Here is an interesting premise to write about. Imagine that you are going to live in a foreign country. Your company has transferred you there, and you are expected to adjust to your new surroundings and begin work immediately. You have learned the language in a classroom, but have had very little, if any, conversational practice. Your physical needs of food, shelter and transportation are provided through your employment. But when you venture out, it is into completely unfamiliar territory. And while your co-workers are very nice, they don’t have a lot of time to provide guidance. If you are going to explore your new home, you must be brave.
I have recently been hired to help three young adults from Japan, here for one year, to learn Business English, while they work for their company and interact with American clients. When I spend time with them, it amazes me at how courageous they are. They have been living and working here for only about two months, and are driving our highways, shopping in our grocery stores, and venturing out on their own to experience American culture, which in so many ways is very different from their own. Something we take for granted like going to an American grocery store is very bewildering since it is much different from grocery shopping in Japan. I can be brave in my writing by exploring new places on paper, but these young adults are doing it for real.
One of the great things about being their teacher is that while they are learning from me, I get to learn from them. That opens up new ideas and ways of thinking, enriching my own experience as I enrich theirs. Just because I have been hired to teach them Business English doesn’t mean it has to stop there. Conversation and cultural immersion will greatly facilitate their success in their goal of becoming proficient at conducting business in the United States and promote understanding between our two countries. We took them to ride my horse this weekend, and what a blessing it was to introduce them to this part of American culture. Their smiles were priceless. Lunch at a local country cafe with real Texas chicken fried steak and mashed taters topped off the day. It was fun to see the waitresses equally fascinated with my students and smiling – they were showing each other the signatures on their master cards which were in Japanese. The great thing about smiles are that they are universal, they transcend any language.
If you are wondering what you can do to get inspiration to write about something new, just look around you. You don’t have to be a teacher to befriend someone who recently immigrated here or is working here for an extended period of time. Sometimes it takes bravery on both sides to reach out to someone different from us, but the blessings you’ll receive by doing so can turn into lifelong friendships and may even turn into a great story for you to write about someday. And it really is not all that hard – all you have to do is start with a smile.
This morning has been rather exciting. Yesterday I had an epiphany regarding my struggles with the opening chapter to my MG fantasy novel Sword of Fate: If I want it to be good, I must not settle. Just because the words flowed easily when I first wrote them, doesn’t necessarily mean they belong there. I read a description of what makes an MG novel yesterday, “Fantasy books for kids are often ‘first time’ books for their young readers–the first time visiting a world that’s truly strange, the first time meeting the talking animals who come to the aid of the hero, the first time the magic sword is found, or the monster slain” and I said to myself, “Yes! That is Sword of Fate!” Like the article says, my protagonist Rugal is “faced with new, strange challenges that rock the foundations of their worlds, and their stories involve growing up, figuring out who they are, and how to be strong and keep going when hope seems far away.”
Then I reread my first chapter and faced the cold hard truth. While I have a solid manuscript, the first chapter doesn’t do the rest of the book justice. I have read over and over how agents hate getting a manuscript where the author points out that it gets better after the first 10-20-30 pages. So why did I have such a hard time applying this knowledge to myself? To be honest, it was because I was determined to make what I had already written work. I finally realized that by holding onto that attitude like a dog on a bone can be detrimental to the entire project. Sometimes you have to let something go in order to make something better. Actually, this is a much better situation than the first chapter being great but the rest of the book not doing it justice, because it means most of my revision will take place in the first chapter while tweaking the manuscript to accommodate any newly revealed information that may need adjusting.
So I am all about a new beginning today. The ideas started percolating in my head last night and became a hastily typed paragraph. I’m already up to 1200 words, I’m having a lot of fun, and best of all, I already can see improvement. I wonder why I hung on so long but I think that is our tendency as human beings. It’s hard to let go of the familiar and try something different. But if we can bring ourselves to let go and try, amazing things can happen. That applies to life in general too…sometimes we need to let go and try something new. God may have something much better for us ahead that we can’t see from our vantage point, but it requires us being willing to try something different in order to get there.
[image courtesy of paladin13 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
It’s a new day with new possibilities! You know you are a writer doing what God made you to do when you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to start writing. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, today is a fresh start with boundless potential. Last night I finished my latest Design News article which included a tribute to a dear friend, one of the many people who have played a part in my success as an engineer by their willingness to mentor me. Jay was a test equipment sales rep. He was also a very smart guy and would share his knowledge to help solve problems, even if it wasn’t related to the sale. He was generous with his time and he celebrated with us when we did well and when we weren’t doing so good, he did everything that he could from his end to help things improve.
The last year and a half my husband and I have been in much more frequent touch, walking alongside Jay and his lovely wife as he battled pancreatic cancer. Being able to laugh with him, cry with him, and pray with him, was a privilege of our friendship that started so many years ago, when he was a salesman and I was a test engineer. Jay is with the Lord now and isn’t suffering any more. The last time I saw Jay, I told him that I was really glad that God had brought us together. I would not have traded our friendship for anything. I miss him a lot and in times of trouble I can still hear him say as he frequently did, “It’s gonna be okay.” And so I look to this day and realize that each day is a gift. We don’t know how long we will be here and we have many ways we can spend our time – it is up to us to choose wisely. As for me, I am working on my next project as I await responses from the queries I have sent out. I’ll take some time out to spend with people I love, doing things I love. And I will make sure to do something nice for someone else. As for yesterday’s rejections – “It’s gonna be okay.” Because it is a new day, a precious day full of possibilities!
Well, I was going to wait until tomorrow to post this, but having just received two rejections five minutes apart, even though both agents were very kind in their responses, I decided I needed to post this now, to remind myself of what I already know…
I understand that rejection is inevitable when one writes – part of what makes life so interesting is that we are all very different, but that makes our perception of what is publishable correspondingly different as well. Regarding the writing life, I really appreciate something Victoria Marini, a literary agent for Gelfman Schneider / ICM Partners, said when asked what advice or encouragement she would give to aspiring writers. She responded, “Practice resilience, patience, and generosity of spirit. Practice being happy for others. Keep going. And going.”
I think that is a great philosophy, not only for writing, but for life in general…
It’s hard not to take rejection personally because we are exposing ourselves, we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable when we offer the results of our hard work to a stranger and await their response. But isn’t that what we do when we offer ourselves in friendship to others? Our most satisfying relationships started in the realm of the unknown, and I think that is a little about how it is when offering your writing to someone. You are taking a chance, but it may just end up to be one of the most satisfying relationships in your life. And if it ends up in a rejection, than just like those folks that you didn’t strike a chord with when you were testing the friendship waters, it simply wasn’t meant to be and something much better for your specific manuscript may be waiting around the corner.
So while I am momentarily discouraged, I will refuse to stay there and instead I will choose to follow Ms. Marini’s advice, “Practice resilience, patience, and generosity of spirit. Practice being happy for others. Keep going. And going.” If I can do that, it changes everything.
[image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]
Writing is a privilege and a responsibility. It is a privilege in that writing allows us to express ourselves, to reach others with the thoughts and ideas that are important to us, with the hope that it touches those who read our words in a positive way. It is a responsibility because the power of words are far reaching, and once written down and put before the public, they are irretrievable, even if we hit delete later…
Words are a wonderful gift God has given us, enabling us to share our humanity. They are the building blocks for stories that explore the spectrum of human emotion and our search for significance. It’s all about the stories we share…told and retold with fresh viewpoints for each generation while treasuring the old. Stories are precious gifts that are reinvented in captivating ways to celebrate what it means to be human: exploring every aspect of life in ways that are meaningful to the reader. I am grateful that I get to be a part of that.
[image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]