Monday, January 23, 2017

Blackout Poetry: The Poem Hidden in the Page

by Kasey Tross

One night this past weekend I was in one of those moods where I wanted to create something but I was too tired to write and too tired to have to clean up any kind of crafting mess, so I decided to try something new: blackout poetry.

If you're not familiar with the concept, it's where you take a page from a book (or any document, really) and select words from it to become your poem, then you simply black out (or strike through) all the rest. 

My first attempt was probably my favorite:

Funny how when we're struggling life still just seems to go on.

This one had kind of a story element to it:

"Almost handsome, never careful."
I may have to use that in a book someday.

My 12-year-old son saw what I was doing and decided to get in on the action. In my opinion, he won the award for the line of the day.

"Richard Harding Davis was suffering from Government"

Aren't we all?

This other one I did was kind of fun:

"Face the unknown as if it were a picnic." 

Now that's advice to live by.

So if you have an old book lying around (this one was pretty ancient and falling apart- the good thing about it was that the pages were super thick so I could even blackout both sides without it leaking through) and you need to scratch that creative itch without too much brainpower or mess, then I highly recommend giving this a whirl. 

It's fun to find the poem hidden in the page.

Monday, January 16, 2017

My Writing Goals for 2017

by Kasey Tross

A couple weeks ago I posted this video on the MMW Facebook page about How to Gain Control of Your Free Time. In the video, the speaker, Laura Vanderkam, discussed how we so often feel like there's not enough time to do things, but that the real issue is that we don't make those things a priority.

Later on in the talk she suggested that in order to discover what your true priorities are, try imagining that it's the end of the year and you have just received your year-end evaluations from work, or that you're working on your Christmas letter to friends and family. What would you like to be able to see about your year in those documents? What accomplishments would you like to see listed? What improvements in your life would you like to see acknowledged?

Sometimes I struggle with narrowing down my goals, so I decided that would be a great way to envision where I want to be at the end of 2017 and then be able to plan out the habits I must develop and the steps I need to take to get there, in order to Set Goals Like I Mean It.

I noticed as I started working on my writing goals that they're quite different from what they were in 2016. In 2016 my main focus was on writing and publishing articles for magazines. This year I'd like my end-of-year report to say:

1. 2016 NaNoWriMo book is ready to submit to publishers. (It's an LDS book so I'll be submitting directly to publishers rather than going through agents.)

2. Had 5 stories accepted for publication in the Friend Magazine. (I've already submitted 2- go me!)

3. Had 2 articles accepted for publication on Power of Moms.

4. Worked on at least 1 other inspired writing project. (I'm leaving this open for now, but I'm feeling impressed that this project will involve taking Mormon Mommy Writers to another level and utilizing this platform to create more of a writing community, so stay tuned...)

These goals are fairly small and simple compared to years past, but part of that is because I have some pretty big personal and spiritual goals this year. For example, this year in place of NaNoWriMo I have decided that in November I would like to try to read the entire Book of Mormon in 30 days. I feel like it's a way to show my gratitude to my Heavenly Father for helping me successfully complete NaNoWriMo last year, and I've also heard from others that reading the Book of Mormon in a very short period of time changes the reading experience, and so it's something I've always wanted to try.

I'm also going to be focusing more on my physical health. I've gotten away from running this past year and I miss the energy and fitness I had while doing it, so I'm going to work on that. I'm also going to focus more on my church callings and my relationships with my husband and children.

So now my writing goals are out here for all the world to see, and I guess that means I'm accountable! I would love to help you stay accountable to yourself for your 2017 goals too, so please comment below and tell me about them so we can work on them together!

And because today is Martin Luther King Day, I will close out this post on goals with some words of inspiration from the great Dr. King:

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase." 

-Martin Luther King

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay
Birdwatchers, don't hate me if I'm wrong.
I'm 98% certain this is a European starling.

The other day the family and I were sitting in the kitchen when I looked out our window and saw a huge flock of starlings descend on our lawn. They stood around pecking for food, and we all watched them happily for a few minutes when suddenly, in one massive coordinated effort, they all took flight, moving in the same direction, so utterly synchronized. It was incredible to watch.

Just a few days later, I ran across an NPR article about this very phenomenon. It's called a murmuration, and the article has a cool video of one. The article talks about some scientists who have studied murmuration, one of whom calls the phenomenon a "remarkable ability to maintain cohesion as a group in highly uncertain environments and with limited, noisy information," to see how the starlings can be so unified. It turns out that they believe that each starling pays attention to the seven starlings nearest them and flies with them.

It made me think about a number of things, some of which I am still considering. So I'll leave you to consider some of the same questions.

Who am I flying with? Who are the people nearest me? And are they flying in directions I want to go?

Am I providing a lifting, positive direction to those who might be watching me? How can I be a better influence or help to those in my closest circles?

My friend Derrill thought of Laman and Lemuel in the Book of Mormon, who spend most of their time murmuring—complaining and performing all of their tasks grudgingly. He made this awesome Mormonad: Murmur not! Murmurate! So the question is, which do I do?

Of course every metaphor breaks down somewhere, and for me one of the breakdowns is that we are meant to be individuals, not starlings. But we are still meant to work together towards common goals and lend one another strength. So I think there's enough here to make the metaphor interesting and worth some thought.

What lessons do you think we could learn from the starlings?

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Shoulder to Cry On

By Lacey Gunter

Life can be so difficult at times. For anyone who is experiencing the pain and sorrow that comes from injury, loss or difficult trials, I wish I could jump through this web page and give you a tender hug and a shoulder to cry on.  One thing I can do is tell you that you are not experiencing this alone.

In chapter 11 of John in the New Testament of the Bible we hear the story of Lazarus dying and being brought back to life by Jesus. In the King James version of the Bible we read in versus 32-35

32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,
34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see.
35 Jesus wept.

Isn't verse 35 an interesting scripture to think about? We have no reason to think Jesus is weeping for Lazarus’s soul here. There is nothing in the chapter that even hints at the idea that Lazarus has died in sin. And Jesus understood the plan of salvation and the purpose of death and the assurance of a beautiful and better place after this earthly life better than anyone else who has ever lived on earth.

One might try to conjecture here that Jesus is simply morning the loss of a friend. He is sad because he believes he will not have the joy of interacting with Lazarus again until Jesus himself has passed on and returned to Heaven. Of course this idea doesn't seem very plausible since we learn earlier in the chapter that Jesus's main purpose in coming to Lazarus's house was to raise Lazarus from the dead. Not much of a sorrow inducing separation.

And yet, it says that he groaned in his spirit and he wept. The only conclusion I can come to here is that Jesus is troubled and weeping because of the sorrow he feels seeing the great sadness Mary and the other Jews are experiencing. He knows he will shortly end their mourning by bringing Lazarus back to life, yet he is so touched by their tender and brokenhearted feelings that he can't help but cry with them first. Wow, what a powerful and expressive demonstration of the true love and compassion of the Savior.

I believe the Savior loves each of us this way.  We may not get the privilege to witness it, but perhaps the Savior has sat and cried with each one of us at one time or another.  And after both of your tears have finally dried, Christ still has the power to heal your heart and cleanse your soul. You are not alone! I pray you can feel Christ's love and compassion and that you may have the strength and courage to take another step and face another day.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Put a Bullet in It

by Kasey Tross

New year, new adventures, new goals, new organization!

Yes, it's 2017, and like so many others, I have my sights set on new and exciting things for the year, and I've decided that one of those new things I want to try is a Bullet Journal. 

Bullet journaling has become this hot new trend, an "Analog System for the Digital Age." I first heard about it from a good friend- one of those people who always seems to have it all together, both temporally and emotionally/spiritually- and so it piqued my interest (grammar lesson for today, kiddos- it's "piqued my interest" not "peaked my interest." You're welcome.)

I asked her some questions about it one day, but I still didn't really "get" it, so I didn't think about it again until someone on a Facebook page I follow posted a link to a short video about it. I love a good how-to video, and this one's only 4 minutes long and it was made by the person who actually came up with the idea of bullet journaling, so I took 4 minutes out of my day to watch it. After that, I decided it was worth a shot (get it? BULLET journaling? Worth a SHOT? I am hilarious.)

Fortunately, I had a cute spiral-bound journal with my initial on it and a matching pen- Christmas gifts from my visiting teacher- and they just begged to become a part of my daily life, so I drafted them into service in my bullet journaling adventure.

So, how does it work?

Basically, your bullet journal becomes your brain- your planner, your calendar, your random-note-taking station, your to-do lists, etc. Because it is all of these things, it also serves as an actual journal of your life.

The first part of the journal is the index- and this is the part where I think the magic really comes in, because it allows you to really write anything you want in your bullet journal. One page might be a daily to-do list, another page might be an idea for your next book, another page might be gift ideas for your husband's birthday- just put it all in there! Then you simply go back to your index and add in the title of whatever it is, note the page number, and then you will always be able to find it.

There are some other core parts to bullet journals as well to help you plan your life, but what I love about it is that it is evolving, imperfect, and flexible. Because aren't we all evolving, imperfect, and flexible? I love that I can keep all my crazy ideas in one spot and know they're all right there.

I set up my bullet journal last night, and so far I have all my basics (see video), plus today's to-do list (#6 Write MMW post), a list of book titles I'd like to propose in a meeting of a brand-new book club starting this month, and a page for me to plan my daughter's birthday coming up next week (gift ideas, what she wants for dinner that day, her preferred cake flavor, etc.). 

I'm just starting on my bullet journaling adventure, but I'm excited to see what happens. I just love the idea of recording life in ink on a page, and I love that I can do that and get more organized at the same time.

How about you? Have you ever tried bullet journaling or do you think you might?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Princess and a General

by Jewel Leann Williams

Like much of the world, I spent my week a little stunned, a little sad, at the passing of Carrie Fisher. For those of you who think this is stupid, that's okay. I usually agree that this huge outpouring of grief over celebrities' deaths is asinine, and maybe it is in this instance as well. 

I'd like to ramble on for a bit about why, at least for me, this particular death has hit me in the feels. 

I wish I could find the picture to post here of myself in Princess Leia regalia: long white dress, super-long hair braided up and twisted into giant Cinnabons on my head. Alas I do not have that picture, but imagine a really cute, sassy, spoiled, maybe a little chubby, little girl.. well, here. Let me provide a visual aid: 
This is not me. I got it from Google. 
  So, this isn't me. But imagine better buns, no boots or belt, and NOT skinniness. That was me for Halloween for--I don't know how many years. A few. I was like, 4 or 5 years old, and then 6, 7... I really liked dressing up as Princess Leia. 

And who wouldn't? She was an awesome role model! A princess, which is just automatically cool for little girls, right? But more than that. She was on a life-risking mission. She could program robots. She stood up to Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin with sass and bravery. When her rescuers came, she was as much a superhero as they were. I mean, Princess Leia Organa was the ultimate female superhero/role model for little girls!  The other princesses could take some lessons from Leia, ya know what I mean? 
( Here's  a fun link for someone's imagining of a Princess Tea Party with Leia)

A few years have passed. Just a few. 

I'm in a way different place in my life. I haven't dressed as Leia in a LOT of years (although I did attend the premiere of Episode 3 dressed as Padme Amidala, accompanied by a friend who WAS dressed as Leia, complete with buns of braids). 

Princess Leia has evolved as well. She's now General Leia Organa, head of the Resistance. Still kicking butt and taking names, still brave and sassy. Her character resonates with me as much as the bold and daring Princess did to my tiny little self all those years ago. 

Why? This is no "happy ever after" -- Leia got her man, yeah, but lost him, as well as her son, due to circumstances, the way life works for most of us. In the book BLOODLINE, which is one of the Star Wars novels that led up to The Force Awakens, we learn that Leia was a respected member of the Senate. She stayed true to her beliefs and values and the cost of that was that she made enemies. She was the victim of political machinations and betrayal and left the Senate to concentrate on the Resistance, back to danger and doubt and war and loss, because she knew where she could do the most good.  Leia in this iteration is a grown-up "princess"--she's a role model for not just girls, but women. Actually she's a role model for not just women, but anyone who  looks for an example of selfless leadership and general badassery. 
General Leia Organa, in the midst of heartbreak and personal loss, doing what she does.

I've had to be an adult for a few years now, and with adulthood comes the realization that life is full of disappointments, of dreams slipping through fingers like sand, of loss, of really hard things amidst all the good. General Organa is a fine example of a woman who has endured those same realities and has maintained not only her spunk and her fire, but her grace and kindness. 

That resonates. 

So yeah, I cried when I found out Carrie Fisher died. I laughed at myself a little, because I realize the absurdity of being so affected by the death of someone I don't know. But the part of my heart that was around when I was a kindergartner, is a little broken at the thought of the heart and soul of Princess General Leia Amidala Skywalker Organa Solo being gone.  

So make fun of me if you want; point out how a lot of people who had more of a real impact on the world passed away this year; but for me, I will miss the lady who taught me that: 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Gratitude in Every Thing

By Lacey Gunter

Thanksgiving weekend is a good time to contemplate gratitude, in general, not just the actual things we find easy to be grateful for. The Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5: 18, "In every thing give thanks."  For most people, even in the midst of a difficult trial, it is fairly easy to come up with at least one thing they are grateful for, a loved one, a warm shower, sunlight, chocolate. There is usually plenty enough in our lives to find gratitude for at least one thing. But, what does it mean to give thanks in every thing?  Should we really be grateful for everything? For example, pain and suffering, what is so great about that? Why would God want me to be grateful for that?

Science teaches us that gratitude is a wise virtue to develop. More than just improving our emotional wellbeing, it can also improve our health. And that is great. But, honestly, one can "be grateful" most of the time by simply focusing on the things in our life that are easy for us to be grateful for.  I believe this scripture is asking us to dig a little deeper than that.

How do we become grateful in every thing?  I don't have a really great answer to this question and I can easily confess that I am not informed enough to know God's thoughts or ways. But for me, this kind of gratitude requires way more than just an "attitude of gratitude."  This kind of gratitude requires a desire for knowledge and understanding, coupled with a lot of pondering and introspection.

Probably one of the biggest causes of pain and suffering in this world is the selfish or poorly thought out actions taken by others. On the surface and even at a moderately deep level, it can be really difficult to find gratitude for these things. How do we find gratitude for other's painful mistakes? One way I am trying to do this is through pondering the plan of salvation and considering what those mistakes really are.

Mistakes or bad decisions and actions are often born out of choice. So, suffering from someone else's choices means we possess the true power or ability to make choices. This is certainly something to warrant a hefty amount of gratitude.

It is also through choice and its consequences that we learn and grow. Without the consequences we face from other people's actions, neither we nor the person who made the choice would be able to learn how to act better and be better. This I can feel honest gratitude for.

What sticks out to me the most, though, in pondering about the directive to give thanks in every thing, is understanding how our suffering is the path through which we are able to truly feel the joy the atonement can bring to our lives. We cannot fully understand the power and magnitude of the atonement until we have felt a small inkling of what it actually paid for. We cannot recognize what the Savior did for us individually unless we personally experience some of the pain and suffering our actions cause. And without this, how could we possibly feel the joy of repentance and knowing we have been cleansed and sanctified with the Lord. That joy, through first experiencing suffering, is beyond what I am able to express gratitude for.

These are some of the things I have begun to try to recognize and acknowledge in my life. How have you tried to develop the ability to give thanks in every thing in your life?  I would love to hear other people's insights that we all might uplift each other and be grateful.

Monday, November 14, 2016

We All Need Therapy

No, I'm not talking about the recent election (although there are a lot of people who probably need therapy after that, too). I'm talking about you and the characters in your story.

That's right: Character Therapy!

Recently, as I worked on my NaNoWriMo story, I got a little stuck. So I did some googling about how to get un-stuck. And I came across an article that suggested some questions we might want to ask our characters.

I can't remember what those questions were, but I do remember that they were deeper than the usual, "What is your character's favorite food?"-type questions.

Anyway, I used them as a jumping-off point and essentially sat down with my characters and had a therapy session. I was especially concerned about the male lead in my story, because I was having a hard time writing his reactions and responses, which I realized was because I didn't actually know how he felt about the situation. So I put him on the virtual therapy couch and asked him some questions and wrote out his answers.

Me: Cole, how did you feel about Molly before the scene at the restaurant occurred?

Cole: Well, before that I was interested in her- the way she reacted to my comment in Sunday School showed me she has some spunk, and her willingness to lie showed me she's not all goody-goody, and while the situation she's put herself in is kind of a pain, that part of her personality did add another layer to her that kind of surprised me.

Me: And what about the piano lesson?

Cole: When I gave her the piano lesson I saw that she's determined and willing to work hard.  But it is kind of irritating that she thinks she needs and wants a vanilla guy like Jacob. I guess part of my irritation is that I like her and I think she deserves better; the other part is that I hate that I get stereotyped so often because I don't look typical, so I want to challenge Molly to both be true to herself AND look beyond my appearance.

Me: Do you want to pursue Molly?

Cole: At times I wonder if there's even a point to pursuing her- is she determined to just be the person she thinks Jacob wants her to be? I'm mad at myself for even wanting to try when the odds seem to be stacked against me. Plus, I'm mad at her for settling and not being honest with herself. I hate that I want to help her, too, when what she's doing is so against what I think is right. But I can't help it. I want to rescue her.

Me: Thank you for your honesty, Cole.

[Cole leaves and I invite Molly in to take the hot seat.]

Me: Molly, how did you feel about Cole before the scene at the restaurant?

Molly: Before the restaurant he was like an annoying brother, but he was willing to help me, so I also thought of him as a friend. While we were at the restaurant he was definitely the annoying brother, but I also saw his nerve and his talent again, which I guess a lot of girls might find attractive, and it was...well, it was interesting.

Me: You say that other girls might find it attractive- why don't you find him attractive?

Molly: We practically grew up together. He's too much like a brother! And he has tattoos, which is obviously...well, it's not exactly my cup of tea. He's just completely wrong for me. Plus, he makes me nervous. He knows my secret and that makes him dangerous. 

Me: So why do you continue to spend time with him?

Molly: Easy- he's the only one I've got on my side in this if I have any chance of ever being with Jacob.

Me: Thanks, Molly. Good to know.

Essentially, I used the opportunity to kind of sort through the characters' emotions so that I could better write their responses to the different situations. As you can see, what I uncovered was a little bit more complex than a simple "I like her" or "I hate him." The different things that have happened in the story have shaped these characters' perceptions of each other, causing their relationship to evolve. You might also have noticed that these characters aren't being completely honest with themselves, and that also complicates matters. I have to understand not only how they say they're feeling, but also how they're actually feeling.

So if there's ever a time when you feel like you just don't know how your characters should react, send them to therapy! Take a time-out from the story and interview them and find out what's going on their heads. Pay attention to the underlying emotions they might not even be aware of, and think about how you can use the plot and other characters to move them to a greater awareness of those subconscious feelings, and also perhaps change their ideas on things. You might also want to consider throwing them into situations that are the exact opposite of what they might want to happen, and allow them to grow and change through adversity.

Here are some sample questions to get you started:

How did you feel before [event] occurred?
How were you feeling during?
How did you feel afterward?
If you could change one thing about [character or situation], what would it be?
What is your greatest frustration right now?
What is your greatest fear right now?

Happy writing, friends!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

A More Rounded Discussion About Flat Characters

By Lacey Gunter

It's never pleasant to get feedback from a reader or reviewer that your main characters are too flat. Flat characters are characters in a story who have one, maybe two, personality traits and experience no growth or change throughout the course of the story. It's okay to have flat characters in your story to move the plot along, especially if their development would be a distraction from the main plot line. But even a moderately interested reader could probably tell you that flat main characters are bad because they don't feel real. They don't seem human. They are more like a plastic doll being moved around by the author as a tool to illustrate an idea, facilitate action, or contrast the realness and growth in a truly round or believable character.  Because of this, we really don't care much about what happens to flat characters. It's only the round, fleshed out, or realistic characters that command our attention and deserve our emotional investment.

There is a deeper lesson in understanding character depth than just improving your writing, a lesson that has never been more desperately needed than now, at least not during my lifetime.

When we throw labels on living, breathing human beings, we are attempting to reduce that person to a single perceived trait. In essence, we are suggesting that that one word description could sum up the entirety of who they are, what they have experienced, what they have accomplished and their relationship with the rest of human kind.  We are attempting to flatten that person's character and  implying that they lack the ability to experience true change or growth We are dehumanizing them and declaring them unworthy of our attention or emotional investment.

No matter how much we dislike what a person has to say or an action they take, no single label can truly sum up the essence of who that person is.  And Christ suffered on the cross every bit as much for them as he did for each of us.  So he has clearly demonstrated they are capable of growth and change and worthy of his attention and emotional investment. Why then should they not be worthy of our attention and emotional investment?

The next time you are tempted to throw a label on someone who thinks or acts differently from you, I challenge you to see that person as more than just a flat character.  Take the time to discover some of the depth of that person's character and recognize their humanity. In spite of their apparent flaws, you may discover something you didn't expect, a reason to respect them, an issue you agree with them or even the potential for a lasting friendship. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

What I'll Be Doing This Election Cycle

Note: Oops! I’m sorry, I’m cheating and posting on my wrong day. I wasn’t able to get this up in time for my regular day last week. Sorry, MMWs!

I’m sure I don’t have to point out to any of our American readers—and possibly not our international readers either—that this has been a rough presidential election year for the US. Now, what I want to say here is somewhat political, but it’s more about who we are as people. So I hope you’ll stick with me in a dicey subject.

Many of us have struggled with who to vote for, and I’m not going to address that at all. That’s your decision, and I only suggest that it be made with prayer and consideration. But no matter who we vote for, there are some things I think we can and should do.

I was reading this past week about when Christ gave the Sermon on the Mount. As you may remember, He says this: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). This struck me forcibly as I thought about the news, the general world that we live in, and this election in particular.

There’s a nearly 100 percent chance that we will end this cycle with a president I personally am unhappy with, someone I am not naturally inclined to love (since, to be frank, I don’t like either of the major party candidates). Regardless of who wins, around the country there will be anger, name calling, scandals, fights. This is inevitable and I can’t change the general climate. But what I can change is my own response.

I can pray for the future leaders of this country, even if they feel like enemies. I can pray for those who show their displeasure in immature, unpleasant, and even violent ways. I can pray, and by praying I can increase my love (even if I still don’t like them).*

But how can you pray for them sincerely, you ask? I have given some thought to this, and here are some of the things I feel like I can genuinely pray for, no matter who it is:

*That they will be guided to choose the best possible advisors and friends.
*That they will listen to wise counsels to the greatest extent possible.
*That they will be moved to strive for nobility in action, even when it’s difficult.
*That they will experience the true joy that comes from choosing righteous paths, and that that joy will lead them to seek more good.
*That they will be protected from making choices that will lead to their own and others’ suffering.
*In general that they will find wisdom and then find joy in following wisdom’s path.

Are these not things that we can ask for anyone who enters an office, no matter whether we consider them enemies or those who despitefully use us? Are these not things that we should be able to pray for all?

I guess no matter how we feel about our elected officials this election season or any other, no matter how we feel about our neighbors, our acquaintances, the anonymous commenters on news articles, I hope we will find the moral courage and the true charity (AKA love) to pray.

*Yes, contrary to popular belief, it is possible to love someone even if you don’t like what they do or want to hang out and get pizza together.


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