Chiquandra C. Cross

Five Things I Learned During My Very First #NaNoWriMo

Nov
30

For the past several years I’ve wanted to “do” National Novel Writing Month, but let fear and doubt stop me.  This year, with fear and doubt riding shot gun I decided I would do NaNo and at the end of 30 days I would celebrate my word count no matter what.

On Halloween night, I set my alarm, took a three-hour nap and woke up at 11:45 p.m. ready to write and at midnight I sent this tweet and began. I was fanatical about my writing and overly protective of my time. I was like a helicopter parent and my words were my kids.

After a frenzied start I ended week one with a little over 25,000 words.  Once I did, I knew the rest of the month would be smooth sailing, or so I thought. I discovered that finding the time to write wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. What was more challenging was wanting to write when I had the time.

Before NaNo I believed in my muse and I treated her with respect. I wrote when she was inspired and I let her off the hook when she wasn’t. I honored her preferred writing times and only when absolutely necessary did I wake her up butt crack thirtry to write. Well, as you can imagine I had to adjust her schedule and she was not having it. The first few mornings she had a tantrum when the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., but I got up, sat in my chair and I wrote. It wasn’t always hard, but it sure wasn’t a cake walk, either.

In the end, I began to enjoy getting up early. Once I wrangled myself out of bed and sat down I realized that I muse or no muse, I can write good words at any time of the day, not just during my so-called ‘writing hours.’ This was an important discovery. It freed me from my own self-imposed limitations and my creative brain space expanded. Like a muscle it got better, stronger and faster with use. It no longer took me ten to fifteen minutes to wake up my brain. My brain was waking me up, before my alarm with ideas, and dialogue and direction for my novel.

As the month went on there was a definite ebb and flow of my writing life and the rest of my life, but I kept at it. And on November 20th, I validated and on the 27th my final word count was 65,649.  I have never, in my life started and finished a novel in 27 days. You talk about excitement. I was over the moon proud of myself. This was my New York Marathon and I did it.

So now, on this final day of November 2015 I want to share with you five things I learned during my first NaNoWriMo:

  1. NaNoWriMo is exhausting and exhilarating and these two guys often jockeyed for first place. In my case exhilaration was ‘Charlie Sheen’ winning until I hit the proverbial and much anticipated NaNo wall.
  2. I had to give myself public and private permission to change pace. On the morning of November 12th I tweeted this and did not add another word that day. Burnout is real; thankfully I was prepared.
  3. Obsession, in the right (or write) amount is useful. Obsessed with all things writing I talked about my novel as often as I could to anyone who would listen. The more I talked, the more I enrolled others. I created my own support group and by mid-month I had a group of people cheering me on.
  4. Take lots of notes. Most writers never leave home without at least one journal, a handful of pens/pencils and their phone. So use them and use them often. Notes are a quick way to drain your brain. This helps your brain relax. Do you know how much brain space and energy you save by writing things down? A lot. Remember you need as much energy as possible to create.
  5. Write, write and write. If winning NaNo is your goal, you have to write. Fifty thousand words is doable, iff (if and only iff, you should remember this term from high school geometry) you write. I thought about elephants a lot this month, for two reasons. One, because like eating an elephant, writing fifty thousand words is a huge undertaking. Unfortunately, the corny joke about eating an elephant one bite at a time is apropos in this situation. And two, I listened to The 100-Year-Old man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson; an amazing story that includes death by elephant. Now that I have written this sentence, I am no longer sure why I mentioned this, but it is still November and we all know that in November you don’t use contractions and you don’t delete.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in NaNo this year, even if you didn’t officially “win,” you are a winner in my book.

See ya next year, same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Life is What Happens When You are Busy Making Other Plans

Aug
24

Three months ago today I woke up to about a foot and a half of water gushing through my apartment I shared with my mother. After registering what was going on and reverting, temporarily, flood picto a four-year-old child, I screamed her awake. A few moments later I grabbed my dog, and we waded through the river flowing through our apartment to the second-floor landing.

It was around 5:00 in the morning and one by one my neighbors opened their doors to a very similar reality.  There was a sense of community and camaraderie as we watched with utter amazement, as the Blanco River flowed through our apartment complex grabbing everything in its path and taking it along for the ride.

This was my exit. We lived less than half a mile down the access road. (Paul Shelton/KXAN News)

We lived less than half a mile from this exit. (Paul Shelton/KXAN News)

As the sun rose, and the waters receded my mother and I sloshed through our apartment, grabbed a few things and drove to my brother’s house. The next few days were filled with multiple trips back and forth to salvage and pack up what we could and wash loads upon loads of mud-soaked clothes.

This experience was one that I pray I never have to go through again. It was both uncomfortable and inconvenient, and though my mother and I were physically safe, it took an emotional toll on us. In the end, I began to wish that everything of ours had washed away so we wouldn’t have to relive the devastation over again each day as we continued sifting through the apartment.

Fast forward a month and things were quite a bit different. My mother was now living in Houston, something she’d planned for later in the year, and I was wavering back and forth between remaining in San Marcos or moving back to Houston, temporarily. I didn’t want to do either.

Before the flood, I was planning to move to Iowa City in September, but it seemed that the Blanco River and its shenanigans wanted to delay my plans. At first, I thought that I’d have to postpone my move, thankfully, I was wrong. Due to an unexpected, but much appreciated financial blessing I was able to replenish my savings and fund my move to Iowa City with no stress, strain or difficulty.

I was excited beyond words. I began telling more and more people that I was moving to Iowa, and though it was hard to leave my family and friends, I did.  On July 24th, two months after the flood, I spent my first night in Iowa and started my new life.

I spent the next couple of weeks looking for an apartment and getting acclimated to the city. I’ve always been one to enjoy hotel living but living out of multiple suitcases for an extended period quickly ceased to be as enjoyable as I thought it would be. I longed for my space. A space where I could officially unpack, stretch out, cook a home cooked meal and sip multiple cups of tea while doing nothing.

I have fallen in deep like with Iowa City and the University of Iowa. It is a beautiful place, and it is full of literary culture, activities and books, lots and lots and lots of books.

The rest of 2015 will be spent perfecting my writing sample and applying for The Iowa Writers Workshop and immersing myself in the local writing community. My ultimate desire is to teach creative writing and, of course, have a couple of best-selling novels.

Looking back over the past three months and all that happened I sometimes shake my head in disbelief. Things did not happen the way I planned, but they happened, and ultimately that’s what matters.

As I reflect on the last three months, and all that happened, I am honored that God has blessed me with this opportunity and for that I am truly thankful for the flood.

Five Thousand Four Hundred Ninety Two

Apr
06

5-4-9-2. That’s how many words I’ve written so far during #CampNaNoWriMo and though I think the story is a decent one, I am not in love with it…yet. This tends to happen every time I commit to writing something. I have a great idea and then as I put pen to paper, so to speak, it doesn’t excite me, in the beginning, as much as I thought it would.

It seems to take about 15-20,000 words before I can fully embrace a story. Is this normal? I don’t know, but this is a pattern that showed up in two previous manuscripts. I know three occurrences may not be a scientific way to establish a pattern, however, it is enough to encourage me to keep on.

In the past, I’ve started stories and aborted them far too quickly. I’m grateful that I didn’t discard them because now that I know my pattern, I can go back and revisit them again with a better understanding of my writing process.

When I write, I like to get my characters to a place of pseudo independence. They are selfish, self-centered bratty teenagers who demand a lot of attention. At this point the relationship is love-hate at best and hate-hate at worst.

But, I keep going. Then we get to a place where we begin to communicate and understand each other better. Instead of holding me captive and screaming at me to get it right, they calmly and kindly offer suggestions that they think will move the story forward. I’ve come to trust them because, like Pinocchio, they have become real.

It is a collaborative effort between me and the characters. When I am not writing they are on my mind. I imagine that they are frozen in whatever scene I left them in. This keeps the story fresh in my head and as I go throughout my day ideas, direction, changes come to me so when I sit down to write/type, the characters are so desperate for movement that they pull it all out of me.

I know, it may not sound like a sane way to write, but it works for me. Besides everyone know’s that writers are crazy, right.

~Happy Writing

 

I’m going camping!

Mar
31

My name is Chiquandra and I am a writer. I’ve struggled with calling myself a writer for a long while now because I don’t always feel like a writer.  A couple of years ago, while trying to “find a new self”, I decided I wanted to apply to the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. I submitted my application along with what I thought was my best writing sample and hoped for the best. A few months later, I got my, “thanks, but no thanks” letter.

Determined not to give up, I continued writing, but I decided not to apply again. Once that decision was made, my writing took off. I started following anything writing related on Twitter and joined the #SeptWritingChallenge.  Since starting the #SeptWritingChallenge, I’ve tracked almost 150,000 words that include one and a half novels, a couple of blog posts and random other musings.

I’ve also connected with several writers on and offline and immersed myself in the conversation and practice of writing. I have fallen in love with my process of writing and I am a more deliberate, consistent and confident. My only caveat is that though I am a creative writer, I am not always a grammatically correct writer. Instead of setting my writing free, my fear of grammar nazi’s caused me to keep it all to myself, until now. I am now ready to throw caution to the wind and share my bowl of alphabet soup with the world.

Writing is regenerative, the more you write, the more you have to write. And the more you have to write, the better your writing gets.

Now that I’ve completed the first novel, that I want to publish, I am looking for professional help to get it ready for publication. I’ve also decided to take a break from the monthly writing challenge and participate in Camp NaNoWriMo.   I wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo last November, but I chickened out. The 50,000 word count in a month was more than I could commit to at that time.

So, I’ve packed my sleeping bag, bug spray, shower shoes and an extra bag of marshmallows and I’m ready to sit around the campfire and trade stories with my fellow cabin mates.

If you are interested in joining us, you can sign up here.

 

Happy Writing,

Chiquandra

 

All Hail the Queen: Mary J. Blige is Back

Nov
28

mjbEarlier this month I attended the BeBlogalicious Conference and we were treated to a viewing/listening session for Mary J. Blige’s new cd/documentary, The London Sessions.  Watching the documentary reignited my love and appreciation for MJB.  She has always been a consummate artist, but watching her in action reminded me of why she’s been a force to reckon with since 1992.  She is genuine and authentic and that’s what’s given her staying power in an industry that spits people out faster than 30 minute old chewing gum.

On this new cd she works with Sam Smith, Emile Sande, Rodney Jerkins and more.  It’s a departure from what her fans are used to, but it’s well worth the journey.  My favorite song right now is Whole Damn Year.  This is one of those songs that will become an anthem for someone recovering from a bad breakup.  She also gives it to us with Right Now and My Loving, both of these are upbeat songs and the latter is a great song to clean house to.

While listening to her new cd I thought back to the summer of 1992.  It was the summer before my sophomore year of college when What’s the 411 dropped.  This cd didn’t cause a ripple, it caused an avalanche.  No summer party was complete without a group of girls performing their You Remind Me routine, complete with jerseys, shorts and knee pads.  Mary hit the scene, dropped the mic and dared anyone else to even try to pick it up.

That fall I remember jamming Love No Limit every morning before class and no step show was complete without at least one sorority paying homage to her in one way or another by rockin’ baseball jerseys, caps and combat boots while performing their step routines.

Listening to some of her earlier work reminded me of the evolution of Mary.  One of the things I love about her most is the fact that she is real and her music is too. So many artists want to stay young, hip and relevant and in order to do so they dumb down their art.  Not Mary.  She is respectful and appreciative of her evolution and she encourages her fans to evolve as well.  If you haven’t heard her new cd, I highly recommend it. She proves yet again that she is not new to the game, she is true to the game.  All hail the queen MJB is back!

 

FTC Disclosure statement: I participated in the Mary J Blige The London Sessions album review program as a member of bLink Marketing Network. I was provided a free album to review but all opinions are my own.

 

 

Forgiveness, it really does set you free

Sep
23

1-peter-4-vs-8After reading this scripture I started drafting a blog on living in forgiveness and how harboring unforgiveness prevents us from sharing the gift of love with everyone we come in contact with.

A few hours after writing the first draft, I was challenged to practice this very thing. Without going into a lof of detail I was angry, then I sat down and wrote down a prayer to cover the situation. Also, every time I thought about that person I wrote “bless her” on a piece of paper.

I am trying my very best to extend love and forgiveness to someone who is trying to harm my family and I am trying to view her through the eyes of God and believing that even in this challenging situation His will will prevail.

While praying I asked God to help me hold my peace and help me offer advice that is in alignment with His will, not mine. This is a big deal for me because my first reaction is to fight.  I want to protect my family and  fight for what I believe is right.

After processing my day I started thinking about how easy it is to hold a grudge and feel justified in doing so.  Why isn’t love our natural inclination?  Why is it that hatred, revenge and righteous indignation our go to feelings when we feel wronged?

I can think of far too many instances where someone hurt me and I felt I had the right to feel negatively toward them and withhold forgiveness.  However, the truth is that forgiveness is vital to overcoming and moving on.  Unforgiveness stops you from healing and it stunts your growth.

We all live in a space of grace and mercy and forgiveness because of God’s love for us so we should be quick to extend the same to others…but we don’t.  Instead we hold on so tightly to the pain of the offense and miss opportunities for healing and restoration.   We’d rather hold up our scars as badges of honor and fall victim to the

Oprah says, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.” 

When I read LeBron James statement about his decision to go home to Cleveland Cavaliers one line stood out to me the most:

“Everybody makes mistakes.  I’ve made mistakes as well.  Who am I to hold a grudge?”

This statement demonstrated both maturity and compassion.

Forgiving people is not a sign of weakness; it’s actually a sign of strength.  When you freely offer forgiveness you are demonstrating your ability to rise above the situation, learn from it and go on living.

I’m learning to ask God to help me forgive and to help me put it in perspective. Doing this takes the sting out and it helps me start the process of forgiving.

Forgiveness is a process that leads us back to loving, unconditionally, ourselves and others.

When forgiveness becomes a natural and automatic part of our being then loving ourselves and others becomes who we are, not something we do.

Relationships: If Anything Matters, Everything Matters.

Sep
08

“Since most of our hurts come through relationships,

so will our healing.”

~The Shack

I am currently re-reading one of my favorite books, The Shack, by William Paul Young.  As with any book I revisit, I am enjoying discovering new things. This time around the above quote jumped off the page and into my spirit.  It resonated with me because I was recently accused of lacking “unconditional love, grace and compassion, being selfish, haughty and bourgeois.”

relationship-bubbles

On the surface I could have, and probably should have, been offended.  However, I believe offense is a choice so I prayed and asked God to reveal to me any applicable truth in what they were trying to convey.

I sat with the comments for a couple of days before responding.

First, I wanted to allow the sting of what was shared to dissipate so that any applicable truths could rise to the surface of my awareness.

Second, I wanted to give the Holy Spirit time to penetrate my defenses and reveal to me what I needed to receive, acknowledge and address.

Third, I wasn’t feeling well and it took me a couple of days to get it together.

One thing I kept thinking about is the Dr. Maya Angel quote:

 “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

This lesson has served me well in my life so of course I thought about it as I processed this experience.  Someone had just told me that that I’ve shown myself to them in a way that I feel contradicts who I am.  According to them I had shown myself to be selfish, arrogant and lacking in compassion, so it must be true, right?

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Kintsukoroi

Jul
13

Have you heard of Kintsukuroi?

It is the Japanese practice of repairing what is broken by fusing it with pieces of silver, gold or platinum.  This is a wonderful metaphor for our lives.

Kintsorkouri vase

As a philosophy it speaks to breakage and repair becoming part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

This is us, God fills in our broken or weak spots with his glory and makes us better than we were before.

When he does the repair he leaves traces of himself to remind us of our deliverance.

Instead of seeing scars, we can focus on what was left behind after the repair.

While handcrafting us he envisioned his purpose for us and spoke it in and over us.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.   And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.  I will be found by you.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 reminds us of God’s plan for our lives.  He knew what he wanted us to be and to accomplish and worked his will into us.  For our benefit he added a life sustaining dose of grace and mercy into the mix.

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Take Responsibility For The Energy You Exchange With Others

Jul
09

O

prah is one of the most recognized people in the world.  She is a person who has created a living legacy that literally has impacted millions.  I greatly admire her for all that she has endured to be who she is today and for all that she stands for.  She is a principled woman who speaks her mind and does what she wants to do when she wants to do it.  We also have several things in common, including the love of both books and tequila.  She is an awesome example of using your gift to touch the lives of others.

 

smile-face-good-energy-square

I  was a late rider on the  Oprah bandwagon, but now that I am on the wagon, I am all in. I love all things Oprah and I am a supporter of her network.  I am an OWNAmbassadorOWNer,  Super Soul Sunday’er and I am always ready for Life Class.

At least once a year I will watch her final episodeRandy Pausch’s Last Lecture, and Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University commencement speech for spiritual grounding, enlightenment and encouragement.

Her final show was a moment in time that allowed the world to see directly into her heart and fully understand and embrace the 25 year run of The Oprah Show.  It was chock full of platinum nuggets of wisdom and as I watched it I felt connected to the  millions of others who were watching the show in that same moment.

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The Weight of Words

Jul
09

T his image is a physical representation of the negative impact that words can have on the person they are directed at.

image taken from http://bitsofwisdom.org/2011/10/18/your-words-have-power/

image taken from http://bitsofwisdom.org/2011/10/18/your-words-have-power/

When I saw this it startled me and I instantly felt a heaviness in my chest; it evokes sadness and fear and cautions me to be very gentle with myself and others. I am guilty of negative self talk.  One of my favorite authors, Brene Brown, says that we should speak to ourselves the same way we speak to others.  This is critical because if we extend care and concern to anyone during an emotional disturbance, it should be ourselves, first. Negative self talk is a destructive force that shouldn’t be taken lightly or ignored.  Those who suffer from chronic negative self talk need to be mindful of how and why it starts and what to do in order to get out of that funky headspace. Below are three steps to help should you ever encounter an emotional disturbance. (more…)

Weight Loss Tip: Lemon wedge and a stick of gum

Jul
08

W

hen I eat certain foods sometimes I will eat and eat and eat until the carton or package is empty.  It seems like the craving for whatever I was eating rages in my mouth until I consume it all.  I don’t know why it happens, but it happens a lot when I eat ice cream or other sugary foods.  I don’t know if I’m addicted to sugar or just being greedy (probably a bit of both) but I do know that even when I try not to go back for a second or third helping of some of my favorite snacks, i.e. ice cream I am not always successful.

lemon wedge

 

 

 

One day while trying not to go back for a second helping of sorbet I wondered about the cause of this behavior, I explored sugar addiction and quickly changed my mind about going in this direction.

 

 

Then I thought about what I was feeling in my mouth when the cravings persisted.

It felt like my taste buds were still “firing” or “begging” for more. I wondered if my taste buds would stop begging for more if I cleaned my mouth. I grabbed a lemon slice and squeezed it in my mouth. The tartness caused my mouth to water. I swallowed and squeezed the lemon wedge again and repeated the process a couple more times.

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3rd Quarter Goals

Jul
07

Pie_q3

T he first half of 2014 is in the history books and whatever happened, happened.  If you had successes, great, I hope you celebrated and documented.  If you didn’t that’s great too.  It’s great because you get a do over.

 

You have the next 90 days of your life to create a strategy for success.

I have three tips to help you start out on the right track. (more…)

How Bad Do You Want It

Jul
07

This week my friend and fellow 31 day blog challenge partner, Nikki, has been blogging about motivation week.  After reading several of her posts, I decided to share one of my favorite motivational videos.

I can’t remember the first time I watched Randy Pausch‘s Last Lecture, but I usually watch it along with two of my other favorite motivational videos at least three times a year.

Randy’s last lecture was funny, inspirational, compassionate and a love letter to his children.  He stood in front of a room filled beyond capacity to deliver it and for about an hour and fifteen minutes he held the audience captive.  The elephant in the room was that he was dying of pancreatic cancer, but to look at him it was hard to tell.  While on stage he did not exhibit the disposition or behavior of a dying man.  In fact, early in the video he does several push-ups to demonstrate his physical fitness.

During the lecture he talks about the obstacles that we are all bound to face.  He said,

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

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Return on Your Investment

Jul
06

As an entrepreneur I learned early in the game that it was necessary to spend money to make money.  I purchased books and participated in workshops, seminars and teleclasses.  I joined mastermind groups and several networking organizations and even started a mastermind group, all in an effort to perfect my craft and grow my business.  At the time I didn’t know anything about getting a return on my investment (ROI), I just wanted to make sure I knew as much as possible so that my business would be successful.

image from:  http://bit.ly/VtomV4

image from: http://bit.ly/VtomV4

At the beginning I looked for low or no cost opportunities to get my business off the ground and I quickly learned that no or low cost wasn’t enough.  I needed to go deeper.  I wanted to go deeper.  I wanted to be successful and in order to that I needed to open my wallet and bet on myself.  If I wanted to be successful I needed the maximum return on my investment in my number one commodity…myself.

Bootstrapping my business wasn’t ideal at the time, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

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Integrity Breeds Opportunity

Jul
05

opportunity blog

A couple of years ago I had a friend refer a potential client to me for grant writing services.  I scheduled a meeting with the executive director and some of her staff and after asking a few questions I determined that they weren’t read to embark upon a grant campaign.  Their vision was too broad and though they were supported financially by their parent organization, they didn’t have enough history or constituents served to be competitive. We talked for a while longer and I stopped and asked to speak with the director alone.

Once we were alone I let her know that, in my opinion, they were too young and inexperienced to be competitive.

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