Thursday, April 28, 2016

Away From Elsewhere

I sit at my desk wearing a fleece jacket zipped to my neck and a thick afghan blanket over my legs. The culprit is the A/C vent in the ceiling over my neighbor's cubicle. He's comfortable, by the way, as the vent doesn't force the air straight down but rather outward in each direction. My hands, starting to tan from time in the occasional sunshine we have been treated to lately, are icy cold on the keyboard.

No matter how I feel about my job overall, this is reason enough to wish I was elsewhere. 


I keep planning little escapes in my head. Places to visit, adventures to take. They're all elsewhere. I want to put my baby girl in a carrier on my chest and hike the trails I used to enjoy. I want to take a day away with my husband to revisit the waterfalls a few counties north of here. There was a day like that from one of our dating summers and it stands out in my memory as particularly splendid. I'd like to take my little boy on an adventure, maybe explore a farm full of animals or go camping for a night, just the two of us. The idea thrills me to take them all, plus my stepson, on a drive to Holy Hill for a day of beauty and fun and peace.

Or I could write. Elsewhere, I could write. Elsewhere, I could sit for hours with my manuscript and pens, marking up the pages with changes and improvements. I could move closer and closer to being ready to seek a publisher. 

I want, I want, I want. I could, I could, I could. There is no contentment in letting my mind be occupied in this way. These aren't bad things to be desiring. Some of them might come to fruition in the near future with some good planning. Focusing on them at the expense of what is right in front of me though, is unacceptable. Instead, contentment might be exactly what I ought to seek right now. 

In our everyday language, contentment has taken a bad rap. We use the word too often to refer to "settling" or "resigning." Settling for less than what you desire or seek; Resigning yourself to circumstances you wish were different. We talk of someone being content with the hand they were dealt, content in their comfort zone, or content to put up with this or that. Maybe we are using the word incorrectly.

Contentment - definition: the state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind
Content - definition: satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else

Ease of mind. Satisfied. Sounds deliciously wonderful to my restless heart.

I do believe I have feared contentment at times. If I am content, will I stop dreaming? Will I stop striving for greater things or improving myself? Will I no longer seek new experiences?

The answer to those questions might be yes, but it's completely up to me. Instead, contentment can be exactly what's needed to be ready for the next dream, the next experience, the next change. Contented peace of mind will allow me to be my best self, present and engaged instead of anxiously longing for the elusive elsewhere. Contentment will open my eyes to the goodness of the moments here and now, to the blessings I take for granted. Contentment will soften my heart to understand why my path has taken me to this place with these people instead of that place with those people. Contentment contains patience, cheerfulness, calm, and joy. 

Contentment is starting to sound a whole lot better than Elsewhere.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Wearing the Writer Hat When There Are So Many Hats to Wear

In perusing old posts on this blog, I happened upon this statement: "My first book didn't get written because I had nothing else to do. It was written because I chose to write it." I need this reminder once in a while, as every writer likely does. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a full time employee. I am a daughter, sister, aunt, friend. You could write your own list, I'm sure.

During the stretch of time in which I wrote that first draft, I did not yet hold some of those privileged titles. I have gained a beloved spouse and family in the years since then. That it's harder to choose to write now is a valid claim. You know how it goes. Your life now is not likely the same as when you began as a writer. How then do we continue to wear the hat of Writer when it is increasingly difficult to balance it on the stack of other hats we wear?

Perhaps all it can come down to is giving yourself an honest answer to this question: Is writing still worth it?

If the answer is yes, please proceed to the next paragraph. If the answer is no, I wish you well and hold absolutely no judgment against you for your decision. In fact, I hope you're blessed by this realization as it likely frees you from the weight of a pursuit you are no longer called to follow. If the answer is maybe, give yourself some time to mull it over.

Okay, since you're reading this, I shall believe that you gave a firm nod of the head in the direction of your computer monitor. That's my answer too. "Yes, writing is still worth it! My life has changed. My responsibilities are many. My interests are varied. Among all the other titles I hold though, I am also a writer and I want to remain a writer." Still with me? Let's keep rolling.

I dedicated myself to writing when I was fresh out of college. Single, living with my sister and dear friend, working a relatively easy, stress-free job; my lifestyle was tailor made for taking up writing in the manner I'd long hoped to do. The way circumstances allowed me to adorn myself in the identity of Writer is something I could not fully appreciate until those circumstances changed. I thank God I had those years when I was lonely and bored with my job. After that period of abundant harvest though came the time of dryness. Writing fell by the wayside as I unwrapped the gifts of romance, marriage, babies, and more fulfilling work. It became that dear companion of my past: missed, remembered fondly, and promised a future reunion as soon as the time is right.

Ha! As soon as the time is right! If you're relating to this post in any way, you understand why the idea makes me laugh. To put it succinctly, the time has not been "right" and I do not expect it to be "right" in the foreseeable future. When you live a full life (a great enhancement to your writing), the time will always be wrong to return to writing. The answer to this unfortunate truth? Write anyway.

Your life is unique. Your writing is unique. No advice or plan will completely suit everyone. Still, I hope you can find some encouraging help from the things I have found work for me. Here is how I wear my Writer hat when there are already a pile of hats on my head.

  1. Wear Your Writer Hat Proudly: I AM A WRITER! Claim it. It is an absolute must if you are to follow through on your writing goals. Be proud of your identity as a writer. While this doesn't translate into making sure anyone and everyone listens to you talk about your writing, it does include being willing to share it naturally and joyfully. Why is it that so many writers hesitate to admit to what they are? Even when asked about your interests or passions, do you avoid mentioning writing? Or at the very least couple it with other lesser hobbies as if it is not a priority ? I have done that. I've mentioned it dismissively or avoided it completely. In doing so, I betrayed my true self. When someone is showing genuine interest in you, they want to know the real you and you are a writer.
  2. Do Not Procrastinate: In this I am not only talking about writing. If you make it a general rule to avoid procrastination in any of your responsibilities, you will discover that you can find more opportunities to write. Procrastination creates an atmosphere of 'too much to do,' making it easy to feel overwhelmed and even resent the tasks of daily life. Next comes the habit of deciding there is always something more important to be done instead of writing. Refusing to procrastinate in other priorities will make it tremendously easier to not procrastinate on your writing goals. If procrastination is currently a well rooted habit of yours, patiently retrain yourself. I guarantee it will bring about positive change in all areas of life.
  3. Enlist Help: Your significant other, your kids, your roommates, your friends - these folks can be considered as hindrances to your writing. Often it is only a subconscious idea but it has very real and negative consequences on your attitude toward both writing and toward those individuals. Yes, at times they can cause delays in sitting down to write. They can distract you and fail to understand the Writer in you. Help them become your helpers instead. Share how important writing is to you. Compare it to something that matters to them in a similar way so they can gain perspective. If you're a scheduler, setting aside specific and regular times for writing (something I haven't worked my way up to yet), then be up front with them about the schedule. They will adjust. The people closest to you can be your greatest voices of encouragement, confirming you in your efforts and challenging you to follow through on your goals. If they don't naturally develop that voice, communicate your need for it.
  4. Use Writing Prompts: When you're blocked completely, not a single sentence forming on the page, use writing prompts. When you're frustrated by your writing falling terribly short of what's in your head, use writing prompts. When you want to hone your skills, break new creative ground, or test your imagination, use writing prompts. When you want to have some fun, use writing prompts! They have become an effective, go-to tool to kickstart my brain. There are a million and one prompts available online. Search for prompts created for your particular genre or simply find one that interests you. Write for as long as you wish from a prompt or set a timer and challenge yourself to write as much as you can before the bell. However you choose to use them, they can be excellent aids for any writer.
  5. Read Books: This should be obvious, I think, but finding available time to read can be just as difficult as finding time to write. Nonetheless, we must feed our brains with the fruit produced by those who labor in the same art we are creating. Even if it takes you half a year to finish one book, always be in the midst of reading one. Much like writing prompts, picking up a book to read can churn up the ideas in your mind. Sometimes a fine example of your own genre is what you'll need. Other times, a book that is outside your typical interests as both a reader and a writer will lead to greater creativity in your work. No matter what, be a reader as you work to create more for the world to read.
  6. Get Some Readers: Nothing makes you feel like a legitimate writer like having readers! It is a thrill, scary and exciting, to hand your work over to another human being and ask them to read it. When I do it I am filled with hope and trepidation. I long for them to love it, of course, and be glad they spent their time and energy on it. When they return with positive responses, I am renewed in my motivation to keep the Writer hat on my head. When they return with critiques, I am grateful to know where I failed them as my readers. Ask a variety of people to read your work. Join a writers group that is both welcoming and willing to challenge you to improve. Sometimes a stranger, unswayed by their fondness of you, can be the most helpful reader. Other times, someone who will handle you with care as you struggle to power through on that difficult draft is who you need. Every reader is tremendously valuable.
  7. Believe You Have a Contribution to Make to Humanity: I firmly believe this should be part of our mindset for every title we hold and hat we wear. It is true of my place in the world as a wife, as a mother, as a worker, and no less, as a writer. Our gifts and passions were stitched into our unique design by our creator. There is a reason I love to write fiction while my husband loves to write song lyrics. There is a reason I find beauty in words in a way that reminds me of how my grandmother found beauty in the flowers and birds. We each have a contribution to make. Ultimately, that is why it is worthwhile to fulfill our roles in this world. Every single one of them. When they are simple and straightforward, bringing joy to ourselves and others, or when they are difficult, complicated, and even painful, the titles with which we have been gifted are our means to contribute to the amazing, intertwining existences of humanity. In the end, I hope that one of the greatest ways I honored who I was created to be was by writing.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Envelope

Writing Prompt: “My life changed the day I found that huge envelope stuffed with cash in the coupon exchange bucket at the supermarket.”

Writing Time: 10 minutes

I’d like to say I did the right thing. I’d like to say I didn’t think only of myself. All I can honestly say is my life changed the day I found that huge envelope stuffed with cash in the coupon exchange bucket at the supermarket.

Yellow, worn corners, thick with papers inside. I picked up that envelope with the thought, “well, someone gave up on serious couponing.” I expected cents and dollars off, not actual dollars. I glanced through the rest of the bucket and took the envelope with me, planning to flip through the coupons while I shopped and return what I didn’t use to the bucket. I was standing beside the sweet potatoes when I opened it up.

Five thousand dollars. I wrapped my fingers around the bills, not daring to lift them out of the envelope for others to see. My mouth went dry. I counted it three times. Five thousand dollars. My first thought was to bring it to the customer service desk. My second thought was of how many month’s rent would be covered by this cash. How many car payments or medical bills or grocery store runs. In that moment, surrounded by unaware shoppers and clutching the handle of my cart, I believed I had been miraculously blessed.

Had I not prayed for this? Lord, you know my needs, I’d whispered as I sat at my kitchen table this morning. Please help me, Lord. Please, help me. I know You will not abandon me. I believe you can show me a way through this.

Yes, that envelope was an answer to prayer. A wondrous, exciting answer that made me want to leap for joy right there in the produce section.

That was seven months ago. I still say it was an answer to my prayer, just not the obvious answer I imagined. No, nothing like I imagined.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Sometimes At Dusk

Writing Prompt: Sometimes at dusk we would see him come out from the hidden interior of his…
Writing Time: 15 mins

Sometimes at dusk we would see him come out from the hidden interior of his ramshackle home. Never in the morning. Never at noon. Only at dusk. The place was a rustic cabin, aged and uncared for over the years. In the evening, when the daylight was fully spent, the soft, flickering lights emanating through the windows suggested candles. None of us had ever seen inside so it was only speculation.

When I was especially young – five, six, seven years old – I assumed he was old and the sightings in the gray of twilight did nothing to correct that assumption. My sister, two years older, and I would huddle at the window of our sun room to watch. The crowns of our blonde heads down to our eyes were as much as we dared to show of ourselves. We’d whisper our guesses of who he was, always certain we hadn’t hit on the correct answers.

An escaped convict hidden away from the authorities. A man who ran away from an abusive family years and years ago, still afraid. A rogue spy who had enough of the lies and secrets and just wanted to be left alone.

The truth was nothing like our adventurous imaginings.

When I was fourteen, I realized he was young - maybe thirty or thirty-five. He moved into that cabin behind our backyard when he was twenty-three. 

A Little Prompting

I have a new love. In all my years of writing I have never used writing prompts. Well, that's not entirely true. If I think really hard, I can remember my 9th grade English teacher Miss Roberts (huge difference maker in my life!) conducting writing activities in which we were given a topic and needed to write on it for the remainder of class. I don't remember how well I responded to them at that time and I know she didn't make use of them often. So, let's focus on the present.

In January, I finally joined a writers' group for the first time. Oh, how I wish I had done this years ago! We meet once a month and share our writing projects. For the last half hour of the meeting, we use a writing prompt provided by one of the members. We write for only five minutes then share what we created. Plain and simple, it's my new favorite thing.

The prompts provide an itty bitty nugget of an idea. A start. A seed. When I read or hear the prompt, it's a thrill to know that in that moment there is no telling where I will go with it and yet in merely a few minutes I'll have formed a fuller concept and put words to the page. Each time it feels like I am being introduced to myself anew. Sometimes the result is tepid but other times I stare at the lines I wrote and wonder, "Where inside of me did that come from?"

This being the case, and the other case being that I have desired a return to blogging but have inexplicably struggled with writer's block each time I open a blank post, I shall make use of writing prompts here on the blog. My hope is that it will be fun and interesting, and will continue to break out the writer inside of me. I am excited to meet her each and every time.