Category Archives: writing

Like We Don’t Exist

The other day while I was walking to Port Authority after a doctor’s appointment, I noticed a young boy swaying and stumbling under the weight of his huge backpack like if he was drunk.

Photo Credit: Louie Ortega | Creative Commons

At a distance, he appeared too young to be walking alone on the streets of Manhattan. I felt a tug and decided I would try to catch up and speak with him.

When I did, I discovered that he was a she, with short dusty brown hair, soft brown eyes, and wearing baggy khaki pants with a matching military jacket which seemed to droop on her 4″11″ frame.

“Hey, thanks a lot,” she said when I slipped her something. She had a beautiful smile even though most of her teeth were missing and her face was covered with sores.

If I were to guess, she was no more than eighteen years old, a transient and addicted to Meth. The sores were from scratching due to formication–which is the sensation of bugs crawling on or underneath the skin–a common side effect of Meth users.

“What’s going on?” I asked. “Everything,” she said with a sigh, looking down and around to avoid making eye contact with me.

“I’m sorry to hear that. I noticed you back there and I’m glad I caught up to you,” I said.

“Really? You noticed me? Wow. No one ever notices me. It’s like I’m invisible or something. Even people I know and thought were my friends, avoid me.” Her voice cracked.

“I know what it’s like to feel invisible,” I said. I could feel my face flush and tears welling up. She searched my eyes. “My name is Whitney,” she said sticking her hand out to shake mine.

Here we were, two strangers, crossing paths, unbearing our souls on the corner of 42nd Street. The heartbeat of New York City. The epicenter of fame and fortune. As we stood there and talked, people rushed around us like we didn’t exist. The irony.

Before we parted ways, she asked if it would be okay to give me a hug. Even though I’m not the hugging type, I said yes. When we hugged, I knew she meant it.

Suffice it to say, this was the most memorable experience I’ve had in a long time. It was real. There were no walls, barriers, masks or pretenses. In contrast to all the years I worked in Corporate America, where pretenses and playing politics were the norm and being real was frowned upon. Go figure.

Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” Matthew 23:26

“Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.” Matthew 15:17-18

Commitment

The dictionary defines commitment as “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.”

Through the course of my life, I’ve had trouble committing to things and sticking with losing weight, exercising, writing a book and a host of other things.

Photo credit: Memphis CVB | Creative Commons

Which is why I was petrified when I got married again and became pregnant at 37. Once I crossed over the threshold into motherhood, I signed on to the scariest and biggest commitment of my life. I knew things would change and I was right because it’s been sixteen years now since my free spirit took a back seat.

I would be lying if I told you it’s been easy or that there haven’t been days I wanted to quit. Marriage is hard, parenting is even harder, but raising children with special needs is beyond difficult. Yet and still, I couldn’t imagine life without them. My love supersedes everything and compels me to keep going.

That’s not to say, I don’t miss the years I’ve flitted around like a hummingbird. But I’ve realized that commitment was exactly what I needed most because it forced me to grow up. I’ve since learned that avoiding commitment or responsibility only keeps us stuck, stagnant and stunts our growth and maturity in life and relationships. So I’d rather wrestle with the struggles and hardships that comes with commitment rather than avoid it and miss out on the opportunity to grow and mature in Christ.

“Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” Galatians 6:9

Redeeming Lost Time

I was speaking with my therapist last week about choices. I was explaining why certain things didn’t happen in my life and what occurred and why it lead me to where I am today. There was a significant amount of loss.

Photo credit: Garen M. | Creative Commons Flickr

The topic came up because I was rehashing what happened in my writing group. I had submitted a piece I had worked on for critique. What usually occurs is everyone gets a turn telling you what they liked or disliked or what worked or didn’t work for them. I struggle with getting critiques because I’ve been criticized for most of my life.

My therapist explained my writing isn’t me. Meaning, they are not critiquing me as a person, they are only critiquing my writing. But I responded that my writing is me.

It’s the same thing when I cook. I like to cook and feed people. When I cook, I cook from my heart. It’s an act of giving. My cooking is an expression of who I am. So, if someone doesn’t like my cooking, I take it personally. Just like I do with my writing.

I gave my therapist a time table of every creative endeavor I’ve pursued since I was a teenager. I had the same issue with each of them. First, it was acting, then fashion design, then singing, and then writing. In that sequence.

I get the fact that we need critiques to improve and grow. However, I can’t help it if I struggle to the point of giving up. I’ve repeated the same pattern throughout the course of my life. I’m tired of this cycle and getting nowhere.

Here I am at 53, and in the same position that I was in my 20’s. It’s kind of sad actually. The Lord gave me creative abilities for a reason and I’ve allowed fear and people’s words to stop me.

My therapist is astute and asked me one simple question. “Are you trying to play catch up and make up for lost time?” I sat there and thought about it, and realized the answer is yes. Now I understand where all this pressure is coming from. I’ve made so many mistakes in the past that now I’m afraid to fail.

I have to remind myself that I wasn’t meant to be perfect in the first place. I can and will make mistakes in my life and writing. I can give myself permission to write crappy, make mistakes, and even fail. Failing isn’t the worst thing that can happen to me or you because that’s when we learn the most and can become better.

This quote by Anne Rice resonated with me this week, “To write something you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” So true.

We have to risk making a fool of ourselves. We are ever evolving as people and as writers. There is always something new to learn. We won’t stop learning and growing until we die. That’s if we allow ourselves and don’t give up.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of fear and people kicking me in the butt. The past is the past. This is the present. I don’t have to play catch up and try to redeem lost time. I can start from where I’m at and give myself permission to learn, grow, make mistakes and even fail. I hope you will do the same.

A New Decade

Happy New Year. I can’t believe we are well into the new year and a new decade.

Right before the new year stuck, the Lord gave me two verses.

Photo credit: Carrie ~ Creative Commons Flickr

“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14 

“God is with her, she will not fail.” Psalm 46:5 (I bought myself a coffee mug with this on it).

I sensed the Lord encouraging me, as if to say, you are entering a new season.

As I’ve mentioned, it hasn’t been an easy few years for me and my family. Not that anything has changed, but I believe I’ve grown in the spiritual department and I’m grateful for that.

It’s not easy to walk by faith and not by sight. I guess the control freak in me wants to know everything before it happens. Don’t we all? But, God wants us to trust Him in all things, not just some, but ALL.

My situation has given me no other option but to trust Him. I mean, my life is literally in His hands. I lean on Him for everything now because I have no choice. I can’t say I’m any less anxious, but I can say He’s been faithful every step of the way.

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Fear has been the biggest hindrance in my life. It has stopped me from many things. It’s been a stumbling block, roadblock and obstacle, especially with writing. I’m aware all writers are faced with insecurity and fear, but many push through it and actually achieve their dreams.

My fear is paralyzing me from actually doing it because I think others are better than I am and who in the world is going to want to read what I write? There are millions of incredible writers/authors out there. Many have Master’s degrees from elite Ivy League universities. I haven’t even gotten an Associate’s degree. So, how can I even compete, not that I actually want to compete, because I’m not the competitive type. But, you know what I mean.

If there is one thing I would want to overcome in this new year and decade, is this horrible fear, insecurity and comparison trap that prevents me from writing.

I also don’t want to continue chasing other things to avoid doing what I believe the Lord has called me to do which is to write. I’ve been running from it and busying myself with other more productive things to do. But, I’m tired of the start, stop, start, stop. I’m 53 and this is getting old already. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and regret never trying and giving it my all.

The fear of failure is so strong that paralyzes me from writing. The irony is that I wind up failing because I give up. It’s a perpetual cycle that repeats itself over and over again.

I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions, but if I were to have one, it would be to overcome this gigantic monster called fear and write no matter what.

What about you? Is there something you’ve been wanting to do, but you’ve stopped yourself because of fear, insecurity or thinking others are better than you are? If so, please comment below or shoot me an email.

Glorious Weakness by Alia Joy

Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Baker Books
Price: $15.99
Purchase: Amazon | BN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description

As a girl, Alia Joy came face to face with weakness, poverty, and loss in ways that made her doubt God was good. There were times when it felt as if God had abandoned her. What she didn’t realize then was that God was always there, calling her to abandon herself.

In this deeply personal exploration of what it means to be “poor in spirit,” Joy challenges our cultural proclivity to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” She calls on readers to embrace true vulnerability and authenticity with God and with one another, showing how weakness does not disqualify us from inclusion in the kingdom of God–instead, it is our very invitation to enter in.

Anyone who has struggled with feeling inadequate, disillusioned, or just too broken will find hope. This message is an antidote to despair, helping readers reclaim the ways God is good, even when life is anything but.

Review

It’s been a long time since I’ve come across a memoir which closely parallels my life and experiences. I feel like Alia Joy is my long lost soul sister.

She writes in the beginning of her book that Glorious Weakness is not for everyone. However, her book certainly was for me. And if others kept it real, they would see parts of themselves in her memoir, too.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, no one escapes pain and suffering in life. Pain and suffering is universal to the human experience that we all can identify to some level or degree. Alia had a fair share of it and then some. All of which I can relate to and identify with. It was as if she was writing my story.

Alia Joy’s writing style is descriptive and her use of metaphors is breathtaking. Her writing is poetic and lyrical. I enjoyed and relished reading her profound and touching memoir.

What I most appreciate about her memoir is that it’s not your typical Christian book. She doesn’t sugar coat anything.

I can’t relate to the popsicle Christian books being marketed and sold today. Glorious Weakness is real. Whereas, today’s Christian books lack depth, aren’t relatable and are impractical. Alia Joy’s book is the complete opposite. I have trouble sinking my teeth into those fluffy Christian books which make me sneeze with all their fuzzy platitudes.

Glorious Weakness is my kind of Christian memoir and I highly recommend it.

 

 Alia Joy is an author who believes the darkness is illuminated when we grasp each other’s hand and walk into the night together. She writes poignantly about her life with bipolar disorder as well as grief, faith, marriage, poverty, race, embodiment, and keeping fluent in the language of hope. Sushi is her love language and she balances her cynical idealism with humor and awkward pauses. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband, her tiny Asian mother, her three kids, a dog, a bunny, and a bunch of chickens.

Visit www.aliajoy.com.
Twitter: @aliajoy

 

 

A Loss For Time

I never thought about time the way I do now. Before becoming disabled, my days lead into the next without much thought of what awaited me.

I was once healthy, active and strong. I took pride in my ceaseless energy and workaholic ways. I felt like I was on top of the world. Never did I imagine my life would take the turn that it did and I would be faced with limitations.

On dealing with relentless health issues and that of my children, I was smacked head on with my own mortality and a loss for time.

Photo by Fredrik Öhlander on Unsplash

We all want time to stand still, especially when life is good. We live in the moment and relish it for what it’s worth, believing it will last forever.

I can assure you, I never imagined being in the situation I am today. If someone would have told me this when things were going well, I would’ve scoffed and laughed in their face.

But here I am, facing what is, as time ticks by and I can’t get one second of it back.

When I was forced to slow down due to my illnesses, I was faced with time. Time I once had and squandered. Time that’s left which I bargain with God daily and beg Him not to take me too soon. More so, for my kid’s sake, not so much for mine.

Well, perhaps a little… as I think about all the time I’ve wasted when I thought I had plenty of time.

The Bible says it best in James 4:13-14:

“Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”

Yet, there is this part of us that thinks we aren’t going to die, that we will live on earth forever. Until we are reminded, through sickness or an untimely death of a loved one.

I’ve contemplated all the time I’ve literally wasted, never once thinking I’d be in the position I’m in today. I took my health, energy and vitality for granted.

I also had plans.

For one, I was going to retire at my previous job of 23 years. Never thinking I’d ever become disabled and unable to work anymore. That wasn’t something I thought was possible and was the furthest thing from my mind, too.

Yet, here I am… dealing with one health issue after another for the past three years and things only seem to be getting worse instead of better.

However, I’m not writing this to depress you. The purpose of this post is a reminder that life can change in a second, minute, hour, or day. You can be fine one minute and get hit with something the next. Life–as you know it–can radically shift in a blink.

We never plan for stuff to happen. It’s not in our control. The only thing in our control is today. If you have God, your health and mental faculties, then as Benjamin Franklin quoted, “Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.”

Wise words which I would encourage you to heed.

Please don’t wait until you retire to pursue something you’ve always wanted to do. A dream you want to pursue. A place you want to visit. Make a plan and do it, don’t wait.

There is a loss for time and once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. Take advantage while you still can.

I Discovered Donna Tartt

I have to be honest, it’s been a long time since I have come across an author whose writing literally captivated me. Donna Tartt is that author.

 

I discovered her by borrowing The Goldfinch from the library on audio. The narrator, David Pittu is absolutely fabulous. He is by far the best narrator I have ever heard in my life. He is fantastic and gifted beyond belief. He made listening to this story magical.

I’m currently listening to her debut novel The Secret History which is also beautifully written and suspenseful. I am completely blown away by Donna Tartt’s talent. She reminds me of the classical authors. Her range is amazing and awe inspiring.

She is my kind of writer. Her writing is descriptive and detail oriented. Her use of metaphors is beautiful. Her writing is thoughtful and philosophical. Her character development and pacing is incredible. I can’t help but gush over her writing.

If I would aspire to write like anyone, it would be her. Her writing encompasses everything I would love to achieve. She is a genius. There are not many writers like her. She is unique in every sense of the word.

Donna Tartt writes a book every decade. She is a true artist. She is not falling for the hype. She writes at her own pace and for the love of writing. She has written only three novels and all three novels were hits. The Goldfinch winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2014.

I had to make mention of her because if you haven’t read her books you are missing out on great writing. Her books are long, but I would encourage you to listen to her books on audio, especially The Goldfinch which is a real treat.

When I finished The Goldfinch I was sad. I didn’t want the story to end. It kept me company. I would listen to it at night before going to sleep and became deeply engrossed and invested in Theo, the main protagonist.

The way Donna Tartt weaves a story is brilliant. I highly recommend her books.

What Mental Illness Should Not Be

I hear terms like, “the weather is so bi-polar,” or “I’m just a little OCD,” and I cringe. When people say things like this, they have no idea what they are saying.

Photo by Callie Gibson on Unsplash

Terms like these are used loosely all the time. For the record, there is no such thing as being a little OCD.

Just because you are clean and meticulous doesn’t mean you suffer from OCD. OCD is a serious mental illness and those who have it suffer a lot and it’s no laughing matter.

Being clean and organized has nothing to do with the fastidiousness of washing your hands countless times a day to the point of bleeding. Those who suffer from OCD will tell you unabashedly, it’s like living a reoccurring nightmare.

OCD is a debilitating disease that never goes away. And, as with most mental illnesses, there is no cure.

Sometimes people associate all mental illnesses with psychosis which is a separate diagnosis. Here is a short clip of what psychosis is like: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0783qvh.

Society dumps everything in one batch. When they think bi-polar or schizophrenia, they automatically associate it with being “crazy or like I mentioned in my previous post, “Psycho.” But, nothing could be further from the truth.

Mental illness is the result of a brain disorder that affects your mood, thinking and behavior.

For example, with OCD, there’s a barrage of uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over. They can’t stop it or snap out of it either.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, bi-polar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.

Bottomline, mental illness (i.e., OCD, bi-polar, schizophrenia) should not be the butt of jokes, the brunt of mockery, or made light of nor misinterpreted, misrepresented or stigmatized. Because mental illness is not fun or funny. Those suffering from it live in constant torment and daily torture and they  hide in shame and suffer in silence due to all the ignorance floating around.

Which is why I’m speaking up to help end the stigma on #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth.

Critique versus Criticism

One of the things that happens as a writer is you are subject to other people’s comments and opinions. Those opinions can either be positive or negative, constructive or destructive.

If you want to be a writer, there is no way around the critique process if you want to grow and improve.

However, I’ve discovered there is a significant difference between critique and criticism.

Courtesy of Creative Commons ~ NiKol

The Difference between Critique and Criticism*

  • Criticism finds fault/Critique looks at structure
  • Criticism looks for what’s lacking/Critique finds what’s working
  • Criticism condemns what it doesn’t understand/Critique asks for clarification
  • Criticism is spoken with a cruel wit and sarcastic tongue/Critique’s voice is kind, honest, and objective
  • Criticism is negative/Critique is positive (even about what isn’t working)
  • Criticism is vague and general/Critique is concrete and specific
  • Criticism has no sense of humor/Critique insists on laughter, too
  • Criticism looks for flaws in the writer as well as the writing/Critique addresses only what is on the page

I have experienced both. Thankfully, the critiques I have received thus far have been helpful whereas criticism has had the opposite effect.

Critiquing is positive and constructive while criticizing is negative and counterproductive. We must be thoughtful in our approach in critiquing others. We must be mindful of the spirit behind what we say as well as how we say it.

We all have opinions. We all have our likes and dislikes. However, we must be responsible as writers when we are critiquing people’s work. We must be able to step back and read the work from an objective standpoint.

We also have to keep in mind there are ways to communicate and get our points across without being curt, mean or snarky.

I cringe when I think of novice writers who possess talent and have potential but give up because of receiving a nasty critique. It shouldn’t happen.

The whole purpose of critiquing is to help the writer along in developing their story, not to tear it down or criticize it.

Critiquing is a skill that every writer should be required to learn how to do properly and effectively.

*Taken from Writing Alone, Writing Together; A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups by Judy Reeves

A Slow Death

As I gazed at the landscape that was once plush green, thoughts ricocheted like bullets in my mind.

I wondered how leaves changed from being green to brown, orange, red and yellow.

They change and transform by a slow death.

Courtesy of Creative Commons

The result is from the breakdown of chlorophyll, due to the changes in the length of daylight and temperature. The leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their splendor.

God is the master artist weaving a beautiful tapestry in nature with the ebb and flow of leaves, seasons, tides, births and deaths.

Watching the leaves turn reminds me of God’s power and my fragility, His strength and my weakness, His immortality and my mortality.

In reality, we are all fallen leaves, dying a slow death.

For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” James 4:17

Interview with Jim Woods

In 2012, I had the pleasure of connecting with Jim Woods on Twitter and then meeting him in person at Jon Acuff‘s Quitter Conference held in Nashville. Jim was so kind, encouraging and gracious toward me. I’ve witnessed his growth as a writer and I am honored to be interviewing him.

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1) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I think it was when I wrote a report in the fourth grade. I was really into nature and I wrote about snakes. I realized how much fun it could be to do research and then telling a story about my findings.

2) How did you develop the confidence to find your voice as a writer?

I think it was more through practice and trial and error. That being said, writing how you talk is always a great place to start.

3) Were there any books you read that helped shape and mold you as a writer?

Absolutely! I love Steven Pressfield‘s Do The Work and War of Art. Also, I have a lot of fiction influences: Edgar Allen Poe, Elmore Leonard and J.D. Salinger.

3) What did you do before you transitioned into being a full-time writer?

I was an accountant for over 15 years. That’s hard to believe now!

4) How long did the process take? What steps did you take in making your dream a reality?

About three years. It was a long long three years. Writing as much as possible, networking, going to conferences, meeting as many people for coffee as possible.

5) Now that you have succeeded, what is it like being on the other side of the rainbow? Has it been anything like you had imagined?

It’s like a good struggle, like when you’re tired after working really hard. You’re exhausted, but at the same time very satisfied.

To answer your other question, it’s harder than I thought it would be. It can be hard to unplug from the work.

6) What does your writing process look like?

I like to watch my work as much as possible. I am a momentum-based emotional writer so I like to find some easy wins and then go from there.

7) What is the hardest thing about being a full-time writer?

It’s pretty lonely and rejection comes with the territory.

8) How do you encourage yourself to keep going?

I talk to other writers and learn from them. Whatever the circumstance, it is very likely that someone else can relate.

9) Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I just want to work with good people and keep telling good stories.

10) Are you working on any new projects?

About a month ago I created an event called the Finish Your Book Summit where I interviewed 16 authors who have written over 100 books. It’s still live, so you can access the interviews by going to finishyourbooksummit.com.

11) What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Don’t be afraid to start out slowly. Build a good writing habit—even if it is just for 5 minutes a day. Over time you’ll build momentum and see serious results!

Thank you for a wonderful interview, Jim.

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Jim Woods is a freelance writer, author, author assistant, and writing coach that loves to help others tell better stories. You can connect with him at jimwoodswrites.com.