What Lies Within Us

One of the best things about simplifying my life has been re-discovering my love for writing.

As many of you know, I have been furiously working away on writing a novel.

But a few weeks ago, and quite by accident, I stumbled upon a short story contest. I’ve been thinking for awhile now that I wanted to write some short stories and submit them somewhere. I think it will be a good experience and great practice – to learn formatting, get used to rejection, and just maybe, get published and know what it feels like to have your writing ripped to shreds by professionals.

All of that was reason enough for me to enter the contest. But there was more. This was “The Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest,” with a theme of “Beach Life” that had

Rehoboth Beach Reads
Picture borrowed from: http://catandmousepress.com/contest/

to have strong ties to the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware area. It just so happens, a good chunk of my Mom’s family is from that area, and I spent a lot of time there as a kid when my grandparents were still alive.

It felt serendipitous.

I was allowed to submit up to 3 stories, fiction or non-fiction, for a chance to be one of 20-25 stories published into a collection of short stories, and one of 3 monetary prize winners.

I got to work writing immediately – I found the contest VERY late, and only had a couple of weeks to write and polish my submissions. I ended up with 2 pieces to submit, one fiction and one non-fiction.

As I was researching some quotes to use in my fictional story, I came across this one from Henry David Thoreau:

What lies before us and what lies behind us are all small matters compared to what lies within us. And when you bring what is within out into the world, miracles happen.

As I continued weaving my story together, the importance of the quote grew – to the point that I used it to name the story (and this blog), as well.

I love how it can mean something different for everyone; we each have something unique inside of us. While it can be scary to bring it out into the world for all to see, just think about the possibilities if you do.

I can tell you, these last weeks of writing frantically, editing, re-writing, editing and re-writing some more have been a roller coaster. There were moments I loved what I wrote, and moments I was sure it was all utter crap.

And hitting SUBMIT on my two stories was one of the most terrifying and exciting moments of my life. But man, am I glad I did it.

Now, I have a little experience writing as a deadline looms. I’ve put what is within me -my heart and my very best effort – into this, and now I’ve sent my short stories out to strangers who will decide if they’re worthy of publication.

So now, I wait. August 7th-ish can’t come soon enough. Wish me luck!!

Give A Little Grace

I’m sitting here today, a few hours from boarding a flight to Pennsylvania to visit family. I’m excited to see everyone, but my peace has been missing for most of the day.

My travel phobias strike again!

This is frustrating. The flight to PA is less than 2 hours, and I did just fine a couple months ago on a 5 hour flight to OR.

My immediate reaction is to be really irritated with myself, and berate myself for not feeling peaceful and letting these dumb fears affect me in the slightest.

But today, I’m choosing to take a step back and let mindfulness lead. Step 1: WRITE. Step 2: When I can feel I’m starting to be too tough on myself I ask this question: if my best friend were describing my own feelings to me as hers, what would I say?

The short answer is: nothing close to what I am tempted to say to myself.

My usual inner dialogue snarls things like: “I can’t believe you’re letting this affect you AGAIN.” Or, “You are such a failure! I thought we conquered this fear already. You’re such a baby.” And my favorite, “You haven’t changed at all!”

What would I tell my best friend were she having the same feelings as me? I’d say things like: “Don’t be so hard on yourself! You may always have this fear, but remember how many strategies you’ve learned to get through it.” And “It’s OK to feel the fear; you’re going to get on that plane anyway and conquer it.” And “Just think how good it will feel once you’ve got another travel experience under your belt.” And “You’ve done this a bunch of times before, you got this!”

Have you ever noticed how much harder we are on ourselves than we would be on our friends? I’m actually kind of shocked at how stark a difference there is between the two for

minfulness
Photo Taken: La Jolla, CA

me. But self-hatred and perfectionism have an insidious way of creeping in until you barely even notice them. I had these negative thoughts about myself in a split second. They felt so familiar and it would have been easy to just accept them rather than grab them and throw them out.

It takes mindfulness and sometimes, retreating to a quiet place, to recognize harmful self-talk and decide to talk to yourself in a different way. Now, I have the option to re-write my bad thoughts and focus on good thoughts instead. I don’t have to accept whatever happens to pop into my head first.

We could all stand to give a little more grace. Both to others and for many of us, to ourselves. (By the way, I think this works just as well if you catch yourself having less-than-kind thoughts about others!)

Put this little exercise on the long list of reasons I love writing and learning to be mindful! I hope that someday, my immediate reaction to my own struggling or being less than perfect is more likely to be kind than cruel.

After all, I’d never dream of saying the things I tell myself to anyone else. I’m feeling calmer and more centered at that thought alone.

 

5 Steps to Becoming a Writer

It’s been a little over a year since I left my job and “gave a year to God.”

A lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same during that time, but in some ways, clarity has certainly come. Now that I believe I’m meant to write, I’m trying to figure out what my days should look like as a writer. What exactly do I need to do before I can confidently say, “I’m a writer” when people ask what I do?

I’ve been reading and writing and thinking and journaling and watching videos from those who have gone before me. And the time has come to “set up shop” so to speak.

I’ve identified (and am working on!) 5 things that need to happen for me to get comfortable calling myself a writer. In other words, a road map to being a productive writer

1. Set Goals. As I learned working as a consultant, step 1 of just about anything is to establish goals. Why I am doing this? What do I hope to accomplish? What do I need to get started? Do I need to raise money and/or start making money right away?  Once these questions are answered, I can begin to flesh out an action plan.

Ultimately, I want to impact people’s lives in a positive way with my writing. I think that’s the goal of all writers, although it may take different forms. Deep down, we all want to leave our mark on the world somehow, don’t we? Make even the smallest difference for the better? I’d love to be a published novelist at some point, but I also don’t think that needs to happen for me to be a successful writer.

I have everything I need to get started…a computer, notebooks and pens, books, the treasure trove of expertise offered for free on the internet, this blog, and of course, the ability to think and come up with ideas. And while it would be amazing to make money doing this someday, I am very thankful that isn’t an immediate need for me. (Husband is my hero…swoon!)

2. Develop Habits. I have goals and a purpose in mind, but now I actually need to start writing, and writing consistently. I’ve been watching Jeff Goins and Tim Grahl’s free “Productive Writer” video series and their tips for developing habits are fantastic. They talk a lot about starting tiny – however small the habit needs to be to ensure it gets done – and watch it grow over time. They also suggest attaching your new tiny habit to something that you already do automatically each day. For example, I might set a goal to write 50 words per day, or write for 10 minutes each day, and (like Tim) I could attach that to drinking coffee in the morning. Right after I make my coffee, I sit down and do my writing for the day.

I think this is a brilliant idea to get started in a way that’s not threatening – especially if you are pressed for time and trying to find a way to build something new for yourself.

Jeff had the goal of writing 500 words per day for an entire year, and that turned into hundreds and hundreds of blog posts, a whole host of followers and ultimately, multiple books, more blogs, speaking engagements and more.

In some ways, it’s scary to get started. But I know rewards come when we face our fears. So I’m ready to dive in, start building new habits of my own, and see what happens.

3. Make Deadlines. “Real” writers (and all professionals, for that matter) have deadlines. In fact, I’d venture to say that if you’ve chosen the right habits to develop, you’ve already built deadlines in. I like the idea of writing 500 words daily, or at least Monday through Friday each week, and scheduling at least 1-2 blog posts each week. If I can give myself deadlines and get in the habit of hitting them, it won’t feel quite as scary if I am ever trying to meet a deadline given to me by someone else.

4. Create a Schedule/System. I love the idea of attaching your habits to daily tasks that you’re already doing. But it’s also helpful to come up with a schedule and system that works for you. I’m no pro at this, but it’s something I’m working on. I have created a rough weekly schedule in which I have two writing sessions scheduled most days – what I do in those sessions will likely look very different on different days.

I am hopeful that as I begin building my new habits and sticking to my deadlines and schedule, a system will emerge. Jeff Goins shared that he is more productive when he doesn’t try to come up with an idea, write it out, and edit it all at once.

That was a huge eye opener for me because even though I WANT to write, I sometimes sit down and have no ideas or inspiration. Now, I have a separate list of ideas that I can refer to when I’m ready to write, and I’m also just letting my writing flow and coming back to edit it on a different day. I have only been doing this for few days, but I’ve written more in those few days than I did the past two weeks combined. A game-changer, and so simple.

5. Get Organized with the Right Tools. There are a dizzying array of tools available to help you stay organized and productive. From idea dump tools to programs that help writers organize books, it makes my head spin.

But now that I’ve identified goals and habits and deadlines and schedules, I need to look for tools that enhance what I’m working towards. Again, looking to those who have gone before me is super helpful as I navigate this.

Now, I’m using Evernote to keep track of thoughts and pictures and websites that I come across on the go. I jot down notes from books I’m reading. And I also have running lists of blog post ideas and and plot twists for the novel I’m working on.

I have organized all my book projects (there are 3 now!) into some fantastic writing software called Scrivener.

These are just some of the ideas I’m using to add structure to my days and get serious productivityabout turning this into a career and my life’s work. I’m sure these things will morph and grow as I learn what works best for my own individual working style. But somehow, getting organized makes all of this feel real.

And these 5 steps can certainly be applied to more than just writing! If you don’t have goals that declare why you’re doing what you’re doing, it’s hard to figure out what habits you need to develop. It will be tough to work with/for others if you aren’t able to meet deadlines and stick to a schedule using a system that works for you. And using tools that complement your systems to organize your work is the icing on the cake.

Cheers to being productive at whatever you do!

 

The Pride of Insecurity

I just finished reading a seriously incredible book. It’s probably in my personal top 5 now: Allison Vesterfelt’s “Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage.”

It’s the story of how Allison (Ally) and her friend Sharaya decided to quit their jobs and go on a 6 month road trip, visiting each of the 50 states. Ally writes that the trip was part of a dream for each of them (writing for her, singing/performing for Sharaya), how they got by, people they met, people they reconnected with, people and things they lost and lessons learned.

As if that wasn’t enough to intrigue me, (hello, blog post of a few weeks ago where I swoon about the idea of prancing on the west coast for 6 months) once I started reading this book, it was almost like I was reading words I could have written. It was as though I’d gone on the wild adventure I always convince myself wouldn’t be possible for someone like me, and I was reading the lessons I’d learn if I ever found the courage to do it.

So many things jumped off these pages and into my soul that I could probably blog for days on end about this book. But one of the most glaring was a particularly relatable diatribe of how Ally dreads the question: “What do you do?” She’s a twenty-something who has a dream of being a writer; who quit her job to travel the country with a plan to blog about it and write a book. Not sure any of this will pan out, she finds herself bogged down in insecurity about how to answer the question.

I get it. I quit my job, I’ve started a blog and I’m working on writing a book, too. No one is paying me. I have to set my own deadlines and goals. I worry about how others perceive what I’m doing. Do they think I’m just goofing off, wasting my life? Do they think I have nothing important to do because I’m not getting paid when I work at my craft? What do I even say when people ask me what I do? My answer to that question is usually plagued with insecurity, as I mumble something about reading, working out, cooking, cleaning and I’m actually, er, kind of, um, working on writing a book. (I’m silently lamenting how awkward I am in these conversations.)

Ally writes this about insecurity: “I wish I could pass off insecurity as a burden to bear and everyone would feel really sorry for me, but the more I think about it the more I see that my insecurity is really pride. My insecurity makes everything all about me.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Honestly, I’ve never really thought pride is something I struggle with.  And on the surface, many of us would think insecurity relates more closely to humility than pride. In fact, one of the easiest ways insecure people disguise their insecurity is in a fog of “humility.” For an insecure person, it’s easy not to take credit for something; not to call attention to yourself. It’s easy to brush off accomplishments by attributing them to someone other than yourself. Because we’re never quite sure we can hack it.

Perhaps the temptation to be an insecure person masquerading as a humble person is extra-easy to fall into for Christians. Because that “someone” we attribute everything to is God.

By no means am I saying that God isn’t involved in our accomplishments, nor am I saying He shouldn’t get any credit for them. Of course He should! I’m merely pointing out that TRUE HUMILITY is what God wants from us, and true humility is not insecurity. It’s not through self-hatred or self-deprecation that we ought to hoist our God onto His throne.

True humility says, “I don’t deserve anything God has blessed me with, but I’m so thankful for the life He’s given me that I want the decisions I make to reflect intense gratitude. I want to live life confidently in His love; sharing my blessings freely with others, in His name, to the best of my ability.”

So when I thought about insecurity as it relates to pride, I began to see it in a new light. I’m insecure at least twice a day – at least once about my physical appearance, and at least one more time about the question: “What do you do?”  When I am insecure, I am making everything about me. I’m comparing myself to others and either finding reasons why I’m not what I wish I was, or trying to make myself feel better. When I’m insecure, I’m elevating myself to a place of importance that I don’t even have! Do most people even care what I weigh or what I’m wearing or what I do with my life? Not nearly as much as I act like they do. Pride screams that it’s all about ME.

Ally writes, “There comes a point where we don’t need anyone to tell us who we are anymore, we just need to take the information we have and run with it.”

I think what she’s saying is…let the insecurity fall away. Trust that God made you who you

passion
Photo Taken: Cannon Beach, OR

are and put your passions in your heart. Recognize what makes you feel alive; look for the place where your passion and the world’s needs meet and go towards it. “Take the information you have and run with it.” Trust God for the rest.

It’s a freeing way to live, and one I know I need to reach for daily. And somehow, identifying the pride inherent in insecurity helps me put insecurity aside. It reminds me, “Hey, lighten up! Things aren’t all about you and you don’t need anyone to tell you who you are. God made you, loves you, and is in your corner. Run with it.”

 

Writing is Hard.

Anyone who is a writer, or who is attempting to write consistently will tell you it’s hard. It’s hard for different reasons, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Back when I was working for my Dad’s small HR & Benefits Consulting Firm, I wrote all the time. I was writing newsletter articles, blog posts and drafting powerpoint presentations. And it was always a challenge to work with a small amount of space and dissect “insurance lingo” into easily understandable bits. Oftentimes, we’d attempt creative ways to avoid horribly dry and boring pieces – a near impossible task when you consider the subject matter. But I enjoyed those challenges, and I suppose that’s one of the things I love about writing.

Keeping up with this blog has been hard at times, too. When I was de-cluttering our home, going category by category, writing it was easier; more inspired. I had a formula of sorts, a purpose and specific thing to blog about.

Now, it’s just not as often that what I’d consider “blog-worthy” inspiration hits. Either that, or I’m just not always brave enough to share the deep, dark recesses of my mind with the interwebs! Nonetheless, when I do come back here, I always feel a little more accomplished, a little closer to being the writer I want to be, and a little more inspired to keep going.

Working on this novel has been hard. It’s overwhelming when you begin to see the magnitude of that which you do not know. You might say, well, you have a story and a general plot line – just write it!

But me, friends, I’m a planner. I like to be prepared. I don’t usually just dive into things without serious thought or research. (When I do, that’s called Jesus.) So that’s why I’ve read a book, countless articles and blog posts about being a writer, downloaded multiple character creation worksheets to help me through the research process, and have at least 3 sets of interview questions to deliver to various friends and family.

So yes, I have my story. I’ve named most of my characters, and I know who is related to who and how. But when I sit down to write, there’s a lot to be strategic about. It’s not flowing just yet.

I have to make sure I decide whose point of view I’m writing from in each chapter/scene/section, and I cannot violate that point of view. For example, If I’m writing from Jenny’s point of view, she might see a look on Jimmy’s face, but she cannot know what he is thinking.

I have to write and re-write dialogue between characters, because it has to sound the way actual human beings talk. Further, I have to make sure the dialogue of different characters SOUNDS different and memorable, so my reader can easily identify who is talking, even before I write, “Jenny said”. Do you know how hard it is to NOT make every character just sound like…you? I have to consider their professions, education levels, accents and emotional state – all things I’ve had to make up (and keep track of!) along the way. It’s hard.

I must do my best to “show” my reader who my characters are and why they are the way they are. I can’t just “tell” those things in long, drawn out paragraphs that put a stop to the action of the story. How do I let my readers know, in an organic way, that my character is a control freak who has trouble trusting people without just saying it? I have to find creative ways to SHOW these things, through dialogues, scene descriptions, and other character’s points of view.

The time it takes to plan out and write a book is daunting. I’ve done so much, and yet I’ve barely begun, barely scratched the surface of all there is to know. Established writers have “a process”. I don’t yet. But I’m trying to. I’m trying to

dont give up on dreams
Photo Taken: Mountain Park, GA

write every day, add more structure to my writing sessions and set new writing goals for myself.

After all, the only way this thing will ever get done is if I keep chipping away at it; keep working on it a little bit at a time. Perhaps I need to let go of my strategic writing and just let it flow some days. They’re just words typed on a screen – I can go back and change them a million times if I so desire.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t already felt fear creep in and suggest that I stop. But fear is like that, it comes quietly and plants little doubts in your mind. And over time, if you don’t replace those doubts with affirmations, they snowball into something bigger, something harder to dispose of.

One of the things I love about writing is that it keeps me accountable. Declaring that the fears have come, and calling those fears out here has already made me feel lighter and more determined.

After all, dreams don’t typically manifest themselves from nothing and fall into your lap. No; you must work for them, chase them, and fight for them. Sometimes, you let them go and sometimes, you rediscover them. And there will always be reasons NOT to do something your heart wants to pursue. But you should always believe that what lies deep in your heart is worth the fear you must overcome to be true to it.