Having Exhaled

This past weekend I had the great privilege of volunteering at the Breathe Conference.

It was a beautiful time to connect with both old and new writing friends and to encourage one another forward in our art.

Part of what I have come to be so thankful for at this conference is the lack of self-importance of everyone. I started coming to this conference as a punk seventeen year old who only knew she wanted to write stories. If the organizers of the conference had just stuck up their noses at the little girl with no clue, I am not kidding, my world would look a lot different right now.

Instead, I was welcomed with opened arms, mentored, and loved by so many awesome writers and publishing folks. They have encouraged me in my writing as well as my career and I am forever for grateful for them and the conference that introduced me to them.

So going to this thing is like meeting up with family. Only great family!…Not drunk/creepy Uncle Phil. It’s like the thanksgiving you wish was real. And it is… it’s just not thanksgiving, it’s a writer’s conference!

I have been writing fiction for ten years. It’s a good chunk of time considering my age, So much has changed and, then again, so much hasn’t. There is somehow a big difference in being a twelve year old writing in her parent’s basement every night after school than being a twenty-two year old writing in her parents basement when she makes the time. There’s more struggle now. More risk.

I am working toward finishing a novel and I’m having to think about what I’m going to do when that happens. It’s a little daunting. There may actually be some action there.

Despite the caution surrounding this area of the future, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for having the opportunity to learn from so many industry professionals, both this year and years past; the chance to connect with some wonderfully encouraging writers; and the context to think through what art is in my life and how I engage that as a Christian. I feel so blessed that I have been given the calling that I have and so honored that God reveals himself to me through the written word.

This weekend was full of lovely reminders and great gratitude.

Thank you to everyone who put this lovely time together and for letting me join your motley crew. Thank you for those willing to share what they’ve learned on the journey with grace and encouragement.

I’ve Got a Crush

Confession time:

I’ve had my eyes on a man for a while.

He’s not exactly my type…if I had a type.  Everyone I know has an opinion about him and not all of them are flattering. And I can understand that. He was kind of a scoundrel.

But there’s something in his brashness that speaks to me; fills in what I’m not, you know? He was an adventurer and trouble. The capital T kind. But he was also an artist.

Some would disagree, but I think he understood something about dealing with words that I want to grasp.

So yeah, I have a thing for Ernest Hemingway.

Seriously. The man was a fox.

Don’t judge. Not all of us are Dickens girls. Plus Hemingway is way better on the eyes.

If you’re a nerdy writer, I’m sure you have your own literary crush. Don’t pretend you don’t. There is that person who’s style differs from yours, or you aspire to be them, or their stories just do it for you. Ernest Hemingway is mine.

I read Ernest’s quotes often. (And yes, I call him Ernest because I like to pretend we’re on a first name basis…) Here are some of the gems I’ve treasured:

As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.

The first draft of anything is shit.

The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.

Live the full life of the mind, exhilarated by new ideas, intoxicated by the Romance of the unusual. 

When I’m not sure how to make words, I turn to Ernest.

Unlike me, Ernest didn’t dance around a hard scene. He just put it out there. I’m sure he, like any of us, struggled with getting what was put down right, but he didn’t disguise his troubled spots with flowery prose. He didn’t even know what flowery was.

No, he wrestled until what he wanted to say was simple, straightforward. There for the reader to figure out.

When I get stuck, I look to a sketch I keep at my desk made for me by a friend. (Inspired by my tendency to say “Hemingway was a fox,” she drew Ernest’s face on a fox’s body.) I let Fox Hemingway give me a stern look in the eyes.

My job is to tell my story honestly. And I’ve got his blessing for it to be shitty. But I need to put it down because if I don’t, then I’ve got nothing to work with.
And no, my style is not his style, Nor do I want it to be.
But Ernest knew what he was doing. And he’s taught me a bit on how to make the words.
It’s not dancing the night away in Havana with him, but it’s something and I’m a better artist for it.
Who’s your literary crush? Any writers in your world that have helped make you better from beyond the grave?
I’d love to hear about your influences!

Flash Fiction: The Door

It’s Labor Day so I thought I’d send something a little lighter your way. I’ve been working on some fiction samples for the blog this summer and I’m excited to share some of the results of that work. Here’s a piece of flash fiction that I hope you enjoy!

My laptop was set up on the desk in front of the old oak door in the lab.
I wasn’t supposed to get so wrapped up in this. Really, it was supposed to have been a simple DIY. Not that those words ever went together
I bought the door from that antique shop downtown. It was sturdy, classic. And the doorknob was a lovely ornate copper. From the moment I laid eyes on the door, I knew it belonged in my apartment.
Except that once I popped it onto the bathroom hinges, I found it was a half-inch too narrow for my door frame. My simple weekend project was a wash.
It wasn’t until I had gone through the whole ordeal and propped the useless door against my bedroom wall that I noticed its peculiar property.
So here I was, after months of research and tests, ready to put the door to action.
“Kat, you can’t really believe this is going to get you anywhere. It’s a nice door. That doesn’t mean it’s connected to any rip in time,” Charlie complained.
No one was supposed to know about my work with the door. Not even Charlie. I had planned to run my tests after work. He found me in the lab one night after he had forgotten his external hard drive. He then proceeded to wheedle the entire theory out of me.
I now rolled my eyes at his cynicism. He would realize soon enough.
“You saw through the key hole. How can you still question that there isn’t something supernatural going on with this door?”
He shrugged, adjusting his glasses before pushing his dark curls off his forehead. “Doesn’t mean there’s anything going on with the time-space continuum. For all we know, Monster’s Inc. is a real deal.”
“I know what I saw.” I turned away from him as I took a reading from the monitor to my left. “Besides, you’re not a physicist—you’re not the expert here.”
“You can hardly call yourself a physicist.” He looked from me to the door. “Besides, you’re already on probation with the board.”
“They have no respect for gut instinct.” I watched the monitor with clenched jaw. The waves surrounding the door were beginning to spike. I looked at the clock. 11:55.
“Not when you have nothing to back it up.”
“I’m gonna.”
“And what if you do? Remember how Michael J. Fox was always screwing up the present?” he teased. I looked to him. There was a smile in his eyes as he tried to ease the tension.
“You watch too many movies.” I returned to the desk, elbowing him out of the way. “Besides, it is just a theory; I don’t know if anything will actually work. But I’m sure as hell gonna find out.”
“Thing is, you are calling this a theory, but you think it’s fact. Explain that one.” He crossed his arms, looking down on me. That amused expression was always so irritating,
“Now tell me, Dr.expert-know-it-all,” I crossed my own arms, mimicking his patronizing stance. “Who was the biologist that wasted thousands in university funding based on a hunch? Something about antibiotics derived from—”
 “That’s not fair, Kat.” His teasing grin turned to pursed lips.
I just smirked up at him.
He was glancing over my shoulder. “It’s 11:59. You ready?”
“Oh!” I stripped off my lab coat and rushed to the door. “How are the levels holding?”
“Heightened, but holding steady as we approach oh-one hundred.”
I placed my hand on the doorknob. “Count me off,” I told him.
“Going in five…” He rolled his eyes as he began. I took a series of deep breaths, “… four…” closing my eyes, I prayed for the best, “… three… two…” I tightened my grip on the doorknob, “one!” he finally said.
Pushing open the door, I was more than a little surprised to find not the other half of the lab, but instead a bedroom. Just as I had seen through the keyhole. It was ornately decorated. Like a set from a BBC period drama.
At the foot of the bed stood an older man dressed in a waist coat and breeches, looking completely unphased, unlike my slack-jawed self.
“Well, Miss Katherine,” he spoke in a polished British accent. “You certainly have kept us waiting.”

Friday Favorites: August–My 5 Favorites Concerning Writer’s Conferences.

Autumn is usually a time in which I get to enjoy some writing events. I have found writing conferences to be valuable both professionally and personally. I have met so many wonderful people and have become a better storyteller.

If you’re a writer, journalist, fellow-blogger, reader, author-stalker, I’ve got my five favorite things about writing conferences here!

1. Meet industry professionals

I hate networking. It makes me feel schmucky. But writers conferences give you a chance to meet authors and publishers in a relaxed setting. It’s been really great to learn that networking is not just getting to know people to use them in the future. Not at all. It’s really just getting to know people.

And it turns out people in the publishing industry are pretty cool. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people while at a conference or writing event.

2. New books!

Some of the best books I’ve read in the past few years are those I heard of or bought at a writers conference. And there is usually a bookstore at these things. Seriously. It’s pretty great!

3. Know trends and tools of the industry

Want to know where things are headed in the writing world? Want to learn how to do things more efficiently or closer to industry standards? Writing conferences are great to get this kind of information directly from the horse’s mouth!

A lot of what I learned about blogging has been from writing conferences. It’s a great way to get pointers on building a platform as an author, learn how to put together a proposal, or even just find out what it takes to get a book to the public.

4. Better your craft

Want to be a better writer? Read a ton, write even more, and go to a conference. Seriously. These elements are what have helped me improve the most as a writer. But I’m still not great, so I find going to a conference so valuable. It’s like vitamins for your writing life.

Presenting authors share their struggles and what they’ve found to help. Getting a peak inside the mind of a more experienced writer can really encourage and give you some thoughts to make your own writing better.

5. The community

By far my favorite thing about writing conferences is catching up with writing friends. Western Michigan has a pretty tight-knit writing community that is so wonderful to be a part of. The best part is that it is tight-knit, but so welcoming to new comers.

Writing conferences really foster relationships between writers. We are there to encourage one another and share what we’ve been learning.

If you’re in western Michigan or don’t mind traveling here, there are a couple awesome writing events coming the the next couple months.

The first is Jot. I’ve talked about this free mini writing conference before. This time it is being held on September 21 at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids. Held in just one night, presenters give a fifteen minute hyper-session chock-full of great writing tips and tools. I highly recommend this for someone afraid to make the time or financial commitment to a full writer’s conference.

The second is my favorite writing conference, Breathe. The Breathe Conference is held every year. It is geared for everyone from beginning writers to publishing veterans. The discussions and sessions are rich and the folks in attendance are generous and so friendly. I highly recommend this conference to anyone.

The Breathe Conference is being held this year on October 10-11 at the Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Food is included in the very reasonable cost, so you can’t beat that. And you might even run into me there!

These are my five favorite writer’s conference things. Have you ever been to a writing conference? What are some of your favorite experiences?

The Five Unfortunate Phrases I Use Unironically

I really do love words. I promise

There’s just a small thing. When I hear a word I think is less than, well, usable, I tend to use it. It’s usually just too ridiculous not to!

When I was in Ireland, our host introduced our group to the word ‘Craic’ (pronounced ‘Crack’), which is defined as:

Craic is a term for news, gossip, fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland. It is often used with the definite article – the craic.

At first, we didn’t believe that this was a term actually used by people, but I looked it up. It’s not commonly used. According to one slang commentary, it’s only used by sleazy guys in track suits.

Never the less, I was enchanted by the ridiculousness of this new phrase. So I started using it ironically. And then I just started using it period. Not gonna lie, I attempted a one-woman campaign on twitter and instagram trying to get #totescrack to trend.

But I do this often. I encounter a word or phrase I think is dumb or unfortunate and I begin to use it to make fun of it. And then little by little, it works its way into my vocabulary.

So here are the five phrases I can no longer use ironically:

1. Totes
This is an abbreviation of totally and just makes anything requiring an adverb sound silly. Sad but true, I pair this with a lot of words.

2. Adorbs
An abbreviated form of adorable. Thanks to the Lizzie Bennett Diaries, this is probably one of my most common pairings with ‘Totes.’ If something is cute, it really is only appropriate to use cutsie words to describe it, yes? Yeah, so that’s how this one became incorporated into my vocabulary.

3. BTDubs
By the Way! I became acquainted with this one my freshman year of college. Who would use BTW when you can use BTDubs? I mean, really.

4. Supes Dupes
Super Duper. This is probably my least used ridiculous phrase. Probably because I never even use ‘Super Duper’. Supes Dupes is just so fun to say, though!

5. The Biz
The business–as in what’s the business? or what’s up? This is probably the worst phrase I use the most often. If someone is giving me an update or walking me through a task, I will probably respond with ‘Cool biz.’ over ‘Sounds good.’

If I have lost your respect, I am quite shocked that didn’t happen sooner… I try not to use these phrases too often in my actually writing, but in day-to-day conversation, yes, I definitely use these gems.

There you go, I’ve confessed to my word crimes! What about you? Do you have any pet phrases that are less than acceptable?


When the Going Gets Tough

For the past week, working on my novel has brought a sensation similar to extensive dental work. My 500 word goal, once easy to surpass, has become difficult to come close to.

I stayed up late the other night, just trying to force a few words down, but it was such a struggle. I was exhausted after a hundred words or so. And then something occurred to me that hasn’t yet in the course of writing this novel:

Why don’t I just give up?

What scared me most about the question was not that I asked it, but that it made sense.

Things have gotten hard. Life has gotten busy. My room has become a mess.

I’ve let so many things distract me, fill my time, and take my energy that I have not given myself any space to be creative.

It’s draining.

I have filled my time with good things, things that need to be done. But am I making time to do the work I was called to do?

Probably not.

For me, what does this mean? It means I need to be more intentional about how I spend my time. Working part-time from home, I will have to have set hours for work and set hours for writing, and I can’t take from one to give to the other. I will have to set aside moments for house work while still guarding those moments for creativity.

I also need to stop suppressing creative urges just because they are not convenient. For whatever reason, I have stopped carrying around my beloved notebook and I’m seeing how my creativity is suffering because of it. I am not providing a way to capture my ideas. That’s not fair to my work or my sanity.

So no, I am not giving up. I have made it this far and have too many cheerleaders willing to help me along. I can’t ignore either of those things. This novel will get written, but I need to make that a possibility.

Some re-prioritizing is in order.

What about you? When it gets hard to complete something that you’re passionate about, how do you push onward? I’d love to hear so please comment!


I No Longer Believe in Writer’s Block: Part II

So last week I discussed why writer’s block is no longer an excuse for me. So now a question has emerged that I’d like to address.

So what happens when you’re stuck?

Well, I’d like to say I don’t get stuck, but that would be a bold-faced fiction. I get stuck a lot. And usually it’s not something time will just solve like I’d like to think.

When I’ve written myself into a corner, there are usually two things causing the issue.

The first issue I have to solve when stuck is usually connected to plotting. Usually I’ve taken an easy fix to a problem or have not been true to the story. Either way, I haven’t done my job. I usually have to go back and rework a scene that was written to quickly or change a plot-line that I didn’t want to think about when I wrote it initially.

The second and more common issue is characterization. If I’m trying to make one of my characters do something the weren’t meant to do or not meant to do in that way, things seem unnatural and stilted, and harder to write. I get stuck because I’m missing something. Either a character isn’t fully fleshed out, or not being true to themselves. Sometimes I don’t have a relationship between characters fully nailed down. This takes some thought and sometimes some experimentation. Sometimes it’s even helpful to interview a character. (And no, I don’t think my characters are real people, but sometimes it’s just easier to operate under the assumption that they are when I’m working.)

Writing isn’t cheap. Making any art isn’t cheap. It takes work and sweat. It takes a bit of yourself to make anything. Usually the end benefits outweigh this cost, but while in the trenches it’s hard to see this. This is where I get tempted to give up.

Don’t give yourself that option. Know that making your art is going to cost you now, but it will be worth it to see your work completed.

I No Longer Believe in Writer’s Block: Part I

If you were to ask me a month ago what my biggest challenge with my novel was, I would have told you writer’s block.

Fast forward to now, I’d tell you that it’s me.

I’m lazy. And writing is hard!

For the past three months, I have balked from writing some hard chapters. It was easier to write a pithy blog post that didn’t mean much to me than to do the hard work of cultivating my fiction. That’s not writer’s block. That’s being a wuss.

So do I think you can get blocked while writing? Of course! but I think it’s more a creativity block that needs to be worked. In my experience, a novel is like a rubik’s cube. It needs to be worked at and arranged. It may not fit all together the first time through–that’s what revising is for. But there comes those moments where you get stuck and you need to strategize.

In fiction, you’re not only juggling words, but a plot–with multiple scenes and plot lines–and characters–lot’s of them with relationships and points-of-view and faults and conflicts–and symbolism and research. There’s a lot going on!

It’s easy to reach a creativity bump and just give up for a little bit. I am pushing myself to no longer put down the rubik’s cube, but to work with it, to think through the knots in a plot line or the issues with a character. It’s hard, but so worth the trouble.


The Power of Stillness

I am an introvert. I’m very comfortable with people and enjoy my time with people, so this surprises those who know me, but it’s true.

Interactions with others, though very fun, do not energize me like time alone does. I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago as I scheduled a social event every night for two weeks. By the time I was reaching the end of that time, I was finding myself drained and craving alone time…and maybe slightly on edge.
I had the privilege of going with a friend to see The Head and The Heart perform in Grand Rapids. It was a wonderful show and I’ve liked the band for a short while, so it was exciting to see them perform live.
One of their songs struck me and got me thinking of my artistic life. ‘Let’s Be Still‘ is the title track of their sophomore album and is usually interpreted as a sweet love song about a couple ignoring the pressures of life and those around them just to be together for a little bit longer.
While listening, I began to think that the song may not just be about a love story, but also an artist lamenting the pressure surrounding their work.

You can get lost in the music for hours, honey,
You can get lost in a room.
We can play music for hours and hours
But the sun’ll still be coming up soon

The world’s just spinning
A little too fast
If things don’t slow down soon we might not last.
So just for the moment, let’s be still.

An artist can get lost in their work for a time, but we have to return to reality, fulfill responsibility. Life can easily carry us away with it’s demands and distractions. It’s important to take time away from life for the sake of our art. To be still and enjoy creating. To be recharged by writing or drawing or singing or cooking or running or whatever it is you do.

I am realizing that it is important to let myself recharge–not just socially–but artistically as well.

Also, this is just a great song and a wonderful band.

From here in the stillness,

Carbonated Holiness Among Other Things

I had the privileged of attending the Festival of Faith and Writing hosted by Calvin College two weeks ago. What a wonderful opportunity to be refreshed and taught by so many amazing writers. It was also great to connect with old writing friends and make some new ones. Plus there were some networking opportunities… ew. Networking.

Coming away from such a very full weekend, I discovered I had a lot of things to process, notes to sift through, and books to read. I am now excited to share with you some of the pieces of wisdom I took from the weekend. The following quotes are either from speakers or where used by speakers throughout the weekend.Some of them may not make sense, I’ve tried my best to take them down in context… it also becomes the Anne Lamott show in the middle there…with closed captions provided by Bret Lott (serious gold coming from those two!). I hope you’re able to get a small piece of how wonderful the weekend was.  Enjoy!

Art gives us a map of who we are and where we fit. The next generation will need that map.
–Gene Luen Yang

Make good friends with really accomplished dead people.
–Scott Cairns on reading well 

We are people of the word. Words matter because they carry ideas and ideas rule the world.
–Richard Foster

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is like the difference between lightening and a lightening bug.
–Mark Twain

And What I believed in I wished to behold
–Charlotte Bronte 

It was the stuff I needed to write to get what I was after
–Anne Lamott

I all have to offer as a writer–as a Christian–is my version of things.
–Anne Lamott

You don’t take God to the lovely living room. You welcome him into the bedroom and say ‘I think there’s a couple drawers you need to see.’

Laughter is carbonated holiness.
–Anne Lamott 

To be a writer you have to be a good liar. So how do you lie for Christ? You must write with the integrity of Christ. You must write the truth–in love and compassion, but with dark reality.
–Bret Lott

I thought what you did was a tool–a utility. I had the idea that art was a utility; it wasn’t a manifestation of God. Our creativity is a manifestation of God’s image.
–Bret Lott 

The self-importance of being ‘a writer’ leads to the arrogance of metaphor and similie and overly adjectived sentences. The author’s gotta be the last person you hear from.
–Bret Lott

You strip out everything you think the story should be about and write the story. We must be humble before the story–humble before the words.
–Bret Lott. 

There something about writing fiction that is like wearing your underwear in front of the world
–Suzanne Woods Fisher (This was the second time I had heard this sentiment, the first was from a friend and fellow fiction writer–One of those moments of ‘what have I gotten myself into.’)

The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven; and as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shape and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.
–William Shakespeare