My Open Mic Moment

I stepped out of my comfort zone today. Ever since I saw Poet Will Langford perform at The Rally of Writers last year, I’ve wanted to do a poetry reading.

As luck would have it, today the same Lansing Poetry Group that put on yesterday’s workshop held an event with two amazing young poets. I put my name in the hopper for the Open Mic that followed.

I’m not gonna lie, listening to everyone waiting for my name to be picked was nerve-wracking. But I wanted to be heard. And I survived.

Now to work on calming the nerves so my voice doesn’t quiver.

Practice. Practice. Practice…for next time.

Y2K, A Time Capsule, and Change

It’s hard to believe there is only one month left in this decade. My wife tried to tell me 2020 belongs with the 20teens, but I’m not buying it. Remember the chaos of the pre-Y2K days and the impending doom of the new millenium? Again, hard to believe it’s been 20 years because it’s been largely forgotten, overshadowed by what happened 1 year, 9 months, and 11 days later.

At The Rally of Writers conference I attended in April, Jan Shoemaker, the workshop facilitator, gave us prompts and we had about 5-10 minutes to write our response. The topic was: Waiting for it to explode. We also had to include the following words “wherever there is life, there is a twist and mess.” In response, I wrote this:

Y2K, New Year’s Eve. We escaped to our off the grid cabin unsure whether the world we left would survive. We each wrote letters to our future selves imagining what our lives would be like in a couple of decades; I wrote of my writerly dreams. With a circa 1999 cell phone, we buried a time capsule, sure that we nailed the future. But wherever there is life, there is a twist and a mess.

I’d forgotten about the time capsule, a 18″ x 12″, 6″ deep plastic tote sealed with duct tape. We had unearthed it from it’s hiding place in the California Central Coast when we sold the cabin. We hauled it to Michigan and from one place to another, then I got custody in the divorce.

The tote is heavy and it rattles. My daughter and ex remember what’s in the time capsule. I only remember the three letters we wrote, and the cell phone. 

Our lives today look nothing like we could have imagined. And what did we think we would need to preserve to show what life was like at the dawn of the new millenium? I look forward to finding out soon.

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.

Creatively Rebooted

img_1415A year ago today I traveled to Santa Fe, NM to attend Creative Reboot with my BFF Karil. We had cemented our friendship in 1992 by working through Julia Cameron’s new book “The Artist’s Way.” We worked our way through one chapter at a time separately, then we’d get together for lunch or a margarita dinner to discuss the chapter, what the exercises brought up for us, and our takeaways. Creative Reboot would be a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time together since we live in different states.

We both arrived in Santa Fe early to attend an intensive Friday session; I took Julia’s session and Karil chose an art session. It seemed surreal to be in Julia’s presence after all these years. She outlined what the session would cover and gave us this warning, “Sometime during this session, you’re going to think wow, this person really knows what she’s talking about it, and another time you’ll think this person doesn’t know what the heck she’s talking about.”

It was an intense day of exercises and sharing, but the one thing she kept hammering home was the need to do morning pages. I thought, “No way, I get up for work at 4:10 and no one’s got time for that!” Later when Karil and I shared notes from our respective sessions, I scoffed and said “Yeah I’m not really impressed anymore. Julia says morning pages are a necessity and there’s no way I can do them with my schedule. But since I’m on vacation, I’ll try doing them in the morning.”

Turns out she was right. I stuck with writing in the morning until it became a habit. I fast-drafted a memoir during National Novel Writing Month in November, I started this blog, my story Semper Fi, Sister was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running for Good in June, and I’m continuing to make progress on my memoir.

This year’s event is called The Gathering of the Creatives and starts a week from today. I’m looking forward to thanking Julia Cameron for the kick in the pants, sharing a margarita dinner celebration with Karil, and seeing where this next year takes me. Cheers!

A Confession

I have a confession to make. I still haven’t cashed the $200 Chicken Soup for the Soul check I received for my Semper Fi Sister story that was published in their June 4th release of Running for Good. My coach Lauren Sapala says INFJs need to suffer to feel like they earn success. If it’s true, that’s messed up.

I’ve been holding on to the check for two months. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to finally be published and paid for my writing, and I was especially grateful to receive the check. But there’s been something holding me back from cashing it that I can’t quite put my finger on. Every time I think about depositing it, every instinct I have pushes back like repelling magnets.

I think it may have something to do with my Marathon Guardian Angel Megan McClung because I feel the story is just as much hers as it is mine.

This morning I journaled about it, thinking of one reason after another. Finally I wrote, Megan what should I do with the check? And my fingers typed…You earned it, you did the hard work. Treat yourself and enjoy the fruits of your labor Marine.

Whether I was channeling Megan or just my inner wise self, tonight I signed and deposited the check and celebrated a milestone: being a paid author.

Trusting Your Journey

“Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running for Good” launched six weeks ago. It was a total fluke that I learned of the chance to submit my story so I was thrilled “Semper Fi, Sister” was included. The one hour Twitter virtual launch with the other authors and the publisher was like downing a triple espresso chased with Redbull.

Then came the let down.

I was now a published author, but I couldn’t coordinate a local launch to save my soul. I had filled out the publisher publicity paperwork, but no one seemed interested. Then I lost interest…and it didn’t seem like such a big deal after all.

But it is a big deal.

I’ve never been published. I work a challenging full-time job and write in stolen moments of time. It’s second nature for me to minimize my accomplishments. I compare myself to others then feel inadequate in their wake. But I have to remind myself that this is my journey alone.

Even if I never have another word published, the story of my magical Marathon journey will live on in the pages of Chicken Soup for the Soul. For that, I’m grateful.

What does the future hold? Who knows, but I’ll keep putting my butt in the chair, doing the work, and let the Universe handle the outcome.

Writing Myself Home

I attended the Rochester, MI Writer’s Conference at the end of April and A Rally of Writers in Lansing, MI last weekend. The Rochester conference focused on self-publishing and isn’t something I need to worry about yet. At this point, I just need to edit my shitty first draft to get it into a working manuscript.

A Rally of Writers, on the other hand, offered multiple sessions in 3 different time slots throughout the day. With so many topics to choose from, there was something for everyone so my choices were memoir and poetry.

Will “The Poet” Langford opened the session and among the many poems he performed was “Pamoja”,  which was even more moving since that evening the Michigan State Spartans were playing in the NCAA Final Four. Will The Poet’s ability to weave poetic phrases around metaphors was brillant, beautiful to listen to, and brought tears to my eyes more than once. He inspires me to seek out safe spaces to learn to perform spoken word and I looked forward to his afternoon poetry session.

The memoir session was taught by Mardi Jo Link, a journalist  and self described “accidental memoirist”. Link summarized her session by saying memoir needs truth, a timeline and logic the reader can follow, an invitation to experience a life the reader will never know, and a change in the narrator the reader can relate to. I’m working on incorporating all these elements in my memoir, but an off-handed comment about her sons generated a light bulb moment for me. We just never know where know where our next source of inspiration will come from.

In the “Writing Home” afternoon session, Will The Poet talked about his journey to Africa and the need for a home to carry with him in his travels. Church, communities, events, schools, neighborhoods, and work can all be places where we feel a sense of being at home, so he told us to write down five. Then using one of our choices, he brought us to the page to write our own sensory based poem. This is how I feel every time I fly to San Diego and see the Marine Corps Recruit Depot adjacent the airfield as we’re landing:

Lindberg Field

We touch down on the runway…home.
Outside I hear the silent cadence of Marine recruits marching.
I taste the bitterness of regret, but catch a whiff
of promise in the person I became when I marched with them.
With the opening of the hatch, I’m transported back to the present
until the next time I connect with my Marine sisters.

I’m headed to the Michigan Writing Workshop in Livonia on May 4th to round out my Spring writing conference circuit. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting like-minded writers, picking up gold nuggets to incorporate in my own writing, and communing with the writers over lunch. Now I’ve found a new home in the writing community.