slammed in your face or you have to go in a different direction, it’s important to always keep hope alive because God created us to do something uniquely suited for each of us.

What was it for you that “lit a fire” within you? And what inspires you to keep on dreaming?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Kill Your Darlings

A Rant About Abuse in the Catholic Church

I have a kind of peculiar habit of reading the news while doing yoga.

While in warrior II this weekend, I came across an article that bothered me. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. You can read the article here.

The article at first seemed positive: Pope Francis put together a pontifical commission for the “Protection of Minors” in the Catholic Church… AKA, how to keep children from getting sexually abused by priests. The aim of the commission is to “look at programmes to educate pastoral workers in signs of abuse, identify means of psychological testing and other ways of screening candidates for the priesthood, and make recommendations regarding Church officials’ cooperation with civil authorities on reporting suspected abuse.”

While it seems like a step in the right direction, the overwhelming feeling that I had was this: if you’re having to mandate so heavily because of such egregious failures, here’s a news flash: your system is broken.

For decades, we have known that children were being abused by Catholic priests. And the answer is…(YEARS LATER)…to put together a group of smart people to talk about the problem? It just doesn’t seem to fit.

The even more infuriating article that I read about this situation was one in which the Catholic Church refused to agree with the UN that what was happening between the priests and children was TORTURE and, to make matters even worse, they are pawning off the problem onto the priests’ countries of residence. If you don’t believe me, you can read more here:

I will say it again: this system is broken. And it’s going to take A LOT more than a pontifical commission to fix it.

There’s a phrase in the literary world that I feel somehow applies here: kill your darlings.

Essentially, this means if it’s not good, let it go, regardless of how “dear” it is to you. This needs to happen in the Catholic Church — a massive upheaval where they return to scriptural principles rather than man-made ones. But that’s a conversation for another day.

The more personal point that I want to make here is this: unless we are willing to look ourselves in the mirror and see our faults and failings, we cannot make any significant change. As a writer, I have to be willing to “kill” my darlings in my novels, but I need to be willing to do this even more so on a personal level. If we’re going to make a difference in this world, I believe we have to be willing to be honest about what needs to change in our lives, our families, our communities and then do whatever we need to do to cut out the bad (AKA, kill your darlings) and then bring in the good.

I know this is a departure from what I normally write about, but (as I’m sure you can tell) this was on my heart.

What’s one area in your life where you need to “kill your darlings”? Feel free to share in the comments :)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Some Disheartening Facts Re:Publishing (Warning: Not for the Faint of Heart)

As you all know, one of the reasons why I’m writing this blog is to involve you guys in my writing journey. So, here’s the latest, as well as some oh-so-interesting publishing facts…

This week, I reached the 40,000 word mark on my book (41,493 to be exact). According to Amazon, the median novel length is about 64,000. So, I’m presumably a little more than halfway done writing (the first draft of) my book! As I’m writing, I’m also researching what it takes to be published. It’s a long process, but here’s the P.S.-long-story-short version:

- Once you finish a book (I mean really finish it, I.e. It’s free of grammatical errors, all the plot lines are tied up nicely, etc.) you begin to query agents for representation. For the most part, you cannot send your manuscript to a large publishing company without representation. (If you do, it ends up in the “slush pile”, and may or may not get read by anyone.)

- To query an agent, you send them a one-page letter that introduces you and your book. Every agent is looking for something different — one agent may not accept young adult novels, while another is looking specifically for non-fiction or another represents only sci-fi writers.

- If an agent is interested in reading your work, he/she might request a partial manuscript (usually the first 50-100 pages) and/or a full manuscript.

- If the agent likes your manuscript, they may offer to represent you, which means that they will send your manuscript to editors at publishing houses (so it won’t end up in the slush pile! Yay!)

The more I’ve read up on this process, the more I realize how grueling and disheartening it is. Here’s one literary agent’s stats from 2010:

36,000 query letters received (that’s 120 per day).

839 requests for partial manuscripts

98 requests for full manuscripts

28 book deals were made with this agency and they currently have 6 projects on submission

That means that a writer interested in this agent has a 0.27% chance of getting a full manuscript request and a 0.09% chance of getting represented by this agency. However, once a writer was represented by this agency, they had a 77% chance of getting published. BTW, this is not an agency in NYC. This agency is in Colorado (AKA, NOT the publishing capital of the world). This is pretty consistent with the other stats that I’ve read.

In the mean time, this is what I’m doing:

Courtesy of Writer's Market

So that’s the real deal. Prayers are requested and appreciated.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Why I Don't Want You to Read My Book

Today, one of my closest friends in the whole wide world asked to see some of what I’ve written. I was surprised (slightly) by my reaction: I didn’t want to let her.

That may sound really silly because, here I am, throwing caution to the wind and spending ALL of my time writing this book that will hopefully (please God I beg you…) be published one day and that STRANGERS will be able to read if they just pay a few bucks for it.

So why didn’t I want my dearest, darlingest friend — whom I will divulge all of my deepest, darkest secrets to — to read a few pages of my book?

Because it’s vulnerable.

I’m scared to let people read my work because it feels like I’m ripping out a chunk of my heart and handing it over to you. And I’m not even being overdramatic here (OK, maybe a little bit…)

But here’s the thing: what if she HATES it? And then she has to say something to me…right? Or else she has to lie about it. That’s awkward.

I’ve realized that I’m desperately afraid of failure. I’m afraid that my family, my friends, my peers will all think that I’ve failed if my book doesn’t get published or if it’s not a “success” (whatever that means!) Almost on a daily basis, I hear people telling me about how difficult it is to get published or how hard of an industry this is to break into, etcetera etcetera. My own insecurities, along with people’s doom-saying, combine to form (in my mind) a book-eating monster with my favorite characters dangling from its teeth.

So this is what, out of sheer necessity, I’ve decided: I’m not going to let my insecurities or the possibility of failure hold me back from doing something I’m passionate about. So what if it’s a hard industry to break into? I’ll just try harder.

More than failure, I fear that I will back away from my dreams because I’m not willing to be rejected. It’s just a reality that at some point, all of us will fall on our faces or someone will tell us that we’re not good enough. But hopefully that will push us to be better.

When I entered into my graduate writing program at the University of Tampa, I had never had my work critiqued by anyone aside from my closest family members (i.e., Tyler, mom and dad. That’s it.) Needless to say, I was pretty intimidated. To top it all off, my assigned mentor was born and raised in the former Soviet Union, which was the setting of my novel (at the time). When it came time for my workshop critique, I was (quite literally) shaking in my boots. And you know what happened? The worst. He picked apart every single little thing in my writing. What I had written was completely unrealistic and he didn’t hold back.

My UT MFA workshop group in January

At the end of his critique, he said, “You’ve got two options: you can become an expert in Soviet history and write this story from a completely accurate perspective OR you can create your own fictional world where you can write about the same themes and characters but you won’t have to stick to the historical facts.”

This might sound surprising, but I felt liberated. I had faced — and lived through — the worst possible scenario in my mind. (Alright, there was one situation I envisioned where he ripped up my manuscript and told me that it was disgraceful that I was permitted entrance to the program. But aside from that…)

This situation pushed me to be a better writer. And my hope and prayer is that whatever obstacles come up in my writing journey, that I will face them with determination and courage. I know that at some point I will “fail” in some way, shape or form. But I’m resolved to NOT fail in one way: I will not let the fear of failure keep me from pursuing my passion of writing.

What’s a fear that you have faced that you have either overcome or are still struggling to overcome? Feel free to share with me in the comments!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How to Get Out: A Story of "The Stalemate"

by Tyler Chacon

Chess is a great game. It is the ultimate strategy game where luck is virtually nonexistent. This is because in chess the player controls all the variables, unlike in games such as Monopoly or Risk. The latter games take a lot of skill, but there is still so much that is dependent on the roll of the dice. Or even worse there are games such as the card game “War” or Phase 10 that have absolutely no skill about them whatsoever and you might as well sit around with a group of people and draw numbers out of a hat and see who gets the highest one.  Because of the nature of chess, the superior chess player will win a match against a less skilled opponent almost every time, unlike in the aforementioned games where it would be possible for a 5-year-old to beat Albert Einstein.

 In chess the object of the game is take your opponent’s king. There is sometimes a point at the end of the game where your king is the only piece you have available to move and yet there is not a single space left that you can move it to without it being taken on the next turn, yet the space where the king currently resides is safe, it is unthreatened and could survive if it were allowed to remain. If this happens it is called a stalemate. Neither player wins; it is a tie. Even if the other player has all his/her pieces remaining, it is a tie.

Tying is better than losing, it hurts less. Obviously winning is considerably more ideal than either option but tying is the next best situation. Often times in life I think people are more content with tying than they are going for the win, and potentially risking a loss. This can happen in what we are calling “the stalemate”.

I know this place well because I have been here. Our generation is encountering an interesting problem that is more magnified than it has ever been before: too many choices. Ever been to a restaurant that has a menu over 10 pages long and hundreds of choices? If you are anything like me, you read every one of those choices and weigh the pros and cons like you’re deciding the fate of the world. How good will this taste? What kind of quantity are we talking here? How many calories are in this? And the list goes on forever. With a few exceptions, show me a restaurant with too many options and I’ll show you one that lacks identity, specializes in nothing — is medium at everything and is going nowhere. That is why places that specialize (think: Chick-fil-A or Chipotle) have dominated the market — they do one thing and they do it well. This conundrum is known as the Paradox of Choice. The idea that too many choices creates an environment of anxiety that leads to regret. You could argue that this paradox could be used to explain why the global divorce rate of arranged marriages is around 4% where as we all know the American divorce rate is around 50%. Something to think about.

About a year ago I wasn’t sure what or who I wanted to be. I looked at my interests and passions and pondered how I could be successful and eventually support a family. I considered multiple avenues: ministry, coaching, sports psychology, finance, law, the list goes on. In all honesty it was quite overwhelming. After a while it was much easier to just not think about the future and focus on daily things. Somewhere in the middle of this frozen-like state I received some great advice: just go after one option wholeheartedly and see if it fits. Don’t just stare from a distance — every failure will bring you closer to what you are meant to do. Keep doing things that are moving you forward. I decided to take this advice, get up and start going for the win instead of settling for the tie.

First thing I had to do was come to grips with the nagging guilt of the ministry. I love God. I love his church and helping people. I worked for a big campus ministry. I am a talented public speaker and my father is in the ministry. The cards were there to go in the ministry but something about it didn’t feel right. I felt like I was on the path to ministry because it seemed that that was what I should be doing. In my mind it was somehow a greater good to be in ministry. As if I would have a better chance of going to heaven or God would be “more” proud of me if I decided to be paid by the church for my profession. It took a lot of spiritual people to convince me out of my performance-oriented thinking. It took a lot of prayer and faith to realize that God’s love is not based on performance and he would not want me to be in the ministry because of guilt. Certainly being godly has nothing to do with receiving a paycheck from the contribution plate.

After being set free from my own mind I began to pursue other things. I enrolled in a graduate-level sports psychology class (even though some people at UF told me I wasn’t allowed to — I found others who said I could). I read the book chapter by chapter, got to know the professor and explored what I could do with a master’s in sports psychology. Turns out I really loved the material but the only jobs in the field seemed to be more academic in nature and the applied side (which I was more interested in) was limited. So I scratched the idea.

Tyler & Tiffany Chacon
I thought about being a lawyer...until I realized it was too much technical reading, which would make me pull my hair out before what will inevitably be my premature balding. I talked to people about coaching — they assured me I would move too much and die early of stress.

Finally I got an opportunity to intern at my mom’s financial services company. One of the partners, Guillermo, interviewed me. During the interview, I thought, what would I have to say to not be accepted as an intern into a firm that has 3 partners and one of them is my mom? Man I’d really have to blow it. Guillermo proceeded to ask me crazy interview questions like “How many footballs are currently in the air in America?” Apparently he just wanted to hear my thought process. Either that or realized he could just mess with me and there wasn’t much I could do about it.

As the months passed I read multiple books on economics that were assigned to me. I was eating them up. Maybe I have a knack for this? Could business be the route for me? I am an organized, logical thinker that can convince people of most things — maybe this is it. By the end of the internship I felt a renewed sense of ambition. I wanted to go into business.

I knew that I needed a broader understanding of the nuances of business so I decided to get a master’s in business administration. I began studying for the GRE. I had to relearn things like geometry and algebra, which I had purposely put into a place in my brain where I put things that I don’t plan on ever seeing again. After studying for a month or so I took the test and applied to the University of Tampa.

As it turns out, I was able to get a great recommendation letter from my sports psychology professor and was accepted into the program. I have been in the program for a year now and I love it. My public speaking, a skill I learned from working in the ministry and leading many Bible discussions, has led to great success in presenting group projects.  It is challenging but exciting. Just recently, I was able to secure the highest-paying internship offered at my university.
I say these things in no way to puff myself up but rather to inspire those caught in the stalemate, paralyzed by too many decisions. Instead of staying still, move forward. God will use the missteps and failures and carry you to a place you never expected.

I agree with the idea of following your passions and dreams but I believe in it with this caveat: Follow the dreams and passions that you are actually good at. I have a passion for football. I have played it my whole life, I am better at it than most people, I know it well. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m 5’10, white and have smaller hands than my wife. I’m simply not good enough to be a D1 athlete or a professional of any sort. I accept this and, while I will always play for fun, I am not delusional enough to think I am going to play for the NFL. So how do you know if you’re “good enough” to pursue a passion? It’s quite simple — someone will pay you to do it. I’m all for people becoming artists and musicians but if no one is buying your work or listening to your CDs, pick something else. Maybe you’re not 6'5" and 250 lbs of shredded muscle -- that's OK, neither am I.

After many, many months of searching for a career path, I am getting my Masters of Business Administration with a specialization in entrepreneurship. I still do not know exactly what I will do when I graduate. But I do know that I am no longer afraid to fail.

Next: Resources for Getting Out of "The Stalemate"

5 Resources for Getting Out of "The Stalemate"'re in the stalemate and you want to get out. Here are some (potentially) helpful ideas:

1. Take a career personality test.
    This is certainly not a magic genie or anything like that, but it can show you your strengths/skills in order to point you in the right direction. Here’s one site that I’ve used, but you can just Google “career personality test” and go from there:

2. Ask your close friends and family
    This is kind of like a career personality test of your own. Asking your friends and family what they think your skills are or what might be a good career for you is a solid place to start. Now, I don’t advise building your whole life around your grandfather’s dreams for you…but it could give you a little insight into yourself.

3. Check out the Occupational Outlook Handbook
    My brothers Joey and Daniel know what I’m talking about. Every time we’re talking about anything career-related, my dad pulls out the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Seriously. Well, apparently it’s online now and you can check out every single type of job that’s out there as well as that job’s “outlook” — growth potential, salary, the degree(s) you might need, etc.

4. Check out the degrees offered at your local college/university
    Tyler and I did this when we were trying to figure out what we wanted to study for graduate school. We went onto the degree offerings at UF, USF, UT and a few other schools and just went down the list, writing down anything that jumped out at us. Then, we would look into what that degree offered, job potentials, etc.

5. Get a job
    This sounds kind of lame, but I’m serious. I’m a big believer in moving forward in order to find your place. It’s kind of like the Maps app on the iPhone — it can’t tell what direction you’re going in unless you’re moving forward. So even if you work at a job that you hate…at least you can cross one thing off of your list! And you might just pick up one or two handy skills along the way. When I graduated from undergrad at UF, I started working at a company that sold vitamins. I did event marketing for them and I HATED it. But I also learned a lot about marketing, PR, social media and events. These are helpful skills for any job that I have in the future. No experience is a wasted experience, as long as you’re learning about yourself and developing along the way.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dream Jobs: Where Do You Land?

I’m currently in a stage of life along with many of my peers where we’re trying to figure out what we want to do with the rest of our lives.

In general, I would say that we fit into three categories:

1. The Stalemate

These are the people who have sort of “stalled” because they either don’t know what they want to do with their lives OR they have been discouraged from pursuing their “dream” job, and so they’re essentially hanging around until…someone gives them permission to pursue a particular path.

Oftentimes, this is where we find ourselves because we’ve been given SO many choices that it actually paralyzes us rather than enables us. It’s like being at restaurant where they have a 20-page menu. No matter what you choose, you always feel like maybe you would have been happier if you had just chosen…

You get the point.

2. The Responsible Ones

These are the people who are in careers that are not their “dream” jobs, but they’re doing well and making money and maybe they’re happy.

Sometimes, the responsible ones are silently miserable, doing their duties and not sure where to turn.

Other times, the responsible ones are working in their not-so-dreamy jobs but are using these jobs as a platform for doing what they really want to be doing. For example, perhaps you don’t really care for your job, but it does allow you to travel a lot. Or it pays the bills so that you can have a band on the side.

3. The Dreamers

And then there are those people who are pursuing their “dream” jobs. These are the people who may be working in a field that is not within their dream field, but their spare time is spent playing at every gig they can find, or filming and editing videos or researching graduate programs, etc. Or maybe they left their home state and moved to New York City, where they meet every single doorman at every single theatre so that they can get a stage managing job (shout out, Kristi Hess!)

What’s interesting to me, is that a lot of times this minority of people are the ones that are scoffed at, ridiculed and discouraged from their dreams. I’m not 100% sure why that is, but I have a few theories: one is that we have a certain list of “acceptable” dream jobs (doctor, nurse, lawyer, dentist, actuary (?!) and so on) and if your job does not fit on that list, we don’t know what to do with you. The second is that we are jealous. We want to be free to pursue our dream job, but we’re not. So we’ll take it out on you. I have to confess that I have been guilty of these things.

Now, these are ALL over-generalizations. Most of my friends/peers do not fit nicely into these three categories and most of society does not fit into my two-part list/jealousy theory. Like I said, it’s a theory.

In this blog over the next few days (or weeks, however long it takes) I’m going to be writing about something that is very close to my heart: pursuing your passion. I have been in all three stages that I listed: I have certainly been in the stalemate. I have attempted to be the responsible one. And now I am trying to be a part of that third group of people. For better or for worse, I'm putting all of my “eggs” in one proverbial basket.

I want to be a writer.

There, I said it. (How very audacious of me!) And now, I’m doing something about it. I'm very, very far from having figured this whole thing out (and I probably never will "arrive", whatever that means) but I hope that you will join me on this journey and that you will share with me your own struggles and triumphs for finding and pursuing YOUR passion.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why I Never Got an Easter Basket

Growing up, I had friends whose parents would go all-out for Easter. They would have baskets filled to the brim with neon-colored plastic grass (what’s the deal with that stuff, anyway?!) and overflowing with candy and other “Easter” goodies. One friend had a parent who would put glittered rabbit footsteps all over the house, leading them on a scavenger hunt for their Easter baskets. Even in college, I had friends who would receive gobs of candy from their parents in Easter basket care packages.

I never got one of those.

Now, before you go calling a therapist for me about my neglected childhood, let me stop you. I’m glad I never got an Easter basket, and here’s why: that’s not what Easter is about.

I don’t feel deprived in the least just because my mom never made me a cake shaped like a bunny rabbit. In fact, I feel like I owe my parents a great deal because they made Easter about what it’s supposed to be about: Jesus, willingly giving his life for me and then, by the power of God and the power of Jesus’ sinless life, he was raised from the dead so that I could have a relationship with God.

So, maybe when we have kids one day (hopefully not too soon!) we’ll do scavenger hunts and candy baskets for Easter. Or…maybe we won’t. But one thing is for sure: we will definitely tell them about their incredible God who loves them enough to sacrifice his Son for them.

What do you guys think about the whole Easter basket thing? Did your parents make them for you and/or, if you’re a parent, do you make them for your kids? Why or why not?

Happy Resurrection Sunday, ya’ll :)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Disney's "Frozen": 3 Reasons Why it Resonates with Us

Recently, it seems like 1 out of every 10 posts on Facebook are about the Disney movie “Frozen”.

There’s toddlers and their mothers singing renditions of “Let it Go” or Jimmy Fallon and Idina Menzel singing the song with classroom instruments. There are all sorts of personality quizzes to see which “Frozen” character you are (One quiz said I was “Pabbie”, the Troll King. So I took another one. I’m Elsa.) Or, there’s people who are just now seeing the movie who are saying something along the lines of “it just didn’t quite live up to the hype” (I’m not sure what movie could live up to all of the “hype” that Frozen has received!)

Despite your reaction to the movie, whether you think it lived up to the hype or not, I think it’s safe to say that there’s something about the movie that resonates with each of us for the following reasons:

1. The sibling-connection: Most of us growing up in the U.S. are not “only” children. We have siblings. And that means we fight with our siblings. We get annoyed with them. We have a hard time sharing. We have snowball fights. And sometimes, we isolate them.

My brothers and me: Daniel (on the left) and Joey (on the right).
This is after I got engaged :)

Although the older sister in the movie, Elsa, was not exactly the sweet, darling older sister she should have been, I can relate with her. Now, I think I have a great relationship with my brothers. They are two of my very best friends in the entire world. I LOVE being around them. But it wasn’t always that way. I remember when I was a teenager and my middle brother Joey was a preteen, he always wanted to hang out with my friends and me. It annoyed me. I tried to leave him out. Sometimes I was downright mean to him when he was just trying to be included. And now, more than ten years later, I still feel terrible about it! I wish that I had just let him watch that movie with us or sit on our trampoline and talk with us (I’m not really sure why we always sat on the trampoline…it was just the thing we did.)

But here’s the bottom line: I relate with the struggling Elsa. And probably, Joey relates with the shut-out Anna. So we rejoice when, at the end of the movie (spoiler alert!) Anna sacrifices herself for Elsa, who does not deserve it. But Anna loves Elsa, and deep-down, Elsa loves Anna. And sometimes that sibling love is just as strong as the bonds of true love (because it IS true love!) It’s beautiful.

2. It makes fun of “love at first sight.” Which is a relief. Because our generation grew up believing wholeheartedly in nothing BUT love at first sight. Which is Disney’s fault. Mostly.

I was grateful when Sven gave Anna a hard time for getting engaged to someone she had just met. It’s as if Disney is telling our generation of princess-wannabes to not take ourselves too seriously.

Because the truth is, even if you fall in love at first sight, it might not (and, let’s be honest, it probably won’t) last. Love is not just some fluffy feeling you get when you hear Aladdin singing about some magic carpet ride (that honestly sounds a little sketchy, now that I think about it!)

Love is hard work. It takes commitment, dedication and action. I love the verse in 1 John 3:18 where it says “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” THAT is love. Not some silly Disney song we grew up singing.

3. We WANT to “let it go.” We’ve just been waiting around for someone to tell us (or, sing to us!) to let it GO. Let go of what people think of us. Let go of all the unspoken expectations we put on ourselves. Let go of bad habits, addictions, unhealthy relationships….Just LET. IT. GO.

I’ve got a lot more on this topic, but we’ll save it for another day ;)

So, thank you, Disney, for repenting and giving us a story that truly resonates with each and every one of us — regardless of whether or not we have fallen in love (unless of course you’re an only child AND you’ve never been in love…then, I guess you’re kind of left out. Sorry.)

I hope that in my own writing, I can build stories that truly resonate with people in different stages of their lives. I obviously want to write a love story that can people fall in love with, but I also want to write about family relationships and friendships that people can identify with. I want my characters to be people that you can laugh at, cry with and relate to.

What are some stories that have resonated with you, and why? Have you ever re-read a story and found that  you connected with a different character than you originally did? Please share :)

For your viewing pleasure:

P.S. - Joey, I’m so sorry for leaving you out. I’ll never do it again.

Joey and me rockin' super sweet ski outfits

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Another Word for Writing: REWRITING

One of the things that I am discovering is that the more I write, the more I have to REwrite. I love this quote from Donald Murray, I think he perfectly encapsulates why we have to rewrite: to make our ideas and thoughts clear to other people. Sometimes I wish that I just had some sort of magical recorder in my head that could translate my book ideas into words on my computer automatically. But alas, I do not. And I have to write them myself. And therefore I have to rewrite. Constantly.

One of my favorite writing quotes is from Stephen King. He said to "write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open." Sometimes this is harder than it seems and sometimes I get it backwards -- I tend to want to write with the door open, to try to take into consideration what everyone thinks or feels about what I'm writing, etc. But this doesn't really work and what I end up writing is convoluted and not quite "me". Other times, when it's time for rewrites, I don't want anyone to read my (horrendous) first draft and I end up not getting any outside perspectives. Both of these tendencies are a mistake.

First of all, I have to be willing to let go of my need to impress others with my writing. Guy Kawasaki said, "Authors who write to impress people have difficulty remaining true to themselves." My goal in my writing is to write for ME, not for my potential audience or my friends or my professors or anyone else. If I do not write for the love of it, I will lose myself in the worst possible way.

My second tragic tendency is to not want to get input from people, for fear that I will fail ("fail" being an ambiguous term in my mind). While it is important to not allow myself to become a sort of writer that just wants to please everyone, it's also important to get input. Anne Rice has said that "to write something you have to be willing to make a fool of yourself." And part of making a fool of myself is being willing to allow others to read what I have written, regardless of my fears or insecurities.

Recently, I gave my husband about 50 pages of my manuscript when he went on a long plane trip. On the way back, he gave it to my father-in-law to read. I was mortified. I wasn't ready for someone other than my husband to read my manuscript. But my father-in-law gave me such great feedback -- no, it wasn't all positive, but it was constructive and he has made my manuscript better because of it. This situation taught me that I need to let myself open up to other people's criticisms. Sure, I don't have to listen to ALL of their criticisms, but it is a helpful practice that I think will push me to be a better writer.

For all of the writers out there, what is your "rewriting" practice? Do you let only certain people read your rough drafts or are you pretty free with your work?

I'll end with one last quote:

I think this is true for everyone -- regardless of whether you are striving to live a "creative life" or not. I am making every effort to be less afraid of being wrong and more excited about living my life to the fullest.

For those interested, here's my Pinterest board filled with writing quotes:

Cheers :)