Inside the soul of a writer

Author Archives: Alisa Russell

When I was younger, I wasn’t convinced of the benefits of travel at all. By the time I got used to being in a certain place, my family would have to move again, and I would be forced to give up the friendships I had formed. That didn’t count all of the times we went to see relatives during the holidays. While elements of the trips were fun, for the most part, I remember being stressed and unhappy and wanting to get back home as soon as possible.

By the time I was fifteen, we had lived in Virginia, Washington, D.C., Florida, and South Carolina. I remember being vividly unhappy about being told we were going to move to Ohio after my freshman year of high school. We had lived in South Carolina for five years, and I didn’t want to go. But, I was fifteen so I went. The following year brought another move from Ohio to California. I stayed there for my final two years of high school. I did see a lot of interesting things along the way which I would be grateful for much later, but I didn’t find any roots. Why should I? I knew I wouldn’t want to stay in California. I wanted to go back to South Carolina to go to college which I did.

The college years passed quickly, and I soon began my working career. I enjoyed going to other places to visit people, but I was just as happy being at home and sometimes even more happy. I met my now-husband a few years later, and our children were born a few years after that. We had almost been married nine years when it became clear we would have to leave the city where everything started. Out of necessity, my husband had found work in another city. It was so hard, but I had been prepared for a transient lifestyle through my experiences as a child.

We moved to another city in South Carolina which we left two years later for the big move of our marriage. My husband had been promoted and was being given the opportunity to move to Michigan. We talked a lot about that one. It would be his first time living outside of the southern United States. The winter weather was not something we looked forward to, but we wanted to let our sons have the opportunity to see a different part of the country. It worked out wonderfully. We got to see things we had never seen before, and we had travel opportunities we would never have had otherwise. We also began homeschooling while we lived there.

I was starting to see the benefits of a traveling lifestyle, but was also feeling a yearning in my heart for something more permanent. Four years later, we left Michigan because my mother-in-law had become ill. We went back to South Carolina to help her and ended up losing her two months later. It was one of the hardest times of our lives. Luckily, we had moved back to our home state where we still had friends. We were able to move back to our old city two months after my mother-in-law died. Our sons were old enough at this point that we were hoping we would be staying put in one place.

It wasn’t to be though. My husband’s health issues made their presence known again which affected his employment. We had been back in our home city for only two years, and I hated having to leave again. Though I had regained contact with some of my college friends through Facebook, it was not the same as having lifelong friends who you knew you could count on. In fact, I can count the number of those I have on one hand.

We ended up in Alabama, and this September will be seven years since we’ve moved here. I was able to give my children the gift I never had. They both spent their high school years in one place. They’ve made good friends and have the stability that I always longed for. My older son is in college now and doing well. We travel to see him frequently. The younger one will graduate from high school in May and move on to the next phase of his life. I hope the combination of traveling and stability will give them both a good start in the adult world and even though they don’t have roots in the traditional sense, I hope they will know we we love them very much and always had their best interests in mind as they grew up in our family.

Hope everyone has a great day!

 

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Over the past few years, I have tried to vary my reading so I could get maximum exposure to all the different kinds of  writing genres and styles that were out there. I’ve read such things as military science fiction, romance, mysteries, fantasy, young adult fiction, middle grade fiction, books about the craft of writing, and Christian books. These all have given me a wide exposure and a boost to my creativity which has helped my own writing.

I had never thought though of the different kinds of language used in writing before this past weekend. Now, I’m not talking about different languages. I’m talking about the ways people talk in the same language in different books. Let me explain. During the past several weeks I have been having, I guess what you would call angst, about my future when my younger son graduates from high school in May. What kind of opportunities would I have to write or to do whatever as a woman in her early 50’s. It’s big stuff–this thing called having an empty nest. I’ve poured myself into my kids for over twenty years and especially for the last twelve as I have homeschooled them. So, I have a lot to think about and consider.

What does that have to do with different kinds of language? I saw a quote by Virginia Woolf last week which resonated with me. This led to the books she had written. Here’s the quote. “I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.” As far as I’m concerned, there is so much truth in that statement. Anyway, I went to her list of books and found a description of one of them. A Room of One’s Own. An essay based upon two papers read in October of 1928. Wow! This was something I needed to read. Something that might answer my questions.

I found it at the library on Sunday and began reading it. I’m not done yet. but one of the first things I noticed was how different the language was. This was written by a woman in the 1920’s so, of course, you would expect it to be different. But, I didn’t know how different it would be. I have been alternating between reading this book and a military science fiction book, and the differences are stark. In the first, Woolf discusses how women have not had opportunities to do things that are amazing because they have been weighted down by the desires of men–between children and cooking and mending and everything else that goes on in a household. Men have been the ones to write about women, to act in plays about women, and to discuss the affairs of the day without considering the opinion of women. While in the military science fiction book, which a woman wrote, the main female characters have had every opportunity–to gain medical knowledge, weapons knowledge, and knowledge about all of the sciences. A cornucopia of opportunity. In this book, women are respected for their knowledge; they are respected for what they can do; and they are valued members of the group they are associated with.

Two different comparisons–one fiction and one not, but both representative of the times in which they were written. It was interesting to me how well both books have been able to state their premise with the language used. The book by Woolf has more formal language–language used in the late 1920’s as well as in her country of origin–while the other book’s vernacular is more present-day. Despite the different kinds of language used, it was nice to see that the people of each era dreamed about and wanted the same things–for men and women to be seen as equal human beings. Though a lot has changed between 1928 and 2018, we still have a long way to go. May we as writers lead the way using words to paint pictures of how we would like the world to be!


When I read the latest entry in my writing inspiration book, I almost shook my head and kept going. I’ve never been one of those to get into positive thinking books. They represented things to me like believing you’ll get a million dollars if you say it often enough to yourself or believing that your sick family member will get well. And we all know that people die, and there is poverty so how is this kind of thinking supposed to work? Some proponents of positive thinking would say that your faith wasn’t good enough or that you didn’t believe hard enough if your thoughts didn’t come true. I know that is not true so how does positive thinking or motivation work with writing or with anything else for that matter?

The entry I read had some thoughts for me which I want to expand upon for you all today. Six years ago, I didn’t have a blog. I wrote my stories down in notebooks that were for me alone. I played around with words, descriptions, settings, characters, and did my best to put them into a somewhat interesting story. I knew how to copy-edit, but editing as a whole to make the story better was something that was beyond me. I loved writing my stories, but something was missing, something important. I wasn’t motivated to finish anything that was original to me. Yes, I finished a few small projects, but the big ones…they languished in perpetual obscurity on my computer.

Things changed when I went to a small genre/writing convention in my hometown that spring. I met writers and sat in on their talks. I learned so much about this thing I was trying to do. I started this blog when I came home, and even more notably, I started calling myself a writer. It was a change in mindset, and one that I am only beginning to understand six years later.

Because, you see, the article I read earlier talked about how positive thinking works because there is a strong connection between the mind and body. From pg. 18 of The Writer’s Daily Companion by Amy Peters, “Neurologists describe it as ‘neurons that fire together wire together.’ In other words, you have the capacity, by affirming your goals, to effectively rewire your brain.” It made sense to me. That’s what I’ve done over the last six years. I’ve rewired my brain and now have a body of work to show for it–in my blogs and in my journals. (The journal I’m writing in now is my twentieth journal.) I’ve gone through seasons where I haven’t written as much as I’ve written in other seasons, but I have written, and I have shared. I’ve shared pieces of me I haven’t shared anywhere else. The most important thing I have gained during these years is the ability to say I am a writer and the desire to work on my craft.

Going back to the power of positive thinking though, is there a reason I haven’t been published yet? Is there a reason that all of the positive thoughts I’ve had haven’t come to fruition? Am I not thinking positively enough? I’ll have to go back and read one of those positive thinking books again, but my first thought after writing these words is that positive thinking has to do with the things you can control. You can’t control whether someone wants to publish your book. You can’t control whether someone wants to give you money. You can’t even control whether someone lives or dies. But, you can control what you think and believe, and you can do the work to become better at your craft. So, on this day, January 10, 2018, I proclaim that I am a writer to all who read this blog post!

Have a great day, everyone!


I was thinking of the reasons why I write earlier. There are many of them–cheap therapy, defining my relationship with God, getting a story out of my head and onto paper or the screen, describing the world around me, using words to paint a picture, making a record of my life. But, there is a quote I found which explains my reasons for writing perfectly, and I want to elaborate on it today.

First, the quote. Anais Nin had this to say about writing. “The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say but what we are unable to say.” Unable to say. There are many things I am unable to say. There have been many things in history people haven’t been able to say or haven’t been listened to when they said them.

But, when they’ve been written down, it’s another story. Nations and people’s lives have been changed by the written world. I think of characters from The Color Purple or Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin which inspired a country to change. I also think of such books as The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1984 by George Orwell, and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Each of these books, in its own way, changed the lives of its generation and the generations that followed making them the classics they are today. They illustrated thoughts and feelings that made people see issues in a different light which made talking about them easier. So, writing about the things we cannot say has changed the world.

It has changed my own world also. I have written things about my faith and about my own thoughts and feelings that I would never dare say out loud. Things about doubt and lack of trust. Things that have made me wonder if I have any faith at all. I have written things about people who seem so put together whereas I know that I’m falling apart. Why would these people want to be my friends when they have everything together, and I don’t? I don’t want to say it out loud though. My fear of losing friends is too much if I said it out loud.

But, writing it, writing it I can do. I can write my words about doubt and lack of trust and understand them better. I can write my words about how messed-up I am and imagine that someone else is taking solace in them. I can write my words about jealousy and envy and pray that the Holy Spirit would fill me so full that I wouldn’t have room for the feelings God doesn’t want me to have. I can write my words about having courage to meet that put-together person, and that maybe, maybe, we might have something in common. I can write the words I am unable to say.

Writing has changed my life in ways that couldn’t possible be imagined. It has given me the courage to live amidst the doubts, the ability to sort out my thoughts and feelings, and the knowledge that I am who I am no matter how much the world would like me to be different. What I have to say is important whether it is said out loud or written down. For if we did not write down the forbidden things, we would never have the chance to change our world or understand it better. I, for one, have decided it is too great of a risk so I will continue to write down the forbidden things, to write down what I cannot say so I can be understood.


Cross-posted from my Thriving in Grace blog.

 

The year that starts on Monday is “the year” for me in many ways. It’s “the year” my son graduates from high school, and homeschooling is completed. It’s “the year” that having an empty nest becomes a reality. (It won’t really be an empty nest since my son is staying in town for school, but it will be different since I won’t be teaching him anymore.) It’s “the year” that things change for me, and I enter a new phase of my life. That being said, I thought I would write down some of my goals for this upcoming year so I would have a written record that would hold me accountable.

My first goal is the one that holds some immediacy for me since it is related to my son’s graduation. I need to get his grades and transcript done in order to submit them to the head of our cover school so he can graduate. It’s not like I haven’t been keeping records all of this time. It’s just the matter of pulling everything together. It also hasn’t helped that I don’t need to submit a transcript to his college until it’s complete so it’s been easy to procrastinate. But, I will get it done before the last day. It’s my promise to myself. And once it’s done, I won’t ever need to do home school record-keeping again. Yay! Well, if I’m being honest, only part of me is happy about that, and the other part…not so sure.

My second goal is how I’m going to practice my faith. When I was younger, I attended churches that made a point (whether subtly or not so subtly) of saying that you could only serve God if you were married. Women were also relegated to serving in certain parts of the church–with other women, children, or in the kitchen. I recoil against both of those attitudes. Women have a lot to give to the church, and it’s time we realized it and allowed it to happen. I was able to write this in my journal earlier, and it showed me how far I’ve come in 2017. “I am a daughter of God all on my own! No one else is necessary for me to practice my faith!” Now, as far as my goals go, I have identified an area of service that I plan to get more involved in this year. I feel God calling me to it. I also will go to a Lifewalk group by myself, if necessary, to get the Christian community I want and desire.

The other three goals are directly related to the creative side of myself and will help me, I think, in deciding what comes next after May. The first of these goals is related to my crocheting. I want to learn how to crochet a prayer shawl. I have learned and been successful with two different stitches. I’ll probably need to learn more stitches, but I think crocheting a prayer shawl is a worthy goal for the year. It will help expand my creativity too.

My second creative goal is related to my writing. I need to be reading more so I can see and emulate good writing styles. Reading different genres will expand my horizons and will help me in my quest to use the creativity God gave me.

And finally, my writing goals. I think I was pretty consistent this year with blog posts. I wrote a lot about my faith and the questions it brought up. I was able to clarify my thoughts, feelings, and experiences as well. I also got a start on the novel I want to write before I got stuck. So, for this coming year, I want to get unstuck on my novel, write some short stories and articles, and start submitting. I will never know if I’m good enough if I don’t try, and I finally have the confidence to try. I’m looking forward to writing more and learning more about the trade of writing through submitting my pieces.

In conclusion, I hope that all of us, myself included, reach the goals we set for 2018 and that it’s a year of much blessings for all!

 

 


cross-posted from my Thriving in Grace blog

Have you ever been in a meeting where the person ended his talk with asking ‘Are there any questions?’ Come on, raise your hands. We’ve all been there. This can happen in any situation–at work, school, church, or in the community. The speaker wants to know if anyone has any questions he can answer.

So, what happens after this particular question is asked? People might look like a deer caught in headlights. They stumble over their words. Some people try to think of a question that doesn’t make them sound confrontational, or maybe they do want to be confrontational to get the answers they want. 🙂 There’s no way to know the mindset of the people in the room.

Sometimes, the questions asked are not expected, and the speaker has to scramble for an answer. This happened to me recently. I was at a meeting about the resignation of a person. The first two people who raised their hands didn’t really have questions to ask. They just wanted to compliment the speaker and tell him how much his tenure had meant to them.

Then, I thought of my question. Since his resignation was going to affect my son, I asked it. He didn’t know how to answer and had to come up with something off the cuff. The question was fairly innocuous, but I was surprised that no one would have thought a parent of a child in the group would have the question I had.

But, then, my mind turned to wondering just like it does before I have a writing idea whether it be for this blog or something else. What about the hard questions? Why do people want to hurt each other? Why do people want to steal? Why do people try to conceal the bad things they’ve done? What makes a person want to do bad things? We can come up with pat answers to these questions. We can even say it’s because of “sin nature” and think we’re done with it.

What about the harder questions though? Why did my child have to die? Why did the tornado or hurricane destroy my house? How come I have cancer? Why did I lose my job? Why does it seem like I’m the only one who struggles? Why is life so hard?

And then there are those questions that come with being a believer. Why does it seem like God has forgotten me? Why are people looking at me? I thought the church welcomed everyone. Why is it wrong for people to want to create? How is it wrong to ask questions about the budget? Why do people seem to judge more than they love? Why can’t we embrace our differences? What kind of songs should we sing in church? How many times should we have communion in a month? Do I trust God for His provision? There are many more questions one could ask as a believer.

I know I’ve peppered this post with a lot of questions (that goes with the title and all, 😉 ). They are questions I can’t answer, and I don’t think a lot of you have answers either. I don’t believe we will know the answer to most of them until we’re with our Lord and Savior. So, what happens in the meantime while we are living in the tension between this world and the next? I’m glad you asked. 🙂 For me, I think it will be a continual work in progress. I will pray to God for faith, patience, and strength. I pray that I will lean into Him for His comfort when I run into these unanswerable questions. And I pray that I will show Jesus’ love in whatever situation I am in and be the agent of change He wants me to be. So grateful that my Lord and Savior is fine with me asking any question I want to, even the hard ones!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 


Reposted from my Thriving in Grace blog

Saw a challenge earlier and realized I could use it as a writing warm-up time. So, for the next thirty days, I will be completing Jeff Goins’ challenge to “practice in public” on this blog. It will be interesting to see what topics I can come up with.

For the past week, I’ve been using journaling prompts from bibleconnection.com as my topics. Today is the third prompt. I learned a great deal from the first two prompts, and I don’t expect anything less from the third one.

First, the prompt. “Beginnings can be exciting! What new chapter in your life are you about to begin? What have you recently started that you are excited about? What are you hopes for the future? Tell God about it—he wants to be involved in your life.”

The topic is new beginnings. Coincidence? I don’t think so. God has been leading me on a journey to trust Him and what He has given me as gifts. My gifts aren’t necessarily what other people think they are and not necessarily meant to be shared in the church.

So, what about that first question? What new chapter am I about to begin? The chapter of being an empty nester. My younger son is graduating from high school this spring. Though he will be staying at home for college, my role with him will change. Homeschooling will be done, and he will be venturing out to prepare for what he wants to do in life. He’s ready just like his brother was two and a half years ago when he graduated from high school. By the time this school year ends, I will have homeschooled them for 12 years. I was 40 when I began and will be 52 when I finish. That’s a lot of life. I am excited about the possibilities, but a little nervous too. I have poured myself into my kids for the last 12 years. I’ve lived in 6 different places and come back to my faith. I’ve lost family members and experienced illness and financial difficulties.

But, I know the next years will be just as amazing. I will have more time to write and maybe get something off the ground with my writing. I will have time to get in better shape. And I will have more time to either volunteer or get a job. My role with my kids will change, but it will be a good change I am looking forward to–relating with them as adults. I am most looking forward to growing in my faith in God. With God by my side, anything is possible, and I know the things I’ve mentioned will be more possible.

Answering the second question has more profound implications. I am most excited about my recent writing and where it is bringing me in my faith. The things I consider to be weaknesses are the things God wants me to focus on. Why weaknesses, I ask? Shouldn’t I be focusing on my strengths? That seems to be more logical. But, if I am transparent about my weaknesses, God has more of a chance to be seen in my life. This is shown in the first part of 2 Corinthians 12:9. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” Paul is speaking here, and I’m glad we have the second part of what he said. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” We don’t generally boast about weaknesses in the church. In fact, we are reticent to bring up any part of ourselves which may be considered badly. That’s not what God wants though. God wants us to be as authentic within our community as He does when we are talking to Him alone.

So now, I have some knowledge of the steps God wants me to take. He wants me to be authentic and transparent. He wants me to show my weaknesses without being self-conscious. And He wants me to be confident in His love. For it is only in His love that my hopes for the future can be realized. They are all intertwined in order to show God’s glory. And that is the best hope of all!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!