Coffee Shop For the Writer’s Soul

When I’m working at the coffee shop I quite often look at the people who curl up in one of the chairs with a book or sequester themselves at a corner table with their computer and think it looks delightful.

Writing at a coffee shop is nearly a cliche with how popular it is, and it’s really no wonder. I’ve had many great writing ideas pop into my mind at the coffee shop, and that’s when I’m back scurrying around in the kitchen. It’s simply because coffee shops are nearly magical with their whimsical appeal.

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Then today it happened. The perfect opportunity for me to spend a few hours at my coffee shop working on writing. I had an appointment in town and after the appointment, I had two choices: Either head back home for an hour and a half – where I would be working on my computer. Or take my computer with me and go to the coffee shop early. Of course I chose the latter.

It’s a quiet morning at the coffee shop, so I chose my favorite table that’s tucked away in the corner of what used to be a porch, then stashed my work bag in the back, bought a small Americano, and here I am.

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It’s cozy, y’all.

I’m sitting here being pretty thrilled that I have an hour and a half to art to my heart’s content. It’s really no wonder this is a favorite hang out for a multitude of people. My music is on, my work in progress is up on Scrivener, my strong coffee is seeping into my bloodstream (hopefully not literally), and I’m ready to begin writing.

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Currently
Setting: Cutest coffee shop in Ohio 
Listening to: The Elements by Toby Mac 
Random Fact: When a shot of espresso is made it has to be mixed with something very quickly or else it gets extremely strong and bitter. I happen to like the strong and bitter taste and therefore regularly drink our old shots. 
Question of the Day: Do you ever go to coffee shops? 

When The Professionalism​ of Writing Meets Reality

The corkboard sits in front of me, the six index cards tacked to it looking pristine and organized. They’re labeled Act 1, Act 2, Act 3…and color coded. It feels very professional and like my writing life is pretty much perfect.

There’s a vague sort of plot written on the first row of cards: What’s the crime? Who’s the sleuth? Who are the suspects? What’s happening? The second row of cards focuses on the inner turmoil: What makes the main character feel incomplete? Why is she unsettled? What’s she resistant to?

My desk has approximately seventeen more index cards and pieces of scrap paper with random jottings on them. Setting: A multimillionaire built a castle way out in the country of Ohio. His family donated it to an NPO who wanted to have a camp for TCKs. 

The notebook to my right has even more information and character sketches. What’s my main character’s Dark Story Moment? What Lie does she believe? What Wound did she suffer, and what Flaw came from that wound? IMG_4192.JPG

For all intents and purposes, I’m a pro at this writing thing. I have it under control. I’ve learned a lot over the years and should be producing a bestseller in no time at all. And yet, reality sets in and I have to laugh at myself.

See, when I was beginning this post I sat here staring at my corkboard for a good twenty seconds trying to remember what it was called. A chalkboard? No, no, that’s not it. It’s not a blackboard, or a whiteboard either. Nope, nope. It starts with a “c” for sure… Ah yes, a corkboard.

Next came when I was trying to describe the pieces of paper I have tacked to it. They’re kinda like three-by-five cards, but they’re bigger – like the next size up. But is there a name for that? Because no one goes around talking about a five-by-seven-card. Google comes to the rescue with the words index card and I sigh with relief.

A minute later I sit at my desk trying six different combos to spell the word turmoil. Does it start with a “to” or “tr” or “tu”…? My brain often confuses the order of letters so Siri jumps to my aid this time with the correct spelling, then Grammarly hops on the train by highlighting my grammatical errors.

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My writing world is something I’m very happy for. I get to explore, learn, stretch, and reach. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. Sometimes it’s rewarding. Sometimes I literally roll my eyes and shake my head at myself.

Writing, like nearly any venture in life, isn’t always easy. Sometimes it feels like I have far too much work to try and accomplish to keep going, and yet I know in reality that learning to be a writer is like basically any skill. It takes a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of patience, and a lot of do-overs.

See, failing isn’t a problem. Needing help isn’t out of the ordinary. Messing up and making mistakes and having to start over again are all important elements that make up so many aspects of life. Just because I can’t remember how to spell a simple word or have atrocious grammar or feel my mind slide into the absolute blank mode when it comes to putting together a plot doesn’t mean I should give up.

Today, I’m choosing to keep going one step at a time. Today, I’m choosing to celebrate the little victories and laugh at the mistakes. Today, I’m stealing the little moments to write. And guess what? Today I’m having a lot of fun.

Currently
Setting: My desk with snow splattered fields outside 

Listening to: This is Home by Switchfoot 
Random Fact: For years I asked if I could have gravel, sand, or brick as my bedroom floor. For some reason, my mother deemed it a bad idea (And we’re talking about when I was a teenager, not a kid. Apparently this isn’t what everyone dreams of?)
Question of the Day: Do you like corkboards or chalkboards better? 

Slipping Writing In {When Life Gets Busy}

It’s 5:43 a.m. and I’m sitting at my desk with a mug of strong French Press coffee in my left hand. This morning I’ve gotten ready for the day, collected books for a co-worker from my rainbow shelves that still leave me confused, started a load of laundry, packed my lunch, and am nearly ready to head out the door for work.

I’d like to think that my blogging this early in the morning before work speaks of dedication and careful planning… Of going to bed early the night before so I can get up at an appropriate time to blog and still be fresh and chipper for the rest of the day. Yet in reality, I have time for blogging simply because I woke up early and therefore was able to snatch a few minutes.

And that’s what my writing life is like sometimes.

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Instead of the carefully planned days forming perfectly scheduled times where I write during my most productive hours and churn out quality work that will impress the masses… Well, sometimes it’s catching a moment here in there. Sometimes it’s stationing the laptop next to the stove so I can stir the soup at the same time I throw my characters into metaphorical hot water. (It’s actually a pretty epic way to live when you stop to ponder it.)

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As it turns out, I still do try and schedule writing into my days. I have daily lists and weekly goals and valiant efforts. And sometimes they work out well. I feel like a rather successful little writer as I sit enthroned upon my chair and stay focused for long periods of time. These are the times that I’m probably the most productive in my writingish world.

But I’m not letting lack of focused time be my excuse. World crafting isn’t something that’s supposed to be easy. Becoming an author isn’t for the faint of heart. Discipline, slipping writing work between other work, and staying dedicated are all things that are par for the course when you sign up to be an author.

So that’s why I’m here, coffee cup nearly drained and my mind already racing ahead about how many steps I need to take (literally and figuratively) before I can be out the door and in my car on my way to work.

Currently…
Setting: My office desk
Listening to: The wind singing
Random Fact: WordPress randomly changed their Publish button from blue to fuschia
Question of the Day: Are you a morning bird or night owl?  

A Glimpse Into My Writingish World

I had a story idea tumbling around in my head for most of the last year. It would pop up at random times, beg me to give it attention, and then fade to the background when I shushed it with words of “Not now, not yet.”

All along though, I knew that someday the timing would be correct, and I’d be able to embrace the tantalizing new idea and give it my full writerly attention.

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Thankfully, that day came yesterday. I’d decided for various reasons that I needed to put my current WIP on hold. After that I had several options I could go with: Re-write Echoes, work on a story concept I’d been developing for a while, or finally delve into the world I’d been imagining for the last while. Obviously, I chose the shiny new project.

I was rather amazed by how much I actually knew about the setting since I’d never really sat down and thought about it. All the ideas, first lines, plot twists, and stories that had randomly fallen into my mind as I went about daily work were now falling into place.

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One of my biggest flaws of a writer is having a plot that really doesn’t flow well. My timing is incredibly off and the character arches always need a ton of help. Everything seems to happen in a random few chapters and then the rest of the book is filled with loveliness, but loveliness that not many people will really care about.

So, this time around I’ve decided to do it right. Have a solid plot. Know exactly what’s going to happen when and why and probably even where. It’s a daunting task, really, but I’m sure it will be good for me.

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My desk is now full of resource books, lined cards, colorful pens, corkboards, and every other item that a writer could possibly need. (Aka, washi tape, because that pretty much makes everything better.)

My computer is now full of taps like “Go Teen Writers” and “Pinterest Plot Diagrams” and Google searches to figure out how to spell various words.

My brain is now full of how I’m going to make it work, and goodness, doesn’t that character have the cutest name? And why would so-and-so ever do that? And what’s the lie such-and-such a character believes?

And that, my friends, is a little glimpse into my writingish world.

Currently:
Setting: My desk

Listening to: Whimsy hop around in his cage behind me
To-Do Today: Go to work at the coffee shop 
Random Fact: I’m taking rice and broccoli stir-fry to work for lunch today

Identity {Real Talk: When Arting is Hard}

Y’all, reading yesterday’s post from way-back-when made me want to look further into my blogging archives. Today’s post I wrote on December 3rd, 2014 after I book signing where I had a very small turn out. To this day it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever written.
* * *
Yesterday I sat down with my computer determined to write.
Writing has not come easily recently. It’s more like I have to fight the words to get them on paper. Even blogging hasn’t been as natural as it used to be. Right now I have a strong urge to go and take a walk then come back and finish this post. Or maybe I should start my load of laundry. Or read some more of that book. Or clean my office. Or go work in the kitchen. Excuses are easy to come by and the more I don’t feel like doing something, the more easily justified my excuses seem to be.
It’s not the writing itself that has me tripping, it’s more what comes after the writing. Or what doesn’t come after the writing, to be more specific.
I know it probably sounds silly, but I sort of have this happy expectation that when someone publishes a book, they sell copies of it. Or that when someone hosts a giveaway, they’ll get lots of entries for it. Or that when someone pours their life into a project for four years that people will actually show interest in it.
I don’t know why. I guess I’m a natural born optimist.
Then reality crashes down.
I publish a book. I sell a few copies, mostly to family and friends.
I host giveaways worth a couple hundred dollars and some of them only had three people enter them.
I work and work and work on a project and then hardly anyone seems to care.
It’s a good reminder that my life is little. Minuscule. A tiny drop that in the grand coronation of life doesn’t make much of a difference.
A family friend visited last year and she told me she wanted to write a book one day and asked for advice on how to get started. I happily gave her some advice and a lot of encouragement. It’s hard, but you can do it! It’s hard, but just keep going, it will be worth it in the end!
 
This year she came back and brought the subject up again. I pasted a smile on my face as I nodded, feeling like a hypocrite. It’s hard, was all I said, no advice attached. What I wanted to say was It’s not worth it. Run the other way. Forget it. You’ll spill your heart onto paper and no one will take any notice.
 
I’ve discovered a very important truth: Being an author is not easy. It’s not all rainbows and glitter and strawberry cheesecake.
It’s not the hard work that gets to me. It’s not the edits. It’s not the hours spent alone each day perfecting my craft. It’s nothing to do with the actual writing.
It’s the balance between needing to have something to look forward to and knowing how to handle disappointments.
Being a writer means you have to be self-motivated. I don’t have anyone standing behind my shoulder cheering me on as I eke out another difficult scene. I don’t have anyone tell me Just one more thousand words and you’ll be done. I set my own limits. I give myself rewards. I’m the one pushing myself to reach the next level.
To motivate myself, I look into the distance, imagining what it will be like to have a completed book. To sign a copy for a random stranger. To have kids love it. To be a real, live, breathing author on a book tour.
Then my daydreams don’t pan out. My expectations aren’t met. My grand plans seem like a dud.
And I’m back to the basics. Back to trying to figure out how I’m going to make this thing work. Back to the reality that I’m a struggling-along-in-obscurity-hard-working-author who’s pretty much clueless.
In October I went and stayed with my oldest sister for a week to help her out with her six kids because she wasn’t feeling well. One of the days when I was there she prayed something like Please bless my sister for spending a week doing the most unglamorous job possible. My eyes popped open. My sister is a very thankful person and all I could think of was that my sister had thanked me more in one week for helping her than I’d been thanked in my entire writing career for being a writer.
Helping out with dishes, housework, and laundry had seemed so much more rewarding than being an author because I got to see the fruits of my labor right away. I knew that what I was doing was being appreciated. That I was making a difference in someone’s life. I was making their world better at that moment.
Being an author is more about faith. Faith that someday you’ll reach a point where you’re making a difference. Where the hours, the years, you’ve slaved over a manuscript will actually end up bearing fruit. That one day your writing will touch someone’s life and make it better.
But when you reach a point where you think you should begin to see the reality of the daydreams that helped keep you going and instead all you see is the road continuing to stretch in front of you with no end in sight, then what do you do?

You stumble. You fall. And you want to stay down. Getting up seems like too much work. Too hard. Not worth the pain it will cause.

I recently asked an artist friend how he did it. How could he continue going year after year? I can’t keep going without giving myself something to look forward to, yet if everything I look forward to falls flat, then how am I going to be able to continue motivating myself?

By finding your worth, your safe place, in God. That’s what my friend told me. Yes, it’s ok to look forward to something, to dream about it, to imagine it, but ultimately my encouragement needs to come from God.

At some time or another, everything is going to fail me. My daydreams will fall through. I’ll make mistakes. People will let me down. Even when I’m a bestselling author my life will have twists and curves I wasn’t expecting.

Safe places aren’t really that safe after all,

Unless they’re in Jesus.

When we take our eyes off the ultimate goal, off the real prize, that’s when discouragement wash over us like a tsunami wave.

My goal in life isn’t to be the most acclaimed author. My goal in life isn’t to have hordes of people stampeding into bookstores, rushing to get a new copy of my latest book. My goal in life isn’t to be a larger-than-life author who can do no wrong.

My goal in life is to be the person who God created me to be. To give God glory in the good, the bad, and the oh-my-goodness-is-this-really-happening moments. My goal in life is to share God’s love and truth with the world. My goal in life is to become more like Him and to help others become more like Him, too.

Writing is a means to that end. Writing is the gift God has given to me to help share Him with others. Writing is how I can multiply my life and make it far more effective than I could ever be on my own.

Writing is my chance to extend my influence beyond the little flame of life I’m living that will all-too-soon be snuffed out by the reality of time.

Writing is a gift, not an identity.

Being a writer is part of who I am, but being a writer doesn’t need to define me.

Being God’s child, that IS who I am.

That IS what defines me.

On my own? I create nothing that’s worth lasting throughout all eternity.

In Him? I’m priceless. I’m remarkable. I’m a ransomed princess.

How in the world could I even dare define myself by the meager worth of the world’s acknowledgment of my literary achievements when I’ve been bought by the blood of the Creator of the universe?

Having a spectacular turn-out for a book signing would be nice, but it doesn’t compare to the realization that the King of Kings has endowed me with the gift of being able to spin words into sentences, paragraphs, stories.

Somehow I end up confusing priorities. I look at people and seek their validation. I try and morph my writing style into what I think they want so they’ll praise me. I’ll assume an act of happy success, even when I’m screaming inside that I can’t keep going. I hide my true feelings, seeking the approval of numbed strangers.

I forget that I’ve been given my words by the Creator of Languages.

The words I use to express my thoughts and feelings are a gift, yet I try to hide them. I corner them, beating out the truth from their expressive descriptions, then throw them together in some semblance of order where they reflect thoughts, but not my own. Emotions, but not the true ones.

I hide behind my ability to make sense and then justify it, telling myself that people don’t really care.

And maybe they don’t care. But I do.

So many people out there are hurting and alone. Alone. Not because other people can’t understand what they’re going through, but because each of us hides behind a facade of having it all together and so we’re afraid to be honest and let the crack of our imperfection show through.

We each struggle to find our identity in what we do, in who we’re seen as. We forget that our identity has nothing to do with us. It’s all about Him.

Book sales, friends, achievements and skills don’t define who I am. Those are gifts. Not Identity.

My identity,

my safe place,

is found

solely

in God.

Pretending to Do NaNoWriMo

It’s November. That means it’s National Novel Writing Month and writers (and wannabe writers) all over the world are banding together and stockpiling the snacks and sneaking off at every possible moment to pound out words on their book.

It’s one of the best community feelings I’ve ever experienced – doing NaNoWriMo. People update their word count, have word wars, celebrate together, and cheer each other on. Writing can be lonely, but NaNoWriMo brings everyone together and plops them into the same category and makes writing seem so much more possible than any other time of year.

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This year me and NaNoWriMo…well, we just weren’t meant for each other. I need to edit, not write, and I’m going to be gone a third of the month anyway. Yet there’s still a stirring inside me whispering “It’s not too late to join the fun!” and I know technically that’s true. I’ve written 50,000 (awful) words in three days once, so I know I don’t actually need a whole 30 days to receive the winner’s badge.

Last night I got home late from Florida (and a non-planned stop at my sister’s house), got to bed even later, and woke up this morning excited about life. (Yo folks, it’s goood to be back home and back in autumn.) After spending a few minutes waking up and making coffee I set my timer for 29 minutes and then went to work. I unpacked, started a load of laundry, got ready for the day, and straightened and swept my room. My writing area is set up, my candle is burning, and The Greatest Showman soundtrack is playing.

And I’m going to edit and pretend for a few minutes like I’m actually part of the ranks marching toward my goal as a NaNoWriMo. Anyway else want to join me in pretending that they’re doing NaNoWriMo? 😉

The Five Am Type of Dedication

It’s 5:06 after a very short night of sleep when the calming strains of my alarm wake me up. “Wow, Lydia, what were you thinking?” I ask myself as I rapidly push snooze. Who in the world would get up at such an hour? I demand of myself. Then it hits me. Me: I would get up at such an hour when I have to leave for work in less than an hour.

I get up and stumble around the room getting ready for the day and finishing the packing I need to do: One pile for the weekend, another pile for what I’m grabbing for Florida during the brief moments when I’m home between the retreat I’m going to tonight (that ends at 10:30 on Sunday) and my departure for the airport at 11:00 on Sunday.

Then I sit on my bed to comb out my hair, comb in one hand, computer on my lap, writing-related emails open before me. I respond to emails in-between doing my hair, then lug the computer downstairs to blog while waiting for the coffee to finish brewing.

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And that’s when I realize it’s happened. After far, far too long of a break, I’m back in my writerly mode. I’m set. Focused. Determined. Excited.

At night I have to push a dozen different writerly things out of my mind before I can relax enough to fall asleep. I wake up ready to work on writing again. Throughout the day I find time here and there to work on a few projects, or even set aside hours to sit down with my computer and power out some quality work.

A week and a half ago when I decided the time was right to focus on my writing again I didn’t feel like it. Every time I sat down to work I felt apathetic about it. I wanted to do something – anything – else. Time seemed to drag on and I felt like I wasn’t getting anything worthwhile accomplished. I was out of my groove and it showed. A lot.

But I stuck to it. I kept going. I told myself that it wasn’t about the feelings, it was about the dedication and putting the time in. And do you know what? It paid off.

This morning I could have snuck in ten or fifteen more minutes of sleep instead of working on blogging. But I didn’t. And do you know what? I’m thankful for that. And now folks, I’m off to the coffee shop. Have a great day!

Currently
Setting: The Dining Room Table 
Listening To: The gurgling of the coffee pot
To Do Today: Work, Pack, Retreat
Thankful For: Not having to get up this early every day 😉