The Writing Life: Toggling Between Worlds

My husband walked in and gave me a strange look.

“Have you been sitting there this whole time?”

It’s not that he has anything against me sitting. Especially in my comfy reading chair surrounded by a stack of books, papers, and a cup of coffee. It’s just unusual for me to stay in one place for very long.

I raised my coffee cup to my lips to give me a few seconds to think of an answer. My coffee was hot when I sat down, but now it was ice-cold.

“It depends on your definition of ‘sitting there’.”  I replied with a smile.

My bottom had been firmly planted in that chair, but I had not just been “sitting there.”

During that time I rescued 3 of my characters who were trapped on the side of a mountain.

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I also researched how to write a sword fighting scene, since one of my characters was about to face off with an enemy, and I’ve never held a sword in my life.

“Sitting there” sounds so passive, so un-creative. I’d been toggling, and toggling is an action verb.

To “toggle” is to switch from one setting to another. For me, and probably any other fiction writer, it is the act of switching from one world to another.

I’ve been toggling for months now as I’ve worked on this story. Many days I feel like I have one foot in reality and the other foot in the world I’ve created. I try to limit my toggling to my writing time, but sometimes problems and solutions toggle between the worlds as well.

The world I’ve created is beautiful. Hopeland is a combination of my favorite places: Mississippi, the Smokey mountains, and Ukraine.  But this beautiful world has a problem. Hopeland is being destroyed and its characters must fight for hope in order to defeat the forces of evil. These characters aren’t strong or powerful, and victory feels impossible.

This started out as an adventure story for my children, but it has grown into so much more.

It is a letter to my younger self about what is really worth pursuing.

It is a guide for my children as they walk through this life.

It is a call for all who read it to fight for hope in spite of circumstances.

It is a fleshing out of my current favorite statement by Dan Allender: “Hope is by far one of the most dangerous commitments we make in life.” and shows that hope is essential to life, and worth every effort to fight for, especially when the outcome seems uncertain.

When I look around at this world, I see the need for hope. I see a generation of children who need to know how to fight for hope, how to have courage to do the right thing at the right time. They need to experience the strength hope gives us to fight the battles in our lives. Through this story, I want to show my children (and other readers) what the fight for hope looks like by describing how a character their age courageously fights. And possibly, when the battle begins for them, they will remember their friends in Hopeland and find the courage to fight for hope in this world.

This will definitely involve many more cold coffee moments as I toggle between worlds in my comfy chair.

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The Writing Life: July Blume and the Sandwich Incident

I sat in the crowded school cafeteria, staring at my partially opened lunch box, trying to figure out my next move.

My face flushed as I remembered making my peanut butter sandwich that morning. My sandwich looked so delicious that I took a bite of it before putting it in my lunch box. It was a perfect bite, with the right balance of creamy peanut butter and homemade plum jelly.

Now I regretted taking that bite. Now I envisioned everyone in the cafeteria pointing and laughing at me when they saw my sandwich.

My mind raced as I quickly took my sandwich out of my lunch box and pretended to take a bite. I chewed air for a reasonable amount of time, and washed down my “bite” with  a drink of milk.

And with the second bite, the sandwich incident was officially over.

Sitting there with my sandwich, I knew with all my soul that no adult in my life would ever understand that five minutes of terror – terror of being pointed out and laughed at, terror of being different.  No adult, that is, except Judy Blume. I knew she hadn’t forgotten what it was like to be a kid.

I knew that because of the way she wrote. She captured my thoughts and feelings into words when I didn’t know how to describe them. Many times I would look up from one of her books and whisper, “How did she know?”

At that point in my life I was convinced that every adult I knew suffered from adult onset amnesia. They had completely forgotten what it was like to be a kid. The adults in my life were loving and supportive and I knew they wanted the best for me. But I felt the chasm between “kid life” and “adult life.”

Through her writing, July Blume convinced me to write about my childhood so that I wouldn’t forget.

So I wrote. I wrote from childhood into the teen years, from college into adulthood.

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I wrote until I’d filled up over 20 journals. I covered pages with whispered dreams, sorrowful mistakes, shouts of joy,  painful regrets, moments of redemption, and thankfully, forgiveness. I wrote about life. My life.

Judy Blume was a bridge from my childhood into my adulthood, connecting the chasm between the stages of my life and helping me to avoid adult onset amnesia as I raise my children.

My kids are fully aware that I was a kid, even though it was in the last century (they say with amazement, as if they are grouping me with dinosaurs). They know about my most embarrassing moment in Junior High when I burped out loud in Mr. Mathis’ Pre-algebra class. They know my childhood victory moments like reaching the top of the tall hill on my bike without stopping, then flying down without touching the brakes.

I want my kids to know that I used to be a shy, awkward kid and I remember how it feels.

And I want my writing to show that as well. Judy Blume’s writing reminds me of the importance of writing for children. I remember the impact her words had on me, and I would be honored to have a similar impact on the children reading my writing. I would love to be a bridge.

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Do you have a story bouncing around, asking to be put on paper? Children today need your story. You might have the words that convince a child to start writing, that lets them know that what they are feeling has meaning, and that writing it down might make a different in the world.

They might even look up from your book and say “How did she know?”