Got Dates? Try Banana or Apple Date Nut Muffins

Date nut bread is delicious and pretty easy to bake, but there are other fun alternatives worth trying.

I made this Banana Date Nut Muffin recipe from Taste of Home, which was not too sweet and great for breakfast.

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I could have done with a little less oats than what the recipe called for—1/2 cup—but the outcome was still delicious.

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By contrast, I had no qualms with the amount of applesauce listed in the recipe. Only 1/3 cup was needed, which left over enough for a mid-baking snack.

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Baking makes me hungry

The result was 12 very moist banana nut date muffins. They didn’t have the conventional banana bread flavor, which may have been canceled out a little by the oats. But they’re still delicious, especially with a glass of milk or a cup of tea or coffee. I also had one post-workout with a banana protein shake. Yum.

 

Looking for something sweeter? Kroger’s Apple Date Nut Loaf recipe is perfect.

I made it for a friend who’s pregnant and has had some issues with morning sickness. She gobbled up two slices of the apple date nut bread before my eyes. I was glad to see her enjoy the tasty treat. But let’s be honest, I’m trying to score points early with the baby. *smile*

Don’t have any dates?

Try this Banana Nut Muffin recipe from Food Network. I haven’t tried it yet, but I will soon.

And don’t forget my blog post on Cranberry Apple Nut Bread, which is one of my faves to make. Or go straight to the recipe here.

Do you have any date ideas for a bread loaf or muffin recipe?

 

 

 

 

I’m Trying Meditation…Again

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I’m trying out meditation. I’ve done it before, years ago, and it didn’t work so well. I’d heard that you should picture a calming environment. I closed my eyes and imagined a beach, bright blue ocean, waves lapping…

How calming, how serene…

But after a minute of that, my mind wandered, probably thinking about what I was going to have for lunch later.

I tried meditating again. Perhaps I needed to change the calming environment. I imagined myself on a hike, with a panoramic scene of mountainous beauty around me. Nope. My mind wandered. How about me kayaking slowly on a calm lake? Nada.

I gave up. I thought meditation wasn’t my thing.

Fast forward years later, and I’m trying it again. That’s because the topic of meditation has been buzzing around me a lot lately. Maybe the universe wants me to give it another shot?

Sure, why not? I have nothing to lose, except 10 – 15 minutes of my time? And I blow chunks of time like that every day while perusing the internet. I decided to try again.

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Keeping in mind my not-so-successful attempt last time, I went about meditating a little differently this go-round. Instead of conjuring up a calming scene, I concentrated on the act of breathing—breathe in, breathe out—like I’ve learned through yoga.

Slow, methodical breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. And while breathing in, I think of one positive thing. I speak the word or phrase in my mind. I concentrate on the action of taking in that positive thing.

While breathing out, I think of nothing. I just exhale. Then on the next “in-breath,” I think of a different positive thing. Or I repeat what I breathed in before. Here are examples.

  • Clarity
  • Focus
  • Hope
  • Success
  • Prosperity
  • Accomplishment
  • Patience
  • Acceptance
  • Gratefulness
  • Creativity
  • Openness
  • Opportunity
  • Empowerment
  • Worthiness
  • Good health
  • Longevity
  • Being in my truth
  • Being nimble
  • Authority
  • Love
  • Peace
  • Inner strength
  • Physical strength
  • I can/I will

Because my life is so focused on writing, I’ve incorporated some writer-related specifics into my in-breaths.

  • Telling my best story
  • Meeting my word count
  • Creating good characters
  • Creating rich stories
  • Selling books
  • Getting signed by a publisher
  • Making money from my books
  • Becoming a bestseller
  • Entertaining my readers
  • Developing a following

After I’ve done several minutes of positive in-breaths, I concentrate on breathing out. What negative thoughts do I want to get rid of? I speak the following words or phrases in my mind during my “out-breaths.”

  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling unworthy
  • Feeling incapable
  • Doubt
  • Fear
  • Angst
  • Frustration
  • Feeling stuck
  • Writer’s block
  • Lack of structure
  • Lack of creativity
  • Lack of focus
  • Worry
  • Negativity
  • Failure
  • Troubles
  • Despair
  • Feeling like “I can’t”

I’ve noticed that the positive affirmation that I take in outweighs the negative. There’s something to be said for that.

By concentrating on my breaths and affirmations, my mind is engaged enough not to wander. Yet, it’s calm enough to feel more focused when I’m done. And get this…I actually make it through the whole ten minutes, without thinking about breakfast.

Looking for more suggestions? Here are 20 Ideas of What to Focus on During Meditation

And there’s an app. Go figure. Headspace has a free trial, as well as one-minute samples of guided meditations, and a blog.

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Where and How?

I’ve been meditating when I wake up, after the morning sleepy feeling has worn off. I set the timer on my cell phone for ten minutes. I sit on my bed, legs crossed, palms up on my knees. I don’t close my eyes. That doesn’t work for me. Instead, I look down, marking a spot to keep my focus.

If home isn’t a quiet place to meditate, here are 7 Places You Can Meditate On the Go by MindBodyGreen.

Why?

I’m all for trying new things. Doing something to make life a little easier, a little happier, a little more positive. Restructuring how I start my day. Rearranging the building blocks. Exhaling doubts and fears. Shifting my thinking and outlook toward achievement. And aligning my thoughts to sync up with writing success.

I have no idea if I’m doing this meditation thing right or not. My approach seems more like a quiet session of positive affirmation. But hey, that’s not a bad thing.

Do you meditate? Has it helped you? Has it helped your writing?

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash, Photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash, Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

 

Meal? Snack? Sweet Potato, Plantain, and Sausage

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My husband came home with a plantain from Wegman’s. Every once in a while I like to cook them at home. Here’s the problem with that…

I bake them in the oven, which means they never taste as good as they do at a Caribbean or Mexican restaurant. Healthier, yes. Tastier, no.

Lesson learned, I looked online for a recipe that included fried plantain. This recipe caught my eye, which has sweet potato, Italian sausage, and a tasty mayo sauce. It was perfect because I wanted something heartier than plantain alone.

Check out Everyday Sierra’s recipe for Sweet Potato, Sausage, and Plantain Bowl with Creamy Chili Sauce

I had seen something like it before online, and initially thought the food combination was a little too, um, unique. But let me tell you, it’s yum-my. Especially Everyday Sierra’s recipe, which is the best I’ve seen for this dish.

It’s not difficult to make, nor does it take a long time. I just had to time the cooking pretty well, and keep my head on a swivel.

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First, I baked the sweet potatoes…

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But before the sweet potatoes were done, I started browning the Italian sausage. I must admit, the Italian sausage part of this recipe was what sold me. I was intrigued by the flavor that this would bring to the plantain and sweet potatoes.

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While the sausage was browning, I pulled together my seasonings for the tasty mayo drizzle. Everyday Sierra calls it the creamy chili sauce.

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Can’t forget the plantain, of course…

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Put it all together, and drizzle the sauce on top. So. Good. You get a little sweet from the plantain and potatoes. You get a little savory from the Italian sausage. And the chili cream sauce is a blend of the two. The sauce also prevents the dish from tasting dry.

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I made this recipe on a Saturday and we had it as a late-afternoon snack. I’d read that it could be considered a breakfast dish, but that doesn’t work for my morning palate. I’m an oatmeal or pancakes or eggs kind of girl.

I also read that this dish could be considered a meal on its own. If you’re not eating bread, this would probably suffice for that type of diet. If not, it could be served with rice or added as a flavorful side dish to a meal.

This recipe made enough for leftovers the next day. On day two, we used it as a side dish for a taco dinner. Worked like a charm.

If you’re interested in trying something yummy unique, or are figuring out what to do with that ripening plantain on your kitchen counter, give this recipe a go.

 

Timer photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

 

 

8 Writer-Inspired Things To Do On Vacation

I’ve come to a realization about my vacation time. When I’m away and exploring a new place, I like to writer-geek it up. I check out sights and do things to inspire my creative-writing side. It gives a new twist on how to spend a vacation, especially when it’s hard to sit down and write for blocks of time.

Want to writer-geek up your next vacay? Here are 8 writer-inspired things to do.

1. Go to a local bookstore

I visited Chronicle Books in San Francisco, which had loads of awesome books, anything from books about cooking to books about cursing. Both were colorful in their respective ways.

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2. Visit a local cafe

Caffeine is a big part of a writer’s life, whether it’s coffee, tea, or IV drip. I got a chai tea latte and banana bread at Better Buzz Coffee Roasters that was dee-lish, and I worked on editing my WIP.

3. Write outside, if possible

Writing outside opens the senses and gives a fresh perspective on a WIP. In Southern California, it’s not hard to write outside. One can only complain about sun glare on the computer screen. I found a bench at Pacific Beach and this was my view.

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4. Visit a museum or other attraction

In San Francisco, a lot of museums are closed on Wednesday. Go figure. But the American Bookbinders Museum was open. I learned how books were created in the 1800s, a long process that included folding, flattening, sewing, and trimming pages.

5. Buy something writer-related

I’d never seen one of these small 5-year memory books until I got to Chronicle Books in San Francisco. Each entry allows you to write a bite-size snippet of what happened that day. It’s like a mashup between Twitter and a journal, with pen and paper, of course.

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6. Eavesdrop

Eavesdropping is terrible, I know. But sometimes you overhear something that gives you an idea for a character, plot, dialogue, name, or event. Riding mass transit or sitting in a cafe is great for hearing interesting conversation. While out of our normal routine, we can be more receptive to these moments.

7. See the way people dress

Noticing how people dress can prove insightful when describing characters. If I were writing a story that takes place in San Francisco, I’d probably have the protagonist wearing a hooded, thin, bubble or soft-shell jacket. A necessity for dealing with the sunshine-one-minute, rain-the-next weather.

8. Notice the smells and sounds

Places can have different scents, another great description to capture in our writing. To me, the San Diego beach smells like sand. That is, until you come across any seals. They are fun to watch, but phew, they’re a stinky lot. I also associate that city with the cawing sound of seagulls and jets flying overhead from nearby Navy bases.

What writer-related things do you like to do while on vacation?

Tabloids, Grocery Drama, and Fiction

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A tabloid made me take my eye off the ball.

I was standing in a long line at the grocery store, six back from the register. At least ten more shoppers were behind me. And no other checkout lane was better.

A “major” storm was coming to D.C.-metro land. Weather folks had predicted a walloping. Three, four, maybe even six inches of snow. Gasp!

Everybody and their grandma were at the store, stocking up on bread, milk, and marginal-looking lettuce. I stood in the checkout lane, handcart on the ground in front of me, securing my position. And then I got distracted by the tabloids.

The shiny pictures, the yellow font, the exclamation points…

Wait, Brad moved in with Jennifer? There’s trouble between George and Amal?

While I was busy flipping through the magazine, a lady in her late-50s/early-60s had cut in front of me.

Mmhmm. She sure did.

To get confirmation, I glanced at the guy behind me and mouthed, “Did she just…”

He nodded before I even finished, and gave me the I’d-handle-it-if-I-were-you look, followed with the I-got-your-back-because-I’m-an-attorney look. Living in D.C.-metro land, you know that look.

“Excuse me?” I said to the cutter. She was typing on her phone, pretending not to hear.

I tapped her gently. “Excuse me?” She smiled, as if I were a Girl Scout selling cookies. Deadpan, I said to her, “The line’s back there.” And I pointed to the long row of people behind me, which now rivaled an amusement park line.

“Oh,” the lady said. “I didn’t realize. I’m so sorry.” She stepped aside. And this was the kicker, she said, “How presumptuous of me.”

I gave her the you-said-it-I-didn’t look, and she went on her way.

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Those tabloids, though.

Who knows if that lady was telling the truth or not? (I doubt it.) Who knows if those tabloids were telling the truth or not, either? (I doubt that, too.) But what happened was an interesting lesson on how the tabloid got my attention.

  • The glossy cover and telling pictures
  • A catchy headline
  • Characters that we “care” about
  • A juicy story

Fellow fiction writers, doesn’t this list look familiar? Pretty similar to the things we should do with our books, right?

If you peel back the layer that screams tabloid, the core of the onion is the same.

We want our book covers to attract attention. We want a book title that stops time. We want fingers to practically tear open the book to get to page one. We want our stories to distract people from reality, to the point that they let someone cut in front of them in line at the doggone grocery store…

Or something like that.

How cool would it be if our books were the catalyst of a little grocery store drama?

Photo by Jomjakkapat Parrueng on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

IDK, Am I Hip? Part Two

Word Art-2Last week, I wrote about #WriterAcronyms, and how important it is to understand them if you’re a writer using social media. I also joked about the word “hip”. The concept deserved its own post. So here we are…

“Hip” Awareness and Lack Thereof

Per Dictionary. com, one of the definitions for hip is:

“familiar with or informed about the latest ideas, styles, developments, etc.”

Example sentence, “My parents aren’t exactly hip, you know.”

If I weren’t a writer, I probably wouldn’t think twice about the word “hip” and the concept it represents. But as someone in her 40s working on a fiction project with main characters in their late 20s, I wonder about these things.

Do I know enough about the latest trends to write from the perspective of a 27-year-old? Um, I think so.

But every 20 or so pages, I’ll write a bit of dialogue and think, “Would 27 year-olds say that? Would they use those words?” Then I answer my own question with a resounding, “Yes, they would use those words if they were 27 in the early 2000s.” And then I mope a little at this nugget of truth.

I mope because I’m falling victim to the generation gap.

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Here’s What I Don’t Want to Happen

The generation gap started sucking me in a few years ago. No matter how much kicking and screaming I did or how many skinny jeans I wore, I couldn’t escape it.

I recognized it happening when I stopped following what the latest singers or hottest new actors were doing.

Instead, I’ve been keeping up with politics and international news and new tax info, which is like an escape room that you can’t get out of. After trying to decipher all of that, there’s no more brain space to figure out who Travis Scott is, and whether I’ve heard one of his songs before.

As the generational divide deepens, I don’t want to become the female version of the middle-aged guy in the Progressive commercial, introducing himself as Tom Prichard in the middle of a nightclub dance floor and doing the air guitar.

If I start wearing pleated, relaxed-fit khakis, somebody slap me.

In my book, I don’t want to have my 29-year old protagonist printing out directions and tucking a flip phone into his belt holster, nor saying the speech equivalent.

Perhaps it’s good to have this level of self-awareness. It means all is not lost.

Being “Hip” in Your WIP

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I don’t think a writer has to be cutting-edge with trends or slang. But one has to think about the age of their character and how that affects what he or she does and says.

I search things on Google. I read articles. I get on Twitter to see what’s trending. I ask younger family members questions.

At the very least, we writers should have enough awareness to recognize that a character of a younger age would NOT say or do something a certain way.

How trendy should we be with what our characters say?

The answer about using slang in books seems to be to shy away from it. It can date the book quickly, because trendy phrases go in and out of style. Grammar Girl says, “slang is informal and better used in dialogue, if at all.” This seems like a good camp to be in.

There’s another camp for the importance of colloquialism in literature. Penlighten says it strikes a chord and “forges a strong connection with the reader.” But that, I think, would be the case as long as the writer gets it right. If they don’t, according to The Guardian, it can fall flat. (Cue the air guitar.)

Are you feeling the pangs of a generation gap? Does it impact how you write and research characters who are younger than you?

 

 

IDK, Am I Hip? #WriterAcronyms

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A long-time friend sent a group text announcing what “IDK” means. Her pre-teen had filled her in on the acronym. IDK stands for I don’t know, she wrote. She was passing on the knowledge to us forty-somethings to keep us “hip.”

The “hip” comment was the icing on the cake.

I must proudly say that I’ve known what IDK means for some time, and was slightly surprised that the others in the group didn’t know. To be fair, one other friend knew, too. But two out of five isn’t the best score.

The text message got me thinking. How did I know about IDK? Or IKR or IMHO, for that matter? The answer is Twitter.

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Ever since I got active on Twitter about two years ago, I’ve been decoding and learning the popular acronyms. I’ve hit Google many times for translation. It always helps.

Check out: Keeping Up with Internet Slang and Social Media Acronyms on Day Translations

I quickly learned that the writing community on Twitter has its own set of acronyms and short-hand slang to learn, too. Things like:

  • WIP — Work-in-Progress
    • Yes, dirty minds, the “h” in WIP is left out on purpose.
  • MS — Manuscript
    • No, MS in this case is not short for the gang MS-13.
  • 80K/90K/100K — any variation stands for a manuscript’s Word Count
    • 80K is not short-hand for a run or race. If so, writers do a whole lot of running, and I’m not fit enough for all of that.
  • FF — Flash Fiction
    • This could also mean #FollowFriday, or maybe even Fast Forward if you still have a cassette player.
  • Fic — Fiction
    • Looks like “Pic” if you glance too fast, until you notice that there is no photo attached to the tweet, just lots of words. Lots and lots of writer-words.
  • FanFic — Fan Fiction
    • Not to be confused with “FanPic,” which would probably be attached to the #amstalking hashtag, versus #amwriting.
  • YA/MG — Young Adult/Middle Grade
    • YA/MG isn’t the name of an old school rap group, though I think it would’ve worked. It also doesn’t mean an abundance of OMG emotions, like Lulz for LOL.

There are more acronyms that come to mind, but you get the point. There’s Twitter-speak and there’s #writingcommunity Twitter-speak, and we writers need to know both….to stay hip, of course.

What other writer-related acronyms have you seen or used? Is there a cheat sheet out there, like this one for generic, popular acronyms? Crib notes? An app? Something? If not, there should be.

Side question: What’s the new word for “hip” anyway? *Sigh* That deserves its own blog post. Check out part two

 

 

 

 

 

9 Things I’m Still Learning from the “Big Read” Experience

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“Read me and weep”

I’ve done it again—I finished a draft of my WIP (work-in-progress), printed it out, and did the Big Read. I noticed the following similarities and differences from the time I reached this point with a previous manuscript.

  • It’s still like to see the book printed on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper.

It feels more real when the manuscript is printed out, versus seeing it on the computer screen. No, the pages aren’t bound into a paperback, and there isn’t a pretty, shiny cover. But it has weight and height and depth and flipping through the pages is kinda nice.

  • Doing the Big Read still isn’t easy.

I’ve read posts online that say you should read through the printed version in one or two sittings before making edits. I can’t seem to do that. My inner editor won’t let me. (She’s so mean sometimes.)

It took about six days to mark the whole thing up with my hand-dandy blue pen. I’ll make no bones about it, going through the Big Read was a bit of a slog, like last time. I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s because I’m forcing myself to look at the manuscript with a critical eye, which is less than a confidence booster. I know that that the outcome makes my work better, so I’m not sure why it feels like a slog-fest. Do you have any tips to share on how to get past that feeling?

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Blue-pen edits are friendlier than red-pen ones.
  • I caught more things than I did last time. I need to work on:
    • Setting development
      • I need to add a few lines at the beginning of each chapter, and interspersed throughout, to ground the reader more—let them step into the world, see it, feel it, touch it, taste it, etc. This is probably where I can use the most improvement with my writing.
    • Minimizing use of crutch words, like…
      • so
      • that
      • just
      • realized
      • felt

Check out this video: 29 Words to Cut from Your Novel by Vivien Reis

    • Stripping out adverbs
    • Decreasing alternatives for “said” as dialogue tags
      • I thought it was good to avoid over-using the word “said.” However, I recently read over and over again that too many “said” alternatives is considered amateurish. It’s also very distracting for the reader. I’ve taken out subpar phrases like, “she cajoled,” and put back the word “said.”
    • Addressing plot holes
      • There are a couple of loose threads that need to be fixed. I made placeholder notes on my print-out to indicate where I should fill things in when I’m ready to start typing again.
    • Developing the non-physical attraction between the hero and heroine
      • I need to add more moments between the hero and heroine of my romance novel, where they are learning from each other and/or helping one another. This will show how their relationship is growing on a deeper level.
  • When it’s time to begin incorporating the edits onto my computer, I need to take it one step at at time.

This is where I need somebody like Drew Brees to hype me up with pre-game motivational chants. But Drew isn’t returning my calls, so I have to fend for myself. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where I conjure up the phrase “Bird by Bird,” and how simple and perfect it is.

I need to take things one step at a time, one page at a time, one chapter at at time, until it’s done.

What have you learned after printing out your WIP and doing the Big Read?

 

 

Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder

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I was inspired by a can of Campbell’s Well Yes! Sweet Potato Corn Chowder to find a comparable soup that I can fresh make at home. The answer was this Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder recipe by Pinch and Swirl.

It’s pretty easy to make, with good whole ingredients, like sweet potato, onion, red bell pepper, corn…

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…And, did I mention bacon?…

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Because everything’s better with bacon.

The recipe calls for a regular potato, but I replaced it with one cup of long grain and wild rice. The canned Well Yes! soup includes wild rice, and I wanted to stay as close to their ingredient list as possible.

Plus, I thought the seasoning packet that comes with the wild rice would add more flavor to the soup than a regular potato.

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This recipe, with the twist of rice, is a new soup that I will add to my winter-season-cooking. It has a full, natural flavor—and the bacon creates such a nice, smoky taste—that no seasonings or spices were needed. The salt and pepper shakers were left on the counter untouched.

It’s a hearty meal alone. But if you want a little extra somethin’ with your soup like I do, it goes well with crackers and cheese.

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A brief moment about the cheese, if I may…

We had Beecher’s Flagship cheese, a cow’s milk cheese perfectly described as robust and nutty.

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Hubby and I purchased it at Trader Joe’s. But if you’re in New York, you can have Beecher’s handmade cheese at their location on E. 20th and Broadway.

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Beecher’s isn’t just a cheese shop. They have a cafe and a restaurant downstairs called The Cellar. We met some friends there for brunch during a visit to NYC this summer. I ordered the b.e.c. biscuit, which is a biscuit with bacon, scrambled egg, and their Flagship cheese.

Sorry, I don’t have a picture of the biscuit to post. I was probably too busy eating to take one.

The Double Doink and Writing

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“Oh, my goodness. The Bears season’s going to end on a double doink…Unbelievable.” — Chris Collinsworth, commentator of NBC’s Sunday Night Football

I have to do it. I have to blog about the double doink that took place in football on January 6, and how it relates to writing.

I’m a bit late to the party, posting this over a week after the fact. But let’s be honest, the bizarre and unlucky feat by Chicago Bears’ kicker Cody Parkey will be talked about for years.

For those of you who don’t know what happened: During a widely televised National Football League first-round playoff game, Parkey missed a field goal that could’ve won the game against the Philadelphia Eagles. (Watch it here.) His kicking attempt bounced the ball against the goal’s upright and the crossbar. Yes, it hit two places. It double-doinked.

It was a thing of mystery. It defied all laws of Football Physics.* It was catastrophic luck for the Bears. It was a sprinkle of magic for Eagles fans like me.**

I was happy about the win, but I was cringing for Parkey. He had to experience that moment in front of thousands of people at the stadium, millions of people watching it on TV, and millions more dissecting it on social media.

What pressure!

The whole mishap made me realize how lucky we novice writers are. I don’t know about you, but I double-doink all the time with my writing.

Recently, I sent the first chapter of a WIP to a critique partner, who gently reminded me that the GMC—goal, motivation, and conflict—for my characters was, sorta, missing from the page.

Doh! How could I make such a mistake? It was a double-doink.

At first I was embarrassed. But why? It hadn’t played out in seconds in front of millions. And the beta-reader who reviewed my work was the only person who knew it happened.***

I simply needed to go back to my computer and make some revisions. I could take days, weeks, or months revising, if I want, working to create a product that is as polished as I can make it. Parkey, on the other hand, doesn’t get a do-over.

If I publish a piece that double-doinks, I can remain hidden behind the cloak of a pseudonym. I can lick my wounds, then re-brand myself under another author identity. Parkey doesn’t have that luxury.

“I’ll continue to keep my head held high because football is what I do, it’s not who I am.” — Cody Parkey, Chicago Bears’ kicker

Sometimes we writers let double-doink moments shake our confidence. Let’s not. Instead, let’s allow the moments to make us better writers. Keep plugging away. Keep revising. Keep writing. If Parkey can get through it, we most certainly can, too.

 

* After the game, it was discovered that a defender’s fingertips nicked the ball, helping to send the ball on its crazy trajectory.

** The magic didn’t last long. The Eagles lost their next playoff game to the New Orleans Saints. *sigh*

*** Now you’re in on it, too, my blog-reading bushel of loveliness.