What Makes a Good Story

I have recently increased my reading time in support of better writing. I wanted to digest what I loved about the stories I was reading so I could find inspiration to create a story worth reading to others. Here is my shortlist of what makes a story special to me.

  1. Characters that become clear to me through their actions and reactions. By reading how a character responds to situations or others, I can peel back their layers from the safe space of being curled up with a good book. I also like learning how the story changes characters for better or worse. Give me the reasons to love or despise the characters through how they behave. Make their actions speak louder with words.
  2. Enough detail about the setting of a story or specific scenes in the story to get me in the space where the characters live. Even brilliantly crafted characters can fall flat when their setting isn’t specific enough to matter. I want to learn enough about the main setting and individual scene settings to understand how they impact the character or others. For example, whether my character dumps a significant other over the phone from the safety of their place or in a coffee shop face to face might matter in how I view them. Scene setting is an Achilles heel for me in my writing. I now go back when I finish each chapter to see where I can add detail.
  3. Stories where every scene moves us forward (or backward if needed) to something relevant. I like to dive deep and understand characters and their space, but if each word, page, or chapter is not moving me along the story arc or taking me back to places and times of significance, I get bored and skip to where I think the pace picks up again.

Some books I am currently enjoying are Little Fires Everywhere and One Day in December. I would love to hear what stories you are enjoying!

Reasons

What are your reasons for getting up in the morning with a smile on your face? What are your reasons for not giving up during the toughest times? What are your reasons for being you? Only you get to answer these questions, aIMG_5389nd that is a powerful thing.

I have three beautiful children. I have the love of a lifetime. I have family and friends, a close circle these days, and I can trust them to be there. I have a fulfilling career. And, I have a passion for writing, running, music, and veganism. I also have four, yes 4, wonderful dogs and two wooded acres in a community where I fit. All of this makes me smile each day, even on darker days.

I have not always appreciated my reasons to the extent I do now. There were times when things did not go as planned, and times when I made poor choices. I chose to find my way back, and I chose to leave behind what was not good. In this process of learn & burn, I found “the me” I was always meant to be. My reasons inspired me.

Here I am, uniquely me, following my passions. Before me is endless possibility and my reasons. Behind me is the regret and sadness I am not meant to carry forward. I write inspired. I wake happy. I stay healthy. Thank you, reasons. I love you.

The Characters We Love

I have many characters in my life. Some are as real as me, breathing and living out loud before me. Others are characters I get to create as a writer. They live in my head and my heart, visiting me in my dreams or during waking hours if only for the mind’s eye. Real or created, I receive joy from these characters. They all have a structure that is interesting to observe, learn from, and love. You must be willing to let your guard down and let them in.

Recently at work, I took the DiSC personality assessment. We did this as part of a retreat for the entire company. I am always resistant to being assigned a number, a color, a letter, or other designations with these tools, afraid I will be painted as something I’m not…or as something I am and would prefer not to be. That did not happen with this assessment though. Even though I was assigned a letter, two in fact (Si), I found myself in an open environment with caring people who simply wanted to understand each better as “characters” in a live-action play called Career. We let each other in! Technology increasingly widens our doorway, too.

How lucky are we to live in a time where the world has become smaller through technological advances, and we get exposed to more characters daily? We are also more mobile for work and pleasure, meeting characters at greater distances and then staying connected via social media. This post is not about the drawbacks of a smaller, more connected world. I’m an optimist. I’ll take the best of it and try to avoid participation in the worst (e.g. trolling). Maybe some version of these new characters will make it into what I write, lovingly and as a testament to their unique attributes. We are all characters, in the end, leaving behind a story. I’m making mine, real or imagined, good ones.

On Writing

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Two weeks ago, after a two year absence from fiction writing, I decided it was time to try again. My head and heart are clear after a renovation of my body. I know how to make things work realistically in my busy life. Most importantly, I’ve carried a new story around for that long in my head, and it was time to let it out.

I will write on weekend mornings to work around my running, work, and people schedules. I have no expectations for what this book will become. I simply want to enjoy the process. There is a wisdom that comes with age. I did not believe it until I found myself at more advanced ages. I am smarter without the arrogance of youth. I hope this will come out in what I write.

Writing is about creating, and creating is fun. Somewhere along the way I forgot this. I’ve missed it. I’m happy to return. This time away has been a reminder not to forget why you do things in the first place: love.

 

How I Cured The Funk

IMG_0357.jpgGoodness gravy, I was in The Funk for the last several months of 2018. With a job situation rolling roughly into a tough close and an overwhelming schedule, I felt like I was doing nothing well. I questioned myself, and I questioned others. I will stop sort of saying this was depression, but my trademark optimism and desire to rise in the mornings were absent.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical or mental health professional. Check. I am a compassionate, empathetic person. Check. So I’m going to share how I have blasted into 2019. First, let me share some truths about The Funk, particularly mine.

I was hitting the wine bottle too easily, especially as my job came to an end. I was sedentary and exhausted. I felt remarkably uncertain about what was coming next. I felt angry about working so hard to come to this place of uncertainty. I was also angry about how I had been treated, and at times, disappointed in how I treated others while under stress. I passed up opportunities to sing and dance, two of my favorite pastimes. Then I felt the guilt that comes with all of the above. I realized I might need help, but I also wanted to see if some changes would help because I did not feel was beyond my own repair.

Over the last four weeks, I did the following 5 things:

1) SAID NO: I learned to say no to activities that were not mandatory and potentially done out of a false sense of obligation. I was apologetic and pretty open with others about my need to focus on me and a pending job search. I found 99.8% of people were awesomely supportive.

2) SPOKE TRUTH: I spoke truth to my family and friends about where I was at mentally. I am a sugar coater. I am a practicing optimist. I want to help others. I don’t want to be helped. This was a tough step, but I now get why it is so important. Your brightest light to cut the darkness comes from those who love you FOR YOU. They want to be your champions. Let them.

3) CHANGED HEALTH STUFF. Yep, now I am going to get into the physical health stuff. It matters. It will look different for each of us. For me, I started to physically move more and more each day. From hiking in the snow to dusting off an elliptical at home to a short toning workout, I made myself move more every day. I’m not a fan of big workouts, yoga, running etc. Physical fitness needs to occupy a tight, well-defined portion of my day. Let me tell you even short workouts help.

I also went dry and started a whole food, almost vegan diet. This was pretty radical. I LOVE RED WINE. I was using it as medicine though. That’s not good, so I quit all alcohol. I found out that when I did,  I did not miss it. I can love it from afar in a still corked bottle. This is my second time in recent years going dry. I might keep it that way this time.

Changing my diet is still a learning process, but I am not hungry, and I have eaten some amazing things, including a delicious frozen treat from 4 ingredients: Organic frozen peaches, plain yogurt (vegan if you need), real lemon juice and agave nectar blended together. I ate an avocado with Sriracha and red grapefruit for breakfast this morning, and it was a simple energy infusion to continue the job search.

4) WROTE IT DOWN: I started my blog up again. Now we have come full circle. Here I am sharing with you how I came to be back here sharing. It’s a beautiful circle. I don’t think I would be here if I had not done #1-#3 above. I am also practicing my banjo and guitar more steadily and exploring writing some new songs and editing a novel which has missed my love.

5) EXPLORED: I am learning what you were does not have to be what you become. I’m exploring career shifts and casting a broad net. I am also trying to find a new balance between live, work and play. What I had was not working. It drove me into The Funk. It is so uplifting to simply admit this and start exploring a new course. I have forgiven myself.

I feel great coming into this new year. The job search and some good me time activities are fully operational. I am more emotionally available to family and friends. I have energy and The Funk has lifted. If it did not, my next step was to seek some medical help for it. There should never be shame in this. Whether on your own and/or with the help of others, you an get out of The Funk, too.

Final, Extremely Important Disclaimer: I did not have suicidal thoughts during my way down time. If you do, please, please, please reach out below:

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

 

Feeling The Quiet In Between

img_0249I am noisy. I am always working, engaging others, listening to music, moving, learning, reaching for new heights, and for the most part, growing. To say my life has been chaotic since my 20s might be an understatement. I knew nothing of The Quiet of which others speak. You know, those meditative types with an awesome balance between work, play and rest. That has never been me…until recently.

Life hands you changes, many changes. They can be good or bad, or something along that spectrum. The year of 2018 will deposit in my memory bank as a year of tough changes. It was also a year made of noise I did not like. Everything was loud from demands on my time to the spaces where I worked and lived. I could not find any quiet, even in sleep, and I suffered mentally and physically. I was sleepless on an early morning mid-December morning where I could hear every noise in the house, and I decided I would only find quiet and peace if I made it.

You cannot control everything that happens to you even though you have great power to make things happen.  I need to find a new career, raise a family, get healthy, write, make music, and most importantly, love my people. My noise is not going to disappear in 2019. In fact, it might get louder for a bit. This is where the In Between becomes critical.

I was hiking yesterday with my daughter. My life did not have space for a hike yesterday, but an unusually warm, sunny day in January in Michigan is a gift you don’t refuse. We hiked a wooded path along the Red Cedar River. It was beautifully silent as we made our way. We did talk to each other and stop to take photos. I had no demands during that time though, a time I made during a busy day: An In Between. I could feel The Quiet in me. The noise stopped, my pulse steadied. Everything was going to be okay even when I exited the trail of my In Between.

My life will never be completely quiet. I do not have the luxury of long stretches of nothingness, and I am pretty sure I designed my life this way. Changes will continue to happen, whether I make them or take them. There is still a quiet I can find during the In Between that will be the salve to heal and the glue to keep it together, an essential oil of peace.

 

Joy is Simple

Joy is freshly baked monkey bread, hot from the oven smelling of sugar and spice.

Joy is fresh mangoes, juicy and sweet, sunshine in a little dish on a rainy winter day.

Joy is a desk etched with the scratches of time where a tree grows inside while an old tree passes outside, completing the circle.

Joy is looking for one bird in the bush and finding many, nature’s symphony of life and potential.

Joy is simple. Joy is you.