The Glamorous Life of a Writer

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I spent this weekend in a hotel room working on my book.

In the past when I heard about someone hiding away to write, I imagined a cozy cabin with mountain views. I’ll admit, sometimes I also assumed said writer was hunched over a typewriter slowly turning into a certifiable crazy person who talks to birds and walls and lives on coffee and granola. But mostly it was this:

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A place to enjoy nature, to be inspired by God’s creation. Maybe even a beach to walk on, to ponder deep things while taking a short break from my hard work…

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Of course I’d be up at dawn to drink my coffee… (Who IS this lady? I don’t know. But she is definitely thinking important thoughts that will surely turn into a best-seller.) (Too bad I still don’t really like coffee.)

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No matter what images came to mind when I heard mention of a writer’s retreat, I definitely did not envision a small-town hotel with a mediocre breakfast buffet and a lovely view of a frontage road and National Bank.

That’s okay. Because a) this hotel is the retreat I could afford and b) sequestering myself for a few days, with no kids or appointments or errands or laundry or TV or alarm clocks, has been GOOD for productivity. It’s also given me the mental space to breathe a bit, to toss around ideas a little more – and to create more work for myself. But that’s okay. It’s good work and it’s going to make the book better.

It’s funny, though. As often as I am alone (working from home and having a husband who works long hours simply mean I am by myself a lot), being “stuck” here in the hotel is making me just a tiny bit stir crazy. And I even left for church and small group on Sunday! But the more hopped up on sugar and Cool Ranch Doritos I get, the more I find myself laughing and crying out loud, talking to myself, and getting the urge to do some jumping jacks just to give my brain a break.

So, that’s been my weekend. I’m so grateful Mark offered to take care of the girls so I could go away to write. And even though it’s a little hotel within a half mile of at least a dozen neon-blinking fast food restaurants and gas stations, it’s exactly what I’ve needed to make major progress with the book.

I’m not saying I would turn down a cabin in the mountains or on the lake. So if you’ve got one handy, let me know. I’m definitely doing this again soon to [hopefully] finish this thing. Especially if you own a unicorn…

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Come on! Don’t even tell me that doesn’t look JUST LIKE A UNICORN [without the horn]. Apparently it’s a wild pony, but it was with all these cabin photos, so I’m pretty sure it lives at a cabin. Where people write amazing books.

How was YOUR weekend?

Pssst! Hey! This is that “more conversation” thing I mentioned last week…so go ahead, comment away and let us know what’s going on in your life this week!

Awesome photos are by vastateparksstaff from Flickr’s Creative Commons.

2015 State of the Blog Address

2015 State of the Blog - Giving Up on Perfect

This April I will have been blogging for seven years. Seven years! That’s considerably longer than I’ve held any one job, which is interesting. (To me. It’s interesting to me.) For the bloggers who began this journey around the same time as me, I think many of us have gone through similar stages:

Beginning blogger: *whispers* I’m, um, a blogger? I guess?
Blogger with some experience: *shouts* I love being a blogger! Here’s my card!
Seasoned blogger: *says with confidence* I’m a writer/artist, and I have a blog!
Veteran blogger: *says with resignation* Yeah…I’m a blogger. HEAVY SIGH.

Many of us seem to be gathering in corners of the internet, grumbling about this trend and that, railing against the forces of evil (Fine. I mean Facebook.), and generally telling those pesky kids to get off our lawns.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But as we begin this new year and I head into my seventh year of blogging, I’m feeling something different. I’m feeling hopeful and even peaceful. Contentment may even be close behind.

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Over the weekend I was holding Adrienne and feeding her some dry breakfast cereal. If you must know, I was alternating cheerios with Reese’s Puffs because they are delicious, because she is adorable, and because I am weak.

But that’s not the point.

I held my hand out to her with one puff on it, and she gave me five. Not five puffs, but “gimme five!” five. It’s a new trick and an understandable mistake, since my hand was held out like I wanted her to give me five. However, it meant that puff went flying and landed on the floor.

You may find this shocking, but my floors aren’t the cleanest thing in the world, so I quickly grabbed a handful of new puffs to offer her.

But no. Oh no. That determined (as we’re calling her, because “obstinate” and “bull-headed” seem a bit premature and, well, not nice to call a one-year-old) little girl insisted on dive-bombing herself to the floor to get the not-so-clean puff.

As I wrangled her in an attempt to keep her head from banging into our hardwoods, I thought, “Good grief, kid! Why on earth would you want THAT ONE when you could have something so much better [aka, cleaner] up here?!”

And then I thought of all the times I’ve done the very same thing.

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This year of blogging, for me, will be about getting back to the reasons I began blogging in the first place. I started this blog to write and to find community. And while that’s remained the most important in my heart, I’ve gotten distracted by the new, the shiny, the bigger and the better too many times.

In short, I’ve dive-bombed off the couch for the dusty cereal when the fresh, clean snack is right in front of me.

So, my plan is to get back to basics. What does that look like for this blog?
More and less, I hope.

More posting to encourage and inspire (and entertain).
Less posting to meet deadlines. Less posting that requires disclosures.
More posting after giving my words time to simmer and take shape.
Less posting just because I haven’t posted anything in a while.
Regular (weekly? maybe.) posts where we simply chat about life.
Hosting Works for Me Wednesday and sharing tips for a real, imperfect life.
More talking about books and TV, because you seem to like that. (And so do I.)
More honesty, more humor, more heart. (And always, always, more alliteration.)

And I hope we’ll have more conversation. Let’s talk, huh? I love hearing about your life – or favorite books or recipe ideas or feelings about our favorite TV shows – more than I love telling you about mine. I love learning about you and getting to know you and sharing life with you.

That’s the state of this blog, this year. Will I do all this perfectly? No. Of course not. After all, we’re not about perfect here. But these are my goals for this blog, and I’m looking forward to Year Seven being a little bit different than the last few.

A few of my friends have written wise, well-researched and well-thought-out posts about the state of the blog in general and the state of their individual blogs. Good reads, all.

State of the Blog Address, 2015 – The Art of Simple
How to Stay Sane on the Internet – Chatting at the Sky
What You Can Expect to Find at This Corner of the Internet – Chasing Blue Skies

Let’s have some of that conversation now.

What would you like to see more and less of here?
And if you blog, what’s the state of your blog?

{Photos by Kristina Servant and Stacy Spensley }

Walking on Sunshine & an Announcement

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A couple weeks ago, Mark had to drive to Denver for work. To distract Annalyn from missing her daddy, I suggested a loud and rowdy dance party (since we have to be so quiet when he’s trying to sleep at home). Of course that meant, “Let It Go” and “Shake It Off.” As the old lady in the group, though, I insisted on my happy song: “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina & the Waves.

I know, it’s not cool to admit that I love that song. But I do. So there. Anyway, I found it on YouTube and while I was confused at the truly bizarre video, Annalyn was just perplexed by the lyrics.

“But what does that MEAN, Mommy? How can you WALK. ON. SUNSHINE???”

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When I was a senior in high school, I took a dual-credit English class. It’s weird how much I remember about that class, given it was nearly 20 years ago, but lots of moments and lessons stuck with me. The most memorable, though, happened after our first assignment. Our teacher had us draw a slip of paper from a jar; we were to write a one-page essay redefining the word on that paper.

My word was “home,” and I wrote about how my home was not a place or a building; rather, my heart’s home was Mark. We’d been dating for two years then, and apparently I was an expert on love.

Our teacher decided to read some of our essays out loud, and she chose mine for the College English class that met in a different hour than mine. As soon as the bell rang after third hour, my friends from that class found me in the hallway. They told me our teacher had read my essay – and then cried.

Um…what?

Even now it’s weird to me, but then again, I cry all the time and at many awkward, inopportune, inappropriate times. So, who am I to judge?

Aside from some major weirdness (especially when said teacher felt it necessary to explain that she was not crying about what I wrote but simply crying over something personal – like that made it any better), that experience showed me the power of words – and my desire to make a difference in people’s lives with mine.

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Over the years my dream of making a difference with my words has taken different forms. I’ve written press releases and scripts and ad copy and blog posts and magazine articles and status updates and tweets. (Yikes. Thirteen THOUSAND tweets! And I don’t even LIKE Twitter!)

But as my career and dreams and life have twisted and turned and looped around (and sometimes made me dizzy), one thing has remained steady. I’ve dreamed of writing a book.

I know. Of course I have! I’m a blogger and that’s what bloggers do these days! True. But though my dream is not unique, it is mine. And unlike so many of my brilliant ideas and plans and I-think-this-is-my-callings, it’s stayed firmly lodged in my heart.

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Two years ago I went to the Allume Conference. After a panel called, “So You Wanna Be Published?” I stood in line to speak with a literary agent. I didn’t really have anything big to tell him. Mostly just hello, thank you, and oh yeah, I want to write a book. Though he heard that very same thing from the whole line of women waiting in that conference room, he was gracious and said I should call him.

He. Said. I. Should. Call. Him. WHAT???

Seriously, I did not know what that meant. Did I literally have to pick up the phone? Or could I send a much less-scary email? Did I need to have a proposal written first? I probably did. Yes, I’m sure I did.

And so I didn’t call him. I thought about it a lot. I wrote, “Write proposal,” on all of my to-do lists. For a year.

Long story short (because I have been trying to write this post all week and am not sure I could ever get all the details right for the long story…plus you might not want to read the whole long story if this pretty long story is the short version!), I got up the nerve to email a different agent last fall.

She insisted on a [terrifying] phone call, and once we talked, she asked me to write that full proposal and send it to her. So I did, and it was pretty good. But it wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready. Or something. But after she read it, that agent said that I had a good idea and she liked my writing, but it needed work.

That phone call happened on my birthday last year. I was thankful for the feedback and, even though I was disappointed that she wasn’t in love with every part of my proposal, I knew she was right and I was excited to finally be on the road to writing a book.

But my birthday is one week before Christmas, and I was nine months pregnant. So I made my list of changes to implement to the book proposal…and then the holidays happened. And then the baby happened. And then NOTHING happened.

I was okay with that, although I was back to writing, “Fix proposal,” on my to-do lists. I assumed that once the baby started sleeping more (and I started sleeping more), I’d slowly begin working on that project again.

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I don’t know how to explain what happened next. After all these years of trying job after project after idea after job, I still hadn’t learned that I couldn’t force God to move. I couldn’t create a miracle. I couldn’t TRY HARD ENOUGH to make my dreams – God-sized or not – come true.

I had to learn to wait on Him. Not just in word but in my heart.

And so, in hindsight I’m not surprised that it was only when I was forced to stop striving and take a breath that God moved. Oh, did He move. In a real, big, amazing way.

The agent I’d been talking with emailed me a couple months after Adrienne was born. She said she had a project to talk to me about, if I had time (what with me having a newborn and all). LIKE I WASN’T GOING TO MAKE TIME.

We talked, and she said that she needed a writer to turn a blog into a book. Basically. (Again, short version here.) (Kind of.)

Sara Frankl, known to many online and off as Gitzen Girl, was a blogger who passed away three years ago. She was an (in)courage writer, a personal friend of mine, and a truly amazing person. And her family wants to continue sharing her message of choosing joy despite your circumstances in book form.

Sara Frankl and me

I’ll tell you lots more about Sara soon, and if you didn’t know her, you can read her blog here.

It’s funny. I’ve been trying to write this post for days. But it’s like the story is just too big for words. And then when I looked back at the post I wrote right before Sara died, I had to laugh when I saw that I’d titled it, “No Words.” I didn’t have words then, either.

But I’m the one helping turn Sara’s blog into a book.

I am co-writing Sara’s book, “Choose Joy: The Decision That Changes Everything,” and it will be published by FaithWords, a part of the Hachette Book Group, in late 2015 or early 2016.

You guys. I am literally shaking and crying as I’m typing those words. I’ve been DYING to tell you about it! And now that I’ve gotten the go-ahead and I’m able to tell you, for real, officially, I am just overwhelmed. Which is not new. I have been overwhelmed since that first phone call and pretty much every day since. The dots God has connected, the grace He has shown me – it’s all too much. I can’t wrap my mind or heart around it (though I hope to soon and tell you all about it). He is just too good.

So. There it is. My big announcement. I was hoping to publish this yesterday, because it was my birthday and it seemed fun to announce something this monumental on my birthday, especially after last year’s birthday brought the hard feedback on that original book proposal.

But, like I said, words are – ironically – not coming easily.

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This is becoming The Longest Blog Post in the History of Ever, but I wanted to share a couple more things with you. By the way, I really wanted to have some lovely shots of me signing my contract, perhaps with my most important people beside me, like many of my writer friends have done. What I got instead was this:

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Fair enough. That is pretty much my life right now! On to a couple questions you probably don’t have but I’m going to answer anyway:

What does this mean for me?

Well, it means that I am on the verge of tears at almost every waking moment of my days. Re-reading Sara’s words, over and over, and then trying to connect them with my own – on top of not being able to shake this immense feeling of overwhelm at an undeserved gift from God AND the burden of stewarding my friends’ words well – has me feeling pretty raw most the time. Which is okay and, let’s be honest, not all THAT different from my normal.

It also means that I’m panicked a lot. The manuscript is due in March, and that is a tight deadline. The cool part is that I am 100% confident that only God could make that deadline happen – kinda, sorta, JUST LIKE He was the only one who could make this book project happen in the first place.

Because of that looming deadline and the way my schedule plays out, though, I’ve stopped working for (in)courage. I’ll still be a regular contributor, but I’m no longer working part-time behind the scenes on editing and social media.

Lastly, this project doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on my original book idea. It just means that God knew I wouldn’t have the brain and heart space for it in this year or so after having a baby. And maybe I wasn’t ready for that book yet anyway. It’s still on my heart and my mind, so my hope is that it will still happen someday.

What does this mean for you and this blog?

It means that I’ll probably continue blogging sporadically over the next three months – and then come back with a renewed focus in the spring. Sorry! I have scheduled a few posts for the rest of this calendar year – a couple reposts from last December, and a couple fun ones as well. I plan to write a “state of the blog” post in the next couple of weeks, too, but we’ll see how that goes.

Most importantly, this means that I owe you – my friends – a HUGE thank you. Thank you for reading my words all these years, for encouraging me with your comments and emails and likes and shares. Thank you for your kind words and your friendship. Thank you for sticking with me through the sponsored posts and the list posts and the rambling posts and the boring posts. Thank you for being the community that I needed so desperately when I decided to start a blog. Thank you for giving me the courage to say, “I AM going to write a book!”

And this means that over the next year and a half, I’m going to be talking to you more about choosing joy. Sara’s message and mine aren’t all that different, so I’m comfortable writing about choosing hope and joy through the lens of giving up on perfect. I think I’m going to learn a lot through this, and when I do I’m going to want to share it with you. And, of course, when it comes time for that book to get printed on paper and put on shelves, I’m going to talk about it. I might ask you to talk about it if you want. And I’ll try not to be annoying, but I already know that you’re going to love this book. So I’m going to tell you about it. I can’t WAIT to tell you about it!

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As I drove home from shipping my signed contract, I looked down at myself and thought about how glamorous my life is now. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d showered, and I wasn’t sure where that stain on my shirt had come from. My hair is in desperate need of a trim, and my car is so tiny the four of us can barely fit in it. The home I was driving back to still hasn’t sold and we’re still busting at the seams of its tiny walls. And my office is the worn-down cushion of my peeling leather couch in my living room that’s too small for a Christmas tree this year.

But as I pushed buttons, searching for a good radio station, I had to smile when I heard those familiar lyrics. “Now every time I go for the mailbox gotta hold myself down, ’cause I just can’t wait ’til you write me you’re coming around.”

I may not be glamorous, and I may be overwhelmed and nervous. I may take more than 2,000 words to make one little announcement. But I am pretty sure I know what walking on sunshine feels like.

Photos by Jesus Solana, Derek Gavey and Holly Victoria Norval.

My Weekend in Instagram Shots

It’s true. I’m a notorious procrastinator. But this time, I honestly wasn’t putting off my project. I simply could not figure out how to make time for it – or, more accurately, enough time for it. So what started out as a tight deadline turned into an insane one.

Thankfully, my mom and my husband took over kid duty so I could write and read and format and write some more. And so, while I’ve been working on this project for a few weeks, the last few days can be summed up like this:

Yeah, that’s coffee. I resorted to coffee, people. (Kind of. Does a white mocha count as coffee?) It made me shaky and tasted terrible, but it did get me past the Sunday afternoon nap impulse.

Oh, by the way, I know all this talk about “my project” and “a big deadline” is annoyingly vague. I can’t wait to tell you about what I’ve been working on, and as soon as I can, I will give you the whole lowdown! Pinky promise!!

Until then, pray for me as I face edits and submissions and more nap-less afternoons?

What big projects are YOU working on?

Mothers and Stages and Stories

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I overheard her tell someone that she didn’t like reading one particular line, that it was just so hard for her to say out loud. I could only imagine how difficult it was going to be for her, standing in front of hundreds of people and saying words that hurt her so deeply. But my new, brave friend was determined to tell her story.

When she walked up to the podium that night, I found myself doing something I haven’t done since my freshman year of high school. While this wasn’t a basketball game and she wasn’t shooting free throws, I found myself staring holes in the back of her head, sending all my positive thoughts her way and shouting (internally), “You can do it. You can do it. YOU. CAN. DO. THIS.”

Being a member of Kansas City’s Listen to Your Mother cast was an incredible honor and handed me so many gifts – including entry to an amazing team of women I never would have otherwise met.

Actually, despite the similarity I sensed between the show and a basketball game, “team” isn’t really the right word to describe this group of women. “Colleagues” or “cast-mates” wouldn’t be right, either. “Family” is more like it.

Listen to Your Mother is a a series of staged live readings about motherhood that took place in 32 cities this year. This was the second year for a Kansas City show. And while I submitted a piece on a whim – and at the last minute, as per usual – Listen to Your Mother (LTYM from here on out, if you don’t mind) is quite the production. As the FAQs explain, each show is auditioned, directed, produced, and rehearsed with professional production values, creating a well-crafted and memorable theatrical experience.

Still, I went into the whole thing with a no-big-deal attitude. I showed up to the first meeting late, and I took thank you notes to work on to our first reading. YOU GUYS. (Forgive me, LTYM friends?)

The short story about that first reading is that I didn’t write any thank you notes. But not because I suddenly remembered my manners (ironic given my choice of do-while-I’m-bored task, eh?). Let me tell you a bit of the longer version.

A few weeks after submitting my piece, auditioning and being told I had a place on the LTYM cast, I drove to the [gorgeous, in case you’re wondering] home of one of the producers. I knew of Erin from somewhere – Blissdom? the Kansas City bloggers group on Facebook? the general blogosphere? I don’t know, but I do know that I’d heard about LTYM first from her, on Facebook. So, in the way of the internet and psuedo-familiarity, I felt like I knew her.

The other ladies – despite our get-to-know-you meeting a couple weeks earlier – were strangers to me.

While we waited for everyone to arrive, we milled around Erin’s basement, making small talk and giving the snacks (and beverages…and maybe each other?) the side eye. As I visited with some of the ladies, I thought two things.

First – I thought I was getting a handle on who my fellow cast-mates were. This woman is this type; that woman is that type. I’d probably be great friends with her; I obviously don’t have anything in common with her. And her? She totally intimidates me so I’ll just stay on this side of the room.

Second – I couldn’t figure out why everyone was so nervous to read their pieces.

Seriously, these women were so nervous! When we drew numbers for the order we’d read in, those with the lowest numbers were visibly shaken. When they realized we were expected to stand at the podium and read (instead of staying seated around our big table), others made it clear they weren’t excited about that.

Have they never given a presentation? Or been in a play? What is the big deal?

Then the reading began. And, all of a sudden, I understood. And I realized that all the things I thought I knew about these women from a few minutes of chit chat? It was all wrong. I was all wrong.

One by one, they walked up to that podium in our new friend’s basement – and they opened up their hearts and poured out their very souls. They had bled onto paper and now they were bleeding on that podium. Souls bared, hearts opened – and bonds immediately formed.

Also? Attitude (MINE.) changed.

The piece I submitted and eventually read aloud in our show was heartfelt but not heart-deep. I shared a small piece of my story, but these other women? They shared Their Stories.

Not to say that what they wrote and spoke about is the only part of their stories. But they shared big things, deep things, important things. They shared STORY.

And you know what happens when you share Story? When you open up your heart and stand soul-naked in front of a group of virtual strangers? You become a family.

The 13 other women who shared the LTYM stage with me last weekend told about loss, about love, about the ugly parts of motherhood and the beauty. They told their stories in ways that challenged me. They challenged me about making snap judgments, about thinking I knew “what kind of woman” someone was based on a comment or outfit or small-talk conversation. They challenged me on topics I’d never considered and some I had.

And most importantly for me, for now – they challenged me to tell my story.

Story. Gah. Why can I not escape this whole idea of STORY? It’s everywhere this year – and, honestly? I’m a little tired of it! I don’t want to tell My Story. I want to tell stories, yes. And then I want to be frustrated by the lack of connection with the people I refuse to trust with My Story.

I’m logical like that.

Am I saying that I have some deep, dark secret I’ve been holding out on you? Um, no. But do I have parts of me – big ones, deep ones, important ones – that I haven’t dared share? YES. And am I terrified to be completely real, despite my claim to be an authentic writer, one who writes about real life, someone who “keeps it real”?

Yep. Hypocrite and scaredy cat, party of one.

I don’t know what this all means – for me, for my writing, for this blog, for my new group of friends, those women I never would have met if I hadn’t decided to try out for Listen to Your Mother. I just know I can’t stop thinking about it. About story. Story. And those brave women who told theirs.

(Well, that and Ricky Martin and Tom Selleck and strange bus rides and Yoda and, ahem, pedicures gone awry. I think about these things, too, LTYM friends.)

Do you have a hard time sharing your “big” stories?