Who Am I? It’s A Mystery.

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

My nephew Mason had his fourth birthday party last December, and the house was saturated with plastic helium balloons. When the festivities were over, I tried to think of things I could do with them (other than make myself sound like a chipmunk) so they wouldn’t completely go to waste.

Suddenly inspired, I grabbed a sheet of paper, scribbled a note and attached it to one of the balloons before releasing it into the sky. It was my hope that I could instill a sense of mystery and wonder into a random stranger’s life.

This is what the note said:

You might be wondering who I am. But who I am is a mystery. All the evidence you have of my existence is this solitary note.

That’s part of what makes life so interesting. From the big mysteries, like what we are and why we’re here, to the small mysteries, like who that crazy guy is who’s sending notes out on balloons.

Enjoy life. Enjoy the mystery. <3

In the very unlikely event you happen to be the person who found my note, please let me know in the comments below!

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.


Image licensed by Shutterstock.

It’s amazing how slowly time seems to go as you experience childhood. You have those landmark days like Christmas and your birthday to mark the year, and it seems almost a lifetime in-between.

You grow up a bit.  Time starts to pick up its pace, but not by much.  You spend six years in Elementary School, convinced you have life all figured out.  Then you reach the end of your sixth grade year, and the pressures of the unknown begin to gnaw at the back of your mind as you contemplate the notion of — GASP! — Junior High.

By this point, time’s speed has increased markedly.  However, you soon discover that Junior High is no big deal, and you once more begin to believe that you have life all figured out, that things will always be as they are in that moment.  You have some notion of existing in a transient state, but as you deal with new friends, new enemies and the stresses that come with peer pressure, it’s really the last thing that enters your mind.

You reach the end of your eighth grade year, another milestone, and uncertainty creeps into your mind once again.  This time, it’s the frightening prospect of High School.  You’re not quite as worried about High School as you were about Junior High, but fear gets the better of you just the same.  You endure sleepless nights over summer vacation dreaming about forgotten classes, getting lost in an endless maze of foreign buildings and embarrassing moments with your peers.  Finally, you attend your first day of school, realize it’s nothing new and settle into your home away from home for the next four years.

This is the moment that time really decides to kick itself into gear.  People always used to tell you this would happen, but you never really believed them. You lose old friends, make new ones, lose yourself, find yourself.  When it’s all said and done, you’re standing there amidst your family and peers getting ready to receive your diploma.  You sing your school’s Alma mater one last time, and you find yourself trying to hide unexpected tears as you realize that, despite what you thought at the time, those really were the best years of your life.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

My Critique Group is Awesome (or, “Why Critique Groups are Crucial for Success”)

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

I’ve been meeting with a critique group for a little over a year.

At first, I was petrified by the idea of making myself so vulnerable. What if they didn’t like me? What if they didn’t like my work? I knew I had to break out of my shell, that I had to start meeting other writers if I was ever going to improve my craft and get to a point where I could publish my work. But I was terrified of rejection, and a few months passed before I finally found the courage to join a group and put myself out there.

It was the best decision I ever made.

I met some amazing writers and I learned a lot, not just about my fiction but also about the industry. One of my projects, a middle grade fantasy whose first draft is now in the hands of an editor, suffered from serious flaws that would have rendered it unpublishable. In just a few months, my group identified most of these problems and was there for me when I needed help figuring out how to fix them.

We gather around a table once a week and share up to ten pages of our work.

A volunteer reads each story out loud so that the writer has an opportunity to experience his or her words in a different way. When the reading is done, we go around the circle to discuss what we thought the writer did well and what we thought the writer could improve.

They help me identify and eliminate inconsistencies and contradictions. They help me resolve difficult plot and character problems that I’m either too inexperienced or too frustrated to solve. They recognize what I do well, but are also blunt and honest, and are never afraid to (charitably) point out the numerous ways in which I fail.

Sometimes I agree with their assessments and sometimes I don’t; art is inherently subjective.

But I always take what they have to say seriously and value their feedback. Knowing how my group receives my work gives me a better idea of how my audience will receive my work when it’s published. If the majority have issues with what I’ve written, I know I need to go back and take a closer look.

They rein me in when I get carried away. They encourage me to be bold. We support each other, inspire each other, teach each other, help each other to grow.

As an author, I’ve learned more in the year I’ve been with them than in all the other years I’ve been writing on my own.

If you’re an artist of any stripe, I implore you to get together with others in your field. You’ll find support. You’ll find insight. Most importantly, you’ll make fantastic friends and you’ll become better, not just as an artist but as a human being.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.