Noveling Update

I have officially finished the first draft of my 2013 NaNo novel (Sherlockian Daze). Word count is just under 120K, and I did that in just under 5 months.

Which is a super-exciting first for me.

Next order of business is to finish last-last edits on Lindorm King.

I don’t remember if I’ve said here, but a friend of a friend did one last beta and gave me some very meaningful feedback:

I love it when people *get* my story:

“So, I had a bit of time on mine hands, took a look and then was thoroughly hooked. Meaning I read all 344 pages last evening.

I totally adore your women characters. They are strong, but not in the way that “Now I do stuff like the boyz” that so often gets mistaken for strength. I’m fascinated by how they struggle and try to cope with the roles their restrictive society cast for them.

Also, I wanted to hit Tykone over the head frequently for all his subconscious sexism. Very good job on that one, maybe one day a guy reads it and has a d’oh-moment.”

[This last, in particular, was an awesome affirmation to specify on her own: it was an experiment on my part, since I wasn't sure it would even be recognized as sexism since it's so "normal."]

She also had some very useful structural feedback that was very meaningful. Moving back to revision is already proving to be a blast!

It was this reader who pointed out the main (male) character had the only name in the story of Celtic origin, so I’ve renamed him, and it’s going to be interesting as I reread/revise to see a familiar character with a different name.

That said, I started revisions this morning before the kids were up. Got through about 30 pages in an hour. At this rate the revision will take about 12 hours total, which seems painfully slow, since I can only count this as a minimum.

But… after 7.5 years, can I really complain about another 12 hours?

That thing about “momentum” is true. Once you get started, once you’ve proven to yourself what you can do, a lot of the sluggishness falls away.

What Connects with…Me

Image courtesy of Liana Bitoli via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Liana Bitoli via stock.xchng

I found a “coach,” at the end of last year, because most of what I do with my counselor seemed to be coaching, anyway. I was looking for an “outside” voice and perspective that was sharing a brain/time focused on me.

Becky and I have talked about how this is the reason to hire someone: friendships are more mutual, and we don’t want to muddy those relationships to work through our issues.

The coach got me thinking about some good stuff, and some new angles on older projects that have been marinating for a while.

~  ~  ~

Then I got my heart stomped on, and I was back in the counselor’s office.

I had a double bomb in an exhausting 48 hours: First, someone I already guessed didn’t like me confirmed they didn’t like me, and second, someone I love very much– who has a degree in an industry not supported by our local economy– told me they were saving up money to move away to do the work they went to school for.

Both totally make sense, were almost predictable, and so it took me 4 or 5 days to realize I was deeply hurt and grieving. I was so scared by my response (it felt like my depression was returning- freaked me out and you don’t play around with that!) I visited my counselor the day before my coaching appointment.

The counselor gently reassured me that that this wasn’t my depression returning. She affirmed that I was grieving, and validated my experience that just because someone is a jerk, or someone has beautiful dreams that don’t need to include you, intellectual assent doesn’t necessarily change how others’ choices affect you. Continue reading »

Holding the Fear — January’s Life & Fiction Column

If you’ve been around a while you’ve probably seen me reference The Perilous Gard, a book I feel deeply connected to. This month’s essay combines that book with one of my personal wrestlings: How do we respond to something too big to fight?

[Excerpt:]

I am very interested in those characters who are “stuck” with responding, because that’s where I live much of the time: I am faced with circumstances that are bigger than me, and the best I can hope for is that I find and climb on a sort of surfboard and ride the waves as they come. Preferably without wiping out.

When we’re in crisis mode, simply responding is pretty much the order of the day. Strategizing our way around a problem requires energy or clarity of thought that often is out of reach, and it turns out that’s the case for my favorite characters.

All my favorite characters are very much caught up in something bigger than them. Every one is much weaker than the forces arrayed against them, and barely keeping their heads above water, but I love them because they prove a match for those impossible odds—and that’s why I read!

One example: Kate Sutton.

In the young adult novel The Perilous Gard, Kate is sent by the Queen of England to the middle of nowhere. Kate is utterly alone, has no friends, and ends up trapped probably a mile underground.

My throat closes up in the cloying tightness of the memory.

Kate didn’t know if she’d ever see the light of day again. She was a slave, and the only moment of independent choice she had came at the opening of each day. She had a choice to receive or reject “the Cup,” which contained a drug that would bring an artificial delight and mute her senses to the suffering and isolation she endured. She chose to reject it.

Read the rest at wynmag.com

Writer Mama

Today, out of nowhere, Elisha said, “You’re a great storyteller, Mama.”

Tonight Natasha saw me starting in on cleaning the kitchen while she was on her way to bed.

“Why start cleaning now?”
“I just finished a novel,” I said. “I have energy now.”
“Oh,” said Natasha. “That makes sense.”

Another time recently, I asked Melody what story she wanted to listen to, and she said, “Tell us more of your novel!” (I’ve read them bits from Shadow Swan and Lindorm King.)

Being understood by my children is a beautiful thing.  They are proud of me, of my writing, and I can only begin to articulate how much of a gift this is to me: it. is. huge.

Image courtesy of Maare Liiv via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Maare Liiv via stock.xchng

People used to frame my writing in competition with my children.

My enthusiasm for NaNoWriMo and its “treatment” potential (I’ve use the daily goals for depression management in Novembers) was met with the emotional equivalent of a bucket of cold water. More than one person questioned the adequacy of my devotion to my children if I was engaging in this demanding activity (writing with quotas and deadlines).

Such undermining behavior made my automatic language about each piece (“a fourth child”) feel even more scandalous– though no less true.

Each is like a newborn in the beginning, with growing and changing “demands” as the project matures.

Then we had a physical 4th child in our home for 44 days, with no jealousy or angst.

Just tonight I realized that’s how my children take my writing, too. The fourth child.

It’s not a competition, it just *is.*

Sometimes (most of the time) it’s a baseline not worth mentioning. Then there are these moments of understanding, or vicarious pride.

And these moments when they connect– when they play at it themselves– it’s like a toddler picking up a baby doll after mama has a newborn, and surprising me with their tenderness and skill.

I am so thankful to be a Writer Mama.

The First 15 Days

There was a group I signed up for at the end of the year, inviting “30 days of hustle” to jump start the new year.  Each day we get a little (or not-so-little) to-do in our inbox, designed to encourage or nudge us farther on our path toward our goal.

Today, the 15th, is a “progress report” day. Since my goal was about establishing patterns and habits (in how I eat), I can’t really suggest a “bridge” between where I’m at and 100%, but the challenges have shaped the way I think about what I’m doing, so I’ll just run through what we’ve done so far, with my goal (eating patterns) as the example. Continue reading »

Editing for Wyn in January

Image courtesy of abcdz2000 via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of abcdz2000 via stock.xchng

I’m so excited about this opportunity.

The Theme for January is Self-Care, and we have a collection of topics to get you thinking, and practical stuff to apply to your own life, as well.

Here’s an excerpt of my “Letter from the Editor.”

Visualize stuffing an elephant into spandex.

That’s the way I feel about the word “Self.”

Maybe you’ve heard the story of the blind men at the elephant? Five men touched five different parts of the creature (tusk, tail, ear, leg, trunk) and an argument ensued as each fiercely asserted they’d identified the essence of this mysterious creature.

That is the way I feel about the Self. It is an elephant-sized concept with all the wrinkles and warmth, the inflexibility and folds of the various parts of an elephant; and still it is one coherent (if improbable) whole.

Read the rest at wynmag.com

January 1, 2014

Focus is a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.

– John Carmack

Image courtesy of Gerla Brakkee via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Gerla Brakkee via stock.xchng

I am |this| close to making a resolution to not learn anything new this year.

But that would be silly.

I’ve made “not” resolutions before (like NOT buying books). That didn’t really work/happen/exist very long…

And I didn’t feel bad about it, either. HA!

Last night I updated my Writing page, and for the first time actually made a list of what I’m interested in– what I research, pursue and actively learn about. And it wasn’t a mile long!

Though I admit to some deceptively concise labels.

I used to think this complete listing was not possible, since I’ve watched myself latch on to any new idea that enters my line of sight. I’ll chew and taste and explore– and that willingness has sometimes made me feel like and intellectual toddler who needs to be protected from my own curiosity.

That unnamed image actually made me vulnerable to the type of person who was more interested in telling me how to think than strengthening my own ability.

It was my untrained, but still existing, ability to resist this attitude that taught me I wasn’t an intellectual toddler.

Image courtesy of Mihai Tamasila via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Mihai Tamasila via stock.xchng

I was an explorer– an occupation which requires intense levels of maturity, initiative, adaptability and courage, words that, until last year, never entered my mind as ways to describe myself.

Much of my adult life has alternated between delighted and frantic exploring. I see something I don’t know, and rather than just enjoy it’s existence, I need to understand it– to explain it– to participate in it. Sometimes I feel behind and deficient until I am up to speed with usable information about whatever just hit my radar.

[I should qualify this to say not everything-everything is this way. I always love it when an experience completely "misses" that absorption instinct-- fly-tying, bell-choir, crochet, singing alto. It allows me to absorb-- and release!-- that topic in a completely different way.]

Sometimes, if I cannot deliver an extemporaneous lecture on any topic (no qualifications– any topic) that leaves me feeling deficient.

Today I’m declaring that unrealistic.

I have my brief (deep) list, it encompasses more to study than I can ever use up , and it provides quite enough meat and sugar for my life and brain.

I don’t need to keep looking for new things to know.

~ ~ ~

Image courtesy of Richard McCroskey via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Richard McCroskey via stock.xchng

For many years I have been in the pursuit of the “right” system– that magical *something* that will make life “work” where it hasn’t before.

I’m convinced such a system exists– there are so many books about organization and time-management with great (This WORKS!) reviews– but I think now that this system is something as effective as medication for brain-based disorders. That is, about 40% effective at best.

40% is a pretty high number, and nothing to dismiss– That is a LOT of people with improved lives. Unfortunately, if any of those lots-of-people found their peace (or method) without difficulty or pain, their level of understanding and compassion or grace is diminished toward the remaining 60%.

The rest of us must learn to live in ways that schedules and methods may inform, but not master.

In 2013, my future-focused, planning-addicted self began to ask:

What if this life didn’t change? What if this is who I am, what I’ve got, and it’s everyday? Then what? Would I choose this?

I’ve found this way of thinking to be incredibly helpful for me. It actually keeps things from getting too big. As someone who goes meta really quick, it’s about the only thing that’s ever been effective:

One day at a time.

Take food as an example. We all KNOW that we’re not supposed to “diet,” as in change the way we eat, just for a little while, with the plan to return to our old ways.

If we want to be healthier we must find a way (meals, timing) to eat that we are willing to continue forever.

One day at a time.

So this is where I’m beginning the new year:

I write. Every day. Already. I don’t need a resolution to do that.

Sort of like I eat. I don’t have to plan for it to happen.

I do have to have some sort of  plan if I want to reach certain goals, but this plan doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s.

The beauty of a plan, of any plan that’s worked for me, I mean, is how many decisions are already made.

And this loops back in to What you already know.

Decisions that don’t need to be made.

I do have goals, because I know where I want to end up.

But the difference this year is that I’m focusing exclusively on what I already know to do.

I know a whole. heap. of a lot. I have had experiences that worked, and have learned from things that didn’t work.

Image courtesy of Farquois via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Farquois via stock.xchng

For the month of January, I am doing many things (like pressing on with the writing plan I began in October), but counting the days, I am returning to a few food principles that I know work for me.

  1. I’m writing down what I eat– holding myself accountable for the good decisions I know I should make.
  2. Decide that every every meal (or snack!) I eat has to include protein.
  3. I will still eat deserts (while following #2), but only on the weekends.

These are all things I’ve done and sustained before. This is not an “experiment” I hope will work. These are proven strategies I’ve been too [fill-in-the-blank] to stick with.

So here it is: not a new-year-resolution, but a plan to remind myself

I have enough. already.

2013 In Review

Here’s my annual letter, the one I decided not to mail because I prefer readers who volunteer to read the info (blog visitors) rather than “forcing” it on folks. ;)

I would describe 2013 as the most challenging year of my life, but that could be because I’m sitting here looking straight at it for the first time, and I don’t really have the stamina to actively compare it with challenging years that have come before. Continue reading »

Adaptation

Jay has been home for a while now, giving me time to continue work on the first draft of my 2013 novel (80,000 words now!).

A few days after he’d been home I was trying to get out to the cabin (a little room a stone’s throw from our front porch) to start my work for the day. He kept starting conversations, and suggesting things, and thinking out-loud, and as much as I wanted to enjoy this part of him, I had a sense of urgency about getting out and getting to work.

God alone knows when I’ll have this many uninterrupted hours again!

All of a sudden Jay got this cute, confused look on his face and said, “I have no idea why I’m talking so much.”

I laughed.

“Welcome to my world,” I said. “You’ve wondered how a self-described introvert [me] can talk so much– now you know. You’ve been away from your slow-and-steady bleed-off of words. Your only-connecting adult is present (trying to leave) and you have to get the words all out while you can.”

It made me think about how we do (and don’t) adapt.

How we change as our environment changes.

Since leaving my old church at the end of May, I have been looking for a new “home base” to build relationship in, and it’s a tricky slog. You see, I’m really not interested in the company of adults-in-general, or strictly “adult conversation.”

When I want “company” (only rarely) children are as satisfying to me as adults, and I’ve already got three of those at home. When I want conversation, I want a particular kind, or I’m not that interested in talking.

This (in certain company) leaves me feeling selfish: Oh look, she needs something *special.* She’s not willing to adapt.

But the reality is I’m adapting all-day every-day (You think getting x-much done in a day comes naturally?!), so when it comes time to relax, yeah I want it to be on my terms– that’s sort of the point.

So I don’t have any answers yet.

I’ve proposed a writing “small group” at my folks’ church with the idea of learning if there are any “kindred spirits” to come out of the woodwork. That would be one way to know if Journey is a good fit for us.

I have good friends who aren’t writers (which is cool in its own way, because that means all the awesome stuff they say is mine ;) to quote), but they are still idea people. They are still the ones I can talk at a mile a minute or listen to with intensity and neither of us glazes over.

There is intense admiration in these relationships. We end our time together feeling refreshed and connected and looking forward to the next visit, even if it’s a month out, and honestly that’s what I’m still looking for.

Fears Connect Us

Image courtesy of Jesse Therrien via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Jesse Therrien via stock.xchng

I’ve thought sometimes about teaching writing, mainly because it comes easier to me than to most people I know (in contrast to the famous quote).

I am not above or apart from wanting to to be affirmed by my culture, and being a part of a culture that affirms through salary, I’m keen to see my abilities contribute to my income, whether or not I need that money to live.

One of the common writing prompts (believe it or not) is Write what scares you.

This may come as a surprise to non-writers, or not-yet-writers but it is very reasonable advice.

The ultimate goal of writing is shared-consciousness.

Image courtesy of nh313066 via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of nh313066 via stock.xchng

Yes, really: The goal the goal of most print is to make the thoughts of the writer the thoughts of the reader.

Fear is deeply rooted in us, and is a commonality among all healthy (and even most unhealthy) minds.

By writing about what we fear, we invite others to see us, and to be known, even if the reader is someone we will never meet, because there will be that person whose fear matches mine, and maybe they’ve never found the words for it, so it’s remained a shadow.

Or maybe they had the words, but they felt so alone in this place that the words were only a reminder of their isolation and shame.

In this latter case, the writer, whom they’ve never met, shows the reader s/he’s not the only person who is broken in this way, and that crack in the world’s armor might let in a chink of light and offer freedom.

Because, especially as a believer, our goal is to not remain afraid.

Image courtsy of Belovodchenko Anton via stock.xchng

Image courtsy of Belovodchenko Anton via stock.xchng

What am I Afraid of?
The question popped into my head, and an answer jumped to meet it:

I am afraid of loving imperfection.

Among my many contradictions are

a) I am good at loving, and
b) I am good at seeing.

On my good and healthy days, I am glad for this combination, because b without a would probably make me a jerk.

On my weak or confused days I worry that observers will assume a means the absence of b, and since both parts are important to the way I see myself, I wrestle with how I do both, even while I wonder how to care less what any observers may interpret.

In one of my conflicted moments I told my mom, “I know I’m doing the right thing by loving on [name], I don’t know what to say to [those other Christians] who seem to be focusing on that person’s sin.”

Unspoken, perhaps unconscious, in this confession was the fear that my insight, if not my godliness, would be called into question. And my mom’s matter-of-fact rebuttal deflated all my related anxiety:

“If you are rejected for being a friend of sinners, you are in good company.”

Imperfect Company
What a moment’s contemplation showed me was that my fear of loving the imperfect is a fear of being imperfect.

Both my mom and the latest doctor I saw (just this spring, and no, she couldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. {groan}) scoff at that word, perfect.

Both of them said (verbatim!) “Wouldn’t that be BORING?!”

And both times I was speechless, because I wonder how they can really think that.

NO it wouldn’t be boring! I could finally relax.

Yeah, fine. Analyze the snot out of that last sentence.

I don’t genuinely expect perfection from anyone, even myself (anymore), but I’ve never seen that acceptance of imperfection as a reason to stop striving. Who pushes for less-then perfect?

And that’s where I started to make sense of this fear. (If you didn’t make the jump with me, no worries, just start here:)

My fear of others’ imperfection is my fear of having even more of a gap to fill.

50% x 50% = 25%

Even further from 100%!

Now I see more clearly: I am imagining the work I have left.

By aligning with someone else I take on their weakness, become responsible for it. More is added to the to-do list that I must make happen on my limited strength.

storm

Image courtesy of Mateusz Stachowski via stock.xchng

This is why the imperfect is so frightening: not because I expect more of them (because I know that wouldn’t be fair) but somehow I still expect more of me. 

I know well enough the amount of effort I expend in not-sinking. Add to that somebody else’s something I have to keep afloat, and I cry out It is more than I can bear! How can you ask me to do the impossible?

And sometimes in the storm I hear, You already are.

And sometimes I hear that I’m carrying more than I need to.

God does not depend on human exhaustion

to accomplish his will.

God often gives us strength beyond our natural resources to accomplish his will. If we are out of strength, that could be a sign we’re working on something that isn’t our assignment.

How do I stop being afraid? Maybe by letting go of a burden too big for me to carry.

I must choose a place where my limits are a gift, the means that allow me to rest.

And how do I find that place? Two questions help:

  1. What can I do?
  2. What can I keep on doing?

What I can do is boggling and mind-blowing and amazing.

And what you can do, too.

But that awesomeness is not necessarily sustainable.  What I can do is no longer the primary question, unless it is a special situation with a defined beginning and end.

What is more applicable is Question-2.

It is treating each day as if it’s my forever.

Image courtesy of Janusz Gawron via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Janusz Gawron via stock.xchng

Am I living in such a way, that if nothing ever changed, I would be able to continue? Would I be able to be happy, and have something to share with the people closest to me? The people I love?

We are all imperfect.

We all fear.

And somehow it is through that fear and that imperfection that we are drawn together.

I don’t know if I will ever actually teach writing, but I know I’m learning. And the cool thing to me, is that the more I learn about writing, the better I get at living imperfectly, and being less-afraid.