Wednesday, December 30, 2015

To Do or Not To Do--That is the New Year Question

New Year Resolutions? Not this year. Oh, sure, I still have goals for 2016. I have a list of new habits I hope to form and old ones I hope to leave behind. Some are personal. Like getting in shape physically. That one always makes the list.

I recently read up on the Pareto Principle –sometimes known as the 80/20 Principle. The basic premise is that 20% of our time and resources yields 80% of our reward. Or something like that. It’s about working smarter. It’s about putting effort into what works. I get it.

Writing is my business. It’s what I do. If I truly view it that way then I need to examine how to be more productive. Looking at the 80/20 Principle has led me to a new take on forming New Year’s resolutions. I call it my “To-Do and Not-To-Do” list. It is based on how I spend my time and what that means in my life.

To do, or not to do….that is the question. For example, social media is a great way to connect with friends and family, but it can suck away precious time from my day. Television can be a great form of entertainment. A good movie or an old Perry Mason…yeah, I like that stuff. But if I turn it on for “house noise” or even to catch the news, I later find myself staring at some mindless reality program or game show. Or worse yet, flipping through channels trying to “find something “ to watch. What a waste of time!

So here is my list:

Do connect with my family and friends on social media; Don’t spend more than an hour during the day doing it.

Do write every weekday; Don’t stress over which project gets attention—feel free to work on multiple projects at a time (I get stressed when I lock my self into one idea).

Do watch television on occasion for entertainment; Don’t have the television on for noise.

Do read a book a week; Don’t forget to leave a review.

Andoh yes…the everlasting goal:

Do eat right and exercise; Don’t con myself into thinking fast food is one of the four food groups.

What’s on your “do and don’t do” list?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

Joy to the World!

I’ve been thinking about the message of hope we seek in what we call the Christmas story. The real story of hope is not that a baby was born in a manger. The real story is that God came to earth so that our relationship to Him—our relationship with Him could be restored.

"Peace on earth, good will to men."

We read daily of wars and shootings –of evil slinking through our streets and attacking us from all sides. We see our leaders in government making poor decisions to save seats in congress and our judges appointed by presidents making unilateral decisions for us all without our voice.

We quiver and cringe. Peace on earth? We shake our heads and sadly whisper, “Not here.”

But Peace did come to earth and His name is Jesus.
Not the peace perhaps as we would have designed it. Not a peace that blankets the earth like a soft white snow on Christmas. We probably would have made peace look like a Disney movie with singing and birds flitting about and all of God’s creatures living in perfect harmony.

Peace came to earth and lives in the hearts of those who seek Him. We choose Peace.

Jesus came to take on himself all of the evil and pain caused by the wrongs we have done. What we call the Christmas story is really only the beginning of what is the Easter story.

The Easter story. A story of a love so deep and a longing so intense that God’s own son dies in my stead. A story of God forgiving me of the poor decisions I’ve made. A story of God bringing me true Peace. And His name is Jesus.

If you do not have that relationship with God; if you do not know that Peace—the Peace that is beyond our understanding, I urge you to seek God out. Seek to know Jesus. He will not hit you over the head like a bolt of lightning. You have to seek Him.

Read His words.
Get to know His people.
Talk to Him.
Listen to Him.
Seek Him and you will find His Peace.

And remember these words spoken by Jesus and recorded in the book of John (chapter 14, verse 27):

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Candle

Our honeymoon was a brief stay on a beach in Florida. Not as spectacular for us as you might think since we lived just across the state. He was nineteen and I was eighteen. We thought we were pretty grown up. We weren’t. We grew together over time, learning about life and love and balancing college and work. Eventually, we learned about parenting and trusting God with our daily lives. But all of that is another story.

This Christmas I Spend With You
The song was old. I don’t remember where I first heard it. The lyrics were something like, “Mark this holiday; mark it well. Note how perfectly right it fell. All my wishes at last have come true, because this Christmas I spend with you.”

I could look up the words if I wanted to, but they may be different than I remember and I don’t want to spoil the mood.

We were married one week before Christmas. The pianist couldn’t find the music to that special song, so we had her play “The Twelfth of Never,” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Tom sang the Christmas song to me. Just me. On our honeymoon. “Mark this holiday; mark it well…”

For my gift, Tom bought me a wedding candle. I gave him cufflinks. Our mothers lit the candle that Saturday night in December at our wedding. We burned the candle every anniversary. I don’t know what happened to the cufflinks.

The candle was supposed to last for twenty-five years. We lit it every December on our anniversary. It burned as we ate dinner. We would dance in the candlelight. We took it with us when our anniversary was celebrated on a ski trip in Colorado or when we traveled to see our parents over the holidays. We never missed a year of lighting our special candle.

Our Candle with Pics from our Wedding
 and the weddings of our girls.
But a strange thing happened. It never burned down. A little maybe… but, not very much. We passed the twenty-five year mark, then the thirty. The candle was still tall as we crossed the forty-year line and showed no signs of melting away to nothingness. Forty-one, forty-two. We joked about it. We said it would last eighty more years.

And then early in November, just weeks before our forty-third anniversary I burned it for six hours one night and another hour the next morning. A thousand people witnessed it. It still stood tall. But that morning; that sun drenched November morning when I blew it out, I followed the Hearst to the cemetery and buried the only man I ever loved.

Yes, perhaps I was a bit melancholy when I first wrote this story of our candle, but I cherish the gift I had in being Tom’s wife. I treasure the forty-three years we celebrated life together. I’m fully aware there are people who can’t lay claim to even forty-three months of a happy marriage. Recently, someone asked me if I continue to burn the candle on my anniversary. I don’t. Surely one day my children will burn it to nothingness and celebrate the fact that I’ve joined Tom…that together, we are experiencing joy beyond measure in the presence of Jesus.

Now that’s cool.

To give to the Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship Fund, follow this link and use the "Make a Gift" button on the right. On the form, use the drop down feature on the box to direct your gift to the Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship: Thank you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Gearing Up: A New Year's a Comin'

Gear up!
Put things in motion!
Get in tune with your writing!

Those are the “cheerleading words” I say to myself this time of year.

The New Year will soon be upon us. In a few weeks many of us will draft a list of resolutions –resolving to change bad habits or create new good ones. The purpose of this post is to help think through appropriate writing goals for 2016.

Consistency Trumps Fits and Starts
One of the best habits to develop this year is to write on a consistent basis. Some people think they write best “when the mood hits” them. Mood is important, but writing on a regular basis goes a long way to summon the mood.

Let me offer an example of what I mean. When I was working on my Masters thesis, I lugged my notebooks and file folders around wherever I went so that I could work on the writing of the manuscript when the chance arose or my mood to “dig in” hit me. I did a lot of lugging and very little writing. One day, I came across an article written by a doctoral student working to completing his dissertation. In order to get it finished, he set “office hours” and gave himself permission to have a life outside of the office.

My “office” at the time was a desk set up in our spare bedroom with a monstrous desktop computer on it. I shared the computer with my husband and children, so my office hours needed to fall sometime between midnight and six. Yeah, right.

I took the concept to heart, though. My middle daughter was a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra at the time. They practiced for two hours every Sunday. Two hours every Sunday. I could do that. I settled in with my documents, my data, a notepad, and pen, every Sunday. I was amazed at how much I could accomplish in those two hours. Enthusiasm for my thesis grew.

Encouraged by the minimal progress, I “found” time to type in what I had drafted on Sundays. Soon I was writing three pages a day, five days a week. Every evening after the kids were in bed, I sat down to write. Even if I trashed some of what I wrote later, I became disciplined to write consistently. It paid off.  I know it did, because I have the degree to prove it.

The point is this: Even if all you can give to your writing is an hour on Sunday afternoons or a commitment to fifteen minutes every morning after breakfast, your writing will take on a life of its own and you will reach your goal.

Support Helps Keep You Up
Duh…but of course I’m not talking about a crutch. I’m talking about a foundation. You may have naysayers in your life. You know, those people who treat your desire to write as a “phase” or hobby. The ones who don’t want to listen to your latest draft or have too much going on to help you brainstorm an idea. This is why you need other writers—likeminded people who are on the same path. Where do you find that kind of support? You can join a writing group, create a writing group, find an online group or even find one other person you know who also wants to write. You will be surprised at how interactions with other writers will catapult your writing career and help you reach your goals.

I am a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). The organization offers online support and critique groups as well as free Webinars aimed at improving my writing. In addition, I enjoy face-to-face interactions with members of my local chapter.

I’m also a member of a dynamic group of writers called 10 Minute Novelists. In that group, I can get help with any question I have regarding my work in progress, attend online chats via Facebook or Twitter, and interact with writers around the world. And yes, you can join 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook as well. It’s free.

New Year, New Dog, New Tricks
Oh, yes, education. Learning something new. We all need it. Writing is one of those occupations where there is always something new to discover. It may be learning a new story structure or how to implement a point of view you haven’t employed in the past. Maybe it means studying character development or ways to portray differing emotions your character experiences.
You could go to school to learn more about creative writing –a community college course or something. Maybe. You could also visit your local library and check out a book to read or read a copy of Writer’s Digest from cover to cover. Pick a topic and research it on the internet. The new year will soon be here. Choose a course of action to learn more about this craft of writing and determine a way to accomplish it.

I don’t share these ideas from a distance. These are the very steps I’m taking to gear up for the new year. Here is what it looks like for me:
  • Write two hours every morning after my breakfast and Bible reading
  • Attend my chapter meetings and engage in my online group. And this year, I’m working with someone at church to offer a writing workshop/critique group for members
  •  Learn what I can about independent publishing for Amazon. I want to complete a short book of stories about my husband and make them available on Amazon. I want to publish this independently because I want all proceeds to go to the scholarship fund set up in his name.

Thank you to all who have already given. And for those of you who want to offer an end-of-the-year tax deductible donation…follow this link and be sure to use the drop down tab to direct your gift to the Thomas R. Waters Memorial Scholarship Fund: 

So what are your goals? What is ONE step you plan to take this new year? Share your ideas in the comment section. Reading what you plan to do will help others.