Looking Back to Look Forward

Harper High School Pen Pal Program, circa 2005-ish, Locale: Downtown Chicago

Although I tried out once, I was not a cheerleader in high school. I had danced before as part of a community program at Hamilton Park on Chicago’s south side with my twin sister and our cousin. We were taught handstands, traditional African dances (I am not sure of the tribe), and tap dancing. We traveled to put on shows and everything.

But dancing was not for me.

Over the years, as my twin and cousin got deeper into it (joining Pom-Pom teams and creating dances from the latest hits), I grew out of it.

Instead, I read books, wrote in my diary, and joined all the “boring” programs at school.

It didn’t take long to realize I was not like everyone else. The things my peers found exciting did not move me.

What I didn’t realize at the time was how these seemingly boring activities were stepping stones to sharpening my writing skills and preparing me for a career as a writer.

Writing School Plays: During my Sophomore and Junior years, the school employed a group of other students and me to participate in a program where we had to write and perform plays for the school. I do not remember the program’s name, but this was my first official writing job.

Pen Pal Program: The photo above is from a pen pal program between our High School on the south side and a school on the north side. We wrote letters to our pals and introduced ourselves. Next, they filmed us introducing ourselves on camera and swapped it with the other school. And then, finally, we all met up in person in downtown Chicago. This was the first day we all met, and the event concluded with a camping trip in Wisconsin.

The Yearbook Team: I was actually the only member of the yearbook team that year, lol. Everyone thought it would be boring, but I thought it would be fun, and it was. Not only did I get out of class to film assemblies, but I got to follow Arnie Duncan (then the CEO of Chicago Public Schools) and Jessie Jackson around with the camera, snapping pictures that would be featured in the book. 

UMOJA Spoken Word Poetry Group: I was part of a poetry group called UMOJA Spoken Word my Sophomore year. (UMOJA is the Swahili word for unity.) I was already writing poetry, but this group taught me how to go deeper by introducing the mechanics of the craft. 

When I found this photo, I realized that everything I did led to this moment and that everything I do today is also leading somewhere greater.

I don’t know about you, but the fact that our past has shaped us for today and our today is shaping us for our tomorrow is fascinating to me. It is one of the reasons I love history.

The next time you feel inadequate or frustrated with your journey, whatever journey that may be, I hope this inspires you to look back at those special moments in your life. Remember that you are only stepping stones away from where you are destined be.

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Yecheilyah’s Book Reviews – Living in the Land of I am: Your Life Journey Reveals Your Purpose by Tiffany James

Title: Living in the Land of I am: Your Life Journey Reveals Your Purpose
Author: Tiffany James
Publisher: Encourage Touch Enterprise
ASIN: ‎ B07SB68C1F
Publication date: ‎May 22, 2019
Print length: ‎ 158 pages

Living in the Land of I am: Your Life Journey Reveals Your Purpose is a hopeful read about the importance of embracing your authentic self and operating in that truth. According to the author, losing our identity also means relinquishing the authority given to us to fulfill our purpose. (p. 67)

I enjoyed the author’s testimony, examples, and analogies to expand on her point further. We are invited into her world and we learn the many things she overcame and how we too can live in that land of I am, that is our truest self. We learn there is beauty in acknowledging and accepting one’s set-apartness.

My favorite example is the one of Simba from Disney’s 1994 animated feature film, The Lion King. The story of how he was born into royalty and stood proud and strong in that purpose until the death of his father Mufasa made him lose his voice was very nicely recounted.

Simba with Pumbaa and Timon
Published: Jan 28, 2021
By AnimeAngelArtist1990

When Simba meets Pumbaa and Timon and starts basking in what looks like a carefree life, the author reminds us that while he seems happy, he forgets that he was born to be a King. Now a grown lion, Simba has been reduced to a confused, scared, angry, and hurt little cub (p.37). When he returns to fulfill his purpose, he becomes the strong and mighty lion he was born to be. I thought this laid a strong foundation for the rest of the book.

The author’s voice is poetic, and she leaves inspiration pieces between chapters she calls inspirational moments. If you remember, Mrs. James is this year’s first-place winner in the 4th Annual Poetry Contest. I noted many sayings I found powerful such as “Love is not the absence of truth.” (Tiffany James)

I was not a big fan of the author’s Christian views because I’m not a Christian. Still, overall, I found the book to be a great reminder of the importance of standing in our truth and being authentically and unapologetically ourselves.

Strong Introduction: 4/5

Authenticity / Believable: 5/5

Organization: 4/5

Thought-Provoking: 5/5

Solid Conclusion: 3/5

Final: 4/5

You Can Pick up Your Copy of Living in the Land of I am on Amazon

No Whining Wednesday: Humility

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Welcome back to another episode of No Whining Wednesday! Today, you cannot whine, criticize, or complain.

If you are new to this blog or new to this segment please visit the NWW page here for past episodes.

Today’s inspiring word comes from Katerina Stoykova Klemer:

In my opinion, confidence is liking yourself. As simple as that may sound, the act of liking ourselves is not always easy. It means appreciating who we are as a person while being humble enough to know that we have strengths and weaknesses. I think low self-worth, however, is focusing only on our flaws and not liking anything about ourselves.

The tricky part is that arrogance is liking ourselves too, but it’s also thinking everyone else should like us. While humility makes us more empathetic to the struggles of others, arrogance makes us more judgemental.

That’s why this quote is so powerful to me, and honestly, I am still meditating on it. As someone who has struggled with low self-esteem, I am always thinking about ways to keep a good balance of confidence and humility.

It makes me think about this series because, in my experience, not being a complainer requires a level of humility. It takes humility to support other people, admit to our own flaws, and accept correction.

I also think of appreciation. When we appreciate something and allow that to show in our actions, we display a form of humility. I believe this makes us more grateful, secure, and less stressed.

If enduring struggle (in whatever form that may be) does not make us more appreciative, then I would predict we will continue to suffer until we have learned whatever lesson life is trying to teach us. Sometimes, by worrying and being anxious, we make situations worse.

Humility helps us surrender the need to control every outcome and strengthen our faith that things will work out as intended.

My National Novel Writing Month Experience

This year, I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month for the first time. With Black History Month around the corner for many (it’s always black history for me), I am pushing to finish the first draft by February. Because it requires a lot of research, this is one of those books with a source page that will probably be thick enough for its own mini book. The discipline required to get this done made #NaNoWriMo more attractive this year to hold myself accountable.

My goal was to write every day and have 50K words down by the end of the month. Let’s see how I did.

Word Count as of 11/30/2021: 30,168.
Chapters: 23
Pages: 113
Sources Page: 3,747 words, 15 pages

While I did not cross the 50K threshold, I am proud of making it this far because I wanted to get 25K down if I could not do the fifty.

I did not write every day. I spent days traveling, and even on returning, I did not get right back to writing immediately. The interesting thing is that I rested a lot, which helped me do more when I was writing. Taking days off actually helped, not hinder me. To quote the Nap Ministry on Twitter: “This idea that you gotta grind yourself into exhaustion and make work the center of your entire existence is not liberating.”

I found the word count ticker and badges (I won 7) on the website motivating. I would look at it and compete to see if I could beat the previous day’s count.

The most significant thing, though, has been ghosting social media for much of November. I am not a good multitasker. If I am to focus on completing something, I have to give it my full attention, and right now, that’s this black history book. I was not posting as much or blogging. I will probably continue being missing in action, except the remaining book review posts and NWW, until the draft is complete.

I’m not gonna lie; I looked at National Novel Writing Month sideways a couple of times. I didn’t think it was for me. I am not for the whole “write a book in ten or thirty days” kind of thing. And while it’s not something I would do every year, having participated, I can say that I enjoyed the push it has given me.

If there is one thing I would do differently, it would be to set my own word count goal and try to stick to writing a little every day instead of sitting at the computer for hours. That ain’t healthy.

This bitmoji is way more excited than I am about this, lol.

Who else participated in NaNoWriMo? How was your experience?

Do Not Publish that First Draft

Starting in 1999, National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November. It is a good way for writers determined to start or finish their books to hold themselves accountable.

Today (11/30) is the last day of NaNoWriMo. Many of you have met your 50K goal and will have a new book sitting on your table tomorrow. Congratulations are in order. Someone get the wine.

But I wouldn’t be a good friend if I didn’t tell you the truth and the truth is that mess on your table is not ready for publishing.

Hundreds and thousands of writers and aspiring writers will have complete manuscripts by tomorrow (12/1), but these are messy complete manuscripts. They still have to be revised, professionally edited, and formatted. So, please, do not publish that first draft.

In honor of NaNoWriMo, I am republishing this post from 2017.


You have finished your book. This is admirable because so many people never finish. This is an accomplishment worthy of celebration. Congratulations!

But, while this is an accomplishment worth celebrating, you are not done. Do not pass go and do not collect $200.

A rule of thumb is that you do not publish a book you just finished writing. After you have finished writing your book, your manuscript is now considered the first draft. It’s called the first draft because it is the first copy of the book ever in existence where you have made no significant changes. It is a rough draft of the story from your mind to the page.

“In any piece of writing, whether a novel manuscript or a blog post, the first draft is also known as a rough draft. From start to finish, it’s technically a complete piece. It has a beginning that moves to a middle that concludes with an ending. But it’s a messy complete piece. There are still thoughts to ground, sentences to be revised for maximum reader engagement, and spelling errors to fix. Which is why a rough draft should never, ever, ever be your final draft.”

– Innovative Editing

Once you have finished the actual writing part, it’s a good idea to let the manuscript sit for a while. Take a few weeks off from the writing and do something else. Then, return to it with fresh eyes to begin your self-edits. This Writer’s Digest article has some excellent tips for self-editing using these 7 Self-Editing Processes for Writers.

You may also decide to join a critique group or recruit the help of beta readers before sending it in for editing. And by editing, I don’t mean your English teacher friend. You really should hire a professional editor.

Whatever you decide, the point is to make sure the manuscript is as polished as you can make it before publishing. With Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Lulu, and other POD (Print on Demand) services, I know it’s easy to upload a Word Document or PDF and say you have written a book, but I implore you not to publish the first draft/rough draft of your book. I promise you, it is not ready.

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No Whining Wednesday: Celebrate Yourself

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Welcome back to another episode of No Whining Wednesday! Today, you cannot whine, criticize, or complain.

If you are new to this blog or new to this segment please visit the NWW page here for past episodes.

Today’s inspiring word comes from Michell C. Clark:

I needed to see this quote the other day as I found myself complaining more than usual. Wednesdays have gotten a lot more peaceful for me since I started this series, but I still complain on the other days like the rest of us humans.

The source of my complaint was about the struggle that comes with being a Self-Published author in today’s world. Being an independent artist, in general, is always a challenge. While it’s a challenge I chose to pursue, it does make me sad to struggle for exposure when authors published by traditional publishers release books to citywide book tours and New York Times Best Sellers list. Not to confuse my melancholy at these revelations for a desire to be traditionally published, though I see nothing wrong with it. I am just a woman hoping to make a difference with her work in a way that transcends social media.

“A lot of people won’t celebrate you until your wins feel “big” enough for them.”

I pondered the many ways we do this in society–from rushing out to buy a book recommended by Oprah to not supporting our friends’ “little” business until it becomes a “big” business. There are, sadly, tons of ways we ignore people because it doesn’t seem like what they are doing is a big deal.

“But you can celebrate yourself now. You can be proud of every step you take and every sacrifice you make.”

This is why I post about getting into bookstores and such. It is not to be braggadocious or even make it seem like I am “doing it big,” whatever that means. I do it because I learned years ago the importance of celebrating all wins, not just the ones deemed significant in the eyes of the world.

I have a hope that one day I will not have to count the stores housing my books because they will be everywhere. That vision starts with appreciating where it is now. I know Indie Authors want to be a #1 Amazon Best Seller, but I don’t care much about that. All this online stuff is cool, but I am striving to carve a space out in the real world too.

“And you won’t need other people’s applause to be proud of how far you’ve come.”

This part reminds me of the saying, “you have today what you once prayed for,” or something like that. I don’t remember exactly how it is worded, but it always brings me back. Not only is someone praying for the life you have now, but you once prayed for it too! Isn’t that amazing?

The more we learn to celebrate ourselves, the less discouraged we will be when others don’t see our value, and the less dependent we are on the need to have them acknowledge us.

Today, celebrate yourself. You deserve it even if no one else knows it but you.

PS. I celebrated myself by ordering an expensive Veggie Delight Burger I wouldn’t usually buy but that I had been lusting after for a while. Today, I decided I deserved it. The world will not end if I pay a few extra dollars to eat what I want.

Yecheilyah’s Book Reviews – Family Medicine: A Psychological Suspense Thriller by Natasha Jeneen Thomas

Title: Family Medicine: A Psychological Suspense Thriller
Author: Natasha Jeneen Thomas
Publisher: Newham Wilcott (October 8, 2021)
ASIN: ‎ B0992VHVWH
Publication date: ‎ October 8, 2021
Print length: ‎ 340 pages

Family Medicine is a psychological thriller with many twists, turns, and a healthy dose of suspense. With vivid description and detail, we meet Therese Hughes-Baldwin, an aspiring dancer who works at a cafe. She is offered an escape to a beach house mansion by her favorite customer and psychiatrist Dr. Dara Clemens. When she and her best friend Phoebe make it to the house, things start to get weird. First, there are no pictures in the place, and Phoebe is acting strange. The story alternates between Therese and Phoebe’s experiences at the ocean-view getaway (including Therese’s romance with a man named Tomas) and an unbalanced oral surgeon named Victor.

As the story progressed, I wondered how the two threads were connected, as I knew they had to be, and I kept turning the page to see how it would all play out. I was especially drawn to Victor’s thread in an attempt to understand his behavior. What is with this man fantasizing about killing someone and dressing up in women’s clothes as a disguise? Victor even self-abuses himself as punishment for not thinking through a stakeout that ultimately got him questioned in one scene.

The truth of how everything is connected will blow your mind. While I can’t give away much more detail, I will only say that everything you think you know, including the little I’ve told you, you don’t know.

I also felt so bad for character Summer being arrested as she was menstruating. It made me think of how people don’t understand what women have to endure in these situations. I felt humiliated for her and I am sure all of my women readers will understand.

I did think there was a tad bit too much description of minor details throughout the book, but I assume that’s because nothing is as it appears to be! I did find myself going back to the beginning, and as I reread some scenes, I could see the ending.

This is the novel for you if you are looking to read a book full of mystery, suspense, and a psychological thrill that will keep you guessing until the very end. Speaking of the end, I suspect the author is working on another part of this. You’ll understand what I mean when you read the book.

Plot Movement / Strength: 4/5

Entertainment Factor: 5/5

Characterization: 4/5

Authenticity / Believable: 4/5

Thought Provoking: 5/5

Overall: 4/5

You Can Pick up Your Copy of Family Medicine on Amazon