#IWSG: Goals, Dreams, and Vision in the Writer’s Journey                        

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When I first started my writing career, I was a starry-eyed graduate student with little more than a head full of dreams and a heart full of stories, clutching a copy of Writing Down the Bones to my chest. I wrote for the sheer joy of it, the exhilaration, the thrill. I didn’t care about business, and I didn’t even know what platform was.

That was ten years ago. In the years that followed, I realized that I needed more than the wispy qualities of my dreams if I wanted to be in this for the long haul. I realized that writing is art, it’s storytelling, it’s magic, but there’s also a business side.

But, unfortunately, I went too far to the other side of the spectrum and got stuck on the hamster wheel of word-count goals and metrics. I became obsessed with things like “how many projects can I draft this year?” or “how many words can I write today?” And the storytelling suffered. Sure, it was finished. But it didn’t often sparkle the way I wanted it to. I’d lost my heart. I’d lost touch with the magic.

I’d tried to turn myself into a storytelling factory, and do you know where it led me, that starry-eyed dreamer who wrote for the sheer love of it? Burnout. I realized that my approach wasn’t working. It wasn’t organic enough.

In the years that followed grad school, I worked multiple jobs—at one point, three at a time, started a blog, attended writing conferences, met amazing people who have supported me on my journey, quit jobs to focus on writing, learned countless ways to improve my craft, started many projects, tried and failed, battled chronic illnesses…

Yeah, it’s been a journey. And you know what? I’m still only beginning. That’s the beauty and the frustration.

I still have goals. We need goals. That’s why challenges like NaNoWriMo and ROW80 work—because they give us tangible deadlines, finite targets that take “I want to write a novel” to “I’m writing a novel” and, finally “I wrote a novel.”

But as much as we need goals, we need vision. Vision gives goals a context. Without a vision, we’re just churning away in a sea of words. Without vision we lose our heart.

I still write for the sheer magic of it. Yes, I recognize that it’s hard work; it’s constant growth and improvement. It’s learning new skills. It’s putting ourselves and our work out there despite a fear of vulnerability. But whoa, when the magic whispers…I’m transported. That’s what they call flow, the magic of the storyteller’s life.

So, yes. Let’s dream. Let’s set goals. Let’s strive to achieve them. Let’s devise a plan and follow through.

But let’s do these things in the context of our vision. Who are we as storytellers? What is our passion? What brings us to the page? What do we want or need to say, and why are we saying it?

Love. Magic. Adventure. To tell deceptively simple stories that help rekindle people’s belief in the power of magic and love. For me, it’s that simple—and that complicated.

If I keep that vision in my peripheral as I write, I can make the steady progress that moves me along the writer’s road. I can move forward on my journey. Lose it and I’m a rat in a wheel, lost in word-count goals and deadlines.

We need those things.

Let’s just give them context.

(The Insecure Writer’s Support Group helps writers overcome their insecurities, and by offering encouragement creates a community of support. Visit their website to learn more.)

So now, tell me. What’s your writer’s vision?

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Is there such a thing as ‘controlled busy?’

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As life unfolds at an accelerated pace, I’m asking myself this question. Things have been racing along lately—home projects unfolding, decluttering efforts gaining momentum in the spring. Different parts of my life are opening up and blossoming now that I’ve made space for them.

Writing is progressing steadily, with the latest draft of my novel Spellfire’s Kiss finished and off to my critique partner, a kind and thoughtful no-thanks-for-now from an editor, whose suggestions I am mulling over as a couple beta readers mull over the manuscript, and a new(ish) novel just begun. I’ve always toyed with the idea of setting a series of novels in Foster Springs, Virginia, where The Beltane Kiss and The Faerie Key, my two novelettes, are set, and this idea came to me, demanding to be told. It’s about a tarot reader and a strange faerie man who comes seeking a tarot reading. There are three sisters, and I’m enjoying their dynamic so far. I’ve also joined an online chapter of RWA and attended my first meeting of a local writers group too!

And teaching English as a second language is expanding as well. I’ve moved from one class a week to two, and we’re even expanding to include some computer literacy training for the students.

On the home front, hubby and I have about a zillion projects to finish, and there are other life things that we’re doing as well. Now that the weather is warm, hikes and long walks in the woods are once more high priorities, and we took a weekend trip to Pennsylvania to visit family and attend the PA Fairie Festival. I’m also getting back into a yoga routine after a hip injury sidelined me for a while.

So, yes, it’s a lot. It reminds me of the Chariot card in tarot. Whenever I draw this card, the phrase that pops into my head is “life unfolding at an accelerated pace, but maintaining one’s stride.” (I believe that’s how Anne-Marie Ferguson, creator of the Llewellyn Tarot, puts it.) Or, as Biddy Tarot describes this card…

You will be successful at pursuing your goals, so long as you maintain focus, determination and confidence in your abilities. You need to focus completely on the task at hand, get in the race and win it. … You must cultivate the ability to withstand the rigours of what is required. In fact, striving towards your goal can be as satisfying as attaining it. This is a time to be strong and in control. You must also draw upon your willpower and self-discipline.

It’s a wild ride. I’m trying to just enjoy it. The rejection stung, but it was also beautiful, in part because the editor was so encouraging and made it clear that she saw a lot of potential in my story, and in part because it showed that I had the courage to put my work out there.

I’m trying to take it one thing at a time, and to build downtime into my schedule. Morning coffee is reflection time, and I aim for a cup of tea and some chill time in the evening. Reading tarot cards helps me find my center and reflect, distilling those little what-if questions into something tangible. Best of all, each of my endeavors is something I’ve consciously chosen. Writing books filled with magic and romance. Teaching the English language to a group of dedicated students. Creating a tidy, whimsical home I love. Adventures with my husband and our animals. Time with family and friends.

Sometimes it is indeed the chariot. It’s wild; it’s a rush. It’s busy and beautiful and blessed.

What about you? What do you do when you’re swept up in the busy-ness of life? How do you create the right level of busy-ness—not so much that you’re stressed, not so little that you’re bored? How do you build downtime into your day?

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#IWSG Post: How I’ve Learned to Deal with Self-Doubt in my Writing Career

How I_ve Learned to Deal with Self-Doubt in my Writing Career

Self-doubt is a part of most people’s lives, but those of us walking a creative path are particularly susceptible. Self-doubt has the potential to stop us in our tracks, to paralyze us. It is, without a doubt, the number one cause of writer’s block.

So, is there anything we can do?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeI am no stranger to the doubt monster, that creature that rises out from the corner and looms over me, trying to scare me off my writing path. I spent a year where I made little progress on my larger projects, but through grit and faith, I managed to finish a few smaller projects that helped me to grow as a writer. One of these is a short story that has just been accepted for publication.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I’m not you, and what works for me won’t always work for you. But here are the things that helped me weather the Doubt Storm and come out the other side.

If doubt stops you cold in your writing tracks, find ways to continue to grow as a writer.

During the Doubt Storm, I found myself unable to work on my larger projects. But I wrote short stories and poetry. I read blog posts and books about writing and, more importantly, creativity. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic was especially helpful, but books such as those by Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones) and Julie Cameron (The Artist’s Way) are also beneficial. Or you could try books like Wild Creative by Tami Lynn Kent or Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.

The point is to try to keep growing despite the doubt. If you’re not able to work on your Big Project, work on something else. Pen a few haikus. Try flash fiction. Find a writing prompt online and write something silly. Write a blog post. Read books about writing and creativity. The period of crippling doubt will pass. Have faith in that.

Fill the creative well.

What this means is different for all of us. For me, scrapbooking has proved a wonderful creative outlet. Time in nature or meditation helps me to feel connected and grounded. Find another creative outlet that rejuvenates you. For you, this might be cooking or photography or drawing. Read books that inspire you, and don’t be afraid to look for inspiration in unlikely places. If you write and read in the fantasy genre, pick up a good mystery or thriller. Reading books in varying genres also helps to fill the well. The point is to do things that help you grow creatively.

Understand that you are not a writing machine. Writing is less like a one-person factory and more like a garden. In other words, you are not a robot. You are a farmer.

There will be fallow periods, and they are vital to your creative process and growth. Ever wonder what happens to a field that isn’t allowed to lie fallow?

According to Vocabulary.com

Fallow comes from the old English word for plowing, and refers to the practice of leaving fields unplowed in rotation––when a field lies fallow, the soil regains nutrients that are sucked up by over-planting.

Ah. Sound familiar? That period in which I didn’t work on my stories proved sooo beneficial to my writing. I studied, I reflected, and yes, without realizing it, I grew. I emerged with a sense of clarity and purpose that I’d lost in the whole slog of word-count goals and obsession with finishing drafts.

Today, I’ve embraced a slow but steady approach. Instead of rushing through drafts, I write consistently but slowly. Most importantly, I learned so much during that fallow period, and it has infused my writing with a sense of purpose that wasn’t there before. So, consider that a slow period or dry spell might very well be a vital part of your creative process.

Practice gratitude.

This goes for life in general, but be grateful. This means celebrating what you’ve already achieved. That story that you wrote that you’re proud of, celebrate it and be thankful it chose you as its teller. Make a list of three things every day that you’re grateful for. Keep a gratitude journal. Make a practice of thankfulness and gratitude, and you’re readying yourself for the day when words begin to flow again.

Stop the comparisons.

There are people who never seem to experience doubt or dry spells. Don’t compare yourself if you do. There are people who are full of pithy sayings that do nothing but make you feel worse. And then, there will be wonderful writers whose fingers seem to be flying madly against the keys while you are stuck and starting to panic.

That’s okay. There’s no need to be angry at those people, although feelings of envy and despair might fill you. Just acknowledge they’re in a different place, and honor where you are. Accept that fallow periods might be necessary. Find ways you can grow without comparing your growth to someone else’s.

I can’t claim to have all the answers. Sometimes my own Doubt Monsters have threatened to eat me, and only through faith have I persisted. There are times when I’ve faltered, but I have managed to pick myself back up.

If you get a few words on the page, celebrate it. Don’t be afraid to celebrate the small things.

After all, what is a novel but a collection of small, connected moments?

What about you? How do you cope with self-doubt as a writer? Have you weathered a creative dry spell? What helped you make it through? Are you in one now?

This post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog hop. If you’re looking for a supportive community of writers, visit the group here.

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Coastal Magic Con Adventures!

Coastal Magic Con 2018 Alethea Kontis Denise D Young
With the lovely Alethea Kontis at this year’s Coastal Magic Con.

The Dreaming Gina BrigantiIt’s been an amazing, wonderful, joy-filled week and a half. I spent six days in beautiful Daytona Beach, Florida, at this year’s Coastal Magic Con. I made a few friends, including the lovely Gina Briganti, whose book, The Dreaming, I can’t wait to read, and Nancy Holland, who just published Thalgor’s Witch, the book of her heart. I also met too many wonderful authors to name, folks like Wendy Owens, Alethea Kontis, and Leanna Renee Hieber, who seem like such sweet, creative souls! I left with more books than I could ever possibly read, and a spirit filled with inspiration and buoyed by the energy of so many writers, readers, and bloggers gathered together in one place.

I’ve now returned to the mountains of Virginia, curling up with a cup of tea and trying to get out of vacation mode and back into writing mode. I have a novel critique to finish by Friday, and some lessons plans to do for Friday’s ESL class. And, of course, I have more WIPs than I can manage, all jostling and clamoring for attention. A Prince in Patience Point has a new opening and a fresh direction, and I’ve realized I really need to work out Neal’s character arc before I dig into the next draft. I’m also looking for Regency-inspired fantasy stories as research for that story, so if you Thalgors Witch Nancy Hollandknow of any, please leave your recommendations in the comments! And revisions to Spellfire’s Kiss are under way as well.

It’s been a big week writing-wise too. I had a short story accepted for publication in a magazine (Squee!!!), and received a request for a full manuscript from an editor at a publishing house. Like I said, a big, full week.

My mind is overflowing with new information and endless possibilities. The trick in the coming days will be to focus my energy and get some words on the page.

The trick, I think, is to do some grounding. Journaling helps me to get all of the ideas and information out of my head and onto the page, and meditation helps me to center and ground myself. I have some grounding stones I can use—maybe some black tourmaline or shungite?

My energy cycles seem to be closely tied to the cycles of the earth, and as the daffodils and crocuses bloom and the temperatures warm, I find myself reenergized, waking like the sleeping earth. Of course, for most of us, energy ebbs and flows, and that’s natural, but I look forward to long afternoon walks and mornings sitting outside listening to birdsong and writing on the patio.

Is spring returning where you are? Have you ever attended a convention or writing conference? I’d love to hear from you!

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Embracing Our Inner Hobbit: Life lessons from Tolkien

Tolkien quotes, Denise D. Young, fantasy, simple living, author

I love hobbits, and I love the Shire. There’s something very hobbit-like about my version of the writer’s life. I curl up with a cup of tea, maybe something yummy to eat (croissants from the bakery down the street are a favorite), and I set to writing. I sip Earl Grey while I get lost in a book I’m reading. My husband and I laugh and share stories about our days. I walk the dog in the park, enjoying the beauty of nature right outside my door. Friends visit. No wizards, yet, but I’m still hoping.

Of course, I have, on occasion, gone on strange and wonderful adventures. The world’s oddest tea room in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the proprietor, upon seeing us eyeing the menu, asked, “You want food?” A stay in a little red cabin in Germany, where chickens awoke us and friends awaited with food and conversation.

I stumbled across this quote from Tolkien, and I wanted to share it because too often we get caught up in destinations. I do this all the time. I think, “Someday we’ll buy our house in the country”—forgetting that our little townhouse, with all its quirks, is a perfectly delightful home. I forget the rose bush I planted last year, with its brilliant magenta blooms, or the little amethyst room where I can curl up and write, or the vibrant blue walls in our living room, or the dining room table, not even second-hand, but probably third-hand, which has seen so many wonderful conversations had and meals served. Yes, the kitchen faucet leaks, but it works. Yes, the bathroom tile is hideous pink, but the space still functions.

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Food. Cheer. Song.

And stories, of course.

We need stories—the ones we write, if we’re writers, and, all of us, the stories of our lives, the little, everyday ones. Like my memory of the night we brought puppy Leo home, and how everything in the house startled him. Like the memory of curling up on a cold night in an unheated cabin in Germany, my husband’s warm body pressed against mine. And waking in the morning and sipping French-pressed coffee with a beloved friend. Like the time we bought solar eclipse glasses and glimpsed the event from our front yard, and how we shared them with our neighbors so everyone could take a peek, and got to know people just a little better.

This is life. These small moments. A dinner with friends. A croissant and a cup of coffee while an author takes us down a wending path of adventure and magic.

We talk about the process. We talk about the goal.

Let’s not forget the journey. Let’s not forget the small, sweet moments that unfurl every day.

Let’s not forget to turn our eyes to the wheeling stars, gaze at the watercolor panorama of the sunset, watch the dog play with one of his canine friends, listen to our children or significant other tell us a story about their day, sing in the kitchen while we do the dishes.

In the midst of doing, let’s not forget to be.

In the midst of making a living, let’s not forget to live.

So far this week, I’ve focused on revamping the website and taking a blogging workshop over at WANA International. I also revised chapter two of Spellfire’s Kiss. No work on my novelette Spun Gold yet this week. I’m also in the process of redecorating the living room. I found a couple of gorgeous art prints on Etsy to add some color, and bought a new lamp and mirrors from Target to improve the lighting. Not much else to report!

Are you a Tolkien fan? What life lessons have you taken from his work?

Blessed be.

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#IWSG: Magic Most Wild…

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeFunny thing. I never stopped believing in magic. That desire to taste mystery never left me. It lived inside me when, as a young child, I reenacted Little Red Riding Hood over and over in front of the fireplace in our living room, before a captive audience of parents who must’ve been very tired of the tale. It lived inside of me when, as a tween, I wandered the forests of home, dreaming up stories and sowing soul-seeds that would one day grow into the stories I write today. And when, as a teenager, most throw such things away, I found myself beginning the pages of novels I would never finish, tales that blended fantasy and happily-ever-afters.

In college, I wrote poetry, because genre fiction was forbidden, and I couldn’t stop penning lines about magic. But as a poet, they let me write about magic, because in poetry everything is imagery and metaphor and so I could once again taste the way those sweet words burst again my tongue—like wild strawberries fresh from the vine, those words.

And then came decision time. I chose graduate school. And not just any graduate school. I chose the children’s literature M.F.A. program at Hollins University. And there, I spread my wings and wrote the fantasy stories I’d longed to write.

After graduate school, I found myself strongly drawn to adult and new-adult paranormal and fantasy romance and have since shifted toward those genres, combining my two great loves:  fantasy and romance. I fell hard for the magic and the swoony kisses. I’m fascinated by faeries and beings who are larger than life—dark elves, fierce warriors, witches who worship the wild earth.

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I write what I love, and what I love is a blend of fantasy and romance. Sometimes I lean more into the romance. Sometimes I lean into the fantasy side of things, and the romance is a golden thread woven into that tapestry of magic. I explore the magic of the earth, of gemstones, of plants, of the moon, of the forests, of the cottage garden, but most of all, I explore the magic that sleeps inside each of us, waiting to be reawakened.

Many of us have forgotten that magic. But I have clung to mine. Through the ups and downs of my life, it has sustained me. It has called me out of the darkness, a candle burning in the window of an inn on a long and winding road on a night when the rain falls in sheets and the wind howls like a banshee.

Magic is the heart of each of my stories because magic is my heart.

What about you? What genre do you write in, and why?

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(Click here to learn more about the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.)

Seeking Magic and Whimsy in 2018

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By now the glitz and glitter of the holiday season are behind us, a time of brightly colored packages tied up with ribbons—but also a time of harried running around for many of us.

Perhaps, now, we can pause. We can catch our breath.

And we can look forward to another year on the calendar. We’re still deep in the belly of winter. For Pagans, we’ll mark Imbolc on February 1, a celebration of the slightest quickening of the earth, of impending spring. And it’s still a long march forward to Ostara, the spring equinox, when daffodils trumpet the season and robins sing their merry tunes.

No, those of us in the northern, colder climes can look forward to trudging through snowdrifts and returning home to curl up under a blanket with a cup of steaming tea and a good book.

But there is a gift in these colder months. Winter is a time of stillness, of reflection, of rest. We can renew ourselves and look forward to the year ahead. We can plan our goals for the year just as we would plan our gardens.

Too many times, we sally forth without a clear vision. I am called, again and again lately, to Mary Oliver’s lovely phrase in her poem “The Summer Day”:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I spent much of 2017 scattered, and through that scattered energy, I found a renewed call to my purpose: to live a life that blends simplicity with whimsy, the everyday with the magical, creativity with calling. Above all, I am a storyteller. I took on too many things in 2017, trying to be and do too much, trying to make everyone happy, trying to live a life that satisfied other people’s definitions. I was exhausted. On the day before Yule, I woke up feeling awful, burnt out and stressed. It was a wake-up call to focus on what mattered, to return to my creative center. Out of that scattered chaos I found renewed purpose. To eat healthier. To care for my body, my mind, and my soul. To focus on my creative gifts. To simply be. To create from my center, my heart.

My goals for 2018 are to revise and polish several of my manuscripts and send them off on submission. As far as the first quarter–or “round”–of the year goes, I have several upcoming, self-imposed deadlines. My deadline for submitting Oak-Bound is January 8. My deadline for submitting Spellfire’s Kiss is March 3.

I’d also like to finish a draft of another story finished by the end of March–possibly Riverspell, the sequel to Spellfire’s Kiss, or one of my unfinished novellas, such as Fates Entangled or Silver’s Stray. Both of these have drafts finished but aren’t ready to be submitted yet. I’d like to get a draft of either finished, but Riverspell somehow feels more pressing.

On the home front, I’d like to continue various projects in our townhouse and continue my massive decluttering project. If I can tackle one project per month related to this goal, I’ll be satisfied with that.

I’ll also continue teaching English as a Second Language and, perhaps, branch out to animal rescue and take in a foster dog or two.

Magic. Simplicity. Creativity. Whimsy. These are what I strive for as I move forward.

The winter solstice has passed. The days are growing longer.

Perhaps, the signs of quickening are here. Even in the cold, short days of winter, the promise of spring remains. One need only look to the evergreens to remind us of the sleeping promise of the earth.

What about you? What are your plans for 2018? What are some of the words you’d use to define your “purpose?”

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Round 4: Intentions

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Triberg waterfall, in the Black Forest region of Germany. Photo by my husband, Ryan Spoon, August 2017.

Since my return from my trip to Germany in August, I’ve entered a period of quiet introspection. What direction do I want to go in my life? Am I on an authentic path that will allow me to drink from the wellspring of creativity? How do I define success, and how have I internalized society’s definition of success?

My head spinning with such questions, the universe brought Tami Lynn Kent’s book Wild Creative into my life. I didn’t devour the book. I read it intently, studying some passages over and over and taking my time with the prescribed exercises. A few of my favorite quotes from Wild Creative:

“Most of our current work and life structures have been devised to emphasize production and how much we can accomplish rather than the nurturing of the soul. This routinely takes us away from our natural inclinations and the flow of our energy field.”

“Taking ownership of one’s creative life force is a conscious act to change the focus from exclusively monetary values to modes that value life.”

“Though we may tend to take note of visibly productive years where we have ‘something to show’ for our work, the less visible years are equally important and essential to the overall creative journey.”

Too often as writers, we’re obsessed with word counts. There’s the #1k1hr hashtag. There’s NaNoWriMo, in which we’re given the daunting task of writing 50,000 words in a month. There’s the infamous 1-millionth word we pen. And there are countless prescriptions out there for how many words we should write in a day.

Naturally, wanting to “succeed,” I followed such models, only to find myself burnt out. The wellspring of creativity was dry. I would write in short bursts when inspiration struck, or force myself through a revision, only to grow burnt out and exhausted once more.

So 2017 will not shape up to be a year of epic word counts. Instead, I believe, it is a year of introspection, of peering deep inside myself and trying to ascertain the life I truly want.

That life is authentic. It is imperfect. It is one of individually defined success. It is sometimes messy, often beautiful, filled with countless moments of joy. Watching Leo chew on sticks in the yard while I sip my coffee and read a book. Enjoying the color of the rose bushes as they bloom. Cooking a simple meal. Making my own home products—so far this year, I’ve discovered recipes for laundry detergent, dishwasher detergent, and lavender goat’s milk soap. Owning less and living more. Travel as a form of discovering self and connecting with the world around me. And, of course, creating art, stories that, if I do my job, will enchant and inspire.

My latest work in progress, Oak-Bound, is one that came to me five years ago. I wasn’t ready to write it then, and it came out flat and forced. I tried again a year ago. Same result. Back in July, I stopped and I listened. Like a tree, I stretched my roots deep into the loamy soil of inspiration, and I soaked up what I found.

I am finally ready to give form to this story, a novella-length work about loss, grief, trauma, and healing, and the human relation with the divine and nature. I want to tell stories that spring from my heart, stories that are vibrant and authentic, and Cassie and Nick’s story feels like one of those stories. I very much hope to share it with you one day.

Thus, I have no “goals” for the last quarter of 2017. Instead, I share with you my intentions for the rest of the year:

  1. Finish a draft of Oak-Bound.
  2. Revise Spellfire’s Kiss, once I receive feedback from my kind and helpful beta reader.
  3. Participate in one or two community events each month.
  4. Meditate or do yoga twice a week.
  5. Continue paring away the excess in our home and making the townhouse our own.

As the Wheel turns toward Samhain and the seasons cycle toward winter, I will continue to dig deep, to listen closely, to spend time in nature, and to move toward authenticity.

What about you? What are your intentions for the rest of 2017? Have you read Wild Creative? Do any of the quotes above resonate with you?

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The Gravel Road: Abandoning Societal Definitions of Success for the Self-Determined Path

Country Dirt Road
Photo by Scamp, Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Lately I’ve been struggling with the notion of success—what it means, how we define it, how we unconsciously internalize cultural definitions of success and make them our own. And, ultimately, what it truly means to lead a successful, meaningful, purposeful life.

This year, I’ve struggled with my writing. I’m approaching four years of writing full time, and while I’ve had some successes—won two contests, had a request for a full manuscript, indie published two short stories, written a lot—I haven’t had a “big” win. I’ve started to wonder what I’m doing with my time, if my writing will ever have an impact, make a difference. I’ve started to wonder if writing is enough. And all that pondering has squashed my creativity, left me spinning my wheels, stuck in a ditch on the side of the gravel road that is my journey.

I tried to make it an interstate. But it’s not. My journey to “success,” whatever that might be, is a curving mountain road that snakes its way through forests, traveling alongside wending rivers and babbling streams. I will spot deer and ravens, wild turkeys and countless squirrels, maybe even a bear or a coyote. It is not a journey one takes in a sports car, zooming down the interstate. It’s a journey for a battered hatchback. A journey of thought. A labor of love.

Acknowledging that I had, in fact, internalized a societal definition of success helped me realize that what I want most is an adventure. I’m reminded of the precious, lovely, moving words of Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day”:

“I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

Ah. There it is. What do I plan to do with my one wild and precious life?

And then the answers poured forth. My trip to Germany in August offered clues, if only I bent my head and listened. I stood in the spray of a waterfall in Triberg and hiked to the ruins of an old castle, but the moment that brought me most joy was when, at the farm where I was staying, one of the goats escaped her pasture. My husband and father were unsuccessful in trying to corral her, so I went to help. She walked up to me and leaned against me, and I gently took her horns and guided her home. It was simple. It was beautiful. It took me back to my childhood, the place that inspired me to become a writer, walking the woods of home and dreaming up stories, all the while surrounded by creatures, both wild and domestic.

I can’t say I have all of the answers. But I have made my peace with the fact that my definition of success is not the same one that society has laid out so neatly for me, like a parent setting out a child’s clothes for school.

I will follow my stories wherever they take me. I will listen closely, as only our most creative selves can, and I will create. Maybe it won’t always be in words. Maybe I’ll learn to paint. Last week I made lavender goat’s milk soap, and the simple creative act filled me with wonderful energy. There are so many paths to explore. I won’t always drive my battered hatchback down the gravel road. Sometimes I’ll see a winding mountain path that leads over an arching footbridge and into the mossy hills. Sometimes I’ll park the car. Sometimes I’ll walk over the bridge. It’s not always about forging ahead. It’s about seeing the beauty along the way.

Blessed be.

Now tell me, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

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#IWSG Post: Making Magic on the Page

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Creative Commons Stock Photos | Dreamstime.com

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeI love being a fantasy writer. No matter how many stories I write, there’s always new terrain to explore. As a practicing Pagan, I also have the opportunity to weave threads of real magic into worlds of the fantastic.

One of the ways I do this is by incorporating the magic and symbolism of gemstones and plants into my stories. In Spellfire’s Kiss, for example, my characters cast a spell that uses five gemstones, four associated with each of the four elements (earth, water, fire, and air) and a fifth to symbolize spirit. In my Cabot Sisters series, the characters have a chalcedony pendant that symbolizes the water magic that runs in their family. In The Faerie Key, Lily uses black tourmaline, a crystal that’s said to have powerful protective qualities, in casting a protection spell.

Plants, including herbs and trees, also have elemental associations and magical or healing properties. Sage is dried and bundled and used for cleansing people’s auras and living spaces and for smudging magical tools such as athames and wands. Lavender has calming properties, and it’s an herb that I reference frequently in my stories. Willow trees are associated with poetry, oaks with royalty, and an ash tree is said to be Yggdrasil, the tree that connects the nine worlds in Norse mythology.

When it comes to magic, the possibilities are endless, and that’s why I know I’ll never get bored writing fantasy. There are always ways to incorporate the magic of the natural world into a fantasy story. By far the most interesting research I get to do for my stories involves magical symbolism. I research goddesses and gods, types of faeries and other magical creatures, symbolism of plants and stones, and so much more.

Being a fantasy writer allows me to draw from nature, my greatest inspiration, and to incorporate my Pagan faith into my work. A raven, messenger of Odin or the Morrighan. The songs of birds heralding the arrival of spring. The legend of a redcap or kelpie. The power of the goddess Brigid. Or simply the verdant green of summer leaves. This is the magic of my path—and the magic that can make a fantasy story shine.

Learn more about the Insecure Writers Support Group, visit fellow bloggers, or sign up here.

What about you? What’s the most interesting thing you get to research for your work?

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