Saturday, October 22, 2016

Let It Go (and I don't mean Frozen)

We're nearly two months into the school year, and I'm sure for many of you, things are piling up. Homework, projects, extracurricular activities, work . . . not to mention that relationships take time, and so do hobbies (for myself, that's writing and blogging). We complain that life is busy, and it is. When is it anything but? I know, I know, some seasons of life are busier than others, or they're a different kind of busy, but the fact remains: there is always something going on.

Some of those things we have control over. Many things we do not. Things like school and work are musts. Relationships are the biggest things in life, and so we don't want to sacrifice time spent building them. And if we neglect recreation for too long, we burn out. So what in the world do you do when life gets crazy and there's just nothing you can cut out?*

*I would first examine if that's really true, because chances are, there is something you can minimize or eliminate or postpone. Really.

Most of the time . . .

We. Get. Stressed.

And we blame the circumstances for our stress. But actually, those things that keep us busy, those deadlines and requirements and must-do activities, are just stressors. How you react to them is completely up to you.

Stress is actually low-level fear. It's not a red-hot explosion of panic, but a constant drone in the back of your mind. It's the constant nagging, the to-do list digging its claws in, the underlying buzz of thoughts saying, "Can I do this? Will I make it? I don't know if I can. There's this, this, this, and this to do today, and all of THIS to do tomorrow. I don't have enough to give. I'm going to disappoint people. I'm going to disappoint myself. I'm failing. I'm buried. I'm overwhelmed. I'M STRESSED."

Something I'm learning is that I need to let go of the things I have no control over. Sure, there's a lot I can change--I can adjust my schedule, I can work on my beliefs about a situation so that I don't stress out as easily--but there's always lots in life that I just have no control over. So there's no point in freaking out about those things.

So what if there's an accident on the way to school and it's slowing down traffic, making me late for class? That's an extenuating circumstance. If I gave myself sufficient time to get to school, and something like that makes me late, that's not my fault. So in the middle of the backed-up traffic, I don't need to panic.

So what if a customer issue comes up at work and I don't have time to finish the cleaning project my manager gave me? A more important issue came up, so the project will have to wait for another time. And that's okay. I don't need to feel guilty about it.

So what if you have to go to school or work or any other number of obligations? Yes, it limits your free time, but you'll just have to accept it and work around it. Don't put needless pressure on yourself to accomplish more than you have time for.

When you brush all of that aside, your mind is suddenly a lot freer to start focusing on what you can do, and what you do have control over. It's a lot less stressful. A lot more freeing.

So relax, friend. Life may be full of stressors right now, but it doesn't mean you need to be stressed. Shift your focus, release what you can't control, and just figure out what the next step is. That's all.

You've got this.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Beautiful Books - The Prophet's Key

I haven't participated in Beautiful People for a while, have I? And even though this month's questions were written with Nano in mind--which I'm sadly not participating in this year because I want to keep my sanity, thank you very much--they were a great tool to get to know my current WIP better. The Prophet's Key has been trickier to write than I expected, so the more help I find, the better!

Link-up hosted by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In.

1. What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

I'd have to look back at my old notes to see when I first got the idea, but it struck when I sat down on the old wooden swinging bench on my back porch as a young teen and started brainstorming ideas for The Prophet's Quest (untitled at the time). The Prophet itself needed some exploration, and somehow the idea of there being a key to unlock all its mysteries struck me. I pursued that trail further, and the winding paths of brainstorming led to the five Shifters too.

Funny thing: The Prophet's Quest was initially going to be called The Prophet's Key, until I actually wrote the thing and realized all those ideas about the key didn't fit, and thus were moved into the sequel.

2. Describe what your novel is about!

I don't have an official synopsis yet. The inner journeys of the two MCs are still a bit foggy to me, so that will have to wait. But here's the general idea:

Aileen and Josiah are searching Earth for five hidden elementals called Shifters. These powerful individuals may be Demetria's only chance in the battle hovering at the nation's doorstep. All the while, the two teens struggle to reconcile their chosen status to their old lives and find a way to succeed without the advantages of dragon form.

3. What is your book's aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like!

I don't have a lot of photos gathered right now, beyond some boring maps. But it's set mostly on Earth this time, and yet the realism is infused with the fantastical: elementals, espionage, an ancient evil, and other (rather spoilery) stuff.

4. Introduce us to each of your characters!

We'd be here a long time if I trotted out every single person in this book's large cast of characters! So I'll just say a short blurb on all the main ones.

Aileen McKay: Sixteen years old. Brown hair, brown eyes. Introverted, intense personality, makes thoughtful decisions. Was once a white dragon with ice breath.

Josiah Williams: Sixteen years old. Blond-ish hair, grey eyes. Bold, self-assured, makes snap decisions. Was once a red dragon with fiery breath.

Mr. Hawkins: White hair, steely eyes. Guardian of the Prophet and all-around epic person. Skilled in geography.

Diver: Talking otter considered the leader of all Demetrian otters. Wears a smooth grey stone on a cord around his neck to indicate status. Spunky, adventurous, and afraid of heights.

Wimwhile: Wind Shifter. Long white beard. Always wears a long, shabby coat. Cranky, arrogant, but noble at heart.

Skaes: Water Shifter. Auburn hair. Scottish accent. Soft-hearted and fluid. Read more HERE.

Cauxle: Plant Shifter. Dark hair, mismatched eyes. Has a piratical air to him. Excellent in hand-to-hand combat.

Nisi: Light Shifter. Pale blonde hair. Cold, brusque personality concealing inner pain.

Brollier: Fire Shifter. Brown beard, eyes perpetually crinkled in a smile. Warm and jovial and courageous.

Mr. Spencer: Leader of the Sagire (a group of my main villain, Criffel's, men employed as hunters on Earth). Middle-aged. Looks harmless, but is actually secretive and deadly.

5. How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)

Back in the summer of 2015, I wrote a new and improved outline. (TPK was actually written four years ago, but that draft is so outdated I have to start from scratch.) At the beginning of 2016, I started researching my various settings. Much howling has been involved in this first draft. Heh. I also try to remember to pray before I write, which helps.

6. What are you most looking forward to about this novel?

Finishing the first draft! Ha, no, I'm actually looking forward to the climax. The crew will finally be together, some of the villains' advantages will be revealed, and everything will come to a head. It's gonna be good!

7. List 3 things about your novel's setting.

Well, there are lots of exotic Earth locations . . . The crags of the Rocky Mountains, the rolling Highlands of Scotland, the verdant Daintree Rainforest in Australia, the urban sprawl of Moscow, and the rugged landscape of Iceland. (That's more than three. Guess I'm a rebel.)

8. What's your character's goal and who (or what) stands in the way?

Their goal is to find all five Shifters before the Sagire do. Not only do the Sagire (with all their prowess and resources) stand in their way, but so does the mystery of each Shifter's location. All Aileen and Josiah have is a journal full of riddles and unlabelled maps to guide them.

I'd have to say another thing standing in their way is themselves: their own fear, their inadequacies, and their self-doubt. Which flows seamlessly into the next question . . .

9. How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

Both of them lose faith in themselves throughout the novel, but by the end, they will have (at least partially) resolved that. They both learn to lead. Josiah begins to come to grips with his father's rejection. Aileen learns to hold both her home and Alewar in her heart without being completely torn apart. As you can see, neither of them are anywhere close to truly grasping these lessons, but they are slowly transforming. The issues they face in this book will only escalate as the series goes on! Poor charries.

10. What are your book's themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?

Facing failure and fear, confidence in yourself, faith, perseverance--all are present in this novel. I want readers to walk away realizing they're not alone in these things, and that fear can be beaten.


Now would be the time I wrap this up, but a new thought just struck me. Fear can be beaten. The moment I typed those words, I realized how impactful they are for me. In life, of course, but also as the writer of this story. I've been afraid to write this book. Afraid of handling a large cast and a sprawling, real-life setting. Afraid of failing to keep the pace going. Afraid to disappoint future readers by featuring less of Demetria than in the first book.

But really, there's no need to fear any of that. How many times have I talked about giving yourself permission to write garbage in the first draft? It's about time I take my own advice. Cast and setting and pace can be smoothed out during editing. And I actually have an idea or two to up the "other world content" in this book--again, during editing. IT'S TIME TO JUST HAVE FUN WRITING.

Let that be a lesson to all of you, questerlings. ;)

Oh, before I go, one more thing. Make that two.

First: I'm sorry I've had a couple of late posts, and that I've been slower in replying to comments. I'm trying to fit blogging in on meal breaks at college.

Second: writer friends of mine told me about a really sweet giveaway, so I thought I'd keep spreading the news. You can win up to $3000 of cover design, editing, proofreading, and content editing! How sweet would that be? And, as a little extra sweetness, if you enter through THIS LINK, I get extra entries. Which is not an entirely self-serving request, because by entering you get your own shareable link that can get you extra entries as well. It's a lovely snowballing method.

That's it, now. Promise. Till next week!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Escaping the Shame Storm

In the last post, I promised I'd share the high ropes story. So while the memory is still fresh, here we go . . .

Last month, my college classmates and I (sixteen of us in total, plus our two teachers) went to camp for two days to solidify our team and get hands-on experience in working towards goals and taking leadership. This took the form of a blind follow-the-leader activity, trust falls (eeek!), and getting the entire team through a "spiderweb" of rope without touching the web.

That was just the first morning.

During the first afternoon, we took turns climbing the climbing wall and going ziplining, which I mentioned in my last Subplots and Storylines post. Climbing up the fifty-foot ziplining pole was a little freaky, but sitting up on the platform while the facilitator clipped my harness to the zipline was worse. I was sitting on the edge, legs dangling over empty space, and the tops of the trees looked too close.

one of my classmates, the first to go up
I took a deep breath and tried to push off, but froze. I tried again--same thing. "Can you push me off?" I asked the facilitator.

"Do you want me to?" His voice sounded mildly amused. "I think you can do it."

I guess being reminded that I was capable was what I needed, because I took another deep breath, squeezed my eyes shut, and launched off, an unbidden scream bursting out of me. Half a second later, my eyes were open and I was zooming down the line, having the time of my life. The end came too soon.

After ziplining, I conquered the climbing wall. Like I mentioned in the S&S post, I managed to get halfway up the difficult side--after slipping off and dangling by my harness a couple of times--but by then my arms were sore and I was ready to come down.

But I didn't want to give up, so I then successfully climbed the easier side, though I did slip once more on the way up. Thank goodness for the person belaying me.

So you can imagine I was feeling pumped and proud of myself and ready to take on the world!

That night, my room's heater was blasting way too high, leading to a less-than-restful sleep. The morning before camp, I had woken up early, so all in all, I entered day two of camp with low energy levels.

After breakfast, we all headed to the high ropes course. There were different challenges, such as the Giant's Ladder, a series of wooden beams with each one spaced further apart than the one before. I helped belay for a team of four taking on that particular challenge. There is no way I'm going up there, I thought to myself, content to hold the rope, keep an eye on my climber, and ensure her safety.

An hour later, after the team had reached the top and come back down, everyone who hadn't had a chance to participate in a challenge course yet was rounded up, including myself. A facilitator told me to join the Giant's Ladder team, but I said no, if I had to do any of them, I'd rather do Team All Aboard: a pole with a small, square platform on top, where three or four people had to stand, link arms, and lean backwards all together.

So I harness up and started climbing the pole. Some of my teammates, having seen my reluctance, shouted encouragement from below. My belayer instructed me to climb around the pole once I got partway up, in order to keep my line from tangling with those of the two girls already up there.

So I climbed up the ladder. Onto the first few staple footholds of the pole. I looked up at the platform above my head. I adjusted my grip. I closed my eyes. Suddenly the thought of reaching the top was overwhelming. I could barely think of taking the next step. It's just like climbing up to the zipline, Tracey. This shouldn't be hard.

I've climbed a high ropes course before, about three years ago. It was terrifying and a lot harder than what I was currently embarking on, but I'd made it. Logically, this one shouldn't be a problem.

"Is it okay if just two people go up instead of three?" I called. "Can I come down?"

The facilitator looked up at me. "Why do you want to come down, Tracey?" he asked.

I fought back irrational tears. "I'm just tired. No motivation."

"It's okay. You did well."

And so I climbed back down. Taking my helmet off with trembling hands, I avoided gazes and nodded when classmates told me I had done a good job, I had stepped out of my comfort zone, way to go.

As I walked away, one of my teachers approached. "Hey, no one's disappointed in you."

"Yeah, except for me," I said, and started crying.

My other teacher joined us. "Tracey, what is excellence?"

I wiped tears away and tried to tamp down another wave. "Doing the best you can with what you have, I know."

Later on--after a hug and some encouraging words--everyone gathered for a debrief to share what we'd learned and accomplished. As classmates talked about conquering fears and depending on each other, another wave of guilt washed over me. You could've pushed past it. You could've taken one more step, and then one more, and one more, and made it to the top. Why didn't you?

When it came to my turn, and I forced out a few brief words that did a poor job of veiling my guilt, the female facilitator debriefing with us had something powerful to say.

When things don't go as planned or we fail to accomplish the goal we've set out for ourselves, it's easy to give into a "shame storm," to beat ourselves up about it. But we can't do that. It's damaging. It's not true.

I tried to quell the storm raging inside of me, but my teacher (the first one) saw the look on my face as we headed back to the main lodge.

"You heard what she said?" he asked me. "Don't give in. Don't give in to the shame."

The whole experience stuck with me long after we left camp. I do tend to be hard on myself, to replay my failures, to beat myself up for making a mistake . . . or even just for doing less than I expected of myself.

But it's time to stop thinking that way. Those thoughts are whip lashes, they're chains. Destructive, imprisoning. It's time to stop giving in to the shame, time to realize I did the best I can, and that's all I can do, and that's okay. I can learn from those experiences, yes, but then I need to leave it there and walk away. I don't have to carry it with me.

I'm sharing this story because I'm pretty certain you have your own storm of shame, thundering in your ears and lashing you from the inside. Others may not see that you're bleeding, but you know it. You suffer that barrage of thoughts saying, "Why didn't you make it? What's wrong with you? You could have, should have--didn't. You failed, therefore you are a failure."

You know what I say to that? Yes, I failed, but that means I'm a tryer.

I'm still trying to believe that I did not actually fail at the high ropes course, that I really did do the best I could with what I had. What I had was not much, but I strapped my harness on. I climbed the ladder. I started up the pole. So I didn't reach the top and complete the challenge. I still challenged myself. It's not about completion.

Listen to me, friend. Whether it was a true failure or you simply did the best you could with what you had, and it wasn't enough--it does not define you. Accept that, learn from it, and move on. It's the moving on part that's really hard, but please try.

As I slowly worked through the tangle of thoughts and feelings after the ropes course, and I began to let go of the guilt, I was surprised to feel lighter. Surprised that I was still having fun and enjoying my day, when hours ago I'd been crying. And I started to feel guilty for not feeling more guilty. But I shut that voice up. Not perfectly--some whispers got through--but I will always look back on that day as my battle against the shame storm.

I hope that one day I can say truthfully that the storm comes less often. That when it does, I can let it go and see the waves calm. I want to walk on those waters a conqueror, with my identity anchored not in my successes or failures, but in the One who loves me through them both.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Subplots and Storylines - September 2016

September was wind and golden trees and russet fields. Just as autumn transforms the trees, it shows its many faces in the heavens. From rain-smeared skies to crisp, pale blue ceilings to brooding banks of clouds shredded with the rosy-golden glow of morning, I relished every face she displayed.

As beautiful as the season is, September galloped headlong into October this year, folks. The month was packed with college starting, clearing out the garden, celebrating my parents' anniversary, and more.

In case you missed it, my brother and I are in a one-year leadership/Bible program at a college run by my church. I've already learned so much in just one month, it's amazing! My teachers challenge me, my teammates are wonderful and serious about getting the most out of this year, and the course material is great.

The way it's structured is that part of the week is spent in class, and part is spent volunteering at church, in inner city, and in the specific ministry areas of the church we picked. I'm in youth, which is a stretch because ack, teenagers, but I'm really loving it so far.

Some tidbits of my college activities . . .

Early in the month, my class and I helped run a church carnival.

We went through an inner city "boot camp," helping out at foodbank for the first time, touring the neighborhoods by bus, and handing out ice cream to inner city kids as they streamed out of school.

We're learning about creativity, divergent thinking, leadership (which just means influence), excellence (which just means doing the best you can with what you have), teamwork, collaboration, the Bible, what truth really is, focus, attitude, et cetera. It's all in modular style, so our teachers can hop around from one thing to the next depending on what we need to learn in the moment.

One big highlight of the month was our two-day camp retreat designed to get us to gel as a team while simultaneously learning hands-on leadership skills and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. Pretty intense. You may remember from older posts that I'm not real keen on heights. Well.

I climbed a climbing wall. (One and a half times. Halfway up the difficult side, my noodle arms and I gave up, so I came down and then decided to try the easier side--and I made it to the bell at the top.)

I climbed a fifty-foot pole and zip lined down, which was scary and way fun.

I attempted a high ropes course, but that's a longer story for another post, methinks.

Needless to say, it's been quite the month. It's crazy busy--as in, I'm spending 50+ hours at college (or driving to and from college), plus working two shifts a week. I guess you can see why this post is a day later than it should be! But even though my schedule is packed, I love almost everything I'm doing, so that makes it a little bit easier to wake up early every morning.

Somehow I had time to watch things.

The Jungle Book
I did not expect to like it as much as I did, which was quite a lot. I was never a huge fan of the original Disney animated film--not that I disliked it, more like I was apathetic about it--but this live action/convincing CGI remake was splendid. It's visually beautiful and also does a great job with a solid storyline. By the end, I loved hearing the animals recite the Law of the Jungle.

The Battle of the Five Armies (rewatch)
At a last-hoorah-before-college sleepover with my aunt, we watched this together. Since finishing the Narnia movies together, it's been our goal to watch all the Hobbit movies. This was her first viewing of it, and she's very partial to Thorin Oakenshield, so you can imagine how that went.

Zootopia (rewatch)
I LOVE IT SO MUCH. The twists didn't have me on the edge of my seat this time since I knew they were coming, but that was okay because it meant more room in my brain to appreciate the storytelling all over again.

The Flash (season 1) and Once Upon a Time (season 1 and 4)
My siblings and I are still watching The Flash and loving every episode. My sisters and I have slowed down considerably with OUAT season 4, but are still loving that too, and we started the show from the beginning with our parents. It's fun to see the characters in their old roles, and Henry is so little and adorable.

Somehow I read nothing.

Okay, not nothing, just very little.

Five Enchanted Roses
Though I read the majority of it in August, I finished in September. You can read a full review HERE.

The Calling // Rachelle Dekker // book 2 in The Seer trilogy
This was a splendid book that took me a decidedly unsplendid long time (three weeks! what is wrong with me!) to read. Just like the first book, it delves deeply into the internal struggles of its main character--this time Remko instead of Carrington--against a backdrop of dystopian action. Just like the first book, the narrator phrases (Remko saw, Remko felt, etc.) bothered me a bit. But just like the first book, I was floored by the message and how it resonated with me. The Choosing was about true identity, and The Calling is about fear, another timely topic that Rachelle dealt with masterfully.

And of course I'm now antsy for the release of The Returning.

12 beta chapters
On supper breaks I had some time to read more of Emily's The City and the Trees, which I aim to finish soon!

And so it's no surprise I wrote piddly beans this month.

I finished the 100-for-100 challenge . . . and proceeded to not write a single word afterwards. Yup, I produced a grand total of 1,239 words in September. Knowing that I'm capable of creating ten times that in the same timespan needles me a little, but I also know that I needed the break to recover from challenge burnout and acclimatize to a new life schedule.

Maybe I can manage to write a little more in October?

Oh, and hey, if you missed it: I interviewed Christine Smith about her writing life, and she interviewed me!

Subplots of character growth

It's been an intense month, but in a pretty good way. I'm being stretched, which isn't always easy, but I prefer this over plateauing! It's like those training periods in so many fantasy character arcs. Learning, growing, being challenged. Filling my toolbox with things I'll need for the future. Because of all this thinking, I feel some blog post topics stewing in my brain, so I may plunge deep without warning this month. Is that good with you? (I know it is.)

So tell me of your own autumn quests! Any good novels you've read? Is the weather crisp and lovely where you are, or still swelteringly summery? How are your pursuits going, academic or otherwise?

This song has been in my head since I took a glorious walk this afternoon. ^_^