Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Becoming a Better Me: What my Twitter bio showed me about me

Twitter users have 160 characters to describe themselves in their bios. And do you know how many of us use 6+ of those precious letters to tout our love of coffee?

So. Many. Including, for a while, me.

But then I got to thinking about it. As much as I enjoy a cup of coffee (with sugar and cream), the drink is not the essence of who I am or who I aspire to be.

And more striking than the space I’d given coffee among my 160 characters was the out-of-proportion priority I’d let it have in my real life.

I would drink it throughout the day even though the quantity would make me feel kind of on edge and jittery. Those physical side effects would make it harder to focus on my work. What started as a comforting and delicious routine became a distraction.

I finally stepped back to reconsider the power the habit had gained. It was time to redefine myself in my bio and, more importantly, break free from the distraction.

After all, I want to serve Christ. Not coffee.

1 Corinthians 6:12 says, “All things are lawful for me” – but not everything is beneficial. “All things are lawful for me” – but I will not be controlled by anything. (NET)

Rewriting the 160-character bio was the easy part. Cutting back on coffee took longer. I resisted. I dealt with the side effects and excused the culprit before finally limiting how much I brewed in the morning.

This isn’t to bash coffee or those who enjoy it (which I still do). And go ahead and keep it in your bio because my main concern isn’t actually coffee or Twitter bios. Coffee is minor. So are online profiles.

What isn’t minor are all the things we do allow to take priority in our lives despite the harm they do us.

What's eating away at our peace and our well-being? What dictates a larger part of our day than it ought to? What infuses our routines with downsides we’ve been ignoring for far too long? What controls us?

After all, our lives have something in common with Twitter bios: they’re short. We have a limited number of days. Let’s choose carefully how we choose to fill and define them: with Christ or with other, lesser distractions.

Has there been a time in your life when you realized you’d let something define a bigger part of your life than it deserved?

Let’s choose carefully how we choose to fill and define our limited days via @novelwritergirl

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Permission to be different granted

As a (slowly recovering) perfectionist, somewhere in the twists of my brain lurks a belief that I must do everything the best possible way.

Take chocolate chip cookies, for example. I need the best recipe. The one that yields soft centers and edges just barely crisp enough to hold the cookie together when you pick it up. The cookie needs to be a nice circle and not look like a lump of dough that melted into a flat puddle in the oven. Oh. Also, this cookie must be gluten free.

Though there are many different recipes, an infinite number of them are less than the best. I’ve got to bypass all those and discover that one perfect path. Or, at least, that’s what my inner perfectionist would prefer. And once she finds that recipe? It’s the best and so everyone should do it her way.

Of course, there’s a problem with this.

You probably noticed it at gluten free, if not before. Not everyone has the issues I have with gluten. Most prefer gluten, actually. And their points of contention may not be limited to what kind of flour is used. They may prefer *gasp* crisp cookies. Or the puddly ones. Their idea of “best” is different from mine.

The same concept applies to other areas of life—dog training, novel writing, and on and on. There’s more than one “best” way to do most anything, even when two people share the same core faith.

But that inner perfectionist of mine? She quietly, subtly still insists that there must be a best of the best.

To find it, she takes in data from the complaints and praises, and recalculates for her next attempt at perfection.

She’s constantly revising her recipe for success based on the data she gathers.

And this is dangerous.

Going back to the cookies, if she incorporates wheat flour into her recipe because it’s the more popular ingredient, she will make a cookie that will harm her health if she eats it.

This is not productive, yet I’ve done it. With cookies, yes, but also with more important subjects like my writing.

The Bible tells us there is absolute truth about God. It does not, however, spell out specifics of absolute truth related to cookies, novels, dog training, career development and many other areas.

We all have different goals and motivations and personalities. We focus on different outcomes, pour energy into different tasks, and let different elements of life slide with less attention.

And as long as we’re following God, these differences are okay. There is no one absolute best, despite your inner perfectionist’s attempts to convince you otherwise.

We need to allow others to be different from us, and we need to allow ourselves to be different from others.

So here’s the good news: you don’t have to agree that my best cookie is your best cookie.

And the best news yet? We can both be happy with our own cookies.

Is there an area in your life where you need to give yourself permission to be different from others?

We need to allow ourselves to be different from others via @novelwritergirl

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Six ways to keep your dream alive

Since high school, I’ve dreamed of becoming a published author. The way has been filled with successes and disappointments. Over fifteen years after I started writing my first novel, I’ve now signed with Pelican Book Group to publish my debut novel.

Fifteen years is a long time to keep a dream alive, yet it’s certainly not the longest wait out there. And really, I'm still waiting in other areas because I have more dreams I'd like to see come true. (Dreamers never quit, do they?) Whatever the wait, these tips help see my dreams through, and I trust they’ll do the same for you!

1. Join a group. No, like, really join. It’s one thing to pay membership dues or browse through a group’s Facebook posts, but it’s another thing, a more rewarding thing, to start building relationships with the other members. Post questions in the online forums, comment on industry blogs, find out if anyone lives near you to start meeting up in person.

2. Don’t pretend everything is okay when it isn’t. When you’re facing discouragement, your support system needs to know because they’re the ones who’ll speak truth into your heart, who will remind you of the value of your dream and the strength of your God. And let me tell you: they will preach. But if you try to battle it alone, you’re likely to only get more discouraged. A godly group of friends who have been inspired by your dreams and touched by your talent, however, will preach truth. In the most loving way. And if you don’t respond to that, they’ll take a sterner approach (at least, that’s what has happened to me a couple of times when I insisted on wallowing a bit…)

3. Find a small step forward. Back in high school art class, we only had something like half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, to work on our paintings each day, yet I never remember seeing that as a disadvantage. In fact, piecing up the work helped me focus and take my time to do my best work. I sometimes have to remind myself of that when I paint now because I have this one-sitting-and-done mentality that makes me rush sloppily. You might not have half an hour or forty-five minutes, but the same idea applies. There is something you can do today to make progress on your dream. The big picture doesn’t develop overnight. Instead, it’s created one small brushstroke at a time.

4. Rearrange your schedule or your work space. I’ve found that when I work on my writing in a new place or at a different time, my creativity surges. When I was drafting my latest manuscript, I started writing into the night. After ten, my dogs slept so they weren’t disturbing me every few minutes (I have a rascal of a hound), the world was dark and less distracting, fewer emails and Facebook notifications came in (though Twitter was another beast…). I finished drafting the 350ish pages in 8 weeks. But whether your dream is a creative endeavor or not, switching up the time or place where you work might result in you finding sharper focus and new perspectives.

5. Enlist a pro. I have a dream of having two well-behaved dogs. When I’ve tried all the tricks I know to coax loyal, mannered dogs out of my two rascals, I have two choices: I can give up, or I can get help. (Oh, there is a third option, isn’t there? Keep trying the same failed tactics and getting the same results.) It doesn’t necessarily take hours and boatloads of money to get the help I need. One in-home session with a trainer worked wonders. I’ve done the same with my writing. About six years ago, after polishing my novel the best I could with the help of critique partners, I hired a freelance editor to review my first three chapters and synopsis. She provided suggestions which I was able to apply to the entire manuscript, and the next agent after I did the rewrite offered me representation.

6. Take the pressure off. A key moment in my writing life came when I accepted that God can use my writing whether or not I reach my goal of publication. Whatever your dream is, trust the God who gave it to you. The pressure to make something succeed is not on you. It is all completely and entirely on God. Do what you can in faith that it doesn’t depend on you and that God has a better plan than you do.

What are your tips for keeping a dream alive during a long wait?

Six ways to keep your dream alive - via @novelwritergirl

Thursday, August 18, 2016

This job isn’t for everyone (but it is for you)

In my second week of training at a call center, a customer berated me. What he was upset about, I don’t even remember, but the company sold athletic shoes and apparel. Nothing worth belittling another human being over.

I looked to passing trainers for help, but the caller insisted I not put him on hold to get help, so I felt like I couldn’t ask for it. (I was eighteen, sensitive, and a rule-follower. What can I say?) The trainers didn’t understand what I was dealing with or how much it was getting to me until I was in tears.

At that point, they rescued me from him, told me to put him on hold even though he insisted I not do so, and I was excused to go outside the call center to collect myself.

As I sat, getting my emotional feet back under me, one of the head trainers came out. His pep talk went like this: “This job isn’t for everyone.”

The implication, of course, was that the job wasn't for me.

If you're a dreamer of any kind or striving for anything challenging, you've heard this, too. Maybe not in these words, but definitely with this underlying meaning.

Looking back now, I suspect the trainers took over the terrible caller and resolved it easily enough. They probably knew better than to let the man boss them around. They probably thought I should’ve known better, too. In retrospect, I imagine the man was among the worst of my customers simply because I didn’t know how to handle him, and he took full advantage of that.

Somehow, though, in the midst of my teary weakness, I mustered the self-confidence to tell the trainer I could do this job. I insisted. I went back to work.

Four years later, I applied for and landed a supervisor job in that same call center. In that position, I was exposed to a whole new level of upset callers—the ones who asked to speak to a supervisor. The skills I’d gained had to develop to new heights fast. And yes, one caller does stick out from that time period, too, as one I should’ve handled differently. But, again, I learned. I grew. And thankfully, that time, no one told me to quit.

A few years after that, I became the person the call center manager left in charge when he left, meaning I’d end up with calls the other supervisors couldn’t handle. After that, I changed companies to manage a call center myself, and I handled the callers who were asking to speak to the president of the company.

I'm telling you this not because this is the greatest achievement, but to assure you that those who say "this job isn't for everyone" can be wrong about you just like that trainer was wrong about me.

But I’m glad he underestimated me and wanted to give me an easy out because it trained me to be more sure of what I want and my ability to achieve it by God’s empowerment. So that, through years of writing rejections and setbacks, which basically told me that writing isn’t for everyone (implying writing isn’t for me), I could remain steadier.

In part because of that call center experience, I believe, sometimes through tears, that I can do this job. I can survive in this tough writing business.

You can, too. You do not have to take the easy out discouragers want you to take.

Those discouragers stand there, holding the door open to let you and me to walk out on our dreams and goals for good. They would cheer us through. They’d think of dissuading us as a favor. The longer they go on, the more we begin to wonder: are they underestimating us, or are we overestimating ourselves?

Let's shut the door they want to push us through. This job of walking by faith toward God's call on our lives isn't for everyone--the path is narrow--but it is for us.

In addition to being narrow, the path we're on is long. It does not lead in the straight line we wish for because God has purpose in the curves and the rocky cliffs. We do not ever have all the skills we need to make it. All of life, all of dreaming, is a learning and growing process. But in our weakness, our Savior is strong.

But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9, NET

He is patient, and he teaches us everything we need to know. He clothes us in his armor and He empowers us to be more than conquerors.

Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed. Hebrews 12:11-13, NET

It is by clinging to God that we quiet those doubts, mute the voices of the discouragers, and shut the doors on giving up when we're called to persevere. Through endurance and faith, we achieve peace and righteousness. We are healed.

Listen to what Jesus is telling you about yourself, about your ability, about his call on your life. Tighten your fingers on the dreams He’s given you, and fight for them.

Fight through the tears, believe through the discouragements, follow your Savior through the valleys until He shows you the path to the mountain tops.

Dreaming is a learning and growing process. But in our weakness, our Savior is strong via @novelwritergirl

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I don't need all that, God

I’ve been reading through the story of David, and as I’m winding down, I read this morning the psalm recorded in 2 Samuel. David speaks of crying to God for help and God responding by shaking the earth and doing all kinds of extravagant, powerful, awesome things on David’s behalf.

In my distress I called to the Lord;
I called to my God.
From his heavenly temple he heard my voice;
he listened to my cry for help.
The earth heaved and shook;
the foundations of the sky trembled.
They heaved because he was angry.
Smoke ascended from his nose;
fire devoured as it came from his mouth;
he hurled down fiery coals.
2 Samuel 22:7-9, NET

I sat in my Adirondack chair in my weedy back yard in my small Midwestern city and thought to myself, “I don’t need all of that.” I’d settle for clear direction on what to do in one situation. Maybe two. I’d settle for this or that kind of security.

Certainly heaven and earth needn’t shake. Fiery coals? No thanks, God. My battles aren’t this important.

I don’t need you to love me like this, God.

I haven’t seen the sky tremble or earth heave lately, so maybe he agrees.

Or maybe I’ve just closed my eyes to my own needs and the mighty ways God works.

If our Bible is true, if our God is the same yesterday, today, and always, then heaven and earth still shake at his command and he still hurls down fiery coals in answer to his servant’s cries for help.

Just because we don’t see it with our eyes does not for a moment mean that these things aren’t happening in the spiritual realm. Or even in the physical one.

God does love us like that. And here’s another thing: we do need him to.

It’s that move-heaven-and-earth kind of love that sent Jesus to the cross for our sins. It’s that love that blankets our souls in peace. It’s his hand that gives us all good things. The blessings we pray for and later receive, God plucked and gave to us. He spoke them into being with his fiery breath.

There is so much my eyes cannot see. I’ve never seen God, nor have I seen fire issue from his mouth. But I have seen answered prayer. I have pleaded with God for years and had the honor of watching him answer. Whether or not I think I deserve it, God has declared his love for me as one of his children, and because he’s claimed me as his own, he fights my battles with the power only he possesses.

Move-heaven-and-earth kind of love sent Jesus to the cross for our sins. He does love us like that via @novelwritergirl

Thursday, August 11, 2016

How to Harness Creativity

As a blogger and novelist, my full time job is creativity. Unfortunately, experience in writing doesn’t make the ideas come easier; the initial inspiration is often the hardest part of the process for me. This has made the month of August a bit daunting. I’m planning to travel some this month, so I’ll have less time to post to my blog. That means I need to write a bunch of posts in advance. But where are all these ideas going to come from?

Whether your planning the layout of a room, picking what plants to add to the landscaping, or coming up with a unique date to go on with the man you married twelve years ago, you might be facing the same idea void.

So, here are some of my tools for harnessing creativity when I need it most. And they work! This post is brought to you by the first tip!

Make lists. As soon as an idea pops into your mind, get it down. If you have time, elaborate on it immediately so you don’t forget what was so inspiring about the idea by the time you have the chance to sit and work on it.

Create a perfect (brain) storm. My understanding of perfect storms is that they’re a combination of a weather events descending on one place at one time. A quick online search of what makes a storm “perfect” revealed one reference to a nor’easter absorbing a hurricane. As bad as perfect storms are in weather, they’re great in creativity. Join forces with someone else. Explain the dilemma—yup, stumble through your half-formed ideas—and let their fresh perspective offer ideas you hadn’t thought of on your own. Make sure to pick someone you don’t mind saying outlandish things to (that’s usually how my half-formed ideas sound, anyway) and someone who won’t get frustrated in the conversation about why an idea won’t work, because there’s usually a lot of both before arriving at a new plan.

Get out of your routine. When ideas simmer but just won’t come to a boil, go listen to a speaker, read something out of your normal genre, visit a museum, check out a big city three hours away or a new trail a few blocks away. When I was working on the manuscript currently under consideration with publishers, I went with a group of ladies to hear a speaker. I count that day as a major inspiration for the turn the novel took after that.

Find a good prompt source. For writers, Five Minute Friday, gives a weekly one-word prompt for a blog post. In poetry, I’ve found college level textbooks helpful with different ideas about trying out forms or styles. Whatever your endeavor, look around your community of creatives and see if anyone offers prompts. Or check out what non-fiction there is on your subject, and use the topics covered there as your source of inspiration.

What are your tips for getting out of a rut when you need to be creative?

4 tips from a novelist for harnessing creativity via @novelwritergirl

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

You don't always get what you pay for & Other Busted Myths

For two or three days after the stylist washed and cut my hair, my locks remained silkier than they’d ever been. My thick hair with its naturally inconsistent wave tends toward frizz when left to its own devices, so this new level of smoothness prompted me to invest in the salon-caliber shampoo and conditioner.

I would probably continue to do so once in a great while as a special treat, but the result was never as remarkable as that first time. Maybe because each wash doesn’t come with a fresh cut or professional styling.

Whatever the case, I discovered a drugstore/department store brand I trust makes shampoo and conditioner priced less than five dollars each. I gave it a shot.

Now, I get the results from my five dollar shampoo that I’d hoped for from the twenty-five dollar one.

You don't always get what you pay for. Expense doesn’t equal quality. Sometimes, the return on the five dollar investment beats out the twenty-five dollar one.

As I straightened my hair this morning, thinking about that, other common myths sprang the mind, equally busted.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Owning a small house certainly served me and my husband well. And ordering the bigger drink at the coffee shop? Sometimes I end up regretting that because 20 ounces of coffee leads to caffeine jitters that I wouldn’t have experienced had I gone with the smaller cup.

Money doesn’t mean success. I’ve made a lot more than I make right now, but I was terribly unhappy.

If a little is good, more isn’t necessarily better. I have an aunt who hurt herself exercising with the belief that more would be better.

Yet we're surrounded by these beliefs in expense, size, money, and quantity so it's sometimes hard to remember to question them. Let’s stop for a moment to consider what myths we’re buying—figuratively or literally.

What do we pay more for without realizing the quality isn’t there?
What have we up-sized to our own discomfort?
What joys have we passed up for the sake of money, and is the money worth the sacrifice?
What are we stock-piling or doing to excess that might be hurting more than helping?

Your turn! What common sayings simply aren’t true?

You don't always get what you pay for and Other Busted Myths via @novelwritergirl

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