Sunday, April 30, 2017

Some Inspiring Thoughts from a Great Man

by Jewel Leann Williams

One would think that with me having a rare Saturday off, I would have time to post something inspiring and wonderful Well, I am posting something inspiring and wonderful, but it's coming from the mind of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf.  I was thinking about this quote I read on Facebook and how genuine it is while being so profound.  So I thought, I need to just gather some quotes from this great man and just soak up the wisdom and grace from them.

Without futher ado: 

"Sometimes I think we misunderstand obedience. We may see obedience as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. Perhaps there is a different metaphor that can explain why we obey the commandments of God. Maybe obedience is not so much the process of bending, twisting, and pounding our souls into something we are not. Instead, it is the process by which we discover what we truly are made of.”

I love this because it reminds me that the purpose of obedience isn't some power trip God has, that we have to do what he says just because He's the boss. Our Father asks us to obey to teach us who were are meant to be.

“Think of the purest, most all-consuming love you can imagine. Now multiply that love by an infinite amount—that is the measure of God’s love for you. God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God love encompasses us completely. He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked. What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.”  
and related to the same subject:
“Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God's love encompasses us completely. ... He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken.”
It's so important to recognize that we are ALL failures without our Savior, and that God loves us anyway. He loves us because He loves us--there's nothing we can do to change that.

“What you create doesn’t have to be perfect. So what if the eggs are greasy or the toast is burned? Don’t let fear of failure discourage you.”

There are so many more but I wanted to end with this one--I remember the talk where President Uchtdorf urged us to create. I think we often get caught in the delusion that we have to come up with perfection if it's going to be worth anything. This quote reminds me that much of what helps me grow as a writer, as a mother, as a creator of things, is learned in the doing--and that THAT is sort of the point.

There you go, just a few of the many inspiring quotes from President Uchtdorf--- I hope that you feel a little more inspired for having read them.


 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Subbing in the Rain

By Lacey Gunter

Unless you're that strange freak of nature that submits your first manuscript and magically turns it into a sale with the first person you submit it to, you will inevitable have to face rejection and the pain and disappointment that come with it, if you're seeking to get published.

Let's face it, rejection is painful. It hurts a little less when the rejection is personalized and encourages you how and in what direction to go, but even that is still disappointing. I wish I could give you some magic formula for avoiding rejection, but if I knew one I would already be using it myself.

When you know you're getting yourself into a likely painful situation, it's usually wise to take some time to think about how you can minimize or manage the pain. This is important when you are querying or submitting a manuscript because it's easy to get depressed or discouraged and throw in the towel before the fight is over. 

If we think about rejections as rain drops and the ensuing disappointment and pain as getting wet, the goal would be to get through the rain storm as dry as possible. Obviously, we could use an umbrella, but to me the equivalent of that would be to just not sub in the first place, which would get us nowhere. So assuming it is just us and the rain, how do we get the least wet?
There has been much debate about which gets you wetter, walking or running in the rain.  The most detailed research suggests running is better, but what matters more here is that both walking or running are going to be better than just sitting down in one spot and hoping for the rain to stop.

So how does this apply to subbing?  If all you are focusing on is this one manuscript and getting it published, you may be simply sitting down and waiting for the rain to drench you in despair. You may get lucky and the rain storm will be short and the sun will shine on you and dry out your despair. But if you aren't, as most of us are not, the rain may drench you so bad you decide is it not worth the pain and hassle.

The better plan is to get up and get moving; start on a new project, explore some new ideas, immerse yourself in a new story, or even a few. This way you are actively moving toward your goal. You have more than one prospect and a rejection on one doesn't seem quite so devastating.  Your chances of reaching your goals of getting published will improve and you'll have something to distract yourself from the pain of rejection. Plus, maybe you'll find someone else running in the rain and you can just run behind them and let them get most of the drops. 😜

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Growth

 There's been a lot of talk in social sciences lately about the growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. The idea is that if you have a growth mindset, you feel like you are capable of changing and developing new skills. A fixed mindset suggests that you can only be what you're already good at.

The subject comes up a lot in education, and I've become particularly aware of it as I try to teach my children various skills, like math and reading. Consider the difference between saying, "You did a great job. You're so smart" and "You did a great job. You worked really hard." Smartness feels static. Either you are or you aren't. So if that's why you did a good job, then there's little point in trying and persisting even when you fail at first.

I have loved applying this perspective to teaching my children because I think it's crucial for them to realize that struggling with a concept now doesn't mean they always will. Today my child was in tears over skip counting, poor dear, so we stopped and I reminded her of how far she'd come. I turned to there beginning of her math book and talked about how she's started out just counting objects and circling the correct number. Now she does basic addition, can count and write large numbers fairly well, and has better number sense than she realizes.

When we turned back to those first pages, though, and talked about how far she'd come, I could see her visibly begin to relax. She really needed to see that she was growing and improving. Once she saw that, I think it helped click for her that she could keep going.

We talk about this perspective with teaching children, but I wonder how well we apply it to ourselves. When I look back at old writing of mine, I'm far more likely to cringe than to say, "Look how far I've come!" When we think about what we're good at now, do we think we'll never be good in any other areas? Or do we look at our weak areas and see opportunities for growth?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Distracted Driving (Saturday's post on Sunday)

by Jewel Leann Williams

I commute for about 45 minutes to work, down I-10, a pretty busy freeway even "against traffic" (opposite direction of the rush hours). Recently they started doing construction, the first phase of which was to close the freeway and narrow the lanes to their bare minimum width, in order to provide room for what they are doing. As I zip along these new, narrower lanes, I feel my knuckles cramping and growing white from the grip I have on my steering wheel.  The reason? The people in the lanes around me who keep swerving into my lane because they are on their cell phones (while going 75+ miles per hour, no less). Do they not think we can't see the glow of the phone as they keep glancing down?

There's just no room for error with the lanes narrowed.  People need to be paying MORE attention, not less.

Not that people should be on their phones on the freeway (or anywhere else behind the wheel, for that matter) but the stakes are higher when the slightest swerve puts you in the wrong lane and into someone else's vehicle.

Distraction can be deadly.

We just had the Saturday session of General Conference, and I was sitting with my family on our living room floor, trying to listen to the leaders of the church. Lately I've felt like it is supremely important to listen to what is being said--not that it's hasn't always been important--just with the way the world is spinning, it feels more important now. The lanes are narrowing--the "way" is getting narrower, so to speak, and the stakes are getting higher for swerving.

So I'm trying to listen, and the kids are spinning on their behinds on the floor, or fighting over a pillow, or a blanket, or a spot on the couch, or I'm having to bark at someone to wake up and pay attention. Meanwhile, I keep turning to my husband with, "What'd he just say?"

Distractions. Ugh.  I wish I could've listened better, absorbed the feeling of the talks more, instead of only kinda sorta hearing it, and then reading it later. Thank goodness for the conference videos!!

But that got me thinking.... how often do we go through life, distracted? I mean, not just the social media, the OTHER media, the everything going on that keeps us only halfway living life.

I mean, distracted from our covenants so that we are only halfway living them, swerving back and forth, dangerously close to crossing into inactivity, or complacency, or rebellion....

Distracted from the true nature of the Gospel, marching in lockstep with rules and social norms without remembering the Atonement and the plan of happiness and the true "work and glory" of the Father....

Distracted from raising sons and daughters of God, instead worrying about raising kids who star on soccer teams, or who excel at (insert thing here)....

Distracted from revelation
Distracted from the power of the priesthood
Distracted from who we are
Distracted FROM a million things that really matter, by the BILLIONS of things that really, in the eternities, don't matter at all.

Distraction can be deadly.

How grateful I am for General Conference, and for weekly meetings and for great friends, for the scriptures and for daily personal prayer, all of these things to keep us in the lines--in the Way. Let's do our best to regain our focus and not get distracted!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Summer of Service

By Lacey Gunter

After hearing some lovely and inspiring women speak tonight I was reminded of the value of service in creating a happy life. It inspired me to again strive to do more service in my life.  Not only is this an important consideration for busy moms, but I believe it is critical for our children.

Our kid-centric parenting culture is obsessed with making sure kids are having fun. I feel we do a disservice to our children if we model that this is the only way to experience joy in our lives.  At this time of year when parents are anticipating summer and signing kids up for engaging summer and sports camps, and planning their elaborate vacations to theme parks and playlands, it might be beneficial to stop and think. Amidst all this time and resources we are putting into making sure our kids are brilliant, talented and fun-loving, are we putting in the same amount of consideration on how to help our kids become more thoughtful, generous and loving towards others?

I used to put together a summer play group for my kids and the kids in our neighborhood. I put a lot of time and effort into finding or creating fun and engaging activities for the group. But last year the thought occurred to me that maybe my kids need less awesome play-dates with their friends and more character building experiences helping those experiencing a trial or sacrificing for those less fortunate. So now I try to put together a kid friendly summer service group.

The first time I did it, last summer, I thought I needed to have projects that were big and certain to make a difference in many people's lives, which was a little challenging as I didn't have very many ideas for how a bunch of young kids could do that.  But overtime, I have realized that even small but personal acts of service can make a big difference in both the people you are serving and the children doing the service. Something as simple as drawing pictures and making love or thank you notes for the people in your neighborhood can create a feeling of love and happiness in your neighbors for several weeks or even several months. At the same time, it is a completely manageable task for even a toddler, with just a little parental help, that can spark a joy for service that will lead a child to want to do it again and again.

I am looking forward to doing a summer service group again this year. The projects probably won't be as big and monumental, but I am confident they will still be life changing. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Carrying Rocks



- a post by Jeanna Mason Stay

My kids and I were parked and heading off to the dentist's office when I looked at my toddler to see what was taking him so long to get out of the car. In each of his hands he was carrying a rock about the size and shape of a hot dog bun. 

I lifted him out of the car so he didn’t have to let go, and we were on our hurried way to the dentist (late, I confess). 

When we got to the office, he set his rocks down on the little table in the waiting room and happily played with the toys. I couldn't just leave these giant rocks there, though, so when we got called back to the offices, I picked up the rocks and stuffed them in my purse to dispose of later. 

Fast forward a couple of weeks. 

I was hunting for something else in my purse when my fingers brushed against something rough. I investigated and of course I found the rocks there. I'd meant to dispose of them, but I just forgot. I’d been carrying rocks around in my purse for weeks!

I tend to find metaphors everywhere, and I couldn't help wondering what sort of rocks we might be carrying around in our lives without even noticing. Things we meant to deal with but then just let them slide. Attitudes about ourselves that we maybe meant to examine for truth but just began to believe without even realizing it. Beliefs about the way the world works that keep us from achieving and being more. At first they don’t seem big or important (after all, I didn’t notice those rocks for a couple weeks!), but maybe they add up.

Am I carrying around rocks? That professor who told me I seemed dismissive of others—did I start to believe that I was just plain bad with people?* What about all those years I spent thinking I had ugly, muddy brown eyes when in reality they were green?**

What rocks are weighing you down? And why are you waiting to get rid of them?


* This is a true story, though oversimplified. His full comments were partially right and partially wrong, and I took them so very badly, but that was only partially his fault. Essentially, we both handled that whole situation badly, but that has nothing to do with this post. So I’ll just turn it into an excessively long footnote instead.

** This, weirdly enough, is also a true story. And for the record, I love brown eyes—all my children and my hubby have gorgeous ones—but in my mind my eyes were like dying grass and mud being stomped on. You know the opening credits scene from Joe vs. the Volcano? That’s how I felt about my eyes.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Stuck? Get HELP!



Have you ever noticed what happens in a parking lot when someone's car doesn't work? There's this weird phenomenon- the broken-down car draws mechanically-minded men to it like moths to a flame. They see a problem and they get excited, because they think, "Hey, I might be able to FIX that!"

Oddly enough, I've noticed that there's something similar that happens with writers and writing. We love writing. We love good writing. And what we really love is to make okay writing GREAT writing! When the opportunity arises for us to put our two cents in on somebody else's work, we usually jump at it.

(As long as it's not our own writing. Most of us hate editing our own writing, but will happily pick apart a stranger's writing with gleeful abandon.)

Anyway, my point is that if you feel stuck- either you're halfway through a manuscript that's writing itself into the ground or you're submitting to agents and just not getting anywhere- there is HELP available to you in the form of other writers- they're free and they're willing to be a second set of eyes on your work.

All you have to do is Google "find a critique partner" and you'll find articles and websites like these:

40 Places to Find a Critique Partner

Google Groups Critique Partner Matchup

And my personal favorite...

LDS Beta Readers

Keep in mind that these are not just places to look for people to help you critique your finished manuscript- they are people who are willing to help with whatever you need, whether it's fact-checking ("Does anybody know what kind of tree is commonly found on a mountain in China?") or plot work ("What would be a good reason for a toddler to end up backstage at a rock concert?") or even character development ("How do I make the bossy narcissist likable enough so the readers root for her?")

I realized this past week that I was avoiding finishing off my NaNo book, and I decided I needed a kick in the pants, so I posted on LDS Beta Readers asking for some critique partners. I got four takers, and so I now know that they'll be expecting a chapter a week from me, and as a bonus, I get to read their stuff and critique it as well, which I love to do!

So if you're stalled out in the parking lot of your writing journey, just open the hood and wait- help is on its way!





Saturday, March 18, 2017

Who is the Most Important Person in Your Family?

by Jewel Leann Williams

My husband sent me an article this week, by a psychologist guy named Dr. Some-Old-Guy-Who-Probably-Never-Had-Kids. Even though I generally look at articles written by psychologists in newspapers and roll my eyes, because they are usually written by old ugly men who have never had childre, I read it, because my husband sent it, and I love him, and if it's important to him, it's important to me.

So. This doctor proposes that the problem with society today is that when asked the question, "Who is the most important person in your family?" The parents answer, "Our kids!"  He claims that this attitude makes us raise entitled children.  In my generation, he says, we knew that our parents were the most important people.**

I've been mulling it over. He has some points. I mean, our family shouldn't revolve around the whims of the children, by any means. The value of our family does not lie in whether or not Junior gets the gold at the swim meet, or if Sister has all the latest fashions.

But other than that, yeah, sorry. The most important people in my family ARE my children. I work to provide them a safe and comfortable environment. I would eat Fritos out of a dirty bowl for breakfast if I didn't have my family to cook for.

True story. I work Saturday nights, until about 3 hours before church on Sunday. I also get home from church only a few short hours before I have to be back at work. I am usually so tired when I get home from work that I don't know how I drove home, and dizzy with sleep--so that I absolutely *must* take a nap. However, that nap makes me cranky and sometimes more tired, only not dizzy and ready to pass out. Every. Single. Sunday. It is a monumental struggle to get out of bed and go to church, especially knowing that I will only get a similarly short and unsatisfying nap before I have to go drive  45 minutes and work all night (and make it home) again that night. So I started giving in to the very reasonable desire for sleep over church. It felt more like survival, ya know? But the moment I realized that a few of my kids were starting to "feel sick" every Sunday so they could stay home and sleep, that did it for me. Unless I am physically ill, I drag my extremely cranky and unhappy butt out of bed and get myself to church. I absolutely would not do that if it weren't for my children.

Family Home Evening? For my kids. Scripture study? Yes, for me, but I almost always focus on my kids and how I can be a better mother and wife.

From the document "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" by the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints:

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

My husband is my eternal companion. I realize my children will leave the nest, and that while I am rearing them, I am also nurturing my relationship with my husband. We are partners forever (as often as I'm sure he questions that decision). However, at this particular moment in our lives, our responsibility lies in our sacred duty to rear our children.

So, Dr. Whomever-You-Are, sorry. You'll have to chalk me up to one of those "what's wrong with America" parents, because the most important people in my family, right now, are my beautiful, amazing children.


And I'll punch you in the nose if you tell me otherwise, Doctor. Because I'm sleep-deprived and cranky.

** The "kids are not as important as the grownups" attitude is at the root of at least 1 or 2 of my current psychoses. So (expletive deleted), you hack psychologist!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ode to a Minivan

Probably spent months of my life in this seat.

We've been together eleven years, you and I. You were sitting outside the sliding glass doors of the hospital when they wheeled me out with baby #3. And baby #4. (It was baby #2 that made us realize how much we needed you.) You held carseats and booster seats and little bottoms and carried us all over town- to church and to school; to the store and the bank; to the park and the movies. You rushed us to the ER in the middle of the night more than once; you took us 14 hours each way to Orlando, Florida three times. You took us to the apple orchard in September, the pumpkin patch every October, to Thanksgiving dinners all over the state of Virginia in November, and you hauled our Christmas tree home on your roof in December.

Always quietly in the background of photos, never the star.

And it showed. You were crumby and stained. You had random scraps of paper, melted crayons, cracker bits, and broken pencils stuffed down into every crevice. Your armrests were worn, your windows were never free of smudges from tiny fingers, and there was something sticky in the front cup holder that wouldn't come out no matter how hard I scrubbed (which, to be honest, wasn't that hard).



You were one of the oldest cars in nearly every parking lot- but it was because you didn't quit. You never once left me stranded with a car full of groceries, never once conked out on a back road in the middle of the night. Every chilly school morning- even on the coldest ones- you started up without complaint and got us where we needed to go. For eleven years.



From your front seat I passed back binkies, sippy cups, and snacks. I laid on my husband's shoulder and slept as he drove. I shed more than a few tears. I hollered, "Knock it off!" to the backseat more times than I can count. I sat quietly in the driveway and read while the little one slept, propping my book against the steering wheel, because you'd put her to sleep and it would be the only nap she'd get for the day (and therefore the only peace and quiet I'd get for the day). You soaked up laughter and spills, tears and tantrums, and you just kept going.



Even on that fateful day a week ago, when a distracted driver smashed into the back of us, you took the hit, letting your crumple zone absorb the impact, and your safety belt hold me tight so I was able to walk away with only a sore neck. Even on that last day, you took care of me. You took care of our family, just like you always have.

The view of an icy road through the windshield.

People might think it's silly for me to talk to you like this, but when you've been with a car for as long as I've been with you, when you've been through as much as we have, the words "total loss" from an insurance adjuster feel like a harder hit than the one that crumpled you.

As usual, always in the background.

When the guy at the shop opened the chain-link gate to the lot where the damaged cars sat, so I could get the rest of our belongings out of you, it was hard to see you resting in the back corner, all marked up like a patient who was going to have surgery but didn't quite make it to the operating room. So when I opened your doors for the last time, when I tossed out one more stale pretzel, I said thank you. Thank you for being there for us. Thank you for getting us where we needed to go, for being the most reliable car I've ever owned, and for protecting me that one last time.

You served us well, little minivan, and after eleven years together, you will be missed.

The view of a Washington, D.C. street out the back window.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Patience is a Virtue

By Lacey Gunter

If there is one thing I could express to help a new writer starting on their journey toward getting published, it would be the value of patience. Despite how little patience exists in this breakneck-paced world we live in, you won't survive the publishing journey without it.

We can never assume our readers will have patience. Many will drop you after a single chapter if you haven't already wooed them into staying. Or maybe just after the title and front cover, if you are a picture book writer like me.  We can't expect agents or editors to have patience. I have heard no small number of them claim they typically dump manuscripts after a single paragraph. Not to mention the worse reality when they refuse to even consider a manuscript due to a less than super sparkly query letter.  And we certainly can't expect a publishing company to have patience. Most of them won't even give your manuscript space in a super long slush pile without the official credentials of an agent, even if that slush pile is only virtual.

But guess what folks; all of those people are expecting a boatload of patience from you.

First of all, you've got to be patient with your manuscript. Finishing the book is just the first small hurdle, because you're not really finished. Next comes chapter/book critiques, which you better be patient in waiting for or your critique partners will pulverize both your ego and spirit into the ground as they rip apart your manuscript. It's worth the patience it takes for them to figure out nice ways to say their piece. Then you have to patiently consider all the helpful and sometimes not so helpful feedback; followed by a lot more patience with yourself as you work toward sincere improvements to your manuscript.

Once you finally get to the point where it seems like your manuscript might actually be ready to start sending out to the world of agents, here comes another big waiting game. First, you wait weeks and months for silence.  Then if you've taken the time to search out agents who actually respond, you can wait weeks and months for form rejections letters. Once you've been patient enough to learn how to write a good query letter and actually get a chapter or book in front of an agent, you get the opportunity to wait weeks and months for personalized rejections, and boy won't your be happy about that. If you've been patient enough to decipher the meaning out of the personalized rejection and taken the time to fix up both your query letter and manuscript one day you might get to experience the joy of landing an agent.

But don't get too excited yet, because most agents still want you to do some pretty significant edits, which you must patiently consider and work on. Then comes the lovely submission dance you just went through all over again, only this time it's your agent doing the dancing while you patiently wait in the background. So fun! Finally you might get a book contract. Woohoo, end of waiting, right? Nope, here comes lots more editing, and lots more waiting, probably two years of it. All of this of course is assuming that manuscript you wrote is good enough to publish. For most people, their first manuscript is not. So then you have to start all over.

It may sound overwhelming and depressing. Sometimes it is. But if you truly possess the patience to see the process through, especially if you have the stamina to do it more than once and learn along the way, you have a much greater chance of success.  Just be patient.

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