Reveling in Rest

I had a very, um, productive second-half of the week, and a corresponding sense of accomplishment and pride (and relief) in what I’ve completed.

This week I’ve been hauling feed bags, carrying loads of straw, and shoveling chicken poop. I’ve joked with people that I’m getting fit the old-fashioned way– though manual labor. And I have had that tired satisfaction that comes from muscles used correctly without overdoing it.

And I had the weird experience yesterday of getting in bed for a rest and shaking worse after an hour horizontal than I did before I lay down.

I think I get the biological element of that: Most bodies can give more than we expect, especially when there’s a real need. But once those same bodies are taken off *imperative* status, the reality of physical limitations becomes unignorable.

Getting half or two-thirds the amount of sleep my body needs will catch up with me. Using muscles to exhaustion will mean an enforced time of rest before they will be effective again.

And this is so reassuring in my mothering, because I’ve often got this voice in my head insisting, But look what you haven’t done yet! And that voice is not lying or saying anything that is impossible or even that I’m not good enough.

At times it’s even this sweet little, Oops! I’m sure you didn’t mean to forget, since we both know it’s so easy if you’ll just get started…

I had four hours last night without kids. (Mom picked them up after dinner to spend the night.)

I could have (in theory) gotten a lot done on my messy messy house. But I was physically empty. And I knew it.

I could have (in theory) gotten a lot done on a novel, or another writing project. But I was about 8-hours in the hole sleep-wise, so connections and focus just were not coming.

So I rested.

I sat with my sick goat (I think she’s been pining for human contact. She’s gotten better with more attention).

I listened to music.

I looked at my novel, and there was a moment (of deep relief, I must say) when things finally began to click and I was able to give it a solid hour of productive attention.

But all that was after rest. Nothingness in measurable productivity.

~ ~ ~

I’ve decided that my desire to write isn’t just (or even really) an indicator that running a household isn’t “enough” for my “personal fulfillment.”

At this season of my life, it is largely an indicator of fatigue.

I like to work. I love to see things *completed* or progress made. But I have to rotate, to cycle through the different muscle groups. Just like arms or back or legs, focusing on one thing wears it out faster. And using them all means greater endurance (usually) but also demands a fuller rest in the end.

And this awareness gives me a new respect for my need of rest. Rest for more than just my body.

“It’s this simple: you and I have an inescapable need for rest.
The lie the taskmasters want you to swallow is that you cannot rest until your work’s all done, and done better than you’re currently doing it.
But the truth is, the work’s never done, and never done quite right. It’s always more than you can finish and less than you had hoped for.

So what? Get this straight: The rest of God – the rest God gladly gives so that we might discover that part of God we’re missing – is not a reward for finishing. It’s not a bonus for work well done. It’s sheer gift. It is a stop-work order in the midst of work that’s never complete, never polished. Sabbath is not the break we’re allotted at the tail end of completing all our tasks and chores, the fulfillment of all our obligations. It’s the rest we take smack-dab in the middle of them, without apology, without guilt, and for no better reason than God told us we could.”   

-Mark Buchanan, in The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath (via Laura Ziesal)

So, here I go into the rest of the day, continuing to let many things I could be doing just hang. And I am inexpressibly thankful to even have  tasks that can wait. And I feel joy too, because I am being obedient by resting, which means (and I almost get choked up thinking about this) My rest is worship.

My restoration brings God glory, just as my service does.

Getting Personally Practical

Sometimes I think the reason I continually return to the idea of Storytelling is because I am looking for ways to  tie my story-compulsive brain back to my real life as the dedicated mother of three brilliant, sensitive children who need me to be connected to them.

So, with this in mind, yesterday I engaged my imagination as if my real life were a novel.

That is, I threw back to my earliest memories (sorry-in-advance to the loving adults in my world; this is not a reflection on you) and looked for concrete things that made me feel less, to feel insecure.

This was genuinely not a pity party. I was looking for specific ways I might be missing to affirm and encourage my kids. I think it could be a useful tool for any parent, I just applied it first in my writing, because that’s where it came naturally.

We had just had a tragedy that resulted in Melody *certain* she needed a band-aid, and as I did not share her certainty, I delayed my verdict to finish my task.

As I wrapped up, I had this memory of feeling completely useless.  Unnecessary.

All my life– including now– I have been surrounded by amazingly competent people.  And all my life– including now– I’ve had a painfully accurate awareness of how small my contribution is in ratio to the needs around me.

*Unnecessary* is a terrible thing for any child to feel.

I was on to the next project before I remembered I’d gone soft and decided to get a band-aid.  So, stopping when Melody walked by (and secretly hoping she’d noticed the interruption so I’d get Attentiveness points) I invited her back to the First-Aid basket where we bandaged her wound.

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There’s More Than One Kind of Writers’ Block

I don’t know why I never thought of it before, but it’s true.

For the longest time I enjoyed a smugly self-satisfied sense that (due to my limited writing time or imagination or some wonderful gift) I almost never suffered from writers’ block.

I made this determination based on the fact that I was never at a loss for words.

Because I assumed that writers’ block was like artists’ block: the literary equivalent of staring at a blank canvas and not knowing where or how to start.

Hint: for writing– especially with a computer– you just start. Put words down.  Make a muddle.  Build of your chunk of marble so that you have something solid from which to carve out your masterpiece.

But I was wrong.  Because I have struggled with finishing. With delivering.

I like to say (just because it sounds cool) that my Super Power is instant extrapolation. But what that really means (as I hinted in the last post) is that I react to things before I need to.  I anticipate, flinch, before the burn.  I call that way of life exhausting! because it is, but didn’t really see an alternative and got a bit fixated on the exhausting! (Because it really made me feel like I was working hard.  That’s what makes you tired, right?)

Well, here’s one alternative to consider.  It’s in a free ebook called The Flinch, and can be summarized like this:

  • Name this gut-reaction that is not very (if at all) useful. They call it The Flinch.
  • Recognize that the purpose it serves (keeping you safe), done too well, can hold you back from anything meaningful. Can keep you from taking good risks that will grow you.
  • Overcome the fear of The Flinch by reminding yourself failure isn’t permanent, and pain doesn’t last forever.
  • Use the momentum, the speed and impulse of The Flinch to react forward rather than cringe away.

Anyway, it was a short read, and brought up some good thoughts.

Best question it raised for me:

“Have you ever asked yourself why your stomach tenses up and your can’t watch imaginary characters on a television screen to awkward, embarrassing things? You should.”

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NaNoWriMo 2011 in Review

Glad I did it, glad it’s done.   50,648 words since November 1. Happy to take a breather from creating reality.

Next project is getting ready for a talk on personality theory (Meyers-Briggs, as I’ve been writing about on my family blog). It’s scheduled for January 18 if anyone local wants to come here me speak.

But my next writing project is to finish moving Lindorm into first person so I  can start submitting it ASAP.

I saw an “unagented author” opportunity at a Christian publisher (whom I’d never heard of) getting ready to launch a YA line in 2013.  It sparked a whole series of internal questions about how ready I am to push my “baby” out to receive the spitballs of the world.

Answer: I’m not.

Provoking the mirrored response: So I should jump at this chance, just to get moving.

But the story isn’t done yet (for real: this isn’t stalling), and I am certainly not starting Lindorm at a Christian publisher.  This isn’t snark or hierarchy: I have broken my heart more times keeping this story “neutral”

In the form of most (Western) traditional tales: good and evil exist, and maybe even the outward showing of religion (churches, prayer), but within the story itself redemption is not personified in Christ.

So I am not going to “waste” all that by sending it somewhere that would have taken the incongruity of active magic alongside a real-world redeemer.

I’ve got two other stories I’d only expect Christian publishers to touch, so they’ll get their turn.

(If anyone’s lining up for the opportunity.)

So the writing progression is this: finish Lindorm’s revision.  Send out submissions, and once that’s out turn to finishing the novel I wrote last November.

NaNoWriMo Update

I just passed 29K tonight.  That means I’m almost caught up with yesterday’s  writing goal (30K)

I’m very glad to have learned two things–

  1. The second female character I introduced isn’t a complete idiot. (For a while I had to wonder if she was.)
  2. [spoiler] the guy I killed the same day I discovered/introduced him isn’t actually dead.  In the end his brother couldn’t kill him and instead decided to risk some girl’s reputation in order to keep him alive. (Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense.  Like most stories, It’s complicated.)

I was very glad to learn there was a line Charles wouldn’t cross.  He was pretty creepy for a while there.

Who the main characters are is getting thrown all around.  Now that this guy is back from the dead (in a manner of speaking) and his whole character’s been revised by the near-death experience, he’s showing a lot more depth and interest than the erstwhile hero.

So all that convolution to say I’m still on it.

And part of the fun is that I’ve basically written off the possibility anyone would publish this story: It’s blatantly Christian, with *ahem* edgy humor (Yes! I have funny stuff in my story, Yippee!– If you’ve been around a while you’ll remember this has been a sticky spot for me), so I have a hard time picturing a publisher that would take both.  So it’s made the creation process quite a bit more relaxed and free.

When I think of a new angle (that would require changing a character, role, or interaction that I’ve already written) I have a separate file where I make notes about that.

When I think of a fun before-and-after, and plant the before I make a note not to forget the after, and also where it might fit best, if I’ve already thought of that.

Blessedly, I’ve not yet been at a loss when writing time comes around, and while I am a bit behind, it’s not killer.

This has been a wonderful experience so far, and I still hope to finish on time.

21K to go.

NaNoWriMo 2011

I think it was Steven King in his book On Writing  who said the Writer is as much an artist as the sculptor– and maybe more, since the writer must create the raw material he then shapes into his work of art.

This is one of the reasons I find NaNoWriMo useful: successfully completed it leaves me with a block of raw material that actually exists.  Throw in the power of deadline (this is my second year writing with the My Book Therapy community) to make me think of writing every day, and more gets done.

I’m choking every time I sit down to write; I’m woefully out of practice.  If it weren’t for the stat tools and the 10p.m. deadline for the daily reporting (any word count is fine, just reporting is the required part), I’d continue to whittle away my free hours with YouTube and Hulu.

Putting down words is hard.

Two different friends reading my Lindorm novel have commended me for sticking with it; getting the whole thing down.

As it’s happened over five years my perception of it gets a little fuzzy, but these last two nights have reminded me: they’re right! It’s work to get something coherent and all points driving a single story forward.

I also like how these WriMo novels have developed: my first was a fantasy. Last year’s was pretty straight-up a YA romance.  This time I’ve got a murder mystery/intrigue thing going on.  And yet all of them are based on distinct fairy tales I love that all go “beyond the rescue.”

Sure it’s nice to be human again, but then you have to deal with all the junk humans have to deal with.  The nice thing is that when someone makes you human, at least in my story worlds, they’re usually getting themselves in for the long haul.

And a partner makes any load easier to carry.

We’re all Reacting to Life

Recently I began to think about the (fiction-writing) imperative that a main character must make things happen.

One of the most consistent criticisms of Linnea, the central character of my Lindorm novel, is that she’s too passive.  “Everything happens to  her,” someone said, “and she’s always having to close the gap and react.

Linnea is my first (grown up) heroine.

When I created her I was telling a story. I wasn’t thinking of forms or expectations (hey, I was just trying to make word count half the time).  She grew out of my image of this wounded girl with too much strength to simply roll over and take it.  She continued to think and walk, and even fight when she could find (or create) the weapons.

I really admired her, because she did what I wanted to be able to do: choose the right way to respond.  I wasn’t thinking about how she was “always reacting” because that’s the way (probably unconsciously) I saw myself and people in general.

And I still do.

Lots of people have repeated the line about how our character is not shaped/displayed so much by what happens to us as by how we respond to what happens to us.

The fantasy of a proactive, powerful protagonist is part of our collective hunger to have more control than we have.

I believe most our life what we do with what we’ve been given: given to us either by powers outside of us, outside our control; or what we’ve given ourselves, in the form of decisions we’ve already made, and are now living out.

For example, being married and having children dramatically restricts the number of choices I have.  Because I’ve made the choice to live honorably.  This is a proactive choice I made. No one coerced me into it.  But it now restricts my “options”.

Every Yes we declare is a hundred silent Nos.   The more we live, the more choices we make, the more we are hemmed in by our own freedoms.

I would argue this is why the Young Adult category is one of the most exciting places to write; not only because your characters have more genuine, clean, and life-shaping choices to make over the course of the tale, but also because those choices are felt by those who read them.

Young people are trying on decisions through their reading, experimenting with how they fit.

Readers who are older, who’ve already experienced the profound familiarity breaking away, of falling in love, of screwing up massively and wondering if there’s redemption, relive the fear and excitement.  This is what good stories are for, and as long as they bring us along for the ride (and we like the ride) I’m less concerned about who started the story.

I care most about how the characters end it.

Novel Samples Available

To give a quick update, I am now ~2/5ths through my latest revision (at least, there are 5 distinct sections, and I’m one chapter from being done with section #2).

I have had difficulty staying focused this round, and was relieved to find a reason.

The short version is that my life has been really stressful lately (I’ve moved, set up housekeeping, restarted homeschooling and attempted to restart our gluten-free eating.  Apparently too much for a single month’s efforts).

While the novel used to be my go-to recreation, the amount of tension in the story on top of the tension in my real life has been more than I’ve had energy for.

Did you know that your body processes stress and adrenaline (essentially) as it hits the brain, not waiting for reality.  This is why worry can be so damaging (your body is continually gearing up for the worst), and why we feel so exhausted after an intense story.

This really just entered my awareness last week when my writing friend (Hi, Jennifer!) brought up two categories of murder mysteries: thrillers and cozies.  People looking for a rush read the first kind, and people who read to relax gravitate to the second.

So I did question for a while whether I’m writing the right story or the right genre, mainly because I’m so weary I question whether I can continue creating a whole world (and an intense world, no less!).

But then I find I can’t really quit, so on we go.

I’ve decided to release the story in sections to people I know, so if you’re willing to give feedback and we’ve talked before, comment here or send me an e-mail and I’ll get you the first block (then the next once you comment on the first).

The third and fourth sections contain the most changes for this newest draft, so they may be longer in coming, but several of you have been so patient already I wanted to give you the option of reading a bit of the story, if you would like, while you wait for the full.

Staying Happy

I started writing a different post, about what I would change if I didn’t “owe” anyone, if I were free to be self-centered and do whatever I want to do.

Then I realized, I kinda am.

That is, unlike the people I genuinely pity, I really am living the life I want to. And it’s not easy.

So I didn’t pick an easy life.
Moving on.

This brilliant (unpublished) post enumerated the three directions I feel pulled in, and I said–

What? My world’s falling apart over three things?

Now, granted, my world was not falling apart (just my focus), and there are a LOT more than three things on my mind right now (each category has numerous subsections), but to see clear sections has settled me down, and I’m back to believing I have a reasonable number of things to manage.