A Writer’s Greatest Fear – And What To Do About It

Somehow this post struck a a chord with me this morning. I’m in a bit of a “creative renaissance,” and this advice to imagine myself five years in the future is very useful in deciding where I go next. I hope it will appeal to you as well!

I don’t think it matters what stage of your writing you’re at, it strikes every writer. The newbies, the seasoned, the struggling, the best-selling. Every. Single. One. It’s a question that can derail you, undermine you. It’s the one question that will paralyse you.

Is my writing good enough?

I’ve asked myself the very same question. I’ve won competitions and bombed a couple. I’ve had readers tell me my book is the best they’ve ever read. I’ve had multiple rejections from publishers….for the same book which received two offers and a too-late request for a full.

But writing is a creative process that transforms dreams and images and thoughts into a physical medium. In other words, its art. And art is subjective. Meaning that question is impossible to answer. Your book might be the next Agatha Christie or Tolkien manifesto or Dickens classic. Or it might be bought…

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April Reads – 2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

I’m participating in the 2016 POPSUGAR reading challenge. The list includes 40 books, and my goal is to check off just one item per book. Here’s an overview of what I read in April that fit the list (purple check marks). You can also see what I’m reading right now via the Goodreads widget to the left. I’d love to hear your book recommendations—especially if they check something off this list.

April 2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge

April – 2016 Reading Challenge

  • A Book That’s Becoming a Movie This Year: Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places is actually slated to hit theaters in 2017, but I figured that was close enough! In the book, Violet and Finch meet atop the school bell tower where they’re both contemplating suicide. Violet is there because she misses her sister who was killed in a car accident, and Finch has an odd preoccupation with death. These two individuals who seemingly have nothing in common bond over a school project—and much more. Honestly, this book was a bit too depressing for me, but I found the characters interesting.
  • A Book Recommended By A Family Member: My sister-in-law is a big fan of Mary Campisi’s books and encouraged me to read her Paradise Found. The book centers around two people who shouldn’t like each other—the wealthy playboy who’s gone blind after an accident and the less flashy but still beautiful psychologist sent in to help him regain his life. I’m betting you can *see* where this one is going! While the book was a fun read, it was too predictable for me.
  • An Autobiography: Okay, so Mary Karr’s Lit is more memoir than autobiography, but I figured it was close enough for this challenge. Karr is the master of memoir these days, and this book focuses on her relationships with her parents, husband, and son as well as her alcoholism and her attempts to pull herself out of many dark psychological places. While I found Karr’s writing beautiful, the subject matter was too heavy for me this month.
  • A Book About a Culture You’re Unfamiliar With: I know the Amazons are a mythical culture (maybe?), but I’m still counting Ann Fortier’s The Lost Sisterhood in this category. I didn’t know much about the Amazons, other than their “warrior woman” status. I learned quite a bit about their interconnectedness with the Trojan War. While this book takes liberties with history, it’s a fast-paced read that connects ancient history (mythstory?) with contemporary philology.
  • A Book About a Road Trip: David Arnold’s Mosquitoland tells the story of a girl who does what so many other teens would like to do: She skips out on her dad and stepmother in Mississippi (a.k.a. Mosquitoland) and hops a bus. Her destination is Cleveland, her former home and where her mother is sick. Of course, along the way, she encounters an array of people who teach her about life—in lessons that aren’t very pretty or comforting. If you’re looking for a coming-of-age meets road-trip novel, this is a great pick!
  • A Book That Takes Place On an Island: Emily Bleeker’s Wreckage was my favorite book read this month. The irony is the only reason I read it was because I saw it took place on an island and I knew I had to fill this category with something. I lucked out with this one! This novel focuses on picking up the pieces—on trying to move on after a tragic, traumatic event. Lillian and Dave are two people who have nothing in common except for the fact they are stranded together on an island when the plane they’re traveling on goes down in the ocean. When they’re rescued, they are thrust into the media spotlight, but neither is eager to talk about the experience. The novel discusses what happened on the island, but it emphasizes the question we hear in all the Las Vegas commercials: Does what happens on the island stay on the island?

Honorable Mentions

(I couldn’t find places to fit this one in the Challenge list, but I thought it was worth including here anyway.)

  • I read another “blue cover book” this month, but I already used that category and couldn’t find another place to put Sarah Dessen’s Saint Anything. In the novel, Sydney feels invisible in her own family—always in the shadow of her older brother Peyton. When Peyton’s string of bad behavior lands him in prison, Sydney changes schools in an attempt to begin fresh. Although she can’t escape her family’s focus on her brother, she manages to find a group of friends who just might be what she needs to help her stand out on her own. This is the first of Dessen’s many books I’ve read. Although I know she’s widely popular, I didn’t feel as strong an emotional connection to these characters as I’ve felt in other YA books.

What was the best book you read this month?

Z- Zombie Preparedness

26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside -- Zombie Preparedness

Photo adapted from Currens @ pixabay.com

Yes, in honor of the last day of the Blogging from A to Z challenge, I’m going to go there:

ZOMBIES!!

I know, you’re probably thinking that I’m stretching it here by including zombie preparedness in my “26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside,” but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you’ve got the skills needed to survive the zombie apocalypse, you’re ready for anything.

If you're ready for a zombie apocalypse, then you're ready for any emergency. emergency.cdc.gov

I tend to think those who have some outdoor skills would fare pretty well against the undead.

The CDC includes a list of five things people should do in order to be prepared for a zombie invasion–or any other sort of disaster. Here’s there list, along with my commentary on how outdoor skills make you ready to address these challenges:

  1. Make an emergency kit. If you’re going on an outdoor adventure, my guess is that you’ve got this covered. The CDC recommends water, food, tools, medication, a first-aid kit, clothing, etc., all things that anyone going outside for more than a short time should be thinking about anyway.
  2. Identify the types of emergencies that are possible in your area. If you’re headed out on a hike, whether you’re headed over the hills, through the woods, or across the desert, you’re likely thinking through what you might encounter. While you don’t want to dwell on the bad things that can happen, it’s smart to be prepared for them.
  3. Pick a meeting place for your family to regroup in case zombies invade your home…or your town evacuates because of a hurricane. Okay, so you might not be thinking about evacuating for zombies, but if you’re headed outside, you’re probably thinking about the safety of the people in your party. Smart parents discuss with their young children what they do if they’re ever lost, for example.
  4. Identify your emergency contacts. This is sort of a version of the old buddy system. Most people recognize it’s not a good idea to head out without letting someone know where you’re headed. The outdoors are unpredictable, so we have to be prepared.
  5. Plan your evacuation route. While it’s not always possible, it’s useful to plan a route–and have a Plan B in mind just in case things don’t go as planned. People who spend much time outdoors realize that things change quickly–from unexpected storms to trail closures, sometimes we have to amend our itinerary. Knowing how to get back to the car–or to safety–is important.

Listen to this interview with the CDC as they discuss their preparedness plan and think about how prepared you are for a zombie apocalypse–or any other disaster:

How ready are you??

 

This is the last of my 2016 Blogging from A to Z Challenge posts. Thank you for putting up with my 26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside throughout the past month! 

Y- Learn About YOURSELF

25

I can’t believe the end of the 2016 Blogging from A-Z Challenge is almost here. Admittedly, I’ll be glad to see the end of April so I can focus on something other than my blog for a change! That having been said, my first attempt at the challenge has been a great one. I’ve interacted with so many interesting people, and I’ve learned a lot about so many topics. I also learned a lot about my own topic—and about myself.

It’s useful to take a moment to focus on what you learn about yourself through challenges like this one. The definition of a challenge is something that isn’t easy—so why do it? What do you get from it? My guess is that you learn a lot about yourself through challenges. You learn your strengths and weaknesses as well as your stamina. You learn what you’re willing to put up with and what sends you over the edge. You learn that you’re capable of much more than you imagined.

Taking your family outdoors presents similar challenges. It’s not always easy to get everyone off of the couch and out of the house. You quite likely have to set aside other important things in order to make outdoor adventures happen. You could even face the wrath of kids who’d much rather be playing video games or texting their friends than tromping through the woods. I’d like to hope that the rewards—intangible though they may be—make the challenge worthwhile.

At the end of every challenge, it’s beneficial to consider your accomplishments. In the spirit of that sort of self-evaluation and since we’re so near the end of this blogging challenge, I’d like to challenge you to evaluate what you’ve learned about yourself through your most recent challenge—whether it’s an outdoor one, the A-Z Blogging Challenge, or something else.

Five Questions to Learn About Yourself

  • What was my goal in this challenge?
  • How was I challenged?
  • What did I learn through this challenge?
  • How did I grow through this challenge?
  • What can I share with others about this experience?

To be fair, I’ll take up my own challenge and answer these questions:

My goal in the 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge was twofold. First, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write 26 posts in a month. Second, I hoped to assert the importance of getting outdoors, something that is rapidly falling out of favor with families these days. I found that writing the actual posts wasn’t tough, but coming up with ideas sometimes was. I didn’t want to be repetitive, and sometimes I couldn’t come up with anything to say on a topic. This challenge definitely taught me to be creative; avoiding repetition meant I had to think about topics from different angles. I learned a lot about the reasons people avoid going outside (myself included). Even more interestingly, I learned so much about topics I knew little about, from printing presses to Queen Victoria and even frogs during the A-Z Challenge. In terms of growth, I definitely got into a consistent habit of writing this month. I tend to procrastinate about writing, doing it when “I have time,” which means it doesn’t happen often enough. The A-Z Challenge added the pressure I needed to be consistent about my writing goals. If I break my writing into achievable goals and stick with them, I can succeed. Finally, I really hope I’ve encouraged people to get outside—just a bit. I know the logistics of getting outdoors present a challenge some days, but the rewards in terms of physical and mental health are great, as I’ve explored this month.

Thank you to all who’ve stopped by and said hello during this challenge. I couldn’t have made it to Y without YOU!

A Departure – FFftPP Week 18

What follows is a piece inspired by the prompt at Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner. The key elements were the photo below, the phrase “I had waited years for this day…” and no more than 200 words. 

A Departure – 181 words

I’d waited years for this day.

In preparation, I logged so many flight hours my hand ached from squeezing the throttle. I’d become more at home in the cockpit than in my own car. Through the years, I’d planned and executed missions ranging from simple flyovers to complicated rescue attempts, and, most importantly, each time, I brought my crew and passengers home safely.

There’s nothing like the feeling of flying—no matter if you’re cruising at 20,000 feet on a recon run or skimming the tops of trees in a crop duster. Momma used to tell me I needed to get out and live a little, but to me, the only living was flying.

In the hangar, I closed my eyes to take it all in. Jet fuel scented the air, and the gentle pulse of engines vibrated up through my feet. I was at home.

“You ready to leave those video games behind and try flying a real plane?” the man in the grease-streaked coveralls asked as he gave the propeller a yank.

My throttle hand tingled.

X – X Marks the Spot

26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside - X Marks the Spot

What is it about the idea of treasure hunting that interests us? Countless books have been written about pirates searching for an elusive treasure. Thanks to their maps, the phrase“X marks the spot” has become synonymous with an advantageous find. Modern-day treasure hunters often use high-tech equipment like metal detectors and sonar to aid them in their quest, but the aim is the same as the pirates of yore. Gold, right? Money, jewels, and long-lost coins top the list of things people are hunting for. Have you ever noticed, though, that even when these treasure hunters find what they’re looking for, they aren’t satisfied? No matter how big or impressive the treasure, the hunters are right back out there trying to find the next big haul.

I think it’s safe to say that while the treasure is great, it’s the HUNT itself that is the best part. Just a couple of weeks ago I read a Huffington Post article about a man in Oregon who found a rare gold coin with his metal detector. When asked about his find, the man responded, “Finding it is better than keeping it.”

If you’re a modern-day treasure hunter and haven’t yet tried out geocaching, it’s time you get your family outside to try out a new hobby. Simply put, geocaching is an international treasure hunt using GPS coordinates to locate geocaches, hidden containers or points of interest. Once you find a geocache, you log your success on a written log within the container and/or on the website geocaching.com (you can create an account on the site for free and even download a free app so you can find your first cache today).

No, you won’t find gold, jewels, or money in these geocaches, but you’ll have the fun of the find.

How to Begin Your Geocaching “X Marks the Spot” Adventure

Now get outside and get hunting! 

W – Wildlife Knowledge

23

The headline caught my attention the moment I saw it last month:

Prairie Dogs Are Serial Killers That Murder Their Competition

What?! I used to live in Colorado, and I fell in love with the cute, social prairie dogs scurrying here and there along the side of the road. I understand that property owners and ranchers out west are not a fan of these critters because of the damage they do by burrowing. They’re just so fun to watch, though! That’s why when I saw that headline on my morning news feed, I had to read more.

Apparently, those adorable creatures are pretty brutal to ground squirrels. They kill them so they don’t have to compete with the squirrels for food. This is particularly interesting because prairie dogs aren’t killing the squirrels to eat them. On the contrary, prairie dogs are herbivores. The fact that they kill ground squirrels not for sustenance but to decrease competition for food caught scientists off guard. That’s not what they expected to find when they studied these animals.

I know the prairie dog example is a gruesome one, but it shows that we’re constantly learning more and more about the wildlife with which we share the earth. Wildlife knowledge is useful in many ways, from pest control to protecting endangered species, from economic advantages to aesthetic ones. The more we learn about wildlife, the more we learn about our own species, too.

There are many ways to introduce our families to wildlife knowledge and wildlife conservation. The following activities come from the National Wildlife Federation:

Wildlife education group Black Snake Productions highlights well the importance of sharpening our wildlife knowledge:

Teaching wildlife conservation through fun and interactive education can be an amazing experience for children. It teaches a child about the awareness on sustainability and the damage to native animals and the environment. As well, teaching kids about wildlife conservation ensures that our beautiful country and its matchless wildlife will be preserved for future generations.

Fortunately, improving our wildlife knowledge isn’t difficult. How many different birds, animals, and insects will you see today? Take a few minutes to Google that bird sitting in the tree or learn more about your family cat. Can you imagine our world without these creatures?

V – Vitamin D

22

We’ve all been told we need to get plenty of Vitamin D, so our bodies can absorb calcium and phosphorous. Jack Charles wrote an excellent article for Eureka Tents in 2014 that clarified some other lesser known benefits of this hormone (yes, I just read that Vitamin D is actually a hormone—who knew?). Zach at All Things Appalachian Trail added a few more benefits to my list:

Vitamin D may…

  • Decrease your risk for heart disease and some cancers
  • Decrease the severity of asthma
  • Decrease your likelihood of depression
  • Decrease high blood pressure
  • Decrease your likelihood for multiple sclerosis (women)
  • Decrease your likelihood of Alzheimer’s
  • Decrease your likelihood of diabetes
  • Boost your immune system

As we’ve all been told, the easiest way to get Vitamin D is to expose ourselves to sunlight—and no, sunlight through a window isn’t the same as direct exposure. Our bodies are designed to function best when we get outside. Yes, it’s true that you can also get Vitamin D from other sources like some fish and even mushrooms, but these sources aren’t as efficient as sunlight.

One of the biggest challenges to the idea of stimulating our Vitamin D production from sunlight is skin cancer. Sunscreen blocks UV rays, which are needed for Vitamin D production. If we don’t wear sunscreen, we risk skin cancer; if we do wear sunscreen, we aren’t able to get our Vitamin D boost from the sun.

Clearly, this is a valid concern—and one we don’t discuss often enough. There are risks to being outside—but there are also risks to staying inside and inactive. Stephen Honig, MD, director of the Osteoporosis Center at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, in New York City, says just 20 to 25 minutes in the sunshine [without sunscreen] is helpful each day. Likewise, Australian epidemiologist Robyn Lucas argued that compared to the severity of problems associated with vitamin D deficiency, some sun exposure is the better option. I’ve read in places that 5-10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure is helpful. HOWEVER, the Skin Cancer Foundation says any unprotected sun exposure is too risky.

I am obviously not an expert in this topic. I like the idea of getting that Vitamin D boost from a natural source like the sun rather than from supplements, but I understand the risks involved. Sunscreen is an important part of any outdoor adventure. Fortunately, even if you avoid any unprotected sun exposure, getting outside will surely result in some Vitamin N(ature), as Richard Louv calls it.

U – Understanding of Science

16 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside - Understanding of Science

Photo adapted from pixabay.com

Why should you take your family outside today?

In short, because there’s so much to learn and understand about our natural world. Kids today spend the bulk of their day in classrooms surrounded by books. Science, however, is a subject best learned in the outdoor laboratory where they can touch, smell, and even break things. The UK grasped this already in 2004, as they noted in a report titled “A review of Research on Outdoor Learning”:

There is growing concern that opportunities for outdoor learning by school students in England have decreased substantially in recent years. In response to this, and recent Government calls for ‘schools to make better use of the outdoor classroom as a context for teaching and learning,’the Field Studies Council (FSC) and several partner organisations commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to undertake a review of research on outdoor learning.

The English Outdoor Council goes even further to support the need for outdoor science education in a literature review on the topic: What Does Research Say?

If that’s not convincing enough, listen to foremost astrophysicist, Neil Degrasse Tyson emphasize that investing in science is critical to our society, and letting kids experiment is an important part of that process:

So, it’s clear the experts understand the need for outdoor science education, but what does that mean for our families? It means that we have plenty of opportunities to explore, learn, and understand science right in our own backyards.

Here are some of those opportunities:

Most importantly, take time to reflect on your outdoor learning. Take a page out of the experiential education playbook by asking three reflection questions: What? Now what? So what? Reflection will lead to understanding–and perhaps to more exploring!

T – Teamwork

26 Reasons to Take Your Family Outside

Photo adapted from Love To Take Photos @ pixabay.com

Happy belated Earth Day!

People who appreciate the outdoors know that we don’t keep the world a beautiful place all by ourselves. It takes a team. It took a team of people to create the National Park System, and it takes teams of people all over the world like the International Union for Conversation of Nature to protect our natural resources.

Today, I could talk about how being outside teaches teamwork—and it does—but instead I want to focus on a handful of the many organizations that ensure we have beautiful parks, pristine waterways, and natural spaces to explore. I want to write a thank you, of sorts, to those whose teamwork ensures all of us the chance to take our families outside.

In no particular order, here are just a few of the organizations acting as part of Earth’s team:

Thank goodness, Earth’s got a pretty big team! That having been said, there’s always room for more people. I hope you’ll join the team to make the outdoors a place we can all enjoy for years to come.