create

fame & fortune

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Want to hear a confession of mine? There are so many days when I feel like so many of the things I do aren’t worth it anymore, that so much of it doesn’t have a point because it’s not “making an impact,” or maybe just not in the way I might expect it to. There are days when I wonder why I still keep up this blog, why I still write my famously long (and sometimes dramatically pensive) captions on my Instagram account, or why I have my separate Facebook page for my blogging and writing. There are days why I wonder why I still write at all, why I did NaNoWriMo when the chances of actually being a published novelist aren’t always the highest. And these are thoughts that most creatives probably have once in a while.

Because you know what the real, selfish reason is for all that? It’s that we wonder why we’re not wildly successful yet. We wonder why with all the hard work we’re putting into whatever we’re passionate about, why we aren’t famous yet. We wonder why we’re not the next big musician or New York Times Bestselling novelist. And we wonder all those things because that’s how we’ve been so conditioned to view success and to view influence.

 

We wonder why we aren't famous yet.

 

This is what society tells us.

It’s not good enough unless you’re photographing Fashion Week. It’s not good enough unless your novel gets a movie deal. It’s not good enough unless you’re designing for an international company. It’s not good enough unless you have tens of thousands of followers on Instagram. It’s not good enough unless it gets enough likes. It’s not good enough unless it goes viral on Twitter. It’s not good enough unless…fill in the criteria here. And by extension, it tell us that it’s not worth it or that it doesn’t matter, because it won’t be good enough unless it fits into one of those boxes.

 

Society tells us it's not good enough unless you have tens of thousands of followers on Instagram.

 

And it’s hard to keep creating when the world’s standards of evaluating the worth of your art are so different from God’s standards of evaluating it. He didn’t necessarily give us our creativity or the gifts we have to become famous or to go viral on social media. That might happen, and if so, we then have to bear the responsibility of that platform, but that’s never been the goal of why we create.

We create because we’ve been made in His image as the Creator. That’s why we have the ability to craft stories, make images, and string together melodies. It’s all because it reflects on Him and the little pieces of His essence that He’s placed into each and every one of us. In reality, maybe it’s better than more of us aren’t famous, because that can be so distracting and take our eyes off the One who truly deserves all the fame this entire little planet hurtling through space can muster. It should all really be for Him, but some of the creative climate has robbed so much of that from Him, telling us that it should be us getting all that glory.

 

But that's never been the goal. We create because we've been made in His image as the Creator.

 

But the truth of that matter is that whatever we create should remind us, subtly or overtly, of where that desire and magic of creation comes from. And the underlying message then is that it is good enough, whatever you’ve created.

 

You're good enough.

 

Your art is good enough. Your writing is good enough. Your music is good enough. Your images are good enough. Your design is good enough. Your copy is good enough. It’s all good enough, because the point of it all isn’t to make us famous, but to remind us that all of our creating flows out of the one Creator who gives us the ability to do it all.

So keep creating. It's good enough. You're good enough.

inhale, exhale (you're okay)

Sometimes, I think fiction is one of the hardest styles and genres of writing to want to excel at. Maybe it's just me, but I think the inability to churn out piece after piece of fiction (since I've been finding that even short stories are challenging to mass produce, for lack of a better term) makes it seem almost like the loftiest of writing goals. Unlike poetry, nonfiction, or other types of essays, it takes time to develop the voice, style, characters, flow, and all the other elements that go into crafting quality fiction, which I think frequently prevents writers from being able to showcase their fiction ability regularly. It seems to come down to actually publishing a popular novel or getting a short story published in a good literary mag, and that can be discouraging for a lot of writers I feel like.  

This has been something that's run through my head a lot as of late, especially since I've mentioned that I've been doing a good deal of storyboarding and outlining for fiction the past few days, and it almost feels like all of that work has nothing to show for itself, since I haven't actually written anything yet, just conceptualized ideas and thought through them.

 

At any rate, that's some of my internal process I've been going through while trying to write fiction the past couple days. So, today, I'm publishing another piece that I wrote a little while back. Even reading through it now, it sort of seems all over the place, but that makes a little sense since it was originally born out of a sort of literary pep talk I was trying to give myself at the time.

--

inhale, exhale (you're okay)

You said it. It’s done. It’s out. But somehow, it still feels almost as heavy as the first time. Or maybe it always does.

 

You inhale and tell yourself it’s okay. Then you exhale and let the silence tell you’re okay. Because the stillness isn’t tense. There’s no thickening of the air. Instead, the quiet invites you to continue telling your story.

 

So you inhale and tell yourself you’re okay, and you exhale and let the empty air affirm that you are indeed okay. Because there’s no hesitation. There’s no held breath, no ellipsis, no comma at the end of the sentence. For once, a period and its finality are comforting, because it means you’re okay.

 

Your emotions are okay. Your feelings are okay. Your desires and every unspoken thing are okay. And by extension, that means you are okay.

 

So you inhale and exhale nervously.

 

But you’re still okay.

 

There are no arguments. There are no reasons. There’s no theological rhetoric or overspiritualization. There’s just stillness.

 

So you inhale and you exhale. You’re okay. Because there are no questions, no comments, no concerns. You’re just okay.

 

So you inhale and you exhale, letting it sink in, to the depths of your soul and being, something so fundamental, yet something so often misplaced.

 

You’re okay.

 

You’re okay. You’re okay as a person, and your love is okay too, not bound by binary systems or arbitrary rules. And your heart is also okay, not strange or out of place because its love pulls you toward an identical set of chromosomes.

 

It’s okay.

 

So you inhale and you exhale. You breathe it in deeply so that it settles in your lungs, so that it puts down roots, so that it fills every empty space of your being, so that it echoes within, constantly reminding you that after everything you’ve even been told:

 

You’re okay.

do you remember? // short story

The past couple days and rest of this week have been and are continuing to be pretty busy, which has been an additional struggle on top of the creative one for this 14 day writing challenge I've been putting myself through, trying to write something or publish something every day. I purposefully timed out this writing challenge to end just about the same time as I'm leaving for a trip, since I'm not sure if I'll have the time to continue publishing work while I'm gone, but hopefully this writing challenge will give me the creative boost I need to at least be storyboarding and brainstorming while I'm gone.  

In order to keep myself in the fiction mindset, I've been outlining and storyboarding a bunch related to an older ongoing project that I'm still hoping to finish at some point in time, but I've also been going back to older pieces that I've written a while ago when fiction came a little easier to me, looking at the style, voice, and some of the themes I was working with to see what I can continue to channel into my current work and what I've grown out of.

 

The piece below is one I recently went back to as I've been trying to rediscover and tap into my fiction energy. Originally published in my university's literary magazine three years ago, this piece deals with several darker themes, something that I've oddly always been drawn to in fiction, which is perhaps why I love dystopian and noir works so much. On top of that, it's still one of the better pieces I think I've written, perhaps because it's partially inspired by real life, though I do see myself having grown out of some of the more dramatic elements as I skim through it a few years later. If you were wondering what kind of fiction I skewed towards writing three or four years ago, this piece would be a prime example, haha.

 

--

do you remember?

“Yeah, honey. I’m just leaving now.”

 

Levi Anderson held his phone between his shoulder and his cheek as he navigated down the front steps of Hill Crest Church, the Minneapolis sunset in the background. He lugged a rolling crate overflowing with music books in his right hand, carried a guitar case on his back, and clutched a travel mug of lukewarm coffee in his left as he spoke in puffs of white mist.

 

“What about the kids? Oh, sure. I’ll check. Okay. I love you, Clarissa. See you at home.”

 

He paused near the bottom of the stairs to shove his phone into his coat pocket and then made his way toward the parking lot. Near the front, he approached a green Volkswagen Golf, already surrounded by a myriad of instrument cases and other boxes. With a sigh, he popped the trunk and began loading his car, starting with the things he had just brought out.

 

The cold fall air whistled around him as he packed up all of his things. Reaching up to shut the trunk, he heard the soft crunch of footsteps. Had he forgotten something inside? Before he could turn or say anything, he felt something cold and metallic pressed against the back of his head and drew a surprised gasp.

 

“Don’t turn around.” The higher-pitched, but masculine voice had a forced sternness. “Get in. Drive.”

 

With a racing heart, Levi obeyed, inching toward the driver’s side door. He cracked open the door with a shaking hand and slid in. He heard the door behind him open and shut, the assailant also slipping in, as he started the engine. Was this actually happening?

 

“So where am I going?” Levi glanced in the rearview mirror as he backed out of his space and pulled out of the parking lot. His teeth clattered as he let out focused breaths of mist.

 

“You were about to head home weren’t you?”

 

Levi inhaled deeply, gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles as he turned onto the main road running alongside the church.

 

“About thirty minutes or so, if I recall?” the assailant asked in a suddenly conversational tone. “Strange that I still remember, eh, Levi?”

 

Levi no longer felt the muzzle of the gun against his head, but he still resisted the urge to snap around. “Who are you?” he strained himself to maintain a calm tone.

 

“You don’t remember me?” the voice whined. “Oh, Levi, I was sure you would remember me. It’s only been, what, fifteen years now? What a shame. You were so important to me, though.”

 

Levi’s mind started spinning as he made his way down the city streets toward the interstate. “Why don’t I remember you?” his voice was ripe with confusion.

 

The voice gave a bemused chuckle. “People did always mean so much more to me than I ever did to them. It reminds me of you and your siblings, actually. How are Caleb and Rebekah?”

 

“Just fine,” he replied tersely, making an effort not to react physically, but he was wracking his brain for any possible connection.

 

The voice laughed. “Do you still not remember me, Levi?” Then it became stern again, but this time it wasn’t forced. “Well, I better help you remember.”

 

He half expected to have the gun jammed against his temple again, but instead he felt the figure lean forward, his breath on his shoulder as he merged onto the interstate. In the rearview mirror, a sliver of his face was now visible, but all he could see was a single brown eye and dark hair. Still nothing.

 

“I was never cool enough for you to like me in school,” he began, his face to the ground. “I wasn’t athletic. I didn’t like Call of Duty. I was too weird for you.”

 

Levi was speechless.

 

“Remember that basketball tournament your sophomore year? You and all the other guys threw me in the pool in all my clothes and I had to walk all the way back up to my room soaking wet.” He took a deep breath. His voice was pained. “And then your junior year, I was in your room and you told all the guys I was gay because I didn’t want to sleep on the floor.” There was a moment of silence before he spoke again. “Remember now?”

 

Levi swallowed. Bits and pieces had risen to the surface. He did remember, but he couldn’t put a name or a face to any of the incidents.

 

“The same year, you convinced one of my best friends that I was in love with her. She stopped talking to me. The next week she started dating you.” The voice gave what sounded like a stifled sob. “Then at prom, you and the other guys got wasted and hid the bottles in my locker. Remember now?”

 

“I—”

 

“Do you remember?” the figure lurched forward, his voice cracking halfway between a shout and a sob. Levi flinched, his breathing heavy. “Do you remember me?”

 

In his current position, Levi could see most of the figure’s face in the street lights. He barely looked different at all. Same eyes. Same hair. Same everything. His emotion-painted face was just how it had looked fifteen years ago. “Isaac…”

 

“You haven’t completely forgotten me, I suppose,” he whispered, leaning back. As Levi wove onto an exit ramp, Isaac began rhythmically tapping his gun on his knee, the sound of each tap lingering in his ears.

 

“Isaac, I’m so sorry. It was high school and if I had—

 

“Your apology is a little late,” he interjected, suddenly composed again. “Not that it changes anything. You can’t take any of it back.”

 

“Isaac, you don’t have to do this.”

 

“I know,” he answered as Levi pulled up to a red light. He raised his weapon and Levi braced himself, squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his clenched teeth. He heard the gun click empty and then silence before Isaac spoke again. “But I would never stoop that low.”

 

Levi raised his hand to his chest. His heart shook his entire body as he exhaled. “Isaac.”

 

“I just wanted to talk.” His breaths were weak and labored. “I just wanted you to understand.”

 

Levi heard the back door open and snapped around. Isaac stepped out of the car without looking back at him. “Isaac!”

 

Just then, the car behind honked loudly at him. Glancing forward, he saw the light had turned green. Turning around, another car blared its horn as the first sped past him in the next lane, then another and another.

 

“Better get going,” Isaac murmured as he kicked the door shut, meandering toward the oncoming traffic.

 

“Isaac!” Levi voice cracked, but another car led a blurred curtain of vehicles that blocked off his view. “Goodness,” he muttered as he stepped on the gas. Looking back, Isaac was gone, lost in a sea of headlights and metallic sheen.

 

As the street lights passed overhead, he couldn’t get it out of his mind. The gun could’ve been loaded. He could’ve done it, but he hadn’t, even after everything. Yes, he had abducted him at gunpoint, but Isaac had shown more character than he ever had.

 

Levi sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand as he braked and turned onto his street. Pulling into his driveway, he sat there in silence, staring at the clock on the console. He had been right. Thirty-one minutes.

 

Sobered, Levi shut off the engine and dragged himself inside, leaving everything in his car. He flipped on the kitchen light and tossed his keys on the table, leaning back on a chair.

 

“Levi! Oh my goodness!” Clarissa’s voice called as footsteps clomped down the hall.

 

“Hi, honey.” He couldn’t even force a smile. He felt so hollow. “What is it?”

 

“Look what Kira mailed!” she exclaimed, handing him a thin shred of yellowed newspaper. “It’s nearly ten years old so I almost didn’t recognize him, but I could hardly believe it when I did. How did we not hear about this sooner? You do remember, don’t you?”

 

Levi could hardly speak as his eyes glazed over the words. He covered his mouth with his hand and tears spilled from his eyes as he could only nod his head and clench the clipping.

 

Bright college honor student, Isaac Stone commits suicide. October 22, 2003.

write like a kid

Every so often, I’ll find myself in a bit of a creative lull (like the one I’m in right now) and think back to when I was younger and the ideas flowed so much more freely, when writer’s block was essentially nonexistent and I actually wrote a substantial amount of material every single day. I wonder to myself where all of that went and why I can’t even manage to put out one 500-word blog post a week anymore, never mind the fact that I literally wrote two entire books in a single year when I was in 5th grade. Granted, both of those books were only about 100 double sided, handwritten pages long and the style needed some major work, but maybe the reason some writers give up or stop putting out work is because they’ve lost the ability to write like a kid.  

When you’re writing as a kid, nothing else matters other than the story you’re putting down on the page. Literary tropes, archetypes, and rules are all still bland words in a textbook that you haven’t bothered to read. Your characters all talk the same way, and your plot lines are probably tangled and convoluted, with holes everywhere, but none of that even registers on your radar because the story is unfolding all on its own in your head. The clunky, awkward prose that gets carelessly slapped onto paper is hardly for a literary agent or editor’s eyes, but rather for your mind’s, serving as a map for the feature film that’s rolling inside. When you’re writing as a kid, you’re not writing for an agent, a publisher, a literary critic, or anyone else. When you’re writing as a kid, you’re writing solely for the purpose of preserving the story you’ve created and watching it play out in your own head, and maybe that’s why some of us lose the ability and joy of writing as we get older, because we’re constantly editing and critiquing our nascent stories to death before they even have the chance to take their first living breaths.

 

Maybe that’s because if you’re like me, you wanted to write as well as you possibly could, so you read and devoured article after article on literary technique, plotting, and every other topic under the sun in order to make yourself better, but you ended up starving your creativity in the process. Now, rather than being able to nurture your own stories and your own ideas, you keep questioning whether they’re original enough, whether the plot is tight enough, logical enough, but also interesting enough to keep readers engaged, and soon your ideas disappear altogether because you’re smothering them. All of a sudden, everything you write goes through a battery of questions and filters, and nothing seems to pass, because it’s all designed for agents, publishers, readers, and agents. You’re writing for a nondescript crowd somewhere in space rather than yourself, and you start wondering why you don’t even enjoy writing anymore when the answer is that you’re writing to please some imaginary audience instead of writing about the things and crafting the stories you fell in love with in the first place.

 

I catch myself in this cycle all the time, and I think this is the first time I’m actually realizing what causes it. I constantly ask myself why I would write something, because “no one would want to read that” or because “everyone’s written about that already” while simultaneously getting stressed out because I haven’t been writing anything at all.

 

Maybe that filterless, reckless style of writing so many of us have when we’re young is something we need to redeem, a style of writing where we write for our own enjoyment and pleasure, about the things we love, telling the stories our minds are begging us to tell, rather than the stories and volumes we think will sell or we think people will like best. That’s part of the beauty of writing anyway, isn’t it, the fact that someone would read and resonate with your own thoughts?

 

Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Maybe we need to take that wisdom more seriously and just start writing for ourselves and our love of the craft again, because we should work at our art, but we should never come to a place of dreading it.