Thursday, October 29, 2015

Why I'm Doing NaNoWriMo When I "Should" Be Editing

 Here we go again...5 years later:

Other appropriate titles for this post could be "How My Literary Aspirations Derailed" or "How Melissa Lost Her Mind" or even "The Cliffs of Insanity." But that last one might be a copyright infringement.

Why would a writer decide to begin a brand new project when she was ready to publish two weeks ago? Minus the cash and a couple more drafts, of course.

Well, you see, it's like this...

Two weeks ago, the only beta readers who'd completed the novel and offered feedback were family members.

Family members are cheerleaders. Newbie writers need cheerleaders so our insecurities don't smear us over toast for second breakfast. But while cheerleaders are necessary and awesome, they're biased. They root for the home team even when the home team sucks. (I'd post a pic of the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleaders here, but they don't wear enough clothes.)

Not that my book sucks. It doesn't. Everyone likes it. Or at least, they say they do.

Here's what bothered me--no one loved it. Call me vain, but it's kind of important to me that some people love it.

I didn't understand the reason until objective feedback began rolling in. Which, of course, isn't nearly as much fun as cheerleader feedback. But it's absolutely vital if you want to produce a good story.

Beta Reader 1: "Enjoyed Eleora very much." Felt it was almost ready for publication, but wanted more context for the villain and the lore. 
Beta Reader 2: Liked it. Said it was "intense."
Beta Reader 3: Liked it. Wanted more history of the characters and lore. Felt the pacing was too fast and a bit choppy in places she wanted to linger. Felt the world needed to be fleshed out more. Thought it was an earlier draft than it actually was.
Beta Reader 4: Thought it was great, but the pacing was rushed. She wanted more background about two main characters' relationship, and felt all the characters could be developed, especially the main characters. Here's the real kicker--it seemed to her I had written two books instead of one.

My initial response to Beta Reader 4: *blink, blink*

I wasn't immediately sure Beta Reader 4 was right, but I took the note. She has a great handle on what makes a good book, and I had prayed for fruitful feedback from this particular reader. I couldn't afford to dismiss anything she said without further thought and prayer. I outlined a prequel novella to Eleora, secretly hoping that would be enough so I wouldn't have to rewrite the thing. AGAIN.

BUT. I'd rather take my time and write a great book than rush to produce a good one.

Or a bad one, which Eleora, as is, may very well be.

Fortunately, God is pretty gentle with me. I was going full speed ahead--HUZZAH!!--then between beta readers 2 and 3, I felt a familiar Spirit signal--Slow down. Relax. Wait.

At first, I thought the message had to do with money. It costs a minimum of $2,000 to self-publish well, and we don't have $2,000 lying around at the moment. But it quickly became apparent the flashing yellow light had to do with the writing, not the cash.

"Wait" is a hard message to receive, especially when the problem lies with me, but it better prepared me to receive Beta Reader 3's perspective that Eleora was still in an early draft. (Though it was the fourth!) Beta Reader 3's perspective helped me better receive Beta Reader 4's. And Beta Reader 4 prepared me to be edited by author/blogger/editor Kristen Lamb.

Back in August, I signed up for Kristen's "First Five Pages" writing class, and bought the platinum package to receive 40 pages of edits. Who better to speak into my work than a writing professional/stranger/give-it-to-you-straight-burn-and-all kind of gal?

Kristen Lamb's editing has been fondly dubbed "The Death Star Treatment" by someone far wittier than me. It's an apt description. My favorite phrases from Kristen's edit are "The uncle is a mustache-twirler. He's so evil, I don't buy it. I'd put the book down," "Ew. Gross imagery," and "This character is too dumb to live."

I'm happy to say I survived "The Death Star Treatment"--without tears!--which is more than I can say for the planet Alderaan. In Alderaan's defense, I've had lots of practice.

Kristen knows what she's talking about. The problems are there. I just didn't see them until she pointed them out. So tactfully. With maple syrup, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.

In all seriousness, Kristen's heart is to help writers produce the best product possible so the trolls don't eat us alive (aaaaaaand to prepare us for when they do anyway.)

And she didn't leave me without encouragement. She said I totally hooked her in some places. There were times she had to put the book down to tend to something and didn't want to. That my prose is (mostly) pretty. That I have real talent. That I can, in fact, write. So she left me in a good place, ready to fix my problems.

To prepare for the following plot consult, I prayed. Odd way to prepare, you may think, but everything I've asked of the Lord concerning this book, He's done. Why stop?

This time, I asked for three things:

1) That Kristen would be God's mouthpiece to me concerning my story.
2) That Kristen and I would connect and like each other. (Writers gotta have writer friends.)
3) That God would use Kristen to let me know whether or not to participate in NaNoWriMo, which I had been considering since meeting with Beta Reader 4.

Within the first 15 minutes of the consult, Kristen diagnosed my problem--I have five or six stories crammed into 400 pages. Just as Beta Reader 4 suggested. So we took the first 40 pages, which was the section she read, and plotted it out into a full-length novel.

Oh, yeah. (Check out my premise here.)

So I said, "I'm guessing, I should shelf the bulk of my book for now and focus on this."

Kristen: "Uh, yeah! This should be your NaNo Novel. It's a great story. If you don't write it, I will."

After this, she took time to get to know me. We have a lot in common--a shared faith in Jesus, health issues, a clean-eating lifestyle, a book crush on Mr. Darcy. At one point she laughed and said, "By the end of this, we'll be telling each other our deepest, darkest secrets and braiding each other's hair."

I love her. Sarcasm, bluntness, and all.

And I love the Lord. He's so incredibly good. So faithful.

And that's why I'm participating in NaNoWriMo when I "should" be editing my novel.

Beta Reader 3 sent this text after I told her my plans:

This process is fascinating to me. Grueling, and maybe even sanctifying, for you, but fascinating as a 3rd party participant.

True, dat. The grueling, sanctifying part, anyway.

I don't love that I need to write another book and do a major rewrite on Eleora before I can, in good conscience, place it in your hands. Waiting, working (and reworking and reworking and reworking)--it's hard. But it's life.

(Which brings me to a small tangent: Writers aren't the only ones who need beta readers. We all need someone to edit our lives. I encourage you to give someone, maybe a handful of people, permission to offer insight into your story because we just don't possess the objectivity to see ourselves as we are.)

All in all, this ripping apart of my soul manuscript isn't such a bad thing. Creating something new is WAY more fun than editing.

Why do this...

when I could do this...

EVEN if I end up like this?

Speaking of not being alone, if you have a novel burning inside of you, why don't you join me and the 300k+ other writers who will be writing themselves into a frenzy next month? Sign up here. If you're 17 or younger, sign up for the Young Writers Program here. Make me your writing buddy, and we'll encourage each other all month long!

Do you have an idea for a novel? Have you ever participated or considered participating in NaNoWriMo? Have you ever won NaNoWriMo? Do you need a few tips to get going or have writing tips to pass along? Share your thoughts, questions, and experience in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Emergency Desensitization Technique

If you've followed my health journey over the past couple of years, you may recall me mentioning a mysterious "treatment" used during my mast cell episodes. It's my secret weapon against those angry little buggers.

Time-lapsed mast cell degranulation. Cool to watch. Not so cool to experience.

The treatment now has a name--Emergency Desensitization Technique (EDT).

 Me at Dr. Carolyne's office receiving a lymphatic treatment in 2013.

My friend, Dr. Carolyne Yakaboski of Natural Wellness Center in West Monroe, Louisiana discovered EDT in an effort to save my life. She called upon the most effective protocols she'd learned throughout her experience in natural medicine, and spliced them together in a specific sequence.

And. It. Is. Amazing.

Family and friends have performed EDT on me countless times with nearly perfect success. Only once did I use Epi in addition to the treatment. My kids, family members, and friends have experienced the wonders of EDT as well.

I've seen EDT relieve symptoms* such as:
  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • itching
  • headache
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • difficulty breathing
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • brain fog
  • nausea
  • sciatic pain
Over time, it also may decrease sensitivity to particular allergens and triggers. It certainly has for me.

I believe EDT is a significant factor in my improvement over the past two years. Improvement which shouldn't be possible considering that Mast Cell Activation Syndrome is a progressive disease.

What IS EDT?

EDT is based upon modern allergy relief techniques and the ancient principles of acupressure and deep breathing which trigger the body's natural healing response. It's simple to perform and requires no special skill. All you need is a pen, paper, a few cotton swabs, and an accessible way to learn it.

I've longed to share the technique with fellow floxies, masties, and allergy-sufferers for as long as I've used it, but I have friends all over the world who suffer like me. They can't all fly to West Monroe to learn from Master Carolyne in person. (Though I would love that. Party, anyone?)

SO, during my social media hiatus, Dr. Carolyne and I filmed a video tutorial which demonstrates how to perform this simple technique from the safety and convenience of your own home. Dr. Carolyne provides instruction while I serve as her willing prop.

I loved practice sessions for this video. I received two or more treatments a week while we worked on it, and felt great by the time we were done.

This two minute clip features my personal testimonial. (Please forgive my awkward camera presence and southern drawl.)

If you are interested in learning more about EDT, contact Dr. Carolyne Yakaboski at or call her office at 318-387-3000. 

(Note: By promoting this video/technique, I do not gain financially in any way. I simply want to share information that has improved my quality of life in hopes that it will do the same for others.)

*EDT is not intended to diagnose illness or to be used as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult a physician in matters relating to serious illness and medical emergencies.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

They Tried to Make Me Go to Rehab

Back in January, I deactivated from Facebook. I needed a break. A breather. A social media detox, if you will.

I had become addicted. And let's face it. I'm not the only one.

Have you seen the haunting photographs from Eric Pickersgill's project Removed? Oh my word, what an indictment!

It's a sad deal when we take something good and make it ultimate. Social media is purposed to bring us together, but when we look to it for validation and use it as an emotional numbing agent, it divides us.

That's what happened to me. So to break my habit, God put me in social media rehab for eight months. Here's an overview of how that went:

Facebook Rehabilitation Diary:

Day 1: Good day. Withdrawal set in this evening, manifesting in agitation and a pounding headache. Apparently, Facebook withdrawal is a real thing. Who knew?

Day 2: Devastating news for our family. Glad I'm not on Facebook.

Days 3-10: Undulating between rage and depression with almost no in between. Trying very hard to be a supportive wife and mother. Wrestling with God over the first few chapters of Job again. I was one chapter from the end of the book, but my heart is in chapters 1-3. So thither I return.

Week 1: Rediscovered Pinterest. In my defense, I'm using it to learn how to write a better book. Mostly. Also, I discovered cat memes.

Week 2: Lonely. Had things to say and no one to say them to. I texted instead. That helped. Can't go outside or stand near the door because of the cold So depressed all I want to do is eat and sleep. Since I don't have FB, I spend free time doing novel research.

Week 4: Not as angry now. Seeing good come from the bad. Stronger relationships with B and the kids. Spiritual growth in B. Began Draft 2 of my novel.


Month 2:  Beginning to crawl out of The Pit of Despair. Family vacation. Hit my writing stride.


Month 3: Look how much I can accomplish without FB! Look at all these inflammatory events I'm missing! All the stress I'm avoiding! What is this new, fabulous world?

Month 4: Turns be accepted by an agent and sell actual, real-live books, I must have an author platform, which includes FB, Twitter, and an active blog. Bubble busted.

Month 5: Draft 3 of my novel complete. It's probably time to return to Facebook. Resistance. Anxiety. Avoidance.

Month 6: Suddenly realized I'm lonely. Returning to FB now would be like a recovering alcoholic strolling the liquor aisle after his dog died.

Month 7: Working on face-to-face relationships. Draft 4 in progress. Facebook return imminent.

End of Month 7: Submit manuscript to beta readers. Deep breath.

(Dog memes are also fun.)

Almost month 8: Logged back in.

What I Learned:


1) Facebook is legitimate community.

While nothing can replace the people in front of me, there's something truly grand about the ability to connect with human beings all over the globe. My best friends live out of state. I've met some incredible people who live in other countries. I missed them while I was away. 

2) Facebook is its own kind of social assistance.

We don't have time to keep up with every person we care about. In our fast-paced culture, everyone is swamped. During the eight months I was away, I talked to my best friends maybe 2-3 times each and saw almost no one outside of immediate family. Every now and then I would get a text or hear from mom that someone missed me or wanted to know how I was. People didn't stop caring just because I was away. Neither did I! But without Facebook, we no longer had a convenient way to check in.

3) Facebook hiatus was good for my health.

Facebook stresses me out. It's not just the drama over politics, current events, and what Christian women consider acceptable entertainment (read into that what you will), though that's plenty bad for sensitive folk like me.

The main reason Facebook stresses me out is because I walk through life with this strange, genetically-rooted complex which makes me believe every vague or negative status and delayed private message response is my fault and that I somehow offended this person and I must do something to make it right.

Slowly but surely, I'm learning I'm not the center of the universe and not everyone is thinking of me when they type in their various vague/negative statuses and that I should calm the heck down and give people the benefit of the doubt. *breathes into paper bag*

Stress is mast cell trigger. I don't think it's a coincidence that I enjoyed the healthiest few months I've had in a while during my FB absence.

4) Facebook hiatus doesn't automatically strengthen face-to-face relationships.

It's far easier to swap addictions than it is to learn new habits. I struggled with this throughout my hiatus. If it wasn't FB, it was Pinterest. Or music. Or Netflix. Or my novel. I had to work to connect.

Though my health is stable now, life is still hard. Painful, even. It's easier to self-medicate with technology (since I can't do it with food, liquor, or medication) than it is to acknowledge the pain, process it, and relate to others.

5) The world keeps spinning with or without me. 

For eight months I was invisible to nearly everyone except the people under my roof. And the world didn't end. Everyone was fiiiine. (I know. I can't believe it either.) I find this both humbling and comforting.

6) Now that I'm clean, I enjoy Facebook more. I'm free to enjoy the gift without the gift possessing me. Which is way more fun.

All in all, I loved being away and I love being back. The thing that was poison to me in January is a treat to me now. And that's a good place to be.

What do you think? What pros and cons does Facebook hold for you? Is its cultural impact mostly positive or negative? Does it connect us or divide us? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Agree with the Enemy

Urtica dioica Stinging Nettle -  Schmitz Park
 Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of J Brew

Have you ever run through a patch of bull nettles? Well, neither have I, but Superman once did and told me what it was like.

I've experienced the spiritual equivalent many times. I'm nipped, pinched, and stung until I take off at an aimless sprint, desperate to find my way out only to find myself farther in.

That restless nettling is often accompanied by words. Words of condemnation.

You are filthy with sin. 
How can you think something like that and call yourself a child of God?
You may look good on the outside, but you know you're rotten at the core.
You're a failure.
You're an addict.
Look at how much time you wasted today.
You always say the wrong thing.
You don't deserve to be healed.
You're a sad excuse for a mother. 
Look at you. You can't help yourself. How can you expect to help others?

When I stop to identify the tone and timbre, I know immediately--that ain't my Shepherd's voice. This isn't the way God deals with His kids.

But recognizing the presence of the Enemy is just the first step. I can't simply wish him away. I have to engage. Whether I feel like it or not.

And let me tell you something--he's fiercely clever and more patient than I'll ever be in this life. He always pounces when I'm too tired or sick to fight. He hits me where I'm weak.  

And 99.9% of the time, he attacks me with the truth

Satan may be the Father of Lies, but he knows me. He sees me read my Bible. He watches as I soak up solid teaching.

An outright lie won't work on me. When one comes, I literally laugh out loud, and say something like, "Seriously? That's what you're going with today?"

So he comes at me with half-truths.

It's true that I'm filthy with sin, that my thoughts are impure, that I'm rotten to the core. That I'm a failure, an addict, a time-waster. I do say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I don't deserve to be healed. I am a sad excuse for a mother. I can't help myself...much less anyone else.

How to fight little-'t' truth: 


I had the pleasure of falling asleep last night and waking up this morning to bull nettles.

Those fiery little arrows were aimed as true as the words. They paralyzed me. Until God reminded me of a battle tactic I learned from family friend, Deb McCracken, a few years ago--

"Agree with the Enemy."


 It may seem counterintuitive, but I've found it exceedingly helpful.

Think about it. When the Enemy attacks with the truth, should we counter truth with a lie? Does it really help to say, "Pssshhhaw...I'm not a sinner. I'm just fine, thank you very much. I'm a great mom. I do deserve to be healed. By the way, why haven't I? What gives, God?" Let's not abandon truth just because it hurts.

Instead, we zero in on the weakness in the Enemy's attack. You can bet your bottom dollar that he will never come at you with the whole Truth.

So agree with the Enemy, and then...

Complete the Sentence.


When the Enemy comes at us with half-truths, it's our job to complete the sentence. Writer type that I am, I always enjoyed these exercises in elementary school. Even if you didn't, you must learn the skill if you want to win the battle.

A helpful hint: All Truth ends with Jesus, and it can only be found in God's Word. (This is why it's so important to know the Bible. You can't walk in victory without it.)

When you've completed the sentence...

Preach to Your Soul.  


Soul preaching is an important skill for all believers because our feelings don't always align with the Truth. Take a page out of David's book (Psalm 42), and preach Truth to yourself.

For example:

Yes, I'm filthy with sin, but Jesus died for me while I was at my worst (Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:4). If He gave His life for me then, He won't abandon me now (John 10:28; Heb. 13:5). 

My thoughts aren't always pure, but Jesus is transforming me by renewing my mind (Rom. 12:2). Lord, help me to think on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8).

My Pharisaical tendencies break my heart. I'm sure they break God's heart, too. But Jesus loves Pharisees. It was to Pharisees Jesus said, "How often I wanted to gather you together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings" (Matt. 23:37). Praise the Lord, I'm willing to be gathered!

What does it matter that I'm a failure when Jesus has fulfilled the law for me (Rom. 8:3-4)?

Show me the man or woman who isn't an addict. God loves addicts! Addiction cannot separate me from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39). Lord, heal my addictions by satisfying me with Yourself.
Thanks for pointing out that I wasted time today. Lord, I repent. Thank you for never wasting a minute of your life on this earth. Help me to follow your example. 

I totally said the wrong thing today. Jesus, thank you for your promise that all things work together for good to those who love you--even my failures (Rom. 8:28). Transform and purify what I said. Teach me your ways and words. Fill me with your Spirit so that I may speak the truth in love and keep silent when silence is best.

I don't deserve to be healed, but I open my hands to whatever good gift it pleases you to give for the good of your Church. Help me be a faithful witness to your grace, whether it be delivering grace or sustaining grace.

I'm not a great mother, it's true. I thank you, Jesus, that my children's salvation doesn't depend on my mothering skills but on your marvelous grace. Cover my efforts with that grace.

God, it's true that I can't help myself. But you say, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). You didn't come to help the strong, but the weak. Because your strength is made perfect in my weakness, I trust you to empower my poor efforts to strengthen my brethren. I thank you that you are our Helper and that no one counts on me (Heb. 13:5-6).

As you can see, these preaching sessions can easily turn into prayer, and that's how I found my way to freedom this morning. May this bit of battle strategy help you find a little freedom, too.

"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit."
-Romans 8:1