Driving 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?!
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.
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!
A 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!
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.
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.
It’s been a minute since I’ve written a post. I’ve been struggling with my writing and haven’t felt much like admitting it. I’m a butt in the chair, get it done kind of person so editing my memoir feels like a root canal. It’s hard to be motivated when writing feels like a chore.
This month, to shake things loose, I’m taking a memoir class with former Michigan State professor Lev Raphael. He assigned three memoir openings for our first assignment, we were to comment on them and reflect on our own.
White Oleander by Janet Fitch immediately caught my attention and I wanted to read more. I checked out the audiobook from the library and listened as Fitch wove her sad tale of mother drama. Her use of metaphor to bring home a point was masterful, and brought clearly into focus my woeful use of them. I’m still learning to write in the show, don’t tell manner and I struggle with metaphors. It’s much easier to cut to the chase and tell it like it is, but it’s not nearly as interesting to the reader.
This morning I read Marion Roach Smith’s essay on seeing metaphors all around us, then I took a mile-long hike around Trout Lake. I saw what she meant: use what we see to describe something in a different way so the reader can interpret their own meaning.
On my hike I saw an invasive plant species choking the shoreline and seemingly harmless tent caterpillars on tree limbs weaving webs of death, both illustrations of looking below the surface to see the struggle to survive. Even the hike that was easy just a year ago now left me breathless, a metaphor for my editing journey.
In hiking as in writing, the lessons are in the journey. I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other and my butt in the seat, and let the destination take care of itself.
“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.
“Never limit where running can take you.”
Listening to Bart Yasso describe his running adventures during the Runner’s Brunch the day before the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon, I felt moved, inspired, and grateful to have made it that far. He described his most memorable Marine Corps Marathon when in 2001, a little more than a month after 9/11, runners solemnly ran past the gaping hole in the Pentagon . “All you could hear were the runners’ footfalls,” Bart reflected.
I’ve never forgotten that story nor his advice about never limiting where running can take you, which brings me to today. The story of that 2015 marathon journey is published in a book called “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Running For Good”.
I started writing a memoir last November and hadn’t considered submitting any other writing for publication until I read a Facebook post about Chicken Soup for the Soul accepting submissions. I knew both the stories of my half and full marathons fit the theme of “running for good”: I ran the 2012 Detroit Free Press Half Marathon with Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and I ran the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon for the Semper Fi Fund. I submitted both stories in February and in March was notified that among the thousands of stories submitted, “Semper Fi, Sister” had been chosen for their new book.
My Marine Corps Marathon journey was deeply personal to me. I had started running again after my divorce in 2011 and after recovering from knee injury that set my training back, I finished the half marathon in 2012. I thought my running days were over until I met my Arctic Annie, who inspired me to reignite that marathon dream.
While my marathon day was a magical mix of serendipity, running is never just about the big events. It’s about enjoying and making the most of life along the training trail. It’s about the journey of life’s changes, and my life has been transformed since that day in 2011 when I took my first Team in Training run after decades of not running. I met my partner, I started an internship that that I’ve now completed in a career that I love…and now, I’m a published author.
I am so very grateful to all the coaches, friends, and family who have supported me in achieving both my dream to run the marathon and of being published.
To Arctic Annie, who was with me every step and mile of the way during this journey of life, I Love You and I could not have done any of this without you by my side.