The ABCs of a Purposeful WIP – An Introduction

Work-in-progress.

What do you picture when you hear that term? A half-completed home remodel? A partially sketched drawing? Or perhaps the skeletal framework of a rising skyscraper?

For me, WIP represents an unfinished writing project. And I have several. For the first seven years after I quit my day job to become a writer, I amassed WIPs like a squirrel hoarding acorns. I started a writing business, then I started writing citizen columns for the newspaper. I started a romance novel, then I started a children’s book. I started a blog about simplicity, then I started a young adult novel.

Do you see the pattern here? In seven years, I started at least a dozen different WIPs, but it was a rare occasion that I actual saw one through to fruition. It was my habit to start and stop, start and stop, each time thinking it would be the next thing that would be THE thing to fuel fulfillment or create contentment. And for a while it would. I’d plunge full-speed ahead, bursting with excitement and enthusiasm for this new project. But like all things, the novelty wore off and the excuses built up. I’d come up against an unexpected challenge or give in to doubt or just plain decide whatever I was working on wasn’t a good fit for me after all. And just like that, the current WIP would be replaced with a newer, shiner one.

It wasn’t until a little over a year ago, when my feet began to get twitchy after spinning my wheels for seventeen months on the most recent WIP, that I really made myself look into the root cause of my compulsion to quit. And the more I thought about it, the more I was forced to admit that this wasn’t a new occurrence; I’d been a quitter my entire life. But as difficult a truth as this was to swallow, it was also eye-opening. I realized then it was never about the projects. I could have shifted the direction of my focus to a hundred different WIPs and still experienced the exact same outcome. Why? Because I hadn’t changed. As it turned out, I was the WIP that needed attention. And until I found the courage to adjust my attitude and my approach, to identify and face the deep-seated beliefs that I had allowed to hold me back, I was destined to stay stuck on the same vicious cycle for the rest of my life.

But in March of 2018, I jumped off, and so can you.

Maybe you don’t have a computer file full of unfinished writing projects, but perhaps there is some other part of your life where you constantly feel stuck. Maybe there’s a goal you’ve taken a step toward achieving only to take two more steps backward. Or maybe there’s a project or program or hobby that you’ve started and stopped a dozen times. Or how about that one thing that winds up on your list of New Years’ resolutions every single year? You know, that thing you always speak of, but never quite get around to doing?

Whatever it is, I encourage you to keep it in mind over the next several weeks as we walk through the ABCs of a Purposeful WIP. The key word here is purposeful. We are all works-in-progress and we always will be. It’s part of being human. But without a sense of purpose, it becomes incredibly easy to shift into autopilot, to sink into the comfort of our complacency, to give up on ourselves. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not supposed to be that way. God did not make us to stay stagnant, he made us to thrive.

So stay tuned here for new posts every Thursday (or if you like, follow along on Facebook to catch the weekly videos) in which I’ll discuss how, within a year of moving past my quitting tendencies, I completed not only the first draft of my novel manuscript, but also the second. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know from my own experience, that progress is possible. But you must be purposeful to make it happen.

*Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the area of self-help, nor am I a counselor, coach, educator, or licensed professional of any kind. It is not my intention to advise but to encourage. You know yourself better than anyone, if you are in need of psychological support, please, please reach out to an appropriately qualified individual.

A Memorial Day Message

Photo by Justin Casey on Unsplash

It’s Memorial Day.

And I’ll admit (rather shamefully) that most years this day comes and goes without my giving its significance a single thought. I appreciate it as a weekend lengthener, another morning to sleep in, an extra twenty-four hours to get things done. But rarely do I acknowledge the many men and women who are responsible for giving me the freedom to do those things.

So today, rather than rushing unconsciously into my to-do list, I am taking a moment to pause and reflect on those to whom I owe an unrepayable debt of gratitude:

  • To the dedicated service men and women who willingly braved front lines, paying a hefty price in defense of our many liberties and blessings, I thank you.
  • To those who lost their lives in battles they didn’t initiate and wars they didn’t choose to fight, I thank you.
  • To those in noncombat roles—the medics and mechanics and numerous others—who died while working in support of the combat troops, I thank you.
  • To those left behind: The spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends, and other family members who had to go on even when their loved ones didn’t return home, I thank you.
  • To the soldiers who made it home, but were so unequipped to overcome their wounded souls and PTSD-tortured minds that they stopped the pain by their own hands, I thank you.

Let us all stop for just a minute this morning to say a little prayer or offer up a moment of silence in respect to these and any and all others who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service of the United States of America. Let us always be grateful. Let us always remember.

If you like, please feel free to share in the comments the names of those whose lives you are celebrating today, so we, too, can honor them.

Slow Progress is Still Progress

Photo by Luke Brugger on Unsplash

Last week Friday was the anniversary of my high school graduation. It was more than two decades ago now and I still remember it like it was yesterday, though my memories are spotty and lacking in the areas one might deem most important on such a day. For example, I don’t recall any of the speeches or a specific bit of inspiration or encouragement or even the moment I crossed the stage to receive my diploma.

I do, however, remember driving barefoot most of the way to the school after nearly causing a crash when the slick sole of my shoe slid off the brake as I approached a red light. I remember a classmate hitting a crazy high note during a jazz choir performance, that without advance planning my best friend and I wore nearly identical dresses, and the flower that sat on an empty chair representing a peer who was not in attendance because of severe injuries sustained in an accident a week or so before.

Thinking back on that day, I’m not hit with any particular emotion. I don’t recall feeling especially relieved or triumphant. I don’t associate it with excitement for or confidence in my plans for the future. Though I had chosen a college and declared a course of study, I did so without much thought or research—a minor oversight that proved major when I realized neither was very practical and ended up backing out of both less than a month later. That wasn’t the first time I’d withdrawn from a decision. And it wouldn’t be the last.

I was the queen of quitting and that same MO followed me for the rest of my teens, through my twenties, and even into my thirties. I abandoned goals, resigned from jobs, and gave up on anything and everything that didn’t immediately match my expectations. The second I got bored, scared, or faced a challenging obstacle, I was done.

For a long time when I reflected on this zigzagging path of waywardness, I would cringe with embarrassment, especially with the omnipresence of social media, which has made self-loathing and self-criticism for apparent mistakes and missteps even easier. Being constantly inundated with a highlight reel of amazing accomplishments from the world over seemed to magnify my lack of them.

I wanted to be like those real-life Doogie Howsers, the twenty-something published authors, those people who made a seemingly effortless leap from birth to living out their destinies. The problem was that I wasn’t those people and their stories were not mine and the more I dwelled in that place of desire and yearning to be someone other than who I was, the more stuck I became. I clung to blame and bitterness, pointing my finger elsewhere when really it was my own shoulda, coulda, wouldas that kept my head turned toward the past and my own envy over what other people were achieving that blinded me from my own capabilities.

It wasn’t until I climbed out of the circular trench I’d dug myself into and shifted my focus to self-compassion instead of comparison, responsibility instead of resentment that I could finally move forward. I took that first step more than a year ago now and though I’ve been moving at a snail’s pace away from old habits and toward a healthier way of thinking and being, I celebrate each and every breakthrough no matter how small.

My point is, dear friends, that if this graduation season has you reflecting back on your life, lamenting over all you wish you would have done, there’s still time. Whether it’s been a week, a decade, or half a century since you sprung forth into the world as an adult, you don’t have to stay on that same spinning wheel you’ve been stuck on. You’re not too old (or too young) to jump off of it. You can change your mindset, accomplish that goal, forgive that person, let go of unhealthy patterns, and just move forward.

Don’t worry about what others your age are doing. Don’t worry about feeling behind the curve or trying to keep up with someone else’s pace. You’re on nobody’s schedule but your own. Yours and God’s. And when we approach life from a place of growth and self-betterment, we can’t help but be right on time. So make a move today. Take a small step, then take another and another and a year from now when you look back at how far you’ve come—even if you’ve barely moved an inch—celebrate, because slow progress is still progress.

When is Good, Good Enough?

Photo by Raj Shah on Unsplash

I recently attended a middle school level track and field meet where I stood in the grassy wings of the long jump sand pit until my eleven-year-old niece was called to take her turn. In the hour or so that I watched, I probably saw about thirty different girls complete their three attempts to execute the lengthiest leap. As a sixth-grade event there was a wide range of ability, from first-time jumpers to those who seemed destined to become seasoned Olympians.

One girl in particular—clad in special spiky soled shoes and a shiny track singlet—appeared to have been participating in the long jump since birth. She had a pre-jump routine, a face set with sheer determination, and as she soared through the air, a man who I assumed to be her dad, stood next to the pit and critiqued her.

“You need to run faster. You need to keep your head up,” he told her as she brushed the sand from her shorts and returned to the approach area to try again. As I watched her next two jumps—both of which from my unskilled perspective were nearly identical to the first—and listened again to her dad’s assessment, I wondered about the possibility of meeting his expectations. If she had run at an acceptable speed, kept her eyes raised to an acceptable level, would he have been satisfied? Or would his attention have latched onto another less than perfect element? In other words, at what point would her performance have been good enough?

I ask myself this very question when people inquire about how I’ll know when my manuscript is complete. How will I know? As a recovering perfectionist, the long-winded answer is a tricky one, filled with character/plot/dialogue-based criteria that are difficult to define and even more difficult to identify within the manuscript as a whole. The shorter, truthful, but still completely vague answer is that I simply don’t know.

But what I do know is that I saw myself in that young long jumper. I saw myself in her frown and in the defeated slump of her shoulders as she walked toward her next event. And I recognized that the greatest gift I can give myself with regard to my writing is grace. The grace to accept that as a flawed human, I can only produce a flawed piece of work. That no matter how many times I write and rewrite, edit and re-edit, someone out there will still find (and likely point out) errors in my writing. And that at some point, I will have to let go of the manuscript with the notion that good is indeed good enough.

In what area of your life do you need to give yourself the grace to accept that good is good enough?

Hiding Behind the Mask of Introversion

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My name is Sandy and I’m an introvert.

This admission might not surprise you as writers and introversion often go hand in hand, but I considered myself introverted long before I considered myself a writer. And so did others. In my high school yearbook, I was one of two girls voted most shy. The other was . . . drum roll, please . . . my very best friend. We were two peas in a pod, open and vulnerable with each other, but painfully timid in the classroom and around peers we didn’t know well. But our shyness wasn’t just what we were known for, it was the very foundation of our relationship, the common ground that brought us together, and I have no doubt that that close friendship was crucial for my survival of an otherwise difficult season of life.

But while I wouldn’t give up my Most Shy title for the world—to this day, my high school bestie is one of my dearest friends—lately I have been wondering if the designation still fits. Am I really still that reserved wallflower or have I continued to identify with her because it’s convenient? A mask I can hide behind when faced with any uncomfortable situation that I’d rather shy away from?

Over the last several years that I’ve determined myself to be a full-time writer, spending countless hours in the throes of solitary creation, it has become even easier to settle into that comfortable zone of introversion. To withdraw from participating in real life in favor of sinking into the safety of my fictional world. This is who I am, I tell myself. It’s okay for me to skip this event and pass on that social engagement because crowds drain my energy. And society-at-large has been happy to validate my excuses because writers, as I said above, are largely self-proclaimed introverts.

The problem is that modern-day novelists with aspirations to publish their work are pretty much required to climb out of the bubble of isolation, strap on some social butterfly wings, and develop an online presence. It’s a competitive market out there and agents and publishers alike seem to be seeking new and original voices that also come with an already-established social media following. And this expectation seems to precede any notion of publication by months if not years.

Thus, as work on my manuscript nears completion, I have felt compelled to start building these virtual connections. And it is while learning to navigate the global sphere of social networking that I also began to question whether my well-worn introvert label is really an inherent trait or if it’s simply a side effect of something else. Like fear.

Truthfully, I don’t yet know the answer, though I’ve pondered it and pondered it. But what I have concluded is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to grow and step out of that comfortable zone without examining those old beliefs and society assigned identifiers to see if they still ring true. In this case, if I had continued clinging to my introversion as a reason not to cultivate new relationships, I wouldn’t have encountered many of the amazing people that I’ve met over the last year. I wouldn’t have realized how fun and uplifting social media can be. I wouldn’t have experienced the energizing effect of encouraging others.

So my question to you is this: Is there a mask that you hide behind? A years’ old characteristic that you hold onto even though it may no longer fit? I dare you to dig a little deeper and take a closer look at it. You just might find that this label you once identified with, and that may have even been helpful in the past, is actually serving as a hindrance to your progress in the present.