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A Beautiful Sight

I watched the sunrise with my best friend yesterday. From the thirteenth floor, caged balcony of a Philadelphia hospital, we braved the early morning chill and watched the sun slowly bathe the buildings around us in a golden glow that made even Philadelphia look almost serene. (Almost.)

A Bryce Canyon sunrise, it _MG_7925-Edit-Editwas not, but it was still one of the most beautiful and one of the most stirring sights I’ve seen to date. I stood on that concrete precipice with the man who not 48 hours before was in excruciating pain and couldn’t have even thought about leaving a bed. And yet, yesterday morning he was up and walking the hallway at 4 a.m. and sparring good-naturedly with the nurses.

He’s back. My best friend is back.

We’re looking forward to his being discharged (probably tomorrow) and I couldn’t be happier that this entire experience will soon be nothing more than the faint echo of a memory. I wish I could say this memory will be as cherished as those from our cross-country trip two years ago (it won’t be), or that this endeavor was as enjoyable (it wasn’t). When we traveled the country together for three weeks, I learned a lot about us and about our relationship. It was as strong as I’d always thought and we’re better than just a husband and a wife. We’re best friends. This experience, though a polar opposite to our travels, served to reinforce that. My husband is, and always will be, my very best friend through thick and thin.

To those of you who have been following, and to the many people who reached out to me during this time, I can’t thank you enough. There are no adequate words to express how much your support means to us, how great your friendship is, and how much we love all of you in return. It is entirely true that you cannot ever realize the true extent of how much you are loved until you have to rely on the people around you. Our “people” truly shine. Thank you friends, family, and every kind stranger who has reached out. The world needs more of you.

Life Lessons in Patience

It should be me.

That’s all I can think as I sit in this hospital room, watching my husband snore softly as he recovers from an invasive surgery that left him with no spleen, no gallbladder, lost lymph nodes, and half a pancreas.

Why would I think this?

Because I’m the one who always imagines every scenario. I’m the one who always thinks the worst, even when there’s no evidence that the worst is actually going to occur. I’m the one who has imagined every pain, every injury, and every possible way to die. One might say I just like to be prepared, but the truth is that I wasn’t prepared for it to happen to someone else, to someone I love.

That’s not to say that I think about this stuff often. I don’t. But I guess you could say I think about it more than most. I live in my head a million lives I’ve never lived out loud. I imagine that’s the case for most avid readers and writers.

My husband isn’t like that, though. He’s my superhero. He lives for the moment—each and every moment, and to see him reduced to lying in agony on a hospital bed, exhausted from the pain, the common complications, and lack of sleep is both heartbreaking and gut-wrenching. He’s always so sure of things. He’s always so positive.

I have faith that I’ll see the man I know again and probably soon, but at this particular moment, “soon” feels like forever.

But this, too, shall pass. I am a student and the lesson is patience.

These Boots Are Made For Walking

Let’s talk shoes. What? That’s not related to writing?

Of course it is! Bear with me.

I love shoes. I know what you’re thinking already, but trust me when I say you’ve got it all wrong.  To clarify, I love a single pair of shoes. So what are they? Pretty little red ballet flats? Sexy black kitten heels? Strappy summer sandals?

No.

No.

And no.

They’re these.

boots

Purple, waterproof hiking boots by Ahnu. They’re considerably more beat up now than they were when I took this photo two years ago, but I love them no less (and they were especially wonderful on numerous hikes during my cross-country trip in 2015)!

What do I love most about them? I mean, why in the world would I dedicate a blog post to shoes?

These aren’t just shoes, my friend. These are the most kickass pair of boots I’ve ever owned. They’re comfortable. (Oh so comfortable!) And that’s what’s important. I love adorable shoes as much as the next gal, but every time I’ve tried to buy shoes because they’re “cute,” they sit in my closet and never get worn. So why bother? Why waste my time and money on something that I’ll never actually use?

The same goes for writing.

I’ve read work by so many different authors — authors whose voice pops off the page, authors who create characters I want to invite to lunch, authors who describe settings so beautifully, so poetically, and with such prose that makes me wish I could hop on a plane and get myself to wherever that main character might be because surely it’s heaven. (This is considerably harder if you read fantasy and the character is not on Earth, of course.)

But reading books by authors whose writing strengths are different from my own can have a debilitating effect on my writing. When I put down a really well-written book, I instantly fall into despair, knowing that my own work could never compare!

My writing will never be that good! I’ll never be able to capture a scene like that! What am I thinking???

Back to the boots. I don’t wear flashy heels because I can’t pull them off. (God, I wish I could. At 5 feet, I could use the height.) I don’t do the strappy sandal thing because I’m not a Greek goddess. (I’m not even Greek.)

So, I stick to what I do best. Yes, other writers have their strengths, but in admiring those strengths, it’s important not to get so caught up in my awe that I forget my own strengths. I, too, have strengths.

My point? As a writer, it’s okay to appreciate what other writers do well. (It’s encouraged!) It’s even okay to experiment with different writing styles to see what works for you (also a good idea!), but don’t get so intent on mimicking someone else’s style that you lose what makes your writing yours. Your voice is important. Willingly giving up your own style because you think it’ll “look better” if you do what works for another writer is akin to putting on a pair of heels half a size too small. Sure, you can fit your foot in there, but at the end of the day, do you really still want those shoes on your feet? Are they comfortable?

Forget about flashy. Stick with comfort. The “next big thing” could be anything, and maybe, just maybe,  purple hiking boots are the next J.K. Rowling.

(Probably not.)

(Okay, definitely not.)

(But stay comfortable anyway.)

If a Writer Logs On

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If a writer logs on,
she’ll want to check her email before she starts working.
When she checks her email,
she’ll see she someone tagged her on Facebook.
She’ll log into Facebook,
and see she has three messages.
When she checks her messages,
she’ll notice one of them is from a writer friend.
When she connects with her writer friend,
she’ll click on the friend’s link to an agent tweet.
When she clicks on the link,
she’ll have to log into Twitter.
When she logs into Twitter,
she’ll see five notifications.
When she opens her notifications,
she’ll want to reply to all of them.
When she’s finished replying to them,
she’ll have gotten six more notifications.
The notifications will remind her that it’s the day of a pitch contest.
So she’ll work furiously on 140 character pitches.
She’ll fake tweet them 12 times to check her character length,
and then she’ll remember that she needs to leave space for the hashtag.
She’ll rewrite the pitches another 18 times.
When she finally has them right,
she’ll set her phone alarm to remind her to tweet periodically throughout the day.
But her phone will remind her that she needed to return her mother’s call,
so she’ll call her mom to chat.
When she’s done talking to her mom,
the first alarm on her phone is buzzing.
She’ll log into Twitter to tweet her first pitch.
Since she’ll have an hour before her next pitch,
she figures she’ll do some writing.
So she’ll open her current WIP.
She’ll read three paragraphs and begin to wonder why she ever wrote them.
Wondering why she wrote them will lead to self-doubt.
Self-doubt will lead her to log into Facebook to talk to her writer friend.
Her writer friend will convince her that her writing is not garbage,
but only after a lengthy chat.
About the time the chat winds down,
the phone alarm buzzes to remind her to tweet her second pitch.
She’ll log into Twitter and discover her first pitch hasn’t been favorited.
Feeling defeated already, she’ll tweet her second pitch.
Then she’ll close her laptop because she just can’t stomach defeat.
An hour later, she’ll regain her determination and decide to write,
so she’ll open her laptop to write.
And chances are, if she opens her laptop,
she’ll want to log on.

Tweet On

twitter-logo-1Once upon a time, writing was really a very solitary activity. Writers would hole up in a room by themselves, channel their inner muse (and hope that she showed up), and tap away on their typewriter (or – GASP – word processor) until a finished manuscript managed to produce itself. This was before the time of the internet, of course. Certainly before Twitter.

Now writers spend half their time chatting with other writers on Twitter about the difficulties of writing.

And that’s okay.

(What? You thought I was about to get preachy, no?)

Sure, Twitter can be a major distraction, but it’s also a tremendous source of encouragement. I’ve learned more about the writing process, the fourteen different stages of going from writer to published author (Okay, you got me – I picked that number at random. It may not actually be fourteen.), and the sheer determination (in addition to talent) needed to keep going on those days when it seems like the only thing you’re good at is pressing the backspace key as many times as you hit all the other keys combined.

The writing community on Twitter is an overwhelmingly positive source of support and encouragement, and provides an endless supply of knowledge from those writers who are one, two, or ten steps ahead of you in the writing journey.

I can’t lie. Shamefully, when I first joined Twitter, my intent was to stalk. I wan’t online to interact. I just wanted to learn. Putting my own sentiments out there into the infinite space of the web was not high on my list of things to do. (Ha! Says the lady who is now blogging…) Besides, what knowledge could I possibly impart onto others?

Guess what? I was wrong. (Really, someone take a screen grab of that… My husband will want to frame it.) Seriously, though, even though I feel like I have little to share with emerging writers, the fact is, I still have encouragement. And the longer I’ve been involved with the online writing community, the more info I have to share.

One of the best ways to get involved and to befriend other writers is to enter online writing contests, contests like #PitMad, #PitchMadness, #PitchWars, and #QueryKombat.  (There are lots more, but you get the point!) Most of the time, the outcome of these contests will leave you crying in despair, wondering if you’re ever going to make it. But the object of writing contests isn’t to “make it.” It’s to encourage interaction and fine tune your craft. To learn.

And it works. The evidence is in the dozens of writers who see an uptick in interest in their work after entering contest after contest. Contests aren’t a measure of your worth as a writer. (Or, for that matter, as a human being!) They are a measure of your skill as a writer, your potential to construct a query that will grab an agent’s attention, and your ability to sell yourself and your work in a simple elevator pitch (one preferably without the “Uh’s” and “Um’s”).

So the next time you find yourself on Twitter and you suspect you might be stalling (because, admit it, you’re stumped on that one scene), give yourself a free pass to continue tweeting. It’ll make you a better writer.

And if it doesn’t?

Well, you’ll have new friends, and that’s always a win.

Plot Twist

My family has been dealt a bit of a blow this week. (In a book, one might call this a plot twist. Lord knows I never saw this coming…) I thought I’d share our recent experience here, in case I drop off the grid for a while. (Hopefully I won’t, but you really can’t tell when your attentions will be divided elsewhere—especially when it comes to healthcare.)

After two and a half weeks of testing, my husband was diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer yesterday. I say the words as I type them here, but it still doesn’t feel real. I mean, this only happens to other people, right?

To make matters worse, the buffoons in Congress want to pass a bill that will yank healthcare coverage from millions and increase premiums across the board (yes, even if you have healthcare provided by your employer) in what generally amounts to a tax cut for the rich. (And I must apologize to the animal buffoon because it’s really not fair to be compared with the slime in power right now. Oh, and I’m also sorry to slime molds because I now just compared them with the jerks who “lead” our country.) If passed, this bill will cost families like mine over $145,000 a year. I don’t know what you make a year, but we don’t make $145k a year. In fact, when we bought our home in 2003, our mortgage was less than that and we still needed a 30-year loan to pay for it. So when I hear that Congress thinks it’s okay to pursue a bill that hurts millions of Americans, I seethe.

I was already #resisting, but now I feel the fight has gotten personal. And I’m angry. I’m really, really angry. I alternate between railing at those in government, at those who put them there—the ones who thought it was okay to put clearly incompetent egotists in charge of caring for 300 million lives, and at those who just didn’t care enough to vote at all. I’m angry.

So what does anger do for writing? Well, it’s not good. I’ve had people tell me that I should channel my emotion into a great scene, that I should use this energy to capture a character’s mood in all its raw glory, that I should write a heart-wrenching chapter that tugs at the reader’s emotions.

And you know what? I simply don’t have the energy. Maybe I would if I wasn’t so damn busy emailing and faxing and calling Congress. Maybe I could throw myself into writing if I wasn’t worried that my family and millions like us are in danger of losing everything. Maybe I could focus a little more if I had a little less to worry about.

And here’s the part where I give you an assignment. Make the calls. Pick up the phone. Call your congressmen and women daily. Make their lives a living hell until they agree to start working for the American people, until they remember that they aren’t entitled to their job, that they were put there by the people who voted for them, and that they need to listen to those very people. I’ll even give you the links.

Don’t know who your U.S. House Representative is? You can search by zip code here. For U.S. Senate, find your senators here.

So I know that this post isn’t about writing, but it’s important. It’s necessary. Take action. Make the calls. The decisions made by Congress affect you. They affect us all. It’s time to remind Congress who they work for.

Book Buddies

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I think she means “Up to Reading,” not “Up to No Good.” She’s *always* reading!

It probably goes without saying, but I love books. And if you’re a writer, it’s a good bet that you do, too. It’s hard for me to keep up with the constant stream of fantastic new releases, so I leave that job up to my friend Shanah, the Bionic Book Worm.

If you haven’t checked out her website, do it now! And follow her on Twitter, where she announces book giveaways and shares random book fun! Shanah reads and reviews a lot of Young Adult fiction, but don’t be fooled into thinking that Young Adult novels are meant only for Young Adults to read. In fact, the target YA audience is usually adult women. (Did you know that?) Books fall into a YA category primarily due to the ages of their main characters.

But don’t worry if YA isn’t your “thing.” Shanah also reviews plenty of other age categories and genres and loves to share Random Bookish Thoughts that any reader can enjoy. Shanah may actually be one of the few people I know who I can say with 100% certainty reads more than I do, so when she reviews a book, she’s usually got a pretty good idea what’s going on, what she can compare it to, and how worthy it is of her praises. I trust her recommendations, no questions asked!

So, what are you waiting for? Why are you still on my blog? Check out Shanah’s website and start checking off a list of ‘Want to Reads’ on Goodreads!