Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bloooooog Pooooooost

Thought process of the afternoon:

Hey, I should write a blog post. It's that time of the week.

What do I write about? Hm...

Oh, I see some green yarn on my desk. I wonder if there's anything interesting in that. It's been there forever. Ever since... let's see... probably about a year ago. I had this grand plan, see. I was going to be all DIY and make some ties to hold back the curtains in the nursery that would match the colors in the room. I even finished one of them. And now it's been months. The other one is never going to happen. So much for trying to save money doing it myself.

I wonder if there's some analogy in that to make into a fun post.

Oh look, there's something else on my desk that never got finished. I'm seeing a trend.

Wow, my desk is really not a good place for trying to come up with ideas. There are way too many things around here that need to get done.

Didn't I just sort through all those papers last week? How have they already multiplied??? I am never going to clean all this up!

Whatever. If I ignore them, maybe I can be productive.

Right. Blog post. Maybe if I just start writing...

Oh, huh. I'm already at the end of my thoughts and I still have no idea what to write about. Guess it's a good thing I have a series all planned out for next month!

This post doesn't really feel finished. Oh well. Evidence would suggest that if I don't post it now, it'll never get finished.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Shell Games: a Graduation Post

One night last week while I was making dinner I heard some adorable commentary coming from the living room, where my husband was playing with our son. I looked in on them and discovered my husband had been hiding an orange ping-pong ball under identical plastic cups and shuffling them around, concealing the location of the ball. In essence: a shell game. Either by skill or by some fluke, the Boy kept guessing the location correctly. A con artist in the making?

Well no, probably not. I played the same game with him myself the following day, and I tricked him more often than not.

That is how these things work, after all. Con artists lure their victims in with an easy game they are guaranteed to win, then when the stakes get high, the game gets tough. The victims are left scratching their heads and wondering how the prize ever got under the wrong shell.

I was thinking about shell games again today because of graduation. All the high school seniors in our town graduated this past weekend. (And congratulations to all of you!) There were parties and diplomas and, let's not forget, graduation speeches.

Back when I graduated high school I had the honor of giving a speech. I don't remember what I said, only that I used the numbers of our graduation year to say four different things about our class. At the time I thought I was being epically inspiring, but I suspect I was epically boring instead. Regardless, the goal was inspiration, because hey, that's what everyone expects. Generally graduation speeches all come down to one thing:


Folks, this is The Big One. All that talk about dreams, about becoming who you are meant to be, about doing all you can do? That's what this is. Here, have a definition if you aren't convinced.

But here's where the shell game thing comes into play. I think sometimes self-actualization can be like that con artists' game. "Do what you love, and love what you do." It's such an easy formula. It's something to feel good about. It's a promise that if we just figure out who we are and what we enjoy, life will be a piece of cake. We get lured in because self-actualization seems so easy.

Only it isn't.

A lot of inspirational messages would have you believe that your self-actualization is right here, just under this little shell, so easy to get to. But often times in life you can follow those simple steps to your dream, peak under the shell, and then find that the dream was actually under a different shell instead.

Everything worth doing in life has challenges. Maybe you love what you're doing because it's never been difficult for you. Well, one day you're going to find that what you're doing suddenly isn't so easy. Will you still love it then? Have you found a dream that you want to pursue despite the challenges?

Maybe you love what you're doing because it's fun. That's great! But there are a lot of other fun things out there too. Are you going to become crippled with indecision when you have to make a choice between two great options?

The shell game of self-actualization is difficult. You might think you're following the dream, only to find yourself ten years down the road in this situation:


So how do you get where you're trying to go? Well, Neil Gaiman has some really great advice in his graduation speech from 2012. The bit about the mountain is particularly good (starting at 3:40). He says to think of your goal as a mountain, and every step of the way ask yourself, "Is this taking me closer to the mountain?"

But what if you have a whole lot of mountains? What if you've been hearing all your life that you can do anything, that the world is your oyster, that if you apply yourself, nothing can stand in your way, and now you have so many options in front of you that you have absolutely no idea which to choose (and a sinking suspicion that maybe you aren't as qualified as all those pep talks said you were)?

My advice? Just start somewhere. Go be productive. (Mike Rowe has a lot of good stuff to say about going out, learning a skill and getting to work, by the way. I really appreciate his message and admire him for getting it out there.) In my experience, I'm much more capable of choosing a path if I'm doing something than if I'm sitting around waiting for inspiration.

Once you've made a choice, don't let fear distract you. There are a lot of fears--fear of failure, fear that there's something better somewhere else (the grass, as they say, is always greener...), even fear of success. But remember that shell game we've been talking about? Distraction is how the con artist cheats. If you really want the prize, you can't let fear pull your attention away.

But above all, remember this: self-actualization isn't everything. It's great, don't get me wrong. But you can take all the "all about me" quizzes in the world and pursue your big dream until you finally catch it, and you still will only have seen a tiny portion of life. Work hard. Cultivate memories. Live intentionally.

And if the shell game tricks you and you find yourself miles from where you want to be, find a new goal and start again.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Three Big First Novels

If you think writing is lonely, you're doing it wrong.

I used to think I was happy sitting in my little three foot square of desk space, all on my own, not interacting with other writers. I was so very mistaken. My critique group (which deserves a post of its very own one of these days) was my first introduction to the wonderful literary community. ArmadilloCon was the next. And finally, a little behind the curve, perhaps, I jumped into social media and discovered so many lovely people who made writing become not a bit lonely at all.

You know the wonderful thing about friends? They're happy when good things happen to you, and vice versa. Well, a lot of big, exciting things are happening for my writer friends lately, and I'm ecstatic for all of them. Three in particular have their very first books coming out later this year or next, and I just love sharing in their joy. Each of these books is a dream come true for its author.


I met Marshall at ArmadilloCon several years ago when we were two of the many unagented hopefuls, aspiring to have our names in print one day. He was the first to cross over to "the other side of the table" from workshop student to teacher. He's the kind of person who represents everything I love about the writing community--the determination, the can-do attitude, the generous encouragement to other writers--so I'm delighted that he finally has a book coming out next year!


Charlie is one of my newest writer friends. Our agent put me in touch with her, and I've really enjoyed talking to her and watching as she prepares for her first book release. I'm sooooo excited about this book, you guys! It sounds absolutely amazing, and I am really looking forward to September 1st when it finally comes out. It's totally my kind of book. Seriously, go read about it--you'll be hooked too!


I am a big fan of Stacey. I met her through Pitch Wars a while back and immediately clicked with her over a bunch of random things. She's an incredible critiquer and really opened my eyes to some big issues with my writing. She told me about her book when we met--I loved the idea of course--and I was so happy to hear when it found a publisher.

Each of these three people is an inspiration to me. I will be reading all three of these books as soon as they are available, and I hope that you will consider doing the same.