Priorities

Well, I’m sorry about not having a post up yesterday. I’m sorry to say that insomnia got the better of me on Thursday night and I spent most of Friday a little loopy. Then we had some guests with us yesterday (Alayna’s baby shower is tomorrow… the baby is almost here, which is both exciting and terrifying), and so I generally have had a lot of distractions lately. I don’t say any of this as an excuse (honestly I don’t think I need one), but simply to explain why there was no post yesterday and to introduce my point here: it’s easy to lose focus of where our priorities should be.

I’ve done this many times in my life. Honestly, when I first started this blog my priorities were very out of whack. In the beginning I wanted this blog to be very successful (and given how many followers we have I think there has been some success involved), and because of that I was extremely focused towards attaining that goal. For the first year I wrote all of the posts for the blog myself, a post a day for a year is a lot for anyone to write (and if you’ve ever tried you know what I mean). After that I started bringing some other writers on board, but I was draconian about timely posting. I almost lost a friend over whether or not she published her posts on time.

I had certain standards, and standards, or so I told myself, are a good thing. I had been told that consistency is very important for bringing in reader, and I stuck to that and focused on consistently providing material of an accessible, but also high quality. I wanted to make sure that everyone who wrote for me had the same focus. This is where my priorities were off-target. At the time, especially in the particular situation I’m thinking of, I should have considered my friend’s feelings and what this particular person was dealing with at the time. I didn’t. All I focused on was that posts weren’t going up when they ‘needed’ to, and that was simply unacceptable.

At that time this blog was one of the few good things going on in my life. Academically I had hit what seemed to be a dead end. I applied to a number of programs, only to be rejected by all of them, and I had struggled to find a teaching job, only to then struggle to make enough money at the teaching job I did find to pay basic bills. Romantically, I had one short and painful relationship after another, and was shot down by most of the women I asked out in between them. Financially I had a mountain of debt that I didn’t see any realistic way of paying off. Spiritually I was in the driest point of my relationship with God since I converted, and while that didn’t last for more than six months, they were an extremely difficult six months.

When I started this blog, I thought it would be my ticket out of all of that (God had different plans), and I approached it as one might approach a life-changing career goal. However, since that time I have seem some (limited) success in my teaching job, I have started and finished a second master’s degree, gotten married, been accepted into two Ph.D. programs (still deciding which one), and Alayna and I are expecting our first child.

I say all of this to say that priorities are important. When I first started this blog I put an inordinately high priority on it, and was willing to sacrifice friendships for it. However, I think that in the past few years God has done a good job of refocusing my priorities. We’ve missed more that we did early on, and there is less focus on originality, quality, images, and timing. Things about the blog that used to be hard and fast rules have become only suggestions.

Other pursuits (school and family mostly) have taken precedence for me, and most importantly, I’ve learned to have a softer touch when others miss things, and learned to let some of them go myself. Four years ago I never would have allowed myself to miss a post. In thinking about all of this, I keep coming back to priorities. I treated this blog as though it was something that it can never be: a meaning for life.

Have you done the same with anything? I have said here before, and I still believe, that writing is good for us. It is important, healthy, and ultimately beneficial both for ourselves and for others. Some of you will probably make a career out of writing fiction, others probably won’t even though you want to, and some of you haven’t even considered it as a possibility. However, do you ever give your writing (however important it is) an inappropriate place in your life? It’s something worth thinking about.

Major Life Changes: Balancing Packing and Writing

mapTo say that the last few days have been a whirlwind of insanity would be an understatement. Last Monday, I was contacted about an interview for a job I really wanted. Less than 24 hours later, I was being interviewed for that job and was given a tentative offer; 42 hours beyond that, and I was offered a position as an Instructor of English with Berlitz in Poznań, Poland, starting at the beginning of October. “Did you accept?” you may very well ask, at which point I will stare at you incredulously, because of course I took the job. It would be ridiculously stupid of me not to. Anyway, factoring in the time I’d need to get settled and start my job training, it became clear that I have a little under 5 weeks to prepare, pack, and relocate. Everything since Thursday has thus been a hectic mess of logistics and suitcase-wrangling.

The sad and unintended side-effect of this major life change has been that I don’t have time to write. I finished another chapter of my novel about a week and a half ago, and I was working at full steam on the next one when the world turned upside down and and inside out (albeit in the best possible way). When I do have a few moments to sit down and not work on a list or comb through paperwork, I’m too mentally tired to actually get any of my creative writing done. My characters are currently complaining that I’m never around, but one day they’ll understand that I’m doing this for them so that they can have better opportunities and maybe a European castle some day. Anyways, I just cannot brain enough to work on my novel, but I can’t just stop writing while I’m relocating. So I’ve developed a system to keep myself consistently in the writing game (and, incidentally, keep me from stressing out too much). I have to take at least 15 minutes a day to write on *something,* whatever that may be. I started a travel blog that I’m currently updating daily, I write my posts for The Art of Writing, and occasionally I will write out one of my famous rants about something nerd-related (usually Doctor Who, to be honest, but you all probably knew that). The point is, despite all the insanity around me, I’m still making myself write. And when I’m flying from the Arizona desert to Poland next month, maybe I will have the time and energy to get back to my novel and my poor neglected characters. But for now, it’s a start.

Shauny Award

shaunyawWell, I know that the last time we got an award on here I was somewhat ambivalent about it. Mostly because it came with a lot of work that I didn’t feel like doing. However, I’m working on being less of a misanthrope… and less of a crochety old man, I’ve been told that I’m not old enough for that yet. So, Joe Bradshaw over at Art Inspired and Created from the Heart nominated us for a Shauny award. This is the only real information that I’ve been able to find about the award itself.

I do want to thank Joe for the thought and appreciation that come with this award. We certainly aren’t perfect here, but we all work hard to provide quality content that can be useful to all of you, and especially to you who are newer writers. When I first started this blog it was mine… my own, my precious!… sorry, couldn’t resist that, but it was mine, and I thought of it as mine. However, the truth is that it isn’t my blog anymore, it is our blog, and I share it with some great writers and great people. I probably don’t thank them enough for their contributions (seriously, I don’t even pay the poor devils), but I hope that each of them understand that any success this blog sees is due as much to each of them as it is to me, probably more so.

So, to Joe: thank you. To my fellow writers: thank you as well. And to all of you readers: I hope you know how much you mean to us. Someone needs to create an award for you. … …Maybe I’ll work on that.

The Liebster!

LAWell, Mary over at Living In The Moment nominated us for a Liebster. First of all I have to thank Mary for the honor, and for the encouragement, and secondly I have to say that I am far from alone on this blog. Between Paul, Neal, Selanya, and Abbie (who you all will hopefully be seeing some great fiction from in the next few months), there is a great crew writing posts for you guys, and they all do an excellent job! That being said… much as I write a lot and run two blogs… I don’t actually read blogs very often, and certainly there aren’t any that I read regularly. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, maybe it just makes me a guy. I don’t know.

However, while I’m happy to answer the questions that were passed on, and encourage the other writers to take a crack at them in their next post (if you guys want to, no need to if you don’t feel like it), I decided with the last award we won that I’m not going to try to find random blogs that I like a post or two from to pass it on. If there was a blog that I read regularly I’d be happy to pass it on, and if any of the other writers have a blog to nominate for a Liebster, please feel free to pass it on! That being said, here are the questions that were sent to us:

1. Why do you blog? Personally… if I’m honest, I got into this for a few reasons. Originally I’d kind of hoped to turn writing into a career, but this was before I was actually getting much work teaching. Nonetheless, I enjoy putting together the challenges, and passing along advice for newer writers. I’m not the best writer in the world, but I do think that I’m a pretty good teacher, and I’m trying to play to my strengths here.

2. What are the top three things on your bucket list? I don’t actually have a bucket list. I do have some long-term goals though. I’d like to find a wife, currently I’m working on pursuing relationships with women who like me rather than with women who need me… it’s a process. I’d like to move up to third degree black belt in Aikido-Jujitsu Ryu, and I’d like to earn a black belt in either Wing Chun Kung Fu or Japanese Jujitsu… or Kali. Lastly, I’d like to earn a Ph.D. …which is also a process.

3. Your No. 1 hobby? Ummm… probably martial arts… or writing, or miniature wargames.

4. Where would you like to travel, and why? I’m not really much on traveling. I’d like to visit Israel, Egypt, Japan, and China. All of the above are because I love Ancient Near Eastern and Oriental history. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the money to do so, but it would be really cool.

5. What is your goal(s) for your blog? My goal for the blog is to be the best teaching tool that we can be. I do have some young writer friends and I like having the chance to give them a place to display their writing.

6. What is your favorite book(s)? Mmm… Leviticus (seriously), Dune, A Book of Five Rings, Fear and Trembling, Malazan Book of the Fallen, and The Black Company. I love the Lord of the Rings, but while Tolkien’s stories are amazing, I don’t actually like his writing style all that much.

7. Your favorite song(s)? … …Um…”Smell the Color 9″ by Chris Rice and either “The Unforgiven” or “Wherever I May Roam” by Metallica…. I’m eclectic.

8. Your favorite TV show(s)? I really love Firefly and Dollhouse. I’m also a big fan of Dead Like Me, Burn Notice, and NCIS.

9. Your least, and your most, favorite foods? I love oriental food in general. I practically live on it. I’m not a fan of Alfredo sauce… or broccoli.

10. What would you change about your surroundings? I actually like where I live quite a bit. I’ve even got good roommates now.

11. What would you change about the world? I would like to see more people paying attention to Plato…. well, Philosophy in general actually.

Super Sweet Blogging Award

downloadWell, it looks like we’ve been nominated for another award here at the Art of Writing. Thanks to Rebecca Vance for her nomination for the Super Sweet Blogging award! However, in the interests of actually getting my work done tonight, I’m going to have to take an Honorary Super Sweet Blogging Award (you can see the rules at Becky’s blog). I’m happy to answer the questions, but I’m going to forgo the further nominations.

The Questions:

1. Cookies or Cake? Cookies, without a doubt.

2. Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate candy, Vanilla ice cream.

3. Favorite Sweet Treat? It really depends on the day. I have an eclectic palate.

4. When Do You Crave Sweet Things The Most? Generally at random times. Sometimes I can go for months without anything sweet, and other times I want something sweet every day.

5. Sweet Nick Name? … … … …Sweetpea.

2012 in review

Ricky, didn't mom tell you not to play with fireworks? Now just look at your hand! Come on, we're going to the hospital!
Ricky, didn’t mom tell you not to play with fireworks? Now just look at your hand! Come on, we’re going to the hospital!

Well, the blog has done pretty well this year, and I’m looking forward to an even better year starting tomorrow! Instead of the normal Story Challenge for this week, I wanted to post a report that WordPress whipped up about the blog history, and a few of my own comments about this year’s blogging. So, my five favorite posts of the year, in no particular order:

1) Canaan’s post on the term ‘Christian Nation’: This was a great little piece concerning both what we generally mean when we call America a Christian Nation, and the reality of what America really is. I have to say that this is definitely one of my all time favorite posts.

2) Magic Mike and Moral Virtue in Women: This was not only the most popular post of the year, but also probably my favorite post to write. This is a subject that I’ve been thinking about ever since reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women, but I always felt like it was a subject that, as a man, I couldn’t really speak out on. Magic Mike was a stupid movie, but it gave me a platform from which to launch this discussion, and for that I have to thank it’s producers.

3) Cassandra’s posts on YA fiction: While Cassandra and I completely disagree (or at least did completely disagree) on the place that YA fiction has in the world, this is a very well written and a very honest post. Of course… I happen to think that my response to the post was rather well written also… but I’m probably a little biased there.

4) Selanya’s Attack of the Story Clones: This was one of Selanya’s early posts and, while the formatting is a little rough, she deals well with a very challenging issue in writing fiction. Learning how not to clone your characters is, in my experience, a very difficult thing to do, and even experienced authors can fall into this trap pretty easily.

5) Modern Romance: This is another of my posts that just went together so well that it was impossible not to love. I do have to give credit where credit is due, it was a quote from Cassandra that inspired me to actually sit down and write this post, but it’s an issue that I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about.

Like I said, these are my favorite posts of the year! But what are yours? Do you have a post that you just haven’t been able to get out of your head? Or one that inspired some great work of your own?

I also have to say that 170,000 hits in 365 days is nothing to sneeze at. Still, I’m confident that we can do better next year!

The WordPress Report:

Click here to see the complete report.

One Lovely Blog

Alright, well earlier this week we were nominated for the One Lovely Blog award by J.W. Eberle (thanks man!), and I have to say it’s kind of exciting.  This looks to be a peer based award, so while it doesn’t seem to be entirely official (I have no idea if there are official blogging awards), Selanya, Cassandra, and I are all pretty happy that other bloggers think our work is worthwhile.  So, while I love to talk (and as some friends can tell you, I even love to talk about myself sometimes), I’m not really much for making speeches.

However, without Selanya and Cassandra I don’t know if I would have kept this blog running for the last year.  Much as I like to point out when they miss posts, and get annoyed at them for calling me at the last minute to tell me that they couldn’t get something done, I work with two really amazing ladies here, and they should definitely get a lot of the credit for this award.  I also have to thank some of the regular commenters: Lynne, Wayne, Colin, Palindrome, and Delft especially! I always love hearing from you guys, and while we don’t always agree on things, your opinions are always welcome, and keep me inspired to keep writing.  For any readers out there, I honestly can’t explain how important commenting is on blogs that you love.  I know it’s not always easy to do, a lot of the time I don’t do it myself, but from a bloggers perspective, it lets me know that people actually read and care about what I write.  It lets me know that what I’m doing actually has some kind of impact, and that is more encouraging than I can easily put into words.

So, this award does come with some rules… actually I’ve been explaining it to friends as half award and half chain letter, but it’s one of those good kind of chain letters that makes you feel happy and doesn’t tell you that you’re going to die horribly if you don’t pass it on.  I’ve never passed one on and I haven’t died horribly yet… … …although I am still single… … …maybe I should have been passing those on… hmmm…

Yeah, not really.  Anyway, the rules:

1) Link back to the person who nominated you and thank them – done

2) Share seven things about yourself

3) Nominate 15 bloggers that you admire

4) Leave a comment on their walls letting them know that they’ve received the award.

So, seven things about myself:

1) I’m single.  Already told you that, but honestly, I’m not really on the market right now.  Let’s just say that it’s been a rough year and leave it at that.

2) I teach online.  I’ve mentioned that a few times.  I teach classes in philosophy and religion at Grand Canyon University under another name, and I’m trying to get a few more teaching jobs.  Adjunct teaching is one of the lower paying jobs in the country.

3) I someday hope to make money off of this blog.  I really don’t know how yet.  I’d kind of like to avoid the whole advertising angle, but I’m not completely opposed to it, as long as I can control the adds that are put up.

4) I used to have voices in my head.  Not kidding, really did.  I’ve never been institutionalized, but I have had some seriously crazy years.  For a while I think I somehow separated out all the different parts of my subconscious into separate, conscious voices that each had to have a say.  I had seven, and two were definitely representative of Freud’s Id and Ego.  Somewhere over the last two years the various voices have been reintegrated back into my subconscious, so it’s quiet in here again.

5) I am obsessed with monkeys.  I don’t know why.  Really, I can’t explain it… I usually blame it on a roommate I had in college.  It’s not like a ‘have to have one’, ‘looking at pictures’, ‘love them’ obsession.  It’s more like I’m obsessed with the concept of monkeys.  Not that this really makes any sense.

6) I love Star Wars.  I once watched the trilogy as background material for an entire semester during grad school.  If I was in the room, there was a Star Wars movie on.  My roommate at the time was not appreciative.

7) I don’t plan to live much past 70.  Let’s just say that my life hasn’t exactly been easy and being here longer than that doesn’t seem appealing.  I am open to the possibility that by the time I reach 70 my opinions might have changed.

And fifteen blogs that we admire, in no particular order:

Tobias’ Picks:

1) Blue Table Painting: While this nomination is less for their blog specifically and more for their company in general, this is a great group! These guys honestly make me wish I had the money to get back into wargaming.

2) Online College: Being that I teach online blogs that offer up good advice and guidance to students are important to me.  I found out about this site earlier this week, and I like their work.  They seem to really have a desire to give students some desperately needed guidance.

3) Clarion Blog: This is the blog of Clarion Publishing, and these people have some great tips and exercises for new writers.  This blog actually helped to inspire some of the format for The Art of Writing.

4) SF Signal: SF Signal is mostly an update and reviews sight for science fiction.  However, the author does an awesome job of keeping the site up to date, and of getting the word out about what’s new and what’s coming.

5) Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review: I don’t spend much time reading other blogs at the moment.  However, Graeme’s is one that I have read and commented on in the past.  He does a great job with his reviews, and he reviews a lot of books that I either hadn’t heard about, or had no interest in until I read his review.  Definitely up there with some of the best.

Cassandra’s Picks:

6) Land of Milk and Honey: I have been following Land of Milk and Honey for over 5 years now. Besides the fact that the author has a very descriptive style that makes me salivate whenever she describes on of her organic, homemade, gourmet meals, I enjoy reading about the farm, and now bakery lifestyle.  It’s like a trip to the past, only it’s happening now.  Organic farming, farmers markets, organic bakery. This author is nothing less than inspirational.

7) An Aggie in Ethiopia: Take a trip to Ethiopia through the life of Peace Corps volunteer.  This blog takes you into the struggles and delights of the people of Ethiopia as well as herself.

8) In Other Words – A Poetry Blog: This blog/webpage is filled with poetry and reviews for modern times.  The author does not rest on his laurels, but strives to improve himself and his chosen sphere of poetry.  Throughout the site you get a glimpse of the questions that he asks and tries to find answers to through his works.

9) Barefoot Photography: This photographer takes you through the ins and outs of her business through her blogs.  She loves her clients and her camera and is always trying to capture life through her lens.

10) Books and Vines: This is a relatively recent find of mine, but I love it.  The author explores the classics with great attention to detail.  Plus, his added attraction to fine publishers, picture, paper quality, and more gives the blog an added level of sophistication.  Additionally, you can explore other topics such as wine, art, and news on his blog.

Selanya’s Picks:

11) The Adventures of Samuel: An entertaining, thought-provoking, and well written blog about the life and excursions of a good friend of mine. He’s an excellent writer, and every single post teaches me something new, whether it be about Sam himself or life lessons in general.

12) I’m Pumped About Everything: An absolutely hysterical blog written by my college creative writing professor. Topics vary from satirical The Onion-style pieces to creatively written posts about himself and his life.

13) Lantern Hollow Press: This is a very excellent blog on writing and the processes thereof. Every post is intelligent, helpful, sharp, and witty. I recommend it to writers everywhere.

14) The Doctor Who Information Network: Do I really need to explain this one? Updates and postings on all things Doctor Who. Absolutely brilliant!

15) Reflections of a Book Addict: A very entertaining blog by a lady who tries to read 100 books every year. Great for book worms everywhere.

And one extra, because it’s a ministry that I admire. Living Bread Ministries:  This is a Christian ministry that works with the extremely poor in Brazil.  I know these people, and I have a lot of respect for them.  They do very good work.