Paradigm: the Shift

Worldview. It’s how I see, read, and understand my world. It’s the lenses I look through, and like most people, I don’t realize I’m wearing them. (Have you ever looked for your glasses, only to find them resting on your face where they belong?)

I have taught online classes for home educated high school students, and one of those classes has been a worldview course. It’s one of my favorites, not because I have the privilege of watching students come into their own a bit but because they learn there always exists something they don’t know yet.

Right now I’m pleasantly surprised to find that I don’t know everything there is to know. Again. That’s not new information, and I’m not so arrogant that I ever thought I knew everything—well, except for the teenage “disease” that seems to be an epidemic in that stage. It’s not that I was comfortable with everything I knew as much as I stopped thinking about it. I wasn’t examining my thoughts or their processes as often. I settled in my ways and the ways I thought about things. The people closest to me thought fairly similarly. I maintained a wider spectrum of social media friends to “stay in touch with the culture and reality.” I was happy with all of that.

Have you ever had someone ask a question that shook your paradigm (and maybe your worldview, too)? Maybe you remember the question well. My experience hasn’t been that exactly. No one question has ever rattled me.

In my experience it has been a slow exploration, and the questions come up in my own inner dialogue. While that can feel unsettling, it’s the most pleasant for me. I prefer to wrestle with my thoughts in private sometimes. (Have I mentioned I’m an introverted processor?) I’m still waiting for the idea “pieces” to fit together nicely, so it’s a messy process. I just enjoy the whole thing, though. After the initial surprise or shock of it, the thinking and the settling (even if it’s temporary) is fun for me.

Have you had this kind of shakeup happen in your worldview or paradigm? What was that like for you? How do you feel about the process?

~j

Writer Problems: Analysis Paralysis

Writing exists in different parts of my mind—the forefront or the back—and, every so often it drives me out of it. A good number of writers I know have said something similar in conversation. One of my biggest struggles is the “stuck place” that goes along with over-thinking everything: plot or flow, content or structure, word choices, word count, the number of adverbs! (Kidding about that last one.)

And I’m brought back to one consistent truth in the writer life: writers write. Sure, they read and research and doodle sometimes, too, but they invest time in writing. When the analysis overwhelms the process, paralysis sets in. I don’t really believe this is the same thing as writer’s block. Analysis paralysis is something a little different. While the block is a dry inkwell, the paralysis feels something like the inkwell vacillating between explosion and implosion. Suddenly, the words just won’t flow because my mind just won’t play nicely with whatever is on the page or trying to get there.

I have a love-hate thing with the fact that writing is a mental thing. The beauty is that writing allows the pictures, stories, or ideas floating in my head to be shared with people anywhere and any time. The agony is that my mind can have so many incomplete thoughts floating around, and I somehow feel each one should be examined for validity before it hits the page. (This is ridiculous!) What’s a writer to do when the analysis breaks the beautiful process?

Here are three ideas that may help you get past the paralysis in your process:

  1. Take a walk and have a little talk with yourself. A change of scenery may be helpful. You just may have to give yourself permission to write badly or explore an incomplete thought’s development without evaluation. Agree to just write without judgment when you sit down again, if you can.
  2. Try writing from stream of consciousness as an exercise on a regular basis. Timed free-writes can be helpful with practice. You’ll often find you can get more words on the page when you have a specific topic or project to work on when you’ve practiced writing whatever comes to mind. You might also be interested in something like the “Five-Minute Friday” Link Up. Each week a very large group of writers will tackle a five-minute write on a single word topic. Give that a shot!
  3. Try the 10,000-foot view if you have to. You can’t land in “Pantser Land” with writers who just discover the plot (twists and all)? Back out of the project with an open mind and try outlining several different options for your work. Choose the one you like best, or ask someone to help you choose. I like to ask friends for ideas on plot or content when it’s possible or they are willing.

I won’t overwhelm you with a ton of ideas, but there’s at least three you might try. I know I sometimes just need encouragement to push forward in a project, so my “bonus idea” is—find another writer to chat with. See if you can talk shop (or not), if you need it.

Keep on keepin’ on, writer tribe!

~J

What Exactly is Failure?

Snowflakes and Superpowers

I guess I’m coming out of my hidey hole a little behind the headlines these days. There’s some buzz about an author who determined that two rejected novels equals failure. Of course, that would be painful! And I can empathize.

My thoughts? This is a sign of the times.

In our culture, we tell our kids they are special snowflakes in a gentle flurry. They are perfectly brilliant crystals drifting in November flurry. We grant them superpowers and tell them they can do anything. Parents want to give children the time to discover themselves and their abilities. “Talk all the time you need—or want,” we say. There’s no deadline to this discovery, of course.

Part of the above is true. We may be leaving out important details, though. I think reality may be closer to a snowflake in a blizzard. The struggle to succeed can feel more like being up against gale-force winds to the point of burnout. The “grit” part is missing from our narrative, and that’s surprising given the grassroots Americans who have worked so hard for generations.

The truth is each of us is a unique and powerful individual! Without work or a solid work ethic, it’s likely to be a hard road that may just be easier to walk away from. Writing is hard under some of the best conditions. Pour your sweat on the page or bleed all over it, and it’s personal. I get that. Maybe technical manual writers can say there’s no emotional investment in their writing, I don’t know. We write for personal reasons, and we offer something of ourselves in every sculpted sentence on the page.

But there’s something that’s not so personal. The reality is there are a myriad of writers composing works. We can respect that, but when we start writing, we speak into a very large body of water. All our thoughts may be excellent, but there is competition for the readers’ eyeballs (mainly getting in front of them) and their wallets, honestly. If I write well, that’s awesome, but that isn’t the end of the story. There are so many other parts.

I’m learning so much about the Millennial generation. As a Gen X-er, I’m curious about what’s up and coming in the culture, but I’m also aware of what’s common to humanity. Learning the hard truth about hard work—timeliness, deadlines, and being one of many in a very large pool—is part of life. And life is a tough teacher. Dismissing the “rules” doesn’t make the efforts for naught, but it sure reinforces that the efforts and opinions of everyone else are a factor. Where best-selling authors collected and practically honored the hundreds of rejection letters in their early writing years, we’re dejected and depressed in the single digits.

I get it. I’ve balked or chosen to walk from the hard stuff in life many times. I won’t lie. I preferred ease, comfort, praise, and success (in that order). But the good things, things worth , are rarely gifted to us. Instead, they are hard-fought battles more often than not. If it’s worth having, it’s worth fighting for, isn’t it?

God willing, I’ll persist in the writing challenge that lies before me. If I really have a story, a message, and an audience that needs to hear my voice in the conversation, I can’t balk or walk. It’s my raison d’etre. Dare I say, it’s my calling? I think so.

And that’s when I decide to answer the 5 W Questions of writing, the biggest being my “Why.” I wrote about that here.

Regarding the parting shot in the original article: I’m working on something, and I probably won’t be quiet about it. You see, my “why” flame is bigger than something a publisher, editor, or critic will snuff out. If my God leads me to it, He’ll lead me through it, no doubt.

Thanks for reading along. I love to share thoughts and kick them around with others. What do you think about this article that’s getting some attention? Have you responded to the post on your blog? Share below, of course!

~j

“Please, Fence Me In!”

Blog—picket fenceHave you read this yet? Jeff Goins has a way with words, and sometimes he grabs my attention with a topic that arrives right on time. I’ve been mulling a couple of the points from his post. I don’t disagree with the post. The truth is, I’m not thinking about marketing when I’m kicking around potential titles. I know some would say I should be more concerned about that, but I’m really thinking about a lovely white picket fence.

Sure. It’s all about marketing, and I get that. But it’s about content.

For me, the title is the neat, welcoming picket fence that defines my boundaries. When I’m drafting the gate is open to almost any and all words, but eventually some of those words are shown the sidewalk when I know which ideas, scenes, and sentences play nicely in the yard with the others.

But that fence. I guess I need a plat survey to know where the posts will go before I can seriously evaluate what stays or goes. It’s the granddaddy of all college term papers in my mind sometimes. Writing needs a raison d’être. I’m on the hunt for that.

The nugget I needed in Goins’ post was this: choose an argument.

We called this a thesis for college papers, but it never goes away in our writing. This argument is the work’s reason for being, the lifeblood of the work itself. To be honest, a storyline is a beautiful thing (especially in memoir), but I need to consider the why behind the story. Why tell it? Why should my reader invest time and emotional energy in the story? The tension in the argument makes all the difference, and it’s still there when the content is “just a chronological story.”

There’s a big idea out there somewhere. It may be entertainment, but I think there’s something deeper. Stories have purpose. They draw us in. They teach us. They engage us. They sit with us in a kind of conversation (usually while I sip mug after mug of java). And stories also have a life of their own, flowing at their pace and following their chosen path. The reader rides the current, and the current is the story. But that’s no excuse for words traipsing all over the page without restraint in my mind.

I have a favorite title in mind, and I haven’t been able to shake it. In a moment of brilliance—at least I hope it was!—I saw a connection between the main character’s name, her understanding of her identity, and a couple of different meanings of that name. We’ll see if White Wave Crashing remains when all is said and done. I definitely need to take a closer look at my work’s purpose, audience, and argument because these are posts or pickets in the fence that defines my book.

Goins makes a fantastic point about marketing. An author has one chance to grab the reader’s eyeballs in order to get their fingers leafing through the pages. He’s right about the marketing, and if I could see just a little further down the road—

What do you think?

Does the author let the work grow at its own pace? A sculptor might say the rock speaks, and he merely responds by removing whatever is not part of the piece it wants to be. Maybe authors are like that. Maybe I am a little like that, too—on a good day when I am not self-editing the self-edits or plotting every curve, rise, and fall in the WIP.

I say, “Fence me in, please!” I’ll be working on this in order to have a loose framework, but I don’t expect to write a final draft the first time through. This is a process. Even knowing what the book is not is a very good thing.

What has helped you in choosing an argument? Can you share an argument you used in a sentence or so? If you write memoir, how do you think this plays into that genre? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

~j

Memories: Papa and Teddy Bear Love

My grandfather had a gentle heart, patient Southern drawl, and slow-moving ways. Mommy’s daddy towered over everybody, and his lanky, six-foot-eight frame ducked through doorways when he came to visit. Wet-combed, thin hair lay flat in the morning, but the shorter hairs on top rebelled as the day went on.

Every memory is filled with sweetness to counter my deep longing to see his soft, creased face again. There were games of “Stick ‘Em” in the living room chair. He sat quietly with a soft smile on his face. I heaved a giant hand or foot wherever I could manage and “stuck it” in place. In his big hands corn husks and bandanas became dolls, paper took flight, and leaf “boats” floated in rain puddles.

Hundreds of faded black-and-white snapshot memories drift through my mind, but a precious one is saturated in vibrant color.


There were four girls now: eight, six, four, and tiny. Suddenly I was a big sister. The baby was loud and red-faced a lot of the time. Mommy’s friends made a fuss over her. “She’s adorable!” they said. “Is she sleeping well?” they asked. “What a good baby!” they said. They had to ask, “How are you managing four girls?” “Daddy’s really outnumbered now, isn’t he?” everyone said.

Can they see me? I wondered.

We picked my grandparents up from the Amtrak station. Nana squeaked in high-pitched, happy-about-the-baby talk and did the grandmother things. Papa came with her.
Yay! Papa will play with me! Everyone else is too busy. Papa made time for me.

Dinner time. Pots and pans. Bang! Clang! Plates and silverware. Clink. Clink. “Jenny, go outside! You can’t be in here while we’re making dinner.”

I was in the way. Again. Navy blue tennies scuffed down the hall and out the front door. I plopped down on the warm concrete porch, feet dangling and kicking the edge over and over. My scrunched-up face rested in tightly-clenched fists. Why did they send me out? Mommy and Nana don’t like me.

The door creaked, and Papa ducked out into the sunlight. He eased down

next to me. His legs bridged over the front walk, and the grass flattened under the weight of his giant feet. One hand settled next to me.

He was a good listener.

“Papa, they don’t like me in there. They send me outside all the time.” My tennies bounced off the concrete.

“Oh?”

“Everybody’s too busy to play, and they keep telling me I’m in the way. They don’t like me anymore. The baby came home, and now I’m always in trouble.” Tears finally came. I kicked harder.

“I think you need this.” A small teddy bear came out from behind his back. The chocolate-brown body was worn and nubby and more flat than fat. The yellow fabric on his paws and nose was faded. Above his nose was a threadbare spot. Two curves of black stitching formed a happy mouth. Hard plastic eyes glinted in the sunlight.

“For me? Thank you! I love him.” Teddy nearly disappeared in my tightly wrapped arms.
“I love you. And so do they,” he nodded toward the noisy, open window. “They’re almost done in there. Your Nana and your mom will just tell me I’m getting in the way, so I think I’ll just stay here.”

TeddyBear (3)

“They tell you that, too?”

“Yup.”

I pulled me feet up and shuffled into criss-cross-apple-sauce. “They don’t like you either?”

“They do. I still get in the way.”

I thought about that.

We talked about the sun heading for quitting time. I told him the porch was going to turn orange. I showed him the tiny, black ants husling along the cracks of the sidewalk between lunchtime popsicle stains and their hole. Busy, busy!

The front door creaked as Mommy held it wide open. “Daddy and Jenny—it’s time for din-din.” I squeezed Teddy once more.

The steaming-hot chicken pot pie landed upside down with a plop! The crust was broken and leaking. A short, sweaty glass of milk waited beside it.


Thanks for reading, friends. Do you have a sweet story related to a precious relationship? I’d love to read your short story. Share it in the comments below…

~J

A Tree in a Forest…

“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, did it make a sound?”

If an author crafted thoughtful paragraphs and no one’s eyes found the web page to take them in…

The writer’s creativity flows directly from the heart. Many of us hold a fragile heart gently in cupped hands, timidly presented for others to see. Does that resonate with you?

Today I fought the urge to peek at the blog stats, and I’ll do the same on many other days. The days I peek, I usually have one of two responses:

“Oh my words! People know I exist! I’ve been found—and read!”

“Oh. My. Words. They’re falling somewhere in a forest silently, I guess.”

In the emotional roller coaster response to blog metrics, I learned one thing: I didn’t fall in love with writing because people read what I’d written. (Though it felt good to be read and discuss what was turning over in my heart and mind with others, if I’m honest.) I loved writing because of the precious process and it’s longevity. The written word is a beautiful thing—a gift, really.

The process of writing, for me, is the expression of my heart and thoughts about everyday life and the familiar people, places, and things in it. It’s remembering what was, identifying what is, and pondering what will be…or pretending what could be. The writing process is ordering moments for myself and my own sanity. It’s crafting a story for others, hoping to connect to an other person in another time or place through characters, events, and well-written turns of phrases. It’s sharing “the real Jen” with others and finding other authentic writers out in the big, wide world.

Writing is both solitary and relational at the same time.

Spoken words are puffs of air briefly and vibrantly alive in front of an audience. But each breath carries a new sentence, and with that, the old one fades away, almost forgotten. Our technology captures so much of the spoken word. There’s an app for that. (Dozens of them!) That’s where the spoken word lives beyond the puffs of air, the breath every syllable rode on. I’m thankful I can find things in the “spoken word forest” that I missed or revisit spoken moments I loved. But conversations have to be captured in my forgetful gray matter. That’s unfortunate.

Ah! But the written word…

The longevity of the written word is amazing. We can read the thoughts of people we’ve never met. Their hearts are scrawled on pages, and our hearts are knit with theirs. Thoughts are captured, and we learn, understand, and grow. It’s fantastic! Ancient texts, great classic literature, my contemporary in another city. I know that person existed because I’ve read their words. Wisdom. Truth. Intriguing stories. The reality of everyday life. It’s as if the words continue to live, and the heart behind them continues to beat (even if it’s long gone).

So here, in this little-known corner of the Blogosphere—my words wait. And they breathe the moment they are found as if they fell to the page a second before. A connection between us is created, and it’s like you know me.

And if you comment below, it’s like I know you!

~j

Character Sketches: Stranger Things

I’ve been thinking about writing interesting characters with depth, the kind that draw a reader into the story. There’s something in the details. There are precious details that shouldn’t be overlooked, and then there are the things that tell too much. Yeah, I’m probably guilty of “TMI” more often than not. If nothing is left to the imagination, there’s not much left for the reader to do than scan the words on the page. There’s no engagement there.

So, I made up a little exercise. I’ll nonchalantly take in the scenes around me (and the people in them). Each person I see is now a character, but there are rules—

  1. The person must be a complete stranger.
  2. Jot notes on the physical appearance (physique, posture, clothing, movement).
  3. Include notes on the person’s presence in the place (sound, language, gestures).
  4. Imagine the internal workings of the mind (choices, values, self-esteem).
  5. Quick “day in the life” sketch of the stranger.

I wonder how this kind of exercise will change my writing skill. It might be helpful, but I’ll let you know. I think the benefit is having a jotted list first and selecting from that. Rather than starting with a written piece, I can whittle down what I really need: a basic description and puzzle pieces for a story line, dialogue, and character interaction in relationship to others.

If you’ve done an exercise of this nature, how did it develop your skill in the craft?

What kinds of information would useful in an exercise like this to develop characters?

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you feel like sharing below.

Thanks for reading along!

~j