Deadlines, Dreams and Doing it All

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It’s November and that means three things:

  1. It’s socially acceptable to begin preparing for Christmas. Time to buy more wrapping paper for my collection and start blasting Josh Groban’s holiday album!
  2. It’s National Novel Writing Month. Authors everywhere are surviving on caffeine and competitiveness as they scramble to write 50,000 words by 11:59 pm on November 30th. And…
  3. I haven’t posted anything in over five months. Cringe.

There are lots of words to describe the past 20-ish weeks. “Unpredictable,” “exciting” and “stressful” rank in the top three. 2016 has been non-stop and 2017 doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

With all that movement, some things get pushed aside or trampled over. In my case, blogging was one of those things. All my writing lately has been to meet deadlines. While that’s fine for my academic and professional life, it’s left me feeling stretched and empty as an author. I’ve met one deadline only to be greeted by four more. Each one seems to crowd out my dreams a little more. I looked at my planner the other night and realized my entire life has become a checklist.

When was the last time I did anything fun?  I wondered. A few social events were crammed onto my calendar, but my strongest memory of them was trying to enjoy myself despite the looming deadlines on my mind. When did I last do something for someone else? I thought as I flipped past scribbled out tasks. There was no time to serve others; I barely had time for myself. When did my life become a laundry list? 

Ordinarily, I like lists. But this time, my list made me feel more overwhelmed than empowered. It proved that I had too much to do, not enough time to do it, and no time to do anything else.

With every deadline and trying to do it all, I had left no space for dreams. Somewhere, I picked up the idea that busyness = success. I’ve made my lists, said yes to more than I should, and checked things off only to replace them with new tasks.

To be honest, I still do this. I’m still chasing down deadlines and leaving my dreams in the dust. And I suspect I’m not the only one. All of my friends, new adults and more experienced ones alike, nod knowingly when I talk about busyness. We all have twenty-four hours in a day and approximately twenty-four hundred things to do. In some capacity, we’ve all given up what we want to do for what we have to.

Part of that is simply being a responsible adult. But another part of it is something my mentors have told me, and I am finally beginning to understand: We can’t do everything. “Doing it all,” isn’t realistic or healthy.

Deadlines will always exist but they shouldn’t be all that exists. Life is dull without dreams-  those things we are passionate about, that make us smile brighter, love better, sing louder, talk faster, and dig deeper. Sometimes, the deadlines have to give way a little so the dreams can have a place to grow.

I say this as I have a list of assignments to submit and overflowing emails to answer. I’m shaking my head as I type these words, wondering if I’ll actually take my own advice.

Obviously, I can’t abandon everything and do whatever I dream. Much as I would love to spend every day telling stories, it isn’t going to happen right now. I can, however, carve out a little space to let my soul breathe. I can commit to making my passions a priority rather than an afterthought. I can give myself permission to take a break, to focus on something that is personally meaningful without guilt over being unproductive.

It’s not something I’m used to or fully comfortable with, but I’m taking steps towards finding that balance. This month, that means spending some time writing fiction. It means turning my phone off for a few hours each day, spending more time in prayer than political discussion, and making an effort to appreciate the people I love. These are’t drastic moves but they’ll clear some space for things that matter to me. I suspect that freeing myself from “doing it all,” and giving my dreams a place will also make me more productive when it comes to those deadlines.

I wonder, what dreams have you felt forced to set aside? Is there a small way you can bring them back to life? Your deadlines are important but your dreams are just as significant. If all you can see are deadlines, please do one thing to celebrate your dreams. Take a walk on your lunch break and capture photos of nature; publish that blog post; test out the recipe you found six months ago; support a charitable cause; try the workout you’re not sure you can finish. Deadlines don’t have to mean dead dreams. Living is done best when there’s space for dreaming.

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Author Interview: Mirriam Neal

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There are some bloggers who are simply unmistakable and unforgettable. Mirriam Neal is such a blogger. The first time I read one of her posts, I felt her storytelling seep into my soul. So much, that it’s been nearly two years and I haven’t forgotten the first post I read on her blog. I stumbled on her writing by following a rabbit trail of three or four other blogs, but hers is the only one in that trail I still read consistently. Mirriam writes with such eloquence and depth, but also whimsy and humor. Today, we’re celebrating the recent debut of her novel, Paper Crowns. (Which I desperately need to read. Curse homework for interfering with my reading habits.)

Until I can read the full novel, below is a little preview of Paper Crowns: 

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Ginger has lived in seclusion, with only her aunt Malgarel and her blue cat, Halcyon, to keep her company. Her sheltered, idyllic life is turned upside-down when her home is attacked by messengers from the world of fae. Accompanied by Halcyon (who may or may not be more than just a cat), an irascible wysling named Azrael, and a loyal fire elemental named Salazar, Ginger ventures into the world of fae to bring a ruthless Queen to justice.

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Pages of Wonder

 

Doesn’t it sound magical? Be sure to check out the Paper Crowns Good Reads page for more. Before you rush off, though, pour a cup of mocha coffee and join me for a chat with Paper Crowns’ author Mirriam Neal. She graciously answered over a dozen of my questions, and her answers are as fabulous as I expected from her. They also make me even more eager to read Paper Crowns. 

  1. What does the beginning of your storytelling process look like? Do you outline, free write, etc.?
    The beginning always looks the same, but with different ingredients: I’ve had enough of said ingredients simmering around that I finally realize I can make something, as soon as I figure out exactly how. I’m a seventy-percent free writer and a thirty-percent plotter. I like to have a vague idea of how I want the book to end, and probably three major things I want to happen. Just enough pins to keep the whole thing from falling apart, and I take it from there.
  2. What was the most difficult part of writing Paper Crowns?
    Editing and revising, really. I wrote it in a month, so the whole thing was kind of a slapdash mess. It still is! I’m working on a couple more tweaks since a few scattered minor mistakes were found – it’s a process.
  3. Let’s play favorites! Without spoilers, who is your favorite character in Paper Crowns and why?
    This is phrased in a very tricky way, Sarah. Very tricky. Hmm. My favorite character to write? The character I’d most like to hang out with? WHICH ONE? Well, my favorite character to write was probably Azrael. He was the easiest. He wanted to be written (he’s pushy that way). The character I’d most like to hang out with is probably Hal. I’d have endless questions.
  4. What is your recipe for creativity?
    It depends, really. Sometimes it means a constant diet of reading, movies, shows, dramas, and music. Other times I need to step away for a while and not read anything but non-fiction. Usually it’s a good mix of both – but I try to immerse myself in stories and music pertinent to what I’m writing. I also try to get out and spend time in towns and cities as frequently as possible, and write in places other than my room or my house. Shaking things up a little often knocks something loose.
  5. Tea time! What’s your beverage of choice, if any, when writing?
    Black coffee is always my beverage of choice. Anytime, anywhere. (Although I’m a fan of many beverages and won’t turn down anything from tea to kombucha.)
  6. What is one thing most people wouldn’t guess about your writing?
    How hard it is, probably. Even the easy novels like the Paper series. They’re the hardest things I ever do. I get told my writing feels effortless much of the time, which is often a large compliment but sometimes feels a little confusing – is that good or bad? I don’t want people to think that writing is easy, or that I do it because I’m lazy. It’s real work. It stresses me and pushes me just like any job.
  7. What has been a defining moment for you as an author?
    My mother was reading one of my novels and was so physically revolted that she had to stop eating lunch. She asked how I could write something so horrible, and I pointed out that I hadn’t written anything horrible – I just wrote it so that her brain would fill in the gaps. She went back and re-read it, and told me, astonished, that I was right. This was a huge leap forward for me, both in style and in my personal confidence.
  8. If you could visit any fictional land, where would you travel?
    I would absolutely travel to Middle-Earth. #Basic, I know, but it was my first otherworld love and continues to be the strongest.
  9. What makes a good villain?
    I think the scariest villains are the ones who might actually do something good, or who show a human side to their villainy. In ‘Dragon Blade,’ Tiberius blinds his young brother with acid, but he weeps as he does it. He knows the pain he’s causing, and it pains him in turn – but he does it anyway. That’s terrifying.
  10. If you could have lunch with any author or artist, who would you choose?
    I would have lunch with John Howe. It’s still surreal to be able to say ‘I’m friends with John Howe,’ but it’s true – yet he lives in Switzerland, so we’ve never met. Having lunch with him would be a dream come true.
  11. Are there any quotes that inspire your creativity?
    Many quotes inspire me, but a consistent favorite is ‘be the person you needed when you were younger.’ It’s an important mindset, I think, and one I try to live by.
  12. Choose a superpower just for today.
    Flight. Every time.
  13. Would you rather have a pet dragon or unicorn? Why?
    A dragon. Unicorns are beautiful and often have healing powers, but dragons are more battle-fit, they can breathe fire (and often have other talents, like shape-shifting or voice mimicry) and they’re shrewd PLUS they can fly.
  14. Would you be most at home among hobbits, elves or dwarves?
    Elves. I think I would be happiest there. The history, the architecture, the art, the music, the war-skills, the aesthetics – the conversations I could have!
  15. Thank you for making an appearance at On Another Note today! Is there anything else you would like to share? The spotlight is yours!
    You have the ability to make an impact on everyone you meet. I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind. Thank you so much for having me, Sarah!

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About the Author: 

Mirriam Neal is a twenty-two-year-old Northwestern hipster living in Atlanta. She writes hard-to-describe books in hard-to-describe genres, and illustrates things whenever she finds the time. She aspires to live as faithfully and creatively as she can and she hopes you do, too.

Visit Mirriam’s blog, Wishful Thinking at mirriamneal.com or send a note to the­shieldmaiden@hotmail.com

Also check out the other stops on the Paper Crowns blog tour – you can view a complete list here.

Paper Crowns is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Now scoot, go get a copy.

Happy reading!

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Blog Launch & Interview with Annie Hawthorne of Curious Wren

Hello friends! Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to my sweet friend, Annie Hawthorne. Not only is she a lovely person, Annie is a wonderful writer. Her blog is launching today (and you should totally go check it out. Go on. I’ll wait here.) In celebration, she’s agreed to answer some interview questions here at On Another Note. This is the first interview I’ve conducted, and I’m so excited! Let’s get started!

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Welcome to On Another Note, Annie! It’s such a pleasure to have you here! In honor of your blog launching, and both of us being writers and bookworms, I thought it would be fun to have a bit of a Q & A. I absolutely love to ask questions, especially about bookish things, so here we go! (I warn you, I’m a little random and hyper around friends 😉 )

Hello, all you lovely people! *waves* I’m delighted I could be here, and thank you so much for hosting me, Sarah! ❤ Never fear, I’m a bit ridiculous around friends too. 😉

1. How / when did you realize you’re a writer?
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and at a very young age I started telling stories to my little sisters about mice and hedgehogs, and an anthropomorphic fanfiction of Star Wars. Telling bedtime stories morphed into writing bits and pieces of story here and there, and when I was about fourteen or fifteen I started to seriously write. I’ve always intended to be an authoress and, since I had it firmly fixed in my young mind that writers were rare creatures nowadays, I considered it a noble pursuit along the lines of reviving a lost art. As I grew older I realized how many of us there actually are, and I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong.

2. I’m so happy whenever I get to connect with other writers, too! If you could sit down to chat with a favorite author over a cup of coffee or tea, which writer would that be? (Living or gone before, either way is okay.)
Hmm… I’ll answer this with four authors: two, sadly, no longer with us, and two living. I think chatting with L.M. Montgomery about writing, and books, and people would be amazing. I have a feeling she’d have scads of helpful advice about how to write description and believable characters. And who wouldn’t jump at the chance to have a cuppa with Wodehouse or C.S. Lewis?

As for current authors, sitting down for a talk over tea and scones with Anne Elisabeth Stengl would be a dream come true. She is one very talented lady, and if her books aren’t classics someday I’ll be shocked. (If you haven’t read them yet, do so.) Eric Nylund writes brilliant, gripping, hardcore sci-fi and probably if I ever met him I’d be too tongue-tied to say a word, but, still, I’d have met him. (I read his Halo series and oh, my poor heart. Don’t get me started on how much I love these books, the charries (KURT) or the fandom. Word of caution, if you plan to read them, they are futuristic military books, so lots of swearing. My wonderful brother whited it out for me.)

And then, of course, there’s all my incredible online writing friends who I hope to meet someday! ❤

3. Are there any books you find yourself reading over and over again, or would currently like to reread?
The books that come instantly to mind as constant reads are The Hobbit, To Kill A Mockingbird, Halo: Ghosts of Onyx, A Christmas Carol, Starflower, Steal Like An Artist, The Borrowers, Jane of Lantern Hill, Rilla of Ingleside, Little Women, and Johnny Tremain. A few books I’m dying to re-read are Wives and Daughters, the entire Mistmantle Chronicles series, Halo: Ghosts of Onyx (which I actually have on holiday with me right now), Jane Eyre, Return of the King, Paddington, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

4. SO many good reads there! What are your top three childhood favorite books?
The Hobbit (*loves with all the love*). All the Beatrix Potter books. The Borrowers. If anybody needs a list of books for their children/future children, by all means ask me. I’ll be happy to oblige. ^_^

5. Do you have any habits to set the mood for storytelling? For example, I need to listen to music and wear something comfy.
We are twins. O.O I also like a glass of water nearby and, ideally, an open window with a breeze wafting in. Does wonders for the inspiration.

6. I always have water dangerously close to my laptop, too. Do you have a favorite pen?
I do indeed! It’s blue (naturally) and the ink flows like Anne’s legendary perfect pen in Anne of Windy Poplars. Sometimes I lose it, and then I became a mad, unrecognizable thing. In a nutshell: borrow it not, if you wish to live.

7. Besides your perfect pen, what inspires you to share your words with the world?
At first it was simply because I love reading with all my heart and I wanted to share my love for Story with those around me. That reason still holds true, but I want more than anything to inspire and encourage people with my words like I’ve experienced with so many books I’ve read. I want to show people hope, and challenge their hearts.

8. Speaking of sharing your words, how about a preview of your blog? What might readers find upon entering your lovely site?
Articles about writing, book reviews, character studies, Beautiful People posts, movie critiques, story excerpts… also, the occasional article with Deep Thoughts on Life. 😉 I’m hoping it will be a cheery, inspirational place with lots of discussion and ecstatic (or sedate depending on your personality) fangirling over everything bookish.

9. All of that content sounds fantastic, and your blog is already one of my favorites! When you’re not writing or reading (or thinking about those things), what are your favorite things to do?
I spend lots of time with my family being our usual, lively selves, but I’m also fond of knitting pretty, warm things; playing with my darling nieces; hanging out with my Enchanted Forest coloring book (#biggirlscolortoo); going on road trips; exploring bookstores; target-practicing; beach days (where, yes, I do read); researching interesting and unusual facts; watching movies in the evening; and pining for a Woods to roam about in. Among other things.

10. Funny you should mention roaming- If you could visit any fictional world, where would you go?
This is such a cruel question. o.o
Unoriginal as it may be, I would jump at the chance to roam Middle-earth in person. The Shire, Amon Hen, Gondor, Rohan, Lothlorien, Mirkwood…. can you imagine how amazing that would be? I’d probably never leave.
Of course, I wouldn’t mind visiting my own fantasy worlds in person. Preferably with weapons along. And maybe a bodyguard or several.

11. Which two real places would you most like to travel?
Great Britain — I’m a staunch Anglophile (it’s all Dickens’ fault). I also think Italy would be utterly amazing, particularly Venice. And we mustn’t forget Australia. I know nice humans there. ^_^

12. If you could own any mythical creature as a pet, what would it be? Why?
A dragon. A baby dragon. A baby dragon of glorious color and sporadic flame. And we will roast marshmallows and towns together (I kid. I kid).

A griffin would be epic too.

13. What would you do if you stumbled across a sleeping dragon?
If there are eggs, I’ll steal one while it’s asleep a la Bilbo Baggins.

14. (I actually stole this from a career website. I’m not kidding.) A penguin wearing a sombrero walks through the door. What does he say?
“This is not a dream.” (I am laughing so hard over here, Sarah. xD)

15. I’m sure I forgot to ask you something! Is there anything you’d like to mention or add? The floor is yours!
And here we have a moment of Wise and Solemn Advice from Annie. *cough* Never stop reading, and read the type of books that you want to write. In the words of Austin Kleon, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

Live every moment fully, and don’t forget to enjoy the little things. It makes a tremendous difference in how much of life you experience. ^_^

Free free to ask me any questions you want, everybody! *hands around chocolate chip icecream*

Thank you so much for being here and letting us get to know you a bit more, Annie! And also for bringing chocolate chip ice cream. 😉
And thank you, friends, for joining us! Be sure to check out Annie’s amazing blog, Curious Wren, before you go. There’s a party going on all week long, with more interviews, a giveaway, and perhaps some extra chocolate chip ice cream. It’s going to be a grand time, and you certainly don’t want to miss. Here’s a link, so you can follow and join in on all the fun. 


IMG_7881Annie Hawthorne is a twenty-something writer who tends to be guilty of either hyperbole or crafting scenes that make her beta-readers cry. If she’s not scribbling YA fantasy and speculative fiction, then she can be found interacting with her family as one of its more lively members or attempting to shorten her TBR stack (it never works). She practices piano badly, and photography even worse. People-watching, long road-trips, dissecting movies, Doctor Who and LOTR marathons, wearing red heels, and collecting mugs are always on her To-Do list. She chases beauty, and is a child of God. Annie talks books, writing, and life at https://anniehawthorne.wordpress.com.
You can find her Twitter account at https://twitter.com/annie_hawthorne

What I Learned in May & So Far in June

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I should really stop waiting until the month is over to write these posts… Because every time I do, I inevitably put off the task until we’re halfway into the new month. Better late than never, though, right? (I can hear you saying But never late is better. And although it’s true, I frown upon that reply.)

Aside from learning (or relearning!) that these recaps shouldn’t be neglected until the last minute and beyond, here are a few other tidbits I picked up in May and the start of June.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird really does deserve all its acclaim. I’m only a few chapters in, but already I love it. The characters, dialogue, setting… All are so rich and absorbing. I’m hoping for some time this weekend to finish  it. My only complaint is that I didn’t read Mockingbird sooner.
  2. The Loch Ness monster is an excellent writing prompt.
    No, really. I’ve had severe writer’s block for the past several months. Even simple assignments seem to take me forever. But a few nights ago, I got an email from the team at the Fangirl Initiative saying contributions for a group post were due that evening at 9 PM. (By the way, here’s the completed post.)
    nessieOriginally, I wasn’t a part of it, but since I had the night off and I was cleared to write about the Loch Ness monster, I decided to jump in. I can’t remember the last time I finished anything in under an hour, but once I started writing about Nessie, I finished in a flash. After that, I felt a chunk of my writer’s block crumble. I guess the way to get out of a writing rut is to simply write… Even if it’s about something random, and done in a rush.
  3. What I don’t write, I can’t process. When I get busy, I don’t pause to write; yet it’s precisely in the midst of the rush that I need to. Writing, especially journaling, clears my head and helps me understand my story. It gives me some perspective so I can notice God’s script unfolding. For the remainder of this month, I’m going to work towards more consistency in my journal entries, as well as my blog posts.
  4. It’s better to step out and make mistakes, than to hold back and accomplish nothing at all. Bravery begets bravery.
  5. A difference can be made, even in a mess. My last post was messy; I’m the first to admit it. Yet in that jumble, real people came alongside me. The comment section filled up with the kind words of reader and writer friends. Those comments had a theme to me: I’ve been there, too… you’re not alone, and it’s okay. What I shared wasn’t profound or even polished. The response made a difference for me, though, because it was humbling and encouraging all at once. To each of you who read that mess, and especially to those who left encouragement… Thank you. You’re a blessing, and you make a difference.
  6. Joy is a journey. It’s so much deeper than the bubbly emotion of happiness. Joy is clinging to Jesus, even when the world is crumbling; it’s having hope in the light, even when we’re plunged into darkness. Joy doesn’t mean living on a mountain; it means trusting God to sustain us and carry us from the valley. Most of all, joy is our strength.
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  7. It’s the small things that matter most. Sharing pizza with a friend; revisiting my favorite childhood playground; ice cream with a brownie; tickets for a long-anticipated movie; trips to the library. Life isn’t always about the big events. We do just as much living and memory-making in the little ones.
  8. Speaking of small things, it is impossible to cram more than three people into one photo booth. But it is kind of fun trying to prove otherwise.
  9. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” -e.e.cummings. As I mentioned at #4, though, courage only comes with action. Accepting God’s plan for my life and future is scary at times, especially since there’s a lot I don’t understand. Which leads me to my final point…
  10. God is doing a new thing. New things are scary and exhilarating all at once. I usually run from change, as if I can stumble back into the past or race through the discomfort of the present. In this season, though, when my nature wants to dig in my heels, question and/or cry, I’m choosing something different. I’m choosing to be excited. God gave me a promise, and confirmed those words to me: He is doing something new in my life. And I can’t wait to see what it is.
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What have you learned in these past weeks? What new things are taking place in your life? Should all go according to plan, there will be more new content here on the blog shortly… If you have a blog, drop me a link with your newest post, too! 🙂

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What is this Blog About, Again?

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Somehow, nearly a month has slipped past since my last post. I can’t quite explain why. I don’t have writer’s block. I just have no clue what to write about. Oh, I have ideas. Plenty of them. But I can’t decide which one to go with. The problem is, I’m not sure what my blog is really about these days. When I first brainstormed my site’s theme, I expected to follow a literary trail, featuring book reviews, writing tidbits and such. Then I realized I didn’t want to be limited to just one aspect of my life, even if it was a large one.

Writing a lifestyle blog seemed almost too broad, though, and I worried I would get lost in all of the possibilities. So I tried to summarize everything in my taglines, Ink, Inspiration and In-between. Figuring out exactly what should fit under each of those categories, and how to balance the three, has been trickier than I imagined.

I view my blog as a conversation with a friend. Almost like sitting down and chatting over coffee (preferably mocha chip frappuccinos. With extra whipped cream.) The thing is, when I physically meet up with a friend, coffee in hand, we chat about anything and everything. It’s difficult to detect an exact theme in those conversations.

None of this would bother me on its own. My interests are varied and even a little random; my blog tends to reflect that bit of my personality, though a little less sporadically (I hope.) But in all the reading I’ve done about building a blog audience, I’ve heard one piece of advice over and over: You have to stick to a topic, or else no readers will stick with you… And that’s why my struggle to nail down my niche has me perplexed.

Which subject should I stick to? How can I decide? Should I really settle on just one?

I’ve seen that work for a lot of bloggers. There are plenty of blogs I follow because I’m looking for that single topic. But there are just as many, if not more, that I follow because I like the style of writing, the voice of the writer, and how they make me feel like a friend.

Maybe in the future, my blog will become like that first type. For now, though, I’ve decided to let it follow the latter style. The direction of my life is in the process of a shift, and I can feel my writing shifting as well. The only way I can describe my theme, however loosely, is the same way I described it when I started: Ink, Inspiration, and In-Between. Especially in-between. There’s lots and lots of in-between.

Despite my tangled up thought process, and my unmade bed, I really do like things to appear neat and put-together. I’ve been trying to keep up that appearance here, with everything from my writing to social media presence. The thing is, I don’t have it all together. As much as I feel the need to be professional, impressive even, I don’t measure up to the ideal bar I’ve set. I’ve spent the last month avoiding the “Publish” button because nothing felt ready. I didn’t feel ready. But as I’ve said time and again, I can’t wait until I’m ready. This whole thing is an experiment. An adventure.

And I’m never going to get anywhere by staying put. (Clearly, I have to repeat messages to myself in order to get them.) I didn’t make formal resolutions during New Year’s, but now that we’re six months into 2015 (yes, already. Don’t get me started!) I’m going to set some new goals. Just as I tend to raise my standards too high, I set overly ambitious goals. It’s all I can do not to promise to post daily, but I know I’ll never meet that goal. So I’m not going to make a rigid standard. I’m just going to work at making progress.

In the days ahead, I’ll be posting about What I Learned in May, and I have a few book reviews coming soon, too. Beyond that, I’m not sure of my blogging schedule or subjects yet. I hope you’ll stick around, friends, as I learn along the way. It might be messy at times, but maybe we can learn something through all this together.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a reader, and my online neighbor, whether you’ve been with me from the beginning or you’re a new friend.

If you have a blog, how do you decide what to write about? How would you explain your blog?
If you prefer reading blogs to writing them, what subjects do you like to read about?

More to come!

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