Honestly…

It’s been a rough week and I really hadn’t thought about what to put on paper. I’ve been trying to take things day by day, because sometimes, that’s all you can do.

Last week, on my way to work, the muffler pipe on my truck snapped. Someone at my work was kind enough to rig something so the pipe wouldn’t move while I made my way home. Now, my truck is very loud and it isn’t running as well as I’m used too. My brother rigged a beer can to it to try and keep the pipe together, but it’s only a temporary fix. When it comes to it, my old man (truck) is getting to the point where he’s is calling it quits. So, I’ve been searching for a new car.

At the start of the week, my mom and I went out to a dealership to test drive a few cars. I determined I like the Chevy Spark and I thought I was going to purchase one that day, but the one I wanted was sold the morning I went in to look at it. So, the search for the kind of Spark I want continues.

Not only has my truck been an issue, but things are popping up at work. 401k stuff has to be redone since we’re moving to a new company and to me, all that is like trying reading Klingon. Then there’s changes in my workplace. A new cleaning crew started and messed up everyone’s routine and the crew still hasn’t gotten the flow of things yet. My coworkers and I end up having to finish the job when they leave for the day. Plus, we have to find all the places they hid our food bowls so we can clean them. There’s drama amongst my coworkers and with the new cleaning crew, things are tense. Then, literally yesterday we got two new people on the team and I was asked to train them. I don’t think I’m very good at teaching people, but no one has complained so far.

It’s safe to say that I’ve been quite drained and tired at the end of the day that I can’t even get myself to write anything: my stories, a writing prompt, a more clever and funner idea for this post. But that’s okay. Everyone has days where things just get away from you. You have to shift your priorities to get important stuff done, then when the 401k is translated, the new people know what they’re doing, and the drama dies down you can get back to what you love. It just takes patience, perseverance, and discipline and I’ve certainly been learning about all three lately.

It’s too easy to want to get frustrated or overwhelmed or even wrapped up in the drama. There’s too much to do, too much going on that sometimes you don’t want to deal with any of it. When this happens. I find it best to make a list. Make a list of everything you need to do: 401k stuff, car search, training plan, webposts, grocery store, writing, call your brother, watch that new episode, etc. etc. etc. Get a definite list of everything you want to accomplish: good things and tedious things. So, when you get a few of the tedious things done, you can reward yourself by watching that new episode and then that’s another thing you can cross off your list! (I’m the type of person who is very satisfied with crossing things off lists.) You can actually see yourself making progress, feel accomplished, and all those good things that come with it. You may not get to everything in one weekend/day/night/etc. but make priorities. Get stuff done that needs it now and rollover other things for the next weekend/day/night/etc. You just have to make sure you get past the hardest part:

“But I really don’t feel like doing anything.”

That’s the trap, isn’t it? You don’t feel like doing anything, so nothing gets done. I get it, you could have a hard day at work mentally, physically, and/or emotionally that “feeling” like doing something typically wins over. This is where discipline comes in. You have to be an accountability for yourself. When you don’t feel like doing something, you do something anyway. Start with the easiest thing on your list and go from there. You might get a second wind and accomplish more things, you might just stop at one, but at least you got something done!

Getting stuff accomplished this week has been hard for me, but I still manage to write a post, get 401k jumbo started, determine what kind of car I want (even though I haven’t found one yet), I even met up with a friend to discuss edits and improvements for my novel. When it comes to work, things are still getting done, our routine is all out of whack, but everything that needs to get done gets accomplished and we can move onto the fun stuff like enrichment for the dogs. Tomorrow, after work, I plan on accomplishing more things on my list and rewarding myself by watching the new episode of a show I like. I know it’s hard to push through the “I don’t feel like doing anything,” but that’ll only lead to you feeling bad about not getting anything done–trust me, I’ve been there.

So, I’m going to work on my list and I encourage you to write one up for yourself. If you think of more things, add them and keep crossing them off. I believe in you.

Writing Prompt: A View From Others

Think about a time you were in public. Describe yourself from the point of view of someone else.

“Oh, Oscar, don’t look now, but I think someone got stood up,” Viv chuckles as she takes a sip of her cocktail. The bar is pretty active tonight, but it was no surprise for a Saturday. Most of the usuals were lingering around, but Viv just happened to notice one girl sitting by herself. Oscar starts to glance over his shoulder. “I said don’t look now!” Viv about smacks him. “She’ll know we’re talking about her.”

“Doesn’t look like she’s too interested in what’s going on around her.” Oscar shrugs and turns back toward his food. “She’s probably just waiting on her friends to arrive.”

“She’s been waiting for over thirty minutes.” Viv huffs and looks back at the girl. Poor thing was sitting by herself at a table for six. Menus and chips were laid out and the girl’s drink was just glass of water. “She looks like she just got off work.” Viv eyes the girl’s outfit up and down and huffs again. “Who wears that anyway? Burgundy scrub pants, a ragged, gray, work shirt, and is that a purple ball cap? Who wears purple ball caps? Not to mention those boots are hardly flattering.”

“It’s her work uniform.” Oscar gives Viv a light scowl. “She probably just got off and didn’t want to change before she came out. Why are you being so judgmental?”

Viv shrugs. “I just feel bad for her. Her friends obviously stood her up.”

“You don’t know that.” Oscar sighs and steals a glance over his shoulder. “She looks perfectly content to me. Whether her friends show up or not, I don’t think her night is wasted.”

Viv frowns. “What do you mean?”

“Look at what she’s doing. She’s writing in a journal or something. To me, it looks like she’s getting something done and enjoying herself.”

Viv shakes her head. “Enjoying herself without her friends? I would be embarrassed.”

“We’ll she’s clearly not you, Viv.” Oscar rolls his eyes. “Some people just enjoy their alone time and she looks like one of them. Look, I bet she hasn’t looked around once since she got here. Has she?” By Viv’s off-glance scowl, Oscar knew he was right. “She probably wouldn’t care if she found out you were judging her. She’s doing what she likes, so leave her alone. Besides, what’s it say about you for putting her down like that?”

Viv let’s out a long sigh. “I guess you’re right. I’ll leave her alone.” She looks at the girl one more time, but catches sight of two other girls heading over to her. “I guess her friends didn’t stand her up. She’s saved from embarrassment now.”

Oscar turns around to follow Viv’s gaze and he chuckles. The girl in the purple hat greeted her two friends, but then went right back to writing in her journal. “Heh, I don’t think embarrassment ever crossed her mind.”

Writing Prompt: Right Now?

What do you need right now?

I need to write my stories. I need to read many books.
I need to promote my website and focus on my looks.
I need to draft some posts. Figure out book reviews.
Find a community to call my own and contests of the right hues.

So much to do to chase a dream.
So much to do within a day.
40 hour work a week. 56 just for sleep.
Leaves just 72 to chase the dream.

Yet, in comes chores, dinner, and bills.
Fix the house, mow the lawn, make sure little stomachs are filled.
Then tired you are, no energy to spend.
No motivation to grab the dream again.
It’s time to query. It’s time to research,
but now you can’t get your head to work.

A day comes and is gone and your dream’s on the shelf.
You want to give up, but can’t face yourself.
Hope is thin, a small light of resistance.
But every step closes the distance.

So, go on and write and go on and read.
Every bit will help your dream.

Sturdy Little Pecans

Some people have green thumbs. Some don’t. Some have an elaborate garden while others just have a few flowers. Me? Well, I’m trying to grow pecan trees. Just a couple pecan trees, but it’s proving more of a challenge than I thought. I’m not going to give up. One day, I will have my own tree producing its own nuts, but in the meantime, I’m learning the lessons that little pecan trees can teach.

I’ve been trying to grow a pecan tree for years. My grandparents have trees lining the side of their house and I thought it would be cool to grow another tree from it’s seed. In college, I took a single pecan, soaked it in water for a while, then planted it in dirt just to see if I could get it to grow. It did! But I somehow killed it…maybe too much water? I didn’t transplant it to a bigger pot? Part of me thinks its because I wasn’t too serious about growing it. I mean, I lived in an apartment in my college town. Where was I going to put this tree? So, the little guy didn’t make it. I wanted to try and grow another one, but my grandparents live over a state away, and with college stressing me out, I wasn’t be able to get another pecan for a while. When I could get one, I got multiple to increase my odds of growing one to full maturity.

It was spring 2019 when I got my pecans and got more serious about growing them. My grandpa had just passed away and when my grandma found out I wanted to grow trees like she and my grandpa did, she saved a few sprouts that were growing in her yard for me. When we left the funeral for home, I had six tree sprouts in the backseat.

I planted them in bigger pots right away and they were doing great! Getting bigger and leafier, I was very excited! People kept asking me: “where you going to put these pecan trees?” And my answer was always the same: “I dunno! I’m just trying to grow them first!”

All my trees bundled together on the back deck that summer. They were in a good spot where they would get a good amount of sun, but not too much. I loved checking on them every day to see how they were doing. Yet, one day, one of them disappeared. It was devastating! A hole was in the place the tree should’ve been. A squirrel dug it up, stole the leaves, the roots, and especially the nut. After that, my trees got caged in fencing.

A few days later, I decided to name my trees to help me tell them a part. The first was named Little Diek (pronounced “dee-k”) because Diek was the name my grandfather went by. The second one is called Cardinal, because my grandma loves cardinals. Then there were Putt Putt and Sequence, two games my grandparents liked to play. The final one is called Double Shift, the topic of the last conversation I had with my grandpa before he died.

Throughout the summer, my trees grew really well, each got big and leafy, even Little Diek, who was always smaller than the others. Then, one day, Little Diek got snapped by a squirrel. I don’t remember how or why. I just remember checking on my trees to find Little Diek as less than a stump. I was worried he was gone for good, but his roots were still intact, so I held out hope, and you know what? He bounced back! He grew a new stalk and new leaves and was much smaller than the others now, but I was just happy I didn’t lose him.

Fall came around and I heard that it’s best to plant trees in the ground in the fall. So, I planted my little trees. Cardinal and Double Shift went into my mom’s backyard since they were the strongest of the five while Putt Putt and Sequence went out to my brother’s acres. I didn’t have a place for Little Diek and I didn’t want to plant him outside while in the midst of his recovery. So, he hung out in the garage when the temperatures dropped. Once I had my trees in the ground, I put hay around them to keep them warm through the winter (and fences, of course–stupid squirrels).

Winter of 2019 wasn’t bad, but dormant baby trees are just twigs sticking out of the ground. I’m not a tree expert, so I don’t know how to tell if a dormant tree is still alive. Seeing them as sticks always had me questioning if they were dead, dying, or just not going to come back in the spring. Plus, I wasn’t sure how well my older brother was taking care of Putt Putt and Sequence. I thank God that my worries were in vain. Come spring, my trees started showing new growth again!

2020 was a messed up year for all of us: Covid, job closings, stay-at-home mandates. We can all agree that it just sucked. Well, honestly, I think my trees felt the weight of 2020 too, because they weren’t growing as well as they did in the previous summer. I kept them watered, but something didn’t feel right. Their leaves got pretty big, but they were crinkled or spotted. I sprayed bug spray on them to keep the pests off, but no matter what I did to help them, something always felt wrong.

I expressed my concerns to my grandma and she told me all about the sprouts that are growing in her flower beds and gardens (the soil at her house must be blessed by God since she can get these trees to grow without even wanting them and I’m struggling to grow five). She said my dad was going to come out one weekend, so she’d have him bring many of the sprouts with him.

I ended up getting a lot of sprouts from her. More sprouts than I knew what to do with (I definitely counted over twenty of them)! However, they hadn’t been dug up properly. Out of all of them, only two had their main roots intact (which was fine by me because I had no idea where I was going to put twenty trees). With how small these two new trees were, I put them in a pot together. They’re named Vandalia after a bus company my grandpa worked at for years and Patchwork, because my grandma is really good at making quilts.

In the fall of 2020, my mom had tree guys come out to do an estimate on how much it would cost to take down a few dying trees in the backyard (it was a long time coming. We were watching them fall apart. One of them had a completely hollowed-out stump). My mom ends up bringing up my pecan trees and proudly shows them off to the tree guys. Well, one of the guys is a tree expert and he takes a look at Cardinal and Double Shift and goes: “Oh…huh…well…those aren’t going to survive the winter…”

Remember when I said I felt like something was wrong with my trees? Turns out, I was right. From what I understood, they weren’t injured, they weren’t sick, but they were vulnerable–extremely vulnerable. The tree guy looked at the little bumps on my trees (natural bumps that are the zones for growth. They’re where the leaves sprout from), and he said they needed to get covered up or the frost was going to freeze them out. As much as I wanted to believe my trees could power through, I knew they needed my help. So, I dug up Cardinal and Double Shift and brought them inside. However, I never made it to my brother’s to get Putt Putt or Sequence.

The dying trees in my mom’s backyard were taken down that fall and they left wood shavings and chips all over the place. Decomposing organic material is usually really good for trees, but just to be sure, I looked it up. Turns out, unprocessed wood shavings–just like the ones laying around our yard–is great for trees! So, I scooped up as much as I could and added them to my trees’ pots. Then, winter came, a much harsher winter than the year before. I’m glad I brought my trees inside, but they returned to being twigs sticking out of the ground and I could only hope that they’d survive.

Winter ends. The fresh breath of spring graces the land. My family and I headed out to my brothers for dinner and I went to his back field to check on Putt Putt and Sequence. I hoped that even though I wasn’t able to dig them up, the hay and fencing we put around them would help them power through the winter storms.

They didn’t.

Both Sequence and Putt Putt were undoubtedly dead. Putt Putt was dried out and even snapped when I gently tested its flexibility while Sequence had disappeared. I dug through the hay trying to locate Sequence, but I have a feeling it dried out and snapped long ago. It was heartbreaking. Two more trees from my grandpa’s funeral were killed. I definitely planted them in the ground too early. They weren’t ready for the harsh weather of the Midwest and because I forced them to be, they perished. I decided that my other trees aren’t going into the ground until I’m sure they’ll make it through the winter on their own. My brother still wants pecan trees, so when Vandalia and Patchwork get old enough, they’ll be going out to him.

As for the trees at my mom’s house, we got them outside as soon as the weather got warmer and staid warmer. I stared at my trees like a hawk just searching for signs that they were alive. We kept them in the garage all winter, but even our garage can get pretty cold. Vandalia and Patchwork were the first to shows signs of life and growth, but I expected that from them. It was Double Shift, Cardinal, and Little Diek I was worried about.

Cardinal was the first of the three to show signs of growth. She had always been an overachiever and the strongest of my trees, so once one little leaf sprouted, all her little leaves sprouted. Little Diek was the next to show signs of growth! However, Double Shift kept me waiting.

If I hadn’t learned my lesson before, I’ve certainly learned it now. One day, I went to check on my trees and Little Diek was gone! I forgot to put fencing around them and the stupid squirrels came back and snapped Little Diek at the base of his trunk AGAIN! It wasn’t fair! He had survived the harsh winter, but the squirrels still had it out for him! I was devastated, but I refused to give up on him. I mean, his roots were still intact, so maybe he could bounce back again? That same day I discovered the crime scene, I caged my trees. Each one got wrapped individually in fencing and then I wrapped them all together with more fencing. No stupid squirrel was going to get to them again!

I kept watering them over the next couple days. Every time I got home from work, I’d go check on Little Diek for any signs of life. Cardinal had little leaves all over her, she looked like a really small baobab tree. Vandalia and Patchwork had even growth all over them and they were definitely competing to see who could stand straighter than the other (Pathwork was winning and he rubbed it in by growing a couple more trunks). Yet, Double Shift and Little Diek weren’t showing any signs of growth. The back of my mind told me to give up on them. I could use their pots for Vandalia and Patchwork when the two got big enough. But, Little Diek and Double Shift were two of my favorites out of all my trees. Their pots weren’t in the way of anything, so I didn’t give up on them yet.

Fast forward to a day my family’s working in the yard. I’m hanging over Little Diek and Double Shift like a scientist at a microscope and I’m observing every millimeter of them for any signs of change. And you know what? One of the zones of growth on Little Diek was slightly green. I held my breath in daring to hope. I couldn’t be 100% positive, but I was 99.3% positive that he was going to bounce back!

“But, Nikki, it was slightly green. Are you even sure you knew what you were looking at? What if it was a trick of the light?” You’re right. It could’ve been a trick of the light, my hopeful mind trying to see something that might not have been there, but I kept going back to him everyday and everyday he grew a little bit greener, until one day I came back and Little Diek had a little leaf growing from that zone of growth!

He survived the squirrels AGAIN! Little Diek shot toward the the sky after that! The photo featured in this post is actually of Little Diek a week after I spotted that slight bit of green on him. A few days later, he was taller than all my other trees! Even Cardinal! And I guess his growth inspired Double Shift, because after Little Diek bounced back, Double Shift sprouted leaves as well! I couldn’t believe it! All my trees were alive and well and growing beautifully!

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our share of hardships this summer. There was a week where we got nothing but rain so I had to constantly pour water out of my trees’ pots else they’d drown. Then, we got blazing sunshine for a week, so I was constantly watering them. During those times, I was worried about Double Shift and Cardinal. They used to be the strongest of my trees, but now they’re not as full as the Little Diek and the others. Now that the weather has–for the most part–calmed down, they’re all doing pretty good. I actually had to take Little Diek’s personal cage off of him because it was stunting his growth. Now, he only has one protective layer of caging, but I’ve made sure the squirrels won’t be able to get to him again. Vandalia and Patchwork are still in the same pot together, but over the next couple of days, I plan on splitting them apart into separate pots. As competitive as those two are, it’s not healthy to get too competitive.

Looking at my trees today, Little Diek still has the most luscious growth out of all of them. Double Shift is getting fuller with his leaves and Cardinal is actually growing more branches down at her base. Like I said, Vandalia and Patchwork need to be split apart, but they’re both doing amazingly well (Pathwork is still straighter and taller than Vandalia and now has multiple branches growing at his base–the show off). I’m hoping I can get them all in the ground this fall, but I’m worried about how harsh the winter may be. We’ll just have to see how things go when we get there.

So, I started off with six pecan trees. Lost one. Then, gained two. Lost two, and now I’m down to five. It’ll probably be Little Diek and Cardinal that go in my mom’s backyard. Vandalia and Patchwork will go to my brother, and we’ll just have to see what happens to Double Shift. I’ve definitely learned a lot from these little pecan trees. They’re sturdy and resilient–especially Little Diek. Life can throw squirrels at you, storms, and drought, but taking care of yourself, getting help from others, and being patient in hope can lead to some massive growth. I believe, someday, my little sprouts will be producing pecans just like my grandparents’ trees and when the storms of life come at them, they’ll be strong enough to stand on their own. I’m super excited to see how they’ll grow from here.

Wildfire

Heat radiating and raging harshly.
Destruction everywhere.
The flames licked the trees, the leafs, and the life away.
Devastation reigned in fiery chaos. 

Blackened ashes rise, dead.
Roaring coals rocketed from the flames,
Spreading the destruction across its wake.
Faster and faster life perishes.

Flee! Habitants, the forest drops defeated!
Run for water, run for cover, run for your very lives!
There is no mercy in a wildfire, only the cowards do survive.
For the brave who go for fallen mates, must endure the rage again.

The sky darkens from smoke and mournful clouds,
Who drop their tears down on the land.
Such tenderness, such kindness, the fire screams in agony,
With the water from the heavens the healing finally begins.

Barren, broken, and black the forest mourns with the sky.
Homes have been lost along with lives, charred and ruined by a simple match.
The fire those humans forgot to put out, broke down the forest with its eternal rage.
Though covered with ashes and blackened to bits, life begins anew.

How’s the New Year?

I know. We’re nearing the end of June. Which means that 2021 isn’t exactly new anymore. For A LOT of us, 2021 is going twenty times better than 2020. I mean, this time last year, I was working part time at the library with the overcast of knowing the job I scored at the zoo got cancelled because of Covid. I was querying agents quite a bit and getting nothing but rejections in reply. It was a really low point for me. When your dream of working with cheetahs gets crushed because of a stupid virus, and you’re stuck working part time shelving books, and you’re getting nothing but rejections from agents, it’s easy to think you’re life has no purpose. Now, it’s 2021, Covid is almost over (*crosses fingers and says a prayer*), I work at an animal shelter with some pretty awesome coworkers, and I’m taking a break from querying. I’m confident things will turn around, and I’m most confident about completing my New Year’s Resolution.

The new year’s resolution. Do you remember what yours is? With the start of each new year, everyone is so excited for changes and hopeful for aspirations that we sometimes can set pretty high resolutions. Then, the middle of the year comes and most people have fallen off the resolution train. So what about you? What was your resolution? Write more? Read more? Get fit? Eat healthy? Do more of your hobbies? Go somewhere new? The list goes on and on and on. How are you doing on your resolution? If you’ve fallen away from it, it’s not too late to get back to it.

Here’s why I say that: my new year’s resolution was to 1. write everyday and 2. finish the “first draft” of the sequel to my completed novel. (I put first draft in quotations because it’s been completed before, but it was BAD. That draft will stay buried in the deep dark files of my computer.) So, I haven’t been writing everyday, but I’ve come to realize that writing everyday can cause you to burn out, especially if you’re stuck in some chapters like I was. The latest draft of my sequel was halfway done when I started this year. However, I chopped a chunk off because I didn’t like the way it flowed. So, it was about a third of the way done. Fast forward to when I start writing and I’m struggling like a fish on a hook.

My main character is supposed to meet a new culture of people in the span of a few chapters and I found myself with a lot of variables that I have to somehow weave together. In my mind, it was simple: angry boy meets angry boy, betrayal, accusation, misdirection, history is revealed, angry boy 2 gets slapped, escape, and I move on to the sections of the story I actually know how to write. Well, everything I was trying to fit together happens in the span of three chapters and I have lost track of how many versions of those three chapters I have written in my notebook. I couldn’t get my hands to write the perfect scenes for these chapters and it was becoming so frustrating and discouraging, that I quit.

I quit. I quit on my sequel. I quit on my characters. I quit on my new years resolution. I moved on to writing a different novel. One that I thought had more chances of success than my uncooperative sequel. I was probably halfway through my sequel if I went with any of the versions of those frustrating chapters and with the way I was struggling to complete the last one, I didn’t think there was enough time left in the year to get the entire novel finish. I kept trying to tell myself to just get something on the page. It’s the first draft it’s not going to be perfect! I mean, my first novel got completely rewritten seven years after starting it. Then, there’s that quote that you hear of “write the first draft with your heart then edit with your head,” but I could not get myself to do it…

Fast forward to my discussion with best-selling author Julie Lessman. I don’t know what it was about our talk, but when I came home, I took a look at my sequel again. I probably wrote 100 words the first day. Then, 500 the next. Then, 700. 1000. I got the first draft of those frustrating chapters completed ( don’t know how I feel about them, but they’re DONE. I’ll revise them later!). In the next few days, I got the chapter after them completed, and I’m already halfway through the next chapter. Now that I’m on to the parts of the story that I’ve been excited for since the beginning, I think it’ll all be downhill from here (which is quite literally for my characters if I think about it). I’ve got half a year left. I think it’s more than possible to complete my new year’s resolution.

So, it’s never too late to get that resolution complete. Whether you want to write more, exercise more, read more, do more, go more places, do something new, so on and so forth, it’s possible to achieve those goals you had at the start of 2021. If you didn’t have a new year’s resolution, it’s not too late to start. This year is already better than last year, right? So, you’re already ahead.

Wastin’ Time

To the style of “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding

Sittin’ on the dock of the lake,
Watching the waves coming from the wakes.
Got the sun shining down on me,
It’s so nice to be carefree,
Wastin’ time.

Little ducklings come from the reeds,
Looking for sweet, sweet green peas.
Got the blue gills nibble at my toes
And the turtles come and go,
Roaming on.

Water laps upon the shore,
A calming song like age old lore.
What a day to finally relax,
Knowing the sun has got my back.
With everything to live for
It’s coming my way.
Let the sun lead me to brighter days!

But for now, I’m sitting on the dock of the lake.
Watching the waves roll in from the wakes.
Wastin’ time.

Advice from an Author: Julie Lessman

A week ago, I had the honor to pick a published author’s brain. Not just any author either: award winning Christian Romance author Julie Lessman. Her first book earned her the American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year Award and she’s written over 20 books since then. So, how does someone like me get a sit down with a published and seasoned author like Julie? Surprisingly enough: Julie’s a friend of my aunt.

My aunt has known Julie for years–they used to work together–and knowing how passionate I am about becoming a writer, my aunt asked Julie if she would sit down with me for a while. I’m so thankful Julie said yes.

I’ll admit, I had my doubts about meeting her. I wasn’t sure what else she could tell me that I didn’t already know. Plus, she’s a romance writer and romance isn’t really my thing. Thinking about it further, what if I ask her for opinions on how to do my blog and I find out I’ve been doing things wrong all along–talk about discouraging! Then there’s the thought of “well, maybe she’ll tell me I’m doing everything right? But…if that’s the case, then why am I not published yet? Huh…Yeah…I’m definitely doing something wrong.” Hopefully Julie can help pinpoint it, and I’ll at least know how I can do better. When the meeting time and place was set, I started thinking of questions. Julie only had an hour to talk, so I narrowed down a list of the main things I wanted to ask her.

I was so nervous about meeting her. You can ask my grandma, I was pacing around the condo in my anxiousness. I had no idea what Julie might say, if she’d even be able to help me, or if she even thought I had any potential at all. I mean, first impressions are big impressions and even though I’m 26, I sure as eggs don’t look it.

My aunt and I arrived first at the meeting place at and we munched on a cinnamon roll until Julie arrived. She and my aunt hadn’t seen each other in years, so they started catching up in conversation. The last thing I wanted was to be rude, so I patiently waited and listened to their stories.

Eventually, it’s time to talk shop. I started with the easy questions of how Julie got published. She went with traditional publishing at first and it took her a few years to get her “yes” from an agent and that “yes” was for the first novel she had written. Now, in all my rejections, I’ve had one agent offer me feedback and it was that my word count was too high for my genre. Since then, word count has always been a haunt in my brain, so I had to ask Julie about her experience with it. Julie’s debut novel is A Passion Most Pure of the Daughters of Boston series and it has roughly 140,000 words. If you look up the typical word count for an adult fiction novel or even a romance novel, it’ll tell you the high end for word count is around 100,000 words (which, in my experience, no agents like books over 100,000 words). Yet, Julie told me all of her books reach over that typical mark for her genre, so it isn’t impossible to find someone who will love your book despite the word count. That should be encouraging, right? My novel hits roughly 128,000 words, so ideally it should be more appealing to an agent than a 140,000 word manuscript. The problem is: hearing about Julie’s word count didn’t encourage me as much as I’d hoped. While she’s talking, I hear those whispers in my ear that our situations are different. She’s in Adult Christian Romance, I’m in New Adult Fantasy, our ideal word counts are different. Just because she made it with a higher word count doesn’t mean that I will.

Not everyone gets their first written novel as their debut. Over the past couple months, I’ve been thinking that maybe my first novel needs to sit on the shelf for a while before it can get the spotlight. So, I’ve been trying to work on other stories of mine that might be more appealing to agents–like the one set around Saturn. Hearing about Julie’s word count and knowing the thoughts I’ve been having for a couple months, I asked Julie how many books she had completed before she got published. She ended up telling me a story about one of her author friends and that story’s been sticking with me over the past week. I don’t recall the author’s name, but she had a dozen books completed before one of them finally got published. A dozen! Honestly, I would’ve lost the battle to discouragement by then, but once that author got her first book out, she was able to pick up speed in the market by getting the others published one after another and she’s become a best selling author! If you take anything out of this blog post, take that story. That author had the resilience and passion for her craft to keep writing even though rejection likely loomed like a shadow over her shoulder. That story was enough for me to want to get back into writing again. I mean, you could almost play it like a game: How many books can you write before you get published? One? Two? A dozen? I’ve got one completed, one half-way done, another six chapters in, a few “started,” and a dozen more as concepts. What about you?

Getting back to Julie, I made sure to ask her about her author platform. For those of you who don’t know, some agents prefer authors build their own platform (get their name out there) before they’re even considered for representation. Authors can build their platforms through their own websites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media sites. The more fans/followers/likes/etc. you have, the more likely you’ll be considered for representation. However, that’s not the case for everyone. Julie didn’t have a platform when she got her “yes.” She didn’t promote herself on social media, but when she got her contract, she had to work hard on it. Her advice to me was to follow your genre. As a New Adult writer, I would have to go to the social media platforms where I’ll find my audience. New Adult is typically for ages 18 to 30. Most 18 to 30 year-olds are going to be spread across all of the platforms…So, I’ve got a lot of work to do and speaking with Julie, it felt like a daunting task–it still does! But you have to remember as you build your author platform that the platform doesn’t make the author. I kept thinking that there was a threshold or a certain number of followers you had to hit before you could get published, Julie’s story goes to show that your platform could be at 0 and you’d still have a chance.

One of the ways of building an author platform is by making your own website. When I built this website, I had absolutely no idea what to put on it. I figured I’d include some of my old writings so people can see my writing style. I could use it as a place to store pictures of my art work and since I worked at a library when I first started this site, I’d include a book review section as well. So, I asked Julie what type of content should I be promoting on my website and more book reviews was one of her answers especially for books in my genre. Looks like I’ll be making more time to read. Other things to include in the website is sneak peeks into your books. Maybe do a Sneak Peek Friday that reveals one of the passages in your novel. Something to get people engaged and watching for your novel before it hits the market. Something Julie told me repeatedly is to look at the websites of other writers and authors. Reviewing the format of a bunch of author websites (especially ones in your genre) can help you decide what kind of approach you like best. Then, it’s just a matter of incorporating everything you liked into your own.

One of the last two bits of advice Julie had for me when it comes to the website is to pick a header photo that fits with your genre. Like if you’re a Children’s author, you’ll have something that’ll appeal to kids. Julie has a beautiful lakefront scenery on her website (quite the romantic place). When it comes to New Adult, I honestly have no idea what type of header photo to use. So, this is where I would go look at the websites of other New Adult writers to get ideas. However, when I first started this website, I didn’t want to tie myself down to one genre since a lot of my book ideas jump genres or are of different genres other than New Adult. If I get published and settle down into a genre, I can always update the website. Last thing Julie recommended was to get your picture on your page. Readers want to see what authors look like. And yes…I know. My picture still isn’t on this site. I’m my own worst critic. I don’t like any of the pictures I have of me, so I’m planning on getting better ones taken.

Having an author platform and a website can certainly help you get published, but allow me to share the top two things Julie advised me to do. The first one is to get into a writers group especially a group that focuses your genre. Julie joined ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), FHL (Faith, Hope & Love),  and RWA (Romance Writers of America). Now, I’m still looking for official New Adult groups (the genre is still in development), but in the meantime, I’m peeking into some writers groups around my city to help me get connected to other writers. Getting connected to writers in your category can help you learn more about your genre and improve your writing craft. Plus, you’ll get to know more people like you and you can build each other up. Iron sharpens iron, right?

The second thing Julie stressed is to get into writing contests. She entered a lot of writing contests before she got published and it helped her become known in the writing world and even meet others in her genre. Judges from contests can give helpful feedback so you can see where you are in your journey and how you can improve. I’ll admit, I’ve been avoiding contests. I see some on Twitter and I just keep scrolling. I mean, I already have to deal with the overhang of rejection, I didn’t want to deal with the heartache that comes from a judge’s feedback too. But, how can you improve if you don’t try? Feedback can be a hard pill to swallow whether it comes from a judge, a beta reader (fellow writer), or an alpha reader (nonwriter). It’s what you do with it that counts.

We were getting down to the last question I had for Julie. To me, this was the BIG question. It was the first one I thought of, but I put at the bottom of my list because if we didn’t get to it, then I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Well, Julie was kind enough to stay longer than she originally said, so there was no avoiding this question. I was trying to avoid it for a couple reasons. The first a was because I know how emotional I am and I knew I would get emotional if I asked the question and the second was because I had a feeling I knew what Julie’s answer was going to be. But, Julie was kind enough to give me her time, more time than she originally intended, and as an aspiring author, it would be wise for me to get as much advice from Julie as I could. So, I asked my BIG question and my voice trembled when I did.

“How do you handle the discouragement and low motivation?”

Every writer deals with it. The constant rejections, the low number of followers, the sour feedback, the bad reviews, on and on and on. It’s enough to tear you down and make you want to quit. I’ve become guilty of checking my website stats countless times a day just to see how many people are viewing my work. How many followers do I have on Twitter? Likes on Facebook? What about Pitmad retweets and likes? When the numbers are high, yeah, you’re feeling good, but when the numbers are low. When you can’t get more than ten views a day for a couple weeks at a time, you start to feel like your worth isn’t amounting to anything. So, what’s the advice from a published, award-winning author like Julie Lessman on how to make it through the dark valleys of discouragement?

“Keep your eyes on God.”

She’s a Christian author, right? So, of course she was going to say that. I knew she was going to say that! Just speaking with her, hearing her stories and advice, I could tell this woman is passionate about her walk with God and she’s doing good works through her novels. It’s easy to want to blow it off. Depending on your beliefs, it may sound like crazy talk, but following God clearly seems to be working for her. I mean, she sits on the patio of her lake house overlooking the beauty of creation while writing her stories–that sounds pretty good to me! But no matter what your beliefs are, what Julie said was exactly what I needed to hear.

To give you some background: I grew up a Christian. I still consider myself a Christian. So, I’ve heard it all:

“God loves you,”
“God has a plan for you,”
“God will carry you through the hard times,”
“You are blameless in God’s sight.”
“Have faith. God’ll work it all out.”

I know a lot of Bible verses:

John 3:16-17 ~ For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son so that whoever should believe in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Proverbs 3:5-6 ~ Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.

Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

I even listen to KLove radio, so I know this stuff, right? If that’s the case, then why did I need to hear it again from Julie? It’s because sometimes, even though you might know something, you need a reminder from someone else to help you get out of your own head. I got caught up in the doubt, fear, and shame of not being able to measure up in the eyes of this world, society, others, whatever label you want to put on it. I started to doubt that there was a purpose for me. That my writing wouldn’t go anywhere because my stats remained so low. I heard the whispering that I should just give up and pursue jobs that are more practical and jobs that I’d have an actual chance of a career in. Yet, Julie reminded me that doubt and fear don’t come from God. What comes from God is my passion for writing and since He gave me that, He’s gotta have a plan for it. Now, that’s encouraging! The God of the Universe, the Author of Life, has a plan for my quirky writings? It’s safe to say Julie successfully brought me to tears.

But God’s gotta come first. Speaking with Julie, her passion radiated off of her. She believed every word she was saying wholeheartedly and she has the testimony to back her up. It made me realize how much I’m lacking in the passion for God department and I want to fix that. Matthew 6:33 says “Seeks the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” So, God’s gotta come first and when you put Him first, you won’t find your worth in the stats or reviews, or the way the world, society, and others see you. Have faith in His plan and your discouragement will be forced to tuck and roll on out your window. Faith can be hard at times. I mean, I find myself more often than not wishing I knew His perfect timing, but where’s the fun in knowing when everything is going to happen?

Needless to say, I learned a lot from Julie, and I’m SO thankful she took the time to meet with me. I’m thankful to my aunt too for introducing us. Before we said good-bye, Julie actually prayed for me–which is not something I’m used too, but I’m glad she did. I ended up leaving more encouraged and actually eager to get back to my computer to start writing again. With everything I learned, I wanted to share it so others can learn as well. I hope you were able to take something out of this. If you’re a fellow writer, I hope this helps you in your endeavors. So until next time, God bless!

Don’t Panic

Do you ever feel the weight of the world on your shoulders? Like you just get bombarded with so many issues, problems, and tasks that maybe just you want to sit down and cry? I’ve felt like that recently. Things at work have been exhausting. We have many dogs at the shelter that need to get out three times a day, but only me and my three other coworkers to get them out. Because of all the walking, we’re falling behind on other tasks like enrichment, scooping, and playgroups that allow the dogs to release pent up energy and help us help them work out any behaviors that they need to unlearn. Top it off, there’s a lot of change coming up at my job. Coworkers are leaving, new ones are coming in, schedules will probably be changing, and we’ll be expected to deep clean kennels before the sun even rises (my work is dropping the cleaning crew that typically does it for us). There’s a lot of changes and uncertainty coming up and I don’t do well with either of those…

That’s just what’s going on at work. The drive there is also a hassle (people can be so rude and impatient on the highway and I’m one of them, but that’s a discussion for a different blog post). It takes me longer than I care for to get to work and my truck–though small–is a bit of gas hog. The discussion has already come up about me finding a better, more efficient car (I’d love a hybrid for the environment’s sake, but they’re so expensive!). Yet, getting a better car means taking out a loan and I may be almost done paying off my student loan, but when it comes to my job…I don’t earn a lot. I don’t earn enough to survive in this world. I think the only reason I am surviving is because I still live at home (thanks Mom!) and I don’t have to fork out an entire paycheck just to pay rent. So, with the thought of more loans, then comes the thought of trying to find a better job, but where do you find a better job in the field that I’m in? There’s not a lot of high-paying jobs out there in animal care, unless you’re willing to pay the price and stress of schooling.

Going beyond the stress of finances there’s also the issues happening all over the world: poverty, crime, scandals, countries at beef with each other, and climate change. You want to say you’re doing your part in making the world a better place, right? Yet, it’s easy to get sidetracked. You focus on what you need to do for your life that you may not be able to tend to the worldly problems. Or maybe its the other way around for you? Or maybe you try to throw all your eggs into every basket, but you quickly run out of eggs? It can all become so overwhelming so quickly. We need to get the dogs out to pee! The planet is dying! I gotta check the service engine light in my truck! Children are starving! How am I going to afford the rest of my life?! Why can’t politicians get their act together?! Don’t flip me off on the highway! You’re the one who cut me off, pal! Why can’t we all just get along?!

Breathe.

Just breathe. Yes. There’s a lot of madness going on in the world, but we don’t need to go mad because of it. We shouldn’t carry the weight of the world alone, because we can’t do everything. Did you know that in 2019 there were 7.674 billion people on Earth? And I’ve been told the number is on the incline which means there are more than 7.674 billion people to carry the weight of the world together. A pretty far-out idea, huh? Everyone working together.

Just because you can’t tackle one issue, doesn’t mean you can’t help it. You may not be the one to solve climate change, but you can recycle. You can reduce your gas emissions a little at a time. You could speak out for the sake of the planet, because every voice needs to be heard. Or maybe you’re mission is more helping the homeless, the sick, and those in poverty? Keep cans of food in your car and hand out a next meal to that homeless person on the side of the street. Donate to shelters or give your time. Little things do pile up. Just think of it like a rain storm. Every little thing you do is a drop of rain falling from the sky. If you don’t do much, not much is going to get wet, but if you add your drops of rain to someone else’s drops of rain, and someone else’s, and so on and so forth, then you’ll have enough water there for a flood and we all know how impactful a flood can be.

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed by all the issues in your life and the world as a whole, just pick one. Throw a dart if you have too and just do little things toward its completion. When those little things become a habit, pick another issue and do the same thing, then pick another, and another. Eventually, you’ll be making a bigger impact than you realize.

I may not be able to help with individual, unique life experiences, but if you’re still trying to figure out which worldly issue you want to start making a difference toward, I would suggest climate change. I mean, we can’t have all the other issues if there’s no planet to live on. Easy ways to help is by planting trees or growing gardens (I’ve got five pecan trees growing in pots and it’s so exciting to see them get bigger everyday). You could pick up trash you see on the ground, ride your bike more, or mow the lawn in the early morning or late evening. Some of the bigger things would be to change to solar panels or geothermal energy in your household or buying an electric or hybrid vehicle, but not everyone can afford that, so you do what you can.

Bottom line: when life gets overwhelming: just breathe. Take a step back, breathe, and push ahead when you’re ready. Don’t ever panic because panic can lead to bad decisions and there’s already enough regret in the world. Everything will work out if we all do our part, so don’t panic, and let’s change the world one little thing at a time.

Lake Week

Some people get the luxury of taking vacations multiple times a year. Some can only go once a year while others can’t go at all. I have the good fortune of going once a year. My extended family owns a couple lake condos for one week in June. This week, actually. I get so eager to come down here when the time arrives. There’s a bunch of swimming, games, tubing, skiing, feeding ducks, and hanging out together. My favorite part is going skiing. I only get to go once a year.

As of writing this post, I haven’t gone skiing yet, but I did get to drive a waverunner today. I’ve driven one in the past, but briefly and today, I got to really test myself on it.

I always wanted a waverunner. Or at least, I thought it would be cool to own one. They’re the motorcycles of the open water and I love boating. It’s freeing to sit at the bow and feel the wind rush past you, like you’re flying over the open water. People always tease about that scene from Titanic where Rose is spreading her hands out over the bow of the ship, but really, have they done it? It feels amazing!

Yet, a waverunner is different from an actual boat. There’s less to hold onto and when you’re riding with your brother, there are moments where he has to the do the brotherly tease of speeding up and slowing down suddenly and without warning. It’s hard to predict the runner’s movement when you’re the passenger and I’ll admit, I was nervous about hitting the waves. We never fell off, but with it being a smaller boat, some of those waves can hit you pretty hard (just ask my uncle). My brother took me around for a couple turns around the cove…then he asked me if I wanted to drive.

Did I want to drive? I took a deep breath and made that 😬 face. The thought was kinda scary. I mean, I can’t afford to replace the waverunner if I mess it up. What if I flip it? The last time I was on a jetski, I threw everyone off of it and made one of the passengers cry! I didn’t want to repeat that! Yet, I wasn’t sure I would have another chance. I mean, I used to dream about owning one, and I can’t do that if I’m afraid to drive one! Plus, my brother isn’t going to cry if I throw him off. He’s a big boy and he’ll likely just tease me (then I would throw him off on purpose). My brother is also leaving lake week early and if I was going to drive that thing, he was the one I wanted with me. So, I steeled myself and said yes.

We get back to the dock so we can switch places (we didn’t exactly trust ourselves to not fall off if we tried it on the open water). My brother starts running through the controls when my younger cousin cuts in to “teach me” as well. I’m already anxious and I do worse when multiple people are yelling or trying to tell me things. Since my brother knows this, he snaps at my cousin to shut up. My brother finishes up the lesson and we ship out.

I start off slow to get used to the throttle. It reminded me of when I was first learning to drive my truck. Go. Sudden slow down. Go! Killed it. Gooooo. Too fast! Panic! Let go of the throttle! Sudden slow down! Gah!

Good thing you can’t kill a waverunner like a stick shift truck. It’s just bunch of sudden speed ups and slow downs that your poor passenger is rocking back and forth like a loose bouy. We weren’t getting anywhere, so I took a deep breath, pulled myself together, gradually increased the throttle, and willed myself to not let go. It was thrilling to be flying over the water. I got it up to 47 miles per hour and that was even in the rain. We hit a couple waves that I didn’t see, and hit a couple waves that I went for. We held on, handled it well, and kept on going. I even dodged a piece of debris after seeing it last minute! And we still didn’t fall off (unlike my cousin and uncle. They stopped in the middle of the wake and it was a hilarious, slow motion tip over)!

I didn’t want to hog the waverunner or use up my godparents’ gas, so we pulled in to dock. I would go again, though. I’ve not been able to drive a watercraft myself and having that control was a new experience. Plus, I would love to test myself on some higher waves.

Just goes to show you can’t let fear hold you back. Fear or past experiences. Driving a waverunner may not seem like a biggie, but you never know what could happen on the water and you certainly don’t want to pay for something you can’t afford. If I let that fear hold me back, I wouldn’t have been flying with tears streaming from my eyes as the wind rushes past my face. The spray of the water splashes up at the waves and the rain pelts down in teasing stings. It was exciting and the water was crisp and refreshing.

So, if there’s ever a moment where you get the chance to try something new. Take it! You never know how you might like it. If fear tries to hold you back, take a deep breath and ten seconds of courage to say “yes.” Get yourself right in the middle of it and do it. Fly the water. Chase a dream. Do something new!