Let’s write a novel

Laptop-with-blank-notepad

I’m writing a novel. I’ve been writing a novel for six years now. multiple novels. Some I’ve abandoned. Some I’ve stuck away with the intention of getting back to…when I can find the time.

And therein lies the problem. I’m not going to ever find the time. The time has to be created.

The last time I did NaNoWriMo Mia was two years old. The November after that I was working a miserable job that sucked the energy out of me. the November after that I was pregnant and sick. The November after that I had twin babies. We also took Mia to New York the week before Thanksgiving and we had family visiting the week of Thanksgiving, so I didn’t even attempt it. And I just spaced it last November (I also had one-year-old twins but I can’t play the twin card forever).

Okay, stop. That right there is why I have multiple novels started but not one full-length manuscript to speak of. Excuses. And, sure, some of them are good excuses but no matter which way I look at them, they’re still excuses.

I’m always going to feel pulled in twenty different directions. I’m always going to feel guilty for carving out time for writing. There will always be something more pressing, more demanding, more obligatory. So where does passion fall in line?

That one month that I did NaNoWriMo was probably the most productive I’ve ever been in terms of getting a full-length novel on paper. No matter the mess of a draft I was creating, it was a draft with fully realized characters, a solid plot, emerging subplots and themes…Okay, it probably (definitely) didn’t have all of these, but it was on its way to having all of them. They were all faintly sketched between the words I strung together when I wrote without over-thinking it. I had a daily goal, and I met that goal, and it didn’t matter that my words were clumsy, my plot haphazard, my characters two-dimensional. I had faith in the process of writing, in just getting the idea down; that “the first draft of anything is shit” (Hemingway), but the only way to the end — and THE END — is to get through it. I don’t think I’m alone when I admit that one of my biggest obstacles as a writer is losing faith in myself when that momentum of the beginning slides into doubt and frustration by the middle.

And now, finally, I am ready to get back to attempting a novel on NaNoWriMo’s terms — more ready than I’ve been since the first time I attempted it. Not only am I ready but I need to do this. It’s more than just satisfying some creative urge. It’s an attempt to shake this feeling that I’m not worthy, not capable, not good enough; that not only do I not have the time, but I don’t have the right to readjust priorities to make this happen. Because when I dig deep enough, that’s really been what’s been stopping me. Not new babies, or dishes, or laundry, or trips, or holidays with family. It’s the feeling that I don’t have the right to do this.

But I can make this happen. I can and I will.

writing a novel

It will take discipline, and organization, and determination, and a fierce push to carry on when I let doubt get the best of me. But I’m choosing to prioritize passion.

Annnnnd…then I remembered that I will be on deadline for two projects come November.

Hmm…

I know! I’ll tweak the rules. That’s allowed right? Rules were made to be broken and all that?

So, I’ve decided to stretch NaNoWriMo. My projects start at the end of October and go through December, so after crunching numbers and variables (just kidding. I don’t do math), I’ve decided to start noveling October 1 (I know “noveling” is not an actual word but I hardly think I’m the first to coin it). I’m giving myself until midnight on New Year’s Eve to complete a first draft. That’s three months, which doesn’t sound like much of a challenge when juxtaposed with NaNoWriMo’s ambitious one-month goal, but three months with looming deadlines and three kids sounds like a lofty enough goal to me. I’m proclaiming it publicly to raise the stakes of the game, to declare my commitment to do whatever it takes and hold myself accountable.

I’m also declaring it publicly to ask you to join me. No really, will you? I’d love to have you along on this journey with me. I’ll be posting updates a few times a week on my progress, and you can update us through comments, or links posted in the comments if you’re doing updates on your blog. I’d love to stop by and lurk cheer you on. Together we can share tips and strategies, ask questions, be sounding boards, etc. (I’m still going to play along with NaNoWriMo, mostly so I don’t miss out on those pep talks by well-known authors.)

Already I feel the weight lifting in just declaring my intentions, my goal. This clarity of thought preempts the messy, challenging days ahead, I’m sure. But for now I choose to revel in it. Choosing passion over obligation feels freeing.

Deja vu — romanticizing the newborn days

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m blogging. I know enough about blogging by now to know that posting on a Sunday afternoon is blogger stats death by careless timing. I should probably wait until tomorrow. But still, here I sit – my fingers unable to stop the rhythm of the click-clacking of keys, even though they don’t have anything special to write, anywhere important to be. But there’s a reason why I’m here. Something I need to work out the only way I know how.

I’m having déjà vu.

Last night was the sixth consecutive night that I’ve fed, bathed, and put to bed three children by myself; the sixth consecutive night of foregoing my dinner in order to get meals (or something resembling a meal) into three separate mouths; the sixth consecutive night of wrestling two-year-olds into clean diapers and pajamas; the sixth consecutive night of negotiating, intervening, mediating, and sometimes threatening* in order to keep this train moving on track to the intended goal – bedtime.

*Threatening? You ask. Yes, threatening. It’s come to that.

Me: Mia, brush your teeth.

Mia: But it’s so boring.

Me: It’s not supposed to be fun.

Mia: Do I have to?

Me: If you don’t, sugar bugs will invade your mouth and eat holes in your teeth and they’ll fall out. All of them. Every single one.

(Insert a shocked/confused Mia here)

So there. Ha. Score one for me. Oh, but wait. She has that look in her eyes.

Me: I know what you’re thinking and you can forget it. The tooth fairy doesn’t visit kids who neglect their teeth.

But back to the déjà vu. I don’t mean I’m having déjà vu in a Groundhog Day sort of way, though I am getting a routine down to the minute, which feels a little Groundhog Day-ish. What I mean is that these evenings are tinged with all the same hues as when Mia was an infant and Zach worked well into the night. There’s a sense of loneliness and exhaustion but also a bit of freedom and empowerment.  I got this. (By the way, single moms, I bow down to you.)

Last night, however, I was not feeling free or empowered. I did not have this.

It was just before bedtime. The first floor of our house had been aimlessly ransacked by tiny terrors, and rather than stage a Clean Up Party I decided to avoid the mess, pretend it didn’t exist and move the party upstairs. Where they proceeded to ransack that level as well. I didn’t have the energy to stop them, so I let them go at it.

Toy baskets were dumped, play food was catapulted through the air, books were moved by stacks from one room to another, clothes were shed (not for the preemptive pajama quiet-down time but just because), blankets were strewn across chairs and couch to build a fort. It was mayhem. Happy mayhem, but still mayhem (with the ever-present knowledge that I would be the one to put it all back together again). There was one point during all of this – I was about one puzzle piece to the face from curling up in a ball and surrendering completely – when I began to reminisce of my nights with Mia as an infant.  The nuances and textures of these nights were different, but the theme was the same as last night: survival.

Mia had acid reflux. She seemed to be in pain when she ate, spit-up constantly, and took out all her frustrations at night. On me. I’m sure if I think hard enough, I would remember being frustrated as well – at her stomach, at the medicine that was supposed to help, at the incessant crying, at Zach for not being home, at Mia for spitting up EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME, and at me for being helpless to comfort her. There were nights that I took her out on the front porch in her stroller and walked back and forth. The fresh air usually did little to calm Mia but they helped to calm me, which put me in the right frame of mind – a positive frame of mind – to do what would inevitably come next. I would take her back inside, turn on some music, and dance with her in my arms. And it worked. Sometimes we danced for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour. Her song of choice, my golden ticket as I eventually referred to it, was Glamorous by Fergie (don’t judge), and to this day when I hear “G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S…” I’m transported right back to that living room whose carpet bears the ghost footprints of a new mom’s dancing feet.

I’m sure if you had looked in the windows, you would have seen a frazzled, bare-faced girl with dark circles under her eyes, greasy hair slicked back in a ponytail, spit-up crusted on a faded t-shirt, bouncing another tiny girl in her arms. Both of them dancing to the intended goal – bedtime.

I’m sure if I think about it long enough I will conclude that this was indeed a time of survival, but that’s not the first thought that comes to me now. I look back on those nights as one looks back on the blooming of their first love, THE love, the one that would stick. I’m aware that I tend to romanticize life with a newborn, but last night I envied that new mom. Because Life with a Newborn felt like cakewalk compared to Life with Three Small Kids. It wasn’t, I know, but I still couldn’t shake the nostalgia. I wanted to go back to a time when all I had to do was dance.

infant home from hospital

the day we brought Mia home from the hospital

And then it struck me: the idea of dancing. I corralled my two Tasmanian devils and my colicky infant girl who’s now a vocal 6 year old, and turned on the music. I cranked it. And we danced. We moved our feet to this song, and put our hands in the air. We were four spinning tops whirling around the room.  We danced until breathless, until the sun sank over the horizon and we collapsed on the floor. When  I announced that it was time for bed, I was met with some whines and a couple of firm NOs from the 2 year olds, but I ignored them and danced down the hall, and they all followed like little chicks in a line.

I wanted to go back to a time when all I had to do was dance, and so I did. And we did. And I got this.

What about you? Do you sometimes romanticize the newborn days, rendering them more sublime than they actually were?

Why write?

Hemingway there is nothing to writing

I was engaged in a conversation with another mom the other day – a mom I don’t know very well. We started talking about what we do for a living. I explained that I’m a freelance writer and do most of my work for educational publishers. She was intrigued and wanted to know more, so I told her. That led to me venting a bit about rejection. When I came up for air from my whine fest she bluntly asked, “Why do you do it?”

I was taken aback for a second. My first instinct was to defend my profession, my industry, myself. And then I thought, I don’t know that I’ve ever asked myself why I do it.

I’ve always written. I’ve always been called to paper and keyboard; to tap out a rhythm that echoes my days; to chisel a world from a scrap of dialogue; to connect through words unspoken. It’s my way of hashing things out, of processing things, remembering things, making sense of things. It’s my way of escaping, relieving stress, learning more about myself, pushing myself, disciplining myself, teaching myself.

Writing, for me, takes the jumbled mess of thoughts knocking about my head, and organizes them, colors them, ties them up with perfect little bows and compartmentalizes them in chronological or alphabetical or any other -ical order. Or maybe it doesn’t do this at all. Sometimes a writing session multiplies the jumbled thoughts into an unruly vagabond tribe — wayward and haphazard, searching for a place to land — voices too distinct to ignore. Voices I will surely revisit. Either way, I always learn something in the process and by the time it’s done, whether it’s a news article, a non-fiction unit of study, a blog post, or a picture book manuscript, I am changed for having written.

Something happened over the summer. Somewhere in the stretch of structureless days I lost sight of my writerly self. It wasn’t until I resumed creative writing for a freelance opportunity that I remembered  “rejection” is just another word for “try again”.

Sit back down, face the blank page. Take it bird by bird.

Feedback, when given authentically and truthfully, is a catalyst for growth, an opportunity to push yourself and your work to new limits, to beyond limits, to utilizing muscles and tools you didn’t think you had but you did. You had access to them all along.

With the rejections that I’ve received from submitting synopses for this project, I have been granted a second chance. Because with each one, I held tight to a character or a scene or a plot that I begrudgingly relinquished for the sake of this project. And now they get a second chance at life. A limitless life. Rejection has resuscitated the storyteller in me.

All of this is not to say that rejection doesn’t sting. Of course it does. But I’m happy enough with my progress on this project thus far to recognize that maybe, just maybe, I never really wanted to relinquish a few of these little darlings in the first place. Maybe they were always meant to be mine–part of the vagabond tribe with voices too loud to ignore. I don’t know that they’ll ever see the light of day, and I don’t presume that a beckoning voice means their stories will flow seamlessly from my fingertips. Crafting their stories might turn out to be hard work. Some of them might fight the page. Others might careen onto paths unforeseen and I’ll have to trust where that takes us. Maybe to a dead end. But maybe not.

“I hate writing, I love having written.” -Dorothy Parker

So why do I write? Though it might cause bleeding from time to time, the high from having written is enough to move forward, to make me think I can do it again and do it better.

Letting Go

letting goMia let her balloon go. It was a gold balloon, and we watched it sail up and away, heaven-bound. We watched it until we couldn’t see it anymore, but sometimes it would catch in the sunlight just so, a speck in the sky flashing brilliantly, fleetingly.

Almost as soon as she let go, she regretted her decision.

“Balloons aren’t meant to last,” I told her.

Still, she cried. She went inside. She moped. She made flyers featuring a gold balloon and requesting that, if found, the gold balloon be returned to Mia (no address or phone number included).

My first instinct was to tell her she was being ridiculous. I mean, it’s a balloon. But then I started to empathize with her. Because I know this girl. I once was this girl. I still am this girl in some ways.

letting goSometimes we allow our happiness to rest upon the things we carry, even as they become too heavy, their strings too burdensome. Sometimes they become grander, more voluminous, more iconic in the heat of our palms. Sometimes the things we carry are made of joy and friction, sparkle and darkness, and usually it is the multifaceted things that hold the most magic. But even magic is not void of weight.

The Buddhists believe that there is a fundamental disparity between the ways in which we perceive the world and the way things actually are. Perhaps this is true, and that is why, when we let go, the weightlessness is so much heavier than we anticipated. Our perspective is jaded. For a little while, at least.

At bedtime Mia asked, “Where do you think my balloon is now? Florida? Japan? Do you think a kid found my balloon?”

I told her it was possible.

“I forgot to send a note.”

I asked what she would have written.

“I hope you take good care of my balloon, and I hope you like it.” She thought for a minute before adding: “And then I hope you let it go so it can go around the whole world, and all the kids can have a turn.”

And just like that my daughter reminded me of something I had forgotten.

Sometimes the magic is in letting go.

letting go