A Simple Look at a Not-So-Simple Life

Archive for the category “15 Day Writing Challenge”

My Brand Is Simply Jan

A brand is the simplest, most memorable part of yourself you can give.


I hate the word. I really do! It’s bandied about all the time – a catchphrase of moment. Throw it in a sentence along with “platform” and you’ll fit right in with everyone in the marketing, advertising, writing, and promotion businesses. Imagine my dismay when I learned the 15 Day Challenge for today was to work on defining my brand.

I mulled it over all afternoon. What is my brand? My brand used to be “Preacher Mom.” When I first started blogging years ago, almost everything I wrote tied in directly with my role as a preacher, my role as a mom, and how those two roles fit together – or sometimes didn’t fit together. I began moving away from that “brand” when I moved away from the Upstate three years ago. I finally started a whole new blog – Simply Jan. I wrote about my reasons for this change back in January.

At some point in time I made the unconscious decision that my identity would be tied primarily into just two aspects of my life: my life as a pastor and my life as a mom. I poured everything I had and everything I was into those two things. That isn’t totally a bad thing. I love being a pastor and I love being a mom.

But what about Jan? Who am I, both apart from these other identities and in relation to them? If I was no longer a pastor and/or if my children were no longer living in my house, who would I be?

That’s the journey I’ve been on all year. I decided to drop my defining roles and search for the voice of my self – my integrated, non-role-playing self. A close friend who has known me for a number of years does not like my blog title, Simply Jan. He thinks I’m reducing myself, selling myself short. He claims I’m anything but simple. I appreciate the sentiment. I’m even a bit flattered by it. But the fact is, who I want to be most is simply Jan. Me. Not a role that I’m playing; not an expert in a particular field; not the fulfillment of someone else’s expectation of who I should be. Just me – a little flawed, a little adventurous, a little scattered, a little creative, a little rebellious, a little strange . . . and a lot loving.

The kids and I went to dinner and a movie tonight to celebrate Mia’s return home after being away two weeks. We went to see the movie Brave.


It’s the story of Merida, a princess who is being groomed to fill the role of future Queen. This is a demanding role, one that comes with many expectations of how she should talk, how she should act, how she should dress, what her hair should look like, and what she should do (and refrain from doing). All of this comes at the expense of her self, her true essence. She refuses to submit to a tradition that allows a young man to “win” her hand in marriage. She wins her own hand, quite literally. She is amazing! (Or as my 20-year-old describes her, a total bad-*ss.) She does learn along the way that there is a place for tradition and expectations, but only on terms that don’t require her to sacrifice her self. Interestingly enough, those who love her – the ones who were forcing those expectation on her – also come to that same conclusion. No one should have to change who they are in order to please someone else or just to play a particular role to perfection.

Merida is my newest hero. I think there is a little of her in my writing – the part of me that wants to escape the stereotypes of a single mom, who doesn’t want always “dress the part” of a dignified pastor. who wants to be a good mom without giving up being myself, who wants to be accepted and respected by the important people in my life, even if I don’t always please them or meet their expectations. I understand the place for tradition and expectations, but I’m learning to put them in their place – a place that doesn’t require me to sacrifice my self.

So what’s my writing brand? I’m still working on that one, but so far I guess I would say it’s just as my blog name implies. I’m Simply Jan – writing to share what life looks like through the eyes of my true self. And maybe to honor the bad*ss Merida in us all.


I’d Like to Introduce You…

Great writers share. Not just their own knowledge, ideas, and expertise. They also share the work of others and credit them accordingly. ~ Jeff Goins, 15 Habits of Great Writers, Day 10

I follow so many wonderful writers. Some days it’s hard to keep up with them all because my Google Reader, Facebook, and Twitter feeds just explode with greatness. So much talent! So many good ideas! I would like to share with you a few of my favorites. (In addition, of course, to Jeff’s blog, linked above!)


Jon Acuff’s Blog – Jon was first known for his blog, Stuff Christians Like. It’s still going strong and I’m a regular reader, but I especially enjoy his blog on writing, creativity, and social media. My dream is to one day make it to his Quitter’s Conference.

Karen Salmonsohn – I’m not sure how I stumbled upon this blog, but Karen’s images and quotes never fail to inspire me. I’m a visual learner/remember-er, so her blog is like magic for me. She inspires the kind of creativity that makes me think it’s okay to make up words I need, like “remember-er.”

Rachelle Gardner – Rachelle is a literary agent. Her blog offers a treasure-trove of opportunities to learn more about the writing/publishing business. When the day comes I need an agent – and I hope that will be sooner than later – I pray I will find one who has a mentor’s heart like Rachelle.

Spirituality and Religion

RevGalBlogPals – I’ve been a member of this web ring since its infancy. Through it, I’ve met many amazing people – men and women, some in ministry and some not – who have hearts and pens of gold. For me to name specific blogs from the ring would be like trying to name a favorite child. Just can’t do it!

Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary – I put Jamie very high on my list of bloggers I’d love to meet and have coffee with one day. Who knows? Maybe it can happen since she and her family will be coming back stateside soon after five years of missionary service in Costa Rica. Jamie’s honesty and humor, coupled with real-life faith, make this blog worth your time.

Naked Pastor – Sometimes I think David Hayward spies on me. There have been so many times when his cartoon for the day or his latest Sophia drawing have reflected my life and struggles.

Rachel Held Evans – This is one brave, articulate woman. Her posts will teach you something new, make you think again about the things you thought you knew, and draw you into deeper conversations about faith.


Writing as Jo(e) – Technically I’m cheating here, since my connection with Jo(e) came through RGBPs. I think it’s okay to cheat since some of my favorite posts of hers fall in the category of photography. She has an eye for beauty!

Charleston Daily Photo – Joan Perry lives here in Charleston and posts amazing photos from this region. Her blog has given me new eyes for seeing my surroundings, especially when walking in historic downtown.

Ashley Sisk – Ashley’s blog is the home of Scavenger Hunt Sunday. This photo challenge is open to everyone and is so much fun. Even if you aren’t interested in taking pictures yourself, drop by to see her masterpieces as well as those who link to her blog for the weekly challenge.

In Real Life

I saved the best for last – bloggers I know in real life. There is an added dimension to reading a blog when you interact on a personal level with the writer. These women are smart, strong, creative, and inspirational. I’m proud to call them my friends.

Cathy’s Voice Now – I count Cathy as one of my very best friends. She’s also my best cheerleader, motivator, and deliverer of a swift kick in the pants when I need it. Her story is nothing short of amazing. I’m so happy she made the decision to share it. It will change lives. Mark my words.

Ordinary Wonders – Anita and Stacy, two of the three authors of Ordinary Wonders, are also writing buddies who graciously opened their writing group to me. Anita has published a number of articles/stories and is gifted in mentoring other writers. Stacy, who is also a hospital chaplain at MUSC, has a powerful memoir waiting for the perfect agent, editor, and publisher. I’ll be able to say “I knew her back when” once her book in on the shelves of our bookstores!

Angie Mizzell – Okay, so I’m cheating again. I haven’t actually met Angie face-to-face yet, even though we live just across town from each other. Still, we’re practically blood kin!!! Just ask her! And that IRL meeting? It’s happening soon. Right, Angie? (I’ll hold Cate for you! I might even give the cutie back – eventually!)

Start Off Ugly

I’ve been working along with the Fifteen Day Writer’s Challenge. The last few days have been action items, but not necessarily blogging items. Today’s challenge – Start Ugly – is something I know I can do. I’ve done it a lot.


When I started out in ministry 13 years ago, I did a lot of things ugly. Like, for example, an embarrassing number of bad, boring sermons. I know because I kept them all. Every now and then I’ll shuffle through the old file folders (yes, all paper copies) and pull out one to see if it’s worth reworking. More often than not, it’s not. Some of my old sermons are horrible! Bless the hearts of those poor souls who put up with me while I found my voice and learned a few lessons about ministry in general. I’m sure I still write some horrible sermons sometimes, but I hope not nearly as often as before.

I made plenty of mistakes as a fledgling pastor. I still make plenty of mistakes, but usually I don’t make them as big or as ugly as I did back then. For instance, when it finally happened that I crossed a church member in my first call, I didn’t cross just any church member. I crossed the church matriarch. And she wasn’t just the church matriarch, but also the matriarch of one of the big family names in that very small town. Let me just say, I don’t recommend that move to anyone. Ever. It was an ugly misstep.

Lately, I’ve been getting back into the running routine. I’m an ugly runner. I don’t think it’s so much my running gait, although it’s not nearly as fast or graceful as that of, say, a gazelle. Or my 20-year-old running partner. I’m slow. Not as slow as I used to be, but still slow. When I exercise, my face gets red – Bob the Tomato red. And I sweat. Whoever said: “Southern women don’t sweat, they glisten” has never met me after a run. I’m Southern through and through (except for that slight trace of Yankee left in my accent from my family’s New York adventure when I was learning to talk) – and I sweat. Running for me is ugly – a slow, red, sweaty kind of ugly.

bob tomato

Sometimes my writing is ugly, too. When I write by hand, my handwriting gets more illegible with every word. When I type, I usually have a ton of typos. I’ve noticed that I frequently leave the “s” off the end of verbs that need them. “The” is often “teh.” The touch pad on my laptop is freaky sensitive, so sometimes I’ll be typing away and will go lines and lines before I realize I accidentally brushed the touch pad and moved the curser to the middle of a word three paragraphs up, inserting all those lines there. Aggravating!


If only the ugly was in the handwriting and the typos! I usually have to write a long time – through the favorite author imitations, through my flaring emotions, through the snark and/or feeble attempts at brilliance or humor, through the mud and the muck of my brain – before I get anywhere close to what I really have to say. I will never forget the freedom I felt the first time I read in Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird about the normalcy and the need for sh*tty first drafts. Really? I’m not even supposed to be able to get it right the first time?! If the amazing Anne Lamott doesn’t get it right the first time (and she is amazing), then I sure don’t have to either.

So I start off ugly. Whether it’s learning something new (like I did in those early days of ministry), or starting up something I’ve let fall to the side  (like I did with running), or exploring life through words (like I do here on this blog) – I start off ugly. It’s my hope that with each lesson, each step, each word, I am getting better, a little bit at a time.

P.S. My friend Cathy warned me not to google images for “ugly.” I really should have listened. ~ shudder ~

I’m a Night Owl

night owl

Granny Beaty was a night owl, or so I’ve been told. She liked to stay up long after everyone else was tucked away in bed. They say she “piddled” – just messed around, doing her own thing. Granny, my great-grandmother, died before I was born. Still, I somehow managed to inherit her night owl, piddling tendencies. (And maybe a smidge of her stubbornness!)

When I still lived at home, my parents were for the most part able to overlook my nighttime piddling. I think I was usually pretty quiet about it, except for those summer nights when a mosquito got into my bedroom. I hate the high-pitched hum of mosquito wings! I would hunt those suckers down with a vengeance. Unfortunately, I have pretty bad aim. I never killed them on my first attempt. It usually took a number of “BAM, BAM, BAM” attacks before I was successful. And yeah, I think maybe I woke them up a few times.

On the other hand, I most definitely have not ever, ever been a morning person. I can get up and go early if I have to, but that doesn’t mean for a minute that I like it. I have friends who love early mornings. I can’t for the life of me figure out what they do at those ungodly hours! Sure, the sunrise is a beautiful thing. I just prefer to wait for the second showing at sunset.

My brain doesn’t wake up before 8 a.m. My body moves pretty well on automatic pilot, but I’m not sure I can form complete sentences before then. In my older teen years, I don’t think anyone in my family had much to say before our good-byes as we headed out the door in our respective directions. When Dad used to take me to school, we did have our silly mornings full of puns. I guess that was approaching 8 a.m., though.

Now my son is the only family member who wakes up ready to go. I think his mouth is moving even before his eyes are open. I beg him some mornings to please wait “just five more minutes” before bombarding me with all-the-things-he’s-thought-about-since-he-was-able-to-talk-to-me-before-bed-last-night-that-really-need-to-be-said-right-this-very-second-or-he-just-might-explode! Phew! His sisters and I are content to nod and grunt at each other until time to head out the door to go our respective directions.

So imagine my horror when I saw today’s 15 Day Writing Challenge.

The challenge

How do we turn something like belief into action? We don’t. Not yet, anyway. Instead, we marinate.

A wise man once said we are the sum of our conscious thoughts. In other words, we become what we fixate on.

So do just that: Take some time to dwell on the fact that you are a writer. Meditate on it; let it sink in. Write about it, if you want. Do whatever it takes. The important part is you believe it.

And just so you don’t think this is all esoteric, you’re going to do something radical tomorrow. You’re going to get up two hours early and write. If you usually get up at seven, get up at five. If five, then three. You get the idea. Don’t check your email or read blogs. Just write.

This is how you know you really believe something. Thinking and talking and tweeting about writing is one thing; actually doing it is another. So today, believe it; tomorrow, do it. (Don’t worry; I’ll be up with you.)

Until this happens, until you actually believe you are a writer, you’re only kidding yourself. And you’re not doing anybody any good with all this self-doubt. You’re a writer. Not because I say so, but because you do. Start believing it.

He’s kidding, right? This challenge is as hard as yesterday’s challenge, only in a different way. I’ve been mulling over this all day. What is magical about writing first thing in the morning? How is that different from writing late at night? Is setting aside a couple of hours to write after I put the kids to bed any different from stumbling out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to stare stupidly at a blank screen with the eternal “Duh….” echoing in my brain?

The fact is, I don’t really know. I’ve known several writers who do this. My friend (and long-lost cousin) Angie did this for awhile. I don’t know if she still does it. I have a sneaking suspicion that with precious child #3 in the family now, her early morning hours may be dedicated to other things for this season of life.

So will I try it? Honestly, I’m not sure. I truly feel I’m most creative late at night. I’m not as young as I used to be, so working late and getting up early don’t go together very well. So if my writing keeps me up until 11:30 or 12, then I feel like I’ve met the challenge. I’ll go to bed feeling a sense of accomplishment, and my brain will marinate the ideas I carry into sleep.

However, if on one of these nights I fail to be productive, I promise I’ll give the morning writing session a try. Just don’t hold your breath. I really am a night owl!

dont give a hoot

I Am a Writer

“I think I’ll just work on my book.”

That was my 8-year-old daughter’s response when I asked her what she was going to take to occupy herself while we were at the church office this afternoon. Her answer surprised me, but just a little. She’s always been my little reader/artist/writer.

“What’s the name of your book?”

Junie B. Jones Goes to Alaska. I’ve been working on it, but I’m not finished yet. It’s taking a long time. I’m gonna have to re-do it, too. This is my sloppy copy. It has lots of scratches in it. I’ll have to write it all over once I’m done.”

We talked a little longer about her writing project. Her plan is for her book to be ten chapters long. Each chapter will be seven pages. It’s okay if it’s full of mistakes right now. She will fix those later.

I was amazed at the grasp my young daughter instinctively has on the writing process. She isn’t at all timid about it. It doesn’t bother her that it will take her a long time. It doesn’t bother her that this first copy is a sloppy copy with lots of scratches in it. It doesn’t bother her that she will have to rewrite it. She isn’t concerned whether the topic of Junie B. Jones has been overdone, or whether Barbara Park (author of the real Junie B. Jones series) will write about Alaska before she does. I think my daughter is what they call “a writer.” I’m impressed.

I’ve been a closet writer for years. I’ve never pretended that I was good enough or interesting enough to share it. Anytime I’ve been “caught” writing and asked what I’m working on, I’d respond, “Oh nothing. Just drivel for my blog. Nobody reads it anyway.”

I’ve been shyly coming out of the closet as a writer, a little at a time, for about a year now. Baby step: a two day writing workshop. Baby step: a summer writing intensive. Baby step: joining a writer’s group. Baby step: sharing my blog with a new friend who happens to be an awesome writer. Baby step: creating a “blogok” group on Facebook – people I was comfortable sharing blog links with. Baby step: giving the link to my blog to my parents.

Cathy (Cathy’s Voice Now), my amazing writer friend, has been gently (mostly) nudging me to open up more. “When you’re ready,” she says, “I’ll share your links in some of my circles.” She has A LOT of circles. “I’m almost there,” I keep telling her. Almost.

I just completed the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon. The challenge was to post on your blog something every day in May. I did it. Traffic to my blog increased significantly (for me). I got in the habit of thinking more like a writer. When May was over, I got positively twitchy. What’s next?

Then I ran across Jeff Goins’ 15 Day Writing Challenge. I recently read Jeff’s newest book, You Are a Writer and loved it. So sure – why not? I joined the cozy little group of 835 other writers for the challenge.

Day One’s Challenge? The Declaration Every Writer Makes:

The challenge

So here’s what I want you to do today: Declare you’re a writer.

Not just to your wall or computer or notebook, but to an actual person or institution. Someone or something you’re scared of — this could be a person who might reject or judge you, a family member who may misunderstand you, or a publisher who could discredit you. But tell them and tell them now.

Do it with pride and boldness. Write about it, tweet it about, record a video if you want. The more outrageous it is, the more likely you are to believe. This is what we’re trying to do here: convince ourselves that we have the right to pick up the pen.

Uh oh.

Well . . . here it goes, folks:

I am a writer. Really. I write all the time and love it. I’m not a published author, although I would love to be one day. I haven’t told you before because of fear – that I’ll be judged, that you’ll see the real me and not like me, that I’m not good enough, that I have nothing to say. But hey – who cares? The word is out now, so the best I can do is my best and hope that somewhere along the line what I have to say will touch someone else who feels the same way about life.

i am a writer

There. I said it. And I’m about to say it again on Twitter. And the real biggie is that I’m about to say it on Facebook, too, and not just to my “blogok” list. Wish me luck. And courage – lots of courage.


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