Getting into the Writing Groove

Around three years old, I started tagging along to my older sibling’s writing club. At the time, I could barely sit still long enough to listen to a good story, let alone write one myself. However, when I reached kindergarten, I started submitting my own simple pieces, and it was there, at this writing club, that I first fell in love with writing.

When it came time to pick a college major, the decision was pretty simple: I would study English, and dedicate four years to finding my voice and improving my writing chops. After graduation, I raised money to support my first non-fiction book, and I finally finished the first draft of In a Hero’s Steps this week. I also keep up a personal blog, edit a Medium publication, and write marketing content and technical documents for several startup clients.

Recently, one of my friends asked me if I could share some tips on how to make writing a habit.

Below are four helpful tips that have helped me write at least twice a week.


Get Inspired

If you don’t write very often (or haven’t in awhile), there is nothing more daunting than sitting down to a blank page. Even if you do write consistently, the hardest part of writing is always getting started. Whenever I feel stuck, I like to listen to my two favorite Ted Talks that are shared below. Once I feel inspired, I can hardly get my words down fast enough.

 Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.15.01 PM
Screen Shot 2015-04-01 at 12.15.12 PM

Source Topics

Many people struggle to come up with things to write about. If you find yourself in this position, I would suggest looking through articles on Medium and writing responses or publishing your own pieces on the same topics. You can also sign up for services like One Month Writing Prompts to have new prompts sent to your email address, and there are great books out there like 642 Things to Write About. If none of these sources resonate with you, try spending some time brainstorming what kind of topics you enjoy writing about. Personally, I write a lot of reflection pieces based on my real life while I have other friends who enjoy writing movie reviews and tech articles. Bottom line, find what is interesting to you and write down any ideas you have so that you can go back to them later.

Build Community

Surrounding yourself with other writers can be really valuable. Writing is a lonely business, and only other writers will understand the highs and lows you will go through as you try to make this into a habit. It’s important to know that you are not alone when you find yourself feeling burnt out or struggling with writer’s block. You also want to have other people in your life who will appreciate and celebrate your victories with you. If you know other writers, I would suggest reaching out to them, reading their work, offering feedback, and asking them to do the same in return. You can also follow your favorite authors on social platforms, join writing clubs in your city, or sign up for a writing workshop. All of these will help you build community, stay accountable, and make writing a habit.

Publish & Promote

Writing is already a lonely business/hobby so don’t make it worse for yourself by keeping your work hidden. If you are serious about wanting to develop a writing habit, start publishing your work on a personal blog or Medium, at the very least. After you publish, share the link on your social platforms and tell your friends about what you’ve been working on. There’s nothing more encouraging than one of your friends (or even family members) telling you that they loved your post. That high alone will motivate you to write your next post. And even if you don’t get positive feedback right away, keep pushing forward. Writing takes practice and the only way to get better is to write more.


You must write throughout the whole of your intellectual life.”
-A.G. Sertillanges

Advertisements

Combating Life

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 9.38.29 PM

Dear Life:

You’re an unruly beast, you know that? Tall and menacing, you shroud yourself in darkness. My mouth tastes your bitterness and my ears ring to your death march. You’re the surprise phone call I never want to pick up, and the friend I never thought I would lose. You’re the rejection letter, the “we-need-to-talk” text, and the dark spot on the MRI. Every time I see your face, salty tears roll down my cheeks, and my heart sinks in my chest.

“I guess that’s life,” we always say.

You go by many names: death, disappointment, betrayal. You throw lies at me like daggers: I never loved you, I hope you feel guilty, it’s all your fault. And for a long time I believed you. Like any abusive relationship, you left me battered and bruised long after you moved on to your next victim.

But I’m not going to waste my breath on you anymore. There’s really nothing to say anyway. The truth is you’ve hurt me, and you’ll probably hurt me again.

But, no matter how many times you knock me down, I will always get back up. When you let the people I love die, I will press on. When you reject me from that job I wanted, I will apply for another. When you pull my closest friend away, I will find a new one.

I will not let you steal my happiness.

I will not let you paralyze me.

I will not give up.

I will fight. 

Letting Go: What’s so Amazing about Grace?

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 10.54.45 PM

Have you ever felt rage? Like that deep, burning anger that nothing seems to satisfy? I’ve felt that a lot lately.

Relationships are messy, and the root of indignation is often hard to pinpoint. Pain is so frequently wrapped up in a tangled web of subtleties: the roll of an eye or the whisper of words under breath. We want quick fixes. Identify the problem, apologize, move on. But sometimes it’s not that simple. There’s a give and take, and both parties have to want to make things right for true reconciliation to take place.

So what do you do if you’re the only one who truly wants to forgive and forget? How do you find closure? How do you move on when you’re constantly reminded of what you’ve lost? I’ve struggled with this a lot lately.

The answer is grace. Because only grace frees us from the injustices of others.

Thanks to Philip Yancey, I’ve been learning a lot about grace. Here’s what it means to me:

Giving up the right to be right.
Expecting nothing in return.
Loving unconditionally.
Saying “I’m sorry.”
A second chance.
A third chance.
Letting go.

Human society runs by Ungrace, ranking people, holding them accountable, insisting on reciprocity and fairness. Grace is, by definition, unfair.

I’m not perfect, and I definitely don’t claim to be perfectly graceful. That rage I talked about earlier? I still feel it at times. These cuts I have run deep, and it will take time for them to turn into scars. That’s what happens when you feel betrayed.

But having said that, I am choosing to forgive even if I get nothing in return. Because if God could extend his grace towards me, how can I not strive to practice agape love with my human relationships?

For it is in that place that I find closure.

Preparing for Love

sam

I am finally ready to love because I know He first loved me.

I’m anxious to write this down. Nevertheless, today I am going to share my thoughts on love.

At fifteen years old, I discovered true love. It came dressed in tragedy when two Air Force officers showed up at my house to tell me my twenty-one year old brother had died. Looking back, that day taught me that love is selfless and unconditional. Love conquers death; it’s timeless. That day was a turning point in my life, and soon after, I promised to never take time for granted again.

My brother’s death challenged my beliefs at their very core. After some serious questioning, I emerged a woman confident that I would find my identity in Christ. For the first time, I understood the truest, purest form of love: agape love.

I like this definition:

Agape love is unconditional love that is always giving and impossible to take. It devotes total commitment to seek your highest best no matter how anyone may respond. This form of love is totally selfless and does not change whether the love given is returned or not.

Even in my grief, God’s love never ceased. After losing my brother, I struggled to let myself feel anything. Like trust, love is an incredibly hard thing to regain when you have been deeply hurt. But God was patient with me. Slowly, I learned how to accept love again.

Now able to accept love, I began learning how to love myself. I set lofty goals and worked hard to achieve them. Year by year, I grew in confidence and independence. Athlete, writer, entrepreneur, friend, traveler. These adjectives reflected my time and energy. Like all humans, I carried my share of insecurities, but I also grew confident in who I was as a person.

Today, I believe learning how to accept and reflect God’s love and learning how to love oneself is important preparation for sharing love with a significant other. I’ve never had a serious relationship, and while I’m still learning and growing, I think I’m finally at a place in my life where I can begin to think about loving someone else.

I’ve seen examples of healthy marriages, and I’ve also seen relationships fall to pieces. My thoughts on this subject have matured over the last few years, and I’ve since come up with a few guiding principles I think are important for a lasting marriage.

It’s about commitment, not compatibility.

It’s not about finding the perfect person, it’s about being perfectly committed
(taken from my sister and brother-in-law’s 
Design Principles for Marriage).

Be patient.

Marriage lasts a lifetime. Don’t rush into a relationship or say “I love you” unless you really mean it. When conflict comes, assume the best and be patient with the one you love.

Put God first in your relationship, and in your day, every day, so that this becomes a habit.

God will speak to you through his Word and direct you.

Never go to bed angry.

Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give Satan a foothold. -Ephesians 4:26–27

Married life is a marathon.

It is not enough to make a great start towards a long-term marriage. You will need the determination to keep going. Only then will you make it to the end.

Surround yourself with community.

Find other like-minded Christian couples. Seek out examples of healthy marriages from those older than you, and invest in those younger.

Accountability.

Find a couple you respect who will help you take responsibility for your actions as both individuals and as a couple so that you can identify your mistakes and learn from them.

I certainly don’t have everything figured out, and I’m sure these principles will evolve as I continue to mature, but I think they are a good starting point. In the meantime, I will continue to learn how to model Christ in my life. Preparing for love is important, and after twenty-two years, I think I am finally ready to love because I know He first loved me.

The Millennial Method: Wait-Tolerance

Last night, my brother-in-law and I were discussing why people my age tend to not use restaurant reservation tools like OpenTable and Bookings.com. At first, I was a little bit offended that companies like this don’t seem to care very much about my age group. Then he made an interesting observation:

20-somethings don’t usually use reservation tools because they are willing to wait forever if it means saving money.

“Is this true?” I thought to myself, “What kinds of things do I do to save money?” I’ve since remembered all the miserable experiences I’ve put myself through just to save a few bucks.

For example:

  • I only bought one textbook my last semester of college (and I was an English major).
  • I woke up at 3:30 a.m. every other day for an entire month just so I could catch the cheapest flights in Europe.
  • I walked 12 miles in one day while touring London to avoid buying an all-day metro pass.
  • I’ve eaten too many $.60 hotdogs from Sheetz.
  • I trolled Stubhub every five minutes for six hours to get cheap Taylor Swift tickets (two years in a row).
  • If I have meetings scheduled all day, I often skip lunch and wait to eat dinner at 11:00 p.m. so I don’t have to buy food out.
  • I like free pens.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has noticed my extremely high “wait-tolerance.” My sister has taken advantage of my willingness to wait several times in the last few months. In September, I stood in line at AT&T for over two hours just to exchange an iPhone 6 for my sister. I also waited over three hours to see Grumpy Cat in San Francisco with her as well.

In an age where millennials are constantly criticized for their impatience and spoiled attitudes, I think it’s interesting to note how willing we really are to wait when it means saving some cold, hard cash.

The Millennial Job Search

10804389803_4366de9778_b

During my sophomore year of college, I attempted to avoid the job market all together by creating my own fortune: I founded my own startup, ProfilePasser — an app that connects high school athletes and college recruiters on the field. Last year, I got into Pittsburgh’s leading incubator,AlphaLab, and built and validated my idea with over 1000 players and 100 coaches — all while a full-time college student and with only $25k in funding. I was even named as one of the Top 4 “Coolest College Startups in America” by Inc. Magazine.

Unfortunately, I hit a few roadblocks and my student loans are now forcing me to take a step back from my company for the time being while I switch my focus to finding a position at another company in San Francisco. ProfilePasser is still in my future, but my mentors and I agree that creating some personal financal security while building my skill set at another company will greatly increase my chances of future success with my own startup.

For a person like myself, it’s tough to transition from going 100 mph every day to a much slower schedule. In September, I began my job search feeling hopeful that between my startup experience and a few great introductions in the Bay Area, I would find a position in no time. However, one month turned into two months, and in the blink of an eye, it was December and I was struggling with some pretty serious anxiety and depression. I had gotten so close with a few amazing companies, but things just kept falling through at the very, very last stage.

In an attempt to save my mental health, I flew home to Pittsburgh for a few weeks during the holidays to regain some perspective:

-Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being.
-Be patient; don’t lose heart; things will work together for good.
-You have a part that only you can play; and your business is to play it to perfection, instead of trying to force fortune.
-You are not in want of food, water, or shelter. Life is good; it could be worse.

This week, I returned to San Francisco healthy, happy, and determined to find an open position without losing my sanity this time around. If the last few months have taught me anything, it’s how important it is to create a daily schedule to help me stay focused, maintain a sense of purpose, and maintain a balanced lifestyle while I work through this time of unemployment.

If you’re an unemployed recent grad, I would encourage you to create a similar schedule too. I really think this will make all the difference.

Also, if you know anyone looking to hire a product marketer or content marketer in San Francisco, feel free to pass along my portfolio website!


Daily Routine:

8:00 am: Wake up
30 mins: Workout
45 mins: Shower
20 mins: Breakfast
30 mins: Check job postings
60 mins: Organize list of companies / desires positions
60 mins: Review networking leads
30 mins: Lunch
30 mins: Take a walk
2 hours: Apply to open positions
60 mins: Work on my novel
2 hours: Freelance work and/or read
60 mins: Learn to cook / make dinner

My Soul Finds Rest in You.

Life has been a bit overwhelming these last five months. My time in San Francisco has been so refreshing, yet challenging at the same time. Towards the end of November, I found myself longing to come home to visit Pittsburgh. Now that I’ve been here, I see that this place has changed too. Caught between two places, and with several big decisions about my future looming over my head, I’m feeling disheartened, and honestly, quite lost.  I don’t think there’s a quick fix to these emotions, so I will put my trust in Jesus and take one day at a time.

Last night, I was pretty upset about everything that has been going on. During this time, I found myself scribbling down the words below in a notebook. While I don’t enjoy feeling this way, I am so thankful that creative pieces like this seem to flow out of me during these times.

|My Soul Finds Rest in You |

Tripping, falling on these calloused feet,
Towards a path I’ve never seen;
The rocks are falling under me, 
As I wonder if I’ll ever really feel complete.

Losing myself requires leaving behind the past;
While getting lost demands embracing an unknown future.
Learning the difference, 
Transforms my wounds into scars.

Resistance tugs on my coattails,
Its silvery voice softly whispers in my ear. 
Standing on the edge alone,
My insecurities keep me from taking flight.

But hope is waiting in the shadows,
Pointing me towards my heavenly home.
I know this world may be broken,
But my soul finds rest in You.