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Major Keys to Freelance Writing Success

A side-effect of ghost- and contract-writing for companies that are way hipper than I am is spending a lot of time on social media and hearing from a lot of social media experts.

Despite my best efforts to glide off raw, natural talent, I have to adapt to their voices and trends and jargon and metrics and whatnot.

I mean, srsly, we all know that if I wrote from the heart every post for every client would be like 8,000 words long and wandering and full of references to goodness knows what. Yet somehow I keep getting work, so I must be doing something right.

As I take a break between some contract writing assignments today, as I reflect on this side-career, I feel like I’ve really landed on some secrets to success in this field. And if there’s one thing experts like to write about, it’s how to be good at things!

Without further ado, then, here are my keys to success (if measuring by my life, which I absolutely don’t recommend as #goals-worthy):

Silence is the enemy, or, Background Noise is your muse.

Options include:

  • Music (preferably Black Keys or Disney Soundtracks)
  • Period Pieces on Netflix (Jane Eyre, Mansfield Park, etc.)
  • Coffee shop chatter. This one is the worst, obv, but it’ll do.

Fill your mind with inspiring things.

Recommendations, by medium:

  • TV: Gilmore Girls, Frasier, New Girl, X-Files
  • Movies: Anything made out of a book by Austen, Tolstoy, or some other dead classic writer. Also things starring Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, etc.
  • Books: Lewis, Rowling, also anything by a dead classic author. They’re so good.
  • Radio: Classic hip-hop, alternative, or top 40 sometimes, you know, when it’s like Adele or whatever. NOT country, though. No.
  • Internet: Buzzfeed, but only the quizzes (v insightful), social media BUT only read Twitter, the rest is just for pretty pictures, amirite?

Caffeine

All of it.

Exercise

Or a lot of candy. Maybe both. Probably both.

Own a puppy

Plz note: not conducive to productivity, but v helpful to combat the sometimes soul-killing aspects of content writing.

Hopefully this list has inspired all of you aspiring freelance writers greatly. Or at the very least, deterred some future competition away!

PS… I’m putting together a curriculum with some ACTUAL, practical tips for freelancing and contract writing. Stay tuned!

Bad News Revisited

Auggie is becoming more active during the day time, and usually during late morning I feel him kick and swivel around. It’s like a morning tradition with him,  sending  little secret messages to Mom that he’s there and he’s coming and it’s the best thing.

Another morning tradition, a much earlier-as-soon-as-I-awaken tradition for me, is scrolling through the day’s Timehop feed and seeing what the past had to offer. Today brought up a blog post from 3 years ago, called Bad News. I remembered this post without having to read it, but I did read it, because of its new significance. It was 3 years ago today that I got the call from the Polk County Health Department informing me I did indeed get Lyme Disease that summer. The whole post was important for me personally to read, but this bit in particular is important for more than just me, I think:

Before I had even hung up the phone with the health department, I began to cry. Once the connection was severed, I burst into sobs. All of a sudden the migraines and aching fingers, the still-lingering spurts of numbness and soreness in my neck and face, the ever-increasing numbness of my fingers including the recently finicky middle finger….it all seemed much more ominous. Allergies and sinus infections and improper ergonomics when typing vanished and lymph-node dwelling, meninges-eating, Lyme loomed darkly in my mind. A future of decreased mobility, no children, and memory loss seemed certain. All through this I prayed, and quickly went to find my mom for more assurance.

That part about no children ate at me more than any other. It was echoed in the following months as I sought treatment through many paths and experts. Not that it was guaranteed infertility, but that it could be, and that it would certainly be “irresponsible” to try getting pregnant until 1-2 years had passed because my body needed that time to heal. No woman wants to hear that even if she wasn’t planning on having children. It’s like this essential function has been denied, stolen, taken away.

I’d already lived in that fear of biological failure because of the eating disorder, because of 6 years of amenorrhea and then a violent, monthly, return. Because of what doctors had already told me all this without the addition of Lyme could very well add up to mean.

I’m going to put faith in you that you’re recognizing the significance of this anniversary. As I sit and reread and relive those fears and wonderings, this baby boy, my son, is squirming to a point of adorable discomfort. I know that not every woman’s issues with fertility end this happy. I know (trust me, because of my bff Anxiety) that our story isn’t over and happy may not be where we land.

Even in my dreams of Augustine, he’s often with someone else and I’m desperately trying to get to him. It’s probably my anxious mind’s lingering disbelief working itself out. But just last night I had a different kind of dream,  one where I did get to him. And I saw a wrinkly, red little boy with bright blue eyes and so much dark hair it looked like a wig, whose face broke into a smile the moment I leaned over his crib and said “Hello.”

Even if the timing of that old post and this one is coincidental, I think its helpful for me and for others to reflect on those dark moments in our past and recognize what beautiful light has come bursting through.

Critical Compassion

Can I admit something?

Not for the sake of a response, but because it’s on my heart, and I feel compelled to be transparent?

I’ve been down, depressed, and discouraged these past few weeks.

Not every moment – I’m so grateful for the joyful anticipation of preparing for Auggie to arrive, of sitting still for extended moments just to feel him move around and of reorganizing our home and finances as we make our life ready for him to come.

But there have been several moments where I have broken down and wept. Sometimes it’s over the repeated and varied acts of violence in our world. But the tears have also streamed hot and furious out of frustrated confusion when I watch the world’s responses. I’ve found myself singing songs like “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” choking out the words  through tears, desperate for a dispersal of those “gloomy clouds of night.”

Now please hear me – 

I am not saying my response is the only correct one and others are wrong. I believe a variety are necessary because it takes many minds and varied strengths to find solutions. Asserting me vs. you or us vs. them is popular but deeply problematic.

But I am saying that through these past few weeks, I’ve been processing and praying and, well, watching you. Yes, you. All of you. I’ve been watching what you say and how you say it. I’ve been asking myself, and often you, why these things are being said. Sometimes I don’t ask, because I’m afraid to know the answer.

Because of what I’ve seen in others’ posts and in my own, I’m contemplating a cessation of posting anything political or controversial, specifically on Facebook. Only there do I see the worst kind of abuses, and I’m tired of being attacked and misunderstood (clearly I’m not cut out to be a politician or lead a movement myself). I have become aware that only those who already agree will respond positively. Minds are rarely changed on Facebook because in order for that to happen, the mind has to be open to the fact that it doesn’t already have the answers. The articles and posts have to be read from a stance of “what can I learn?” and not “what now?”

As a teacher, it’s harder for me than you might think to stay silent. I’m not used to closed, fixed minds so opposed to asking questions and then being interested in the answers. Even before teaching, I used to think that critical thinking was the magical key to understanding and knowledge. That as long as we could break down and process and analyze and postulate, we could find common ground, common themes, and eventually solutions. But this season has taught me that critical thinking is only a part of knowledge. Critical thinking without compassion is a mirror reflecting only existing beliefs, not understanding.

One day while, as mentioned earlier, trying to sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” in the shower, and feeling very powerless to effect any change, a quiet thought broke through:

“Do you believe that justice is possible?”

And the answer in my heart is still, maddeningly, yes.

But it requires compassion. Listening. Being open to being wrong. It requires making statements and choices out of love, not fear.

Justice requires this reminder:

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

 If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” (source)

For all the talk of voting based on moral grounds on either side of the fence, if we are unable to keep from spewing venom at those who disagree, we are the morally bankrupt ones. If we are unable to be mindful even of the venom that mean memes made of candidates (which I’m guilty of posting occasionally, too), we are the morally bankrupt ones. I don’t want to feed into that anymore, even if it means a cessation of positive, open posts. Because I know those posts will breed the wrong kind of response and there’s too much of that for me to handle right now.

We can have all of the answers to America’s problems, we can be the most critical of thinkers, but without compassion to filter decisions – without love – we are nothing.

 

It’s a Boy!

It’s a boy! And we have named him Augustine Lewis House.

Why? Glad you asked!

My sophomore year of college at St. Ambrose University I was registered for a course called History of the Western Church that normally only upper-classmen on the track for priesthood took. It was a fluke, but I was up for a challenge. To date, it was the most demanding course I took in school (including my Master’s program). No such course would be complete without study of pivotal historical theologians and philosophers and St. Augustine of Hippo was one of them. His words and thoughts resonated with me more than any of the others we studied that semester, particularly his straightforwardness about loving others and loving God and how complex it is to remove self-interest from any of it. That kind of awareness of selfish impulse in the face of a commitment to love others better anyway is something I want in a son.

During my master’s program, study of educational philosophers was obviously a large part of Advanced Educational Philosophy. Each student was assigned a philosopher to dive into and present on. Guess who I got? Augustine treasured the power of words, and was known to push other writers and speakers. He exalted education and valued knowledge and reason.  And while I’ll admit some of his ideas show his age, this one in particular is how I want my little one to see the interactions with others, not just for myself as a literal school teacher, “The teacher should take into account the unique characteristics of each student and relate to the students as unique individuals” (source).

It’s worth noting that I have wanted to name a child after Augustine since that sophomore year of undergrad. I don’t know that Mike and I had talked about names much in the earlier years of our marriage, but one day we walked into his parents’ house and saw some plaques leaned against the wall bearing the name Augustine Hernandez. My heart stopped. I asked who it was and learned it was Mike’s great-grandfather. That moment sealed the deal. Augustine it would be.

If you know me, then chances are you know where Lewis comes from. C.S. Lewis, the man, the myth, the legend. The master storyteller. The man unafraid to simultaneously take on the mantle of authority while disclaiming that readers are responsible for thinking critically and making their own decisions. A person who was never too old to see magic everywhere, and yet questioned everything while offering possible solutions.

Both of these men share loves of knowledge, words, and love of others. If we add to this the gifts this kiddo will hopefully receive from his own dad of problem solving, selfless serving, and the fast-working, connections-making mind of an engineer, we will have one wise little man.

When the Church Fails

Matthew 11:28-30 The Message (MSG)

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?

Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.

Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

* * *

Hurts from the church go deep.

Wounds from an enemy may also scar,

but wounds from neighbors, family, friends –

from those baptized in Holy Waters, sanctified to serve the needy –

these wounds are unexpected and internal

and leave an impact more lasting than merely toughened tissue.

 

The number of those who share these wounds should be few,

though I suspect they are many.

Churches and entire denominations have been exposed, after all, laid bare on the news for scandal and pain.

Maybe some of us know this specific wound.

 

But maybe the wounds aren’t so public or “newsworthy.”

Maybe, like me, you grew up in the church.

Maybe, like me, you were even the pastor’s child.

And the church you knew wasn’t a cult or a scandal,

But it wasn’t always the community described in Acts, either.

Maybe there were expectations and judgment persistently forced upon you, near-constant intrusions into your home and your life which served to feed the judgmental cycle of expectations

again

and again

and again…

 

And all of a sudden you understand the beginning of this verse all too well:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?  

 

For so many,

Pastor’s child or no,

Regular church attendee or no,

Outsider looking in or no,

This is where the verse’s truth stops.

 

They have looked inside the church,

past the doors, to its people,

And their actions and lack thereof,

And their words and lack thereof,

And they have walked away.

 

I walked away.

And to best explain that experience I’m going to rabbit trail to the movie “The Giver.” I watched this movie last week, and despite expecting to hate it because it couldn’t possibly live up to the book, I found myself immersed in memories of my childhood and teenage years in the church.
Of being told that open minds were dangerous and “different” was to be feared.

I’ve always been anxious, so basically I grew up always afraid.

Like Jonas in “The Giver,” as I began to get more in touch with reality here on earth, with the bits of history my schools had glossed over, with people more diverse than those my sheltered life had allowed me to encounter, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of things I’d been told to fear and broken by the systems I’d been taught were the answer.

There was a lot going on in my life during my “Jonas/Giver” years; a nasty battle with anorexia, my parents’ divorce, finally going to college after time off and choosing a Catholic one, full of mandatory courses on theology and church history, at that.

In “The Giver,” Jonas questions the system he knew and confronts reality. My version was turning from my system – the church – and questioning everything. And the more I questioned, the more I began to know, see, and love Jesus. And after years of receiving truth, I was finally able to go back to church. I was able to find the difference between religion and relationship and celebrate it. To turn to Christ when any system or person failed, and to experience the too-often-overlooked second part of the verse where we can learn to live freely and lightly.

 

I wish I could say that this verse applied only in past tense,

That I just had a tough time of it in childhood,

That I was just…”overly churched.”

But I’m not that unique

And my youth wasn’t that special

And I think every one of us has both

been failed by the church

And failed as the church.

 

And it’s not okay,

but it is okay.

 

Because we can always go back to Jesus.

We can always trade in our burdens of too-high expectations

of those on either side of the pulpit,

Of expecting perfection by our personal standards

Instead of listening to

And living like

Jesus.

 

Hurts from the church go deep.

And we’re probably not done receiving them.

We can live fixated on our scars.

Or we can live fixated elsewhere,

Intentional to keep from scarring one another,

As we learn to live freely and lightly.