Positive Thinking is Fuel

My dream is to become a fulltime, professional fiction writer.

That’s what I want to do. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time and I’ve only recently started to take the necessary steps to make that dream a reality. I’m still in the process of learning a lot of things and I think it will be a while before I can actually call myself a professional.

The road to becoming a professional fiction writer is difficult and beset with many difficulties, even now that the rise of indie-publishing has made it easier for fiction writers to make some real money off their work. Even if you write great books, know how to market and promote your book effectively, and design (or hire someone else to design) awesome book covers, it can still take a while to get your career going.

Sometimes, when I think about it all, I get discouraged. There’s no guarantee I’ll make a living. I mean, I’ve been doing everything I can to take care of the craft and business side of writing (all the while learning as much as I can), but even knowing I am doing the best I can, sometimes I wonder if my best is good enough.

As a result, I try to think positively whenever I can. I remind myself of my victories and my strengths. I acknowledge that I still have a lot to learn and that I won’t succeed right away, but I’m not going to pretend that I’ve made NO progress or that I will never succeed. That type of thinking is a good way to kill dreams and creativity, two very important parts of success, in my opinion.

But I would be amiss if I said positive thinking alone was enough. There are some people who think that. They believe that all they need to do is think about good things or how good they are and that if you do just that, then you’ll get everything you want and it will all work out in the end. They forget that positive thinking is fuel, the fuel that helps make our dreams a reality, but by itself is fairly useless.

Imagine I told you I was wanted to go to, say, Austin. Because I don’t live near enough to Austin to walk there or take a bus, I must take a car.

Now would it make sense for me to grab a tank of gasoline and say that this tank, by itself, will get me to Austin? No! I would need to put the gasoline in the car in order for it to be any use. Gasoline is useless without a car to put it in. Likewise, a car cannot get anywhere without at least a little gas in its tank.

Think of positive thinking as fuel. By itself, positive thinking doesn’t do much except make us feel better about ourselves. But if we let it fuel our actions, like how gas fuels a car, then it is extremely useful and even necessary.

For example, positive thinking by itself won’t make me a professional fiction writer. I wish it would, but by itself it can’t do much and may actually be harmful because I can trick myself into believing I am doing something important or necessary when in fact I’m not doing anything at all.

Instead, I use positive thinking as a way to help me learn from my mistakes and to take the steps necessary to achieve my dreams. When I run into a problem or have to learn something that seems daunting, I remind myself that I’ve done this before, that I’ve learned difficult things before, and that it will work out so long as I keep at it and never give up.

If you use positive thinking in this way, then you have a better chance at success than you would otherwise.

What do you think about positive thinking? Has positive thinking helped (or is helping you) get past certain failures or challenges in your life? Share your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

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Swimming

Swimming is my second favorite activity in the world (next to writing, of course). There’s nothing better than a long dip in the cold water on a hot, Texas summer day. Even before stepping into the pool, looking at the clear water reflecting the bright rays of the sun is one of the most striking images in my memory. In some ways, that initial step before you get into the pool is almost as good as actually swimming.

In spite of my love of swimming, I do not own a large pool in which to swim. I have this little metal above ground pool, but it’s only good for sitting in, not actually swimming. Sure, sitting in cold water on a hot day is good, but — like taking a cold shower — it’s really not the same as a large in-ground pool.

So whenever I do have access to such a pool, I often spend what may be considered a ludicrous amount of time in it. For example, a couple of years ago I went to a summer camp, which had a nice in-ground pool available for the campers to swim in. During the free time we got every day, I would spend most of it in the pool, simply enjoying the water.

I’m not one for pool games, though, and don’t even get me started on crowded pools. If you want to play games in the pool, that’s fine by me, but don’t expect me to join in. It’s not that I hate pool games. It’s just that I find that pool games often distract me from the actual experience of swimming itself, rather than enhance it.

Nor have I ever considered becoming a professional swimmer. This is primarily because I’m not Michael Phelps, but it’s also because, like I said above, swimming is only my second favorite activity. I like to write more than I like to swim, but I admit that swimming is very, very close and is definitely something I’d do daily if I had a large enough pool.

Another good feeling I associate with swimming is tiredness. I mean the good kind of tiredness, the kind you feel after a long day of doing good, hard physical labor. It’s one of the best feelings in the world, much different from the tiredness I get from writing, and one I wish I could experience more often, to be honest.

Maybe someday, if I make a lot of money through my writing, I’ll buy a pool. At any rate, it’s certainly something to think about.

Do you like to swim? Share your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

Snow

When I woke up this morning, I was greeted to a thin layer of snow on the ground around my house. Snow is extremely rare here in Texas; in fact, this is the first snow of the winter, so I’d say it’s pretty special in that regard.

It’s not a whole lot of snow, though. It’s not like the amount of snow they get in the northern states, where so much of the white stuff falls I hear they have to close down schools and businesses sometimes. It’s not enough snow to build a snowman, although you could probably have a snowball fight if you wanted (though don’t expect to make anything larger than your fist, if even that).

Still, it is snow. White, wet, and cold. I hope to enjoy it as much as I can today because I am not sure if we’re going to be getting more anytime soon. On the other hand, it’s so cold outside right now that I am probably going to stay inside and do some reading or play some video games (been playing Pokémon X recently, which is a fantastic game. Highly recommend it to anyone who likes Pokémon, even if it’s been years since you last played a game from the series).

-Tim

Solitary Walks

One of my favorite activities to do is taking a solitary walk. Especially on beautiful days like today, where the wind is blowing, the sun is shining, and everything seems more alive than usual.

I like to walk by myself because it gives me a lot of privacy and time to think. While I usually do my best thinking in writing, there is something about talking aloud to oneself that cannot be replicated on paper or on a computer screen. I usually come back from those walks with a much clearer idea about what I think or what I need to do.

I am blessed to live in the beautiful Texas hill country, where I sometimes see wild animals on my walks. Around this time of year, I’ve seen quite a few deer, sometimes a squirrel or two. I can never get too close to these animals, of course, because they’re afraid of humans, but just being able to see wild animals like that is something, in my opinion.

If you ever get a chance, try to take a solitary walk through nature. That may be the park, if you live in a city or town, or the countryside if you live in a rural area. A walk might be just what you need to help clear your mind, figure out how to solve a vexing problem, or enjoy nature, all of which are good things to get from a walk.

-Tim

On Debating Civilly and Fairly

There are few things as rewarding as a good, honest debate where both sides treat each other with respect. Such debates can create understanding where none was before or lead both sides a little closer to the truth. Sometimes they even create friendships that might not have been formed otherwise, friendships built on a strong foundation that cannot be shaken easily.

Whether engaged online or off, whether about a serious political issue affecting millions or about an obscure comic book known only by a few, such debates are a gift, one not to be taken for granted by either party. They are a life-giving blessing, as wonderful as a tall glass of ice water after a hot Texas summer afternoon.

Yet there is another side to debate, one that is (unfortunately) far more common both on the Internet and in real life. This type of debate is known on the Internet as a “flame war,” although it can be performed in real life, too. You know what I’m talking about. Both sides hurl the worst insults they can think of at each other and tear apart their opponent’s beliefs using all manners of logical fallacies. The “winner” is whoever doesn’t rage-quit first, which if you think about it is not much of a victory at all.

Because I am a naturally conflict-avoidant person, those debates always drain me. They are never worth the effort put into them. If you find yourself being drawn into one, either steer the discussion back in a civil direction or quit. Better to quit with your integrity intact than to “win” with your integrity in shambles.

In my opinion, debate should have one of two purposes: Either to help bring both parties closer to the truth or to help clarify both parties’ beliefs. In some cases a debate can do both, but usually civil debate is one or the other.

If the purpose is to find truth, then both sides need to be as honest as they can possibly be. They must be willing to abandon core convictions if they are proven wrong. They must follow the facts wherever they lead, even if they lead in an uncomfortable direction. If their opponent makes a good point, they must acknowledge it, no matter how they feel about it. They must be willing to say “I don’t know” when they are ignorant about something.

If the purpose is to understand the other side better, the both sides need to listen to the other. They must be willing to abandon whatever stereotypes they may hold about the other side. Neither side should presume to know more about their opponent than their opponent does. Accept correction from the other if some of your beliefs about them are wrong.

“That sounds fine and dandy,” you might be thinking, “but what if your opponent in a truth-seeking debate is being dishonest? What if your partner in an understanding debate is not listening to you? What do you do then?”

This is tough. It’s easy to fight fire with fire. Someone punches you? Hit ’em back, maybe even harder than they hit you. After all, they had it coming, didn’t they? It’s what they deserve.

No. Even if they are not listening to you, you should listen to them. Even if they are being dishonest, you must be honest. Do not sink to their level. I can guarantee you that, despite the temporary high “winning” a debate offers, you will regret it. There are many times where I acted like my opponent and ended up regretting it, even if I technically “won” by conventional standards of debate.

It’s a shame so many debates end up as little more than mud-slinging contests. How better would our world be if most people were better listeners and were more honest. I doubt it would resolve all conflict or fix all our problems, but it would certainly make life a lot more pleasant for everyone, I should think.

What do you think? How do you debate? Share your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

Do you want to save the world?

I have what you might call a “save the world” mentality. Every time I hear about a problem affecting the world — whether from the news or some other source — I immediately want to correct it.

Tell me that there is a starving family in Africa and I will want to feed them. Tell me that minorities are being unfairly targeted by the police and I will want to go to the police and give them what for. Tell me that a company just laid off hundreds of workers and I will want to get a job for every one of them. Tell me that bankers are stealing money from the people and I will want to get that money and give it back to those it was stolen from.

On one level, this is not really a bad thing at all. Wanting to do the right thing is always good. Wanting to change society, make it fairer and more equitable, finding ways to prevent the powerful from oppressing the weak, is always a good thing in my book. That I want to do that, I think, is a good thing.

The problem is that I am, well, limited. I have no idea where to start with most of these issues. Many of the problems I notice in our society are systematic. There is no way one person like me could possibly create any major, lasting, permanent change in our world, no matter how much I want to.

I want to save the world. I notice all of the various problems in this screwed up world of ours and I want to stop them, want to fix them, but I cannot and this frustrates me greatly. Frustration kills my inner drive to do anything. I feel like the entire world is my responsibility, so the fact that I, as an individual, cannot do much to change it makes me feel like a failure.

In recent years, I’ve come to accept that I cannot save the world. No individual can. We read and write about heroes who do that all the time, but in real life, that is just not possible. Individuals can do a lot of things, but saving the world from all its problems? No way. The world is too big and complex for something like that to be even remotely plausible.

I am not trying to be pessimistic here. I am not saying we should give up trying to make our world a better place. I just cannot help anybody if I feel like I should help everybody. I only remain sane by reminding myself that I can’t do anything to save the world and that I shouldn’t expect myself to, that many of the major problems in the world are in the hands of other people and that I should pay more attention to what I can control rather than what I can’t.

Because on an individual level, I do have some measure of control. I can work on my own flaws and sins. I will never be perfect, nor do I want to be, but I can improve myself. I can try to be kind to others, show them understanding, identify and eliminate my own harmful beliefs about others. I can do small things to make life better for me, my friends, my family, and other people I run into in my day-to-day life.

This is a lesson I forget often. I read a lot of religious and political blogs, so it’s not uncommon for me to end up depressed over some piece of bad news I read on one of them. I have noticed that the bigger the problem, the worse I feel. I judge myself for not doing “enough” to save the world, but what, exactly, can I do to make Congress play nice, to deal with the drought in Texas, or to destroy the bigotry that poisons our culture?

On a system-wide scale, nothing. But I always have to remind myself that as an individual, I can make some change in my own life. I can treat others with whom I disagree with grace, I can change my water usage habits, and I can fight my own bigotry whenever it rears its ugly head.

It’s not much. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not much. Yet I’ve come to realize that it is more important to work a real change in yourself than a shadow change in society. I stay sane by taking life one day at a time, by focusing on what I can change. I remain aware of the major problems affecting our world; however, I try my best (though often fail) to remind myself that I’m not a savior and that I can’t save the world no matter how much I may want to.

This is a bit different from what I normally write about. Much more philosophical, maybe even a little religious, with a dash of politics for good measure. Whether you agree with me or not, I don’t particularly care. I felt compelled to write this and now that I have it out of my system I feel better and that’s all that matters to me right now. Share your thoughts in the comments

-Tim

The challenges of mowing the lawn

Mowing the lawn is a bit like playing whack-a-mole, at least where I live. You cut the grass in one area down to a reasonable size, but by the time you do that, the grass has grown up elsewhere, forcing you to mow that down. And the area you mowed before that one? It’s grown up again, that sneaky little bastard, and you gotta do it all over again.

This is especially noticeable if your lawn is bigger than your living room and you own only a measly gas-powered lawnmower that sometimes conks out. Throw in rain and sunshine at the most inopportune moments and suddenly it seems easier to let the grass take over your property than it does to cut it down to size.

Nonetheless, when the weather cooperates and I am feeling up to it, I put on my old work jeans, my baseball cap, and my work gloves and get to work. Usually by the time I finish I am hot, sweaty, and exhausted, not to mention more than a little resentful toward Mother Nature for working properly when I don’t want her to.

Our front lawn is fairly easy to take care of, as is the driveway. Both rarely get out of control. And on the unusual occasions when they do, they’re easy to mow down to a reasonable height. Because those are the places guests and visitors usually see first, I have a stronger motivation to keep those areas in good condition than I do the other parts of our property.

It’s the backyard that’s the problem. Because it’s been so hot this summer and our lawnmower was out of commission for a while, we’ve been forced to let it grow. It’s grown up to my waist, which is no laughing matter when you’re 5’8″ like I am. I’ve made some progress in recent weeks, having cut down the grass that was almost up to our back door, but there’s so much to do and at this point I am pretty sure the grass is laughing at me behind my back. When I finish it, I may post pictures here as proof of my conquest.

Have any lawn work that urgently needs to be done? Finished something you’ve been working hard on for a while? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments below.

-Tim

Autumn Weather

Autumn is my favorite season of the year, hands down.

I live in Texas. And in Texas, it gets hot during the summer. Like, mid-to-late 90 degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes (all too often, in my opinion) up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, even. It becomes nearly impossible to do anything outside or even to think. I don’t know if it’s because of climate change or just the hot Texas weather, but whatever the reason, it’s too hot.

When the cold autumn wind finally comes in, it feels like a breath of fresh air. Everything looks different to me, different in a good way. I feel jollier. My worries don’t disappear, but they seem easier to handle. It’s like being born again.

It occurs to me that the possible reason there is so much tension in places like the Middle East is because of the heat. The heat does make you irritable. I’ve known perfectly easygoing, kind people who can become irritable bastards after going outside in the Texas heat for even a few minutes. The only way to stay sane is to stay indoors, drink a lot of water, and do a lot of swimming, if you own a pool.

This is not to say that autumn weather makes everything better. Extreme cold seems to have a similar effect on people, from what I’ve seen, but I’ve had so little experience with it that I can’t say for certain. Anyone from up north want to tell me how extreme cold affects people’s moods?

Still, feeling the cold wind after a long, hot summer is one of the best feelings in the world. Life really does look up when the sun no longer seems to be trying to fry my brains.

-Tim