7 Lessons I Learned from 2017

2017 was quite a year. 7 Lessons I Learned from 2017

People say the years go by so fast, but 2017 was pretty slow for me. I can definitely say that 13-year-old me on January 1, 2017 is incredibly different from the 14-year-old me on December 31, 2017.

Reflecting on the past year, I’ve narrowed down the seven biggest lessons I’ve learned. I drafted this entire post in a half hour (which never happens, I go super slowly) and ended up writing a lot of personal stuff. Needless to say, a lot of editing was needed: I’ve been working on this post for almost a week. So, here’s what came out.

1. Having a Relationship with Jesus Goes Beyond Believing

I’ve grown up in church all my life. My family is Christian, the songs on the radio we hear are Christians, the kids shows we watched were Christian. I prayed the salvation prayer (I confess I’ve sinned, I believe Jesus died and resurrected, and surrender my life Him) when I was old enough to understand it. However, I never really felt close to God.

This year, something clicked. I went through pain that caused me to turn to God and I started to pray and ask God to guide me. Summer gave me more revelations, and one day I was sitting in service reflecting over the past and I was filled with joy. It was unexplainable, but it was the happiest I’ve ever been.

Since then, I’ve been working towards a better relationship with God — spending time with Him outside of church and letting Him guide my life — which has radically changed me.

2. People Actually Care

I’ve had bad experiences with people. I care about people and love too much and worry about others (though I’ll never tell you), but that never ends well. I guess I’ve always felt like the low-priority friend that you only talk to when there’s no one else.

Not always, but sometimes, there have been people that notice I’m alone. I remember last year I was telling my youth pastor in a lighthearted way that I generally I couldn’t think of anything good about myself. That’s a whole other story, but one of my friends overheard and after that went out of her way to compliment me and make me smile. I’m also used to being excluded from my group of friends, but one of my friends notices and she knows exactly what to say to make me feel okay again.

Of course, there’s a flip side to this — hurting people by avoiding them because you think they don’t like you — but I think that’s something I’ll talk more about in 2019. I’m still learning about that.

3. Learn as Much as Possible

There is so much out there that’s available to help you learn. The Internet is a great place to find resources for pretty much everything you can imagine (like music, writing, studying…). In the middle of the summer, I basically came to the realization my writing was terrible. Instead of quitting, I decided to learn as much as I could and not only did this help my writing, it made me more confident.

Seriously, the best thing you can do if you want to learn something is to go all out and soak in all the knowledge.

4. Slow Down and Enjoy the Journey

This is another writing-related lesson, but it applies to all areas of life as well. I’m hoping to expand on this more in the future, but I’ve had a problem with rushing myself. Gotta win NaNo. Gotta finish the book. Gotta get published before everyone else. Not only was this counterproductive, but it drained me and took all the fun out of my writing.

Slow down. Take your time while reading books ’cause you only can see them for the first time once. Don’t rush word counts and stats. Followers mean nothing in five years once the media platform crumbles. While traveling, don’t run around to see everything, chill where you’re at.

Life is a journey, and if I can’t see that, it’s not going to be a fun one.

5. If it Moves Too Fast, That’s a Warning Sign

Y’all, I’m fourteen and giving boy advice. But seriously, this was a tough thing for me recently. I won’t go into the whole story for the sake of privacy for everyone involved, but I’ve learned that things moving quickly with a guy might seem good at first, but in my experience, it’ll crash and burn.

Take it slow for now. Life is ahead of us.

6. There’s Nothing Wrong With Taking Care of Yourself

There’s a quote circling around the internet: “Isn’t it sad that it’s more socially acceptable to hate your body than to love it?”

Even when I was in good times and not completely hating myself, I was reluctant to take care of myself because “I didn’t deserve it” or “people are going to think I’m selfish” or “I’m going to get fat” — I don’t even remember what other excuses I had but I was reluctant and it’s harmful, but I’m getting better at it.

Not eating drains you of your energy, both physically and mentally. Not having enough water gives you headaches and is bad for your health. Bad hygiene makes you feel gross. Negative thoughts lead to self-harm and hatred. Not connecting with other people spikes loneliness. It’s a terrible cycle.

Take care of yourself, because I love you, because God loves you; because you love you (and I’m not talking about vanity and pride — I’m talking about respect for yourself and treating your body like a temple).
It’s such a hard concept, believing we’re loved. But we are, even if we don’t understand why.

7. Start Small

The best way to do things is to take them one piece at a time. Looking at writing an entire blog post is intimidating for me. However, creating an outline for a blog post is not. Then I move onto filling it out point by point, etc. This goes for bigger things too. Rome wasn’t built in a day, growth doesn’t come quickly.

This was a big year. I got braces, dyed and cut my hair, was in a choir or five, started this website, participated in Camp NaNo (twice!),  started 10th grade, took a photography class, and a lot more. I can’t wait to see what events and lessons 2018 has in store for me.

Speaking of 2018, I’ve created a short survey for what you guys want to see on S&S in 2018. It’ll only take a few minutes, so I’d love if you filled it out here!

What did you learn about life in 2017? What was your favorite part of the year? What are you most excited for in 2018?


When You Shouldn’t Share Your Character’s Ghost

The one thing authors tend to love most about writing is backstory. It’s turned into some kind of a joke among writers — we make memes about how cruel we are to our characters and “playfully” argue about whose character has the worst backstory. Often, this backstory circulates back to one tragic moment: the Ghost.

A “ghost” is that one terrible moment that haunts the character. You may have heard a lot about this, especially with the recent release of the Emotional Wound Thesaurus, which has a ton of great Ghost examples.

Since we authors are so proud of our perfect backstories, it’s tempting to share it with the readers. And why not? Won’t they appreciate it too?

When You Shouldn't Share Your Character's Ghost

Why It’s Not Always a Good Idea to Share the Ghost

I’m an outliner. My goal is to solve as many problems as I can before the first draft. As I was planning my Third Act, my instincts told me something was wrong. I realized it was because everything was getting too easily resolved. Everything in the plot magically fixed, and some of my characters were all “Oh! I act this way because of my tragic ghost, but now that I’ve told you everything is okay!”

So, some of my darlings had to take the fall. My secondary character Araey from Legacy Unending is haunted by the day her adopted mother leaves to the grocery store promising to come right back, but instead is killed in a shooting. This gives her a Lie to believe (that clinging to her mother will make her feel loved) and gives her pain, internal conflict, and motivation.

Even though I really like Araey’s ghost, I chose to keep it a mystery. It still exists, but no one knows about it, and my story is much stronger for it. Here are some of the important factors I’ve found that weigh into whether or not you should or shouldn’t share the ghost, no matter how much you want to:

1. If it Kills Subtext

If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. - Ernest Hemingway

Subtext: what isn’t said. It’s a hard concept to grasp, but once you do, you’ll take your writing to the next level. Your reader might not know why your character is the way he is, but if he still understands the thematic questions he poses and his character arc, you’ve got good subtext for your reader. This is last on the list of ghost priorities, but if you need subtext go bust some ghosts. (Haha, get it?)

2. If it Ties Everything Up With a Bow

A big problem I see in story endings is a lot of them go like this:

Character 1: Well, I’ve done some bad stuff. But that’s only because Tragic Thing™ happened to me. 

Character 2: I’m so sorry! That explains everything!

Character 1: It’s okay. We’re buddies now and our lives are perfect. 

Sometimes, it’s better not to share the ghost, or you’ll have an ending that looks a lot like that. If not sharing your ghost will make your ending better, cut it ruthlessly.

3. If You Don’t Need it For the Story to Make Sense

In most (if not all) cases, if you don’t need to share the ghost, cutting it will be the best option. It’ll make your story leaner, and improve your subtext and the story in general as I said above. To find out if you need it,  ask yourself:

  • How important is this character?
  • How important is their backstory to the plot?
  • If readers don’t know what the ghost is, will they still understand the story?
  • Will I leave any plot holes if I don’t share the ghost?

I was listening to the Create If podcast and something Kirsten said applies to all hard advice: “If [what I’m saying] is really hard for you, here’s what I’m going to suggest: be cranky about it… take a few days, let the cranky be cranky, then kinda come back and say ‘Okay, is this true, or is this something I don’t need to listen to?'” It’s hard to kill your darlings, but evaluate if you’re keeping the ghost because you like it or because it’s actually important to the story.

4. If it’s Not Awesome

when ur oc already has a horrible backstory but u come up with something that makes it more devastating -- make it worse


Sometimes, the effects of the ghost will be bigger and more important than the actual ghost. If you’re teasing up to a ghost that ends up disappointing readers, you can either (a) make it bigger or (b) just don’t explain it in the first place.  If it really is vital to the plot, the best option would be to make it more epic (isn’t that fun anyway?). However, look at whether or not you really need to share and play around with it.

To Share the Ghost, Or Not to Share?

This is ultimately going to be your own gut decision; make sure you choose wisely. Only you’re going to know what’s best for your story.

What do you think about backstories and ghosts? Do you tend to overshare or undershare? What’s the hardest darling you’ve ever had to kill?

Awesome and Unique Christian New Year’s Resolution Ideas

A popular idea for Christians this time of year is to pledge to follow a One-Year Bible reading plan/book. This sounded like a great idea! But when I tried it? The results were not so great.

At first, I was excited to read the entirety of God’s Word. He has so much to say to us; it’s certainly something to get excited about! However, with the loads of chapters issued a day from all across the Bible, instead of feeling excited I ended up thinking “Is this over yet? How long is the lineage of whoever-it-is-we’re-talking-about-now gonna go on? Yeah, we get it, praise the Lord.”

I read the words, but in attempt to hurry and get it done I wasn’t learning anything, meditating, or growing closer to God. This year, I’ve decided to come up with ideas that are more productive and share them with others who feel the same way.

Spend (At Least) 7 Minutes With God Every Day

Joshua 1:8: Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

At my church, they give out pamphlets called 7 Minutes With God. It guides you through seven minutes of prayer and Bible reading. Why seven minutes? It’s an easy time to start with, because it’s not hard to carve out and it’s pretty easy to wake up just a few minutes earlier. Then, “the seven minutes will become so good you’ll want to add more”. That sounds pretty lit to me.

Start Bible Journaling

Artsy Bible Journaling

image via

There are special Bibles you can buy that give you extra room in the margins to draw. The basic concept is for artists to use their talents to sketch what they’ve learned on each page. If you don’t like the idea of drawing in a Bible, you can get a separate notebook. I’m not planning on trying this, but I thought I’d share for any of my artistic readers.

Track Your Thoughts and Stories

A common resolution is to keep a daily diary, so why not try a “Bible diary”? This is something I’ve started to do lately, and my goal is to get in the habit of doing this every day. Basically, you read a Bible verse(s) and jot down your thoughts about it, write your prayers, rant about your day to God, or anything else you can think of! I like writing things down because it forces me to turn my feelings into words, gives me something to look back on, and it feels “official” for whatever reason. 😛

Be Bolder in Sharing Your Faith

Matthew 28:19: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Being godly around worldly friends is hard. Talking to strangers about Jesus is hard. But in the long run, I have to remind myself what’s most important: feeling humiliated for a moment and ruining temporary things, or doing your best to share the amazing gift of God’s love with everyone you can?

Pray Without Ceasing

Now there's a familiar voice.
visit my Jesus pinterest board. It’s a mix between memes and stuff that’s actually cool and inspiring.

image via

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

A lot of times when I’m stressed out, I realize it’s because I haven’t been spending time with God. Praying gives me a certain peace to know that it’s going to be okay in the end — so what’s the issue in doing it more? Pray. Pray every day. Pray when you’re stressed. Pray when you hear of someone in need. My overall goal for 2018 is to simply be with God more, and talking right to Him is my favorite way to do that.

I hope you guys got some ideas from reading this! If you have any thoughts, share them down below — I adore talking to you all.

What are your resolutions this year? Are you a fan of resolutions, or do you skip them all together? Do you like Bible reading plans? Do you prefer to avoid planning and just wing it?

How to Revive the Fun in Musical Practice Time

When we first start studying music, it’s new and exciting — despite being a bit intimidating compared to all the super-talented musicians. However, for some of us, the excitement wears off quickly and playing becomes boring. We play the same old comfortable songs over and over again, loath playing our instrument, or quit playing for the most part.

So, how can we fix this boring routine? Here are some tricks I’ve learned in my experience with music.

How to Revive the Fun in Your Musical Practice Time

1. Purposefully Choose Fun Songs

If you play for a band or have a music teacher to report to, you likely only practice songs you’re supposed to be learning. This is a quick way to get to boredom town. Try choosing a song you love. What techniques are your favorites? Which genres do you like? Who are your favorite artists/composers? Find a few minutes of extra time to play your chosen song, and you’ll be reminded of how fun music can be.

2. Give Yourself Music Free Time

I started gymnastics a few months ago. Sometimes when we’re done with whatever events we’re supposed to practice, the teachers give us fifteen minutes of free time. That gave me the idea to do the same thing with my music –give myself fifteen minutes to do whatever I want. I made a list, mixing productive things and fun things. I don’t have the original, but it looked something like this:

  • Practice songs for vocal lessons.
  • Watch online rhythm videos.
  • Practice ukulele, guitar, or songs from my piano book.
  • Sing a song for fun.
  • Listen to the choir CDs I’m supposed to learn.

Try making a free time list for yourself! Use it as a reward for practicing or as motivation to get stuff done.

3. Challenge Yourself

A bad habit I mentioned at the beginning was practicing the same things over and over again. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re playing the same pieces, but playing pieces of the same skill level and similar technique. Yeah, we might perfect those pieces. However, we’re not growing much as musicians. Change things up! Try something above your level of experience or an aspect you’ve been struggling with. It may take time to learn, but I guarantee you’ll come out a better musician.

4. Look at Why You Started

Why did you start? Was it because your parents wanted you to, you were trying to find an “easy” class in school, or you aim to be great at everything? Was it because you fell in love with an instrument, you’ve been listening to music for as long as you can remember, or you have a passion for the arts? If it’s one of the former, you’re likely to hate practicing. Do you even like music at all? If it’s one of the latter, try to remember clearly when you started and why. What goals did you have? What were your “impossible” dreams? Remind yourself of the beginning to keep pushing yourself.

In the end, it all comes down to your reasons behind playing. Even if you started with good intentions, a lack of love and passion for music now will drain you. Can you revive the amazing feeling from the first time you played a piece perfectly, or when a little kid told you they wanted to play just like you when they grew up? If not, reconsider your priorities.

What instruments do you play? What’s your favorite piece to practice? Why did you start? What do you do when your music feels boring?

Beautiful Books 2017

Hello, everyone! Since I don’t have access to devices this weekend, I thought I’d schedule a fun I hope post. I’m not doing NaNo this year, but I am outlining my WIP Legacy Unending, so I’m answering the first two rounds of questions.

beautiful books

What inspired the idea for your novel, and how long have you had the idea?

About two years ago, I had a character named Kendall I used to roleplay. I went through a few novels trying to come up with a plot for her. Now she’s named Kamri and I’m SUPER. EXCITED. This idea is the one.

Describe what your novel is about!

Kamri Taylor tried to run away, but after failing discovered there’s a lot more to be found in her town than she once thought: the secrets of a dead girl, a lingering promise of hope, and maybe even the love of Jesus.

That’s my mini-blurb. It’s a work in progress.

What is your book’s aesthetic? Use words or photos or whatever you like!


violin / subway / run away / legacy 

These are a few of the images from my WIP Pinterest board. I have it set to private right now, but I might publicize it later. The sub-boards update has been really helpful for organizing book/character aesthetics.

Introduce us to each of your characters!

Kamri Taylor, Collin LastNameToBeDetermined, Mason Garay, Araey Santarelli, Brynne Brandon, Tara Brittingham, and the very dead Madilyn Garay!

I don’t feel like describing them all. Oh well.

How do you prepare to write? (Outline, research, stocking up on chocolate, howling, etc.?)

Right now, I’m working out the kinks in my outline and I’m about to buy Scrivener to organize it all. I have a lot of ideas: outline notes, setting pictures, face claim, character traits, research references, etc. I think it’s going to make for an amazing, stress-free first draft.

What are you most looking forward to about this novel?

KAMRI MY DARLING. I adore all my characters, especially when they get in fights. Seriously. Kamri and Araey fight, Kamri and Tara fight, Kamri and Mason fight, Mason and Collin fight… it’s dramatic and full of conflict. I love it.

List 3 things about your novel’s setting.

1. Small town California.

2. It’s varied – there are sections of town that are falling apart, and there are sections where rich and famous people live. That also creates a lot of conflict between my characters.

3. There are actually two small towns. I lied. In that other small town is a cafe run by my precious Kaelin from another novel that’s on hold right now. I couldn’t resist.

What’s your character’s goal and who (or what) stands in the way?

Kamri’s main goal that drives the inner and outer conflict is to be someone worthy of love. Since that’s so subjective, she fails repeatedly and makes things worse for herself.

How does your protagonist change by the end of the novel?

At the end of the novel, she’s learned a lot. How to keep a friendship, everyone has secrets, that God exists, and that He loves who she is. My novel is very introspective on life.

What are your book’s themes? How do you want readers to feel when the story is over?

Worth, love, family, friendship. I want readers to be in awe and think it was beautiful, and I hope they’ll view life a bit differently, as novels tend to make you do. It’s ambitious, I know, but I’ve never gotten anywhere without a dose of ambition.

What’s your first sentence (or paragraph)?

I know why I’m leaving, but I don’t know where I’m going.

Who’s your current favourite character in your novel?

Kamri! Can’t you tell? 😉

What do you love about your novel so far?

EVERYTHING. Especially the fighting, if I haven’t mentioned that already, along with constantly making my characters’  lives miserable.

What is your favourite to write: beginning, middle, or end — and why?

For this novel, I think the middle is going to be my favorite. It has love, drama, embarrassment, fighting, and a lot of music.

How private are you about your novel while you’re writing? Do you need a cheer squad or do you work alone (like, ahem, Batman)?

For some things, I keep totally private. I believe only two people have ever read a full novel of mine. It does motivate me to share ideas, though.

What keeps you writing even when it’s hard?

Absolutely falling in love with my story. Sometimes doing anything is hard, but when my writing excites me it’s all the easier.

What are your top 3 pieces of writing advice?

1. Write all the words you have in you.

2. Read all the books you can.

3. Learn everything you can.

Thanks for reading this incredibly long post about me rambling over my novel! What about you guys? SHARE WITH ME ALL THE FACTS ABOUT YOUR WRITINGS. I adore hearing about other people’s novels. Answer any of the questions up there, send snippets, share your word count, or let your characters get into fights. Whatever tickles your fancy.