Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Carrying Rocks



- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

My kids and I were parked and heading off to the dentist's office when I looked at my toddler to see what was taking him so long to get out of the car. In each of his hands he was carrying a rock about the size and shape of a hot dog bun. 

I lifted him out of the car so he didn’t have to let go, and we were on our hurried way to the dentist (late, I confess). 

When we got to the office, he set his rocks down on the little table in the waiting room and happily played with the toys. I couldn't just leave these giant rocks there, though, so when we got called back to the offices, I picked up the rocks and stuffed them in my purse to dispose of later. 

Fast forward a couple of weeks. 

I was hunting for something else in my purse when my fingers brushed against something rough. I investigated and of course I found the rocks there. I'd meant to dispose of them, but I just forgot. I’d been carrying rocks around in my purse for weeks!

I tend to find metaphors everywhere, and I couldn't help wondering what sort of rocks we might be carrying around in our lives without even noticing. Things we meant to deal with but then just let them slide. Attitudes about ourselves that we maybe meant to examine for truth but just began to believe without even realizing it. Beliefs about the way the world works that keep us from achieving and being more. At first they don’t seem big or important (after all, I didn’t notice those rocks for a couple weeks!), but maybe they add up.

Am I carrying around rocks? That professor who told me I seemed dismissive of others—did I start to believe that I was just plain bad with people?* What about all those years I spent thinking I had ugly, muddy brown eyes when in reality they were green?**

What rocks are weighing you down? And why are you waiting to get rid of them?


* This is a true story, though oversimplified. His full comments were partially right and partially wrong, and I took them so very badly, but that was only partially his fault. Essentially, we both handled that whole situation badly, but that has nothing to do with this post. So I’ll just turn it into an excessively long footnote instead.

** This, weirdly enough, is also a true story. And for the record, I love brown eyes—all my children and my hubby have gorgeous ones—but in my mind my eyes were like dying grass and mud being stomped on. You know the opening credits scene from Joe vs. the Volcano? That’s how I felt about my eyes.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Stuck? Get HELP!



Have you ever noticed what happens in a parking lot when someone's car doesn't work? There's this weird phenomenon- the broken-down car draws mechanically-minded men to it like moths to a flame. They see a problem and they get excited, because they think, "Hey, I might be able to FIX that!"

Oddly enough, I've noticed that there's something similar that happens with writers and writing. We love writing. We love good writing. And what we really love is to make okay writing GREAT writing! When the opportunity arises for us to put our two cents in on somebody else's work, we usually jump at it.

(As long as it's not our own writing. Most of us hate editing our own writing, but will happily pick apart a stranger's writing with gleeful abandon.)

Anyway, my point is that if you feel stuck- either you're halfway through a manuscript that's writing itself into the ground or you're submitting to agents and just not getting anywhere- there is HELP available to you in the form of other writers- they're free and they're willing to be a second set of eyes on your work.

All you have to do is Google "find a critique partner" and you'll find articles and websites like these:

40 Places to Find a Critique Partner

Google Groups Critique Partner Matchup

And my personal favorite...

LDS Beta Readers

Keep in mind that these are not just places to look for people to help you critique your finished manuscript- they are people who are willing to help with whatever you need, whether it's fact-checking ("Does anybody know what kind of tree is commonly found on a mountain in China?") or plot work ("What would be a good reason for a toddler to end up backstage at a rock concert?") or even character development ("How do I make the bossy narcissist likable enough so the readers root for her?")

I realized this past week that I was avoiding finishing off my NaNo book, and I decided I needed a kick in the pants, so I posted on LDS Beta Readers asking for some critique partners. I got four takers, and so I now know that they'll be expecting a chapter a week from me, and as a bonus, I get to read their stuff and critique it as well, which I love to do!

So if you're stalled out in the parking lot of your writing journey, just open the hood and wait- help is on its way!





Saturday, March 18, 2017

Who is the Most Important Person in Your Family?

by Jewel Leann Williams

My husband sent me an article this week, by a psychologist guy named Dr. Some-Old-Guy-Who-Probably-Never-Had-Kids. Even though I generally look at articles written by psychologists in newspapers and roll my eyes, because they are usually written by old ugly men who have never had childre, I read it, because my husband sent it, and I love him, and if it's important to him, it's important to me.

So. This doctor proposes that the problem with society today is that when asked the question, "Who is the most important person in your family?" The parents answer, "Our kids!"  He claims that this attitude makes us raise entitled children.  In my generation, he says, we knew that our parents were the most important people.**

I've been mulling it over. He has some points. I mean, our family shouldn't revolve around the whims of the children, by any means. The value of our family does not lie in whether or not Junior gets the gold at the swim meet, or if Sister has all the latest fashions.

But other than that, yeah, sorry. The most important people in my family ARE my children. I work to provide them a safe and comfortable environment. I would eat Fritos out of a dirty bowl for breakfast if I didn't have my family to cook for.

True story. I work Saturday nights, until about 3 hours before church on Sunday. I also get home from church only a few short hours before I have to be back at work. I am usually so tired when I get home from work that I don't know how I drove home, and dizzy with sleep--so that I absolutely *must* take a nap. However, that nap makes me cranky and sometimes more tired, only not dizzy and ready to pass out. Every. Single. Sunday. It is a monumental struggle to get out of bed and go to church, especially knowing that I will only get a similarly short and unsatisfying nap before I have to go drive  45 minutes and work all night (and make it home) again that night. So I started giving in to the very reasonable desire for sleep over church. It felt more like survival, ya know? But the moment I realized that a few of my kids were starting to "feel sick" every Sunday so they could stay home and sleep, that did it for me. Unless I am physically ill, I drag my extremely cranky and unhappy butt out of bed and get myself to church. I absolutely would not do that if it weren't for my children.

Family Home Evening? For my kids. Scripture study? Yes, for me, but I almost always focus on my kids and how I can be a better mother and wife.

From the document "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

My husband is my eternal companion. I realize my children will leave the nest, and that while I am rearing them, I am also nurturing my relationship with my husband. We are partners forever (as often as I'm sure he questions that decision). However, at this particular moment in our lives, our responsibility lies in our sacred duty to rear our children.

So, Dr. Whomever-You-Are, sorry. You'll have to chalk me up to one of those "what's wrong with America" parents, because the most important people in my family, right now, are my beautiful, amazing children.


And I'll punch you in the nose if you tell me otherwise, Doctor. Because I'm sleep-deprived and cranky.

** The "kids are not as important as the grownups" attitude is at the root of at least 1 or 2 of my current psychoses. So (expletive deleted), you hack psychologist!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ode to a Minivan

Probably spent months of my life in this seat.

We've been together eleven years, you and I. You were sitting outside the sliding glass doors of the hospital when they wheeled me out with baby #3. And baby #4. (It was baby #2 that made us realize how much we needed you.) You held carseats and booster seats and little bottoms and carried us all over town- to church and to school; to the store and the bank; to the park and the movies. You rushed us to the ER in the middle of the night more than once; you took us 14 hours each way to Orlando, Florida three times. You took us to the apple orchard in September, the pumpkin patch every October, to Thanksgiving dinners all over the state of Virginia in November, and you hauled our Christmas tree home on your roof in December.

Always quietly in the background of photos, never the star.

And it showed. You were crumby and stained. You had random scraps of paper, melted crayons, cracker bits, and broken pencils stuffed down into every crevice. Your armrests were worn, your windows were never free of smudges from tiny fingers, and there was something sticky in the front cup holder that wouldn't come out no matter how hard I scrubbed (which, to be honest, wasn't that hard).



You were one of the oldest cars in nearly every parking lot- but it was because you didn't quit. You never once left me stranded with a car full of groceries, never once conked out on a back road in the middle of the night. Every chilly school morning- even on the coldest ones- you started up without complaint and got us where we needed to go. For eleven years.



From your front seat I passed back binkies, sippy cups, and snacks. I laid on my husband's shoulder and slept as he drove. I shed more than a few tears. I hollered, "Knock it off!" to the backseat more times than I can count. I sat quietly in the driveway and read while the little one slept, propping my book against the steering wheel, because you'd put her to sleep and it would be the only nap she'd get for the day (and therefore the only peace and quiet I'd get for the day). You soaked up laughter and spills, tears and tantrums, and you just kept going.



Even on that fateful day a week ago, when a distracted driver smashed into the back of us, you took the hit, letting your crumple zone absorb the impact, and your safety belt hold me tight so I was able to walk away with only a sore neck. Even on that last day, you took care of me. You took care of our family, just like you always have.

The view of an icy road through the windshield.

People might think it's silly for me to talk to you like this, but when you've been with a car for as long as I've been with you, when you've been through as much as we have, the words "total loss" from an insurance adjuster feel like a harder hit than the one that crumpled you.

As usual, always in the background.

When the guy at the shop opened the chain-link gate to the lot where the damaged cars sat, so I could get the rest of our belongings out of you, it was hard to see you resting in the back corner, all marked up like a patient who was going to have surgery but didn't quite make it to the operating room. So when I opened your doors for the last time, when I tossed out one more stale pretzel, I said thank you. Thank you for being there for us. Thank you for getting us where we needed to go, for being the most reliable car I've ever owned, and for protecting me that one last time.

You served us well, little minivan, and after eleven years together, you will be missed.

The view of a Washington, D.C. street out the back window.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Patience is a Virtue

By Lacey Gunter

If there is one thing I could express to help a new writer starting on their journey toward getting published, it would be the value of patience. Despite how little patience exists in this breakneck-paced world we live in, you won't survive the publishing journey without it.

We can never assume our readers will have patience. Many will drop you after a single chapter if you haven't already wooed them into staying. Or maybe just after the title and front cover, if you are a picture book writer like me.  We can't expect agents or editors to have patience. I have heard no small number of them claim they typically dump manuscripts after a single paragraph. Not to mention the worse reality when they refuse to even consider a manuscript due to a less than super sparkly query letter.  And we certainly can't expect a publishing company to have patience. Most of them won't even give your manuscript space in a super long slush pile without the official credentials of an agent, even if that slush pile is only virtual.

But guess what folks; all of those people are expecting a boatload of patience from you.

First of all, you've got to be patient with your manuscript. Finishing the book is just the first small hurdle, because you're not really finished. Next comes chapter/book critiques, which you better be patient in waiting for or your critique partners will pulverize both your ego and spirit into the ground as they rip apart your manuscript. It's worth the patience it takes for them to figure out nice ways to say their piece. Then you have to patiently consider all the helpful and sometimes not so helpful feedback; followed by a lot more patience with yourself as you work toward sincere improvements to your manuscript.

Once you finally get to the point where it seems like your manuscript might actually be ready to start sending out to the world of agents, here comes another big waiting game. First, you wait weeks and months for silence.  Then if you've taken the time to search out agents who actually respond, you can wait weeks and months for form rejections letters. Once you've been patient enough to learn how to write a good query letter and actually get a chapter or book in front of an agent, you get the opportunity to wait weeks and months for personalized rejections, and boy won't your be happy about that. If you've been patient enough to decipher the meaning out of the personalized rejection and taken the time to fix up both your query letter and manuscript one day you might get to experience the joy of landing an agent.

But don't get too excited yet, because most agents still want you to do some pretty significant edits, which you must patiently consider and work on. Then comes the lovely submission dance you just went through all over again, only this time it's your agent doing the dancing while you patiently wait in the background. So fun! Finally you might get a book contract. Woohoo, end of waiting, right? Nope, here comes lots more editing, and lots more waiting, probably two years of it. All of this of course is assuming that manuscript you wrote is good enough to publish. For most people, their first manuscript is not. So then you have to start all over.

It may sound overwhelming and depressing. Sometimes it is. But if you truly possess the patience to see the process through, especially if you have the stamina to do it more than once and learn along the way, you have a much greater chance of success.  Just be patient.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Gift of "No"

by Jewel Leann Williams


I’ve been up for a major promotion at work.  I’m talking several dollars an hour more, way more responsibility, with the ability (and expectation) to direct the efforts of several people. When I applied, I saw it mostly as an opportunity to make changes and bring the people around me into alignment with the vision of my department (and with my own work ethic).  There were downsides, for sure. I’d already had a career where I was responsible for a shift of people, and I knew it was significantly more stressful than just being accountable for my own work. The schedule was going to be worse for my family, but the pay would also lessen the strain on us. I knew that I was very well-qualified (10 years supervising a 9-1-1/dispatch center pretty much covers all the bases for supervision qualifications), but there were several people up for the job, all well-qualified.

Short story is, I didn’t get the promotion.  But, in subsequent conversations, I received an opportunity to do more of the things I enjoyed about supervising. When I worked in the police department, I helped with training, both new employee and continuing education. It was one of my passions there, and something I mentioned at length in my interview at my new company. I was given an opportunity to use those ideas and talents even as I was denied the big giant promotion. The more I think about it, the happier I am. It’s not the huge raise, but it’s also not the major jump on the stress-scale.

How many times do we receive this same blessing in life? We want, and feel we deserve, this big thing—whatever the big thing is. It’s different for everyone.  It could be a job, a marriage, an opportunity of some sort, a friendship, whatever the “thing” is. And then, we’re blessed with the “no” answer, only to find that there is something else. 

There’s that picture of the Savior holding a giant teddy bear behind his back, in front of a little girl who has a smaller bear. She doesn’t want to give her bear up, because she doesn’t know that the bear Jesus is holding is so much bigger.  I’d like to challenge that a little.  Sometimes, the bear is smaller. 
I'd love to credit this, but there are so, so many copies of it out there that I couldn't find an original attributed to anyone. If anyone knows where I can find the owner to attribute, let me know!!

Sometimes it’s not even a bear. Sometimes it’s a box of other, smaller things, things that have no relation to the bear.

Sometimes, it can be more like an IOU. We have to miss our little bear that we love, and have faith that the sacrifice of this thing we loved and treasured, or wanted and worked for, is going to be worth it.

The question becomes, do you believe in Jesus Christ. Do you believe what he says?

When he tells you that He loves you, and wants only the best for you, do you believe Him?
Do you believe that God is all-knowing? Do you believe that HE loves you?

If you do, then even while you mourn the loss of the “thing” you wanted, and you deserved, but that wasn’t for you, then you can look forward with faith that it will be made up for.

Sometimes, when you’re told “no,” you are instead offered something better right away.

Sometimes you get something different—I get to use my talents in a way that I’d not really thought I ever would be able to use them again.

Sometimes you are left with a hole, a wanting—there are mothers aching to hold children, men and women without wives or husbands, people without homes—there are as many yearnings as there are people in this world.

This time, I got something “less” that ultimately feels like “better”—but I have things I yearn for and will probably never receive, just like anyone. I have holes where I feel losses so deep sometimes it’s all I can do to not curl up on the floor and sob for days.

But, at the end of the day, I know that all things will—WILL—be made right. Not the “right” that I think is right with my myopic mortal vision, but truly right.

I know this, because I know that God loves me. I know that Jesus loves me. And I know that they’ve promised me that I will have everything they have. That all things will be for my good, if I will trust Them and follow Him.


And sometimes, the reminder of that, THAT is the gift that “No” brings to me.

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