Posts Tagged ‘challenges’

I never have and never will claim to be an expert on writing. I have found an appreciation for it and perhaps a little bit of talent, but in general it is something that I have improved at only through sheer determination and continuous trial and error. Because of this, there is nothing that bothers me more than when I have someone tell me, without any attempt to the contrary, “I can’t write. I just can’t do it.” At that moment I start to understand how Bruce Banner feels right before he becomes the Hulk.

I don’t believe that everyone has a best-selling novel within them that only needs to find an outlet. I understand that plenty of people do not have the communication talents necessary to be a good writer. I also understand that not everyone loves the idea of writing.  No problems there either. What bothers me is the fact that some people have been conditioned to think that you not only have to have a world class talent in order to write, but that you shouldn’t put pen to paper if you do not have that talent from the very beginning. It may sound like I am being extreme in my example, but I have seen and heard this from many people.

Part of the cause of this is probably the quality of writing that is available to read right now. While the advent of the internet and independent- or self-publishing has creating some less that stellar reading choices, it has also allowed many people who wouldn’t have had the time or opportunity to go through traditional publishing to find an audience, and many of them show remarkable talent. This seems to create a very high bar for those that enjoy reading but are afraid to try writing. They fear that they won’t measure up on their first attempt. If you are one of those individuals, let me let you in on something important: you won’t measure up on your first attempt! That’s what makes it a first attempt. It’s like a rough draft. It will need revision, growth, maturing, and change before it reaches the caliber of what you read. It may never reach that caliber. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it or that you can’t bring some entertainment to others that will read it.

The other impediment seems to be a fear of doing something new and failing. I knew a young man that tried following some writing prompts and did poorly on his first couple of attempts. He complained about how he just “can’t write.” Then I showed him a picture of a volcanic eruption from the news and told him to write a scene with that as the setting and to describe the setting with as much detail as he could. The work that he showed me was remarkable. It appealed to all of the senses and fired the imagination. He far surpassed me in the detail that he used. If I hadn’t kept pushing him to get past his initial failures, he would still be telling everyone that he couldn’t write.

So you think that you can’t write? You might be correct. That ability may not be within you. However, imagine what you could be denying yourself and others by rejecting the possibility out of hand. You have nothing to lose, and the possibility of limitless worlds to gain.

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I would be completely shocked if I am alone in saying this, but I am way too busy! I mean completely, totally, don’t-know-how-I’ll-ever-get-caught-up busy. As a parent, a husband, a teacher, and a writer I have found myself with far too many projects, requirements, requests, and desires to do all of them, or even most of them. Obviously, the things that I need to do for my family and my career have to come first. That leaves me with a very limited time for writing. So how do I prioritize what I write?

This first thing that some writers, especially first-time writers might be asking is, “You write on your book. What else is there?” I was one of those people not very long ago. You have a story that you want to get done with and that is all that you focus on. Well, you know the old saying about how ignorance is bliss. Once that story is done and out there, that is when you realize that there is other writing that you probably should have been doing. It’s usually too late to make up for at that point and you find yourself trying to catch up, and that just adds to your stress.

So what is this other writing? Well, you are reading one right now. A blog can be a good way to get your name out into the world. Other writing includes articles, short stories, or reviews of books and stories to try and get your name to be more recognizable. It makes perfect sense from a marketing standpoint. It doesn’t make sense from a time management standpoint. This is something that I am still trying to work out myself.

So what can an amateur writer do to prioritize their writing? Well, the first thing that you can do is look at where you are in your writing process. If things are trucking along easily with your story, keep at it. There is nothing worse than trying to pick up lost momentum. Get that story completed, but before you start submitting the story, start putting out some blog posts and reviews to get yourself established in the community. This is something that I wish that I had done, and I am still playing catch-up because of it. If you are stuck in a part of your story, then make writing blogs, reviews, and articles your priority. It can help you press the “reset” button on your brain and come back to your story with a refreshed imagination and sense of purpose. Also, some of the interactions that you have through the blog or other online discussions can yield new ideas.

The second thing that you can look at is whether you can create some shortcuts in your various writings. For me, this has usually consisted of doing a video blog instead of a written blog. I do understand that there are some that prefer to be able to read the blog instead of watching it, and I apologize to those individuals, but I can put up a vlog more quickly and still share it on a number of platforms. So whatever shortcuts you can find, take advantage of them.

Finally, you have to look at what is most important to you. Some people want to make certain that their writing sells. For that, you will need to prioritize your marketing. Blogs, reviews, and social media will have to come first. Others simply want to write a story that they feel is good. That is when you make writing on the story a priority. Of course, most people want a combination of the two, and that is when I refer them to the previous two ideas I have provided. That’s where I find myself and where I imagine most writers are.

Finding a balance is a challenge. Then again, what isn’t? I hope to get to that balance soon. In the meantime, I’ll figure out my priorities for writing as I go along. What about you? What do you do to decide what to spend your time writing on?

There are times that I can be a terrible friend. I can be a bad relative. I’ll even admit to sometimes being a bad husband and father. There are lots of reasons for this. Some of them are character flaws. I am the first person to admit when I have a flaw, and I have a ton of them. One of the biggest reasons for this is because I never feel like I have enough time in the day to dedicate to the people, the career, and the activities that matter to me. I have to put my attention and energy where I feel that it is most needed, and because of this something always gets missed. I apologize to my friends, past and present, if I have given the attention to you that I should. I apologize to my relatives for not visiting as often as I should. I most sincerely apologize to my wife and child for not having the patience or energy that would allow me to be the husband and father that you deserve.

As a society, we have held aloft the ideal that we should work hard and play hard. Work hard in your career and on project and on any kind of labor. Put as much energy as you can into your recreation and pour yourself into the experience. I feel that I’ve been doing that for a while now, and I’m exhausted! One of the reasons why I don’t have as much time and energy for friends and family as I’d like is because I pour so much of myself into my job and into my work and even into my hobbies that I don’t have energy reserves left. I’ve been out of school for a couple of weeks now and this afternoon was the first time that I finally said “I’m going to rest!” I did for a while, mostly to fight off a sinus headache, but I felt guilty the whole time. There is so much to do, and I feel like I should always be doing it! We all pride ourselves on the idea that we must constantly exhaust ourselves to get ahead in life. I am beginning to wonder what it is that we are trying to get ahead of.

Don’t misunderstand me. I cannot stand laziness and apathy. I have to fight against that all the time with groups of people. However, when did we decide that spending some part of the day doing nothing was such a horrible thing? I’m not talking about spending half of the day staring at a wall and contemplating the purpose of your belly button. I’m just saying that we all might find a little bit more energy in our lives and maybe even more appreciation for our work if we can set aside a little time each day to breathe. Not play, not get on the computer, not even talk on the phone. Just to do nothing. One of the wisest things that I’ve heard came from the movie Tron: Legacy. “You’d be surprised at how productive doing nothing can be.”

I’ll never stop working hard. People depend on me and they deserve nothing less. I’m also in awe at those people that can seem to find the balance that allows them to take care of their kids and do their jobs and even provide food for potluck meals (I’m a bit of a joke at my school. I always volunteer to provide the plates, cups, and plastic ware!) I hate that I will probably never be one of those people. But to those friends and family that I have not given the time that I’d like to have given, I’m going to try to take some time to do nothing. Hopefully then, I will have the time and energy to be the friend, father, or husband that you deserve. If you’re reading this, maybe you should consider a little time for nothing as well. I think we all need it.

A character from one of my favorite shows once said, “We’ve done the impossible, and that makes us mighty!” Some of the most enjoyable stories and movies that we ever experience deal with a character that is overcoming major challenges. There is something uplifting about cheering on the underdog. Maybe it gives us a feeling of accomplishment to see that someone else can achieve what seems impossible. Of course, cheering on the underdog and being the underdog are two very different things. Do you get that feeling of accomplishment when you are the one having to face the challenges, or do you get a feeling of dread at what might happen if you can’t overcome the odds?

Most of my writing centers around fish-out-of-water, underutilized and disrespected characters. The usually don’t recognize their own potential until they reach some new height, be it on purpose or on accident. Either way, the achieve what would have seemed impossible just a chapter before. I actually smile as I write, revise, or re-read some of those characters accomplishments. It can provide a sense of divine justice. The person most deserving receives the rewards. How can you not love that?

Of course, reality is a lot different from fiction. Many of us face challenges every day. Maybe it is a child whose behavior is slow to change. Maybe it is a job that is trying your patience. Maybe it is the difficulty of getting your finances in order. Maybe it is something as simple as the weather not cooperating with what you have planned. These are usually the challenges that don’t make it into books, movies, or television shows. For all of the obsession that people have with reality television, it rarely deals with true reality. When was the last time that there was a show that followed one of its characters for two hours while they tried to figure out why their checkbook won’t balance? How about an episode that centers on trying to figure out how you are going to get supper cooked, your child tucked in, your take-home work finished, and still have time to watch the show that you have been waiting all week for? Even Seinfeld, the show that famously claimed to be about nothing, never focused on the every day challenges that most people face. Why not?

My theory as to why we don’t see shows, movies, or books that deal with these everyday challenges is because we all already have to. These challenges can stretch us to our limits. We don’t want to see them again because we will either be reminded of how difficult it had been to take care of, or we will see a different approach that we had not considered and be angry because it is too late to change it. This is one of the reasons that I don’t watch reality television. I watch television to get away from reality. I’m sure that most people would agree that they read or watch television and movies to try and forget about the challenges that they feel may have cursed their days.

Of course, in the end, are these daily challenges really curses or blessings in disguise? Well, I would venture to say that they are both. The challenges stretch us to our limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s easy to see that as a curse. However, they also keep us moving forward in our lives, accomplishing the tasks necessary to be the people that we need to be for those that depend on us. That makes them a blessing in disguise. Of course, that disguise is so well done, that we hardly ever see it. That is why we seek out the underdog stories. They motivate us to keep pushing forward in the hopes that we, too, will do the impossible. So, you keep pushing your way through that daily grind (as will I), and I’ll try to help provide that underdog motivation to keep us going. I figure that combining those two things will go a long way towards making us mighty!

I thought that I might do a little something different today. I found an old story that I wrote, and I figured that I would put it up here for your entertainment and opinion. Of course, this story was written over a decade ago, so my style has (I feel) improved greatly since, but if you have a few minutes and want to feel better about yourself (because you aren’t the main character), then here is an old story of mine that was the beginning of a series I wrote for my friends centered around the character Norman Blackberry:

 

No Luck, No Chance, No Problem
By: Christopher Slater

Copyright 2000
Norman Blackberry was always excited about new opportunities. He was especially excited about new opportunities in places where people didn’t know him. Norman was always trying to escape his reputation. He wasn’t mean. In fact, he was one of the most polite people you could meet. He wasn’t stupid. He was salutatorian at his graduation. If there was one word for Norman’s reputation, it would be unlucky. Norman never tried to find problems. They always seemed to find him. He stopped going to watch his high school’s football team after lightning struck the bleachers he was sitting on. He was not hurt, but the city banned him from the stadium as a health hazard. He was the first patient in recorded history to get food poisoning from a cracker. He also set the record for most number of broken bones suffered in one year of gym class. Events like this had been occurring all of his life. Because of this, no one wanted to be around Norman.
Looking around at the small community college campus, Norman was hoping that would soon change. There were lots of people here that didn’t know about his perpetual bad luck, so there was a chance that he might be able to turn his reputation around. As he walked towards one of the buildings, he dreamed of what life might be like if it were just a little different. He pictured a large group of friends hanging on his every word as he told stories about his many adventures. He imagined a lovely girlfriend who thought the world of him. He imagined his confident walk as he went into classes where everyone hoped he would be there. He imagined that the door was open when it really wasn’t. Norman smacked into the closed door, bounced off of it, and rolled back down the steps. As luck would have it, most of the students were standing outside of the building, socializing before their first class. The roar of laughter was deafening. Norman tried to laugh it off, but he knew no one was fooled. He gathered up his books, gave a shy wave to the applauding crowd, and walk back up the stairs. He stood at the door for a moment, trying to figure out how to open it when his hands were full of books. The people coming out of the building were not so patient. One flung the door open, hitting Norman, causing him to roll down the steps again, this time with a bloody nose.
Norman missed his first college class because of his trip to the clinic. Much to his surprise, his nose wasn’t broken. The nurse’s hand was broken, though. It happened when Norman set his books down. He hadn’t even known she was sitting there. He was already banned from the clinic. His next class wasn’t until after lunch, so he decided to take a trip to the cafeteria and try to get through it without injury.
Norman was almost successful in his attempt to eat lunch without incident. He went to the Subway in the food court and bought a meatball sub. It had always been one of his favorites. He very carefully carried his meal to the table, managing not to trip or spill any of his drink. He sat down, rather proud of himself. He ate his meal with a ravenous hunger. It had been a long morning and he was very hungry. When he had finished the foot long sub he was surprised to realize that he was still hungry. He had never eaten two subs at one meal, but he decided that he might as well eat rather than have a rumbling stomach in class. He stood up to go purchase another sandwich and heard an odd thumping noise. He chose to ignore it and headed towards the counter. The first sign that something was wrong came when people started giving him strange looks. Norman knew from long experience what would come next. Sure enough, there started to be a few giggles, then outright laughter. Norman looked down to see that his shirt and pants were covered in red marinara sauce. He looked back over at the table and saw several meatballs on the floor. The reason that the sandwich had not filled him up was because half of the meatballs had fallen out of the sandwich and into his lap.
Embarrassed, but refusing to show it, Norman continued to walk towards the counter. People were looking at him and laughing as he walked by. Norman just kept walking until something unusual caught his eye. There was one young lady sitting at a table nearby. She was tall and slender, with long, dark hair. She had striking brown eyes that seemed to sparkle when she looked at him. She was one of the prettiest ladies Norman had ever seen. On top of it all, she wasn’t laughing at him. She was looking right at him and smiling. Something in her face didn’t make him think she was amused. It seemed more like she was smiling to encourage him.
Norman could do nothing but stare. Something about the young lady had truly captured him. It would have been better if he had stopped walking while he stared at her. Instead, he ended up walking into the counter at the Subway. This brought a new round of laughter and a groan of pain from Norman. He looked back at the lady that had entranced him, but she and her friends were on their way out the door.
“What can I do for you?” asked the worker at the register.
“One meatball sub please,” Norman replied.
The worker grinned mischievously. “You want a fresh one or do you want us to just scrape that one off of your shirt?”

Norman went back to his car before his next class. He grabbed a jacket and buttoned it up to hide some of the stain. It worked for the most part, but the temperature was in the upper nineties and the jacket was a warm one. Norman had probably sweat off five pounds by the time he entered a classroom. His face was read and his shirt was soaked. Now he couldn’t take off the jacket because of his sweat-stained shirt. It was like a never ending cycle for him.
Norman found a desk, sat down, and looked around. He continued to look around several more times. Something there didn’t seem quite right. Suddenly, it hit him. “I’m surrounded by nerds!” he exclaimed, not quite realizing he had said it out loud. Everyone with taped glasses and a pocket protector turned towards him with a scowl. He shrank down in his seat until he hoped he was invisible. Eventually the other students turned back around and continued their debate on who the best captain was on Star Trek.
The professor finally arrived. He looked like he fit right in with his students. Tall, thin, and with glasses so thick that NASA had offered to buy them from him, he stepped up to the front of the room and growled “Q’aplah!” Everyone in the room answered in kind, except Norman. He just sat there, wondering what in the world was going on. For once, he didn’t feel like the biggest geek in the room.

It had taken twenty minutes for Norman to realize that he was not in his psychology class. In fact, he was sitting in on one of the stranger courses offered at the school: Speaking Klingon for Beginners. He had to have one of the other students explain to him that it was a made up language for the Star Trek shows and movies. He had gotten up to leave and was ridiculed with names like qu’ahom and patakh. He couldn’t decide whether to be insulted or not.
After checking his schedule, Norman realized that he had gone into the correct room number, but in the incorrect building. He finally found the correct building and classroom. He was already half an hour late, so when he opened the door, all eyes turned towards him, including a pair of sparkling brown eyes. Norman stopped in his tracks. The young lady from the food court was sitting in class with the same smile, looking at him. He could swear that her smile was speaking to him. You’ll be fine, it said. Just give it time.
As he stood in the doorway, staring, he heard a new round of laughter. It took him a moment to tear his attention away from those eyes. Then he became a little more aware of the world around him. He had the distinct feeling that someone was behind him. He could hear them breathing. He could feel them staring at the back of his head. Worst of all, he could smell them. It wasn’t a horrible smell. In fact, it was very familiar. The scent of ivory soap mixed with corn oil from cooking. Never in his life had he wanted that smell to be anywhere other than here. He slowly turned around. It was like waking up to a nightmare come true. Behind him stood none other than his mother.
Normally when he had this nightmare, Norman was standing in front of the class in his underwear. He couldn’t help but check to make sure he still had all of his clothes on. Thankfully, he did. But then the nightmare returned when his mother reached up and hugged him, loudly proclaiming “Oh, my little boy is in college! I can’t believe it! You are just growing up so fast!” Norman managed to squirm out of his mother’s grasp. No one in the class was making a sound. It was as if they were all too shocked to believe that this level of embarrassment could really happen to an eighteen year old. “Honey, I just stopped by to remind you that you promised to run by the grocery store and pick up some milk. All right, I will admit it. It was just an excuse so that I could come by and see my sweet boy on his first day of college.” Then, in the final act of social death, she reached up and pinched his cheeks. “Now you just go on in there with all your little friends and have a good time.”
Norman’s mother walked away, still emitting that high pitched squeal of delight that mother’s are known for. Norman made his way to an unoccupied seat, not daring to look towards the girl with the brown eyes. He was certain that even she would not be able to encourage him after something like that. The class was still in shocked silence as he got out a paper and pen to take notes. Even the professor seemed surprised. Finally, after a full minute of the loudest silence Norman had ever heard, the professor continued his lecture. “So, as I was saying, class…the classic case of an overprotective parent is usually characterized by behavior like…well…like that!”

Even Norman had to admit that he was glad when the first day of college was over. It had been rough even by his standards. He didn’t look forward to going home and seeing his mom. He could never quite bring himself to tell her how much she had embarrassed him. He knew that it would devastate her. Still, if she showed up again, he thought he might exit through the nearest window, no matter what floor he was on.
If there was a silver lining to the very dark cloud that was his college reputation, it was the lady with the brown eyes. Norman could not stop thinking about her. It wasn’t just because she was beautiful. Norman wasn’t that shallow. It was because of the look that she had given him several times that day. She wasn’t looking down at him. She wasn’t laughing at him. She wasn’t trying to pretend he didn’t exist. She wasn’t even trying pretend that she didn’t see him fall over in his chair (that happened shortly before the psychology class was dismissed.) She knew that he had messed up, but she smiled anyways. Whenever he saw that, Norman was almost able to forget how clumsy and unlucky he was. Almost.
Before he made it home, Norman made a decision. He was going to try and meet that young lady. In fact, he almost felt confident enough to ask her out. That was a major leap for Norman. He had not been out on any dates. Most people were scared to be in the same zip code as him, much less have any sort of social contact with him. It was amazing how long rumors of him spreading chicken pox to his entire fourth grade class had stuck with him. Most girls were afraid to get into the same vehicle as Norman for fear that something might explode or some illness will be spread, and they will be part of it because they were near Norman Blackberry.
Despite these problems, Norman thought that it might be worth trying to ask this young lady out. She looked like she might understand. She might be forgiving. She might give him the time of day.
Norman said all of these thoughts out loud. He was in the habit of talking to himself, especially when driving around. He came to a stop sign and hit the breaks. They squealed a little, but Norman didn’t notice. He was still carrying on his one man conversation. People crossing the street in front of his car kept looking at him, wondering if he had a small headset or if he really was just talking to himself. Norman paid them no mind. If he had, he would have seen the brown-eyed lady walk in front of his car and smile warmly at him. He also would have known that she wasn’t all the way across when he hit the gas and started driving again. He ran over her foot, breaking three toes. He never knew it and didn’t even stop.

College can pass by pretty quickly. Before he even knew it, a month had passed by and Norman had still not spoken to the brown-eyed lady. He had discovered her name. Vanessa. Vanessa Humphries. He only had one class with her, so he only saw her on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In fact, the next time that he saw her, she was on crutches. He didn’t know why but he hoped she was all right. When he saw her talking with a group of friends outside of the Humanities Building, he tried to walk up and talk to her. When he approached, one of Vanessa’s friends saw him coming and shrieked. The others picked up Vanessa’s books and hustled her away. He wasn’t certain, but he thought he heard Vanessa yelling something about it not being his fault.
This scenario continued until almost October. Still, things were looking up for Norman. He had convinced his mother to never visit the school again. He had learned to pack extra napkins to prevent ruining his clothes. He had even learned a little Klingon to be able to converse with the nerds. His psychology class was going especially well. No matter what disorder they were learning about, Norman seemed to be aware of a good example. It was often things that he saw in people around him. Many of the students whispered that it proved how he could drive people nuts. The professor had taken a liking to him until he asked Norman to come to the front of the class one day to demonstrate multiple personality disorder. Norman was only too happy to oblige. Norman leaned casually on the chalkboard, not realizing it was reversible. The chalkboard spun around suddenly, knocking Norman off balance and smashing into the professor’s head. The professor still showed a wonderful demonstration of multiple personality disorder: first was Confused Man, followed by Speechless Man, followed by Angry Man. He was about to introduce Norman to Violent Man when the bell rang. Norman beat a hasty retreat out of the classroom. He was down six flights of stairs before he knew it, and, realizing he was out of breath, he sat down in the lobby to rest.
When he heard the elevator ding, he looked up without thinking. Still hobbling, but at least without crutches, Vanessa stepped out and headed for the door. She didn’t see Norman in the lobby. Norman watched as she left, still unable to understand why he couldn’t get her out of his mind. Did she really understand him? How could she? They’d never met. Surely she couldn’t understand what it was like to be the first person sent to the hospital after being attacked by a large-mouth bass. Who could, except Norman?
Norman slowly got up and walked towards the outside door. He stepped out and looked around. The leaves were turning. The colors were beautiful. Someone was sitting on the campus lawn playing a guitar softly. There were workers going around the campus gathering leaves to put into large, wheeled trash cans. They all seemed to be so happy. And then there was Vanessa. She had hobbled a pretty good distance, but Norman could still see her. Then, to his surprise, Vanessa turned around. She looked right at him and smiled. It was that same encouraging smile that he had seen before that seemed to make her eyes shine. At first, Norman couldn’t believe that she was looking at him. He turned around to see if anyone was behind him that she was trying to smile at, but there wasn’t. When he turned back around, Vanessa was still looking at him. She gave him a little wave, and then continued to walk across campus.
Norman was in a state of complete and utter bliss. She had waved at him. He was happy to the point of being manic. He was suddenly on top of the world. All of the accidents, broken bones, lightening strikes, animal attacks, and poor clothing choices that had ever affected him didn’t matter any more. In a fit of recklessness, Norman hopped up on the rail of the steps and started to slide down. He was grinning from ear to ear. That feeling of complete joy is probably what kept him from really thinking his actions through.
The stairs leading out of the Humanities Building were steep. So was the railing. Norman was giddy when he first started sliding down the rails, but that giddiness quickly changed to terror as he picked up speed uncontrollably. Norman let out a little squeal before he reached the bottom of the rail, because he saw where he was heading. At the bottom of the rail was one of the large wheeled trash cans the workers were using to collect leaves. With no way to stop, Norman closed his eyes as he flew off the rail and landed in the trash can, neatly folded in half with both his arms and legs sticking out of the top of the can.
The trash can began rolling with the momentum that Norman had picked up. Norman had absolutely no control over where it was going. It proceeded along the sidewalk and down a hill. Picking up speed, Norman began to realize not only the danger he was in, but the danger to others. He started to hear people yelling at each other to get out of the way. He felt a bump and then heard what sounded like a squirrel moaning. A few students even threw trash into the can as it sped by.
Norman was pretty sure that whatever good fortune he had built up was being flushed right down the drain. This became even more clear when he head someone yell “Vanessa! Get out of the way!” Vanessa turned around just in time for the trashcan to crash into her. Vanessa, the trash can, and Norman fell over in a tangle of arms, legs, books, leaves, paper wads, and two empty Coke cans.
It took Norman a few seconds to gather himself. He was dizzy and in pain. When he looked beside him and saw Vanessa lying on the sidewalk, that pain tripled. He immediately stood up and started muttering apologies. “I’m so sorry! I couldn’t stop! Are you all right? Are you hurt? Are you single? I mean…are you all right?”
It took a moment, but Vanessa slowly sat up. She looked up and saw a very nervous Norman stretching out his hand to help her up. Despite the throbbing in her foot and the scratch on her head, this made her smile. She accepted Normans outstretched hand and pulled herself up. It was the first time that Norman had really gotten to look at he up close. She was taller than he was, with dark black hair that cascaded halfway down her back. She was wearing a pair of wrangler jeans and boots. Norman stared at her for a moment, then realized he was staring. He mumbled something about helping her and bent over to pick up her things. He started reaching for her books and noticed where she had dropped a hat. A cowgirl hat. He picked it up, more out of curiosity than anything. Vanessa reached over to take it from him, lightly brushing his fingers when she did. Norman had to fight against passing out he became so light-headed. Vanessa put the hat on and Norman almost passed out again. He had never been bug on the whole country look, but it worked perfectly with Vanessa. Realizing that he was staring again, Norman started to stammer. “I’m….uh…my name is…uh…what’s my name again?”
Vanessa laughed lightly. “Hello, Norman. My name is Vanessa.” She held out her hand for him to shake. Before he even knew what he was doing, Norman took Vanessa’s hand and kissed it. As soon as he realized what he had done, Norman dropped Vanessa’s hand and lifted his head up, prepared to be slapped. When no slap was forthcoming, he opened his eyes and looked at Vanessa. She was blushing.
Norman knew that he needed to say something, but he wasn’t sure what. “I…uh….well…what was my name again?”
Vanessa smiled that smile once again. “I have been wanting to talk to you for so long, but I never seemed to find the opportunity. I was wondering if you might be available on Friday night for a date?” Norman heard the words, but it took him a minute to realize that he wasn’t the one saying them. In fact, Vanessa was asking him out.
Vanessa seemed to know that there was no way that Norman would be able to answer. The chances that he could put together a syllable, much less an entire sentence, were pretty much nil. She wrote her address and phone number on a small piece of paper. She placed it in his hand and whispered as she walked past. “Pick me up at seven, please.”
Norman never knew that she had left. The shock had been too much for him. A few second after she had walked by Norman finally passed out, falling back into the trash can and continuing to roll, much like Norman, to destinations unknown.

I want to step away from the world of writing as a subject for the blog this time. In fact, I think that we all need to step away from our departmented worlds for a moment. We need to take time to step away from the world of writing, or of music, or of games, or of sports, or of any of the hundreds of specialized areas that we have cocooned ourselves up in. I think that it is vital that we step away from these things and spend some time back in the regular, good old-fashioned, shared-by-everyone world.
When I was a kid I used to watch reruns of the show Laugh In. They used to have a weekly segment called the Fickle Finger of Fate. Well, today’s social media, communications technologies, and other forms of interaction have made the Finger of Fate more fickle than ever. Everyone has an opportunity to stand in the spotlight. It doesn’t matter what type of activity or hobby or profession that you are a part of, you can find a community now that focuses on it. Once you find that community, that comfort zone, you have the opportunity to stand out. You have the opportunity to have a spotlight on you for something that, just a decade or two ago, may not have received any attention at all. We live in a time where each person truly does have an opportunity to have their fifteen minutes of fame. That is a great thing…when taken in measured doses. Unfortunately, when have humans ever been known for doing things in measured doses? When we find something that we like, want, or enjoy, we indulge, often to excess.
The spotlight is addictive. Who doesn’t enjoy receiving accolades or appreciation for what they do? Even those that consider themselves to be introverts appreciate being recognized for their accomplishments. I doubt that anyone really grows out of the high school mentality of wanting to be with the “in” crowd. In today’s society, you get that opportunity more than ever. I like that. I was never part of the “in” crowd myself (I know that will come as a shock!), but I have had the opportunity to stand in a spotlight once or twice, no matter how small. It is intoxicating. It is a rush. It is an amazing sense of accomplishment that everyone should have the opportunity to experience and enjoy. It is also temporary. This is where things become tough. This is what takes us out of the real world and has many of us isolating ourselves in our more comfortable specialized worlds, trying to stay in that spotlight as long as possible.
The thing is, a spotlight is meant to be temporary. We should never be seeking out a permanent state of celebrity. By its very nature, a spotlight makes us think about ourselves. Good. Everyone needs to take care of themselves. Everyone needs to find pride in themselves. A spotlight certainly helps you do that. Unfortunately, if you stay in your spotlight too long, you start to forget that there is a real world outside of your specialized one. You want to stay in your specialized world more and more because the longer you are there, the more obscure you feel in the real world. Dealing with the real world becomes more and more difficult. After a while, some people stop trying to deal with the real world and spend as much time as they can in their specialized world. The world where they are still in the spotlight. The world where they feel like they matter.
The trick is to understand that while the “real world” may not shine a spotlight on you as much as your specialized world, you have a much bigger impact on it. No matter what the situation you are living in is, there are people that depend on you. There are people that look up to you. There are people that want your attention not because of some special ability that you have, but because you are who you are. In the real world, you are still in someone’s spotlight. It may not seem as bright as the spotlight in your specialized world, but it is the brightest light that they can shine, and it never turns off.
Push away from the keyboard. Turn off the game. Stop playing the sport. Whatever it is that you do in your specialized world, step away from it for a minute. Look around. See the world not only by looking at it, but also by seeing how it looks at you. There are always spotlights on you here. Don’t try to be your own reality show. Instead, make sure that you’re spending enough time in reality. Your world awaits.

I know that as a writer I should tell other writers that the only way to help your writing is to read, then write, then repeat the cycle to improve. There is a reason that formula is used so often: it works. However, we are in a changing time with new technologies and possibilities around every corner, so I would like to entertain new concepts that could open your mind to new possibilities. In today’s vlog, I point out that the new public fad of binge watching can actually help you to develop your story and characters. It is all about opening your mind to new possibilities and stimuli.

Everyone wants to find a way to relax. Let’s face it, this is a high-stress culture that we live in. Of course, some hobbies can cause more stress than they relieve. Sometimes writing is one of those hobbies. Everyone loves coming up with a story, but revising it, rewording it, gauging people’s interest in it can bring about a huge stress load. So how do you relax with writing? That’s the subject of this week’s vlog.

https://youtu.be/8f62IF0zGpo

Leave comments on how you use writing to relieve stress!

This week I decided to take a moment to speak about motivation for writers. We all want to write the next great book, but finding the time and energy to sit down and do it can be a pretty difficult thing. If you have a career outside of writing, that will take up a lot of your time. If you have a family, that is going to take up more of your time (and rightfully so!), and any other hobbies plus the daily requirements of life will take up a big chunk of time. How do you make yourself sit down and write when so much else is fighting for your attention? Well, I point out two things that work for me on today’s vlog and I would love to hear what else works for you. In case you don’t have the time to spare to watch (although I think you should! You never know what you’re missing!), one of my motivating factors is having someone who reads things as I am writing them. Knowing that someone is awaiting the next scene can be very motivating. The other is speaking with other writers online. If they are touting their successes, it tends to get those competitive juices flowing.

Enjoy the vlog, and make sure to let me know what helps convince you to make the time to sit down and write!

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(While I think that this goes without saying, I will point out that when I am referring to discipline, I am referring to logical, proportional, and constructive discipline. Abusive actions are exactly that, no matter what terms you try to couch them in, and have no place in society.)
We have all been in the store and seen the outburst. Some child is throwing a tantrum or being downright rude to their parents. The parent just sits there and says nothing or seems to respond very meekly. Even if we don’t say it aloud, most of us judge that parent in our minds as weak and unable to establish the proper family roles. Well, I’m here to tell you that…you’re probably right. However, I say that not in harsh judgement to those parents, but in sympathy for their thoughts.

Why are so many of us frightened of disciplining our children? No, this is not some diatribe about political correctness run amok or some perfect parent looking down his nose at others. As I have mentioned before, I still do not consider myself a “father,” but instead a “father-in-training.” I only have one child, and, no, his behavior isn’t perfect. Obviously, I have no great standing from which to judge others. What I do have are experiences and the ability to empathize with different situations. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think that they shouldn’t change, but I at least know why they started. I love my son more than anything. Everything that I do at all times of the day is for him. I know that is typical of parents. It is part of our biology. Unfortunately, that has created a situation in modern society where we are afraid to discipline our children.

The problem goes something like this: today’s society is so fast-paced that every moment of our day is precious. Any disruption of the daily routine can bring about a string of problems that adds to our stress and we often do not have the time or means to deal with that extra stress. Having to deal with a child’s misbehavior is one of those disruptions. For example, my wife and I are very strict with how much and how often our son is allowed to play video games. Because of this, he values that video game time greatly. If he misbehaves in a way that calls for it, we take that video game time away from him. When that happens, it can create a disruption in our routine in which we must make certain that he does not violate that punishment and that he has things to do to fill in that time (yes, that includes outside play and reading, which he already does a lot of). This prevents me from being able to focus on other things that I need to do that day and it is a ripple effect. In the end, I think the discipline can cause more difficulty for me than it can for my son. There is also the fact that, no matter what we tell them, every parent cares if their child is angry at them. As adults, we can distinguish between liking and loving someone. Children can’t. So when a child is angry at you and yells that they don’t love you, they really mean that they don’t like you at the moment…but that knowledge doesn’t make it hurt any less. I am very fortunate that I haven’t run into this with my son, but I dread the day when it might happen.

The solution? Well, some parents end up using the solution that you see in the store. When disciplining their child is more of a punishment to the parent, they simply don’t discipline the child. While some of us may see the disruptive child as a horrible disruption, it is less of a disruption to that parent than the discipline might be. It is a short-term solution to the problem that works…in the short-term. The real solution is one that is hard to accept. If the discipline of the child is more of a punishment for the parent, the parent just needs to accept that punishment. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. You are going to have to accept the difficulties. We all say that we would die for our children. What we need to do is show that we will stress for them. The discipline will make your life difficult for a while, but the first time that you see your child make the right decision on their own, it is worth it. If you are upset by your child’s reaction to your discipline, go to their room after they are asleep, kiss their forehead, and tell them that you love them. They won’t hear it, but you will. Trust me, it helps. Make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Be logical and proportional in your discipline, but discipline your child. Remember when your parents said “This hurts me more than it does you?” They were right. Thank them for it.