I’m Ditching New Year’s Resolutions

Every year, there’s the familiar pattern that people worldwide experience. It’s called New Year’s resolutions. After people cheer the jubilant “Happy New Year!” and yell the last ten seconds of the countdown, they begin to turn their minds to an imaginary list that some will achieve and others will forget. By the time the new year’s rhythms set in and people get busy with their lives, only a few achieve or begin to achieve their resolutions. Some abandon the idea of resolutions completely.

I’m definitely in the category of abandoning resolutions, but I hope my reasons will encourage you. When I was in my late teens or early twenties, I stopped writing them for the following reasons:

1. I did achieve them, but by working very hard.

2. I realized that one’s life should be consistent every year, regardless of resolutions.

3. Eventually, I found the task of writing resolutions redundant.

In my early teens, my New Year’s lists looked something like “I will exercise more,” “I will read the Bible for 30 min. a day,” “I will write more,” and so forth. I’m proud to say that I achieved these with great gusto. Now in my mid-twenties, my mind has turned to a powerful phrase which I hope will encourage you.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Beautiful and Damned, the protagonist Anthony Patch is a young aristocrat who spirals into insanity because he waits for his grandfather’s inheritance year after year, during which time he does little to nothing with his time. His best friend Richard Caramel encourages him to pursue a career, something to take his mind off the inheritance and make his life meaningful. Richard says, “You do nothing, so nothing matters to you.” (My paraphrase.)

If you turn this statement into a positive perspective, you have a direction for your life. You can ask yourself, “What excites me most? What do I spend my time on most?” Fitzgerald’s statement hit me in the stomach when I reminded myself how little I was writing in the past two years. This year I’m determined to write more to fulfill my dream.

If you’re like me and you don’t write resolutions, please comment below on what you’re passionate about. If you do make resolutions, please share them! I’d love to hear from you, readers! Thank you for your thoughts.

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I Broke My Writing Hiatus

Friends, readers, I’m sorry I took a year and a half off from writing. Not only did I neglect my blog, but I also neglected my craft. For the years of 2016 and 2017, I set aside other important duties which, as much as I respect writing, I found to be more important. My brother got married to a beautiful and godly woman. My family and I moved from Eagan to Lakeville in a stunning house. Finally, I found my job at CenterPoint Energy, which has been more wonderful than I could’ve thought possible in a job. I’m using my writing skills to publish about 15 construction reports a week; my co-workers and my boss make my days enjoyable and fun; and I’m using my salary to pay off all my college debt!

Writing has never been far from me. I’ve published an article in Refreshed about a woman who recovered from consumption abuse and created her own clinic to help those who’ve experienced her pains. I’ve shared my college poetry at a reading in a local coffee shop in Roseville. My days have a blessing. Even my personal reading, which has varied anywhere from Confessions of a Shopaholic to The Old Man and the Sea, has been consistently pleasurable. My professors would be proud of me.

But one thing remains on my mind: Why did I take off a year of writing if it meant so much to me? I believe I was starting to lose a little motivation. Although my passion never ceases and my imagination never runs dry, I did what was honorable: spending time with my family two years after my college graduation. My next step remains open: Now that I’ve established my life’s routine, I want to incorporate a healthy dose of creative writing into my daily life. It all starts with a little motivation.

I look to my job search as an inspiration for how to proceed with my writing life. None of my steps were in vain. Sending 90 applications with a result of 25 interviews was exhausting, but they led me to a full-time job in my field. Prior to CenterPoint Energy, I took six different temporary jobs, ranging from proofreader to data entry assistant. None were a waste.

I have never been one to settle for less, which is why I’m planning my steps to publish my fiction. I hear phrases like, “Life has a funny way of working itself out,” and you know what? It does. I truly believe it does.

What Makes a Book Classic?

“A classic … is a successful book that has survived the reaction of the next period or generation. Then it’s safe, like a style in architecture or furniture. It’s acquired a picturesque dignity …”

-Scott Fitzgerald, from The Beautiful and Damned

When I think of my favorite classics, I remember how much joy they brought me. Growing up I read The Velveteen Rabbit and Too Much Noise, and growing older I read The Little House in the Big Woods, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Great Gatsby, A Christmas Carol, Paradise Lost, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre … I could keep going.

I know a book is classic when it is intelligent, when it soothes or inspires me, and when it has clear transitions between its characters’ development, plot progression, and moral teachings. There is no plot summary that can satisfy the definition of a classic, but when readers from the next generations remember the most famous lines from a book, the book has survived into longevity:

  • “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Pride & Prejudice)
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” (A Tale of Two Cities)
  • “Call me Ishmael.” (Moby Dick)
  • “You may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden.” (The Tale of Peter Rabbit)

 

That, my friends, is the definition of a classic. I am proud to be one of the readers to enjoy and pass on these tales of wonder.

How to Introduce a Book, and Why I Like Hemingway

He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish….

-Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

When you introduce a book, you can’t simply give an imagery description of the town, or a bland description of the character’s physique. Sometimes you wait to say who the character is or how the character looks until after you say what the character does.

Here in the introduction of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, I am struck by the short paragraph which tells readers why the old man is the center of this story. Look at the following passage, which is the rest of the introduction, to see what I mean:

It made the boy sad to see the old man come in each day with his skiff empty and he always went down to help him carry either the coiled lines or the gaff and harpoon and the sail that was furled around the mast. The sail was patched with flour sacks and, furled, it looked like the flag of permanent defeat.

Although I omitted sections for brevity, I included the most important phrase—“the flag of permanent defeat”—which sets the story’s tone and shows the old man’s perpetual misfortune. My favorite lines in the next few pages involve dialogue between the old man and the boy, when they reminisce about the time they first met and how important the boy is to the man:

“How old was I when you first took me in a boat?” [said the boy].

“Five and you nearly were killed when I brought the fish in too green and he nearly tore the boat to pieces. Can you remember?”

“I can remember the tail slapping and banging and the thwart breaking and the noise of the clubbing. …”

“Can you really remember that or did I just tell it to you?”

“I remember everything from when we first went together.”

The old man looked at him with his sun-burned, confident loving eyes.

“If you were my boy I’d take you out and gamble,” he said. “But you are your father’s and your mother’s and you are in a lucky boat.”

When Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize for this novella, he deserved it well. We now know who the old man is by seeing him with our eyes and understanding him with our minds. That is the importance of style when introducing characters.

My Inspiration, the Goose

One would think a goose to be a terribly insufficient role model for a writer, but this goose is a particular inspiration of mine. She is from the novel Whittington, by Alan Armstrong, who has reconstructed the tale of Dick Whittington and his cat in this modern adaptation with farm animals. The best animal among them is the goose, whose name is Lady and who carries herself with such dignity as to command all others’ respect for her.

Here is the excerpt which I found so diverting:

It was a curious thing, the Lady’s authority. The horses obeyed her, along with everyone else except the rats. What gave her power was how steady she was. She never rushed; she was always sure, she took responsibility. When something came up, she said what to do. Presence of mind counts for a lot in this world. The Lady was as confident of her judgment as she was of her beauty. Nothing so improves the appearance as a good opinion of oneself.

It is commanding enough to be a sermon or Sunday school lesson. Whenever there is an inspirational message or motivational piece, there should always be an example of model character. This goose is by no means real, but she is a genuinely wonderful model character.

The curious thing about the Lady is that she’s particularly ugly; though she has clipped wings, a lopsided gait, and an irregular shading of colored feathers, she does command the respect of those around her, and that is the admirable quality which I find so comforting and inspiring.

I think that even the best of preachers would give an example like this to encourage their audience. Thanks to Alan Armstrong for creating such a good character.

The Publishing Industry–Depressing Fiction vs. What Readers Really Want

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the first few weeks of my editing class, I was introduced to the publishing industry, specifically the genres, markets, and age groups that editors keep in mind when acquiring books. Our first assignment was observing the publishing industry by skimming through Publisher’s Weekly, Christian Retailing, The New York Times, and Bookforum, which covered a range of books and age groups including children’s picture books; middle-grade, young adult, and adult fiction; nonfiction; and Christian and secular books.

I had already been acquainted with the publishing world from observing my own county’s library, and I have discovered that the books marketed for older age groups tend to have content that is more violent, realistic, and depressing than the books marketed for young age groups. This realization makes me sad, for sometimes I find no reason why these age groups should be characterized by these grim topics. In fact, I have even found that some adult readers prefer younger-aged books for pleasure.

However, my own conclusion is that sometimes the grimmer, sadder topics conjure the deepest emotions of the human heart, and sometimes many of the readers relate to these topics because of their own experiences. If the latter is the case, I will not judge these books based on their audience’s reception, yet if I am to continue my career in the publishing world, I will keep being aware of the various topics, subjects, and audience needs that fuel the publishing industry, knowing that I may have to read some of these stories if I go into the publishing world.

How to Represent Your Land in Fiction: Flannery O’Connor’s Thoughts

One of my favorite locations, out in the Minnesota waterside.
Landscape often inspires me. This is one of my favorite locations, out in the Minnesota waterside.

In her Mystery & Manners, Flannery O’Connor defines personality as reflecting the specific region of the character. When writers fails to describe their character’s region or include the idioms of that region, and instead universalizes their setting, they ineffectually loses their grounding and focus. The plot is meant to reveal the character’s personality through colloquialism directly related to the character’s specific region. If a writer, for instance, centers on a story in Georgia about a man born in that state, yet fails to relate anything from Georgia, he is creating a flat, universal atmosphere.

In my own fiction writing, I have learned to place my characters in specific settings in order to convey reality to my readers. I understand I must observe my natural surroundings in order to help my readers fully experience the story. I must show where the writer is through specific dialogue, such as through colloquialism, setting, and action.