I remember watching Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. with my younger siblings for the first time. While it had been a movie I loved when I was younger, I had actually worn out the DVD with how often I watched it, and it just never got replaced.
We had told my younger siblings about this, and they all settled in on the couch or the floor, excited to see what might follow.
Once we sat through the (INCREDIBLY LONG) (but there was a catchy song, so it was okay) opening credits, the screen lit up with a picture of an average child’s bedroom.
Mom said goodnight.
The lights went out.
That’s when the terror began.
A slimy tentacle draped over a chair. Curtains rustling in the wind. And a pair of slanted red eyes glaring from beneath the bed.
By this point—not even five minutes into the movie unless you count those opening credits—one of my elementary-aged brothers, who had struggled with night terrors for years when he was younger, was cowered behind the couch pillows, peeking across to the rest of us, probably trying to figure out what exactly he’d signed on for. (“Watch Monsters, Inc. they said. It will be fun, they said.”)
The enormous monster loomed over the bed. The child screamed.
And, uh, so did the monster.
And before we knew it, said monster was skidding across the floor into a pile of jacks. (Punctuated by said brother’s hysterical cackles in the background.) Then the wall lifted to reveal it was all a simulation.
It’s October. Some great things happen in October. Fall decorations start popping up everywhere. Pumpkin spice dominates each and every restaurant. I went to my first For King and Country concert.
But the majority of the month is dedicated to celebrating fear.
October is a month where storytellers go to great lengths to come up with the darkest and scariest stories they can. (Something I never saw much point in. Who wants to be scared all the time? We get enough of that in real life.)
October’s festivities aside, fear permeates our culture now, especially since the 2020 lockdown. (Should I capitalize lockdown? Is it that serious?) It reminded us that our world—and all the things we thought were untouchable—can change in an instant. And with that reminder came fear.
No need to wait until October. Fear is alive and well all year round.
Fear is power.
In the context of Monsters, Inc., the ones who harness fear’s power are a group of colorful and quirky monsters who really just need kids’ screams so they can start their car in the morning.
In real life, though? There’s nothing quirky or colorful about the one who wants to use our fear to power his empire.
Fear is powerful. It holds us back from the things we love the best. It shuts us down and keeps us in a dark place. It overwhelms us.
But as I watched Monsters, Inc. with a boy who used to refuse to go into any room of the house after dark without a light, who used to never spend the night in his own bed, who used to leave the room over visuals in even G-rated movies—as I watched him laugh his way through the film, I realized something alongside those quirky and colorful monsters.
Joy is more powerful than fear.
Why write stories of fear and despair when we can celebrate joy? When we can point to the pinprick of Light shattering the inky dark? When we can break free of the black prisons that we cower oh-so-comfortably in? When we run outside into the light and discover both new things and old things that truly don’t change when the whole world is flipped upside down?
It’s hard to uncurl from that ball and take a step outside. But maybe this October, we’ll find ourselves celebrating the power of joy—not fear.
(P.S. That boy I mentioned? He hasn’t scurried out of his room at night for years.)
“Women have no place to speak.”
“Your book will find a niche market and stay there.”
"Young people are stupid."
“All fiction writers are liars.”
All of those things have been said to my face.
You could add many, many more, I’m sure. We’ve all had hurtful words tear us down. We’ve all been told we’re not good enough. We’ve all been left speechless, had our voice stolen, been told we do not deserve to be heard.
We all know what it’s like to be speechless.
A Time to Speak
There is a time to speak. You were created with a voice for a reason. God thinks you are worthy of being heard—He wants to hear you. He gave you the words and the story that burn inside you.
If you’re alive and breathing, then you have something to say, something the world needs to hear, something only you can say. Your story has a place in this world. A perfect place for it. It’s not just words filling empty air. It matters. And if you don’t say it, something will be missing from this world.
If anyone ever says otherwise, they’re dead wrong. Don’t ever let a mere person silence you. They don’t get to call the shots on a gift this wonderful. Neither do we for that matter. The only One who does is the One who gave it to you.
A Time to be Silent
There are times, however, when we need to be silent. Not because we aren’t worthy of a voice, but because everyone else is, too. We cannot use our voice to steal someone else’s.
When we’re younger, we’re told, “If you don’t have anything kind to say, then don’t say it.” Why do we forget that as adults?
The hurtful comments I listed above were said to me anywhere from one year ago to four years ago. I’ve never forgotten them, can tell you exactly where I was when they were said to me. Words last forever. And their power never lessens or dies.
The destruction words can have is unimaginable. My preferences aren’t worth tearing someone else down. Even if I’m talking to someone using their words for cruelty, I never want to resort to those tricks. I never want to stoop that low. I don’t want to play their game.
Words also have the unimaginable potential to bring good. To encourage someone. To keep someone going. To brighten someone’s day. To remind them someone cares. To save a life.
For every unkind thing someone has said to me, I have a million kind words to match it.
Words matter. Words last.
There’s a lot of wrong things going on. A lot of people using their words to destroy. Taking the voice and the story that mattered so much and twisting it into something cruel. Those are times when I need to stand up. When I need to speak up. To say it’s not okay. I won’t help anyone by being silent.
But I will by speaking words of life and kindness. By telling the story I was made to tell and ignoring all the voices that tell me I can’t. By saying what God gives me to say.
I refuse to be speechless. What about you?
*What do you think? Share your adventures—and your words—in the comments below!*
And now, maybe a few words that will make you smile. :)
As a paraprofessional at an elementary school, I assist in leading reading groups in many different grade levels. I show up with books to read and listening ear at the scheduled time.
But sometimes the classes just aren't quite ready for me at the scheduled time. In that case, I sit in the back and glance over my lesson plans one last time as I wait a few more minutes.
But on this particular day, I found myself listening along with (most of) the class.
The third graders--my last class of the day--were listening to their teacher read The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds. It's not a very long book, filled with simple words and bright illustrations.
The story centers around Jerome, a boy who (you guessed it) collects words. Any interesting word that strikes his fancy, he jots down on a slip of paper and adds it to his scrapbook. Up to today, he'd always kept his words with other words of their types--big words with other big words, little words with other little words, so on and so forth.
One day, however, he dropped his word collection. And as he picked them up, he realized there were wonderful combinations in them being mixed up. He experiments with different combinations of words, but finds that "the simple words were the most powerful."
Jerome wants to share his words with the world. So he loads up all those little squares of paper, pushes them in a wheelbarrow to the top of a hill, and showers them on the valley below.
It sounds like a simple story, but seriously. Take a minute and find a copy of The Word Collector or look up a read aloud video of it.
We are all just like Jerome. No matter who we are or what we do, we collect words from the moment we're born. It's how we learn to use them.
We collect words we hear. Words we read. Words we think.
We collect beautiful words. Happy words. Sad words. Anxious words. Angry words.
We collect words that should never be said. Words that can tear through a person. And words that make our day.
I wish all words were the kind that could brighten a gray day. But even if we were completely perfect and never thought them ourselves, sad and angry words will still find their way into our collections whether we like it or not.
And whether it's through writing or another method, we want to share our words with the world.
So, a few things I'm remembering from Jerome's tale as share my words.
Simple words are the most powerful. Words like "I'm sorry." "I understand." "Thank you." It may not take an eloquent speech to make the world for someone else. So say the words that need to be said.
You don't have to keep sad or angry words in your collection. We cannot control the words others say to us, but we can control the ones we keep and share.
Shake up your words. Maybe you don't like all the words you have. Maybe they seem flat and boring. Toss them into the air and see what patterns emerge. Look at them in a new way. Use them to create amazing words. Even the words we dislike the most can become something that lifts someone else up.
Lastly, words are meant for sharing. So fling them out on the valley below and listen to what happens. Your words are meant for wonderful places.
*Where could your words go? What are some of your favorite children's books? Share your adventures in the comments!*
COVID-19. It came out of nowhere. One day, it was overseas and only as close as a newscast. The next, I was walking out of the elementary school I worked at for an impromptu four-week break, watching students pack up everything from their lockers. The next, those four weeks became five months.
Everything then was COVID, COVID, COVID. And I'd decided my newsletter wasn't going to be one of them. I was going to stay upbeat and positive and be like, "What COVID?"
Well, here it is.
It's impossible for something as earthshaking as a pandemic to leave such a big part of our lives as writing alone. Suddenly, I went from having two solid solitary hours (not counting my work breaks at school) devoted to writing to being constantly surrounded by people (albeit people I love) and chores vying for my attention.
A learning curve, to be sure.
But what did I learn? And what did I change?
When you're only scratching out thirty minutes in a corner with a notebook and headphones, you appreciate those writing sessions more. Things I took for granted--like quiet, headphones, and having time to write at all--became very precious. The help people gave me by taking on chores and other responsibilities so I could have that time became very valuable (more on this later).
As I head back into "business as usual", I hope I'll never forget this time and the gratitude it built in me.
With less time protected for writing, I had to learn to get more done in less time. I quickly discovered what was important and what could wait. This meant some days I didn't check email so I could write.
I made goals and figured out what I needed to do to meet them. I made a schedule of what I needed to work on each day and did all I could to stick to them. The days that I knew what I needed to do were so much more productive than those I didn't. Goals are nothing if I have no plan to get there.
I took the chances that came to me--whether it was short story contests or five free minutes to scribble a paragraph down. Never let yourself feel guilty for taking those chances.
As a result, I hope I've built some good habits that will last me my writing career.
Sometimes it's easy for us writers to forget we need other people in on this journey. People are not stumbling blocks. They want to help us get where we need to go.
I let my family in on my goals. After all, they were at home all the time just like I was. Once they knew what I was working toward, some of them began to help me protect that writing time. It's okay to ask for help! It's okay for that one basket of laundry to wait an hour so you can write! The world will not end because of a few socks that aren't folded yet! (I don't think so, anyway.)
I found a time to connect with other writers--to encourage and to be encouraged. I engaged with the content in my writing lessons and virtual conferences. I asked more questions than I thought I had in me, then figured out how to apply the answers. I learned to value an email to a writer friend just as much as editing thousands of words. But at the same time, I learned to not let those connections distract me when I really needed to be writing.
For the first time in my life, I had to go a day, sometimes more, without writing. Siblings, chores, and a new puppy that demanded attention conspired to keep me from my notebook. It was frustrating. It was stressful. It was MADDENING.
But I learned to still let my imagination work behind the scenes. To take that time to read and imagine. Just because I wasn't in front of a paper, didn't mean I wasn't still creating. To not punish others for a day that I couldn't write by having a poor attitude about it. To still use that wordless day to do good. To trust that those days still had infinite purpose. Writing isn't everything.
COVID-19 was a learning curve. A long one at that. But I hope I've learned things, started habits, and built relationships I'll never regret.
*I would also like to add a huge shout-out thank-you to my family for all they did to help me have time and energy to write during this crazy time! Any writing I didn't get done was not for your lack of effort to get me writing. I so appreciate it!*
*How has your writing been during this crazy thing called a pandemic? Has it been easier or harder? Share your adventures in the comments below!*
In other news, it's been pretty warm here . . .
Yes, you. The one reading this entry.
I know how it feels. When I first started studying writing, I thought I had it pretty well figured out. Come up with a story, slap some words down any which way, boom, you've got a novel.
So many things go into a novel. So each time I read a book, scanned a website, or came home from a conference, it was with a notebook full of things I needed to fix on my manuscript.
Maybe you're in the same spot?
The thing was, though, that even when I was discovering all the things I'd done "wrong," there was always something I'd done right. Maybe my word choice needed help, but I had a strong story concept. Maybe my characters were kind of blah, but the plot was solid. Maybe that whole paragraph--that whole chapter--needed deleted, but there was one sentence in the middle that was gold.
It's called learning. And no matter how many things I learn, I'll still be doing it every single day. And so will you.
It may feel like you're doing everything "wrong" and that you're just dragging yourself to the computer or a notebook for yet another edit. But you're not. There's always something you're doing right--I'm willing to bet several things.
And one day, you'll get to a point where you might be sitting in a conference session or reading a book and you run across a point--but instead of reaching for your notebook, you think, "Huh. I'm doing that already."
It's called learning.
Look for those right things. Celebrate them. And while you're at it, look for those "wrong" things and celebrate them, too. Because the secret is that when it comes to learning, there's no wrong answers. The fact that you've learned you're doing something "wrong" shows it's only a matter of time until it becomes right.
What's something you're learning to do right? Have any thoughts on this entry? Share your own adventures below!
And now, without further ado, the funny writing graphic of the month!
Imagine you have one wish. I don't know how you got it. Maybe you found a magic lamp. Maybe you picked just the right dandelion (and if so, it most likely came from our backyard). Maybe it's your birthday.
But for whatever reason, you have a wish. But you don't get to choose what that wish is. This is a wish that already has the outcome assigned.
This is a wish to have all the right words to say.
To never have to stumble over words again. To never slip up and say the wrong thing and hurt someone's feelings or ruin a surprise. To never stand there racing for an answer to a question while the interrogator looks on. To never wonder what to say when someone shares something exciting or depressing with you.
Would you take it? Would I take it?
I don't know why this hypothetical question ran through my mind one day. Maybe I just hadn't slept well the night before. And at first, I thought it sounded pretty great. I mean, what could be bad about always saying the right thing? Think of all the people I wouldn't have to try to explain myself to! Think of all the pages and sentences I wouldn't have to delete and rewrite! Think of how much editing time would be saved!
And it's not all about me, either. Think of all the people who wouldn't have their feelings hurt. Think of all the plans that would either rest in a back drawer (as they should) or go on to change the world (as they should) dependent on my advice. Think of all the people who would have their day brightened or be encouraged.
What could be bad about that?
But then I wondered, if I had all the right words to say, where would there be room for God? If I never experienced weakness, would I appreciate His strength so much? Would I even let Him work in my life? Or would I merely assume I have all the answers?
"And He said unto me, 'My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
What about you? If you had that wish . . . would you take it?
I am simply not an adventurous person.
And no other event in my life illustrates that better than the first--and last--time I went tubing.
I'm not entirely sure how I wound up tubing in the first place. I was peacefully puddling around in the middle of the lake (not too shallow, not too deep) when my sisters ran up to the end of the dock and yelled something at me. To this day, I don't know what they said. But they kept gesturing frantically, so I followed them.
Somehow, I wound up holding on to a giant inner tube dealie behind a boat that I'm pretty sure was going the speed of light.
All the while, our friends were shouting helpful instructions from the boat. But it's hard to hear "Lean back, you're going to nosedive!" through exactly a million and fifty-two gallons of water.
Did I mention I also get motion sickness?
I endured two or three nosedives before I hauled myself up and out of the water and onto the first boat headed back for the shore.
Don't get me wrong. Adventures are all good and fine . . . when in a controlled environment. You know, books, movies, and the like. Let their world be turned upside down and shaken out with more than a few explosions.
I will watch from my room with a set of headphones and a quillow, thank you very much.
But here's the problem--adventures find us whether we want them to or not. Things change. As safe and familiar and comfy as things were, they won't stay that way.
Maybe they can't. Maybe we need them to change. If things never changed, we'd just stay in our sweet spots, never venture out, never try something new. Can you imagine your life if you'd never tried the book that is now your favorite? Can you imagine your life if you'd never tried your favorite food? Can you imagine your life if you'd never tried your new favorite pastime?
Some adventures are not so easy to ride out, though. Some adventures sweep through like a forest fire, burning everything we knew to the ground. A move to a different state. Families change. Graduating school and figuring out what to do with your life now. Meeting new people. It's not fun. It hurts.
But it's adventure. Whether we like it or not.
My head knows that I need adventure, that I need change. My head knows that whatever is on the other side is better than where I am right now.
But what if it's not?
You too, anybody?
I've found there's only one thing to do when adventure comes to call. Strap on your backpack and jump. Do something. What if when the next big change rushes through your life, you thought of it as your next adventure? Something that will make you better? What if you just tightened your grip on the things that truly matter and held on? What if you take that first step on a climb?
It may be big. It may be small. But it will be something.
You know how I know? Because I know there's Someone Who goes with us on all our adventures. Even better, He's gone this way before. He knows exactly what's around each bend. Whether or not I like what's around the bend, He will catch me when I jump.
I still don't like tubing. But I can say I tried it. Not every adventure will turn out the way we expect it to or even want it to. I guess they call that faith (aka, the craziest thing in the world). Not knowing what you're being called into, but following anyway.
Even if it leads you to an inner tube dealie going the speed of light.
It's been said that sometimes in life it's the little things that make us the happiest. I think I would have to agree.
See, something interesting has happened since I've become a writer. There's a part of me that never grows up. A part of me that can still create something out of next to nothing and get lost in it. A part of me that still suspects new realms might exist around every corner. A part of me that still lives in a world where the heroes are still young and free and the good guys still have a chance.
In the snap of a finger, the woods out back are the training base for several young cadets from an elite academy. Or an uncharted island with rumors of treasure. Or a magical realm where dragons roam.
And in the snap of a finger, it can all disappear. Because let's face it--the sun goes down. One can't stay outside forever. And when you get inside, it's the very unmagical world of chores, schoolwork, and the tasks you complete every single day. There is always a part of you that keeps its foot planted soundly in reality.
Dragons don't exist. Adventures have all been had. Islands have all been charted.
That sense of wonder remains just outside of your grasp, taunting you.
How do we get it back?
By looking at the little things. It is in the little things that sparks of wonder spring up.
Lampposts could still be passages to Narnia--take a moment and run your hand down the cool metal. The wind that slams you in the face as you walk back from school could be the breeze coming off the ocean as you captain a ship--throw your hood back and let it rake through your hair. The snow that has just begun to fall outside is calling you to go sledding and make snow angels--for heavens' sake, go do it!
Today is your day to imagine. Go on. Enjoy the smallest of things today. You might be surprised what portals open up.
Dear Bad Review,
You know exactly why I’m writing you. Don’t even give me that look.
I wasn't sure what name to put in the header. Some people call you Fear. Some people call you Insecurity. Some people call you Discouragement. I decided to go with Bad Review.
I know what you’re doing. You’re smirking and laughing and eating snickerdoodles because you think you’ve won.
Not by a long shot. You thought you were so clever. That you could use my very favorite thing against me—words. You thought you could take something designed for good and twist it into a dagger. You thought . . .
Well, never mind what you thought. It didn’t work. It’s not exactly like this is an uncommon trick. You try it on everyone in one form or another. You just try to make it look a teensy bit different each time. But it all boils down to the same thing: words that tear us down, rather than build us up.
Or do they? Because here’s what you don’t know—we’re team players. We have the Person on our team Who CREATED words. (How’s that for even?) And He can take the words you try to twist and twist them right back into something even better. Did you know knives can make excellent pens? I mean, ever heard of constructive criticism? Or all things working for good? Or rising out of the ashes? Or . . .
Well, you get the point. I’ve enclosed a pen so you can head back to your drawing board. The pen’s empty, though. Like your threats. I just thought I’d write you a note so you didn’t waste those snickerdoodles.
Well, this is it. 2019 is nearing its final page.
Years are funny things. We spend all this time at the beginning of the year planning what we want to do this year, what goals we will meet. We say, “This is the year we’re going to finish our first book, self-publish our first book, or pitch our first book, or land our first contract.”
But most studies show that eight percent of us this year met the goals we wanted to meet.
Maybe it just seemed too hard, so we took a rather permanent time-out from them. Or maybe something else swooped in like a Tasmanian devil and turned all our plans into a tornado. Or maybe something even better than we imagined sailed in—and also turned all our plans into a tornado.
Because of all this, sometimes the end of a year is a confusing time.
Let’s face it. We have no idea what’s going to happen in this next year. Setting goals is great. In fact, it is very helpful. It’s fun to imagine and dream big and try to reach those dreams. But staking your year on them is kind of like having your character jump on a dragon before you remember they have no experience.
Did I mention it was a carnivorous dragon?
In a sense, we are characters in an epic. But the thing about characters is that they are not the writer. They don’t know what will happen in the pages ahead until the pages turn. Maybe things get better. Maybe things get worse. Maybe they wish they had just stayed on the page they were on.
We only know what has happened in the pages before, and the page we stand on.
We may love the pages before. We may never want to leave. After all, why give up something safe and warm and familiar for something unknown?
Or we may hate the pages before. They haunt us whenever so given the chance. We’d rather they’d never made an appearance in our story at all.
But in the end, the characters really are dependent on the author. The Author has this all planned out. It may look bleak, or perfect, or maybe not exciting at all, but the Author knows how all the pieces and twists and turns will fit together.
Maybe that’s why we can have fun setting goals and trying to achieve them. Because even if we fall, we’ll fall right onto the page we’re meant to be on. And from what I hear, this Author has never written an unhappy ending.
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!