Encouragement

What Good Can Come of a Crisis?

4 cute animals to look up for a quick pick-me-up

This is something I’ve been considering a lot lately — what happens when the crisis is over, when new lessons are learned, when “how it was before” seems too insurmountable or too impractical to return to.

Although the current crisis we’re in feels like it has lasted forever, the fact is, one day, it will be done, or at least mostly finished. We will move forward. Yes, life will again be different (because, let’s face it, we’re in a new routine at the moment). But it doesn’t mean different has to be bad.

The part many people miss is that, while we’re in the present upheaval, the seeds of tomorrow are being sown.

While we maintain extreme measures to keep each other safe — and begin to wonder how much is too much, and fear what isn’t be enough — the building blocks of the new world are taking shape.

As we determine the best way to safely gather in buildings and public spaces that are so familiar to us, yet may never feel “the same as before,” to rejoin events and routines that have not noticed our absence during the pause, maybe we could find what was missing from them previously.

For years, as an advocate for education reform, I’ve been saying that school days are too long, too packed with unnecessary material, too frustrating for students and too taxing for teachers. Now that we’re required to redesign the “typical” school day, it’s looking like smaller classes, shorter days, longer lunches and recesses, less homework, more learning through discussion will become the focus for many districts. This is a good thing, as it will eventually lead to a reduction in childhood stress and anxiety, in parents feeling they must encourage their kids to perform at an unattainable level; and one day we may reach a feeling of school being, if not somewhat enjoyable, at least tolerable, and not such a chore.

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Megachurches being temporarily closed is actually a blessing, too. People attending worship services via websites or in parking lots puts the focus back on God, not the showy, flashy kind of services too many churches are characterized by in recent years. We are in turmoil socially and economically, so we reach out to divinity for help, in the purest sense of the word. Our concern for the ill and the poor have led those of us who can to put forth money and supplies and effort — that we may not have when times were prosperous, and busy and stressful. Over two thousand years ago, Jesus told us to love our neighbors — and it looks like now, we are.

When we no longer have to stand six feet apart while praising God, I really, really hope we won’t forget that.

From a natural introvert’s point of view, I have always been concerned about crowds — about whether thousands of people in one space was safe, not just in terms of terrorism or crime, but also in terms of health. I’m intrinsically wary of germs being nonchalantly passed around, and now it appears the medical community finally has to admit to this. New restrictions on how many people can be in one place at one time, not just for the immediate future but possibly months to come, only make sense to somebody who used to watch the stadium shots at the Superbowl with horror, or recoil from the very suggestion of attending a music festival or state fair.

Does this mean we’ll never again congregate for events that meant so much to us? Of course not. It just means that we’ll get back to what truly matters about each form of celebration. Weddings will realistically be limited to the 50 or so people the bride and groom really want at their special day. Championship games will mean lots of business for sports bars and restaurant takeout — and an excuse for families and friends to join together, at home. Parades may only be watched from people’s front windows and front yards.

I can’t lie, none of this sounds bad to me.

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When businesses reopen, maybe they’ll start closing for the day earlier — something many of them could, putting less pressure on employees who will happily go home to their families a couple of hours sooner. Fathers — and mothers — who have been slaving away in offices and missing a lot of their children’s milestones may (successfully, I bet) bargain for the occasional day, or week, of working at home.

Saving for college may become drastically less important, as huge universities release they can’t sustain the pace they’d been forcing their students to race. Internships and pre-job training will gain in popularity as more high schoolers are given the freedom to say, “I don’t want to go to college.” Parents will redirect the concentration of these teen, and even tween, years to be on the single extracurricular their kids enjoy best, or have a passion for. (They’re probably realizing right now how much gas they were burning every season driving to multiple activities.)

Movies and TV shows may find it necessary to their survival to come up with happy endings, original plots, un-tropey characters, as people will probably lose their tolerance for shallow “reality” programs, grimdark dramas, and meaningless echo chambers. We’ll want to read something that isn’t a thinly-veiled dystopian commentary on outbreak control. Entertainment like board and card games, jigsaw puzzles, and simply playing outside — already making a comeback — will start to seem really appealing.

The world will become hungry for a sense of normalcy — but we are also in a unique position of putting in our say for what normal should be. Being told to slow down and temporarily put aside our regular ways has resulted in many interesting thoughts from people affected by a disaster we’d wish away in a heartbeat.

Yes, life, the world, won’t seem recognizable at first. But, in some ways, could that be preferred?

11 cute animals to make you feel a little better about the state ...

Encouragement

Art Matters

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Yes, it does.

Even while the world is in chaos. Like it is right now.

Even when there’s a global pandemic. Maybe especially during our present circumstances.

We’re struggling to maintain any sense of normalcy, and some of us are actively preparing for the official start of the zombie apocalypse. A lot of creative types, across all disciplines, will be thinking: “What is even the blankety-blank point of finishing my painting/screenplay/novel/musical right now?”

I’ll tell you what the point is.

Art matters. Whether the world is sane and safe, or messed up as blazes and very turbulent.

It gives us beauty and order in the midst of ugliness and chaos.

It reminds us life isn’t always this bad. And that people are capable of producing more than fear and hate, pain and agony.

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Art provides a safe space to explore all those nasty but necessary discussions on politics, prejudices, humanity’s failings and our own personal obstacles, and how all of it could get better. By indulging in literature, music, theatre, dance, we allow ourselves the chance to dream and to reach higher.

Think of those who came before you, which influenced your own creative pursuits. Our current artistic endeavors will inspire the next generation to do the same, to attempt more than a repeat of past mistakes, to strive for a truly new future.

Hint: You don’t have to write a dystopian novel about a thinly-veiled COVID-19 outbreak to make an impact in this direction.

And your medium doesn’t have to be realistic to accomplish this. Particularly in moments of great duress, fantasy appeals to the masses, and, really, with little wonder.

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Art also helps us gain a little, much needed, perspective. We don’t have to focus on the mega-crisis all the time. Other aspects of life are still important, and taking an hour to catch up on your favorite series, or learn what happens in the next chapter, or to sketch a dog chasing a ball make all of that seem more real.

One day, the mega-crisis will be resolved, and then we have to have something to go back to. It’d be great if we never completely left it to begin with.

So, while you’re wondering if there’s a point to your art among all the other stuff going on, here — just, stop. Don’t give up on your art. The world needs it now, and will need it in the future.

Keep writing, drawing, painting, singing, dancing. We’ll read it, swoon over it, sing and sway along.

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Autism, Encouragement

The Times Are Changing

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It’s not that I absolutely hate change. Change can be good, if there’s a situation or person or circumstance that’s really doing my head in; that altering or coming to an end will actually be beneficial, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it right away. But a major part of why autists don’t like change is because whenever something different or new happens, we can’t predict how it will make us feel — physically, and sensory-wise, and that can twist up our possibly already-challenged emotions. So, whenever I’m on the cusp of change — especially when I didn’t start the ball rolling for it — I get rather antsy.

We like our lives to be predictable, for all the aforementioned factors. Unfortunately, there’s also the danger of falling into an unproductive or unhealthy routine, just for the sake of keeping everything the same. And the past several weeks, I’ve found myself getting almost stuck in a pattern that meets basic needs, but doesn’t achieve certain goals. It can also be really intimidating for us to attempt going out of our comfort zones.

This past fall, after a long time of being a stay at home mom and focusing on writing, I started two new, outside-of-the-house, part-time jobs. And it was all good, and I have no regrets. But in the last couple of months, as the new-ness of an unfamiliar schedule became more common, and I realized I could go from thinking of myself in this “new” role to simply…being in these roles, as the dust of that settled, something else showed itself. I was having difficulty adjusting thinking of myself of being in my new roles as well as my old.

I hadn’t just stopped being a mother, or a writer, or a reader, overnight. On the surface, I knew all of that. Just because I had learned to be a library clerk didn’t mean I’d forgotten all my training in childhood development. Teaching ballet to adults for the first time didn’t invalidate or erase teaching it to children previously.

But somehow, the reality of my current situation and the intangibility of thoughts of the past weren’t clicking together.

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Then the other night, I was watching this horrifically boring documentary…and a really great story idea came to me. And I wanted to write it, badly, right then, at nine p.m., when I had work the next day. And all this week, as first one thing and then another and another have gotten in the way of my doing so, I palpably feel the ache of not writing enough.

This was also when it really sunk in, with the flair of an epiphany — whatever else I am, I am an artist. A creative and a creator. Even if I have to have a day job. Even if I get too busy or too tired to pen an entire novel in one sitting or choreograph a 15-minute piece, this doesn’t mean I won’t attempt it one day, very soon.

When you like your schedule to be predictable, reconciling the need for sporadic change — springing from the core of what makes you you — with a set routine can be pretty tricky. Having so many different ideas for projects means I won’t always be working on the same thing. That can be scary. That could put me off starting something new.

And that could stunt my creative growth — and in turn, my personal growth.

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So, I could either give in to the temptation to keep everything the same…stay in my comfort zone…and remain artistically frustrated…or step out and shake things up.

It’s not always easy. It comes with its own obstacles. I might get distracted, have to put aside or revise plans, or let go of smaller ideas. There will very probably be moments when I question the point of doing any of it at all.

But in the end, if I don’t go ahead…that would result in the worst torture ever.

So, I foresee…change.

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Encouragement, writing

The Obligatory NaNoWriMo Post

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It’s that time of year again! No, I don’t mean autumn — I mean…dun, dun, dun…the approach of NaNo!

I’ll give you a moment to scream into the void.

For those of you who don’t know what NaNo is, grab a pillow.

Okay. For anybody who’s participating, I have laid out 7 types of cake and tea with milk, sugar, honey, and lemon. To everybody else — staring blankly at us and wondering why they aren’t invited to partake of the treats — NaNo is short for National Novel Writing Month, and every year crazy writers dive into it, temporarily abandoning sanity. Every year we wonder why we’re doing this yet again…but we strive to push through, and complete the task.

The goal of this endeavor is to write 50,000 words on one project within 30 days. In theory, you could have most of a whole novel drafted (or an existing draft really whipped into shape) before the month is over. If you write/type at least 1700 words a day, you’ll have it done in approximately 4 weeks.

However… There are theories, and then there’s reality. Hence, cue the screaming.

In reality, you will have the time and opportunity to get down about 856 words before your toddler turns off your computer (yes, that was me), or the sink gets clogged, the delivery guy arrives with new bookmail, a co-worker calls and needs you to cover their shift, or there’s a Marvel marathon on TV.

Do we start November with the best of intentions? Oh, my, yes. Do those intentions get derailed hella fast? OH, MY, YES.

So, why do we do it? Repeatedly?

It’s the writer’s equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest and conquering the behemoth. When we, on November 29th, upload our daily word count with bloodshot eyes and take a cold swig from our 4th cup of coffee, and see the chart shoot up from 48,770 to 50,011, and we realize I’VE DONE IT, this is the biggest rush since the first time we ever finished a project. The elation that rushed through us the very first time we typed “THE END” is replicated. We have clambered onto the summit and planted our flag.

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So, how do you survive NaNo, and maybe even finish on top? From my participation in previous NaNos, here are some strategies I’ve acquired from literal blood, sweat, and tears:

Don’t set ridiculous goals. Aim to write about 1500 words a day. If you can’t hit the goal you did set, don’t beat yourself up. If after 2 hours your numbers are somewhere around 1026, rejoice. Many people dream of writing a novel and don’t get any further than the first page of the first chapter. Embrace whatever progress you make.

Don’t be finnicky about quality. This is absolutely a matter of quantity. You can go back and edit later. As a habitual edit-as-I-go writer, this was an extremely difficult notion to wrap my head around. It’s how I’d get down to the last week and still need at least 5,500 words to make the ultimate goal. This year, I have already decided: As long as it at least kind of makes sense and I didn’t do something terribly stupid (like suddenly change a character’s name), I’m going to let it slide.

Take care of yourself. (Or I will hunt you down and force vitamins and vegetarian curry down your throat.) You will get nowhere fast if you’re sleep deprived and not drinking water and putting off eating a rejuvinating, healthy meal. A daily word count of 4438 is incredible…and also potentially deadly. Your family needs you to be around after November. So be good to the physical you, not just the creative you.

Know how you write best. What’s your preferred way to draft? Type? Handwrite? Outline? Pantser it? Whichever is your comfort zone, stay there and make no excuses for not leaving. Outlining is how I kill a previously great concept, so I no longer force myself to play at it. While I do have plenty of little notes on relevant stuff I really should remember for the sake of continuity, and I stick to that, I am not going to spend 2 weeks on a detailed outline I will scrap by November 3rd. And my method works for me. No apologies required. There is no perfect or mandatory way to attempt NaNo.

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There are lots of reasons to avoid participation as well. Last year I opted out because there was too much else going on in my life, and I figured I’d make it to the halfway point by Thanksgiving, and was not in the mood to “fail.” Here’s the secret about NaNo, though: If you decide to quit, that’s totally okay. It’s free to enter, and the only loss if you don’t finish is…well, yes, you “wasted” some time and weren’t “successful.” But even that doesn’t measure up against closer examination. The fact you got several thousand words down on a new project, or put in effort on revising something that was giving you grief, is a success, and was worth it. Don’t toss that aside just because you didn’t “win.”

Because here’s the unfortunate truth about NaNo: Our prizes are not actual gifts or currency. The reward is mostly the satisfaction, and the street cred, of scaling the summit. Which is part of why many opt out; and I get that, too. There’s also no shame in deciding to NaNO. 

And don’t for one second underestimate the importance of having a support network. When you sign up on the official NaNoWriMo website and create your profile, you can make buddy requests. Do that. Find out which of your friends are also torturing themselves — ahem, diving in, and build that buddy list with familiar faces. When it’s November 15th and you’re starting to wonder if you can make it, your friends will cheer you on. There were instances I almost threw in the towel somewhere around 35,000 words, but really would’ve kicked myself later for it, and getting the flood of support on social media did rev up the remaining creative juices.

But true friends will also congratulate you on what level you reached before you quit, if you announce you’re done. And there won’t be berating or yelling; only stuffed animals and copious cups of tea and biscotti.

And there is always next year. Or 2023.

Remember, there is no perfect way to NaNo.

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Autism, Encouragement

God Created Us, Too

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Religion can be a tough one for neurodivergents. Either we just don’t have the sort of cognitive processing that allows for discussions on philosophy and spirituality to really land on an even footing; or we have such bad experiences with organized religion that we tend to stay away from the institutions completely.

I’ve been on both sides of the coin in this issue; I’ve attended churches where people clearly thought my family was demon possessed (instead of simply developmentally disabled); and studied non-mainstream belief systems that seemed a lot more accepting of people who didn’t quite fit a norm or traditional standard.

It took me a while, but eventually I figured out that what other people think of me or want from my family isn’t anywhere near as important as what God thinks of me.

For thousands of years, all sorts of conditions that provide challenges or limitations, based on the way our society works, have been considered curses or ill luck. That point of view almost always came from a human perspective, rather than anything specific you’ll find in sacred texts.

If someone is suffering, in any number of religions, you’ll come across several references to miracles being performed by a deity or divine agent, to bring forth welcomed healing. People who genuinely felt afflicted by whatever their situation was were grateful for the cosmic intervention. Not that I have a problem whatsoever with that.

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What I do have a problem with is my entire self being thought of as a disease.

When you read the New Testament, the whole point of it is that the Crucifixion and Resurrection occurred so that everyone could receive grace. If you truly believe that, then there shouldn’t be space in your creed for exceptions.

I will never be one of those women who can parent, homeschool, attend every single Bible study, sit on the committees, and turn up to all the ministry events or conferences. Especially not with absolutely perfect makeup, or recently re-styled hair, utterly fashionable clothes, and chances are high my purse won’t match my shoes.

And I finally realized a couple of years ago that I am OKAY with all of that.

There’s nothing wrong with the fact I’m on the spectrum affecting how I dress and socialize, what my interests are, how I’d prefer to spend my free time. We live in a culture that sets out certain expectations and roles, but these aren’t necessarily the purposes God calls individuals to.

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Why would it be so unimaginable that God can be using me to stretch others’ minds, to open their hearts? Why does the only point of my existence have to be so that God can perform a miracle by “healing” me…when it may very well be that autism isn’t what needs the restoration?

Why is it such a terrible thing to be different? Why does the world think we deserve the opportunity to become more normalized, to fit in? What if all of that is completely irrelevant to us living our best lives?

The major reasons I struggle with particular environments or circumstances is simply down to the way my brain is wired — physically, my nerves prefer quiet to loud, small to big, the arts to sports. I get overwhelmed when the world decides it isn’t going to adhere to these requirements. And, honestly, I don’t hold it against the people who are fine with that.

All I ask is that they do the same for me.

Here’s what I don’t need: People trying to get me to change who I am in order to have a “better life.”

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We still don’t know what causes autism, but I stand firm by my belief that, no matter what, an all-powerful God would know who was going to be born on the spectrum…and let it happen, for whatever reason. Just because we don’t understand why an unusual arrangement of neurotransmitters just is in some brains doesn’t mean it’s the result of random chaos that will ultimately ruin our carefully constructed civilizations.

People need to worry about bigger, more real problems than autism.

If the prevailing Good News is that we’re all loved and redeemable, then why should it be any different for neurodivergents?

My condition is nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t require a cure.

God created us, too.

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Encouragement, writing

To NaNo or Not to NaNo? That is the Question…

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At least it’s the question on the mind of all writers who regularly torture themselves…er, participate in NaNoWriMo. The short answer for me, is: No.

No, no, no, no, and — no. Here’s the detailed reason why:

Last year I about died when I was nearly 30k words into my project…and then woke up one morning somewhere around November 20th — and realized I absolutely hated the direction it was going. I liked the characters, and the tone, but too much of the plot as it had developed made me melt into a puddle of oozing bleck that was ruining the carpet.

Plus, I was finishing the final edits for Rulers and Mages at the same time. Yes, yes, I actually was doing that to myself.

Anyway, I was pretty close to finishing NaNo, in a non-traditional (“rebel”) way, so I decided to add to my monthly word count the approximately 10k new words that had come out of Volume 2’s final edits, and about 12k of an untitled/ungenred experimental piece/possible novella I attempted exploring a different take on my imploding project. (I did make it to 50k by November 29th, but I ultimately scrapped the different take, and put the original project on the shelf indefinitely.)

Also, last year I realized that “winners” have to pay for their prizes — which is just so not okay after we’ve literally toiled for hours and hours and made our families afraid of us and sacrificed our chances for relaxing over an entire month.

It really turned me off the whole idea.

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So, as far as I am concerned: NaNo, away with thee!

Here’s what NaNo is good for: You quickly develop a lot of self-discipline when it comes to your writing. You learn how to stick to a project and make serious headway on it in a short amount of time.

The first year I undertook this challenge, that was exactly my goal. I’d been struggling for literal ages with a novel that I’d written when White Fang was still in elementary school, and I’d always thought about trying to do more with it, but never did. A reason to put it off always came up.There was always a reason to put it off.

So, in 2016, the goal became to finish the novel, entirely, and find out how to self-publish. I’d queried several times before without much luck. And I was tired of feeling like I’d never get anywhere. So I took the leap. (What came out of NaNo 2016 was Masters and Beginners. It did pay off.)

However, since then, the one problem I have not had is finishing a WIP. After not writing very much for a long time, it’s like that part of my brain can’t be shut off. In a year and a half, I’ve published a total of 4 books, and my plans for 2019 include at least 4 more.

But I have also learned that I have limits, and sticking to them is highly advised.

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For example, trying to write 90% of a novel within 30 days is not a good idea. Setting myself a realistic deadline of having a draft done within about 6 weeks, and then making sure the rewrites and edits don’t take more than another 6 weeks, is a worthy aspiration.

The other good teaching tool of having a strict time limit is refusing to let your inner editor go crazy. Some of us continually battle the critic that arises while we’re writing, the voice that always triple-guesses our choice of wording, character names, how much description we put in that paragraph… And that needs to stop.

Yes, editing is necessary, and everybody’s first draft is going to be a bit of a mess. And that’s totally fine. But we also deserve to like our own work — we certainly pour enough blood, sweat and tears into it.

Overcoming the urge to edit every single chapter I complete, as I go, is not a NaNo-friendly strategy. In the interest of time, you really can’t. Though if there’s a certain phrase or adjective that just isn’t clicking for me, I simply don’t feel comfortable going on until it isn’t bugging me anymore. This is just how I roll.

And how I roll and NaNo…well…that may not line up.

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Anyway, while I am officially not participating in NaNo, here’s what I will be doing in November:

I’m spending October getting as far as I can on the Order of the Twelve Tribes prequel. When November 1st comes, if I feel like there’s still more to tackle on that, I will do so. But if, by November 5th, the inspiration’s no longer kicking, then I will devote a chunk of time (till about Thanksgiving) to the Super Secret Project. (Both of these WIPs I really want to finish drafts of before Christmas.)

Spreading myself too thin is an experience I should only be describing in the past tense. And avoiding writer’s block is a priority. So, if my mind goes blank on the Super Secret Project (since I don’t have all the twists worked out for that yet), there is always Volume 4 to get back to.

Since I prefer to write my first drafts by hand, keeping up with word count can be kind of tough. Measuring my daily progress by number of pages — and not fretting if I fall short — is my ambition instead.

To those of you heading into traditional NaNo, may the odds be ever in your favor. To those of you opting out, I hear you. And to those of you who are just plain writing — rock on.

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Encouragement, writing

A Creator’s Shift in Perspective

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Here’s a tough one as a writer: You’ve put in hours (sometimes many, many hours) of blood, sweat, and tears (yes, blood — haven’t you ever had a paper cut?) into a project, and then one day you realize you can’t stand what’s been produced. Literally, feel quite strong negative feelings towards it.

And you begin to rue the day you ever started this WIP. You dread going back to it and attempting to fix it. Maybe its problems seem insurmountable.

And all of this can make you start to wonder if continuing to write at all is even worth the hassle.

Now, before you completely throw in the towel, let’s break this down, into bite-size pieces.

Here’s the unfortunate truth: You will not like every WIP you initially produce. Sometimes a draft will just downright suck, and guess what — it’s okay. 

Guess how many times I re-wrote what eventually became Masters and Beginners? About half a dozen. Across as many years. No lie. Not even published authors always get it brilliant on the first go.

So, number one — don’t despair. Don’t panic! Don’t give up.

Taking a break, however, is another matter, and a well-advised one.

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There was a period of about 18 months when I did not touch my YA fantasy series, except to do the research. During this time, I crafted my short story collection, grew my blogisphere space, but put the whole concept of a several-installment contemporary-fantasy-world endeavor on the back burner.

It was SO helpful. My brain and my confidence came back. And now I’ve published the third book in the series.

Now and then, deciding to scrap a project isn’t actually a terrible crime. If you realize that the reason the dialogue or world-building is in the rubbish heap because you simply aren’t invested in the WIP, then setting it aside is smart. Readers won’t relate very well to something the author themself didn’t really connect to.

Maybe you changed your mind on the plot, or maybe the characters just aren’t coming to life for you. This is all right, I swear.

One of the toughest things to admit about being a writer is that our work might never see the light of day. It’s hard, I agree, to spend lots of time in front of a computer or notebook, demanding peace and quiet and solitude from your family and friends, and then not have anything to show for it, weeks or even months later. I get it.

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Many authors do, in fact, have day jobs, and it’s partly because of the practical necessity of producing something concrete. If you’re primarily a teacher, a librarian, an accountant, a dog kennel assistant, there’s a lot of satisfaction, and function served, in every day receiving a paycheck for services you know you gave to the community.

However, when you’re a writer, even if you’re taking a break — even when you’re enjoying the break — the urge will still be there.

The driving force of your passion. Hiding just under the surface. It will invade your dreams, your bus ride, your showers. You’ll be making dinner, and think, “The killer isn’t the money-grubbing estranged nephew — it’s the old lady in the nursing home!”

Before too long, you’ll open a new document on your laptop, or grab a pen, because you just can’t stop yourself.

This is totally fine, too.

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Changing direction — either in your life or your writing process — can be vital to saving your sanity, and your eventual work.

There are subplots in Healers and Warriors (Volume 3) that were originally part of Rulers and Mages (Volume 2). And after determining (for at least a year) that there would be 4 installments in the canon of my series, this spring I expanded it to 5 — and I feel good about that choice.

I rewrote Volumes 2 and 3 at least twice — each. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always fun. But it was 110% worth it, for finally getting to the stories that I knew were in those messy drafts all along.

So, don’t be afraid to alter course if the path you’re on is full of stones and mud puddles. If there’s an overgrown track veering off to the side, tempting the corner of your eye, plunge into the bushes and tramp through it.

Just see what happens.

The risks usually pay off.

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Encouragement, writing

Let the Rebellion Begin!

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Recently, I had an interesting experience.

I’d decided to join a “writers’ group” in my local area. (Note: I’m not anywhere in this post stating where that is at the moment, nor calling out any particular individuals. That’s not the point of this discussion).

Anyway, I gathered pretty quickly — after a couple of meetings — that the way this group had been operating was not really what I was looking for, nor how I understood the concept of a “writers’ group” to apply.

Each month, a theme would be assigned, and the group would, on their own, write something related to the theme, then they’d all meet up again. After everyone read what they’d brought, the conversation tended to go off into non-related tangents of memories, social issues, and eventually what the next month’s topic should be.

There was absolutely no feedback given on each piece regarding literary elements, tone/voice, characterization, setting, atmosphere, or plot. Of course, many of the pieces did not have a majority of these aspects, as we were all (bluntly) told that the group traditionally focused on autobiographical, non-fiction content (nothing more than journaling, really).

No one present (except for me) has a work-in-progress. I was also told (again, point blank) that sharing fiction with the group wasn’t really appropriate.

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Excuse me? Isn’t this the whole idea of people who like to write gathering together for the purpose of writing? To explore, to learn more, to hone your skills in the craft?

I also noticed that others were interested in the exploring, the learning, the honing part, and that they appeared to be shut down by one, very vocal voice.

Ahem. Please pardon me while I clear my very fiery bookdragon throat.

So, here’s what I’ve done: I’m looking into starting my own group, which actually would focus on the craft of writing.

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When you’re passionate about something as wonderfully varied and diverse as literature, that passion should not get shoved away by a pushy minority declaring what “fits” and what “doesn’t.”

It’s exactly why we have genres. If you want to write historical fiction, go for it! A contemporary romance, sure! Murder mysteries! Science fiction! Epic fantasy! Poetry! A collection of Post-It notes you left taped to your irresponsible teenage children’s foreheads! Sure, why not?!?! Whatever you want to write about, chances are, somebody out there will want to read it.

And why can’t we do this in a number of ways? Novels. Essays. Magazine articles. Poems. Novels of essays and articles. Blog posts. Fiction. Non-fiction. Combining the two. Fictionalizing real events in your life — with plenty of plot and dialogue and pithy puns.

The “rules” for what and how writers “should” write are treated very loosely these days, and I’m glad for it. We get to share so much with the world by expanding definitions and conditions.

Trying to box in people’s creativity just doesn’t work.

Experiencing this the other week really threw me.

And then I decided to do something about it.

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This will probably turn out to be a big undertaking, and I’d appreciate your prayers! I’m honestly not sure what lies ahead as this venture gets underway, but I’m excited, and hopeful!

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Encouragement, health

In Which I Become An Episode of a Medical Drama

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But it was an episode that ended with Patrick Dempsey coming out to the waiting room to announce all was well.

Okay, not really Patrick Dempsey (but wouldn’t that have been cool if Derek Shepherd of Grey’s Anatomy had been my surgeon? which wouldn’t have happened, though, as he was a neurosurgeon and I had a GYN issue…anyway…)

But, yes, everything went well. Sure enough, there is nothing wrong with my stomach or digestive system. All the pain was being caused by a blockage in my uterus, which was pressing against other organs and creating pain.

Today I feel a lot better than I have in months. Literal months. No bloating, no indigestion. Yes, I am sore from the incision, and my throat hurts from the breathing tube, and my muscles are stiff and achy after the anesthesia wore off (which they warned me would happen).

I’ve been able to keep down some soup and crackers and tea, and I’m still tired, but I have a flat stomach for the first time in easily six months, and my side doesn’t hurt for the first time in nearly a year.

The official problem is endometriosis, which is a bit tricky, but treatable. Most likely, there will be further treatments, maybe another operation in the future if the initial treatments don’t take. But for the moment, I am certainly healthier than I was.

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I made it through the worst part so far; recovery will be a walk in the park compared to all the suffering of the last many weeks. Last night I could actually lie in bed in almost any position I wanted and be comfortable. This is a huge stride in the right direction.

Today is a snow day here, as we received the latest blast of snow and ice. Nothing really serious for our area, which is great. Muffin is at grandma and grandpa’s, probably playing in the snow. White Fang is bingeing library DVDs.

Outside it’s white and beautiful and cold, and quiet.

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I still have a ways to go. There are things that may happen in the future that will still create problems. Hopefully not, but I remain realistic. Though optimistic, as I now have a concrete reason for what was going on, and since it’s finally been isolated, and there are options for treatment. I no longer have to wait and wonder and suffer.

The anesthesia took effect pretty quickly, so I remember absolutely nothing after being wheeled through the surgical registration area. I have to say, I almost wanted to overhear something about the conversation between the doctors and nurses during the procedure. Or at least experience some cool trippy dreams while being under.

(Kidding, by the way. Mostly. Don’t do drugs, kids.)

Here’s what I do remember before I woke up: I was with the Doctor (10, for those of you wondering), and he had this box, and it had something important in it, and we were running up a mountain, towards where the TARDIS was parked. Hey, I’ll take that, too.

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For all of you who have been monitoring my progress and keeping me in your prayers, thank you. Don’t sign off just yet, however, as I have a feeling we’re not quite to the end of this.

But today I feel like I’m at the start of a new beginning, and it’s been a long time coming.

And I am grateful.

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