What’s Your Name Again?

The Spinning Pen

Pen Friends, welcome Miss Dana Black, a regular contributor for the Spinning Pen!


Names. They’re usually the first piece of personal information you learn about a person. And they have so much power. As parents, the names we give our children (real or hypothetical) shape an essential part of who they ultimately become. It could ruin their lives.

Is that a slightly dramatic assessment? Maybe. But I’m a writer. And a theater nerd. Being dramatic is part of my DNA.

I’m serious about the name thing, though. When writing, we have to choose our characters’ names with care. Now, I’m not saying you have to scour every name source out there, or come up with a zillion options before making a choice, but some thought should certainly go into the process.

Sometimes, names just come to us. When this happens, stop for a second before you decide to name every character…

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Reframing: Your Vision

“Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be…accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”     —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Some moments catch you by surprise. And sometimes, you expect a particular outcome or response to an event and end up with something wildly different instead.

I’ll be honest: I’m in a weird spot in my life right now. I’ve been calling it my “Arrested Development” phase, and no, I’m not referencing the once-dead-now-resurrected-on-Netflix television show (though I do enjoy that show). No, my arrested development comes in the form of being frozen in carbonite in a number of ways, both in writing and my personal life.

Until just now (literally, just now—I had an actual revelation while drafting this piece), I believed my frozenness was largely environmental and circumstantial: if I could just switch A for B and learn how to do C, I’d finally be able to move forward in my life. But, ugh, all these things keep getting in my way! How dare they. Can’t you see, THINGS, that I’m trying to do stuff here? Obviously not. The things are known for being super inconsiderate of peoples’ feelings.

But here’s the truth I’ve just discovered: It’s not the things’ fault. It’s mine. I’m getting in my own way. I’m letting my fears dictate what happens (or doesn’t). And that’s not okay. That is not what we are called to in this life.

Mick Silva of Higher Purpose Writers hosted a fantastic retreat the first weekend of October called Story Vision, which involved 15 writers gathering in a gorgeous 1930s beach house on Puget Sound to spend three days working through our things so we could get back to the core of our writing. And I was fortunate enough to be one of those fifteen.

Reframing Your Vision

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you’d know I’m a pretty emotionally intuitive person. Now I don’t say that to brag—would you like to be the person who feels things so deeply that they cry at the drop of a hat? It’s not the most socially acceptable ‘gift’ to have.

Over the years though, I’ve come to accept and appreciate it for the gift it actually is. I can tap into a well of feelings that not everyone can. For a writer, that’s kind of golden. I don’t always have to just imagine what something feels like. I can actually feel it, and then translate it into the experiences of my characters, whether I’ve physically been through a situation myself or not.

As a result of this strange ability, the tears often come when they’re not welcome. But for some unknown reason, I really didn’t cry much that weekend, even in the midst of deep heart-sharing and working through the healing process to get to our stories. It was almost a magical relief to be able to sit back and absorb everything that was going on without being hindered by the interruption of tears.

I also found myself without too much to say (out loud). I like to talk to people, but sometimes it’s even more useful for me to just listen. The biggest benefits I got from the gathering are threefold:

1. I simply received. I got to take in this collection of inspiration and practical applications from Mick and the other writer-warriors, and just wrap them around me like a blanket that I got to take home with me.

2. A renewed sense of purpose. This is the quote that grabbed me on Saturday and hasn’t let me go yet:

Your story is your greatest weapon against fear and evil,

Your greatest comfort to enjoy,

And the treasure people need.” —Mick Silva

Read that a few times over. Let it sink in. I love that it encompasses both acknowledging our call to write and the importance of recognizing how our own lives are a key component in being able to fight the darkness and share those insights with others. That, to me, is what this writing business is all about.

3. The courage to persist. Mick says, “The secret to all great fiction is persistence.” Tweet I’m not allowed to give up. And in the not giving up, maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to accept the help I need to get myself out of the carbonite and actually do something with these stories burning inside me.

So, while I gather these things to ponder, I’m left with the golden glow of the weekend behind me. It’s pushing me forward and into that space where I have to sit in the anxiety for a bit, and that’s okay. I’m in suspense and incomplete, and I’m giving over control to see what God has in mind. But I’m not giving up. You shouldn’t, either.

We are…Reframing!

Hi there!

If you’re just stopping by for the first time, Welcome! I’m so glad you’re here! If you’ve been hanging around for a while, thanks for being patient during my hiatus. Exciting things are happening, and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you!

Please check back again soon, because I am preparing a relaunch for this little space, and I’d love for you to be a part of it. 

This week, I’m off to Pioneer Nation, so in the meantime, I invite you to visit these other cool places that I find inspiring. 


The Art of Non-Conformity

Squam Art Workshops


See you soon, I hope!

xo, me

September Moments

“Don’t you love New York in the Fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies.”  – Joe Fox, You’ve Got Mail

You’ve Got Mail has to be one of my all-time favorite movies. Yes, I am a sap. But I’m a woman who loves a compelling story, and Nora Ephron certainly knew her way around an enchanting story.

Now, I’ve never been to New York in the Fall, but I still love the season, and I love school supplies. “Bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils” and sticky notes and empty notebooks waiting to be filled with words. As a writer, these things are gold.

The other thing I love about the autumn season is the feeling of newness and fresh starts. While we’re nearing the end of the calendar year, September has marked the new year in my mind for most of my life, what with the start of another school year. My years begin in September.

Even though I have lost the tradition of the new school year (thank you, college degree!), I still see the season as a jumping-off point – a time for adventure and explorations. Last year, I had the opportunity to have my “September moment” in the magical woods of New Hampshire, attending the fall session of Squam Art Workshops. (If you want to read more about that trip you can visit my Squam posts: Part 1 and Part 2.)

September 2012: New Hampshire

September 2012: New Hampshire

My “September moment” this year also involved a solo trip across the country, and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the annual American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Conference in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago (has it been that long already?). I somehow convinced my semi-introverted self to get on a plane (again) and go join hundreds of people I didn’t know at a conference for authors and publishing industry professionals. And what a wonderful decision it turned out to be!

Indianapolis in September

September 2013: Indianapolis

I met the most amazing people who love words as much as I do (including my lovely roommates who I would have gone insane without!), learned so much from multi-published authors and other industry professionals, had mentoring sessions with authors I truly admire (including Jenny B. Jones!), heard fantastic keynotes from and spent some quality time in conversation with Robin Jones Gunn (a woman who is near and dear to my heart!), and even got to talk to editors and agents that I hope to have the chance to work with one day in the not-too-far-off future.

I am honestly still processing the goodness of my time in Indy, and I wish I had better words for the experience, but if you have the opportunity to spend time in community with people who are passionate about the same things you are and are working hard to live our their calling through their passion, please: GO. Meet those people, learn everything you can from them, and stay connected in whatever way you can. If you are a writer, you know – it can get very lonely sitting at a desk in front of a screen with no one but your characters to talk to. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Take the opportunities when you get them. You won’t regret it.

From one reforming non-risktaker’s heart to yours: step outside of your comfort zone and into your own “September moment” – whatever form that takes for you.

xo, me

What “September moment” have you had recently? What kind would you like to have, but might be afraid to venture off to discover?

“Listen to Your Heart”

“Listen to your heart.” We spent a few days discussing this oft-spoken mantra in my World Literature course at the university my senior year. At the time we were dissecting Romanticism. I wrote a short paper on the song of the same name made popular by DHT when I was in high school. It’s something we hear so much that it has almost become automatic advice that people give each other – we hear it all the time in movies, particularly the romantic variety, and in music, and plays, and books, and the list goes on.

But is it really sound advice for living? I would argue generally “no.” Not because I’m calloused, but because I’ve learned the hard way through the years that our hearts are often faulty judges of reality. Emotions are inherently good; I believe them to be a gift from God for us to experience life more fully. But like any good thing, too much is still too much. And God also gave us the ability to reason, use logic, and seek wisdom. It’s meant to form a balance in us.

The other day I was having a conversation about grad school and passion with a close friend of mine. When he expressed that he wasn’t sure what he was passionate enough about (within his general field of study, which happens to be music) to want to pursue a further (not to mention expensive and time consuming!) education in, I jokingly asked him, “What does your heart tell you?” He looked at me seriously and said, “My heart doesn’t really talk to me much.” The statement was simple, and it made total sense to him, but it completely threw me for a loop.

What do you mean, your heart doesn’t talk to you? My heart won’t shut up! 

Perhaps it’s the difference in male/female wiring, or perhaps it goes deeper than that to our deeply-entrenched-in-the-ideals-of-romanticism culture we’ve grown up around us (thanks a lot, Lord Byron!), but somehow I’ve ended up with a very confused set of tips on how to make sound decisions. Although, thanks to Dr. Webster’s class and the thoughts of other wise people who have been pouring into me over time in recent years, I’ve been able to find better footing. I’m slowly learning not to jump into things just because it “feels” like a good idea. I’m weighing and measuring a lot more, and although this is a good thing overall, I’m worried that I’m becoming a bit too stoic; a little too good at not expressing my feelings because I don’t want to be that unhinged emotional female that gets such a bad rap. Because I’m forcing the head over heart mentality, my feelings are being masked and few people really know my true insides.

I’m still shocked that my friend’s “heart” doesn’t talk – where does he get his emotional insight? What is it like to think through things that come up without the cloudy veil that “heart thinking” causes? I feel like it would be freeing in some ways if I could truly get to that point, but difficult in others.

Again, I think it comes back to finding the balance I was talking about between emotions and logic/reason. Passion for something can live and be developed in the brain, to be sure – some of the most passionate people I know are the way they are with whatever they’re pursuing because they’ve put their minds to those things and pressed forward to achieve excellence. But passion also bubbles up from the heart. I think what we need to do – what I need to do, anyway – is find that place where we can ask our hearts and our brains the same questions and learn to discern where the meeting point between the two is.

In the meantime, I need to ask around and find out how I can train my heart to make its declarations a little more quietly, while still letting it speak. 🙂

Hiatus and Transitions

Wow, I can’t believe it’s almost three full months into this “new” year. Where have I been? Oh, here and there. Observing. Contemplating. Reframing, considering, and then reframing some more. Paradigm shifts have sort of become my bread and butter in this new season.

But I’m back now, and I will be working on developing this little love project of mine into something a little more tangible. The idea of Reframing Wonder has been rolling around in my head for some time now, and I have decided to turn it into my whole outlook on life. There is so much wonder and beauty around us every day, and I feel like we miss so much when we fail to see all of it.

I’ve got some ideas percolating, and I’ll be back soon to start rolling them out.

Thanks for hanging out with me in the meantime!



Merry Christmas! I hope these days have been good for you – filled with delight and wonder. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but I wish it were. As this Christmas ends, my heart feels inexplicably heavy, and I wonder if others are experiencing this as well. It’s not the way I would wish to finish what is traditionally considered a most joyous season.

My wish for Christmas Future (because we can’t change the others) is that we won’t lose our focus to the things in the margins. The details are not what make Christmas. The gifts and the food are not what make Christmas. Traditions, while fundamentally good things, are not what make Christmas. Love is what makes Christmas.

And if the weight of tradition is keeping you trapped in the margins and away from the perfect love of God that came down to earth on that first Christmas, my prayer is that you will find a way to step even a little bit away and see where you might be able to adjust for next time. That is my prayer for you, and it’s my prayer for myself. May we have those moments of reverence and reflection, but also those incredible bursts of unbridled joy alongside them. May we rediscover a simple, quiet, magical, love-filled Christmas that we can have in our hearts all year.

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11 (ESV)

Stuff I Like: Yeats and that magical love stuff

I believe that you and I were

Cut from the same cloth

The same piece of fabric filled with stars

And Time’s just been biding herself

To see God stitch us back together.”

I’m taking a micro-break from my frenzied novel-writing adventure this month to share this little tidbit with you all.

This blog is (theoretically) all about “reframing wonder” into our everyday framework, and being able to appreciate the magic of the little things in our sometimes mundane grown-upness. The most powerful magic to me will always be love, simply because I have never seen a force operate with so much power.

You are free to interpret that how you wish, but I will tell you that for me, I see this magical love stuff in its most amazing form when it comes from God, who pours out His love extravagantly upon his people, who have done nothing to deserve it. I believe this love is transformative; I have seen it change people’s lives – it has changed mine completely.

When we love others, we get to experience that transformative power, and there is nothing like it in the universe. I think this is part of the reason (especially in our modern culture, but it’s been seen over and over throughout history) that we spend so much time dreaming about love, chasing after love, making it into this ideal that we can’t get enough of in our stories.

For centuries, poets and artists have been seeking to capture the essence of love in their work. As I currently find myself in the middle of writing someone else’s love story in novel form for NaNoWriMo, and as this post is brought to you by one of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats, I thought I would share a poem of his that struck me from the first moment my college literature professor recited it during a lecture. I found it in a collection of Yeats poems titled, “A Poet to His Beloved.” Even in the titles of things we can’t get away from the stuff. I think it’s worth considering, wondering at, and pursuing.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

                                                               – W.B. Yeats

Tuesdays in Autumn

One month ago, on September 16, I was in a van on my way to the Boston airport after an incredible week at Squam Art Workshops (which I blogged about here and here).

Now, on October 16, it is a Tuesday afternoon, and I am working away in front of my laptop. Life seems disastrously less exciting after experiencing an adventure, but for me I am trying to reframe those feelings of longing into a fueled desire to continue on my creative path.

It’s Autumn now in the Pacific Northwest, which can bring about even more feelings of despair and discouragement, simply because of the potential dreariness of the days. However, we were gifted with a few extra weeks of yummy sunshine and cloudless skies, so I’m hoping I can hold onto the memory of being warm and dry long enough to propel me into Winter with sufficient hope to get me through to Spring. Now, don’t get me wrong, I actually like Autumn and Winter quite a lot, what with all the pumpkin patches and scarves, family goodness and holidays that accompany the weather shift, but the dark days can wear on a person – particularly an emotional creative-type like me who can be affected by the smallest of things. I recognize this, I own it, and I am working on it. My goal this year is to channel those emotions toward creative outlets rather than giving in to depression.

So, with that little confession out of the way, I look forward to November and the reemergence of NaNoWriMo, in which I will harness those cloud-filled skies and fill my days with an abundance of coffee and imagination in order to undertake the writing of a novel – yes, an entire novel – in just 30 short days.

I know it sounds crazy, but I’m okay with that. I have tried it once before and failed miserably, and yet I am still excited to try again, with hope for a much more positive outcome this time around. And as you may know, crazy people love to hang out with other crazy people, so if anyone would care to join me in this adventure, I would adore the company!

What are you planning to do to channel your creativity in the Autumn and Winter seasons? I’d love to hear about it.

Enjoying the crisp days ahead,

xo, me

Things Take Time

We live in such a “microwave” culture that I sometimes wonder how we ever got by before instant gratification took over everything in our lives. When I was a child, things moved more slowly. I remember this, and I remember the wonder as technology and modernity progressed and things suddenly starting showing up at our fingertips in the blink of an eye. Where did this magic come from, I marveled as I sat down at our first Apple computer and sent an email. And we were progressive for having that in our home when we did – it was one of the perks of being raised by a computer nerd when the species was only just evolving. I loved (and still love) being the child of a techie, and in turn becoming a bit of one myself. And I can’t help but love all of the things that technology gives to us – there are so many benefits that come from being instantly gratified when we want something: information, connections with people across the country and around the globe, sharing a plethora of delights, etc.

But there comes a point, and this is where I am today, where you have to stop and wonder what happened to our sense of calm and just letting things unfold naturally? Nobody these days, it seems, is willing to wait and let processes occur organically. Because we’ve become so conditioned to wanting something and having it appear on our screens or phones instantly (or at the very most two days later via express shipping to our doorsteps), waiting for things to unfold languidly and beautifully is almost as absurd a request as asking to elect both major presidential candidates and making them work together (and that will be my only political commentary here folks!).

I’m in the process of developing a business. While this isn’t the time or place to divulge more on the specifics of that project, the fact that I am working on this is what sparked this post. I get so excited about it at times that I just want to jump forward and have everything going, yet at the same time the project is still so undefined and just starting to grow and develop. I have to remind myself that this part of the process is just as important and beautiful as the part in the future when everything is working. You can’t send your infant straight to college. She won’t flourish if she’s not prepared. Just as children need time to grow, so do other things.

Things take time. Well, good things take time. And while it’s nice sometimes to have our whims dropped in our laps instantly, often whatever it is we want isn’t really as satisfying when it’s handed to us as opposed to when we have to go through the struggle of waiting. “Patience produces character.” (Romans 5:4 NCV) I want to be a person of patience and character, producing good work, not by pushing but by persevering.

I vote that we spend more of our days operating on “Island Time.” I want to enjoy the peace that comes from allowing things to unfold – naturally, organically, in their own time. Rushing the process often leads to messes we have to clean up later, and frankly, I’d rather enjoy my moments instead of doing unnecessary mopping.

xo, me