Writer as Prophet

The great religions of the world are revealed through their prophets. The liberation of suffering in Buddhism through Siddhartha and legions of orange garbed monks. The revelation of God’s’ word in Judaism through Abraham, Moses, and a group of observant nomads. The salvation of the soul in Christianity through the disciples, Paul, and later devotees. The submission to Allah in Islam through Mohammed and subsequent faithful clerics. The prophets existed in the realm of spirituality, select individuals following closely in allegiance to holy words. Those loyal people struggled to understand God’s commands, to bring truth to the quarreling common masses and peace to the world, begging us to be attentive. They showed the way forward.

Few of us are prophets, no matter how well we listen and observe the signs. Mostly we wallow down here in the trenches. Our feet stink, our armpits sweat, our eyes blur with exhaustion, and if we seek truth, it is mostly grasped in small flashes of illuminated moments between singing hymns and chopping onions for supper. We scream in frustration at our kids for whom we would lay down our lives and ignore our life partner because today is the same as yesterday. We don’t have the inclination to seriously reflect about where our souls are going, about whom we should love without question, what we should refute as corrupt thoughts. Some have decided there is no God at all, but they still must wash their dirty sheets, still gaze beyond the stars, wondering, what else is out there?

Writers fill the gaps. Pithy comments, mean observations, articulate descriptions, all meant to lead to what we have come to understand as essential rules for life down here on Earth. Zora Neale Hurston wrote in Their Eyes Were Watching God: “Love is like the sea. It’s a moving thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from the shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.” We sit up and pay attention to her words. Hurston’s got the goods on some kind of truth. Characters exist in an alternate fictional world that closely resembles the real one we inhabit. Ann Patchett wrote in State of Wonder: “Hope is like walking around with a fishhook in your mouth and somebody just keeps pulling it and pulling it.” Holy cow, we shout, that’s exactly like me, no wonder I’m so bloody!

Plots mimic the messiness of our everyday lives. Ian McEwan wrote in Atonement: “We go on our hands and knees and crawl our way towards the truth.” Yep, I know just how it feels to go through that. My knees are always bloody. My belly too. At the end of a story, writers cite the practical application of how to get along with each other, how to be compassionate, and how to love the people we hate. Khaled Hosseini wrote in The Kite Runner: “It’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out.” I’ve been running too long. We recognize ourselves in his story even if we’ve never been a child in Afghanistan. Time to turn and face the truth.  

The resolution tells the reader how it might come out if we follow the suggested format. Nicole Strauss wrote in The History of Love: “So many words get lost…There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations.” Is that a possible answer to my problems? Our heart calms. Just put my thoughts together until they make sense, and deliver them as needed? Writers may not have God’s divine directives leading us with a heavenly flame toward freedom, but they have some sense of practical life experience to shine enough light to make sense of our human disorder. Somerset Maugham wrote in The Painted Veil: “One cannot find peace in work or in pleasure, in the world or in a convent, but only in one’s soul.” Finally we know, it’s up to me to search my own soul, and Maugham showed me how.

My favorite stories are the ones where I see bits of myself, a mirror held to my inner being, even the ugly, desperate me, and espy another way to approach the way I live in the world, a better way, a more universal way of belonging. My favorite authors deliver again and again, new prophets guiding me, nudging me, warning me. Fix it, fix yourself, get it right for once. At the end of a really great book I feel enlightened, perhaps empowered. At least I want to get back into writing my own work and make it better. And that’s a good thing.

What makes you want to get back to work?

Be well, friends.

Turning Writing Goal Defeats into Victories

I’ve been hooing and humming over what to write in this space for two weeks. I had this awesome post written up at one point, and then my computer ate it. This made me think about failures, the nature of failures, and how it can destroy a writer’s hope of success and victory.

While this is more meant for writers, this can apply to anything you want to do with your life, be it find a new job, quit smoking, lose weight, or any other little (or big!) thing you want to do for yourself at the start of the year.

At three weeks into January, many people have already failed their New Year’s Resolutions. Some people set goals to write certain amounts of words today. Some plan to publish a novel during the year. I wanted to take 100 decent photos in January, but I haven’t even managed to get outside! Now, I have a good excuse, I get chilblains, and the temperature has been varying between cold and brutally cold – going outside to take photographs would be a death sentence for my feet. It doesn’t change the fact I’ve likely failed at my initial goal for January.

Let’s face it, New Year’s Resolutions are exercises in failure for a lot of people. Now, however, is a chance to turn resolution failures into goals and, ultimately, victory. Now is a time to reflect on what you really want, without the unnecessary pressure of a resolution guiding you in the wrong direction.

For me, I’ll be shoving my plan to take 100 photos in January. Instead, I’ll wait until the weather warms up a bit, and add all of the photos I should have taken but didn’t to my goals when I can go outside without harming my health.

Set One Goal at a Time

Unless you’re a veteran at making goals and finishing tasks, set one goal at a time. If you have too many goals and too many things needing done, the sense of being overwhelmed is a recipe for failure. Obviously, some goals (like taking 100 photographs in a month) stack well with other goals. It’s okay to stack a few goals like that together, if they’re small and won’t overwhelm you.

But large goals? Try to stick to one at a time, if you’re more used to defeat than victory.

Understand Your Limitations

Knowing yourself is key if you want to really succeed at a goal. Right now, you may not be very good at dedicating yourself to writing. You may have a short attention span. You might not believe in yourself right now. Write down your limitations. Make a list of the things that might stop you from accomplishing your goals.

Pick one of them, and make a goal to overcome that limit. Start small. Victory allows you to see the bright lining and reap the rewards of your hard work.

Failure makes it that much harder to pick yourself up and try again.

Set Realistic Goals

New Year’s Resolutions are often unreasonable, requiring someone to push themselves beyond their normal limits. Setting goals you can realistically manage is necessary to be victorious. Take a look at who you are, your work ethic, and what you want to accomplish.

Set a goal that allows you to strive for improvement, but also matches what you are currently capable of right now. Creating goals in anticipating of changing yourself is a recipe for failure. Creating goals that are already within your reach allows you to overcome the challenge you have set for yourself. Not only that, it gives you the opportunity to go beyond the basic minimum.

Victory is sweet. Exceeding the minimum requirement, and being able to look back at those accomplishments, is far sweeter still.

Every Day is a Chance to Start Fresh

Another trap I’ve seen with New Year’s Resolutions is that people view that one day as their lone chance to succeed at a year’s worth of things they want to accomplish.

Take that mentality, punch it in the nose, give it a pair of concrete boots, and toss it in the nearest deep body of water. Today is the day you pick a goal, sit down, and make it happen – or stand up and go for a walk around the block if you’re trying to make yourself a little healthier.

There’s nothing wrong with failing. But there is something wrong with not setting yourself up for the best chance at victory, each and every day.

Celebrate Your Victories

Don’t be afraid to reward yourself with something small when you accomplish a goal, even if it is a cup of nice coffee, a small piece of chocolate, or a pat on your own back.

You’ve accomplished something for yourself, and that’s always a good thing.

Good luck, and may 2014 be something more than a bunch of failed New Year’s Resolutions.

5 Tips for Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

new yearEvery year, millions of people worldwide create New Year’s resolutions. In my experience, keeping these goals will happen when Harvard wins the Super Bowl (I used to say when Notre Dame plays for the National Championship, but I had to revise my metrics last year). In fact, according to Randi Walsh at Empower Network:

  • … 25% give up on their New Years Resolutions after just one week
  • … 80% give up on their New Years Resolutions after 20 days
  • … only 8% actually keep their New Years Resolutions all year

Here’s an example: On a group blog I write with, we were all asked to share our resolutions with the Universe in January, then check in throughout the year on our progress. No one in the entire group–read that Zilch.–achieved theirs (well, I did, which made our group 8%). The reasons were varied and left me wondering why create resolutions if you so quickly brush them aside?

Why? It makes people feel good. They want to believe their lives will be better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning. Let’s look at the top four resolutions (according to Amber J. Tresca at About.com):

  1. Increase exercise
  2. Be more conscientious about work or school
  3. Develop better eating habits
  4. Stop smoking, drinking, or using drugs (including caffeine)

These aren’t hard and still people aren’t achieving them. Who can’t ‘increase exercise’? Or ‘be more conscientious about work’? Cut out a few chips–one chip–and you’ve ‘developed better eating habits’. So given the ease with which the average person could succeed at these goals, why do they so soundly fail?

I have no idea. There is no shortage of well-meaning people who will suggest ways to keep your New Year’s resolutions. Here are five you’ve probably read:

  1. make them specific
  2. make them realistic
  3. share them with others
  4. have deadlines
  5. make them fun and rewarding

Those sound helpful, don’t they? Problem is, they don’t work. Who out there is going to revise their resolutions to make them more specific, more realistic, meet a deadline, and then share all that with friends? I’d rather take a long walk in tight shoes. They’re as useless as those suggestions for using leftover wine to make ice cubes. Who ever has leftover wine?

I’m going to fix this for you. I have five tips that work for keeping your New Year’s Resolutions:

  • install a bell on your phone that rings randomly. When it dings, put the potato chip down, or jog in a circle, or ask a co-worker how you can help them (Work with me here: You don’t have to actually DO anything for them).
  • delegate. Then it’s someone else’s problem. You’ve accomplished your goal. Check it off.
  • hire someone. This has the added benefit of helping the unemployment rate.
  • include stuff you’ve already done. For example, if you’re not the most sociable type and one of your resolutions is to get out more, count that New Year’s party you’ve already committed to. Now you’re done. Check it off. Move on.
  • include nebulous goals like ‘spend less’. You can do that by skipping one Starbucks.

At the end of 2014, your friends will ask how you did it and you’ll feel accomplished, confident, and more sure of your ability to complete other goals. Check back here in December 2014 and let me know how you did so I can congratulate you.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, a freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is editor of a K-8 technology curriculum and technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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Write Now! Jan 1, 2013

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

I’ve kicked off each of the last several years with a fun writing prompt. Because it’s all about looking forward, it seemed like a good way to start off the new year here at Today’s Author.

This prompt is simple in concept:

Your 10 Anti-Resolutions:

  1. List ten things you resolve NOT to do in the upcoming year.
  2. Be as creative as possible.

And I’m serious about #2.

This is not as creative as possible: “I will not write any status updates in ALL CAPS.”

This is: “I will NOT introduce leitmotif into my home, by composing original themes for each cat and humming their assigned theme whenever they enter the room.”

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.