Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I be to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Going Real or Fakin' It, The Christmas Tree Debate


There aren't too many things I insist upon at Christmas. As long as my little family unit is home Christmas morning to open gifts, I will happily go with the flow. Travel or stay home? Host or bring a dish? Traditional card or photo-op? Exchange or skip this year? Whatever you want is fine with me.

On one thing, however, I will not budge. A real Christmas Tree. Every year we bundle up and head five miles down the road to the Christmas Tree Farm, saw in hand, to stand in the middle of a snow-shrouded field and select that perfect addition to our home. I so believe in it, one year we had to stick an ice-encrusted tree in the shower before we could put it in the stand.

For those of you who don't know, all of us that opt for a real tree sort of look down our noses at fake. After all, what could be more traditional than walking into a pine-scented room, lights and ornaments dripping from the branches, wrapped gifts nestled under the tree in a glorious display of the season. Let's face it. You fakers have given up. There's no wheeling out a pile of pre-lighted plastic at our house. And don't even get me started on those white, spray-painted "trees". I could go on for days.

It makes me wonder. Do those of you who opt for fake, feel the same about us real tree aficionados? Do you roll your eyes and snicker behind a hand, thinking how ridiculous we will spend the entire season sucking up needles with our vacuums? Do you use the ever-popular "I'm allergic" argument? Just exactly how deep are the lines drawn?

Friday, December 3, 2010

AJ's 3 Rules for Successful Writing

I’m handling these in reverse order (because that’s how they do it on the Miss America Pageant).

Rule #3:  Read
If you want to be a successful author, first and foremost, you must read. And I’m not talking about the latest How-To article on drafting the perfect query letter (yes, that’s important, and certainly something you should peruse before submitting). I’m talking about reading for enjoyment, to remember your love of words. Especially for all those workaholic writers out there, like me. You know who you are. Up to the wee hours of the night, editing that latest WIP. When you find yourself looking up the word “took” in the thesaurus, ‘tis time to unplug. Prime example:
Recently, my family decided on a spur-of-the-moment vacation. Emphasis on the word vacation, because this means Mom doesn’t work. Before our departure, I stopped at my local library and grabbed a book from the shelf. I didn’t know the author, hadn’t read any reviews, and could have cared less if it made the NYTimes Best Seller List. I’m a fantasy reader by nature, and this book happened to be within arm’s reach. It had an interesting cover–dark hero shrouded in a cape, sword in hand–and an eye-catching title. I thought “Eh? What the heck.” I put it on the counter and checked it out along with several of my daughter’s selections.
The point to all this? It had been so long since I read for pure enjoyment that I got completely lost in the story. Afterwards, I had an epiphany. Why did I EVER stop reading? Before becoming a writer, I used to read all the time and I loved it…I missed it. But even better than that, now that I was a writer, I learned something by reading that book. This particular author had a very unusual way of handling perspective. Before writing myself, I probably would have never picked up on his technique, so smooth were his transitions between the characters’ internal dialogues. This author broke one of the major writing rules our editors are always telling us to avoid. He changed perspective mid-paragraph–sometimes even mid-sentence. But the way he did it was astounding, and I took away something very valuable by reading that story.
Remember to read, people. Pick up any book that floats your boat and crack the binding. Each time you do, I can guarantee, you will discover a new way to hone your craft.
Rule #2: Pay Attention
Or transitionally: You must be present in life if you want to write about it.
If given the choice, my perfect day is one when I don’t have to leave the house. I can sit inside with my laptop and a cup of Joe, happily clicking away until someone walks in the door and asks, “What’s for dinner?” At this point I spring up from the chair and remember I’m responsible for the care and feeding of my family.
Most of the writers I know are introverts. We have so many different characters inside our heads we don’t need to attend a party in order to meet someone new. However, social obligations notwithstanding, we all need to leave the house at some point. So when you do, PAY ATTENTION.
How many of us have heard this comment before? “You need to show more.” Showing can be one of the biggest problem areas for authors. Paying attention to your surroundings will help address this issue. Look at the sky. No, I mean really LOOK at it. And when you do describe what you see (and do yourself a favor, avoid words like “blue”, “partly cloudy” and “overcast”. Let’s leave meteorology to the professionals.) Listen to the way people talk, watch their facial expressions and body language during a conversation and take note of them. Smell the aroma when you walk into a restaurant.  No, really SMELL it! Notice the people at the other tables, the waitress’s hairstyle and the necklace she’s wearing. Feel the texture of the ground beneath your feet. Experience the warmth of your daughter’s palm when she holds your hand. Recognize and name the emotions in your heart when your significant other says, “I love you.”
These little details are what each author must translate into their work if they want their stories to be captivating and create an audience base. Pay attention, people. If you’re writing about life, you have to be present while it’s happening.
And the #1 Rule for being a Successful Writer (Can I get a drum roll please?):  PRAY!
Holy cow, did she just say the “P” word? Has the woman gone completely mad?
Evidently, prayer is a hot button these days, or should I say the usage of prayer is a hot button. I open this can of worms and I’ve automatically offended someone–which irritates the crap out of me, but I’ll save that gripe for another blog. I am not attempting to force my beliefs on anyone. What I AM saying is if you want to be a successful writer, for that matter if you want to be successful at anything, you must believe in the power of prayer. 
For those of you who already know this rule, I’ve just won myself into your good graces. For those of you who don’t, let’s take a moment and look at this from a scientific standpoint, shall we?
Several years ago a group of Quantum Physicists got together and asked themselves a question. “Is there a God particle?” (These are the guys that smash atoms together and break them into billions of sub-atomic particles, so they can study matter and find out if there is an all-encompassing force that connects all things.)
Here’s what they’ve discovered so far. Matter is not solid. Everything you see, breathe, taste, touch, and smell, is made up of tiny particles of light (photons), functioning at different vibrational frequencies so that human beings can perceive them. Light is energy. Energy is magnetic. And in case you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, magnetic forces attract each other. Some say this Law of Attraction is the divining force which binds all things together. Throughout history many prominent thinkers have believed that human beings, through the force of our electromagnetic brain activity, are able to tap into this Law of Attraction, and through it, draw to ourselves the very things we desire. So, in other words, what Quantum Physics has proven is that each of us, within ourselves, contains a divine power to create the very world that surrounds us.    
Hmmm…that sounds vaguely familiar to me. Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.
I find a certain kind of poetic justice in how science is just now proving what the Bible has been telling us for centuries. Prayer works, people. Whether you want to view it as The Law of Attraction or speaking personally with God, bottom line, it works. It is the number one most important thing in determining success in any area of life.
Take a moment to say a prayer each day. I cannot stress this enough. Send that positive thought out into the universe and see what happens. You may be surprised at the results.