Dear Writer, You Are Enough

No two writers are the same.

Isn’t that a lovely thought? I know this because I am part of a writer’s group.

We meet once a month. Sometimes every third month.

What can I say? Life happens.

When we do get together, we talk about our work, read each other’s books, and, sometimes, write together. Have you ever sat down to write with another writer? It’s loads of fun. We pick an object or a word—last time we used a broken glass—set a timer, and each of us writes a short story about said object.

And you know what the shocking part is?

All of the stories are vastly different. Every. Single. Time. The five of us can sit down in the same room at the same time and each write a story using the same prompt, and we all come up with something completely unique, without comparing notes or even mentioning what we intend to write about. One will be about magical realism and fantastical journeys. Another will be the origin story of a spine-chilling villain. Someone else will take the idea and create a contemporary story about lost love and grief.

All of them will turn out to be lovely and memorable stories, each stamped with our own signature styles.

I have a point here, I promise.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Unfortunately, writers fall into this trap all too often, especially on social media. We look at all the amazing writers out there, the books that blew us away, the authors on Twitter with thousands of followers and daily word count goals that double or triple our own weekly goals, and suddenly our own efforts feel impossibly weak. And quick as that, our joy in this incredible, life-changing craft is snatched away.

And with it goes the stories we have loved and labored over.

No two writers are the same. Our styles are different, our methods, our world-views, everything that we pour into our writing is unique. Without this distinction, we wouldn’t have books as distinct and remarkable as Lord of the Rings, The Ordinary Princess, and Michael Crichton’s Micro. All of which were written by very different people in very different ways.

The world needs your unique abilities. Whether you are a novelist, write short stories, or delve into non-fiction and articles, you are a writer. If you wake up at six AM, run through a yoga routine, then write for an hour before breakfast, then you are a writer. If you stay up until 3 AM with your windows open, letting the moonlight play across your floor and whisper ideas to you, you are a writer.

Writing is not a contest. It’s a craft. A place for you to be completely yourself. Your soul on the page, your style, your heart in the words is what makes the story sing and lifts it off the page. Without that, no matter what characters you have or what genre you write, your story will fall flat.

You are the magic, dearest writer. And you are enough.

Snowstorms and Michael Crichton

Photo by Sindre Strøm from Pexels

Fun fact: it is snowing today.

Actually, it has been snowing all week.

I think it might have something to do with it being January. And my living in Colorado, where we randomly get blizzards in January and sometimes have to stay at home because the snow is almost as high as our knees and we can’t get our cars out of the driveway.

Crazy, right?

This week has been one long succession of crazy, actually. Besides a round of job interviews (or attempted job interviews), I have also done my best to get to work, finish my writing projects for the week, conquer a cold, and keep my house warm enough to comfortably live in despite the frigid temperatures and high winds.

I managed most of these things.

Definitely not all.

For example, on Tuesday, in the midst of a snowstorm that was actually a blizzard, my dad and I piled into his Subaru in an attempt to make it to work.

Spoiler.

We did not make it.

We got stuck three times. Once on the way and twice on the way back. In-between, we waited at a neighbor’s house for the plow to come and save us. My dad worked. I binge read Michael Crichton’s Micro.

If you have never read Micro, I would highly recommend it. Michael Crichton’s books are a rather new addition to my shelves, and the more I read, the more impressed I am. I think Micro is my new favorite of his works. The story is engaging, fast-paced, and about as scary as they come. If you’re a fan of Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park, or monster thrillers of any kind, I would highly recommend it.

To be honest, it was the perfect book for the type of day I was having. Instead of focusing on being stuck at a stranger’s house for several hours, trudging through calf-deep snow, and being battered about by bone-chilling winds, I got to explore another world and immerse myself in the dangers and grandeur of a microscopic world.

And, seeing as how we were stuck for seven hours, and I never did get to work, I managed to read the entire book that day.

All 400 pages of it.

So it wasn’t entirely a lost cause.

And we did make it home eventually. Neither of us were frost-bitten, and my dad even got his car back with minimal damage.

I think next time, though, I will just stay home and read Michael Crichton by my wood stove instead. Blizzards in January are not some of my favorite things.

Cauliflower, Gordon Ramsay, and Hobbies

pexels-photo-1109197.jpeg

Guess what?

I have a hobby.

And it’s not writing.

Shocker, right? Writing used to be my hobby, back when I was seventeen. I would spend all my extra time writing, and I never wanted to do anything else. I would get all my work done, and then go write and love every minute of it.

Now, I’m twenty-four. Writing is my career. And my passion. But it’s not my hobby.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t love it. I do. I swear. But, to me, a hobby is what you do to rest your brain, to recharge after a tough day or week, and to give yourself a bit of a treat.

And, especially in this last year, I began to realize that I needed something to recharge my brain after I spent all day writing. As much as I love it, as much as I want to do it every day for the rest of my life, I still need a break every now and then. For mental health.

Balance is a good thing. I’m discovering that.

Lately, and especially since I moved into my little house and got my own kitchen, I have discovered a new love for cooking.

Not baking. Cooking. I can’t bake.

For one thing, I don’t have an oven. For another, I am a terrible baker.

As I mentioned in this post, my sister bought me a pass to Gordon Ramsay’s masterclass, and, as I’ve had time, I’ve been going through his lessons. The passion that he puts into everything he does is so inspiring to me, and although I have no intention of ever entering the food industry (because I am a ball of stress and I would die if that many people were yelling at me at once), I have loved learning from such a master.

I’ve also been experimenting with recipes on my own, learning from Pinterest, Youtube, and good old trial and error. One thing that I’ve found I LOVE is cauliflower rice and zucchini noodles. I cook for my mom a lot, and we are both sensitive to white flour and high carbs, so it has been so fun to experiment with alternatives and come up with tasty recipes that are low carb AND delicious.

(Apparently, this is actually possible. Who would have guessed?)

It has been such an adventure for me to delve into a new hobby and try my hand at something that I’m not already good at. (I might have freaked out to a few of my friends the first time I poached an egg properly.) As I develop more as a writer and take my career choices more seriously, it has become important that I have something to rest my brain and recharge a little bit.

What are some new hobbies that you have picked up since the New Year? Tell me in the comments! I’d love to hear about it!

For The Writer Who Is Facing Criticism

Writing is an incredibly vulnerable business.

Anyone who has ever shared their writing knows this. Not only are we opening up our hearts and sharing pieces of our souls with the world, but we are also exposing ourselves to a great deal of criticism.

And the world is full of critics.

Unfortunately, there is also another kind of criticism that writers seem to attract, beyond bad reviews on our books. This kind is a little more personal. And, whereas we can learn to brush off the negative reviews and grow a thick skin for the readers who hated everything about our writing, it’s a little harder to brush aside persistent comments from well-meaning co-workers, relatives, and sometimes even close friends. Comments like, you spend too much time at your computer. You need to get out more. Or, you realize writing isn’t a realistic career, right? Who is going to support you while you’re ‘chasing your dreams’?

Or, one of my personal favorites (or least favorites), writing fiction is a waste of time. People should be paying attention to the real world.

Um. That’s what we’re doing, Mark. Fiction mirrors reality and creates the opportunity to influence and teach without shouting opinions in someone’s face.

Disclaimer: Mark is a fictional character. Any resemblance to a person or persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Don’t hunt Mark down.

Writing is hard, both for people who pursue it as a hobby and for those of us struggling to make it our career. It takes a lot of time, it takes a giant amount of commitment, and—sometimes—people really don’t understand why we do what we do. After all, writers aren’t known for earning a lot of money, and we spend a lot of time alone.

For some reason, people seem to resent that. I’ve never understood why.

So, no matter what kind of criticism you’re facing, here are five ways I’ve learned to absorb or deflect it without getting too hurt in the process.

1) Consider the source.

Is it someone you respect? Or is it someone who has, in the past, said negative things simply to hurt you?

Or, is it someone who you don’t know at all and who doesn’t know you?

The source of criticism is extremely important. Before you take the words to heart, decide if the person speaking them has your best interest at heart, if they care about you, and if they make wise decisions in their own life.

If they do, it may be time to pause and consider what they’re saying.

If not, brush it off. Not everyone deserves the chance to help direct your path.

2) Ask yourself if there is any truth behind what was said.

This one may take a bit of a bite out of your ego. But that’s okay.

Is it true? Do you need to spend some time outside, both for your mental health and your physical health? Are you pushing yourself too hard and neglecting parts of your life that are important and need attention? After all, life is about balance, and taking care of yourself and your relationships is important.

On the flip side of that, do you really have no chance to make a career as a writer? Are you really not good enough to make this happen? Are you really being irresponsible for pursuing your dream?

This world needs writers. It needs storytellers, and people who are willing to sacrifice for their dreams. And, if you’re not ‘good enough’ to be published yet, you will be if you keep after it. The only way to fail as a writer is to quit. We are always growing and there is always room for improvement.

3) Ask for a second opinion.

Go to someone you trust. Someone who knows you, who knows your dreams, who knows what you are working so hard for. Tell them what the person said, and ask what their thoughts are on it.

They might surprise you.

4) Adjust accordingly.

No good ever comes of being stuck-in-the-mud stubborn and never listening to anyone. So, after you’ve considered the source, considered the truth behind what was said, and asked for a second opinion, it may be time to adjust your habits. Maybe take a walk before you start writing in the morning, or take an evening off to spend with friends. Work that extra part-time job so that you’re not going under financially while you’re doing what you love.

On the other hand, no good ever comes of being swayed by every opinion that comes your way. If you don’t trust the source, if there’s no truth behind what was said, and, especially, if your ‘trusted someone’ called bull, then brush it off and move on. You’re under no obligation to change yourself to suit the world.

5) Realize that you cannot please everyone.

Some people will just not understand. They won’t look at what you do and see value, and some of them will make a point of telling you so.

Let it go.

You’re a writer. If you are settled and at peace with it in your own heart, and—for those of you who believe in this kind of thing—are at peace with it before God, then let it be. You have passions, you have dreams, you have a life that is yours—and yours alone—to build and cultivate. Make the choices that you can live with, and don’t conform your life to other people’s expectations.

You’re the one who has to live with your decisions. So make sure they’re ones that you want to live with.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

Portrait of a Missionary

40616397_1866449356723854_3601803404566855680_n

As a writer, I am fascinated by people.

No two people carry the same stories. Their life experiences, their worldview, and their hopes and dreams are uniquely their own. No work of fiction can compare to the beauty and complexity of the world around us, but, caught in our jobs, our routines, and our day-to-day tasks, it’s easy to lose sight of the richness of life amidst the mundane.

In this series, I would like to reawaken your awareness of the extraordinary.

A.R. Geiger

Not everyone has the privilege of a returning missionary sitting at their dinner table.

As I was setting out our plates and sitting down opposite my visitor, I was very aware of this. Even in my unique position as this particular missionary’s sister, I only get the chance to have dinner with him once every other year or so. Armin Geiger is a youth pastor in Vanuatu, a collection of islands in the South Pacific, and he returns to the United States very rarely.

When he does, I like to make sure I have at least one evening with him.

He didn’t hesitate when I told him I wanted a story. His life in Vanuatu is a strange mix of the mundane and the fantastical, of office work, a regular job, and schedules, and, scattered throughout, adventures worthy of a far longer post than this one. He always has a story ready when I ask.

“We were in west coast Santo on the medical ship last year,” he told me, already forgetting his dinner. “Giving care to the local communities. But their clinic location was set up in one village, and all the other people had to travel to get there. We knew a lot of elderly and disabled people needed medical care. So a local, one other girl, and I took a tender—a small speedboat—and drove forty minutes up the coast from where the ship was anchored.”

He sat back in his chair, pausing to remember. “We arrived and the waves were stronger than we anticipated. So I hopped off with this other girl, and we go off with the local to find these two old ladies. In this small woven hut, we find this one lady who was practically deaf, hunched over, frail as a bone, with this stick that she used to walk. She was in her seventies, I think, dressed in a classic, flowery gown that they wear in the islands. My friend began to walk her toward the shore, while I went to get the other patient, who ended up being an old lady who had no legs. Not as old, probably in her forties or fifties, but she had no legs and some sort of odd, wheelchair type thing that didn’t work so well.”

“So we half-carried, half-wheeled her to the shore, which was probably 200-300 meters away, and when we arrived, the waves had gotten even bigger.” He ran his hand through his hair, looking out the window. “And so the challenge was to get these two old ladies into the boat with waves that were up to my chest and not kill them or drown them. Cause at that age, you’re very frail. The guy on the boat had it running because you had to keep it running continually. So he’s running it with prow pointed out to sea, hitting every wave and riding it out. We’re timing it with the waves. So I scooped up the old grandma with the walking stick, and when a wave comes and it runs down, I run in and chuck her on board.”

I laughed, and he grinned, continuing, “She’s sitting there, freaking out,” he lets out a yell that sounds as much like an older woman as a twenty-something man can sound. “Then we go back for the next lady. I’m carrying her in front of my chest and the boat comes down—‘cause when it’s on a wave it’s up high, like above my head—the boat comes down, and I go for it to put her in. Then the wave comes a little sooner than we anticipated, so I lift the lady up high above my head, and the wave hits me in the chest, drenching me, ruining my phone.”

He lifts his arms above his head, demonstrating for me, totally caught up in his story now. “So I’m holding her as high as I can, and the waves are still coming, and then the boat comes down again and I chucked her onto the side and the guy on top grabbed her and pulled her up.”

“Pretty intense couple of moments,” he tells me, pausing again as he remembers the boat trip and the struggle to get the women aboard and back down the coast, “because if she fell in, that would not have been good. But we got them safely to the location, where they got medical care and glasses.”

I got up to refill his plate, marveling that, to him, his story is a fairly normal part of his life in Vanuatu. To me, it sounds as outlandish as one of the history books I grew up on, and the realization serves as a reminder that the extraordinary still remains hidden among the mundane.

But, as I said, not everyone has the pleasure of a returning missionary sitting at their dinner table.

Sending Off An Adventurer

My sister left this week.

One of my sisters. I have a few.

This particular sister is nineteen. I’ve mentioned her before. She has been living with me for the last several months, but she is off now.

Off adventuring.

I drove her to the airport on Tuesday. We talked about boys the whole drive.

Okay, one boy.

Okay, Colin Firth, in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.

In other words, we had a great time. After a two hour drive, I dropped her off and left her all alone. By herself. She flew to Austin, Texas, then to Iceland, and finally to Amsterdam, where she was picked up by the staff of the school she’s attending.

A lot of adventure for a nineteen year old.

In case you were wondering, yes, I’m a wreck. She’s been my best friend for a lot of years, besides being my roommate (cabin-mate?) for the last several months, and I’m going to miss her terribly. I’m not saying I cried in the car on the way home, but I cried in the car on the way home.

Just a little.

No one will sit by the fire with me in the evenings, no one will read everything I write and tell me if it’s good or not, no one will make me tea or eat all my cooking and pretend it’s amazing.

In short, I’m devastated.

But I’m very excited for her. She’ll be living in Amsterdam for three months, then transferring to an—as of yet—undisclosed location for the remainder of her school. Thanks to Skype and Facebook, I’ll be able to keep in touch with her, but she won’t really have much time to talk to me. Classes and new friends will take up most of her time.

I went to a similar school when I was nineteen, one located in West Kilbride, Scotland. I spent three months living in a castle on the beach (above), then another two months backpacking through Cambodia. It changed my life to see the sun set on the other side of the world, and I am so excited to see my sister go through the same experiences.

So, yes, I’m happy for her.

Just sad for me, because I have to live without her for a few months.

For The Writer Who Is Tongue-Tied

Shockingly, not every writer is introverted.

Really. There are magical extroverted people who can talk about their books and answer questions about their writing career without panicking or breathing into a paper bag or stumbling over their words twelve times.

At least, that’s what I’ve heard. I’m an introvert myself, so I wouldn’t really know.

However, joking aside, whether we’re introverted or extroverted, talking about our books is hard. The dreaded ‘elevator pitch’ is an essential part of spreading awareness for our books. We need it for agents at writing conferences, the pitch line in queries, and well-meaning friends and family who want to know what our book is about.

Why do people ask that? I get it, it’s harmless and inquisitive. They’re not really trying to make me sit on the floor and cry, right? They’re doing their best to show an interest in that weird thing I do where I lock myself up in a room for hours on end and stare at a computer with a lot of squiggly lines on it.

Or sometimes a blank screen, because those days happen to all of us.

Still, condensing fifty to a hundred thousand words (or more) into a single sentence can feel impossible. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, and all too often, it falls flat. There is nothing more irritating than having a book you know is brilliant and compelling, and then stumbling over a vague and cheesy sounding explanation that features ummm more than any other word in the English language.

Believe me. It’s torture.

Unfortunately, it is also a necessary torture. So, introvert or extrovert, if we want our books to see the light of day, we have to learn. Here are five tips that I’ve found helpful in learning to explain my crazy books to people.

1) Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

You’re going to mess up. It’s going to sound weird. It’s never going to be completely perfect.

And that’s fine.

As with everything else, practice makes perfect. So resign yourself to making mistakes, to looking a little foolish, and even to one or two embarrassing failures. As long as you continue to try, to learn, and to perfect what you’ve got, you’re conquering it.

And, honestly? It’s the mistakes that are teaching you, not the successes.

2) Know the heart of your story.

Not everything needs to be a part of your pitch. You’ve got tens of thousands of words in this wonderful book of yours, and myriad of ideas.

And one sentence (maybe two) to catch someone’s attention.

So take some time, be realistic, and decide what is the heart and soul of your story. Sure, maybe dragons attack a city at some point and the hero has the ability to control them with his mind but decides not to because the bakery in that city wouldn’t sell him a donut, but is that really the heart of the story?

If not, then skip it.

It’s still in the story. You haven’t lost it. It’s just not the core of what you’ve written, and the core is exactly what you want to give them.

3) Practice.

This is definitely not a skill that you are automatically going to have. It needs practice, it needs polishing, and it needs feedback. Use your friends and family as guinea pigs (respectfully), jump at the chance to practice your pitch whenever anyone asks about it, and practice by yourself in your bedroom mirror.

Yes, I’m telling you to talk to yourself.

When I drove down to the writer’s conference in Missouri last July, I spent most of that trip going over my pitch alone in my car. It sounds weird, maybe it will feel weird for a while, but it works.

And if it looks dumb, but it works, it’s not dumb.

The point is, the more practice you have, the better your pitch will be. You want it smooth, you don’t want it to sound rehearsed, and you want it to look effortless.

And, as everyone should know, if something looks effortless, it means there is a whole lot of effort behind it.

4) Don’t give up.

This is one of the most discouraging and scary parts of being an author. It’s so intimidating, it’s so easy to get it wrong, and for some of us, it goes against the grain of our personalities.

It would be much easier to simply duck under this one, and not try it.

But don’t. Really, really don’t. Your story is worth this attention, it’s worth this push to learn and stretch yourself as a person, and in the long run, you’ll be so glad that you took the time and the effort to make it happen.

And someday, who knows, maybe it won’t be that difficult after all.

I’m not counting on that, but you never know.

5) Be passionate.

This is your story. You’ve slaved over it, cried over it, and maybe worked harder on it than you ever have on a project before.

It’s your baby. Your magnum opus. Your symphony.

So love it. Don’t rattle off an emotionless plot outline when someone asks what you’ve written. Tell them why you love it. Passion is attractive, and, as a writer, you’ve got more than enough to share. (Believe me, you wouldn’t have gotten as far as you have with this story if you didn’t.)

Embrace it. Be willing to be wrong, be willing to need work, be willing to make mistakes, but never, never forget your passion when you talk about what you do. Writing can be a job, but writing is magic too, and magic is worth being passionate about.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.