Posts tagged Writing
Sitting in my bed Sunday night, I could no longer hold back my sobs. Tears flowed from my eyes, more like a raging river than a stream. My whole body shook. The emotional pain was a ocean so deep, I thought I might drown.
Sometimes it can seem easier to numb ourselves than allow ourselves to feel the depth of our own sorrows. We live in a world that offers us an endless array of ways to detach from our own human experience much of which is negative. Easy fixes.
For example, why would you ever want to feel the anguish of a bitter divorce when they can distract from those difficult emotions with the instant gratification of endless hours of Farmville instead. Why feel lonely when you can zone out in front of the television all evening. When you can mpathize with the sorrows of fictional characters instead of paying attention to your own. What else do the advertisements for alcohol and other substances teach us than to forget our problems? Hard day? Forget it with a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, or a cigarette. If we can’t feel happy all the time well then at least we can feel a little more numb, right?
For much of the last two years and in a way for most of my life, I’ve been operating under this assumption that emotional pain is to be avoided at all cost. For years I’ve been avoiding it subconsciously, not realizing what I was doing . So I’d stay up half the night talking online to perfectly nice people from across the globe I barely knew rather than facing a dark bedroom where the pain of a traumatic event might slip in through the shadows. Better to sit in the false light of energy saving bulbs than think about things that were just too painful to consider. And yet at the same time I’ve been on a journey to find a better way. Sunday night I found it.
As I completed a call with my best friend who has recently moved to Texas, I found myself getting more and more lonely and distraught. That normally would have cued me to immediately get on my computer to do something to distract me. That night was different. I decided to do an experiment. I would let myself just feel what I was feeling and see what would happen. Instead of shutting my emotions down or off, I welcomed those troubling feelings, letting them flow thorugh me on every level. I started to journal my emotions to help me both delve in and get it out of my head. But even still I felt so alone in my suffereing, it was nearly unbearable.
Then, after 10 or so minutes, the most amazing thing happened: I started to feel better not worse, and I started to feel God’s love wrapping its arms around me. I began to feel grateful for those painful feelings, because I finally started to see what was on the other side of experiencing them completely. On the otherside was peace and relief, even hope. In my journal I wrote:
Sometimes I guess I just need to let myself feel how deep my sadness goes. I wish I had someone to hold me right now. I’ve gone through so much. Over and over again. And the trauma doesn’t seem to go away. I change. My mood changes, but something in me stays with the trauma and mostly I deny myself the ability to feel what I’m gong through. But through it all there’s the sweetness of the Spirit of God. It it warm and comforting and I feel wrapped in it, it gives me permission it feel these things. To put my toe in the deep abyss of my heartache.
I know He [Christ] can heal me in ways I cannot heal myself. It takes time. It takes patience and faith and more faith. I sometimes don’t know the answer of who to be. But Christ has the answer, even if I’m not ready to receive it. […] Life is so hard sometimes. Emotions are so overwhelming sometimes. I am reaching for the light that only Christ can offer. He, and only He, is the Prince of Peace, the one who can bring me calm waters to my soul. It amazes me how deep His love for me is. How He is willing to hold all my suffering even now and again and again. Even though he bore it all already. He is always there to bear by burdens.
At the end of the day, on some level it is still easier to just numb myself, but I’m learning how that isn’t the way to feel true relief. There is so much better on the other side of our sorrows if we just let ourselves feel and endure them for a little while. Sometimes you have to go through a dark and treacherous swamp to reach the castle, and sometimes you have to sob to feel peace.
A balloon slowly twirls in the corner of my room in the ICU. “Get Well Soon!” it proclaims, in its bubbly font pastered on a backdrop of a smiling kite floating above smiling flowers.
I am grateful to have it cheering up the overwise sterile and dull place I’ve called my home-away-from-home five times in the last year alone. I am grateful to my thoughtful friend who brought it when she visited several days ago. But the truth is life doesn’t fit neatly into phrases we so often use to comfort our loved ones when a major life trial afflicts them. For me, “Get Well Soon” is a lie. I won’t be well soon. Yes, I’ll recover from this hospitalization, but I live with several serious chronic illnesses that will most likely sent me back to the hospital again. When “getting well soon” isn’t possible, the challenge is to find insight, peace, and even gratitude in my situation.
I firmly believe that we are faced with trials on this earth, so that we can learn lessons we couldn’t learn any other way. Through my illness I’ve learned patience, compassion for other’s trials, and trust that my suffering is all for a purpose and even brings blessings. Nothing would have taught me patience, for example, quite like waiting through seemingly endless and prolonged hospitalizations. I couldn’t have learned to have as much compassion, had I not suffered myself and felt the pain and loneliess of chronic illness.
I have even found blessings in my trials with chronic illness. As I was forced to adapt and find new interests, I discovered my passion for writing novels, my love of web and graphic design, and, most importantly, my faith in Christ when I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. All these things came to be in my life directly as a result of my chronic illnesses. They have blessed me in more ways than I can number, and especially blessed me with a sense of a life calling, purpose, and knowledge that I am not alone. Realizing these blessings give me insight into the person my trials are helping me to become, a person I couldn’t have learned to be without these trials.
Knowing that trials have brought me great blessings fills my life with peace, purpose, and meaning. And I am grateful for the role of trials in my life to make me a better person. I am grateful for the ability to bless the lives of others that I learned from these trials. I am grateful for my testimony of a loving Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ, that I’ve learned from experiences I’ve had being sick.
As I look to the bigger picture, I see the role these trials play in becoming the best person I ultimately can be. I may not “Get Well Soon”, but as I look beneath the harsh surface of life with multiple serious chronic illnesses, I’ve come to recognize that, on many levels, things are already “well” with my life. And as I strive to find insight, peace, and gratitude in the face of my trials, all will be well.
Self-publishing is a big industry right now. Which means big money. Not necessarily for authors but for companies who sell self-publishing services to authors wanting to self-publish. One contender, Balboa Press has been calling my cell phone every month or so. Writers Beware!
A class action complaint has been filed against Balboa Press’s parent company, Author Solutions, for its sketchy dealings that are bringing in the big bucks. The class action complaint breaks it down:
4. Author Solutions’ revenues are estimated at $100 million per year. Of the $100 million Author Solutions earns as revenue, approximately one third of that amount, or $33 million annually, comes from book sales. The rest of its revenue is derived from the services it offers, such as editorial services, formatting and design services, production services, and marketing services (“Services”).
5. Despite its impressive profits from book sales, Author Solutions fails at the most basic task of a publisher: paying its authors their earned royalties and providing its authors with accurate sales statements.
6. Author Solutions also fails to take diligent care of its authors’ works, making numerous and egregious publisher errors — errors made by the publisher, not the author. These errors include errors on book covers, in addition to various typographical and formatting errors. In fact, Author Solutions profits from its own mistakes. Aggressive sales techniques ensure that these errors are corrected only for a fee of several hundred dollars. Even though, as a matter of policy, Author Solutions promises to correct publisher errors for free, it rarely does.
7. Most of Author Solutions’ earnings are derived from its publishing and marketing Services. These Services, which can cost authors tens of thousands of dollars, likewise fail to deliver what they promise: more book sales and more opportunities for authors.
8. Therefore, even while Defendant Author Solutions prominently markets itself on its website as “[t]he leading indie publishing company in the world,” authors often discover, once it is too late, that Author Solutions is not an “indie publisher” at all. It is a printing service that fails to maintain even the most rudimentary standards of book publishing, profiting not for its authors but from them.
The apple doesn’t land far from the tree. I’ve had a pretty shady experience with Balboa Press so far. I’ve checked them out and everything I’ve read indicates they are ripping off their own customers. If you want a prime and horrific example look no further than this author’s experience:
The illustrative sketches and colorization were a disaster. It was apparent that there was a problem with adherence to the RAD/character description form. Pictures that were provided, or the coinciding text (page number and line number) from the manuscript provided to aid the illustrator were obviously ignored or subjectively reviewed. It was so evident, to the point where I was wondering if anyone bothered to read, or if they even couldread the RAD form. There was clearly no oversight of the illustrator’s work before remittance to me. I had continued to write, please call if you have any questions…
After months of inexcusable errors, it was apparent the Art Director, or whomever, did not adhere to “set up an artist that best suits your project.” The project was/is light, airy, and whimsical. I received “dark.” In most cases, the illustrations were sparse (not intricate detail) with no color consistency, no innovation, wrong genders, wrong race, missing or incorrect features, etc. An ancient woman was drawn as a bald-headed, old man numerous times, despite repeated pleas and request for adherence to the RAD and characterization forms. The little girl’s bed looked like a cot out of an army barracks or prison. Angel wings on a helicopter were inverted, objected to, and objections to the CIAC remained ignored – a lame excuse was offered.
My own experience with them so far has been subpar at best. They called me up and tried to rope me in by getting me excited about my novel’s potential. They told me how great my ideas were and how much I deserved to get my book out there. They wanted to help me achieve my publishing goals. All they needed was to relieve me of $999 to $7,999 of my money, and we could get started. Even if I had that kind of money lying around I wasn’t totally sold that first call. No deal.
A few months later someone else called again. But this person had no clue about me or my novel. What was my book about? No idea? Back to square one. Apparently no one at Balboa ever cares enough about what potential clients say to make any file notes. No points gained there. * Click.*
And on it went. For a few years now. (Yes really.)
Which brings me to another call today. Same thing. Starting from scratch with another clueless representative from Balboa. I wasn’t buying. *Click.*
Then I get the following email. Then it hits me. Not only did they pack this letter so full of stupid writing cliches that it reads hilariously, but they are preying on the dreams of writers’ with this letter and others like it.
Subject: Believe in Yourself
Be proud of who you are as a writer. An author’s voice is unique and no one will tell your story like you do. Don’t lose your voice. Stand out by having your own style. And your book doesn’t have to have an outrageous plot to be important. Simple can be good. Stick to who you are as a writer and your message will always hold significance.
Financial stability is a challenge nowadays. Money is something achievable but it will depend on you. It will depend on how committed you are in publishing and sharing your message to the world. Money comes and goes in life. If it is meant to be, it will happen. We can’t just wait for it to happen though. We need to do something about it. Dreaming for success is for everyone but putting it to reality is for those who are brave enough to take the next step even if there is fear of the unknown. Let us take this one step at a time.
Why make excuses when you can start your dreams? Why do nothing when you can begin something? Look, you have a lot more power within you that you’re revealing to the world. We all do. But because of distractions and interruptions and responsibility and excuses we sell to ourselves, we coast along at the same level for the best of our lives.
Only few have the guts to make A LEAP – a leap to new habits, new routines and a whole new story about their new place in the world and their service to it.
The Gandhi’s and the Mandela’s and the Zuckerberg’s and the Mozart’s were just ordinary people who had an idea, protected it from the voice of dissent, advanced it via tiny wins and got up every time they got knocked down.
You have this power too, but power unused deteriorates and potential not expressed turns to PAIN.
Now is your time to fly and to shine and to rise up. This is the day to show the world who you truly are.
I would like to assist you with your dreams. Yes, publishing will ask you to shell out money from your own pocket, but what I can assure you is that Balboa Press can expose you and your book to the rest of the world. This way you truly get to say to yourself, “I’ve done my part, let the book speak for itself now!” It is not easy to invest in something that you’re not sure of its future, but nothing is ever certain. What you can do as a writer is to invest in your dreams and believe that you can be someone that you never expected to be. Your sacrifices can result to a life changing journey if you give your book a chance.
All the best,
A DIVISION OF HAY HOUSE
[Contact Information Redacted]
This email is an advertisement.
So I’ll be staying away from Vanity Presses. There are ways to legitimately Self-Publish but using Balboa Press isn’t one of them. If they contact you, remember it is called a vanity press for a reason. They play to your vanity and emotions. I know they tried to get me that way. It’s enticing to think that the only thing standing between you and your dream is your savings. But it’s a gamble. And Balboa Press is the house that always wins. The only way to beat them at their own game is to not play.
I consider myself a very productive person. I get a lot of things done. I’ve accomplished quite a bit. I’ve written two novels, designed many websites, worked on Alternate Reality Games for organizations like the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and The World Bank, maintain an active social, family, and most importantly spiritual life. I take care of my health with doctor’s and therapy appointments, meet weekly with my writing group, craft excessively, serve in multiple church callings, and blog now and then. My plate is overflowing, so let’s just say I’m up to some big things! However, to date, I’ve managed to do all this without any significant structured planning of my time on a day to day basis. Maybe you’ll find it impressive that I’ve gone so long without any sort of a schedule or plan, just doing what seem right in the moment, as it occurs to me. That’s code for “whatever task is stressing me out the most that second”.
Enough is enough.
I decided it’s time to try Getting Things Done in a more organized way. Conveniently for me, Getting Things Done or GTD, as it’s often referred to by its adherents, is a system for just what its name implies – getting things done. It was created by David Allen, and there’re plenty of resources in other locations where you can learn more about GTD. But for a quick overview, check out this infographic:
Once I learned about this system, and with some help and advice from others, I decided to focus on creating a schedule for myself based on GTD. The idea being I would now have set “Bucket Times” to manage all the areas on my life according to the principals of GTD. But I’ll get back to Bucket Times later.
The main problem I was facing with finding a system that would work with me was finding something I could stick with. In the past systems either were so cumbersome, scheduling and planning me so rigidly that I couldn’t realistically do it long term. Or on the other hand, the systems were so vague and abstract, focusing only on broad goals that they didn’t help me commit to anything. The third category of problem systems were ones that were incomplete, only addressing certain aspects of what I needed from an organization system and leaving me feeling semi-organized but ultimately even more overwhelmed. Why? Because now I knew exactly what I needed to do but had no structures in place to help me accomplish any of it.
To address of this, I there are 4 major components to my personalized GTD system I am putting into place initially. (This is just to get started. After these are going well I will add more.)
- Identify 6-9 Major Areas of Life
- Roles and areas are the major categories of your life such as Family, School, Faith, Friends, Work, Writing etc.
- List 10 Most Pressing Tasks Under Each Major Role/Area
- Most pressing tasks are tasks that currently need to be taken for that area. For example, for Family, it might be something like “Spend time with Mom” or “Game Night.” For Work, it might be “Sign the Parsons contract” or “Return Sonya’s phone call.” Any task that has more than two steps is called a Project.
- Create A Weekly Schedule of Bucket Times To Stick To Each Week
- Bucket Times are blocks of time designated at the same time every week for completing tasks in each of your Major Areas. For example, I created Spiritual Time every evening from 10pm – 11pm. During those times I will refer to my List of Tasks for that Area of Life for to do items to complete. See the Downloads Section at the bottom of this post for an Excel template tool to help with this!
- Generate Mind-Dump Of EVERY Open Loop In Life
- Open loops are thought processes that are incomplete. They keep the mind’s inbox full when it’s most productive empty. Empty that inbox by downloading everything in it! Generate a complete list of everything, every to do, action item, task, someday task, maybe task, goal, dream ,wish, hope, plan, etc. Include everything from “Remember to pick up the milk” to “Improve relationship with Dad” to “Travel the world”. Get that mind completely empty and onto something tangible and permanent that is workable for future reference.
Once I had a plan of action, it was just a matter of putting it into place…
Starting is always easier said than done.
I needed some help getting started. So I decided to enroll someone else to do this thing with me. No, not all of you readers! My dear writing buddy who I create my day with every morning. I told her all about his idea and explained GTD to her (the Cliff Notes version). She was on board.
Over Skype, we came up with our Major Areas of Life. This is mine:
Next I began to list my lost pressing tasks under each area. I’m constantly working on my list.
Then I created a schedule by which I would process the list of tasks. But instead of a rigid list of strictly scheduled times like ones that hadn’t worked for me in the past, I am working with a schedule of Bucket Times. The beauty of Bucket Times is it structured enough in that it gives you a set time you are committed to making forward progress in an area of your life, but it is flexible enough that you still get to choose what is most expedient to do within that Area. Furthermore, the whole schedule isn’t so rigid that the whole thing risks being thrown off if you go over a few minutes. As I see it, if you get behind you are often still within your bucket time for that type of item. And even if you aren’t you can rest assured that you have more time scheduled for that item soon. So file add it to your Bucket Time list for later. Lastly, the overarching rule is that this isn’t a rigid system, meaning the operative work is: expediency.
When all else fails, do whatever is most expedient in the moment.
I am committed to using this new system for a trial of the next 3 months. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing an upswing in my productivity. And more importantly a decrease in my feelings of overwhelm at not knowing how to handle the overflowing plate that is my life. In this analogy, I’ve been eating off an overflowing plate for a long long time. Sure I’ve been digesting my food and getting nutrient, but lots of things haven’t been sitting well. GTD is a set of silverware – tools to help me eat my food, so that I can take small manageable bites and digest it easily and effectively. The schedule works like a restaurant menu (thanks Paul for that one!) with various selections for each category of food or area of my life. Some items or Tasks on the menu are more bland and others are the spice of life!
Give me a helping of work every weekday. Indulge in a double portion of friendship on weekends. A spicy side dish of romance if I’m so lucky! Pile it on my plate and enjoy a delicious, nutritious, and satisfying life!
Stay tuned for Part Two of this post series on Generating a Mind-Dump of All Your Open Loops coming soon! Get an email reminder when it comes out! Subscribe to the newsletter!
I hope you enjoy the Downloads below. The Weekly Schedule Templates for Microsoft Excel should be helpful tools for planning a schedule in the fashion described in this post. Please post comments with ideas for improvements, and I will do my best to make them.
It was well past the stroke of midnight. My room had been turned upside down, and I was ready to cry in frustration. How could I have lost a letter I’ve been waiting for 15 years to open? A letter from one person who would never forgive me if I never read it – a letter from 15 year old self. It was 2:30am on October 23, 2013, and my 30th Birthday was already turning into a disaster.
Fifteen years prior, I had watched an episode of Northern Exposure in which one of the main characters, Maggie, receives a letter from her 15 year old self on her 30th birthday. She is then haunted by her 15 year old self while she comes to terms with who she is, who she was, and who she is becoming. I watched that episode on the last day of my 15th year. I was inspired! And I had little time to lose. That night after my family had gone to sleep I got back up out of bed and spent a few hours composing this letter to myself. I poured out my soul, instilling every ounce of my being in that letter, intuitively knowing that it would be so needed in 15 years. Flash back to the wee early hours of my 30th Birthday. The letter was nowhere to be found. But sitting around feeling devastated would get me no where. There was only one course left to take. Fervent prayers were answered. Inspiration struck. I remembered a 15 year old external hard drive that might contain a digital copy of the letter – the next best thing to the physical signed copy. And there it was. Right where I left it untouched by time for 15 years. I printed it out and started to read as the tears flowed down…
To: Lauren Drew Soffer
(This letter is not to be opened until October 23, 2013.)
It has probably been quite some time since you have heard from me, at least fifteen years to be exact. I just thought that you might want to hear from your fifteen-year-old self now that you are twice as old.
I try to imagine what you will be doing in your life right now. If we are anything alike then you are most likely taking a break from your incredibly busy life and something really important that you are suppose to be doing in order to read this letter. So where are you? Did you become a famous actress? Did you write a brilliant screenplay? Are you directing great movies? Or did you do something completely different?
Have you changed a lot in fifteen years? Are you closer to that idea person I am now working so hard to become? Do you still dream all of the time? I hope so. I love to dream. You remember that, don’t you? I love to occupy my hours with imaginary alternate realities of my life, present in future. Did you ever go on the Rosie O’Donnell Show like you so often dreamed? Did you ever meet Gillian Anderson? Well, it doesn’t really matter. My dreamtime is only a few steps above childish fantasies.
Well, enough with the questions I can’t get answers to. I will remind you a little bit of a little bit about me. Aside from school where, in my junior year, I am taking one honors and two AP classes, I am involved with a few (ha ha) extracurricular activities. I am the first alternate for Varsity Tennis, I really wanted to be one of the nine players on Varsity, but my serve isn’t ready yet. Next year. I hope that by the time you read this letter, you can really serve the pants off people, or at least have a good serve. Right now I am working on a Comedy Scene for the Drama Festival with Johanna Fair, Jeff Newman, Jeremy Nation, and George something or other. Jackie Luttrel is directing. We are doing the last scene from Play It Again, Sam by Woody Allen. Now that will be an old movie when you read this. Which reminds me, do they still have videotapes, audiotapes, and CD’s? Probably not. Anyway, I just tried out for our Senior Produced Winter Drama that is Love, Sex, and the IRS. I don’t think that I did that well. Only you know if I will get a part. I am also going to do Psychodrama for Advanced Peer Counseling, which is another thing I am doing. I love it. We went on out retreat together up to JCA Shalom, and it was one of the best experiences I had in a long time. I am on the grant writing committee for PC as well. Let’s see, there is also Comedy Sportz. It is one of the best things in my schedule. It is just so much fun, and I always look forward to it. I also am training Beginning Peer Councilors, going to Film Club (when it doesn’t interfere with writing the PC grant), and going to drama club. I believe that brings me to the last but not least thing on my plate, my job at temple as an assistant teacher. I have a second grade class this year, and I enjoy everything about it but getting up early on Sunday mornings. I’m pretty busy for a fifteen year old, huh? I am a little stressed over it all right now, but I enjoy doing everything so much I can’t give anything up.
So, that’s what I’m doing. Now, onto what I am like. I believe in believing. I like to think that there is still a lot in this world worth believing in. And, if the whole world keeps on believing, there will always be hope for the future. That’s another thing. I know that the young people are our future. That is why I love my job where I get to be a part of making the future. I believe that there is no greater gift you can bestow than your love. I try to give my love everyday. I’m not perfect yet, but I’m working on it. My goal is to be a person who never runs out of love to give and who is a strength and a model for those trying to be better people. And, I don’t think that my progress is going so badly. My best friend, Leslie, tells me that I am her strength. Basically all of my beliefs can be summed up in my goal for life: Before I die, I want to leave a lasting and positive impact, I want to make a difference to at least one person, I want to leave the world a little bit better than when I entered it, and I want to be a living example of love and kindness. That brings me to what I want to do with the rest of my life. I think that I am best suited to fully that goal by doing something in the entertainment industry. I think that I can really make a difference to a large number of people though work in that field. I want to act, I want to write screenplays, I want to direct, and I might want to produce (funny how my I-Search that I am working on for English is on this very topic).
Here are my other interests. In the area of television, these I the shows I watch: I watch X-Files religiously and consider myself a devoted X-Phile, I am addicted to the Simpsons (a highly intelligent and brilliant satire of society which also happens to be a hysterical cartoon), I am almost completely hooked on Ally McBeal, and I enjoy watching Inside Actor’s Studio. I must also make a note to a show I always love to see and without I wouldn’t be righting this letter right now: Northern Exposure. There was this one episode where in a flashback to 15 years earlier Maggie writes a letter to herself in thirty years. In the present, Maggie gets a hold of the letter and a whole thing plays out, but that isn’t the important part. The important thing is that I got the idea for writing this letter from the show. There are also an endless number of movies I love. One of my very favorites is The Princess Bride. But there are so many others I adore that I couldn’t name them all or I’d be here forever, however, for a dramatic piece, I liked the Piano, for a comical piece I like Forget Paris, and for one that just sticks out in my mind as being really good, I enjoyed Fried Green Tomatoes. Some of my favorite books include The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, Exodus by Leon Uris, and The Dune Chronicles by Frank Herbert.
My social life is as follows: My two best friends are Leslie Klein and Jackie Luttrel. I am closer with Leslie, but we also go through more rough spots, like the one right now, for example. I should also mention that we went to Spain together this past summer, I’m sure you didn’t forget that. I love them both to death though. I don’t know how I would possibly get through my high school life without them constantly being there for me, mostly to just let me vent. We understand each other in a very special way. They are what real friends are, or at least are the closest things to it that I have ever experienced. I also hand out with a lot of more casual, mostly drama friends. There is Johanna Fair, Blair Anderson, Jessica Yuda, Lauren Hubert, Tarren Polack, Shelby Schulman, Miriam Krikorian, and Brittany Stabile. I have especially been getting closer to Johanna lately because of Peer Counseling and the Drama Festival Scene.
Well, I guess that just about wraps it up for now. But I do want you to remember a few things. Lauren, you are an amazingly strong person. You have the power to change things in your life. Never feel like you have to settle. Remember the wisdom of the car commercial: “If everything were just good enough, would anything ever really be good enough?” Never loose hope, never stop dreaming, and never loose sight of those dreams. Don’t be afraid to make your dreams a reality. You are an incredibly talented person. You can do anything. “If you think it, want it, dream it, then it’s real. You are what you feel.” Never forget that Matt Kaplan always believed you could make it as an actress. Remember to remember what is really important in life, what makes life worth living, and place that thing above all else. Remember to spread light and to give and receive love openly. If you have forgotten any of this in the past fifteen years, then remember that it is never to late to change. Don’t forget the road less traveled by, it can make all the difference. Remember that, as Abraham Lincoln said, “People are just about as happy as they make up their mind to be.” And finally remember the great Dr. Seuss’s words from Oh, The Places You’ll Go,
“So be sure when you step
Step with care and great tact
And remember that life’s
A Great Balancing Act
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed)
Kid, you’ll move mountains.”
Lots of love,
(Fifteen Years Old)
October 22, 1999
When I finished reading the letter, I went right back to the beginning and read it again. Crying all the way though. It was so full of hope. So full of love. So full of excitement. So full of confidence. So full of wisdom, especially for a 15 year old.
Lots of things stood out to me. For instance, I did meet Gillian Anderson and I did get the part in Love, Sex, and the IRS. But what stood out to me the most was the last paragraph containing advice. It was wise beyond years and exactly what I’ve been needing to hear. In fact the one line that most stood out to me was, “If you have forgotten any of this in the past fifteen years, then remember that it is never to late to change.” That hit me really hard. And I have forgotten some of the qualities I had at 15. Namely that level of confidence I once had. I want that back. And as I said, It’ s never too late to change.
The only thing I have left to do is write another letter to my 45 year old self, but this time I need to find a way to hide somewhere more obvious. No need to go through all that stress on my 45th birthday again. Until then, I have mountains to move!
If I’ve learned anything the last 10 or so years of my life if the last decade or so, it’s to enjoy sweet moments for they are often fast and fleeting. I am learning to let go of the painful moments rather than choosing to experience their pain again and again each time the though surfaces Most importantly I discovered how to cheerish the eternal moments and divine nature of this life. It is everythihg. All that I have, With it, I never need to shrink from what lies ahead.
They say that I’f you don’t your health, then you don’t have anything. By this standard must be very poor indeed at writing from a hospital bed in the ICU. Laying here for the last five days in pain and unable to move my limbs let alone breathe without the assistance of machines, I’ve had all my blood removed, cleaned and returned to my body without any plasma five times. i’ve realized there’s a lot of ways I could be consuming my time. Or worse: letting my time consume me.
I could bask in the fleeting joy of being a a birthday party which triggered this frightening experience. Or I could be berating myself for rationalizing staying at the part once I saw that there were latex balloons everywhere since I already knew that I can react just by breathing the air around them. But I seemed find throughout the party until I got home and went to bed.
I woke up at 5am having trouble breathing. Neck and face swollen. Wheezing. It was too severe to go to my normal hospital where all my doctors are which is about an hour away from me. But I figured, it’s just an allergy? IT’s not like I’ll be admitted. Riiiiiight.
So I raced to the nearest hospital and was taking right back and given large doees of IV steroids, benadryl and epinephrine As soon as the epi entered my bloodstream i could breathe again. But my releef was fleeting.
After about 30 minutes my legs starteed to grow heavy. Then my arms. Then my voice got weak. It could only mean one thing. Myasthenic Crisis. But I refused to let terror set in. Not then.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ ofLatter Day Saints, I am so grateful to have priesthood holders who can perform blessings for comfort and healing for me whenever I need to. Their Priesthood comes directly from Jesus Christ himself. So I called my Home Teacher to give me a blessing. He and another member of my church came and blessed me with all the things I needed to hear to get through the last several days and be comforted. It was very emotional and I’m eternally grateful for the peace I received in a time of so much fear.
Since my last 3 month stay in the hospital last summer in which I was intubated for over a month in the ICU from Myasthenia as well, I’d be dreading this would happen again. I’ve been dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from it. But in one simple moment, all my fear melted away into love for my Heavenly Father and the plan he has for me. In the arms of his love I was swallowed up in divine trust.
That moment has since past and I still need to keep calling it back up for myself. Reminding myself that I have a Heavenly Father who knows me and everything I need. I will be taken care of if I just remain ever faithful and endure to the end.
So though it may seem strange to have such a spiritally connected moment in the noisy Emergency Room. To me it makes perfect sense. It’s how I’ve learned to cherish divine nature (in others, in God, Christ, and especially in myself) Surrounded by the divine nature of all the wonders of life Heavenly Father and my savoir Jesus Christ has provided to me, I have no cause to shirnk. In fact, I must not shrink. As I stand strong, my testimony will grow as I feast on the gospel at all times and cleave closer to my Savior’s atoning and enabling sacrifice during there types of trials.
I dont’ know when this particular trial will end, but I know that with faith I will endure all things.
Writing a novel from start to finish is an extremely challenging feat, but I discovered that creating the novel itself is a synch compared to crafting an engaging and well-written pitch. How could I distill over 100k words into just under 250 words while still maintaining the essence of the plot, characters, and style of the book?
It is no easy task. I struggled and wrestled my way through over fifteen drafts each seemingly worse than the last. False starts and failed endings. It took me a long time to get to what I finally settled upon, but I’m not convinced it’s ready.
I need your help! Please read my pitch, and lend me your constuctive critique. What’s working? What isn’t working? Does it pull you in? Do you relate to the characters? Does it make you want to read the book? What can I do to make it stronger?
The Particulars Pitch
by Lauren Soffer
Please excuse Professor Veril Maloit as he passes out cold. He’s just standing up to accept the biggest honor of his writing career only to fall flat on his face. To Veril’s astonishment, his girlfriend, Samantha Elderhopper, is selected to become an apprentice to the elite group of writers known as The Particulars, and his lifelong dream of joining the enigmatic organization is in shambles.
While recovering, Veril overhears a conversation between the group’s Grand Master, Cameron Johanson, and another Particular about making unsuspecting people disappear.
Is something sinister afoot? Tracy, the opinionated incorporeal voice that’s following Veril around certainly thinks so. Chances are he’s finally going out of his mind, but as Veril investigates, he stumbles upon a Particular conspiracy, witnessing the society’s crimes for himself. The famous authors are secretly vampires sucking juicy details out of people to infuse their writing with vivid realism, erasing their victims from memory to all but Veril.
Terrified, he dreads forever losing Sam to the humanity devouring Particulars, but what can Veril do? He knows nothing about hunting vampires. Or so he thinks, until the delivery of a cryptic letter illuminates the murky details of his mysterious lineage. Armed with a magic pen and inkwell, his creative writing skills, and a grab bag team of would-be heroes, Veril discovers that he’s the inspired author of his own destiny.
Thanks so much for your time and help! It’s much appreciated. You can leave your feed back right here in the comments, or you can email me at email@example.com.
Cross-posted from The Particulars Blog.
Sometimes, despite my best intentions, strongest convictions, all my strength and will, all my hope and faith, commitment and passion… sometimes despite everything I am, was, and will ever be… sometimes things fall apart.
Sometimes it seems like there’s no putting things back together again.
The past few weeks I’ve had my fill of Humpty Dumpty moments. My emotions splatted out on the ground for the whole world to see. At first it was for seemingly no reason. Then, little by little the source of my tears began to bubble to the surface. Flashes of suppressed memories of my last three month hospitalization haunt me. I was in the ICU almost a month and I remember everything.
Yesterday was odd sort of relief at receiving a diagnosis.
When I got home from my doctor’s office, I decided it’s time to stop suppressing the pain. Putting a name to it is a good first step, but it was really time to let a little of it out. So I wrote this poem about the experience:
by Lauren Soffer
How can I speak when
The pain leaves me breathless
Tear drops unspoken
Defined by wounds unforgotten
A prisoner of my own head
Where darkness ends
My Savior carries me
Breathing each breath
As I relinquish my anguish
For His infinite love
Safe in His Eternal arms
I am found
Through writing the poem, in a tiny way I began the process of transformation. Turning something ugly into something beautiful. Turning my pain into strength. And with that I found a iota of peace in that moment. I am struck by the following scripture:
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (D&C 122:7)
I’m grateful to have the faith that hard things in life will all be for my growth and benefit. Maybe things fall apart because life is like a jigsaw puzzle: there’s no point if it comes already put together.
This year my greatest birthday wish came months before my birthday. It was to be out of the hospital to celebrate my special day. This week, on Tuesday, is my birthday. I will be turning 29 and entering the last year of my twenties. After 11 long, hard, and often frightening weeks in the hospital, I am very relieved and grateful to say that I am home from the hospital to celebrate.
It feels strange to know that my twenties are winding down, and I will soon be in my thirties. Thirties sounds rather grown-up, and, in a lot of ways, I hardly feel like a grown up yet. More than that I’ve spent a large part of my twenties feeling like I was failing to live up to my own expectations of myself. I wrote about this last year in my post Living Up to Teenage Expectations (Ten Years Later).
What I began to see last summer when I wrote that post and that I now see so clearly is that I was so busy feeling like a failure for all the ways I didn’t measure up to where I thought I’d be or should be by now, that I couldn’t see how successful my life really is. And more importantly I was robbing myself of the satisfaction and happiness that could come with that success.
Life often doesn’t turn out how we plan as young adults. As we grow older, we find out what God has planned for us. And the wonderful thing is, though we cannot see it now, that plan is grander than anything we could have imagined for ourselves as teenagers and will ultimately lead us to happiness. So my new plan is to abandon my own old expectations and put my trust in my Heavenly Father. Trust that he knows what is best for me. Trust that he can see the whole picture. Trust that by following his plan I will be lead back to Him. And trust that in doing so there will be more blessings along the way than I could have possibly imagined.
What a blessing it is that God is no respecter of persons. While I, for the last decade, was so worried that I wasn’t in the right career, living in the right place, having the right romance, and achieving the right things, God and my Savior Jesus Christ were loving me for exactly who I was. And they love me now for exactly who I am. This frees me to give up all those old expectations and just move boldly forward with the knowledge that if I put my trust in the Lord, I will find eternal happiness.
But what does this look like on a practical, day-to-day level? The first thing that come to mind is I must make every effort to live my life according to His example. The basics of prayer, church attendance, scripture study, and service are His standards to live by. Beyond that I can create my life within the context of what’s happening now rather than what I thought I wanted or should be doing at this point. So instead of trying to force the old dream of a career in film that just doesn’t fit anymore, I can relish in my new found love for novel writing and work towards getting published with passion and gusto.
Finally it’s absolutely critical to live in a space of constant gratitude. I am so so so blessed to be alive after the last hospitalization I just had, how can I waste time worrying what a teenage version of myself would have thought of me? Life is too lovely, too perfect, and too short for anything less. This year on my birthday I will remember that.
It is a common misconception that constructive criticism is easier to take than unfoundedly mean spirited criticism. More often than not, this isn’t the case. While it can be fairly easy to ignore and move on when criticism doesn’t resonate, when it rings true, pain really sets in. It’s hard to see your reflection and dislike what you find. And when someone else holds the mirror, it’s even worse. But I found that I can be resilient in the face of such genuinely painful critiques.
Last week, in my writing group, I discovered just how much the truth can hurt. I’ve been working so hard on my second draft of my novel The Particulars, and I really thought I was making good progress. So when it came my turn to submit to my weekly writing critique group, I was excited to hear some feedback. My group usually loves my writing, so I was caught completely off guard. Though their critique of my opening chapters was very constructive, it certainly wasn’t favorable.
It was rough, listening to nearly two hours of how my writing wasn’t working, so when I finally got off the Skype call, I broke down. I cried more than I had in a long time. I was just so frustrated and disappointed in my writing and in myself. I felt stupid for thinking it was good when it wasn’t. And the worse part was I really didn’t think I knew how to fix it.
Once the tears stopped flowing, though, I had a choice. I could choose to be resilient in the face of a difficult situation. Here’s some tips that helped me:
- Don’t read into it.
The biggest mistake you can make when dealing with a harsh critique is to read into what it means about who you are as a person. I could have told myself that because the opening of my book wasn’t working, that I was a terrible writer or that I’d never be published, but there’s nothing productive that will come from thinking those things. Besides those things aren’t even true.
- Get right back on the horse.
The very next morning after the critique, I forced myself to start again because I knew the longer I waited the harder it would be to start again. So don’t wait. No time like the present.
- Look for the opportunity.
I realized I could choose to be burned by this critique, or I could rise for the ashes a stronger writer. This was my chance to grow and improve, if I choose to use it that way.
- Start fresh.
Since my writing wasn’t very effective in my first draft, I gave myself permission to come at it from a different perspective and tried something totally new. I scrapped the first three chapters of my novel completely and started over from scratch.
- Don’t give up.
The only way you can really lose in these situations is to give up. There would be an upside, if I stuck with it.
So I rewrote my first three chapters, and what I came up with was so much better than what I had. At least I was pretty sure it was. But to make certain I had to submit myself to one more critique. I asked one of the group members to read it again for me, and to my relief, she absolutely loved my new direction. And the fact that I was able to do so despite my pain and sweat and tears, made the victory all the sweeter.
Here’s the new opening paragraphs of The Particulars as it stands now:
Veril Maloit picked up his manuscript and dumped it into the trash. It was no use. It was no good. He was no good. He kicked the overflowing waste bin. There was no evil worse than writers block. He glared at his desk. It looked so empty without his novel cluttering it up. Two hundred thousand words in, and he didn’t even know what it was about yet. What a waste of trees.
He took a deep breath and gagged. What was that strange odor? By the smell of it someone had just run over a skunk with a truck of herbal medicinal supplies. He coughed and pinched his nose closed with two fingers.