Monday, February 1, 2016

I 8 Monday—What to Say When There Are No Words

Last week I read online about a family tragedy someone I know has been dealing with, a hardship that would make anyone who’s ever stressed over a dinner menu embarrassed beyond belief. My
heart leapt toward this woman and what she’s been going through. I began to imagine what she might possibly be feeling, with no real success. Only a strong attempt to understand. I spent time reading the reactions to her beautifully written, vulnerably raw post. Mostly, I felt incredibly thankful for the lack of judgment I encountered in the comments.

Which sadly, led me to several times of struggle in my own life where people shot off some incredibly stupid things. Specific incidences come to mind. In the aftermath of my miscarriages. When my family received news my sister’s tumor was malignant. But one of the worst “warnings” came when I visited a drug rehab as a sixth grader, in effort to help my older sister on her road toward recovery. One of the counselors looked right at me and said I’d end up just like my sister. (P.S. Hey Clueless Counselor from the late 80s, I am like my sister in creative and risk-taking ways. I did not turn out just like her in the heartbreaking addictions she’s suffered. Thanks for the vote of confidence. Did wonders for my sixth grade psyche.)

All this to say, I’ve come to learn there are ways to handle situations where few or no words suffice better than impulsive ramblings. Words will never cure a tragedy. But timely, discerning words, spoken with wisdom, can provide unexpected encouragement and a balm to the soul.

What To Say When There Are No Words

  1. Love. Express your love for the person. So much is communicated in that one word. Often, you don’t need to bookend that word with anything. It’s strong on its own.
  2. “I’m sorry you’re going through this.” Saying this evokes empathy and indicates that you care. It’s simple, but it can speak volumes.
  3. “How can I be there for you?” People feel loved during times of hardship in different ways. A meal might be perfect for one person and repulsive to another. Some people need time to cry by themselves, while others need to know they can wipe their snotty nose on your sleeve and you won’t judge them.
  4. Don’t feed them an answer for the unexplainable why. This one is more what not to say. Bite your tongue before you spill off a list of reasons why this tragedy might be happening. I got my share of these after the miscarriages. Not a single one comforted, encouraged, or made me feel at peace with my situation. Mostly, when people spouted off their guesses as to why I lost my babies I felt like they had some insider information I didn’t. I’ve grown more comfortable with leaving questions unanswered, at letting that be part of my journey.
  5. Validate the hurt. There are unique ways to do this. Avoid saying things like “I know exactly how you feel...” Instead, focus on them and how the circumstances might be impacting their life.
  6. “You are not alone.” Again, not the time to share a long story about how your Aunt Betty also got cancer and is now in complete remission. But…I do think there’s value in letting someone know they’re not alone. Certain situations can feel extremely lonely. This reminder, at a thoughtful time, can provide wonderful comfort.
  7. Something. There’s the temptation to keep quiet, to not say anything out of fear you’ll say the wrong thing. I get it. I’ve said plenty of screwball things in my life, meaning well. But avoidance communicates the message that this great sad thing they’re going through isn’t important to you—that you have too much going on in your own life to bother to reach out.
  8. Nothing. Wait, what? I know, I know. I just suggested to say something. But there’s a difference between saying any old thing and saying something well-timed and thought out. Just as there are seasons for everything, I truly believe there are times to just close your mouth and reach out your arms for a hug. Or times to pass on a letter. Or, as one child did so memorably for me following a long season of darkness, to extend out a handful of yellow daffodils. 

Hmm. I was only planning on whipping up a quick little post. Guess I had a lot to say on the subject. ;-)

*A huge shout-out thanks to Carrie, for you know what. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

I 8 Mondays--Best Writing Advice

There was a time when I used to 8 Wednesdays. For the next couple weeks I’m going to 8 Mondays.

Today I’m hitting you with 8 of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever received (quick recall so I likely neglect to mention at least a dozen others…always another post for another Monday). I’m taking the advice I learned and serving it to you Wendy-style (which basically just means giving it to you topped off with my own experience).

Give every character a secret
I don’t remember exactly where this one came from, but it sounds like a Donald Maass tip to me. Constructing novels with this in mind has done wonders to ramp up the intrigue factor in my books. It invites twists in my stories in unexpected and plot-developing places. Secrets = gold for whenever you need more tension.

Sleep on it
It’s imperative to give your story time. Think of your ideas like old school Chia pets. They need time to grow (some more than others). I’ve lost track of how many times I thought I had a story wrapped up and one long soak in the tub or one sleepless night later I’m toying with a whole new spin. Not thinking days or weeks even on this one. Try months or years even.

Motivation is king
Always know why your character chooses to make an important decision. Take copious notes. Study your characters the same way you memorized everything about your significant other in the early stages of the relationship when you’d do anything to prove how in love you were.

Don’t be married to being a plotter or pantser
I used to be a pantser. But I’ve come over to the dark side. Or should I say the partially lit side. I’m both now. I plot and I pants. And I can tap my head and rub my belly at the same time. There are valid points about writing a novel using each of these methods. Get to know what they are. Experiment with both. (Plotters, it won’t kill you.)

Make every sentence work to further the plot
Don’t waste words.

Start in the center of it all
Don’t build up to your start. Invite the reader straight into the center of the action. There’s time to explain. And if you’re a seasoned writer, you’ll find a way to incorporate setting and character introductions skillfully as you throw your readers in the ring.

Theme meet Character, Character meet Theme
Know how the theme of your story influences every single character. Work it. Work it.

Create a satisfying ending
while leaving the reader longing for more.

I’ve read dozens of books on the craft. Ive also written thirteen novels, and I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. I can honestly say the above 8 are the nuggets of advice I keep coming back to. They’re my compass, navigating me through the sometimes rocky terrain of completing a work. Hope they help!

*Another helpful resource

Monday, January 18, 2016

Truest Life

Monday, January 11, 2016

Voice Lessons

2016 is the year of the voice. My voice. Choosing to use it. And not to use it.

Every New Year I find I become reflective about what I want to focus on, and as the calendar pushed us into 2016, I kept coming back to voice. Writers love this word. At least I do. There’s this elusive wonder attached to a writer’s voice. I’m reading an author with an extremely strong writing voice right now. I’m halfway through Gillian Flynn’s DARK PLACES. And whether or not you find her stories twisted and her premises disturbing, it would be hard to argue that she lacks voice. There’s no mistaking when I’ve picked up one of her books.

So, yes, obviously I want to continue to strengthen my writing voice.

I’m also going to be intentional about something else voice-related.

When not to use my voice.

In this era of share-all to be-all, I’ve grown quiet fascinated with getting quieter. Studying some of my wisest mentors and people who’ve earned my respect, I tend to notice a familiar thread. They don’t share every little opinion. They don’t always feel they need to argue. They aren’t fighting to be heard.

Because they’re focusing on something revolutionary. My mentors concentrate on listening, and they know how to discern whether what they choose to share will bring value to a moment or just muddy it up.

The world is already mud-saturated. And I happen to believe all of the oversharing contributes to many things we haven’t even felt the repercussions of yet. Like entitlement, the false ideology we are always in the know or that we’re always right. I think it invites stress and prompts unnecessary arguments. It makes some appear foolish, desperate, and in love with shock value. It offers the false assumption words are enough when action is far better.

Hear me clearly on this. There is a time and place to rise up, to let my words and my views find their way out in the world. But there’s much to be said about taking a moment to ascertain when I’ve encounter that time and that place.

Until then, I’ll be observing all of it. And making up my own mind.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Woman in Red

Happy New Year!

We were on the road when 2016 hit. I was desperately clutching for a coffee carafe at a Residence Inn, when I realized there was a woman standing next to me. I moved aside and said we could share the space.

She was dressed in a red sweatshirt and red sweatpants. Very Santa-esque. And she had something that resembled a shower cap on her head. She had one of those smiles that reels you in instantly. I quickly found a way to continue our conversation.

“Another year to grow older.” I winked at her as she fumbled with a hazelnut creamer. I can be quite friendly when in dire need of caffeine, apparently.

She stopped fiddling with the stir stick and looked me directly in the eyes, a serene expression defining her features. “This is going to be a great year for you.”

It’s amazing how much of an impact a stranger can have. I spent the rest of the day in the car with my husband and kids feeling as though someone spiked my coffee. Maybe that’s how they roll at that particular Residence Inn along the coast. Or perhaps it’s that the woman in red gave me a blessing to start my year. She tipped me off to the best way to begin anything—believing in its potential.

Cheers to a great year ahead!

*Happy 40th birthday to my husband! 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Heart Ponderings & Why I Refuse to Let Dog Vomit Win

I woke up to dog puke this morning. And then I broke a few things by accident. Which led me to
think I’m pretty much guaranteed to have one sucky day.

That was until I remembered the time of year. And all that’s happened in my life over the past year. And you.

I ordered the cranky voice quiet and took a few moments to reflect on all I have to be thankful for.

Things like…
Kids that still open their arms to hug me, a roaring fire in the fireplace yesterday, a husband who brought up my books to the company we hosted this weekend, my books—that I’ve worked hard and and people are actually buying and reading them, my health (even though I’m really curious about a few new bumps and red dots on my skin), that I have a God who teaches me how to forgive and love deeply, candles, warm blankets, that I even have a dog (wild and crazy as she is), the walk I took with my husband last night, family I love to talk to on the phone, a memorable church message, a motley crew of diverse and fortifying friendships, the will in me to grow and learn, an indestructible fight inside of me. The glory of this season. Every day I get to be here on earth. . .
published four books

And I ponder in my heart, much like Mary did that majestic evening she held her newborn in her arms, when life feels most overwhelming and kissed by a spiritual otherness that’s difficult to conceptualize, it’s best to embrace all of the gifts of truth we’ve been given. To cling fast to life, and light, and everything that imbues us with hope.

Because hope is living and real. 
{And it’s far more appealing than dog vomit.}

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Twenty-five Things Every Longtime Writer Will Experience

If you’ve dedicated yourself to the craft and you plan to stick with this writing thing, I’m going to let you in on a few well-known secrets. You can expect at least three-quarters of the following to apply to you at some point along the long haul. So, a toast. Because we’re in this together. And we can laugh and bond over...

Twenty-five Things a Longtime Writer Is Sure to Experience
  1. Every winter your hands will turn freakishly numb at the keyboard.
  2. Your skin will get thick, then thin, then thick again. {Rinse & repeat.}
  3. You will see others get an agent, a contract, a three-book deal and believe. Oh, you’ll believe.
  4. You will wait for what feels like eternity and every other day you’ll be tempted to abandon all belief—not just in getting published, but in all mankind.
  5. You will see someone else’s printed and edited draft and secretly wish for them to edit yours.
  6. There will be days your work is the best thing you’ve ever read.
  7. There will be days your work is the biggest load of crap you’ve ever read.
  8. You will go nuts when an admired author follows you back on Twitter.
  9. You will forget how many days in a row you’ve camped out in your pajamas and talked only to your characters.
  10. You will jump through every hoop possible in order to get published until you find that hoop-jumping is not your thing. Writing is.
  11. You will read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and fall in love with the craft all over again.
  12. Facebook and social media in general will become the ultimate bug zapper. But you’ll fly toward it, vulnerable every time your thoughts run dry.
  13. You’ll read reviews and instead of defining you as a writer, they will serve as small teaching tools you’ll be able to readily accept or let go. This is after you’ve memorized every single one.
  14. Your coffee and your tea will grow cold and you will forget to eat lunch.
  15. People will think you’re rolling in it. You will fight the temptation to tell them otherwise. Or if you’re like me, you’ll be downright honest and make the classic joke about your book that’s sure to make you millions.
  16. You will find that one evening your writing absolutely sings after you’ve tipped back that extra glass of wine only to reread your WIP the next day and have a good laugh.
  17. You’ll study all the latest sales and marketing trends, as well as all of the most compelling book plot ideas to discern what reaches audiences, only to find everything changes with the seasons.
  18. Adaptability will become king.
  19. You’ll have a few semi-delusional moments when you swear you see your characters while you’re shopping and it will take everything inside you to clamp your mouth shut so you don’t walk up to them and call them the wrong name. P.S. This happens in T.J. Maxx a lot.
  20. You will celebrate with other writing friends. You will cry with other writing friends.
  21. You will be staring right at someone, nodding, giving every indication you’re paying attention but you’ll be in Fictionland with your characters.
  22. The best plot ideas and dialogue will come to you at 3am or when you’re in a bathtub full of water.
  23. You’ll never quite know how to respond when someone informs you they’ve read your book but gives you no indication of what they thought.
  24. The biggest tragedy of getting sick won’t be throwing up or spending hours moaning near the toilet, it’ll be that you’re away from your computer, unable to write.
  25. No matter how brutal it gets, you won’t quit. Because you’ve come this far.