What would you try if you knew you wouldn’t fail?

dream

July has arrived and I’m over the halfway point through my summer break. Yet, I still have many thoughts on something I heard at the end of the school year some five weeks ago.

The end of the school year is full of celebration and reflection. A tradition in most high schools is for the graduating seniors to write some sort of advice for the yearbook. A local radio show did a couple of segments on this topic: one sharing what they wrote for their yearbook once upon a time and one about what they would write today knowing what they now know.

Something that was said has stuck with me these past weeks. The host shared something to the effect of how successful people never ask for permission or acceptance to be successful. He talked about how a lot of people work on things privately, or not at all, because they don’t want other people to know in order to avoid weirdness and awkward conversations.

How true is this! How many people today haven’t even taken the first step toward their dream or even a hobby because of the risk of failure or having to explain themselves to other people.

What would you try if you knew you wouldn’t fail?

Failure is inevitable, especially when starting something new. But having to explain or justify why you’re not successful can be tough.

For years and years, I never shared my love of writing and desire to someday publish my work. I stuck a toe into the water on Facebook years ago, but I had a code for what I was doing—“Plan B”. I know, right? How silly was that! I don’t even know what Plan B was supposed to mean except that I was working on something for me but I wasn’t ready to share it yet.

Then I finally got over it. I realized that I don’t need someone else’s permission to be a writer. No one needs the approval of others to work toward their dream, start a new hobby, or to try someone new.

Our journey belongs to us alone.

I want to believe that most people in this world are kind and encouraging. There are some who’ll mock you, roll their eyes, or make things awkward (Why don’t you have an agent yet?). But don’t let the few stand in your way of doing what your heart yearns for. Your life is not their journey. Don’t let decades pass you by because fear of failure has you stymied. As the big 4-0 looms over the horizon for me, I realize just how many years I’ve lost because of fear of failure or because of what other people thought of me.

Start today. Make a list. Get the ideas out of your head and make them real. What new hobby do you want to try? What adventure is waiting for you? What is holding you back?

Oh, and if I had the chance to tell my 18-year old self something, it would be this: Spend more time looking inward and trusting in yourself than looking for outside validation.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

~Steve Jobs

Not so bad …

IMG_7539It’s no surprise that I like words. I like reading them, writing them, and looking at beautifully lettered projects.

So, I decided a while back that I was going to teach myself calligraphy. Because what’s one more project and hobby?

For those of you interested, here’s the blog (The Postman’s Knock) that I discovered. It’s fabulous and walks you through calligraphy step-by-step. This blog recommends starting with “Faux Calligraphy”. The recovering Type A in me thought, I don’t want to start with Faux anything. If I’m going to do this, then I’m doing it right. Give me the dip pen right away!

But I’m a recovering Type A (parenthood will do that to you). And I can learn to take baby-steps. So I grabbed my Pilot G-2 like the post says, printed off the practice worksheets, and started with my faux calligraphy.

Well, I suck at it.

I have beautiful cursive handwriting so this should have been an easy thing to pick up. Nope. It’s hard. I couldn’t get my curves just right. Things didn’t flow like I thought they should.

It was toward the end of the school year that I first started this new venture, and I didn’t need anymore stress, so I set aside the practice sheets for another time. If you know teaching, the end of the school year is the second busiest time of year and I didn’t need another stressor.

Fast forward to after school let out. My schedule was more open and my head clear.

I pulled out those practice sheets thinking I’d give it another go. And you know what? They weren’t quite as bad as I remembered. In fact, I nailed it with a few of the letters. Maybe I could actually do this. Maybe I could pick up faux calligraphy and then eventually move on to the real deal with a dip pen. Hmm.

Surprise. This post isn’t actually about calligraphy.

It’s about taking a step back, getting some breathing room, and looking at things with a fresh perspective. Maybe, just maybe, things aren’t as bad as they seemed at first.

Sometimes they are. Sometimes the news is bad no matter how much space you give it. But most of the time, it’s not. Most of the time we can’t see just how good things are because we’re too close to the situation.

I find this with my writing all the time. I have what I think is a fabulous idea, I write it, read it, and then shudder. What the hell was I thinking?! This is garbage! I toss the notebook aside and move on with my life.

Weeks, even months later, I pull it back out and think, Hmm. This isn’t so bad. In fact, some parts are really good. Maybe I can work with this.

Space to think, to breathe, and try something new is a good thing.

It’s true what they say about the grass on the other side. Sometimes we need to step away from our own lawns for a bit to really appreciate the beauty in our lives and see just what we’re capable of.

I’m not giving up on calligraphy. I don’t suck at it. I can learn to write beautifully hand-lettered projects.

I believe in myself. I believe in you, too.

What projects are you struggling with? Do you need space so you can then appreciate the beauty of your capabilities?

180 Days

sun 180 days

180 Days

For 180 days you’re mine

You’re one of my kids

My kiddo

I watch you

I hear you

I listen to you

For 180 days you’re mine

We talk

We laugh

We cry

We may even yell

We forgive and move on

For 180 days you’re mine

I see you struggle

I hold your hand

I push you to give more

I celebrate with you

For 180 days you’re mine

We set goals together

You reach goals

We set new goals

We stretch,

Reach,

Push

For 180 days you’re mine

I care which teacher you get next

Who you become matters to me

I will celebrate with you

I want to see you shine

I want to watch you grow

Because for 180 days you’re mine

But you’ll forever be in my heart.

~Amy Judd

Doing the Work

icebergIt’s that time of day … again. Evening. This part of the day and I stare each other down frequently. I was up at 4:30 this morning with a killer headache, looooong day, and a busy evening. My kiddo is finally zonked out and it’s now 7:28pm.

I couldn’t squeeze out any words earlier in the day. You know, during that time when I was fresh, coherent, and somewhat awake.

So, now it’s 7:29 and time to push some words out. And it’s hard.

A friend shared this iceberg image on Twitter. You know this one. We’ve all seen it before. I looked at this image for a while tonight. I thought a lot about what it takes to make things happen. Dedication. Hard work. Habits. Rejection. Fatigue.

Too often people comment to me about how easy my life is. About how I’m able to write because it’s easy for me. And somehow I magically have more time than them. And it just comes easier.

Um, no it doesn’t. Writing is hard. Very hard. The first draft of anything I write absolutely stinks (including this blog post). And I think we all have the same 24 hours in a day. I do choose to use those 24 hours differently from some of my peers. Maybe that’s what they’re referring to. Who knows. I try hard not to invest too much time into what others think because it makes my head spin.

But the point is, no matter what our dreams are, we have to invest the time. We have to get our hands dirty. We have to push through when it hurts, when we’re tired, and even when we just don’t feel like it and we’d rather curl up and read a book. We have to make sacrifices. We have to fight against the resistance pushing against us, telling us that we’re wasting our time, we’re not good enough, and it’ll never happen for us.

We have to do the work.

So, now it’s 7:55 and time for me to get to work. I hurt, I’m tired, and I’m kinda grouchy … but the craft calls.

What have you pushed through lately? What motivates you to keep moving forward?

dory

Middle-Grade Ghost Stories

Let’s talk about ghost stories for middle-grade readers. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much that I loved more than being scared. And let’s face it … not much has changed since then. So, when my students come to me looking for a recommendation for a creepy ghost story I get really excited to share some of the books I’ve read.

Kids today are really, really lucky when it comes to ghost stories because there are some fabulous authors who know how to chill a spine without crossing the line and being too scary for young readers.

rl stineThe selection was small when I was a kid. By the end of elementary school I had exhausted every R.L. Stine Fear Street and Christopher Pike book I could get my hands on. The only Baby-Sitters Club I ever read was #9 The Ghost at Dawn’s House. And of course I read The Vampire Diaries by L.J. Smith way before it became what it is today.

By late elementary and early middle school I had moved on to Dean Koontz and John Saul. It wasn’t until my early adult years that I started reading the master, Stephen King. Since then I’ve discovered more authors who keep me reading late into the night albeit under the covers.

Below are 7 middle-grade ghost stories that I highly recommend. They’ve got enough spook to make you look over your shoulder every time you hear a bump. If you want to make them even spookier, crawl under your covers at night with a flashlight. Setting is everything when reading a ghost story.

 

ghostlight

#1 Ghostlight by Sonia Gensler

Twelve-year-old Avery and her brother Blake are spending the summer with their grandmother. Blake is tired of the games they used to play to entertain themselves and is too busy for Avery. This makes her furious. She befriends Julian who is staying with his dad in a nearby cottage. Julian is an amateur filmmaker who has his eyes on Hilliard House, an empty mansion that Avery is forbidden to go near. Hilliard House has a sordid history that Avery and Julian slowly unravel together while creepy things begin to happen around them. Have they awakened something that should have been left alone?This book had just the right balance of creepy and adventure to keep me reading straight through to the end.

ghosts

#2 GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

I’m not really a fan of graphic novels, but I’ll try anything about ghosts. This book was a quick read and I really enjoyed it. It also had a nice message about family and culture.

Catarina’s family moves to Northern California because of her sister’s illness. Cat doesn’t like this one bit. She likes it even less once she learns that her new town is haunted. Her sister, Maya, can’t wait to see a ghost, but Cat feels otherwise. This story is their journey of learning to put aside fears, trust in others, open themselves to new experiences, and find courage.

graveyard

#3 The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Need I say more? I mean, it’s Neil Gaiman! But if that’s not enough, this gem is about a boy raised in a graveyard by ghosts since he was a toddler. He has many adventures, and faces equally as many dangers, with this peculiar lifestyle. He’s not able to ever leave the graveyard, though, because the man who killed the rest of his family is still after him.

Coraline

#4 Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Another fav of mine that I read a couple years ago is also by Mr. Gaiman. I know a lot of students who’ve seen the movie, but as I say, the book is almost always better. This book starts out innocently enough and almost like many middle-grade books where our main character is another child faced with utter boredom. But as the book progresses, Coraline’s adventure in an alternate, mirror reality of her life is everything but boring. A creepy read with a heart felt message. I highly recommend this quick read.

took

#5 Took: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn

I don’t know where Mary Downing Hahn has been all my life. I only wish stories like hers had been around when I was in elementary school. Took is her most recent ghost story. It’s short, but not at all sweet. 13 year-old Daniel Anderson moves with his family from Connecticut to the country. He’s not welcomed by the locals. In fact, they bombard him with stories of an old ghost witch. It doesn’t scare him until his sister spends more and more time talking to her doll. And then his sister disappears in the woods. Could the ghost witch be real? As soon as I finished this book, and put it in my classroom library, my students gobbled it up.

lovelybadones

#6 All the Lovely Bad Ones by Mary Downing Hahn

I could probably dedicate one whole blog post to all of Mary Downing Hahn’s books. Here’s another spooky one to add to your shelf. Travis and his sister decide to play a prank and fake ghost-like activity at their grandmother’s inn. Unfortunately, you need to be careful with what you pretend because sometimes you might actually wake the dead. The two kids end up waking more than they bargained for.

book of bad things

#7 The Book of Bad Things by Dan Poblocki

This is the first book I’ve read by Dan and it is creepy! I plan to dive further into his ghost stories. In this one, our main character is Cassidy, who is visiting her host family in upstate New York for the summer. The weird hermit, Ursula, who lived down the street has mysteriously passed away, and now the town citizens are taking her stuff. However, those who take her things regret their decision. Ursula’s ghost is creeping around the town with a warning. Cassidy has to uncover the mysterious connection between Ursula’s death and the items being taken.

Next up … 

The-Aviary

Next on my list of middle-grade ghost stories is The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell. This should be a good one! A mysterious mansion, dark secrets, and birds … yikes!

Happy reading!

 

img_6353Spring has come to Georgia. I know this because of these yellow beauties that have popped up in my yard. I also know that spring has arrived because of the large 30-count box of Claritin sitting in my kitchen. That sign is almost more powerful than the flowers. Spring in Georgia…need I say more. <cough cough>

One of the best parts of spring time, and the warming weather, is the gift of sitting outdoors with a blank notebook and a favorite pen. The sun is out, the earth is warming, flowers are opening, and the baby grass that I planted last fall is starting to poke through (much like my story ideas). New beginnings.img_6359

New Year’s Day is a momentous occasion for new beginnings and goals. Then begin the dark days of January and much of February. If you’ve hit a rut, like I often do, spring time offers another fresh start to recommitting oneself to doing whatever brings joy.

Yes, there’s spring cleaning and planting and dusting, but there should also be moments of quiet and reflection. Moments spent enjoying the sun, the outdoors, and a blank notebook and pen. Simply experiencing joy.

What’s your joy?

Next Steps

img_6347Next Saturday, I’ll attend the Atlanta Writing Workshop and I am beyond excited! No, this isn’t the first writing workshop I’ve attended. But it is the first where I’ll be pitching my story to agents.

Normally, when I’m at a conference, I’m the one who sits and takes copious amounts of notes, gets lost in her own thoughts, and takes small steps with my WIP.

This time I’ll still be doing much of that, but I’ll also be meeting with two agents for 10 minutes each to pitch my MG paranormal book.

Am I nervous? Heck, ya! This is probably why I signed up for two pitch sessions. I might bomb the first and then get my nerves straightened out for the second.

This is the book that I wrapped up a year ago and gave to some beta readers for feedback. Since then, I’ve cleaned it up further, fine tuned much of it (I hope), and started querying agents. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only queried 8 agents thus far (that’s another whole blog post), so this is the year that I really try to get my story “out there”.

This week before the conference I’m gifting myself permission to dive back into my story so I know it backward and forward (it’s been a while since I’ve read through it because I’ve been working on Book 2 and other projects). I’m also practicing my pitch, which is a little weird, and involves a lot of talking to oneself.

The Type A that got buried after the birth of my son, poked through and I created a spreadsheet for each chapter of my book. Wow! Has this been helpful in seeing my book as one big picture. I should have done this months ago.

So, here’s to moving forward, talking about my book, promoting my story, meeting fellow writers, and getting outside of my comfort zone. Wish me luck!