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Archive for the ‘Celebrity Guest Post’ Category

Overcoming Negativity with a Positive Attitude

I don’t write much about my daughter; I feel that having a mother who is a writer is difficult enough and she deserves her privacy. However, this story must be shared. Someone needs encouragement, a few words to let them know that their struggles aren’t forever.

My daughter believes she’s stupid. Most parents have heard their children utter the phrase, “I’m stupid, or, I’m ugly; or, I have no friends.” These emotions are part of childhood and, in most cases, a temporary part of growing up. Her words hurt me. At home saying stupid is a bad word, second only to the word can’t. Can’t is a forbidden word in my home. Once I hear it I immediately respond with the phrase, Can’t never could do anything.Followed with never, ever give up.

Like every person on the planet who is currently breathing, my daughter has one particular aspect of her life that challenges her. In her case it is math. Can get an amen? Math, for many people, is difficult. For some it is english, or science. We all struggle with something. Students continually struggle with classes, tests, and pressure to earn scholarships. Parents struggle with jobs, health, or financial trouble. We are all struggling with something.

I have prayed for my daughter for a long time, knowing and believing that God will provide an answer. If you are a person of faith, I sincerely ask for your prayers.

My daughter can do math all day, working problems with accuracy.However, when test day comes, something terrible happens . . . she freaks out. The ability to work the same problems she just did at the kitchen table vanishes. I imagine she hears little whispers of doubt and those whispers become screams until eventually, everything gets jumbled in her mind.

Enter into her struggle a school employee. This person, who is not a teacher, and has never taught my daughter, said the word “can’t” during a recent conference. “Can’t do math . . . can’t do chemistry, can’t do . . . can’t do . . . Can’t Do.”

Unfortunately, my daughter was in the room.

This type of negativity places students at a crossroads. Take my dear friend, Julie Cantrell. She is the author of a lovely book titled Into the Free. She also is a New York Times Best-selling author who once had a teacher tell her “I hope you don’t waste your scholarship to study writing. You may be able to write a greeting card, but that’s about as far as you’ll ever go.”

Read about Julie’s experience in her own words at her blog post here. intothefree

Julie shares: “I made a mistake that day. I believed her. I put down my pen for nearly a decade and let way too many stories go untold.”

Unfortunately, Julie isn’t alone. When an authority figure tells us that we’ll never amount to anything it is human nature to believe them. In my daughter’s case, the question of whether this employee was unaware that her words had power, or she meant to harm my daughter, or she was just too young and inexperienced to know better remains unanswered. This employee chose the word can’t over a kinder statement. She could have said, your daughter struggles with math and we need to get her the resources to bolster her confidence.Instead she launched the word can’t across the room like a grenade. A shift happened that day. You see, teenagers don’t listen to their parents. In their minds, parents are supposed to say positive things. My daughter didn’t believe me when I said, “Just keep keeping on. She doesn’t know you, at all. You are smart. You can do it.” Instead my daughter retained the negative word can’t.

And yes, the more I thought about the situation, the more I wanted to have a Madea Moment. (See link).

Months have passed since that meeting. I’ve watched my daughter become more frustrated and angry at home. She no longer wears her emotions in a curved smile on her lips. Do you blame her? In fact, after the previously mentioned meeting she said, “Mom, I’ve learned to live with disappointment.” She has been on the edge of shutting down. Exacerbating her emotional exhaustion is physical exhaustion. She suffers from anemia and vertigo. We do not use her illness as an excuse. We work around her exhaustion and dizziness and press on. Most days, she can barely carry that 35 pound backpack around. All of this is why the Tom Zachary VIP award matters to her.

Since 1999, the Zachary award has been distributed to students who follow Tom Zachary’s three keys to success which are: follow the rules, follow your curriculum schedule, and be respectful. According to Mr. Jim Coyle who has been with the high-school for many years, Zachary Award recipients “are the lifeblood of the school. They are the key to our school’s success.” Principal Jerome Huff echoes his praise, saying Zachary Award recipients “show merit and character. They are the kind of students who come in early, stay after school and help other students.”

For those who say we live in a society where everyone receives an award, let me add that this is a teacher-nominated award and my daughter currently has an 86 in the class. While she did not receive the award for math, after the ceremony the math teacher came up and embraced her with a hug. The teacher said, ‘I am so glad you got a VIP award. When I saw your name on the roster I was so happy! I could only choose three students and I’ve only had you in my class for a few weeks. You deserve this award. I am so happy for you.”

This my friends, is the kind of adult we need leading our children. This is the kind of support students need. Both of these teachers are a direct answer to prayer as is Principal Huff.

WP_001377During the ceremony, Principal Huff said, “not every student can be an honor student or a star athlete. When I was in school a lot of people said I’d never be anything. My momma was a single parent. My dad was in jail.”

I admire an adult who can motive parents and students with their honesty, don’t you? This man is changing lives with positive energy and encouragement ! I adore leaders who say: look at me. Everyone counted me out . . . they said I’d be nothing, but through hard-work I showed them.

Then Principal Huff said, “Just because you aren’t at the top of the class right now doesn’t mean you’ll wind up at the bottom. Remember, it’s not what people call you, it’s what you answer to.”

Let’s let his words sink in for a moment.

Just because you aren’t at the top of the class right now . . .

…doesn’t mean you’ll wind up at the bottom.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll fail math.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll be pregnant and drop out of school.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll spend the rest of your life in jail.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll be living on the street, or worse, with your parents forever.

It doesn’t mean that you’ll get hooked on drugs.

It doesn’t mean that no one will ever love you.

It doesn’t mean that you will wear a tattoo on your forehead which reads failure.

Just because you aren’t at the top now, doesn’t mean you’re stuck in the same place forever.

Remember my friend Julie. It takes a lot of courage to pick up a pen after someone tells you don’t bother. Now she is a New York Times bestselling author. Way to go Julie !

For those who struggle for whatever reason, let me say this, “Don’t listen to what people say. Do what is in your heart. Do your best. Believe in yourself. Don’t let someone else keep you from your destiny. God has a plan for you. He knew that plan when he formed you, before your mother held you, or your grandmother changed your diaper. His plan is to prosper you. His plan is good. The word can’t is not in God’s vocabulary. So if you are discouraged, tuck that chin and keep walking the walk. Study more. Be more. Ignore the voices telling you that you can’t do.

Remember: Can’t never could do anything.

But honey, CAN-DO gets the job done every time.

CAN-DO changes lives.

Now you hold up that head and press on, confident. You got this. You CAN-DO anything you set your mind to.

Oh, and for the record. Since the afternoon when my daughter was awarded the VIP award, she has brought home an 88 on her science test, and (today) brought home a 100 on a math assignment.

Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of  In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. In 2012 she released Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. 2014 will see the release of In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She is currently working on her first novel. She would love to hear from you. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com

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Check out this great post by Jon Acuff – Blogger Extraordinaire!

The Power of Vulnerability

My favorite quote: “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.”

Here’s the video from TED that Jon used in his post about the power of storytelling and vulnerability by Brene’ Brown:   

Here’s the Brene’ Brown sequel video called “Listening to Shame”


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I’m so pleased to have Renea Winchester, a two time author and blogger, here today as a guest.  She’s put together an article on finding the right critique group for you.  Enjoy!

Finding a Critique Group that Works for You

by Renea Winchester

Finding the right critique group is almost as important as landing an agent. The solitary process of writing permits authors to fall headlong into a deep, blinding love with their work. Those who weave words onto paper are often pregnant with multiple characters, giving birth to each one after months, or years of arduous suffering. With so much time and effort spent building this relationship, it’s almost impossible not to adore the people you create. Which is exactly why you need a critique group; even those who write the most perfect book filled with seemingly flawless characters can overlook minor faults.

Critique groups should contain fellow authors who are knowledgeable, yet respectful, of your work. The first time I braved a critique group was disastrous. The room was filled with twenty authors. By that I mean, “real” authors with PhD behind their name and multiple books proudly displayed on their shelves. At exactly 6 pm, stapled sheets of manuscript were launched down the table. I grabbed the pages and it began. Words, spoken aloud, tumbled about the room while I followed along, pen-in-hand, searching for a mistake. Three minutes later, the excerpt had been read. Two minutes of comments were allowed, then it was someone else’s turn. No author comments permitted.

This fast-paced reading bonanza continued until I thought my head would explode. The diverse group read screenplays, book proposals, works of fiction and non-fiction. Contrasting genres and subject matter forced us outside our realm of expertise, which is an important task in order to grow as an author. However, the quality of their work made me realize I was way out of my league.

My apprehension grew with each new critique. Even though everyone welcomed me, I lacked confidence. Instead of paying attention to the written words, my thoughts wandered. There was no way I would whisper a word from my lips. Instead, I wanted to bolt from the room, rush home and burn everything I had ever written.

It would be several months before I attempted another critique group. This time, only five authors met. I calmed my nerves and settled into the chair. The group leader explained the rules: read up to seven pages of double-spaced manuscript; listen to the responses; offer no defense; final decision and changes are your call. I nodded and focused on the manuscript given me by an elderly gentleman. When he had finished reading, he looked around the room waiting for comments. I noticed seasoned members of the group exchanged reluctant glances as if to say, “you go first, I went first last time.”

Finally, someone spoke. Using a soft voice, with eyes downcast, she pointed out minor errors, not mentioning what I felt were glaring mistakes. Suddenly, the elderly man slammed his fist on the table, loudly argued his point, and cursed. I’ve always heard how difficult it is to receive constructive criticism, but his outburst left me shaken. I kept my mouth shut about his work, and mine.

Finally, I found the group for me, one with a balance of published authors and greenhorns; a group with a mixture of genres that stretches my creative muscle. The group has given me the confidence to finally read my work aloud, listen to their suggestions, keep the curse words to myself, and hopefully grow as an author.

Renea Winchester is the author of In The Garden With Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomates. Her next book Stress Free Marketing for the Newly Published Author will be released in the fall of  2011 and is focused on taking the anxiety out of marketing your work. She may be reached at reneawrites@gmail.com, or reneawinchester.com.

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