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In the Belly of the Whale (or Big Fish-depending on how literal you are)

Mug

When 2016 was just around the corner, I made a list of things I wanted to do in the new year. Not resolutions really, more like goals.  Like every year in recent years, I wanted to bring in more organization to our home and purge clutter, be healthier and train for another half marathon.  Oh yeah, and get a solid direction for this little blog.

Over a quarter of the way through the year, I’ve been organizing my office, training for the GO! Half Marathon, which I ran this past Sunday with my daughter, Erin, and trying to make healthier choices for meals (well, sorta).  What I’ve been avoiding like the plague is the direction of my blog.  You may have noticed this little hiatus as I noodled for a bit what it was I was going for in my posts.

Who was I writing for? How much family/personal info is too much? How often should I post? What’s my goal in this? Do I really have the talent/energy to actually work on it?

If you’ve ever blogged, I’m sure you can relate.  When I’ve read articles and books on blogging (probably my first mistake), generally they are geared towards people who want to earn money from a blog or have some area of expertise they’d like to share. Not really my audience.

I started looking at what type of person would be interested in my blog—this goofy, Midwest Mom’s take on people and events in my life—and got stuck.  And then self-doubt crept in.  As the weeks passed and I did nothing with the blog, I told myself I was only trying to gain perspective on where to go next, and these things take time. I continued reading other blogs that I feel are similar to mine and tried to define what it was about those posts that I enjoyed so much.  Like a flowery romance novel with unrequited longing that I devour, it’s the relatable -people thing that pulls me in.  I love reading other people’s life experiences and thinking, “Hey, that’s me!” Or “That was a brave thought to put out there.” Funny, because if you read about why I started my blog it’s one of my main points.

Still, I felt I needed to be more purposeful about what I was blogging about.  I posted nothing—I wrote them, but I never put them, or myself, out there.  I trashed them and I couldn’t finish them.  The Lighthearted Dragonfly seemed like a pointless, silly endeavor.

Shelving something that was at one time something that brought me tremendous joy and fueling of hope wasn’t easy.  I prayed about it, asked God what it was He wanted me to do. It went a little like this:

“Inspire others,” He whispered.  “In doing so, even if you don’t mention my name directly, you will glorify me.”

“I’m not good at that,” I told Him.  “People will think I’m pious and stereotype me as a squeaky clean Christian.”

At this point I picture God just shaking his head.  “So what?”

“Well, I won’t get followers and I won’t get to write posts about hilarious and dirty misunderstood lyrics.”  (I think God would roll his eyes here, because He knows how I much I love to laugh over mistaken lyrics.)

“Uh huh.”  I thought about it some more and why it would never work.  I hid away from the computer, and writing in general.  I applied for full time positions where I work part time now and didn’t get any offers.  I busied myself with marathon binging on “Criminal Minds” and ghost/paranormal shows.  I played lots of games on my phone during the time I used to work on the blog.  The couch became my ship sailing away from the very thing I felt I was led to do.

And despite the fact I thought I was getting away without doing the blog or any writing, I got a touch depressed.  It wasn’t a real fish belly I was in, but it was similar.  It was a prison of unproductive, wasted time, feeling purposeless and just standing by waiting for life to roll on by.  When someone would ask me about my blog, or writing in general, I felt embarrassed for having failed at it.  I would see pictures of dragonflies in odd places.  And this verse came up in my life, all over the place, again and again.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11

I started thinking about Jonah (ironically, that story came up a few times, too.)  In no uncertain terms God had told him exactly what He wanted him to do.  If you remember the story, Jonah didn’t really feel up to the task, and tried to get away on a boat to hide from God.  It took ending up in the belly of a whale to get him to wake up and follow directions.  Was that what I was doing? Running from God’s plan for me?  I didn’t want to end up that way!

I started writing posts, again only half finishing them and never posting them, but with the idea that I needed to do this.  I’m not saying I’m in the same league as Jonah by any stretch, but in the smaller manuscript, God’s Plan for Amy—you may have heard of it—I think there may be a chapter about a little dragonfly blog.

So I’m getting off the couch and back up on that horse (yes, I really do like clichés in my imagery!)  I won’t pretend to know the big picture, but I hope that you will follow me and check out the blog now and then.  If you were a follower before, thank you for your patience; I’m still here!

I couldn’t end this post without giving a shout out to some of my fellow bloggers that have inspired me to do this thing again.   Almost all of them I’ve never met, I’ve just read their blogs and enjoy what they have to say.  A big thank you to them for showing me that writing about things you love—from life from the perspective of a young person finding her way, wonderful stories of families and genealogy, to the single dad going to seminary after serving as a Captain in the Air Force sharing his opinions and struggles.  Each one of them have made me want to continue doing something that can, at times, seem like a fruitless pursuit.  Please keep on writing!

Bloomin’ Flower           Moore Genealogy

The Baby Perks               Tali Norfalli

Captain’s Log               Rookie Notes

StoryShucker

(You may need to hold the CTRL key to get the links to open!)

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2015 RT Convention: A Newbie’s Perspective

Two weeks ago I attended the 2015 RT Booklovers Convention in Dallas, Texas, with my fellow book-loving cousin and aspiring author, Kim.  Neither one of us had attended an event like this before, so part of the fun was not having any expectations of what it would be like.  In fact, the only thing we really knew was to bring along an extra suitcase for all the books we’d be bringing home.  I registered for the conference as a blogger, although I think the types of blogs they had in mind for that type of attendee were those that specialized in book reviews.  Rookie mistake.

The Blogger listing page in the RT Convention program

The Blogger listing page in the RT Convention program

The “RT” stands for Romantic Times, so primarily the authors and books featured were romance writers, but there were several Young Adult authors there as well.  In fact, many YA authors have romance books out there—sometimes they use a different pen name to distinguish their works between those marketed for adults.  Before attending this conference, I hadn’t realized how many subgenres fall within the romance novel umbrella, and they were all represented—from Inspirational to Erotica and everything you can imagine in between.

From the time we arrived in Dallas, it felt like events fell into place in our favor.  Our flight arrived earlier than what we’d planned, and we got to the convention in time to attend the RT Convention newbie workshop, where we learned some tips to best negotiate the conference.  Being the book nerd that I am, these authors are my rock stars; it was great to be told to be sure to seek out and talk to my favorite authors.

Kim and my obligatory selfie upon our arrival at the convention

Kim and my obligatory selfie upon our arrival at the convention

I grew up loving to read, and when I hit my teens, romance novels, especially anything that was historical romance geared towards teens, were my favorite.  There was a book series in the 80’s called Sunfire that I absolutely devoured as a teen.  All of the books featured a young heroine growing up in various historical times in American history like the Civil War, western pioneers, or the American Revolution.  Think the American Girl doll books of today with the girls growing from young teens to young women, trying to decide between suitors that represented opposite ways of life for the time period.  Only a few months ago I found a couple of my books from this series at my parents’ house and ordered a few more from Amazon.  I started re-reading them and I still think they are great reads.  When I got older, I enjoyed other types of romance books, but historical romance holds a special place in this reader’s heart.

Our goal was to attend the workshop sessions geared towards writing—and there were plenty to choose from.  Two of my favorite sessions about writing were “Oops, Your Research is Showing!” and “All Things Old Are New Again”.  The first one, which ended up having one of Emily’s favorite YA authors, Lydia Kang, on the panel, gave great information about ways to go about researching topics for your writing.  Everyone on the panel shared how their books’ storylines had aspects that required they find out specific information to ensure their novels felt authentic, without bogging down the reader with too much information.  In “All Things Old Are New Again”, the panel of authors discussed ways they continue to come up with new ideas book after book.  At this session I met Erin Knightley, who is one of my new favorite authors.  In part because she really is a gracious person who was generous with her time in talking to Kim and I, but also her books are historical romance.

In addition to the workshop sessions, there were several publisher sponsored events with opportunities to meet the authors and get free copies of their books.  These events were heavily attended, so there were a lot of lines to wait in and it could get a little overwhelming, but these events were a lot of fun.  Not that I enjoy waiting in lines, but for the most part I found interesting people to talk to in line with me.  Most of the time I would just wait in a line, not even knowing what book or author was on the end of it.  In doing so, I was introduced to various books and authors I would not have otherwise found, and I loved it.

One of the authors I met this way was I.G. Gregorio.  Her YA book, None of the Above, would have never been on my radar.  In reading the premise of the book, which is about a teenage girl who learns rather traumatically as a senior in high school that she is intersex (meaning she was born with both male and female parts), it seemed like an interesting premise that I had never really thought about before.  I didn’t want to pass it on to any of my favorite YA readers without screening it first, so I started reading it that night and I couldn’t put it down.  I finished it by the next morning.  Later, at the giant Book Fair held the last full day of the convention, I sought her out to let her know how much I enjoyed the book, which she seemed to honestly appreciate.

The Book Fair, included as part of the convention, is open to the public and draws an amazing number of book lovers.   The authors are arranged by genre in alphabetical order at huge tables.  Kim and I made it a point to meet up with authors we had met during the convention to get signed copies of their latest books.  I had a list of YA authors that Emily had asked me to look for, and I scored some big time Mom points getting her books that were signed personally to her.  After the Book Fair, we went up to our room to try to figure out how, even with the extra suitcases, we were going to get all these books home without going over the weight limit for our bags.  It wasn’t easy!

Lydia Kang, one of the authors Emily asked me to visit, was kind enough to sign Em's book and pose for a pic

Lydia Kang, one of the authors Emily asked me to visit, was kind enough to sign Em’s book and pose for a pic

This conference rekindled my love of reading as well as reminded me of how much I enjoy the writing process.  I learned so much in the various sessions about the writing and publishing world, met some great people, and was introduced to several new authors that I’m sure will become favorites.  Now if only I can find the time to get to all those books!

Here are the books I brought home with me, many of them signed by the author.

Here are the books I brought home with me, many of them signed by the author.

The Return of the Dragonfly

Check out more macro photos like this one at http://urdu-mag.com/blog/2012/05/25-beautiful-macro-photography/

Check out more macro photos like this one at http://urdu-mag.com/blog/2012/05/25-beautiful-macro-photography/

I’ve been putting off writing this post—after all, it’s been awhile since I’ve added anything to the Lighthearted Dragonfly site.  I wasn’t sure if I should address the hiatus or just plow back into posting again.  To be honest, it’s been hard to find the time to write ANYTHING worth reading, although I’ve started many, many posts that I never finished.  It wasn’t exactly writer’s block; it was more like the longer I hadn’t posted the more I felt like I was behind and could never catch up.  It reminds me of the way I feel when I haven’t run or worked out in a while—getting back into the groove and lacing up those shoes for the first time seems to take a lot of effort. But similar to how overthinking hopping onto the escalator can paralyze me at the top of those rotating steps, I’ve realized it’s important just to take a deep breath and step out.

Dragonflies aren’t around in the winter.  Although I’ve read in some studies that some dragonflies migrate south in the winter like birds, most adult dragonflies die off as winter approaches.  It’s the nymphs in the water that hatch each spring.  I like to think of myself as one of those dragonfly nymphs that was just hanging out in the water under the surface, waiting for the spring.  It sounds much more poetic than the reality of having too many commitments that my blog had to take a backseat.  I won’t bore you with the “I’m so busy” stories, but the last few months can be summed up in saying that I was doing contract work with solid weekly deadlines, my regular job, and helping out in another department that was in between Administrative Assistants while trying to keep up with my kids’ crazy schedules.

Two weeks ago, my cousin, Kim and I attended the RT Booklovers Convention; I attended as a blogger, although the other bloggers seemed to be all book review blogs.  I will be posting more on this wonderful experience, but in short, being around all these people who live, eat and breathe words, stories and books just made me realize that writing, even short little posts on my little blog, is a part of me.  I am happier when I’m writing and not just focusing on my paid to-do list.  One author I met and really enjoyed talking to at the convention, I. G. Gregorio, is a surgeon in her “other” life.  Yeah, makes my whining about my contract work and job seem a little….well, whiney!

So I’m here to say I’m back, just like those beautiful dragonflies I am hoping to start seeing soon.  If you’ve been following me before, thanks for visiting again and not forgetting about me entirely.  We’ve got a lot to catch up on.  And if you’re visiting for the first time, I hope you choose to stick around to see what’s next.

Old Year, New Year

I love, love, love the week in between Christmas and New Year’s. The pressure of Christmas is over, but the world seems to still be in holiday mode. The kids are home from school and are like formerly-famished people after a big meal with all their goodies. Work is quieter (a little) and the promise of a brand-spanking-new year looms ahead past the confetti and champagne. Oh yeah, I love this week.

Today I received an email from the lovely folks at WordPress that gave me a rundown of my stats for this past year on the blog. It was fun to see which posts got the most views. Nice to see the spammers made the top ten for commenters, too. Seeing that year in review got me excited for what’s to come for The Lighthearted Dragonfly in 2015. I officially registered for the RT Book Conference in May as a blogger. During the month of December, I took a bit of hiatus to work a little extra and get everything done for Christmas. It was nice to have that bit of a break, but now I’m ready to move forward and settle back in to what I need to do.

I’m not one to make resolutions at New Year’s, but I do like to think that each year I take a little inventory of life to see what I want to make better the following year. For both personal and professional goals, it’s gratifying to see how far I’ve gotten in the past year. I’m at a point in my life that I’m content with the life I lead—but not jaded enough to not believe in an even better next year.

May 2015 bring you closer to your dreams, whatever they may be.

 

Happy New Year!

Is it Apathetic to be Content?

lifesperks.wordpress.com

 

Is it apathetic to be content? In today’s world, I find myself asking this question a lot. This past Sunday Darrell and Tyler were watching football and I noticed that so many commercials with athletes send the message that you should always strive to be better, to do more, and to work harder. Being content with your performance today is being mediocre. Although I can’t argue with the admirable work ethic, I sometimes wonder if the message the world sends to all of us is that we are never good enough and it is wrong and downright lazy to be content.

In the Jimmy Johns sandwich shop near my home, they have a sign hanging up with a story by Mark Albion about a fisherman on a small island. I found the version below at: http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=70#sthash.wrHhZh4w.dpuf  It really speaks to me:

Businessman and the Fisherman

–by Mark Albion (Apr 19, 1999)

A young businessman was at the pier of a small coastal village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Seeing several large yellowfin tuna inside the small boat, the businessman complimented the fisherman on the quality of the fish and asked how long it took to catch them. “Only a little while,” the fisherman replied.

A little surprised, the young business man asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The content fisherman said, “This is enough to support my family’s immediate needs. I don’t need any more.” “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” asked the confused young man. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a walk with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my buddies; I have a full and busy life.”

The lad scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The fisherman asked, “How long will this all take?” to which the young man replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then?” The business man laughed and said “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions, sir? Then what?”

“Then you would retire, move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a walk with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your buddies.”

In many ways, I find myself identifying with the fisherman on the island. In truth, I have the best of both worlds—a regular paycheck and work experience, but since I work part time, I have more time and energy to write and do things with my family. Yet, I feel like I should be doing more. After all, it would be nice to have the extra income having a full-time job can bring, but at this point in my life, would the additional stress it would bring to our family actually be worth it? My kids are teenagers. In a few short years they will all be in college and embarking on their own careers and lives. Ideally, this is the time of my life to put my ducks in a row for when the day comes when I will return to working full time again. Instead of enjoying the season I’m in now, I worry about what if this or that happens, or what if I don’t get the job I want. I wish I could think more like the fisherman and less like the businessman!

The flip side of being content, at least for me, is the “Someday” trap. Filled with apathy and no commitment to a goal, the Someday trap puts all my dreams in future tense. I will finish my novel…someday. When I’m in Content mode, it’s easy to put off the small things that make Someday possible, like building and promoting a blog. This is where discernment comes in, and when I have to question the motives behind my goals. It’s a delicate balancing act—as well as the reason why I need deadlines! It’s when I have to ask myself what small step I can do today to make my Someday happen, you know—SOMEDAY.

So for today, I will be patient and content with this season in my life, with only one eye on the future. Because we should enjoy the here and now…and everyone needs a Someday.

Bloggin’–Yeah, It’s Personal

embarrassing

I’m pretty good at embarrassing myself and laughing about it. Probably because the types of things that embarrass other people I find amusing and as a person, I’m pretty much an open book. I am comfortable with who I am—I know I spend/eat/drink too much, laugh too loud at inappropriate things, and I’m not getting any younger. Most of the time these things don’t bother me, because they tend to make my life unfold in unexpected and humorous ways. Heck, I blog about them for the world to see. (Well, my wonderful 49 something followers at least!)

But this week got off to a rough start after dropping off Erin at camp. As much as I wanted to find humor in the moment, I still can’t personally. When I tell my close friends about it, I do make a point of highlighting the SNL skit-worthy parts, and glossing over the parts that aren’t so pleasant; it’s still too much of an open wound to laugh about.

I told my loyal, faithful, wonderful friend Amy, who played the role of angel-on-earth in our little drama, that hey, at least I have something to blog about. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would not be fair to my family to air dirty laundry on a blog—even if it’s just my take on things. Because while it’s one thing to laugh at my own follies, dragging my kids’ stories onto the internet for even just 49 people to see is violating the trust they have in me as their parent. And I don’t want to pay for their therapy when they’re 30.

I remember being a kid and not wanting my mom to tell friends and relatives “stuff”. And this was long before the internet was a forum to do it. We used to travel to visit relatives and take road trips. Long road trips in rural areas where there was not always a clean restroom for hours. I remember more than once having to make my dad stop so I could use the great outdoors, and I didn’t want anybody to know that I had to stop to pee in the weeds somewhere out on a country road. Of course, it was one of the first things talked about when they asked how our trip down had been. Oh, the embarrassment!

So, even though I occasionally forget that some things embarrass people more than they do me, I will never forget how being embarrassed feels. And feelings are pretty important—especially when you’re a kid.

Besides, when it comes to embarrassing stories I have a lot of my own material.   Did I ever tell you about the time….?

What’s Your Writing Process?

Story ideas are like seeds. There are plenty of them, but they take careful tending to grow into anything worthwhile.”   Sexton Burke, The Writer’s Adventure

 

I found this quote in a book my husband bought me for my birthday, and it’s been yammering in my head all week. It describes one of my biggest weaknesses in my writing. I have tons of ideas to write stories about, but I get pulled in so many directions—outside of my writing life as well as scattered writing projects—that I always am juggling them instead of focusing on one. While it’s one of the reasons I love to blog, it’s also why you can find me staring at my computer screen wondering what the heck I was thinking when I started a story idea.

My blog, The Lighthearted Dragonfly, is about my life, and I just write about what I experience and observe with my family and friends. It is a piece of my heart, really, so it’s super easy to sit down at the keyboard and churn out what’s going on. Okay, maybe not super easy, but since it’s my creative outlet I feel like I get to express myself without concern about character and plot structure, plausibility and what some unknown future editor would say about it. Although I do try to edit posts so that they’re grammatically correct, the only censoring is mine alone.

With my stories, it is completely different. I see stories everywhere and I have as far back as I can remember. Before I started really writing them down, I would replay scenes in my head that I would make up—like I was watching a movie. I daydreamed a lot, especially if I was in the car by myself with some good tunes. The thing about the daydreaming was that I didn’t have to fill in the missing information. If I liked to make up sassy dialogue or an attention-grabbing first line that was all I had to do. I didn’t try to explain all the things that led my characters to that scene. I never shared my silly daydreams with anyone (they’d think I was crazy!) so these individual ideas and scenes piled up in my head—mostly they were forgotten when I grew bored with them.

Actual writing is definitely not the same as daydreaming or having a great story idea. Writing takes work! Like the quote says, you have to nurture the idea, and, in most cases, flesh it out to the point of exhaustion, only to clip it back to keep it simple.   This is where I get in trouble. Because I have this need to know every character’s backstory I find that if I struggle with a part of it, I get frustrated, especially if the character’s personality is radically different from mine. A lot of my characters are different from me, because, as I’ve pointed out before in other posts, I live a stable and not too dramatic life that’s not exactly story/novel worthy. Frustration = Put Aside for Later = Forgotten and Left Behind (aka Giving Up).

So here’s what I’m doing about the whole dilemma of starting ideas and not tending to them properly:

1.)      I started meeting with my cousin, who also writes. This has forced me to organize my writings. I can’t ask someone to critique something that is only partially done or has big chunks missing out of the middle of the plot. Just simply having a deadline for when we meet is enough to get me to have my act together. Meeting with Kim regularly gives me purpose in my writing and I’ve been better about committing to a story I’m working on.

2.)       I jot down any and all ideas I have—every time I have them. Some are stand-alone, some mesh into another story or blog post. It doesn’t matter, I just get them down so I don’t forget them. Even if it means running from the shower to my little notepad on my nightstand!

If you’re a writer who’s been writing awhile, this probably seems pathetically basic, but it’s the baby steps that have brought me to the place in my writing where I can feel organized and purposeful. Writing down outlines and timelines does not come second nature to me. Brainstorming random thoughts does. I have scenes in my head that I string together. I need the characters to get from one situation to the next, so I fill in between the scenes I know and love with what makes the characters and plot go from Chapter 1 to Chapter 5. It sounds like kind of a sloppy process when I explain it that way, and sometimes my heart is just not into writing these “cement” chapters that glue a story together, but it’s how it works for me. It makes the characters come alive to me when I feel like in some weird way they are guiding the story.

Do other writers out there have a similar process they go through for their stories? Do you use a Bubble/Brainstorming Method? A dartboard? Do you outline the entire story first? Or do you sit down to write and see how the characters lead you? Does it depend on what genre you’re writing in? I’d love to hear suggestions and have others share what works for them, so please share!

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