Stamping out Self-Doubt

As I’ve shared in recent months, 2021 ended up being a whirlwind that surpassed my wildest expectations. I signed my book deals for two new novels and an extension for my 2018 release, Forgetting My Way Back to You, all within four months. In truth, however, my self-doubt painted a pretty bleak picture hardly two months into the new year, one much different from the final product.

I completed Wrong Line, Right Connection in January and had high hopes for it being the right fit for a certain publisher. In fact, they had an open call for a storyline that I felt matched my plot well, and I really thought this would be my easiest route to publishing. I also had hopes of it leading to a further business opportunity.

I’m inclined to say, “Long story short,” but it wasn’t a long story at all. A couple hours after I queried the company, I received the reply that it wasn’t what they were seeking. I didn’t even get to submit a sample. As you’d imagine, the letdown dashed many of my hopes for the book and my writing journey in general.

In my public persona, I strive to motivate people with a “no quit” and “you can do it” attitude, but I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t take effort for me to get there. Behind the optimist everybody knows, the realist in me lurks, anxious to pounce. Because of that, I often don’t expect things to turn out the way I’d like, especially after I’ve faced disappointment like I did then. Thankfully, the fighter in me likes to put the realist in her place and helps me rise above that self-doubt. Yep, I suppose you could say I have multiple personalities!

Regardless of background and social status, we’re all prone to self-doubt, even if we don’t admit it. It’s inevitable, so we have to develop a mechanism to counteract it or else it’ll paralyze us. For most of us, it isn’t as simple as repeating the words of a motivational speaker back to ourselves. Rather, we need something deep inside us to silence our self-doubt…or distract us from it, at the very least. It may take some reflection on past accomplishments or kind words a friend wrote you years ago. Whatever works for you personally, don’t hesitate to unleash it.  

In addition, my experience last year taught me how fast things can change—and for the better. The past couple years, on top of everyday challenges, can sometimes make you only expect things to spiral out of control when you have a slip-up. But you need to remind yourself a spiral goes both up and down.

Hence, as we begin 2022, be patient with the goals you may have for yourself. Don’t let one downfall invite self-doubt to the table, especially when that downfall is based on someone else’s opinion. But on the inevitable occasions it does creep into the party, find your own “bouncers” to boot it out.

Also See

A Proper View of Progress

This Time Last Year…

The Quick-Sands of Time 

Hard to believe 2021 has drawn to a close, isn’t it? Around this time every year, I reflect and can’t figure out how the new year’s baby grew into an old man beyond my notice. When I was younger, the year used to roll by like an antique, rickety wagon being pulled by an arthritic horse, but as I’ve grown older, it flies by with the speed of a brand-new, multimillion-dollar sports car.

I’m not one to recap “the year that was,” but I thought I’d share a truth that occurred to me in my rumination. In pondering the change of lifestyle we’ve all experienced in the past couple years, I realized time doesn’t just move forward linearly; rather, it can encompass you like quicksand. I’m not talking about how it can swallow you to your demise or anything gruesome like that, but I’m referring to the way it can sink you into a mentality without you being aware of it.

For example, I received a card a few years ago, and when I saw the return address, I said out loud, “I don’t know anyone from there!” Incredulous, I opened the envelope, which reminded me I did know someone from there. We lost touch years before, which saddened me for quite a while. Yet, in that moment, I didn’t have any recollection of them. I couldn’t believe how, somewhere along the line, time sucked out my sorrow and sunk me into genuine apathy.

I realize I’m not alone in this, as everybody experiences time tugging former acquaintances apart. That’s why we hear a lot of people holler, “Hey, you,” at reunions to conceal that they can’t remember each other’s names. The daily demands of life crowd out the attention you once devoted to people or activities in the past. They become like dreams in the night that your brain terms insignificant and discards by morning.

As a firm believer in creation, I don’t promote evolution. Just the same, it’s no secret that we adapt to changing circumstances, which helps us to move on even when it goes against our nature. I don’t like change and usually don’t handle it well initially, but if I stick it out long enough, I conform to the point of forgetting my struggle—for the most part, anyhow. I wouldn’t say I’m completely on board with the adage, “Time heals all wounds,” but it can definitely mask them.

While time’s cleansing effect is beneficial in many ways, it also reminds us of the need to keep up with the aspects of life we don’t want it to wipe away. If we don’t maintain good habits or even good friendships, we can’t expect to elude time’s ability to sink them out of sight. Just like an abandoned property, the ground will sprout new life—mostly weeds—and transform our landscape into something even we have difficulty recognizing.

I once wrote a poem about time and suggested we could overcoming it, but now I understand you can’t in reality. It’s an uncontrollable force that does as it pleases. The acknowledgement of its power, however, can help us choose how to use it. We’ll never evade its grip, but at the very least, we can try to manipulate it to sink us into the right kind of sand.

Capping Off the Everyday

Not long ago, I realized almost every story I’ve written ends with some big milestone or celebration in a characters’ life. I never strategized for it to be that way; it just has always seemed to culminate to that. Of course, I’m not the only writer to do that, as countless books, movies, and television shows all usually have that kind of grand finale.

This trend no doubt stems from our yearning to have some sort of fanciful closure in real life—or do these storylines foster that desire? Regardless, in most grand finale scenes, characters use these big events to express their appreciation and true feelings to others, leaving us with the conclusion that their life has improved moving forward. Then, the sequel or next season comes out and you learn otherwise. But I digress.

The point is we put so much pressure on these “grand finale” moments, and all too often, they don’t pan out the way we fantasized. Personally speaking, the majority of my big celebrations haven’t left me with the gratification I imagined. Does that mean you’ll never have those happily-ever-after moments? Of course not. In truth, most of those moments come when we least expect it. For me, my best memories are of ordinary days with the people I love. There are no elegant gowns or elaborate festivities; it’s just us enjoying time together.

 I doubt that I’m alone in this because life, by and large, is made up of simple moments, which is why we term the other days “special occasions”. When you realize this, though, it changes your perspective on the big milestones and their “make-or-break” importance in the long run. You won’t put so much gravity on how they turn out, and usually, that makes them better. We put ourselves in line to be surprised rather than disappointed.  

Something else we can take away is the fact that we don’t need to wait for an occasion to make a day special. If there’s something we want to say or do for someone, why hold off until a certain date? Every day brings something to celebrate if we look close enough, and making somebody else’s day a little brighter provides ever more reason to rejoice.

No matter what time of year it is, then, glean joy from the everyday rhythm. If the day was good for you, celebrate that. If not, celebrate that it’s over! Most important, share that spirit with others whenever you can. Don’t listen to the calendar: it’s old, flat and square!

Delightful Distractions

During various trials, loved ones have advised me to focus on something other than what’s bothering me. I’m sure everyone’s heard similar counsel. I’ve always understood the practicality of the sentiment, but being the problem-solver I endeavor to be, I resist to follow it. I feel like I need to find a way to wrap my head around whatever I’m feeling and conquer it. I’m not a cat who can just be distracted by a laser light and everything’s fine after that.

I recently read an article, however, that made me reconsider my mindset. It discussed overcoming negative emotions, and citing psychiatric professionals, one of the primary techniques it recommended was distracting yourself from your low spirits. As Dr. Maxwell Maltz put it, “When your phonograph is playing music you don’t like, you do not try to force it to do better. . . . You merely change the record being played and the music takes care of itself. Use the same technique on the ‘music’ that comes out of your own internal machine.”

Though the analogy itself is pretty dated, I appreciated the value in his words. A lot of times, our problems and the way they affect us are as unchangeable as playing someone else’s music. There really isn’t a solution, and we can’t always master even our own feelings. In those all-too-frequent instances, the best resolution may well be to preoccupy yourself with more positive pursuits, a different record.

Does this indicate weakness or—as I expressed earlier—a feline-like inability to concentrate? Not at all. Suppose you’re standing in the ocean, wading in the water on a mild afternoon. Suddenly, the wind shifts, stirring up the gentle current. You realize how far out you’ve wandered and feel the tug of the riled waves pulling you even farther. What’s the path of least resistance: caving to its prodding or straining to retreat to the shore?  

Likewise, we’re not cowards if we choose to flee from our present state of mind. The storms of life hold the power to suck us under the weight of them, and it takes great strength, not weakness, to outrun their wrath. But we can’t expect willpower alone to accomplish this. Rather, we have to dig our heels into something else, an anchor from our own vices.

All this said, there’s a healthy balance you need to strike. Some matters must be confronted, and running away from them often compounds the issue. Plus, the world offers an array of the wrong kind of distractions. Thus, you have to be prudent in when to “change the record” and which one to select. If you choose well, though, you can transform a tragic concerto an uplifting symphony.

Also See

Imagination for Self-Preservation

The Book the Blog Wrote

I’m going to be honest: blogging is a challenge for me. As I admitted in my first official blog, I most enjoy fictional writing, so it’s taken me a while to warm up to the personal narratives I now share. When I began blogging almost four years ago, I never expected it to inspire a novel…but it did. Better yet, I’m announcing today that the novel—Wrong Line, Right Connection—has been accepted for publication and will be released some time in 2022!

Before I get ahead of myself, let’s rewind three years (who doesn’t want to do that?). Leading up to the release of my second published novel, Forgetting My Way Back to You, I posted a series of character spotlights to acquaint readers with the plot. One of them featured Mabel Stentz, a secondary character who really stood out in the book. Mabel was based off a cherished family friend, so to craft the post, I pulled a few true experiences she had and threw in a heap of make-believe. I loved the results, as did my former-teacher-turned-writing-coach, Jennifer Wilson.

Mrs. Wilson adored Mabel from the first time she read about her in my first draft of what became Forgetting My Way Back to You in 2011. In fact, one of her notes when she returned the draft read something like, “Next book idea: A spinoff about Mabel’s life story!” She even put stars around it for emphasis.  

Now allow me to explain my mindset back then. I was twenty-one, and the real Mabel was a grandmother figure to me. Not liking to write non-fiction, I didn’t want to undertake a biography, and it seemed even weirder to write a love story—my preferred genre—about my grandma, even though I had a stack of her love letters. In my estimation, her part in that story fulfilled my childhood promise to her to put her in a book. Other plots were swirling around my mind, and I wanted to play around with those.

BUT Mrs. Wilson didn’t forget about it, and though she gave me praise for every book that followed, I think­—know!—she was disappointed every time I started a new novel that wasn’t about Mabel. Thus, when I put out my character spotlight, it reignited her fervor for it. I had no hopes of stamping it out after that.

For the next year or so, I kept circling back to it and eventually realized the core of the storyline was right there in the blog. My age also made me soften to the idea in a couple different ways. For one, my maturity and life experience gave me a clearer approach to it, and it no longer struck me as cringe-worthy to envision Grandma Mabel’s romantic side. On top of that, I came to the sobering discovery that she’d been gone for half of my lifetime, which blew my mind. She still seemed so alive, especially when I wrote about her, and I craved that companionship again.

Add in a global pandemic, and I committed to it at last. It gave me just the escape and fulfillment I needed to get through 2020. I wrote it faster than any of my other projects, and I’ve never gone from first draft to an acceptance letter as quickly, either. Mrs. Wilson had it pegged all along.

And why should it surprise me? After all, I studied my subject from a very young age!

Read the blog that started it all!

Character Spotlight: Mabel Stentz

The Authorpreneur

One of my favorite television series of all time is “Castle,” which follows a mystery author who assists the NYPD in murder investigations. In between cracking cases and driving his partner-turned-love-interest crazy, Rick Castle is always fielding calls from his editor and agent, pushing him to finish another chapter or setting up press engagements. When the show premiered in 2009, I was an aspiring novelist, and I soaked up all those scenes. I envisioned myself answering calls like that and how sweet it’d be to receive such clamoring.

Twelve years and three books later, I’m still only fantasizing about such matters!   

I can just speak to my own experience on this subject, never having worked an agent or publicist and being published by small companies. Maybe depictions like that are realistic for best-selling authors who work with the big five companies and have high budget marketing teams at their disposal. For many of us, however, much more than writing the book and showing up at appearances is involved; we have to be an authorpreneur.

What’s an authorpreneur? Well, a regular entrepreneur has to initiate everything he or she needs to establish his/her proposed business, especially at the very start. Likewise, the authorpreneur is an all-in-one position. You have to be the driving force to get your book into readers’ hands from beginning to end of the publishing process.

It didn’t take me long to appreciate this. I thought my job was done after I received my first acceptance letter, apart from editing and posing for pictures. Either that day or the next after I signed the contract, though, I was asked to write up my own bio, provide a photo, and later, make up my website. You’re also usually in charge of the synopsis on the back of the book, among other marketing tools. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and even flattering, but it makes it humorous when somebody naively tells you, “I really liked what they said about you in your bio!”

Publishers are supportive and often do their best to give your book the exposure it needs, but in truth, they have their hands full. They have books lined up before and after your release, so they can only devote a certain amount of energy to yours, and in the long run, that’s good for you. If they’re allotting all their efforts to you and your book, chances are they don’t have much else to offer—including an audience.

Thus, you have to be proactive in promoting your work, meaning keeping your eye out for contests, book fairs, reviewers, and whatever else you choose to implement in your marketing. These days, an online presence is as important as anything, so unless you can afford a digital manager, you have to handle that, too. And oh yeah, you should probably write in your next book once in a while!

Sound overwhelming? Believe me, I know it does. In fact, I always used to back out of any publisher’s website if they requested a marketing plan with your submission. Gradually, though, I’ve realized from research and experience that nobody knows your book as well as you do. Because of that, you can promote it better than anyone else can, so you have to embrace the opportunity to do so.

While being an authorpreneur may not be as glamorous as taking calls from prominent agents and the like, it does bring its own fulfillment. When you look at your book and the accomplishments that come with it, you have the satisfaction of knowing you were instrumental in its success from start to finish. Just like a hand-made-quilt, you can look at each stitch and remember the story behind it. When someone tells you the coziness it brought them, you’ll cherish it that much more.  

Also See

The Hidden Pitfalls of Publishing

The Education of Writing

Profitable versus Rewarding: Is There a Difference?

The Secret Behind the Garden

I’ll start this post with somewhat of a confessional. My mom, an avid reader and fan of The Secret Garden, exposed me to the story at a young age by means of one of the film adaptations. I loved it, and as you’ll see, it made a lasting impact on me. Never keen on old-fashioned English, however, I didn’t read the book until this summer. Yes, even this author will sometimes skip the book and watch the movie!

As embarrassed as I am to admit to reading a childhood classic for the first time as an adult, I gleaned a lot from my long-overdue review. It both unleashed the lessons I drew from it years ago and fostered some new ones. I hope I don’t give away any spoilers here…but the novel is 110 years old!

My mom used the story to motivate me not to give in to my disability. In the plot, Colin Craven simply assumes he’s ill, and it cripples him both physically and emotionally. He drives people away from him because of his bitter demeanor, and he refuses to move around for fear of worsening the hump on his back—which isn’t even there. His lack of exercise causes atrophy in his muscles, enhancing his handicap that much more.

Mom always honed in on this example with me. From a very young age, I’ve been a doer despite my limitations. Once, my dad set out to follow me around for a day, but he only lasted a couple of hours. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m always impelled to do the right thing for my body. My parents and therapists instructed me to do exercises that make me groan to this day. Nonetheless, Colin’s reluctant and stubborn ways, as well as how he later benefitted from physical activity, have stuck with me and refrained me from wallowing in my sorrow over my difficulties.

As I read further, I remembered a sentiment I often had when watching the movie in my early days. I thoroughly enjoyed Colin’s interaction with Mary and Dickon, two kids who overlooked his challenges and broke him out of the box in which he placed himself. I haven’t viewed the movie we liked in a long time, but I still snicker when I think about a scene where Mary’s almost hostilely forcing Colin to get out of bed.

Again, I never quite needed that firm of stimulus to get going, but I yearned to have friends like that in my life, apart from my wonderful family. My Cerebral Palsy did impede my social status, and I used to wonder if I’d ever meet people like Mary and Dickon.

As you can learn in My Story, I found many such kind-hearted individuals. I’ve discussed the big events they did as a group, like rooting me on during my weekly hundred-meter “dashes” and having me lead them out before a football game, all of which surely contributed to my success…and pushed me out of my comfort zone.

But the simpler experiences of a select few that I’ve chosen to keep private have impacted me more than they’ll ever understand. Like Mary and Dickon helping Colin in the garden, they took the time when not many were watching to show me my potential and worth, one even taking my side during my therapy sessions.

Lastly, I drew a lesson that could only be reaped from the book itself. After Colin comes to appreciate the advantages of leaving behind his rigid shell, he realizes the power of his thoughts and attitude. When he just focused on his weaknesses and fears, he closed himself off to the joys his life could bring. Once he allowed Mary and Dickon to avail him to the outside world, however, his woes took the backseat to his newfound happiness. As the book beautifully put it:

“Where you tend a rose, my lad, a thistle cannot grow.”

The profound quote applies to all of us, especially amidst the challenges of these past two years. No matter what circumstances we may face, the way we view them will govern the outcome we encounter. Concentrating on the downsides will add to our burden, whereas looking at the positives will lighten it. Like Colin, we need help from one another, but if we work together, we can plant a bright, luscious garden that will stand up to any drought.

The Rules of Reputation

As an avid baseball fan, I don’t object to the so-called “unwritten rules of the game,” but one in particular gripes me. An all-star caliber pitcher may throw a pitch just outside the strike zone, and the umpire deems it a strike. In a later inning, though, his rookie teammate throws a pitch in the exact same location, and the ump charges him with a ball. Why? Because the veteran has an established reputation of making his mark, whereas the rookie hasn’t proven himself yet.

It isn’t fair, in my opinion, but it illustrates a truth that exceeds the baseball diamond: Reputation can make or break a person. You don’t need to be a professional athlete to have your reputation give you an unfair advantage or disadvantage. Whether we notice it or not, we see it in numerous everyday situations to varying degrees. We may make the same mistake or accomplishment as another person, but our reputation governs how it’s received.

It starts in grade school. A kid who often makes trouble and manifests a lackluster work ethic usually gets disciplined every time he acts up or misses an assignment. An honors student, on the other hand, might have a bad day and misbehave or forget the prior day’s homework, and he hardly gets a word of reproof. This scenario plays out throughout our lives in the workplace and other settings, so we might as well get accustomed to it at a young age.

 Once again, it’s not always fair, but we won’t make it very far by just lamenting this fact of life. Rather, we should use our experiences with it—good or bad—to motivate us to furnish a well-respected repute for ourselves. We can’t take for granted the impact of our actions and decisions in big and small matters.

For instance, what we consider a “white lie” or “no big deal” may dismantle our credibility with someone, especially if it becomes a consistent behavior pattern. Remember the little boy who cried wolf…and became the beast’s dinner? On the flip side, if we string together seemingly minute admirable choices, we might be surprised the esteem it fosters in others.

All this said, I wish I could claim every reputation is hard-earned, but I know that isn’t true. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been stereotyped because of my disability throughout my life, and that affects my reputation quite a bit. While it may help me in certain circumstances, I’ve experienced the converse a fair amount, too. One person may share their misconceptions with friends, and it becomes a lot of others’ misconceptions. This happened to me in several areas of life and stuck me with a reputation that followed me everywhere.

How’d I get past it? For one thing, I just pressed on and endeavored to be the person I knew I could be. I tried not to let it embitter me and not to assume everyone adopted that unfounded view of me. Eventually, I managed to prove myself to the right, open-minded crowd, and they helped improve the way people saw me.

The rules of reputation can be tricky and sometimes unfair, but like it or not, we’re all subject to them. It’s never too late to try to boost yours, whether it’s deserved or not. It’ll take time and hard work, but it’s worthwhile. It’s not really about popularity or kissing up to people. Establishing a good reputation comes with a lot of perks, but the best one of all is lifting your own self-worth. In truth, when you respect yourself, others are bound to follow.     

Happily- or Tragically-Ever-After?

 For almost 110 years, the sinking of the Titanic has captivated the interest of billions of people. Even seven decades after its wreck, explorers and nations alike clamored to find its final resting place, sparing no cost and building special equipment to locate the legend. Since then, various exhibits—like the one I visited in Orlando, Florida—have popped up all around the world to quench our thirst for insight into it. Today, its deterioration concerns many who don’t want it to disappear from the ocean deep. The hype can be somewhat confounding if you contemplate it, given over 1,500 souls perished. Why are we so fascinated in such a tragedy? 

As I’ve admitted before, I’m not qualified to rattle on about the psychological reason why calamities and their aftermath rivet us. I can only speak to my observations in my own curiosity about the subject and what I’ve witnessed in others. At the heart of it, it is a story, and understanding its lasting impact can help any kind of storyteller who wants their tale—true or not—to resonate with their audience.

Countless ships have met with the same fate as Titanic, yet most of us can’t name many others. What sets Titanic apart? Sure, its status as the largest vessel of its day plays a part in it, but in my opinion, it was its claim to be unsinkable. It touted a promise it couldn’t live up to even on a single voyage. Nobody could’ve dreamed up a more dramatic irony.

This illustrates how much people delight in a surprise, whether it’s a good or bad one. Nobody likes it when a plot turns out exactly as he/she expects. Those surprises often end up being the most memorable element of the storyline, particularly when it’s near the climax.

To create such surprises, you obviously need a stunning contrast to the rest of the plot that leads up to it, like what happened in Titanic’s case. After I finished reading a highly-praised novel this year, I found myself disappointed with the ending because it lacked contrast. Sure, there was a shocking twist, but it was just as sad as the entire book. I kept waiting for it to round that corner and give the heroin the nice outcome I thought she deserved, but it never transpired. Instead, I felt like it was a waste of my time.

On the other hand, my favorite book had a sad ending, but since the book up to the climax carried a positive message, it didn’t bother me. In fact, the somber conclusion made everything more poignant and enhanced the story, in my opinion. Though I would’ve loved for matters to have resulted in a happily-ever-after for the characters, the way the tragedy changed the hero made it more meaningful.

We storytellers shoulder a lot of weight when we craft an ending, and it’s up to us to decide which kind is better for our story. While we can’t obsess over what will please people, we need to carefully consider the impression we want to leave on them, because that’s what will govern their view of the complete work. We may not have the enduring legacy Titanic did, but even if our story sticks with just a few in our audience, it’s a success.

Also See

The Pressure of Creating a Satisfying Conclusion

The House the Author Built

Throughout my years of blogging, I’ve compared the writing process to a variety of things. While I was recently editing my upcoming novel, I stumbled on yet another metaphor that I hoped could help my fellow authors as we all craft our works. Though I’m not much of a DIY kind of girl, I’ve witnessed enough projects in my family to see the similarities between renovating a house and reworking a story.

When you set out on a house or a book, the concept often seems easy and you’re tempted to schedule a finishing date before you even get started. In fact, I thought I could write a whole novel during summer break when I was in high school, which didn’t happen. Obstacles almost always arise and impede your progress at one point or another. If they’re major, you might question if the universe is telling you to quit. I failed that test the summer I wanted to complete a whole book, ruining a floppy drive when I encountered my first minor setback!

Building a new house or writing a first draft is daunting and time-consuming, but renovating what’s already there can be a bigger challenge. When it comes to a house, you may start a project with the intention of just adjusting an existing feature but discover a hidden problem that requires an entire overhaul. Or an inspector may locate the issue and recommend modifications.

I’ve met with this very scenario numerous times in my writing, as well. Early on, I tried to preserve a lot of my work even if I saw that it needed improvement. Gradually, however, I realized that sometimes a “cease and abandon” is the better course of action…as much as it may hurt. Unlike with a house, you rarely have an exact blueprint of the finished product, and the plot evolves in a different way than you imagined months or just weeks ago. Thus, your story merits the best developments in order to flow well, and that may well require you to delete a scene you really enjoyed.

I ran up against this in my latest round of edits. There was a scene in the book that I considered entertaining—and boosted my word count nicely. My editor, however, knew from personal experience how inaccurate a lot of it was. She gave me a few tips on what I could do if I wanted to keep some of it intact but strongly encouraged me to strike it altogether. I debated the options, and in the end, I followed her recommendation. I saw that fresh content would better suit the story, whereas trying to make the old fit somehow would likely create a clunky scene.

House and writing projects alike can be long, grueling endeavors. No matter how long it takes, though, the payoff makes up for it. You’re left with the satisfaction that accompanies making something with your own hands and mind that you and others can enjoy for years to come.

Also See

Rewrite? Say that Again?

Bringing the Outside In

When I was enjoying my pool recently, a casual conversation with my mom evoked a memory I hadn’t thought about in ages. I mentioned how thankful I was to have been introduced to an aqua belt, the flotation device I’ve used since I was an adolescent. It gives me the support I need to keep me from drowning, while also offering me freedom to move about somewhat naturally.  Prior to our discovering it, I had to either use a life-jacket, floaties, or an inner-tube to have fun in the water—and in those cumbersome implements, I’d hardly call it fun.

We didn’t discover the belt on our own, though. In fact, we never would’ve if matters had gone my way. When I was in third grade, my school had everybody in my class take swimming lessons at the local recreation center. I usually tried to do everything the other kids did and never wanted my Cerebral Palsy to define me, but on this one, forget it! I’d had a pool at home since I was a toddler, and I managed in it just fine. I realized I wouldn’t swim like a regular person, so what was the use? It’d just be another instance where I’d be reminded of what I couldn’t do, and I’d feel like an outsider.

Despite my pleas to stay behind and read in my classroom, my teacher and parents insisted I go. At my first lesson, a surprise came my way in the form of my own personal instructor, who I’ll call Becky…because her name was Becky. I still remember her smiling face as she approached me, her eagerness to help me easing my tension and stubbornness in that moment. And what was she carrying? Yep, the aqua belt. (Photo courtesy of Amazon) 

For the next six weeks, she trained me to use the belt so that I could get the most out of swimming. While I didn’t get to share in the shenanigans my peers were doing, I had relaxing, one-on-one training that benefits me to this day. Best of all, I had a warm pool almost to myself, whereas my classmates had to crowd into the cold one! What I dreaded all summer ended up being the highlight of my year.

Admittedly, I still have my bull-headed streak that rears its ugly head on occasion, but the experience taught me a lesson that went beyond the water. I learned I couldn’t assume I was going to be an outsider just because I usually was. I’d been through a very rough patch at that time, and looking back, I realize I’d let it embitter me, even at that young age. But Becky showed me I couldn’t let the harshness of others make me give up on the possibility of someone being kind.

When you’re accustomed to being the outsider or even an outcast, it’s all too easy to get a chip on your shoulder or to simply say, “I’ve had enough.” If you stick it out and power through it, though, you’re bound to find people who will pull you in the circle and improve your life in ways you’d never fathomed.  I guess you could say you can’t let the bruises you get on the shallow end discourage you from trying out the deep.

Also See

Ugly Changes Lead to Beautiful Transformations

The Power of Perseverance in Publishing

Last month, I signed a new book deal with The Wild Rose Press to release the sequel to my debut novel, Husband in Hiding! This was the culmination of five years of waiting, hoping, and yes, a little crying. But a lot more work went into it than that.

I’d already finished the sequel—I’ll wait to reveal the title until it’s finalized—when Husband in Hiding was released. My publisher at the time seemed eager to continue the mystery series, so I thought I was set to have a new installment out every year like the big-time authors do. I broadcast it to just about everyone who bought the book, which began an endless game of hearing, “When’s the sequel coming out?” The anticipation thrilled me, but as matters started to fizzle out with the company and the sequel’s publication appeared ever more unlikely, the question became wearisome to discuss. (See This Time Last Year…)

At a crossroads, I decided to shift my focus until the dust settled and pursue my second novel, Forgetting My Way Back to You. In fact, I first discovered Wild Rose when I was shopping that to companies in 2017, but it didn’t end up being the right match for them. I proceeded with Vinspire Publishing and hoped they might be a good home for the sequel in the future, but they didn’t feel that it was right for their catalog. Nonetheless, they gave me input that helped the plot along. While it changed the way I originally wanted the beginning to unfold, I saw the advantages of implementing their advice and how it would better attract readers and prospective publishers.

Fast-forward a year, I came across Wild Rose again and realized they also publish mysteries, so I figured I’d give it another shot. After reading the first three chapters, the editor wanted me to make some tweaks but said she’d be willing to look at it again once I did so. When I resubmitted it to her, she complimented me on my adjustments, but she felt the story needed some work. She suggested I read Revision and Self-Editing for Publication as I continued to sculpt it further, so I ordered the book that day.

Between its guidance and hers, I looked at the plot with clearer vision and adjusted elements I may never have thought to without it. I didn’t even intend to submit it to her again, but I didn’t want to waste the insight she gave me. I knew it’d benefit me regardless.  The week I resumed sending out queries, I mustered the nerve to contact her to thank her for her help and ask if she’d like to review it once more. To my surprise, she did, and it led to a long-awaited acceptance letter.

I wanted to share this experience for the hard-working, often frustrated, aspiring authors like me—and dreamers of all sorts. Perseverance and persistence does pay off, but it involves more than pure willpower. You can’t close the door on a company just because of past rejections. You also can’t squander the wisdom the right people provide. When it comes to publishing, very few editors/agents give you anything past a straightforward rejection, so you should appreciate it when someone takes the time to give you tips. They could give you just the leg-up you need to find success…sometimes where you least suspect it!

Also See

Rewrite? Say that Again?

The Hidden Pitfalls of Publishing

The Highs, the Lows, and the Crummy Plateaus

From the time I was a year old, I spent a lot of time in therapy—physical, occupational, and speech. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I never thought a lot about if, when, or how I’d be released from it. I guess I expected to be “normal” one day and take a victory lap out of there.

As I reached adolescence, my therapists started ending my treatment one by one. When my occupational therapist decided to terminate my sessions, she told us I’d ‘plateaued,’ a term I hadn’t heard before in my eleven years. My mom explained it to me, but at my young age, I didn’t care much. I was just happy not to have to go anymore.

A couple years later, my physical therapist had a similar conversation with us and used the same word. While I was still glad for my newfound freedom, the thought of having ‘plateaued’ troubled me more than it did before. I could only stand on my own for a minute at a time and walk about five feet without assistance. She didn’t think I was going to get any better? I wouldn’t be able to do a victory lap?

I don’t remember my exact feelings in the weeks after that, but I didn’t let the assessment dampen my outlook on what I could or couldn’t accomplish. I continued making strides to walk on my own—no pun intended. In fact, I started walking around a whole gymnasium within a year’s time. Plateaued? Not me!

Everyone encounters points in life when they feel they’ve plateaued or hit a stalemate. Some, like me, may even hear that from others. In our personal and professional lives, we have ebbs and flows, with stills in between. Do those stills mean we’re stagnant or that we’re failing?

When you go out to sea, you feel the ebbs and flows rocking your boat beneath you, which is pleasant in good weather. If you run into high winds or stormy conditions, however, you don’t want to feel those sways. Instead, you’ll find a spot to dock or throw down your anchor wherever you can to stabilize the vessel. Is that stationary anchor a sign of weakness? Absolutely not. On the contrary, it fights hard against the water pressure to keep the boat in place.

Similarly, when we feel like we’re not moving forward, we need to take into account that we also aren’t moving backward. Many times, that’s something to celebrate in itself. Especially when you’re facing adversity, holding your ground takes great strength. It’s all too easy to look at where we expected to end up, but we often neglect to acknowledge where we started. When we do, though, we might well realize we’re actually advancing beyond our notice.

In reality, plateaus aren’t all that crummy. They can give you a chance to take a breath and take in the view of both the past and future. We should appreciate them and use them to get stronger, rather than resent them and squander the opportunities they provide.

Most importantly, we can’t let other people—even ‘experts’—convince us that we won’t progress. Ten years or so after my last therapy appointment, I had to go back to the center to be assessed for insurance purposes. My former therapist no longer worked there, but the one who saw me that day and her colleagues watched me walk around the whole room, unable to believe how well I did. At long last, I took my victory lap!

Also See

A Proper View of Progress

Ugly changes Lead to Beautiful Transformations

My Walk to Remember

By All Appearances…

Whether we like it or not, a year has come and gone since the pandemic began—old news, I know. I’ve noticed in my own life that the milestone seemed to catch up with us all in one way or another, even if we didn’t admit it to anyone. We may have adjusted to this different lifestyle and don’t feel the panic we did at first, but discouragement still lingers as we trudge along.

I’ve come across several sources that claim that we also aren’t communicating like we used to, and I think that only compounds the gloom we’re feeling. We’re projecting on social media and Zoom calls/meetings that everything’s great, which can just make us feel more alone. We might assume everybody else is fine, when in all actuality, they’re putting on the same façade we are. Why can’t we be real with one another?

I can’t answer that, and that isn’t the purpose of this post. Rather, this is merely an example of a truth that has been going on for eons before this, namely that we can look fine but have struggles nobody realizes. Many grapple with physical, mental and emotional illnesses that are invisible to the eye. Even the ones who don’t, never lay out every obstacle he/she faces on a daily basis.   

I know quite a few people who suffer from these invisible conditions, and I feel for them. Most of them are beautiful, young women, yet they deal with debilitating pain, fatigue, along with other chronic conditions. Many fail to see the battles they have to live with day after day, and they often have to defend themselves to convince others that what they feel is real because they “appear” to be okay. Such ones deserve special consideration and care instead of scrutiny and judgement.

For those of us who have evident disabilities, the appearance game is different but not easy. I’ve heard that I’m better off because people can see my handicap and show me the understanding I need, but I’m here to tell you that simply isn’t true. Some assume I have more severe limitations than I really do, while others believe my challenges aren’t as bad as they truly are. Plus, I never have even two seconds in which a stranger just sees me and not my Cerebral Palsy.

Even if one understands my degree of difficulty, I’ve found that they can still misjudge how I’m affected by my limitations. For instance, a lot of people just see that I can’t walk or perform many fine motor functions, but few realize the toll my spasticity takes on me. It makes every task more difficult, since my body can never stay still. It’s like I constantly live in an earthquake zone, and the magnitude of them varies by the day. Even as a baby before anyone knew about it, I’ve always had to keep my arm positioned just so, in order to keep it somewhat under control. Of all my challenges, that’s the most grueling.

The saying, “Everyone’s going through something,” is so true, especially in the past year. That’s why it should be more than a mantra; it should be a mentality. It should make us act kinder and more compassionate because we don’t know what somebody is facing. We also ought not to compare our struggles with another person’s, as that can quickly breed division. On the contrary, let’s look beyond appearance, listen to each other, and learn from one another’s coping mechanisms. After all, Hollywood’s moved far past silent movies, so why shouldn’t we?

Also See

The Comparison Conundrum

The Making of Minka

The Therapeutic Benefits of Writing

The Education of Writing

A question many have when they begin to kick around the idea of pursuing a career in writing is, “Do I need to go for higher education to do so?” I had this curiosity, as well, especially when I was in my junior and senior years in high school. I spent quite a bit of time researching it while I considered my career plan, but I never found a clear answer.

In truth, there probably isn’t one answer that covers every type of author. For instance, if you want to write nonfiction on history, self-help or specific topics like that, you’d be expected to have certain credentials to back up your area of expertise. Hence, I can only speak to what I—a novelist who didn’t go to college—have experienced in my decade in the book publishing world.  

In most professions, you present a resume to a perspective employer, in which you list your level of education and degree you’ve earned. When it comes to pursuing publication, you submit a query to agents and/or publishers that introduces your manuscript and you, but unless your education is somehow relevant to your story, you typically don’t mention it. Rather, you focus on your history with publishing and what makes you a good candidate to write the story. Of course, you have to reach a little when you’re getting started, and a degree can be helpful in that regard. More than anything, however, editors and agents want to see you as a person and what gives you a unique perspective to be a storyteller. You’ll find that, too, when you’re exploring companies to figure out where to submit. I’ve never come across publisher guidelines or agent wish-lists that mention the need for a degree.

The bottom line is, having a degree won’t hurt you, but it also isn’t a sure-fire way to land you a book deal. You may wonder, though, if you should further your education in writing, even if it isn’t required. In my opinion, that depends on you. Proper grammar and formatting goes a long way in making your work attract attention…the right kind of attention. My education in primary school has been invaluable, but there are quirks in publishing that go beyond that. What gets you straight A’s in English class may not be up to par from a publisher’s standpoint.  Perhaps a course would teach you such, but there are also a plethora of books that offer instruction, too.

On a personal note, something that held me back from pursuing a major in creative writing was my fear of losing my personal writing style. I’ve always been a student who follows instruction pretty much to the letter, and I’m prone to doubt myself if I’m made to feel that I’ve failed. I excelled in all my writing courses, including an AP one, and they laid a foundation for everything I’ve done since. At the same time, I didn’t know what I was capable of creatively until I went for it on my own and wasn’t confined by a grading rubric. I didn’t have a professor standing over me and saying I was wrong to do something just because he didn’t like it. I could learn on my own terms, and I flourished.  

I don’t regret my choice not to go for a degree, but I’ve had to compensate for my lack of higher training by studying on my own and being willing to accept correction. Like I stated earlier, you might think you’ll blow an editor’s socks off with a technique that earned you praise in school, but it ends up driving him/her crazy. For example, teachers want us to change up dialogue tags often instead of just relying on ‘said’ or ‘asked.’ For years, then, I flexed my creative muscles by using every word I could think of to avoid such, but I’ve recently learned most companies prefer the more common tags, if you must use one at all. Trends like this change somewhat often, so it’s good to take refreshers so that you’re better equipped to satisfy a publisher.

In all honesty, writing is a craft in which you never stop learning, whether you have a degree or not. Just because you didn’t attend college doesn’t mean you shouldn’t educate yourself, even after you’ve had a book published. You have to be open to being a student, regardless of if you’re in a classroom or in your living room. When you do so, though, you have to have a balance when it comes to trying to implement everything you’re taught. Remember that readers, agents, and publishers alike are looking for unique storytellers, and you can’t become that by falling into someone else’s mold. Whatever path you choose to take, let it guide you to your individual voice, and your talent will take you from there!   

Also See

The Hidden Pitfalls of Publishing

Editors: A One-Person Jury or a Friendly Doorman to the World of Readers?

The Profession of Friendship

If you’re looking at the title of this post with confusion, I don’t blame you. I was puzzled, too, when I put out a mad lib on social media recently that asked for a professional title, and someone responded with the word, “friend.” I found it odd and didn’t use it in the game’s solution because other contributions fit better with what I wanted, but I kept going back to it in my mind.

In my rumination, I came to realize that friendship could, in some ways, be viewed as a profession. Of course, you don’t—and shouldn’t—get paid for it, nor does it typically bring the strife a job can, even if it has its tough moments. While true friends don’t keep up a relationship under duress like they would with holding down a job, friendship does require each side to hold up their end, or else it risks termination.

‘Friend’ has become pretty loosely used nowadays, with social media marketing it unlike it’s ever been conceived in the past. I’d be lying if I said I’d never accepted a friend request from somebody I haven’t met in person. You can have thousands of so-called friends from every corner of the world, without speaking one word to them. Some may prefer it that way, and if you’re one of them, I’m not here to judge. My point is that the term doesn’t always mean what it once did, diluting it in a way that can have an adverse effect on our relationships outside of cyberspace if we aren’t careful.

 Back to my mad lib: friendship is a title, but most of us wouldn’t deem it a professional one for the reasons I mentioned earlier. All too often, though, I think we, myself included, forget that it’s a title that has to be earned and maintained, much like a professional one. For instance, someone may graduate with a doctorate in medicine, allowing them to put “Doctor” on his/her letterhead from that day forward. But what if they don’t practice for a long time or never practice after school? Would you hire him to be your provider?

Similarly, we need to work at true friendship if we want to retain that title. Professional titles, no matter how fancy, refer to the position you choose to have in a workplace. Professing to be a friend refers to the position you choose to have in someone’s life. It isn’t an inactive moniker, unless we’re just interested in having friendships in name only. Rather, it takes ongoing effort, and you have to show up for it, even if it’s not five or six days a week like a job demands.

Granted, we’re all busy, and whether we intend to or not, we’re bound to lose touch with even close friends. Despite how many means of communication we now have at our disposal, this world isn’t wired for promoting deep relationships that go beyond a simple thumbs-up or an exchange of a few words. It keeps us too immersed in what we, ourselves, have going on to be concerned with others.

That’s why we have to put in the effort and keep ourselves in check as to if we’re living up to that privileged title of friend. A true friend won’t give us a job evaluation and knock us for areas where we’re failing, so we need to do that for ourselves. A lot of times, both people have room for improvement, but we can only do our part. Like in the workplace, though, good coworkers motivate each other to perform better. While you won’t get a raise or dock in pay, you’ll earn a wage that far outweighs any salary.

A Reality Check about Fiction

In Keeping the Fiction in Fiction, I discussed what a writer needs to weigh out before he/she brings current events into his work. I shared the importance of giving readers an escape from real-world problems like the pandemic, instead of making them relive it all over again. That said, fiction still needs a good helping of reality in it to allow readers to relate to it.   

When I started writing on my own, however, I didn’t know that. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never enjoyed writing nonfiction. I like to use my imagination to provide that getaway from real life for myself and my readers. When I embarked on my first novel, I thought I could explore the whole depths of my creativity and that it didn’t matter whether or not it was realistic. This was fiction, right? Isn’t it the definition of make-believe?

If I’d wanted to go into the sci-fi or dystopian genre, maybe I could’ve stuck with that mentality. Even with most of them, though, an author has to yield to reality at some point. Why? Because readers want to relate to the storyline and characters, even if they live in another time, place, or planet. I’d dare to say that that’s the reason the main characters in Star Wars—and many other sci-fi flicks—are human, despite being surrounded by other world creatures.  

I can’t claim to have accepted this fact overnight. After I finished my first manuscript, I handed it over to a former teacher of mine to proofread and make any suggestions she might have. I expected her to notate grammar tweaks and the like, but I didn’t anticipate the input she gave me about my unrealistic components. In my early twenties at the time, I wondered, “Why do I have to keep it realistic? Won’t that take away from my creativity?”

On that first run-through, I probably didn’t take her advice as much as I should’ve, and the final product attested to it. I may not have had Marvin the Martian dropping in for a steak dinner, but the plot was filled with over-the-top drama, cringe-worthy dialogue, and unreasonable characterization. While you may find such on daytime television shows, I eventually realized that wasn’t what I was going for and it wasn’t going to sell…at least not to the type of company I wanted to pursue.    

In time, I came to understand the need to keep readers engaged and the vital role realism plays in that. I saw that the notes my teacher made weren’t only her concerns, but they also represented the confusions readers would likely have. True, we want to keep them guessing, but there’s a difference between guessing and head-scratching. Guessing makes them turn page after page, whereas head-scratching can make them close the book and reach for a more comprehendible option.

Even so, you don’t always have to choose the most common—a.k.a. boring—developments to be realistic. For instance, say you’re writing about a car that runs out of gas. You might be tempted to just say it stalls and have the characters walk to the nearest gas station, since that’s what normally happens. But when a reader picked up your book, he was looking for more than that expected outcome. He wanted your individual spin on a situation like that. Instead of sticking with the no-brainer development, then, come up with a realistic yet intriguing way to handle it, such as a former love interest or rival coming upon the scene.   

Our audience will enjoy the twists and turns we create, and every so often, we might get away with treading the fringes of reality. It’s a balancing act, and we can’t go too far towards the edge. When debating if something’s plausible enough to use, think like the reader and consider whether it would pull you out of the story because it’s disruptive or if it’d draw you in because it’s compelling and relatable.

While we should aim for originality and the element of surprise, we can’t assume that our book is all about us flexing our imagination just because our name’s on the cover. Rather, we have to keep our plot and characters to the fore by coming up with realistic developments that don’t bring readers out of the story’s flow. Like the flow of a river, it needs to be consistent, even if it’s more intense at one point or another. If we maintain that, we’ll provide our readers with a refreshing outlet where they can find both connection and amusement in our characters.

Also See

Editors: A One-Person Jury or a Friendly Doorman to the World-of Readers?

A Proper View of Progress

Last week, people were posting their year-end recaps and discussing the year that was, and I noticed several admit that they thought 2020 would be a special one, where everything would fall into place. I, too, had similar hopes about my writing, thinking I was going to flood publishers and agents with my query in an effort to land a contract for a book I’ve had on the shelf for five years. I started out doing just that, until reports of instability in the industry made me halt my pursuits for a few months. In the end, I sent out just sixteen queries all year, with a mere five of them going out after March.

2021 is here, and as I mentioned in my last post, it has some high orders to fill. The turn of every year brings optimism and hope for big transformations, but I’d venture to say this one surpasses most of those prior to it. Seven days in, however, and the shine of it seems to have tarnished in the eyes of many. We still see the not-so-great news reports every day and continue to have to take the same protective measures we lived with for most of last year. So far, it’s like 2020 version 2.0.

How, then, can we try to reach for goals when we feel like we’re on a stationary bike? From my experience, we have to adopt the right mindset towards progress. When it comes to my publication efforts, it’s disappointing to sit here with no more prospects for the book than I had twelve months ago, but a modest evaluation of where I am has made it easier to swallow. While I didn’t receive an acceptance letter, I drew some interest from a company that resulted in valuable input that I can use to better develop my story. Besides that, the compliments the editor gave me strengthened my confidence in its potential, even if it needs a bit more work.

That’s the way I’ve had to approach my professional endeavors as well as personal ones. Success rarely comes in leaps but rather, in little skips, and you can’t take any of them for granted. No matter how small, each one contributes to your desired outcome. Often, though, you have to perceive those tiny steps to even recognize them.

I was reminded of this recently when I watched old videos of my journey to learning how to walk as a teen. The coaches who helped train me had me walk a hundred meters on a weekly basis and timed me to track my advancement. After viewing the ones we recorded, it surprised me to see how fast I improved my time, only for it to plateau for the next three years. I began to question how much I’d progressed, until I realized that my form and stability had improved despite my slower pace, which benefitted my overall performance.  

Similarly, it takes a while to achieve the results we want and in the way we want them, but that doesn’t take anything away from the strides we make to reach them. Everybody encounters setbacks, and frustrating as they may be, they can better us and our pursuits. It’s up to us, though, to let them do that. If we give in and permit them to embitter us, we likely won’t excel past our current predicament. But if we accept the obstacle and see how it can propel us to our destination, we’re sure to grow from it and might well appreciate it in the long run.

 Thus, be patient with 2021 and with yourself. You may not be able to attain your aspirations with the speed or efficiency you’d hoped to, but you’ll get there with persistence and ambition. Celebrate even the smallest measures of progress, with confidence that bigger ones will someday follow.  

Also See

Measuring Your Own Success

This is the Year…

Sweet Simplicity

Ironically, my first blog post in 2020 was Keeping Surprises in Your Plan, which discussed how the unexpected can impact us. Suffice to say, I couldn’t have imagined the surprises we had in store. I won’t bore you with a recap, because nobody needs that. 2020 was lousy, to put it politely, and I don’t think anyone who’s lived through it is ever going to be nostalgic about it. Rather, I’m seizing the chance to look ahead in my final post of this infamous year, but I’m doing so with a different perspective than you might anticipate.

2021 has a lot of pressure on its shoulders, with hopes high that the vaccines it looks to bring will wake us out of this global nightmare and usher in normal conditions. Be assured, I want to see that happen, too. However, if this ordeal has taught us anything, it’s that we have to be flexible in our outlook on life. So, what if 2021 disappoints? How can we keep moving when the world seems like it’s standing still?

For starters, we need to maintain a balanced view of the future. Sure, optimism is great, and we need to have things to look forward to on the other side of something like this. That said, an overinflated water balloon is bound to pop sooner or later, which can also happen to our expectations. If we’re not careful, they can get too high, and the slightest nip from reality will thrust us into a free-fall. To spare us that, we’re better off taking a cue from author Michael J. Sullivan: “When you expect nothing from the world—not the light of the sun, the wet of water, nor the air to breathe—everything is a wonder and every moment a gift.”

In keeping with these words of wisdom, I’ve come to appreciate the value of simplicity, both throughout my life and through my experiences from this crazy year. Many people give simplicity a bad rep, equating it with terms like meager, ordinary, or even low-class. When someone tells you that you have simple tastes, it could mean they think they have higher standards than you do. Is that the case? Is simplicity the low point on the measuring stick?

If you want my opinion, no, it isn’t. To me, simplicity represents what really matters; it’s the foundation without which nothing else can exist. For instance, you can’t build a house without ‘simple’ nails. Is the house better than the nails? Yes, it provides warm shelter where nails couldn’t, but how would it function without them?

Similarly, we shouldn’t deem the simple things in life as insignificant. They make everything else possible, and when that ‘everything else’ fails us, those simple things are there to piece us back together. It’s all too easy to take them for granted, but we realize their incomparable worth if we lose them.

To illustrate this, think of parents, whether you’re one or not. They remember and cherish their child’s first word, no matter how short it is or how incorrectly it may be pronounced. When it comes to the most elaborate word the kid says as his/her vocabulary progresses, though, that’s typically forgotten, unless it’s part of a memorable story. Indeed, this is just one of many meaningful aspects of life where the supposedly simple matters far outweigh the more complex ones.

Thus, when we start longing for those sweet extras that we’ve had to give up this year, let’s do an honest evaluation of the past. Are we defined by the fleeting hours we spend on a beach vacation or at a blood-pumping dance party? Or, isn’t it the ‘simple’ conversations with a loved one, the ‘simple’ moments of laughter, or the countless other ‘simple’ pleasures that make us who we are?    

Also See

This is the Year…

One Day at a Time: More than just a Classic Sitcom

The Comparison Conundrum

From an early age, we’re taught about comparisons. In elementary school, we’re expected to spot the difference between various images, which gives us the foundation we need to identify letters, numbers, and so forth. The world is full of differences, so naturally, we need comparisons as a way to help us understand them.

Isn’t it true, however, that we could form comparisons long before academia points them out to us? Even when we’re little tots, we grasp for something we see another person holding. Why? Our tiny minds realize we have a deficiency compared to the other person. That ability only grows stronger with development, as we begin to comprehend the variety of others’ attributes and skills that we ourselves don’t possess.

Being born with a disability, I’ve been surrounded by comparisons my whole life, drawing them myself and having them drawn about me. Of course, my Cerebral Palsy was discovered based on comparisons, with my family and doctors observing how my progress didn’t measure up to that of other babies my age. Before long, I became aware of my inability to do activities my peers could do, and it was impossible for me not to compare myself to them. My first few years of school were fraught with feelings of inadequacy and frustration due to my own natural comparisons.

With maturity and experience, however, I came to appreciate the fact that we each have our individual strengths. I may not have had much success on the playground, but I excelled in the classroom. That gave me joy, and through the years, I’ve learned how much it helps to shift my focus from what others can do that I can’t to what I can do…sometimes even better than them. Since we rarely know what people wish they could do better, we need to realize they might long to have our strengths or circumstances as much as we yearn to have theirs.

Besides our different skills, we also can’t underestimate how our experiences vary. This whole crazy year has spotlighted that. In many ways, we’ve all faced similar challenges, but I have yet to find someone who’s dealing with them exactly as I am. And that’s okay! Even so, it’s an important fact to remember in order to keep good relations. Why?

For starters, something may work out well for us that doesn’t work for others.  If we aren’t careful, we could find ourselves becoming pushy, often because we want to help people. Or, perhaps we had a negative experience and want to warn or spare our companions that trouble. While a word of caution might be justified and appreciated, we shouldn’t expect everyone to handle a situation like we would. Maybe they’ll meet with a better outcome, and our advice only added to their worry.

All this said, one positive that can come out of comparisons is that they can spawn empathy. Everybody needs to be shown empathy and to display it to their fellow man. When we go through shared experiences, it makes it easier to understand others’ feelings and let that govern how we treat them. Conversely, if we see that some among us don’t have the advantages we do, we should be compelled to lend a hand if we can, rather than just note the contrast. The key to that is cultivating such fellow feeling in the heart instead of the mind. The mind has the tendency to be a “know-it-all” (pun intended). On the contrary, the heart can break down differences, turning comparisons into compassion.  

Also See

In this Together?

Keeping the Fiction in Fiction

The time has come again for television networks to roll out their new fall lineups. A lot of premiers are airing a bit later than usual, but Hollywood seems to be adjusting to the protocols needed to keep actors and filming crews—hopefully—safe. Little by little, reports are emerging about which series are incorporating the pandemic into their storylines, no doubt to justify the masks and social distancing featured in the scenes. Still others have plots that, don’t just include Covid, but revolve around it.    

The music industry is also making due with this crazy part of history we’re experiencing, headed by none other than Bon Jovi. The band’s latest single with Jennifer Nettles, “Do What You Can,” sums up everything we’ve been watching and going through in the past seven months. A catchy and cathartic tune, the hit has already made the Adult Contemporary chart and is becoming increasingly popular on the radio as well as with talk shows.

Does this mean, then, that the very virus we complain about every day holds the key to an author’s success? Could this be the break we’ve all needed to pen that most coveted best-seller?

If you ask me, not necessarily, depending on the genre you write.  For authors of nonfiction, I say have at it! Whether we like it or not, this is an once-in-a-lifetime event, with material for a new chapter almost daily. Future generations will be interested in what life was like, and this is your opportunity to paint an accurate depiction for them.  

That said, I’d advise my fellow writers of fiction to proceed with caution before you start composing The Novel Coronavirus: The Novel. (I’m not copyrighting that, so feel free to appropriate, if you must.) Of course, writing is therapeutic, and with this being a test to everybody’s mental state, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to notate your thoughts. When it comes to writing for publication, however, I’m not sure you want to fill a manuscript with Zoom meetings, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper shortages.

My primary reason for discouraging this is—as I often discuss—for the enjoyment of your readers. True, we strive for relatability, knowing from our own experience how it draws people into the narrative. That’s why I, myself, don’t read much sci-fi. I like to be able to have a grasp on characters’ actions and feelings, rather than try to visualize foreign creatures and scenarios. For me, identifying with the plotline deepens my connection to it.

At the same time, fiction provides people with an escape. While including a few real-world elements can enhance your story, many readers like to have the lines of reality somewhat blurred. It allows them to ponder what they might do if they were in the protagonist’s position. In fact, I used to enjoy movies about pandemics for this very reason. Now, though, I’m not sure if I’ll ever find entertainment value in such again!

Since the beginning of this “new normal,” it has been a little odd to craft scenes that feature activities we can’t do right now, like congregating for big events or even hugging someone outside of your household. We don’t know when or if things will go back to the way they were, and we never want our work to be inaccurate or dated. Still, I don’t think we should be hasty to remove all those references until a much later time. Thankfully, our characters won’t infect one another.

As always, these views are no more than my opinions. If you’re passionate about a Covid-related story, go for it! There are various situations developing that could engage an audience, especially a few years down the road. Whatever you choose to write, make sure it brings you joy and sanity to cope with this challenging time. After all, our books aren’t just an escape for our readers…they give us one, too.   

Living Life without Regrets: A Different Spin

When one talks about living a life free of regrets, he or she usually has in mind taking more risks while they still can. It’s part of fulfilling the infamous ‘bucket list,’ trying to experience everything you want to before you miss your chance. It doesn’t necessarily involve skydiving or activities that may hasten your demise, with many seizing the opportunity to make amends with a longtime foe…or give them a piece of his/her mind!

I’d never condemn such a brave outlook, and at times, I’ve wished I could adopt it better. Life is short in this world, and it’s good to make the most of it. Often, however, this mentality is more shortsighted than it sounds. Though it entails thinking in terms of the future, many ignore the consequences their actions can have on the present. For instance, one might decide to climb Everest to avoid having to say, ‘What if?’ someday but may end up not being able to make the frequently-overlooked descent.

We all know everything has consequences, good or bad. Thus, there’s no way to be free of regrets altogether. We only get one crack at something most of the time, so we have to choose as individuals which potential regret would drive us craziest. For some, looking back on the exciting could-have-been’s would be a blow, but for others, the aftermath of pushing the envelope might sting even more.

If you can’t tell already, I fit in with the latter group. Call me boring all you want, but as I’ve grown older and seen how costly it can be to not hold back, I’ve come to realize that I can deal with the  coulda’s better than I can the shoulda’s, woulda’s. Those three words are normally grouped together, but if you ponder it, there’s quite a difference between the first and the other two. Coulda refers to the unknown—many times idealistic—alternative outcome,  whereas shoulda and woulda often accompany failures that you’d undo if you knew then what you do now.

While I wouldn’t suggest siting huddled up in a corner, afraid to make a bad call, I dotumblr_nt53dnL4nP1rrssuro1_1280 recommend taking the time to think on cause and effect when you make decisions. The course that might not provide the most thrill or the best status may well leave you with the least regrets. In the tale of the tortoise and the hare, which of them had more regrets in the end? The tortoise, for sticking to his slow and steady pace, or the hare, for being overconfident in his speedy but unsuccessful flight?

With the current conditions we’re facing, regrets are a serious matter and can storm into our paths all too quickly. Under normal circumstances, a lot of our choices don’t catch up with us for years. Right now, though, what we do today truly dictates our own and others’ tomorrow. As we contemplate how we’re going to move forward, then, we have to weigh out which regrets we’re willing to place upon ourselves. Once we’re on the opposite side of this difficult and grinding catastrophe, wouldn’t you rather walk away with no regrets?

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Watch Your Words…and Count Them While You’re at It?

In Those Tantalizing Twists and Turns, I touched on how important it is not to compromise a quality storyline for word count. We spend so much time on our writing—and even more if we try to compose the next War and Peace—that the last thing we want to do is make our readers anxious for it to end. Plus, we don’t fool anyone when we add all kinds of really’s, so’s or if another plotline comes in that ends up having nothing to do with the rest of the book.

All this said, word count isn’t something we can ignore, either, in the publishing industry. It’s among the first requirements listed on the submissions page for most companies. In case you young writers haven’t researched it, you’ll find some publishers consider a novel to be 40,000 words, but many want more than that, depending on the genre. With my mysteries, I shoot for 60,000, whereas I try to make it to the 50,000 range when working on love stories. I must note, though, that they often set a maximum limit, as well, so you’d better not go for triple the minimum, unless you have a very specific audience.

Word count requirements daunted me when I began writing because I never liked them in school. I laugh now at the memory I have of complaining about having a 500-word assignment in eighth grade! The older friend I was griping to warned me that they only grew from there, and I quickly learned he wasn’t kidding.

In truth, I still get nervous about whether or not I’ll be satisfied with my word count at the same time as I wrap up the story. Writing is like a long road trip, where the beginning and end is exciting, but the middle can make you drowsy, if not a bit nauseous. I hope I’m not alone in saying I always come to hate my work for a little while somewhere around the halfway mark! Still, the perfectionist in me impels me to keep on trucking until I reach my desired goal.

That changed this year, however. I recently finished a first draft that took me longer than any I’ve ever written, due to my book release in 2018 as well as some personal distractions. To be honest, I didn’t feel engaged in the plot like I have with past projects. At one point, every thousand words felt like a grind, which upset me. After all, if I, the author, felt this way, how would a reader enjoy it?

For once, I opted to round out the story, despite being short—very short, in fact—on my word count. I knew if I didn’t temporally pull the plug, I’d (1) go mad, and (2) come up with stuff a reader might not find riveting, much less an editor. I needed some space to rediscover my passion for it, rather than just throw out words. I’m happy to say that worked, as I’m now back to it and have a better grasp on where to go with it.

If we think about it, none of us want our readers to be looking at the page number to see how many are left until the conclusion. We hope they’re so entrenched in the action that they forget it’s even there. When writing, then, shouldn’t we suppress the urge to keep our eyes on that little number in the corner of the screen?

Sure, it’s a helpful tool, but so is a compass. Although it guides you through your journey, what would happen if you looked at it every step of the way? You’d probably run into something, and if not, you’d surely miss out on the scenery around you. Thus, live in the moment, and don’t define your progress by a number. Relish the experience, even if it takes longer than expected.

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Imagination for Self-Preservation

I credit many things from my childhood with setting in motion my career as an author. A big one was my love of talking; once I started, I couldn’t—haven’t—stopped! Along with that gift of gab, I enjoyed reading books, many of which I “autographed” in preparation for the signings I attend today. Topping the list, however, was my active imagination.

Every author of fiction would probably name imagination as the most important asset to writing. It’s the sole means to bring a story to life. In my case, I’d say I wasn’t necessarily born with an exceptional one, but it developed over time. Being physically handicapped, I spent many hours alone in my room, creating stories for my dolls to live out. I suppose, to some degree, I was using them to be able to do the things I couldn’t in the real world.

I stopped playing with dolls in adolescence, but my active imagination stuck with me and has benefitted me in more ways than my writing. Because of it, I’ve rarely gone into experiences without a picture in my mind of what’s going to happen. In my younger years, especially, a lot of those fantasies were both unreachable and unreasonable, and, sure, that could lead to disappointment. On the other hand, my imaginings helped me to face things with a positive mindset, which I needed, given my challenges.

Like many, though, I’ve grown up to find how few times life gives you what you’ve imagined and have even pursued. In turn, my still-active imagination has become more of a weapon than a gift. Instead of visualizing a bunch of great opportunities in store, I now see the various obstacles that can mar an experience.

For a while, I told myself I was just being a realist. I reasoned it was better to prepare for the most likely scenarios I’d encounter rather than anticipate something wonderful and be disappointed. I didn’t let my speculations go wild, per say, and make me paranoid—unless we’re talking about the cleanliness of hotel rooms!—, but my ever-growing life experience put a bleak filter on my mind’s eye.

I may be speaking in the past tense, but in truth, I have yet to overcome this tendency. However, I recently reflected on my imagination and how I’ve been using it. While the realistic/negative expectations I contrive do spare me the letdown of unfulfilled hopes, they don’t leave me happy, either. Being relieved something didn’t go as wrong as you thought it would doesn’t make it enjoyable or a success. After all, don’t you want your doctor to come out of your surgery saying, “It was the success we expected it to be,” as opposed to, “We only had half as many complications as we anticipated”?

So, whether you’re an artist or not, don’t be ashamed to keep an active imagination. Yes, you may want to bring it down a notch or two from when you were a child, but continue to visualize how well something can turn out. Disappointment stings, but it makes fulfillment sweeter when you find it. And once in a great while, things surpass even your best imaginings.

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Me? Read a Book by Me?

A while back, I heard a celebrity who’d written a book asked what he likes to read. His answer? “I like to read my own books!”

You’d never hear me say that, and that isn’t just because humility holds me back. I genuinely wouldn’t mean it. In truth, I haven’t picked up and read either of the two books I’ve released since I completed my final edits before publication.

When I finished my first draft of my first manuscript in 2010, I couldn’t wait to read it. “A story by me!” I thought. “How could it not be my favorite?” After all, I’d always enjoyed and been proud of my works in school. I figured this had to surpass any of those.

Not long into it, I discovered the experience didn’t bring me the joy I expected it would. For starters, I wasn’t surprised or moved the way I am when I read others’ stories because I knew what was coming, even if I’d forgotten some parts. I also wasn’t just passing time and engaged in the tale; I was spotting the many typos and inconsistences that plague most first drafts. On top of that, I could ‘hear’ my own voice, an activity that makes some of the best singers reportedly cringe. All in all, I couldn’t get lost in it as I had in countless other works.

Once I was done, my mom inquired, “Do you like your book?” I had a hard time responding. How could I say no…but could I honestly say yes? I’d invested well over a year in this story. Why wasn’t I jumping to give it a five-star review? Did my lack of enthusiasm mean I shouldn’t be doing this?

In my reflection, I appreciated that the issues I mentioned above factored into my less-than-overjoyed reaction. Gradually, though, I also realized that my instincts—despite being young and inexperienced—were telling me something: namely, it wasn’t yet good enough.

As my writing skills developed and progressed further, I reaped more satisfaction from reading my work. That isn’t to say I glean the pleasure I do from ordinary reading, however. Drawing off the illustration from my last post, the captain of a ship never gets to bask in the carefree aura his passengers can.

For those of you who’ve just begun writing, then, don’t despair if your first few read-throughs leave you less mesmerized than you anticipated. Most of us are our own worst critic and will see more slipups than anyone. And da Vinci wasn’t kidding when he said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Whether your story is on a flash drive buried in a drawer or in book form on countless people’s shelves, you’ll always find something to change.

Nonetheless, we can use that heightened skepticism to ensure the quality of our writing. It’s disappointing when we find our supposedly finished product less than satisfactory, but it’s better to catch that now before we have to hear about it from someone else. Only you know the exact way you want it to come out, and only you will derive the most pleasure when it does. Hence, being your own reader may have its awkward moments, but it’s worth it. In time, you’ll feel like a chef sampling his creations, taking bite after bite until he gets the recipe just deliciously right.

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Those Tantalizing Twists and Turns

As I discussed in “The Menacing Blank Page,” starting a novel is daunting to most of us. Whether you do some pre-writing or go off the cuff, it can overwhelm you to contemplate how the few pieces of the plot will turn into at least a couple-inch-thick book. Speaking for myself, I have doubts I’ll get there until I’ve almost made it.

astronaut-4106766_640Not long into writing my first manuscript, I discovered how quickly you can pen those beginning elements—and I can only type with one hand! Once I reached that point, I felt like an astronaut whose ship had landed on a foreign planet, and now I was on my own with nothing to do but explore the vast, unknown space. I knew my general destination, but everything in between was dense darkness.

In an effort not to get discouraged prematurely, I didn’t look up the minimum word count of a novel for a long time. I was sure it had to be at least 25,000, though. Thus, I started to construct a plot twist here and there. I didn’t want to take the story too far off the beaten path and doom my ending, but I tried to create things that would surprise readers, develop the plot well, and of course, reach a sufficient word count—which ended up being about double my inexperienced estimate.

Twists and turns were just a means to those ends until I started writing mysteries. Then, I gleaned such joy from making up red herrings and occurrences I hoped nobody would predict. Admittedly, I’ve always been more of a fan of watching mysteries than I am reading them, so I loved the sensation of spinning that camera and spotlight from one suspect to the next. I could almost hear the gasps and see the wide-eyed expressions from my readers, even as I typed alone in my den.

To this day, that’s why I love to write in that genre. During a recent self-edit I did on my second sleuth novel, however, I realized I’d gone a bit too far with my beloved twists and turns. Some of the red herrings and progressions were too elaborate and overshadowed the rest of the story. The gasps of astonishment I once anticipated from future readers became cries of confusion.

Truth be told, I’d prioritized my story’s word count over its quality. Throughout the years, I’ve had to lengthen it, making me add to the mind games it already offered. They weren’t all bad, but a few needed smoothening out so as to not make a reader dizzy and exasperated.

How did I know what needed reworked? I put myself in a reader’s seat, like I often suggest in my blogs. Instead of focusing on word count or keeping people guessing, I thought of how each part would interest them and what it added to the storyline. Would it intrigue or distract? Would it make someone want to continue reading or throw the book down in disgust?

Always remember you’re taking your reader on a voyage. Depending on what genre you write in and the audience it draws, you’ll take them in various directions and at different speeds, maybe even hit a bump or two. We can’t take our passengers’ enjoyment for granted, though, by jarring them needlessly for the sake of word count or our own amusement. No one enjoys getting seasick! Rather, give them a pleasant journey through the world you’ve created that they’ll want to take time and again.

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Keeping Surprises in Your Plan

We’re in the second week of a new decade. The fresh start is freeing, but for planners like me, there can be a bit of anxiety. A decade—even a year—holds so many unknowns, which has a positive and negative side to it.

business-163464_640With the completed picture of the 2010’s, I can now see how many different landscapes formed in my life throughout the years. I suspect we all could say if we made a chart of our lifetime, it’d be arced here and there, where highs and lows occurred. In my case, my chart of this past decade would peak just before the halfway mark, before sloping off towards the end.

Because I finished while on a somewhat downward pattern, it’s tough to look ahead with the anticipation of brighter developments ahead. It’s easier to see the bleaker turns of events. Even if you’re an optimist at heart, disappointments can make you want to keep a constant shield up to protect yourself from pain.

In the course of a decade, negative, even heartbreaking changes are almost certain to take place. Over the past ten years, my family has lost several loved ones, suffered a couple serious health diagnoses, and endured various difficulties in between. I wouldn’t consider us an exception, as I know others encountered those incidents and worse.

But, I’ve decided, always bracing yourself for more letdowns in order to soften your fall isn’t living; it’s existing. It brings to mind bracing yourself for impact on an airplane. Sure, it’s a necessary action when you’re told to do so. How much would you enjoy the flight, however, if you stayed in that position from takeoff to touchdown? Besides having a very sore back, you’d miss out on all the beautiful clouds, lights, and other sights to behold.

Similarly, covering your eyes to avoid the painful moments will make you lose out on the joyful ones you don’t expect. While there’s no way to plan for the unfortunate turns we may undergo, we also can’t map out the happy surprises that are in store. When you make an objective examination, you may find that the two pretty balance out each other. One relationship might have cooled without warning, but another one warmed without an apparent reason; you may suddenly lose a job, only to stumble upon a career that better suits you.

Hence, leave room for surprises in your ten-year plan. For those of us who have Type A personalities, it goes against our nature do so, but it’ll be worthwhile. Some may come as punches in the gut, but others will brighten your day, week, or—every so often—your life. For the duration of the 2020’s and beyond, then, sit back, open the window shade, and enjoy your flight!

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A Not-So-Apathetic View of Apathy

Not long ago, I was listening to The Fray’s 2005 hit, “Over my Head (Cable Car)”, and though I’ve done so hundreds of times, a line in it struck me as never before. Isaac Slade, the band’s lead’s singer, attributes the woes he mentions in the song to “nothing more than apathy.”

Because of various challenges I’ve encountered in recent years, the truth of the lyric registered with me. I began to realize how many of the problems we come up against stem from apathy, both on our part and others’. I’m not qualified to name the cause, but it seems to me that the feeling that prevails in the world is the lack of feeling.

How can I say this about a time when people share opinions and feelings perhaps more than society’s ever known? Frankly, self-expression doesn’t always mean a great amount of sentiments are behind it. True, some are very passionate in the views they share on various platforms, but others—again, in my estimation—just like to blow off steam. A lot of us present a character online, like we do in public, and enjoy letting our voices be heard, but how often do we forget what we’ve posted mere days later? I know I do. Most of the thoughts I may put on my social media pages were simply on my mind at the moments I did it and don’t stick with me past that.

It’s no secret negativity abounds on the web, which, again, could prove to some that I’m wrong about this air of apathy. However, while these negative remarks are usually anything but indifferent, I believe apathy lies beneath them. After all, what prompts one to write rude comments about acquaintances, supposed friends, and strangers alike? Isn’t it a lack of care for how others will be impacted?

If you ask me, this attitude hasn’t been contained to the internet. Even in the real world, I’ve watched people in my life show a lack of care about how their speech and actions affect others around them. Though they once manifested a kind, empathetic manner, suddenly, they don’t restrain themselves from making bold and cutting statements that pierce those to whom they’re talking. True, thoughtless words have long marred relations, and I’m willing to admit I’ve made my share of them, as well. Still, the ease, frequency, and lack of regret that accompanies these occurrences are frightening to observe, and I can only attribute it all to the topic of this post.

The most dangerous sort of apathy, though, is apathy concerning oneself. It’s a common sentiment that you can’t love others if you don’t love yourself, and I’d argue that if you’re apathetic about others, chances are you’re apathetic towards yourself, too. When someone says he’s “let himself go,” it brings to mind his physical features. But if we aren’t careful, a lack of care can damage our inner-self, too. It can take away our purpose, values, and drive, only eating away at the things about which we have to care.

Yes, the problems we all face are depressing, but the solution isn’t to numb yourself. After all, a tooth that’s injected with Novocain may not hurt, but how pleasurable is it to eat with it? Similarly, taking an apathetic approach to life may relieve you of the pain it can bring, but it also robs you of the joy it will bring.

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The True Golden Standard

Every year, I talk to seventh-graders about the book Out of My Mind. The YA novel follows a female protagonist, Melody, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, the same neurological disorder that affects me. A major difference between her and me, though, is that she’s nonverbal, while I’m very verbal—just ask my family!

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“Out of My Mind” author, Sharon Draper, and me

Because Melody can’t talk, very few people understand what she’s capable of mentally. She tries with her actions to show it, but they’re often misinterpreted. She’s placed in a multiple handicap class, and her true intelligence isn’t revealed until she’s included into a mainstream class in fifth grade, when she’s also given a computer that she can use to speak for her. She even qualifies to be on the school’s Whiz Kids team.

The last time I prepared for my visit, a thought occurred that I’d never had before, which I added to my presentation. With a disability as severe as hers, Melody could’ve allowed everybody to think what they wanted to. In fact, it would’ve been the easier course, saving her much frustration and frankly, pain. She had a loving family, and the schoolwork she was given was a breeze because it was beneath her actual skill level. Why not bask in that life of ease?

The conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s due to her high standard of herself. Though no one else knew what she could do, this little girl wasn’t going to allow that to downgrade her own self-worth. Despite the challenges she faced to prove herself, she wanted to live up to the standard only she could set.

Although I have the ability to speak, I’ve had similar struggles with being underestimated. When I was first diagnosed at ten months old, my parents and doctors could only venture to guess how and in what I’d progress. One specialist went as far as to warn my mom and dad that I might never be potty-trained. Hence, they had to wait on me to show them my advancement, and because of my high standards—and stubborn spirit—, I’ve been happy to debunk as many of those grim predictions as I could.

Isn’t it true of all of us, however, that we can set the best standard for ourselves individually? Regardless of our abilities, nobody else knows our potential like we do. True, others may help us realize it more fully, but it’s up to us whether or not to let it show.

All too often, though, manifesting that leads to a harder path, just like it did in her case. In my opinion, this is the reason we see many of the problems we do in today’s society. Since outsiders can’t prove what others are capable of, people have come to figure that they’re better off not showing it. Otherwise, they’ll be given more responsibility.

That’s why the highest standard has to come from within. You can lead others to believe whatever you want, but there’s no fooling yourself…to a point. Just as repeating a lie time and again can make even you believe it, repressing your potential can make it dwindle in your own estimation. So don’t shortchange yourself. Even if it’s the easier course, don’t allow everyone to see you as a lawn full of dandelions when you’re actually a field of sunflowers.

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