Two weeks ago, I was on vacation, having some much needed girlfriend time away from home, when I was introduced to a friend of my friend's at a church event. Of course, as expected, we got to chatting, and all seemed to be going well until I was asked what I do and I hesitated.

You see, I've always had a difficult time calling myself a writer. I want to say it's because writing is not my primary source of income, but that would be a lie. I know deep down that it's because I don't believe I've earned the title; even though I have written several articles for publication, maintained an online magazine for 5 years, maintained a blog for over 8, writing was a part of my responsibilities at my former employer's, and it's what I now do full time. The truth is, I hesitate to call myself a writer because I am yet to be affirmed by a major publishing house. It's the struggle most unpublished writers go through, so I know I'm not alone, but it still bothers me because I don't need that kind of affirmation in order to own my "writer" status. My readers already know me as a writer and they are the ones who count the most.

But still, the incident had me thinking of all the ways we sell ourselves short when we wait for someone in "authority" to tell us we're good enough, when we already know that we are. We all struggle with affirmation in some area of our lives. Whether it's waiting for someone to tell us that we're smart enough, pretty enough, or creative enough, we need to learn what I learned: If we accept our own truths, others will too. Having the acknowledgment of someone in authority should only be considered icing on the cake. In the meantime, start baking the cake and showing it off proudly, with or without the icing.

I hope you start thinking about all the ways in which you hesitate to own your creativity, and remember that you only sell yourself short when you do so. Of course, also remember that just because you say you are does not mean that you are if you have nothing to show for the fact that you are.

Have a blessed and fruitful week ahead!
Let's face it, writing is a difficult task for many. My writing life is no different. It takes discipline, perseverance and lots and lots of patience. You're probably having the same problem. Perhaps you've been staring at a blank screen/sheet of paper for months. You probably have a title or you don't, but either way you're stuck and can't seem to move forward. Here are a few tips to get you started on your journey forward.

Believe in your story: In order to give your story a voice and bring it alive, you must first believe in your own story. If you don't then you'll have difficulty trying to put words on paper for fear that no one else will believe it.

Believe your story is worth telling: Every story is worth telling, and every story has its reader. So know that once your story is told, it will find its way to those it was meant for. You just have to give them something.

Reading is key: Read for inspiration. Read for style and voice. Read for lessons - to know what you like and don't like. Then find your own unique voice and own it. The best piece of writing is the one told in your own voice.

Pay attention to that tug: Don't ignore that yearning tugging on your heartstrings. It is the one voice you must listen to. All others are just outside noise.
Just write: If all else fails, just sit down and write a starter sentence. You'll be amazed at how the story will flow from there. Stories have a life of their own, and they will lead you where you need to go.

Write everyday: Once you get started, be sure to add a little to the story everyday. Then be sure to stick to it until you have a final draft - no matter how rough it is. Editors exist for a reason.

If all else fails, seek outside help. A writing coach can help you get started, and a ghostwriter can help write your story if you can't seem to find the time or lack the skills it takes to get it done. Whatever you do, no matter how you choose to tell your story, know that your story is valid and there is someone out there waiting to read it.

Have a blessed and fruitful week ahead!

For many of us, we like to think that our talents, as wonderful as they are, should speak for themselves. People should see and acknowledge and be attracted to our gifts. And that would be great, wouldn't it? I used to feel that way too, until I realized what was missing. Presentation. There was little to none, and people can't appreciate what they can't see. It's just the way life works.

"No matter how beautiful our talents, or how awesome we may think they are, if others can't see and experience them, then they won't be able to see and appreciate them either."

The lesson on presentation presented itself during a food fair over the July 4 weekend. Side by side, were two food stands. One was selling BBQ ribs and chips. The other was selling chicken-on-a-stick with options of either fries, rice or noodles. In the chicken stand sat a girl calling out to people passing by. "Can I help you?" she yelled. She was irritating, but people were nonetheless drawn to the stand either out of curiosity, or because they simply couldn't resist the temptation of the beautiful display of sample plates which lined the front shelf of the food-stand. I ordered a plate of chicken and fries, then had to stand and wait for the chicken (which was being grilled out in the open) to cook to perfection before being served. The wait was anywhere from 5 to 6 minutes.

In the BBQ ribs stand right next door, a young man with a forlorn look on his face was bored out of his mind. Apart from people occasionally walking away with a bowl of ribs and chips, one could barely tell they were in business, or if they were, what was being sold - unless you stopped, read the sign on the stand, and the list of foods scribbled on a board by the tip jar or, you were just really looking for some ribs. 

After sampling the chicken-on-a-stick, my friend and I decided to sample the BBQ ribs as well. And do you know that we liked the ribs ten times better than the chicken? They had the best barbeque sauce I have ever tasted, the ribs were well cooked, juicy and tender, and their meal was 2 dollars cheaper than what we had spent at the chicken stand. 

To make a long story short, I began to wonder what was drawing people towards the bland-tasting chicken instead of the juicy, tender, finger-licking ribs. And that's when it hit us, "it was all in the presentation." Not only did you have the young lady calling for your attention, but you had samples on colorful display, smoke rising high from the open grill, and the line of people waiting for their orders. Naturally, people assumed it had to be good, so they were drawn to it. On the other hand, you had a bored looking young man with arms folded, not calling out, no food on display and an empty stand with the occasional customer stopping by.

People can't appreciate what they can't see - and what you don't try to sell. And, perhaps, the young man had an unwelcoming look because he might have wondered why people were walking right past his stand and heading over to the chicken stand. He forgot to look at himself, and his team, and figure out what the competition was doing right. He probably knew he had finger-licking ribs, but how was everyone else supposed to know that if the one selling it was not putting it on display and inviting people over to try it?

This week, I encourage you to take that first step towards putting your BBQ ribs on display. Is it a book you wish to write? Then start, and tell people about it. Is it a gift you have for making something special? Start, and let people know about it. Own it, be proud of it, and people will appreciate it too.

Happy Monday! Welcome to the month of July. I wish you a blessed and fruitful week ahead.