The Need To Read

Lately I have felt a nearly insatiable need to read. It started at the end of last year. 2015 was winding down and, as I am sure many people do, I was reflecting upon my accomplishments for the year. I had made headway in the revisions of my novel, I had run my first (and most likely last) 5K, but most importantly I had survived my first full calendar year as a mom. I was proud of what I had done, but there was one gaping hole in my list:

What Books Had I Read in 2015?

I searched my mind for recent stories. I came up with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and countless other children’s stories I had read aloud to my son.

No good. I was looking for “me books.”

I thought some more. A couple of stories popped into my head like California, and Guy In Real Life, but then I realized I had listened to both of those books (and a bunch more–like the entire series of the Demon Hunting Soccer Mom by Julie Kenner) as audiobooks. This was a little bit better – it means I had fed my brain some stories, but what practice did my eyes have in seeing words? The ultimate answer frightened me: none.

Is Any Excuse Acceptable?

This has happened to me before. I once went over two years without reading a single story (not even a children’s book). It was one of the most heartbreaking times of my life. When I came out the other side, I promised I would never – if I had the power to – allow it to happen again. That time I had a pretty good excuse: I was legally blind, I couldn’t see the words even though I wanted to.

What was my excuse this time? I was tired. Pathetic, I know. But to those who understand the term I will say this: I was parent-tired. Wait. It’s more than that. I was first-time-new-parent-tired. To those who have never walked that walk, I’m sorry, there are no words that can describe it . To those who have, I am sure you get why I have forgiven myself!

Reading Forward

Beyond forgiving myself, I also began to understand why the craving to sit in my armchair in my front window cuddled up with a book and no one else in the house was suffocating me. I looked at my nightstand – there sat the two books I had bought myself last year (I only bought two books?! Still shocking.): New Yorked by Rob Hart, a local author I wanted to support, and Go Set A Watchmen by Harper Lee, my heroine for life. It was time I picked one up and figured out how to read as a mommy. To my utter astonishment, local loyalty won the day – I picked up New Yorked and gobbled it whole (my review), and purchased the next book in the series. Then I found The Magicians by Lev Grossman, fell quickly into book love and then, most surprisingly of all an ARC of Lily and the Octopus was mailed to me and I fell into deep, deep agonizing book obsession. As a reader, I could safely say I was back on the wagon, but one thing was still amiss.

Where are my YA Reads?

I write YA. I need to read YA.

I didn’t know where to begin. I had been out of the loop too long. I know there is no such thing as “catching up” in the world of missed reads, but there must be some signpost to at least direct me to books I needed, right?

Right.

No. I am not kidding. I found it. Enter FOREVER YOUNG ADULT to my rescue.

http://foreveryoungadult.com/about

Their tagline: A site for YA readers who are a little less Y and a bit more A.
(image from their ABOUT page)

These wonderful people not only have the world’s best website for someone like me, they also have a BOOK CLUB! Here’s what they have listed for their upcoming reads:

March Selection: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir

April Selection: THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER by Sarah Dessen

May Selection: THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas

June Selection: DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy

July Selection: CARRY ON by Rainbow Rowell

August Selection: SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli

The best part? I have not read any of these yet. So…

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I’m ready!

April here I come. I basically ran to my bookstore to get this book. I have somehow missed out on reading any Sarah Dessen thus far in my life and I am looking forward to changing that!

My question:

WHO WANTS TO JOIN ME?

Looking for Magic from Elizabeth Gilbert

cover170x170This weekend I submitted my current creative issue to Elizabeth Gilbert in an application to be on this summer’s edition of her Magic Lessons podcast. I loved the topics she tackled last year, and have felt buoyed by all the advice she and her friends doled out. I knew I’d feel honored if I could get her advice on what holds me back – it just took me a little while to figure out what it was.

First, I thought it was my issue with becoming a “jack of all trades, but master of none.” Since my curiosity drives me in so many directions – writing, blogging, writing group, reading, etc – it often feels like my energies are being split. I wrote up the statement and let it sink in a bit more before sending it out. Then I realized, no – it’s not that exactly – it’s the balance of mommyhood and writing. The issue with my curiosity driving me in so many directions is that it steals time from my family! I wrote that statement up and thought about it some more.

Then it hit me: my passions will not drive me away from my family. My family is one of my passions, so that can’t be the source of my fear. When I cleared all the cobwebs enough to find the truth, I realized I am afraid that I will repeat my personal history. I am terrified I will drive myself back into the clutches of my chronic conditions (Intracranial Hypertension and Crohn’s disease) and right out of remission because I don’t know how to pace myself. I have no idea how to be patiently passionate. When it comes to my passions I don’t rest. I am driven – which should be good – but I only have so many spoons (see the story of the Spoonies – The Spoon Theory). I need to find a way to be patient with my passions.

With that discovery, I finally came up with the following 100-word statement I sent to Elizabeth Gilbert describing my plight:

I have a problem with being patiently passionate. I dive into my passions – body whole – and apologize for nothing sacrificed. I did his with teaching, for 12 years. My reward? It was amazing. I was amazing. Then I got sick, really sick. Hospitals, surgeries, blindness, leading to the defeat of applying for disability. This pheonix burned to ash and swore she’d be blown away until she found writing. After 6 years home I have two novel first drafts, a 22-month old son, and organize a writing group. I’m ready to fly. How do I save myself from burning?

My greatest fear is that there is no answer to this question. Or, to be more precise, my fear is that the answer is that I can not do it all. That I should – once again – accept the limitations my body has strung around my life. That I should settle for whatever little happiness it allows. My fear is that the real answer is: Be god-damned grateful that you got your sight back, that you have a son you started to think would never be possible, and STOP BEING GREEDY! This is what the voice says whenever I am feeling especially defeated.

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How I meditate

But there is another voice that is so persistent. It is the voice of my soul and, let me tell you, that little girl never shuts up. Years ago, when I first came home from teaching, I took a stab at meditating as part of the healing process. That’s when I first heard the mantra, “I am not my body, I am my soul.” Ever since my soul never shuts up about it. You are not your body, Nicole, let me do my thing! Nothing would make me happier than for her to be right. I am so rooting for her to win this fight. Here’s hoping that I am close to figuring out how to help her do so.

In the comments:

What holds you back from fulfilling your creative journey?

Have you listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast or read her book BIG MAGIC? What are your thoughts about her advice?

 

 

Constructing a Story from A to Z

This April I’m going to construct a story, sentence by sentence, right here on my blog using word prompts from a to z. I’ve been a big fan of the April’s A to Z Challenge for bloggers for years. It’s a fantastic way to test one’s blogging chops, get reconnected with fellow bloggers, and create a nice chunk of content for your personal blog. So, when it occurred to me that April was creeping around the corner, I started thinking about the possibility of throwing my hat in the ring, this time with my new blog.Only one question remained: what would be my theme? I hit the web looking for a writing challenge that was based in alphabet inspirations. Here’s what I found:

You start by coming up with a list of words, A-Z, for example: alligator, balloon, capital… Then once you have your list, come up with an original sentence using each word. Try to make them interesting and lengthy. You will end up with 26 original sentences. This is a good start, but if you want to do the full exercise, you must relate all the sentences together so they actually make a story. At the end you will have an original short story using words that start with every letter of the alphabet.

This is from the blog Connected Isolation.

This was perfect for me because, as a stay at home mom of a toddler, my world is filled with dangling alphabet words, and tons of board books on the subject. There is one book, in particular, that came to mind: ALPHABLOCK by Christopher Franceschelli. God help me, I purchased this beautiful book not knowing of its powers! Not only must we flip through this book on a daily basis, my son has it memorized – so even if the book is not on hand, we need to talk our way through all twenty-six words.

So I have my 26 words. This April I will create 26 separate sentences, hoping to interlock them into a short story – or at least the first draft of a story. I think it might be fun to watch the development of this from prompt, to sentences, to story, and then subsequent revisions. That is something I have longed to see from other writers – take me through your process! “They” say you must write the story you’ve been wanting to read, so here I’ll try to write the blog posts I have been looking for.

I hope you’ll join me for this April’s slow-motion start to a story’s birth. And then continue with me afterward as we re-read, rewrite, and revise the piece into something worthwhile. I’m looking forward to this!

I am entrant #1058 in a growing list of participants in the A to Z Challenge. To see the list to find other blogs to explore, or to enter yourself, head to the official A to Z Challenge (2016) Sign Up List.

In the comments section below, let me know what you think of this challenge. Have you done something like this before? Are you familiar with the ALPHABLOCK book? How would you go about selecting your 26 words if you took on this challenge?

Project Dawn – Day 1

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This is not glamorous.

I call this “Day 1” of my Project Dawn, but, really, this is at least my fourth try at this experiment.

What is Project Dawn? A desperate attempt to find the quiet time in my day to get some writing in – whether it is here on the blog, or devoting time to my fiction projects. You see, for the last 22 months, I have been struggling to find the quiet I once took for granted. Motherhood, in all its wonder, has its own special hum that permeates every waking hour of my day in ways I never once knew possible.

So I went to an expert, my best friend Dawn – mom for over a decade  – and asked her how the hell she gets everything done. Dawn is one of those miracle moms, who not only manages to keep her household afloat, with a husband who has many business trips throughout the year. two school-aged kids, and two extra-large dogs and a cat, but she also manages to do charitable work, cook exciting dinners, and – god help us all – she feeds her creative muse through exciting (and gorgeous!) DIY projects. And – oh yeah – she’s an avid golfer, who has garnered a respectable reputation on Twitter as a reputable voice in the golfing world. I figure, if she can do all that, I should be able to find a tiny bit of writing time for myself each day with my teacher husband who’s home by four daily, my ancient half-blind ShihTzu, and my one child who isn’t even two yet.

No excuses.

That was until Dawn gave me her secret, “Nicole, you have to wake up earlier.” She sounded just like my mother (which makes sense because my mom always loved Dawn, particularly because she was such a “good influence”). She half laughed at the suggestion, because she knew it was the last thing I wanted to hear, but she kept on, “There is no way to do everything while they are awake.” They being the family.

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This is my calendar.

I knew she was right. Nothing is quite like conquering your to-do list while the house sleeps. There was only one problem with Dawn’s suggestion – it pertained to the wrong end of my day. I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON (see embedded picture of the calendar I purchased for myself this year).

My greatest issue with being a writer-mommy has been that I have been unable to do what I do best: create into the wee hours of the morn! I am a night owl. In my 12 years of teaching, I’d work through the night, crashing at around 2, 3, or even 4 in the morning before catching a couple of hours of sleep and then heading to work ready to conquer the world.

But teaching was wildly different than motherhood. For one, I got breaks during the day. Secondly, I was a lot younger and healthier then too. My body is not interested in functioning on little sleep. This is, in fact, one reason I have been so uninterested in Dawn’s proposal. I mean who in their right mind would set an alarm to wake on a day they didn’t have to?!

Today’s answer? Me. Because, at the end of the day, when it is all said and done, I do have to. Not writing consistently for nearly two years now is grating on my soul. And, after actually making it to a #StoryDam chat last night on twitter, it appears more than a couple of writers find it to be the best way to approach our passion.

And then this one really caught my eye:

Because it didn’t only underscore Dawn’s sentiments, it expressed my deepest desires: to stop treating my writing like the ugly stepchild of my life, to give it my full energy and attention. I know, on the days I do that, it infuses everything else I do with joy no matter how tired I am.

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Don’t you wake up tiny mister!

 

So here I am – an hour and half into my early wake up on Project Dawn Day 1. I didn’t wake at dawn, as I originally tried and failed to do. I woke with my husband, made him coffee, said good-bye and sat down to write, while the baby and the dog slept. Sure, I’m clinging tightly to the cup o’ joe I made for myself, and there are an infinite number of chores I could have done in this time, but no. I am so happy right now. This was the right thing to do. Thanks, Dawn – though I won’t wake with the sunrise, my project keeps it’s name in honor of you. Lord knows my mom would be proud today.


In the comments below:

Fellow writers, when do you find/make your writing time?

Fellow mommies, when do you find your quiet time?

To the morning people reading: any advice for surviving this new way of life?