Tag Archives: inspiration

Echoes part 1

WattPad is running a contest / writing challenge for 2015. The goal is to write 10,000 words of a story within 30 days–originally within the month of August, but they’ve extended the deadline to September 30th to allow for those who may have started late. 

After NaNoWriMo last year, 10K seems like nothing!

I’ve posted the first chapter of my Echoes story to the site. I plan to have some fun exploring the world inside Hope’s head, and the interplay between Forsephore and her soon-to-be-revealed nemesis. I’ve already got the climactic confrontation sorted out in my head, more or less… but I feel there’s a lot of winding paths along the way that I can explore.

Care to join me? Check out Echoes

Here’s a glimpse of Hope and the host of Echoes that exist within her.

   

Wasting Time

Today’s been one of those “Why am I even bothering with writing?” days. Maybe none of you have them.

After a lot of moping and video games, then some inspirational videos on YouTube, I’ve come to a conclusion that serves as a good reminder to myself for next time:

Writing is not a waste of time. Worrying over that thought is.

Off to pick up the teen, then I’m getting back to work. These stories won’t write themselves.

Better Stories

I’m walking on my treadmill with my makeshift desk, typing out the broad-brush concept of my Echoes short story, thinking about the beliefs and possibilities we either cling to or cast aside.

“What weakens certain dreams?” I write. “What broke down the belief ‘I am beautiful’ or ‘I can be a writer’ or ‘I will find my true love’ in this fictional character? What breaks that down in each of us?”

Over the last few days, I’ve found new interest in conversations where co-workers discuss the struggles involved in trying to change their lifestyles or develop better, healthier habits. I’ve noted in myself as much as in others the ease with which we settle on the worst possible outcome in certain situations, seemingly assured by past experience that there’s no point in hoping for something better.

Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves really suck.

A muffled voice and motion in my peripheral vision gets my attention, and I pop out an earbud. 

“Daddy,” my wild middle boy asks, “can I go outside and play?”

“Sure, if Mom’s cool with it.”

He darts off, and I notice our 4 year old Dude trailing behind him down the hall. And back again, as his brother heads for the door wearing a sweatshirt hoodie on Okinawa. I call his brother back and tell him to change his shirt into something more appropriate to the humidity and heat. And there goes the Dude, following his brother back down the hall once more like a duckling with its mother.

Who do we follow in life? Who do we look to for inspiration? Whose statements about the world around us hold the most weight in our minds? Whose statements about us do we accept as obviously true?

I have a coworker and friend who is a fitness beast. He does all that CrossFit / TacFit stuff that scares the crap out of me… stuff where you pile a bunch of weights onto some torture device and walk down the street, or you lay out giant tires and pound them with sledgehammers, or you squat untill your legs erupt in fire like volcanoes (and then you squat some more). He and his wife built themselves a gym in the garage, and he posts pictures of their workout efforts fairly often.

He’s also a great photographer with a gift for capturing beautiful moments with his wife and kids. One of his recent pictures came to mind as a perfect example of what I’m writing about here:

 

There are people in your life that you inspire just by being you.
Photograph and copyright – Bryan Holm. Used with permission.
 
Who are we looking up to in life? Whose example are we consciously or unconsciously following?

And who might be looking at us, deciding what stories to believe about themselves based on our words and actions? 

Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves really suck. 

Write better ones. 

Contributor if not Author

There’s a saying, “Writers write, authors publish.” I’m not sure if it’s meant to chastise those of us who claim the “author” title improperly (by whose standard?) or to encourage us to move past a never-finished manuscript and into the final scary stages of publication.

Maybe contributors to published works fall in the middle somewhere. And despite the growing acceptance of self-publishing, I can’t help but imagine there’s a diminutive attached to that method of publishing… an unsaid and insincere “well, isn’t that cute.”

Despite all that, I’m proud to announce my work has been included in a compilation of stories about God’s leading and guidance in our lives today. The book of about 40 different stories includes five of my short personal accounts for where I believe God worked in my life to give me some direction at key times. Think Chicken Soup for the Soul but amped up in overtly Christian content.

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I mentioned this once on Facebook when I found out about it (around the time I deployed at the end of last year). In looking over blog posts, it seems I never actually posted about this, however.

Here’s the link to the book on Amazon: God Still Leads and Guides

Big Brother Turns 40

No, not the Big Brother of George Orwell’s classic 1984, although that work does get referenced below. Nope, I’m talking about my big brother, Pete.

Pete is on the left, hating the camera as always.
Pete is on the left, hating the camera as always.

I wrote a poem for my parents’ 40th Anniversary some time ago, and it was well received.

My sister-in-law called a couple months ago and reminded me that my big brother’s 40th birthday was coming up. “If you want to write something for his birthday, I know he’ll love it,” she said.

“Uh… sure,” I replied. “I can write something.” But what?

For two months, this project has nagged at the back of my mind, with no clear direction of where to go.

Then, a few days before his birthday, I remembered time spent with my brother and my mom, writing various haiku.

We followed the 5-7-5 syllable format for our haiku. My mom and brother would try to write poignant and powerful things about summer, love, the future, spirituality.

I think I wrote about really important stuff: ramen, video games, and my favorite toys.

In the spirit of those fond memories, I started jotting down some haiku about my brother and my relationship with him.

40 of them would have been too many, but 14 seemed a good number.

Big Brother, forty?
I don’t know what I should say
Past “Happy birthday”

You only enjoyed
Two and a half years without
A little brother

My entire life I’ve
Had a big brother, and I
Wouldn’t change a thing

We’d play karate
My villain, you the hero
I’d want to be like

You put up with me
Chasing you and all your friends
You included me

You introduced me
To the wonder and magic
Hidden in pages

Kingdoms like Gondor
Worlds like Narnia, Bespin
Past and future times.

Sentient robots,
Dragons and dwarves and Wookiees
Doctors and hobbits

We spent hours and nights
Combing nuclear Wasteland
Swapping floppy disks

You challenged my faith
Encouraged me to stand firm
When others gave up

You opened the door
Of my first comic book store
And I was drawn in

To art and legend,
Heroes in tales of virtue,
Overcoming flaws

I unlike Winston
Need no O’Brien to make
Me love Big Brother

So much of my life
Was shaped to imitate you.
For that, I’ll say “Thanks.”

When Does Inspiration Strike?

Just curious, as it’s almost 3 AM here and I’m wide awake tapping on my iPad.

My wife asked me why in the world I so often wait until midnight (or 1 or 2 AM) to get motivated. I don’t have any good answer for her. Maybe my caffeine intake caught up with me, but even when I’m not pounding coffee, this happens to me.

What about you? I’m sure some of you are the mythical “disciplined writer” I’ve heard about, who sets aside a certain time each day and punches out a quota of words. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

When does inspiration strike and demand your attention?

God's Gifts Make a Way

This is the third of five “God Leads” devotionals based on my experiences as a young Christian man in the military.

GOD MAKES A WAY FOR HIS GIFTS IN US

…According to your faith be it unto you. (Matthew 9:29, KJV)

“He’s so amazing,” I said. “I wish I could play and sing like him.”
Friends from church invited the singles over for spaghetti. While we ate, we watched a video of a musical minister leading worship from a piano. I started playing with our church worship team using one of this singer’s most popular songs.
“His lyrics minister so well,” I said. “They speak right to people’s needs.”
Our church bass player agreed with me.
The host looked us both in the eye. “I see God doing the same thing in you two.”
The bass player said what was on my mind. “Oh, no, not me. I couldn’t do that.”
The host stood up and declared, “Be it unto you according to your faith.”
I was shocked, frozen to my seat.
“Little faith, you reap little,” he continued. “Big faith, you reap big.”
The words echoed in my thoughts for an hour. I drove back to church long before the evening service and sat down at the piano.
“God, if that’s really something You’ll do, then… have Your way.”
I started playing. I chose a few chords, thought of some words, and sang. In two hours, I wrote four songs.
Since then, I started hearing music in my pastor’s sermons. I wrote over one hundred songs. We translated one into Japanese, and several became regular tunes at our church. I believed God, and He answered.
But I am also haunted by one thought, and I hope I’m wrong:
I never saw the bass player write any songs.

Application: Following God’s lead means taking chances and trusting Him for results.

When the Iron is Hot

No, I did NOT stay up ’til 4 AM after a short catnap in order to finish a chapter of my current project. Haha, who would do such a thing?

I’ve read numerous articles (as I’m sure any aspiring writer also has) discussing discipline and honing one’s craft. We can’t simply wait for inspiration, then write. We have to carve out time and force out effort, knowing that even if the result sucks, at least it was a result that helps us get better in the long run.

Quantity of effort ensures opportunity for quality effort.

“Strike when the iron is hot,” so goes the saying. And it’s taken to mean we should take advantage of those brief bursts of creativity and inspiration. When an idea springs to mind, run with it. If a scene plays out in your head, start writing or typing, and put that image down on record.

But that understanding of the idiom is flawed. The iron only gets hot when the smith gives careful attention to the fire, ensuring the proper temperature to work the metal. The iron gets hot because of effort, not luck. Thus, opportunities can be created, not merely stumbled upon.

I’m curious. If you write or express yourself creatively (which you probably do in some fashion if you’re reading WordPress), what is your experience with the balance of Muscle and Muse, the interplay between forcing out effort and flowing with creative energy?

I do the former to find the latter. What’s your take?

Let's Go

This little gem is one of my workout favorites; it’s like a motivational speech put to song. And it’s just what I need.

(I gather it’s a Calvin Harris song, and maybe there’s some other version of it, but this is the one I like.)

I don’t count myself as a fitness guru, but I blog about it sometimes because the perspective of a fat guy striving to improve at the gym is probably very relatable. And also, it’s part of what’s going on in my life.

Right now, I am just starting getting back to the gym after bone fusion surgery. It’s challenging and painful, but I know it’s part of the healing process.

I get disappointed while hobbling around, or easing myself onto a bike, or gingerly trying out the elliptical. It’s frustrating to watch the fleet-footed runners on the track, gliding as if on the winged feet of Hermes. It’s hard not to try to keep up with the cardio crazies on the machines, pushing and pulling the arms of the elliptical in sprints that seem to last half an hour. And I miss Spinning, with its jumps and hills, isolations and single-leg work.

Part of me wants to look back and think, “I was once a Spin instructor.” I was able to hang with those guys. I could powerwalk a sub 12-minute mile (no easy feat for a fattie!) and own the cardio machines for hours.

I wasn’t gritting my teeth back then, lurching around the track like Frankenstein.

The song reminds me, “It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about what you’re doin’. It’s all about where you’re going, no matter where you’ve been.”

Part of me looks to the road ahead and sighs, ready to give up. Physical therapy sessions, strenuous exercises, strict dieting, pushing to increase speed just to get back to where I was before… the future looks like hard work.

But the song keeps me in the now. “Let’s go. Let’s make it happen. Make no excuses now, I’m talking here and now. Your time is running out.”

Today is what matters. This workout should be my best. Yesterday’s done, nothing I can do about that. And tomorrow’s problems can wait until then.

Let’s go.

What’s your motivational song? When everything inside says “take it easy,” what kicks you into action? Let me know in a comment, so I can go get some more music.

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Side note: If you’re in the Omaha area and need some screws drilled into your feet, or any other kind of orthopedic care, Dr. Jon Goldsmith is the guy to see.

Artful Inspiration: Trying Out Storybird

My writers’ group recently posted a link to Storybird and asked if anyone had tried the service.

I hadn’t, but I volunteered to be the creative guinea pig.

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Storybird is a site full of artwork meant to inspire creative writing, both poems and prose. The idea is that you find a piece or series of art that spurs your imagination, and then you write or “unlock” the story contained within the pictures.

It’s meant to reverse the usual process, where a writer has a story to tell and then scrounges around for the right picture to match it.

I tried to do all this on my iPad since my laptop hard drive perished. That decision led to some frustration.

First I explored the site a bit. They have some highlighted submissions from their users, akin to WordPress with the Freshly Pressed. Everything is broken up into genres and categories, and almost everything is tagged for searching.

When you pick a story, you get a flipbook on iPad with pages that turn with a swipe of the finger. On my wife’s PC, she got arrows to turn pages.

When you pick a piece of art, you can learn about the artist and see the rest of their portfolio on the site. This becomes useful when looking for a consistent style of art for a project.

I admit, the grammar nazi in me rose up at the spelling errors and bad grammar in some of the “new and noted” highlighted pieces. But I realize the point is creativity and free expression, not necessarily perfection.

I also found it interesting that everything is moderated. When you publish a story or poem, it gets reviewed before being submitted into the public library. This helps ensure a certain level of propriety and minimizes mean content. Or at least that’s the stated reason behind it.

Signing up is easy and free. There are various accounts based on how you’d like to use the site. Teachers and students can use it for assignments. There are options for professional writers and artists. There’s a “parent” option as well, though I didn’t search to find out exactly what that does.

I chose “regular” as a safe starting point.

I was quickly hit with prompts to upgrade to a premium membership. If you want options for themes and layouts, if you want faster moderation, if you want varied options for responding to people’s projects, then you’ll need an upgrade. It’s $3.99 a month, or $2.99 a month if you pay for a full year.

I held firm to my free membership, and started searching through art. Once I found a picture I wanted, I hit the “Use This Art” button, selected story instead of poem, and found myself at the creative desktop.

I got the picture I wanted, and a set of other pictures by the same artist in the same theme. Then it got difficult.

I had an idea for where I wanted to go, but I was limited by the pictures I started with. Once you choose a set of art, you can’t go back and search for more. The stated reason is this will help you focus on writing the story you unlocked in the picture, instead of looking for just-right pictures to match your already-written story.

Well that didn’t work for me!

I backed up and searched for art in some themes, but it took a while to find a set that had all the pieces I wanted. I ended up with a set of 302 pictures to wade through in order to find perhaps 20 that matched my intent.

They warn users that if you do it the way I did, you will probably be frustrated. They were right.

Now I had the set I wanted… all 300+ pictures loaded into the workspace. I shifted some around, sorted through all of them, and set aside the ones I planned to use.

Then I had to hit refresh, and I lost all that sorting effort.

I had to refresh because my browser became another source of frustration. I used Safari on the iPad at first… but the menu in the workspace kept disappearing. I would have to update a bit, then refresh after waiting around long enough for the project to autosave.

Unsatisfied with that, I tried Chrome. Same result at first, but then I saw the option under Chrome’s menu to “request desktop site.” That made the workspace function properly, and I was able to complete my project.

With all the lost effort due to browser issues and the process of figuring out how to get a selection of artwork that I wanted, not to mention the actual writing, it took me about three or four hours to produce my first effort.

It’s called Not In a Nice Way and it’s a love story of sorts.

Was it worth the effort? Sure. Storybird seems like an interesting way to get creative, something nice to take a break from my usual projects. For someone who writes children’s books, it might be very useful. And it seems like a fun community of people, although I think they’re a little too flattering with their comments on silly or sub-standard work.

At the free price, it’s worth a try.

But a monthly subscription? That remains to be seen.

Give it a shot. If you create a project, post it in a comment. I’d love to see how others use the site. And let me know what you think of “Not In A Nice Way” too.