Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Not That Patient, Not That Strong--Not That True

- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay
Note: While this post is sort of about homeschooling and homebirth, mostly it’s about doing things that are important to you but hard. I’m not advocating my life decisions.

When I tell people I had my first child in a birth center, the other three at home, all unmedicated, people look at me like I’m insane or tell me it’s “too messy” (a myth, by the way). But I also get this a lot: “I’d love to do that, but my pain tolerance is too low. I’m just not that strong.

I am also currently homeschooling my children (if you have guessed by now that I am an introvert, you would be correct).* The most common response to that is “I couldn’t teach my kids. I’m just not that patient.”

In labor with #3. Trust me, I'm not feeling all that strong.
Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you a secret.** I’m not either. I am neither strong nor brave enough to birth without meds nor patient enough to homeschool. I’m just a regular person who decided to do certain things.

Here’s another secret, one of the main reasons I chose a birth center for my first child: I knew, with near certainty, that if I had easy access to an epidural, I would get it. And I had decided that I didn’t want to, so I placed an epidural out of my reach. (Why I chose homebirth afterward is another, unrelated story.) I knew I wasn’t brave enough without a little extra help, but to me this was important enough to find a way.*** Homeschooling happened in a similar way, except that with homeschooling we continue to have the ability to choose a different path in the future if ever we decide this plan really isn’t working for us.

Here’s what I think about sometimes: What kind of a world would we inhabit if we only did the things we were already good enough to do? What if at the beginning of the day, my eight-year-old said, “I’m not good enough at math to do that problem, so I won’t try it”? Or if my six-year-old said, “I can’t read because I’m not that smart”? Or if my favorite authors, who continually write difficult but amazing books, said, “I won’t write that book because I’m not a good enough writer”?

We become those things by doing them, not because we already magically are. We put ourselves in the position to try the hard things and become the big things. That’s how we grow. We constantly reach for something that is just a little bit beyond us (or—in the case of patience on a late Friday afternoon when my husband isn’t yet home from work—something that is very far beyond us), and we get closer to the qualities we seek.

That doesn’t mean we need to be striving for everything. It’s perfectly legitimate for you to say, “I don’t want to homeschool or do homebirth. That’s not right for me right now (or ever).” It’s fine to say, “I don’t want to learn piano/guitar/how to write a mystery novel or run a marathon/Ragnar/5k.” Or whatever. The point is, if there is something you want, something that you truly think is important, don’t let your lack of ability stop you. Do it, and by doing it, you will find that you can.

* Although, for the record, homeschooling isn’t exactly an introvert endeavor. And my introversion was not the deciding factor in these decisions, just the happy icing on the cave troll cake.

** Actually, it’s not much of a secret. My kids, my husband, my midwife—even my birth photographer friend—can all attest to my lack of patience and strength. Especially in hour 10 of labor or minute 10 of reading practice.
*** And no, I’m not judging you for feeling differently.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The 40 Book Reading Challenge for Writers

By Lacey Gunter

My son's fifth grade teacher has issued his class a 40 book reading challenge. The challenge seeks to encourage reluctant readers to increase their reading and to expose avid readers to a wide array of literature. In addition to the number of books that need to be read, the students are challenged to read a minimum number of books from 10 different genres. I think it is a wonderful idea. In fact I think it is so wonderful, I want to issue the same challenge to all our blog readers.

 According to the Pew Research Center Libraries Survey of US adults in 2015, 27% of American adults reported that they had not read even part of a book within the last year. Among all American adults, the average number of books read in the previous year was 12 and half of American adults had read 4 books or less in the previous year.

I am highly confident that all our Mommy Mommy Writers and Friends do not fit the typical American profile and are among the avid readers who are skewing the average much higher than the 50th percentile. So the reason I am issuing this 40 book reading challenge is not to increase you reading, but rather to expand your exposure to a wide variety of good writing.

A good way to improve your writing skills is to study how the experts do it, and to see many different examples of how it is done, especially when it is done well. So this is, in part, to improve your writing.  But don't just stick within your genre. Much can be learned by examining writing from other genres too.  So here is my 40 book reading challenge to you:

In the next twelve months read:

Number                 Genre
2 Poetry anthology
3 Traditional literature
5 Realistic fiction
3 Fantasy
2 Science fiction
2 Mystery
2 Romance
3 Informational
2 Biography or autobiography
3 Picture book
2 Translated from another language/culture
2 Religious or inspirational
5 Bestselling or award winning book in the genre you write 
5 Free Choice 

Feel free to adjust this list to better suit your needs, but remember this is supposed to be a challenge to stretch you beyond what you would normally do or choose. Of course, don't forget to learn and have fun along the way.

Happy reading!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Being a Mom, Standing in Line, and Writing a Book

by Kasey Tross

Sorry I've been a bit MIA on here lately- caught a nasty bug that doesn't seem to want to go away, but I'm trying to get back to a more normal routine.

So here are a few things that have been on my mind recently:

1. The Mom Conference

There is a FREE conference for moms coming up this week- it starts tomorrow, in fact- and if it's anything like it was last year, you are NOT going to want to miss it! It's an online conference, which means that once you sign up (again, totally free) they will send you the links to the presentations for each day. So tomorrow morning I will get an e-mail with links to all the presentations for the day (videos) and I can choose to watch whichever ones I want, whenever I want, anytime tomorrow. It's GREAT. Don't miss it!

2. I Don't Stand In Line.

This election season has been really good for me, because it has caused me to reflect a lot on what I believe, how I prioritize my values, and how I choose to act on those things. I have written a few strongly-worded Facebook rants, but there was one little epiphany I had that I felt merited a full blog post. As I share Mormon Mommy Writers with other women who have different viewpoints from me, and I want to respect that, I felt like this was a topic that would be better suited to my own personal blog. But I wanted to share it here in case anyone finds it interesting or useful: I Don't Stand In Line.

3. NaNoWriMo

It's coming! It's really coming! Do you think you will do NaNoWriMo? I'm thinking about it, but I'm still not sure...I have a book I'd really like to get out of my head, but I know from the experience of writing the last (STILL unfinished) book that I need to have a plan before I even attempt it, and lately I have had approximately ZERO time to write...or plan...or...anything...

So...for me it's a definite maybe. ;-)

Hope all is well with you beautiful writerly friends. Would love to hear from you in the comments. :-)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Writing Something Shorter

This school year, I’m teaching a short story and novel writing class to a group of teenagers at our homeschool co-op. We’ve only been going for a few weeks, but I’m having so much fun!

One thing we’re doing is writing stories in a wide variety of lengths. I thought I’d share some of the lengths we’re doing. I have really enjoyed thinking about these different styles of stories more. Sometimes you just need a break from working on novels, you know? And sometimes you even need a break from a traditional “short story.” If this is you, read on for some ideas!

1. Our biggest project is going to be a novel/novella/novelette (depending on how ambitious and excited each kid is; they’ll be setting their own limits). Incidentally, in case you were wondering, here are some generally accepted numbers for the lengths of those different types:
Novel: somewhere over 40,000 words
Novella: about 17,500 to 40,000 words (or about 70–80 pages)
Novelette: 7,500 to 17,500 words (about 30–70 pages)

(Did you know there are lots of specifications for short stories too, like “long short story” and “short short story”? Crazy.)

2. Six-word stories. This should be self-explanatory, right? Six words. The end. We did six-word memoirs on the first day of class, and it was amazing how much I got to learn about each of these awesome kids from what they said about themselves in just six words.*

3. Twitter stories. Yes, I know some people write Twitter stories that are contained in a long series of tweets, but I think it’s much more fun and interesting to write a story that can be contained in a single tweet—that’s 140 characters (which includes spaces and punctuation). Again, it’s interesting to see how much you really can pack into such a short space—and also what you really can’t.

4. Flash fiction. This is usually considered anything between about 500 and 750 words. Here’s what I love about this length: Let’s say you get a good idea one morning. You hop in the shower and think it out; by the time you’ve toweled your hair, you have an exact plan. If you have a typing speed of, say, 50 wpm, you could sit down to type and have a completed rough draft 15 minutes later! Instant gratification!

5. Typical short story length, somewhere in the low thousands. Honestly, I don’t have much to say about these, although I do think it’s great to write them occasionally.

Are you feeling stuck in your current WIP? How about taking a break. Write a Twitter story based on a side character. Write some flash fiction about what would happen if your main character woke up one day with a super power. Imagine your villain’s six-word memoir. It could be fun.

* In case you were wondering, it’s cheating in a memoir to just list qualities like, “Funny, creative, mother, wife.” You have to tell a story in those words. Try it, it’s fun!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Our Divine Potential

By Lacey Gunter

One of the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that is often ridiculed and misunderstood is that of the potential of man to become like God. For those who are not of the LDS faith, I want to share with you a little about what exactly we believe and why it is such an important part of my personal beliefs about the nature of God and our relationship with him.

Members of the LDS faith believe that God is our Father in Heaven. When we say the word 'Father', we mean so much more than some amazingly powerful being that delights in creating things and created us in some artistic or skilled fashion. Rather, when we say he is our Heavenly Father, we are saying our spirits or our souls are the literal offspring of God. We also believe in a Heavenly Mother who participated in this procreation of our souls. We are their spirit children. We believe that we existed as spirits with our Heavenly Parents before coming to earth and joining our spirit with a body. This life, in essence, is a period of growth and progression in what we believe to be our eternal existence.

Just like any good earthly parents, we believe Heavenly Father is actively involved it teaching us and helping us to achieve our best potential, which is to become like our Heavenly Parents. And just like good earthly children, as we grow and demonstrate our ability to manage ourselves and make good choices that help ourselves and those around us, Heavenly Father will continue to bless us with greater knowledge and greater responsibility until, with the help of our spirit brother Jesus Christ and his infinite atonement, we can ultimately become like God.

Some Christian faiths suggest that this belief in the potential to become like God diminishes the glory and greatness of God by pulling him down to our level. On the contrary, I can only see that it adds to the glory and greatness of God that he is capable of building us up to achieve his potential. It is one thing for a being to be great of themselves. It is even more glorious and amazing for a being to be personally great and also be capable of making others around them just as great.  Truly isn't this far more glorious and amazing?

With this knowledge that we are children of God, we not only get a better sense of our relationship to God, but also a better understanding of his relationship with us. When we recognize that all of us are God's children we are better able to understand why bad things sometimes happen and God doesn't just "destroy the wicked" when they hurt other people. Any of us who have more than one child and have had to discipline a child for hitting or hurting their sibling can grasp this concept. God loves all his children, even when they sometimes misbehave. He hopes that they can learn to behave and act better and continues to try and teach them and help them to become the best they are capable of being, despite their mistakes.

Understanding our divine potential also helps us better understand the purpose of our life here on earth. This earth life is difficult and challenging to help us gain knowledge and grow in our ability to act wisely. If we possess the potential to become like God, this kind of glory and power requires great responsibility in understanding the consequences of our actions and how they affect others.

These beliefs are also my beliefs and I am grateful for a loving Father in Heaven who believes in my potential and helps me to grow and improve.  If you would like to learn more about the LDS faith and our beliefs about God, I encourage you to check out or leave a comment with any questions you have.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When Hollywood Gets It Wrong, part 3: If I Stay

If I Stay (If I Stay, #1)
Note: Now we reach part 3, my last rant (for now) about how Hollywood sometimes wrecks books/musicals when they’re adapted into movies. Herein lie spoilers for If I Stay. Parts 1 and 2 were about Harry Potter and Into the Woods.

If I Stay is such a beautiful, lyrical (but really sad) book that I was curious to see how that loveliness could be translated into film. For me, it didn’t work great, but there was one part that really wrecked it for me.

If you haven’t read If I Stay, let me begin by saying that though I thought it was a beautiful, compelling read, I don’t necessarily recommend it, particularly for an LDS audience. My recollection is that there was a fair amount of swearing, a little bit of drugs, and some sex (not exactly explicit, but definitely there).

It’s a story about a girl named Mia, who loves three things: her family, the cello, and a boy named Adam. Near the start of the book, she and her family are in a devastating car accident. The entire novel flips back and forth between flashbacks and her current out-of-body experience as she is being taken to the hospital, worked on there, etc. Her parents and brother all die in the accident. In the end, the central question of the novel is this: will she chose to live despite the pain, or will she let go?

The thing is, the whole book is about how much she loves her family, her cello, her Adam, but also about how amazing life is in general. It’s a tribute to life and love.

So where does the movie go wrong? Sadly, Hollywood generally doesn’t seem to believe that life in general is a good enough reason to, well, live. So the story has become more of a romance (don’t get me wrong, the book is totally a romance too, but the movie is more so). And nowhere is this more apparent than in the final scene.

In the book, Adam comes to her body in the hospital and puts some earphones on her head and plays her some of her favorite cello music. Then he takes the earphones off and starts to speak. In the movie he does the same, but the words are so different. (The following are not exact quotes, just the basic idea.)

Book: I know if you stay you are going to be in so much pain. But there is so much still to live for. You’ve got to live, for all of that. And if, when you wake up, you’re mad at me for convincing you to stay, I will do anything you want me to. If you want me to, I’ll go—if you stay. Just stay. 

Movie: I know it’s gonna be horrible if you stay. But you’re my life. I’ll do anything for you, I’ll move to New York with you (this had been the subject of a huge fight). I’ll go wherever you want to go as long as we’re together

Seriously? I mean, seriously? They missed the whole point! In the book, Adam cared more about Mia living and having a life than he cared about his own happiness. In the movie, it’s all about him. He then proceeds to sing her a song he’s written, which is admittedly nice, but again it’s about his needs, not hers. Ugh. It would have taken the film exactly another ten seconds for Adam to say, “I’ll go if you want me to, as long as you stay.”

So, in case you’ve missed it, here’s what I think Hollywood tends to miss: complexity, morality, self-sacrifice, selflessness. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, and I guess I’m really not. But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. So quick, tell me some movie adaptations that you think did a great job of capturing nuance, morality, and all-around goodness (but without being preachy). Ready, set, go!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Using That Big Lump On Top of Your Neck

Awhile back I wrote about The Power of Reflection, and today I'd like to expound upon that a little bit more, but from a slightly different angle.

We live in a world of action. We are go, go, go, 24/7, and it seems as if there's this general consensus that if you want to get things done, then you need to act. Act now! Don't wait! Want to learn more? Then read and study! Want to have a tidier home? Then tidy! Want to be a writer? Then write!

While these are all good things to do, there is an essential part of the puzzle that has disappeared from our collective psyche, a part that used to be a common pastime, but has been swept out of our busy culture with smartphones and extracurriculars and to-do lists. And it is this:


Wait, you say. I think all the time! Right now I'm thinking about this blog post! You can't tell me I'm an empty-headed busybody! 

Yes, but when was the last time you just sat and thought, without doing anything else? And I mean, anything else? I'm not talking about thinking when you're lying in bed trying to fall asleep (trust me, that's a terrible time to think), not when you're driving in the car, or making dinner, or exercising. There's nothing wrong with multitasking, especially when it's the only time you have- but then again, if that's the only time you have, there might be something wrong.

When was the last time you just sat still, in a comfortable, quiet place, for the sole purpose of thinking?

For most people, this sounds ludicrous. It feels like a waste of time. But is it?

I love this quotation, because it perfectly illustrates why thinking is so important. So many times when we are facing a problem or dilemma, we immediately search for a solution. We try the first quick fix we find. We google it. We talk to our friends. We look for a book at the library. We espouse a method of trial and error. We hack away at that tree with a dull axe.

But how often do we take the time to actually just think about it?

On Friday I was working in my craft room/office. I had already been through the KonMari process in there of deciding what sparked joy. I had gotten rid of the junk and put the joy-sparkers away, but the room was still a clutter magnet. It hadn't ever "clicked" and I didn't know why. 

So...I thought about it. I stopped trying to clean up and I sat down in the middle of the room and looked around and thought. I thought and thought. I realized it wasn't pretty. I still had all the stuff that sparked joy, but it just wasn't pretty and I didn't know how to make it pretty without taking it all out. 

So then- and only then- I went on Pinterest for some inspiration. I realized that I had figured out the problem, but I still didn't know the solution. I knew where I was, but I didn't know where I was going. And how could I get there if I didn't know where "there" was?

I paged through beautiful craft rooms and I started to get a feel for what I liked and how I wanted my room to look. So I went back into the room and sat.

And thought.

And thought some more.

I mentally rearranged the shelves. Then I mentally rearranged them again, because the first arrangement didn't work. Could I put those books over there? But then where would that stuff go? How about if I moved those supplies over- no, they won't fit. What about over there? That might work. But then what about the other...? Do I need to buy more containers? I don't want to buy more containers. How can I make this work?

It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle in my mind, and I didn't move until I'd worked out a plan. 

The whole plan didn't come together all at once; there were several things I had to physically try to see if they'd work before I could continue. Some worked, some didn't. But I can unequivocally say that I probably saved myself about 10 hours of work and months of disappointment with just those 20 minutes of thinking.

And I now have a beautiful, peaceful space to call my own (and the only I thing I bought was the fitted sheet to cover the futon- the rest was all brainpower!)

Now let's talk about your writing. I know, I know, we say, "Just write! It doesn't have to be pretty! If you want to be a writer, then write!" I still agree with that, but there will come times when writers' block will stop you dead in your tracks, and then what?

If you're like me, you will delicately set your laptop (or notebook, or whatever) to the side and stare at it like it's a rat you just discovered in your sock drawer. You will stomp your foot and complain on facebook. You will grab your computer again and stare at the blinking cursor with contempt and then start to pull your hair out in frustration.

You can do all those things. You have my permission. But when you're done, could also do one more thing?


Just sit in a quiet, comfortable place. Light a scented candle if you like. Think about your book and your characters. Don't force yourself to solve the problem. Just think about it. Try different options in your mind- don't write them, just give them a mental whirl and see how they feel. Then try some more. Think, think, think. 

You might be surprised at what your brain can do for you. ;-)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

What Makes a Good Critique Partner?

By Lacey Gunter

A good critique partner is worth, maybe not their weight in gold, but perhaps their weight in publishing contracts. =)

So how do you know if you have found a good critique partner? Aside from the obvious of being capable of offering you a critique in a timely manner, here are a few things I recommend looking for:

1. They write in the same genre as you and they are actually pretty good at it. This is a must people. You need someone who can offer feedback that will improve your manuscript, not make it worse. It's okay to have a talented writer outside your genre give feedback on your manuscript. But for a good critique partner, you need someone who is very familiar with the nuances, rules, styles and marketability in your particular genre.

2. They give more than just grammatical feedback.  While grammatical feedback is nice to have, a good critique partner should be more than just a proof reader.

3. They are capable of recognizing and communicating the weaknesses of your manuscript or writing. We all like a good pat on the back. It's nice. But if this is all your critique partner does, then you're wasting your time. By all means, find someone who likes your writing style. Just make sure they are also able to ask the tough questions and challenge you to think harder and write better.

4. They can recognize the strengths in your manuscript or writing as easily as they can the weaknesses.  A good critique partner should be able to find at least one thing about your manuscript that is working and should be willing to also point this out.

5. They can communicate their thoughts to you without being rude or condescending or dashing your hopes. Thick skin is a must in this industry. However, that doesn't mean you have to stick with a critique partner that only knows how to use a dagger.

6. They don't try to solve the problems for you. A good critique partner should respect the fact that this is your manuscript and you are the master of it. It's okay for a critique partner to suggest a good idea now and then, especially when you ask for it. But avoid critique partners who always have to be in the driver's seat of your manuscript.

7. They consider your feedback valuable.  If you want the relationship to last longer than a couple of critiques, make sure to find someone who appreciates your critiquing abilities as well.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Remembrance and Joy

by Jewel Leann Williams

Fifteen years ago, I was a Communications Operator for a police department (that's fancy talk for "911 operator/police dispatcher). I was at the end of my shift, and an employee from another area in the department came in and said "A plane has just hit one of the Twin Towers." We turned the radio up to hear this sad, interesting piece of news. Then a second plane hit. 

I started answering 911 calls from people freaking out about what was happening on the other side of the country. My department was making preparations "just in case" this was just the beginning of something worse, something nationwide. We didn't really know what we could do, but we made our city as secure as we could at that moment.

Shock, fear, anger---as I finally made it home, hours after my shift was supposed to end, and sat glued to the TV as the towers fell. Knowing that cops and firefighters were sacrificing their lives in that moment, knowing that dispatchers were hearing their friends' last words, their cries for help, their silences..... I couldn't stop shaking. My heart broke for the victims, and broke again for the public safety family that I belonged to.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, a little girl with blue eyes and shiny white-blond angel hair was joining our crazy world. Her parents named her Joy and a truer name was never given. I got to take my place as her Mom when she was 5 years old and from that moment, 9/11 became about something more than loss and shock and even patriotism, it also became about Joy, about hope, life, love, and did I mention JOY?

When I think about the horror that entered our world and took its place in our collective consciousness that terrible morning, I can't help but think about the gift that was given as well. I do not think that Joy's personality and her spirit were by chance. Being around her and experiencing her is the polar opposite of the horrible emotions of the other part of September 11th, 2001. 

Those who know my sweet Joy know that she was truly a gift given to a world that had "stopped turning" to quote the song. Her smile, her care and concern for all she meets, her amazing capacity to show love, and the literal joy that just oozes out of her, are all gifts to us from God, and I am so grateful that I get to be her Mom.

On September 11th of every year, I cry, I remember, and I mourn. But at the same time, I celebrate the life of the young woman I believe was sent to balance that sadness with a little joy of her own.  I also say a prayer of gratitude for this reminder from our Heavenly Father that He will not leave us comfortless. He is ever mindful of His children and even in the midst of tragedy, there is always

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Power of Story

By Lacey Gunter

I had the privilege of attending a local storytelling festival this week, the Timpanogus Story Telling Festival. I have wanted to attend for a few years and it was as fun and delightful as I expected it would be. The festival features many seasoned story tellers, a good portion of which are also authors, and several young budding story tellers.

One of the stories told was a fable about the origins of storytelling. The story encouraged me to reflect on the role of stories in our personal lives, in our community and in our culture.

Spannende Geschichte. Öl auf Leinwand, Provenienz: Nachlass Clemens von Franckenstein (1875-1942);  
 Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Each of us have our own internal stories we tell ourselves and those around us. They can be as simple as how we learned a certain skill and as complex as a long and bumpy road toward motherhood. They shape who we are and what we become. They affect our outlook and how we interpret and react to interactions with others.

Long before people where commonly able to read and write, the tradition of oral story telling was used to teach and shape the people who heard them and they way they behaved and made choices. These stories had the power to spark strong emotional reactions, help us understand the mysteries in the world around us, transfer vast amounts of practical knowledge, connect people from drastically divergent backgrounds or even lead entire nations of people to war.
To understand the importance of stories, one need look no further than the Bible. Suggestions, instructions, rules and commandments are simply not enough to move human nature toward a better way of thinking and acting. God knows this and so do we. It is only through the sharing of historical narratives, allegories, parables, poems and songs that we begin to understanding and internalize the lessons of human nature, the laws of God and the effects of our choices.

Knowing the profound affect stories have on ourselves and our society, how important it is for us as writers to carefully select the stories we listen to, reinforce and share with ourselves, the people around us and society at large. There are far too many story tellers willing to strip us down to our lowest common denominators just to make a quick buck or get a little attention. We need more stories that inspire, uplift, and enlighten. We need stories that encourage us to magnify our better parts. It is our responsibility to write these stories and share them with the world. Writing is more than just a fun hobby. You have the power the change the world. Be sure you're changing it into the kind of place you would want to inhabit.


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