Inconvenient inspiration, and how to seize it before it slips away

writingA few years ago, I was shopping at Trader Joe’s when I saw every parent’s nightmare unfold in front of me. A woman was gathering fruit from the bin while her toddler stood in the large part of the grocery cart. Without warning, the cart tipped and the toddler fell to the ground. The mother immediately swooped up her screaming child, consoling him while shoppers moved around them. Some people stared, and some were completely oblivious to what happened. I placed myself in her shoes, feeling her shame from any judgment over letting her son be in that part of the cart in the first place, and her worry over her son who could have been hurt much worse from the fall. Then the questions began forming in my mind. What if it was much worse? What if her son didn’t survive? As a mother, what would her identity be if her only child passed away?

That scene inspired my book, The Road to Hope, a story about Jill, a mother who loses her son to this very accident. This story also introduced an accidental character—Maddie, a pregnant teen who crosses paths with Jill. I continued the series telling Maddie’s story, infusing pieces of my life into hers, a process that allowed me to grieve and heal from experiences I’d been stuffing.

I pull inspiration for my stories from many different places. Sometimes it’s from something I witness—like the grocery store scene—that leads me to scenarios and characters that grow by just asking myself questions. Sometimes it’s from overhearing a conversation, which prompts me to fill in the gaps. Sometimes it’s inspired by moments from my life that I need to work out in fiction. And sometimes the story comes from a dream.

My first published book, A Symphony of Cicadas, was based on a dream I had while I was planning my wedding. My greatest fear at that time was that something would happen to me before I got to marry the love of my life. Because of this, I had a dream where I died in a car crash. But instead of waking up as soon as I died, the dream continued, showing how all the people I loved were moving on after my death, including my fiancé. I watched as my fiancé met and fell in love with another woman. As I witnessed this, I experienced a small bit of wistfulness. But mostly, I felt this immense rush of peace because he was happy and I knew he was going to be okay. I woke up crying, and the whole book began flowing through me. I couldn’t outline it fast enough.

This kind of dream inspiration happened again with Numbered, the book I’m currently writing. At the time, I was at a crossroads in my writing life, wondering if I had any more books in me. But then I had this dream. All I saw was a man’s face, but I knew his whole story. He was dying from cancer, despite looking completely healthy, and he knew the exact date of his death. I woke up with a question—what if everyone actually knew the date they would die? How would that affect the way they live? The story began flowing through me and I ran downstairs to get it down before I lost it, spending two hours outlining the novel, and describing the characters and their backgrounds.

Inspiration can some from anywhere, you just have to pay attention and be ready to receive it when it comes calling. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott shares how she carries index cards everywhere, ready to write down conversations, moments, anything that comes to her while she’s out and about because inspiration rarely comes when it’s convenient. Nowadays, you don’t even need index cards if you have a smartphone, because it’s just as easy to jot it down in your phone’s notes or even record it as a voice memo. Inspiration likes to hit me while I’m driving, which is an awful time for it to arrive. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve lost because I didn’t pull over immediately and get it down. By the time I reach a convenient moment, all or most of the story has already gone.

One of my favorite stories about the way inspiration works is how Liz Gilbert shared in her Ted talk about the late American poet, Ruth Stone, and how a poem would come barreling at her over the landscape. Ruth Stone’s job at that point was to drop everything and race for a pencil because if she didn’t, the poem would flow in and then out of her, searching for another poet who was ready to receive it. Watch it below (it’s less than 2 minutes long).

Have you ever had a moment when inspiration struck you when you least expected it? What did you do to make sure you didn’t lose it?

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How to silence your inner writing critic

frustrated writerA friend of mine was telling me about a young writer she knows who was having some serious doubts about her writing. Man, do I know how that feels! I think any of us who have discovered the joy of writing have also discovered the weight of it, too.

A few years back I wrote Reclaim Your Creative Soul, a book that offers tips on how to organize your inner and outer life so you can make room for writing or other creative projects. One chapter specifically deals with conquering that inner voice of doubt, so I decided to share it in its entirety.

Reclaim Your Creative Soul
Chapter 5  ~ Treat Yourself

Our worst enemy can often be ourselves. We’re the first person to find fault in our appearance, doubt our abilities, and assume everyone is better than us. When I look back at some of the things I’ve said about myself— you’re fat, other authors are so much better at this than you, no one wants to hear what you have to say, you’re not as smart as your coworkers, your book sucks, you could never pull off that look, no one likes you…. I would never say anything like that to other people. So, why do I think it’s okay to say those things to myself?

We, as artists, are probably the hardest on ourselves. It’s so easy to bash what we’ve created, even when other people recognize the magnificence of our creation. But with art comes a sort of madness, and many of us are on the verge of throwing in the towel, certain that someone is going to discover that we’re just a hack who’s pretending to get by. Anytime we think we have something figured out, our inner critic (let’s call it “Marge,” and give her a smoker’s voice, just for kicks) comes breezing in, pointing out every flaw and imperfection. If we dare to make our art public, it gets worse. We build our worth on the feedback from others, and believe we are only as good as the reviews we receive. As soon as a bad review comes in, even one that’s only slightly negative, “Marge” repeats that criticism so we’re sure to take notice. Soon, all we hear is that bad review. It’s almost like every other good thing that was said about our art was never said at all.

There’s something I need to tell you. You are a brilliant human being with a soul too big to be contained. This is why you are an artist. Your art is your way of sharing your expanding soul with the world. If art brings you fulfillment, it’s because you were meant to be an artist. People find joy in your creations, and this world would be bland without them.

But even saying that, I recognize that the only way you will ever be able to let go of “Marge” (or to at least learn to contain that saucy wench) is if you learn to fall in love with yourself.

You guys, things are about to get mushy in here. You’ve been warned.

The first step is to stop slamming yourself. Right this very moment, I want you to promise me that you’ll make a valiant effort to stop negativity in its tracks, especially if it’s not helpful. The moment that “Marge” pipes in with unsolicited feedback, I want you to kindly tell her that you don’t need her help right now, and you’re doing just fine on your own. You need to be stronger than feisty old “Marge,” and let her know who the boss is.

Of course, dominating your inner critic is near impossible, unless you have the right tools in your belt. In this case, the right tools would be solid proof that you are perfectly capable as an artist—the things you are good at doing, the characteristics you possess that draw people in, the training or life experiences you’ve had that contribute to your expertise, the products of your creativity…. This list is as long as the talents, experiences, products and values you can claim as your own.

So, what are those things for you? The only way you can know is if you list out each of these items, adding them to a list of brag-worthy things about you. Don’t be shy, it’s not like you need to show this list to anyone. In this moment, give yourself permission to be proud of yourself. Are you nice? Are you funny? Put those on there. How about if you’re organized? Or maybe you’re like me and rock an ironclad budget. Add those skills to your list. If you run out of things, consider asking other people like your spouse or your best friend. There’s no shame in it. After all, you’d do the same for them, wouldn’t you?

Once you’ve finalized your list, study it. Memorize it. Own it. This is YOUR list. You are good at these things. This list contains the very reasons why you are wonderful, talented, unique, and completely capable. And when “Marge” comes back from her smoke break to give you an earful, kindly hold up your list and remind her that you’ve got this. Then tell her to go home.

So now that you love yourself, it’s time to take yourself out on date (I warned you about the mushiness). Yes. I am seriously telling you to date yourself. This might feel a little uncomfortable, but bear with me.

I first learned the power of taking myself on a date in the early months of my divorce. I was new at being single, and discovering that I wasn’t very good at it. Ever since I had started dating in my teen years, I had always been coupled up with someone. So being single was entirely new to me. And being single with kids? I was definitely not good at this.

As I told you in the beginning of this book, I lived with my parents in those early months, and spent a good portion of that time recovering from my failed marriage in a fetal position on the couch. But sometimes my parents would give me a night off from my depression by urging me to leave the house and do something for myself. Therefore, I’d go out.

Problem is, I was not very much fun to hang out with in my state of melancholy. I didn’t want to burden any of my friends with my Eeyore attitude. I also didn’t know what to do with myself. So I did the only thing I could think of.

I went to the bookstore.

The first several times I got a night to myself, this was where I always ended up. Here, I was surrounded by good friends. Anne Lamott, Alice Sebold, Maya Angelou, Liz Gilbert, Ernest Hemingway, Tim Farrington…. I loved the smell of the bookstore, the feel of books in my hands, the colorful covers, and the even more colorful stories. I’d grab a hot chocolate from the café, and then I’d spend the evening perusing the aisles until the store was ready to close.

Eventually, these dates with myself went to the next level. That’s right folks, it was time for dinner and a movie.

On this special evening, I took myself out to an ethnic restaurant on the other side of town. I didn’t even flinch when I told the waitress, “One, please.” Inside, I was sure every eye was on me. But outwardly, I acted as if going out to eat by myself was no big thing.

Admittedly, it was a little awkward to sit at the table with no one in front of me. There was no one to talk to, or even to look at. I ate my dinner in silence, trying not to look around too much. I think I even brought a book to bide my time. Couples and families surrounded me, and it was apparent that I was the only single dining that night.

But you know what? As I ate, things started feeling a little less awkward. I realized I had somewhat of an advantage. I didn’t have to make conversation if I didn’t want to. I could fully enjoy my meal, focusing on each bite one at a time. No one was watching me. No one even cared that I was eating alone. I could order what I wanted, eat at my own pace, and just enjoy my own company.

After dinner, I walked next door to the movie theater and chose the movie I wanted to watch. Going by myself, I knew which movies it would not be—no action movies, no government schemes, no horror, no car chases. Without a date, I didn’t have to worry about coordinating tastes at all in my movie choice.

“One for ‘Garden State,’ please,” I told the person at the ticket counter.

Once inside and seated, couples surrounded me once again. But when the lights dimmed, it didn’t matter. Even more, I realized just how awesome it is to go to the movies alone. I laughed aloud at the funny parts. And when things got sad, I cried without shame. There was no one there who would see my tears, so I had a really great therapy session right there in the middle of the movie theater. It was cathartic. It was liberating. And it was the best date I’d been on in my life.

Isn’t it time you got some quality time with yourself? How about just straight-up pampering yourself, whether alone or not? There are so many things you can do. You could take yourself out for a healthy meal. You can go get a massage. You can play mini golf. You can…. Well, you can do one of these fifteen things, all under $20.

  • Take a bubble bath with bath salts and scented candles.
  • Enjoy a night in with a good book. Bonus if it includes a cozy drink and fuzzy socks.
  • Take yourself out to lunch and a matinee.
  • Buy yourself flowers. Throw in a small box of chocolates if you want to feel extra special.
  • Purchase a new magazine and read it in the park.
  • Get all Zen at a yoga class.
  • Go for a bike ride in the country. Don’t have a bike? Bike rentals are cheaper than you think.
  • Check out the animals at the zoo.
  • Learn something new at the museum.
  • Be inspired at an art gallery.
  • Visit with a friend you haven’t seen in a while.
  • Host a friend’s night in.
  • Be a tourist in your own town and check out the sights.
  • Get more sleep. Sleep in, take a nap, or go to bed early.
  • Make time for your significant other.

Now that you’re feeling all gushy about yourself, it’s time to commit. What I mean is to take a whole entire day off for yourself. If you can swing it, take a whole entire weekend.

My friend, Molly Kurland, is a successful massage therapist in the area we live, and the author of Successful Strokes: A Realistic Guide to Creating a Lucrative Massage Business. Her job as a masseuse demands a lot of her time and energy. Home life is no less energetic. Her family recently adopted two new puppies that have now reached the high-energy stage of teenagerhood. On top of that, Molly is working on writing and other creative endeavors. There just isn’t much down time. So once a month, Molly kisses her family goodbye and heads for a weekend getaway in the nearby seaside town of Gualala. Here, there is no Internet, no TV, no phone calls, nothing. There’s just her, a private room, a hot tub, and time to spend any way she wants. Sometimes she uses this free time just to read a good book. Sometimes it’s when she gets her best writing in. Sometimes it’s just a chance to breathe in silence. Molly has told me that this solo getaway is her key to happiness, and the way she ensures she can be fully present for her job and family when she’s home. She’s made it a priority to do this at least once a month.

We should all make it a priority to get away from it all on a regular basis. Just as I spelled out in chapters 1 and 4, it’s so important to take a break from the busy part of life and just be still for a moment. It’s especially important for our art so that we can unclutter our minds and create with an unencumbered soul. While taking a weekend away isn’t possible for everyone, most of us are able to take a day off, maybe even a few hours.

After all, YOU are important. Now treat yourself that way.

CHALLENGE YOURSELF

Baby Step: It’s time to write that list! Get out a pen and paper and write down all the things you’re good at, the things about you that make you wonderful, and anything else that’s positive about you. Enlist the help of your family and friends to make sure you have a complete list. Once you’re done, hold on to that list. Then refer to it any time you feel doubt or criticism start to creep in.

Level Up: Take yourself out on a date—just you. Note how it feels to spend time by yourself in a crowd of people. Does it feel weird? Are there any benefits? Could you see yourself doing this more than just this once? Write about the experience when you’re done.

Be Hardcore: Go away for the weekend. If that’s too difficult, strive for just a day. But leave town by yourself so that you can spend some time getting to know YOU.

If you’d like to purchase the whole book, you can find it here.

The words that led me to my year of confidence

Every new year, I dedicate that year to a specific word that will shape the next 365 days and hopefully take me further in my improvement journey. I always pray and meditate on this word, waiting on God to reveal the things in my life that need my attention and the theme that will guide me throughout the next year. At the end of each year, I’m amazed at how perfect that word really was, and how much it’s transformed my life.

Here’s a recap of the words I’ve chosen since I started recording them here:

2015: Intention

2016: Perseverance

2017: Faith

And then there was my 2018 word of the year: Confidence

To say this year has been transformational is an understatement. The goal of 2018 was to not only be confident in who I am, but WHOSE I am. It was to build myself up, because at the end of 2017, I was a complete shell of who I was supposed to be.

However, it’s hard to talk about my 2018 word without recapping the past year’s words. So let’s take a look back.

In 2015, my word intention was meant to ensure every action I made was intentional. What ended up happening was a mini crisis of the soul, leading me to a soul retreat in August of that year, which then led me to writing Reclaim Your Creative Soul—a book I published the following year that not only described ways to make creativity a priority in your life, but also explained the ways we block our own creativity and how to break through those blocks. Not only that, but the month before I wrote Reclaim Your Creative Soul, I live-wrote my Peter Pan prequel book, Loving the Wind, releasing chapters after writing each one. This was one of my favorite books I ever wrote, as it practically wrote itself. I ended 2015 with one published book (Come Here, Cupcake), two more books written (Loving the Wind and Creative Soul), and a feeling that my year of intention was a success.

In 2016, my word of the year was perseverance. I was riding high off of my 2015 accomplishments and was ready to continue the momentum. I mapped out each month of the year with lofty goals, and then tacked it to my wall so I could stay the course. What was supposed to be motivational ended up being incredibly stressful. By that summer, the list was gone, and I chose to go at a slower rate. Ha. My slower rate meant that I added college to my already packed life, and I ended the year with two more books written back to back—the 2nd and 3rd books of my Hope series. At the time, I reached a breaking point at my job where I knew I’d have another nervous breakdown (related to my 2015 crisis of the soul) if I didn’t find a new place to work. I’d always felt like I was stuck where I was, lucky to even have a job, because I didn’t have a college degree. I figured I had a handle on my life structure—I mean, I laid it all out in Creative Soul. I was an expert on this! And so, adding college courses was a piece of cake. I could totally succeed as a student while also juggling family life, a full time job, volunteer work, and writing books.

Right.

I ended 2016 with two more published books (the ones I wrote in 2015), two more books written (Hope at the Crossroads and Hope for the Broken Girl), an A in the two classes I took, and the worst flu of my life, possibly brought on by sheer exhaustion. Yeah, I persevered, but I ran myself ragged doing it.

In 2017, my word of the year was faith. While 2016 had been a success, I also realized I was trying to do everything on my own. I was also reeling from the 2016 election and was just feeling completely dejected over the direction our country was taking. And so I started the year with a 7 day fast. I was already super sick and my appetite wasn’t there. Still, surviving on just juiced vegetables was an incredible experience. Once I got past the hunger, I felt surreal. My body buzzed with a different kind of energy, and my mind was clearer than it had ever been. I spent those 7 days in deep prayer and meditation, and ended it with excited anticipation over the faith journey I was embarking on. It went fairly well until the last quarter of the year, when Santa Rosa was struck by the devastating Tubbs fire, and I watched my hometown burn. I still worked at the newspaper (remember that job I’d been trying to leave?), and I poured myself into my work. For two weeks, my job made sense. College classes were cancelled during this time, and I dedicated all of my energy into my job, working overtime and focusing on all fire-related aspects. I was all in, along with my colleagues. And when those two weeks, I crashed. The reality of the devastation was all around those of us who lived there. Everyone knew someone who lost their home. A whole portion of our town was missing. Dozens of people had died, and their stories were devastating. The adrenaline that had fueled me was gone, and I was left with a sense of survivor’s guilt and an overwhelming feeling that I hadn’t done nearly anything to help those who had lost so much. I still had my home. So many people didn’t.

To make things worse, I’d been planning on launching the 2nd and 3rd books in my Hope series around this same time. I held off a few weeks, releasing Hope for the Broken Girl at the end of October, but didn’t celebrate its release one bit. It was largely ignored because I just couldn’t bring myself to market it when my whole town was in charred ruins. I chose to wait until 2017 to publish the 3rd book, and I felt miserable that a book I’d been so excited about in 2016 was released in such a pathetic manner. Honestly, I should have waited much longer to publish.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I chose to write another book right after the fires. I thought it would be therapeutic to write after so much letdown. I was wrong. I’d chosen to write the sequel to Come Here, Cupcake, an adorable book that was different from every genre I’d ever written, and one I had been struggling with for years in coming up with a decent sequel. This was NOT the book to write at this time. The end result was a horrible rough draft and an intensified feeling of failure. I was coming apart at the seams. With this added pressure I’d placed on myself, along with college courses, a job I hated, and a tanking author career, I finally reached my breaking point.

Which brings me to my 2018 word of the year, CONFIDENCE.

To be continued….

My morning routine: A peek into the first hour of my day

writing.jpgThe New York Times recently published an article by author Benjamin Spall about the morning routines of successful people, which serves as a tease to his newest book, My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired. “Your morning routine helps to ground you, and using it thoughtfully will help to set the tone for the rest of your day,” he wrote.

I agree with Spall. I love having a morning routine! It’s the one thing that sets the tone for my day. It’s the time when I can move slow, spend time in absolute quiet, and focus on where I am now and where I want to go in my life, writing career, faith, and so on.

I touch on this a little in my book, Reclaim Your Creative Soul, stressing the importance about creating a routine that dedicates time toward your craft. At the time that I wrote that, my morning routine included two hours of writing time before I started getting ready for work. Nowadays, I don’t have as much time in the morning for that much writing, and now save it for short evening and long weekend writing sessions. But my morning routine is still a must, and I can’t imagine going through my day without it.

Here’s what it looks like:

No. 62 (Black/Blue/Violet/Blue) 1967 by Bob Law 1934-2004
Picture of me running at 5 a.m. in the dark.

I wake up somewhere between 5 and 5:30 a.m. I refuse to wake up by an alarm clock (unless I absolutely need to wake up earlier), and I’m lucky that my body likes waking up at this time. My coffee is on a timer to start brewing at this time. While it’s brewing, I go for a morning run. If I do this first thing in the morning, I won’t have time to come up with excuses to NOT run—and believe me, I have them. Before I run, I hate running. I don’t want to go. I have to basically put my shoes on and go outside without even thinking about it or I’m just going to talk myself out of it. I remember this one day I got all the way to my front yard and looked up at the starry sky, mesmerized by how bright the stars were and how dark everything else was. It was just enough time to decide I was not going to run, and so I didn’t. Yeah…better to just lace up and start running before my brain starts working. Besides, I LOVE running after I’m done. I’m totally terrible at it, and still only run slowly and short distances, but every time I run I feel strong and know I’m improving.

coffee1By the time I make it back to the house, the coffee is done brewing and I have 30 minutes to 1 hour before I need to start getting ready for work. I drink a glass of water, and then grab my coffee. I diffuse essential oils (my favorite blend is Northern Lights Black Spruce, Lime, and Cedarwood for a tropical rain in the woods scent) and sit in my cozy chaise lounge chair between my desk and bookcase. Here, I start with my morning devotionals, and maybe a chapter in whatever inspirational book I’m reading. I tend to save my spiritual and inspirational books for the morning, and my recreational, fiction books for during the day and in the evening. Yup, that’s right—I’m a polybibliophile.

If something grabs my attention or requires further thought, and if there’s enough time, I’ll meditate/pray and journal. I journal most days, but not every day. If I don’t have time but there’s something I need to address, I’ll jot a few notes in my journal, and then finish that thought on my lunch break. Or I decide my morning routine takes precedence over getting ready for work, which means I take up the half hour I’d normally take to make food for the day. So far, I’ve only been a few minutes late for work, so I’m good.

And that’s it! Basically, before I’m required to be all things for everyone else, I’m all things for ME through exercise, spirituality, and inner reflection.

Do you have a morning routine? If you don’t, I encourage you to start one. Instead of getting up at the absolute last minute and heading straight into your day, try waking up earlier and enjoy quiet time before you have to be busy. Even just fifteen minutes could change your whole outlook. Try it, and then tell me if you notice the difference!

If you DO have a morning routine, tell me about it in the comments!

10 books that will change your life

It doesn’t matter if you make resolutions or not, most of us look at the New Year as a time to change habits, make things new, start over, and hope for a better year. As a book lover, I can’t think of a better way to incorporate these changes than by reading an inspirational book. Here are the books I’ve found to be extremely life-changing:

Braving the Wilderness, by Brené Brown
“Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission.” Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher, starts off Braving the Wilderness telling her own heart-wrenching story, a tale of childhood most people can relate with. Then she continues, sharing things we are all grappling with in this age of politics, moving fast, polarization, and the desire to belong, and how to move through them. All of Brown’s books are must-reads, and this one is no exception.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
In 2009, Elizabeth Gilbert gave an inspiring TED talk that has captivated millions of creative people, “Your Elusive Creative Genuis.” This talk was about two years after she released “Eat. Pray. Love.,” a memoir that inspired many a divorcee to drop everything and go on a global soul journey. Years later, this TED talk became the tip of the iceberg in her book on creativity, a bible for all aspiring creators called “Big Magic.” In this book, Gilbert shares how to overcome paralyzing fear that can stand between an artist and their art. She shares vital attitudes, approaches and habits that promote living a creative life.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
I know this book was on everyone’s bedside table two years ago, but the concepts in this book aren’t any less important. Marie Kondo shares simple ways to create order to your home, purging unnecessary items and making things, well, tidy in surprisingly painless ways. I still KonMari my drawers, thanks to this book.

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
A few years back, Gretchen Rubin struggled to find anything happy about her life. In an effort to change her perspective, she dedicated a year of her life to her own happiness project. In this memoir, she shares how she spent a year testing out wisdom and research from different times, cultures and more. The result? She not only changed her life, but she changed the lives of millions of readers.

Reclaim Your Creative Soul, by Crissi Langwell
Yes, this is a shameless plug, but still a book I believe is important for anyone who wants to find more time for their creative projects. In this guide, I share the secrets to how I’ve organized my own busy life to make room for my craft, and how you can, too. Not only that, I include access to meal plans and shopping lists (to save you time in the kitchen), a guide to creating a budget (to free your mind of worry), and a cheat sheet to inspirational quotes that can help you in any situation. It’s my hope that this book will be part of your journey toward a more creative life.

Promise Me, Dad, by Joe Biden
While serving as Vice President, Joe Biden suffered the devastating loss of his eldest son, Beau, who died from a brain tumor. “Promise me, Dad,” Beau said to his father in his final months. “Give me your word that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right.” Biden gave him his word. In his touching memoir, Biden shares an intimate look at his son’s last year of life, and what he learned in the painful process of letting go.

The Wisdom of Sundays, by Oprah Winfrey
If you’re a fan of Super Soul Sundays like I am, this book wraps up some of the best moments from those conversations, and combines them with Oprah’s own spiritual journey. You’ll find some of your favorite moments, including excerpts from talks with Tony Robbins, Arianna Huffington, Shonda Rhimes, Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hahn, Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer and more. This is everything you expect to get from a cozy episode of S.S.S., but now it’s right at your fingertips.

The Desire Map Planner, by Danielle La Porte
While technically this isn’t a book, this is one bound publication that could change the course of your year. Bestselling author Danielle La Porte created a unique engagement calendar that’s anything but your regular daily planner. With sections for gratitude notes, soul prompts and “stop doing” lists, this Desire Map Planner is for those “who want to put their soul on the agenda.” This planner corresponds with an actual book, “The Desire Map,” which, together, you could totally map out a whole new way of living.

Tribe of Mentors, by Tim Ferris
Most people know Tim Ferris from his best-selling book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” or his guide to successful habits in “Tools of the Titan.” Ferris continues the wisdom of his latter book in his latest publication, “Tribe of Mentors,” a collection of wisdom from those he’s looked up to in his life. The book shares everything from morning routines, how to bounce back from failure, the power in risky art, how to have real work-life balance, and more.

When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chödrön
This is not Pema Chödrön’s most recent book, but it’s one that’s touched me profoundly. In this guide, Chödrön, shares the importance of moving towards pain and difficulties as a way of conquering them. If you’ve found yourself stuck in grief, stress, and hard times, this book is a way to open yourself up, transform your suffering, and rediscover joy.

What books have you read that have changed your life?

2018: My year of confidence

I should be writing in my novel right now. I have about 3,600 words to go before I reach the magical NaNoWriMo number of 50,000 (though there’s probably about 15,000 more words left of the story). But instead, I want to write here for a moment so I can share some things with you, and so I can document some things for me.

The New Year is coming up, and for many of us, that means making New Year’s Resolutions that will make our lives better. Of course, these rules are usually forgotten by February. At least, that’s the case for me.

2018

For the past few years, I’ve done away with resolutions. Instead, I dedicate my year to a word, and I let that be my focus. In 2016, my word was PERSEVERANCE. That year, I published two books, and I wrote two more. My freelance career took off, providing a nice second income that carried my book writing expense. I also started college. I let go of doubts and forged ahead, and it was the most productive year I’ve ever had. I sold more books than ever. I proved to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to, I just had to keep putting one put in front of the other.

But by the end of that year, I was just as exhausted as I was inspired. I knew I needed a new word, and I decided on the word community. But when I prayed on this, God told me this was not my word. He kept pushing me to trust him, and I kept pushing back. He finally revealed that my word was FAITH, and that I was to pray into this with a week-long fast.

Wait, what? No food for 7 days? Are you kidding me?

I eventually agreed, and planned to start Jan. 1. God had different plans, and made me sick as a dog in the last days of December. That’s when I heard His whisper. Do it now.

So I did. I lived on juiced fruits and vegetables for almost a week, then just vegetables during the last few days. It was an amazing experience. During that time, everything became so much clearer, and I realized that my word really was FAITH.

This past year was life-changing. I leaned back and let God lead. I stopped trying all these wacky things to sell my books, and instead talked with God a lot more. I relaxed.

Admittedly, my sales plummeted this year. This is a frustrating side effect, to be sure, but I knew this going in. I’m in this for the long haul, not in it to get rich quick. This past year has been about listening to God and leaning on Him, about coming back to center, about recognizing what’s important. I’ve also realized that my faith journey isn’t ending just because the year is. Rather, it’s an introduction.

Now that I’m nearing the New Year, a new word has surfaced. I’d asked God, once again, if my word was community, as I’d thought the year before. He quickly shot that one down, telling me instead that my word was CONFIDENCE. But this word has a separate meaning. It’s not exactly about appearing sure of myself to others. It’s more about knowing who I am, and WHOSE I am. Who am I trying to impress when I deny my feelings and remain meek? Whose opinion do I care about when I hide in the shadows or refuse to speak up? What is it that I’m trying to say in my stories, but holding back on for fear of offending others?

Confidence is saying what I mean and standing behind it. It’s about not censoring myself. It’s about writing books where the characters are messy, use foul language, and make mistake after mistake. It’s about being vulnerable. It’s about writing a blog post about faith and God, and publishing it here, on a blog that I sell books on, instead of putting it in my Faith Blog so non-believers won’t be offended. It’s knowing that some of you are going to turn away from this blog in disgust because your feelings about God don’t match mine, or because I’m not your version of a perfect Christian, and posting this anyway.

It’s about telling the truth, and that’s what I want to do this year. Tell the truth. Tell my truth, that being an author is both the best and worst decision I’ve ever made with my life. Tell my characters’ truths, that they do terrible things and suffer the consequences, and are completely human in every way.

I’m an author who loves Jesus, and says fuck, and allows my characters to be gritty and imperfect. I’m an author who has intense faith and debilitating doubts, sometimes in the same breath. I’m an author who doesn’t fit in with non-believers because of my faith, and I’m an author who doesn’t fit in with believers because I write sex scenes, cuss words, and drug use.

I’m me. And 2018 is my year to stop apologizing for it.

Expect a lot of truth from me in this New Year.

The temptation to give up

Today, an author I’m friends with wrote a post about giving up. “It turns out the world does not need my novels,” she wrote. “I have spent thousands and thousands of hours writing and reading about writing, and for what?”

I hate that she wrote this. And I get why she wrote this. And I totally understand why she is ready to call it quits on writing.

I have these arguments with myself almost every day.

In fact, I was just talking myself down today as I drove home from work . It had been an especially hectic day at my day job, and I’d left my desk knowing that if I lingered for even a minute more, thirty more minutes of work would land in my lap. So I raced out of there. And the whole drive home, I questioned what I was doing. Why was I working so damn hard at a job that sometimes feels suffocating, and it’s not what I want to be doing? Why hasn’t my dream of being a full-time author been realized when I’ve worked so damn hard at this for the past 5 years of publishing, and 3 decades of writing? How long can I sustain writing novels, working full time, going to school, taking care of my family, and every other part of my life, all at the same time?

What if….what if I wasn’t meant to be an author?

I’m always stunned into silence when this thought crosses my mind.

I love words. I love the shape of them, the taste of them, and the feel of them. I love the way they look on a page, how they smell in a book, and how they sound in other people’s mouths. I want to spend the rest of my life playing with words, and my dream is that this will always involve storytelling: playing with words, creating words, writing words, and then using them to create books that people love to read.

But what if the people never come?

Today I saw another frustrated post from a different author who had written 20 novels, and she still hadn’t seen any kind of success. Her books don’t suck, either! Meanwhile, I’m sitting over here with 8 books, believing my time should have come. Apparently there’s no number to these things.

It is really, really hard when you want something so bad, and it just isn’t coming to you. In The Alchemist (my favorite book), Paulo Coelho writes, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

But why does the universe have to take so damn long???

Coelho also writes, “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

And this, my friends, is the meaning of life.

We all have dreams we wish to fulfill. And when that dream is realized, a new one must be sought after. After all, life would lose meaning if you had nothing to work toward.

Do I want to be chasing success this hard all my life as an author? Absolutely not. But I never want it to get old. It’s always going to be hard, and I’m always going to be striving to make it happen, as this is what I know I’m supposed to be doing.

Now, that’s not to say that my dream won’t one day change or evolve, or that my friend is wrong for “giving up.” Sometimes things just aren’t in the cards, as much as that hurts to write. However, no dream is a wasted dream. I truly believe this. An unrealized dream may just be the bridge you need to set you on the path toward the dream that’s meant to be.

Or, sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break so we can rediscover what we loved about our original dream in the first place.

___

SHAMELESS PLUG: My book, The Road to Hope, is still FREE! But only until Sunday. Don’t miss this chance to read the first book in my 3-book Hope series for free!

From weight loss to writing a book: How to set a goal and accomplish it

goal wish

Weight has been a weighty issue with me all my life. As a kid, I was always a little chubby. I never noticed it when I was younger, but as I entered my awkward pre-teen years, body issues introduced themselves to me one by one. I couldn’t rest my legs when I was sitting because my thighs would spread across the seat. I couldn’t wear shorts, even in the hottest weather, because my skin was too pale. I couldn’t join the popular crowd because popular girls weren’t fat.

My body lost all the baby fat in my teen years, but in my mind, it was still there. I flirted with anorexia, and still thought I was fat as my body shrunk and my oversized clothes hung off me. I think the first time I ever saw myself as thin was at 19, when a year of poverty brought me down to 97 pounds. That’s the same time I found out I was pregnant, and before I really knew what weight issues and baby fat were.

20 years later, and I’ve gained and lost weight more times than I can count. My biggest success was when I lost weight before my wedding 5 years ago, reaching my lowest healthy weight in all my adult life. But then I went on my honeymoon, and I’ve been eating ever since. Now when I “diet,” I stay good for a few weeks, give up when the results don’t match my expectations, and gain back more weight than I lost. I kept setting an “emergency” weight—the absolute heaviest I could be before taking drastic measures. I’d reach that weight, and then I’d keep gaining. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to lose weight. The desire was there. But for some reason, I just couldn’t make it happen. I was left feeling frustrated and without hope, afraid to keep trying to lose weight because every time I did, I just ended up gaining more. And I’d cling to that wedding weight image of myself, holding it as both my ideal body, and the ideal that was impossible to reach.

The reason I bring up my weighty issue is because I’ve approached weight loss in the same way people approach large goals…and fail. It’s kind of like a New Year’s Resolution:

“I’m going to lose 40 pounds this year.”

“I’m going to write a book this year.”

“I’m going to get out of debt this year.”

Having a goal is a good thing to have. In fact, it’s vital to have something to strive for. It gives you a purpose, a reason for moving forward—a “why.” In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl says, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how.’” A goal becomes that “why,” whether it’s weight loss, writing the great American novel, saving money, and so on. And yet, if you don’t create achievable successes on the way toward that huge goal, that goal will never be attainable.

I’m gearing up to release the 2nd novel in the Hope series in September—my 9th novel in 4 1/2 years. Before I’d ever published a book, I kept a Post-It note on the side of my dresser with a drawing of a book and my name on it as the author. Every morning, that Post-It was the first thing I’d see. I dreamed of writing a book someday. But as long as I kept that dream stationed on someday, the book was not being written. The dream felt out of reach. Writing a book seemed too hard, too big, too impossible. It took forever to finally muster up the courage to sit down and start writing. I kept track of my progress by word count. My goal was 50,000 words by the end of the month (those of you familiar with NaNoWriMo know what I’m talking about), which seemed like a huge number. However, I focused on my daily word count, aiming for 2,000 words each day (which would pad my number and allow me to finish early). The first day, I ended with 2,000 words. The next day, I had 4,000 words. By the end of the week, I had 14,000 words. That’s 14,000 more words than I had at the beginning of the week, and 14,000 words closer to my goal.

I finished that novel in 25 days, ending with a grand total of 75,000 words. This set the tone for my writing practice, and gave me a new way to look at goals.

However, I apparently forgot how to do this every time I approached my weight. Instead of setting small goals, I kept looking at the weight I used to be, lamenting the fact that I wasn’t there. By doing this, every small success would never be good enough—after all, you can’t lose 40 pounds in one week.

So here I am, starting another weight loss journey (hence, the running I mentioned in yesterday’s blog), but implementing a plan of attack in the same way I tackle my writing goals:

  1. Set a goal.
  2. Create smaller, more manageable goals, and then set your deadline.
  3. Celebrate small milestones.
  4. Take it one day at a time.

Here’s what this looks like:

  1. Set a goal.

Here is where you reach for the stars. What do you hope to accomplish? Losing a specific amount of weight? Writing a book? Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail? Becoming fluent in a foreign language? Going on your dream vacation? If you can dream it, you can achieve it.

  1. Create smaller, more manageable goals/set your deadline.

Break your huge goal into bite-sized pieces. If you’re trying to lose weight, aim for a weekly weight loss of a pound or two, and then look on the calendar to see when you’ll reach your goal if you’re consistent. If you’re trying to write a book, map out how many words you need to write each day until you’ve reached your goal. If you have endurance goals, what can you do every day to build your endurance? If you’re saving for a huge expense like a vacation or a car, how much can you realistically put aside each paycheck until you’ve reached that amount? Making a plan and setting a deadline makes your goal feel much more attainable, and seeing the finish line will help you remain motivated.

  1. Celebrate every small milestone.

Lost 5 pounds? Get a pedicure! Wrote 5,000 words? Enjoy an hour of guilt-free TV time! Saved $300? Find a cost-free way to reward yourself! Find little ways to make your accomplishments that much more exciting, and to motivate you to keep going.

  1. Take it one day at a time.

Don’t worry about what you have to do tomorrow to achieve your goal, or how much you’ll have to do altogether. And if you messed up yesterday, let it go. The only thing you should worry about is what you can do this day, or even just this moment. For me, this means knowing about the 40 pounds I want to lose, and then letting that go, focusing instead on what I need to do TODAY to lose 2 pounds by next week. I need to let go of the sum total of what I need to do to lose 40 pounds, and just focus on the food I’m eating TODAY, the exercise I’m doing TODAY, and the choices I’m making that support my goal of losing 2 pounds this week. It’s just 2 pounds, but in two weeks, I’ll have lost 4 pounds, and the week after that, 6…and eventually, it will add up to 10, then 20, and finally 40.

With any goal, it’s about the choices we make in the moment that support a small milestone, which will help to reach that bigger accomplishment. By setting a goal, breaking it up, celebrating milestones, and taking it a day at a time, you can write your book, go on a dream vacation, learn how to run, or lose weight.

What’s your big goal?


Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

Running, writing, and changing your thoughts

running

This morning when I woke up at 6 a.m., I had a choice on how I could spend the next 30 minutes before I had to start getting ready for work.

I could go for a run.

I could sit and peruse Facebook and email.

I could cram in some editing.

I could close my eyes and get 30 more minutes of rest.

My preference would have been to lounge in bed, scrolling through social media. I’ve made that choice many times. But this morning, knowing I was due for a run, I got out of bed and put on the workout clothes I’d set out the night before. And then, before I could talk myself out of it, I walked out the door and hit the pavement.

Let me confess here that I am not a natural runner. Before I even start running, I HATE running. I’ve learned to just not think about it too much beforehand, because if I do, I’ll talk myself out of it every time. Instead, I have to set myself up for success by laying out my clothes the night before, and set the coffee so it’s brewed by the time I’m done running.

Once I’m running, the first few minutes are spent getting over the shock to my system. Remember, I’ve only woken up about 10 minutes earlier, so my mind is generally cussing me out. Not my body, mind you. My body is still unsure what’s going on, and is just going with the flow. But my mind is well aware that I traded scrolling Facebook for heavy sweat and aching muscles.

Here’s where the shift comes in. It’s up to me to pull my mind out of the mental gutter and focus on what’s going right.

***

Mind: @*#%@*&

Me: I’m not sure you should be using that kind of language.

Mind: Fine. This sucks.

Me: No it doesn’t. I’m powerful.

Mind: No, I’m slow.

Me. But I’m learning to be fast.

Mind: Everyone thinks I look stupid.

Me: No, everyone thinks I’m amazing for even being out here running at this hour. Besides, why do I care what people think?

Mind: I don’t even know why I’m doing this. Eventually I’m just going to give up and stop running. Then all this will be for nothing.

Me: I’m not worried about tomorrow, or any other day. I’m worried about right now. And right now, I’m running. And right now, this feels easier than it did yesterday, and the day before that.

Mind: Actually, that’s true.

Me: Yup. And I’m almost done running.

Mind: Wait, that was fast. And I kind of feel amazing. And powerful!

Me: See?

Mind: Still, I’m going to have to do this again. And it’s taking forever to make progress.

Me: But each step forward brings me closer to my goal. So I’m not giving up.

***

And you know what happens after my run? My calves ache. My body sweats. And I feel incredible. In fact, I feel like I can take on the world. Just 30 minutes earlier, I’d been filled with doubt. But once I pushed through it, not only did I feel amazing, but I felt triumphant to have accomplished today’s challenge. It was only 30 minutes, and I got it done and out of the way before the day even started.

This is the trick with any goal, and the exact way I tackle my writing career. Do you think I always wake up ready to write when I’m in the middle of a book project? No. That’s a big fat NO. There are some days when I just want to sleep in or take a day off. But if I do that, I know I’ll lose the motivation I need to finish my book. So every day, I wake up at an ungodly hour and I start writing. To ensure success, I always leave myself notes during the previous writing session so I know where I left off. And I make sure my writing station is (mostly) clutter free, all my materials are within reach, and the coffee pot is set to brew. Every morning I have the same choice of options as I do on my running days—waste time on social media, sleep, or write. To keep from making the wrong choice, I don’t even check my social media or email until after my writing time is complete. Then I dive right into my book project. I don’t even worry if it sucks (rather, that voice does come up, but I push it out of the way). I know I can fix it later. I don’t bother with necessary research, I just make a note to check it later. I write, going through the motions until I get in the groove, and I change my thoughts every time I start to get down on myself.

Regardless of the goal you’ve set for yourself, you have to change your mind’s thought process first. If you’re telling yourself that you suck, encourage yourself instead. If you tell yourself that you’re going to fail, focus instead on what you’re doing RIGHT NOW to succeed. If you’ve become buried under negative thoughts, find positive ones to take their place. Speak to yourself as if you were one of your friends. Leave inspirational notes around your bedroom or in your car. Read inspirational books that uplift you and make you want to strive for more (I recommend Man’s Search for Meaning, The Alchemist, and A Return to Love, to start). Keep yourself surrounded by the positive so you can chase away the negative. You might have to force it, at first. But do it enough times, and that voice of positivity might sound more and more like you.

Stay tuned, I have another blog coming on how to make goals and stick to them.


Do you lead a busy life and wish you had more time for your writing? Are all the responsibilities of your day eating up the time you wish you could spend on your craft? Do you often wish you didn’t need to work full-time so that you had more time to write? Learn how to have both a full-time job AND a fulfilling writing career with Reclaim Your Creative Soul: The secrets to organizing your full-time life to make room for your craft.

 

How to change the world in 2017

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Kīlauea Lighthouse in Kauai, which we visited in October.

2016 was a hard year, and like many, I felt rocked by everything that happened in the news, politics, violence across the nation and world, and the loss of so many icons. In 2017, my prayer is that we will stop being so divided.

If we look at the world as a whole, things feel pretty bleak. But when we look closer at our community, at the small things being done – the volunteers, the random acts of kindness, those bringing people up – it’s suddenly clear we live in a beautiful world, and it becomes apparent that the change starts with us.

So choose to use kind words, listen more than speaking, aim to understand a differing view instead of trying to change it, respect everyone you come across, see how you can help when necessary, do more for others than you do for yourself, pray/meditate often, put down social media as much as possible, enjoy nature, read every day, call your parents/grandparents often, learn about that thing your kids are so interested in, stop doing those tasks that make you unnecessarily busy, practice saying yes, practice saying no, practice good health, forgive yourself, spread love, and change the world.

I love you all. ❤️