Wordless Wednesday: Lately.


“Listen to your whisper and let it be your guide.”
~Anonymous

M&G with General Hospital's Tyler Christopher and John J. York

M&G with General Hospital’s Tyler Christopher and John J. York!

"Sandy Castle" in Point Pleasant, to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief

“Sandy Castle” in Point Pleasant, to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief.

Such lovely weather to welcome fall!

Such a lovely start to fall!

Quack, quack, quack

Why hello there, friend.

My mom surprised me with a plaque that has the quote which inspired SOT.  Love, love, love.

My mom surprised me with a plaque that has the quote which inspired SOT. Love, love, love.

What’s up with y’all lately?

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On My Mind.


“In summer, the song sings itself.”
~William Carlos Williams

1. Guess who is officially BELOW her target word count goal on this manuscript? Guess who is incredibly excited about it? With five days of edits left to go (not that I’m counting or anything …), the book should end up falling out several thousand words below the initial plan. I am super, super happy about this and super, super pumped about how the story has tightened up throughout this round of revisions. I am also super, super confused – was transferring all my edit notes to my writing journal yesterday (I tend to jot things down frenetically while revising and then recopy them towards the end, so I know what still needs to be changed) and cannot decipher one of my comments for anything. Normally my handwriting is neat, but this … this is what editing looks like.

notes

2. This summer is going way, way, way too quickly. Maybe that’s because the first half was cool and rainy, or maybe it’s because I’ve spent mostly every day indoors editing, but still, I don’t like it. Please slow down, time!

3. Kelly’s concerts will always make for some of my favorite days.

4. Really, really good – and important – lesson from Mark Twain: “Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.”

5. I may or may not have flipped out (AKA: I definitely flipped out) when I found this on Etsy. It’s my gift to myself for finishing edits, all the way from Ireland (came a week early and I’ve worn it every day since). A message in a bottle for my book about a message in a bottle, complete with a personalized passage from the story inside. I love it. Lots. <3

necklace

What’s on your mind today?

Wordless(ish) Wednesday: finding inspiration everywhere.


“Your story matters. Tell it.”
~Unknown

Like Aly, I have been spending a lot of time lately organizing and de-cluttering. If I’m not sitting down at my desk to revise, chances are I’m cleaning or sorting or rearranging. There’s nothing like revamping a room to give you a fresh perspective – that’s what HGTV tells us and I must agree. Part of my recent redesign includes hanging up and displaying a plethora of inspirational plaques that I’ve bought over the past few years. Here’s a sampling:

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As you can see, most of my wall hangings are centered around writing, the seashore, and the beauty of dreaming big. How about you? Anyone else a quote and plaque fanatic like I am?

21.


“You’re not in a competition with every person you meet. Most of them are on your team. Lift up the people around you, and you all win.”
~Arza Patel, via Charity Shumway in Ten Girls to Watch

Between weathering Hurricane Sandy, celebrating my cousin’s beautiful Bat Mitzvah, gluing myself to ABC’s election coverage, and, of course, editing until my eyes get bleary each day, I haven’t had much time lately to read. Even so, I’ve been squeezing in pages of the fabulous book quoted above whenever I get a spare moment. With only fifty left to go, I’m still falling more in love with the story after every chapter. It is inspiring. It is motivating. It is thought-provoking. It is the kind of book that makes you reflect, makes you ponder, makes you act.

Without giving too much away, main character Dawn’s task is to contact all previous winners of Charm Magazine’s Ten Girls to Watch contest – fifty years of finalists, fifty years of daydreams, fifty years of aspiration and inspiration. As she tracks down these women, Dawn does more than just learn about their lives. She also learns about her own. She learns about herself. Their words of wisdom add embers to the spark already within her. Their ambitions give strength to her own. Dawn interviews doctors, lawyers, professors, opera singers, authors, teachers, and more. And while she spends her days profiling these successful women, she spends her evenings navigating the roadway of her own dreams. To be a published writer, to find love, to find her place in the world … as we see Dawn’s hopes, we also see our own.

Never before have I actually taken to post-it-noting (wow, how’s that for a made-up word?) a book, but I did this time. Yellow tabs peek out from so many pages, marking passages that speak to me. One question that Dawn often asks her interviewees is: what advice do you wish someone had given you when you were 21? Some of my favorites answers and reflections from the characters:

-“You need to find your passion before you can follow your passion. Try a lot of things, and don’t be embarrassed to call it quits if something isn’t right for you.” (Betty Robinson, 1964)

-“We get so used to thinking success means one thing. Like you can take a snapshot and see if you have it. It’s not like that. It’s your whole life, and you have years and years to work with. I always want to tell young people, don’t be so hard on yourself. Life is long. Be patient.” (Stephanie Linwood, 1969)

-“I think dwelling in the past can be … I don’t know, very good, I guess. I just know that if you look back at it, the days add up to something.” (Elizabeth Irwin, 1982)

-“You never know what you’ll grow to love.” (Jean Danton, 1960)

All these pearls of wisdom got me thinking: what advice do I wish someone had given me at 21? What advice would I give to a 21-year-old? There are so many things, but if I had to narrow it down to one, it’d be this: When you find your heart’s passion, don’t let anything discourage you from turning that dream into a dream-come-true. Obstacles will pop up, frustrations will rear their ugly heads, and tears will fall even when you swipe them away. You’ll wonder why things seem unfair, you’ll wonder when it’s going to be your turn, you’ll wonder if the emotional roller-coaster is worth it. IT IS. Because something worth loving is worth fighting for with every fiber of your being. Don’t turn your back on your dreams or you’ll be turning your back on yourself. Reach for the stars. Reach for your star. Reach beyond it.

How about you? What advice do you wish you had been given at 21? What advice would you give?

Catching My Breath.


“Catch my breath
No one can hold me back
I ain’t got time for that
Catch my breath
Won’t let em get me down
It’s all so simple now.”
~Kelly Clarkson, “Catch My Breath.”

Sometimes I think Kelly Clarkson can actually see inside my brain. What other explanation is there for how ABSOLUTELY PERFECTLY her new song coincided with my week off from work? Catching my breath, letting it go? Laughing hard with the windows down? Leaving footprints all over town? Keeping faith karma comes around? I mean, really … MINDREADER. And can we talk about how awesome this song is? Kelly wrote it about her journey since winning Idol – what she’s learned, who she’s become, where she’s going. It debuted last Wednesday and, no exaggeration, it has literally been stuck in my head ever since. Not that I’m complaining, because it’s one of my favorites of hers (yes, already). You should all do yourselves a favor and listen:

So, how have I been catching my breath during my break from edits?

There was a visit to the Franklin Institute.

Pendulum staircase!

Only I would take a picture “with” my heart murmur…

LOVE this quote.

Ancient bird in the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit … they are STILL following me.

And a hot chocolate/pumpkin-buying spree.

Decorating my desk for the season!

A Sofie pumpkin and an Ellie pumpkin … it’s completely normal to name things after your characters, right? :)

And a lovely day spent at Arcadia for Alumni and Homecoming Weekend.

Mom and me.

Soccer field, library, and the new (beautiful!) building on campus.

I wish this had been there when I was a student!

Murphy Hall, Room 108 … AKA my home away from home for four years.

The castle will always be my favorite part!

So pretty inside.

Can you imagine living here?

Hangin’ out with a knight.

Fireworks over the castle!

It looked like Christmas lights were dancing in the sky!

And a great concert!

Graham Colton!

After the show!

Always enjoy Graham’s shows and his wonderful music!

There has also been lots (L-O-T-S) of cleaning and reading. And, now that I’ve had a week to rejuvenate and refuel, I am ready – and excited – to jump into the second round of revisions tomorrow. I’m looking forward to tightening up the story even more and getting to visit with my book-babies again. Because, as Kelly sings, it’s always important to make time for “the ones who count.”

Journaling.


“Visualize this thing you want. See it, feel it, believe in it. Make your mental blueprint, and begin.”
~Robert Collier

We all have things we love – big things, small things, important things, extraordinarily ordinary things. Morning coffees, scrapbooks of photos, seashells scooped up from the ocean’s edge, swooshy scarves and fuzzy boots, the list goes on and on. It’s different for everyone, which, when you think about it, is really cool. How lucky we are to have such a give and take, to share relationships where everyone brings their own passions and interests to the table. For me, that includes writing journals. Sure, most of my work is done on the computer (pretty sure Mother Earth wouldn’t be a fan of printing out hundreds of pages to do hard copy edits), but there’s still something invaluable about keeping a journal. I use it to brainstorm, plot, and plan when beginning a new manuscript. I use it to keep track of ideas, sentences, sometimes several paragraphs of writing as I work – because, it never fails, future passages always come to me at the most random times. I write chronologically and seriously could never skip around throughout the book, but I am totally fine with jotting down notes and even full passages to include later on. That’s when my writing journal becomes a treasured friend. Over the years, many pages have been filled to the brim with notes in every color of the rainbow: pink, turquoise, orange, green, purple, and more. Each manuscript gets its own shade, and (this is going to prove when an organizational fanatic I am, but whatever), with character sketches, each person gets their own hue. Those pages are home to ideas come to life, seeds that blossomed more than I ever could have imagined when cracking open the stiff, fresh cover and easing it into its comfortable new existence.

In a word, that’s what those journals represent: comfort. They’re a way to look back on past inspiration and to glean new faith for the future. They’re a way to live my characters’ journeys and follow their paths. They’re a way to blaze some paths of my own. So when Sara gave me a fabulous new journal for my birthday last month, one with the words “Remember, ideas become things” scripted on the cover, it was love at first sight. As I flipped through the crisp pages to find a plethora of quotes scattered throughout, it quickly bumped every other journal out of line and scurried to the top of the pile for the next one I’ll use. Because those quotes? THEY. ARE. PERFECT. They’re encouraging. They’re motivating. They’re just the right pick-me-up for when the querying roller coaster takes a dip or when the editing process seems truly never-ending. They’re also the right starburst of inspiration for when things are moving along smoothly and you are in love, so giddily in love, with everything about writing and all it evokes.

And they make you think. Take the quote above, for example. As writers aspiring to be published authors, we get caught up so often in daydreaming about the future: how we’d react to getting The Call from an agent offering representation, how we’d celebrate the amazing news of selling our first novels, how it’d feel to walk into a bookstore and see our works of heart on the shelves. Dreaming big is important. It’s exciting. But what about dreaming big on a different scale? Instead of visualizing the life-altering milestone moments, why not visualize the ones we’re in control of on a daily basis? Visualize the euphoric, filled-with-adrenaline, I’m-so-in-love-with-this-project-that-I-can’t-stop-writing high of beginning a new manuscript. Visualize the moment of pride when you watch your characters truly grow and learn. Visualize the bittersweet moment when you write the last word of the last chapter, your first draft now more of its own person than your baby. Visualize the revisions you’ll make, the way your story will tighten with each edit until it snaps together like puzzle pieces that were always meant to be interconnected. Visualize the query letter writing, the synopsis writing, the agent research, the query emails. Visualize each and every bit of the process, and let yourself feel every emotion that comes along with it. See them, feel them, believe in them.

Maybe that’s the best mental blueprint we can have. This process is not easy, and the road often seems like it stretches too far into the distance to see where it leads, but that’s okay. One step at a time, we’ll get there. We’ll make it. We’ll turn that blueprint into something concrete. Maybe that will take our daydreams of agents, editors, and bookstores and make them a reality. Maybe it’ll mean that big dreams will morph into bigger dreams. Nobody can know for sure. But what I’m certain of, what I understand as though the knowledge has always floated through my thoughts, is that the journey will always be worth it. When things get tough, all I have to do is flip through my writing journals for a reminder. Because the words that splash across those pages, they don’t only bring my characters to life. They don’t only tell their stories. They tell mine, too.

And I’ll be forever grateful.

(Side note: how in the world is it OCTOBER already? Does that seem crazy and ridiculous to anyone else?)

Crossing the Finish Line.


“If you are going to run this race, you have to do it because you want to, because you have something to say or because it means more to you than anything in the world.”
~Arabella Hicks, via Susan Breen in The Fiction Class

It has been a long week. It’s been a difficult week, an emotional week, and a week that I sincerely hope won’t ever be repeated. Without getting into all the details, I’ll just say this: good health is everything. Everything. If you and your loved ones are healthy, then the rest will fall into place. The family situation I mentioned in my last post is still ongoing, so if you’re so inclined, any and all good thoughts are still most welcome and deeply appreciated. I believe in the power of positive thinking, I believe optimism can change the world, and I believe that miracles can happen if we have enough faith in them. That’s the perspective I’m choosing right now.

I’m also choosing to keep looking forward. It has been a difficult week on the querying front, as well, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me, but I’m trying very, very hard to keep looking on the bright side. To that end, I wanted to share this quote I came across while reading Susan Breen’s novel. My friend Sara loaned me the book a couple weeks ago – she said she thought of me right away when reading it – and I’m so glad she did. The way it’s structured is unique, creative, and innovative. It bounces back and forth between Arabella’s personal life, the fiction class she teaches, and the way the two intersect. I was particularly drawn in by the sections about her class – the dynamic of the students, the bond she develops with them, and the way they all grow not only as writers, but also as people.

My absolute favorite part of the book is a discussion Arabella has with one of her students. He’s questioning whether to pursue a career, a life, as a writer, and she gives him the advice quoted above. It’s been a few days now since I finished reading, but those words have stayed with me. They struck a chord in a way that goes beyond explanation. I didn’t just read them. I didn’t just understand them. I felt them. I still do. Because they could not possibly be more true. Writing is a joy. It’s captured starlight and magic come to life. It’s a passion that stirs so deep inside that you can’t even figure out where it comes from, where it becomes a part of you. But taking that next step? Working every day to turn your dream of being a published author into reality? It is hard. It’s harder than I ever could have realized until I jumped into it with both feet and an open heart. The twists and turns, the ups and downs, the strength and emotional fortitude it takes to pursue this relentlessly … it’s worth it, and that’s precisely because it means the world to me. It would be easy to let myself fall back in the race, to slow my pace and let everyone run by, but I refuse. Publishing, like so much else in life, is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m in it because I want to be. I’m in it because I have something to say and something to write. I’m in it until I cross that finish line … and then I’ll be headed for a new finish line, the next one.

I am not athletic. I am not a runner. When we ran the mile in high school, I was among the last to finish. But slow and steady wins the race, and I’m not talking about a race against others. I’m talking about the race we challenge ourselves to, the one we set as our goal. There may not be any medals to win, but I fully believe that if we keep at it, if we keep running, we’ll get a far greater prize. One step at a time, and before you know it, you’ll have traveled a great distance.

Starting Anew.


“Every possibility begins with the courage to imagine.”
~Mary Anne Radmacher

I think I’ve found another quote to add to my collection of favorites. Actually, scratch that. I am completely, absolutely, fully, unequivocally certain that I’ve found another quote to add to my collection of favorites. How’s that for an overuse of adverbs? Seriously, though, there’s just something about this one. It has that je ne sais quois, that indescribable quality that threads itself through every word and inspires a whole blanket of emotions. And what makes it even better, at least for me? It’s splashed across the cover of my new writing journal – my new writing journal that, as of yesterday, is home to my outlining, planning, and plotting for the sequel to Reflections of Me.

Squee! Whoohoo! Yay! Finally! Many exclamation points! And did I mention SQUEE?

In case the above didn’t make it clear, I am beyond excited to have officially begun work on my next book. Ideas for it have been floating around in my mind for months now, and to sit down and put those thoughts to words, those images to paper, it’s an adrenaline zap of the most invigorating kind. Part of me would love nothing more than to just dive right into the writing, but I’ve learned by this point that I work best when I have a rough outline and loose idea of where the story’s headed. Those bookends are important. That foundation will serve as a steady support upon which the spontaneous twists and turns will curve and flow. I believe a hundred percent in letting the characters lead the way, but giving them a road to navigate doesn’t take away from that. It only adds momentum.

I’m doing things a bit differently this time. Each character gets his or her own space at the beginning of my journal – space to grow, space to develop, space to remind me of all they’ve learned and all the new journeys they have to take. I’ve never done formal character sketches before, and this isn’t exactly that, either, but I like giving each person a designated section. When I flip the page to someone new, it allows me to immerse myself in that character’s mindset, mood, and personality. It allows me to temporarily backburner the others and focus only on that one. To that end, the journal kind of looks like a rainbow exploded inside it. Two days into the process, and those once-blank pages have now been sprinkled with blues, greens, purples, oranges, reds, and pinks. The characters have colors that represent their personalities, I have a way to slip into their perspective and see the world through their eyes, and my thoughts have a way to slow down, speed up, and work out all the possibilities that bounce around like sunbeams reflecting off diamonds.

Because every possibility deserves its chance. Every possibility deserves the opportunity to blossom, to grow from a seedling of an idea to a dream that can be lived – and lived out loud. Those possibilities are different – for every book, for every character, for every person. We all have our own passions. We all wish on different stars. We all hope for different things. But at the heart of each and every passion, each and every wish, each and every hope? Courage. It takes strength to go for our dreams. It takes strength to go out there and fight for them, to move out of our comfort zones and step from the safe into the unknown. It takes courage to imagine – because once we get swept up by those possibilities, we want them more than ever. And that? It’s a good thing. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a beautiful thing. After all, if we don’t take that first step forward, we’ll never go anywhere. We can’t move into the prospect of the future – of all it holds in its embrace – if we don’t let our hearts and minds wander to what could be.

I love to imagine. As a writer, it’s pretty much what I do all the time. I imagine my characters, their lives, their journeys, their stories. And then I tell them. As a person, well, sometimes I try to make those visions of the future a little less emboldened, a little more centered and a little more grounded, but honestly? Sometimes it’s good to dream big. Sometimes we have to splash the canvas of our lives with vibrant colors, vivid strokes, and telltale pictures. That’s the beauty of imagination. You never know where it’ll take you … and if we’re lucky enough, if we work hard enough and believe enough, sometimes those daydreams turn to reality. Sometimes that courage pays off. Without a doubt, leaping into this journey to publication has required more of me – more determination, more resilience, more emotion, more strength, more everything – than anything I’ve ever done before. Right now, the possibility is still dangling before me. And, even though I have no way of knowing what tomorrow will bring or what the future has in store, I will continue finding the courage to keep imagining. I owe it to myself. I owe it to all those possibilities that inspire me every day. I can’t wait to see where they lead, and as I start anew with Dear Ellie, I can’t wait to see how they grow. That’s the beauty of writing (and reading) for me – each book is a chance to delve into something fresh and new, with limitless potential.

What about you? Where does your imagination take you? What possibilities does it bring to life?

Right here, right now.


“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”
~Omar Khayyam

That quote? That very wise, very inspired, and all-together very important quote? My new motto.

It’s so easy to look ahead to the future. Visions of what could be dance across our thoughts, tiptoe through our minds. What will we make of ourselves? What will we become? What goals do we have, what aspirations are we working to turn into reality? There are so many questions, and it’s a natural reaction to get caught up in the open-ended answers. After all, don’t we tell our children that the possibilities are endless? That they can do whatever their hearts desire and inspire to be? We teach them that there’s an infinite world out there, one that stretches beyond the limits of the possible and soars right into the impossible. Dream big dreams. Wish sparkling, glittering wishes. Go out there and make them your own, make them come true. That’s certainly what I’ll teach my little ones someday.

There’s more to it than that, though. Sometimes – and I really think this is true for so many of us – we can get so caught up in tomorrow that we forget to appreciate today. Dreaming of what could be doesn’t preclude us from absorbing what is. Even if we’re not where we want to be yet, chances are there’s something still to love, even if it’s small. Instead of looking at time as something to conquer, why not look at it as a series of stepping stones? It’s something I try to do all the time, but on the heels of a rather disappointing email yesterday, I’m approaching it with a renewed vigor. Obviously, my constant hope for my tomorrows is that persistence and perseverance will finally pay off and result in having a career as a published author. I know, I know, the shock level of that sentence must be sky-high. I’ll wait while you all collect yourselves. Ha! :-)

Even as I’m constantly working toward that, though, I’m going to try not to get fully wrapped up in the future. I don’t want to lose sight of today. Because these moments along the way? They’re pretty darn special in their own right. I get to follow my passion. I get to write the stories that entrench themselves in my mind and go on a journey with the characters who live in my thoughts. I get to feel that indescribable spark of giddy excitement, that inspiration that somehow grounds me and lifts me up into the clouds at the same time. I get to do this now. I get to brainstorm, outline, plot, write, edit, revise. I get to live these stories as I write them. How lucky is that?

Our lives are a series of moments and memories, threaded together stitch by stitch. The whole patchwork will be beautiful – I’m sure of this, I truly am – but so is each individual square. So as I dive back into more querying, more writing, more immersing myself in the path that I am still every bit as determined to make my own, I’ll also be doing something else. I’ll be remembering that stepping stones can lead to wonderful things. I’ll still hope for the future and work for it with everything I have, everything I am, but I’ll also be happy for this moment. Because this moment is my life right now, isn’t it? Nothing can change that, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And when tomorrow finally comes, when that moment is my life, I will be the happiest person in all the world.

Childhood Days … Hopeful Daze.


“I’ve heard that it’s possible to grow up – I’ve just never met anyone who’s actually done it. Without parents to defy, we break the rules we make for ourselves. We throw tantrums when things don’t go our way, we whisper secrets with our best friends in the dark, we look for comfort where we can find it, and we hope – against all logic, against all experience. Like children, we never give up hope.”
~Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy)

Weather

Again with the Grey’s quotes, I know. They’re just so good, though, so beautifully and eloquently crafted. They make us think, they make us reflect, and they make us feel. Because these quotes, these tidbits of wisdom and hope that Meredith imparts at the end of each episode, they don’t just touch the lives of the show’s characters. They touch our lives. They resonate. They resound. They inspire. And this one? It couldn’t be more fitting.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m the sentimental type. I like to save everything with memories attached (and, okay, if I’m being honest here … some things that could easily be tossed). My family is the same way, which is why lately we find ourselves sifting and sorting through boxes and boxes of old papers, collections, and various other items in our basement. Everything’s organized and neatly compartmentalized into its place, but not all of it needs to be saved. Some of those memories? They’re folded in our hearts, and that’s the only place necessary. Sometimes the moments, the reminiscences, that we paint for ourselves end up having so much more focus and clarity than the physical reminders. And sometimes the tangible representation just makes us smile.

Case in point: what did I come across today, you ask? Among other things: books from when I was a little child, Barbie clothes from when I was a bit older, an entire bag full of student teaching mementos – lesson plans, the sweetest cards from the kids and the amazing teachers I worked with, and more – and a catalog made by yours truly. I very clearly remember writing it, so energized and excited by the fact that our family had our first computer. It was the summer before ninth grade, so 1997 (I know, I know, we were late to the technology game, despite all the pleas from my sister and me) … and boy, did it make me laugh. It made me smile, and it also made me think about how, even then, I had such a love for writing. This catalog was filled with articles, advertisements, even an order form for anyone who wanted to “subscribe.” I never would have thought of writing it, not in a million years, until I found those pieces of paper that represented so much more than just the literal. Little did I know then how my passion for writing would grow, evolve, and blossom over the years.

Every child is probably asked that age old question: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” at some point in time. I know I was, and my answers varied over the years: nurse, veterinarian, teacher, meteorologist (see above, circa 1988 or so!), librarian, and journalist. I parlayed that last one into a dual degree in Print and Video Communications, added in another degree in Elementary Education, and had such a clear idea of what path I wanted to follow. I’m lucky enough to have had several dreams come true on that front. And then creative writing came back into my life, swept it – and me – up in a whirlwind, changed everything in ways I never thought possible, and I’ve never been the same. Funny how things work out … and pretty darn wonderful, too. I’ve said many times that I believe people come into our lives for a reason, and I believe things happen that way, too. We find the path we’re supposed to walk. We find the journey we’re meant to take.

And no, maybe we don’t ever grow up entirely. But maybe that’s a good thing. Because, like Meredith says, then we can hope. We can hope against all logic, against all experience. We can take the innocence of our childhood, that time when we lived life with arms wide open, and put some of that sparkle into our everyday. And who knows where that hope will lead?

What about you? When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up? Have your dreams changed over time, or are you still working toward the same goals?