What I've Learned from 2017

6:00 AM

Another year, come and gone. Crazy, isn't it? You're probably getting tired of all the end of year recaps, but you're going to get another one here. This is sort of my Fourth Quarter Recap post as well, so we'll see how this goes :P 

Last year, I did a post on 16 things I learned in 2016. Since I was born at the end of 1999, I get the cool opportunity to reflect on my seventeenth year of life in 2017. 

What did I learn this year?

Here are 17 things for you.



#1: Letting go of your story is very important.

Both for your story's success, and your own mental health, letting go of your story on an emotional level is very important. We get so invested, so involved, so wrapped up and connected to our stories. And that's not a bad thing, but when you hit writer's block, or when you can't figure out this one character, or when you get harsh comments from a beta ... your feelings and emotions will plummet. You won't want to work on the book anymore because you'll feel like it's trash, and since your book is trash, obviously that means you are too, right?

You are a beautiful person, and writing takes time and growth. Each story you write will shape you more, and you will find yourself getting better and better and better ...

So let go of your story, friends. Just because it's a part of you doesn't mean it defines you.


#2: Tell the truth to yourself.

There are going to be things you struggle with and face in life, but only by identifying those problems and dealing with them are things going to get better. It's so easy and tempting to ignore problems. I am a pro at that. But the longer you ignore something, the more time it has to sit and simmer in your heart and mind, until it's almost so large, you can't face it at all.

Be honest with others, but also be honest with yourself.


#3: Don't be afraid to look for answers. 

If you have problems, try to find solutions for them! Google it, even if it's far fetched and likely won't get a pinpointed response. Telling the truth to yourself about a given problem is the first step. Finding answers and taking action to help yourself overcome it is the next.


#4: Bookstagramming is fun!

I got a bookstagram this year, and I've really enjoyed it! I haven't posted as often as I would like to, but that's because I've been a naughty reader and been very ... slow on reading. I've read 38 books so far, and I'm aiming for 40 before the year ends.


#5: Hard work pays off.

Looking back on this year from a writing standpoint, I'm actually fairly satisfied? I worked really hard to get draft 2 of The Thief's Conspiracy done, and after almost a year of work, I finished in February. And after reading through that draft, I realized it wasn't as much of a wreck as I had feared. Edits had been very successful. Granted, it still needs a ton of work, but it's better. And it wouldn't have gotten better if I hadn't stuck it out and worked.


#6: Tea puns are The Actual Bes-tea-est Things Ever. 

I'm not going to explain this one. Except for some sly smirking towards the Tricky Seven.


#7: TOP's No Phun Intended album is amazing.

If you haven't listened to any of those songs, go listen now. Forget this post. Listen to Just Like Yesterday. IT IS BEAUTIFUL AND WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.


#8: Twitter is fun!

I got a Twitter guys. After ages and ages of my writer frens telling me I needed one (because for some reason that's where it's at for all the authors?) I finally caved and got an account. So you should go get one too! It's great! Much sass! All the snark!


#9: Flying by yourself is not as scary as you might think.

I flew for the first time this year. I actually flew twice. The first time was with my cousin to Minneapolis, Minnesota for the Minneapolis Young Writer's Workshop. And the second time was to Arizona to visit my best friend. I was completely on my own the second time, which was a little stressful but completely chill.

When you're doing something new, it's important to take a deep breath and remember that this may be new for you, but a lot of people have done it before and if they can do it, you can too.


#10: Planning is not as confining as going into everything with no clue what you're doing. 

*coughs* That one's a mouth full. And a rather recent realization. Recently I've found it to be true, both in writing and in life, that planning is a very useful tool for effectiveness. It helps organize your thoughts and actions, and helps you to be productive. I even wrote a post on it!


#11: Good things don't last forever. 

This has been a very hard and sad lesson to learn. About a month ago, it was announced that the Minneapolis Young Writers Workshop, a gathering of writers that I have attended for the last two years, had been cancelled and would never again be held in the future. 

That workshop was such a light to my life. It changed me and my writing in so many ways and provided me with amazing opportunities. I wouldn't be the same person I am today without it, and I have so many amazing memories and things to be thankful for.

And I'll never have that again. I'll have amazing opportunities in the future, I'm sure. But I'll never again attend that workshop. It breaks my heart, but it's a part of life. Things end. Chances are given, and opportunities are taken away. 

Be thankful for what you have and the experiences you are blessed with. 


#12: Dream big.

I've made some big decisions this year (on which I will ellaborate more with point 17). And that's a good thing. You'll get disappointed that way, yes. But you'll also soar. Take advantage of the opportunities you've been given. As Oscar Wilde put it, "To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all." 

Dream big!


#13: Your writing can teach you lessons about the craft, and about yourself. 

There is a motto in my middle grade WIP, The Dream Walkers. My two boys say it often to themselves. 

Be bold, daring, brave.

Back when I was in the middle of editing draft two, I began praying and meditating on these words. And slowly, over a period of several months, God began to show me exactly what each of those words really meant, for my story, and for me in my life. It was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. 

Examine your writing and your themes and look for ways it can teach you more about yourself, and help you to live to the fullest. 


#14: Write for fun.

For July's Camp Nano, I wrote a book I had no intention of editing, much less trying to get published someday. I wrote it as an "experiment", but also, I wrote it purely for the joy of writing. 

And it is one of my favorite books I've ever written. 

I didn't have plans to edit it, but given how much I love it, I've been reconsidering. That book was written with no stress and no future intentions, and even though it might have felt like a waste of time at first, it wasn't. It was so worth it.

So remember to spend time doing what you love, simply because you love it.


#15: Embrace change.

I've gone through some big changes this year, one big one actually being here on the blog. I underwent an extreme makeover. It was scary at first, but once I finally finalized everything, I was so satisfied. I'm in love with my blog design, and am so thankful I ignored the voice saying, "Just leave it how it is. It'll be safer that way.

Change is a part of life. As my youth minister is fond of saying, "Nothing in life is constant except for God and change." So embrace it.


#16: Embrace newness. 

I did a lot of new things this year. I flew in an airplane. I took my first online college class. I got a job. And through all that newness, there was no small amount of anxiety. But if you look past that fear, you'll see the beauty of life and what the days before you promise. Newness and change go hand in hand, and though they bring with them fear, they're truly gifts from God. 


#17: Doing what scares you is empowering and worth it. 

STORY TIME! On my flight back from Arizona, I sat down next to Sara Ella. I knew who she was but I was terrified to talk to her. And I almost didn't! I almost let the opportunity pass me by, but I toughed up and said hi. She was amazing and wonderful and lovely, and I am so thankful to have talked to her! If I hadn't, a lot of things would not have been put into motion.

Like me attending the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in 2018. That's right. After a month of prayer and heart searching and consideration, I've made the decision to save up and attend this conference, as it will be held near me this coming year. I am so excited and thrilled, and I can't wait to see what I learn through this experience!

Well, that's it for me. Tell me, what have you learned in 2017?

<3

Who We Are

6:00 AM

Mildly deep, spontaneously written blog post time!



I got home from work and was doing Very Important Things like scrolling through pinterest. And I came upon a graphic that said, "Remember what you are."

This was a curious statement to me. Why not who? Why what? We are people. But what about the whats of who we are?

As writers, we have a unique situation. Writing is such a consuming thing. It is both a passion, but also hopefully a career. It is so much more than a hobby. I always wince when people call it that. Do they understand just how much this means to me?

Writing isn't just something we do. It becomes part of who we are.

But, if you're anything like me, we walk a dangerous line. Writing is a part of who we are, yes. It's very, very important to us.

But it's not who we are.

And I'm speaking as a Christian right now. As a beloved child of God, I am a member of His family. I have been seated in Heavenly places. I have been called according to His purpose. I have been made holy and pure. I am beloved and blessed.

So why is it a dangerous line to walk? Why would identifying yourself as a writer be a bad thing?

Because if we hinge our identity on something temporal, it can be taken away.

In other words, my writing is a physical act. When I die, my books will turn to dust right along with me. And on a lesser scale than that, my books can fail. I could never get published. I could get published, but no one likes my work and it does horribly.

What would happen to my sense of self? My self esteem would crumble. Because I, being a writer, would be a failure.

And even less than that. Now, before I'm even published. I could get a negative comment from a beta and it might crush me. If that's what I'm basing my self-worth on, of course negative words on my work would crush me.

But my God? My God is eternal. And He does not fail. My status as His child can only be taken away if I choose to cast it aside--and I have no plans on that.

You want to know a little secret?

Ever since I've given myself to Jesus--ever since I stopped letting my work define who I am--I've found that it's a lot easier to both explain my book to people and share my work with them. I used to freeze up and freak out when someone asked me what my book was about, but now I smile and have a mostly coherent response to give.

Because I'm not afraid of being crushed by their words. It's okay if they think I'm stupid. My worth isn't defined by my "stupid" idea, or their opinion of me.

So who am I?

I write books. I play piano. I bake things. I make coffee. I read a lot. These things matter, and they're a part of me. But they do not define me. 

I am a Christian. That's who I am. And no one can take that from me.

Who are you? Where do you tend to focus your sense of self?

<3

The Importance of Titles (and some notes concerning them)

6:00 AM

I love book titles. They're something I'm very passionate and excited about. I love that moment when you finally come upon one that just sticks. It feels so right and you just can't stop reading it and smiling.

Unfortunately, coming up with those beautiful, perfect titles usually stinks.




Finding titles is hard. But the goal of every story is to hook you. To draw you in. And the title is what does that first.

Think about it. You're in the bookstore, running your hands along the beautiful spines of hundreds of volumes. You can't pick up every book to read the back cover blurb or inspect the cover or glance at the first page. Only a select few get that privilege.

The title is the first test.

And this applies to blog posts, too. When I'm scrolling through my blogger reading list and my email, there are simply too many blogs to read all the posts I see. So I usually pick the ones that sound like I'll connect with them.

And how do I get that idea? What about the article or book tells me I might find it interesting?

The title.

Titles used to be super hard for me. I'd agonize over them, unsure if they were good or not. Of course, the first four years I wrote I was committed to the same book series. And that series was ... cliche. It was not the most original idea in the world, and as a result the title was not easy to find.

I've grown a lot since that nine book series I'd planned. And I've discovered a lot about titles.

Let's break down some of the different types of titles, shall we?


NAMES & TITLES

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The Thief Lord. The Book Thief. The False Prince. The Lost Girl of Astor Street. Peter and the Starcatchers. Steelheart. Coraline. The list goes on and on. Names aren't my favorite types of titles, and I think the phase of that has passed. But the opportunities for titles are endless. It can be the title of the main character (The False Prince, The Thief Lord, The Book Thief). It could be the title of an important minor character (The Prisoner of Azkaban). It could be the title of someone who was hurt (The Lost Girl of Astor Street).

Every story has someone that's important to the plot. Someone that set everything in motion. Sometimes, the title you give them is just a good description of who they are, and being who they are is important enough to warrant their label being the title of the story. Sometimes, it's the reason they are called what they are that gets them on the spine of a book.

Either way, the name/title tactic is a common but good approach. You could also fit groups of people or organizations under this category (like The Mysterious Benedict Society or The Boxcar Children or The Fellowship of the Ring or The Color Project). My current project is called The Dream Walkers. I gave it its name because the basic premise is about a group of children who go to a land of dreams every night, until one of them gets stuck there and they have go venture deeper in this world to save him. When you read the book, you come to know that these children are called Dream Walkers. And these children are the reason this story exists.


OBJECTS & PLACES

Howl's Moving Castle. Treasure Island. The City of Ember. The Westing Game. The Blackthorn Key. Serafina and the Black Cloak. The Screaming Staircase and The Whispering Skull. Dragon Slippers. 

The title could be something they're searching for (Treasure Island) or some puzzle they're trying to solve. It could be something everyone is after, or a place no one dares to go.

I wrote a book in July called The House at the End of the Lane. The title is tentative because it's similar to another well known book that I didn't know about until after I'd already come up with the title and let it stick, but I still like it because it plants that seed in readers' minds. They know there's something about that house at the end of the lane that will play a key role in the book. It'll be important. It's almost like a hook.


THEMES & UNDERTAKINGS

Pride and Prejudice. Divergent. Dare, Deny, Defy, and Deliver by Tricia Mingerink. A Proper Pursuit. Summerlost. 

It could be a lesson that they learn. A misconception they start out having, but have to learn to overcome. It could be task they have to complete, or a milestone they're working towards. Or it could foreshadow events later in the book.

I've had a story idea for ages that I'm still fleshing out, and I got an idea for the title today (hence, the post). I'm calling it Ashes of the Dawn and it's foreshadowing of what happens by the end of the book, with a little theme thrown in as well.


These are just three categories, and they cover a lot. And of course, you can always combine them. You could specify a name with an object or an object with a theme or place. The books in my YA series are combinations of people titles and actions/objects. The Thief's Conspiracy, The King's Vow, The Queen's Game, and The Hunter's Lament. 

Hopefully me breaking down the different types of book titles gave you some ideas. Go look at your book shelf and analyze what titles are your favorites. Go to the library or scroll through goodreads and see which titles catch your interest and think about why. Watch for cliches, too. Words that commonly come up in titles (like "thief") would be best to avoid if you want something really original. Then again, one of my favorite book titles is The Thief's Conspiracy. I was miffed that the book wanted to be called that, but I couldn't really say no. So if you have a really insistent title, don't throw it out just because one of the words is common in book titles.

Now you might be thinking, "Right, but how do I find out which type of title to go for?"

And the answer is, you just have to experiment. Sit down and pull out your notebook. Write down key people, key titles, key objects, places, themes. Write everything you can think of. Create an aesthetic of words for your story. Then string them together. See if any will fit and toss the ones that don't. The title I finally came up with today (after trying to find one for nearly a year) was the last of about fifteen-twenty combinations of the words dawn and ash. It took a lot of tries before I finally saw that they fit together and worked.

Don't be afraid to put down stupid ideas, either. Get it all out in the open. We have to scrape the weeds off the top before we can reach the rich earth underneath.

I've gone on enough. What about you guys? What category does your book title fall into? Are you trying to find a book title? If so, which category is your favorite? 

<3

Why Do You Write?

6:00 AM

I GOT A TWITTER! I know it's been ages. Everyone told me I needed to get one, but I was so lazy and I didn't do it. And finally I randomly downloaded the app and made an account. So you should go wave at me so I can follow you and we can be buddies! YAY!

Anyway. On twitter (which I like very much, by the way. the character limit generates a delightful aura of sass that I thrive on) I was tagged by the lovely Audrey Caylin in a thread that asked the question, "Why do you write?"

I skimmed through old responses and found most everyone had lovely thoughts to share. They had well rounded, short summaries that captured the essence of why they wrote. I sat there for a while, trying to figure out why I was having a hard time answering.

Why do I write?

I don't really know. 



Is that a bad thing? Maybe. I may not be able to say firmly why I write. That's partly because the reason I write changes as I do. When I first started writing, it was because I was bored. I kept writing because I was determined to finish--and I found out just how fun it was. And I write today because I have so many things I want to share. So many ideas and hopes and dreams. I've discovered ways to see the world--to live and breathe in it--and I want to share that. It's this desire bursting up from within me. 

How do I just keep all that inside? 

I think that's something important to remember. Sometimes we cling to things that we don't really need anymore. We know they mattered at one point. We know we needed them at a time in our lives, for that time of our lives.

But you outgrow more than just clothes.

And I'm not saying that you'll outgrow writing. I know I won't. But the reasons I write? I didn't even realize it could happen when I first started. I didn't have a clue what it would become to me. How I would use it to help myself, and hopefully others.

Don't be afraid to change and grow. Just because you're changing doesn't mean the old has to be done away with.

But why does it matter, anyway? Why does it matter why we write?

It matters because when things get hard, you're going to need a reason to stay. If I didn't write because it meant something to me, I wouldn't have made it five chapters into draft 2 of either of my current projects. Those would be wrecks, abandoned and never to be looked upon again.

But writing does matter to me. Deeply. So I pushed through the hard times. I pushed through the agonizing hours of editing, through the late nights and blurry eyes and sore wrists and throbbing head. I suffered through the doubts and fears and insecurities because I knew it would all be worth it to me in the end.

And it was. It has all been worth it.

Take a moment to think about why you write. Write it down. Put it somewhere you can easily access it. That way, when the edits are heavy, when you feel like you're out of ideas or your writing will never be good enough, you can look at the heart of why you do what you do and gain the strength to press on. Because when we do what we love because we love it, the doubts and fears lose their power against us.

Why do you write? Do you write now for the same reason you wrote back when you started? 

<3

was it enough?

11:17 AM

I'm sitting on my bed right now. It's December first, and I'm gazing at the mostly empty page in blogger, wondering what to write.

This month was crazy. This month was stressful. This month was filled with words and excitement and confusion and doubts and happiness and fear and dread and hope all wound up in a ball that hurtled into my eye and began slamming against my nose repeatedly.

Yeah, that's how my month went :P 

For those of you who don't know, I went into this year's nano without a plotline. Now, some of you pantsers might look at me like, "So?" And any plotters out there are probably gasping in horror and praying that whatever possessed me to do such a thing will leave at once. 

I tried to plot this book for two years, and it didn't work. So I decided to finally just write it, and let the story tell itself. 

It ... kind of worked? But mostly, it didn't. XP I made a lot of breakthroughs, but not as many as I'd hoped. I think the answer to book two is in book one, but I only know that the key to the answer is there. I don't know the answer.

If that makes ... any sense? 

#whennanostealsyourwords

ANYWAY. Point is, this novel is kind of a mess. It's also unfinished. 

I hit the 50k, but that was it. And right now, I'm not sure I'm going to finish it. The Dream Walkers is calling my name, and I want to have it ready for betas sometime January-Februaryish. So the characters of The Thief's Conspiracy are going on hold once more. 

I look back at this month, and I see all the stress. I see the sore motivation that brought me to my laptop every day that I was able to write, and I see the painstaking taps on my keyboards. One after the other after the other.


Was it enough? 

I don't really know. I feel like I should have done more. Should have figured out the plot of this book that's been driving me crazy for two years. I feel like I could have gotten all the answers, if I'd just been smart or clever enough to catch them as they breezed by. 

But I didn't.

Was it enough?

I made some breakthroughs. But there's still so much work to be done. And, I'll admit it: I'm exhausted. I just want to read right now. I want to read words by other people. I want to venture into their worlds, listen to their characters and see their stories. 

I'm done with mine for a while. 

If you don't feel like nano went that great for you, I encourage you to step back for a bit. Give yourself a few days to breathe and read and see the world around you (and maybe say hello to your family...maybe). 

Do all that, and remember: as long as you did and do your best, that's enough.

Sorry for missing last week's post! Nano swallowed me whole. And I had this all good to go last night but stupidly forgot to publish it? LOL. I was tired. Nano stole my words AND my brain, it seems. Sigh. Hopefully by next week I'll have myself together again. XP

Sorry if that was mildly rant-y. In my defense, it's late. XP How did November go for you guys, nano-ers and others? Do you feel like it was enough? Talk to me! I love you guys.  

<3

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