Create Anyway

Could you live your life in obscurity?

Could you — would you — still write, paint, draw, sing, act, dance, compose music, play music, take photos if no one ever knew your name? Never discovered your art?

What if you somehow lost the ability to write or play the music you hear in your head? The images you see? The stories you imagine?

What if you were crippled by arthritis, lost your sight, lost your hearing, lost control of part or all of your body, lost your vocal cords or damaged them just enough to still be able to talk but not to sing? What if you started to lose your mind, and you knew it?

Would you consider your efforts vain? If you lost the ability to create before what you had already created was discovered, would you consider your life wasted?

They’ve become almost cliche, as many times as they’ve been passed around the internet, but these words* written on the wall in  Mother Teresa‘s Calcutta orphanage still resonate with me:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

I used to work at a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the youth of the local community, and I posted those words often. Sometimes I’d catch kids looking up at the bulletin board or stopping outside my office window to read them. We didn’t discuss them much — kids will often absorb more via osmosis than they will by being lectured — but I referred to them on occasion when having to correct one of the members.

Had to remind myself, too, of the merit in pressing onward when life is bleak and there seems to be no reason to keep striving.

One of my early freelance newspaper articles involved an interview with a man suffering from MS, unable to physically write and barely able to shift himself from his bed to his chair, and yet he wrote stories by using a speech-recognition program on his computer.

A large writing group I once joined was led by a woman whose spinal and hip bones were deteriorating, and whose hands and wrists were arthritic, and yet she wrote in short sessions, refusing to give in to the inevitable.

A few years later, my critique buddy was a seventy-something alcoholic novelist whose anger and depression and regrets — the things he said he didn’t carry but which were evident in the stories he told — compelled him to write.

Via social media and e-zines, I have met several fellow writers suffering physical difficulties that not only impede their ability to interact in society, but also often obstruct their ability to write.

There was a long stretch of time when I, too, was barely able to function physically or mentally, and had to crawl back toward the light. At the moment, I’m in a greyness, a struggle with body and mind, that dims the light. And yet forward I must go.

Many creative folk I’ve known have been almost desperate to finish their work, “just in case”.  One writer also painted, and wanted to leave a legacy for her children and grandchildren. Another wanted to tell her mother’s story.  Another — one among myriad, I suspect — strove to fulfill a youthful dream set aside to raise a family and live her life.

Artist, singer, author, and speaker, Joni Eareckson Tada, is also quadriplegic, an inspiration and an encourager wherever she goes. The great composer Mozart died before he could finish Requiem, and Beethoven went deaf and became suicidal, thinking he no longer had a reason to exist — and yet he composed some of his most widely-recognized work after his hearing declined, including his Ninth Symphony and its famous “Ode to Joy” passage.

 

Keep going.

We cannot but create.

“We are all pencils in the hand of God.” -Mother Teresa

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* Click here and scroll to the end of the page to read The Paradoxical Commandments written by Dr. Kent M. Keith, upon which Mother Teresa’s version is based.

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The Art of the Side Hustle

 

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It’s scary, trading a paycheck for doing something you really love. Or does it have to be that way?

Just the other day I was trying to explain to my parents what I was accomplishing with my art while working a traditional day job. My folks have heard about this art/writing stuff before, of course.

Mom was kind of my first editor when I was in the fifth grade.

She had looked at me with a puzzled expression after reading my first handwritten paragraph on blue-ruled school tablet paper. I was a big fan of horse stories in grade school: Black Beauty, King of the Wind, etc. All the horses in them had nice-sounding names, and so I picked the name “Lincoln” for my horse. The story began, “Lincoln was born in a pasture on a hill top…” Mom chuckled, looked even more confused as I launched into my explanation and then she said, “Oh, I thought you were writing about President Lincoln!”

Back to the present time: my parents know I make some money on the side through original jewelry design and eBay. But when I described what I was doing as a “side hustle” Mom looked puzzled. I guess hustle had a different meaning in the 1970s!

I think that beauty of the side hustle is that it allows you to explore what you really love to do without actually letting go of your full-time paycheck, yet.

But I still want to be a full-time artist and writer. It’s scary, trading a paycheck for doing something you really love. Or does it have to be that way?

I wish I could tell you I know the secrets of art business/writing business success. I don’t. I am still learning how to balance the side hustle art with my regular retail job.

Currently my little Etsy jewelry shop, Bohemian for Life, has been online for four years, has steady small sales and 40 followers. I began jewelry design in 2014, motivated by a friend who made a big success of it when the handmade jewelry market was beginning, before it became a commonplace idea. Did I have the idea of success fast? Oh yes.

But the market is now pretty full, rather like the self-publishing market for books. Once a novelty, now it’s big business, one in which new names struggle to be noticed.

So maybe it’s best to get in on the beginning of an idea.

Or it might be good to feed into the social media machine and have fantastic product samples for your readers and fans in form of product photos or snippets of text from your work.

start small

Here’s a brainstorming list I came up with of ideas to work that side dream job and create your own (mostly) free advertising:

–run a contest with a free book or a free art/craft item up for grabs

–market via your own website as well as the ones you sell on(my friend Keanan Brand has a good example of an author website)

–offer regular perks like special sales and coupons

–have a shareathon on various social media platforms

–post short videos about your story or art: book trailers, for example

–explore local venues for art and writing –farmer’s markets for art, local hotspots to leave business cards

–as a writer, can you get an opportunity to speak to students, or to join a writer’s group for local events to get your book name/your name out there?

–check your local shops for opportunities to sell both art and writing

–check with the local paper for an opinion piece opportunity

–start small, but think big (what will you do when your company grows?)

–network with bloggers in the same fields

–make the story of your art and writing personal, let your audience get to know you

While most self-published writers are trying the largest markets(often the most crowded ones)have you tried alternatives to some of the big names in e-book publishing? Here’s a blog post that might get you started: Alternatives to Amazon

If you have other ideas to add to my shortlist, please give a shout-out in the comments.

And keep working that side hustle, my artist and writer friends! May it turn into something much, much more.

Value in Your Dreams: Keeping a Writer’s Dream Journal

mirror dimension dream

“Write a dream journal?” You grin over your morning cup of coffee. “I’m working on a trilogy or a new short story. I don’t have extra time for a new book project that won’t be published.”

But take another look at the idea:

Historically, dreams have been important in many famous lives. From Biblical Joseph to surrealist painter Salvador Dali, images seen within dreams give hints of the future, inspire creativity, and spark inventive ideas.

Would you like to gather a wealth of images, characters, and places that have a personal signature but are deeply mysterious and intriguing to your readers? The answer: use a currency unique to you. Mine your dreams!

Three Ways to Mine Your Dreams for Literary Gold:


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Find the Universal Appeal

Our dream imagination is like an unfinished novel. When we dream, we have no real idea whether it will be a nightmare or a pleasant stroll before we start.

So which dreams will interest your readers?

Dreams with an element of mystery and universal appeal.

Recall Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein character dream. Wanting to fix up a boring ghost story, she found her answer in the nightmare–

“I have found it! What terrified me will terrify others; and I need only describe the spectre which had haunted my midnight pillow.'”—Mary Shelley

What is so fascinating about Frankenstein? A truly novel cadaver creation sprang from her nightmare. All of us can relate to horror dreams, and Shelley’s monster seems to have that powerful hypnosis that only the productions of our subconscious can wield to paralyze us and keep us glued to the novel’s pages till the end.

amarillo waterfall

Describe Unique Landscapes 

Were you flying? Falling? Walking through an orchard of fruit trees old as Earth? What about houses, cars, furniture?

Your dreams may not be Spielberg productions, but even a few sentences will serve to keep a sci-fi or fantasy landscape in mind for use in future writing.

List colors and textures: and in dreams, colors often take on unique meaning(more on that below).

Many people have difficulty remembering dreams, so if one wakes you up at 3 a.m., briefly note a few of the main ideas of the dream journey when you can. It helps to keep your journal or laptop on a nightstand close by.

Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote his epic Kubla Khan based on a dream—he even labels the poem, “A vision in a dream, a Fragment.”

“The shadow of the dome of pleasure/Floated midway on the waves;

Where was heard the mingled measure/From the fountain and the caves.

It was a miracle of rare device/A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!”

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Record the Meaning

This is the fun part of dream journaling for me!

I once dreamed of a house with 3 levels. On the main level it was a plain mobile home, underneath was a natural rock garage filled with cars, and through a set of wooden doors was an elegant ballroom with a chandelier and a black tie dinner party.

My own interpretation was loosely based on what I thought it meant: three stages in life, or even an inter-dimensional place that was merely a mobile home on the outside. What other unique rooms might we find in this place?

But if you want to put a more conventional meaning to your dreams, visit a dream dictionary site and you’ll find even more ideas about symbols. One of my favorites is Dream Moods.

With a dream journal in your resource stack, you will be armed with unique images, interesting characters, and bizarre worlds to build your fiction, at no cost other than a little catnap!

And you might be surprised at just what does get published from your dream journal.

End Goals: Dealing with Grief, Pain, and Other Uglies

Years ago, another writer composed a poem about the four seasons, and how grief is the other season. It will last as long or as short as is needed, and then it must end so the mourner can live. She had experienced great grief in her life, but the ones she expected to come alongside and help her through that time were anxious that she stop mourning, stop making them uncomfortable.

Around the same time, I battled depression, and the main advice from Christians was “pray,” and from others was “be happy” or “stop wallowing.” In essence, just get over it. People weren’t really interested in listening. That was inconvenient, boring, and uncomfortable. I just needed to paste on that smile so no one would feel guilty for not caring.

The depression lifted after I dug in to Scripture and stopped trying to escape the wilderness, but learned to walk beside God, trusting Him to know the way out.

After my parents’ marriage broke apart, the refrain became “forgive”. I was angry, hurt, shocked. Forgiveness was a bridge too soon. Besides, other people were pouring their own complaints and hurts and angers into my ears, and were too absorbed in their own pain to hear mine.

When forgiveness came, it was after much prayer, many filled pages in my journal, and after much honesty with myself and God.

So, what’s the point of this whiny list of troubles?

A traveler in Dallas needs to go to Paris — that’s his end goal — but there are many miles and an ocean in between where he is now and where he eventually must be. He might agree that, yes, he needs to take a particular route from Lisbon to Paris, but that part of the map is irrelevant at the moment. He’s not in Lisbon yet.

And there are other stops he must make first: from Dallas to Denver, from Denver to Memphis, from Memphis to Chicago, from Chicago to New York, and so on. Once he arrives in Lisbon, then he can make the final journey to Paris.

It’s that way with life. People may think we need to hurry up and arrive somewhere — arrive at forgiveness, arrive at physical fitness, arrive at a buoyant outlook — but those are end goals, destinations that often come only after long journeys.

Although God may provide instant answers, as He sometimes does, most often the noblest things come after hard work. In the journey is where we learn, where we hear His instruction, where we face truths and look in mirrors and come to new understandings.

Oh, what we would miss if God allowed us to nod our heads or wiggle our noses and “genii” our way out of our troubles.

People may dismiss our problems as not worthy of their time and attention, but don’t let pride or bitterness make us react in kind whenever we encounter someone else who, like us, needs more than a peppy motto or a “just pray about it” pat answer or a neat package of memorized Bible verses.

Just as the Word and the Spirit will heal, so too will love and listening, and honest words spoken in kindness.


Comments from an online discussion after this article was originally written and posted elsewhere (April 15, 2015):

Grief is a strange thing. and people handle it differently. Some need to share and some of us need to hide it. Who can say which way is right–I think it depends on the person. It is often impossible to share someone else’s burden when you are full of your own. (Nancy P.)

I don’t always speak what I feel or think — either it’s not the right time or the right listener, or maybe I don’t know yet what I’m thinking or feeling, so speaking about it may be of little use.

That’s why I keep journals. I can work things out on the page, and often God reveals the truth as I write. That’s one reason I write out my prayers, too: I sometimes, when I go back and read them after weeks or even years, I see and understand the words in a new light. Journaling is long-term effective therapy for grief, depression, mood disorders, and more.

Something I (wrote) in my prayer journal today:

There is a difference between showing someone compassion, and allowing that person to feed off of you like an emotional, mental, or spiritual vampire.

There are people in genuine need who simply want you to hear them, to stand beside them, to give them wise words but not to preach at them or scold or be superior. On the other hand, there are people who take advantage of kindness and the desire to help, and they drain you dry. They suck away your joy, your energy, your very substance, and they refuse to stand on their own feet, to seek God for themselves, to find joy where they may.

From such, turn away (2 Timothy 3:5, slightly out of context). There is a time to kill, and a time to heal (Ecclesiastes 3:3). In this case, “kill” means pulling out the weeds that can choke the vine of your life. (Elizabeth E.)


Recommended reading:
The Bait of Satan by John Bevere (1994)
Unoffendable by Brant Hansen (2015)

“More Like Guidelines”

“Phony Rules of Writing” is a brief,  useful article about commands we should disregard. I have told many a writer to jettison these very rules and to do what the story / sentence/ paragraph requires rather than mimicking what their junior high English teacher taught from the textbook.

One shudders to recall those stilted, bloated, “perfect” essays with the introductory sentence, three-to-five main points, and the closing restatement of the paragraphs above it. And that restatement better not be boring! Nosirree. It had to be creative, original, dazzling, all while repeating what the reader already read.

Ay-yi-yi.

When novelists try to apply that same structure to fiction, oy vey.

As the article states,

Whether we’re experienced writers or just beginners, we all follow certain rules. Not all rules of writing, however, are equally valid or useful.

Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.


For the origin of this post’s title, click here to watch a clip from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Review: Laughing at the Moon

poetry anthology^front cover

A poetry book for a traveler! That was one of my first thoughts on reading my friend Elizabeth Easter’s poetry collection.

This slim volume challenges the reader to look into the poet’s skies-and asks the question of life’s wanderers: “What if I don’t want to be safe?” Should I take an uncharted route, a new daring direction in life?

Elizabeth writes of love, troubles, family, whimsy and travels. A prose poem begins the book, inviting the reader to sit with the author in a house she and her father restored and look out the window with her, searching for words to begin these tales with.

Some verses are short and poignant, like Companion. Others, like Sir Gallivant and the Dragon, tell a full, rich-detailed story.

Threads of emotion, courage and memory run along these pages like the blue lines on a map. Where they lead, only you can travel with the author.

Interested in reading this book and supporting Penworthy Press? Find the title here: Laughing at the Moon on Amazon.com.

 

 

Freeing Truth

On social media, a fellow writer and fellow Christian posted regarding the weird zone a pastor must walk between complete honesty and diplomatic reticence, lest his congregants be offended by truth and kick him out, and how the same weirdness exists in the Christian publishing industry: Can’t offend the readers, so let’s publish this not-quite-truthful fiction because it’s “clean” and it’ll keep us in business.

Below is a comment I almost posted in response:

The lack of complete honesty is one reason I stopped working for a Christian publisher: I quickly learned editors were expected to praise, not to correct. After all, praise was encouraging, but correction was negative and mean. It was okay to fix commas, but not to suggest deep revisions. It was okay to talk to a young writer about his/her first novel, but it wasn’t okay to tell them they need to do much more research about characters / history / health matters with folks who were experts in their fields.

I started holding back and doing the diplomatic thing. After all, maybe I was too intense. Maybe I was too demanding. And, after a time of introspection and second-guessing, I admitted there were a couple of instances when I coulda said something a bit more diplomatically, but I also admitted that I had never not told the truth.

“Encouragement” and “praise” aren’t synonymous.

Encouragement, as seen from the word’s construction, means “to put courage into” someone, and (according to Merriam-Webster Online) “to make (someone) more likely to do something” or “to tell or advise (someone) to do something.” (Sounds like editing, to me.) Praise means “to express approval” — and in today’s language that also means accepting without question or revision the thing or the person being praised.

An editor can praise a writer’s creativity without accepting that the manuscript is publish-ready. Praise for storytelling does not equal acceptance of clunky dialogue or run-on descriptive passages.

All writers need to be willing to receive feedback that isn’t blanket approval. Otherwise, they may never see weaknesses in their writing or their stories. They may never understand what works already or what needs improvement. They may never understand why their books aren’t selling.

In other words, unless they are willing to learn, they will never grow in their craft.

There’s another reason writers need completely honest feedback. If they only receive praise but  never encounter negative responses, they will never look at their own work critically and contend for it.

What does that mean?

If a writer must provide a reason for a line of dialogue, for a plot element, for a character, for a descriptive passage, he begins to think deeply about how the story fits together, about what’s necessary and what needs to be pruned. He begins to think like an editor.

That perspective, coupled with the fact that the author is the creator of the story, has great power in determining the quality of the final product.

Tell the truth. Receive the truth. The truth will set you free.

Writing, Editing, and Life