Monday, September 28, 2015

The Modern Bestseller: Written By Social Media?

by Kasey Tross

Image from

Lately I've been reading a very interesting book by Nicholas Carr called "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains" (spoiler alert: what it's doing to our brains isn't good). It's a fascinating look at neuroplasticity and technology; specifically, a look at how technology has changed and is changing our brains. The author starts with the invention of things like maps (which increased our ability to think abstractly) and clocks (which made us start mentally quantifying time) and books/publishing (which led to the advent of silent reading- a precursor to individual learning).

Now that I'm getting into the part about the internet, I'm finding that he's bringing up some interesting concerns for us writers, like the fact that the 3 best selling novels in Japan in 2007 were all written as strings of text messages, and all written on cell phones.

No, seriously.

So here is some food for thought for you today:

" does seem inevitable that the Web's tendency to turn all media into social media will have a far-reaching effect on styles of reading and writing and hence on language itself. When the form of the book shifted to accommodate silent reading, one of the most important results was the development of private writing. Authors, able to assume that an attentive reader, deeply engaged both intellectually and emotionally, 'would come at last, and would thank them,' quickly jumped beyond the limits of social speech and began to explore a wealth of distinctively literary forms, many of which could exist only on the page. The new freedom of the private writer led, as we've seen, to a burst of experimentation that expanded vocabulary, extended the boundaries of syntax, and in general increased the flexibility and expressiveness of language. Now that the context of reading is again shifting, from the private page to the communal screen, authors will adapt once more. They will increasingly tailor their work to a milieu that the essayist Caleb Crain describes as 'groupiness,' where people read mainly 'for the sake of a feeling of belonging' rather than for personal enlightenment or amusement. As social concerns override literary ones, writers seem fated to eschew virtuosity and experimentation in favor of a bland but immediately accessible style. Writing will become a means for recording chatter." (pp. 106-107)

The author also says that writing will become less permanent, as that is the nature of all digital media, especially social media. He says that authors will be less likely to care about perfecting our work:

 "It seems likely that removing the sense of closure from book writing will, in time, alter writers' attitudes toward their work. The pressure to achieve perfection will diminish, along with the artistic rigor that the pressure imposed. To see how small changes in writers' assumptions and attitudes can eventually have large effects on what they write, one need only glance at the history of correspondence. A personal letter written in, say, the nineteenth century bears little resemblance to a personal e-mail or text message written today. Our indulgence in the pleasures of informality and immediacy has led to a narrowing of expressiveness and a loss of eloquence." (pp. 108-109)

So, what do you think? Will digital media and the influence of social media have authors swimming into the shallows? Are we losing an art form here? Is it already happening? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Dopple Gang

By Beckie Carlson
I recently went on a trip with my youngest daughter to Atlanta, Georgia. I had not been to Georgia before. I used to live in Alabama and Florida (at different times), so I figured it would be mostly the same. What I didn't know was that Atlanta is Gotham City. You may not have known this, and I'm sorry if I'm ruining some fantasy-other-wordliness aspect of Gotham City,'s in Georgia.
Our adventure began when we got the rental car and headed out in the safe hands of GPS (aka evil maniacal devil guide) to our hotel. I don't know when I decided Siri was a reliable source again. She has burned me way too many times in the past for me to have any sane reason to trust her, but here I was, across the country in the middle of a rainy night, trusting my life to the voice in my phone with a desire to kill me.
How do I know she wants to kill me? Let's recap. I have gotten lost more times than not when using her. Usually it is because she decides to tell me to take U turns in the middle of freeways or busy roads. Other times it is because she leads me to my destination which actually turns out to be a lonely spot in the middle of nowhere, perfect for murder. This time, it was to the back side of a prison. Yes, just pull into the guarded driveway...don't mind the guns..."your destination is on the right"....sure it is. I didn't fall for it.
I had a feeling that no matter what Siri said, I should probably head towards the taller, better lighted buildings in the distance. By some miracle, we ended up at our hotel. I prefer to believe it was devine guidance. On the way, we discovered we were in Gotham. It wasn't hard to tell, all we had to do was look up. The buildings were somewhat shrouded in fog. Did I mention it was raining? Constantly? The entire weekend? The fog swirled around the tops of the buildings. One building in particular had lights shining off the top, cutting through the fog, just waiting for the Bat signal to be blasted into the sky. It was Gotham. I'm sure of it. If that wasn't enough proof, the sirens that screamed all night were the clincher. I didn't actually SEE Batman, but I'm pretty sure I saw something dark and caped streak past my 9th floor hotel window in the middle of the night.
The rest of our trip went fairly well. We went to a Art walk/block party, very much NOT like the art walks here in Arizona. I expected to see cool art that made my mind scream, "How did they think of that!?" like what happens at the art walks here. Instead, what my mind was screaming was more of a, "WHY did they think of that? What is wrong with them!?" My daughter assured me it was all about the experience, not the product. That had to be the only resoning behind the live music in the "Mammal Bar" which turned out to be a very warm, over crowded room (bar), with a group of adult size toddlers playing on xylophones, recorders, and bongos....with no apparent melody in common. My brain hurt and I wanted to curl up with something familiar, like a cactus. It was painful.
All in all, I totally enjoyed my trip with my daughter. She is an awesome person. I'd want to be her friend if we weren't related. She's totally cool. She is also blessed/cursed with the same talent as I have. We both see celebrity faces in random people. On this trip we saw young DiCaprio, Ice T's uncle, A white Bruno Mars, and the perfect blend of Bradley Cooper and Will Arnett. I admit to following the latter around with my eyes for quite a while and even snapping a picture. Is that weird? It's not like I'm going to stalk him or google his picture online and find out his name and whether or not that girl with him was his girlfriend or send him bunnies or anything, it was purely for research.
Cause I said so.
Photo credit:

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Truest Sacrifice

I’m going to begin with a reboot of the story of the Rich Young Ruler.

The not-at-all rich, not at all young, Mom prayed to ask the Lord, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He answered, “Thou knowest the commandments. Love God, love thy neighbor, No killing, no stealing, no adultery, be honest…”

The mother interrupted and said, “Lord, I do all of that stuff (remembers the "be honest" thing)—or at least, I’m trying my hardest. What else do I need to do? What’s the secret?”

The Lord said, “Maybe thou shouldst go read what Joseph Smith said about sacrifice.”

Among many things about sacrifice that the Prophet Joseph Smith said, here are a few (from Lectures on Faith 6):

“An actual knowledge to any person, that the course of life which he pursues is according to the will of God, is essentially necessary to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life … and unless they have an actual knowledge that the course they are pursuing is according to the will of God they will grow weary in their minds and faint … and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. …“It was in offering sacrifices that Abel, the first martyr, obtained knowledge that he was accepted of God. And from the days of righteous Abel to the present time, the knowledge that men have that they are accepted in the sight of God is obtained by offering sacrifice.“But those who have not made this sacrifice to God do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in his sight; for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty are there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time; so that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence; and where unshaken confidence is not there faith is weak; and where faith is weak the persons will not be able to contend against all opposition, tribulations, and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them.”
That’s a lot. It's deep stuff. The gist is that we can’t know that what we are doing in our lives is exactly what the Lord wants us to do, unless we offer up to Him everything that we have, and are. And if we aren’t utterly confident that our course in life is pleasing to God, we can’t have absolute faith. If we don’t have that faith, we will falter and risk being overcome and losing our way.

What are we willing to sacrifice? What do we hold back from the altar? 

I know that there are times I am terrified that Heavenly Father will ask me to let a child go.

When Simon was a newborn, I would sit in the chair and feed him or rock him, and I sat there sobbing, holding a perfect little baby, so grateful to have him, yet so afraid that it was only until Heavenly Father figured out that he was missing: 

(imaginary Heavenly Father conversation:)
Hey! Where'd Simon go? (muffled angel answers)
What? Who sent him down there?  I miss him! Bring him back, NOW!

Yes. I was truly convinced that any moment, I would have to give him back. And it still scares me to think of losing any one of my children, or my husband. I'm pretty sure I'm holding them back from the altar, or at least using my biggest puppy dog eyes and looking up at Heavenly Father begging him to not have that be something asked of me. So I am well aware that I may be lacking in the "willing to sacrifice" department. 

Some sacrifices are harder to make than others. 

I like the story of King Lamoni’s father. When he was taught the Gospel, he cried out in mighty prayer, begging to be saved, and promised to “give up all his sins” to know God. 

Are we willing to sacrifice, to give up, our favorite sins? This is what Moroni calls “denying yourselves of all ungodliness.”

Doctrine and Covenants 121: says:

“Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth”

Speaking of how our righteousness impacts our confidence, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland told this story. He says:

The conference concluded with a testimony meeting in which a handsome, young returned missionary stood up to bear his testimony. He looked good, clean, and confident—just like a returned missionary should look.
As he began to speak, tears came to his eyes. He said he was grateful to stand in the midst of such a terrific group of young Latter-day Saints and to feel good about the life he was trying to lead. But that feeling had only been possible, he said, because of an experience he had had a few years earlier, an experience that had shaped his life forever.He then told of coming home from a date shortly after he had been ordained an elder at age 18. Something had happened on this date of which he was not proud. To this day I do not know the nature of the incident, but it was significant enough to him to have affected his spirit and his self-esteem.As he sat in his car for a while in the driveway of his own home, thinking things through and feeling genuine sorrow for whatever had happened, his nonmember mother came running frantically from the house straight to his car. In an instant she conveyed that this boy’s younger brother had just fallen in the home, had hit his head sharply and was having some kind of seizure or convulsion. The nonmember father had immediately called for an ambulance, but it would take some time at best for help to come.“Come and do something,” she cried. “Isn’t there something you do in your Church at times like this? You have their priesthood. Come and do something.”His mother didn’t know a lot about the Church at that point, but she knew something of priesthood blessings. Nevertheless, on this night when someone he loved dearly needed his faith and his strength, this young man could not respond. Given the feelings he had just been wrestling with and the compromise he felt he had just made—whatever that was—he could not bring himself to go before the Lord and ask for the blessing that was needed.He bolted from the car and ran down the street to the home of a worthy older man who had befriended him in the ward ever since the boy’s conversion two or three years earlier. An explanation was given, and the two were back at the house still well before the paramedics arrived. The happy ending of this story as told in that testimony meeting was that this older man instantly gave a sweet, powerful priesthood blessing, leaving the injured child stable and resting by the time medical help arrived. A quick trip to the hospital and a thorough exam there revealed no permanent damage had been done. A very fearful moment for this family had passed.Then the returned missionary of whom I speak said this: “No one who has not faced what I faced that night will ever know the shame I felt and the sorrow I bore for not feeling worthy to use the priesthood I held. It is an even more painful memory for me because it was my own little brother who needed me and my beloved nonmember parents who were so fearful and who had a right to expect more of me. But as I stand before you today, I can promise you this,” he said. “I am not perfect, but from that night onward I have never done anything that would keep me from going before the Lord with confidence and asking for His help when it is needed. Personal worthiness is a battle in this world in which we live,” he acknowledged, “but it is a battle I am winning. I have felt the finger of condemnation pointing at me once in my life, and I don’t intend to feel it ever again if I can do anything about it. And, of course,” he concluded, “I can do everything about it.”

Are we willing to sacrifice our favorite sins in order to have confidence in front of our Heavenly Father? 

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,
 that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,
holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
Elder Neal A Maxwell said, “The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give’ … are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us.”  

The Savior taught the Nephites after his resurrection:

“Ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away. … And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost” (3 Nephi 9:19-20).

To have a broken heart and a contrite spirit is to be humble and receptive to the will of God and to the counsel of those He has called to lead His Church. It also means to feel deep sorrow for sin and a sincere desire to repent.
The prophet Lehi emphasized the importance of offering this sacrifice: “Behold, [Christ] offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” (2 Nephi 2:7).

Those who show their willingness to sacrifice as the Lord has commanded will be accepted by Him. He taught in Doctrine and Covenant 97:8: “All … who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me” (D&C 97:8).

Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught: 
“We are still commanded to sacrifice, but not by shedding blood of animals. Our highest sense of sacrifice is achieved as we make ourselves more sacred or holy. This we do by our obedience to the commandments of God. Thus, the laws of obedience and sacrifice are indelibly intertwined. … As we comply with these and other commandments, something wonderful happens to us. … We become more sacred and holy—[more] like our Lord!” (“Lessons from Eve,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 88).

I love what Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:

“Real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!” 

It is my hope and prayer that each of us, and especially myself, can place the parts of ourselves, the natural man, the animal, upon the altar and let go of our sins. I know that the Savior has already paid the price to have our sins be consumed and to purify us so that we can be clean. I know that as we sacrifice whatever it is that the Lord asks of us, --even our favorite sins-- that we will be strengthened and perfected. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Slump I Never Expected


In July, I self-published a non-fiction ebook called The 12 Days of Christmas. I worked on it for four years. I was obsessed with it for four years. I loved it, then hated it, for four years. I edited close to 500 pictures for four years. I pulled my hair out and drove my family nuts May through July, while I educated myself on the self-publication process.

And then...there it was, online July 9, 2015: THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE. (my telling of our 20+ years of doing a wonderful Christmas project. If you have kids and want to have an adventure this holiday season, check it out. For Nook readers, the book is HERE)

It was a four-year pregnancy with a three-month delivery. It was my fourth baby. We celebrated with dinner out and my favorite wine.

The next day, I got up and didn't know what to do with myself.

It's a lag that's gone on for two months now.

Yes, I'm marketing the book and getting some interviews and doing give-aways and all that. I'm mainly attending to a bunch of emails. But it's not the same. The creative process for this endeavor is over.  And it's very strange. Not having a "project" feels like I'm walking around with only one arm. 

I've asked myself more than once recently, What did I do before I starting working on this book?  I have to admit, I don't remember. I was four years younger, so my memory has probably deteriorated a bit.

I just know I now have hours of TV options in the evening. My Saturdays are suddenly open. I'm not up 'til two a.m. anymore trying to write a tutorial about how to make a snowflake out of Q-tips.  Life is just so different when you don't have a monkey (although beloved) on your back.

I think I'm in mourning. Though I'm certainly busy with regular day activities, I feel like a dear friend has moved away.

I'm sure this feeling will pass. I'm directing myself take to new tasks. I'm making a baby quilt for our first grand child. I reorganized my craft room. I'm finally sorting through all the paperwork on my desk, stuff I haven't looked at in two years. I'm going to read Jen Hatmaker's new book, For The Love. I'm beginning to plan Thanksgiving.

Life will move on, and eventually I believe I will no longer feel this unexpected loss in my life. I still write for three blogs, and I have a novel (I wrote in 1984) I haven't looked at in six years. Who knows what the next four years will bring.

I'm simply grateful I can check one thing off my bucket list: publish my book.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Faith Precedes Miracles: My Adoption Journey

by Katy White

Six months ago, I was blessed to adopt my second child. This is a very intimate post, but I've been asked by a lot of loved ones about our adoption journey, so be prepared for something long and personal. 

The story of how we found our son is pretty amazing to us. Last year when we knew we wanted to adopt again, we looked at a lot of options to do so, including going through various adoption websites and agencies. In the end, we had a strong feeling that we shouldn't do any of those things but should instead try spreading the word through social media. We prayed to be guided on how to do that, and in mid-December, a friend texted me telling me that she'd seen something on Facebook about an adoption awareness challenge. My husband and I talked it over and felt like we should do it.

On January 1st, we started a 60 day social media challenge, where we (along with other hopeful adoptive parents) posted a picture with some information about us on all our social media platforms. Every day had a different focus--our home, our favorite foods, our most cherished traditions, etc. It was difficult to make every day informative, fun, and uniquely us, and I spent a lot of time on every post (a lot of time.)  We got a great response from our friends and family, and it meant a lot to us to see people sharing our posts in support of us. 

On day 36, a friend from an old ward (church congregation) shared one of my posts with her followers. Shortly after she posted, a woman replied telling my friend to have us reach out to her husband. 

Interestingly, the woman who responded was the daughter of our bishop and my visiting teaching companion in an old ward, the same ward where my friend still lives. The woman who responded is married to an attorney who facilitates adoptions for Marshallese families who live in the States (about 10% of the Marshallese population lives in and around Arkansas; the attorney served his mission in the Marshall Islands, so he speaks the language fluently and knows the people and their culture very well). Oddly enough, my old VT companion had actually mentioned him to me back when we were doing fertility treatments, but I didn't think twice about it at the time. My friend's referral couldn't have been more timely.

We spoke to the attorney on February 26th, and he told us that he had some placements to make soon and that we could be chosen by a birth mom within a month (which we didn't even remotely believe--we'd been in the praying-for-a-baby business for too long). But then three weeks later (March 14th), we got a phone call saying a birth mom had picked us and was due in a month. We were floored, and I can't begin to explain how excited and happy we felt. But almost immediately afterwards, I was struck with almost crippling anxiety that I couldn't shake. I was terrified this anxiety was a sign from Heavenly Father that we shouldn't adopt. I'd never felt real anxiety before, and it was awful. I couldn't sleep or focus on anything. I wanted to move forward, and when I fasted and prayed about doing so, I would feel peace instantly. But then it would be replaced with overwhelming anxiety again. I didn't know what to do.

All the while, I had this strong feeling in the back of my mind that I can't really explain, but it was essentially this: E (our daughter) was the child of my hope; my next would be the child of my faith. With E, my mom, who passed away when I was little, appeared to multiple members of the birth family (and I look just like her, so they recognized me instantly when they found our profile). There was no question about the Lord's will for any of us. But with this...I was afraid of making a mistake. I wasn't looking for another miracle, just an answer to my prayers, but the constant feelings of panic were obscuring my ability to receive that answer.  

After about three or four days of this, I felt prompted to call a dear friend who has dealt with anxiety for years. I told her everything I was feeling, and after she listened to me, she said, "I don't know if this is your baby or not, but I can tell you this: the Lord doesn't work in anxiety." 

Immediately, I felt the Spirit so strongly, the anxiety disappeared. It was an unquestionable confirmation that her words were true. I felt like I could see and think through things with complete clarity, and suddenly, the opportunity we were being presented with felt incredible and exciting again. When my husband and I talked and prayed that night, it was so obvious to us that everything about this situation was a direct answer to our prayers. We had felt we needed to do a social media effort instead of going through an agency. We had been led to a challenge that led a friend of ours to share a post, which in turn led us to our attorney, who led us to our birth mom. Everything about the situation was the result of very specific prayers, not just by us, but by our loved ones. It felt perfectly right.

The next day, we reached out to our attorney and told him we wanted to proceed.
By the end of the following week, we got the phone call that our birth mom had gone into labor three weeks early! After a full day of scrambling to get our last doctor's appointments and paperwork signed off, we packed up and were on a plane with our daughter the next morning to Arkansas, where our birth mom and baby were. Our daughter couldn't have been sweeter or more patient the whole day, despite the unholy hour of our wake-up and departure. We were all filled with a nervous excitement. 

When we finally walked into the hospital room and laid eyes on our son, the Spirit in the room was undeniable. I knew my baby, knew his soul. In that moment, I knew I'd been looking for and waiting for HIM, not just for a baby. It was like a missing puzzle piece was finally put in place. I just knew

After placement was official, I reached out to my friend who had connected us with our attorney. She told me how happy she was, and she told me her side of the story. In her words: 
This quote has been on our wall for the last 8 years. I've always been a firm believer that simple things make a big difference. I try to follow through on promptings I get to do good, but honestly, I have about a 65% follow through rate.  
These past months our friends were hoping to adopt and I felt prompted to pray with all my might and repost their message on my accounts. That led to a comment which I followed through on and a few FB conversations and now my sweet friend has a baby in her arms (obviously they had to do much more than that but my role was easy). Moral of the story: God knows we are imperfect. He knows we often fail. But often He prompts us to do small and simple things to bring about miracles...even if we only have a 65% follow through rate.

In private, she shared a little more of the story with me, including a comment that profoundly struck me. She said she felt my mom was watching over this baby, just as she was for my daughter. Then she said that she felt there was a Relief Society of sisters on the other side of the veil from all nations watching over us (and people in our situations). The truth of her words speaks to my soul.
Miracles happen. They have happened to me. In every way, I know that my baby boy was intended to be a part of my family (and I won't get into all of those reasons). He brings so much joy and love to our world. He truly is the child of my faith.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Punk time

By Beckie Carlson

I saw a post on Facebook today where a woman announced she had been married to her husband for 10,547...(or so) days. It caught me off guard. I thought we had moved on to months or years for big stuff like that. I did make me think though, what if we did keep track of everything in days or hours or even minutes. I wonder if we would be more conscious of how we spent our time?

A week isn't such a big deal to spend on a project. But what if we said we spent 168 hours doing something. Much more impressive. Looking back on my life, I had to wonder how much more impressive my accomplishments would look/feel if I changed the measurement device. These are all approximate.....Enjoy:

I was pregnant for 38,880 hours of my life.

I was married for 170,820 hours.

I did laundry for 2600 hours.

I went to school (college) for 5460 hours.

I was in the kitchen for 54,600 hours.

I didn't want to add up the hours on Facebook or other pointless social media because I was afraid I would go into a severe depression and jump off something high.

I also didn't add up the hours I've spent at the would be embarrassing. I don't even know the hours my gym is open. I feel more like I should write the money I spend on my membership off as a donation. I pay, but I get nothing out of it.

When it comes down to it, I don't think the time we spend doing something is really the point. I'm much more concerned with the quality of how my time is spent. I may have spent way too many hours/days/weeks watching movies, but I was usually with my kids and we were laughing together. I may have spent an obscene amount of time reading, but now I am extremely well versed and seemingly clever. I may have stayed up for hours watching netflix, but now I'm...well, tired. I don't think there is really a benefit to that one, except I do leg lifts to justify it.

How ever you spend your time, it is yours. It's really all we have, til it's gone. So, use it!

Cause I said so.

Photo credit:

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Perfection, I must have prefection!

By Lacey Gunter

As my kids and I wandered the parking lot of the local, hip shopping center hosting a chalk art festival this weekend, I was fascinated by things people could do with several pieces of chalk and a parking spot. You can look at the pictures in this post to see what I mean. It was beautiful, it was amazing and quite frankly it was intimidating.

 At the center of the shopping plaza they were handing out a piece of chalk to whoever wanted to draw on the sidewalk areas not being used by the artists. My children gladly jumped at the chalk and immediately took to the sidewalks leaving their little mark on the plaza. I reluctantly grabbed a piece of chalk and went and sat by where my kids were drawing.  I thought about drawing something.  But after seeing such masterpieces in such vivid colors and detail, I looked at my single color of chalk and shrank at the task.  I racked my brain trying to think of what I could possibly draw that would look nice in just one color. All the while, my kids were relishing in the enjoyment of the moment, with little care as to whether their drawing stacked up to even the scribbles on the sidewalk next to them, let alone the master pieces in the parking lot. Who cares? They were having fun and drawing from their heart and that is all that really mattered to them.

 Why couldn't I be as free as them and draw because it was fun? Sure, I still had on my work clothes from earlier that day, but I could have at least manged to squat long enough to scribble out my name in fancy letters or some cute doodle.

Ah, perfectionism it is such a double edged sword. You can bet all those artists who spent hours, maybe days, slaving over their masterpieces in a parking lot stall were seeking for perfection. It is often how such amazing talent and such beautiful pieces of art come to be. And, yet, that same force which can drive an individual to do such amazing things can also cripple them from ever starting the task if it seems too difficult or they feel inferior to their competitors.

Does this ever happen to you with your writing? It does sometimes for me. If I don't quite know how to make a story great, I often have a difficult time getting myself to start on it.  I can also spend a week slaving over a single sentence, unwilling to move on because I know it is not perfect like I want it.

Perfectionism can definitely be a barrier sometimes. But it also seems like our ultra competitive, obsession based culture demands it. So how do we cope with this?  I don't have a lot of great answers, but here are few things I tell myself, that help me:

1. Great works of art and writing come in lots of different packages. Not every art that speaks to my soul is done in the same style as a da Vinci.  I can be just as fascinated with a beautifully cartoonish picture book. And a comical and silly chapter book can be just as wonderful to my children as a life changing novel can be to me. So my version of writing doesn't have to look or be like the lastest New York Times bestseller to be worthwhile.

2. It's okay to be by yourself away from the critiquing eyes of others when you want to try something new. You don't have to go to the center of the plaza to attempt a chalk art master piece as long as you are willing to try it out by yourself in the privacy of your own home.  Just be sure to promise yourself you will share your talents later when you are no longer a novice. 

3. Even the masters had to learn to be masters.  Don't look at the ending product of years of study and expect to achieve the same for yourself after only days or weeks. It doesn't mean you couldn't or can't achieve that level of skill, you just have to put in the time and effort.

So what about you? Are any of you MMW's perfectionists when it comes to your writing?  How has it helped you and how do you overcome the struggles? And don't worry, I'm not looking for the perfect answer.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Write Like a Child

Being an English teacher, I get to see thousands of stories pass through my classroom each day. I’ve had stories about Winnie the Pooh and Tigger. I’ve had princesses and Lords of Darkness. I’ve even had an amazingly weird/cool story that was reminiscent of Neil Gaiman.

Although my students may not be the best writers in the world, the potential is there. They are incredibly creative and their imagination has yet to hit the wall of reality. They write what they are feeling and what is going on in their drama filled world. Their love stories are cheesy, yet pure. They write of adventure and heroes like they are really living it. Their hopes and dreams come through the page.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat at my desk at the end of the day, re-reading these stories. They are so inspiring and uplifting. I used to think that teaching writing was a daunting task, but it’s not. Teaching the grammar, spelling, punctuation etc. is the daunting part. But the creativity and stories are already there. They just have to be cleaned up a bit.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I think we should all free write like this. Maybe not all the time, but perhaps every once in a while. Just let go and write what’s in your heart. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Just write!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Sparkling Deck

by Patricia Cates

From where I was sitting that lazy August day, it looked as if fairy dust had been sprinkled all over the deck. The beige paint beneath my lounge chair seemed to be glimmering in the dappled light of a fading sun. At first I assumed it was caused by the way the light was playing on the paint itself, and that the glitter effect was the result of sunlight on some odd peeling paint flecks. Upon closer inspection I realized that there were no sparkles found anywhere else. The phenomenon seemed to be occurring solely under the shade of an old tree growing over the side of our very weathered deck. Perhaps the magical shine had nothing to do with the paint, and everything to do with the tree.
I further theorized that the entire south end, directly beneath this deciduous behemoth of sorts, had been bathed in a wash of some sort of sap. It seemed to be coating the leaves as well. I bent down to swab the deck with a finger to see if I could get some of it on my hands. Sure enough there was a thin, sheer, sticky film. The sparkles transferred easily to my hands. 
I so wanted my kids to see this, but they weren’t there at the moment. (Plus I really needed some eye witnesses to attest that there were REALLY PRETTY SPARKLES on our old deck.) They were down at the beach collecting shells and not due back for an hour. They’d be late if anything. I had only stayed behind to start making dinner. We were leaving at zero dark thirty, and that meant the shadows would no longer be dancing. Magic gone.
I ran and grabbed my iPhone and tried taking photos from numerous angles, but it just wouldn’t translate from eye to screen. No matter what position, or how much I zoomed, the image wouldn’t cooperate. There wasn’t enough light. You truly had to be there. I was so frustrated. I wanted to share the moment with my family, and show them the beauty I had found. If you have ever caught a glimpse of a blanket of snow, when light hits the crystals in just the right way, you surely know of the sparkle effect of which I speak.
I sat back down and decided to just enjoy the solitude and observe. There was a slight breeze and perfect temps. Birds were singing in the trees. (No kidding.) I was just about in a state of bliss when this occurrence got me to thinking about perspective. From another’s view, one sitting here could maybe become angered by the tree sap/sparkles. This could honestly be construed as somewhat of a mess. I sadly wondered if its magic could be denied in an instant, just like that. So with that thought, poof, my wonderful chair lounging spell was broken.
I soon found myself thinking about some imagined, stressed-out homeowner, cussing and complaining about the sticky sap everywhere. For him the tree might not be seen as beneficial for its contribution of fairy dust, but instead a nuisance. For now there would be more sanding to do, an added layer of work. Maybe the tree would have to come out, in order to prevent future unwanted clean-up and costly deck re-staining woes.
Then another type of person entirely came to mind. One who could be so hurried, that they might walk out onto that very same piece of deck, and never take a minute to sit down. That person would miss the magic all together. Sadly, most days that describes me. There’s always something to be done.  On this day I was merely taking a breather from the task at hand…food prep and the wiping down of countertops. I pondered a little further and realized that maybe this moment was just for me and me alone. Perhaps I needed to realize that downtime on a weekend getaway is actually needed and should occur. Most vacations I tend to spend worried about everybody else’s needs instead of decompressing…which is the purpose of getting away.  
The natural fact is…had there not been any light coming through the branches that afternoon, I would have never been able to experience that brief illusion of fairy dust. So there’s something to be said for timing. I just happened to be there at exactly the right time and place. The perspective from the chair I was seated in was of equal importance. It was all in the angle. Just lucky, I guess. Lucky to get me some rare, fresh, sappy sparkling perspective.
So the advice I have garnered from a seated position is this; enjoy your down time. Take whatever time you need to unwind, unplug and chill. Live in the moment. You just might find some magic lying right at your feet. And if you do…don’t get angry. It doesn’t always come in the form we wish.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Help! I Want to Cheat on My Book

by Kasey Tross

You know that thing, where you're working on one book but there's this other, shinier, newer, far-more-enticing story idea that is just BEGGING you to be written?

You're up to your eyeballs in revisions on the same book you've been working on for approximately ninety-three years but at night, when you're about to fall asleep, it's the ideas for the new book that catapult you out of bed and to your notepad, making mad scribbles that you probably won't even understand in the morning.

But that's okay, because you dream about that idea at night, so when you wake up you're grabbing that notepad again, jotting down even more ideas for this fabulous, fun, wonderful book.

Is it just me? No?

Boy, I hope I'm not alone.

This is what I'm dealing with right now. And I have promised myself I need to finish this first book first.

That's all. Just wanted to share.

The End.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Courage to Write

by Jewel Leann Williams

I have a website. Yes, I do. It hasn’t had an update for….well, since December 2014.

I’m paying for the domain and the hosting and everything, and squandering that opportunity.

There’s a reason.

I am terrified of the thing I need to write on my site.

I’ve been feeling for months—years, even—that I need to address a particular topic in my writing. I know that there are people who will be helped by what I have to say. I know that I can research and present facts and points and bring to light things that will honestly help others.

In doing so, however, I will have to admit things I am not ready to admit.

I’ll have to shed a façade that I don’t know if I’m ready to shed.

There are action steps I will have to complete, and the world will be watching.

Okay, that last part—the “world” won’t be watching. I don’t expect that my site will be popular or even particularly well-read. But my world will be watching. They’re gonna be “checking up” on me, or being concerned, or sympathetic, or worried, or… whatever.  That’s not my cuppa.
I'm not at all interested in this scene

So, how do I do it? How do I find the courage to write about this thing that has wound itself around my psyche and grips me so tightly that I can’t think to write much of anything else?   At the same time, I can’t think of the right words to start writing about it. I imagine that’s the fear, and the desire to do it right. To create something that will truly represent what I want to say.

I don’t want to jump the gun and express things in a way that I later regret.

Someone once told me (and my chapter of ANWA) to “write the one truth.” I keep going back to that.

Do we all have “truths” that we struggle with bringing to light?

How do we delve deep within ourselves, and find those uncomfortable places so we can sit there amongst the shards and stones and pick out the gems of truth that we can then polish and make shine for the world to see?

E.B. White said, ““I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.”
That's EB White. They guy who said the thing. 

Sigh. Deep breath. We can do this. I can do this.

Here are a few little tips I’ve gleaned from places on the Interwebs. I’ll include links to stuff, too.

*Experience. Our opinions, our stories, etc., come from our experiences. Remember, people want to hear/read STORIES. Experiences resonate. We don’t even necessarily have to analyze and define what those experiences mean—sometimes letting the reader do that for themselves is what will resonate.

*Here’s a good one, from      (just for the record, I’m not talking about family secrets in my quandary. Not those kind of secrets, or that kind of family, anyway. But it’s good advice anyway.)
“Once a writer is born into a family,” Czselaw Milosz said, “that family is doomed.” We might as well accept it. A writer is expert at the art of revealing what people suppress or perhaps don’t even know they carry. We cut through the masks that people wear. We get down below the skin to the truth of who people are when they’re alone in the dark. Along the way, we’re going to hurt some feelings, perhaps even risk relationships that matter greatly to us, all for the sake of the art.
What’s a family secret you wouldn’t want known? Tell the story of it. Be ruthless. Tell it all, no matter how ugly it is. Feel what it’s like to write close to the bone. You never have to share this with anyone. It’s your choice. But for the sake of everything that you’ll eventually write, you need to feel what it’s like to say the hard things, to lay oneself open, to be honest and direct. Don’t wait. Do it now.
*I don’t know why I find more tips of this sort related to family secrets/family drama, but here’s another one, from
Give yourself permission to be an artist. Allow yourself to see the world through your own eyes without flinching or doubting yourself. Later, if you change your mind about things you wrote, that is fine. You can change everything until it’s published!
*A whole website of writing tools, with, for example, this article about writing about “sacred” things:

So. There are some ideas.

Will I ever find the courage to start this writing series I’ve been stewing about for so long? I don’t know. I hope that I can dredge up the courage to do so.

Do you have something you’ve been dying to write, but just can’t seem to? Or something that scared you to death to write, and then you DID? Share your thoughts, tips, or writing ghost stories in the comments.  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Nuance and Neutrality (or, why your favorite news outlet isn’t as unbiased as you think)

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

Here’s a little pet peeve of mine (and I promise it comes around to writing advice, not just political complaining): All the loudest people on any side of the political spectrum are always entirely certain (loudly, remember) that their media of choice is far superior to those others’ media. Because of course their media is brilliantly unbiased while the others’ is simply packed full of lies.

I’m going to break some bad news to you, and I will admit that it’s possibly more cynical than necessary. But here it is: No news reporting is really all that unbiased anymore. (If it ever was, which I doubt.)

Now, originally when I planned to write this, I was going to carefully sift through news articles from a variety of sources and shared quotes to prove the point. But there were two problems with this: 1. I was unwilling to put that much research into it. 2. My purpose here is not to complain about news media (well, except peripherally).

So what is the point? The same sneaky techniques that most news outlets use to subtly nudge their readers in a given direction can also be very useful for us as fiction writers.* Here are some suggestions:

1. Do you carefully consider whose words you use? I recently read some reports in which there were several people/groups both for and against a certain event. Now, the obvious thing to do would be to only tell one side of the story (which, in fact, several of the reports did). But that’s pretty clearly biased.

Here’s the sneakier thing to do (which at least one report that I read did). Person A and Person B are against the event. Person A is a fairly reasonable individual with some informative, thoughtful points. Spend about three sentences on him. Person B is liable to insult everyone within hearing range every time he opens his mouth. Spend at least three paragraphs on him. By the end of the article, your readers will be for the event and think everyone against it is a horrible person.

How does this apply to fiction? You can lead your readers by who says what about something. When a likable person likes something or someone, you don’t have to say, “This thing is likable.” Your readers intuitively feel it. Here’s a perfect fictional example: Sherlock Holmes. Generally speaking, Holmes himself is sort of an arrogant, egotistical twit (yes, he’s brilliant, so he is at least somewhat justified in his self-opinion, but it’s still arrogant). So why do we like him? There are various reasons, of course, but one of those reasons is because Watson likes him.** And Watson is rather likable.

Now, if you want to mislead your readers, you can be really sneaky. You can make someone seem likable and then show them liking something that eventually will turn out bad. Or you can have a truly likable person just be terribly mistaken. There are lots of ways to manipulate readers’ emotions based simply on the face time that you give a character, how readers are likely to feel about that character, and how that character feels about other things.

2. Do you use words with the desired nuance? Denotation (the strict meaning of a word) is not everything; connotation and nuance are really useful in leading the unconscious emotions of a reader.

Here’s a basic example that comes up quite frequently. Every time a news article interviews someone, they have to give a speech tag. Consider the following speech tags: said, claimed, alleged, stated. Each of these suggests a certain level of truth. Try this:

“He alleged that the woman stole his bike.”
“He stated that the woman stole his bike.”
“He claimed that the woman stole his bike.”

How much do you believe the unnamed man in these sentences? The man who stated something is more believable than the man who claimed it or, even worse, alleged it. “Said” is generally the most value-neutral speech tag, but you can use the others to suggest a conclusion to your readers.

Here’s another example, from a book I recently read. Consider the difference between these two statements:

“She hasn’t spoken to me for a week.”
“We haven’t talked for a week.”

I confess, the book I read used the first sentence, and it took me about three pages to realize that it wasn’t because she was mad at the protagonist. It was just because they’d both been busy. Because when the author wrote sentence #1, she actually meant sentence #2. “Spoken” came across as formal and cold, and of course the directionality of the sentence contributed to a feeling that the character was angry.

There is far more to word choice than simply definition, and a sneaky and subtle writer will take advantage of that.

So, learn some lessons from the news! And go out and create better fiction.

* Look at how virtuously I didn’t say anything about news reporters also writing fiction!
** Fyi, I completely stole this example from the Writing Excuses folks. But I think it’s so perfect that it stuck in my brain.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Gotta go back,... back,... back to school again!

By Lacey Gunter

Twas the night before the start of school and all through the house
all the creatures were stirring, even the computer mouse.

New outfits were laid out on the couch with care
in hopes they'd be worn with a confident air.

The children were restlessly chatting in bed  
About teachers and recess and the day ahead.

And mom in the kitchen filling lunches and packs,
while dad checks his bank account, hoping it's black.

When finally silence and sleep fill the air,
no sooner do alarm clocks begin to blare.

The sleepy heads stumble and arise with a clatter,
Then quickly and nimbly they began to scatter,

With showers and breakfasts and running around
searching for shoes that are ne'er to found.

Pictures are taken and vans loaded tight,
then off they all zoom like a jet taking flight.

The school is a bustle, the tension is thick,
The kids are all anxious and start to feel sick

Till their teachers all smile and wave with a knack,
"Happy first day to all, and to all welcome back!"

Friday, September 4, 2015

Mission Call!

 By Nikki Wilson

I'm interrupting this blog post to bring you some very exciting news: My daughter received her mission call for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints!  She is going to the Chile Vina Del Mar Mission Spanish speaking!
She is so excited. Mom is already missing her and she's not even gone yet. Now it's time to get her ready to serve. If anyone has tips for getting a missionary ready to go, let me know! Like tips on really comfortable, quality shoes that are appropriate for a mission would be much appreciated.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Helping Our Children Become Better Writers

by Patricia Cates

We are several weeks into school now, and surely all of the mom's out there are seeing the homework start to pour in. I posted some writing helps for teens a few weeks ago, and wanted to make sure and get tips out there for parents of younger children.

Hopefully the advice you find below will help boost your enthusiasm and maybe garner some fresh approaches. Actually the info is quite applicable for middle and high school students as well. Some kids are born with a natural grasp for language and words, and others find putting pen to paper torturous. Either way our children will surely benefit from some extra help from us!

From the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE):

Things to Do at Home

  1. Build a climate of words at home. Go places and see things with your child, then talk about what has been seen, heard, smelled, tasted, touched. The basis of good writing is good talk, and younger children especially grow into stronger control of language when loving adults -- particularly parents -- share experiences and rich talk about those experiences.
  2. Let children see you write often. You're both a model and a teacher. If children never see adults write, they gain an impression that writing occurs only at school. What you do is as important as what you say. Have children see you writing notes to friends, letters to business firms, perhaps stories to share with the children. From time to time, read aloud what you have written and ask your children their opinion of what you've said. If it's not perfect, so much the better. Making changes in what you write confirms for the child that revision is a natural part of writing -- which it is.
  3. Be as helpful as you can in helping children write. Talk through their ideas with them; help them discover what they want to say. When they ask for help with spelling, punctuation, and usage, supply that help. Your most effective role is not as a critic but as a helper. Rejoice in effort, delight in ideas, and resist the temptation to be critical.
  4. Provide a suitable place for children to write. A quiet corner is best, the child's own place, if possible. If not, any flat surface with elbow room, a comfortable chair, and a good light will do.
  5. Give the child, and encourage others to give, the gifts associated with writing:
    • pens of several kinds
    • pencils of appropriate size and hardness
    • a desk lamp
    • pads of paper, stationery, envelopes -- even stamps
    • a booklet for a diary or daily journal (Make sure that the booklet is the child's private property; when children want to share, they will.)
    • a dictionary appropriate to the child's age and needs. Most dictionary use is for checking spelling, but a good dictionary contains fascinating information on word origins, synonyms, pronunciation, and so forth.
    • a thesaurus for older children. This will help in the search for the "right" word.
    • erasers or "white-out" liquid for correcting errors that the child wants to repair without rewriting.
  6. Encourage (but do not demand) frequent writing. Be patient with reluctance to write. "I have nothing to say" is a perfect excuse. Recognize that the desire to write is a sometime thing. There will be times when a child "burns" to write; others, when the need is cool. But frequency of writing is important to develop the habit of writing.
  7. Praise the child's efforts at writing. Forget what happened to you in school and resist the tendency to focus on errors of spelling, punctuation, and other mechanical aspects of writing. Emphasize the child's successes. For every error the child makes, there are dozens of things he or she has done well.
  8. Share letters from friends and relatives. Treat such letters as special events. Urge relatives and friends to write notes and letters to the child, no matter how brief. Writing is especially rewarding when the child gets a response. When thank-you notes are in order, after a holiday especially, sit with the child and write your own notes at the same time. Writing ten letters (for ten gifts) is a heavy burden for the child; space the work and be supportive.
  9. Encourage the child to write for information, free samples, and travel brochures.
  10. Be alert to occasions when the child can be involved in writing, for example, helping with grocery lists, adding notes at the end of parents' letters, sending holiday and birthday cards, taking down telephone messages, writing notes to friends, helping plan trips by writing for information, drafting notes to school for parental signature, writing notes to letter carriers and other service persons, and preparing invitations to family get-togethers.
Writing for real purposes is rewarding, and the daily activities of families present many opportunities for purposeful writing. Involving your child may take some coaxing, but it will be worth your patient effort.

Things to Do for School Writing Programs

  1. Ask to see the child's writing, either the writing brought home or the writing kept in folders at school. Encourage the use of writing folders, both at home and at school. Most writing should be kept, not thrown away. Folders are important means for helping both teachers and children see progress in writing skill.
  2. Be affirmative about the child's efforts in school writing. Recognize that for every error a child makes, he or she does many things right. Applaud the good things you see. The willingness to write is fragile. Your optimistic attitude toward the child's efforts is vital to strengthening his or her writing habit.
  3. Be primarily interested in the content, not the mechanics of expression. It's easy for many adults to spot misspellings, faulty word usage, and shaky punctuation. Perfection in these areas escapes most adults, so don't demand it of children. Sometimes teachers -- for the same reason -- will mark only a few mechanical errors, leaving others for another time. What matters most in writing is words, sentences, and ideas. Perfection in mechanics develops slowly. Be patient.
  4. Find out if children are given writing instruction and practice in writing on a regular basis. Daily writing is the ideal; once a week is not often enough. If classes are too large in your school, understand that it may not be possible for teachers to provide as much writing practice as they or you would like. Insist on smaller classes -- no more than 25 in elementary schools and no more than four classes of 25 for secondary school English teachers.
  5. Ask if every teacher is involved in helping youngsters write better. Worksheets, blank-filling exercises, multiple-choice tests, and similar materials are sometimes used to avoid having children write. If children and youth are not being asked to write sentences and paragraphs about science, history, geography, and the other school subjects, they are not being helped to become better writers. All teachers have responsibility to help children improve their writing skills.
  6. See if youngsters are being asked to write in a variety of forms (letters, essays, stories, etc.) for a variety of purposes (to inform, persuade, describe, etc.), and for a variety of audiences (other students, teachers, friends, strangers, relatives, business firms). Each form, purpose, and audience demands differences of style, tone, approach, and choice of words. A wide variety of writing experiences is critical to developing effective writing.
  7. Check to see if there is continuing contact with the imaginative writing of skilled authors. While it's true that we learn to write by writing, we also learn to write by reading. The works of talented authors should be studied not only for ideas but also for the writing skills involved. Good literature is an essential part of any effective writing program.
  8. Watch out for "the grammar trap." Some people may try to persuade you that a full understanding of English grammar is needed before students can express themselves well. Some knowledge of grammar is useful, but too much time spent on study of grammar steals time from the study of writing. Time is much better spent in writing and conferring with the teacher or other students about each attempt to communicate in writing.
  9. Encourage administrators to see that teachers of writing have plenty of supplies -- writing paper, teaching materials, duplicating and copying machines, dictionaries, books about writing, and classroom libraries of good books.
  10. Work through your PTA and your school board to make writing a high priority. Learn about writing and the ways youngsters learn to write. Encourage publication of good student writing in school newspapers, literary journals, local newspapers, and magazines. See that the high school's best writers are entered into the NCTE Achievement Awards in Writing Program, the Scholastic Writing Awards, or other writing contests. Let everyone know that writing matters to you.
By becoming an active participant in your child's education as a writer, you will serve not only your child but other children and youth as well. You have an important role to play, and we encourage your involvement.


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