Avoidance

Writing-wise, it’s been a tough winter. It probably started with my second attempt at NaNoWriMo which completely failed. I gave up sometime during the middle of the month, and then spent the rest of the month hating myself as I read the success stories of my fellow Akronites. Then, I got swept into the craziness of the holiday season and I allowed myself to forget about writing for awhile. I picked up some books and completed probably more novels over a span of two months than I have in a single year recently. I told myself this was okay–it was research, trying to understand my craft better.

I kept trying to reset. I said that January 1st, I would start writing. The month of January came and went. Now it’s almost the end of February and I still haven’t started writing again. I’ve pretty much dropped out of my writing group. I start to pick up one of my novels and I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I’ve got a severe case of self-doubt surrounding me right now. I heard someone say recently that writer’s block is just allowing yourself to give into your self-doubt and fears. I totally agree with this. When you let go of the doubt and the feeling that what you are doing is ridiculous and meaningless or stupid, it’s a lot easier to write. It’s when we second-guess ourselves that the creative juices stop flowing.

I know this and yet I still can’t bring myself to write. I’ve avoided this blog (having nothing really interesting to say anyway), I’ve avoided personal journaling. I’ve spent a great deal of time distracting myself with binge-watching various television series. I’m feeling down in the dumps the way I felt several winters ago when I binge-watched all seven seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I keep calling it a funk. But in truth, it’s a full-blown depression.

I’m having a lot of trouble staying fully in the moment of just about everything I’m doing. I’m always thinking that instead of what I’m doing, I should be writing. The writing guilt follows me everywhere. But when I have the time and the option to write, I avoid it. I sit down to look at my work and all those doubts come rolling back in. I feel like a failure. Well, I am a failure because I’ve failed to do anything in the last couple months. I’ve failed before I’ve even done a single thing.

I feel the weight of time on my shoulders. I’m turning 39 this March and I know that’s young. I never used to have a problem with age. I used to say that it was just a number and no big deal. Yet the thought of me turning 40 is freaking me out. I don’t think 40 is old. I just feel like it’s an awful long time to have lived and not done what I set out to do.

My journals stretching the last 10 years are filled with the same desperate plea. Why can’t I write? Why don’t I have time to write? Why am I so afraid to write?

It’s frustrating because I know that when I’m in the zone, I’m so in love with my writing. When I let go of the fears and the self-doubt, I get high off of the pleasure of putting together a good story.

I think joining the writing group was too soon. Because they were so critical of my writing–of everyone’s writing–my growth as a writer is stunted because I don’t feel uninhibited enough to just write. Now instead of writing what comes from my heart, I hear twenty voices in my head picking apart every sentence. Yes, I know a writer needs to face criticism. But I think that I need to complete something first, uninhibited and without the fear of critical commentary, before I can face an audience with what I’ve done.

With all this avoidance, it sounds as if I don’t like to write. I do like to write. I love to write. I just don’t love myself or believe in my abilities enough right now to get anywhere. Ironically, the only way to start loving myself and believing in my abilities is to actually start writing. To push past this wall of self-loathing and just write.

Well, I did pick up this blog entry so I guess that’s a start.

I guess I aim for March 1st and try to reset again. The last year until 40. It’s now or give up the dream forever because if I haven’t moved in all these years, I have to wonder if I ever will. Maybe I just like to talk about writing and pretend that it’s my salvation from a career I’ve never loved. I don’t know. But I feel like this is the year that I have to prove to myself that I’m really the writer I think that I am or move on to something else. I’ve still got a lot of years left and I need to find my bliss in something I’m passionate about. Maybe it’s not writing. Maybe it’s something I don’t even know I have the ability to do yet.

Only time will tell.

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Cycles

Well, it’s been a long time.

I know, I know. There are no excuses for what is apparently the longest I’ve ever gone without posting to my blog.

But I’m going to try excuses anyway.

Let’s just say that I’ve bitten off far more than I can chew lately. I guess it wasn’t complicated enough that I was planning a wedding and making numerous changes to the new old house that Crow and I bought. No, I had to take it a level higher. I applied for and accepted a new job. True, the environment at that other job was so miserable that it was literally painful to walk into that place every day. And then I got passed over for a raise at time when I felt the most financially drained. I could have stayed there and accepted the comfort of complacency… But no, I had to go looking elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong. The environment at the new job is 100% better. And the work a bit more challenging as I’m the only technical writer and I’m tasked to create something out of nothing for a software product that is long past needing some comprehensive documentation. Both of these are good. The benefits are better, the pay is better. Good, good, good.

But why now? I ask myself every day. I could have gotten by at the other job, miserable, but using half my brain to focus on the wedding and the house. Oh, but, I’m a restless one indeed!

And then there’s my personal writing. I was going a long so well on my goals, motivated and inspired. I had joined a writing group and I felt even more compelled and inspired to write. So I was trying to squeeze writing in between everything else I was doing. I’ve got two open novels that are begging for me to work on them.

I turned in to my writing group a rough draft of something I’d been working on. It got devoured whole and regurgitated in a lump at my feet. Or at least that is how it seemed to me. I cried the whole way home in frustration. I’m not entirely sure I was just crying about the review, though. It was probably part stress. I broke down because, I don’t know, some part of me pridefully believes I’m instantly brilliant without a lot of work. Stupid, right? It’s been a long time since I’ve done any serious fiction writing that I’ve let anyone read and I think it showed in the piece I submitted. I was ashamed of myself because somewhere along the line I lost the fire I had when I was younger. Not that I was instantly brilliant then either. I just had a lot more confidence about myself and I could take criticism easier. I’ve gotten brittle and faint at heart in my elder years. Lack of exposure, I guess.

That was in March, the day before my birthday (NEVER submit your art for review the day before you’re birthday). It launched me into a depression that I’m still not sure has completely lifted. Well, for the first time since November (and NaNoWriMo), I haven’t touched either of my novels. I’ve gone into the file and looked at them, messed around a bit, and then just lost interest. All the fun is gone. From just a few words from people trying to help me with my art.

I think my frustration stems from the fact that somewhere within me I believe that my writing is my last chance to having a career I actually enjoy. Which is completely and utterly stupid. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones, the chances of making actual money solely from being a novelist is mighty slim. It’d probably more likely that I’d win the lottery. It’s definitely not a career possibility. It’s just a fun hobby that I have to figure out how to do on the side.

At this point in my life, I know that the best I’ll probably ever achieve is to self-publish something. (And I would do it right by hiring an actual editor.) Again, hobbyist. Not a career. I know I’m not instantly brilliant or even brilliant. Period.

It’s like this blog. I write it really for myself but I know that I don’t have many real readers. I have a few trolls who spy (and I suspect are people who know me in real life and enjoy trying to hurt me). A few friends who read with passing interest. My mom. I guess I haven’t felt compelled to update this blog for those same reasons….

Anyway, my point is, the problem with believing that my writing is my last chance to career happiness is that when I hit a road bump–such as criticism, no matter how constructive–it becomes a real obstacle. It’s the deflation I need, though, to come back down off of cloud 9 and back to reality. It’s the reality that made me cry. The reality that I faced a long time ago and I’ve faced over and over and over again.

I think I can go back to the writer’s group once things calm down over here. Maybe after the wedding and the honeymoon. When I’m ready to focus on my writing, and I’ve accepted the reality that I’m just doing this for fun, I will be able to face the group again. I’ll go back humbled. I’ll listen intently. I’ll be a little less arrogant about my abilities.

Crow pointed out, though, that it was a huge step at all for me to show my writing to anyone, which is something I haven’t done (other than my memoir piece about losing Mike, which has to be the best thing I’ve ever written) since college. So it’s progress.

What else has gone on in the past four months?

We have finally put some sort of covering (blinds, curtains) over every window in the house. At last. After a year.

I planted a red bud tree in my yard. They are such beautiful trees and not only did I get to enjoy its flowering beauty this past spring, but I’m now watching its pretty red heart-shaped leaves quiver in the breeze.

Together with my mom, we tore out some ugly bushes in front of the house, removed some pachysandra in the entryway of the house, and replanted a flowerbed in the entry way that also wraps around half the house! We planted a bunch of hostas, some day lilies… The purple salvia Crow’s aunt gave me last year miraculously survived the winter. Two of the three plants are now blooming happily in the front flowerbed. Crow bought me some coleus and begonias and I put those in the shadier areas.

Crow built a huge 9 foot fence around what is to be our vegetable garden. We planted six fruit trees there (2 plum, 2 cherry, 2 peach) this past weekend. I planted tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers, and some basil. We still have some other veggies to plant–lettuce, spinach, corn, squash. I admit that the garden was a little over ambitious… But… why not?

I competed in Calvin’s Challenge with a migraine headache and the left-overs of a flu. I felt awful the first 70 or so miles of that ride. I couldn’t eat because I felt nauseous. I almost SAG’ed out in the middle of the second 50 mile loop. But after laying down at the rest stop for a bit, and sucking down one of those awful goo gel pack things (which was strangely inoffensive in my state), I found a second wind (called a tailwind) and I completed the entire 12 hour race with 122 miles. Not as grand as 2011’s 154 miles, but still a notable effort considering how sick I felt for the greater part of that ride. And I won a silver medal!! There were only two women in my age group.

(Somehow the words of my friend Joanna keep coming to mind, “Heidi, if you used half the effort you do in cycling with your writing, you’d be a star.” Ha. Probably true. Where’s the stubborn tenacity I have while riding when I’m writing?)

I commuted to work by bike once thus far.

I sold my Stow house at the beginning of May! No more paying 1.5 mortgages! No more payments to utilities I wasn’t using. I was a little sad to let go of the house, though, after all the work and money I’d put into it. I’d transformed it nearly into something that was my own. The kitchen–the one big room I never got to remodeling–was just a sad reminder of the dreams I had for it. I hope the new people do something fabulous with it. I like where I’m living better now… But I believe I was actually attached to the Stow house.

It’s been a journey these last several months. A bit of change. Some adjustment.

I’ve noticed I’ve started falling into new patterns. Older ones left over from perhaps my life with Mike are falling away. It’s a lot less painful than I thought it would be.

People are wrong when they say that a relationship doesn’t change you. Or that it shouldn’t change you. The fact of the matter is, when two people come together, they become an entirely different being at some point. A new person exposes you to new experiences. You find new interests together. You get into new habits together. You change some of your old habits to accommodate the other person. And vise versa, if it works. It has to go both ways to work. There’s an adjustment period… But then one day you catch yourself enjoying gardening, picking up new catch phrases from the other person, making references on you and he understand. Sometimes you even catch yourself doing the laundry differently (I used to wash everything in cold!). It’s weird. But exhilarating.

Slowly, bit by bit, the wedding details are falling into place. I’m looking forward to my special day with Crow… and especially for the three weeks following where we will do what we do best together: explore the natural world. I’ve not had more than an extra day off of work since last summer and even that was a working (on the house) vacation. I really need some time away. I feel so tired and exhausted.

I hope that when I return, I’ll feel fresh again about writing. I still want to do NaNoWriMo (though I’m not sure what I’ll write). I still want to take some bass lessons (it’s out of the question at the moment, I’m not going to throw myself even more off balance). I’ll do what I need to do to get back on track. And I’ll try to update this blog. For what that’s worth.

Moving Write Along

I joined a local writer’s group. They meet twice a month and I’ve already attended three meetings. I’ve really enjoyed working with them so far–they are kind, respectful, and insightful with their critiques. It reminds me a lot of how we critiqued each other in writing classes in college–how the Great Joyce Dyer, my favorite professor and adviser–taught us to critique. So far, I’ve just been involved as someone providing a critique of the submitted pieces. I have enjoyed this thoroughly–so many wonderful writers in our group! It’s inspiring, really, to be in the company of much great talent.

I’m submitting my own piece for review for the March 21st meeting.To be honest, I’m not even that nervous about it. I have an abundance of things I’ve been working on in the last year, between the novel I started in 2011 and my NaNoWriMo novel, and I’m really curious to see how an audience reacts to them. This group is really respectful and nice so I can’t imagine feeling upset or defensive about their input. As they said at the first meeting I attended, “It’s better to hear it from us than an editor.”

They are really constructive about pointing out plot flaws and inconsistencies. After having participated in two critiques now, I feel like if anything I need to improve my own critiquing skills. Part of the problem stems from my nervousness at talking solo in a big group of people who are all listening to me during the two minutes I’m allotted to speak to the author. I’m sure this nervousness will dissolve in time as I get used to the people in the group. But this nervousness often makes me forget what I wanted to say. I also think I’m not as detail-oriented when I read. However, I have been making notes of the things I question. Some of the people in the group are really, really detailed readers, though. That will be good for me when I submit something for them to read!

I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I probably will never actually be a published writer (unless you count the manuals I’ve written as a technical writer as published). At this point, though, I’m just aiming at writing a novel to its completion, editing it, and then…?? We’ll see. If I have enough confidence in the end product, I might actually put myself on the path to real publication. I know it’s not easy, though, and there’s the very real possibility that no matter how many times I try, it may never happen, no matter how marvelous my story is. Many great talented people I know have tried and failed, and continue to fail, so I know it’s best not to get my hopes up for anything.

I’ll definitely self-publish (after some very strict editing). I know that’s not a real route to the kind of publication I desire, but it might be enough to fulfill me. At the end of the day, if you ask me why I write, it’s simply because I want to. I like to do it. And that’s all that’s important to me. So this is the year–despite all the crazy stuff I have going on–that I just focus on doing that writing and completing one of my projects. And then I’ll figure out what the next best move is to make.

(You have to understand that for me it’s better if I just focus on a short-term goal. I get overwhelmed by thinking about all the details of long-term goals. So I need to just focus on accomplishing one thing before going to the next level.)

I’m not giving up. I’m just being realistic. And that’s another sobering truth about being around other writers. The good thing, though, is that we all have each other for support. I think having people to be accountable to also makes me find the time to do the writing. Like anything else you want to do, despite loving to write, you still have to make a conscious effort to do it. (Oh how I long for those summers off that I had in my high school years!)

It feels good to be finally taking some action on one of my life’s goals. It’s too bad I took so long to get here. I truly think my summer of U2 was the catalyst. Following them around the country was one of the most spontaneous things I’ve ever done… The whole adventure woke up the little girl whose voice I let be stifled (by myself and by others). Now I’m dreaming out loud and I’m ignoring all the voices who snicker, scoff, or minimize my dreams as ridiculous. It’s my life and I’m taking command from here on out.

Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo

Well, the good news is that I did complete 50K words and am therefore considered a NaNoWriMo winner!!

The bad news is that what I’ve written does not in any way constitute an actual novel. If I do want to do something with this story (ie, self-publish or publish), I’m going to need to do some major reworking. For one, in its form, my “novel” is basically a random collection of scenes with no real action taking place. I have a lot of speeches, a lot of character development, and a pretty good ending scene which I wrote on the last day to get my 50K with a sense of closure.

The problem is, I went into this challenge with a very small scattering of an idea for a story that needed to be a lot more fleshed out. I should have thought the whole thing through and wrote an outline–at least mentally. I don’t usually “write” an outline; it’s usually in my head. But I didn’t even have that. But in reworking this story, I definitely plan to write an outline. More on that in a few paragraphs.

When I started NaNo, I was sure everything would just start to flow out of my head. The first couple days were easy because the only thing I had for this story were what I considered then to be the opening scenes. I gathered from the immediate surge of words from my fellow NaNos that this is generally the case for everyone in those first couple days. Most likely, most writers have the start and end for the story already, too; it’s how to get from the great opening scene to the awesome ending scene that is often the murky area.

It was a struggle for me to get the 1,600 word count at first, though, because I was still trying to write like every single word counts. Which is how I always write. Which is probably why nothing I start ever gets done. That internal editor always nags me about word choice while I’m just struggling to get an idea on “paper.” I think a part of me always feels like every thing I write–from shopping lists to this blog–has to have substance and be brilliant.

The internal editor really restricts more than it allows you to create. And I know this from my writing classes in college. From reading the patron goddess of creative writing, Natalie Goldberg, I know that I’m supposed to just sit down and let ideas spew out of my head unrestricted, that doing such freewriting daily will actually build my writing muscle and free me from blocking myself with criticism.

But did I ever let myself actually write that way? Well, to some degree on this blog, in the entries I wrote in my journal when I had one in the past, and letters to my pen pals Sarah and Mr. Kincaid. And that’s because I’ve allowed myself to let go in those forms because it seems “okay” whereas when I’m trying to write a story it does not seem “okay.”

It took me about a week to figure out that I needed to say goodbye to my internal editor. She’s good for helping me craft my words, but she’s really lousy when it comes to trying to write 1600 words every single day. So every day that I sat down to write for NaNo, I had to come to terms with the fact that whatever I felt compelled to write at that particular moment was going into the word count regardless of quality. To do this, I had to give myself permission to write something that I knew might only help me understand the characters and may not ever be used in a finished final product.

I can’t describe to you how hard it was for me to do just that apparently simple task. It was a real struggle to tell myself I could just write a bunch of scenes because I was inspired to write them and it didn’t matter if I’d used them later. Of course, to a writer, these characters are real. So I had to remind myself that whether or not these scenes are usable, my characters were channeling through me events that really took place in their lives. It’s my job to sort through the rubble to string together a story.

I really am impressed how well I managed to keep it going despite the fact that I had no direction and I got behind twice for several days. As you can imagine, 1,600 words is not a lot by itself; however, two days behind puts you 3200 words behind. It adds up FAST. And before you know it, you feel overwhelmed. It’s when you’re behind that you really have to tell the editor to take a vacation so that you can just write.

I managed to write through Thanksgiving which was a real challenge. In my past as a single woman, Thanksgiving weekend was a big break for me to relax and enjoy myself. I usually wrote my annual Christmas letter and designed the card I would use. I would turn on a tv channel playing Christmas movies and start decorating my house. It was laid back and relaxed. But now that I am engaged (to a wonderful man, let us not forget), I must visit both my own family and his. Since his family lives near Bowling Green, approximately 2 hours away from home, a visit usually involves staying a few days.

I started that weekend behind (for the second time). But I was determined to drive up my word count and have fun visiting our families. So on Thanksgiving Day while Crow was driving from my parents’ house to his family’s house, I was typing away on my computer in the passenger seat. I wrote Friday evening after an entire day of shopping. I wrote on the way to and from Frankenmuth. I not only caught up, but I got a little ahead. And I never got behind again for the rest of the month. I’d say that was an accomplishment. If anything, it was a real testimony to my determination. At least I have that, if not actual talent!

Ironically, on the last day of writing, a real plot burst through my muddled brain for the first time since I started NaNoWriMo. The new idea actually invalidated how the novel started and many of the scenes I’d written during the month. I actually wasn’t depressed about this development because I think that the exercise of NaNoWriMo showed me that the direction I was going with the novel was not going to work. The new plot with the new setup I imagined is a lot more exciting, fun, and thrilling. I can’t believe it never occurred to me in the first place. And now, honestly, I can’t wait to start writing this novel again.

I wrote the ending scene as though the first half of the novel had actually been written with the new plotline. When I validated my word count online after writing that scene, I found I was just 200 words short of 50K. So I then wrote a scene for the very beginning of the novel using the new plot. That got me across the finish line with words to spare.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to work on the novel since. I had a lot of catching up on housework to do since my absolutely wonderful, sweet, supportive fiance took the brunt of the labor for the entire month of November. I love him for not begrudging me or making me feel bad about not pulling my weight with getting the house together. To top it off, he kept telling me NOT to quit. He gave me the confidence I needed to realize I could finish NaNoWriMo. And I love him so much for wanting me to succeed as a writer because he knows how important this dream is to me. Crow is not a man who believes that goals are impossible; he’s the type of person to just do what he wants, which is evidenced by the fact that he’s self-employed running his own business. He’s reminding me that dreams are still attainable and that if I want something badly enough, I really can reach for it. Where has this support been all my life? I’m so glad I’ve found it in him!

I also found a great support network in joining the local Akron NaNo group for write-ins. We’d go to Panera Bread on Mondays and Nervous Dog (a local coffee house chain) on Wednesdays. I missed all of the weekend write-ins due to commitments with the house, but one weekend Crow and I both sat in a Panera–he worked on stuff related to his job while I wrote–for several hours after running errands. It was so refreshing to be around other writers. We speak the same language! (Which primarily consists of talking about our characters as though they are real people which is crazy-talk to non-writers.)

At one of the last write-ins I attended, we had two writing “sprints”–10 and 20 minute time periods where we just had to write without thinking at all about content to boost the word count. It was a lot of fun and, again, a lesson in just getting the scene out of your head instead of toiling over every minute detail.

We also had a Facebook page where we cheered each other on virtually. That was great too because I was able to get ideas from other writers. One fellow writer even came up with the name for the rival band in my story! If I ever do get something published, I definitely have to write a dedication to these people because they helped me so much with just their conversations, questions, and often panicked chatter. Whenever someone felt down or defeated, and they posted on the page, everyone chimed in to motivate them to keep going. It was a real group effort to get us all to keep going and I was also motivated to get keep writing as I saw each of them hitting the 50K finish line.

Another inspiration I’ve had along the way is a band called Blondfire. I downloaded their Where The Kids Are EP and played it repeatedly for the last two weeks of NaNo because for some reason their sound really reminds me of how I envision the band in my story to sound. The lead singer is female–as is the lead singer in my fictional band–and she just has the sound of a space-age singer. The words to Where The Kids Are and Hide And Seek both sound kind like the kind of thing a young band would write about: hopes and dreams and trying to accomplish stardom. That EP got my juices flowing and still does when I play it. Music and writing to me go hand in hand; I’ve always been inspired to write from certain songs and albums. Music draws pictures in my head. (Past influences for stories I’ve written have been Depeche Mode’s Policy Of Truth and Duran Duran’s Rio! These both inspired novels I wrote in high school.)

So. Lessons learned? I think next year (oh, yes, there will be a next year for sure, this was too much fun) I will come into NaNo with a better developed story. I will need to think about my story longer, perhaps in October, and then start jotting down some notes. I think I can do a better job of actually having something somewhat coherent if given a complete plot. If I had used NaNo to write my rock star story (which, incidentally, was left unfinished at 27K words), I could have probably finished the whole novel, though, of course, it would have required some heavy editing. But the full story would be there.

Also: Next year I will hopefully not have major upgrades to do on my house. And I cannot book up my schedule very much in November.

Whether I ever write anything that is publishable is not the point. The point is, I had fun. And I finally stopped bemoaning the fact that I want to write and I actually sat down and wrote. That was definitely worth the whole exercise. I needed NaNoWriMo to motivate me to make action out of my talk. And now I can say I’m a novelist and no one can dispute it. Yup. (Published novelist, however, is another thing all together.)

NaNoWriMo!

I decided to sign up for the National Novel Writing Month event where you attempt to write an entire novel in the month of November. This will be quite a challenge for me considering life (house, wedding plans) have taken up just about all of my spare time. A few months ago, I tried to get myself into the habit of writing for five minutes a day in a journal. Sad to say that I couldn’t even keep it up for a week. I just can’t keep a regular enough schedule yet in my day to find that space to write. I know I could do it if I specified a time every day to spend on it… I just need to be diligent and spend the time.

Our house has not come along as fast as we had hoped. However, there should be a little bit of a pause coming up now that I’ve finished painting the master bedroom closet and (almost) the hallway. Crow has promised to support me in my effort to write a novel in a month and will help me find time to spend on it (we’re trying not to book up all our weekends). I guess this will give a little taste of my dream… Where I create space in my schedule to do the writing. Too bad I still have to keep a 40 hour/week job!

I have an idea for a story. I’ve already entered the title and a quick synopsis in my profile on the NaNoWriMo site. To be honest, I don’t expect to actually finish the novel. I suppose that’s not the right attitude to take up right off the bat. I’m just hoping I get halfway through or something. My story idea is not really fleshed out. So I expect I may spend days just absently writing off the top of my head. According to my hero Natalie Goldberg  in her book Writing Down the Bones, clarity will probably emerge from the jumble of noise in my head if I proceed in this way. Maybe I will unwittingly fumble to a middle and end to the story.

Despite my already pessimistic outlook on this event, I think I’m going to go full-tilt into the process by attending the local kick-off party and maybe a few “write-ins.” I met a girl at a party last weekend who has been involved with NaNoWriMo for many years and we talked a bit about the event and writing and I guess I started to feel a little inspired. I’m not someone who has ever participated in writer’s groups. I just get intimidated being around other people who write. Jealous. Competitive. If I get it in my head that someone else is a better writer than me, I convince myself that I’m doomed to fail.

I also have this secret nagging in my head that if anyone I know gets published for real, there’s no way ever that I would get published because in my mind publication is akin winning the lottery. And billion dollar lottery winners don’t all happen in one locality. So I catch myself hoping friends and family members who write don’t get published because that reduces my chances of getting published too. I feel pressured, like I’m in a race to be the first person in my peer group to get published; otherwise, all hope is lost. Yet, I haven’t really done anything to try to get published in years. So I’m not really running the race. Surely all my friends who are trying harder than me deserve a pay off.

Of course, I feel really ashamed for having these sort of thoughts. The more sensible part of me wants nothing more for my friends and family to also experience the joy of pursuing a goal even if it is the same goal I have. And I have to remind myself that getting published is clearly not the lottery. There’s a lot of factors involved in getting published. Some of it is luck. Some of it is talent. Some of it is having the right story at the right moment and the right person just happens to see it. I’m not really competing with my fellow local writers. I’m just trying to get noticed by a very small group of people at the top of a very high ladder and all of us are a slave to that system.

And, again, I haven’t even tried to publish anything. Or even write anything (other than that novel I started two summers ago and, uhm, got interrupt when I started hanging out with Crow). So I have no real steak in the game at the moment. But I’m hoping NaNoWriMo gets my creative juices flowing again. Even if what I write can’t be used for publication later, I’m hoping at the very least that I get into a habit of writing. Because when I’m writing, when I’m really into it, I feel a sense of peace and joy. I need to remember that the reason I write is for myself… It’s an inner yearning that drives me…. I don’t write to get published, I write to lose myself in a world or express feelings I’m struggling to understand. I need to write because it’s who I am. No one can get that but another writer or an artist, I think. I have to remind myself that I can be an accomplished writer even if I never get published. I have stories to tell and they have to come out of my head. Publishing–and making money from my art–is just a bonus. (And one that is unrealistic to count on as a career.)

Anyway, I’m not expecting anything grand out of my participation in NaNoWriMo. I’m just in it to see what happens. Hopefully it is more fun than frustrating (the writing process can be quite frustrating, though). I hope I can push past episodes of writer’s block by just shutting down my critical voice and writing from the heart. I think if I don’t plan anything grand (ie, publication), and focus on just telling a good story, I will write much better than I have in years.

When I was writing my other novel in the spring and summer of 2010, I really got into it. I remember getting that feeling I used to get when I wrote novels as a teenager. For the first time in years, I was really drawn into my story as though I were a watching it play out before me on a stage (similar to the feeling a person gets when reading a book). I remember particularly one great evening session where I woke up in the morning feeling as if I’d accomplished something. I went to church that morning and felt high the entire time I was there. Writer’s high. Nothing like it.

I want to feel that again. I want to feel at one with myself. I want to feel like I’m creating something wonderful. I want to create something wonderful. I hope NaNoWriMo helps me find that again. Or, at the very least, I hope I have a useful learning experience. People who have done it in the past seem to enjoy it. I hope that this skinny ghost of an idea that I have fleshes out into something vivid. If it doesn’t, though, I have a lot more ideas running around in my head. Just. Need. More. Time.

U2 Wish on atU2.com

The answer I submitted to atU2.com’s question of the month (click link) got posted!! I’m pretty happy, especially since I’ve been in a rather depressed mood lately and haven’t done much writing (thus all the sudden blog entries). I didn’t get the news position I was hoping for from them (and, honestly, the article I wrote for the application was crappy and uninspired), but at least I am capable of writing something worthy of being posted. This little success has brightened my day, giving me a little bit of the gas I’ve needed this week to push onwards. Maybe some other opportunities will open for me if I more aggressively pursue them. I know my writing is not perfect. But if I keep trying, eventually I will get there.

Where the heck are you?

Hey, loyal readers, I know I’ve been extremely neglectful of this blog lately. But you aren’t the only ones. I owe letters to my two pen pals, too. I’ve been really distracted lately, working on that rock star story I mentioned a month or so ago. I’m really being inspired to move on that one for whatever reason so all of my writing energy seems to go there. It’s like I can’t write fast enough–these characters are talking to me all the time, demanding their story be told, even though I’m not entirely sure where this story is going at the moment. I have a direction, but the details are still unfolding day by day. It’s been an interesting, exciting journey, the likes of which I have not felt since I used to write my 200-page novels when I was in high school. What’s making it easier to get to is that I’ve created a private blog that I’ve only allowed a few people access to so that they can edit it. Knowing that I have an audience who is willing to read it motivates me to work on the story too. There’s something about instant gratification, of getting needed validation that what you’re creating is interesting to people besides yourself. Of course, I still need to get some constructive criticism. And I still need to do some research to add a level or realism to it that’s probably not there at the moment. Still. I’m writing and I want to write. That’s the important thing.

I’m kicking around a few other opportunities, too. None of them are probably paying, of course. But maybe they will lead to getting my voice out there. Everything is resume-worthy in my books. One step closer to actually meeting some life goals, maybe. Wouldn’t it be nice if I really could be a paid creative writer? A lot of pressure. But the end result would be gratifying. To say the least.

I’ve been a little bit of a groupie to my friends’ Scott and Andy’s band, Vox Voronet (pronounced “VoroNET,” not “Voronay”). I’ve seen them three times (so not so bad) in the last few months, the most recent of which was last Friday at Jupiter Studios in Alliance. Every time I go to one of their shows, I seem to find another band I like. Last Friday, it was Zhopa Mira (which, apparently, means “asshole of the world” in Russian). This band’s lead singer, Boo Porcase, has the coolest goth punk voice. Check out their music; I’ve linked my favorite song, “Roberta,” below.

Roberta by Zhopa Mira

If you haven’t already heard them, check out Vox Voronet.  I’ve linked my favorite song, “The Party,” below.

The Party by Vox Voronet

I’ve become hooked on this TV series on the sci-fi channel called Being Human. Yes, I know it’s a remake of a British TV series. This is the first one I’ve seen, so I can view it without the jaundiced eye of someone who has seen the original. And let me just say that I do love it. It’s the most exciting show that’s been on for a while. I’m watching V and it’s interesting. But not quite like Being Human. You’d think I’d be tired of shows involving vampires, werewolves, and ghosts by now. Oddly, I’m not. Go figure.

I’m making it through winter a little better this year than last. It must be because I’ve had this Boston Mills ski pass. I’ve already used it 17 times this year! It’s definitely getting its money worth, that’s for sure. It’s nice to be able to go skiing any time I want–after work or on a boring weekend day. I’ll definitely be buying another one for the next year. I sure know how to take obsession to an all new level, don’t I?

Haiku Death Match (NuKu) Retrospective

Well, I didn’t even advance past my bracket (best of five poems), but I did manage to hang in there by besting my very skilled competitor twice. But in the end, she beat me soundly. I knew it was going to be a rough road because the poet in question is very good and experienced. To say I wasn’t intimidated would be a lie. I’d seen her work the previous two years and I knew I was in for a tough challenge. But, I admit, it was easier going head-to-head with her than the two kids–yes, literally, kids–who were also in the competition (which made me rethink my sexy poems; however, I slowly realized that children of poets are exposed to far more indecent language and corrupted thoughts than I could expose them to that night).

The kids were “stand-ins” for two poets who didn’t show up. The little girl was so damned cute, like a young Drew Berrymore with her blonde, curly hair, pinched cheeks, and small, giggly voice. When she laid down a ‘ku that was a sales pitch for buying girl scout cookies, I was especially glad she was not my opponent. What judge in their right mind is going to take down a little girl scout? I knew that I would suffer shame and embarrassment if I had to tell people that some little seven or eight year old girl beat me in a poetry contest. Yes, it was much better to have lost against a fully adult poet with mad skill. Ultimately, much less humiliating.

I’m glad I stood up and competed, even though I didn’t get very far. Yeah, it was admittedly disappointing. I had to talk myself through feelings of failure, remind myself that this was not final judgment on my skills as a writer. Poetry is subjective and it really depends on delivery and the mood of the judges. There’s a lot of pressure in the moment to find the right poem to present and I’m sure I had some failing in my strategy on some level. But that really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that I did get up and do it. And, also, the fact that I would definitely do it again. So the experience did not drive me away from public performance or presenting my poetry (or writing). In fact, it invigorated me. It challenged me. It gave me something to strive for next year. Maybe, just maybe, I can get to the second round. If not next year, maybe the year after that? I have some things to think about.

After losing so quickly, and having over 30 poems, I decided to sign up for open mike so that I could present some of the poems that didn’t get heard. I decided to present the five poems I call Requiem Haiku for 9 Years which I wrote in memory of Mike last year on the “anniversary” of his death. That seemed to have been received nicely. My only wish that I had been a little smoother in my delivery; for some odd reason, I got more nervous during the open mike than I felt during the competition itself. I don’t know what happened there. Perhaps I was a little thrown off my game (verklempt?) by Joanna’s highly complimentary introduction to me before I got up. (Not that I didn’t need that pumping up, Joanna; thanks so much for the kind words.)

I ended my open mike set with my favorite poem of the year–the much lighter “Cycling Freak.” That one seemed to go over well, too, and I think I recovered myself enough to at least deliver it with some passion. Every once in awhile, I’m truly inspired without pressure to write a really great poem and I think that is one of them. Which is interesting because I also really like “Leaves” which I performed at open mike last year along with “Black Beauty” (mentioned in the previous blog entry)–both of which were inspired by cycling. I truly do find cycling meditative; quite often my best writing is composed while riding. (Remembering it to write it down is often the hard part.)

So once again begins a year of writing haiku. I don’t just do it to have something at NuKu… I honestly enjoy writing haiku. I think it’s fantastic to have had so many to choose from should I have had the chance to use them in subsequent rounds. I think I could grow to enjoy performing them. It’s just another way to put my writing out there. Despite not getting beyond my bracket, I actually do feel more empowered about my writing. I could see reactions, I got feedback; it was really, really fun. Somehow getting beaten was still enough of an ego boost that I feel inspired to keep trying.

This year, as I listened to the other people perform in their brackets, I actually thought about how people used the 5-7-5 syllable limitation and I started to think of some knew approaches to the way I come up with mine. I can already see how being around other writers can help change aspects of your own writing. Which is why I’m starting to think about joining a writing group or something. I think it would be great to have a goal to work with people and to get feedback on my stuff while giving others feedback on their writing. I remember that my favorite thing about writing when I was a teenager was that I had a good friend, Jennifer, who also wrote. We used to call each other on the phone and read to each other what we’d written that day. It was really fun and exciting because I would want to share what I’d done with the story and hear her reaction right away; likewise, I would listen raptly to her story because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. We would leave each other with cliff-hangers because neither of us had yet written the whole story. We even critiqued each other’s work. It was validation to both of us that we were on the right track with our stories, that they were interesting. It also kept us in the routine of writing because we would remind each other–like work-out buddies–to work on our stories. In fact, we used to write during study hall and classes we found boring, and then pass each other our next sections in the hall between classes. (I once got a section from my “novel” taken away during German class because my teacher thought I was writing notes to friends. Ha! If only I were just a regular teenager like that.)

So I either need to find a friend like that again, or I need to find a group of writers with whom I can share a two-way writing relationship such as this. I am realizing I need little goals to force me to get moving. I think once I get into a routine, this will not be a problem. I also love writing when I get my mind involved in it. Every writer will tell you that it’s still a chore to start and a chore to keep going, even when you love it. But accomplishing writing is about making it routine, doing it even when you don’t want to do it. (This, by the way, was the original mission of my blog, but I’ve fallen short of it recently.)

Anyway, overall, it was really a great time at NuKu. I must mention, also, that Joanna is really a natural MC. She has this amazing ability to entertain and charm (yes, charm) the audience with her sense of humor and her easy laughter. She thinks incredibly fast on her feet and is able to recover quickly from any surprise that occurs without hesitation. I know that public speaking is not a natural talent–that everyone’s scared and nervous at some point–but the real trick is making it look like it’s easy and Joanna definitely does that. I’m impressed and, quite frankly, envious of her skills as a public speaker. I  hope one day I can look as at ease as she does in front of a microphone.

I was also impressed by Diane’s (another college friend) performance during open mike. She presented one haiku and a really great (“regular”) poem about how she and her husband met each other. Even though I had the advantage of knowing the back story of their meeting, the poem really held its own to an audience of strangers and it seemed to be really well received. Part of the reason, I think, is that Diane is also one of those people who can speak in front of an audience with an air of confidence, even though I know that she really is as nervous as I am. But that doesn’t matter–delivery is all that matters. She did an awesome job and it impressed the heck out of me. I wasn’t surprised, granted; I’ve seen her perform her own work before. Still, I find myself re-impressed every time I see her boldly shine in front an audience.

I’ll end this entry with the poems I used during my one and only round during the Haiku Death Match, minus the last one since it was the most derogatory and may offend a few readers of my blog. I really can’t seem to remember which poems won the round, though. My mind went kind of blank as I was focused on the task of deciding which poems to use. I think I’ll have to go to the tape (they video recorded us) to figure out which two won.

Fear (02/18/2010)
My words reek of fear
I struggle to give them birth
Stillborn on my lips.

I think “Fear” did not win, though I was encouraged when I heard several mumbles of “true-ku!” from the audience.

Tenacity (01/19/2011)

I am grit and steel,
Barred teeth, dried tears, smiling pain;
Storm’s fury in drought.

I know “Tenacity” did not win. I think it was a bad choice to throw this one down because I was never completely happy with it and I struggled for three days with the last line. It was everything from the simple “You cannot break me” and “Angry resilience” to the need for a metaphor that was poorly executed: “Thunder crack with snow,” “Thunder in the winter,” “A mad gale in drought,” and “Brute force in fury.” I’m pretty sure it’s an example of over-thinking an idea. I’m still not happy with it.

Former Alaskan Governor (03/02/2010)
I sincerely wish
Sarah Palin would vanish
Poof! Gone forever…

Did “Former Alaskan Governor” win?? I remember the audience groaning or something, which I took as negative feedback and then was afraid to use my “Tea Party” one that I had on the back-burner.

Satisfaction (01/08/2011)
Sometimes all you need
Two fingers, fantasies, and
Two minutes alone.

“Satisfaction” is the only one I remember as having won. Am I right? Okay, not even sure about this one…

The final one was cruder than “Satisfaction.” It didn’t win anyway and it was probably a bad choice because my opponent threw down a really crude one that was similar and she did a better job. I should have went with one of my pretty ones, like “Winter,” (see previous blog entry) or another political one to stand out from hers. (And also used one I would feel comfortable showing online.) Oh well. Such is life.

Christmas Unwrap

This year was another one of those years where I just didn’t feel the Christmas spirit. It seems like one moment, it was summer and I was riding my bike around everywhere, and then the next moment it was winter and Christmas was here. What the frak happened to this year? It slipped by elusively through my fingers. I guess I was extremely busy… 4,753 miles is definitely pretty busy. A sermon that occupied my mind through the month of September and half of October. I picked up a few more volunteer positions. I changed jobs. That’s busy.

Still working on the writing thing, but I think I’ve changed my approach. I’m in the mood for fiction of the late. I started working on (and researching for, in a matter of speaking) my “rock star” story. This is coming along quite well… All the characters are revealing details about themselves to me each day. I’m getting that excited yearning to write and I even found myself day-dreaming a scene for the book the other day. I’ve also started looking at a short story I started a year and a half ago–a science-fiction piece about, yes, a young widow. Not surprisingly, there’s a young widow in both my rock star story and my short story and–even funnier–I just realized I gave the dead husband in both stories the same name (Mark!). I must like the name Mark or something. I’ve decided to change the name of the guy in the short story since it’s less intertwined with my plot than the rock star story has become. But I thought it was extremely funny that I used the same name in both stories.

Lest you think I’m wearing out the young widow angle in my writing, be assured that I probably will just need to get the lead out in a few stories at first. I promise not to overdo it later in life. I currently have nothing published so it’s safe. I’ve partially decided to not go the memoir route because, I don’t know, it seems I have more latitude in fiction. Getting into the messy details of my personal life may be a little more exposure than I want or am ready to handle. I have certain things to say about widowhood and life through widowhood and I think I can express them better through fiction. Of course, details of my real life eek into my fiction–it does with every writer. I think I’m going to still work on publishing a few smaller memoir-style pieces (such as the first chapter I wrote ages ago) into some sort of publication… And I really need to research places where I could submit such pieces… But nothing’s impossible. Just getting my writing out there is the point. And it’s not all about being a widow, either; it’s about my love of writing and my desire to become a published writer.

Fiction’s the hardest route, though, and I realize that. Essentially, though, I guess it really doesn’t matter if I don’t publish this rock star story. I’m having fun writing it. I’m having fun thinking about it. That’s the important thing. If I could get that level of concentration and absorption I used to get when writing, it would be enough to make me feel fulfilled. Writing used to feel like reading a book, except one I could control, and I want to get back to that. Maybe after I die, someone will shuffle through my stuff, read it, and find it interesting. I don’t know.

My Christmas overall was okay. I did the usual things–skied Christmas Eve (my new tradition) at Boston Mills, attended my family’s Christmas Eve party, stayed overnight at my parents’ and did the family thing on Christmas. It was all very low-key and normal. Another cousin announced she was pregnant, another one of my mom’s siblings becomes a grandparent. I felt a tinge of bittersweet sadness for what could have been in my life but was not (it’s so hard to not get that way, even when you try very hard to stop yourself). My best friend Melissa called to tell me she was engaged. I went skiing on Sunday at Seven Springs with my friend Janet to unwind from the holiday overload.

Now comes my holiday–New Year’s. This is always my favorite. New beginnings, the promise of new adventures in the coming year, a big party to bring it all in. Well, in my case, the big party is–yes, again–skiing in upstate New York. I’ll ski all day and then maybe hang out in the main lodge to bring in midnight. The ski resort I go to has a torch light parade down one of the runs followed by fireworks at midnight. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate New Year’s, really; this is how I’ve spent it for the last three years now. I guess I cling to routine. But it’s nice to make my own traditions.

It looks like I’ve been conned persuaded to go to yet another U2 concert in the coming year. I was already going to two–E. Lansing, Michigan and Pittsburgh, PA–but one of the girls on a fan forum I frequent may have talked me into going to Philadelphia with her and a bunch of other forum girls. I just need to get another GA ticket that doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg since Ticketmaster is officially sold out on GA for that show. I would like to say that I’m considering this current dalliance into super-fandom research for my rock star story. Sadly, I think the real truth of the matter is, I’m a super-fan. Oh, boy. The last time I was this crazy for a musician was for The Monkees when I was a teenager. I guess I’ve at least advanced to real adult people music?

Anyway, the above-mentioned arm-twister on the forum photoshopped the picture below as part of her campaign.

Bono Asks Mars Girl To Go To Philly

One of the nicest things that happened was that this same girl also surprised me with an extra special gift in the mail. I’d been wanting this Edun scarf because, um, yeah, Bono is always wearing one. Ridiculous, right? Well, all the “Bonogirls”–the girls who worship at the altar of Bono–were buying these scarfs left and right. I’d wanted to get one too but because it was Christmas, I was refusing to buy it for myself. Well, Wednesday last week I get a package in the mail with the Edun label all over it. And I’m in a state of shock because obviously someone has bought it for me. I ripped open that box to find out it was this girl on the forum. She had my address because I participated in a holiday card exchange and she was one of the people with whom I exchanged cards. It was really a sweet thing for her to do and I was really touched. After thanking her profusely, I told her I would repay her generosity with a donation of an equal amount as the scarf to one of my favorite charities to pay forward the giving spirit she inspired (since she didn’t want anything in return). She was pleased. I was just really surprised by the random act of kindness from someone I only knew through online conversations. Amazing. Donation to charity or no, I still owe her a little something when we cross paths… I’ll have to come up with something good.

I have to admit… I feel a little sheepish admitting to the above paragraph (buying clothes to match my favorite rock star??). But I’ll own it because it’s true. But if I ever got to meet any member of U2, I would never admit to this in a million years… I feel like such a dork as it is. But I will not dress in “Bonowear” anywhere where I might run into him… such as a concert… no way!! (Um, yeah, I’m wearing a scarf from your wife’s clothing company because you’re always wearing one just like it….) Dork, dork, dork. I blame my sermon and my would-be rock star novel for this horrible failing in my character. At least I realize how ridiculous my behavior is…. However, that doesn’t seem to make me stop said behavior. Unfortunately. (Okay, it’s admittedly fun to freak geek out on something.)

So, 2011. What’s next? I’m still hoping for hotels in orbit. I’ll be the first one to pay for a trip off Earth for a week. Or two. Stop this planet, I want to get off!

Rock Star Names

So one of the projects I’m working on, in between writing my memoir, is a fiction story I’ve been playing with about a rock star (hhhhmmm, could this idea perhaps be inspired by a recent fervor for U2??). I don’t know quite yet what I’m doing with this story, but it currently feels like something that wants to be longer than a short story, which is bad because, not being a published writer, I really should be trying to write short stories since I’m much more likely to get a short story published than novel-length one. But at this moment, I’m not exactly writing this story for publication. It’s just something bumping around in my head and when I’m bored from trying to write about reality, it gives my mind something to ponder and allows me to practice some focused writing. It’s fun, anyway, so I’m going with it for now.

I acknowledge, however, that while I can come up with some really great ideas, the names of characters just sometimes don’t come to me. I’ve got the  name of my non-rock star female character…. however, I can’t come up with suitable rock star names. I wanted to do come up with a cool one-word name. Yes, kind of like Bono. But, let’s face it, there is no cooler or more unique rocker name than Bono.

Anyway, I’m looking for ideas. And so here’s your chance to participate. Give me some rock star names. I’m going to need 4 or 5  (I will have a full band, after all). I’ll entertain cool one word names or full first and last names. I’ll totally give you credit (a dedication perhaps?) should I ever take this “novel” anywhere further than the hard drive on my computer. Remember, this is a fun side project for me right now–a simple warm-up exercise for when I’m trying to get into writing mode. I don’t really even have much of a plot–just a beginning scene and a notion of how the story will end, no details in between.

Be creative and submit to me your ideas. They have to be better than the lame-o names I’ve come up with thus far. I don’t need a band name… have one! Feedback. And if you know the connection there, you win points for paying attention. (Hey, I have to pay homage to the source of my inspiration.)

As a side note, the other short fiction story I’d like to work on, which I started a year ago and never picked back up, is still in the hopper as well. Now if I could just get a gym membership (to maintain my happy endorphins) and some evenings to myself in which I’ve got my full energy, I just might be cooking with gas. Let’s not forget the ramp-up of haiku I must get going… if I’m going to attempt to compete in the Haiku Death Match (I keep saying “if” to remind myself that I’m not really committed to this event yet). I may not have fulfilled my goal of trying to get something published this year, but I’ve at least done some creative things (ie, my sermon) that’s gotten me out there a little bit creatively. The more I expose myself and writing, the less I’ll be afraid to put myself through the rigorous process of trying to get published. Eventually, I’ll get there. It’s not impossible. I’ve got the skills and talent. I know I do.