Writing from the Villain’s Perspective

The separation between the story’s hero and the villain is wide, and yet at the same time it can be narrow.  Each character has a goal to achieve, a journey to take, and a stake in the game. The protagonist, or hero of the story moves outside his comfort zone to pursue his goal while the antagonist or villain does everything he can to oppose him.

Normally, the reader expects to place himself inside the mind of the hero, to accompany the story’s hero on his journey, to route for him to win – but what would it be like for the reader if he were to place himself in the perspective of the villain- instead? Would it make the story more interesting?  Or, conversely, would it cause too much anguish to step inside the villain’s inner world, to join him on the same wavelength, as someone who wants to do harm, destruction or evil to someone else? 

Upon reading this month’s book club book, I did not miss the author’s curious choice to have the writer within the writer’s story use a villain’s point of view to tell her story.  To write a non-horror/thriller from the perspective of someone our readers are normally persuaded to fear adds a compelling twist to the narrative.  And beyond that, it allows the reader to question the things that would create a villain, or to cause an individual to turn bad to begin with.

Isn’t this something many of us attempt to do in our real lives, to understand why another individual would do harm to someone else? When we hear about someone in the news who subjects another or others to pain, or we observe someone we know behave out of character, don’t we wonder what happened to cause that person to become so troubled to the point that his behavior turns negative, bully-like, malevolent, or downright evil?  Don’t we want to press ourselves up against his story like a scientist studying a foreign specimen, to understand his thought process and behavior?  We become addicted to the stories unfolding before us and we can’t stop ourselves from watching safely from the sidelines.  Afterall, there is something compelling about someone who turns bad.  But, perhaps – getting inside with him instead might be the only real way to figure out how  to protect ourselves and our loved ones, not only from becoming a victim, but from leaning into that “bad” side laying dormant in each of us.

In Verity, by Colleen Hoover, one of the main characters in the story is a writer who writes her life story behind the scenes. (Warning: this paragraph contains a major spoiler if you have not read it yet.)  She writes her autobiography from the point of view of a villain, supposedly the opposite of her true “normal and good “ self. The autobiography is to be a writing exercise suggested by her editor, referred to as “antagonistic journaling” to help the writer cope with her grief. Her editor suggests it to help Verity get inside the mind of a villainous character, by writing “phony” journal entries. However, the catch is to write the inner dialogue contrary from her actual experience, to essentially lie to the reader. “It was never meant for anyone to read and believe. It was an exercise … A way to tap into the dark grief that was eating at me,” she writes.

Hoover creatively places the reader uncomfortably in Verity’s head when she writes:

No one is likable from the inside out. One should only walk away from an autobiography with, at best, an uncomfortable distaste for its author. I will deliver. What you read will taste so bad at times, you’ll want to spit it out, but you’ll swallow these words and they will become part of you, part of your gut, and you will hurt because of them.

From this excerpt, the reader anticipates that what is coming will be something bad, making the assumption that Verity suffers from a troubled mind. The point is to get the reader to be told the story from the other side, to fully feel the evil, to become so embedded in it that she becomes a part of it, -a creative and smart way to gain a perspective of someone’s objective without dancing around it to second guess what is going on. 

Or at least it is an interesting idea to ponder.

In the May 16, 2022 blog post written by Stina Leicht; “Empathy for the Devil; Villains, Antiheroes and Origin Stories, Leicht says about writing horror in general, but it also explains the relevance of writing and reading from the villain’s point of view;

It forces us to gaze into the darkness and learn advanced lessons about being human. Because concentrating on only the Good means ignoring the shadow, and as every religious fanatic has demonstrated since the beginning of time, we ignore our shadows at our peril.

In life, as in writing, we have our heroes and our villains.  Every day we encounter individuals with good intentions and sometimes those with not so good intentions, although I truly believe there are substantially fewer of the latter, than of the first type.  The idea to probe around in someone’s head to examine the thoughts that drive him, allows us to gain an awareness, to discover the reasons why someone does what he does.  It’s like the surgeon who opens up his patient to locate and remove the tumor that is destroying her.  The writer does the same thing, only she explores the insides of the mind from the outside instead.  The goal is the same, to locate the root of the sickness, or malevolent thoughts and behaviors, to discover both how to handle it, and how to prevent it from growing inside our own selves or in others.

Sometimes, the individual is not necessarily evil.  It could be a slip up, a one-time temporary moment of weakness or extreme vulnerability, a moment in which any one of us could find ourselves.

Stephen King explained this notion in Scott Meyers’; November 7, 2021, Sunday’s with Stephen King’s “On Writing”:

Not only that, by immersing ourselves in the lives of our characters, we set out on a path in which we discover their complex nature. Villains who have self-doubt. Villains who feel pity. Good guys whose desire is to turn away from their responsibilities.

Through the journey into the antagonist’s inner world we hope to uncover the reasons behind his thoughts and behaviors to understand and potentially (and hopefully), treat, cure or save him, while saving the rest of us in the process.

It might, in some cases, also help us identify who the villain really is, to distinguish between the alleged heroes and supposed villains in each story we encounter.

In Jason Sechrest’s “Who is the true Villain in Carrie?” from May 25, 2018, we gain another interesting perspective; In Carrie we learn that behind the fire in every angry woman’s eyes, there exists a lifetime of sorrow, and that behind that sorrow lies great pain. This is most notably evident in one of the book’s most quoted lines:

 Sorry is the Kool-Aid of human emotions. It’s what you say when you spill a cup of coffee, or throw a gutter ball when you’re bowling with the girls in the league. True sorrow is as rare as true love.

What this says, Sechrest claims, is sometimes there is the need to pay attention to the sorrow within someone before labeling that individual as a villain. Perhaps, the individual is only a broken hero in her own story, with the basic need of repair.  And that repair does not have to cost much.

While people may associate Stephen King with horror, it’s rarely the pervasive feeling one gets as a reader. Sometimes it’s nostalgia. Sometimes it’s desperation. With Carrie, it is heartbreak. For we all knew (or perhaps, were) a Carrie White in school. We may feel shame for how we treated that individual when we were “just kids,” or perhaps we stood idly by, and allowed bullying to occur. But to read Carrie is to be enlightened as to what it’s like to be in such well-worn and tattered shoes; to know the madness that ensues behind closed doors by night, which makes one so awkward by the light of day.

It is interesting that Carrie would become one of King’s most infamous villains over the years when in many ways she is in fact a victim. The question remains a common discussion point among readers over 40 years later: Is Carrie White the villain of Carrie, and if not, then who is?

Stephen King took the black-and-white out of Carrie and began painting its characters in beautiful shades of gray. They were not good. They were not bad. They were just… human. Much less like characters in a book, and more like the flesh and bone people who would be reading it. It made Carrie White instantly likeable, but more than that it made the book itself instantly relatable.

I love how Sechrest describes the reader, as the flesh and bone people who would be reading it.  This is to whom I write, both to the writer who creates the story, the reader who reads it, and to the individual just trying to live her life. So, when we ask ourselves who the villain really was in Carrie, we might learn that the true villain in Carrie is- us.  The villain is the possibility inside us to judge, to condemn, to ostracize, to exclude, to label, to treat badly, to misunderstand,…  lurking around in each one of us.  And if making a short trip to the insides of someone’s inner world could possibly make us more sensitive and empathetic to another- who might feel troubled or is going through a “down period”, to which we have the opportunity to step in to help, perhaps it might prevent any other Carrie’s from being created, if we visit that place just for a bit.

And so, if the villains of Stephen King’s stories, and in other stories, both fiction and non-fiction, or in real life, could help us learn how not to become a villain, or a victim, then the idea to see the world from inside that point of view, if only for a brief period, could help us become more caring individuals, then writing in the antagonist’s perspective is a trip worth taking.

Stephen King’s characters are painted so perfectly human—so flawed and so fallible—they show us there is light and darkness in everyone. Carrie holds up a mirror to expose the potential villain that exists in each of us. The bully we can become. The judge. The zealot, or control freak. The man or woman scorned, hellbent on revenge.

So, the next time we contemplate whether to step inside the villain’s point of view for a few uncomfortable moments, to take a shot at understanding his or her story, to write from the his or her point of view, I say go for it. Like the cross and holy water that keep the vampires away, if understanding what makes a villain a villain, or a seemingly normal person think and act out of the ordinary, could keep evil away or from developing, then the temporary discomfort of glimpsing a different perspective- to write from the villain’s viewpoint, should be worth the temporary uneasiness that might work toward saving each of us at the end of the day, or in this case, at the end of the story.

Creating White Space

In writing, we structure our narrative to provide a smooth story flow, clarity, and a combination of riveting suspense with reflection, and thematic threads, among other important components.  One way to do this effectively, is to create white space at various intervals.  Mozart once said, “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” 

Likewise, this idea of white space as breathing room, is stretched further in Thomas Merton’s quote, “Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm”.

 It is the alternation between words and white space that helps to make the story work. Without a place to break, the reader will grow weary from reading, not unlike the way physical overtraining without rest between work- outs places stress on the muscles, joints and bones, resulting in fatigue and soreness, ultimately negatively affecting physical performance.  This works the same way for the reader.  Too many words without white space nestled between- to reflect, absorb or simply to rest one’s eyes, might encourage the reader to give up, to move on to something else.

Supporting this idea, Caitlin Berve summarizes this concept in her February 2019 Blog; How to Format Transitions: Scenes, Point of View, and Time; “The extra white space also gives readers a chance to pause, finish taking in what they just read, and prepare for the change.”

Similarly, according to Darren Matthews in his Why White Space Matters in Writing and How to Use it, published in The Startup/Medium; “White space adds drama to a great article by enabling the reader to focus on the words, giving space for the reader to pause, contemplate the story, and return to the action.” 

Using the void keeps readers hooked, writes Gwenna Laithland in her July 2019 piece, How to Appreciate the White Space in Writing, published in The Writing Cooperative. Elaborating on this concept, she recounts a lesson she learned in writing, during her brief tenure as interim gallery director, in which she explains how she was directed by the exhibition artist to rehang pieces of his art which she had already hung, because he felt they were too close together with insufficient space between. The artist explained this would allow the white space to frame the work.  At that time, she thought he was a “pretentious old sod with awfully esoteric views on the importance of his artwork”, however; she later admitted, after re-hanging the pieces to allow for white space between, each piece suddenly stood out, highlighted by the blank wall around them.

Hence, in addition to supporting Laithland’s rationale to establish a void that will keep readers hooked, that gallery experience produced a new understanding of how creating white space enhances the story, allowing each narrative to stand out as something special, highlighted by the blank walls around it.

Laithland continues, “When you read a story, you want to be pulled into those worlds. Readers want a new reality crafted for them, the borders of their regular world, blurred out of existence.  Writers can fulfill this demand by creating white space, a void of context or details.”  

Referring to more than simply meaningless blank space on the page, she was suggesting how important it is for readers to have questions, therefore; by creating white space, or a void with no information, it allows for the reader to pause, to evaluate and identify with the author’s purpose, to use her own imagination to fill in the gap, or to conjecture solutions or desirable endings, which moves the reader to continue reading, to remain interested and engaged.

Like most aspects of writing, this is true in real-life as well, or in our ‘regular world’ as Laithland astutely labeled it. I know for me, spending too many days in a row remaining productive; whether working, studying, socializing, exercising, cleaning, organizing, or writing, without space in between for down-time, causes me to feel overwhelmed, overstimulated, or mentally and physically drained. On the other hand, if I make room for intermittent periods of white space in between, for a quiet jaunt with my inner self for a time out to unwind, I become one with her sense of peace, grounded by her calm that washes over me like a white-tipped ocean wave rolling over me, cooling my sunbaked skin.

To further illustrate the importance of white space in our real-life, Bhante Sumano, a Jamaican American Theravada Buddhist monk, writes in his June 2022 piece, The Power of Silence, published in the Buddhist Lions Roar,” The use of silence has purpose. It’s to create the right conditions to be with ourselves and examine our internal world. We take some time just to observe this body, this mind, this heart….. Silence helps cultivate this awareness, whether it’s the collective silence of a Buddhist retreat or the solitary silence of our daily meditation practice…. you retreat from sights, sounds, scents, flavors, sensations and even thoughts of the world. “  

Along those lines, Sumano’s notion is marvelously summarized by the famous poet, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, when he said, “Listen to silence. It has so much to say.”

Resonating both in life, as well as in writing, the white spaces we create between the chapters of our stories provide time outs where we catch our breath, where we decide if it is time to edit or revise, time to adjust our course, regroup or start from a new spot, or on the contrary, to reaffirm we are in the correct place, on the right path and to keep going.

Further, the white spaces we create between the real-life pages we author, allows us to ponder, accept and appreciate the road behind us- both the failures and successes, and to envision the road up ahead, to look forward to our future, to our goals, our hopes and our dreams, yet it is also where we embrace the present, the place where we go inside to align with our inner self, to thank her for  remaining steady even when the outside world is spinning out of control, and to encourage her to stay the course.  It is where we become one with her, united by our mutual objective to attain peace, stability, and contentment, tethered together by strong, solid ropes of gratitude and hope. 

White space is the place where we stand apart from the many tangled first drafts of our story, where we come to understand that the mistakes we made are not us, just pages turned- to transition us to the next chapter.

Creating white space in our written fiction allows the separation between reading, and rest or refection for our audience, and in our real-life stories, it creates separation between the busy monkey- mind trying to bully us, frighten us and discourage us, from the inner self trying to ground us. In other words, in writing, white space frames the story, and in life, white space restores us. 

Creating white space is like decluttering a house, weeding the garden, skimming the pool, or taking sips of water between glasses of wine.  It removes the bad stuff, filtering out the negative, to encourage the good parts to rise to the top.  Like the thick white line bordering the shoulders of a highway, the white space separates the fast-paced traffic from the empty space along the outer lanes, meant for rest stops and emergency break downs.  We pause there, we regroup, and we get back on the road to continue our journey. 

 Albert Einstein said, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind” and similarly, Mark Twain had it right when he said, “The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.”

To this point, “White space”, says Ellen Buikema in her White Space in Writing article in “Writers in the Storm” Blog, “helps keep sensory overload at bay.  Being bombarded with too much sound can cause some to become irritated, so can too many visuals.  Adding white space provides breathing space. Calm.  Like a pause in song, white space can help create drama, emotion, a bit of quiet before a storm of words. White space is the canvas where we paint our words”. She further says, “a blank side gives the reader emotional space to regroup for the next tale.”

God, when creating the world, took a day off to rest, so why can’t you (Exodus 20:11).  If God says we need rest, then we do.  By creating white space in our fictional stories- as writers, and in our real-life stories- as people, we build, manifest, and make use of God- instructed rest stops all along the routes of our journey.

And so, as writers, it is as important to create white space as it is to place the right words on the page, to create the story that will work.  Similarly, as individuals, it is as important to create white space for pause, to take note of who we are, of who we want to be, and where we should go from here, and who we will help along the way, as it is to create the scenes in, or moments of, our story.   It is the place where we spend time to figure out what ending we ultimately want for our story, both in fiction and in real-life, and the path we should pursue- word by word, step by step, white space by white space- to arrive there.

Why the Writer Writes.

The reader needs writers, to read, but does the writer need the reader, to write.  And for whom does the writer write?  Does the writer have her audience in mind as she places words on the page, or does she write only for herself? 

Why does the writer write?

A few weeks ago, one of my sons asked me why I bird-watch (or engage in birding, as it is currently called).  I was going to answer; “because the birds entertain me”.  But there is so much more to it than that.  Watching the birds gather at our yellow cylinder feeder hanging three feet from my back porch distracts me from my own messy world of checking off completed items from my daily to do lists.  

But, it goes even further.  

Not only do my backyard birds provide me with a temporary escape from real life, but they also provide a feeling of peaceful enchantment- a syncing with nature, with God, and with my inner self.  Their birdsongs are magical, musical masterpieces -a symphony with no maestro to complicate what they are born to do, only their natural heartfelt desire to celebrate life, and yes, perhaps also to entertain us in the process. While I provide them with nourishment and a place to gather, as they share meals or snacks, they provide me with their propensity to Iive their lives to the fullest.  We have a sort of relationship- the birds and I, a give and take, a mutual respect, like any other relationship should have.

In Amy Jones’s November/December 2019 interview with Amor Towles, author of A Gentleman in Moscow, Towles discusses the old mindset that “true artists” never take into consideration their audience and how he feels that is a crazy notion.  After all, he says, Dickens was thinking about his audience, Tolstoy was thinking about his audience, Dostoyevsky was thinking about his audience, as was Mozart, Beethoven and Leonardo da Vinci. And then, on the other hand, Towles says there is some truth to it.  When Towles writes his first draft he doesn’t think of whether he can sell it, whether it will be popular, what the rules of writing are, what his peers are doing or what the great history of writers have done. He does believe it is his duty to create a work of fiction which meets the standards of what a reader deserves (not merely what will sell). He calls it a covenant between the writer and the reader, to which he feels obligated.

Alluding to this idea of the relationship between the reader and the writer, Connie Schultz writes in her September/ October 2020 Writers Digest article; A different kind of story; “If we want to matter but don’t know where to start, we can begin there in the daily mess of life.  There are the seeds of everyone’s story, no matter how differently they grow.  Every time we write about life in meaningful ways, we close the distance between us and the readers we want to reach.”  In other words, the writer will unravel the tight, tangled ball of life’s everyday disappointments, fears, dysfunction and pain, all of which touches each of us at some point, to create something brand new that provides purpose, resolution or sense for our readers, and for ourselves. 

As in all relationships, the partnership between the writer and the reader is forged together by a common interest, a shared idea or feeling that resonates with both parties.  The boys abandoned by the neglectful father, the girl who didn’t feel she belonged anywhere, the brother addicted to pain killers, the alcoholic mother who died before her children got to know her or understand her pain, the refugee who left the only home he ever knew to risk everything for his family’s safety, the soldier who couldn’t get past his memories, the family torn apart by anger and misunderstanding.  The list goes on and on.  The writer identifies and defines the pain in each of these stories and the reader feels less isolated knowing she is not alone.

In Tim Denning’s May 2019 Writing Cooperative article, he says; the reason I write is because people can feel so very alone and creative endeavors such as writing can help people feel less isolated.  Pursuits in life that are born from our creativity help humanity feel connected and that is the best cure to the human condition known as isolation.

Through the pages of story, poetry and other literary prose, the reader and the writer become one.  They come together in a partnership, a relationship built upon mutual hope, trust, and gratitude. And this, in the end, is where we all should be- connected as one. Giving back each time we take. Forging relationships, friendships, and acceptance wherever we go. Turning the perception of differences into the reality of oneness. 

And so, the relationship between the reader and the writer is more important than it appears on the surface. Like the birds singing from the branches of the trees outside my window,  doing what comes naturally, while simultaneously sharing this self discovery with their audience, the writer writes for herself because it is what she was born to do. She writes to find her own song, to make sense of something that interests, bothers or gratifies her, while the reader reaps the benefit of her creativity and passion- ultimately providing the writer with more inspiration to keep writing. And so, it goes back and forth, the give and take of the relationship..

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing down the bones, said in her 2016 thirtieth anniversary edition preface; “ Many people who want to write are unconsciously seeking peace, a coming together, an acknowledgement of our happiness or an examination of what is broken, hoping to embrace, and bring our suffering to wholeness.”  Moreover, in her 2004 second copy edition preface she talks about Zen and loving life; “Writing is a path to meet ourselves and become intimate.”

This answers to the audience for whom the writer writes, but it also speaks to the reader on the other side of the relationship seesaw, balancing the scale because she too longs to meet herself and become intimate, which is why she reads – to become one with the writer’s thoughts and ideas. “Once you connect with your mind,” Goldberg said, “ you are who you are and you’re free.”

Like the bird and her song, who delves inside herself to do what feels right and good, and natural, while inadvertently drawing her spectator in, the writer too will do what feels right and good, and natural. 

Further adding to this idea of dual inner submission and unity, Goldberg refers to four of Jack Kerouac’s essentials for prose, at the end of her second edition preface; 

     “Accept loss forever,

      Be submissive to everything, open, listening,

      No fear of shame in the dignity of your experience, language and knowledge, and

     Be in love with your life.

And so, my answer to why the writer writes and for whom she writes, is that she writes for herself, and for her reader.  She writes for all of us.  She writes to build bridges between each of us, to close the gaps between our differences and to help clean up our self -made, complicated and unnecessary messes of life.  Like the connection between my birds and their natural, joyful appreciation of life, and those of us stirred by their songs, the relationship between the writer-creator and the reader- beholder and the forging of two minds and hearts into one, is the very thing that will guide us toward complete oneness and unity,  as it strengthens each of our own partnerships with ourselves, with others, with God, and ultimately- with life.

And that is why writers write.

Knowing when to call it quits; making way for new growth.

How do you know when it’s time to call it quits, when remaining on the same page, in the same situation,  turns into staying too long?  When your current project has run its course and overstayed its welcome?  You’ve been re-writing the same lines over and over, you’ve invested oodles of precious time and sunk heavy costs into your present draft,  and suddenly you hit a wall.  You wonder if you wasted your time spinning wheels to go nowhere, except perhaps, to get stuck in a rut?  You’ve been running in place for so long that you forgot where you were headed, or that you were even heading anywhere at all.  Yet, you don’t want your hard work, precious time,  sunken costs, or your investment to have been in vain, so you allow yourself to remain stuck in that dead end place- where you no longer belong. 

As writers, we go through this type of thinking every time we arrive at an impasse.  Suddenly, there are no alternate routes, no roads forward, no way out, only a solid barrier blocking the path ahead, and the choice between staying put in a deadlock, or giving up altogether. This is the message Andromeda Romano-Lax shares in her January/February Writers Digest article; Dig in or Cut yourself free.  Referring to this dilemma as “Fruit or Failure”, she suggests asking yourself how you know when to redraft or when to give up on the current story altogether, or if the work still gives you joy.   Are you learning (or growing) from this process or are you watering something that is undeniably dead?

Sometimes, changing the time period, the point of view, or voice is all you need to breathe life back into your story, while other times there is nothing you could do to save your work from its inevitable demise.  Yet, taking away the pieces that did work ; the lessons learned, the good parts- that could fit in a brand new narrative- makes the time, investment, and effort work toward your next project.   As John Green said in Paper Towns; It is so hard to leave- until you leave. And then it is the easiest …thing in the world.

Similarly, in Eddie Pinero’s ; Your World Within , he points to this idea in life with his story of a lunch date with a friend, in which he mentions feeling full, while continuing to eat.  His lunch date asks him “Why, then would you continue to eat if you are no longer hungry?”  To which he explains that he wants to get his money’s worth- since he already paid for it.  In response, his lunch date reminds him; “Sometimes we must accept the sunken costs for what they are.  We don’t need to keep paying, just because we already paid.”  

After all, we do not enjoy the meal any less just because we did not finish everything on our plates!

 His story’s message is that often we, as individuals, continue to consume that which does not help us, long after we should have stopped.  The wake behind the boat we drive, (the past that WAS), does not determine where we go next; the driver behind the wheel does.  If we take control of our story, unshackle ourselves from the current draft that is no longer working, or cut ties from what no longer serves us, accepting that something which took our time doesn’t mean it should continue to steal our time, we might discover the right time to call it quits -and move on.  Eli Landed notes in one of his Writing blogs:   never cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.  Similarly, this is pointed to in the Best Selling Author, Keynote Speaker, Thought Leader and Entrepreneur, Bryant McGill’s message; Life moves forward. The old leaves wither, die and fall away, and the new growth extends forward into the light.

In life, sometimes individuals remain in jobs they do not like, that provide little or no joy or reward, because it pays the bills, or its the skill they know.   Likewise, people remain in situations, or relationships that should have ended long ago, because they’re familiar, predictable, and secure, and better than being alone.  But, as Mr. Pinero points out, a jail cell is also secure, and becomes familiar and predictable after a while.

So, what will it take to file that overwritten, going- nowhere manuscript into a drawer, to allow yourself to begin a new story, to start over? Just because the current narrative isn’t working, should not mean there won’t be a better story waiting on the horizon, or within you, to create.  No effort or time you put in is ever wasted.  These things are what makes our next project better, and makes us who we are, who we can become.  The time we spend working on our current narrative allows us to learn what did not work, what won’t work in our next story, as we learn what will.  As the Irish writer known as The Maestro of Failure, Samuel Beckett, said; Ever tried?  Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again.  Fail better.

Instead of viewing the disappointment of a story that isn’t working, as a brick wall, or stalemate,  see it instead as the staircase that could lead you upward,  toward the right story, the right job you will love and feel rewarded doing, the right relationship that will give you joy, the one in which you are meant to be, and the right life you are meant to live. And of course, the right story you were intended to create.

One of my all time favorite quotes was written by Dr.Seus; Don’t cry when it’s over, smile that it happened.  Of course, while this applies to other important lessons in life, it also reminds us that whatever stage we are at in our writing, or in our lives, the effort and time we’ve invested, the piece of ourselves we gave, and the mistakes we made, are never lost to us, or wasted. They become a part of a better story, whether it is the novel we write as writers, or the life narrative we build as individuals, everything we go through or that happens to us is a crucial piece of our life puzzle, an important paragraph of our chapter, a part of who we are and who we become, never wasted or in vain.

Another way to recognize when it may be time to cut your losses to move on, comes from the author  K.M. Weiland, when she suggests three signs to look for;  1. When you are losing focus 2. You lack passion for the project  3. Your gut tells you to stop.   She says ;  Sometimes we need to force ourselves to do hard things- like edit that stupid draft for the zillionth time.  But sometimes we just have to stop.  Sometimes chasing our tails is the worst thing we can do.  There will always be more stories to write. Sometimes we need to just go write them—and let our old ideas die gracefully. It takes courage to admit, even to ourselves, that a story just isn’t working.

If you feel you’re writing a dead-end story, take a moment to evaluate your future with it. More likely than not, you’re going to keep on writing, edit your way to a fabulous book, and end your relationship with this story on a victorious note. But if it doesn’t quite work out that way—if you realize you need to move on—don’t count it as a failure. Close the file on your computer, take stock of what you’ve learned, and move on to write your next masterpiece.

This is further elaborated by Maggie Doonan, author of fiction, non -fiction and Writers Edit blog,; 

As a writer, you need excitement and enthusiasm. You need a relentless curiosity about the characters you’re creating – an unquenchable desire to spend hours at a laptop in isolation just to see where this story is going to take you.

However, if you’re sitting at your laptop for hours on end, each word as painful as a broken finger playing piano, then you might have a problem. You’re either approaching the narrative from the wrong direction or you shouldn’t be approaching it at all.

Besides, your next project could be the big one. A doozy. A real literary gem. But you won’t know until you let go of the project that’s holding you back.

And so, to further answer how to know when its time to call it quits, when staying on the same page, or in the same situation, becomes too long, when you’ve overstayed your welcome, and need to let go, I say recognize the value of the current narrative you’ve been writing, then let it go the way the winter trees let go when its the right time.  Only then, will the path forward become clearer, the climb upward will feel less painful, and the new growth taking root inside you will extend forward into the light. 

Creating a new story outside the box

Once upon a time there was a little girl who dreamed of becoming a writer and a teacher.  All she ever wanted to do was write and teach, to intertwine her love of both into messages of hope and faith, that would resonate with readers seeking resolution, inspiration, guidance or answers. She would create stories born in her imagination, borrowed from real life experiences, shaped by what if’s and stolen from broken hearts.  She would teach lessons through her stories that would nurture, heal, and transform lives. 

To create a new story, the writer begins with a character who wants something. The story will describe the character’s internal and external journey toward getting what he or she wants (or doesn’t get, as stories don’t always have happy endings, only ones that make sense, or satisfy). The author keeps her character’s struggle to get something she desperately wants in mind, as she builds her story’s framework by answering the following questions:

Who is the main character (protagonist)? What is her everyday life like?

What does she want? Is there an extenuating event that calls her to step outside the safety of her self-made box?

What is she willing to do to get what she wants? What won’t she do?

How does her weaknesses (fears, doubts, erroneous zones, and such)  prevent her from achieving her goal?

What obstacles, internal or external, obstruct her?

Does she finally overcome the obstacles or is she unable to get past them?

How is the character changed as a result of her struggle?

The character will follow a path called the story arc, beginning with the extenuating event that sets the story in motion. This is followed by the rising action, with every scene in the story’s progression raising the stakes a little at a time, while increasing the conflict and tension. Subsequently, the story reaches a climactic turning point at which time, from there on forward, the character will be transformed in some way (positively or negatively) as a result of her internal and external journey told through the story’s events. Consequently, the final act is in the end, or denouement, wrapping the story up, and threading together both the story’s outcome and its theme.   

In life, we create a new story when we want to start over, move on, improve our life or trash our old story.  We begin by deciding what type of story we want to create: a victim’s story or a story of empowerment. As Randy Gage, American author and motivational speaker says;  it is the choice we make that makes the difference for us.  Like the fictional stories we write as authors, we can make our own autobiography about a victim who can’t escape himself, or a story of empowerment and success. 

We know stories are not just about a sequence of events; they must go somewhere. Similarly, our own lives are not just about a sequence of events, they go somewhere and it is up to us to decide toward which direction they move. The external events of our lives do not dictate which direction we take, they merely act as triggers.  It is the stuff inside us that carves out our roadmap.

Dawn Romeo, a bestselling author, wellness and life coach, psychotherapist, and personal development trainer makes the following point;  The external circumstances of your life right now are less relevant than your internal subjective view of yourself. The way we feel and the images we hold in the forefront of our mind manifests in the life we live. Referring to something Henry Ford said to further illustrate this point , she says;  Whether you think you can or think you can’t– you’re right.

That same little girl who dreamed of becoming a writer continues to dream of writing and teaching, but unlike in her old story in which she doubted herself, fearing change and Robert Frost’s road less traveled by, never daring to step outside her safe little box, she is now creating a brand new story that holds hope for the many changes she learned will always come, and faith that she will confront those changes as a victor, leaving the victim behind, back inside the box all alone. Through her ongoing journey, she learned, and teaches her readers ,that the new story we write is no longer centered around the apprehension to step outside the box, because in the new story we create there should be no box at all.

Coming Full Circle

The Closing moments are necessarily quieter than the climactic scene, but they should be no less emotionally resonant; in fact, the denouement (the final outcome of the main dramatic complication in a literary work) is a moment that looks back to and reminds the reader of the beginning of your novel and what questions were raised there, particularly in terms of the protagonist’s internal motivation. What your character wants personally has been driving the narrative since the first page, even before the external motivation and conflict came along to parallel the personal struggle.  With the external question resolved in the climax, what remains is answering the inthrall question and addressing the effect the story has had on the character as a person, thus bringing the character arc, and the book, full circle.  

(Joseph Bates, Writing Your Novel from Start to Finish, 2015, page 194.)

In this passage, Mr. Bates points out, in essence, that what a character wants (internally) at the start of her journey, even if she does not realize it, she will strive to achieve throughout her story, through the external events she faces, until the closing moments, at which time she comes full circle, back to the place at which she started, but this time- recognizing, if not yet resolving, her internal desires or struggles.

Similarly, in life, what brings us, as individuals, full circle at the end of a chapter, a season, a year, or a lifetime, is understanding what we want and how important that is, and achieving it, or at least working toward it.  How have we changed? How much have we learned? How much have we grown, or on the other hand, remained stagnant? Have the events in our own lives over the past year had a clear, discernible effect on our lives, the same way the events in the fictional stories we write and read impact our protagonists.   Are we the same person now, in this year’s  closing moments, we were at the beginning of our journey, in the opening moments?

Bates continues ;  The way to gauge the significance ( of the effect that changes the protagonist) is by looking at the protagonist at both the beginning and end, and seeing a difference.   Be forewarned, however; the change in our fictional protagonists is not always a positive transformation; the characters may also undergo negative change. In Charles Dickens’ Scrooge, Ebenezer Scrooge evolves from a miserable, money-pinching, greedy old man to a kind-hearted and generous person, recognizing who he was, identifying who he wants to be, and choosing to redeem himself.  In contrast, in Wuthering Heights, we see Heathcliff change the other way, as he becomes  a villain in response to his unrequited love for Catherine and the misguided manner in which he decides to think and behave. He changes, but he never evolves.

Our own change does not necessarily mean we need to achieve perfection.  Rather, it means in some way, to some degree, we grew. We evolved. Somewhere along the pages of our life story, we came to identify what we value, and we recognize how important it is to believe in that value, and in ourself, and how to nurture our passion, find our purpose and do everything possible to follow it. We learn that we are the authors of our own life stories. We are the editors, the agents, the publishers, and advocates for our own narrative.  Further, we are the protagonist with internal desires and struggles, with our own character arc to process.  We are the main character of our life story, and we are the only one in control. Do we follow the direction Ebenezer took, or take the path created by Healthcliff? It is our decision to make.

Even when we are struck by adversity, we are the author in control. As we drive our lives forward, toward achieving happiness and success, it is the failures that take us there.  Sometimes, when we get lost,  taking occasional detours allows us to get back on track. To find our way.  Again, it is within only our own control to decide between giving up, allowing fear to immobilize us, or recognizing failures as stepping stones, rather than see them as heavy weights that can drown us.

Bates says; … failures- particularly our own personal failings- often change our lives with more ferocity than our successes.  And then there is the famous quote by Albert Einstein, who said; Adversity introduces a man to himself.  We don’t change through adversity itself; we merely learn who we were to begin with, who we are now, and who we can be.  It magnifies our own character arc,  taking what was always within us,  to the forefront.  

In Wayne Dyer’s Your Erroneous Zones, he threads the ideas of choice and present-moment living throughout his book. While he discusses various “erroneous zones” or areas in which we are self-destructive, he writes; 

           Looking at yourself, in depth with an eye toward changing might be something that you 

           say you are interested in accomplishing, but your behavior speaks otherwise.  

           Change is tough.

Moreover, to further illustrate this point, Dieter F. Uchdorf said;  It is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop. In other words, it is up to us alone to decide which path we follow, or even to forge a brand new path- leaving a trail for others to follow.  No one else determines this for us.  Robert Frost brilliantly illustrated this in The Road Not Taken;  

                     Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- 

                     I took the one less traveled by, 

                     And that has made all the difference.

In fiction, our protagonist faces her own setbacks and hardships, through which she loses herself, but ultimately finds herself- we hope.  Through out her story, she faces external challenges that inspire internal confrontation, reflection, and eventual resolution, as each external obstacle brings her closer to discovering her true internal values, purpose and character.  Therefore, bringing her full circle.

Isn’t this true for the rest of us in our real lives?  Aren’t we always on a quest to find our own true purpose in life, to find the true meaning of life, the path that will allow us to become better daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, spouses, parents, friends, neighbors, employees, coworkers, bosses, teachers, citizens, writers, and human beings in general? To just -be better and to make the world in which we live a better place. 

This past year is behind us.  We are in the closing moments of 2021, and although these moments, for some, may be quieter than the climactic scenes experienced throughout this past year, they are no less emotionally resonant.  What path will we take, or forge next year and in the years to come, that will make a difference?  So… what effect has our choices had on us as individuals in our own life stories, and for others, and have we brought our own character arc, in our narrative, full circle?

Many thanks to the readers and followers who have read my blogs over the years so far, and supported me in achieving my life- long dream to write and teach. Regardless of, or because of, the adversities each of you might have faced this past year, this past season,  this past decade, this past lifetime, or this past whatever, look inside yourselves and you will find your own purpose, strength, love, happiness and peace. I promise you, it is there.  It has been there all along.  You only need to set out on your own quest to reveal it, and you will come full circle, back home to the place you always belonged. 

You grow through what you go through.

In writing fiction, our characters transform in some way, as they struggle through conflict until they reach resolution, or they fail miserably, and they learn a lesson.

In Joseph Bates’ Writing Your Novel From Start to Finish- A Guidebook for the Journey, he explains that what makes a story “remarkable, even unforgettable”, is the way the “external motivation and conflict parallel, complicate, and deepen our understanding of the characters’ internal motivation and conflicts.”

He further says the events in the story, through which the characters persevere, “must come into direct conflict with whatever it is they want or value”.  Bates asks; “ What would the outcome be if the character achieved his goal, or if he failed to achieve it?”

We, as individuals in real life, transform through our adversities and struggles.  As Steve Harvey says in his video with Joel Olsteen; Let Them Go, July 1, 2021 ; “Every pain leaves a gift”.

“You grow through what you go through”.  We struggle through the loss of loved ones, the end of romantic relationships or friendships we thought would last our lifetime, the closure of our career- or a job we loved,  or through any decision which might alter our path.  This is a part of life.

Real life. 

Rather than allow conflict or struggles to break us, or weaken us; just as the writer orchestrates the transformation of her characters in her story, the individuals in life, as Harvey and Olsteen note in their video,  should recognize and embrace adversity as a blessing and a lesson. 

In Bates’ novel, he likens the author to a sort of “God”; 

An author is in a precarious position as a kind of “naughty God”We ought to feel connection to our own characters, and hope on some level they will succeed, even as we’re the very ones making their lives difficult.”

This is not to imply God makes our lives difficult; he merely lays the ground work and allows us to find our own path, and if that journey is obstructed by challenges along the way, we should keep faith that in the end, wherever we land, it will be the destination God intended for us.

The fictional story we create, as writers, mirrors the non-fiction lives we live as human beings.  The writer creates the conflicts through which our characters journey, as the characters grow stronger with each success, or failure.  They embrace their successes, and they learn from their failures, which allows them to grow.

According to Dr. Wayne Dyer, internationally renowned author and motivational speaker, individuals who recognize the difference between living life according to the demands of their egos (looking at adversity as a negative), compared to the no-limit individuals who value the “divine I am-ness inside us”,  recognize adversity as opportunities for growth and happiness, rather than as set-backs or dead ends.  

He said the following, with regard to adversity and failures; The no-limit person uses his rejections and failures to reframe his thinking, or to go on to try other things. In other words, the individual who understands that the challenges he faces are meant to strengthen him,  recognizes the blessing he receives from facing that difficulty.  He feels blessed to get through it, and to come out on the other side as an improved, learned or better person because of it.

Our characters will possess some degree of clear wants, goals, ambitions or a quest, in order to grow.  We, as individuals, experience adversity when we desire a relationship with our families , our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors or a romantic partner. We experience adversity when we have a professional, educational, or personal goal and something gets in our way. 

Bates says “ A character with no clear want can’t ever be in a state of conflict (because there’s nothing to be in a conflict against), and a character who’s not in a state of conflict has no opportunity to change, as there is no conflict to resolve.”

As I have stated in the past, as so many writers teach, writers write to question, to explore, to discover, to share and to reflect.  We write to connect with our readers, to mirror the complexities in our lives, and to help our readers recognize the blessings and lessons we all gain from those struggles. 

Just as our fictional characters grow through their conflicts and struggles in our made up stories, individuals in real life have the power to grow emotionally, mentally, spiritually, intellectually, and even physically, as we face adversity, and come to understand and appreciate just how much, and how blessed we are to be able to,  grow through what we go through. 

Unfolding Your Wings

Many individuals spend their days living inside a self-made, protective box where they feel safe and comfortable.  Afraid to face uncertainty, they remain imprisoned by fear. 

This is one of the reasons I love to write; to explore and to confront the unknown, to discover, and to take bold risks outside the box. To challenge the many types of fear that imprisons each one of us.

Ray Bradbury once wrote; Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall. This brings to mind an old friend’s recollection of the way he learned to swim.  Despite of, or because of, his fear of the water, his father picked my friend up when he was about five years old, and tossed him into the lagoon at their summer home.  My friend  remembered screaming as his dad yelled; ” Use your arms, and kick your legs to stay above the water!”.  My friend said it worked. He never needed a swim lesson, or was afraid of the water again.  It was the first time he learned to travel outside the safety of his own box.

The writer journeys outside the box each time she sits down to create a new story.  She breaks through walls, plunges into unknown territories, and travels to far away places (mentally, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually)  she has never been. She delves deep inside the minds and psyches of individuals who are nothing like her, and like her ,and she bares her soul to strangers each time she places words on the page. 

Bradbury’s advice to go outside oneself, to take risks, does not only apply to the aspiring author in us.  His words ring true for individuals in real life, as well.  Sometimes, we need to charge straight toward fear, like a boxer throwing jabs, crosses and hooks at his larger than life opponent, until he knocks that adversary out cold.  Only then will the boxer claim his victory.

We, whether as writers or individuals in real life, can not claim our own victory over fear until we confront it head on, and knock it out cold.

Ray Bradbury also described the writer as the following; We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.  Writers observe the world and then we share what we learn, but we are only able to do that if we are not afraid to put what we have been filled with, onto the page, to share our vulnerabilities, our conclusions and our stories with others.

Author, editor and mentor, Bonnie Hearn Hull wrote in the August 2021 edition of The Writer,  about our fears of failure; Being bad isn’t failure.  The only way you fail is by stopping (OR, I would add, never starting, never taking the chance).  No one can judge a blank page, but no-one will be entertained, inspired, or changed by it, either.

Writers take risks all the time.  We put ourselves out there, allowing ourselves to remain vulnerable to the judgements of our audience, to both those readers who admire us, and to those who criticize us.  We do this to release what we are filled with, to spill it out, to come face to face with our questions, our doubts, our anxieties and our fears, as well as those of our readers, in order to share our journeys and our victories with others. 

In life, individuals may become stuck within the dark confinement of those self-made boxes. They are afraid to tear down the walls they so carefully built over the years, which prevents them from seeking brighter opportunities outside. They might remain in dead-end relationships because they fear being alone.  They stay in jobs with no opportunity for growth because they do not think they are good enough to find anything better.  They live in the same house or neighborhood they’ve long outgrown because they are afraid to start over somewhere unfamiliar. 

Like the writer who faces the blank page, bravely and creatively filling it one word at a time, individuals should face their unknowns, by tearing down the walls of their box, one heavy brick at a time. 

In Michael A. Singer’s The Untethered Soul, the journey beyond yourself, Singer says; In order to grow, you must give up the struggle to remain the same, and learn to embrace change at all times.   He discusses in his book, the tendency of individuals to remain imprisoned within the walls of their psyche.  That is what the dark house we built is.

While Singer discusses the journey toward achieving enlightenment for the individual, this also applies to the writer, as she attempts to lead her readers as close as possible to the borders of their own protective walls, with her story.

Similarly, Jane k Cleland, author of Mastering Suspense, Structure and Plot, says about the fear of failure, in her September 2018 Writers Digest article; The fear of failure feels as if your soul was in the crosshairs of a sharpshooting sniper.  That is how scary failure feels to a writer.  Cleland calls it the I’m not good enough fear. 

Cleland’s advice to the writer is to Shush your internal critic and summon forth your inner muse.  This idea bounces off Singer’s advice in his book to individuals in real life, to journey deep within yourself to become the witness to the noisy, non-stop chattering mind inside who acts as a barrier between the true self and one’s ability to achieve awareness.  Your muse can be found within, Cleland says, Its been there the whole time; all you need to do is trust the process and believe in yourself.

To further elaborate this point, freelance writer Maria Walley shares in the September 2018 WD publication, Author Brene’ Brown’s  discussion about the power of vulnerability;    The ability to be vulnerable is a key ingredient to achieving success, happiness, and thriving at human connection.   Walley says, We must be able to genuinely bare our souls in our writing. 

This takes guts and it takes going outside the safety of the box we created for ourselves. It takes confronting and opposing our egos and our fears; Our ego isn’t evil; it serves its proper role of protecting our vulnerable selves, and yet unless we challenge our ego, and expose ourselves to risk, we won’t create as writers and we won’t fully live as human beings.

Walley says; Essentially, leveraging vulnerability is how we take our communication to a level that transcends clever wording, while challenging  readers to take the rare moment for reflection

We write to learn who we are. We write so our readers learn who they are, or who they can become. 

When Ray Bradbury said to Jump, and you find out how to unfold your wings as you fall, he was daring writers to take risks, to be vulnerable, to face uncertainty and write about it.  Yet, Bradbury could also have been talking to individuals who are not writers, who are merely living each day of their lives, facing their own uncertainties and fears.  Just as writers are told to write outside the box, to find our muse and silence the inner critic or to fill our cup with beautiful things that we can later tip out, onto the page for our readers, the individual should do the same in his life.

Find your true self and silence the mind inside that attempts to stop you from escaping the confined walls of your self-made prison. Fill your own cup with beautiful things that you can spill into each day of your life, for yourself and for your loved ones, and for everyone else to whom we are spiritually connected. 


Take chances. Dare yourself. Fill your blank pages with beautiful and adventurous stories. Trust in your muse, and trust in your inner true self. 

Jump, and you just might learn how to unfold your own wings.  Instead of falling, you will soar far beyond the confinement of the prison walls of the self-made box in which you have been imprisoned for far too long. 

Fearing Change

Heraclitus,  a greek philosopher who phrased Panta Rhei , meaning ”life is flux”, recognized the necessary, underlying actuality of life as change when he quoted; “The only constant in life is change” .  He further explained change as follows;  Nothing in life is permanent, nor can it be, because the very nature of existence is change. Change is not just a part of life, in Heraclitus’ view, it is life itself.

Our stories revolve around the change through which our protagonist progresses as she steps away from her life’s comfort and security, to chase after resolution to conflict, or to set out on a quest to find her purpose, or maybe- to save someone she loves, while saving herself in the meantime. 

Without change, there is no progression, no meaning,  and no story.

In life, the one thing we know we can count on is change.  Change is everywhere- in the seasons, in our careers, in our relationships, in our life’s chapters and in our aging process.  It is inevitable and unavoidable and it is impossible to hide from. 

Worrying about or fearing change will not postpone it, or protect us from it, or allow an escape from it. Change will come whether or not we welcome it.

In our stories, as in life, change comes in self-identity recognition, learning a lesson, metamorphosis, transformation, epiphany, coming out, rising up like the phoenix, or it may even come in quiet acceptance, or simply in finding peace. It comes with understanding our purpose, or God’s purpose for us.  Change comes with appreciation for the love we receive and the love we give.

As writers, we create characters with and without morals, with and without ethics, with and without heart, and with and without soul.  We create bad characters who become good characters, or we create good characters who turn bitter, feel defeated or who simply turn bad. We create heroes who die tragically for the cause in which they believed, or we create  underdogs who become champions.  We create weak or fearful characters who gain strength and courage, and we create enemies who become friends or lovers, or we create idealistic characters who ultimately succumb to society or family pressures, only to betray their true selves or those they love. 

In Stella Southall’s July 9, 2018 blog, she describes the manner in which writing changes us: Writing changes us. When we write strong villains we are forced to create characters with morals, values, and goals often in direct opposition to our own. We begin to question the morals of the villains in our own lives and realize they too must have values, goals and morals. Often in direct opposition to our own.

Southall points to our ability, as people, to change how we view and interpret the individuals or situations in our lives, just as the reader views and questions the motives of the villains and other characters in our stories. 

Another anonymous author used the bible to illustrate our need for change:  Most of Western history can be traced back to the Bible. The religious work was tied into the government and society since the downfall of the Roman Empire. Changes in social norm has occurred in waves throughout history since this book was pulled together. Even today, many decisions are said to be made based on the words on its pages.

Many religious texts can be said to inspire change. When Martin Luther felt something wasn’t right, he looked deeper into the scriptures and started the Protestant Reformation. That led to an upheaval that was felt throughout Europe and beyond. In the Western world, this one book has had the most impact, both good and bad.

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: The main character, Scout changes when she realizes Boo Radley  saved Jem’s and her life, that Boo is actually a friend, not a man to fear, as originally viewed. 

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: Nick Carraway had been tolerant of other individual’s moral shortcomings before the events that happened during the summer of 1922 , but later after witnessing Gatsby’s spiral demise, Carraway felt an abhorrence to the ways of the corrupt and decadent, which changed his views about people in general: In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’ In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgmentsÉ Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parceled out unequally at birth. And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on.

If a character in our story does not change, he or she is considered to be a flat character.  A character with no depth.  We can say that about individuals in life, as well.  If we are not changing, or evolving, learning and growing, we become stagnant, or flat.

A butterfly changes from her initial bulbous, not so pretty caterpillar form that crawls clumsily,  to a colorful, agile and beautiful form that glides gracefully through the air.  Additionally, one of the most well known symbols of growth, transformation, and rebirth is the mythological phoenix, who rises from defeat in the ashes to become a great and powerful form.If fear had gotten in the way of either, the caterpillar- butterfly would still be crawling around aimlessly and the phoenix would be nothing but dust.

Change is everywhere. It is all around us, like the air we breathe.  It is in the weather and in the temperature. It is in nature, our schedules , our jobs, our friendships, our addresses, technology, the time of day, architecture,  the cars we drive, trends and so much more.  

We change our minds, our moods, our feelings, and our goals.  We change our beliefs, our attitudes, even sometimes our traditions.  We change our bed sheets, the food stored in our fridge, our various filters, our recipes, our decor, our clothes and our missions. We change our thoughts, our words and our actions.

Change is constant and inexorable.  We can view it as our enemy or as our friend.  Change can be subtle or small, and it can be monumental and life-altering. We can fear it, fight it, dread it, or we can encourage it, accept it and embrace it.  We can resist it or befriend it.  Regardless, it will always be there.

There is a beautiful Healing Hearts story about the water bug who solemnly agrees to face his and his colony’s curiosity and fear, to ascend to the surface of the water to find the place from which other water bugs never returned.  While it is meant as a bereavement story, it also illustrates how change can be good for us.  When the water bug breaks through the water’s surface he couldn’t believe what he saw. A startling change had come over his body…. he had become a dragonfly. Swooping and dipping in great curves, he flew through the air.  He felt exhilarated in the new atmosphere. … and the dragonfly winged off happily in its wonderful new world of sun and air.

Facing the unknown is scary. It frightens and worries us, but change can save us, heal us, and free us.

In a 2010 blog written by Melanie Anne Phillips, she reminds us of popular main characters who changed: In Casablanca, Rick changes from the self-centered and controlling person he was to an emotionally confident and selfless individual. He had repeatedly emphasizes early on that he will “stick his neck out for nobody.”  But at the moment of truth he risks everything to help Laszlo escape with Ilsa, and takes up his personal fight for what’s right.

In E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, we see Wilber, instead of acting frenzied (as usual) when faced with a crisis, take charge and carry out Charlotte’s last wishes, as her health declines: Wilbur was in a panic. He raced round and round the pen. Suddenly he had an idea-he thought of the egg sac and the five hundred and fourteen little spiders that would hatch in the spring. If Charlotte herself was unable to go home to the barn, at least he must take her children along. (White, 1952, p. 166)

Like the common daffodil that symbolizes change in the seasons and represents triumph of hope over despair (spring over winter), our characters, and we in life, must face change head on, rather than fear or dread it.

The only constant in life IS change, and if we take a deep breath and jump up on it’s back to ride with it, rather than fight it or fear it, we too will soar high and free like the transformed water bug- dragonfly, who found his peace without realizing he had been destined for it all along.

Attentiveness

Each time I begin to prepare my next blog, I start out with absolutely no idea about what I am going to write, so I read through writing magazines, books on the craft, novels I’ve read before, even quotes I’ve liked in the past, to find inspiration.  My next idea might even come from something I heard someone say in passing, or from someone else’s experience that captured my interest. It might even spring from a line in a song or from a simple observation of nature. 

My ideas come from everywhere, and anywhere. 

They are inspired by people, by life, by questions, ….by any or all of the above.   

However, regardless of my idea’s origin, it takes paying attention to be able to find it.

For example, this bi-monthly blog was inspired by the March 28 passage in Sarah Young’s Devotions for Every Day of the Year, Jesus Calling reading: Philippians 2:17; Mark 10:15; Isaiah 26:3 NKJV:

  To increase your intimacy with Me (Jesus), the two traits you need the most are receptivity and attentiveness. Receptivity is opening your innermost being to be filled with My abundant riches.  Attentiveness is directing your gaze to Me, searching for Me in all your moments. It is possible to STAY YOUR MIND ON ME, as the prophet Isaiah wrote. Through such attentiveness you receive a glorious gift: My perfect peace.  

As I read through this passage, the idea of attentiveness stared me in the face, like an eager opponent sitting across from me over a game of backgammon, expectantly waiting on me to make my next move.  While I understood the meaning behind the passage within that context in Young’s book- about how we are able to find peace if only we search for and truly see Jesus, this message also rings true in our writing, and in our every day lives. 

In other words, writers pay attention to find inspiration.

But, isn’t that the same in life?

Don’t we need to pay attention in order to understand our life’s purpose, to comprehend the answers to the questions we are always asking, and to truly grasp and appreciate one another.

Attentiveness

is

Paying attention

to detail,

to others,

to the environment around us,

to life’s perfect moments, 

and not so perfect moments.

It is showing we care.

Attentiveness is being mindful and observant.  It is listening, and it is kindness, compassion and it IS caring

-about others and what is going on outside our own compartmentalized boxes.

Writers pay attention to everything around them and then they find a way to describe what they’ve learned or observed, to put into words.

Anthony Ehlers, author of WRITE YOUR NOVEL IN A YEAR describes how noticing a perfect moment made him actually look at what was around him.

He says:

You can learn the craft of plot, of developing character, of refining genre — and all these are important steps to becoming a great writer — but at the heart of it, it’s really about capturing how you see the world. The beautiful, the seedy; the thrilling smile from a stranger, the polished shoes of a policeman, the way stained glass in a church makes you think of wine gums.

To emphasize this idea to become more attentive, I  borrowed the following quotes about attentiveness in writing from:  Amanda Patterson, the founder of “Writers Write”, a comprehensive writing resource company for creative writers, business writers, and bloggers: 

1.Pay Attention. Notice the quality of light, the heft of air, color of sky, faces, clouds, flowers, garbage, graffiti — all of it. Slow down and pay attention. Stop during your walks and examine a leaf. Read the writing in shop windows. Observe people getting on a bus, the bus driver, the stink of the bus exhaust. ~Judy Reeves

2. Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. ~Mary Oliver

3. But the sensibility of the writer, whether fiction or poetry, comes from paying attention. I tell my students that writing doesn’t begin when you sit down to write. It’s a way of being in the world, and the essence of it is paying attention. ~Julia Alvarez

4. Pay Attention – I honestly believe that the quality of a writer’s work has a direct correlation to the quality of his or her attention. I have to remind myself all the time to show up in my moments with all my antennae switched on. ~Sue Monk Kidd

5. The poet must not only write the poem but must scrutinize the world intensely, or anyway that part of the world he or she has taken for subject. If the poem is thin, it is likely so not because the poet does not know enough words, but because he or she has not stood long enough among the flowers–has not seen them in any fresh, exciting, and valid way. ~Mary Oliver

6.Writing is seeing. It is paying attention. ~Kate DiCamillo

7. The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.~Henry Miller

8. Listening is terribly important if you want to understand anything about people. You listen to what they say and how they say it, what they share and what they are reticent about, what they tell truthfully and what they lie about, what they hope for and what they fear, what they are proud of, what they are ashamed of. If you don’t pay attention to other people, how can you understand their choices through time and how their stories come out? ~Marge Piercy

9. All you have to do is to pay attention; lessons always arrive when you are ready. ~Paulo Coelho

10. Geniuses are people who notice things and connections between things which others haven’t noticed. ~Christopher Ricks

11. Zen pretty much comes down to three things — everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.’ ~Jane Hirshfield

11. A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the world. ~Susan Sontag

Admittedly, I used to be terrible at paying attention to detail, in general.  I always tended to be a bottom- line person in my everyday, business life.  Don’t go on and on about stuff that “does not matter”,  just land the plane, pleaseDo not water the grass while the building is burning.  Just give me the bottom line.  Get to the point!

Wrong!

Sometimes the bottom line will become meaningless and weak- without the foundation supporting it, or all of the ingredients that cooked it, or the sweat and hard labor that went into it, or the adventurous journey traveled to get to the intended destination. 

Thankfully, as a writer, I have become better at paying attention to everyday aspects of life, like elements of nature. I am mesmerized by natural details like the long grass swaying in the breeze at the sides of the road, or the cracks in a sidewalk beneath my feet as I go for my run.   I am similarly  captivated by the dainty little daisies partially hidden within the lush green carpets of grass at the park, or the sun-triggered silhouettes dancing gracefully upon the pavement outside my window, or the newly sprouted buds speckling bare tree branches at the first sight of spring.  

These are the details that grab my attention and cling to me like a shadow following me on my walk, until they push their way into my story’s setting or plot. 

Similarly, just as these persuasive particulars provide inspiration for the writer’s stories and blogs, attentiveness to life’s details outside our own individual little worlds will provide collective aspiration for all of us in our every day lives. 

Jan Fortune, Editor and Author, says in her Why Writers Need a Language of Attentiveness, August 2020 blog:

Attentiveness alone can rival the most powerful magnifying lens.

In other words, it is our job as writers to observe, record and describe, as Anthony Ehlers stated in Writers Write, but it is also our job as human beings to wholly listen to others when they speak, to pay full attention to the people in our company instead of allowing ourselves to become distracted by an incoming text or a new post on social media, and just as it is our job as writers to put into words what we feel, see and learn, it is our job as individuals to exercise attentiveness, simply to show we care.