My Next Challenge: A Round of Words in 80 Days

29 09 2012

This shirt can be yours too – from

Anyone who knows me understands that I like a challenge. Once the word “challenge” enters the conversation, my ears perk up. This could have something to do with words of wisdom from my parents: “If you don’t play to win – don’t play.”

I’m ready to meet any challenge. I’ve done the “30–Day Challenge” to eat right and get fit. I conquered the “Read your Bible in 90 Days” Challenge (even though it took me six months to do it). I read a million words in less than two months to meet the challenge and become part of the “Million Word Readers Club” at the middle school where I work.

It could be my competitive spirit that makes me snap to attention when someone challenges me. Maybe it’s because I’m stubborn and a challenge looks like a dare, so if I back down I’m cowardly.  Whatever the reason, the truth of the matter is that the more we challenge ourselves, the better equipped we are when challenges come our way.

This brings me to “A Round of Words in 80 Days.” I discovered this writing challenge while pursuing the goal of expanding readership to my blog by becoming a reader, follower and commenter on other blogs.

This challenge seems simple enough: Set a writing goal and stick to it for 80 days. What I like even better is that I’ve already given myself several writing-related goals and this challenge offers me a way to hold myself accountable for meeting these goals.

What you’ll see on my blog during that time is that I have to post twice each week to update everyone on my progress. I link this post to the ROW blog. Hopefully, other participants will check out my blog when they post their own check-in; thus, I can build my blog following, which is another one of my goals.

If you’re dreaming of becoming a writer, but procrastinating because life is too hectic just now, I invite you to take on this challenge with me. Your goal can be small. My goal is going to be writing for four hours each week (I think). It could be to write 5,000 words each week (which translates into just over 700 words per day).

Are you up for a challenge? What’s your reaction when someone challenges you? Are you like me: immediately in the ring and ready to go? Maybe you find challenges threatening. I’d love to hear your reactions.


Defining American Literature

26 09 2012

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” – Ernest Hemingway

Glancing through the course syllabus, it looks like I’ll be revisiting some classic literature during my American Realism/Naturalism/Modernism college course this term. In fact, it’s quite ironic that we’re reading Huck Finn when I spent several weeks discussing Twain as the father of American satire in my literature course last term.

Mark Twain, it appears, founded American literature (see Hemingway’s quote above). His voice was uniquely American in an age when America suffered disrespect in literary circles at the hand of snobbish Brits and Frenchies. Perhaps he wasn’t the first American to write literature. After all, America became a nation 75 years before Twain entered this world. Certainly some earlier author claims a foundational role. True, but Twain is one of the cornerstones, nonetheless.

Another Norton Anthology awaits discovery by my voracious reader’s brain. Happily, we won’t be assigned hundreds of pages of reading every week. We have seven weeks to digest Twain’s controversial classic.

Assignments included in the coursework for this class are a journal of reflections about the literature we’re reading and an annotated bibliography. The journal must be a minimum of two, typewritten pages per week (if you want an A. Do I want an A? Duh!) These pages don’t even have to be on the same subject. They do have to be well-written and thoughtful. Hey, those are my middle names! (Or not, but the implication of this cliché is clear.)

Of course, I’ve seen an annotated bibliography before. Now I’m going to get to see one up close and personal. Choose one of the author’s we’re studying this term. Does anyone think it’s wrong if I choose Jack London? Do you recall that project I did on White Fang several months back? I could revisit the scholarly journal articles I read then and annotate them. Isn’t that a better use of resources than trying to find a ton of new articles? Of course, I learned about Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson in that class and read more of their poems during my poetry writing workshop. Researching either of them would be different and interesting.

All of this reflection – the bottom line is that I’m one literature class closer to graduation.

I’d love to hear what you think of Twain or Whitman or Dickinson? If you have advice for my project, go ahead and share it below. I love hearing from you. It reminds me that someone is reading this blog, after all.

A Proverb a Day Keeps Evil at Bay

22 09 2012

Eventually, people might say this about me

Quite a few years ago (it all begins to melt together like caramel on a hot day), our pastor recommended a simple Bible reading plan. Simple meaning easy to remember and manageable on any time budget.

Read: 1 Psalm and 1 Proverb each day.

To make it even easier, the Proverb you read will have the same number as the date. So, on September 22, you would read Proverbs 22. Of course, the Psalm schedule will require a bookmark, but you should manage to read through that lengthy songbook two times each year.

These books are ideal for a daily reading program because they meet so many spiritual needs. Proverbs was written by the wisest man to ever live, Solomon. He had plenty of admonitions about friendship, love, loyalty, lifestyle and other important facets useful for our daily lives. After reading this book through twelve times each year, some of the wise sayings start to stick in your head. Who would argue that having wisdom in your head is a bad thing?

I’ve begun reading a whole page in Psalms each day, since some of these songs (yes, actually sung by the Hebrews during temple worship) are so short. This amounts to 78 pages in my Bible, translating to a read-through of the book about four and one-half times each year.

If you listen to music at all, you know that music speaks to the soul in a way nothing else can. Think about how there is a song that expresses sadness, joy, love, anger or whatever else you’re feeling, and expresses it perfectly. Singing a happy song puts a smile on your face. Humming the sad song works like aloe on a burn.

Some people think this medicinal effect is about the tune, but most of the time it’s about the words. If it really is about the musical melody, sing Psalm 1 to the tune of “Mary had a Little Lamb.” Am I being facetious? Not really.

I’m convinced that the Bible has power to meet every need your spirit faces. I could make a list of two dozen metaphors or similes the Bible uses to describe its healing properties. It will mean more if you search them out for yourself.

I’ll be spending time talking about different challenges in the blog over the next 80 days while I’m doing “A Round of Words in 80 Days.” I challenge you to try this easy reading plan and see if it doesn’t turn your attitude toward the positive.

Why Can’t Anything Be Easy?

19 09 2012

Celebrate the accomplishment!

If you’re like me, you hear these words (or some semblance of them) multiple times in a day. After all, we live in a society where we can “talk” to anyone in the world with a few button pushes of our smart phone. We’re all about “convenience” as proven by the cookbook “Dinner in 5 Minutes.”

I keep thinking that at some point this whole juggling act I’ve been trying to maintain for the past two years will get easier. I’ll be able to snap off a few feature stories without exerting too much extra effort. After all, I’ve done plenty of research and interviewing for past classes, and that should be up for “re-gifting” in this course. I’ve got important personal writing goals to meet!

I keep learning that things aren’t easy. As my mother always said, “If it’s worth having, it’s worth working hard for.” Yes, those words are accurate, astute and wise. But just this once…

No, that isn’t what I really want. I’m tired (of school and work, not to mention just physically in need of sleep). I’ve been so excited to finally be writing a novel again, and now I’ll have to sacrifice some of that time to spend doing research and interviews for these feature stories.

Do I really want this college degree to be easy? (Okay, you know I just had to put my hand over my mouth because I was blurting, “YES” and that doesn’t fit into the thesis of this post.) When I finally finish these classes (and the 7 more to follow) and receive a college diploma, life is going to feel sweet. It will be an epic attainment because it’s been a Mt. Everest ordeal.

Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours later, this college degree means many things to me. If it could be acquired easily, would it be as valuable? Remember the movie Blood Diamonds? Apparently, diamonds aren’t nearly as rare and hard to find as the owners of those diamond mines want us to believe. That’s why they keep billions of dollars’ worth of diamonds locked in a vault and only sprinkle the market with a small portion of them. If they were all available at once, they wouldn’t be worth very much.

Blood, sweat, tears – brain cells, stress hormones, savings accounts: these things lend value to my college degree.

What do you think? Have you easily attained something and then later found it worthless? Do you think some things aren’t worth the struggle? Your opinions matter to me.

Plot and Structure

15 09 2012

Highly recommended for writers by writers

I’ve been studiously working through a book with this title by James Scott Bell. It came highly recommended from many fellow writers at WANA Tribe.

Plot is the events in a story that advance the protagonist toward achieving his goal. Of course, all the conflicts and setbacks our hero face are also part of the plot. Plot driven stories keep readers turning the pages. In fact, the pages can’t be turned quickly enough because each one introduces new complications. Every writer wants readers to be unwilling to stop reading.

Like the frame of an automobile, structure is what the plot is built around. Whether it’s the famous Three Act formula used since Greeks ruled the literary world or something less formulaic, there must be a framework in the story. This underpinning must be logical enough that readers can follow the plot without feeling like a rat in a maze.

Diagram of Three Act Structure

While I read the book by a published author, I say, “Uh huh. Yep. So right” until I start to convince myself that I already know all this stuff. Problem: even though I realize that events in the story must address the overarching problem, I don’t run my own written scenes through this so-called “advancement scanner.”

It’s interesting that all the knowledge I’ve gained as a student, teacher and avid reader seems to belong to another mind once I began to pour words onto the page. What’s with that anyway?

Of course, we’ve all spent plenty of agonizing hours on the other end of that seesaw. Every word written gets weighed by our inner critic and deemed unfit for the page. It’s trite. It’s cliché. It sounds like the ruminations of a whining five-year-old or a senile 95-year-old.

Most of the “experts” (meaning published authors) agree that the first draft is about getting words on the page. Ideas should flow out of the creative well and into the Word document. Later, when those 60,000+ beautiful expressions of our imagination have culminated in a completed story, we can return with the editor’s hat affixed to our heads to add, subtract, extrapolate, expunge and generally rewrite the story. Until that first draft is completed, we should lock our critical side in a closet and misplace the key.

What’s your opinion in this matter? When is the right time to let the critic out of the bag? Is it important that I have solid plot points in a first draft or is this something that can be “fixed” during revision?

Related Articles:

Structure Part Two – Kristen Lamb

Plans: A Parade to be Rained On

12 09 2012

God will not permit any troubles to come upon us, unless He has a specific plan by which great blessing can come out of the difficulty.
Peter Marshall

Making plans invites disaster. Accept these words of wisdom from someone whose had a delightfully exciting and adventurous run of events. All unplanned and unexpected and uninvited and unpleasant. Although I’m sure pleasant surprises happen…to other people.

Saturday lounged in the sunshine reading my literature assignment for the week (Song of Myself by Walt Whitman and selected works of Emily Dickinson). My phone rang (a universally understood portent of upcoming disaster). My youngest son had been having side pains since Wednesday and it was getting worse.

“Which side is it?” I asked. Of course, it was the right side.

“Have you felt nauseous or thrown up?” No, but he hadn’t really felt like eating much for the past day either.

“Do you have a temperature?” He didn’t have a thermometer and didn’t feel like walking to the infirmary.

I won’t continue relaying this question and answer session to spare his sensitive feelings. All you mothers and health care providers understand what other pertinent facts I requested from my son.

Needless to say, a trip to the emergency room…in the town where he attends college…70 miles from where we live…followed, along with the usual battery of tests (White blood cell count of 2500. Why doesn’t he have a fever?). We passed the next six hours at the hospital where a surgical team had been summoned to perform an immediate appendectomy.

Sunday, when I usually head off to worship services and later Skype both of my boys, I woke up in a strange room (a hotel room ten miles from the hospital because there was a beer festival in Newberg, so there was no room at the inn). Back to the hospital we went, only to learn that the infection was spiking his temperature (he has one now, is everyone happy?) and the doctor wanted him to stay over another night. Well, doc was the only one who did want that. Was there a buy one night get the second night free special going on? No? Then the parents oppose the stay, vociferously.

Time dragged by as it always does when you’re in a hospital. Do the employees there experience a similar phenomenon? Or is this epic slowing of time reserved for patients and their families?

I requested a substitute for the next two days of work. Nursing isn’t my life’s calling, but mothering has been for the past 21 years. Moms do what needs to be done and when it involves their kids, they do it well.

Monday, I drove back to the hospital (another two plus hours in the car) with my cribbage board in hand. My son was awake and even got out of bed for the second time since his surgery. The doctor had already visited and announced that the patient was being discharged.

We played one game of cribbage (I almost skunked him. He says I cheated since I was pegging for him and he couldn’t reach the board.) Before we could finish a second game, the nurse came in to medicate him and take out his IV.

God generously answered my prayers and we were home at noon. Too bad I had to go back out for his prescription and groceries. Then I needed a nap. Driving and sitting really take it out of me. Why is that anyway?

Young bodies heal. Time moves on like a lazy river. There are bumps, class five rapids and eddies that trap us in one place for a short time.

Have you experienced any bumps, rapids or eddies in the timeline of your life lately? Your comments make my day.

Endings…or Beginnings?

8 09 2012

The end is where we start from” – T.S. Eliot

Labor Day weekend marked the “official” end of summer (even though fall doesn’t begin until September 22). Since summer is my favorite season, I always find this last holiday before the start of school bittersweet. I began thinking about reasons for this and decided to explore the subject of endings.

As you can see from my title, I became confused if it was the end of summer that was the bummer or if it was the start of school that was bringing me down.

In fact, endings and beginnings generally share a common point on the roadmap of our lives. Where one trip ends, another one begins. Where one trial ends, something less trying begins. In fact, I’m not sure you can have an ending without a beginning, or vice versa.

When the End Wins the Prize

It was several years ago when I was discussing the Bible with someone (I don’t remember who it was – I’m getting older, you know). They said, “Rather than having a favorite verse, I really love one phrase in the Bible.”

“What phrase?” I asked.

“And it came to pass,” they answered. (I opened my Bible right to a place where this phrase leads off a verse, Luke 6:1.)

I stood blinking at them like they’d spoken a phrase in Chinese or Russian or some other foreign language. I completely didn’t get why that would be their favorite.

She looked at me and said, “When things are really rough or I’m having a hard time or it seems like everything’s going wrong, I think of those words. Then I realize, this problem in my life will also ‘come to pass” and I’ll move on to something better.”

Ah-hah! Now I get it. In fact, until you’ve reached the bottom of a very deep, dark tunnel, you might never truly appreciate the wisdom of these words. Many people probably see this phrase as filler, a way to connect one event in the Bible with another.

I’m positive that the Author of the Book didn’t mean for anything to be filler. Every word has power to minister grace to the hearers.

Sometimes, endings take the cake in our life roadmap because the event we’re living through isn’t a pleasant vacation. It’s a climb to the top of Mount Everest without oxygen and wearing shorts and flip flops. In short, painful. When those times “come to pass,” we are happy to wave goodbye (“And don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”)

When the Beginning Rocks it

At other times, the beginning is a highly anticipated moment after months of waiting: the honeymoon after the long engagement or the morning of that long-awaited trip to Disneyland or Hawaii. For little kids, it’s Christmas morning.

When you take the first bite of blackberry cobbler, fresh from the oven and smothered in vanilla ice cream, you’re savoring it. Your body responds by salivating. You hold it in your mouth so the flavors can melt and mingle, making music on your taste buds.


In short, the beginning of any event planned well in advance is a delicious dessert. Are we savoring the experience or is it the anticipation that makes these beginnings so delightful? I think it’s a combination of both things.

A mere 11 weeks ago, summer vacation from my job began. Anticipating this beginning made the month of May palatable, whereas the month of April seemed nightmarishly long. For a week leading up to the last day of work for almost three months, nothing could wipe the smile off my face. I love summer and I especially love to spend the sunny days doing activities of my own choosing instead of going to work.

When Ending = Beginning (or is that Beginning = Ending?)

As I contemplated this whole idea of endings, I realized that you can’t have a beginning without an ending. Furthermore, when one thing ends another begins.

My singlehood ended on May 27, 1988 and my married life began. My happy honeymoon nest ended on January 12, 1991 with the birth of my first son and my road of parenthood began.

My summer break is ending, but the new school year is beginning. Am I sad to see summer end? Of course, but it isn’t because I’m sad to see school begin. I know that the days are going to get shorter and the sun will disappear behind a bank of gray clouds for six months (or more).

I live in anticipation that summer will return again. It’s just a short jaunt of nine months from here to there. That’s doable. I know this from personal experience(I do have two children and they were nine months in the making) so I choose to see the end of summer as the beginning of another trip through those other seasons to get back home again.

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