My Quote Journal

img_7757When I was a kid, I painstaking copied quotes and poems that spoke to me into a notebook. I wrote down any little snippets I loved, memorized them, and told others all about them.

Then I got older, and I abandoned the practice. Not for any particular reason, but just because that’s sometimes what happens when kids grow up.

I still occasionally jotted down a quote on a scrap of paper, or emailed it to myself. But the emails sat in my inbox, forgotten. And the scraps of paper got lost.

In 2013, I was working at a counseling center, and I met someone who loved quotes as much as I did. We’d exchange interesting quotes, and I started writing inspirational ones on a whiteboard in my office.

I’d been collecting upcycled journals for awhile. I just love them. But they’d been sitting on my shelf, unused. And then, one day, I realized that I could fill them with words, these wonderful quotes that I had collected. So that’s what I did.

Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I found this quote, it spoke to me, and I realized that’s what I’d been doing all this time. I’ve been collecting words and phrases that say something I can’t quite say, articulate something caught in my throat or burning in my heart.

When I’m having a rough day, I flip through my quote journal and read a random page or two. Without fail, one of the quotes on the page speaks directly to whatever’s going on with me that day, and makes me feel a little better.

Do you have any interesting practices from your childhood that you abandoned (or not) as an adult?

My Most Popular Posts in 2016

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At Austin Trail of Lights, Photo credit: Doree Weller

It’s always fun for me to look back on the year and see what posts were most liked by other people. I published 71 posts last year, and these were the 10 you liked most.

  1.  But What if There Are Bad People? Written in 2015, but my most popular post for 2016, it’s my opinion that we shouldn’t give into fear or allow bullies to win.
  2. 10 Best Novels from Over 100 Years Ago– A perennial favorite, this was penned in 2011! I think the title is self-explanatory. 🙂
  3. E is For Encyclopedia Brown– My A to Z Challenge theme in 2016 was “Books that have influenced me.” This series was one from my formative years, and I reflect on them in this post.
  4. B is For Behind a Mask, the Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott– Did you know she wrote thrillers?
  5. Z is For Zen Pencils– Have you read this webcomic? If not, you should.
  6. N is for Nineteen Eighty-Four– Terrifying book, but it’s a classic for a reason.
  7. H is for Happy Money– Money can buy happiness, depending on how you spend it.
  8. How My Former Bullies Are Doing Now– I was a weird kid who was picked on by others. But the magic of Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with some of those bullies and get a different perspective on them.
  9. How to Win At Life– How to reframe “failure.”
  10. The Timelessness of Stories– Why stories matter.

Thanks for another great year.

My Best Is A Moving Target

img_6739I have a friend who doesn’t want to submit anything for publication that isn’t his “best work.”  I can understand the thinking there.  I’ve read enough published stories that are terrible, in need of more editing or someone to clarify the ideas, that I appreciate the sentiment.

At the same time, I recall reading a book by Dean Koontz years ago, and later learning that he hated it, was actually “ashamed” of it and wanted it to not be published anymore because it wasn’t very good (in his opinion).  I remember being puzzled, since I liked the book immensely.

It helped me understand that my best should always be a moving target.  This goes for writing, but also everything else in life.  Today I want to be a little bit more patient than I was yesterday.  Today I want to be a little more understanding than I was yesterday.  Tomorrow I’d like to be even more understanding.  And obviously, I’d like to tell a better story.

Of course, I want to do my best, but as I learn and grow, what my best is will change.  I’m not going to limit myself today because I hope that my best will be better tomorrow.  I also endeavor to value what was my best in the past, if it was really my best work then.

I look back at the person I was, the things I wrote, and I’m not that exactly person anymore.  That person didn’t have the experiences I’ve had today.

When I read stories I had published a few years ago, now, I can see the places they would have been made better through editing or different word choices.  Instead of feeling bad about that, it makes me feel good.  It’s a tangible reminder that I’ve grown and changed.  Isn’t that always better than standing still?

Don’t Ban Eleanor & Park

71lklmxqgjlWith Banned Book Week coming up next week, I thought it was important to talk about a book I liked.  Eleanor & Park is a YA novel published in 2013 that’s been challenged a number of times by people who think that parts of it are offensive or inappropriate.

This is an open letter regarding the challenges to Eleanor & Park.  I’ve also sent a copy of this letter to ncac@ncac.org

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to you about Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell. I’m an adult who read, and loved this book.

I know that this book has been challenged a lot, and I wanted to let you know why I think that it shouldn’t be banned.

I read this book breathlessly, in one day.  I stayed up late because I couldn’t put it down.

This is exactly the kind of book I wish I’d had when I was growing up.  Both Eleanor and Park were so real.  I could empathize with Eleanor.  The strange girl who feels overweight and uncomfortable.  Who wants to fit in, but also wants to stand out and be noticed for who she is.

The dominant themes in the books are domestic violence, child abuse, body image issues, and bullying.  While I couldn’t relate to all of those issues, I could relate to some.  As an awkward teen, I would have loved to read a book that talked these issues in a candid way.

What makes this book so magical is that even though those issues are big and important in the book, the story is ultimately about Eleanor and Park, and how they find one another and fall in love.  Too many stories about big issues are about the big issues, and ignore the human factor, that people can have problems, lots of problems, and still want to fall in love.  Still want to have friends and find their tribe, the people for whom it doesn’t matter if they’re weird or overweight or have things going on at home.

Don’t try to deny kids the right to read this book.  Don’t try to screen kids from reality.  It doesn’t work.  Because they’re either going through some of these issues, or they know someone else who is.  Reading fiction like this can help make us all into more sensitive, caring human beings.  Reading fiction like this can help teens be more prepared for navigating difficult issues.  If nothing else, books like this means that it’s okay to talk about these things.  It gives teens a language to talk about it, a voice to represent them, and a venue to discuss it, even if they don’t say that it’s about them.

I sympathized with both Eleanor and Park.  I laughed out loud sometimes.  And I cried at other parts.  The ending was lovely and perfect.

Life is messy.  This book helps to make sense of some of that.

Thanks for your time.

If you read this book, what do you think?  If you have an opinion, here’s a link to Rainbow Rowell’s website where she explains what you can do to help fight censorship of this book.71lklmxqgjl

How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel?

insecure2bwriters2bsupport2bgroup2bbadgeI’ve joined the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. On Wednesdays, we all post about our… well… insecurities.  Like the group name.

How long does it take to write a novel, anyway?

I’ve been working on mine for the last two years.  Give or take 20 years.

I first got the idea when I was in college, and though it’s evolved quite a bit since then, some things haven’t changed.  I’m working on writing it and editing it and all those novel-type activities.

I start to doubt myself when I realize how long I’ve been working on it.  It shouldn’t take this long, should it?

If you ask George RR Martin, he’d say between 1-6 years.  Stephen King comes out with a new book once or twice a year, plus short stories.  And Nora Roberts?  Four or five books a year.  Wow.

So, I guess the point is that it takes as long as it takes.  I’ve written several (bad) practice novels.  Each time, I get a little better.  Since joining a writer’s group, I’ve made a lot of progress with my writing.  More than I had with online writing groups.  It’s tempting to just want to be done with it, to say that it can’t possibly be good enough if it’s taking this long to write, but that’s just not true.

I really believe that failure only happens when people give up.  And I’m not ready to give up.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.”

-Neil Gaiman

Z is for Zen Pencils

imagesWhen I was a kid, I was scornful of people who read comics.  Actually, I was scornful of lots of things.  Some might have called me a bit of a snob.  I prefer to acknowledge that I was a bit of a brat.

A few years ago, I friend got me interested in webcomics.  There are a few I read regularly, and they tell quite a good story.  Truthfully, I’ve always envied people who can draw, so to be able to tell a good story and draw is quite an accomplishment.

Anyway.

I love quotes.  I have a notebook full of them, where I write my favorites.  I have others printed and pinned up on my wall, and still others made into posters and framed.

Zen Pencils is a webcomic, where Gavin Aung Than takes quotes and turns them into comics.  He’s done a variety of them, and has also published two books.  His interpretation of some of the quotes has deepened my understanding of them, and also made me work harder to come up with my own interpretation.

I got to meet him at a book signing a few months back, and he’s a very nice guy.  He quit a job he didn’t like to work full time doing his comic.

While many of the quotes he’s illustrated speak to me, his story has also influenced me.  He worked hard, and kept working.  But ultimately, he made the leap, quit his job, and was able to do what he loves.  I find that combination of hard work and fearlessness to be inspirational.

I love to write, and think I’m a pretty good writer, but there are days when I’m tempted to delete everything I’ve ever written (not quite as dramatic as burning it, but these are the days of the computer).  And then I remember that it’s not the most talented people who succeed, but the ones who keep trying and aren’t afraid to work for success.

That’s a fitting end this month of blogging, don’t you think?

“So maybe what you’re doing right now isn’t ideally where you’d like to be, but perhaps it’s just practice for your dream job in the future. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.”

-Gavin Aung Than