Leaders, Followers, and The Mob Mentality, Part 2

Read Part 1

While I hold to my convictions (and sometimes snobbery) on certain movements (I will never understand waiting in line for hours to see any movie at midnight), I find an abundance of examples proving that mobs can sometimes follow exceedingly good and worthwhile things. For instance, I’ve been simultaneously reading Marla Cilley’s Sink Reflections and Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, both of which are enormously popular, but also, I think, pretty valuable: they offer advice, support, and coaching for improving one’s life.

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Thanks to the “FlyLady,” Marla Cilley, I’m learning more effective ways to de-clutter my house, and because of Gretchen Rubin’s chapter on aiming higher in one’s work (chapter 3), I woke up this morning with ambitions (which I promptly wrote down) to start an actual author website in 2014.happiness project

The Downside of “Good” Mobs, from a Leader Perspective 

There is something funny that happens when I find a guru I admire, though, and maybe this is because I am a leader-type, not a follower: I get jealous of him or her. Rather than just taking the advice for what it is, I wish I had been the one to give said advice. Rather than just browsing Gretchen Rubin’s website and rejoicing over all the great tips she’s giving me, I start to feel pressured to match the greatness of her website. This is a particularly insidious part of being a leader (or the type of leader that I am) because I feel this insecurity not only when I observe “greats” in my lines of work (writing, teaching, blogging), but I feel it when I see almost anyone doing any job well.

This tendency to lust after other people’s talents hurts me more than I’m sure I want to know: Chiefmost, and rather ironically, it derails me from carrying out any task well. When I start admiring someone else’s work too much in the context of wishing I had done that—or thinking, “Maybe I should go get training for that”—I get distracted from what I’m really supposed to do.

For Example…

When I was newly married and trying to decide on a career path, my older brother came to visit us. I hadn’t seen him for almost a year, but when I saw him that time, I was struck with how “religious” he had gotten, and a what a great life path he had taken—he had attended a Bible college that trained him to lead Bible studies and prepare the way for evangelistic series—and I started to feel guilty that I needed to be doing the same thing. The problem was, I was a married woman now, rooted to a definite geographical location: I wasn’t a single person who could just up and just go anywhere for college, or, for that matter, be an itinerant traveler for my work after college (like he had become). As confused as I was about my career options at the time, my brother’s path should have been a clear “no” for me. But because of my personality, as soon as I saw what a good effect taking Bible training had had on my brother, I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing the same thing, and I carried that guilt for years.

Doing The One Thing We’re Meant to Do

The fact is (and what I’m learning as I read “follow-worthy” authors such as Cilley and Rubin and others, such as Bible writers who urge us to find our unique spiritual gifts), we can’t do everything—and we shouldn’t try to do everything. Rather, we must figure out what it is God has called us to do, and then do it. But how do we figure out what we’re supposed to do?

The answer came to my mind almost immediately (God is funny this way):

If you would be a leader in anything, first of all, you must submit. It’s there, all over the Bible: “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” “  (James 4:10; 2 Pet. 5:6; Luke 14:11; Matt. 23:12, just to name a few references). And let’s not forget that those of us claiming to be Christians are, by virtue of taking that title, also claiming to followers: We are followers of Christ.

So for those of us with leader personalities, we must first learn to submit to the Greatest Leader who ever lived—Jesus Christ. After that, I believe, is when we really start to find our path. As Isaiah chapter 30 puts it (and this is a great chapter to read if you’re struggling to submit or find some direction), only after we have submitted to God and allowed Him to direct us, will we hear “a voice behind [us], saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (v. 21).

I can’t tell you what you’re meant to do; sometimes I can’t even tell myself. But I know this: when I take my eyes off Jesus and start looking to the world for my example (as in, I start thinking I need to become Gretchen Rubin, and not just glean some advice from her book and blog), I become frustrated, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled. I believe God has a specific calling for me that only I can do, and while others may give me some useful tips along the way, I must always, ultimately, go back to the one who can not only lead me, but live in me to help me carry out what I’m meant to do. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

 

Writing for an Audience

audience
Photo Credit: Auditorium by Ayla87

I started blogging because I needed an audience. After journaling for no one but myself for fourteen years, I needed to start thinking about writing for others, especially since I wanted to write and publish my memoir. I realized I had been self-centered, or writer-based, all those years. What’s more, I realized my previous education (even though I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English), had not helped me with the transition to writing for meaningful audiences. But now that I was serious about publishing a book, I had to become more reader-based.

If you’ve done any research on the publishing market, you know that being reader-based is essential to (traditional) publishing. If you’ve done that same research and you had an English education like mine, you might have concluded that many English teachers must not be writers—in the sense of trying to publish their writing.

Most of my English teachers gave me dead assignments, or what my thesis advisor called “orphaned texts” to write: papers that were not meant to go anywhere beyond their desk. My advisor also termed these assignments “autonomous texts”—texts that had no communicative element, no audience, and no purpose. This was in opposition to a superior type of writing situation: the rhetorical situation.

Last week I introduced my composition students to the rhetorical triangle—a way of thinking about writing that places a text in context of a specific speaker, audience, and topic. The major lesson is that if any element of the triangle changes, the text must also change.

Learning to think of writing this way—as a communicative act—has been changing my own writing dramatically. And it has tested me. First, on this blog, I have been forced to confront the self-pitying nature of so much of my past writing—and with that, the uselessness and counter-productivity of said writing. Considering my writing through the lens of a prospective audience has forced me to look in a mirror, as it were, and has helped me clear away the dross of my thoughts for current and future projects. The benefits of blogging have included even more healing for myself while looking in that “mirror,” and a push toward meeting my real goal of book publication.

Incidentally, I’ve just received my editor comments back on my memoir manuscript, which are further propelling me to write for an audience. I’m glad I had the training of eight months of blogging to prepare me to think about meeting the needs of book readers.

Trish Ryan’s assessment was great, pushing me to make some difficult changes I sensed I might need to make, but that I wasn’t emotionally ready to make earlier. I hope I am ready now. Time will tell as I enter the revision stage. Providentially, Trish told me I sent her the manuscript at just the right time to get feedback and intervention. I was glad to read that. I knew I wasn’t done with this project at first draft’s end, but I was at a point where I needed an experienced reader and writer to coach me to stretch limits for my intended audience.

Some of her best advice relating to audience was to lay out my story chronologically. Touché, as I had tried to bury or bypass some hard emotional scenes. I needed her to tell me that the audience needs more facts of my background to understand all the feelings I divulge throughout. She also urged me to err on the side of action versus reflection to keep things moving for readers. She said setting up a more complete background to my story in the beginning would help diminish the need for so much reflection later—readers would better understand my actions with the appropriate lead-up.

With her feedback, I am better equipped to revise my book for my audience, which will mean cutting out some material that was personally revelatory but not globally relevant. Though this may be hard, having  had an audience of one see and validate those parts of my story has heartened me to the task of cutting them from the final draft. (The tougher job now will be revisiting and writing those difficult parts of my past that need to be in the book).

So the final takeaway for this post? We writers, if we want to be published, and even if we just need to heal, need various audiences to push us to self-reflect on what we’re really accomplishing with our writing—and push us to take sometimes difficult steps. In the end, I believe writing for an audience is making me both a better person and a better writer, and it can do the same for you.

Professing—My Unexpected Blessing

With my manuscript deadline at hand, I knew this week would be busy. Before I got the job offer last Thursday, I didn’t know how busy. Suddenly, in addition to finishing my book manuscript in one week, I am becoming an adjunct professor, too!

I got the call last Thursday (six days before my first class—yikes!), and five days later, I am still in awe at God’s goodness. This past year has been all about me learning that when I humble myself in the sight of the Lord, He lifts me up (James 4:10). Repeatedly broken to knee-point this past year, I have found peace in the surrender to Jesus and His plans for me. I gave up certain plans I thought would not pan out (such as a PhD and professing at my alma mater) to follow new directions in which I felt called: authorship and parenthood. (By the way, we are supposedly finding out the baby’s sex this week, too!)

It was when I surrendered the professing idea that we got pregnant and the book really started taking shape. I thought: “This is okay; God’s really got this.” I haven’t been making any serious money for two years, but I’ve been faithfully sowing seeds in hopes that they will grow into a money tree (er, some kind of career), however small.

By sowing seeds I mean writing my memoir, which goes out to a professional author/editor this week for a consultation. The book is not in its final form, by any means, but at 256 pages, it is a complete draft that says, more or less, what I want it to say. There’s a part of me that wants to keep polishing it, but mostly, especially after faced with having to prepare a semester’s syllabus in a couple days, I think it wise to give the book (and my brain) a break while other eyes ponder it. It will be good to focus on something else for awhile and then come back refreshed to revise in a month or so.

The one-class professing gig on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (which happens to be right down the road) will be the perfect vehicle for me to do just that.

And I was just starting to miss the classroom a bit.

Today I can only shake my head and marvel at the wisdom of God’s plans and His timing. Maybe this turn of events doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but for me, it is. I used to have such issues with needing to be in control of my future. I didn’t handle unknowns well. I got physically sick from anxiety. But since learning to let go (and please know that sometimes I still need remediation), life has become a joy, full of surprises and good gifts from the hand of God. Now, instead of being just a professor, or just a writer, or just a parent, I am suddenly all three! Daily I am reminded that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).

If you’re struggling today over the plans for your future, or if you feel physically or emotionally sick from not knowing what’s to come, why not ask God to take the reigns and pave the path for you? He might not make things clear right away, but if you earnestly pray, you can rest in the knowledge that even when we don’t know what to pray for, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.…And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:26, 28). Finally, when we put God first, we can rest in the promises that “there is no want to those who fear the Lord” (Ps. 34:9), and God shall supply “all” our needs “according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Amen!

For some inspiration today, check out the song “When I Let It Go” by Sierra. This is a throwback to one of my dad’s favorite Christian groups from the 90s, and lately it has brought me to tears (in a good way!).

This time I’ve got to trust You
I’ve got to accept Your plan
I have tried to guide my circumstance
But there’s just no way I can
When will I learn this lesson
Your ways are not like mine
Lord, help me to surrender
The control I try to have on my life
When I let it go
You take my hand and gently lead me
Then You let me know
Just how peaceful my life can be
When I let it go
Your never-ending blessings
Like a river start to flow
When I let it go
Too many times I’m searching
For the things I think I need
When I try to look for more
I always seem to give You less of me
Lord, help me gain this wisdom
My foolish mind still lacks
‘Til I find a way to let go
Of the part of me I’m holding back

Birthday Blessings

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Photo Credit: Flowers by Just4You

Today is my 29th birthday, and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than sitting here at my favorite breakfast place writing, reflecting, and thanking God for the blessings of the past year. Here’s a recap of how my personal and professional lives have converged (and diverged) over the past twelve months—showing me how God takes a very personal interest in the mundane details of my life.

Last Summer

I was fretting over what I saw as conflicting desires, including the desire to write, teach, and (though I didn’t much tell anyone), have a baby. God started to drop things into place when Paul Coneff of Straight 2 the Heart ministries asked me to help him write his first book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel. During July of last year, I was also starting to write my master’s thesis (eventually 100 pages), which was a perfect warm-up for the book-length project I was taking on. Now busy with writing, I tabled my internal baby discussion for the time being.

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Last Fall

I was still working fervently on my two writing projects, but there came pausing points in both works, during which time I was left with nothing to do but finally start writing what was in my heart. Four notebooks and one month later, I had the rough draft of my memoir and the beginnings of this blog down on paper—both would wait for January for further development.

I looked around one day on campus and asked myself if this student life was what I wanted for five to eight more years. I didn’t see how that life would allow me to be the parent I knew I’d want to be—if we decided to have kids.

One day in October, while writing a paper for my last graduate class, I broke down at my computer and finally faced the truth: I was tired of this solitary student life; I wanted something more. I called my husband in tears and he came home early that day to take me on a walk-and-talk through the local state park. As I unknowingly acquired poison ivy, it was a relief to hear myself finally saying words I had been repressing for a long time: I want to have kids (this was a fun scene to write for my memoir).

In December I completed my master’s program and sent out two graduate applications—one MFA, and one PhD—just in case we didn’t conceive, and just in case God still wanted me in graduate school.

girl on bench

Last Winter

I did not get into either of the grad programs I applied to, which told me that was not God’s plan for me right now. I went off birth control in January, began this blog, and started officially calling myself a writer.

I spent the early months of the year feeling lonely and a bit depressed—now I was alone in our big house all day long, getting to write, yes, but without the promise of much people time during my days. I started really missing my family in Minnesota, whom I hadn’t seen since the previous June. I also realized I had been taking my husband for granted for most of our eight years of marriage—putting him on the back burner as I worked on emotional issues, self-improvement, and career development. I decided to be more family oriented.

Around the same time, God also brought many friends into my life to help alleviate my loneliness. This told me that God could meet my need for people contact with or without a baby.

Amanda and me

Last Spring

In May, when I wasn’t expecting it, I found out I was five weeks pregnant. Yay! We had a fun time surprising our family with the announcement, as most hadn’t been reading this blog and didn’t know we were trying. I rededicated my efforts to finishing my memoir “before thirty,” and now I also vowed to try to finish before baby.

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Currently

I have just returned from two weeks in Minnesota—probably my last trip to see my family before baby comes in January (I am four months along today). While in Minnesota I attended my ten-year class reunion and felt additional closure about God’s plans for my life. Though visiting Minnesota always makes me wistful, I clearly saw God’s wisdom in moving me away almost nine years ago. Visits back home used to be hard—brought painful memories—but more and more they bring happiness. Now, my husband and I are talking about getting a summer house in MN in a few years—which prospect fills my heart with joy.

My memoir is going well, and I have made contact with a favorite author of mine, Trish Ryan, who has agreed to consult on my book in late August to help me prepare it for publication (my hubby is giving me a “loan” because I told him it would be a good investment!). This fall I will be searching for an agent and/or publisher as I prepare for this baby’s arrival—and hopefully this winter I will have both a healthy baby and a manuscript headed for publication. The healthy baby is more important, of course—the book would just be a bonus. Regardless of how long it takes to get the memoir published, The Hidden Half of the Gospel will be published long before my next birthday—showing me that God heard my “before thirty” prayer six months ago.

It is 10:10 as I finish writing this, and my dentist’s office just texted, “Happy Birthday, I hope you have many reasons to smile today!” I am happy to say, “Yes, I do!” Today, I am smiling about my immediate future that will consist largely of family time, writing time, and more Minnesota time—and that doesn’t even compare to my eternal future!

Thank you, Lord, for taking such a personal interest in the mundane details of my life. Today I praise you for how you care about my heart’s desires and how you’ve led, not just for the past year, but for the past twenty-nine years.

Choosing the Write Path

 

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After breaking down from ministry overload, I started really questioning my priorities, and over the past few months I’ve had some definite impressions: Maybe God wants to fulfill me in ways I never dreamed, not only by making my love my life’s work, but also my mode of ministry. I’m talking about writing, of course.

You see, something I’ve been struggling with since I’ve been staying home to write is balancing my “work” life with my ministry life. I’ve tried setting goals for myself, such as writing twenty-five hours a week…and I can’t explain why accomplishing this has been so hard when I don’t technically hold another “job.”

As I’ve been praying about this, God has suggested some reasons for the difficulty: I’ve been too controlling of others, I’ve taken it upon myself to provide for others, and I’ve allowed myself to get pulled from my writing to do jobs that I really shouldn’t be doing. This ranges from using my daily writing time for ministry emails or phone calls to saying yes every time friends suggest an outing. Lately I’ve also recognized a danger of losing all focus on my work because I get too involved with other people.

I have struggled to place my work time above “people” time—it’s become hard to sort out when to say no and when to say yes. My hubby always encourages me to go for the people time: “Take a break!” he says to his chronically busy wife. But after several months of frequent “breaks,” I feel I’m too often setting aside work. I’ve been documenting my writing hours each week, and sometimes I’m struggling to even reach ten or fifteen. Lately I have the added challenge of being short on energy due to pregnancy—so my “usable” hours have shrunk. I literally don’t have energy to do as much as I used to.

So, I am forced to choose.

The things I do are all “good” things. Building ministries, building relationships, writing an inspirational book. But I can’t do it all. What should I do?

I have some other impressions, I think, telling me I have to focus on my work right now. Because it might be my calling. It might be the single most significant way I’m meant to minister to others. If this is true, therein lies the answer to my work/ministry balance. My work is my ministry.

Right now while I’m still unpublished (bookwise) it’s hard to see it. The fruits of my labor are not yet tangible, as they are in my prayer ministry, church choir, and former Bible study. I see no immediate return. This is where faith comes in. What if Noah had given up on building the ark during the 120 years before its use?

For now, I am praying for God to give me more faith. I need clarity and insight, too, in case I am misguided about what God really wants me to do. I need to know for certain if these impressions about writing are my true calling—and then, if they are, I need to resolve to walk in the path God has placed in front of me. That is, if God has appointed me to write for my life’s work and my ministry, I need to stop being distracted by other “good” things, and let him bring forth fruit where I’m most fertile.

“Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.”

(Proverbs 4:25-27, NLT)

Some Keys to Being Freshly Pressed

key
Photo credit: “Key” by debsch

After achieving the feat of being Freshly Pressed, a sort of fear can set in, along with  negative thoughts like these: “I’m going to screw up!” “My next effort won’t be as good!” “I’ll disappoint all these new readers!” Happily, I’ve only had these feelings mildly, and they’re not sticking around. Instead of fear, I mostly feel hope. Rather than daunting me, the Freshly Pressed Status has buoyed my confidence as a writer (a writer whose work people want to read!), and it has encouraged me.

The Surface Answer

So, you want to know how to get Freshly Pressed? (Before last Tuesday, I wondered that, too.) The easy answer is that you just have to keep writing and hope one of your posts gets picked. On the day produced my “pressed” post, I was just doing my regular thing. I was praying and reading the Bible like I do every morning, then I started scribbling about the issues my prayer time had revealed to me. I let the writing sit for a weekend, and then on a busy Tuesday when I almost didn’t think I’d post, I tweaked a bit, paired it with a picture, and posted. It was one of the easiest pieces I’ve published, in fact, because I didn’t expect much out of it—not like some past posts I’d edited into mincemeat (hoping to be “pressed”).

It was a complete and total surprise when, three hours later, my inbox greeted me with: “Congratulations! You’ve been Freshly Pressed!” For the next few days I soaked up the extra comments, likes, and follows—and thanked God for blessing me when I wasn’t even asking.

The Deep Answer

Maybe that’s a key to receiving blessings: to stop trying to force them.

I think back to the small string of writing successes I’ve had so far. (You can liken my writing to whatever dream you’ve carried for most of your life.) In all honesty, when I’ve succeeded in writing, I wasn’t much expecting it. Conversely, when I’ve most expected to succeed, often I’ve actually flopped.

I know I’ve talked to God a lot over the years about my dreams. Heck, he was aware of these goals even before my birth. But when I started chasing them in the beginning, it was like I wanted God on call, ready to answer at the moment I asked. I was selfish (not that I’m a saint today, but I’m slowly learning patience). I wanted to be published, and I wanted it when I wanted it, in the way I wanted it.

Some Instructive “Flops”

In 2010 I prepared a manuscript based on my “oh-so-interesting” teenage journals and figured this just had to be my first book. After a pause in the project, during which time I encountered some pushback from one of the main “characters” in the memoir, I realized maybe this sensitive material wasn’t yet “book-ready.”

In 2011, when I was re-entering graduate school with the dual goals of professing and writing, I identified a PhD in Creative Writing program one hour away from me that I thought would be “so much better” than the bland rhetoric program I was currently in. So I fretted my way through months of manuscript and application preparation, then lay awake at night with knots, willing and wanting so badly for this to work out—only to be rejected a few months later.

In 2012 I tried again, this time a distance MFA program that specifically catered to writers of faith. This, I was sure, was the vehicle through which I would make my plans—my plans—happen. Only, I didn’t get in.

Today I’m not sorry I attempted that now-dead manuscript and those fruitless applications. I think it was good for me to try, especially since I felt God nudging me toward writing and I didn’t sense him expressly forbidding those things. Where I went wrong was becoming too bull-headed to recognize that God had other, better ways to make my dreams come true besides those few paths I could see.

Doing Our Part, Letting God Do His

So it is with any endeavor. Maybe we don’t exactly know if the thing we want is the same thing God wants, but we feel it might be. In that case, I believe our part is to work faithfully—do our homework, hone our craft, practice it, and perform it to the best of our ability (so we are not presuming on God)—but after we’ve done that, we should let go and let God.

When we live our lives like that, quietly and diligently doing those things that (to the best of our knowledge) God has appointed us to do, we might just be pleasantly surprised one day when our faithful efforts pay off. Since I’ve made writing a part of my daily routine (and dropped those arbitrary, self-imposed expectations, such as “the writing has to result in X”), I’ve had a few of those pleasant surprises, including three published (and paying!) magazine articles, a co-book project, and most recently a Freshly Pressed blog post.

It’s fun to get good news when you’re not expecting it. That’s not to say we shouldn’t expect good things from the hand of God. We should.  But we shouldn’t try to dictate what those things will be. As I’ve learned, God has a vast storehouse of blessings for me that I’m not able to see—and it’s bigger and better than anything I could ever come up with.

Today my prayer is that I will faithfully do the task God has given me while letting God be God, trusting that he will reward me according to his promises and for the purpose of his glory. If you need to get re-centered on what really matters today, I recommend reading Psalm 119 in its entirety, as I did this morning.

Dear Lord, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 119: 36-38)

How to Make Your Dream a Reality

Rule number 1: You have to DO something.

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Photo credit: felipedan

It sounds really obvious, but so is most of the advice in any self-help book you can read. I complained for a lot of years that my dream of publishing a book was not coming true, but, um, it was no wonder. For a lot of years, I wasn’t doing anything about it. So then, one day, I sat down and started to write. And promptly ran into a problem.

 

Rule number 2: Push through roadblocks, however slowly

road sign
Photo credit: Jazza

It could be a lack of time, a mental block, or a naysayer. For me, my roadblock was not the oft-cited “writer’s block”; rather, every time I tried to sit down and write that book I had in my head, I’d be reduced to tears for the memories the work brought. And then there was the naysayer. Someone told me my book idea wasn’t respectful of my family…and I should reconsider what publishing it would do to them.

No matter which roadblocks you’re facing, there is always a way to keep going. For aspiring writers (or aspiring whatevers) with little time, the best advice I know of is to set a realistic goal for yourself, whether a daily or weekly goal, and stick to it. Maybe you’ve only got fifteen minutes a day. Maybe you’ve only got one hour a week. Whatever you have, build that time into your schedule, and then guard it with your dream.

When I started having those toxic emotional reactions to my work, which literally could incapacitate me from living the rest of my life, well, I shut down for awhile. But in hindsight, I realize that I eventually found other ways to keep moving in the direction of my dream. I came at it from another angle. Although I wasn’t yet ready to write that book in my head, I started reading up on the publishing industry, and I started reading about honing my craft. As I did this, I put the naysayer out of mind, and hoped for a better day to write and publish my book. And this leads to rule number 3.

 

Rule number 3: Learn from the masters

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Photo credit: krayker

So, how did you first develop that precious little dream of yours? I’d just bet it was from watching someone else who was doing that very thing, and saying to yourself, “I want to do that someday, too!”

So here’s the deal: the same place you go for inspiration—be it a bookshelf, a rodeo, or a runway—is the same place you should go to apprentice for your craft. Once I identified memoir as my medium, I became a student of the genre. Not only did I read books about how to write memoir, but I read memoirs. These days I have become a sponge for these things, keeping them by my nightstand, on the coffee table, and in my CD player in the car (audio books). Where I once read only for entertainment, now I read for craft and technique, story development and organization. I read with a critical eye, judging a book’s execution and effectiveness, asking myself, is this a technique I could use? Is it one I’d want to use? Whether a memoir is well done or not, I learn from it.

 

Rule number 4: Work through personal problems to clear room for your dreams

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Photo credit: brainloc

Okay, this is probably the hardest rule to follow, and I can’t tell you how to do it; I can only point you to a blog post describing what worked for me. But if you do have some kind of mental or emotional block impeding your work, there must be something you’ll eventually have to deal with before getting on with your dream. If you have to “take time off” from your project to get your life or emotions in order, by all means, do it! This is not wasted time, because when you come back to your project free from the impediment, you will find that you have a vigor for your dream that you never had before.

 

Rule number 5: Set a deadline with measurable goals

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Photo credit: mimwickett

This rule will vary from person to person, and obviously your timelines and deadlines can change. But the thing here is to write down steps, measurable goals, that will move you closer to your dream, bit by bit. If you can give yourself a deadline and stick to it, you will be much helped, as most people operate best with a deadline.

For myself, after I started doing something and I learned how to keep plugging away at it in some form, even when it was hard; after I had started bathing my mind in masterful examples, and after I had worked through my poisonous personal problems…I came up with a schedule for completing my dream that I’m hoping will carry me through to completion. For now, I am trying every day to “move in the direction of my dreams,” even if it means only fifteen minutes of work. I hope you will do the same, and good luck!

A Schedule for Completing My Dream

 The working title of my dream, AKA my memoir, is 1,000 Miles: A Memoir on Recovering Family, God, and Dreams from Depression. Below is the schedule I came up with for myself last week to help me push through to completion.

Note: When I made this schedule, I already had a rough draft of my book, so when I say “finish” a section, that means refining the roughness and filling in the gaps.

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 July 2013

  • Finish sections 3 and 4, and revise sections 1 and 2
  • Locate a professional editor to edit my book (Yes, even though I have a master’s in English, this is a piece of advice I’ve heard too many times to disregard.)

August 2013

  • Finish Sections 5-7
  • Ask 10-15 friends/family members to read my manuscript
  • By Friday, August 30, Send manuscript to editor, and to ten other readers

September 2013

  • Write book proposal/query letter and identify agents/publishers to query
  • Hopefully receive manuscript back by end of month

October 2013

  • Revise Manuscript based on feedback
  • Polish query and book proposal if needed

November 2013

  • Query 10-15 agents and/or publishers beginning of month (first round)

December 2013

  • Query 10-15 more agents/publishers (second round)

January 2014

  • (Baby due!)
  • End of month, follow up with first batch of queries

February 2014

  • Query 10-15 more agents/publishers (third round)
  • End of month, follow up with second batch of queries

You’ll notice I’ve left room for “failure,” by including several rounds of querying agents. Maybe, by God’s grace, I won’t need more than one round. But if I do, I will choose to see it as a learning process, and I will just keep moving forward…until, one day, I either get accepted, or my thirtieth birthday is upon me—at which point I will try another angle, and publish on Amazon (plan B). Blog readers: If you are interested in being one of my manuscript readers after August, please let me know!

Finding “My People”

Do you feel like you’ve found “your people?” Once in graduate school, one of my professors took offense to some writer who had bashed Christians, saying, “Hey, those are my people!”

I heard her use this phrase almost two years ago and didn’t think much of it then (Christians gets bashed all the time in graduate school), but it came back to me this past Sunday as I sat in a circle with five other women, all writers, all of whom were sharing fragments of their memoir with the group.

This was my first time meeting with this particular writers’ group—or any writers’ group, for that matter—but soon it became clear to me that the group was about much more than just moving our careers forward. It was about sharing stories we’d been bottling for years, it was about giving one another permission to be real, and it was about being validated for said scary task.

During those two hours, I listened to one woman’s struggle to make sense of the sexual abuse in her family; another’s decision to move forward with her education after years of being squelched by a verbally abusive parent; still another’s first attempt at writing the “good memories” for a wounded daughter; and another’s chronicle of life after leaving her third husband. The piece I brought that day was the (rough) first scene of my memoir: the day I emerged from the mental hospital, numb to joy, resigned to life, yet stripped of all expectation and desire.

Some of the feedback I got: “I can feel your numbness.” “The stripping of humanity that comes from staying in a place like this is clear.” “Your point about emotional pain and invisibility hits home.” “I can identify.”

I liked the last comment best, because it came from every single woman at the table. As, one by one, the women admitted that they, too, had found themselves at this place in life before (either literally or figuratively), I felt a sense of relief washing over me. Although I’d known these women less than two hours, it was a relief that they already knew more about me than so many of my acquaintances. That day I also gained strength to continue with what is sometimes an emotionally difficult project, and validation that my project actually matters. Best of all, by the end of the session, I felt I could finally say, “I’ve found my people.”

Of course, like my graduate professor, I could certainly say the same of my church family. I could also truthfully say it of my family family. But somehow, connecting with people because of shared religious convictions or shared bloodlines isn’t the same as connecting to people emotionally. Because rather than falling by default into a category, this type of writing, and this type of realness, is a choice we make—even a dream we share.

Why did I ever wait to join a writers’ group?

 

Reclaiming My Voice

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Photo Credit: Nordic Photos/Super Stock

There’s an important thing in writing called “voice.” Different composition scholars define it in different ways, but basically “voice” refers to the unique qualities of the writer’s writing. What distinguishes his or her writing from everyone else’s?

More often than I wish were the case, college English classes discount voice, sacrificing it to academic conventions, or established norms and guidelines, to maintain the “language of scholarship.”

In my master’s thesis, I argued that I lost interest in my English classes, in part, because my voice was not allowed there. I still got A’s, though, because it was easy for me to imitate what teachers wanted—it was easy to “pose” as someone I was not on paper.

While this practice earned me a 4.0 in my major, sadly, it took me away from defining my own role as a writer, and developing my own voice.

As well, maybe I didn’t feel my voice was welcome, either in the classroom or anywhere else. Looking back, writing in non-academic settings should have been a given…but no…I resisted airing my voice in a professional, outward way—squelched it under the covers of my journals. Where else could it go?

My “voice” as I conceived of it at age twenty-one was that of a depressed, deflated victim—a mental basket case. I felt bad enough about myself already. So why should I let the truth out and ruin the cover I was trying to keep?

How to Hide Your Voice

When you want to hide your voice, and if you have some of your wits about you, it’s easy enough to blend in. Perhaps imitating others—whether in academic writing or behavior—isn’t the natural impulse, but when you want to lie low, it’s easy enough to blend. At least, it’s easy enough to “cap” your real voice.

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On our belated honeymoon trip to San Antonio in 2006.

Maybe I’ve never really “blended” as well as I’d like to think I have. But what I have done is to keep quiet. And by some miraculous twist, I’ve been able to project the image of calm and collected.

Many people have told me, and not just in recent years when I’ve actually achieved some inner peace, that they’re impressed by my outward calm. I’ve been called phlegmatic, composed, serene, and someone who never seems ruffled.

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Sailing in Saint Thomas, 2009.

Well. Ahem. Pat myself on the back. What a “good” job I’ve done at concealing my real self.

Apparently I used to think this was something to be proud of, suppressing my voice.

No more. I’ve grown tired of it.

Letting It Out

I used to stifle my voice because I thought it was warped and would get me labeled. What I didn’t realize was that it was okay to have that voice. It wasn’t okay to keep it forever, of course, because indeed it was warped—a warped outgrowth of my God-given identity.

Now I know my voice just needed redirecting. The form could remain, but the content had to change.

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My husband and me posing for a Christmas picture during the first year of our marriage, 2005.

Sometimes I tell my husband I’ve been trying to figure out who I really am since we married eight years ago. I tell him it’s like my personality was gutted after I went through my deep depression and initial college crash. He tells me I’ve always been the same person—I’ve always had my identity. I guess I have. But it just got buried for awhile in shame and self-doubt.

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My husband and me in a less posed setting in 2005. I think I look somewhat depressed here, or maybe I just need makeup.

No more. Starting with this blog, I’m reclaiming my true voice. And it’s not the voice of the popular majority. It’s not that of a detached literary critic. It’s not a silent observer. It’s not an insecure, defeated little girl.

My voice is thoughtful, emotional, yet hopeful. It is often unpopular. But I’m okay with that. It is mine, given by God, and I intend to use it.

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I’m not sure what to say about this picture. It was taken by my husband when no one else was looking.