Moving Forward

 

What is your favorite quote?

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Run and Release

There are some runs I feel the weight of my 37 years; every bad decision, every anxious moment, every missed opportunity and every dissipated dream. Those are bad runs. My feet are stuck in the past, dragging me to a place I can’t change.

There are some runs I wrestle between the old and the new me. I oscillate between the can’t do attitude of the past and the can do of my present and future. My body untangles itself with each step, but keeps getting pulled back in. I look like a wind puppet twisting and turning with the wind.

Then there are the runs I break free. I shed who I was and embrace who I thought I couldn’t be. I don’t look at the ground and grit through each step. The pain I feel in my hip, my lungs, my back don’t keep me from moving forward. I gather all that bad and all that good and I throw it up into the sky in praise. Right then, right there I feel peace.

People joke that running is their therapy. I wish it was, I could save myself a lot of money. Running isn’t my therapy, but it unlocks a lot of things I tamp down the rest of the day. The anxiety that doesn’t show when I am around other people, the hurt, the doubt, the confusion. But running doesn’t keep me there in that low place. As I push myself harder I can’t stay there. The stress bubbles out. Running brings to light the things I don’t want to confront at 3 am, but there they are. At the end of a run I hold all that crap I thought about and I have a decision to make. I can take that ball of crazy and put it back inside. Back into a place I feel it, but not see it. A place that keeps trying to push it out while I keep trying to push it back in. Or, I can take that ball and throw it to God. Get it out of my hands so it isn’t inside any more. It is out there where I can look at it from a distance and ask for help to fix it. Even if you don’t believe in God, you have to release that crazy. Throw it into the universe.

When I let it go, that is the runner’s high.

There are some days I feel all of my 37 years. For a long period in my life I spent a lot of time and money trying not to feel that. But I want to feel those 37 years. If I didn’t feel it, I wouldn’t ever know the elation that comes with letting it go.

Running just helps push it to the surface.

 

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Time for a little writing

My trusty notebook that I always forget to bring with me.

I hit a wall, creatively speaking that is. I lost my mojo, my confidence, the ability to write coherent sentences. I suddenly found more insight from internet trolls than my own words. For the past two weeks I sat and stared at my computer screen, notebook, or the sky waiting for inspiration to strike. Words were elusive. Ideas were shot down before they took off and I descended deep into the cone of shame.

I couldn’t even write blog posts.

The thing about writing, creative pursuits, or hell, life in general is the moment confidence cracks the whole wall crumbles. I couldn’t write, because I didn’t think I could write. Not a fun place to be.

Last night I was in a funk. It was date night, so that made the first hour lots of fun for my husband. It must be horrible to watch someone being sucked into a vortex of shame, and every line he threw to pull me out, I threw back

At his head.

And then he said, “Why don’t you work on something different?”

My lips quivered with a retort, like I haven’t thought of that. But wait. I haven’t.

He’s on to something.

I keep trying to rework the stories I had. But what if I tried something different. I don’t remember if he joked about it, or what, but the idea of a screenplay latched on to my brain like a parasite of hope.

A screenplay. Huh?

I could write a screenplay. I love dialog, it makes me feel productive, and I don’t have to worry about pesky grammar, showing vs telling, or how to portray emotions on the face without telling the reader what the heck is on a person’s face.

Scripts you can just write what the character does in parentheses. No need to wax poetic. If the character eats a sandwich you get to write “Ed eats a sandwich”

Ingenious.

My brain no longer got stuck on where to put the stupid commas. Or how to punctuate the dialog tag. Or what the character was thinking while he ate the sandwich. All I had to do was open my head and dig out the story. Screenwriting pulled me out of the whirlpool of doubt I found myself in.

I can write a story. I can write dialog. This allows me to put them together without worrying about the tiny details that plague a writer’s mind.

I’m not saying I am now trying to write movies. But, getting out of my fiction head for a while allowed me to see I know how to tell  a story. A screenplay is an awesome outline for a book without being dragged down by all the things that throw me into a whirlwind of shame.  Whirlwind, whirlpool, vortex- see how bad it was?

Don’t stop doing something because you think you can’t at that moment. Step outside your head and change the venue.  For a day, week or month, get out of the rut with something new. It will provide the perspective, space, and courage you need to follow a dream.

Now, time for a little writing.

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Cold Snap

I am not really a fall, winter or spring person. The fact that I consider temperatures under 60 degrees a cold snap should tell you something. And you can laugh, but those seasons bring icy fingers that reach under my skin and keep me at a steady temperature of freezing until the sun pushes away the wind and keeps me on the safe side of warm.

But fireplace fires, that is something I do appreciate about these cold seasons. Wood smoke curling around the room while the flames lick the corners. Everyone descends on the living room but does their own thing. Legos tumble together and morph from inanimate objects into the imagined. The metronome tocks in the background, while I curl up under a blanket and devour a book.

 

When it is cold we slow down, turn inward and rest.

There’s something about a warm fire on a cold day that makes the rest of the schedule seem unimportant. These moments aren’t perfect. As soon as I stand up I will step on a lego, and bite my tongue to keep from swearing. The metronome’s steady beat will tock its way into annoyance, setting my misyphonia on edge, and the kids will erupt into fighting. At least once every 17 minutes, just like the statistics say they will. But for 17 blissful minutes by the fire I can breath, exhale and accept the cold temperatures for what they bring, the family together even if the quiet only lasts 17 minutes.

I like that.

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Quality time with kids

The older the kids get the harder it becomes to spend time with them. They are often busy with school work, friends, legos or the important work of being kids. It was easier when they were little and I could scoop them in my arms and just hold them.

But I miss spending time with them. Margo and I still spend plenty of quality time together. We have all the afternoons to read, play, and talk. But it is hard with Rebecca and Isaac. The mornings are rushed and the evenings are short. They come home off the bus, settle into some quiet time to themselves and before I know it, it is time for bed and I have barely spoken to them.

Margo is always asking to spend time with me. But the older two, rarely ask for it. And it made me think, is there anyway to combat this separation? Not that I am proposing I need to be with them every moment, but how can I intentionally spend time with them, so I don’t wake up one day and say, “Crap, I never see my kids.”

I believe a mistake parents make as kids get older is giving them too much space. Because we crave it and they do as well, we throw up our hands in acceptance of this rite of passage. But, just because an adolescent doesn’t need the physical care that a toddler or preschooler does, doesn’t mean we don’t need to spend time with them.

Our kids need us, they just can’t always admit they do.

So what do we do when our kids don’t talk to us? Make them? Continually ask them what is going on? Or do we just spend time with them and allow the dialog to open naturally?

I think that is the better route.

Isaac loves secrets and telling stories. There isn’t a lot of space for him to do this, because there is always another sibling talking. So the other night I got out an empty notebook and wrote him a letter. I told him this was a special book that he could write anything he wanted to me. I stuck the notebook on his bed with a pencil. Minutes later he padded to my office with the notebook in hand. “I can write anything to you?”

I shook my head yes and he took off for a quiet corner to write.

And in a few short sentences I found out more what he does everyday, than I ever knew when I asked him about his day. I can elaborate then over breakfast or dinner what he wrote about. And that is when the stories pour out. But the letter, gave me an opening I didn’t have before.

Rebecca is even harder to spend time with. She is always reading, playing piano, or doing schoolwork. I realized there were many days we didn’t even connect. I couldn’t remember the last time I read to her. So I chose a book off her shelves, and we have been reading it together every night. Snuggled under my comforter we take turns reading to each other. And I cheer inside every time she puts the book down and tells me about her day. It has become a less obtrusive way of asking her about her day. And as soon as she has said what she needed to say, we pick the book back up and continue reading. It has become my favorite part of the day.

Kids need our attention regardless of their age, but it becomes harder as they get older because both we and they feel like they are okay. But we need to keep that line of communication open. It isn’t easy and it takes a lot of ingenuity to get them to open up, but it’s as important. Just because our older kids can articulate their thoughts, doesn’t mean they will. But if we create the space for them to talk, they will.

Doing the hard work now, I hope we will build a strong foundation when we hit the turbulent teen years. If they trust me now with the small stuff of life, I hope they will come to me with the big stuff.

 

How do you connect with your kids each day?

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Know what you want

A Facebook friend posted a link to an article about Gen X-ers parenting in the age of technology. It is a great article and describes the tension parents today feel between what is available and what kids are ready for. I read the article the same day I heard a report on NPR about a study of 100 kids in California. They discovered the more screen time a child had, the less able they were to read facial expressions/emotions. Five days at a camp, removed from screens and reliant upon face to face contact, the kids improved this ability.

So what does that say about screens?

The world is full of screens. As a librarian I love the access to information. If I have a question, I can find an answer within seconds. Recipe for 45 lbs of apples? Done. Hamstring aching? In seconds 3 possible reasons and ways to fix it. Technology is a useful tool. It has given my husband a great job. It keeps me connected to family when we are hours away. It gave me a creative outlet for all the crazy that bounces around my head.

But do I think my 10, 6 and 4 year old need an tablet?

No way.

Do I think they need a phone?

Not on your life.

Is a hand held game system a necessity?

Nope

What kids need is creative play. They need to be outside in the dirt, rolling around in piles of leaves, tromping through fields, canoeing down rivers, staring up at the sky, counting cars that go by, being bored. Technology will always be here, which is why I am not in a hurry to introduce it into their lives.

That’s not to say we are a no screen family. They are allowed to watch TV and play computer games and the Wii. Sometimes I let them play a game on my phone or take pictures with it. I like my phone. I use my laptop constantly. I keep in touch with my husband throughout the day through texts. It would be ironic for me to not let me kids use technology when it is a huge part of my life. But, just like I do with any other aspect of my life, I need to show them with my action, an appropriate boundary with technology.

Isaac videochatting with a far away friend

 

The debate that rages about screens is usually an either/or, which is always a mistake. The best decisions usually land somewhere in the middle and not on either extreme. Our lives have been changed by the advances in the past twenty years, our lives are enriched, and how we interact with people has changed. We are still the parents, and just like we don’t hand over a bag of candy and tell our kids have at it, we need to be more respectful of the good and harm access to screens can have on our children.

 

1) Educate yourself. You are not the only parent facing this dilemma. There is an increasing load of research about how screens affect our kids. Some is for screen time and some is against. Do your homework and understand the possible approaches before you make a decision.

2) Set a clear boundary. This will be different for every family and there is no right or wrong answer. Take the research you read, the personalities of your kids, and with confidence decide how your family will interact with screens. What is an appropriate amount of TV, phone, and gaming per day for YOUR family?

3) Be flexible. Nothing is ever set in stone, but with clear boundaries your children will know what is expected of them. And they will be grateful for days of grace.

4) Your kids will be fine. Whether you decide only screens on weekends, or screens in the evenings, or no screens at all, the possibilities are endless. And no matter what you decide, your kids will be okay. What they need to see is the routine, the pattern, a guide for how much technology we need in our life. They aren’t going to be thirty and not know how to use a keyboard. It is everywhere they go, the problem isn’t if they will learn to use it, but how they will learn to use it.

5) Have a conversation Don’t set rules without following up on the why, and don’t shut your kids out of the conversation. Listen to them, hear them, and explain to them. Depending on the age of your kids, include them in the decision making process. There will be push back, because you set a rule. What kid doesn’t yell when you tell them not to do something? Tell your kids you love them, and because you love them you want to show them the best way for living.

6) Reevaluate. As kids get older, as kids mature, as their nature changes, the boundaries will need to change. Teenagers have different needs when it comes to screens than an 8 yo does. Always be open to reexamine and rethink what needs to be done. But keep using the process of educating, setting boundaries, conversing, flexibility, and reevaluation. You can’t go wrong when you are confident your decisions are well thought out.

We are navigating uncharted waters as parents. As phones, gaming systems, computers, tablets, and other technologies become cheaper and more available we have to decide how we want our families to interact with this world. Nothing happens to us, we get to respond. I challenge you, parent to parent, decide how you will respond.

Screens may be the way kids communicate today, but does that make them better communicators? I don’t know, but I  do know it is something I need to explore. Will be kids be left behind because they don’t have a DS? I think they will be okay, and besides their friends have them.

My daughter asked me recently when she could buy a phone. She asked if she could have one at the same age I did. I had to laugh, because I didn’t get a phone until I was 21. She doesn’t understand that there was a world before cellphones, laptops, and Wii’s. But I do, and I want my kids to experience what I had growing up. I have the best of both worlds. My childhood was relatively screen free and my adulthood expanded to include the world at my fingertips. It wasn’t necessary to have a screen in my hand at birth, I learned and I continue to learn all I need to know to exist in this world.

And I believe they will too.

The tension then, is how do you want to parent? What is your objective in raising kids? Know that first, and then decide how you want your kids to interact with technology. You might just sleep better at night.

 

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We are where we are

Michael and I tend to make quick decisions. Whether it’s buying a car, a house, getting married . . . taking a long walk. Once we decide what we are going to do there isn’t much point in waiting.

It works for us, most of the time. We’re okay admitting when we make mistakes. But sometimes our mistakes affect our kids. For example Saturday when we decided to go on a canoe trip. The day was beautiful. The kids were in a good, well, good is a strong word. The kids were in an acceptable mood. Our bellies were full of delicious pancakes and we knew there weren’t many more weekends we could go out.

So we piled the kids in the car and headed 45 minutes east. No supplies, no sun screen, no bug repellent. We actually were proud of ourselves for remembering to pack extra clothes and shoes. But snacks? Why our stomachs were full. Sunscreen? I look at the two redheads. Eh, we’ll be fine. Isn’t fall sun weaker? And I’m sure there won’t be any bugs on the river.

We paid for our canoes and when the cashier asked if we needed any snacks our first response was, “Nah.” Then we looked at each other, the time, and decided maybe some water and food was needed for the 7 mile trip down the Cuyahoga River.

They bundled us in the van and drove 7 miles out. Dropped our canoes in the water and waved goodbye. It got real right then. We were 7 miles from our car, from bathrooms, from rest. The two packages of peanut butter crackers and 2 packages of trail mix didn’t seem like enough. Rebecca and I were in one canoe and Michael, Isaac and Margo were in the other. We put the oars to the water and well, kept paddling back to shore.

Yeah, it’s been a few years. Once we received guidance from the staff on the banks, Rebecca and I set out to catch up with Michael and the other two. It went well for a while. We floated down the river.

It was silent. Really silent. No cars, no other people. Just the sprinkling of our oars as we sliced through the water. It was one of those times where past, present and future collide into a moment of eternity. It’s the space where a person understands how God looked at creation and felt

Good.

There aren’t many moments like that and anytime I feel them I realize I’m on holy ground, and I thank God for the reminder.

Soon the tenor changed. Rebecca and I pulled away and were further downstream than Michael who was chugging along the best he could with Margo and Isaac dangling their oars in the water creating additional resistance. Isaac’s cries of, “FASTER DADDY, They’re beating us!” bounced off the water around us.

Margo realized that her paddle wasn’t actually doing anything and she became her surly self.

Poor Michael.

Rebecca and I were faster, but we also were terrible at steering. Eventually Michael would pull up beside us as we struggled to paddle ourselves out of a tree, rocks or whatever else we didn’t see until it was too late.

They would get a head of us, then we would straighten our canoe and pull in the front. It reminded me of the Indian runs I used to do in cross country (is there a more PC version of this name?) Where runners go from the back of the line to the front and keep repeating for the balance of the miles. Every so often Rebecca and I would get distracted by water bugs, heron, leaves and end up tangled in a fallen tree. Michael would paddle up and say, “Are you stuck again?”

At one point we had been on the water a while. Neither Michael, nor I, brought our phones, which meant we had no idea of time. I am pretty good at guesstimating time. It creeps Michael out. We’ll be sitting on the couch and he’ll wonder what time it is. I’ll say, 9:45 and he’ll check the time on the TV. I am exact to the minute almost every time. Only the two weeks surrounding daylight savings time screws with my eternal clock. Michael was impressed with this unhelpful skill until I told him it came from a stream of jobs where I was completely and utterly bored. So I became a ninja master at the passage of time.

Anyway, Rebecca and I sang our hearts out. Such favorites as Life is Hard when she turned to me and asked, “How much longer until we get there?” Not having been on the river before I had no reference points, and I was having so much fun, I had no orientation for the passage of time. At that moment, it didn’t matter how much time had passed, or how much further we had to go. Because we couldn’t know either.

So I told her, “We are where we are, so enjoy the moment.”

And she accepted my answer and kept paddling.

For three hours we paddled. Only stopping a few times to let our arms rest. She only asked twice how much further we had, and for a child who can’t even keep herself from asking on our way to school, “HOW MUCH FURTHER?” it was impressive.

If she can figure that out before she hits adulthood, I think she will find a lot more peace in life.

Isn’t that our biggest question? How much time do I have before . . ? Fill in the blank. How much time do I have before marriage is easy. Or the kids can take care of themselves. Or my job will make me happy. Humans need orientation to the end goal. We care more about the  the future than enjoying where we are on the journey. And the only thing we know for sure, is where we are right now.

We made it back to the livery and the pulled our canoes up on the banks. Rebecca and I squished our way up the dirt (Mishap on the “rapids” Not being able to steer and fast moving water are not a good mix for my skills) And I have to say there has never been a better day.

All of us enjoyed the moment. We didn’t think about what was ahead of us. Or what we didn’t have (Food, protection, or time) We didn’t wish we had never started the journey.

We were where we were. And that was the only place we wanted to be.

 

 

 

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Apple Picking with kids

Any weekend in September that sports temperatures above 80, we go apple picking. This results in us going  the same weekend every year, because although people joke Ohio weather is unpredictable it is anything but.

Last years adventure in apple picking

So we loaded the kiddos in the van and drove to the same orchard we go to every year. And because I decided to go phone free for the afternoon we relied on my husband’s non compliant 3G network and my memory to get us there.

Needless to say we made a few wrong turns. When the kids asked if we were lost, shouted in unison, “We know exactly where we are not!”

At the orchard that is.

Finally my husband’s phone found service and we realized we just turned too soon. Parked and ready to pick, my kids are unleashed on an unwitting orchard. Within 15 minutes we had 45 pounds of apples.

That’s right. 45 pounds. Can’t put those puppies back. The only thing that slowed them down was the fact they couldn’t physically pick up the bags anymore. We lugged the loot back to the van and went to the bakery down the road for our annual apple treats. The kids hopped out of the car with their hands ready to pinch and said, “Oooohh, more apples.”

I will admit for about 3 seconds I considered picking more apples. Because I like Fuji apples and all we had were McIntosh. But then I remembered I had 45 POUNDS sitting in the back of my van, so I said no.

And they whined and they cried and then they saw a family walk by with cider, so thy said, “Oohhh, apple cider.” We lost them again. Thankfully, we only bought 1 jug of apple cider, a dozen apple cider donuts, and 2 apple fritters the size of Texas. 

Since Saturday we have made apple dumplings (or rather apples that I stuffed with butter and sugar and then threw the pie crust on top because who the hell can get a freaking pie crust to stick around an apple! SCREW YOU ALLRECIPES. YOU SAY EASY BUT YOU MEAN IMPOSSIBLE. Okay, I’m good now)

Rebecca made applesauce, which was so full of cinnamon I thought someone was taping me for the cinnamon challenge. Rebecca and Isaac made oatmeal out of an apple bowl. And Margo and I made apple pie cake. That’s right, it’s a pie and a cake. How do you like them apples?

All told we’ve been through 12 pounds of apples in 3 days. Seriously. Only 12 pounds. I’m kinda thinking I might need to ignore my hammie pull and go running, otherwise I’ll be buried under my apple picking weight.

The point of this whole post is to ask for more apple recipes. I don’t mind searching the internet, but I prefer some tried and true recipes. If you have any apple recipes please send them my way because I still have 3 full bags of apples sitting in our fridge. And if you like eating apple treats, you are in luck. We can bake all the apple treats for you. You just need to come to my house and eat them.

Next year, I need to rethink my apple picking strategy and only allow 2 bags for our family. Otherwise I will need to build a storehouse.

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We can’t just inhale

The past couple of days my mind has been a constant stream of thought. It felt like processing after an EMDR session, except instead of introspection on my life, I was trying to figure out my novel.

Like I said in Don’t Throw It Out, my novel needs reworked. I received positive feedback from the judges that 1) I had solid writing; 2) I had an audience; 3) Other than grammar, I just needed to increase the conflict/tension and I had a book.

Oh, that’s all. Ha.

My little mind started revving like the wheels of a locomotive heading down a mountain track. What do I keep, what do I take out? And the more I thought, the deeper and deeper I went into fear. I sifted through the pages and realized that what I thought was tension was just the same scene played over and over. My characters were flat. Can anything good come from this?

Thankfully I had a therapy session scheduled and although we didn’t talk about the book, we did talk about space. Acknowledging what is without trying to figure out the why. And from that session, this morning I sat down with a sharp No. 2 pencil and plotted out where my story would go.

My mind stopped inhaling and took a long breath out. And in that space, everything made sense.

When faced with problems, it is our human inclination to act. We look for what we should be doing, what we can reasonably do, and why we should be doing it. There isn’t anything wrong with that approach, but it easily leads us down a path of: fear, frustration, and doubt.

But space? The only questions we ask ourselves; is what is? What is my problem and acknowledge it. I don’t have to have a solution and I don’t have to know why, I just have to say what reality is.

For my book, that reality is I needed tension. It didn’t matter how great my writing was, if the story didn’t go anywhere I wouldn’t capture my reader.

Exhale out.

From that space, I was able to breathe life back into the story. Now it is going somewhere. Now the characters are changing and growing the way they should. In fact, the way they did when I first started writing this book almost four years ago.

I realized that my exhale out, was more important than my inhale.

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Don’t Throw it Out

I tried a new recipe yesterday. I searched the interwebs for a cake recipe that would use up the  48oz of ricotta cheese I had in my fridge. Don’t ask me why I bought that much ricotta; it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The recipes all looked incredible, but one caught my fancy. It was a Berry ricotta cake. It looked rustic, it looked moist and it looked like something I wanted in my belly. Baking is one of my favorite hobbies. There is something about the process that is satisfying in a day of unproductiveness.

I whipped the butter and sugar to perfection. I added the oil, egg and honey until the egg was just absorbed. I carefully mixed in the flour and stirred the ricotta and sour cream so it wasn’t overbeaten.

I pulled out a cake pan and greased it. Put in half the batter and scattered raspberries and layered with the rest of the batter on top. The pan looked full. Really full, but the recipe said a 9 inch would be fine, so I slid the cake into the oven and set the timer for 50 minutes, While it began to bake I pictured everyone’s joyful response when the walked into the house with the smell of vanilla to greet them.

Within five minutes I realized my mistake. A burnt odor covered everything. The house grew smokier and smokier.

The cake wasn’t the problem, the pan was.

I opened up the oven and clouds billowed out. The cake bubbled and dripped onto the rack and oven below it. The sugar turned into a black grime as soon as it hit the heat.

It wasn’t pretty.

And I couldn’t salvage it. Once a cake starts baking, there is no turning back. No repackaging it into a new pan. I’ve done that before and the results are rubbery. I picked up the oozing pan and washed it down the disposal.

Inside I cried a little.

No tasty cake. No joyful exclamations from my family. Just an acrid smell that bit everyone as they entered the house.

I couldn’t get the cake out of my head. So today after lunch I tackled the recipe. The cake wasn’t the problem, my choice of pan was. I measured, I mixed and I poured the cake into the pan.

And it turned out delicious. Right now, I am trying not to devour it before the family gets a chance to sink their teeth into it.

The whole process reminded me of my novel. I’ve been sitting on the judges comments for a month. The critiques said my writing was engaging, but my story lacked tension. One judge said she couldn’t put the pages down even though nothing new was happening. I’ve been battling a vortex of shame that threatened to swallow my whole writing dream these past few weeks. I knew all I needed to do is rework the story, but I felt like I had to start from square one. And I wasn’t sure I had it in me.

Yesterday, while the garbage disposal ate the cake, I started to rewrite my novel.

But today while the aroma of the cake filled the house, I realized my writing wasn’t the problem, I just needed a different structure. All this time I thought I had the wrong ingredients for my story. The ingredients are fine, I just needed to make them bigger. Like the cake, I had chosen the wrong pan for my story.

While the new cake baked, I sat down with the word file and a notebook and picked out the story I was going to tell. The scenes were all there, I didn’t need to start over, they needed reworking. The story didn’t need thrown out. It’s not like my first cake that can’t be rebaked. I can fix this story, even though it is already baked.

And now I have a plan.

Writing is tough. There are days the words don’t come, there are days I don’t have a spare minute to write, and there are days where I doubt myself. But, I don’t need to throw out the whole product because I’ve had some rough days. I need to take what I have and put it in a different pan. I don’t have to start over from scratch, that’s the great thing about writing. If it doesn’t work you don’t have to start over.

You just choose a different pan.

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