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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The Time That Is Given Us

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One hundred and twenty-five. That’s how many days it’s been since my last post. I’ll spare the usual exclamations about how quickly time is flying by. (But seriously. How is it possible this year is close to halfway over?)

I only counted out the days because it feels like forever and I was curious as to how long forever really is. How do you measure the moments that make a life?

The weeks that have gone by have felt mostly the same. I went to work five times a week, church two or sometimes three times, met homework deadlines (some by thin margins), and didn’t get nearly enough sleep. Thanks to my English coursework, I did more writing than I had in a long while, though it’s not visible on the blog.

Within that pattern, though, change broke through. In the midst of to-do lists and deadlines came defining moments. While I was busy submitting assignments and filing paperwork for five months, my life changed in a few defining moments.

According to dictionary.com, a defining moment is “a point at which the essential nature of a character or person is revealed or identified.”

In storytelling, defining moments are no accident. Characters are positioned, trips arranged and stages set long before the moment occurs. If you’re truly perceptive, sometimes you can guess what’s coming before it grandly arrives. My favorite scenarios, though, are when the author is masterful enough to completely surprise me. A common rule is that defining moments should be both inevitable and unexpected. When we look back, we should see how everything led to this point, but when it initially occurs, we should feel a bit stunned.

One of the early defining moments of The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien is when Frodo is bequeathed the One Ring from his uncle. At first glance, this doesn’t seem terribly significant. Eccentric old uncle Bilbo leaves all his possessions to his nephew and decides to become a hermit and an author. Suddenly inheriting a home in Bag End shouldn’t rearrange Frodo’s life too terribly; after all, it’s his uncle Bilbo setting off for the unknown. As anyone vaguely familiar with the Lord of the Rings can tell you, though, this moment means more for Frodo than for Bilbo.

Frodo goes from leading an ordinary, rather unadventurous life to taking on a quest with earthshaking repercussions. His calm existence is derailed by a single object… a defining moment. The consequences of this moment are drastic, leading to many other defining moments and later causing Frodo to say, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” “So do I,” Gandalf replies. “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring) 

The time that is given us… whether that is a time of upheaval or unexciting activities.

Maybe it’s not a moment we want. Perhaps it’s one where we feel stuck and it seems like the opposite of a grand, defining moment. Maybe this instant hurts, and feels like it’s going to hurt until the end of time.

Perhaps this is a big moment and it’s terrifying. Maybe this is a decision we don’t want to make. Maybe this is a change we never asked to face.

No matter what is happening, this is the time that is given us. We don’t get to choose our own time. For better or worse, this moment is all we have to live in. This is where God has placed us. All we have to decide… Is what to do with the time that is given us.

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12 (More) Reasons to Buy More Books

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Last month, I shared my struggle over self-control and book shopping. As it turns out, I am not alone in this dilemma. Bookworms seem to be programmed to buy books. We’re drawn to them like kids to bouncy castles (okay, and also adults to bouncy castles.) No matter how many we have, we can always find room to love another.

Not everyone understands this craving, though, and sometimes we book lovers may feel a little guilty for our book obsessions. With that in mind, I sat down to create a list of 12 Reasons to Buy More Books. I ended up with closer to 30. Since not every excuse, I mean, reason, made the original list it seemed only fair to post the remainder now.
… All right, I’ll confess. I’m also sharing this because my to-be-read shelf is full, I have a shaky stack of books in my room, and I’m waiting for a few new arrivals. Also, I have three titles in my shopping cart right now.

But it’s okay because I can explain! Really! Here are 12 More Reasons to Buy More Books.

  1. Books are inexpensive entertainment. Yes, I probably spend a tad too much on books. Probably. However, compared to the prices of movie tickets, cable, even Netflix or the Internet, books are cheap. Where else can you travel around the world, learn a dozen new things, and meet new friends for about $10, or even less? It’s a bargain, I tell you.
  2. They take us places that travel cannot. Not only do books cost vastly less than vacation, there are some destinations that are unreachable beyond books. Even with enough funds, I couldn’t book a trip to the Shire or Narnia. Thanks to books, though, I’m still familiar with those places. I’ve had tea in Hobbiton and stood beside the Lamppost with Mr. Tumnus. And I can go back any time I want to, without packing a suitcase.
  3. Books turn any room into a home. As Roman philosopher Cicero put it, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” No matter whose house I’m in, the sight of a brimming bookcase is welcoming. Books make a room feel lived in, while looking splendid as decor. Even better, they serve double duty by being both lovely and useful. You can even use extra books as bookends for your other titles.
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  4. Buying used books is recycling. You can help the environment and your personal library!
  5. A battery may die, but a paper book endures. Don’t worry, I’m not anti-eBooks. I use both a Nook & Kindle app. But downloading eBooks never excites me like opening a box of hard copies. And I always forget to charge my tablet until the moment I want to read. So paper books are an essential for me. Really.
  6. They smell good. Another perk of paper! Whether you like the smell of new books, old ones, or any combination of both, books have the distinct scent of possibilities, invitation and magic.
  7. Carrying books looks, and is, smart. I know we aren’t supposed to worry about impressing others. However, it’s undeniable: if you’re walking around with a book that isn’t rubbish, you will look quite studious. And you might catch the attention of fellow readers and get to have book discussions! Or at the very least, you’ll have your book to occupy you in boring situations. Yet another reason having novels on hand is wise.
  8. Reading books makes us smarter. I truly believe living isn’t complete without learning and for me, books have been the best teachers. Through countless pages, I’ve studied under experts and gained information I never would have accessed otherwise. A bonus is that books are cheaper than tuition. Unless they’re college textbooks. Because why not overcharge the broke student population, right?
  9. Dating websites are overpriced and unreliable. Books are not. Until a real Mr. Darcy (or Knightly, Thornton, etc.) shows up, I shall keep my storybook loves! I even wrote an entire post dedicated to my favorite fictional couple. It’s turned out to be my most popular post to date, which has me somewhat shocked but mostly thrilled. You can check it out here, and get a recommendation for my favorite series as well. 🙂
  10. Books hold both stories and memories. Every so often, I’ll take an old favorite from my shelf and flip through the pages. When I do this, I remember the story I loved but also the girl I was when I read it. Maybe I read it multiple times in one school year, or found comfort in those pages from a broken heart, or read it through laughing with a close friend. The stories dearest to me always have a bit of me preserved in their pages. This is why I’ll often buy a book I loved, even if I may not read it again for a while.
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  11. Reading is therapeutic. True, I’ve suffered emotional trauma from books countless times. In some twisted way, those books usually become my favorites. But there’s a difference between fictional difficulties and real life conflict. When I’ve had a hard day, sometimes all it takes is an hour with a story. Escaping into a book for a little while makes the real world easier to face when I come back to it.
  12. Books make life better by letting us live several. Similar to all the places I couldn’t visit without books (#2), there are so many things I’ll never do or people I’ll never be, beyond novels. I would never trade my own life, but I’ve learned so much from all the fictional ones I have lived. I’ve rebelled against tyrants, rescued innocents, and run for my life alongside those characters. And in living their lives, I’ve come away with tools for mine. It’s doubtful I’ll ever have to bring down the Capitol or walk into Mordor, but if those characters can find the courage and determination, then I can be brave for the smaller tasks I face everyday.

If I tried hard enough, I could probably think of other reasons to encourage collecting books. I think two lists about covers it, though. (If you didn’t get to read my original 12 Reasons to Buy More Books, here is a link.) I’m in the mood to go read a book now! I need to finish it before the sequel arrives.

What are you currently reading? Which books are you planning to add to your to-be-read shelf? I’m always open to recommendations! And also book discussions. I’ve updated my contact page, so now there are even more places for us to connect and chat about stories.

Happy reading!

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Love & Link-Ups: A Post for Fun, Fiction & Valentine’s Day

Happy (late) Valentine’s Day, dears! I’m never quite sure how to feel about this holiday, as a single girl. Should I buy myself chocolate? Pretend it’s not a holiday? Celebrate “Singles Awareness Day” instead? (No. I hate that term. It makes singleness sound like a disease, which is it not.) Actually, I like to spend Valentine’s Day celebrating… love. Shocking, isn’t it? But just because I’m not in a romance of my own, doesn’t mean I have no one to love. Today, I enjoyed the blessing of my family’s love, the love in my friendships, and the boundless love of the Savior. It’s love that has lasted me for years and years, and has no end in sight.

Of course, I’m not anti-romance by any stretch. I may roll my eyes or grumble about the occasional couple and all the posts with photos of flowers, but I’ve been a hopeless romantic since I first watched Sense & Sensibility at age seven. My favorite love stories tend to be just that: stories. As a writer and a romantic, it often fascinates me reading through a fictional couple’s story. True, there are plenty of romances I don’t care for, but when I find a couple I deeply care about, I must follow their story.

In the world of fans, there’s a special language for this situation. It’s called shipping, which essentially means wanting or supporting two characters in a relationshipBelieving two characters are perfect together means they are your one true pairing. In honor of Valentine’s Day, and the fact that many fans are more interested in fictional relationships, I’m linking up with the Fangirl Initiative on this subject.

It was so fun collaborating on this link-up with my fellow Initiative agents Sky and Jaime. Together, we came up with 14 questions to celebrate February 14 and our favorite fictional pairings. You can read the full link-up post, and find out how to join, here or by clicking the image below. If you’d like to hear about my chosen couple, read on!

It’s a wonder I haven’t mentioned the River of Time Series by Lisa T. Bergren before. They are my favorite young adult books, some of my favorite fantasy novels, and they include the story of one of my favorite make-believe couples.

If you haven’t read them, I recommend two things: 1) You read them and 2) You don’t read the rest of this post until then. I’m going to spoil some of the love story in answering these questions, and I’d hate to ruin the romance for you. And the series is so fantastic, it’s worth experiencing firsthand. Then we can discuss it! (Online book club, anyone?)
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If you have already read these novels, don’t mind spoilers, are too curious to stop reading this post, or you don’t plan to read the books (though I could write a review that would change your mind), I will now come to the link-up questions and my answers.

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My chosen couple is Evangelia (Lia) Bettarrini and Luca Forelli. They start out as secondary characters in the series, but they were instantly stars for me. I loved watching their stories unfold, especially towards the latter half of the series when Lia becomes a main character. I’ll contain myself from writing a book report, and stick to the 14 questions shared on the Fangirl Initiative.

  1. What is their current relationship status, and how did they meet?
    “Current” depends on which book you’re reading. By the end of the series, they are officially husband and wife. They met when Lia and her sister Gabriella accidentally traveled back in time to Medieval Italy. The sisters were separated, and it was actually Gabi who met Luca first. He and his cousin, Marcello (spoiler: Marcello and Gabriella make a marvelous match as well!) help Gabi find her sister, Lia. Luca and Lia instantly have a connection, and become great friends through the early part of the books.
  2. Why do you want them to be together? What makes them better together? They know how to be a team. Their relationship is romantic, but it’s so much deeper than that. They understand each other and respect their differences, using them as strengths rather than weaknesses. They can survive without the other, but they thrive together. 
  3. What song(s) remind you of them? I would say “I See the Light” from Tangled. (See question #12 for more on that.)
  4. How would they divide household chores (cooking, cleaning, etc.)? Being nobility in Medieval Italy, they have servants, so neither one has many chores. If they did, Lia would likely attend to most of them. Though Luca would do just about anything his lady asked him to. (With some teasing complaints tossed in.)
  5. What would this couple argue most about, and who is most likely to compromise? They tend to argue about their different ways of handling situations. They’re protective of each other, and sometimes overly so, which causes a bit of conflict when one starts to feel smothered. Fortunately, both are good at compromising, so it all evens out. 
  6. What interests do they share? Archery, riding, art, spending time with family, and laughing together.
  7. Are they introverts, extroverts, one of each? Lia is an introvert, and Luca is an extrovert. In some relationships, this could cause friction, but in theirs it lends more balance.
  8. What would their first date be like? (If they’ve already had their first date, describe their ideal date.) I would imagine a picnic in a sunny spot, perhaps by a river. (This IS the River of Time series, after all.)
  9. Do they get along with each other’s families? Yes, completely. Since his cousin marries her sister, they really are all one big, happy family.
  10. In what ways do they drive each other crazy? In what ways do they drive other people crazy together? See answer #5 for one way they drive each other crazy. I think it also drives them crazy that it’s hard to stay mad at one another. They drive other people crazy with their inside jokes, and earlier in the story, their resistance to actually forming a relationship. Or maybe that last one just drove me crazy. 😉
  11. Where would they go for their honeymoon/a romantic getaway? Sienna, or perhaps Normandy.
  12. Do they share any similarities to classic romantic couples? (I.E., Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Beauty and the Beast) Maybe it’s too soon to consider them a “classic” couple, but Luca and Lia remind me of Flynn and Rapunzel from Tangled in many ways. Hence the song that I chose for them (#3)
  13. What would their “celebrity couple” name be? (I.E., Brangelina) I really can’t think of anything, considering their names both begin with the letter L. Lucia? Liuca? This is harder than I expected.
  14. Where do you see this couple in 10 years?​ Happily married and with several adorable children, some of whom are outgoing and spontaneous like Luca, some quiet and sweet like Lia. And I imagine this couple will continue to fight for justice as needed.

Who are your favorite fictional couples? Have you read any unforgettable love stories? Did you celebrate this Valentine’s Day?

Lots of love!

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