Friday, September 30, 2016

The Significance of Breakthroughs

Disclaimer: I have a passionate love for GIFs, so I’m going to use a few from Monsters Inc. to help me along in this post. You don’t mind, do you? *wink*

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Do you have a story that you feel like you’ve been working on for the last three decades? Does this particular story tend to get stuck, or act like a rebellious child, until all you want to do is hunt around the internet for pictures of celebrities who look like your characters while you cry into a bowl of ice cream and wait to hear the fleeting wing-beats of inspiration's approach?

Me too.

However, sometimes, we get these things that I call breakthroughs. They can be really big, or really small scale. (And I mean really small scale. However small, it still counts). For example, I was thinking two nights ago about a story I’ve been working on for around five years now.

Five years.

You can imagine how frustrated I get sometimes when it just. won’t. do. anything.

But I found myself in kind of a dark mood, at this moment two nights ago. I’d woken up to a breezy morning that wafted grey clouds overhead and sent a chill gusting inside before I slowly closed the door with a huge grin on my face. (I’m a November baby, so I can’t help but love fall weather). The day stayed overcast and a bit dreary, and I found myself curled up on the couch at the end of it, probably around eleven o’clock that night, with my laptop open, trying to conjure up something to write about. Something substantial. You can only write so many fluffy scenes in a story that’s not moving before you start itching to get to the meaty stuff.

So there I was, a little frustrated and depressed, my face pale in the glow of my laptop screen. I stared at my Word document, fingers poised to type, earbuds silent in my ears. Nothing happened, so I decided to turn on some music.

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, music and writing are totally connected, practically inseparable. It was a song that inspired my first book at age twelve. Ever since then, I’ve had at least one song, if not a whole playlist, to go with every story I’ve dreamed up. Some of these songs contain lyrics, and some are movie soundtrack music. Some are even movie trailer music (which I will probably write a post about at a later time because I love movie trailers and their music, for reasons).

In this instance, I went to YouTube and pulled up the extended music from one of the trailers of The Hunger Games (which you can listen to here). It’s eerie, with a music box-like melody that builds into a quiet, bittersweet piano-y moment in the middle, then it’s back to the heart-pounding stuff until the end.

So I did the writer thing. I turned the music on and closed my eyes and tried to get into some kind of zone. The zone is never a guarantee – I’ve done this countless times, with countless songs, and it usually doesn’t produce much in the way of breakthroughs.

But sometimes it does.

Breakthroughs, I’ve realized, often come from a compilation of the right amount of desperation, moodiness, music, and sugary, coffee-infused beverages. (At least, that’s how it works for me). Because I experienced a sudden jolt of realization as I was sitting there, imagining little bits and scenes from my story with the music. This realization happened to be something pretty significant to the plot, which is huge for me, because plot is what I struggle with most. I realized a way to get my two main characters where they needed to be, via another character that I hadn’t thought much about before.

So, upon realizing that I’d had a tiny little breakthrough in this stubborn plot, I felt like this:

The next night, I was thinking about this new plot development and what all I could do with it, what doors it might open. As I was pondering, a second realization occurred to me, this one about my protagonist. I read once that every character in your story needs to have some kind of secret (much like they have to want something). I’ve never been into keeping secrets myself, so it hasn’t been a priority for my characters. But.

The realization of the night before led to the second realization that I could now give my protagonist a secret that would affect him, and his relationships with the people around him. It would deepen the story, just a tad. 

And this was basically my reaction, which you're free to interpret however you'd like:

That’s what a breakthrough is. Breakthroughs are those moments where something occurs to you about your story and you realize there’s hope for it. You know, even if it takes you a fourth decade, that you can finish this thing.

Live for the breakthroughs. Write for the breakthroughs. Embrace and apply them when they come.

You’ve got this.

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Are you stuck waiting for a breakthrough in a writing project right now? Have you found any ways to inspire breakthroughs in your writing? I’d love to hear from you!


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Being Intentional

I’ve been checking out a church plant on my college campus recently, and today’s sermon was about discipleship. Discipleship is a big, church-y word that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, perhaps in the way that talking to a psychologist does: nobody really wants to meet one-on-one with somebody solely to spill all their problems.

However, that’s not what discipleship is.

Discipleship is about gaining wisdom from someone who has accumulated more dark moments, more experiences with grace, and more stories of overcoming than you have. And not only that, but discipleship is a two-way street: while you’re reaching up for wisdom, you should also be offering the other hand down to those following in your footsteps, looking up to you.

That being said, I want to talk about being intentional.

With the rise of social media and busy lifestyles has come the fall of face-to-face interaction. Dinner tables have been replaced with on-the-go meals or shifted closer to electrical outlets so people can surf the internet while they eat. Phone calls to old friends have been replaced by Facebook profile stalking. Instead of finishing a book before bed, kids and teens scroll through their Instagram feed, unknowingly waking up their brain instead of shutting it down for the night.

I only say these things because I am completely, utterly, and entirely guilty of them myself. 

I’ve done some things differently though, lately. Small things, but they're bigger steps for me, being an introvert. I took a friend up on the suggestion of meeting him for coffee to finish a conversation, rather than us typing through Facebook about it. I’ve been meeting out-of-town and new college friends for lunch. And instead of sending my friend a text for her birthday, I dropped by her house, not even sure if she’d be there. (Thank goodness, she was, and it was so good to see her).

This has really been on my mind lately, and the lesson about discipleship this morning drove the point home. We need to be intentional about our relationships with others. The issue of being unable to find the time to spend with friends and family must be tossed aside. If we wait for the perfect time for anything in our lives, we’ll miss every opportunity. There is no perfect time. There is only the present, and we’re called to make the most of it with the people we love and care about, the people we can invest in, and the people who invest in us.

We were designed for relationships, and in a time where so many friendships are based on a certain amount of likes or shares, there’s no better time to start being intentional about them. Intentional, meaning, meeting a friend for more than just a chat. Taking a swig of coffee for strength before delving into life’s issues, small talk cast aside, with someone you trust. Being able to watch them react, mirror their smirk, notice how they tilt their head when what they’re telling you about themselves makes them uncomfortable. Or even just being able to laugh with someone. After all, laughter is the best medicine.

It’s time to start making time for what’s important. We need to disciple, and be discipled, even if that means nothing more than helping an older friend do laundry while they talk to you about their journey through life, so you can soak up the wisdom. It doesn’t have to be a heart-to-heart; it just needs to be intentional, patient, and honest.

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How are you going about strengthening the relationships in your life? Are there any relationships in particular that you could pursue more intentionally? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!


Saturday, September 24, 2016


Life is about trying.

Every day, I get up and I try to act like I woke up on the right side of the bed. I try to keep my heavy eyes open. I try to shower without falling back to sleep standing up. I try to say my morning prayers before I let myself get on Instagram.

Every day, I try to be half the person that I know I’m meant to be. I try to be kind, I try to be loving, gracious, compassionate, courageous. I try to be fierce, to live up to the standards that I set for myself.

I try, every day, not to repeat the mistakes of yesterday.

I try to spend time intentionally with real people, face-to-face, not through a pixelated screen.

I try to be myself, laugh hard, forget that my hair is messy, and savor the smiles from friends and even strangers.

I try to follow up with people, to keep promises, to answer texts and emails. I try to look up when all I want to do is watch my shoes scuff against the hot September asphalt. I try, again and again, to put others before myself, to be the first to offer smiles and handshakes and hugs and hold doors open.

I try not to worry.

I try to keep in touch.

I try to write every day.

I try to pray like I should.

But here’s the catch: I fail, and I fail a lot. Like the Israelites of the Old Testament, I fall, get back up (often with necessary help), dust myself off, fall again. Like a stuck record, a song on repeat. Some (read: many) nights, my inability to better my own habits beats me down and I crouch beside my bed, sigh a lackluster prayer asking for help and forgiveness, and fade off wishing I could have an extra ten hours in my night just to sleep.

Then I wake up without that extra ten hours, and the cycle continues for another day.

There’s something to it, though. The trying.

It says that, even though you inevitably fall, you’re willing to put forth an effort and do your best. You’re willing to ask for forgiveness, dust yourself off, and start over. You be the best you can be, knowing that you’re incapable of being perfect, and you press on anyway.

You don’t give up.

That is fierceness.

I think fierceness manifests itself in people who believe they’re incapable of something and try anyway, no matter the risk or result. Fierceness stems from desperation, from a desire to put forth all you have in order to succeed.

In life, we’re called to be fierce, even if that means that all we can do is try, day by day.

Smile at yourself in the mirror when you wake up. Maybe even grin, or laugh, because today is a day to try and fail and rest assured in knowing that you can always try again.

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Is this something you struggle with, living life as if on repeat? If so, have you found any ways to stay encouraged and motivated? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.