Hope

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YallWest—The Quest for the Ring & Bookish Things

Published May 29, 2018 by Ashley Townsend

It might have happened at the beginning of May (you know me and punctuality—in opposition like Cinderella and those pesky stepsisters), but I still wanted to share my 10-day experience earlier this month before my next journey. There is always so much to talk about when I go on a bookish trip, but one word to sum up YallWest and the Writer’s Sanctuary Retreat: EPIC!

Some of my Instagram highlights have a few of the videos and pics from the events, in case you missed them, so go check them out and follow the people I tagged for their highlights, too!

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The first Friday of this month, I took a long and arduous 45-minute flight from San Diego to LAX—oy, the jet lag!—to meet up with one of my favorite people on earth, Nadine Brandes, for our fabulous bookish week. After squealing like maniacs who haven’t seen each other in months, we jetted off to the Santa Monica Public Library for a little YallWest pre-fun. We met Alexandra Bracken and Angie Thomas, *squeal* made friends in signing lines, and silent disco danced with Marissa Meyer (unbeknownst to her). Let me tell you, silent disco dancing looks like a gaggle of awkward weirdoes mime-dancing, but as soon as we slipped on those headphones, we didn’t mind joining in on the no-longer-silent dancing in the middle of the library courtyard. At least we were weirdos together!

(Psssst. Nadine is headed to BookCon on June 1st in NYC to giveaway and sign ARCs of Fawkes, so get on that!!!)

YALLWEST:

YallWest is basically a mini ComicCon for books—signings, ARCs and swag, panels, fabulous food, meet-and-greets with authors, and an all-around amazing event for geeky shenanigans with your favorite people. And. It. Was. Fanastic!

Nadine and I had no idea what to expect, so we were blown away by the amount of fans that showed up. We spent that Saturday exploring the shops, drooling over food truck food, getting books signed, visiting with friends, and meeting up with Benita, the creator of the original Book Beau that I had the pleasure of meeting at BeaulitfulCon in January. Of course, it was necessary for me to pick up a new mermaid Book Beau and a fox one for Katie, because you can never have too many Beaus. ^_~ Benita has such an incredible entrepreneurial drive and is a sweetheart, and she said that she would love to talk about doing a Book Beau design for Jungle Princess. Umm . . . Yes?!!!!!!  *internal screaming*

After meeting up with the absolutely hilarious and lovely Mary Weber for a seriously long but completely worthwhile boba line, we met up with Natasha, Christine, Jesse, and Kat. Nadine knew Natasha from BeaulitfulCon, but I had only ever been a fangirl of my favorite BookTubers (Tashapolis, Katytastic, Jesseethereader, and XTineMay) and felt a little awkward about entering the group.

They instantly drew us in with their smiles and open hearts, and we got to learn about their own writing journeys as they opened up about their struggles and rough starts. It felt like a life-chat among friends, which blew my mind a bit, but they are all so real and fun and such beautiful human beings that Nadine and I walked away from our afternoon with them knowing that we had just made some incredible memories and friends. If you watch Natasha’s second YallWest vlog, they mention Nadine, Mary, and I in it, and I admit that I did a little fangirl squeal that it meant something to them, too. As incredible as the entire day was, Nadine and I both agreed that our favorite part was getting to know these beautiful people.

The day went so quickly, but we ended the night at a fancy restaurant where Nadine’s and my epic sunburn didn’t quite blend in (you can find the beautiful image of our lobsterness on my Twitter), sitting at a table with Mary Weber, Marissa Meyer, Erin Sumerill, and Kasie West (who is my EVERYTHING), with Jenny Han and Veronica Roth milling about the room.

I was definitely not cool enough for this crowd, but renting out a fancy restaurant and chilling with NYT bestselling authors was just another Saturday for them. I have to admit it was a LOT of fun getting to know all of them and seriously enjoyed the night, but after a nonstop day of fun and sun and excitement, Nadine and I were toast before 11:00 and caught a Lyft back to our bed, though not before I got my sister’s book signed by the incredibly adorable Jenny Han. *squeals for eternity*

Nadine and I spent another day wandering L.A. and had an absolute blast being dorks and having serious heart-to-hearts before parting ways for the next leg of our journey. Before I get to the retreat, though, I’d just like to highlight the fact that I spent 30 minutes hiding in a bathroom at LAX from former Bachelor bachelor (and my personal favorite) Ben Higgins. Lemme ‘splain. . . .

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I’m a casual shark at Comic Con when it comes to celebrities. I have no problem walking up to them and saying hello or asking for a pic if it won’t cause a scene, no biggie. But when I spotted Ben stinking Higgins in front of me at security in LAX, I panicked and watched in shock as he moved on, though I’ve never gotten through security so quickly. I wandered *cough* a few terminals hoping I could spot him and then waked, dejected, to my own gate only to discover him sitting at the gate right next to mine. Fate? I think yes!!!!! But after walking past his waiting area five times and drawing attention to myself with my clacking boots as I tried to draw up the courage to say hello, I ended up getting a coaching session from my sister, Liz, as I hid in the restroom, and my SDCC partner in crime gave me a little push. I emerged from the ladies’ room and marched up to Ben before I could lose my nerve. I thanked him for his amazing work with Generous Coffee and his entertaining and inspirational podcast, and, guys, he was so kind and appreciative and nice. He was exhausted and took the time to talk to me and chat for a few minutes, and as dorky as it sounds, the Be Generous sticker he gave me is now proudly displayed on my laptop in memoriam of that moment of kismet at LAX. I forgot to give my name (and didn’t realize he was asking for it as I backed away *face. palm*), and I didn’t ask for a picture because I didn’t want to cause a hoopla around him before his flight home. But as much as I geeked out on the inside, I feel like it was a nice experience for him to have someone who was genuinely interested in his work with Generous and to have a real conversation, rather than just a fan who wanted something from him. And he never has to know what a cutie he is or that Dana Black and I bonded as we spent an hour-long car ride explaining The Bachelor and Ben Higgins to Lindsay Franklin, semi against her will, but she loved it.

WRITER’S SANCTUARY RETREAT:

This was probably one of the most fruitful conferences/retreats I’ve ever attended, not just for the opportunity to connect with writers and professionals, but C.J. Redwine and Mary Weber forced us to dive deep into our writing and our own hearts. The stories we craft come from within us, and they gave us the tools to safely draw from our past hurts to heal and grow so that our characters can do 

the same. I got through several problem scenes in my work in progress that weekend!

C.J. is such a firecracker to be around, and Mary is a personal friend who has an incredible heart for the hurting. They put so much work into this retreat so that we all came away wiser and fuller so that we can spill out onto the page and be filled in our own lives.

I roomed with my friend, Kara Swanson, and we had plenty of late night convos and Instagram layout plotting sessions and talking about Tom Holland. Nadine and I got to catch up even more, and I met/reconnected with so many friends: Dana and Lindsay were my soul sisters who helped me kick off the retreat, Sarah and Becky completely surprised me with how welcoming and amazingly sweet and hilarious they are (I’m writing a romcom book about Becky and her husband’s dumpster love, no joke), and supporting Elizabeth, and getting to know Heidi more in between our Timeless fangirl chats, and Sharilyn, Tanara, Ani’a, and Alison. These ladies are amazing!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, fun fact: friends that nap together stay together. Sara Ella is one of Nadine’s closest friends, and I’d had the opportunity to officially meet her after being online friends at BeaulitfulCon in January. But when I was dead on my feet after so much travel, I crashed with Nadine and Sara in their room for a three-hour power nap, and I adore this woman! Sara has one of the sweetest hearts I have ever seen, and she and I bonded quickly over our mutual love of Kasie West, naps, Captain Hook, and Jesus, and we spent the rest of the retreat on the lookout for espresso. The last book in her Unblemished series just released, and you need to snag a copy of the gorgeous Unbroken now!

Even when you’re exhausted, it’s always sad when a retreat or conference ends because you spenda week with the most spiritually encouraging and fantastic people, and I usually come away with sore stomach muscles from all the laughter. Mary and C.J. poured their heart and soul into this retreat, and we all came away from it refreshed and ready to dive back into our writing. Danielle Smith, Mary’s agent, was such a sweetheart and volunteered to drive Nadine and I to the San Luis Obispo train station that morning, but not without a stop by SloDoCo. for the world’s most incredible Muddy Buddy and maple bacon donuts *the heavens rejoice* and for legitimate sandwiches from Gus’s. We had such a fun time getting to now Danielle and only wish we’d had more time to chat with her on the car ride.

It was about a 5-hour train ride down from SLO to L.A., during which Nadine and I reminisced about 

our incredible week, pretended to nap but really just talked and giggled with our eyes closed, ate fruit pies like true travelers (to avoid scurvy, of course), and watched our favorite BookTubers’ updates about YallWest to relive the experience. There are plenty of hilarious selfies of our shenanigans on the ride, but we’ve vowed they shall never see the light of day. But we don’t need them to remember the incredible experiences, memories, and the connections and friendships made. I already can’t wait for next year!

 

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Watches and Calendars are So Mundane

Published April 28, 2018 by Ashley Townsend

Four things that I’ve recently considered investing in:

-A private jet

-A fleet of chocolate fountains

-Caffeine IVs—excuse me, Future, you failed to bring these or Back to the Future hover boards into my life. Pfttt.

-Someone who pays attention to my schedule better than I do. Because overbooking—it’s what I do best.

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Outside of Instagram and Facebook, I’ve been a bit absent lately. *coughs at the inadequacy of this statement* No, I did not join a fangirl cult or new library club that prevents you from checking emails and updating your blog. I have, however, been booking my crazy conference schedule for the year, planning signing events, getting back into the writing mode for Camp NaNo, overcoming a reading slump, and planning a trip out to visit my parents in Idaho. Soooooo, yeah, I think I need a second brain. Or just one that functions calmly and clearly on the mass amount of caffeine I’ve been consuming lately.

March: Spotted in the Wild!

Even though I didn’t do much writing in March, I did plenty of Camp NaNo prep and plotting and outlining for the rest of Jungle Princess (and maybe a bit of Book II, shhhhh). That’s basically like finishing the manuscript, right? *shifty eyes* I did, however, have a fabulously successful signing event at the Barnes & Noble in Grossmont Center at the end of last month, which is always so much fun to meet new friends and chat books. I met Yessenia (left), and she bought my entire series. I was the first author she’s ever had a book signed by before. SQUEEEEALLL! And my sweet, amazing friend Liv surprised me with laughter and fabulous fangirling, and she picked up Defying Shadows to complete her collection.  

APRIL: Camp NaNo Approaches.

April 1st was, obviously, Easter, although I considered spending the entire day holed away to get a jump on spring NaNo , let’s be real, family takes priority. I stayed up way past midnight to catch up, but the day was all about family and reveling in the beauty of so many hearts that are thankful to be given the choice to accept Life. Besides, there is something infinitely powerful and inspiring in beginning a new chapter of your story with an open heart and a refreshed spirit.

May: Dates Mean Nothing to Me. *facepalm*

I’m attending a book festival in L.A. next week, then staying at a friend’s place up there to do all the things besties do, and then I’ll hop on a flight the very next day to go even farther up north for a writer’s retreat in Cambria. -_- Yeah, even though I booked flights and trains and purchased lodging, somehow the dates and the fact that these events are two days apart didn’t register. Hence, the personal assistant . . . or someone who is just willing to write in the day-planner I own and shove it in my face.

But the writer’s retreat is going to be incredible! It’s hosted by C.J. Redwine and Mary Weber (yes, THE C.J. and Mary *flailing*), and so many of my amazing writer friends are going. Plus, the lodge we’re staying at is absolutely stunning and perfect for fueling writing inspiration!

June: A Little Reprieve

And by reprieve, I mean I still have two trips planned, but they’re a couple weeks apart. Phew! My sister, Katie, and I are traveling up to Idaho to visit our parents in June, and it will be exciting to see their new place, visit the lakes, and overwhelm them with our sheer volume after they’ve been away from their four daughters for so long. ^_~ Katie and I plan to do this at the airport:

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Also in June is the SoCal Christian Writer’s Conference, which I went to last year with Nadine Brandes and met so many fabulous people. It quickly became one of my favorite conferences, and this year is the second annual, so I can’t wait to meet up with everyone again, absorb, and keep writing!

July: WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY????????

I originally intended to go to Realm Makers and Comic Con, as I do every July, and they usually happen back-to-back weeks. It’s a lot to juggle, but it works and is so much fun because I get to wander Comic Con and cosplay and see fantastic things and meet new people, and then I get to learn and see my fabulous friends at the conference. It’s a win-win. But this year, I just discovered (TODAY) that they are over the same days, so while I’m in Missouri at Realm Makers, Comic Con will be happening in San Diego WITHOUT ME! I haven’t missed Comic Con in THREE YEARS, and I had a costume design for every day this go-round after the success of last year’s Cinderella and Indiana Jones cosplays. Guys, I am just not okay right now!!!!!!!!!

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August: I HAVEN’T GOTTEN THAT FAR YET!!!! THERE’S TOO MUCH PRESSURE, AND I’M STILL EMOTIONAL FROM NOT BEING ABLE TO ATTEND BOTH REALM MAKERS AND COMIC CON!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh, What A Year! 2017 Highlights

Published January 1, 2018 by Ashley Townsend

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2017 was a exciting and . . . interesting, full of tricky transitions and fantastic adventures. As many highs and lows as there were, one thing can be said of this past year: It was definitely memorable (except for January because I honestly don’t remember anything about that month, except for my TBR pile *slinks away in shame*)

One word about February: Nashville. 

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I went out to visit my bestie for her birthday in February, and Nashville is now one of my IMG_3117favorite places. From Honkey Tonking to my first chicken and waffles, being Southern Belles on the porch of a plantation to hearing fabulous live music at the Bluebird Cafe, and there was also flipping flapjacks like pros at the Pfunky Griddle (which was pfabulous!) and the eight coffee shops we managed to cram into a few days. It was a week of amazing memories of adventure and hilarious laughs, and I immediately wanted to go back afterward.

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We all know NaNoWriMo, but who has participated in Camp NaNo in April?

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I met up in Michigan with my incredible Realmie Roomies (also known as my soulmates, Tricia Mingerink, Katie Erickson, and Nadine Brandes) for a week of pounding away at IMG_3112the keyboard. But it wasn’t just work, and we took time to explore Tricia’s awesome property, goof off, laugh hysterically, floor-swim, eat all the Oreos we could, drink enough coffee and chai to float a ship, and watch The Legend of Tarzan … for writing research purposes only. *cough, cough* We even got to run across a rope bridge and fly through the air on the rope swing at the farm. I felt like I understand the Jane character in my work in progress a bit more now. ^_~ These lovely humans are a group of encouragers and pure joy, and I’m so grateful for the time we had together to motivate one another to beat that word count and keep going.

The next month was a blur of writing and work, and then my car got totaled one night by a drunk hit-and-run (not the funnest way to celebrate Mother’s Day). But I made some incredible memories in June. I traveled up to L.A. to attend the first ever SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference, and I think this will forever be a favorite and I am definitely going again this year.

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I roomed with Nadine who, as I mentioned before, is one of my favorite people on the planet! I went into this conference not knowing anyone and walked away with countless memories and so many new forever-friends that I know will always sneak away to grab boba tea and steal Shan Dittemore’s car for an adventure (with her permission, of course). 

There’s just something about writing conferences that brings out the best in everyone, IMG_3109and no matter where you look, you find a new friend and encourager. I met KARA SWANSON in the bathroom the first morning when we groggily introduced ourselves, and then we shared corn dogs and became fast friends. Now we’re planning conferences together (BeaulitfulCon this month!) and visits and send text inspiration to one another every day. She’s also my midnight writing companion and keeps me focused when life threatens to get in the way of writing.

July—SDCC, man.

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You can see my post on that week HERE, so these are just a few highlights. I always go IMG_3093with my big sis, Liz, and the Eleventh Doctor and Indiana Jones has a blast those four days exploring and wandering and stumbling upon the secret bathroom where all the actors get funneled past. Playing Cinderella was a lot more fun that I imagined because the kids think you’re the real deal, and after being asked to pose with sweet kiddos for so many pics, I decided I want to be a Disney princess. Also, next to Lara Croft and Indiana Jones (obviously), Rick from The Mummy was my adventuring hero growing up. And it didn’t hurt that he was charismatic and quite the charmer. *wink* 

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I’d rather forget August, to be honest. My sisters and I spent the entire month looking for an apartment, and it was so stressful that I think we’ll just brush that under the rug and move onto September, when we moved in and celebrated my sister Katie’s 21st birthday two days later. Phew! It’s great to have our own space, though, and NEW BOOKSHELVES!!!!  

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I had two big signing and panel events at the end of the month, which was crazy after just having moved into our new place, but they were so much fun. I’ve done signings before, but the panel at Barnes & Noble Mira Mesa was different and exciting—and a bit strange—because there was a specific Q&A, questions from fans, and a lot of the guests stuck around afterward to chat about writing and my books. And my online friend, Liv, surprised me there, which was such a fantastic surprise!!!! 

My birthday happened at the beginning of October, and Chasing Shadows turned 3 the next day. My baby is so growed up! *flails* It was basically just a month of writing and preparing for NaNoWriMo. 

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I designed a bunch of word-pictures for NaNo to give everyone a taste of my WIP that you can find on my Instagram, and I love how they turned out! 

Ah, November. A month designed to test my endurance and my keyboard’s ability to keep up and not burst into flames. I knew the end of the month would be slammed with friends visiting and B&N signing events, but having those late-night writing sessions with Kara totally saved my hide. I didn’t master NaNo this year, but I actually stayed on top of my goals and explored corners of my story and the characters’ lives that I’d never considered before. Surprise twists, even for a writer, are so exciting!

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My bestie, Rebekah, and her sister, Elizabeth, visited us for Thanksgiving, and we had a blast. We were like kids running around Sea World and found the Promised Land in the form of Starbucks coffee and the churro stand, and we still laugh over practically dying with the wet cold and our chant that got us home—Chipotle, shower, warm pants, tea. There was also the ferry from Coronado Island to downtown with the most hilarious tour guide, a gorgeous day at Cabrillo, Thanksgiving, and plenty of delightful adventures and coffee to keep us alive. 

December was full of highs and lows. My parents moved out of California just two days after Christmas, so it was weird wandering through our old house full of boxes and empty rooms when we’d spent so many Christmases there before. But I have amazing memories from our time there, and it was so special to have Christmas events where we got all the family together to celebrate just being together. It makes you appreciate the moments and memories you have right now.

I don’t usually make resolutions because I feel they can be so easily broken or are silly things that I’ll never do … like exercise or stop drinking coffee (HOW DARE YOU?!). But I do have one plan for 2018, and I’m sticking to it and hope you’ll give it a shot.

Never stop trying!

NaNo Prep Time

Published October 21, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

 

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Can you believe it’s almost November? o.0 That means NaNoWriMo is coming up in less than two weeks. It also happens to begin the same day I consider to be the start of the Christmas season, and I don’t even mind dodging the angry fruit you pre-Christmas haters want to throw at me. I’ll make Christmas fruitcake from it. ^_~

A lot of prep-work goes into the month of October to make sure that I stay focused on my project. It isn’t always easy, so aside from the usual tactics—like limiting social media, upping caffeine abuse, etc.—I’ve introduced several other helpful tricks into my October planning. They help to maintain my sanity and allow me to be prepared for NaNo so I’m not scrambling at the eleventh hour to accomplish last minute tasks.

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I try to cram as many social engagements and catch-up phone calls with friends into October because I will basically be a hermit starting November 1st. Social calls may resume on December 1st, and please bring coffee to the creature with the blood-shot eyes and the hands that phantom-type words onto an invisible keyboard.

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Writing Inspiration Playlist

Whatever is on this playlist basically becomes the only music I listen to during November. Although it keeps you in the write mindset *laughs hysterically at vague joke*, listening to the same music nonstop for 30 days can make you want to turn on all the fans, have the popcorn maker going, and crank a blow-dryer on high to drown out the same loop of songs. Since these noisy distractions can be counter-productive—and send your energy bill skyrocketing—I make sure to have variation on my playlist and create it before November begins. Don’t waste time scrambling to design a playlist late in the game; save yourself the trouble and do it beforehand so you can dive into your story Nov. 1st with the perfect background inspiration guiding your fingers.

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Goodies on my playlist:

~ “Meet Me in the Woods” by Lord Huron

~ “Running if You Call My Name” by Haim

~ “All We Ever Knew” by The Head and the Heart

~ “Dreamers” by Oh Gravity (thanks to Katie Grace leading me onto it!)

~ Pride and Prejudice soundtrack

Limit Your Social Media

It’s a given, but as much as I love chatting with friends online or sharing photos of books on Instagram (see what I’m reading here), I can’t let myself fall into the social media rabbit hole during NaNo. I’ve made the mistake of spending more time chatting about my manuscript progress than actually writing it, or adding to my novel board on Pinterest.

Ways to stave off the decent into the rabbit hole:

~Prepare blog posts beforehand. It’s a lot of work, but you don’t want to stress blogging deadlines while trying to nail your word count. You can always fine-tune them later!

~Plot, plot, plot. Now, you know I’m a plotting-pantser and can’t stand to box myself in, but having a good idea of sequencing and character development for your 50,000 words gives you a goal to hit and helps to keep your focus to stave off the call of the web.

~Have a cache of photos on your phone to post on Instagram the days when there just isn’t time to stage a book tower.

~Create templates for social media posts on FB and Twitter, and consider having pics selected on Pinterest to add text from your MS to as you go along (use a formatter like PicMonkey). I have a few that I’m considering using next month that you can check out on my Jungle Princess Pinterest board

Creative Detox

Although it’s incredibly important to stay on-task and in the writing mindset during November, you can’t spend every single moment at your computer. Instead of losing your head, try to find activities that allow you to take a mental break while still encouraging your creativity.

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Ways to keep your sanity while maintaining your creative mindset:

~Go on a walk to clear your head and think about your story. Your brain will get a cramp if you don’t give it some fresh air!

~Take a nap listening to your writing playlist, or paste a chapter of your work in progress into a text-audio reader (like AlReader or NaturalReader). You can rest those tired eyes and get in some extra editing by hearing your writing out loud.

~If you want to escape into a book or film, do it! Treat yourself after a hard-fought day of writing to a mental getaway, but consider entertainment that is about writers or books, or even ones that just generally put you in a happy mental place so you can return to your manuscript creatively recharged and inspired. I’ll have a post up soon with some recommendations for my favorite writing-centered entertainment.

Now that the prep-work is set and the playlists have been created, it’s time for the most important part of NaNo: Go write that novel!

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Where Does the Joy Go?

Published October 15, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

As the years pass, where does the joy go? The earth hasn’t changed, the world doesn’t play more unfairly than it did before, and the sun and stars are still constant. So what changed to make the spark disappear?

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I was inspired to write this post after I heard someone say, “Life just loses its sparkle as you get older.” I wanted to respond with, Life is wonderful, how can you say that? But later on that night, I realized that, tragically, this can be true. The reality of adulthood takes over—less free time, bills, responsibilities up the wazoo (and using the word wazoo is no longer “age appropriate”), broken hearts, stress, deadlines. If you let them, these things will slowly leech the joy and adventure from life so that you’re just living each day on autopilot, waiting for it to be over so it can inevitably begin again. The day-to-day becomes tedious, and eventually, the dawn turns into something that you dread.

This harsh reality really bothered me, and I wondered why it should be that the joy and excitement of life should end because a new chapter of life begins. But does it really? I began to realize that the magic that exists in the world doesn’t disappear, rather we let the cares of this life distract us to the point that we’re too exhausted to look for it when it seems scarce.

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As children, everyday seemed to hold a bit of mystery and excitement, but we’ve become too focused on more money and success, the idea that maybe a different relationship or occupation would complete us, or a million dollars would solve all our problems (or an extra 8 hours in the day to write my work in progress *cough*). That’s not to say a few of these things wouldn’t be nice, but it’s untrue that our lives would be perfect or “complete” because of these fleeting things. Discontentment breeds jealousy and greed and a restlessness that nothing can satisfy. I’m not exempt from the “if-only” idea, but I am a firm believe in the magic of everyday things and the hope that it produces, and the excitement of a new adventure.

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I have to admit that I’ve never understood people when they say that the love between them and another “simply died.” Call me naïve, but the only way that can happen is if no one tries to save it. Love is like a flower—you have to care for it so that it continues to grow and flourish, even if it isn’t as young and beautiful as it once was; if you ignore it and forget it exists, it will die. The same goes for the belief in the excitement that occurs in life: we have to choose to look for it, especially when it seems impossible to find because that’s when we need a bit of magic the most.

 

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Just this week I was having a difficult time finding that spark of joy after a tough week of stress and feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. I was sitting there in traffic, grumbling about the sun in my eyes, and then as I glared at it for another minute, I suddenly saw how beautiful the sunset was. I had spent the entire drive home complaining about something that, since I would have been caught in traffic anyway, should have been enjoyed. The rising and setting of the sun is some of the most obvious magic you can find, and I had almost let it pass by unnoticed because I was too caught up in the bustle of life, the competition to get one more car ahead so I could race home to—what? Drudge the next day?

Nuh-uh.

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God did not put us on this earth to work ourselves to death earning money that disappears all too quickly and to lament each day He’s given us. Every morning our eyes open is a miracle, and my challenge to you this week is to remind yourself to seek out the miracle in today. Easier said than done, right? Trust me, I’ve been there and am still there sometimes, struggling to find the joy in the things that exist around me. But it’s there, even in the small things—the leaves shifting color, the falling rain against a window, meeting a writing deadline, a new dawn brining with it a clean slate. And when you feel you can’t see the magic, be bold and create your own! Climb a mountain, explore the sea, take a long drive with the windows down while the rain is pouring, find a new bookstore (umm , bibliophile!), try something you’ve never done before. This life was intended for us to learn and explore and live it. We just have to choose to keep our eyes and hearts open to the magic of the everyday and to not let our sparkles—our inner light—die out.

So, where does the joy go? It’s been there all along, though it shifts forms like a chameleon and is sometimes tricky to spot. But if you keep on the lookout for it, the world might surprise you.

Exhausted, Refreshed . . . INSPIRED!

Published June 30, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

For those of you who think writers’ conferences are dull, professional gatherings . . . Well, you’re doing it wrong!

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I spent last week at the first (of many, I hope!) SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference, held at the gorgeous BIOLA University. This campus is absolutely stunning, the food is fantastic—pizza, corn dogs, healthy food, chewy cookies galore, and the most amazing salad bar in history—and there are so many perfectly serene places to plop down and write. That doesn’t even take into account the incredible classes, friendships, writing inspiration, and encouragement I received during the week.

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I found this gorgeous bench area right outside the library where there was, blessedly, a Starbucks. I laid on the bench, staring up at the canopy of leaves above me, and just enjoyed a time of mental story plotting and sweet conversations with God in the most peaceful setting imaginable. Definitely a refreshing afternoon!

 

 

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Nadine has been like a mentor to me for the past few years, but more than that, she is an incredibly dear friend and encourager. You’ve heard me talk about her mad dancing skills and amazing storytelling ability (follow her shenanigans online), but Nadine has also gotten me over some major humps in my writing and life in general with her optimism and support. She is just one of those people who lifts you up, allows you to be yourself, and encourages you in your walk with God.

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The term “insta-friends” is definitely acceptable when referring to these lovely ladies. I met Kara in the bathroom of all places, both of us trying to scrape mascara onto our exhausted eyes, and we were glued at the hip for the rest of the conference. This girl’s mind blows my own, and I am so excited for her future in writing!

Adria joined our group later on, but we immediately adopted her and had to know everything about this super sweet lady and talented agent. I have to admit we all felt intimidated by her because of her status, but we immediately discovered that she is so relatable, fun, kind, and hilarious, and we only wish we’d had more time with her.

Tessa is quite possibly one of the sweetest human beings you will ever meet! She joined us for shenanigans, boba heists, inspiring classes, and she and I had a wonderfully honest conversation about God’s plan for our lives. This woman has a beautiful heart and a mind for the industry, and I’m so blessed I got to know her. 

Fun fact: The last night of the conference, Nadine, Tessa, Adria, and I made plans to one day fly to Ireland for a writers’ retreat, because . . . why not? Although Nadine and I got them to agree only after we did a dance and sang the “Sisters” song from White Christmas. We’re talented like that. 

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My first experience with boba tea was magical!! Stealing Shannon Dittemore’s car (with her permission, of course) for the Great Boba Hunt of 2017 is definitely a favorite memory. Five girls crammed into a car, three blind to the joys of boba that awaited them, all screaming as we sped away from campus with Nadine at the wheel, driving like she stole it. We even had a boba projectile contest in the parking lot, proving that children of all ages can be writers and professionals. ^_~

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This man is anointed (get The Story of with, it will change your life). Being in Allen Arnold’s class about creating with God rather than for Him was so inspiring and reminded me of the nearness I feel when I write with God at the center of the story. He taught about the idea of kintsugi, which is a tradition—and an art form—in Japan where broken objects are not thrown away, but rather repaired with gold, making them more beautiful than before. It was just the perfect analogy of how God takes our brokenness, makes us whole, and sees the damage done as a beautiful reminder of our past and our value to Him. Needless to stay, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room that night.

 

Call me biased, but writers are a fantastic group of creative, fun-loving introverts and extroverts who help to build each other up. The SoCal Conference was a wonderful means for us to get together, grow, and encourage and inspire one another. Although I was physically exhausted by the end of the week, I came away feeling more refreshed and renewed and inspired to write. I hopped on the train coming back down to San Diego, and my mind was flying as I stared out the window, watching the trees and beach fly by. Writing inspiration, a refreshed spirit, and some of the best friends and memories that a girl could hope for. Definitely an amazing adventure!

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Prepping for a Conference, The Chaos Theory

Published June 21, 2017 by Ashley Townsend

How to Prepare for a Conference, The Chaos Theory

You all know I have procrastinator tendencies and would rather pants an entire novel than plot it out detail-by-grueling-detail. So it shouldn’t come as a shock that I’m the same way when preparing for trips and conferences.

I have been getting excited over attending the First Annual SoCal Christian Writers Conference since Nadine Brandes (check out her blog and links here) and I planned on going together months ago. Seems like plenty of time to prepare, right? Well, the last 36 hours have been a tad chaotic, like The Hunt for Red October or that scene in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls when he wakes strapped to a raft that’s headed over a waterfall. Maybe a bit less dramatic and flashy, and with no A-List actors in sight, but here’s how I decided to prep for a writers’ conference the day before:

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-caffeine . . . would I ever let you or myself down?

-plotted out the closest coffee shop to the train station in L.A. (priorities)

-went to a doctor’s appointment because, sure, I’ve had a year to do it and want to get that off my mind the day before leaving town. Seems smart.

-got sustenance for the trip

-packed my bag (finished about an hour ago)

-started/finished/edited one of the chapters that I will be presenting to publishers, friends, and agents.

-went to Staples to print out copies of the aforementioned chapter (I got back 20 minutes ago)

-realized that I’m running out of space in my bag due to snacks and books. Also, is there room for clothing?

-purchased my train ticket (success!!!)

-figured out what dorm Nadine and I are rooming in after they tried to separate us. You can never break up the team!!

-spent an hour debating if I should use paperclips or staples for my samples of my current work in progress.

-mailed packages

-penned a letter to self reminding self to stop procrastinating.

And did I mention that I’m working on a last-minute blog post about procrastinating everything before my train, which leaves in about an hour? I would like my award for best pantser delivered to my home, thank you very much.

But despite the craziness of the past two days, I am so excited to travel up to L.A., hang with Nadine, eat all the Oreos and drink all the coffee/chai in the cafeteria, and just meet other amazing writers. No matter if I’m up for all hours of the night and wide awake at the crack of dawn, conferences have this amazing way of rejuvenating me and putting that spark of excitement back into my writing. Here’s to the next week of adventuring!

Be sure to follow my Instagram and other accounts during the trip for updates!

The Overactive Imagination

The Writing and Randomness of a Physical Therapist and Sci-Fi/Fantasy Author

Brianna Merritt

Official Website

Tricia Mingerink

Action, Faith, & Adventure

Amy Brock McNew ~Author~

Fantastical tales of love & war

Amy Brandes Speaker & Writer

DEW LIFE... And DO It Well.

Donna's BookShelf

Sharing my love of books...

Oh, the Stories You'll Know

A place devoted to books, movies and TV. Books are food for the soul.

Morgan L. Busse

In Darkness there is Light

of words & books

read. write. drink tea

It's Not Just Make Believe

I just want to write all day in Neverland

BooksAndBookmarks

You cant buy Happiness, but you can buy Books and that's kind of the same thing.

Mariella Hunt

sometimes an author

iwritemyheartdotcom

Writing Romance

Lisa Gefrides

REACH Co-op

Lydia Thomas, Author

from poisoned to redeemed

Penprints

God. Life. Stories.

familyrecipebooks

Preserving the family recipes of the past

Mustard Seed Budget

FINANCES FOR YOUR MINISTRY

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