Writing the Hard Stuff

I wrote fiction for NaNoWriMo 2019 because my memoir writing has been in a slump. During November, I noticed a February writing workshop in Portland, Oregon with two of my favorite memoirists, Pam Houston and Stephanie Land. Their topic? ”Getting the hard thing, the meaty thing, the painful thing, the unspeakable thing down on the page in a way that others can have emotional access to it.”

Interesting.

My mother passed 34 years ago succumbing to hypothermia on a frigid February North Dakota day. February also claimed the life of my step-brother who passed unexpectedly four years ago. The last straw was two years ago when my father passed on February 2nd. February has weighed heavy on my bones since my mother’s passing, but I once my father passed, the gloves were off. I dubbed the month FuckUary.

So when I saw the title of the workshop ”Getting It Onto the Page, Getting It Out In The World,” I didn’t hesitate. I signed up and made my travel plans.

I’m under no illusion that the skies will open and writing nirvana will commence, but I’m open to being a sponge. This weekend, I’m reclaiming February from the clutches of grief.

Regardless of the outcome, that will be a win in my book.

Sunday Salute: Sergeant Lena Riggi Basilone

Lena_Riggi-BasiloneI became intrigued by Lena Riggi Basilone’s story when I read a post about her on the Women Marines Association blog. Sergeant Lena Riggi was the female Marine who fell in love with World War II Medal of Honor recipient Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone.

They married in July 1944 after a whirlwind romance. Sadly, he was killed in action on Iwo Jima just seven months later. After Basilone’s death, Lena lived a low profile life and never remarried.

When I considered what to write for National Novel Writing Month in November, the story of their love haunted me. I wanted to explore what it must have been like for them so I wove their story among two others exploring love, loss, and relationships.

To prepare for NaNoWriMo, I did some research. As a Marine Medal of Honor recipient, Basilone’s story has been well documented by multiple books, the Iwo Jima episode in The Pacific miniseries, and numerous articles and blogs. Lena, on the other hand, is just a footnote on Basilone’s Wikipedia page.

The story I wrote may never see the light of day, but I wanted to imagine their love story through Lena’s eyes, to give her a voice. So for this inaugural Sunday Salute to female veterans, I salute Lena Riggi Basilone, the inspiration for my story. She epitomized the Marine Corps motto Semper Fidelis.

The 20teens Are A Wrap

2020.jpgToday is the last day of the 20teen decade, an epic one for me in so many ways. In my life as a re-committed writer, 2019 was a productive one as well.

My first post of 2019 talked about a possible Lyft/Uber side hustle. That plan was sidelined with reports of assaults on female drivers, but I definitely exceeded my writing goals. I took a chance and submitted my Semper Fi, Sister marathon story in February, and it was published June 4th in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running for Good. I attended three local writing conferences (and pitched an agent at one of them), participated in a monthly writing circle, started a local Write Club, traveled to Santa Fe to attend The Gathering of the Creatives, participated monthly in the Badass Women Warriors Workshops, and tried my hand at writing fiction for National Novel Writing Month.

I’m not making any specific goals for 2020 except to continue working on the craft of writing. And reading more. And having more adventures. And maybe start planning for retirement from my day job in the next 2-4 years. Everything else will fall into place.

I wish you a happy & prosperous New Year!

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Late Bloomers and Other Tales

rich-karlgaard-late-bloomers-book2Last week I listened to Srinivas Rao interview Rich Karlgaard on the The Unmistakable Creative podcast about Rich’s new book Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. Rich and I grew up in the same hometown, we graduated high school one year apart, and my step-brother ran track with him. Listening to Rich talk about his dad and growing up in Bismarck, North Dakota brought back a lot of memories.

I’ve always identified as a late bloomer, so Rich’s message really resonated with me. Whether it was getting my Bachelor’s degree when I was nearly 30, running a marathon at 60, or writing the memoir I’m currently working on, I’ve always bushwacked my own path.

This month it’s been a challenge getting back to my memoir after writing fiction for NaNoWriMo. To get in the mood, this weekend I dug out old journals trying to mine some of that material. I came across a writing assignent I had submitted on November 23, 1999 in response to a writing prompt called the Book of Life by Eldonna Edwards, who was teaching an online writing class. (This was written a little more than a month before we buried the time capsule mentioned in my previous post.)

LateBloomer

Our assignment was to imagine our lives as a book, picturing who would play our characters in a movie, then writing the chapter headings relating to the story. This is what I wrote:

The book of my life would be creative nonfiction. A well-crafted piece of work with dashes of poetic verse, sprinkled liberally with humor, the story would open on the Dakota plains. If made into a movie, my parents would be played by an earnest Ben Affleck and a troubled Claire Danes. My traumatized teen would be played by Drew Barrymore (remember, this is 1999), up through my searching 20s, where the story would move to Southern California. I would be played in mid-life and later years by Meryl Streep. My husband would be played by Kevin Costner and my daughter would play herself.

Title: Late Bloomer, A Coming of Age Tale

    1. Fun, Frolic, and Carefree Days
    2. The Isolated Early Years
    3. Teen Turmoil
    4. Searching for Answers Outside Myself
    5. Military Missions and a Failed Marriage
    6. Believing in Myself
    7. The Wonders of a Blind Date
    8. Life is Good at 30
    9. A Decade of Family Fun
    10. Hope, Dreams, and Unexpected Emptiness
    11. Life Sucks at 40
    12. Climbing Out of the Pit
    13. Moving and Other Chaotic Choices
    14. The Phoenix Rises
    15. Timeless Mother – The Crone Years

I have no recollection of this assignment and others written during that email class, but I’m glad I kept them (and thank you Eldonna!). When I wrote this, I was at the beginning of Chapter 13…and seven months later I would move to Michigan with my family where other chaotic choices ensued.

Late Bloomers. It’s a way of life.

Blessed are the late bloomers, who believe in themselves, follow their intuition, and trust that the journey of life will take them where they need to be.

Writing Fiction, NaNoWriMo Style

2019-NaNo-Winner-BadgeNaNoWriMo 2019 is a wrap and it was oh so very different from last year’s win on many levels.

First, last year I was a NaNo Rebel because I wrote memoir. I knew what the story was (or so I thought), and didn’t have to make up anything. This year, I tried writing fiction and I finished my shitty rough draft with 50,373 words. Since non-fiction has always been my go-to, this month has totally been out of my comfort zone, which was the point. Blogging provided my non-fiction, real life outlet and I was surprised by how much grief dominated my posts this month. The fiction I wrote, on the other hand, was more about resilience and the power of love. Interesting.

NaNo-2019-Daily-Word-Count-Deb-SinnessSecond, last year as a first time  participant, I didn’t know whether or not I could really do it because 50K is a hella lot of words. I knew I’d need the support of the local Lansing NaNo group for inspiration. With their write-ins, I got a head start on my word count and never looked back. This year, I had a death in the family so I only participated in one local write-in. There were six days I wrote less than 500 words a day, and two days I wrote nothing at all. But I knew because I had finished and ‘won’ last year, I could do it. So I kept at it, stringing one word after another, no matter how much of a slog it became.

Third, these fictional characters have a mind all their own. That surprised me, never having written fiction before. I mean, it was my fingers doing the typing but what was coming from my brain through my fingers seemed to come from nowhere. That’s some magical shit right there.

Fourth, you know how when you find a great book to read that can’t put down and you have to stay up until 2 AM reading because you want to know how it ends…only to be disappointed because the air came out of the tires at the very end? Yeah, that’s a little how I feel about my shitty rough draft. But then again, I’m a recovering perfectionist, my goal was to hit 50K words, and I wanted to write “The End,” so there’s that.

Which brings me to my final point. I hate to admit it, but as an INFJ, I’m a pantser. It seems like in every other area of my life, I’m a planner. As much as I’ve tried to plot and outline my ideas, my brain just doesn’t seem to work that way with writing; I have to write my way in to figure it out.

So today is the final day of National Novel Writing Month and I came in just under the wire, whew! How was your month? Whether you hit 50K words, or just wrote your first sentence by overcoming the fear of putting words on the page, celebrate your progress. It’s more than we started the month with. After all writing, as in life, is not just about the destination. It’s about enjoying and celebrating the journey.

A Sprint to the NaNoWriMo Finish Line

NaNo19_40K

Thanks to a cancelled meeting this evening, I’m over the 40K mark and sprinting to the NaNoWriMo finish line in five days.

On this day last year, I was celebrating my first National Novel Writing Month win. Between writing fiction this year and dealing with a fair amount of personal stuff, the month has been a challenge.

I’ve got to average around 2K words a day to make it. Come hell or high water, I’m going to do it. Good thing we don’t have any big Thanksgiving Day plans.

NaNoWriMo19 Muddy Middle

Keep WritingDriving to dinner to celebrate her birthday on Friday evening, my partner asked how my writing was going since returning from a six day trip to attend a family funeral.

Me: Slow, it’s been hard getting back in the grove.

Annie: That’s understandable.

Me:  I’ve come to accept that I won’t write 50,000 words, and I’m okay with that.

She slowed to stop at a red light, then turned to look at me with disbelief.

Annie: Really?! You? I know you, and you won’t settle for anything less.

Okay, she has a point. I’m known to be a wee bit of an overachiever. After this weekend, I’m up to 17K words, but I’m still way behind the 8 ball.

As if being behind wasn’t hard enough, this year I’m trying my hand at writing fiction instead of memoir. As a pantser, these characters seem to have minds of their own. I’m often surprised and unsure about where to go next.

Even more reason to press on to see what happens, right?!

How’s your NaNo going?

Circle of Life & Writing Goals

This isn’t the blog post I had planned to write for this NaNoWriMo month. I wanted to get a jump on my writing early in the month, instead I received a late night call about the unexpected death of a family member, earily similar to the call I received three years earlier about the brother of the deceased.

Life is like that. We have plans, then life makes other plans for us.

Our family has experienced a lot of loss in the past three years, and dealing with death is never easy especially when it seems random and unexpected. In death as in writing, we search for meaning. We mine our memories and remember the good times, the earlier years, the days of innocence.

The truth is, none of us are getting out of this life alive. That doesn’t make anyone’s passing any easier for those of us left behind. Death sucks.

Needless to say, I’m way behind in my writing goals this month, but that’s okay. I was where I needed to be ~ with my family, mourning an unexpected loss. But I refuse to concede NaNoWriMo defeat so I’ll keep plodding along, stringing one word after another and I’ll be happy with however many I end writing, because it will be more than what I started the month with.

NaNoWriMo Eve or NaNoWeen

I started this blog on November 3rd, 2018 which was Day 3 of National Novel Writing Month. Held every November for the past 20 years, NaNoWriMo started when founder Chris Baty challenged a few of his Bay Area friends to write 50,000 words in a month. It’s become an annual tradition with writers around the world.

According to Wikipedia, 600 NaNoWriMo novels have been published through traditional and smaller publishers, or through self publishing. One of the most notable was Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen.

I had no idea if I could actually write that many words in a month, but I had been wanting to write the memoir I wanted to read when I came out at 56. As a NaNo Rebel (meaning I was not writing fiction), I wrote a hot mess of a rough draft weighing in a 51,473 words. I’ve worked on my rough draft over the course of the year with the help of teachers and workshop participants. It’s still a work in progress.

For this year’s NaNoWriMo, I’m writing fiction. I’ve only written one short fictional vignette as an online assignment 20 years ago, and I was surprised by the character that showed up and what they said. I’m hoping for the same experience because during this NaNo prep month, I have neither outline nor character development, and I’ve changed my story four times. I’ll totally be flying by the seat of my pants, or in NaNoSpeak, “pantsing.”

Good luck to all the Wrimos out there, and Write. On!