Writing Tuesday: What I learned from a Children’s Museum

This past weekend, I posted a blog about my family’s vacation to Pennsylvania. Having children whose birth years span different centuries means that sometimes my wonderful hubby takes the two older children to one activity while I take the two younger children to another activity. One of the days during the vacation, we decided that he would take the older two (along with KB) to a Science Museum while I would take the younger two to a Children’s Museum. Little did I know that I would find material for my writing blog here, but it’s amazing what you can learn about writing in the most unusual places. For here at the Hands to Hearts Children’s Museum, I received a refresher course on the basics of writing. In the dress-up and costume area, there were little placards hanging on the walls that introduced children to the concepts behind stories. But no matter whether you are a plotter or a pantser, these placards reminded me that everyone should know a couple of things before a writer starts a story.

The first placard read as follows: Once Upon a Time. There are three parts to every story, the characters, the setting and the plot. When I read this, I stepped back and blinked. Here was a story boiled down to the three most important elements. A writer needs to have a grip on these three elements before he or she starts a story.

Characters. The placard on the next wall asked where are your characters going? Who is going with them? And what will you be doing? Wow. In a sentence, this placard at a children’s museum reminded me that characters needed to know where they are going (what’s their goal), who is going with them (who are the supporting characters), and what is the character doing (what is their motivation and conflict). Before either a plotter or a pantser sits down and writes that first sentence, he or she needs to know whose story they are writing. Some writers interview their characters beforehand. Others make charts to tell about internal and external goals, motivations and conflicts. Still others make timelines of what the characters do when. No matter how you get to know your characters, the important thing is to get to know about them and spend time with them. As one of my favorite authors (the wonderful Nicki Salcedo, author of All Beautiful Things) once said, these characters are like your friends. And you want to spend time with your friends. Why not give that same dedication to your characters? (Isn’t she smart? A Stanford graduate and a great author, too).  So from a wall at a children’s museum, I was reminded of the importance of knowing your characters. If you don’t like them (even the villains), chances are your audience won’t. If you like them and get to know them, your enthusiasm will probably show to your audience.

Setting. Another placard read as follows: Choose a setting for your story. Pretend you are a character in that story. This is great advice for setting and for POV. Think about it. Pretend you’re in the setting. What does your character see, smell, feel, taste and hear? The five senses and setting description help us feel like we are there in the scene with the character.

Plot. Another placard reminded me that a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Basically that describes the parts of a plot. A plot needs to introduce the story, keep our interest in the middle and provide an ending. I’m a romance writer so my books are going to have a happy ending. But no matter the genre, it’s so important to go into your story knowing how you want it to start, where you want to be in the middle, what is your black moment or your aha moment, and how do you want it to end.

This write-at-home mom went into this museum expecting to have a fun time with her 4 year old twins but left reminded of important elements of a story.

What about you? Have you ever gone somewhere and unexpectedly learned something about your career or hobby? Let me know!

Wacky Weekend: Family Vacation

Have you heard this old joke? What’s scarier than Friday the 13th? Saturday the 14th.

Okay, so now you know the reason I’m a romance writer and not a comedy writer scouted by the likes of Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey.

There are things that sound scary (my children naming the snakes in our front yard) and things that are scary (the fact that there are snakes in my front yard). I don’t know about you, but six members of a family (in this case, to be more specific, Mom, Dad, 16 year old Kath, 11 year old MJ, and twin 4 year olds Cupcake and Chunk) in one hotel room for a week can inspire a couple of chills. But we all survived. And not even five minutes into our vacation, we heard the line that will forever mark this vacation (keep reading!)

For those who don’t know me, my new running gag is that I’m the mother in a YA romance novel. My 16 year old, Kath, is dating an 18 year old who lives in a different state. As a mom, I’m great with her dating someone who lives five states away. This spring, 18 year old (shall we give him a nickname? Let’s not ask my wonderful hubby to provide this nickname. Let’s just call him-KB for Kath’s boyfriend-I know all of you will now line up to buy my first book with something as creative as that.) KB graduated from high school. Kath thought his graduation party &/or his Eagle Scout party would be taking place during my wonderful hubby’s vacation so we all decided to take a 12 hour car trip to Pennsylvania to visit KB.

We all decide 5 A.M. is a good time to get the party started. By some miracle, we are actually all loaded and in the minivan by 5 A.M. At 5:05 A.M., Chunk utters the words, “Mommy, I need your iPad.” We were barely out of the driveway and Chunk is already bored with the car ride.

At our first rest stop at the SC Welcome Center, Chunk runs his fingers through the grains on top of a garbage can: that’s right. The ones used for cigarette butts. He did not want to stop playing with the big ashtray. At least he was keeping Kath and MJ entertained.

We make it along the first leg of our trip, all the way to Virginia where we spent the night. When we arrived at the hotel, MJ discovered he forgot deodorant. For the good of everyone in the car, we pile back in the car and go buy him deodorant. You’re welcome, Kath, Cupcake and Chunk.

The next day we all go to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. When we pull into a parking deck, we were asked to open our trunk for security purposes. What we didn’t know was that our can of raisins ended up back there. The poor security guard who opened our trunk door had the can of raisins gush out of our car onto a sidewalk. They promptly waved us through.

Chunk enjoyed touching a cannon fragment in the display before the Fort McHenry flag. He kept wanting to go back there the most. The rest of us did enjoy seeing treasured pieces of Americana. I especially liked Miss Piggy. And I also marveled at how small Bette Davis’ waist was when I saw the dress she wore in Dark Victory.

It’s a beautiful city, and I’m proud of our nation’s Capitol, but we were happy to start the next leg of our journey. Especially Kath. She’d get to see KB the very next day.

So we proceed to PA. We crammed a lot into a week: the State Museum of PA, Wheatland (our 15th President, James Buchanan’s house), a pretzel factory, Hershey Park, Zoo America, lunch at an Amish restaurant, Hershey’s Chocolate World, the York Emporium, and miniature golfing. Chunk provided our first ever visit to a medical first aid station at a theme park (the EMTs and staff at the Hershey Park First Aid Clinic were exemplary; I told Chunk to enjoy having two beautiful women fawn all over him). Cupcake made friends wherever she went, MJ liked making his own candy bar and Kath loved spending time with KB, including seeing The Fault In Our Stars with him on opening night.

I’m used to the stereotype that we Southerners take our time to get from point A to point B. I didn’t quite know what to make of being chastised up North for walking on an escalator. I normally don’t like labels, but I have to laugh at this Southerner getting chastised for trying to get somewhere in a hurry. But let me hasten to add, that Northern hospitality is underrated and was wonderful. I kept apologizing everywhere I went for the loudness of my kids. People gave me an understanding look and said they were fine. Thank you, Pennsylvania.

One morning at breakfast, my kids were particularly quiet (this must have been the day after Hershey Park). A woman came up to us and complimented me on how well behaved my kids are. Thank you, ma’am. I don’t know how you caught them at that moment, but we have a reputation for being a loud house. A friend of mine called this week and asked if he and his wife could come over, hastening to add “We won’t mind the noise.”

On the way back, I decided to wear my “Careful, Or you’ll end up in my novel” t-shirt. I am after all a write-at-home mom. On the trip up to PA, I edited my work in progress. While in PA, I kept up with my homework from an online writing craft class (A quick thanks to the wonderful and awesome Cheryl St. John for a great class). On the way back, I edited more and worked some more. My wonderful hubby knowing what a history buff I am surprised me with a side trip to the gorgeous and very historical Mount Vernon. If you haven’t been to this national treasure, I recommend the trip.

So sometime shortly after midnight, we pulled into our driveway. Safe and sound. Full of little adventures and little stories. Full of memories that we’ll talk about for years to come.

What about you? What family vacations stick out in your mind? If you are a writer, have any incidents from your family vacations made it into your books? Let me know! 🙂


Writing Monday: Baby steps

As a mother of four all of whom are now walking, I’ve seen four different approaches to first steps. My eldest, Kath, waited for her entire family to be gathered in one room to take her first steps on Christmas Eve. My oldest son MJ took his time. He’d coast from one object to another, taking care with every movement so he wouldn’t fall. The twins’ first year is a blur, but I remember Chunk was cautious and Cupcake was forthright. Within a month of their first steps, all of them were practically running. Now as a write-at-home mom, I’m looking back at the baby steps I’ve been taking in my writing. Here’s what I’ve learned.

First step. Read books in the genre you want to write. I’ve heard people say that they’re going to write a romance novel when they’re proud to announce they’ve never read a romance novel in their lives. Other people think science fiction is the genre for them although they’ve never read Heinlein, Asimov or any other sci-fi writer. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but each writing genre has nuances about that individual genre that makes it different from other genres. Even romance writing has different categories within the genre: series contemporary, single title contemporary, erotica, historical, inspirational, fiction with strong romantic elements, paranormal, young adult, and new adult. Reading the genre you want to write will help you develop tools by knowing the different tropes and different writing styles unique to each.

Second step. Read books about craft. There are some writing books that transcend certain genres. Stephen King’s On Writing and Christopher Vogler’s The Hero’s Journey are two books highly touted by writers of different genres. Then there are books that can help within your genre. For romance writers, Deb Dixon’s GMC book is a must have and a must-read. I’ve recently also purchased Jane Porter’s new book about writing romance and have begun reading it. The pep talk chapter (Ready, Set, Go) is worth the price of the book alone. I’ve also downloaded Jill Elizabeth Nelson’s Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View and look forward to exploring more about that aspect of craft soon.

Third step. Write your book. The most important advice to give a writer is to write. How many people have said that they would love to write a book? Lots. The best way to get that book written is to sit down and write, whether it’s by using a computer or longhand. It’s harder than it looks, but until you start, you don’t know whether you can or not.

Fourth step. Get feedback. I wrote my first book all by myself, without attending any seminars, without reading any books about craft, without any critiques, and without any beta readers. It’s now under the bed and is going to stay there. After my “maternity leave,” I started attending conferences and found Georgia Romance Writers where the wonderful Tanya Michaels gave me my first critique. Did I mention how wonderful she was? I totally mean it because she gave me great advice: learn about craft, read your work to look out for word repetition, check your paragraphs to make sure you don’t start every paragraph with the same word, read your work to make sure that a scene is told from one point of view and not from multiple points of view in the same paragraph (otherwise known as head hopping). Without this critique, I wouldn’t have known how I needed to hone my writing to (hopefully) improve it. Since then, I’ve learned to exchange WIPs with prospective critique partners in hopes of getting good feedback. I want to get better, and if I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, I can’t improve.

Fifth step. Discover your voice and start running. I love cozy mysteries. I’ve curled up with many a wonderful mystery author from Carolyn Hart to Joan Hess to Rita Mae Brown. Each of these authors has a gift for crafting an engaging mystery. Each of these authors also has a gift for discerning which genre and which category to hone their craft and have done so in a masterful manner. While I love a good mystery, I’ve listened to the characters in my head and discovered that I like writing Southern contemporary romance. And that is what I am writing.

As each of my four children walked in their own fashion, in their own time, in their own inimitable style, so too is every writing journey different. These five steps are the first five baby steps in what I hope will become a writing career. There are writers who will fashion their own books in a different manner. There are writers who can weave magic without ever having picked up a book about craft. These are just my first baby steps on my writing journey.

What about you? What baby steps did you take to get started with your hobby, livelihood or career? Let me know.


Writing Monday: Conferences

It’s really easy sometimes to lose yourself in the world of social media. “Oh, I’ll only stay on Facebook for five more minutes.” “Oh, I’ll just share this Ellen selfie with my followers on Twitter and then I’ll go to sleep.” “Oh, everybody’s talking about Pinterest, let me try that for a week.” And so on. And so on. It seems as though everyone loves to share his or her opinions with the world on social media sites, myself included. One question on a Facebook post asked when does a writer become a writer? I tore my fingers away from the keyboard when I read one person’s response that an author is only an author if he or she has published a book. I do try to stay positive on Facebook, and I feared my response would be less than nice. So I wrote nothing at all. Which is sort of a shame on me because I feel that an author can be an author even if he or she is “pre-published.” What’s important is capturing words on either paper or a computer screen to come up with a story. One word at a time. One paragraph at a time. One page at a time. To this extent, every person who has ever struggled to find the word that captures an action or an emotional response can call him or herself a writer. Some writers only write for themselves, others are pursuing publication. Those who are striving to someday get a call from an agent, editor or publishing company have different paths to try to work their manuscript into shape for that call. To that extent, I myself am working toward the goal of publication. Besides the actual writing, there are several ways I am working on my craft. This includes romance writing conferences.

I have now attended two major conferences other than all day workshops and seminars. The first was the national RWA conference in 2013 that was held in Atlanta, GA. This year’s national RWA Conference is taking place in San Antonio, TX. A confirmed introvert, conferences are a little overwhelming. Many people come to writing conferences: writers, editors, agents, publishers, speakers, and more. One wonderful part of a national conference is the different topics that are discussed. An author can attend classes about craft, career, the writing life, research and more. Even my local chapter’s conference that I attended last year had wonderful information by dynamic speakers. These conferences have helped me develop friendships, volunteer behind the scenes, and have afforded me access to information about writing that has been invaluable.

So the time came recently when I had to make a decision. Do I travel to this year’s national conference in hope of learning my craft and gaining pointers about preparing my manuscript for submission or do I not? Yes, I signed up to go. Ultimately, learning more about writing, learning more about submitting to publishers, and talking to other writers answered the question for me. It does mean some sacrifices. As a write-at-home mom, I worry about the time spent away from my kids, but I’m also teaching them the importance of reaching for a dream. I have a goal in mind, and I have to trust that the information and friendships from this conference will push me closer to my goal of publication.

This conference is only one way I’m trying to develop my craft so that I will eventually get that call. There’s no substitution for simply sitting down with my nose close to the computer screen writing the words of my novel, but there are many ways that I can explore to make my writing better. Conferences are only one of the many ways to do so, but I think they definitely have a place on my path.

What about you? In your profession, do you attend conferences? What’s your favorite part about the conferences? Let me know.


Writing Tuesday: One word at a time

The beginning of the twenty-first century is a boon to impatient people like myself. Everywhere I look, there are ways to improve your life and attain results faster. In the mornings, there are breakfast foods designed for convenience. Need to leave in a few minutes, make instant oatmeal or pop a waffle in the toaster. Throughout the day, there’s no need to wait for the six o’clock news anymore to catch up with the events of the day. Online websites catch us up instantaneously with up to the minute details of the news. Social media and cell phones connect us to friends and family without delay, definitely quicker than having to wait for the weekends to call out of town loved ones when the rates decreased.

But faster is not always better. In the mornings, not much beats real homemade pancakes slathered in syrup. Unless it’s French toast covered in the ooey, gooey, sticky stuff. Sometimes it’s relaxing to read a print newspaper with a warm cup of tea (or if you must, a cup of coffee). And sometimes, calling a friend when you have time for a real honest to goodness talk rather than reading their latest Facebook post has no equals either.

As a writer, I’m discovering that it takes time to develop craft. While there is the rare person whose talent shines through immediately, I’m not that person. I’m learning every day something new about writing. On Saturday, I learned that every action invokes an emotional reaction. This week, I’m learning that spending time consistently each time with your character friends adds up to a lot of words over the course of eighteen days. The magic of writing is that the words add up one word at a time. The more time you spend thinking about your work and crafting your story, the more it shows in the manuscript. Perhaps one of the best things a writer can do for his or her work is to write consistently. Hey, I’m a mom of four. I know it’s not always possible for everyone to have that block of time set aside every day for writing. But a speaker (who I admire greatly) said something at a conference I attended last year that resonated with me. She asked if we all like spending time with friends. She said that our book characters should be our friends and that we should try to spend time with them to get their stories down in the printed form.

So one word at a time adds up to several words over the course of a day which leads to several thousand words a week. Somedays it’s a struggle when I first sit in front of my laptop. After all, I want to see the latest results from a tennis tournament or the latest review for the new Muppets movie. But I also want to tell the story of my character friends. And that can only happen one word at a time.

What about you? What do you like to do that is better the more you devote time to it? Is it a favorite recipe? Is it a favorite hobby like knitting or playing tennis? Let me know.

Writing Tuesday: Have Laptop, Will Travel

UnknownGrowing up, I can remember my mother telling me that she didn’t understand how I could finish my homework with the radio playing in the background. Everyone has a different noise tolerance for his or her work capacity. Some people would be able to work no matter whether there was a jackhammer breaking up concrete right outside their window while other people need complete silence to work. Some people can work from home while other people love a workplace environment and shudder at the thought of having to work out of their home. As a writer, I understand the new phrase, “Have computer, will travel.” As long as I have my laptop, I can pretty much work anywhere. Except that try as I may, I never seem to get much work done at home.

Home is a wonderful place. Movie lines and book quotes all wax eloquent on the wonders of home. “There’s no place like home.” “Home is where your heart is.” Home for me also comes complete with my four wonderful children, all of whom instinctively know that I am trying to write and instinctively create ways to interrupt me.

Over the past month, my home has had the distinct pleasure of becoming isolated due to icy conditions. On the one hand, there was a beauty in seeing our yard covered in a blanket of snow and ice. We enjoyed French toast and a rousing game of Monopoly. We broke out other board games as well. Whenever I tried to escape to our basement to write, they found me. First, MJ came down with his book, eager to escape 4 year old Cupcake and Chunk so he could read in peace. Then Cupcake and Chunk came down and wanted MJ to play with them, but then lo and behold, they found Mommy! Surely I want to read them a book or play Zooreka or make cookies (all of which we did do at some time during the two recent snow incidents that left us stranded at home).

I love those minutes with them, but that also means that I want to be home with them when I’m home. As a result, I venture forth to write. I’ve written in people’s homes, libraries, restaurants, malls and so on. I’m even writing this blog at my local library rather than in the comfort of my home. My wonderful hubbie bought and installed a corner desk for me, but I often go elsewhere to write.

Soon all four of my children will be attending school on a daily basis. I will have to adjust to writing from the comfort of my home. The advantages will come in the short commute time and well, let’s face it, I don’t have to dress up to work from my home (my kids joke that they don’t recognize me with makeup since I’ve only worn it for weddings, funerals and writing conferences since they’ve been born). Until then, I’m trying to learn how to balance my writing time. That means I’ll still travel elsewhere to write (with the added advantage of having a few minutes to map out today’s writing-the POV, the dialogue) but come home to spend time with my family. My wonderful hubbie points out that when I don’t write, I can become, well, a little bearish. So, I will write away from home for now, knowing that when I come home, a more relaxed, better wife and mother is returning to hear all the stories of what I’ve missed while I was writing.

Where do you write or work? If you are able to work at home, do you like the convenience or do you miss a workplace atmosphere? If you work away at home, do you sometimes wish there was a way for you to work at home every once in a while? Let me know.

Writing Tuesday: Snowjam 2014

The weather. Normally a nice bland conversation starter, the weather has become a major factor where I live. In the past six weeks, the weather has produced record lows and two snow events. Not a problem for most people in America, but in the South, it’s become a huge problem. Schools have been closed, traffic has been snarled, and grocery stores have had their shelves emptied of all bread products. In Georgia, the first snow event caused a massive traffic situation that paralyzed the city of Atlanta. Some have called it “SnowJam,” others “Snowapalooza,” other the “Snowpocalypse.” During the traffic nightmare, one of the radio stations referred to one Georgia state road as the “seventh circle of hell” while one of the Georgia interstates was the eighth circle. I know this because I was in my car listening to the announcer stuck in the middle of the seventh circle with two of my children with me. For eleven hours and forty-five minutes, I trudged home from a place less than ten miles from my house. During this time, I primarily had to focus on the road and other cars around me, but occasionally, I had a minute to reflect on how this traffic jam paralleled to a writer’s life because while a writer is the person to sit down and put the words to a screen or paper, there are obstacles and people who can either hinder or aid with the writing life.

When I left their preschool with my two youngest in the backseat, we ventured towards another child’s school. Obstacle number one came when another person thought she was being nice by letting me know that the upcoming bridge was closed. While I later found out this was not the case, this was the first hindrance in some writer’s lives. A writer may turn back at the first hint of anything bad. Instead of facing rejection, he or she lets his or her work linger in the internal memory of her computer (remember George McFly in Back to the Future when Marty asks him about his writing and he says he doesn’t show it to anyone because he doesn’t know if he can risk that kind of rejection). Instead of fighting through the writer’s block, a writer simply decides not to finish the story. I’ve had times when both of these instances have happened to me. As a writer, I need to have others read my work: to tell me what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong, to help me learn about the craft of writing, and to help me notice craft issues I wouldn’t notice myself. As a writer, I’ve had those days when my characters are at a certain place and I know they need to get to point C from point A but it sure is difficult to figure out point B in the meantime.

So back to the snowjam. I turned around from a point slightly before the bridge and headed to plan B. Before I set out on plan B, I stopped at a local grocery store. My two youngest (Cupcake and Chunk) and I used the facilities; bought milk, bread and cinnamon sugar for French toast; and most importantly, topped off the fuel tank at the grocery’s gas station. This little stop reveals two more points in the writer’s life: distractions and foresight. The grocery store was a slight distraction, albeit a necessary one. There are distractions everywhere a writer turns. The Internet with all the fascinating blogs, websites, news sites, social media is a fun distraction. There are times I go places where I know I can’t get internet access in order to write. I am so thankful I topped off my gas tank, however. The foresight of planning ahead can help a writer; schedules can help a writer plan out what he or she hopes to accomplish in the day, week or month ahead. The same with a business plan.

After we left the gas station, I turned on the radio to find out about road conditions. A radio station (which since then has taken great pains to let everyone know how accurate they were in predicting this first snow event) broadcast the fact that the bridge was closed (it was not). Because of this I headed for the road later described as “the seventh circle of hell.” I exited the gas station and two hours later made it to the road that I was convinced was a good way to get home because it was three lanes and everyone knows that three lanes can handle more traffic than one. This brings me to the next analogy to a writer’s life: twists and turns in your plot. For the most part, I am a planner. I use a synopsis to create the main storyline and outline different events and scenes for each chapter. When I stick to this, I am a much better storyline. It’s when I think-oh, this would be a good way to introduce more conflict- and keep adding new plot details that I find myself in big trouble. Right now, I’m editing my completed first draft and have to delete a page and a half that I added that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book but seemed like a good idea at the time.

For two and a half hours, we drove about a mile. Cupcake reminded me that a visit to a place with some restrooms might be in order. We pulled into a grocery store parking lot. I unstrapped both children from their carseats and trudge through the ice and snow to see the sign on the door announcing they were closed even though there were people coming in and out of the store. Worried that everywhere else on this road would also be closing as well as about the bladders of Cupcake and Chunk, I entered the doors and begged the manager if I could please use the bathroom. A woman exiting with her groceries prevailed on him as well and I ran to the bathroom with my kids before the manager could change his mind. To my surprise, the woman also prevailed on the manager to let her buy us some Lunchables. I am still grateful to this woman for the kindness in buying a total stranger and her kids food. As a writer, I am also grateful whenever anyone offers to critique my work and gives me honest feedback. Critique partners and readers do a tremendous service to writers in that they point out issues and problems that we may not see. Word repetition, POV changes, and out-of-place scenes are such issues.

We entered the car, not knowing that we would be in the car for another five hours and forty-five minutes. In the same manner, depending on the method of publication a writer pursues, a writer doesn’t know whether he or she will receive that special call right away, months away or years away.

As we neared home, there were cars stranded on the side of the road. There are writers who never finish a book.

Along the way I received a call from a friend who returned my call from when I realized I was not going to be able to pick up one of my children from school. This friend let me talk to her through one of the stuck in traffic moments when I didn’t move for close to an hour. Thanks to her and all the friends who listen to me talk about my characters, my plot and my book.

Then we arrived at the icy patch that continued all the way up the hill. I was ready to cry. Here we were so close to home yet so far away. My car got stuck in the left lane in an icy patch. Thank you so much to the men who were pushing everyone up the hill and who pushed my car out of that patch. Also thank you to all the writers who encourage me at conferences and writers’ meetings. That little push sometimes helps in those rough patches and help us the next time we sit at the keyboard.

Arriving in the church parking lot next to our subdivision, I saw my husband waving on the side of the road. I parked in a spot and turned off the car. We walked with our kids up the icy hill and made it inside our home. A rush of emotions flooded me as my snowjam experience had come to an end. Similarly writers know different emotions when they write the end at the end of a manuscript. They’ve written, edited and sent off their book, hoping to find an audience.

Even though a writer ultimately sits on a chair and writes by him or herself, he or she still experiences help and guidance along the way to the finished product. As a writer and Snowjam 2014 driver, I thank all the people who are helping me along the way.

What about you? Who are the people who help you pursue whatever dreams you have?