The Business of Writing

With my shiny new bachelor's degree tucked under my belt and the world at my fingertips, I expected to spend last September and beyond seriously getting down to business as a writer and editor. Unfortunately, things don't always go to plan.

For the last several years as I went to school and worked at a couple of magazines, I had to put my writing on the back burner. Going to school full time and working part time as a single mom, I couldn't find a way to make it all work, and I knew that putting my writing on the back burner for the short term would be fine because soon I would have time again to pick it back up.

But it turns out that it isn't as easy to get back into the swing of things as I expected. There are so many distractions when I'm at home all day. My kids need me for things, there are household chores to attend to, and on top of all that, I'm worrying about whether I will be able to make enough money as a freelancer to make ends meet.

None of that has been good for my creativity. But I have been able to get back into writing again by following some age-old advice that I have heard at many writing conferences over the years: treat your writing like it's your job.

I've started using a pomodoro app that helps keep me on track throughout the day. Spending even one or two half-hour increments a day really focused on my writing not only helps me get a little closer to being finished with the first draft, but it also keeps the story in my head so it isn't as hard to get back into writing when I sit down each time.

What do you think? Does treating your writing like a job make it easier to be productive? What are your best tips for staying focused when you're writing at home?

Elegy for Ophelia

I took an Early Modern English class last semester and our final project for the class was to write an elegy for one of the characters in Hamlet. I really connected with Ophelia as we were reading the play throughout the semester, so I decided to write my poem about her.

I've never had to write a poem with as many constraints as this one had. We had a grading rubric that was 29 items long and to get full credit, we had to use at least 22 items on the list. Some items were fairly straightforward, like 1 point if the poem is in iambic pentameter, 1 point if it's 14 lines long, 1 point if we included an end-rhyme scheme.

But some of them were quite difficult, especially once the poem was written and we had to now add in poetic devices, words that meant different things in Early Modern English than they do now, sound repetition patterns, phrases from the play, etc. etc. Finding ways to fit in all of those things, though, was like putting the poem through the fiery furnace, and what came out was much better than what went in originally. It forced me to stretch and be creative.

I had so much fun with it and I really think it turned out pretty nice when it was finished, so I thought I would share it here. I hope you enjoy.


The broken branch hath fallen in the brook
And lords and ladies gathered by to look,
To mourn the sad and somber end of thee--
They cannot fathom all that thou didst see.

Still, mermaid-like thou liest in the stream,
Thine arms outstretched, thy song a soulful dream.
Maid, did he love thee? Did he love thee not?
Death is best safety--all thy doubts be naught.

Here's rosemary, for memory, and rue,
And pansies for they bier--take fennel, too.
Insanity had come to ease the way,
To take the sting of death and lies away.

And now thou hath thy rest, thy pain is o'er;
Sleep well, sweet lark--thy story is now lore.

Please Don't Circumcise

If you're about to have a baby or a grand-baby--or if you know someone who fits that description--the subject of circumcision will probably come up sooner or later. There is a lot of misinformation about circumcision going around, even from doctors, because so many people in the US circumcised their boys in the past that some doctors don't have a lot of experience with boys who aren't circumcised. Here are some of the misconceptions and myths that I feel need to be addressed and better understood by new parents who are making this decision for their baby boys:

1) It's just a "little flap of skin"?

The truth is, it is 15 square inches of functional tissue, rich with blood vessels and several different types of nerve endings, the frenulum, and a ridged band, and it serves more than one purpose. One is to protect the glans. The glans is supposed to be moist and supple, like the inside of your cheek. This link contains pictures that show the difference between the two if you'd like to see for yourself. The foreskin and frenulum is also the most erogenous part of a man's body, and has several functions during sex, including providing a gliding action so there is less friction for him and his partner, and providing lubrication. This article illustrates some of the important sexual functions of the foreskin.

2) It's "just a snip"?

Babies' foreskins are fused to the glans in much the same way your fingernail is fused to your finger. Before it can be removed, the foreskin has to be torn away from the glans. This is true whether your doctor uses a traditional technique or the "plastibell" method. There are many videos of circumcisions you can watch on YouTube that prove that it is anything but a little "snip" if you have the stomach to watch them. I've never been able to get very far into one. (This is an excellent video that has a ton of great info. in it. The circumcision procedure starts at 10:24 if you want to watch it. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I had to fast-forward and mute, so I'm not sure exactly what happens. I just know it's an informative video overall, and that it happens to also show an actual circumcision procedure for those who want to know what that looks like.)

3) Boys need to be circumcised so they look like their dad / brother / friends / kids at school / etc.?

There is no other time in a child's life that parents would find it acceptable to alter their child's body in order to make it match someone else's. Boys look different from their dads in lots of ways, and those differences can be easily explained and even celebrated.

It's also important to note that 80% of the world's men are intact. Outside of the Jewish and Muslim world, that number is more like 95%. Even in the U.S. the numbers are falling, especially in the West. Overall, the U.S. circumcision rate is around 60%. So if you're circumcising just so your son won't get teased, there is pretty much the same chance of getting teased for being circumcised as there is for not at this point.

4) It's cleaner?

Brushing your teeth is much more difficult than keeping an intact penis clean. When boys are young, the foreskin is fused to the glans. You don't need to do anything more than wipe it off the way you would a finger. As they get older, often not until puberty, the foreskin is able to retract. Teach them to pull it back and rinse it with water. Soap is unnecessary and even harmful, as it disrupts the healthy pH balance of the area.

Also, the foreskin actually protects the meatus and glans from bacteria. That's part of its job.

5) There are health benefits?

This is a hotly debated topic. There may or may not be health benefits. Some studies suggest there might be. Others show the opposite. Medicaid and many insurance companies have stopped covering circumcision in many states because the American Academy of Pediatrics determined that there is not enough evidence of a health benefit that outweighs the risks enough to recommend it. And recent studies that are being touted as proof that circumcision can help prevent AIDS are extremely flawed. (Not only that, they're dangerous because people are having sex without condoms thinking they are unable to get AIDS because of their circumcision when that is anything but the truth.) BUT, even if there were a clear health benefit, there is no other time in any person's life that healthy tissue is removed just because it /might/ become a problem later in life. Some argue that circumcision could reduce the risk of penile cancer, but penile cancer occurs in older men, and even then only 1 in 100,000 men will ever get it. On the other hand, over 40,000 women will die this year from breast cancer, but we would never dream of removing a healthy baby's breast tissue in order to keep her from possibly getting breast cancer later in life.

6) It looks better?

This is a matter of personal opinion, and the only reason some people think it looks better is because that is what they're used to. If you are circumcising just for looks, that makes this a purely cosmetic surgery on a body part that hardly anyone will ever see. It is never okay to perform cosmetic surgery on an infant. Besides, how many parents are going around thinking about how much better their grown son's penis looks compared to someone else's? If your grown son or his partner want his penis to look different, they can make that choice, but how do you know they won't think an intact penis looks better? It can always be done later, but it can never be undone.

7) They might need to have it done later in life?

Many of the cases where it needed to be done later in life could have been avoided. Many people believe they need to retract their young son's foreskin and clean underneath it with soap. (Some doctors will tell parents this, or will try to retract the boys' foreskin themselves. You should never let a doctor or anyone else retract your son's foreskin. For more information, see this informative article.) This causes tearing if the foreskin is still fused to the glans, and the soap disrupts the natural pH balance and irritates the sensitive skin. This can cause phimosis and UTIs, which then causes the doctor to recommend circumcision. But even if a boy does have phimosis or UTIs, there are alternative treatments that often work if they are used rather than going straight to circumcision. Steroid cream can correct phimosis in 65 - 95 % of patients, and in severe cases that don't respond to steroid cream, the foreskin can be cut with a dorsal slit to correct the problem rather than being removed entirely. UTIs can be treated with antibiotics, the same way we treat girls who get UTIs.

Note: Many doctors will tell parents that their son has phimosis when he is a toddler or young child. There are two kinds of phimosis: physiologic and pathologic. Physiologic Phimosis is 100% normal. This is the way all little boys are born, and it is perfectly normal for the foreskin to stay attached and/or be difficult to retract all the way through puberty. Only when he is entering sexual maturity is it a problem if the foreskin doesn't retract. This is the time to try steroid creams and, if that doesn't work, to resort to a dorsal slit to correct the phimosis. During the period when the foreskin starts to separate, there can be balooning and some irritation. These are all normal phases of separation and are not reasons to circumcise.

I also want to mention that in Finland, where circumcision is pretty much unheard of, the number of men who need to be circumcised for medical reasons is less than 1 in 16,000. So the fear that he'll eventually have to have it done sooner or later is unfounded. You wouldn't have his tonsils or appendix removed to avoid a future, possible problem, so you shouldn't remove his foreskin for this reason either.

8) It's better to do it as a baby than an adult?

There are actually many reasons it's better to do it as an adult if you're going to ever do it at all. Some of those reasons include:
1) Baby boys cannot receive general anesthesia; men can.
2) Men can tell someone when they're hurting during recovery and take pain medicine. Babies can't.
3) Circumcision often disrupts breastfeeding. This isn't a problem for a man, obviously.
4) A man's circumcision wound can heal in a clean environment; a baby's heals in a diaper.
5) The baby's skin can try to reattach to the glans because that is the way a baby's penis is supposed to be. A man's foreskin has already naturally detached over time, so there aren't adhesions or skin bridges like there often are for babies.
6) The doctor can tell exactly how much skin to take off with a man; with a baby, he has to guess because there is no way to know exactly how big the baby's penis is going to get and how much skin he will need. Doctors often take off too much, causing painful, tight erections, or too little, causing skin bridges and adhesions. There is much more of a chance for error on a tiny baby's penis than a man's.
7) In almost all cases of infant circumcision, the frenulum is destroyed, partly because of the much smaller size of everything the doctor has to work with and partly because of the way the foreskin is fused to the glans at birth. On the other hand, the doctor can preserve the frenulum when performing a circumcision on a fully-developed man.
8) And, finally, the man knows why he is in pain. A baby is simply in pain and doesn't understand why. Not only that, but a recent study showed that babies are about 4 times more sensitive to pain than adults. It's true that they might not remember that pain, but it's not okay to put a baby through unnecessary pain just because they won't remember it.

9) The risks are negligible?

One of the biggest risks that doesn't get talked about much is meatal stenosis. This happens in at least 10%, some studies say as much as 30%, of circumcised men and boys. And it often requires corrective surgery. One famous example is Jimmy Kimmel. He has had to have 2 surgeries as an adult because of meatal stenosis (narrowing of the urethra, making it difficult to pee.) Intact men do not have this problem because it arises from the loss of the foreskin's protective effect. Without the foreskin, the glans rubs against clothing every day, causing a layer of callous to build, which causes the urethra to narrow.

Other risks include hemorrhage, infection, scarring, difficulty urinating, loss of part or all of the penis, and in some cases, even death. Complications happen in even the best medical settings with the most highly trained practitioners. Some complications require additional surgeries in the future to correct problems. How likely these things occur is debated, but any chance of death or dismemberment should discourage us from performing an elective, essentially cosmetic, surgery on a minor who is unable to consent to the procedure.

There are also problems with the doctor taking too much or too little foreskin, causing either painful, tight erections, curvature or bowing, and/or a hairy shaft, or, on the flip side, adhesions and skin bridges. The process of tearing the foreskin from the glans can also cause pitting and other injuries to the glans.

Furthermore, 100% of the boys who are circumcised feel pain, both during and after the procedure, and 100% of the boys who are circumcised lose an important part of their anatomy, not just a "little flap of skin." (See point 1)

10) It's part of my religion?

Some Christians think it is part of their religion to circumcise, but the New Testament actually says that circumcision is done away with the Law; that Christ fulfilled the Law and there is no longer any reason to circumcise. One example is in Galatians 6:15 - "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature."

For Jews and Muslims, I would just like to give you one thing to think about: There are Jewish parents around the world who are deciding to have a Brit Shalom rather than a Brit Malah and to let their sons decide as adults whether they want to make the covenant of circumcision for themselves. Ask yourselves how much more meaningful a covenant is to a man who had learned all he can about it and decided to make that sacrifice for himself than it is for a baby, who doesn't know what's happening? If you'd like to learn more, here is a great website to get you started. Likewise, there are Muslims advocating against circumcision as well, who cite scriptures in the Qur'an as reasons not to circumcise, such as this one: "Allah is the One who made the Earth a habitat for you, and the sky a structure, and He designed you, and has perfected your design." (Qur'an 40:64)

In conclusion:

To sum up, there is no good reason to remove healthy tissue from a perfect, healthy baby, born the way God/nature made him. It is illegal in America to even make the smallest cut on any part of a girl's genitals before she is 18 years old, even for religious reasons. Why is it okay to completely remove an important part of a boy's genitals? This is a double standard, and I hope more people will come to believe that boys have the same right to body integrity that girls do. I've heard people say that men never complain about being circumcised, but I've talked to many men who are unhappy that their parents made that choice for them. is a great place to start if you or someone you know is unhappy with your/their circumcision. You can find information and support there for foreskin restoration. You can never recover the specialized nerve endings, the frenulum, or the ridged band, but you can recover some of the foreskin's functions.

Don't say "Maybe you can't" Instead, say...


Why do we treat bipolar people the way that we do?

I know, I know: they have all these delusions of grandeur.

Delusions are bad. We want people to live in reality.

So when we see someone who has been mellow and quiet and probably depressed their entire life suddenly saying things like, “I could be President of the World if I wanted to. I know how to fix ALL THE THINGS,” we shake our heads and say, “Poor little crazy person. Here, take these pills and talk to this doctor. You’re not feeling well.”

But we shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t always go down without a fight. These are people who have known all their lives that they would never be great. That they could never change the world. That their ideas aren’t really that great—I mean, maybe they’re good, maybe they’re okay, but they’re not the best ideas anyone’s ever had. They believe that maybe they’re special, but they’re not really more special than anybody else, after all.

This is how they’ve been thinking all their lives, until one day, when they stand up and shout, “Why COULDN’T I change the world??? My ideas are actually pretty great. Maybe I could get Democrats and the Republicans to cooperate. Maybe I could end some of the suffering in the world in the process . . .”

At which point, their friends and family start shaking their heads and saying, “Poor thing. You’re obviously not feeling well. You can’t be that great. Your ideas aren’t good enough. Thinking that they are good enough is obviously a delusion. Here, take this pill and listen to the nice doctor. We want you to feel better.”

I just wish that all the normal, non-delusional people in the world could understand just how devastating it is to be the person who is being told to go back to “normal” after suddenly feeling better than they’ve ever felt in their life. We really don’t need people telling us to sit down and be quiet because our ideas might not be good enough. The problem is that we already KNOW that our ideas probably aren’t good enough. We already KNOW that we might fail. We’ve been telling ourselves we’re not good enough for years and years and years.

Maybe what we need in that moment is for someone to say, “Hallelujah. Finally, someone who knows how to fix the world. Please, by all means, fix it.”

What is everyone so afraid of? The worst thing that could happen is that we would fail. Well, that certainly is going to happen anyway if we don’t try, isn’t it? Why not encourage us to try to fix the world while we still believe we can?

I bet there were plenty of people who were telling Mother Theresa that she couldn’t bring peace to the earth. I bet there were plenty of people who told her that she could never help enough people to make her cause worth it. I bet there were plenty of people who tried to discourage her from trying. The reason I’m so sure there were people who tried to discourage her is that people discouraging others from becoming great is a pretty universal thing.

Here are some of the reasons I think we discourage people from trying to be great:
1) We don’t want them to get hurt. Failing hurts, so we try to discourage them ahead of time so they don’t have to feel the pain of failing.
2) We have already tried to do a similar thing and were unable to be successful. So we discourage people from trying since we already know from personal experience that it doesn’t work.
3) We’re afraid that they will run off to try to save the world and leave behind their responsibilities at home.

There are probably more, but these are the main ones I’ve come up with for now.

1) Failing hurts.
Addressing the first point—like I said earlier, why not let them try and fail? Every person who has ever achieved anything great has universally failed first before succeeding. Michael Jordan didn’t achieve a slam dunk on his first try. He was probably a few feet too short to even dream of slam dunking a basketball the first time he tried. Thomas Edison failed something close to a thousand times trying to invent the light bulb. I am one hundred percent certain that people told him to quit trying, that he could never make it work. I think the entire world is grateful he didn’t listen to those discouraging voices.

There were many people who said a black man could never become President of the United States. I’m sure plenty of people told Barak Obama not to try. There are admittedly people who still wish he hadn’t tried. But whether you agree with his politics or not, you have to admit, he achieved something that many people believed was utterly impossible. I say, that’s downright inspiring.

2) They have already tried and failed.
On to the second point: people discourage us from trying because they have tried something similar and have failed. They are thinking about how much failing hurt them, and they are trying to save us from making a similar mistake.

My mom, for instance, tried to get in to see President Monson at one point. She was pretty sure such a thing was possible, because she knew him personally and she was sure that he would remember her. I, for one, am positively convinced that he does remember her, and I think he would be glad to have a chance to see her if he can find time in his schedule. She was told that it, in fact, was not possible. So when I, in my manic phase, started saying that I thought it would be possible to get in to see President Monson, she discouraged me from trying. She had tried and failed, and she was trying to save me the time and trouble and disappointment of doing the same thing. I don’t blame her a bit for this.

At the same time, I still think I could get in to see him, especially if I promised to bring my mom along. I think he would be happy to catch up with her after all these years. I am still determined to try. I have composed a letter. I am planning to hand deliver the letter to the church office building and make them promise to hand deliver it to the prophet. I am planning to invite him to arrange a time in his schedule to meet with my mom and me. I am not at all convinced that he will have the time or be able to do so, but I am convinced that if he does have the time, he will want to meet with us. This is crazy talk, of course. Why would the prophet care about us, some of the obscure, regular people of the church? And yet, if you know anything about President Monson, you will know that the obscure, regular people of the church are the people he loves the most.

I might fail. I admit that this would be discouraging. I also know, however, that not trying will guarantee a discouraging failure, and so I am going to try anyway.

3) We have responsibilities.
On to the third point, I can understand that our loved ones are afraid that with all these delusions of grandeur, we are going to leave behind our responsibilities. For those people like me who are single parents, it is especially scary for our friends and family to think that we might fill our head with delusions of grandeur to the point that we forget our responsibilities at home.

My dad, for instance, has some delusions of grandeur of his own. He’s never been diagnosed as bipolar, maybe because he has never let anyone discourage him to the point that he goes in cycles between mania and depression. He has charged ahead with his goal to solve Einstein’s Unified Field Theory despite the many discouraging voices around him. This is something not even Einstein could figure out. My dad, as opposed to Einstein, lives in an era where the amount of knowledge we have is exploding exponentially because of many factors, including the availability of information on the internet. I believe it is entirely possible that he could solve the Unified Field Theory if he had the resources he needs to prove his theories.

Because my dad is focused on doing great things, he often forgets the little things at home. This has caused many problems for him and those around him over the years. When I started acting a little bit crazy and delusional, I believe the people around me were worried that I would get so wrapped up in pursuing a pipe dream that I neglected my family at home. This is a legitimate concern.

I don’t think that that means we should bring bipolar people down to a depressed state. I believe when we stabilize a bipolar person, we are probably “stabilizing” them in a depressed state. They break out of it occasionally and we quickly help the cute little crazy person back down to “normal.” Maybe we should be aiming higher. Maybe we should help bring them down *just a little* to the point that we are sure they aren’t going to go around neglecting their families or doing anything crazy like trying to “fly” off a tall building. And then let them try to go be great anyway, even though they aren’t delusional anymore.

What I really want to know is, why do we have to tell bipolar people (or anyone who dreams of greatness, really) “maybe you can’t”? It means exactly the same thing as “maybe you can,” but is terribly depressing and deflating. Why don’t we instead say, “Maybe you can!!! Maybe you CAN change the world! Maybe you CAN do amazing, great things! Maybe you CAN fix the political mess in the United States! Maybe you CAN meet the Prophet in his office! Maybe you CAN homeschool your children using YouTube as your main information highway! Maybe you CAN dye a streak of blue in your hair and not regret it for years while you wait for it to grow out!”

Semantically, it means the exact same thing as “Maybe you CAN’T dye a streak of blue in your hair without regretting it for years!” but is so much more encouraging and heartening!

So even though this will sound like crazy talk, I’m going to say it anyway:
Maybe we CAN treat bipolar people like their ideas are great and still find a way to protect them from hurting themselves or others as we help stabilize them on their right medication. Maybe saying “Maybe we CAN” will change EVERYTHING!

Let’s try it.

Who’s with me?

I think we really CAN make a difference.

I'm Making a Picture Book!

I'm so excited about my newest project!

I'm taking a print publishing class at school right now, and for the final project, we have to make a book. Instead of just doing it with stock photography and public domain text just to get it done, I'm going to be using the picture book manuscript I received an honorable mention for at LUW a few years ago, and my daughter is doing the artwork for it.

By the end of the semester, I hope to have a book that is ready for publication. Depending on how I feel at that point, I might try to send it out to publishers and see if I can get some interest, or just publish it myself. No matter what, it will be a great learning experience for both of us. And with any luck, we might actually sell some books in the end.

Writing as Therapy

I'm writing two completely different, opposite books right now. I feel like writing them has been therapeutic for me. I will sometimes decide which book to work on based on my current mood.

See, I'm going through a divorce right now, and I'm working through the stages of grief as I mourn the loss of my almost two-decades-long relationship. When I'm feeling bitter or angry or frustrated, I work on the book I'm calling an anti-romance, where the MC starts out married and ends up happily divorced. When I'm feeling hopeful about the future and accepting of my divorce and excited about the idea of getting to date when it's all over, I work on a sweet little romance. I've never written romance before, and it's proving be quite fun.

So, tell me: have you ever written as therapy before? Does it make your writing better, or does it end up unpublishable, but still worth it in its own right? Or has your experience been something else altogether?

Also, thanks to Renae at for featuring me on her blog today!

Book Review: How to Embrace Your Inner Hotness

I had the opportunity this week to read and review Leta Greene's new book, How to Embrace Your Inner Hotness: An Inside-Out Approach to a Lasting Makeover.

This is the type of book that needs to be read slowly and absorbed to fully benefit from it. There are exercises and challenges throughout the book, some of which take a week or longer to complete, and I didn't have time to do that on this read, but I'd like to go back and do some of them.

What I loved about this book was how Greene emphasizes the importance of what we think of ourselves over what we look like. Her first and biggest makeover came without changing how she looked at all. In her description of it, she says: "There was no makeover. There was no wardrobe change . . . I still had blotchy skin. I still had a missing front tooth and two very large, temporary, gray-streaked teeth. I still had scar tissue. I still wore the same hand-me-downs. I still lived on the corner by the stump." Despite the fact that there was no makeover of her outward appearance, she says, "There was a makeover, and it was a significant one: My thought process was made over. Instead of focusing on what was wrong with me, I started to see what was right. Everything was as it had been the day before, but everything had changed because I had changed the thoughts in my own head."

Throughout the book, she gives tips on makeup and clothing and how to maximize the first impression you're giving off to the world. But the thing I loved most about this book was the inside-out approach. Through her work as a makeup artist, Greene has found that even the most beautiful supermodels feel insecure about their looks. What's on the inside is truly the most important thing.

If you want to see what others are saying about this book, or to purchase a copy for your Kindle, click here.