Thursday, July 24, 2014

Critique Groups

When I began writing  in 2010 I sat at my computer blissfully unaware of gerunds, queries, things to avoid on page one, and the whole publishing process. I wrote because it was a dream I'd had for a long time, one that I finally tackled when my best friend called me and told me she was writing a book. I'm grateful for the ignorance at the start of my writing life because it let me explore freely and focus on getting ideas and stories on the page.

That said, once I attended my first writing conference in 2011 (Writers and Illustrators for Young Readers WIFYR) I realized I had a ton to learn. I needed to hone my craft. I needed to learn grammar. And, I needed feedback from people who didn't already know (and love) me. What I needed was a critique group.

Five members of my WIFYR class created one. And my writing improved significantly. Over time though, we've gotten to be such good friends that we've become cheerleaders and beta readers, but not so much critique partners. So when I moved to North Carolina where SCBWI is strong, I joined Capital Eyes, a critique group that meets once a month just fifteen minutes from my house. Introverted me was nervous to meet new people, even kindred writer people like myself, but I didn't have anything to worry about.

No only have I made really good local writing friends, but I've also been able to pool from all of their knowledge and grow my craft even more. So if you're nervous about getting your writing out there, about others reading it and possibly NOT liking it, I would encourage you to still take that step and get outside feedback. Join a local or online group. Reach out and let yourself be vulnerable and watch your writing self develop. You just might make some great friends in the process. And you just might write the next big thing. Besides, you need someone to thank in your acknowledgments page.

Write On.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The almost right word and the right word...

By: Kristi Hartman

Ever since I was a child I have loved listening to music.  I would sit on my bedroom floor, legs crossed, pushing the rewind button on my cassette-tape player over and over so I could listen to my favorite song repeatedly.  

My taste in music has changed over the years, and certainly the technology has as well.  But one thing has not changed, and that is my love for music.  One of my all-time favorite things to do in life is drive in the car and listen to music, while I attempt to sing along.  I remember after getting my first car in high school, carefully selecting the CD's from my collection and sliding them into the sleeve of a case logic cd holder, and driving around town listening to my favorite jams. No one was there to tell me my taste in music wasn't cool, or that my singing was bad. It was just me, my car, and my tunes.  

Fast forward an undisclosed number of years and things haven't changed much as far as my love for music. The car rides, however, have changed drastically.  I often listen to a variety of music, but now I have 2 and a half people in the backseat who always have a constant opinion about what's on the radio.  Being the music lover that I am, I try to have them listen to a variety of songs and artists, just so I'm not stuck listening to Kidz Bop or Disney on Pandora constantly.  
Most of the time, it works... 

Part of the reason I love listening to music so much is I love to listen to the lyrics.  Songs tell stories in such a short period of time, that I love to listen for the message or story they are trying to tell.

One artist in particular whom I have listened to ever since my case logic days is Sarah McLachlan.  
I was lucky enough to see her in concert about 3 weeks ago at Red Rocks amphitheater in CO, and let me tell you, she gave me chills the whole time.  Her talent for singing amazes me, as well as her ability to write and craft words together beautifully.  Song writers like her are such an inspiration to me as an aspiring writer, because they have so much to say in so little time, that when combining the right music and words something awesome happens.

It is a constant reminder to me that we don't need thousands upon thousands of words to have a great story to tell.  Sometimes it's just a matter of using the right words.

Mark Twain once said:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter- 'tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.

Have you ever had that experience, where you suddenly think of the perfect word and BAM! It's amazing.  The sentence shines off the page in all its glory like the sun among the stars.  

Unfortunately for me, that experience doesn't happen all the time.  But, the few times it does, I soak it up and think to myself, 'Yep.  I can do this.'

We don't need to worry about hitting so many thousands of word counts all the time (although that really helps get our creative juices going), sometimes we just need to find those right words to help us tell with our story.

Have you ever had those sun-shiny moments of writing?  How do you keep it going?




Monday, July 21, 2014

My Post About Not Much- But it comes with a WRITING SPRINT!

I had a whole, long, nicely written post for today, and I was getting ready to put it up and I just...didn’t. I don’t know why, it just didn’t feel like the right post. Go figure.

So now I am left with...not much.

Remember those goals I set about a month ago? Well, I am still slogggging through that book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. It’s not that it’s boring, it just has a lot of big words and heavy concepts and requires me to digest each sentence with intense focus and that’s hard to do when you have 4 kids home for the summer.



The good news is that the book is giving me great insight into my WIP. I’ve realized that the first draft was just the skeleton of my story with some added fluff. Now it’s time to remove the fluff and add a heart, lungs, and circulatory system. It needs guts. And they’re coming, one juicy organ at a time.

Yeah, that was gross. Sorry. Did I mention that I had a whole other nicely written post for today?

Ahem. Anyway, the bad news is that I can’t watch a movie or read a book now without my mind dissecting the story elements. Ooh, there’s our hero. I think that guy is a Threshold Guardian. Aha! He just refused the Call to Adventure. Entering the Special World...okay, we’re approaching the Inner Cave. Is that person a Shadow? Ooh, I think I just caught some symbolism there...that guy is definitely a Mentor.

You get the idea. Like I said, great for fleshing out my own story, not so much for sitting and enjoying a Friday night movie.

So, I am eager to finish off this book because:

1. I won’t let myself read any other books (even FUN ones!) until I am done. Must. stay. focused.

2. I won’t let myself dive back into my manuscript again until I’m finished. Because chances are good that if I did that a) I would get distracted and not finish reading the book or b) I would still be reading the book and get 5 more epiphanies about my WIP and have to go back and rewrite AGAIN. Because I have an epiphany about once every 3 pages I read in this thing.

Okay, with that said,

LET’S HAVE A WRITING SPRINT!

"But wait," you say, "I thought you just said you weren’t working on your MS until you finished that crazy book?"

Indeed reader, you are correct. But I do have a good idea about the general direction I want to take the story now and I need to spend some time tweaking my outline. I go running every morning and my brain goes even faster than my feet (like 5 miles an hour instead of 4) coming up with new ideas for my story and I need to get this stuff out of my head!

So meet me here, tonight, at 9pm EST (that’s 7pm MST, 8pm CST). I know it’s a bit early for some of you, but do your FHE early and then unload the kids on the hubby or put them in front of a movie and come join me! We’ll write as much and as fast as we can and post our progress (either in word count or, in my case, just a general summary of what we’ve accomplished writing-wise) every 15 minutes. It’ll be fun! We’ll cheer each other on! We’ll celebrate our awesomeness and pat ourselves on the back for being amazing!

WOOHOO!

See you tonight.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Imagination -- a Double Edged Sword

Having a good imagination can be an amazing thing. One need only pick up any fantasy book to see what I mean. Only someone with an awesome imagination can create whole worlds in which characters live and breath simply by stringing words together. I love having a good imagination and I'm really grateful for the ability to imagine things in my head and make them real on paper. But sometimes the ability to imagine the worst case scenario, for example, (which is important when writing a book) is not so great in real life applications.

This summer I sent my 14 year old daughter to Alaska to spend some time with my sister. I flew many times as a child all by myself starting at the age of 10. Therefore I didn't think I would have any problems with putting my teenage daughter on a plane by herself. Boy was I wrong. Every worst case scenario I could think of went through my mind and I was a mess.
The photo I took before she went to the airport
I even took a picture of her before she got on the plane so I would have a picture of exactly what she was wearing if anything should happen. This is the point when my daughter started rolling her eyes. I know it's illogical but I often find myself thinking of the worst case scenarios in many situations. This causes lots of fear.

This is when I have to remind myself that I know the anecdote to fear...FAITH. When my imagination runs away and I find myself afraid to even let my kids step out the front door, I say a prayer. My prayer is to remind myself that I trust God completely and as long as I have faith in Him all will be well. Even in hard times, even when the worst does happen, through Him there is no reason to let fear in. My favorite scripture in times of trial is John 14:27
27 Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

What more can I ask for than this? My faith brings peace. Faith is there "So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." (Hebrews 13:6)
So when my imagination holds me hostage inside, I can free myself with faith in my loving Father in Heaven.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Embrace Your Antagonist!!

by Jewel Leann Williams, www.jewelleannwilliams.com

Stephen R. Covey said it in his book SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE:
            Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Of course, the late Dr. Covey didn’t mean it how I’m about to use it. This is, after all, a writer’s website, not a Franklin Planner seminar. So, what do I mean, “seek first to understand?”

I’m talking about your antagonist. First, let me throw another adage at you—


“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

                                    Alexander Pope

            So, with regards to the writing…. what do these two things have in common? Well, since I already said I’m talking about your antagonist, what I propose is to really, really get inside the head and heart of your bad guy.

            I’ve actually been playing with the idea of writing my next story from the point of view of my antagonist FIRST, sort of as a pre-write, THEN writing it from the point of view of the protagonist. Then I stopped playing as I realized that I can’t even get a paragraph in any of my WIP’s written at all, let alone “pre-write” and silly things like that.  

C'mon, give 'em a big ol' HUG!!!

            But, think about it. If you write from first person, from your antagonist’s point of view, you can really see, feel, hear, taste, touch, love, hate—all of those emotions that we usually only reserve for our main character—doing it for your bad guy will not only deepen your portrayal of him, but also allow you to play with your readers a little. I don’t mean that in a bad way, either. I remember some of the books and stories that disturbed me the most were the ones where I invested my emotions in a character or event and then had that turned on its head, making me realize how flawed I was. The best example of that for me was “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. I still feel icky as I recall being caught up in the excitement of the town’s preparations for the yearly ritual. “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” The whole story is one of anticipation, and I couldn’t wait to see who won. Then BOOM. The lottery was to see who the town would stone to death. I had been excited about that. I felt complicit in the murder. Like I said, the story, the cautionary tale about the dangers of conformity, has stuck with me for my entire life, mainly because of how it made me feel.

            Would your story be well served by the reader identifying with the bad person, even just a little? Some stories really wouldn’t—but some would. When you want your antagonist to really be able to toy with the protagonist, have him toy with the reader. Have your audience AGREE with him, ROOT for him, and then drop the bomb—it will resonate, deeply.

            Even if your story doesn’t need that sort of turnabout, really understanding your antagonist can help you to see different facets of your protagonist—you can see him through the eyes of his enemy. Often we, as the creators of the story’s hero, tend to want to make him or her perfect. We may overlook flaws, or at least minimize them, like we would with our children, or our friends. Having the unvarnished, snarky, cruel truth exposed will allow you to see your protagonist’s little cracks and chinks, those things that make them real. Those “evil” insights will deepen your characterization.

            I hope I’m inspiring ways that you can get to know your antagonist—and reasons why you should. I love those stories where the bad guy is sooooooo good at being bad, and I suspect that the authors of those books really dive deep into learning who the antagonist really is, as much as they do their protagonist.

            It’s like I always say, “The bad guy is the protagonist in their own story.” (Really. I do say that. There’s even a story involving devil horns and red fuzzy handcuffs to illustrate how that’s MY saying. Ask me about it sometime.)            


            Do you have any great ideas for how to understand your antagonist better, or thoughts on how to use that understanding to further your plans to conquer the world write a better story? 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Beating the Biography Blues

What does one get for the father that has everything?   I’m serious, he really has everything.  Looking for a 57/83 inch drill bit?  Yep, he’s got it.  How about a nice copy of the June, 1985 edition of National Geographic.  Yeppers!  A left-handed socket wrench only for fixing blenders.  Oh, yes…that too. 

            So, getting something at Christmas or birthdays for a man in his 80s that is a card-carrying member of the ‘Hoarders Gold Club’ has been a challenge.  I want to honor my father, but not empower the man to add to his stash.  My mother has threatened arson more than once.
            It occurred to me that people in my father’s age bracket are focused on legacy building; financial legacy, Church service legacy, and of course, personal history legacy.  And it was in this last category that I chose to focus my efforts.  I’m so glad that I did because what came out of the experience of recording, transcribing and writing what would someday be a nice softcover family ‘must read’ (along with the blues associated with some things not going so smoothly) have been priceless for me as well as my family.
            Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons that I would like to share about writing a person’s biography.  It does not matter if the person you are writing about is a relative or just an acquaintance, the methods are still the same:
1.     Before you do anything, find your objective center.  To retell the life, the whole life, of an individual accurately and fairly, you must approach the project as if it were a paid job assignment.  Kicking back and sharing a few laughs and memories is nice, but it lacks strategy and organization.  If you are interviewing and writing about a close family member and you think you might become overly emotional (sadness, gratitude, anger, joy, etc.) then make a list of those topics that need to be dealt with separate from the biography process. 
2.     Create your universe.  In other words, take the time to outline the direction that the interview will take.  Try to strike a balance of chronological continuity without getting bogged down in the details too soon.  You can always add sub-topical areas as desired after the initial interview. 
3.     When you and the subject are ready, arrange a meeting time.  Set a limit of an hour for the first meeting, followed by more at later times.  This will allow you to demonstrate to your subject that you are interviewing them with a clear plan and that it won’t be an endless meeting.  Most adults, even relatives, have a limited attention span. 
4.     During the interview, tell the person what topic you are about to question them about.  Then, ask open-ended questions.  Make sure the recording device you are using is unobtrusive; it can stress the subject when they see it in front of them.  Do NOT take notes; the subject will feel obliged to let you catch up on your scribblings, which will often break their train of thought.
5.     After transcribing the recordings, edit the first script for writing conventions and send a copy to the subject.  It may seem odd to edit so soon, but you don’t want the subject to fret about these annoyances.
6.     Do a quick genealogy of family and friends.  Get the contact information of these individuals.  Create a document in which your subject gives authorization for any relative or friend to share personal information with you, the interviewer.  Sometimes, relatives and friends are reluctant to be candid unless they have the subject’s blessing to do so. 
7.     Once a complete interview has been conducted and transcribed, read over the script several times.  Glaring questions or topic areas that need deeper exploration should be identified.  Send these questions to the subject prior to the ‘details interview’, along with a current copy of the script.  This will give the subject time to do a nice memory jog on what they've already said and hopefully spark deeper memories that could prove invaluable to the overall biography.  Then, make another interview appointment, but do not set a time limit.  At this meeting, it’s time to ask the hard questions and press the subject a bit.  It’s at this point that my questions would be more like: ‘How did that make you feel?’ or ‘What do you wish you had done differently in that awkward situation?’ Remember, if you still have unanswered questions when reading the biography, then so will everyone else that reads it.  You want to close as many open-ends as possible.
8.     Edit several times and get a ‘buddy reader’ to give it a once over.
9.     Believe it or not, now comes the hardest part of the whole biography process:  Obtaining photographs.  Sometimes, getting people to find pics of their early life can be a difficult challenge.  You might want to prompt what kind of pictures you are wanting so the person doesn't get bogged down going through endless boxes or albums and trying to decide which pictures they think you might want.  Of course, their opinion plays an important part.
10.  Assemble and self-publish.  There are numerous self-publishing websites  to choose from:  Lulu is very popular, as is Create Space and Completely Novel.



            This 10-step process may seem tedious, but it works.  If you write a biography using these steps (or your own amalgamation) you’ll actually find yourself having fun and getting the creative release we authors are all hooked on. 
            Back to my father’s biography.  I've really enjoyed the process, bumps in the road notwithstanding.  My father rolled out a story one day that nobody in the family had ever heard.  Apparently, he and a teenage buddy hopped a train from Arizona to Los Angeles so that they could ‘go to the beach’.  They nearly died of dehydration as they crossed the brutal desert and didn't count on the truancy officer (For the more youthful MMW among us, a truancy officer was a type of law enforcement officer that patrolled the neighborhoods during the school day looking for kids who were ditching school.) arresting them.  So apparently, the beloved patriarch of our family was a youthful jailbird.

            The hardest part of this process was the accumulation of photographs.  There have been numerous hurdles: The house fire of 1948 destroyed a lot of them; the box that has some pics is out in the hot shed;  or worse, ‘I don’t know where some of the photographs are’.  It’s made me get creative and ‘think outside the box’ in order to get what I believe will help make a great biography to honor a great man.       

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Procrastination, Thy Name is Katy

by Katy White

Summer.

Le sigh.

Since graduating college over a decade ago, I've never quite been able to shake the notion that summer means a break from all my cares. Like two months worth of Saturdays.  Unfortunately, as we all know, that doesn't translate to real life. And it doesn't translate to my writing life, either.


Since my cruise a couple of weeks ago, I've been struggling to get my fingers moving. So I went on a quest to find some inspiration, reading great quotes from famous authors. They all centered around one thing (spoiler alert!): you just gotta sit down and write.

Surprise, surprise.

The annoying part about this is that I was on a serious roll right before this weird lull hit, writing several hundred to a couple thousand words a day for the three weeks prior! And now, pfft. Nothing. Maybe my motivation is the Bermuda Triangle's latest victim (okay, okay, I know that's not possible. We were nowhere near the Bermuda Triangle!).

Alas, here's my cry for help. Words of inspiration, a challenge, heck, a triple dog dare! If you have any rut-busting tips, please, comment below! I'm begging you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Poem about Garments

by Anna Jones Buttimore


Garments are not something we Mormons like to talk about much. After all, is anyone ever completely comfortable discussing their underwear with strangers? But they are, nevertheless, a quirk of the LDS faith which seems to fascinate outsiders.

Personally I think they're great. Cheaper to buy than regular underwear, more comfortable, and available in a huge variety of fabrics suited to all climates. No VPL, and for us bigger girls no chubb-rub when wearing skirts. It's also a rare honour to be able to wear them. I waited ten years to get to the Temple, so I really don't take for granted what it means to wear this symbol of a precious covenant relationship.

Anyway, endeavouring to be (more) respectful in explaining what garments are all about, I have written a little poem. Well, maybe not so much written as stolen, since it's based on "The Cross in my Pocket" by Mrs. Verna Mae Thomas. I hope you'll feel free to use it whenever you are next asked why Mormons wear "magic underwear". (*Sigh*)


I wear special clothes on my body
A simple reminder to me
Of the fact that I will keep covenants
No matter where I may be.

These garments are not magic,
Nor are they a good luck charm
They are not meant to protect me
From every physical harm.

They’re not for identification
For all the world to see
But simply an understanding
Between my Saviour and me.

When I dress each bright new morning
In garments fresh and white
They serve that day to remind me
To remain clean in His sight.

They remind me, too, to be modest
In my words, my deeds, my dress
And to strive to serve Him better
That others I may bless.

When I’m feeling sad or despairing,
Or in a scary place,
These garments remind me that always
I’m encircled about by His grace.

And when my path seems rocky
And I feel all hope is gone
I remember promises given
The day I first put them on.


I wear this symbol of purity,
Hidden away from sight,
Because in the blood of the Lamb of God
My garments and sins are washed white.

So I wear special clothes on my body
Reminding no one but me
That Jesus Christ is Lord of my life
And He has set me free.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Reading Girl's Guide to Romance, or the Care and Feeding of Literary Crushes

by Merry Gordon



It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man (in possession of a good fortune or not) might just be a hard sell on a writer chick.

You know why?

Because writer chicks are reader chicks.  And I don’t care how good you single men are:  Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott and a whole entourage of fictional top hats and tail coats got to our hearts first. 

For all the ladies who had a “type”—tall, dark and imaginary—and all the guys who’ve ever had to compete with a character, I give it to you straight:  the three stages of classic literary hero love (and how I lived happily ever after beyond the last page).

Chapter 1: Childhood
Little Women

I could never work myself up to pitying those penniless March girls.  Who needs money when you’ve got a hot Italian next door?  ‘Laurie’ Lawrence was everything my prepubescent heart could have desired:  quick smile, nice tan, and black eyes and volatile moods just European enough to make him mildly dangerous—all those “By Jupiters”! (Stop snickering.  At twelve, a couple of stick-on tattoos can turn you into you Jezebel.)  But my copy of the book was the abridgment, which left off charmingly with Laurie beginning to cast significant glances Jo-ward (squeee!).   Eventually, I stumbled upon Good Wives, the second part.  I threw that book across the room 3 times.  Beth dies?  Jo ends up with some old German dude?  And MY LAURIE hooks up with snottypants AMY?  What the heck, Louisa May Alcott?

Chapter 2:  Adolescence
Wuthering Heights

On to high school.  My hair was chemically enhanced.  Some of my classmates were chemically enhanced.  I wore black combat boots, too much eye makeup, and listened to the Cure.  I frequented cafés and used bookstores, which is where I found my next fixation:  Heathcliff.   I was so smitten I considered begging
Cover Girl to make their Oil Controlled Pressed Powder in Corpse so I could mimic the tubercular pallor of my new gothic heroine, Cathy Earnshaw.  That girl knew a Bad Boy when she saw him:  rebel, loner—oozing brutal sensuality, but sensitive enough to cry (and soak a tree in his own blood in a fit of lovelorn agony). Suddenly, the paltry passions of high school boys were hardly enough for me.  You want to hold hands under the bleachers, varsity football boy?  That’s nice.  But would you dig up my dead body thirteen years after my demise for one last kiss?  Now that’s hot. 

Chapter 3:  Young Adulthood
Pride & Prejudice

When sociopathic obsession and borderline necrophilia stopped being cool, I discovered Mr. Darcy—which is to say, the BBC helped me discover that Colin Firth would win a Regency wet t-shirt contest.  Having seen the miniseries in its six-hour glory, I devoured the book and fell in love with Fitzwilliam. He ruined college.  Frat boy come-ons under a haze of Axe now seemed so obvious after Darcy’s refined desire.  “What does he even do?” my male friends sulked when I found them wanting in comparison. Oh, you wouldn’t understand.  Gentlemanly things.  Horseback riding.  Letter writing.  Daydream inspiring. Tight breeches wearing. What’s that you say, Mr. Daaaahhcy?  ‘Every savage can dance’?  I am excessively diverted.  Let’s skip the ball and sneak back behind this shrubbery and I’ll put on my new lip gloss and show you what else every savage can do…

What was I looking for?  Just the boyish charm of a Laurie and the fieriness of a Heathcliff all wrapped up in the polished passion of a Darcy.  That’s do-able, right?

Apparently not.

But since Saturday nights alone with my books didn’t exactly satisfy, I found myself a nice guy.  He wasn’t rich (or Italian, for that matter), and he wasn't much more demonstrative than a casual arm around my shoulder.  While his manners were good, he lacked that urbane air of refinement. I never tried to change him, but I didn’t exactly put Laurie and Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy back on the shelf for good, either.

I  justified. 

I rationalized. 

I could have my boyfriend by day and my literary lovers by night and be faithful to all of them.

And it worked out pretty well—for a while. 

One night I was sick, and my boyfriend showed up anyway.  Reluctantly (as sinus infections aren’t nearly as romantic as consumption), I let him in and we watched Wuthering Heights for the umpteenth time.  As I sighed over the end credits, he turned to me. “All your lit crushes.  Is that really what you want?—I mean, they look good on paper, but is Heathcliff going to pick up Mucinex for you?” he asked, tenderly passing me two pills and sweetly ignoring the Kleenex plugs issuing from my snot-streaming nostrils.

Reader, I married him.

He was right, of course.  Laurie’s charismatic rich boy naiveté would probably get grating when it came down to choosing car insurance or anything remotely practical (on the other hand, with his money we could just hire someone to do it and I could live like the trophy wife March sister Amy).

I had grown out of the emotional sturm und drang of Heathcliff—date nights that could end in impulse tattoos and restraining orders seemed less appealing the older I got. 

And while Mr. Darcy might be a perfect theoretical mate, I couldn’t imagine him scraping toddler vomit off car seats, or comparison shopping for tampons, or any of the other utterly ordinary acts of gallantry my husband performs on a routine basis.


Yes, writer/reader chicks are a tough crowd. But eventually we all come to a crossroads in our literary lives:  either we’re living in someone else’s stories, or we’re writing our own.  The latter is infinitely more satisfying, even when it doesn’t make for a great page-turner.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Doing the Hard Thing

by Becky Porter

           I woke and stared somewhat sullenly at the sloped canvas roof soaring a few feet above my head.  The air in the tent was pleasantly cool, but my mind did not dwell long on the weather.  Mechanically, I adjusted the pillow that was slipping off the end of the metal cot, part of my brain noting the morning songs of the varied birds in the trees outside.  I was plagued by that vaguely grumpy feeling adults get—or maybe it’s only me—when they know they are about to do something that should be done but that they don’t want to do.  This, after all, is what it means to be “grown-up”. 
 With a small sigh and a furrowed brow, I untangled myself from the sleeping bag and climbed off the bed.  My toes curled a little as they hit the rough wood flooring beneath.  I padded the few steps to the tent opening and, lifting the thick canvas flap, gazed out on the gorgeous cool stillness of early morning at Philmont Scout Ranch.  The scent of wet earth mingled with the fresh, sharp tang of the trees; I breathed it in deeply, and with that breath came a deep sense of certainty and peace.
We had arrived at Philmont almost a week before, rain coming down in sheets as our minivan full of kids, suitcases, sleeping bags, books, pillows, Scout uniforms, and excitement (but not a single working umbrella) pulled into the long, winding drive.  The past few days had been a wonderful blur of inspired training and revelation for Jeff; bonding with new friends for me; and pony rides, archery, crafts, games, and camp songs for the children.  Oh yes—and hikes.  Long, hard hikes.  Half-day hikes for the little ones and 7-hour ordeals for the older ones. 
“You can do this!” I had told each of them.  “You can do hard things. I believe in you!”
They had listened.  One by one I had encouraged them and sent them off.  One by one they had come back, flushed with the power of accomplishment, eager to tell me how hard it had been and how they had persevered.  I played my part well, exclaiming and commiserating and lavishing them with praise.
“I knew you could do it!” I said. “In our family, we do hard things.  It wasn’t easy but you finished, and I’m so proud of you.”
These were the thoughts I had later that morning as my sneaker-clad feet crunched across pine needles, leading me up and over rocks and under tree boughs.  It was my turn to hike.  I was backing up my words with my example, and my middle-aged, out-of-shape body was protesting almost every uphill step of the way.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the women at the front of the hike, ladies who bounced their way up the mountain in their hiking boots with backpacks slung confidently over their shoulders, but I was determined to stay in the middle of the pack.  It was sheer pride and grit that kept me there, puffing like a locomotive, as we climbed steadily.  I reveled in the strength of my legs and thanked God for my healthy body.  I gazed at deer just down the mountain from us, their bodies taut and still. And, at some point, I thought I was going to die if we didn’t stop soon.  I ached to be done.
Why was I out here?  Sweat dripped down my face and the locomotive was puffing harder than ever.  I began to hate those smiling, delusional women at the front of the line who acted like this was a stroll down the street instead of the grueling new form of torture that any sane person would recognize it to be. 
After about an hour and a half, our male guide stopped.  The trail wound up in an S-curve like some reddish-brown malevolent snake on the side of the wooded hill.  The guide stood above us and his words struck apprehension into my weary brain.
“We’re almost to the top, but this last part is the hardest.  It’s a set of switchbacks that climb steeply.  If any of you want to stay here and wait for us (we’ll be coming back the way we came up), you can do that rather than climb the whole way.”
We had already hiked almost two miles and climbed close to 1,000 feet and now he was telling us that the hardest part was ahead?  I will be forever grateful to my newfound friend, Katie, who recognized the moment I began to waver.  She played the part for me that I had played for my kids.
“Come on, Becky. You can do this,” she encouraged in her soft voice. “You will always regret it if you don’t go to the top.”
And so I pushed on.  I did the hard thing that I had not wanted to do.  I pushed myself up that set of switchbacks, one plodding foot in front of the other, huffing and puffing but never falling back.  I climbed over huge rocks, made more immense by my exhaustion.  I moved forward when I thought I couldn’t, and when I reached the summit I burst into tears. 
No words can describe the exhilaration I felt when, after coming back down and riding the bus back to camp, I looked my children in the eyes and said, “I did it!  It was hard and I did it!” 

I found that doing the hard thing is just a series of small steps, one after the other, until you reach the summit a new, stronger person for your effort.

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