The Company We Keep

We Become Who We Spend Our Time With

Even though it’s not Wednesday, I had to sneak in an extra post.

This morning as I was running around Lake Estes in beautiful Estes Park, Colorado, my thoughts circled around who I am today, who I was, and who I want to be. Thank God–literally–that I’m not who I was, that I’m finally comfortable with who I am, and that the power to be who I want to be lies within me.

On a recent episode of Hallmark’s Chesapeake Shores (I admit it, I’m a Hallmark Channel junkie), the character played by Treat Williams told his daughter that life is about the re-writing more than the writing. If you don’t like what’s on the page, change it.

Wow! Just wow!

The profound truth of that statement is so enlightening and empowering. Our lives are not changed by anyone else unless we allow it to be.  We have the ultimate power to change our own lives in any direction we want it to be changed.

Last weekend I was out to breakfast in a busy restaurant with some of my extended family. A table of six, not far from our table, got their food, bowed their heads, kids as well, and prayed over their meal before eating. It wasn’t the in-your-face-notice-us prayer, but humble and discreet. My husband and I always pray before meals at home, and when we’re in a public place I will sometimes quietly bow my head and silently give thanks. But only sometimes. Why not all the time? Because I forget. It hasn’t become a habit. That morning, I asked my nephew who is a youth pastor in Minneapolis, MN, if he would say the prayer over our meal. It was powerful, it was beautiful, and it was meaningful.

A week later, I was having dinner with some friends. Our food arrived, we were talking and laughing, enjoying one another’s company. When I got home I realized I didn’t give thanks. I didn’t have the reminder from someone around me, I got busy having fun, and simply forgot. While that’s not a bad thing, I want to be the person who gives thanks all the time, not just sometimes when I remember.

My point is how easily influenced we are by those around us. Subconsciously, we take in and absorb the world around us. We become who we spend our time with. There are some powerful Bible verses about this as well:

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” – 1st Corinthians 15:33

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared. – Proverbs 22:24

Your boasting is not good Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? 1 Corinthians 5:6

Take the time to figure out who it is you want to be, who you want to grow into, and how you want to re-write the pages of your life’s book. Because you, and only you, have the power to make that happen. Surround yourself with the people you admire and respect and you will become someone you admire and respect.

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Beauty in Brokenness

Nature in its Perfectness

I spent a lot of time in nature this past weekend and marveled, as usual, in all of its splendor. The perfect creations as well as the stunning beauty in the broken.

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And I started thinking…wouldn’t it be wonderful if we appreciated people as we do nature, in all of their brokenness and all of their flaws? If we truly accepted people exactly as they are, broken and bruised, and simply admired them for what they have to offer the world?  After all, we’re all a little broken, but each of us is so unique, so beautifully and wonderfully made.

Next time you see glass that’s broken or cracked, hold it up to the light. It’s those cracks in the glass that lets the light shine through. It’s not the perfectness, but the cracks, that create a brilliant light show you otherwise wouldn’t see.

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” –Leonard Cohen

Broken and Beautiful

This week may we look for the broken and choose to love them exactly as they are. Don’t judge or try to fix, just accept. Acceptance is the key to greatness and that greatness unlocks the door to bountiful love. And love, pure love, is what the world desperately needs.

“Finding beauty in a broken world is creating beauty in the world we find.”                   –Terry Tempest Williams

And now it’s off to the final week of Camp NaNo with its virtual cabins, campfires, and s’mores, and 30,000 words into Shear Murder, book 3 in the Melanie Hogan cozy mysteries.

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And in the Beginning…

Beginnings

For those who have read my bio, you know my writing years began at the tender age of four. I took my fat little crayons in my fat little fingers and decided to experiment with words on the knotty pine walls of the living room. My parents were not impressed! But even back then, I had something to say and writing was the natural way for me to say it.
As the years went by, that didn’t change. The only thing that did change is that I graduated from crayon on walls to pen on paper. For that, my parents were grateful.

In my teen years, it was writing that helped me work through the tumultuous teen emotions and heartbreak. Many summer days, I lay in our little fishing boat, tied up to the dock, rocking as waves rolled up against the shoreline and lapped the bottom of the boat. I clutched my pen and paper and wrote poetry like there was no tomorrow. The words flowed endlessly. When I wasn’t in the boat, I was perched on the end of the dock, my feet dangling in the water, or plopped on my bed in my basement bedroom, crafting more poetry.

Fishing Boat
Fast forward a few years. I was still writing when I got pregnant with my first son. I penned 2 ½ novels (yup, not just 2, but 2 ½), which are still in boxes in my home office. I took a few writing classes, too. Then came my second son. The writing stopped. There was no spare time.

When my second son was in high school, I got my Associates of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies, and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. While everyone else was impressed, I knew it wasn’t what I was meant to do. My heart longed for the days when I was a writer.

When my second son graduated from high school, I followed my dream. I got back to writing and haven’t looked back. While I still maintain a day job in the legal field, my true calling, my avocation, is writing.

As I think about the journey to where I am now—five published books, two more in the works—there are three suggestions I have for beginning authors.

1.) Find a writing community, or even one or two other writers. Non-writers, family and friends included, think we just sit down, write and voila! A book appears. A non-writer can’t possibly know the blood, sweat, and tears that go into a piece of creative fiction—or non-fiction. And if that’s the only mindset you’re subjected to and hearing on your writing journey, you’ll start believing it yourself. Eventually you’ll start to think of yourself a failure when you’re unable to just sit down and magically produce a novel.

Additionally, the non-writer can view writing as a waste of time unless the writer is making a lot of money. You may hear that you should be spending your time on something more worthwhile, something “important,” whatever that means. “Important” means different things to different people. Writing is hugely important to me. And if you’re a writer, it will be to you, too. It’s not about how much money we make (though, I imagine you wouldn’t catch any of us complaining if we made a dollar to two), it’s about a need to express the creative side that’s burning inside of us. And it’s work. Hard work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

“To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.”
― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

That being said, not all non-writers think this way. And if you feel they are, it’s important to ask yourself if there’s any validity to your feelings or if it’s your own insecurity and self-doubt that makes it feel that way. We writers are frequently tormented with self-doubt. It’s what many of us do best. Either way, let it go. If you don’t already, you’ll soon have a writing community reminding you you’re not alone. 

2.)  Plan your week and schedule in writing time. When first starting out, set a timer and just write. Don’t get up under any circumstance. Not for anything. This exercises your butt-in-chair muscle, even if it’s only for 15 minutes at a time. And don’t open the Internet to check anything. Your email will still be there when you’re done with your writing session, and your Facebook likes will still be there waiting. Even hard-core social media addicts can stay away for 15 minutes. If not, invest in Freedom. After you’ve created a habit of writing, play around to discover which method most accommodates your lifestyle—continue with timed writing sessions, decide on a set number of pages per day, word count goals, etc.

3.)  Don’t compare yourself to anyone else in the writing industry. We all have mentors and people we admire in the writing industry (think Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Joanna Penn) but don’t strive to be just like them. You are you. And you are fabulous. You have something unique to contribute to the reading world. And it would be a waste to deprive the world of that because you’re trying to be like someone else. As well, comparing yourself to other writers is the kiss of death. I struggle with comparisonitis as much as the next person, but I recognize it for what it is and kick it to the curb as soon as I realize that it’s trying to sink its fangs into my writing life.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

And now it’s back for week three of Camp NaNo and more virtual camping.

Bonfire-Brainerd

Carpe Diem

Mining for Ideas

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I’m confident that everyone who writes has been asked on more than one occasion, “Where do you get your ideas?”
Even when I expect it, that question always makes me freeze. When I finally thaw, I hem and haw, shift from one foot to the other, scrunch my face, followed by a long exhale…you would think I was in pain. And I kind of am. Because try as I might, I cannot for the life of me come up with a good, concrete answer.

The truth is, ideas are literally everywhere. My fear is not having enough time to write all the stories that pop into my head. All the scenes I want to flesh out, all the characters through which I want to live vicariously, all the things I want to research to put into a book…well, you get the idea. I’ve had people tell me, “Hey, I’ve got this fabulous idea for a book. You should write it for me.” I give them a blank stare and then I cough, buying some time before I’m finally able to speak. “Uh, yeah,” I say, “as soon as I finish with all of the ideas I already have.” In other words, not in this lifetime.

Writers are day dreamers, night dreamers, creative thinkers, even when we’re not aware of it. I will sometimes hear something or witness something seemingly unimportant, but then remember it days or weeks down the road when it’s making its way into my WIP.

My ears perk up when I hear people squabbling in the grocery store line, Starbucks, or any public place. I listen to husbands and wives interacting with each, siblings of all ages, and words between friends. The best of all? Two strangers who strike up a conversation as they’re waiting for time to pass, whether in line somewhere or in a doctor’s office waiting room. It’s amazing what two people will tell each other in a public place when they’re oblivious to the fact that they’re surrounded by others.

Now, I don’t so much care about the words these people say, but rather the way they say them, their tone. I also try to sneak a peek (sneak, so I don’t come across as being a creeper) at their facial expressions and body language. It’s those moments captured, incorporating them into a character, that makes a character believable and come to life. It’s those nuances that give characters necessary layers.

Another thing I do is carry a little Sony digital recorder when I’m running, walking, or driving. Or any other time it isn’t possible to carry a notebook or safely write. It’s then that ideas pop into my head and I need to capture them before they disappear. I’ve learned a long time ago that even if the idea is so monumental I think there’s no way I could ever forget it, it still escapes me nearly every time. I get busy, life happens, and the idea is a whisper in the wind.

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So, go exercise that creative brain, take advantage of those night dreams and daydreams, and be careful what you say the next time you’re standing in line at the grocery store. If there’s a writer anywhere in the near vicinity, you’ll end up in a book.

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

Women’s History Month Spotlight – JK Rowling

JK Rowling

JK Rowling offers hope to aspiring writers and is proof that it doesn’t take money to make your dreams come true. It simply takes passion, perseverance, and persistence.

At one point, prior to the success of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling found herself in a deep depression, divorced and with a baby daughter to support, no job, and living on unemployment. Those are some huge obstacles to overcome!

In her writing life, not only was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone rejected 12 times, J.K. Rowling was told not to quit her day job. Ouch! I can only imagine how those who rejected Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone must kick themselves daily for by-passing such a masterpiece.  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was penned in cafes while JK Rowling and her daughter survived on benefits.

It is our choices… that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.  -J. K. Rowling

Now not only is she one of the top women authors of all time, Rowling was named the “Most Influential Woman in Britain” in October 2010. Now that, my friends, is success. Taking lemons and making lemonade. What a true inspiration to women and writers everywhere.

Never give up

 

Women’s History Month Spotlight – Ruth Bell Graham

Ruth & Billy

As far back as I can remember I’ve admired Ruth Bell Graham’s devotion to her husband and family. She’s always reminded me of the woman in Proverbs 31 – the woman I’ve always hoped to be.

Since I’ve gone through a divorce, I appreciate her strength and stamina even more. (This isn’t one of those “it was all his fault” stories, much as I wish it were. I fully claim my responsibility.) But even during those tumultuous times, when I was failing miserably at marriage, Ruth Bell Graham remained my mentor. It just takes me a while to learn. 🙂

I looked to her as a role model, as a woman who loved her husband, even when I’m sure she didn’t feel like it, (we all have those times, don’t we?) and yet she soldiered on with beauty and grace. Through her life, I’ve come to know that love is not just a feeling. It’s a choice. And learning that has made me one extremely happy, grateful, and blessed wife today.  Thank you Ruth.

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“The fact is that both husband and wife are rough when the marriage begins. They shape each other through the trials and struggles they face together. When a couple falls to their knees and prays together, that is where true shaping takes place. Those who abandon ship the first time it enters a storm miss the calm beyond. And the rougher the storms weathered together, the deeper and stronger real love grows.”  -Ruth Bell Graham

 

 

 

 

Women’s History Month Spotlight – Mary, Mother of Jesus

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As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a mother. Little did I know back then, that role would far surpass any joy I’ve ever experienced. And that it would rocket my capacity to worry past the moon. I’m pretty sure I can count on one hand the number of nights of uninterrupted sleep I’ve had since my boys were born. And this month they turn 24 and 27!

Mary, on the other hand, knew she was going to lose her son. She knew she was going to give birth to the Lord of heaven and earth, and knew from Jesus himself what was forthcoming. Could you imagine? I’m not sure–no, I am sure–I would never have been able to handle that with such grace, such trust in God, such beauty, as she did. She was the epitome of what a mother should be.

I’ve kept journals for each of my boys until they were 12 years old. I wrote in those journals every day when they were younger, a little less frequently as they got older, but even then, at least a few times a week. I tried to capture the miracle of everything life gave them every single day – the joy, the hurts, the lessons. When I read those journals, it’s like experiencing those magical days of motherhood again. What a miracle! My boys have taught me the definition of real and unconditional love. They’ve taught me how beautiful it is to see life through the eyes of a child. And through it all, they’ve taught me to trust Jesus.

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Another miracle of being a mother? I’m a grandmother. And what a joy that is! 🙂

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