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.
“You can’t be the real Prince Charming, because you know what a high school is.”
Our local high school drama department recently put on “Cinderella.” Which might have explained the sudden and unexplained appearance of Cinderella and Prince Charming in the cafeteria of the elementary school where I work.
Cinderella and Prince Charming didn’t seem too confused by the group of first graders doing anything but eating lunch, nor were they too dazed from the time difference between happily ever after and the recently opened Area 52. In fact, they jumped right into the cafeteria circus, handing out little yellow slips of paper inviting the students to the play and giving them a coupon for free popcorn.
I don’t know how Cinderella and Prince Charming felt about being there that day. I don't know if they rethought this idea--it had sounded so good when student council suggested it--now that they were surrounded by less-than-neat first graders all clamoring for attention, for their ranch packet opened, and for the last golden invitation in Cinderella’s hand. I don’t know how they felt about missing their own lunch and recess with their friends. Maybe their costumes itched. Maybe Cinderella’s tiara pinched. And maybe they were just over this play already.
But I do know what I did see.
Even though they were running short on invitations (the fourth graders having decimated them already), neither Cinderella nor Prince Charming refused any boy or girl who raised their hand. They got down on their knees on the smudged cafeteria floor to look these students in the eye and answer their nonsensical questions patiently—including one boy's scrutiny about the prince's high school education. I even saw Cinderella spot a little girl with her hand raised, lean down, listen as she whispered in her ear, and then run across the cafeteria-battlefield to retrieve her a napkin.
Forget the gown. Forget the crown. Forget the high school, student council, and drama department. I saw the real Cinderella and Prince Charming that day.
The real Cinderella wasn’t the one in golden gown and dainty crown, with flawless curls and makeup who stepped across the stage several evenings later. And the real Prince Charming wasn’t the one with the perfect suit, perfect smile, and perfect haircut who marched at her side.
The real Cinderella and Prince Charming were just two average high schoolers who gave up lunch and recess to put on costumes and talk to first graders.
They weren’t the only Cinderella and Prince Charming I saw that week. Cinderella took the time to answer a student’s question for the fifth time, or to find shoes for a student who needed them. Prince Charming swept up smeared napkins, slimy sporks, and radioactive materials after students who never gave him so much as a thank you. Cinderella offered to wipe down tables for a coworker when she got stuck on first and second grade lunch shift alone. Prince Charming walked his teary-eyed classmate to the nurse.
I live with, work around, go to church with, and walk past Cinderella and Prince Charming every day.
But the real question is, am I the real Cinderella or Prince Charming to someone else?
Well, that, and whether Prince Charming went to high school or not. But the jury’s still out on that particular question.
The first time I listen to a song or watch a movie or read a book, I like quiet. I want to be able to listen to the story. To be all there. To catch all the nuances, all the plot twists, all the character quirks of the story. I feel like the story deserves my full attention.
“I am listening to you. And I’m hearing you.”
“You’re doing both of those things? Listening and hearing?”
Originally stolen from the movie Moms’ Night Out, this has become a catchphrase in my house. It makes sense when you really think about it (or listen to it). I can hear someone just fine—but that doesn’t mean I’m listening. That doesn’t mean my brain is actively engaged. That doesn’t mean I’m paying attention for every curve the story road presents.
And I’m finding that listening is a lost art.
I’m not talking about closing a poorly written book, or turning off a movie that really should have never made it to DVD. Sometimes those things truly are a waste of time.
I’m talking about people. And people are never a waste of time.
Every person is a story. Every person has so many nuances, plot twists, and character quirks just waiting for you to grab hold of so they can cheer “YES!” For you to grab hold of so they know someone is rooting for them to finish strong.
And so many of those stories go unread. Unheard. Un-listened. Why do we tune out so easily? Why do we change the channel so fast? Why don’t we give stories—or people the attention they deserve?
It’s not worth it.
If we throw out all the extra scrap paper and silence the noise, that is the truth. When we tune out and stop listening, it’s because we don’t believe it’s worth it.
And you know what, you don’t know that. Neither do I. There’s always something to learn. Another adventure to embark on. Every story—no matter how poorly told, no matter how dull, no matter how long-winded, no matter how just plain obnoxious—has something for you to learn.
And maybe it’s not all about us. Maybe it’s not about the story we think we’re so busy writing. Maybe this is how we will write our story—by listening to someone else’s.
And every story—no matter how it’s told—has an Author. Someone who poured His all into this story. If He poured His all into this story, how much more should we?
You are a story. I am a story. Every person you see this next month is a story.
Do you hear that?
Are we listening?
And speaking of stories . . .
We’re going to start with a little game today. Please raise your hand if you know what a catalog card is. *counts hands*
If you did not raise your hand, a catalog card is a card inside a set of drawers at libraries. (Most libraries now just use computers. *scoffs* Amateurs.) You can look to see if they have a title you want, or an author you want, or what books are in a topic you’re researching, and where to find those books, and . . . yeah, it’s awesome.
This month, I began volunteer work at our church library. Basically, I sneak in there a couple times a week and work through this monstrous stack of books that was donated.
*rubs hands together* They asked for it.
But as I shelved the new books, I noticed there were several books on marriage and family in the singles section. The spine label said 248.84—that meant singles. But when I opened the cover and looked at the classification number printed on the inside, it said 248.844 or 5—for marriage and family. Whoever had processed the books had missed the last number—and that last number was so important!
By the ancient law of libraries, those books could not just sit there on a shelf where they didn’t belong. Something would explode, I was sure of it. So I pulled them out and prepared to fix it, and in so doing, save the world. This meant I had to retype and apply the spine label, correct the author card, correct the title card, correct the card pocket, and correct the sign-out card.
It would have saved me a lot of work had someone just processed them correctly in the first place. And it would have saved people who came to the library looking for that book a lot of frustration had someone just processed them correctly in the first place.
It got me to thinking about writing. (I know. You’re thinking, “Rachel, what doesn’t make you think about writing?” Hey, look, there’s a grass blade, that makes me think about writing.) More specifically, writing habits. What we are doing today is creating habits that we may follow for the rest of our lives. But what numbers are we typing on those habits? Is it the correct ones that God has printed out for us? Or is it our own classification ideas? Are the habits we’ve begun today just going to have to be fixed in the future?
I know I should finish that article by deadline, but I’m going to work on this instead.
I know I should be editing my book, but I’ll email my friends instead.
I know I should get ready for this book proposal, but surely it won’t hurt if I write one more book first. You know, for good measure . . .
I know I should start this newsletter, but . . . you know . . . computers are scary . . .
I know I should start my first novel, but I also want to go skydiving, get a puppy, and break the world record for the longest handstand . . .
In the end, it will save you and others a lot of work and frustration if you just process your habits correctly in the first place. Talk with God about your writing habits. What habits do you want to keep? What habits do you want to change? How will your habits change this month?
Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm the author of the posts here at ProseWorthy. Thanks for stopping by!