Thursday, June 30, 2016

What is a Clean Read?

by Katy White

I recently came across a post from Blink YA Editor, Jillian Manning, about Clean YA. She had a lot of good thoughts about it, all of which I found helpful. And it got me thinking about how everyone sees "clean" literature as something different. It also got me thinking about the purpose of literature.

I took a couple of theater classes at BYU with a pretty popular professor who explained that the purpose of theater was to elicit thought and cause growth in the viewer. Theater is an experience that should make us learn something about the human condition, he said. I found this to be a profound way to look at all entertainment. Shakespeare, for instance, is one bawdy dude. But every tragedy teaches me something and every comedy makes me smile. I have no problem watching or reading Shakespeare. I feel like I grow as a person through the experience, despite the cursing, violence, and even the innuendo.

Not everyone agrees. At a meeting with my writer's group, a friend shared that a woman from church won't let her kids read or watch anything that has content outside of the For The Strength of Youth pamphlet. This woman feels like books should reinforce gospel standards and bring someone closer to Heavenly Father, and anything that isn't up to gospel standards doesn't do that.

So...what does this mean? Is one of us right and one of us wrong? If a book has cursing in it, can it still be clean? What if a book shows teens drinking (particularly with negative consequences)? Or features a gambling addict? One of our core beliefs is that of redemption. Can a strong message of redemption or hope or recovery teach gospel principles while still showing some of the seedier elements necessitating that redemption, like the story of the Prodigal Son?

I don't have any answers here, just questions, so I'd love your thoughts. What makes a "clean read"? What is the purpose of reading, in your mind? All comments are welcome!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Levels of Doom

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

I have been stuck stuck stuck on several WIPs for . . . longer than I care to admit. I’ve been avoiding them in every way possible—Facebook and games on my phone, email and book-reading, and of course the always available mountains of laundry, dishes, and household projects. Pretty much ALL THE THINGS. I’ve been rather aimless in my writing, not to mention extremely dissatisfied.

My mom was an avid crocheter.* When she died, she left me boxes and boxes of yarn. One of her favorite things to crochet was beautiful afghans; she made and gave away dozens. But she also loved crocheting bookmarks. Friends, family, and random strangers have all received bookmarks. And after that, probably more random strangers too.**

When I inherited all her yarn, I started out making an afghan for me and my husband. It was to be for our wedding, which occurred about four months after she died. . . . I finally finished the afghan for our second anniversary.

Since then, I mostly make stuffed animals.

Which leads me (finally) to the title of this post: levels of doom. Some projects are just easier and faster to finish than others. Afghans take longer; stuffed animals are shorter. Afghans are a higher level of Doom.*** Both, however, are generally less emotionally and mentally draining than writing.**** Writing projects also have levels of Doom, though: little Doom like blog posts, or higher levels of Doom, like novels.

Lots of Doom was involved here, trust me.
Sometimes we don’t have the desire or tolerance for the higher levels of Doom. I love writing novels; some part of me feels like it’s what I’m supposed to do with my writing. But there’s another part of me that derives immense satisfaction from the thrill of actually finishing something—and not taking two or three years to do it (hence the stuffed animals). And it doesn’t have to just be one or the other, it can be a little of both, with something else entirely on the side.

So if your writing goals are getting you down (as they were me), I highly recommend asking yourself some questions:

~ Where are those goals coming from? (Are they external or internal? What is influencing them?)

~ Do they inherently matter to you or are they pressured from external sources? (I found that I had this weird inflated notion that the only kind of thing that mattered was for me to write books. This wasn’t true; it was just something I’d always assumed.)
See? Less Doom!

~ Is this the best time to pursue them? (Are there other things that are more important right now? To everything there is a season, and all that jazz.)

~ Will taking a break and focusing on different goals give you some renewed joy and energy? (Lately I’ve found that I’m very excited about teaching a year-long writing class for teens at my homeschool co-op, and I’ve remembered lately how much I love editing, and I’m especially glad to be reading good books and hanging out with my kiddos.)

I think it can be scary to admit that maybe what you were pursuing doesn’t matter as much as you thought, but it can be freeing too. At least, I hope so. I’ll let you know how it goes.

* Apparently this is not a word, but what exactly does one call someone who crochets?
** If memory serves, we even gave them away at her funeral as well, per her request.
*** No, not real doom; I don’t expect the world to end or anything if I don’t finish my afghan on time (although my mom is probably sitting up there on the clouds in heaven and shaking her crochet hook at me). I just mean the emotional and physical energy and the amount of time devoted to something.
**** Unless you’re inventing your own pattern because you’re insane and you just really don’t like the alligator patterns you find online, but that’s a digression.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Your First Draft Will Be Ugly

Being the exception is tempting.

When people tell you your first draft will be ugly, you might nod while internally thinking, NOT MINE. Mine will be the exception.

Maybe it will be.

But here’s the thing. These people aren’t just random strangers on the street. Here are some of the people telling you your first draft will be ugly: 

And they all kind of know what they’re talking about.

I know, I know. But you want to be the exception. You want to go your own way. That’s great. Power to ya!

But here’s a crazy idea: Try it.

Try writing ugly. I guarantee that you will write faster, you will write more, and therefore you will get in a whole lot more practice. You will then become better, and eventually your first drafts will be the exception. Your first drafts won’t be quite as ugly anymore.

Point is, you’re a writer. You need to write.

I recently attended an ANWA writing retreat. In two and a half days I wrote 24,823 words. I even won a nifty prize. I was shocked. I never imagined that to be possible. For someone else—anyone else—yes. But for me? And here’s the kicker. Around 20,000 of those words won’t be in my novel. Another novel, or short story? Maybe.

I know you might be thinking, what a waste then. It's tempting to think that way, to turn it into a defeat, but all of that writing was practice. Practice I had no idea I desperately needed. 

It was around those 20,000 words that I finally found my character’s voice. I found my writing style and now writing is fun again. It’s not painful knowing the words are ugly. It’s almost exciting knowing that I’m a rebel against my inner critic and that I’m writing despite the ugliness. I’m writing!

It'll kind of felt like jumping off the high dive for the first time in slow motion: your stomach in knots as you wait in line; staring at your toes and the ground, anything but the actual high dive; the climb to the top; inching your way to the edge; feeling it wobble beneath you; the thought of turning back blaring in your mind; letting yourself fall and the adrenaline rush as you plunge into the cool water; the overwhelming desire to jump again and again. 

Once you get past the editor in you, you won't remember why it was terrifying or why your fears kept you from doing something so rewarding. You love writing. Bad or good, writing is an adrenaline rush all its own.  

If you spend 75% of your writing time editing, you’re an editor. 

Write, create, then edit.

Be a rebel against your inner critic. Write. Write ugly. Write good. Write gibberish. Write that ugly first draft.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Power of Reflection: 5 Minutes That Will Change Your Life

My daily 5-minute journal. No, I'm not living in Paris.

Last week I gave you some Practical Ways to Turn Your Goals Into Reality, and this week I'd like to expound on one concept I mentioned: reflection.

John C. Maxwell recommended that we spend about 5 minutes at the end of every day jotting down a few notes about our day. Let's talk about that some more.

Mine typically consists of:

- a general order of the day's major events
- how I felt about how the day/events went overall (ugh, YAY!, sigh, etc.)
- what I think might need to be changed

This little bit of time to step back from my day and reflect has made a huge difference for me. No longer do I feel like I'm stumbling through each day and spinning my wheels on my goals. Now I feel as though I'm living each day intentionally, with the processes in place to make the next day even better than the one before.

So how does this work on a practical level? Let me give you some examples.

Here is my entry from one day this week:

Stressed out midday- girls bored and whiny. NEW RULE- if you whine you're bored, I will give you 3 fun ideas for what to do. If you still say no, I will give you a 4th less fun idea you MUST do.

Hard to do Reading Time- friends call or kids get involved in other stuff- maybe move RT to right after lunch, no later than 2- gives kids time to play afterward & me time to fold laundry & make dinner.

When kids start to yell- "I can see we're having angry/frustrated feelings here, but this conversation needs to come down to a normal talking voice or you will have to put stones in the jar. (if the jar gets filled to a certain level by Friday then we don't go out for ice cream)

Jar is working great!

So what did I do?

1. I identified problem spots & patterns (and obviously, just the act of identifying those spots almost immediately led me to a way to solve them).

2. Jotted down ideas to solve problem spots. 

3. Celebrated little victories.

Had I not done this, I would have gone to bed that night knowing that parts of my day had been good, and parts had been frustrating, but I would have carried on the next day without giving those things a second thought.

With this less-than-5-minute process each evening, however, I was able to face the next day with a better plan than I'd had the day before, which got me excited for another chance.

Here are some issues that have been solved this week thanks to my little nightly routine:

1. I was able to nip 3 different "I'm bored," whines in the bud.

2. My kids were able to do a full hour of Reading Time AND play with their friends in the afternoon (while I folded laundry and prepared dinner).

3. I was able to stop a few humdinger fights before they started with only one sentence.

4. I made a new plan for our Friday night movie night next week since I realized the ill effects of starting it too late.

5. I made a new rule that it is the responsibility of whoever is doing dishes to remind everyone to clear their own plates, and if plate is not cleared by the time dish-doer is finished, then plate's owner will have to wash it themselves.

6. I learned that at a certain time of the month I need to ditch my writing schedule and go to bed early with a good book. And I will be okay with that.

All of these things have to do with those little speed bumps that throw us off during the day, and while I'm pretty sure I'll never have a day that's totally smooth-sailing, at least I'm addressing some of the bigger frustrations and building a framework to deal with them.

So this week I challenge you to take just 5 minutes at the end of your day to jot down some notes and reflect: What stopped you from having the day you wanted to have? What can you change to make it better? Where did you succeed today? How can you continue that success in the future?

Harness the power of reflection!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

WIFYR Class Summary: Notes on editing

By Lacey Gunter

I attended the Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers (WIFYR) 2016 conference last week. Probably the biggest appeal for writing conferences is networking, with agents, editors and other writers. This is the main reason I choose to go to conferences. But that take away is not something you can share with readers of a blog. What I can share with you, it the other main reason to got to writing conferences, motivation and instruction on improving your craft.

One of the classes I chose to attend at the conference last week was about revising and editing your manuscript, taught by Trent Reedy, author of Words in the Dust. I first have to say that Trent was a very entertaining teacher. He clearly knew how to engage an audience. Here are some of the nuggets I gleaned from his class.

The first thing that Trent emphasized was that the biggest process in creating a book is the editing.  But you can't edit something that has not been written, so the first crucial step is always to write. Get something down, even if it stinks. Don't let you internal editor slow you down and interrupt the process, just go with the flow and get the story down on paper.

Once you have completed you manuscript, the next step is to take a little time away from the manuscript. Take a vacation, pick up something new to work on or catch up on all the chores you put off while writing, whatever. That time away will help you gain a fresh perspective on the process.

Once you are ready to dive in, always work on the highest priority task first. He related this to his time serving in Afghanistan with the National Guard.  When opening up a new area in Afghanistan for operations, you don't go building the mess hall first. First you set up a security perimeter so that all you soldiers don't die trying to get started on every other task that has to happen. It is the same with editing a book, take care of the big picture issues first or you'll probably just end up wasting your time doing a bunch of small task that get deleted or written over later.

The highest priority in revision and editing is taking care of the action plot.  Does the story line follow a reasonable story arc? Try to map out the action that happens in your book. Does it have a clear beginning that sets up the conflict? Does the middle section build intensity based on the problems or obstacles the main character has to overcome? Is there a clear climax and a satisfying resolution? All of these should be clearly established and worked out before moving on.

The next priority should be emotional plot. How is the main character reacting and growing based on the action taking place in the plot? What is happening on the inside of the character? Is the character being stretched to grow? Will the result be satisfying to the reader?

At this point you can work on development of the minor characters and making sure you tie up loose ends. Book mapping may help with this. Trent suggested every author should work out a system that works best for him or her. The writing blog Fable and Fancy does a good job discussing how to book map here.

Finally, after you've worked out all the big plot issues and all the little subplot and character issues, it's time to look at sentence structure, flow of the writing and grammar.  How does the structure of your writing accentuate what is going on in the book. For example, if you are doing an action scene, don't write long sentence after long draw out sentence. Make them short and choppy and quickly moving to the next one. Reading your manuscript out loud can help with this. Trent also suggested Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft by Brooks Landon for help. For help with grammar he suggested Warriner's English and Grammar Composition by John E. Warriner.

In all of these steps of the process, it helps to get feedback from an outside reviewer, preferably many reviewers who are experienced in writing and editing books.

Well hopefully that gives a little guidance in revising and editing your next manuscript. Good luck my friends and write on!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Enduring to the End (of Summer)

by Patricia Cates

Life has been so crazy busy that my writing has come to an abrupt halt. Actually since spring break I've been stalled. It has just felt like summer as the April and May calendars are always ultra filled. Why do the schools cram all of the end-of-year choir tours, and concerts and sports and awards banquets and field trips into a six week period? Our family has been extra busy as we have had people flying here to visit and graduations and weddings and vacations. We have had girl’s camp and youth conference (which are good things.) We are going to car shows and cross country practice and tennis camp and getting summer jobs and doing laundry and yard work and finding broken things that need repairing.
Life is grand and I cannot complain. I am blessed to live in a wonderful country and have so many opportunities.

But…sometimes I think it would be really nice to have two weeks off of mom status to work on my book.

That's all I'm saying.

Two weeks straight. Then it would be done?

While I was pondering this wonderfully busy time of year, I thought of how we are told by our church leaders to endure to the end. Monday was only the first day of summer. I love summer! Shouldn’t it be fun and relaxing? It certainly should not be something to endure.

It will fly by.

Free time will come.


I wonder if our kids think we are crazy when we use words like survive and endure. Can they comprehend what that actually means? Or do we sound overly dramatic?

If they play sports can they endure until the end of the game? Can they finish the race?

If they play an instrument can they endure their lessons? Can they endure the recital?

If kids are antsy can they endure sitting through sacrament?

If they are teens can they endure waiting until they are 16 to date?  

Can they endure summer?

How about if we just say “Enjoy the Moment!”

Because....moments are fleeting.

And that sounds more positive. Kids can easily survive all of those things. But they will all take mental and/or physical endurance. Especially when it's 93 degrees in the shade.

The most important thing is that the kids are happy and enjoying summer. My book can wait. This is their time to be young and for me to enjoy being a part of it all. They will be grown and gone before I know it. Maybe I secretly feel a bit envious as they seem to have a lot of spare hours in their day to just chillax. And do nothing!

But maybe that's what summer should be. Maybe I just need to channel my inner 13 year old and go lock myself in my room for five hours and write.

Or just chillax and let that book write itself.

Ahhhh…that feels better already.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


By Kathy Lipscomb

Dialogue is a hard thing for many writers to get right. Too many times, the dialogue comes off forced, stilted, unnatural. When two characters have a conversation, it should feel like it could happen in real life. So how do we get that?

1) Know your characters. When I find the dialogue in a book to be forced, sometimes it comes from not having round enough characters. If you don't know your characters enough to truly give them life, then their dialogue will reflect it. It will sound like the author is trying to tell the reader something, rather than character A and character B conversing. 

You can get to know your characters by doing different things: make a character bible, have conversations with them (sounds crazy but totally works), delve into their background, have strong goals and motivations (with good reasons as to why these are their goals and motivations), etc. 

2) Word choice and voice. I think these go together. This is especially important if you are not around the same age as your target audience. For example, I am twenty-nine and am writing for MG (ten-fourteen-ish) as well as YA (fourteen-seventeen-ish). I happen to talk like a teenager for the most part. I don't know if this is because I'm mentally blocked at that age or if it's because I read and write it all the time. Either way, when I'm writing from the view of a sixteen-year-old, I don't really have a problem. However, when I write from a ten-year-old, things get a little more tricky. For each age group we have to adjust the words we choose and the voice. It needs to sound authentic. A ten-year-old reading a MG book is going to know if those characters sound his or her age. If the characters sound too teenager or too adult or even younger than they are, they will know. Readers are smart.   

What can we do to sound age-appropriate? How about jump in my handy-dandy (not a YA word, btw) time machine Okay, how about read. This is seriously the best advice I can give you about anything in regards to writing. Read, read, read, write, write, write, and then read, read, read, and write, write, write some more. The more we read and write in the respective genres, the more feel we'll get for the right age group, the right voice, and the correct words to use. Another thing that helps is to people-watch. I say this with a careful warning. Go to the mall or somewhere there are a lot of people of that age group (not their homes or schools, peeps--we do not want to be creepers). The mall or restaurants are good places, and just watch and listen. Try not to get caught staring too, because that can lead to some problems...

3) Are the characters leading this conversation or are you? Many times the problem lies with the author forcing the conversation to go in a certain direction. This is a fine line to walk. As authors, we need to steer the book. Why? Because each chapter, each page, each paragraph needs to have purpose. So how can we direct our character's conversation where it needs to go while also feeling natural? 

Write out the conversation and then read it out loud. Even better: read it with a friend like your rehearsing lines for a play. If it sounds too forced, then maybe you're trying too hard, or putting in too much. See if there's another way to write it. Sometimes all you need is to fix some of the problems from #1 and #2, and then the conversation will flow. Sometimes you may have the wrong characters conversing. Switch up the characters, the scene. And sometimes all it takes is a little tweaking to get it to feel right. The great thing about writing is we can fix things. We revise, edit, and rewrite. Give yourself permission to play with your scenes. The first draft should not be the same as the final one. 

Dialogue is tricky (umm, as is writing in general, am I right?), but it is the greatest feeling in the world when readers come back to you and say how real your characters are, how realistic their conversations and feelings are. That is our goal, my friends. Let's bring our characters to life.  

Monday, June 20, 2016

Practical Ways to Turn Your Goals Into Reality

Do you ever feel stuck, like you're spinning your wheels but just not getting anywhere with your goals- or even with life in general?

Well, after my gung-ho start to the year with piles of goals and all sorts of motivation and drive to plow through them, life started happening and before I knew it, I started losing ground. Before long, my goals started to feel unattainable. My life just seemed too hectic to even consider them, and the less I looked at them, the less I wanted to look at them.

But thanks to the Mom Conference last fall, help came in the nick of time, thanks to a free "halftime" conference call opportunity that showed up in my e-mail inbox from John C. Maxwell. Was this a lead-in to a sales pitch? Yes. But was it still worth it? Absolutely! (If there's one thing I've learned in all my moneysaving, deal-hunting adventures over the years it's that sometimes you actually DO get great stuff for free!)

So today I wanted to share with you some of what I learned, and tell you how it's helping me to get back on track with my goals.

First, John C. Maxwell said that the most successful people are the ones who can reevaluate at halftime. He said a coach will go into a game with a game plan, but during the course of the first half, it's inevitable that things will happen to throw off that game plan. This is why halftime is a time to reflect, to adjust, and to create a new plan to move forward, taking into account everything that happened in the first half. Reflection turns experience into insight, and insight is the leader's edge.

It's the same with our lives- June is a natural "halftime" for our year, but this can be done at any time. So what does our halftime reevaluation look like?

1. Create time to reflect. The key word here is create. You make time for what you value. Here are 3 reflective questions to use when evaluating how you've done on your goals so far:

- What do I feel? (trust your intuition)
- What do I know? (What are the facts?)
- What do I think? (What are the possibilities?)

Think until what you feel and what you know make sense together- thinking is the bridge.

2. Prepare your materials. Maxwell suggested taking 5 minutes at the end of every day to jot down a few thoughts about the day's successes and struggles. How did you spend your time? What did you get out of it? What worked? What didn't? Why? Why not? These brief journal entries are what will guide your reflection time later on.

3. Review your first-half observations. Once you have some materials to work from (and if you haven't been keeping a journal, that's okay- you can just think through the first half of the year and jot down a few notes) start making observations. Do you notice any patterns? Strike out any obvious things- like when you're sick you didn't get a lot done- and star any good ones- like noticing that you have more energy in the mornings than in the evenings.

4. Reflect on all your findings. How can you improve? What goals should you hold onto, and which may have outlived their usefulness? Which should be adjusted to fit your current situation?

5. Plan the second half. Now that you know where you've been, you can plan where you're going- but remember, your second half will only be as good as your ability to figure out the first half. Are there new goals you might make to get you excited and motivated?

6. Get help. Share your goals with someone you're close to, and use their thoughts and ideas to help you better define your own. Seek out mentors in the areas in which you want to improve- are there moms you really admire? Other writers who seem to have it all together? Reach out to them and ask them to help you on your journey.

I loved these ideas, and I don't know why it hasn't occurred to me how important reflection is. Just creating that quiet time for your brain to work- and for it to listen to your heart- is essential! Maxwell said "sustained thinking beats smart thinking any day." As writers, we know that we couldn't do what we do without that sustained thinking- why not apply that same creative power to our own lives?

So after that conference call, I was ready to reevaluate- but then I got another opportunity to watch a free video series by a guy named Todd Herman. He is promoting a program called "The 90-Day Year", which is geared toward entrepreneurs, but has so much good stuff for us moms and writers (who are essentially entrepreneurs) that I found it to be extremely enlightening and motivating. Here are my two main takeaways from that:

1. "Ow" Thinking Vs. "Wow" Thinking- If, whenever we think of our goals, all we can see is how big they are and how far away from them we are, then that is "ow" thinking. If, however, when we think of our goals we are able to look back on how far we've come and all that we've accomplished so far (reflection is key!!), then that is "wow" thinking. I loved how this idea tied so perfectly into what Maxwell was saying- when we focus on past success and learn from it and build on it, we are fueling our future successes.

Rather than looking at your WIP and seeing all the plot holes and how many words you still have to write, look at what you have written, and focus on your favorite parts and build on those successes. Maybe you only have an idea? Focus on how awesome that idea is and let that confidence in that idea be the spark to move you forward with it.

2. The Context Switch Drain- In the videos, Todd Herman has a fantastic observation (with results of studies to back it up) that whenever we switch our focus from one thing to another (like from our WIP to checking our e-mail) we lose time and energy- and not just a little, but an exponential amount depending on how frequently we switch contexts. This has to stop! In order to be successful, we must choose one thing and put all our focus on it for a sustained amount of time. I know how hard this is when you have young kids- there are constant interruptions. But if we want to use our time effectively, we have to find a way to carve out chunks- chunks for family, for writing, for housework- or else we'll be losing more time than we know to constant context switching. Turn off those Facebook and e-mail alerts too!

Okay, I know this is a lot to take in, but it's information that has really helped me to reframe my thinking, and I hope it helps you as well.

If you want to read more of my thoughts on effective goal-setting, read my post Set Goals Like You Mean It.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Evidence of Life

As I've written before (here and here), I've been spending about a year purging my home of clutter using the KonMari method- which is totally, absolutely as life-changing as they say- and I'm currently on the sentimental category.

Going through your sentimental items can be overwhelming (I've spent about 4 hours on it so far and hardly made a dent), but it can also be enlightening. As I've gone through the process I've learned that hindsight really is 20/20, and our past can teach us so much.

Here are some examples of things I've learned in this process:

1. I was a lousy granddaughter. My grandmother lived a few hours away and so she would often write me letters, in which she'd say, "What's going on in your life? I haven't heard from you in quite some time." One letter said, "It was such a delight to talk to you on the phone! What a treat! I hope it happens again soon."

This might seem depressing- okay, it is depressing- but it made me realize as a mom how important it is for me to facilitate that relationship between my kids and their grandparents. There are a lot of reasons that didn't happen in my life (my parents had recently divorced, I was too involved in my own life, I was just young and stupid, etc.) but I want to make sure it doesn't happen between my kids and their grandparents.

2. My grandmother grandparented me. I see from the squiggly red lines under that word that it isn't a word, but it should be! I realized when I looked at cards she'd written to me when I was very young that she had carefully printed her messages, whereas later she used cursive. It was then that I realized she wanted to make sure I could read them- in fact, her print reminded me a lot of the print my 1st-grader's teacher uses when writing notes to her on her papers. And, in fact, my grandmother had been a teacher.

Another item I found was a little "journal" (just papers stapled together) she'd kept of a week I'd spent at her home with my brother. She had written the journal (in her neat print) and let us color the pictures. I love that she did that for us.

In another letter my grandmother had written me later in life she said that she was hoping I was making good choices, and that I should listen to my parents. I see now how she really cared about me and about the young woman I was becoming. (She also paid for my entire college education.)

3. My stepfather was trying really hard. I hadn't realized until I went through all my cards, separating them out by who they were from, how many cards were just from my stepdad. He married my mom when I was 12, and now I realize that those cards were his way of reaching out to me. Makes me love him even more to see how hard he was trying.

4. I was clueless when it comes to boys. I read journal entries, notes, and even printed online conversations and e-mails between me and some male friends and only now do I realize that some of those boys totally had crushes on me! LOL! Yeah. I was dense. Oh, well.

I also saw that I was kind of fickle with some of the other guys I dated. I was young and dumb and kind of self-absorbed in a lot of ways. But actually, I also saw that I was also kind of mature in some ways. Something for me to consider when I'm writing YA...

5. My best friend wasn't actually my best friend. I found a random questionnaire I'd filled out and one of the questions was, "Who is your best friend?" I saw that I'd written the name (let's just call her A) after I'd moved away from where she lived, and I said we had a long-distance friendship. However, I also found at least a dozen letters from that same year or two after I'd moved from another friend, O. She wrote long, detailed letters about what was happening with her and the friends I'd left behind. Oddly enough, there were no letters from A.

O and I are still friends to this day- a few years ago she actually came and visited me and my family in Richmond when she was here for a conference. A few years before that I remember talking to her on the phone shortly after I'd brought my first baby home from the hospital. I am still friends with A on Facebook as well, but I now appreciate O even more for the effort she made to keep me in her life.

So basically, I learned that the lens through which we view our own life might be faded with the clouds of of our own perception, obscuring some significant facts, and I realized how important it is to look at the evidence.

And isn't it interesting that the evidence is the written word?

Makes you wonder...what evidence are you leaving of your love in the lives of those who are special to you?

Just something to think about.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Does it Truly Matter?

By Lacey Gunter

We live in a judgement heavy culture. The rise of the internet and social media has greatly contributed to this way of life. Perhaps people have been doing this for millennia, but I doubt whether people have ever been so publicly vocal and its effects have ever been so broadly reaching.

Part of this tendency to judge comes from a sheer lack of understanding and fear of something new or different. But a fair portion of the time, I think is rests in lack of respect and the desire to control.

Certainly any Bible believing Christian can read Matthew 7 and understand this behavior of judging others is wrong. But we of the LDS faith must go a step further and acknowledge that no matter how much we try to shroud this behavior as "helping others make the right choices", when we attempt to control others, we are actually following the path of the adversary.

I'm not writing this blog post to persuade others to stop judging. But, rather, to share how I am working on curbing any of my tendencies to judge others. Because living in a culture drenched in a certain behavior can sometimes lead to spillage of that behavior within the walls of our own home. It takes a lot of mopping and bailing to make sure our homes stay safe and dry.

I am helping myself master the urge to judge by asking two questions. But it takes a willingness to be truly honest with myself and the faith to recognize that once I know the answer, I need to follow what it tells me.

So what are the two questions? Well the first question is "Is this something that really matters in life?"  Perhaps it needs to be a little more nuanced than that, but the idea is does this truly have a profound effect on my ability to live a happy and healthy life here on earth or my ability to become the person I want to be in the afterlife.  And likewise, does this truly have a profound effect on this person's ability to live a happy and healthy life here on earth or their ability to become the person they want to be in the afterlife.

When I can be honest enough with myself to determine the answer to the question is no for both me and the other person, then I know I need to take the step of faith to simply let it go. When I need help, I pray for the strength to keep my mouth shut and help my mind to move on.  It's not worth it.

If the honest answer to this question is that it directly affects my abilities to live a happy and healthy life and become the person I want to be, then this is the time for action. This is the time for courage to stand up for myself and take the necessary steps to bring safety and peace again in my life.

When it gets a little trickier is if the honest answer to the question is that it doesn't affect me directly, but it will probably affect the other person's abilities to live a happy and healthy life and become the person they want to be. This is when I ask myself the second questions, "Is it within my sphere of responsibility to help this person change their beliefs, actions or behavior?"

Is it truly my responsibility to point out the error of someone else's ways? When people are in imminent danger or serious harm, I believe this is a yes. And, as a mother, it is my responsibility to teach and inform my children of the potential consequences of their actions. But what if it's not my children?  Am I truly enough of an expert on the subject matter to know if their ways are actually errors? Am I feeling inspired to share Godly wisdom with this person?  Will the information or opinion I share with this person help their life, or will it just serve to make them feel bad or ashamed.

When I cannot answer yes, then I must have the faith to know that God will look after his child. It is his responsibility and he will fulfill it much better than I ever could.

If I can truthfully answer these questions and act accordingly, I am much better at not judging the other person. I don't have to, because it's doesn't matter or it's not my responsibility to judge.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Why, is it so difficult to find current young adult fiction that is G-rated?

I love to read YA because...with this genre I get to momentarily feel young again! As readers we get to live vicariously through the eyes of these wonderful young characters. YA books can truly be great escapism. The main reason I read YA is that I need to screen for content as I have three daughters; ages 13, 14 and 16.

And…I’ve officially become a prude.

I move that the young adult label actually be restated to say “18 to 25.” That’s a young adult, right? Or would that make it actually just for plain adults. I sort of doubt that 18 year olds want to read about 16 year olds though, as they are undoubtedly now dreaming of 21 year olds? It seems that our 13 year olds want to read about 16 year olds. Hmmm…complicated. Might need to work the kinks out of that relabeling idea a bit.

Now it’s one thing for me to read about teens sneaking out, or worse, sneaking boys into their rooms (cough…”Twilight.”) I’m old and married, and way beyond that phase. But my girls cannot read of such things. I don’t want them getting any ideas. Many books and movies seem to almost give our kids a playbook for doing such things. It scares me. Maybe these YA novels should go in the horror section for parents.

I pulled up Goodreads and asked for G-rated books. I wasn’t very impressed. If we are actually going to judge a book by its cover, some of the suggested top ones listed, look very romantic indeed. Maybe we need some really good mystery writers for our teens to come back in style. Of course having a love interest in a novel is, well, interesting. I like romance as much as the next guy. I love love. Maybe I just need to vent today because I am tired of naughty female characters. They really need to behave! (Can you tell I've been screening?)

It also seems that when a book becomes popular among the school kids, everyone else has to read it, too. Not good. Peer pressure of the bookworm variety. For some reason John Greene books have been big for the past few years. More sneaking out and more naughty kids. Ugh. My oldest child read his stuff and the younger ones will not!

This book sharing has been going on since I was in high school and that was ages ago. My first YA experience was “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and I can tell you that that book was a lot more graphic and detailed than the movie. None of you should EVER read it. My mother didn’t ever ask or care about what I was reading. She probably didn't feel the need to worry. But, boy did I sure got an education on some subjects no classes would ever cover. The funny thing looking back is that the girl sharing the book was our class president, and well respected by everyone. Her parents coached our sports and they were about as top notch a family as you could meet. Yet her parents bought her this book. I think 30 of us read that book before the movie came out. Thirty sweet innocent 14 year old girls had their minds blown that year.

I’d like to shelter my kids as long as possible.

Okay. I’m done venting. Thanks for listening.

If anyone knows of any really fun reads I’d love to hear suggestions.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


By Kathy Lipscomb

When I was a little girl, singing time was my favorite part of church. I sang my best, and I focused on learning each new song. I learned the hymns as we sang them, trying to pay attention to the words and learn what the notes did. I’m not some fantastic musician by any means, but I love, love, love music.

When my siblings were scared and my mom wasn’t home (we didn’t live with our dads), it was the primary songs that eased them. When my mom went through a manic phase, it was my voice ringing through the house “Love at Home” that calmed her down. When darkness took over my own thoughts, it was again, my favorite primary songs that gave me strength to resist temptations.

So when I heard that my oldest son, my sweet little sunbeam who loves to sing primary songs with me at home, doesn’t sing in primary, my heart broke. And then I paid attention to people in sacrament meeting, and noticed a lot of people don’t sing there either.


Our voices blend together. No one will hear someone who may not be confident in their singing ability. A new song makes singing difficult but not enough to leave the hymn book closed.

I’m not here to shame anyone. I genuinely wish that everyone would feel the strength from these songs that I do. Music, especially church music, has helped me, even saved me, so many times throughout all different stages of my life. And the music is meant to be a prayer to our Heavenly Father. He doesn’t care how we sing as long as we participate. Music is our plea to God, it is our prayer, and it is also an answer when we least expect it. It is our show of love to God and of God’s love to us.  

Monday, June 6, 2016

An Open Letter to the "Black Sheep" of the Mormon Church

by Kasey Tross

It's not often I post something specifically directed to our LDS readers, but I just felt like this was something that needed to be said, and it can probably apply to those of other faiths as well. 

For years I've been hearing a lot of people (women especially) calling themselves black sheep in the LDS Church, saying they don't "fit the mold" or that they aren't really the "Relief Society type."

Here's the thing:

There's no mold.

There's no type.

And the fact that you think there is a type is what's keeping you from feeling like you belong.

Despite what you might think, the Lord's flock isn't made up of white sheep. It's made up of white, black, red, yellow, orange, green, and blue sheep. Pink and purple ones, too. Spotted sheep, striped sheep, bald sheep, pretty sheep, ugly sheep, even sheep that look like goats! It's made up of every kind of sheep you can imagine.

I have been a member of the Church my whole life. I was raised in it, baptized when I was eight, and never had any period of inactivity, been faithful and true my whole life. There are many converts who might say, "See, you've been active in the Church your whole life- you've never drank or smoked or even cursed! You don't have tattoos, you've had all these leadership callings- how in the world could you understand me?"

Okay, how would one of those converts feel if I said to them, "See, you haven't been in the Church your whole life- you've drank and smoked and cursed! You have tattoos, you've never held a calling- how in the world could you understand me?"

It's the exact same opinion given from two different perspectives, yet each is equally harmful. The convert's opinion is perceived as complimentary while the lifetime member's opinion is perceived as derogatory, but the truth of it is that both opinions are devised to separate, to create division, to dig a gulf between us. 

Is that what the Lord wants for His Church?

No. But guess who does want that for the Lord's Church?

Whenever you find yourself wanting to step into your black sheep role, take a step back and consider where those ideas are coming from. Do you think God is happy when you shy away from church activities because you're not a "Molly Mormon"? Do you think He enjoys hearing anyone in the Church sitting around talking about 'us versus them'?

Were the people of Zion a Zion people because they were 'all of one past, and one experience, and dwelt in the same kinds of families, and there were no tattoos among them'? No, "the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them."

"… for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

The next time you're at church (or anywhere, for that matter), can you perhaps try to look beyond the outward appearance (this includes some of the things we say) and instead consider the heart? The very fact that someone is at church puts their heart in the same place as everyone else's there- including yours. We come to church not because we're perfect, but because we want to be better, and because we love the gospel of Jesus Christ and we want to follow Him.*

"The Church is not an automobile showroom—a place to put ourselves on display so that others can admire our spirituality, capacity, or prosperity. It is more like a service center, where vehicles in need of repair come for maintenance and rehabilitation.

“And are we not, all of us, in need of repair, maintenance, and rehabilitation?" (Dieter F. Uchtdorf)

Maybe you walk into church with your ink showing, or maybe you don't know how to bake a loaf of bread, or maybe you're a single mom working two jobs, or someone who doesn't really want to oppose gay marriage, or maybe you chose to focus on your career rather than get married and have children- do any of these things mark you as a black sheep?

No. They mark you as a human being who just walked into church, which makes you a human being who loves God and is seeking to learn and grow and follow Him the best way you know how just like the rest of us (and FYI, contrary to popular belief, baking a loaf of wheat bread is not a prerequisite for the celestial kingdom).

And if you're any of the above, please know that I love you and I welcome you. Because when I see you at church I know you are doing something that might feel scary, might be terribly uncomfortable, and yet there you are. That tells me you're brave and you're someone I need to get to know. Someone who is sticking with the flock even though it's hard. Someone who will get to learn and grow alongside me, someone who can teach me at the same time I'm teaching you: I want to see the gospel through your eyes.

I welcome you with open arms and will walk with you along this path we're both taking together. And while you might not be able to see my rough edges right away, trust me, they're there. That's why I need the gospel too.

But is everyone like me, welcoming you with open arms? No, they're not. Some are feeling insecure themselves, and don't think they're the best representative to welcome you into the Church, so they don't reach out. Others might feel just as intimidated by your appearance or your different perspective or your past experiences as you might feel of theirs, so they avoid you. Still others might be too distracted by responsibilities with church and family to take the time to connect with you, which is certainly a shame, but it doesn't necessarily mean they don't want to.

What I'm trying to say here is that while your feelings of being left out might indeed be valid, you still own half of this equation. You can choose to call yourself a black sheep and live up to everyone's first impressions and stay on the outside, or you can choose to reach out and open yourself up to relationships that go below the surface- both your surface and the surfaces of others- and by so doing bring your own unique experiences and perspectives to the table and help us grow together as a Church.

It's up to both of us.

So black sheep, white sheep, and every-other-color-of-the-rainbow sheep, I welcome the opportunity to see this gospel through your eyes. I'm ready to embrace you in this, the Lord's flock, and I know that's what our Shepherd expects of both of us.

Won't you embrace me too?

*Are there some people who come to church "to be seen of men" and not because they are eager to learn and worship? Yes. Is it our job to identify and judge those people? Nope.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Sometimes It's Not You, It's Them

By Jewel Leann Williams

Statement heard in local American Night Writers Association chapter meeting (paraphrased):

“I’ve written a book, I pitched it, and it was accepted by XYZ publishing house. The editor had big plans, and then strangely rolled everything back and rejected it. I’ve been completely revising it and turning it into a completely different book. I guess my story didn’t have much to offer anyone.”

Let me tell you about the book this author is speaking of.  It is an inspirational memoir about her daughter and their experiences through a leukemia scare. 

I haven’t read the story, and I don’t know if it needs revision for the usual things we all have to revise, revise, revise in our stories. But one thing I can tell you, and I did tell her, is this:


As a mom, I don’t have to have a child with leukemia to be inspired by another mother’s journey in that space.  I have other trials with my children and can gain insight and inspiration from what she went through.

Sometimes, it’s not YOU, it’s THEM.

Editors, publishers, agents are people. What’s worse, BUSINESS people. They have goals, agendas, business models—and each of them has a different one.  There are as many reasons for a rejection as there are rejections. 

I get it. I had a book I worked super hard on. I’d finished it, pitched it, got a “pages request” and sent it to not just the agent requesting, but every agent I could research who might be interested.  I thought it was ready, and it was rejected (a lot). It is one of the hardest things for me to pick that back up and work on it. But it’s a worthwhile project. The story is still, well, awesome, it has a great voice (says more than one of the rejectors), it just needs work. It doesn’t need the whole thing changed—just lots of polish. But man! It is HARD to put more blood, sweat, and tears into that project when my hopes had been so high, and then been smashed like a clam on a rock.
Mid nineteenth-century depiction of Josephine fainting after being told by Napoleon he will decree a divorce (to seek a male heir and royal alliance) Artist: Bosselman - Chasselat Public Domain in US (Public Domain in source country before 1996; past 75 years from artist's death)

But hear me now and believe me later (bonus if you know that reference):

Just because your book was rejected, does not mean that you need to change it into something different. What you need to do is:
  1. Consider the source and the content of the rejection. Sometimes it’s more about timing, marketing, and publishing trends than it is about the story itself.  Did you pitch a self-help book to an agent who only represents fiction? Or to an agent with a full list of authors in your genre?
  2. Realize that much of what is accepted and rejected depends on personal taste.  An agent or editor has to believe in your book to properly represent it. The publishing world is highly competitive for agents as well. Sometimes it just isn’t something that strikes their fancy, but there will be someone else out there who won’t be able to resist what you’re offering.
  3. Did you query too soon?  This was where my eager little self went wrong. I finished a book, loved it, and like an ugly baby with a doting mother, I thought it was beautiful and perfect.  Beautiful it is, but perfect—not by far. I should have gone through some real edits, beta readers, more edits, etc. and polished it more.  Make sure that what you are presenting is the best you can make it, and that you have had feedback and critiques to help you polish your product.
  4. PRAY about the feedback you receive. You have every right to ask for guidance. Don’t change things because some cranky editor who doesn’t like family stories or things that mention God or books with a happy ending (or a sad one, or one with puppies… etc. ad nauseum). Take the criticism, turn it over in your hands, consider it, and pray about it. You’ll know what needs to happen.

Here’s the thing.  I want you to remember this above all else.

Heavenly Father gave YOU the talent and desire to write. He has a purpose for blessing/cursing you with the need to express yourself with words.

He gave you that talent to bless His children.

You may not think that what you have to offer is anything special. But if you wrote it with the inspiration of our Heavenly Father, then you can rest assured that it is special and it does have something to offer the world. As such, you also need to include him in polishing your book, because just as He can transform people, He can guide you to transform your words into what He would have them be.

He will let you know what needs to happen, whether it is not to change a thing, to edit, to rework the whole thing, or to set it aside in a folder marked “Things I Wrote to Hone My Craft.” Or any myriad of other things. You just have to ask the Guy Who Really Knows.

Just remember—

Sometimes, it’s really not you, it’s them. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Writing about Jerks (And Also My Relationship with Facebook)

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay
Ask for a picture of
a "jerk," and this is what you get. Ha!
I couldn't resist.

A couple years back, I started working on a manuscript that involved a bad boy relationship in which the girl just couldn’t see what a jerk he was until she saw someone else in a similar relationship (the story was actually way more complex than that and involved parallel universes and an awesome scene with fruit-chopping ninja performers, but you get the basic idea).

As I was trying to write a relationship where this otherwise healthy girl was going out with this toxically awful boy, I realized I wasn’t equipped for it. I’d never been in a bad boy relationship. I never was one to date much, and I definitely tended toward the nerdy, nice types. Sure, I’d had my share of dumb crushes on boys who did dumb stuff, but I couldn’t imagine getting seriously involved with a real jerk without realizing, hey, this guy is a jerk.

I have a close friend who lived for a long time in a quite emotionally abusive relationship. Eventually, when she got herself out of it, she told me about some of the things that happened, and I thought to myself, “How do you not recognize that this behavior is terrible and manipulative?” It wasn’t that I was blaming her; it was just that I truly didn’t get it.

I ended up giving up on that manuscript until I did a little research. (Also because November ended, and it had been my NaNoWriMo project.) Anyway, fast forward to this past week when a friend of mine shared this article on Facebook. It talks about the chemicals behind bad boy relationships and why they’re so addicting. While I eventually had learned a lot of this, the article really laid it out nicely and concisely. I’m definitely going to be using it when/if I return to that manuscript again.

The upshot: Are you writing a bad boy? Do you need to get a grasp on what’s really going on internally? Read this article; you might find it useful.

Also, incidentally, I realized how much this article reminds me of my relationship with Facebook.


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