Where Do You Draw Inspiration From?

Everybody has a story to tell. Whether it’s your own or a fiction or even a great idea for a picture book. Everyone has a story.

When I first started writing, I had a story on my heart, but didn’t know where to start. I didn’t go to school for creative writing and was intimidated by thoughts like, “Who am I to write a book?” and “What if I don’t do it right?” I started researching how to write and reading articles and tips.

Well, let me tell you, there are hundreds, probably thousands of articles and books on how to write and spoiler alert! There is no right or wrong way. They are all different and many times, contradicting tips. Some authors outline and plan meticulously, others (me) write impulsively and out of order! So naturally when I read all the how-tos, I froze.

But then I started thinking about the books I like and how very different their styles are. Most of my favorite books aren’t “proper” writing, but real people in real and messy and hurtful situations. I realized, I can do that! In fact, the author of The Tattoist of Aushwitz was a nurse. Stephan King was a teacher. Nicholas Sparks was in pharmaceutical sales. If you have a story, tell it!

My most creative inspiration doesn’t come from “how-to” books (although they can help you with issues you’re having), but from traveling to places and learning about the history of the place. I love putting characters right in the thick part of the historical event and seeing how they’d react and then adding in real subplots. What if the character had a boyfriend/girlfriend? What if they were already caught up in a situation when this event happened? Throw in a catty high school girl and that usually adds drama!

I hardly ever start in the beginning. I’m impatient. I start in the middle of the book and write the best action scenes first and then fill in around it and come back and add in details through the second or third or fourth edits of the entire thing once it’s done.

However, there are several creative classes and retreats I’ve gone to that have really ignited the writing process and I’d love to share what’s helped me. I’m hoping there are some writers out there who read this and would love to offer creative tips over the next several weeks (hopefully on Mondays), that really moved my manuscript forward.

As I’ve read several times, over 70% of people feel they have one good book in them. This is your moment. Most schedules have been cleared. Even if you only write a little at a time or start in the middle of your action with dialogue or details and come back to it. Whether you write in the quiet of the night or during the hustle and bustle of the day, this is your time to start!

You can do it!

Forest or the Trees?

It’s easy for me to lose focus on the bigger picture.You know the saying, “Miss the forest for the trees?” That’s me, but I take it to a whole other level. While I’m lost in the forest (or on my way to lost), I’m so distracted by the small details ( but seriously, how beautiful is moss on tree bark?) that I can forget the bigger scheme of things. I’m the worst person to figure directions on a map or any hiking trail. Ask Freddy. I have zero sense of direction.

So, when I least expected it, I am slowly discovering the bigger picture.

Patience. I’ve struggled with patience for years. I always want things done perfectly and yesterday. Well, with the schedule completely cleared (still can’t wrap my mind around this), I have time to be patient. With everyone else’s schedules the same way, the comparison of keeping up with everyone else’s productivity has been wiped away. I could never have done that on my own. It’s been such a blessing. I wake up and don’t even have to look at our family schedule.

Family. We’re focusing on things more important than deadlines and crammed schedules. Like family. We’ve been playing family games (yes, sometimes I bribe the kids into card games with a pooled amount of money for the winner) and taking turns walking our dog. I can see our kids decompress and exhale.

Nature. It does WONDER for the soul. We’ve been taking a lot of hikes and taking our time because there’s no schedule. We make fairy gardens and find cool things to collect and spray paint at home. We have time to look for agates in dry runs and by creeks.

We are slowing down. Staying up late and watching movies and sleeping in as long as our dog allows.

Hobbies. Yes, there are moments of complete craziness and meltdowns, but overall, it’s been forcing us to appreciate the importance of togetherness and the contentment of separation in finding our individual hobbies. Our kids have picked up long-forgotten hobbies like painting and playing piano and graffiti art (that’s Sterling).

So, blessings to you all. May you still appreciate the finite details, but also immerse yourself into the bigger picture of family and patience and nature and finding what fills your soul in solitude.

Turns out, slowing down isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

Putting Ability into Instability

I crave stability and security, which go hand in hand. Well, God has a sense of humor because like most people, my adult life has been anything but consistent.

We have the many benefits of being self-employed and running our own business, but with it, especially in the early years, came inconsistency. Inconsistency in our schedules, our incomes, the dependability of people we worked with, whether from a client standpoint or a training standpoint. We’ve worked hard to build stability into our business, but being home at different times every night and working commission had some anxieties attached in the beginning.

Though we have more control and flexibility over our business schedules, our kids’ schedules leave it a rare occasion we eat supper together at one time or are even together at once. Especially with a family of five schedules.

And, it seems that when one kid is “up,” and things seem routine and under control, we’re dealing with another kid who is dealing with his/her own crisis, whether grades or with friends or sports or you name it.

SPOILER ALERT!

Teenage years are so tough to parent in. Tougher than the physical exhaustion of chasing them around (even three of ’em) when they were young. I think back on the days when I would pull the baby in the wagon, chasing a toddler on a training bike, while walking the third to kindergarten. ANY DAY over this emotional exhaustion. Ugh! Add onto that, the random and inconsistent “sick days” from school that throw any consistency in my schedule off (thank God we’re self-employed on these occasions, but still…!)

So……welcome Corona virus.

Welcome to the shutdown and all the instability that is messing with us everyday. Schedule changes. Like every few hours. Long-scheduled events that had been carefully planned and worked around for months are now no longer. Trips are up in the air. Book talks, retreats, conferences and kids events postponed and I find myself checking our email almost hourly for updates. Welcome instability. You might fill me with some anxiety, but you do not scare me.

Deep breath.

I understand this instability is tough. Quite frankly, it sucks.

So, if you are craving consistency and routine right now, like I am, here is what I’ve decided I CAN do:

  1. Put consistency and routine somewhere in my week: walking our dog every morning and evening, meeting up with a friend for coffee once a week (laughter therapy and “mom-venting” does wonders!), church Lent services on Wednesdays (bonus: I don’t have to cook when there’s church supper).
  2. Pray for more flexibility. I’ve stopped praying for patience because ever since I did this, I feel like I’m constantly tested. Seriously God. I kind of wanted it given to me, not built from patient-stemming situations!
  3. Schedule free time/family time in my schedule as if it was a client appointment. We often put our clients before our personal schedules so why would I not do this for our kids?

It’s the most I can control at this time, but I figure that balance is key. And if God has thrown so many inconsistencies in our lives, it must be because He knows we can handle it. That we’re the type of people who are RESILIENT and have the internal fortitude to rise up to meet the challenges of the unknown and not only meet them, but find opportunities and blessings in them as well. Even if it comes with the uncertainty of the unknown.

So, here’s to finding the blessings in the unknown and the unplanned. To filling missed events with family time and your own choices of consistencies in this unstable and crazy world.

Faith, Without Numbers

I’ve been asked quite a few times what the toughest part of the writing and publishing process has been for me. Without hesitation, there are two answers.

First of all, it is separating yourself from your writing project. I heard this advice from my future editor/publisher at a writing conference a few years back. I think this advice can pertain to any project, not just writing. It can be extremely difficult to do if you are a get-it-done, all-at-once, kind of person like me. When you are in the thick of a project and hit a road block or if you think it is finished, step away. Like really away. For at least four weeks. It will give you a fresh perspective and insight as to what you need to do to truly finish it.

But second, the most tough, is keeping the faith. Faith in yourself. Faith in the system. Faith in the fact that you are called to do something. To impact someone. I would have Freddy read early draft chapters and really questioned whether the writing was decent.

But then I realized, we all have different tastes. I’ve picked up NYT Bestsellers and could not for the life of me, get into them. I’ve picked up unknown books from little free libraries that have become my favorites. People like different styles of music and different genres of books and that’s a great thing! My son, who is currently deep in the newest Dog Man graphic novel, has no interest in my book. That’s okay.

Keeping belief levels up can be challenging, but I pray on it (Prayer of Jabez, look up the story) and feel God has blessed me with optimism and enough encouragement along the way to keep the faith, despite setbacks (yes, there have been some). Even now, four months after publication, I have no idea how many books have sold. Yes, it is driving me crazy. I’m used to daily updates in our finance business, but what the publishing business has blessed me with is PATIENCE and FAITH.

Without concrete numbers, I am putting my trust in God’s plan and the fact that I did this to get awareness on this topic in the Midwest. I wanted to honor those involved during World War II, both veterans and the families impacted by the war. I felt the story tugging on my heart and it’s been in the back of my mind off and on for years. I even got a Japanese symbol of love when I was 18 (fun fact!). The seeds had been planted many years ago, but I needed maturity and exposure to rejection in other forms to gain the confidence to take on this project.

So, whatever you are aiming for, keep faith first. About four years back, I had a dream even. It was weird. The entire dream kept telling me James 214. I woke up thinking it was the craziest thing ever. When I opened up my (admittedly, dusty) Bible, I came to James 2:14. “Faith, without works, is dead.”

It’s been my guiding principle since that night. Act on faith. Don’t worry about the concrete evidence. It will come.

Appreciating the Lost Art of…Art!

One of the only constants in my routine is walking our Lab Penny. I love having the downtime of zoning out (That is, when she’s not breaking off her leash to run after a squirrel!)

We like to walk around the middle school neighborhood side streets and coming from a family of carpentry and architecture, one of the things I’m always noticing is how beautiful the older houses are. Not necessarily the biggest houses, but the oldest and most beautiful. They always have so much character in the accents of their roof lines or porches or pop out windows (can you tell I have no architectural experience?!). Even their window panes are beautiful.

I was talking to my Uncle Mark, who appreciates history and carpentry, about this. Our conclusion was that art is kind of a lost art. Just 100 years ago, when someone wanted to build a house or add a room, the carpenters (usually a family member or small family business), had the time. Unfortunately, today builders are under a lot of pressure to put out many houses quickly and they just don’t have the time to put in all of the hand work required for some of these features.

In the past, art was a part of almost everything. It was required for advertising before computer graphics. Think about old billboards or pick up an old newspaper and look at the hand drawn advertisements. As Mark mentioned, even the birth certificates, marriage certificates etc. all had hand drawn scrolling, painting or decorating on them. Old black and white pictures had water painted “touch ups” of rosy cheeks or colored dresses. They’re beautiful. Much prettier than the massively photo-shopped and filtered pictures of today, in my opinion.

So just a thought. Next time you take a walk or look at old documents, take time to appreciate the art that was involved in the process. Look at the detailing (again, don’t know the right architectural word for this) on the upper half of the house or the crown molding design under the roof lines. Take a walk around any older part of any small town or even downtown St. Paul. If you want to go bigger, make it to the Garden District in New Orleans.

When you think about the amount of time put into these buildings and the high quality, heavy wood used, you’ll understand how these homes are often the ones to withstand time and the variable of weather throughout the years. And each one has several generations of stories buried within their beams and walls, waiting to be uncovered.

Compartmentalizing

I don’t consider myself to be very emotional, but a few things got me this season.

Yesterday, I finally made the time to transfer all of my pics from my phone to the laptop and then onward to a backup server. The effort of this and time involved inspired our New Year Resolution to start downloading monthly! Seriously.

I spent so much time compartmentalizing things into different folders (“Sterling 2019,” “Sterling & Sports 2019,” “Jaelyn & friends 2019,” “Jada & name the holiday 2019″) that I almost missed the present moment when one of the kids asked me to play a game. Not a video game, but a sit-on-the-floor kind of board game. These moments are rare and usually only happen over Christmas break.

Anyway, I got to thinking about how often we compartmentalize our lives into neat little boxes. I’m guilty of doing that all the time. If we get together with friends, I try to make sure the couples will have things in common…can you imagine mixing our Democrat friends with our Republican friends (yes, we have a good mix of both! And get this, we even get along!)? Can you imagine putting this person who swears quite a bit (ok, it’s me) with this person who seems to be perfect? We have to keep that relationship at the school event or the church event or whatever the case might be.

The list goes on.

So I realized that I compartmentalize my feelings or stay busy to the point of not having to confront them, which is why writing certain scenes can be really tough as it opens the door just a little bit to what feelings of loss feel like. At least if I want to connect in a believable way with a reader.

So this Christmas, I received the most unexpected and special gift I’ve ever been given. And let me tell you, I was having a perfect glass of wine, had on the perfect red lipstick and Christmas outfit and was as composed as can be after attending Christmas service. So when I opened a mysterious card addressed to me from Santa (of course I’m on the good list), the sentimental words ripped open my neatly boxed and wrapped emotions of devastation, loss, gratitude, love.

My Uncle Woody, who was married to my second mom (my mom’s twin sister) had written me a note within a card and had wrapped the most precious gift of my Aunt Pam’s legacy necklace so that I could carry a piece of her with me from time to time.

I was instantly a mess. That hardly ever, NEVER happens to me. I’ve lived through some pretty rough moments, but I never show hurt. It was a gut reaction, like being slapped in the face. Tears came streaming down my face and all my emotions oozed out of their packaged boxes and swam around my stomach in a muddy mess. Having her fingerprint felt like having her here. A mixture of loneliness & fullness at once. But she felt close.

My mom’s twin sister has been part of every part of my life. Losing her felt like the loss of a mom as I saw her almost daily my entire life. It was a season of tremendous faith knowing she was in this amazing place where time stands still and knowing her, she’s probably still hugging everyone in line at Heaven’s gates. I feel her presence daily, but to have a tangible piece makes her feel like she’s always with me.

The second trigger that wreaked havoc on my emotions happened when reading “Ordinary Grace,” a FANTASTIC book that several people have recommended. This trigger opened the boxes of hope, faith and comfort in one little dialogue exchange between a Native American and a young man…


“As I walked away he called to me and when I turned back he said, They’re never far from us you know.

Who? I asked.

The dead. No more’n a breath. You let that last one go and you’re with them again....They’re in our hearts and on our minds and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air.”

I was fulfilled and grateful to the author (William Kent Krueger) for being willing to open that box in order to relate with me and so many others and set me at ease through his words. The way he writes the scenes of devastation (read it, you’ll know what I mean), it’s certain he’s lived through loss. Tragic and severe loss that cuts through your soul and leaves you feeling shattered as you search for broken pieces of what was your heart.

But because of this, I didn’t feel alone in loss. I felt companionship. There are so many people who relate with loss and if not yet, they will. We all will. That’s a promise. Having the courage to open these boxes from time to time, lets others in and our light and relatability out.

For the first time in weeks, I slept well last night.

Christmas Traditions

One of our favorites:)

Most of our Christmas things are packed, along with 70% of the rest of our life. After sitting on some land for almost 13 years, we are finally pulling the trigger and building this spring.

When we were moving into our “in-between” house last year, for the first time, I realized just how many Christmas bins I had. I had never really added them up. A few in the garage (garlands and pine swags), a few in the laundry room (ornaments), and a couple of closets with metal pine candle holders and snowmen. Oh, and about ten nutcrackers, just because (do you need a reason if they have glitter?)

So we had roughly 8 bins. Big bins. I love Christmas.

So I didn’t think I would miss them over one year. And I have to say, I was right. Almost.

What I really miss the most are the books. Of course.

We had an unspoken tradition of keeping the Christmas/winter kids books out on the table to read throughout the season. I didn’t realize how much I would want those out! I miss reading “Twas the Night Before the Night Before Christmas” and “Dancing Snowmen” with the kids. The gap with the kids actually sitting and reading them with us is closing in fast:( I’m not sure if the kids have even noticed, but I do.

As a kid, some of my best winter memories (don’t make fun of me) are of sitting on the carpet by the fireplace and reading the Little House series. I LOVED them. I even kept the box set in hopes of at least one of my kids being interested in them. Sterling got close this year and liked the one they were reading in class. I was excited and asked him if he wanted to read my set.

“No thanks,” he replied. Oh well. There’s always grand-kids someday.

So, in the end, it’s time together that makes the season. Reading, playing games and yes, even the teenage bickering to some point (we have a LOT of that between the two girls).

And traditions. Driving to the Pechacek Farm, which is always AMAZING. Free light show, complete with Santa’s workshop full of their real-life cats and bagged treats for the kids. Cost? Free with a food shelf donation.

And music. I’ve taken the radios hostage. All of them. To Sterling’s dismay, Christmas music. All. Day. Long. I love it! I love the stories of Christmas music. I’m a lyric person (go figure).

So, here’s to the simplicity in Christmas traditions. Especially the ones that actually celebrate Christmas. No money required.

Small Town Support

I love to travel more than almost anything. I love trying new foods and exploring new places with my favorite travel partners, my hubby and kids. Even still, there’s nothing like living in a smallish town.

It’s true that the city is exciting and we love going to concerts in Minneapolis or to the Orpheum for stage productions. St. Paul restaurants rarely disappoint and if the borders of a small town ever feel confining, a flight out is just beyond the metro.

But if you are looking for a place that will always accept you, support you and lift you up, a smallish town is what you need. A place where you know the local bookstore owner by first name and the local youth librarian usually knows what your kids are reading. A town where you can pop into the coffee shop and they know what your regular is (except when you throw in the surprise twist of…maple fall flavoring)!

From the dazzling reflections in the eyes of our kids when the town lights up the trees along the streets and Santa pulls in with his reindeer, to the fundraising efforts supporting local students who are fighting cancer, small towns usually prevail. And let’s not forget our beloved teams who are welcomed home from state games on fire engines and much cheering. Go Cats!

Or when you throw it all on the line and write a book, baring your art for everyone to see (so scary), you will find support in so many places. Like Dave Woods and Rachel Helgeson, who wrote such flattering columns encouraging people to give the book a read. From local teachers to bookstore owners to the librarians who organize the book clubs, the list goes on. I’m grateful and humbled.

Which brings me to the point of just how supportive independent bookstores across the country have been. These small bookstores are owned by families. They put their budgets on the line and put faith in little people with big dreams who want to write a story for the sake of writing and educating.

They get it. They know what it’s like to have a vision and be up against Goliaths in the industry. They open their doors every morning to welcome the little authors and big ones alike, filling their shelves with exotic places and people for locals to experience the world by simply stepping across the street and into their place.

Small Towns.

So while there might be more things to buy (but not better things by any means) and more places to go in larger cities, when life begins to beat you up a little and you need comfort, look for that round trip ticket back.

I know for a fact that this small town will wrap its arms around you in a big embrace as if you never left. And if you’re lucky, there will be a maple latte waiting at the local little coffee shop:)

Honoring Veterans

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking to our church’s veteran’s group. It was humbling and an honor to say the least. I had the opportunity to hear their stories and from which branch they belonged. The common thread throughout all of their stories was brotherhood (and sisterhood, Ronda!) and relationships.

Later, Freddy and I watched “Midway,” which was excellent. The cinematography and visual/auditory effects were incredible and seriously, the two and a half hour movie felt like an hour. Watching the dive-bombers who risked everything to save their friends (and the nation) from the Japanese Imperial Army and avenge those lost at Pearl Harbor, really made me appreciate even more what my grandpas did for our country in World War II. Many of them were drafted and didn’t have the choice and went on to become some of the most incredible pilots and combat fighters, as young guys.

My grandpas both saw two very different versions of the war. My dad’s father was a bomber pilot on the B-17 Flying Fortress and saw the war from above, fighting against the Japanese. My mom’s father fought with the Blue Devils in the Army in hand-hand combat on the ground, touring in Africa, Italy, France and Germany and later on, in the Korean War.

My mom had given me several WWII letters from my grandpa to read and the change from when he was drafted as a young country boy into basic and the letters from the end of the war, was obvious. War changed people.

These men (and women in WWII) sacrificed everything, gave everything. For many of them, the war didn’t end when it was celebrated by the rest of the world (well, except Germany and Japan of course). They carried it within them. A price they still pay, even if we don’t see it. I can’t even imagine what that’s like.

So, today I wanted to thank everyone who served and still serves today. For risking everything they are to give us everything we have. I am forever grateful.

Grandpa Calvin serving with the Blue Devils. This pic was taken on the Red Cross Tour of Rome once it was liberated. Though the people were hungry and devastated by war, they still gratefully offered soldiers whatever they had.

Burn the Ships

“Ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships were made for.”

Which ships do you need to burn in your life?

“Burn the ships, cut the ties
Send a flare into the night
Say a prayer, turn the tide
Dry your tears and wave goodbyeStep into a new day
We can rise up from the dust and walk away
We can dance upon our heartache, yeah
So light a match, leave the past, burn the ships
And don’t you look back…”