What I Was And What I Am Not Anymore

Past tense carries so much weight these days.

I was pregnant.

Can you read between the lines there? Do you see what I am telling you now?

I am not pregnant.

This is not the grand announcement I was hoping to make. This ordinary declaration lacks the celebration I was looking so forward to sharing with the world.

For seventeen weeks and four days I was pregnant. I was filled with extra life, a second heartbeat, a fever for the future that would never quite come to pass. Every ultrasound reinforced my confidence that I could dare to believe in happily ever after again.

I saw his hands, his feet, his nose, his cheeks, his brain… all perfect. I heard his heartbeat… strong and fast just like his brother’s was years before. I was certain we were walking in those beautifully set tracks on my previous journey through an unexpectedly perfectly healthy pregnancy. All the wonder was so familiar. The joy sprung up. The fear dissipated.

I allowed myself to dream of filling this house with more chaos. I vividly saw my two boys tumbling through these rooms, climbing all over this furniture, tearing out into the yard, down the block, into the woods, playing hide and go seek, manhunt, and riding through the streets on their bikes until the sun went down. I saw Alexander smothering his little brother with suffocating kisses and hugs that were too rough. I saw myself exasperated with their energy, struggling to keep up — laughing and sighing my way through my days sustaining myself through double the little boy bear hugs, double the kisses, double the dirt, and double the giggles. I saw my husband being transformed into a human jungle gym, while he battled to introduce both of his sidekicks to all the superheroes the world had to offer — both fictional and factual. I saw his boys listening intently, secretly believing their daddy was the greatest superhero of them all.

I took tests out of precaution. I optimistically denied any option for bad news — sure, my body had a history of throwing some pretty nasty curve balls, but it knew how to build a healthy baby boy. I looked forward to the easy confirmation that all was well.

Calls came in. There was “an anomaly,” she said. I never heard of trisomy 18 before. Another rare disease, I thought, my body likes those… I asked her to repeat it, unsure I heard the words correctly. She sounded so sad, so apologetic, even though the test wasn’t diagnostic. “It could be a false-positive,” she said.

Then

why

did she sound

so

sad?

I was shaken, but sure my funky body was just throwing some curves the blood test didn’t understand. Trisomy 18 was bad news — particularly for boys — but my boy was strong, healthy, perfect. My conclusion? This was a false-positive.

I scheduled an amnio. I needed the test that had real answers. I needed the science to show the world where all my confidence came from. He was fine. The greatest horror was the risk of the amnio. We just had to get through the test. Minutes before the test, in the quiet of the tiny hospital bathroom, I cradled my bulging belly and told my little boy, “We’ve got this, Baby. Nothing to be afraid of…

Mommy’s here to protect you.”

I wiped the tears from my eyes, certain I fixed it all, certain my maternal power was omnipotent.

It was a lie to us both.

I had no idea.

Neither did anyone else. There were no complications during the test. In fact, the test went perfectly. My baby boy looked as healthy as ever. The doctor and the nurse both smiled. “Everything looks really good!” was said a number of times. The sadness from the previous calls had evaporated. My team of confidence was building.

We were winning.

Everything

was

fine.

Valentine’s Day struck the final blow. The results were in. Full trisomy 18 present. Translation: you will lose this baby. Only one torturous question remained:

When?

I only had to ask that question for four days.

That question only existed when I was pregnant. There were no more questions on the February 18, 2017, just one more angel in my army. Just one more soul to miss, because, on that day,

I

wasn’t

pregnant

anymore.

Nobody worked harder than me…

“Nobody worked harder than me today.” – Saul Blinkoff

There was a time in my life when I felt I could honestly say this same statement aloud without any judgement against those others who didn’t work as hard, and without any complaints about the insane amount of work I had been doing. That time was when I was a teacher. And I’ll bet, if you asked anyone who worked with me, or anyone who knew me at the time, they’d be perfectly okay with agreeing to this sentiment.

While I was never a morning person, part of the reason for that was that I was up to all hours of the night writing and rewriting lessons and activities for my classes, or prepping professional development for the teachers I was working with. I stayed in the school building long after all other educational personnel had left, befriending the custodial staff near my classrooms. I volunteered to advise weird and wonderful afterschool clubs. I called homes, wrote letters to parents, tutored kids, rewrote lesson plans with teachers, practiced activities with them, and I had fun doing it all. It’s just what I did. It’s how I worked. I knew no other way.

Then I got sick – a fact it took me a very long time to admit. Ultimately, I had to be hospitalized for me to face the truth. Well… I had to be hospitalized and then go into deep denial for about a year, and then I faced the truth. The point is, I got sick and I couldn’t work harder than anybody. In fact, I couldn’t work. It didn’t matter anymore how passionate I was about my teaching, my body wasn’t up for it. At all.

So, here I am, at home finally in remission, dancing around a new passion and wondering if I have what it takes. I’m wondering when I am going to, again, be able to go to bed each night saying those beautiful words:

Nobody worked harder than me today.

I want that feeling back. I miss it desperately. And every time I remind myself of how fulfilling that feeling was, a small, annoying voice pipes up with this bit of stupidity: That’s what got you sick.

Look, I can’t deny three and a half years of doing literally nothing every single day just to give my body the time and space it needed to heal. I can’t deny the treatments, the specialists, the doctor visits, the hell of all that time when getting healthy became my one and only full time job. I can’t deny the scar over my left eyelid where my doctor sliced me open so he could gain access to my optic nerve to cut some holes in it just to save whatever vision I had left. I can’t deny the actual blindness I experienced – the two years of being physically incapable of reading printed words. I can’t deny the tears from the pain, the loneliness, and all the confusion stemming from my rare disease.

I can’t deny any of it. What’s even more, I won’t deny it. But, here’s something new, I don’t think I am going to own it either. No one knows what caused my disease. Why the hell does that little voice think it is such an expert where countless medical experts fail? My work, my passion, my joy did NOT make me sick. It made me me. Writing also makes me me. I love this tap, tap, tapping at my keyboard. I love configuring letters in such a way to create mental pictures for those who look at them. What beautiful magic!

Here’s what I know:

Writing will never make me sick. Writing is the cure.

PitchWars Hard Work: “Killing” Mrs. Krimble

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Mrs. Krimble hanging strong in Chapter 1

“Kill your darlings,” they say. But Mrs. Krimble? I was so resistant to the idea. Austin Aslan, my PitchWars mentor was wise to introduce this murderous concept to me only a little bit at a time. “Killing” Mrs. Krimble was a concept I was slow to warm to. But, when I opened the email with my second wave of edits and I was forced to ask myself  again if I was willing to strike her from my story, I was surprised by my own enthusiasm. Oh heck yes! The woman has to go.

You see, ladies and gentlemen, my current young adult manuscript had entirely too much adult in it. No, I don’t mean racy-type content! I mean honest-to-goodness grown ups. Austin has been gracious enough to point this out to me before my book got laughed out of every opportunity in its possible future.

So the question I was left asking myself was Why? Why on Earth did I feel it was necessary to include so many adult figures in my novel about, and for, young adults (it was actually laughable when I read through the comments of a chapter where Austin pointed out their EVERY occurrence!)? I have (currently) come up with two working theories: 1. Nostalgia and/or 2. Need.

Nostalgia

One of the things I loved about Mrs. Krimble and her presence in the novel was how much it reminded me of the stories I enjoyed when I was younger. Of course, this is ridiculous, because when I actually try to remember an ADULT from one of the stories I enjoyed in my youth I CAN NOT THINK OF ONE. So, perhaps, I should chalk up this one to DELUSION. The fact is Mrs. Krimble didn’t remind me of stories I read when I was younger, she reminded me of the life I had when when I was younger. This leads me to theory #2.

The second theory holds a lot more weight. A lot.

Need

I drafted this story in 2012. At that time in my life I wanted nothing more than an adult to swoop into my life and take over. Since my mom’s passing in 2006 (my dad had passed away long before in 1988), my life had taken a more insane turn for the worse. image

I lost numerous health battles and, in turn, my career. My independence was gone — I was physically and financially dependent on others for a number of years. Everything about my life screamed childhood except for the expectations of the society around me. The world saw a thirty-something and expected me to behave that way, meanwhile, I was busy trying to learn how to walk again, how to see, read, and cope. I felt like an infant finding her way into the world, but the bills kept coming, the decisions still had to be made, I still had a husband, and a house, and all the grown up things that came with them. Life kept moving forward. I took baby steps forward, but I was always looking for the missing component: where were the grown ups who would take the lead? Where were the people who knew what to do? I craved their authority. Reading my manuscript now, that is glaringly obvious. If I couldn’t ride out my life trauma under the protection of my grown ups, well, at least I could give that gift to my protagonist.

I do believe we writers write what we need to. Our stories, either directly or indirectly, tackle the issues that plague us individually. This is why fiction resonates with us so deeply — why it makes us empathetic — because as fictional as the tale may be the truth that simmers beneath sings from the author’s soul to the reader’s.

The Ultimate Conclusion

My grown ups aren’t coming back. Living without them forced me into every raw, jagged edge life had to offer. I tripped. I fell. I scraped my knees and my soul. I lived. I became stronger. I redefined who I was.I — gasp! — grew up.

And you know what I realized? I owe all of this to my protagonist and my future readers. Here’s hoping I succeeded.

Now back to my writing…

 

 

Forty

***

It is my belief that sometimes you have to write something that has nothing to do with your work in progress just so you can spill out all the thoughts standing in your story’s way. This post is one such example of that “necessary” writing.

***

fortyNext week I will be forty years old.

It’s a big deal. Forty’s an age I have thought about for a large portion of my life, not in some sort of fear of aging, but, rather in a question as to whether I’d be granted that opportunity.

Forty is an age that was seared onto my soul almost twenty-eight years ago, when I learned that forty years might be all you ever get. It was all my father got. In 1988, on Thanksgiving, my father died at forty years old. On that day my mother became a widow and a single mother of two at forty years old. Forty, by my calculation, was a life-altering stage.

For a long, long time I imagined it was all the life I’d get. I mean, why not? When your first true love, your father, the strongest human alive, is so suddenly ripped from existence with no warning, why would you dare to expect more? As I mourned him I began to tell myself that he lived a full and complete life in his forty years.

I have carried an enormous boulder upon my back for a very long time. THE FORTY ROCK of sadness, guilt, and lost tomorrows. I’m going to let it go now. I’m going to let it roll down the mountain I’ve been climbing. Forty is no longer a destination. It is a stepping stone.

Here is the rock I’ll be stepping on:

My father was an admired and respected teacher. He was a deeply loved friend, son, brother, husband, and, of course, father. He took pride in his home, took joy in his family, and was an active participant in life.

nytEvery morning he’d sit at our kitchen table with a cup of coffee, buttered rye toast, and the day’s New York Times. “All the news that’s fit to print!” I’d read aloud off the front page when I’d wake to find him there. Either he’d leave to pick up the carpooling bunch of coworkers on their way to Brooklyn, or a horn would beep from someone else’s car to pick him up. And each school day, like clockwork, at 4PM my father would come in the door, never bringing an ounce of work home — that was our time. Every night, when I’d go looking to find him for a goodnight hug and kiss I’d find him standing by the kitchen counter, scooping out some Breyer’s Vanilla Fudge Swirl for himself.

Unless it was Wednesday.

Wednesday nights were poker nights, rotated weekly from our basement to each of  the other guy’s houses. When it was in our house kisses and hugs would happen before the game and  I’d fall asleep smelling the smoke of cigarettes and pipes billowing up the stairs, and hearing laughter, ice clinking in glasses, and shouts of celebration and defeat.

On Saturday mornings my father slept late. My brother and I — after watching our recording of Star Wars and all the Saturday morning cartoons we could find, would run into our father’s bed and tackle him awake. This was completely justified for all of the “treatments” — kid-friendly versions of wrestling moves from his high school days — our father used on us whenever it delighted him to do so. Sunday mornings we went to church where every other parishioner seemed to know my parents and greeted them with a smile. In the afternoon, we’d feed the ducks, head to the comic book shop, then the deli, and finally back home where dad would make glorious salami sandwiches on twisted, seeded Italian bread which we would eat with ice filled glasses of coke and a side of potato chips.He coached our baseball and soccer teams, swam in the pool with us, took us to the beach, showed us how to shoot, how to fish, took us for long walks in the woods, played racquetball with friends, was a pathetic chef, but brilliant on the grill. He brought home books from his school library that were above my grade level but he knew I could read. He was sure we’d make millions from our baseball card collection, or some perfect find in all of our antique store hunts. He had a song for every word you uttered, and his voice was wonderful.

My father’s laugh and smile live on in the hearts and souls of all people who knew him. He took his short forty years and made them matter in the most important ways. From my perspective he lived one of the fullest lives I know. When friends and family speak to me of him their initial tears are almost always drowned in bouts of laughter from memories shared with the man they loved. I listened to their stories, I gathered up my own memories, I painted a picture of the giant missing from my life.

I started to tell myself forty years might be enough.

And, up until a couple of years ago I believed that, while my father must have been as flawed as any human being is, he had it all figured out. That he didn’t need any more time on this Earth to determine the meaning and purpose of life itself. He, the great wonder in my twelve years on this Earth, had all the answers to living. I was a child when he passed — who doesn’t think these things of their parents at that age? The thing is, when one of those parents is not around to demonstrate their own floundering in the icky mess of life, those beliefs hang on long after all logic should correct them. Only when I almost spent as much time on the planet as he did, did I realize — oh my god — he never even had a chance.

I don’t feel that I have lived as ferociously as my father did in the forty years I have been given. Perhaps my circumstances did not allow it — my finances, my health, my insecurities — but I still can’t imagine that his forty years allowed him to walk anymore confidently on this planet than I do right now. He was only forty, and now, as I approach that age myself, I finally understand what all those grown ups meant when they’d say he was so young. Forty years is a long time to a twelve year old, but, to this thirty-nine year old (yeah, yeah, yeah I’ll hang tight to it for a couple more days), it is but a teaser trailer for life.

So, while I lived most of the time since losing my father thinking that I shouldn’t dare wish to get any more than he had, now I demand, for both our sakes, that I get the whole damn package. I have barely started living! My heart breaks now in the full comprehension of the loss suffered when my father died. I once mourned solely because I missed my father, now I mourn for all that he missed.

Because, for me, I’m pretty sure forty is just the beginning.

Forty… I like the way it sounds.

Next week I will be forty years old. It’s a big deal.  And here’s the kicker: I’m really excited to be turning forty. So much good is happening in my life right now I have no choice but to be happy to be forty. I’m pretty sure the best is yet to come.

If my life didn’t already feel like it was going in that direction, I had a fortune cookie basically tell me so. A little while ago, right around last Thanksgiving (I’m only noticing that irony now!), I got a fortune cookie that made me realize how backward my thinking has been. Yeah. A damn fortune cookie. Here’s a picture of the fortune and my caption from Instagram on Dec. 8, 2015:

fortune

  • nv_rivera“The best times of your life have not yet been lived.”
    I got this fortune last week. Upon reading it I was struck dumb.
    This concept was not even hinted at in my own personal belief system.
    I couldn’t help but beat myself up — how did I not feel this way when getting married? How dare I not feel this way when my son was born!
    Through a ton of reflection I have come to recognize why, and when, this probably started.
    In November 1988 I began to believe I would have a great life, that I would be happy, but it would never be whole. My father died, my family was broken. Therefore, the best times — the times when we were all together — had already been lived, and I should just make the best of what was ahead of me.
    I was 12. I was happy, I have always been happy, and lucky for the life I have had, but, in reading this fortune I realize that a quiet voice inside has always told me this was because I have made some sort of internal compromise to not expect it ever to be as good as it once was, when I was a child in a family of four.
    Wow. That’s sad.
    So here I am now. I am 39 years old and I just found out that the best times of my life have not yet been lived.
    Awesome.
    I can’t wait!
    #paradigmshift

The best times of your life have not yet been lived. Imagine that.

Here

I

Come!

PitchWars Step 1: Acceptance

I wrote the following post the moment I realized I was picked as a 2016 PitchWars Mentee. I was so overwhelmed with all the feels that I actually forgot to press publish at the end of writing it.
I am going to try to keep everyone updated as much as possible here on my progress, but, being realistic about things, there is a lot to do and my WIP will take precedence while I have this opportunity before me. For real time freak-outs, distractions and probably lots of pics of what I’m doing, feel free to follow me on Twitter @nv_rivera and Instagram @nv_rivera.

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Fourth name down.

Terri-happy? Happified? No. Maybe Happy-terror. I don’t know that there is a name for this feeling, but this feeling is real. It is reserved for the really big moments in life. The one most recent in my life was when I realized I was pregnant with my son. But there were others. Getting hired as a high school math teacher and getting married both come to mind. The commonality in all of these moments is that they were monumental, they were dreams realized, they were accomplishments in their own right, but they were not destinations. Every single one of them was a dream of mine and each one represented the moment those dreams were realized, but every single one signified an enormous amount of work in front of them.

Today is another one of those days. Today I became a mentee in PitchWars. In entering this contest and winning a spot I accepted an offer to work on my novel to take it to the next step on the publishing trail. Today I must accept the fact that someone saw potential in my words. Today I have signed up for an enormous amount of work.

I am ecstatic.

I am horrified.

I am ready.

And I am completely unprepared, just as unprepared as I was for parenthood. I brought a baby home with no idea what came next and, once again, I stare – optimistically – into the void and tell myself ONE STEP AT A TIME.

The tears flow for every reason tears ever flow and what’s wonderful is that one of those reasons is joy.

I find myself saying this a lot, but I am one lucky girl.

Much love and gratitude goes out to Austin Aslan, author and hiker extraordinaire, who picked me to be his mentee in PitchWars. I’m sure you will be hearing a lot more about him as I continue on this journey.

 

Main Character Role Playing

Particularly when writing novel length works, role playing with your characters is an incredibly useful tool. I have not done it often enough and, when given the opportunity to last weekend during the #STORYCRAFTER Twitter chat hosted by Faye Kirwin (@Writerology), I nearly missed it!

A brief tale about my near failure:

It was Sunday, 3:30PM Eastern time when I checked into twitter and noticed that the #STORYCRAFTER chat had begun. It was a half hour in, but I decided to play catch up – i.e. scroll through and answer the three missed questions and then tune into the rest of the chat live. In my rush I missed all the tweets that came before Q1, most notably this pretty clear one from John Cordial (@john_cordial):

Role Play_CpRypLCUAAAV9Ju

It is for this reason that

  1. I was very confused by everyone else’s responses once I started to catch up, and
  2. I nearly missed the value of this exercise.

After coming to my senses (Q5!!), I tweeted Faye to ask her if it would be okay if I “stole” her questions to do a blog post with the answers from my character. She happily agreed, so here we go.

(Note: All pictures from this point forward are from Faye Kirwin’s twitter stream. The #STORYCRAFTER chat is beautifully presented each week with pictures just like this. It is an added perk to the overall experience.)

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To begin I will give you a very brief intro to the character whose “voice” you will be reading from this point forward.

16 year old Natalie Turner never knows what to say. Talia Turner, on the other hand, is an incredibly popular blogger who’s witty, insightful, and trending. You’d never know they were the same person. She is the protagonist of my WIP that I submitted to #PitchWars last week. The book is currently titled GIRL UNPLUGGED. It is a YA novel.

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Twitter @Writerology Aug 7, 2016

A1: After seeing so many people lose everything when the hurricane hit, I learned that my home is just a place. My deep connection is to my peeps – my online peeps (Check out my blog – TURNER’S TALES after this chat!) and my IRL peeos: my mom, my dad, lil’ bro Roger, and my bestie Amy.

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A2: The only move I’ve had to deal with was Amy’s. When Hurricane Imelda hit Staten Island, her house was destroyed. She lives in south Jersey now, but me? Still in the house I was born in.

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A3: I’d love someone to invent some sort of house-wide volume control or something. I love my fam and everything, but I am NOT a morning person and these people start every day with a bang – blow dryers, TVs (yeah, that’s plural), radios, and beeps all over the place. It’s a complete sensory overload.

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A4: It’s gotta be the time during the hurricane when Amy and her mom stayed with us during the evacuation (her dad stayed behind). After Amy and I got over our devastation that we were missing the back-to-back season premieres of Wolf Nights and Barista Boys due to the blackouts, we found some fun. Me, Amy and Rog spent the days staying up late and hanging in the backyard. I have never seen the stars like that!

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A5: Right now? I don’t want to sound like a complete dork, but I wish Amy and I could just live closer together again. I’m sort of hopeless without her. Amy was the people-person out of the two of us. Brace yourself for this , peeps, I am super shy in real life. Since Amy moved it’s been weird, or maybe I’ve been weird, I don’t know…

Anyway – back on topic – I’d really hate to leave Staten Island, but maybe I could get used to another place too. As for the future, Amy and I have dreams of getting a cool loft in Brooklyn when we graduate.

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A6: Lol! This is hilarious – all I can think of is how it should be a quiet place where someone could sleep in if they wanted to!

But seriously… home needs to be safe. I’m all for the nice views and being close to the beach and all, but people need to stop building houses where they know they are in danger. Amy’s entire neighborhood was under water during Hurricane Imelda! People can’t say they didn’t know, either, the same thing happened with Hurricane Sandy! I didn’t lose anything with Hurricane Imelda, but I saw the horror of Amy’s loss. And, you know what? I did lose something. I lost my best friend. No one should have to go through that.


And that’s it from Natalie! If you have any more questions for Natalie, please feel free to ask in the comments, I’m always curious to find out more about her.

Also, if you have your own main character you’d like to role play with in a blog post, go for it, just tweet a link out to @Writerology with the #STORYCRAFTER hashtag, so the community can check it out.

Finally, if Sunday afternoons are free for you, do yourself a favor, follow @Writerology and check into the #STORYCRAFTER chat on Twitter. Always great questions and a great crowd.

#PitchWars – Let’s DO This!

Okay. I need a moment. I’m about to submit my application to #PitchWars.

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What is Pitch Wars, you ask? In short, it is an insanely cool contest for writers who are ready to seek representation for a work in process. But, for all the nitty-gritty details, please see Brenda Drake’s post all about the contest. Brenda hosts this contest, as well as many others throughout the year. (If you are a writer and you are not familiar with the name Brenda Drake yet, I highly advise that you change that immediately!)

I made a promise to myself New Year’s Day. I promised myself that I would take my novel GIRL UNPLUGGED to the next stage. 2016 was going to be query-year. I found beta readers, I did rewrites, I took a webinar on queries, went to a one-day conference on pitches, and I wrote my letter. I even purchased The Writer’s Market for agents. I was holding to my promise, I was going to send at least one query before 2017.

Then I stumbled across the hashtag #PitchWars while on Twitter. I investigated and found it was a contest to win a mentor — a live human being, who’s a published author — to spend TWO MONTHS working WITH ME on my book, my pitch, and my query letter. I have no idea if I will win a spot, but lord knows I had to try.

So here it goes.

I’m about to hit send. and I’m nervous as hell.

Wish me luck. Send the good vibes.

#PitchWars Let’s DO this!

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Honoring my Reality as a Mommy-Writer

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300The DIY MFA book by Gabriela Pereira is coming out soon. I was lucky enough to gain access to an advanced copy and I am loving it. I have been a fan of Gabriela since stumbling upon her DIYMFAradio podcast after reading an article of hers in WRITER’S DIGEST. One of the things that hooked me from the get-go was Gabriela’s philosophy of writers having to “honor their reality.” As a voracious reader of books on the craft of writing and memoirs of authors concerning their writing life, I started to beat myself up over my inability to “fit in” to any of their writing worlds. I started to think, If I can’t write like them, if I can’t create writing schedules like them, then maybe I can’t be a writer at all.

Thanks to Gabriela I learned that I don’t need to fit into anyone else’s mold of what writing is. I learned that I needed to honor MY reality.

Gabriela’s third question to the DIYMFA Street Team dealt with this topic head-on.

QOTW 3: Tell a story about a time when you had to honor your reality.

unnamed(1)My reality has been a bit of a bitch. Please excuse my French, but there it is. I “became” a writer in the midst of the worst of it – two chronic conditions were kicking my butt, threatening my vision and had already stolen the career of my dreams. I was home, on disability, lonely, sick, and scared. I started writing. There was no big publishing end goal – there was only a desire to connect with humanity. There was also a desire to prove that I still mattered. The words came, my story was told, and then I began to make up other stories. Writing filled my days and nights. Audiobooks fueled my imagination and the Internet kept me connected.

There was no question of when or how I would write, I just did. It was all I could do in the beginning – with my zoomed computer screens and inability to walk without getting dizzy – there was no question of honoring my reality, my reality offered me nothing else. For this reason, since writing came as easily as I desired it, I never foresaw the obstacles that may arise in my writing in my future.

In 2013, with both of my chronic conditions deciding to take five at the same time, I became pregnant. I felt healthier than I had in YEARS. It was magnificent for so many reasons. I laughed. I danced. I partied. I enjoyed every aspect of life but one:

I could not write.

I couldn’t tell you why. My theory is that my creative energies were too focused on the human-building project within me, but I have no scientific proof that such things happen. At first I battled. I tried forcing myself to the page. I began so many stories and finished none. I continued attending my writing group meetings, but not regularly. The guilt crept in, but then the joy overwhelmed it. I can’t say that I honored my reality at that time, I was too busy celebrating it.

I didn’t discover DIYMFAradio until my son was already born. It was a year after he was born and the writing was still spotty. I had told myself that the path to being the best mother was being the best me. I told myself I needed to embrace my writing for my son’s sake. All of that clicked and made sense, but the writing was still not coming – that’s when the guilt came in. That’s when I looked to other’s writing lives and wondered why I couldn’t fit mine in. Just about when it was all about to crush me I heard Gabriela’s podcast episode about Honoring your reality.

I reassessed my situation: giving birth, no sleep, breastfeeding, no sleep, fever/sickness, surgery, colicky baby, teething baby, exhaustion, quality time with my son, old illnesses reemerging, new ailments presenting themselves, juggling chores with a newborn… my reality had a lot going on. A lot of brand new things showed up that required my attention to ensure I learned the new rules. I decided to give myself a break. I was still a writer, but I needed a bit of a sabbatical to figure out what had become of my life.

My guilt was lifted. I told myself my job was to look for where I could fit writing into my new life – little by little – and to practice new routines. I scheduled writing group meetings that worked for my whole family and made those days a priority for me.

My son just turned two and sometime since he was born and now I have done three revisions on a novel I wrote before he was born. I have already pitched it and I have plans to begin the query process before the end of the year. I can honestly say that if I did not allow myself the time and space to honor my reality, none of this would have happened. I would still be spinning the wheels of guilt trying to figure out why I have not been as productive as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman!

QUESTIONS:

Do you honor your reality?

Have you ever looked to someone else’s writing life as a model to follow? Whose life? How did it go?

 

How Did I Become a Writer?

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300This summer Gabriela Pereira will be releasing her DIYMFA book. I am super excited for it because I have been a fan of DIYMFA and DIYMFA radio for quite some time. As we build toward the release of this book, Gabriela has asked us to answer some questions about our own writing journey. Here is question #2:

QOTW 2: How did you become a writer?

imageIt is without question or pause that I say I was born a creator. Invention, the arts, storytelling – they all spoke to me. I had dreams of being a scientist, a journalist, an artist, and, above all – the one that won the day – a teacher. I never dreamed of “being a writer.” Even as a child I had no concrete idea of its possibility. I loved books. I even loved inventing stories to entertain my little brother, but the idea of making writing a part of my life plan wasn’t something I ever consciously thought about.

And, yet, it permeated every stage of my life. In my elementary years I invented stories for my younger brother and loved my creative writing assignments. In middle school and high school I constantly wrote endless “notes” to my friends, and kept a diary. In high school I added to that by writing poetry. In college the poems continued and the emails began. Upon graduating I found a job as a high school mathematics teacher – a place often bereft of writing – but I wedged it in. I created math worlds for my students with characters and problems of their own, inciting them to mathematical action in order to save said worlds. When illness stole that life from me I found my salvation online where I first wrote my story of loss, and then began to create fictional tales as well. It was then, when every other mark of my identity had been torn from me, that it finally occurred to me that – maybe – I was a writer. And, when my son was born two years ago, I decided that part of being the best mother possible meant being the truest form of myself possible. In searching my soul for the answer to what that meant, one answer rang truest:

I must write.

So when the question is asked of me: “Nicole, how did you become a writer?” there are a number of answers, but the truest one of all is that I became a writer by allowing my truest self free.

 

QUESTIONS:

When did you become a writer? Was there an exact moment that you can point to?

If you have long thought about becoming a writer, but have been holding back, why? What is stopping you from being a writer?

Why I DIY my MFA

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300This summer Gabriela Pereira will be releasing her DIYMFA book. I am super excited for it because I have been a fan of DIYMFA and DIYMFA radio for quite some time. In an effort to boost our excitement about the book’s release Gabriela has asked some of us on her DIYMFA Street Team to answer some questions and share those answers with the world. As with all things in my life, I have been running a little late with these answers, but here’s my stab at question #1.

Question of the Week: Have you ever thought about getting an MFA? If so, did you pursue it? (And what was that experience like?) If not, what have you been doing instead to enhance your writing education?

WHY I DIYMFAAs a former educator, my love affair with school seemed to have no end. I was addicted to education. I stepped out of college, got a job as a teacher, and spent every single summer off in another school of higher education learning more and more and more.

Then I got sick and everything had to stop.

When I was home, recovering, I found my writer’s voice. I began to blog, and stretch myself creatively. I loved what I was doing, but felt like a fraud. I called myself an “aspiring writer” – as if the act of writing itself did not bestow the title upon me. I started to research my educational options – where could I go to become a writer? That was when I learned about MFA programs.

I’d scroll through admissions pages, program descriptions, and I would dream. In between I would fraudulently continue to write – not only on my own blog, but now on other people’s blogs! What was I thinking? At every step I’d think, I have to start applying, but there were so many obstacles – my finances and inconsistent health leading the pack.

I couldn’t stop writing, though. I was drawn to it with such a ferocity. I started reading books about the craft, following writers and becoming friends with writers online, and then I joined writer’s communities. Online I became a member and writer for StoryDam, in “real life” I joined a local writer’s group.

I kept aspiring to be a writer. By writing. Then one day someone on Twitter saw that “aspiring writer” description in my bio and they called me on it. It was in the middle of one of #StoryDam’s weekly chats. The person asked why I wrote that I was an aspiring writer. They asked, “Do you write?”

I said something like, “Well, on my blog, sometimes.”

And they said that they didn’t care if it was on a scrap of paper that no one would ever see. If I wrote, then I was a writer. They explained that I was confusing the term writer with published author.

And they were right.

I started to wonder what else I was confused about. Did I really need an MFA to accomplish my goals? The answer was a resounding no. While I will never rule out anything completely, I can say that I now understand that I was never truly addicted to education – I have been, and always wil be, addicted to learning, and learning can happen anywhere!

So while I wait for my finances to bounce back, my health to cooperate, or my son to be old enough to not need me 24/7, I have found countless ways to create my own writing education through podcasts, books, magazines, and a writing community. Anyone can do it, and you can personalize it your own needs. It’s pretty awesome. Just to give you a taste of where I find these inspirations right now, here are some of my favorite resources in each of those categories:

PODCASTS FOR WRITERS

  • DIYMFA radio – obviously one of my favorites. Gabriela has great interviews with creatives, and a number of episodes focused on writing tips of her own.
  • Writers on Writing – each episode has two interviews with current published authors, focusing discussion on the craft of writing.
  • Magic Lessons – this podcast will be coming back this summer, but in the meantime, treat yourself to going back to the beginning and listening to all that Elizabeth Gilbert has to offer. Each episode Gilbert helps an author with an issue blocking them creatively. She follows up each discussion with the writer in need, with an interview from a professional who can give targeted advice to the person she’s helping. There is too much awesome in these episodes!

BOOKS

  • On Writing by Stephen King – not a how-to manual, by any means. This man is a writing monster. However, it is an inspiration to read, and has lots of great tips about how to get through big writing projects.
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg – a really fast read filled with gems to wake up your muse.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – this book is the perfect follow up to On Writing, or at least it was for me. Lamott is (probably unintentionally) brilliantly forgiving when she describes the reality of “shitty first drafts.” She drives a perfect balance between the splendor and torture of the writing life.
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – well, I can’t recommend the podcast, and then not recommend the book that inspired it, can I? I listened to the audiobook version of this book – it is every kind of wonderful for all creative souls, not just writers.

MAGAZINES

  • WRITERS DIGEST – I don’t subscribe for one reason: I like to have something to grab when I sit down at the cafe in the bookstore. I grab it, sit down with it, and tell myself I will leave it there so I’ll have something to read when I come back. That never works. I buy it. Every time. The articles are that good.

WRITING COMMUNITIES

  • StoryDam – this is a great, relaxed online writing community that holds weekly Twitter chats on Thursday nights at 8PM EST. Follow along with #StoryDam to see all of us checking with each other throughout the week, but be sure to tune in Thursday night to make some fantastic connections.
  • 10MinNovelists – another great online community that also has a presence on Twitter – and a Thursday night chat (9PM EST), but I tend to connect with them more on Facebook. Either way, this is a growing group of writers at all differnt levels who are very active all week long.
  • My local writing group – nothing, and I do mean NOTHING has helped me grow more as a writer than my own group of humans that I meet face to face with on a monthly (if not more frequently) basis. I wrote a series of blog posts about putting together and maintaining a writing group, so if you don’t have one yet, you might want to check those posts out.

 

So, if you are waiting for your acceptance into the writing community, and looking for where you can learn more, join me in our endeavors to create our own, personalized education!