So, here’s the deal. You’ve been wanting to write something big and groundbreaking for a while. It’s been itching in the back of your mind. But then when you finally sit down to write, nothing comes; or ironically, you find you’d rather be doing something else—anything else, like cleaning the oven or building the backyard barbecue. Anything but writing. So you file away said project until later, later… and later. You figure your masterpiece can wait, and is still safe in the back of your mind feeding itself with your growing anticipation. Then over time, the idea of your project eventually becomes so great, you almost fear it. Sound familiar? Or perhaps you are hopelessly pressed for time, can’t get five consecutive seconds of quiet, or the ability to keep your head up eludes you after an honest day’s work. However, your big project is still the one thing keeping you going each day, the idea of its cumulative greatness leading you along like a dangling carrot dipped in sugar. But oftentimes, when we least expect it, we find that the hardest part of creating a literary masterpiece is the very thing that should be the simplest: getting those first words on paper. That said, I wanted to go over some trial-and-error strategies that applied in my own writing journey that helped me complete my first three novels when writer’s block, writer’s anxiety, fatigue and time constraints, etc., told me not to.
- Word Vomit
There you have it. Just spew it out! All over the paper! The best way to get over writer’s anxiety, as well as her evil step-sister, writer’s block, is to write down something—anything—without reserve or expectations. You can do this secure in the knowledge that you can always edit, structuralize and embellish later. And no one needs to see it anyway until you’re good and ready, right? So, for now, just let it out!
- One Sentence a Day
This goes hand-in-hand with word vomit, but with a bit more focus. This approach may not work with projects that have a tight deadline; but if you are writing a novel, memoir, or any other long-term project, you can commit to writing just one sentence per day. Just as saving small change can add up to big bucks over time, writing one sentence per day can add up to chapters that might have otherwise been empty pages, had the project been put off for an indefinite length of time. And in my personal experience, writing one sentence a day can often yield more content, as new ideas can and do spring up once you get going again.
This may sound a bit cliché, but slight distractions and/or practical tasks can help break down writer’s anxiety, and simultaneously give you an outlet. It can also add a sense of practical fulfillment, getting other things done (or relaxing) while writing. For example, watching a movie, especially in the genre of your project, while writing provides a background that can keep you alert and focused in ways radio silence cannot. Also, timing your writing goals to, say, one chapter by the time the movie or album finishes, or a few paragraphs while the lasagna bakes, or the clothes are on spin cycle, can also help lay the paving stones to the completion of your project. Plus, you’re enjoying yourself and getting things done in the process!
- Procrastinate in Disguise
That’s right! I said procrastinate—but with a purpose. In order to alleviate anxiety, guilt and self-loathing that can lead to the final burial of a project, allow yourself to procrastinate for certain periods of time. Or in simpler terms, give yourself a break. You can also use this time for research, soul-searching, inspiration-sleuthing, or just plain old breathing. And, as wise sages everywhere tell us, you never know when new inspiration or ideas can pop up out of nowhere. In my experience, ideas often come when your mind is still, and not constantly chasing leads to fill an agenda.
- Read, Read, Read!
This is also something you can do to refuel during a sanctioned procrastination period, as well. Throughout my career, I have often heard that to be a good writer, it really helps to read noteworthy bestsellers, especially in your project genre; not only to relax, but to observe the paradigm, structure and general feel your project should have to be successful. Reading is especially advantageous to kinesthetic learners, like myself, who learn best through carrying out tasks based on examples.
- Fill in Those Time Pockets
This strategy goes hand-in-hand with multitasking, but with a slightly different approach. Let me explain. Time pockets, first of all, are spare blocks of time you can utilize over a busy day when you have very little time to focus solely on writing. This is especially helpful for those who work and/or parent full-time. Those who can never seem to catch a breather. During pockets of time, namely coffee, lunch or smoke breaks, or waiting in the grocery line or in the dentist’s reception area, quickly jot down a quick sentence on a napkin or word pad, or more realistically, voice record or text it to yourself on your phone. This is especially helpful if you encounter a sudden flash of insight or inspiration. And those texts or scratch notes can add up to those chapters you would otherwise never have found the time to sit down and write the old-fashioned way.
- Reward Yourself!
When you accomplish a writing goal, whether it is a chapter, a section, a character sketch, or, of course, the final completion of your project, reward yourself with a small (or generous) treat. A stroll to Starbucks, a lobster sandwich at the cute bistro downtown, or hell, even a trip to Paris or Papua; whatever your budget allows, treat yourself—but only do so after meeting each goal. Of course, getting the words on paper is its own reward; but treating yourself can certainly sweeten the deal when you need an extra jolt.
And there you have it! Whether you are aiming to complete a large-scale novel or memoir, or trying to hit your next article deadline, it helps to start small, compartmentalize your goals, and allow yourself to relax and let ideas come to you (provided you catch them when they do). After all, you never know when a few paltry sentences can crystallize into a timeless classic, a groundbreaking media epic, or a great story for the grandkids. And it all starts with getting those first few words on paper, and keeping them coming; especially if it’s the last thing you want to do!
Over the summer, my kids started bringing home these fun plastic doohickeys. And since they look a lot like the expanding atom toys I had seen in the Discovery Channel store as a kid, I often wondered why they were squandering their allowance on these babies, especially at their ages. So…I asked them. (Disclaimer: these particular items only apply in Korea, or similar locations)
Turns out, they had been “cleaning up” after lucky litterbugs who discarded them after winning prizes from claw machines in several local game rooms. Then when they really began to pile up and clutter their room, it dawned upon me that these discards were far too pretty to just throw into the recycling bin. So…..
I turned to a string of old half-working Christmas lights already dangling from the curtain rod in their room, and decided to string ’em up into an origami-like garland. Then, for further psychedelic splendor, I wrapped another string of last year’s lights around the finished garland. And I must say, IMHO, the results were, well, blog-worthy!
I hope you enjoyed this posting! And to my Korea-based readers, please try this at home. It’s fun, and it’s free!
Hi, All! As the 4th of July is upon us, I wanted to share a quick and easy BBQ recipe fit for the 4th, or any summer cookout. As an expat, I have fond memories of peppery, gooey cheese steaks back home; but here in Korea, I found it easier to just make my own at home. And as real hoagie rolls are often hard to come by (and hot dog buns just don’t quite cut it), I have improvised by making mini versions of the subs I loved from more easily-available dinner rolls. The minis are not only great for picnics and kids’ parties, but they are also great for portion control, not to mention very satisfying. So, without further ado, here is the recipe.
Serves up to two dozen mini cheese steaks
1-2 bags of soft buns or dinner rolls
1 lb thinly-sliced beef
4-6 bell peppers
4-6 large onions
2/3 cup shredded Provolone cheese
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
3 tablespoons seasoned salt
1 tablespoons Italian seasoning
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional for garnish)
- Preheat oven to 150 degrees.
- Pour oil into a large frying pan or wok.
- Cut thinly-sliced beef into finer, smaller pieces with meat scissors, and place into the frying pan.
- Chop onions and bell peppers, and combine with beef in the frying pan.
- Sprinkle seasoned salt and Italian seasoning onto the mix.
- Stir fry beef, onions, peppers and seasoning until the mix appears soft and partly caramelized.
- Sprinkle cheeses onto the mix, and fold in until thoroughly combined.
- Open buns or rolls part-way with a knife, and fill each bun with cheese steak mixture.
- Place filled buns in compact rows onto a large baking sheet, and heat in the oven for about 5 minutes.
- Dust with Parmesan for festive appeal, and serve warm.
The ocean is a miracle, both constant and ever-changing; and the best part is, you never know what will come from it. Literally anything is possible! That said, since moving to Korea, sea glass collecting has been an amazingly satisfying hobby. Like the ocean that shaped, bruted, nurtured and carried each piece, the possibilities are endless in what you might find. Collecting sea glass, and especially the act of strolling the beach being completely open to said possibilities, also helps calm and sharpen my mind in the quest for what to write next. And although I have buckets and buckets of fine Pacific sea glass, mostly in shades of aqua, I would like to share, in response to requests from a few of my readers, a few unique pieces I had the fortune to find.
This earl grey butter jar to the left contains tiny gem-quality pieces of glass, including a perfectly-preserved round marble, that are completely smoothed over with no chipping or inclusions. I’d like to make jewelry out of these at some point.
So, without further ado, check out some incredible pieces below!
And….the search continues. Thanks for reading!
Fifteen years ago, just months prior to the 9/11 attacks, I made a decision that surprised all I knew and loved; including, on some occasions during my service, myself. I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. My husband at the time did not know what to make of this, since I had always expressed an interest in law and journalism; but never military service. But in time, I was able to realize, for the both of us, that God wanted us there. There were many lessons to be learned as well as taught, people who needed us and others we learned to count on. Although I held aspirations toward a civil service career as well as a deep love for my country, my motives for serving the Marine Corps were not entirely patriotic. As an honor student at Liberty University in Virginia, I burned out of school as a result of financial pressures. As I saw military recruiters around campus quite frequently, I considered trying a military career as a professional foundation for civil service opportunities, an avenue to finish college, and to build a stable economic foundation. I chose the Marine Corps because I believed it to be the most challenging and hardcore of the service branches. It was not until after the “thirteen weeks of hell” we call basic training, however, that I truly grasped what being a Marine meant to me: to be responsible for and ready to sacrifice for your fellow Marines at all times. To me, this was the ultimate in living for the sake of others. It is the standard I continually strive to apply in my present life as a wife and full-time mother of three vibrant and energetic sons. In retrospect, I see my 4–year term of service in the Marine Corps not so much as a duty fulfilled, but as a period of basic training for life as parent and more.
Throughout my service, I experienced several major challenges that, when overcome, helped me grow in ways that I could not have outside the military. One such challenge was the Corps’s emphasis on self-confidence and the ability to act quickly when ordered, and issue quick judgment calls regardless of whether or not you knew what you were doing. As a college student, I was used to taking time to think and consider every angle prior to decision making, and then double and triple checking the results to ensure correctness. In the Marine Corps, however, decisiveness and confidence matter more than confirming and reconfirming the right answers. This, I learned the hard way. As my occupation specialty (MOS), I was assigned to train as a computer network administrator, which was a field I wanted to learn; but had no real confidence in. My talents lay elsewhere. Although I trained very hard to master complex technical applications, it seemed difficult to keep up with what seemed to come naturally to others. It was difficult, if not demoralizing, to ward off snarky comments from more tech savvy co-workers when trying my hardest to develop my skills for the mission. Pride also kept me from reaching out to others for help. Instead, I sought to preserve what was left of my ego and try to learn on my own, and then beat myself up in silence for not being fast enough. I eventually came to realize that as a part of a team, I needed to let go of my stubborn pride and reach out to my fellow Marines for help instead of trying to prove that I did not need them. Once I started to humble myself, which was not easy as I thought I had been “humbled” enough, I learned the importance of being patient with myself, as well as with others. It turned out that the more patience I displayed toward learning, the more patient my co-workers became with me; and the more I was able to progress as an “information warrior” with their help. In short, by letting go of my false confidence (the belief that I can and should do it all myself), I was able to develop true self-confidence through teamwork. By allowing myself to be taught, I was eventually able to offer consultation to others, including senior officers, regarding the internal applications of their computer systems. I was later awarded a Certificate of Commendation for improved efforts and results.
Some time later, when the computer specializations were contracted out to civilian companies, I was put in charge of the battalion secure vault, which harbored some of the most sensitive classified materials and computer network terminals on base. My team and I then assumed information security detail which included monitoring secure network traffic and performing background investigations to determine security clearance levels and need-to-know status prior to issuing access documentation of classified information to personnel, among other things. This new billet, due to its sublime nature and sporadic task list, challenged me to find ways to keep myself and four subordinates busy and alert without getting too complacent. Between deployment embarkations, we often experienced lengthy periods of down time, during which I, or a delegated teammate, would conduct study sessions on mission-specific rules and policies, inventories, and personal sharing discussions to keep us from goofing off on the Internet, and help us stay on track in case of surprise inspections and/or work orders.
As a somewhat older Marine for my rank bracket of Sergeant and below, I often faced social challenges with the hierarchical fraternization rule, as most personnel in my age group and maturity level were of senior enlisted or officer ranks. I enjoyed conversing with them about college, raising children, etc. at work; but could never freely socialize with them outside of work. The Marines I was “permitted” to socialize with (mostly younger males) often had differing interests, such as gaming, car parts, and poster girls, which often left me feeling isolated. However, I ended up becoming an elder sister, and in some cases, a mother figure to some of these junior Marines—especially those who got into trouble with the law, their bank, their women, etc. In these situations, I was able to offer guidance based not only on the experience of my years, but also on premise that I had made many of the same mistakes (traffic tickets, occasional bounced checks, credit cards, etc.) myself during my college years. This, in a sense, prepared me well for parenthood. I also faced my fair share of idiosyncrasies being female Marine married to a civilian man, when the reverse is more often the norm. On many occasions, I was asked to provide my husband’s information when filling out paperwork assuming that I was the civilian “dependent” and my husband was the Service member. It was both amusing and annoying to have to point out the reverse case each and every time. And then there were the wisecracks about who the “stronger” one in our couple must be. In any case, these missives added spice to our whole experience as a family serving and supporting one another while learning and assimilating with Marine Corps customs and courtesies.
In short, my experience serving in the United States Marine Corps has indeed been an honor and will forever shape my perspective on life and future endeavors. Though I had never been deployed overseas, as God had other plans for me, I truly value the everyday adventures and learning experiences that service on the home front had faced me with. I will never forget the people I met and grew to love and treasure. And not one day goes by that I ever take for granted the service and sacrifice of my brothers and sisters serving in combat missions overseas. I will never forget the day I went out, seven months pregnant at the time, to see off deploying members of my battalion. As the buses rolled away, I tried the best I could to stand composed and resolute as I watched the tear stained faces of my co-workers’ children being comforted by brave mothers and family members as they walked back to their cars. Then I did what my deploying teammates could not; I wept and held my toddler son tight. Soon after, I went right back to work to support those who were sacrificing their families so that I could be there for mine. To this day, I strive to do my absolute best to honor their service and sacrifice, as well as my own, by teaching my children to value their country and its original ideals founded by God; and all that is worth serving and protecting. Thank you, and Semper Fidelis.