At the End of the Year, a Look Back…

missouri welcomes youAnother year is coming to a close, and as I can’t help doing, I’m already making plans for 2016. Namely, with baby #2 on the way, I’m looking at down-sizing my goals, and maybe hiring a quarter-time nanny with my book advance.

But what happened to my 2015 goals/resolutions? I did think about them some over the year, and I even wrote the germ of this post in May to check my progress…but my goals got somewhat swallowed up in our baby news, move, and continuous travel.

So before I leave this ambitious stage of life to enter another round of infant craziness, here’s a look back at how my 2015 resolutions played out.

(See my original New Year’s Resolutions post here, and its sister “plan” post here):

Resolution 1: Focus on my Family

 Oh, putting my family first this year was a paradigm shift! I realized that I had often made writing my primary focus, to the point of making it an idol (yikes). But with the resolutions I made, The Love Dare, and God’s help, I no doubt grew in this area.

Family Photo 2015

Here are some family and motherhood gains I made over the year:

  • I learned to be mostly nice (or at least not say anything mean) to my husband in the mornings—AKA the time of day when things are at their craziest and I at my most stressed.
  • Buc and I started implementing more date nights to preserve our marriage in this busy time of toddlerhood. While we don’t always achieve a weekly date night, we both recognize the importance of sitting and talking on a regular basis. It’s encouraging how you can stave off marital stresses with a little focused, face-to-face communication.
  • I learned to make singing with Sam a regular part of our day. If you will recall, singing with Sam did not come naturally to me at first, even though I am a musical person (I still have early childhood/teen roots to write through on my issues with music). But now singing comes easily.
  • At first I listed out one song a week, because I was not in the habit of singing with Sam AT ALL—like, not a note all day long. But having the list helped initially to remind me to sing. So did playing some kids’ CDS we got for Sam’s baby shower. I listened to 100 different Bible songs over and over, until I could sing most of them, and now singing comes pretty naturally. I am not writing down a song each week anymore, because I don’t need to. Singing has, happily, become a habit (and this is a great depression fighter).
  • We don’t yet have family devotions every night with Daddy—can you believe the day gets away from us before we can even sometimes sing songs with Sam? But we do have a family prayer, and Daddy has told me he is taking more responsibility for including this in our day.
  • I am happy to say I made some photo memories and mementos in 2015: I filled several photo albums with prints I already had, and then I transitioned into the world of electronic photo albums. I made an album for Sam on Shutterfly documenting his second six months.IMG_2106
  • I also made a family wall of pictures and decorated our living area with group shots of family and friends. These little touches made it so nice to come home from TX and MN visits; I had a living space that surrounded me with loved ones even though they were far away.

Resolution 2: Make Healthy Choices for My Family and Myself

 So, to sum this one up, I didn’t stick perfectly with my plan to eat healthy (here’s a second post about this, too)—I think I began to derail when chocolate Easter bunnies hit the shelves—but overall, our diet is pretty darn good…and I finally lost all my (first) baby weight at fourteen months postpartum. At thirty-ish weeks pregnant with #2, I am keeping to a healthier weight gain, and I don’t expect to put on the 50 pounds I did last time.

I must report that at Sam’s fifteen-month appointment, his pediatrician raised concerns about his slow growth and encouraged me to give him juice and more sweets (“he’ll use the sugar for extra calories” he said)—so I started to. It didn’t happen right away, but in the second half of this year, Sam’s and my diet got a little “junkier,” although still not bad—and now Sam is in a picky eating phase, which I am told is “normal,” and which I am trying to patiently wait out.

Here is Sam, pictured with adorable cousin Kendall, stuffing his face with Fruit Loops (he calls them ABCs) on Thanksgiving.

A distant goal is to diversify our diet a little more, only because I like variety, but this will come slowly, because Buc does NOT like variety. So I am not killing myself to crack the cookbooks right now. I did join our potluck team at church so I can have an excuse to try new recipes from time to time…

Resolution 3: Get pregnant in 2015 with my second, and final, child

 This goal was unquestionably met, and it didn’t take too long. It was in June, after a few failed home pregnancy tests, that I got the news from my new OB that I was, surprise, expecting! It was a funny way to find out, because this was exactly how I found out with Sam: I was just going to a new OB’s office for a meet-and-greet to discuss getting pregnant…and lo and behold, at the end of both appointments, I found out I was!

Resolution 4: Write When I Can, and When It Doesn’t Interfere with Family Time

Writing time definitely went down this year, but with the recent book acceptance, I feel God really blessed the time I was able put in. I made some of the most important revisions and added some of the most important scenes to my memoir in 2015—or the ones that sold the book.

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At the beginning of the year, I also proudly maintained weekly blog posts and I ambitiously set a goal of writing and submitting five magazine articles this year. After the first article was written and rejected, and the second one unraveled, I put that goal aside, along with my blog for a time, because it was clear my priorities needed recalibrating. I did have this article published online in March.

Currently, I am aiming to stay “active” on my blog (not quite sure what that will mean with baby #2), trying to refrain from making any time-bound writing goals, and striving to let God show me when more projects will be ready to come together. I am heartened to remember that my memoir, and previous magazine articles I published, sat in various states of undone for years before God gave me their conclusions, or their unifying themes. I trust him to make clear when it’s time to take on more projects.

As You Make Goals for 2016…

For those of you working on new habits, goals, or resolutions, here’s a little wisdom I’ve learned: Goals and resolutions are good for us; they give us purpose and direction and by all means should be pursued. But once a goal is no longer helpful, or your needs change, or you accomplish your goal, feel free to drop it or change it. Resolutions should be guidelines for life, not ironclad rules. As life changes, we need to change with it.

First Things First in Writing

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Photo Credit: “Notepad” by Crisderaud

“Pause for a minute…that word order is confusing. Instead of ‘my spiritual life post thirteen,’ how about ‘my post-thirteen spiritual life’?”

I was reading chapter 2 of my memoir to my writers’ group, which, this week, was only one other person. She was stopping me every couple of paragraphs to suggest a syntax change or a modifier deletion.

“The action ‘I put my head in my hands’ makes pretty clear that you dreaded what was coming next. I know you’ve heard it before, but this is a case where you show and tell. You don’t need the telling.”

Putting It into Practice

Two days later as I sit at my keyboard trying to jump back into my memoir, I’m glad for the prose tightening advice. It will be really helpful later…but it’s not what I need right now. Since adding more than ten new chapters, I’m just trying to figure out if the scenes I’ve extracted from my reluctant psyche even belong in my book.

Show, Don’t Tell

“And tell us what you were wearing. I can’t see you as an eleven-year-old. Show the makeup or lack thereof. How did you know it was snowing outside? Show us how you are seeing this. Are you looking out a picture window?”

This writer, an excellent writer, by the way, is a visual person. Her prose overflows with color, texture, and shape. She lent me a memoir, The Summer of Ordinary Ways, by another fellow Minnesotan (my critique-er and I are both Minnesota girls who ended up in Texas), and I wonder if she modeled her writing on Nicole Lea Helget’s style. Helget writes with beautiful imagery that places readers right in the scene.

For example, here’s an excerpt where she’s describing watching/hearing her father “pitchfork” a cow:

A sound snapped the thick air.summer of ordinary ways

Like eggs dropped on the wooden floor of the chicken coop. Or metal bats whacking leather-covered baseballs. There was something of a wooden ruler slapping naughty palms. Something of thunder breaking against the sky. Only more primal, more rooted. I recognized it immediately… It was the sound of girls splitting wish-bones, of Mom dividing chicken breasts, and of shovels crushing black rats breeding in the granary… It was the sound of field stones hitting the loader bucket or hay wagon or rock box….It was bone.

I don’t write like this. At least, I don’t write like this about my early years. These years feel like a cold case. I can’t remember. Or is it that I don’t want to?

The first draft of the memoir I sent off for editing begins with me at age twenty—and I believe that draft was more descriptive than the chapters my writing group has seen in the last month. I can deal with those more recent scenes.

The early scenes? I’ve been writing them, but they kind of suck right now. I feel something about my early life is important, but I’m not sure if I’m capturing it.

Another Book?

I always had the idea I’d save my early life for another book. It deserves a whole book, and, in fact, was going to be my first book. I prepared the manuscript as a series of journal entries, and to this day, the scenes are preserved in my memory as the journal entries. I fear I’ve forgotten the actual scenes—I just remember the journal entries. The scenes I’ve written for draft 2 of my memoir feel fabricated—or at least really detached from my feelings and memories.

Moving Forward, Nonetheless

This week I’m going to send off my new part 1 to Trish. Because I’ve had more time to talk to Trish, and because she’s seen the rest of the manuscript (or where I am going with it all), she will understand that, more than prose tightening, I need help deciding what to include about my early years. Maybe I even need help unlocking memory.

I doubt memory will come back in full color like it seems to for Helget and my fellow Minnesotan, and maybe that’s okay. In my daily life, I don’t often notice what’s around me (I know, I know—as a writer, I should work on this). I don’t think I’m going for a full-color memoir, though. I’m not sure. This is a style question I can work out later. But first things first: figuring out content, order of events, and narrative thread.

Wait a Minute…

Right before I hit “post,” a thought occurs: is writing in “full color” a way to actually unlock memory? What do you think, readers? Have I got the process wrong?

Why I “Took Out” My Ex-Boyfriends

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Photo Credit: “Cutting” by Lusi

This title’s a little misleading. I’m not talking about violence here, or the raging emotions of a woman scorned; rather, I mean making cuts to my memoir. You see, last week I inadvertently axed my ex-boyfriends from my manuscript when I deleted a chapter by mistake. Oops. While I was initially ticked, turns out this was one of the best things that could’ve happened.

You see, I was falling into that writer’s trap of wanting to put every “interesting” detail about my life into my story—but not every “interesting” detail belongs there.

At first it’s a hard reality to swallow. You’ve heard that analogy that likens cutting one’s writing to severing a limb. It’s true. But I’ve got good news: the more time and distance you put between yourself and your writing, the easier it gets. After awhile it becomes easier to see what really stinks and what doesn’t, or what actually fits and what are merely rabbit trails.

Accidentally cutting out my boyfriends, whom I’d slapped into a “junk” chapter that wasn’t quite fitting anywhere, freed me up to clarify the real players in my story: that’d be myself (obviously), my hubby, my family, and my immediate in-laws (I’m not sure they know this yet!). The story I’m telling is far advanced beyond the twenty-year-old version I imagined, when I was still hurting from love gone wrong with those unsuspecting exes. It picks up with my wedding day and the violent emotions that ceremony stirred up, and follows me through my twenties to unravel just what was so traumatizing about entering marriage.

The story’s not about my past dating failures; it’s about finding peace within myself, with, God, and with family. The only relevance the exes have to this story is that they became unfortunate pitfalls on my way to searching for the right kind of love, which I eventually found in my hubby, then in God, and finally, with other loved ones around me. Now I realize, thankfully, that a couple paragraphs is more than sufficient to treat those unfortunate detours in this journey.

However, that doesn’t mean I’m not saving those memories for a future story, or maybe even a piece of fiction! As I explained these manuscript developments to my hubby last night, along with how a memoirist sometimes must rearrange or compress events for narrative efficacy, we had fun laughing over what a composite of my past lovers would look like. Ready for this? I think I can protect identities here by squeezing them all into one. Macho, yet effeminate, hunter under house arrest for drug possession and Dad of three who likes to collage…who ultimately turns out to be gay. See? Interesting. But way too distracting for the story I’m trying to tell!

If you’re working on your memoirs, remember: focus, focus, focus! Keep the main story the main story, and don’t let yourself get distracted by every “interesting” detail. And now I’m back to work, excited to see what today’s writing session reveals!

 

 

How to Make Your Dream a Reality

Rule number 1: You have to DO something.

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Photo credit: felipedan

It sounds really obvious, but so is most of the advice in any self-help book you can read. I complained for a lot of years that my dream of publishing a book was not coming true, but, um, it was no wonder. For a lot of years, I wasn’t doing anything about it. So then, one day, I sat down and started to write. And promptly ran into a problem.

 

Rule number 2: Push through roadblocks, however slowly

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Photo credit: Jazza

It could be a lack of time, a mental block, or a naysayer. For me, my roadblock was not the oft-cited “writer’s block”; rather, every time I tried to sit down and write that book I had in my head, I’d be reduced to tears for the memories the work brought. And then there was the naysayer. Someone told me my book idea wasn’t respectful of my family…and I should reconsider what publishing it would do to them.

No matter which roadblocks you’re facing, there is always a way to keep going. For aspiring writers (or aspiring whatevers) with little time, the best advice I know of is to set a realistic goal for yourself, whether a daily or weekly goal, and stick to it. Maybe you’ve only got fifteen minutes a day. Maybe you’ve only got one hour a week. Whatever you have, build that time into your schedule, and then guard it with your dream.

When I started having those toxic emotional reactions to my work, which literally could incapacitate me from living the rest of my life, well, I shut down for awhile. But in hindsight, I realize that I eventually found other ways to keep moving in the direction of my dream. I came at it from another angle. Although I wasn’t yet ready to write that book in my head, I started reading up on the publishing industry, and I started reading about honing my craft. As I did this, I put the naysayer out of mind, and hoped for a better day to write and publish my book. And this leads to rule number 3.

 

Rule number 3: Learn from the masters

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Photo credit: krayker

So, how did you first develop that precious little dream of yours? I’d just bet it was from watching someone else who was doing that very thing, and saying to yourself, “I want to do that someday, too!”

So here’s the deal: the same place you go for inspiration—be it a bookshelf, a rodeo, or a runway—is the same place you should go to apprentice for your craft. Once I identified memoir as my medium, I became a student of the genre. Not only did I read books about how to write memoir, but I read memoirs. These days I have become a sponge for these things, keeping them by my nightstand, on the coffee table, and in my CD player in the car (audio books). Where I once read only for entertainment, now I read for craft and technique, story development and organization. I read with a critical eye, judging a book’s execution and effectiveness, asking myself, is this a technique I could use? Is it one I’d want to use? Whether a memoir is well done or not, I learn from it.

 

Rule number 4: Work through personal problems to clear room for your dreams

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Photo credit: brainloc

Okay, this is probably the hardest rule to follow, and I can’t tell you how to do it; I can only point you to a blog post describing what worked for me. But if you do have some kind of mental or emotional block impeding your work, there must be something you’ll eventually have to deal with before getting on with your dream. If you have to “take time off” from your project to get your life or emotions in order, by all means, do it! This is not wasted time, because when you come back to your project free from the impediment, you will find that you have a vigor for your dream that you never had before.

 

Rule number 5: Set a deadline with measurable goals

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Photo credit: mimwickett

This rule will vary from person to person, and obviously your timelines and deadlines can change. But the thing here is to write down steps, measurable goals, that will move you closer to your dream, bit by bit. If you can give yourself a deadline and stick to it, you will be much helped, as most people operate best with a deadline.

For myself, after I started doing something and I learned how to keep plugging away at it in some form, even when it was hard; after I had started bathing my mind in masterful examples, and after I had worked through my poisonous personal problems…I came up with a schedule for completing my dream that I’m hoping will carry me through to completion. For now, I am trying every day to “move in the direction of my dreams,” even if it means only fifteen minutes of work. I hope you will do the same, and good luck!

A Schedule for Completing My Dream

 The working title of my dream, AKA my memoir, is 1,000 Miles: A Memoir on Recovering Family, God, and Dreams from Depression. Below is the schedule I came up with for myself last week to help me push through to completion.

Note: When I made this schedule, I already had a rough draft of my book, so when I say “finish” a section, that means refining the roughness and filling in the gaps.

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 July 2013

  • Finish sections 3 and 4, and revise sections 1 and 2
  • Locate a professional editor to edit my book (Yes, even though I have a master’s in English, this is a piece of advice I’ve heard too many times to disregard.)

August 2013

  • Finish Sections 5-7
  • Ask 10-15 friends/family members to read my manuscript
  • By Friday, August 30, Send manuscript to editor, and to ten other readers

September 2013

  • Write book proposal/query letter and identify agents/publishers to query
  • Hopefully receive manuscript back by end of month

October 2013

  • Revise Manuscript based on feedback
  • Polish query and book proposal if needed

November 2013

  • Query 10-15 agents and/or publishers beginning of month (first round)

December 2013

  • Query 10-15 more agents/publishers (second round)

January 2014

  • (Baby due!)
  • End of month, follow up with first batch of queries

February 2014

  • Query 10-15 more agents/publishers (third round)
  • End of month, follow up with second batch of queries

You’ll notice I’ve left room for “failure,” by including several rounds of querying agents. Maybe, by God’s grace, I won’t need more than one round. But if I do, I will choose to see it as a learning process, and I will just keep moving forward…until, one day, I either get accepted, or my thirtieth birthday is upon me—at which point I will try another angle, and publish on Amazon (plan B). Blog readers: If you are interested in being one of my manuscript readers after August, please let me know!

The Writing Life, Pregnancy Edition

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Photo Credit: AsToldByLisa.com

Seeing as how pregnancy has reduced my life to mainly eating and sleeping these days, my new writing strategy is to divert all remaining energy to my memoir (which means, sadly, fewer, shorter blog posts). Nothing like a taskmaster baby to put a deadline on your project!

Now that I have T minus seven months until D-Day (delivery!), I feel a new urgency to finish what I’ve started. But this is good. I know how demoralizing working on a never-ending book can be, because that process describes my last literary effort. I don’t want to drag out the current project indefinitely, because the feeling that it could go on forever is deadly to my motivation.

If I seem callous toward the new life growing inside me (because I don’t seem to be thinking much about it), please excuse me. It’s just that

  1. I have a hard time yet believing there’s really a baby in there, and
  2. I think I’m doing us all a favor—baby, hubby, and me—by getting this book out of my bones before baby comes.

Not everyone will understand that, but some of you will. I’ve had the dream of book-making for over fifteen years, but the dream of baby-making? Not more than a year. No kidding. The idea of a baby is a brand new concept to me, almost as new as the actual baby (embryo?) inside me. So I am slowly, let me stress slowly, getting used to it all.

Meanwhile, I am doing all I can manage per day–from 2 to 7 hours so far–to clear room for baby in my brain—by getting out all the ideas and emotions I’ve been trying to deliver for half my life. It’s an exciting, blessed time.

The one thing I can say with certainty about this baby-making thing is that it’s giving me less stress than have most other monumental events in my lifetime. You know…marriage, beginning a career, moving, starting up a ministry. What is the difference? To me, one is a spontaneous process, one that nature guides with or without my efforts (ahem, well, after the initial ball is rolling). But the other events all depended on my active, ongoing involvement to keep moving forward.

This baby? It’s growing whether or not I’m thinking about it, whether or not I’m working on a nursery (not even started), or whether or not I’m buying baby clothes (not even a stitch). I realize that once baby is here, he or she will require my undivided attention. Then it will really depend on me to keep it alive. Then my life will change dramatically. Obviously.

For now, though? I am enjoying God’s gifts to me—time to sit back and marvel at how His miracles don’t require any work on my part (there’s a peace in realizing that)—and time to work on creating my other (brain) child. What a blessed mom-to-be I am!

Fable of a Freelance Writer

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Once upon a time (three months ago, to be exact), a freelance writer developed a blog, some book chapters, and a guilt complex.

You see, this writer started out herself to please—to fulfill a dream, put her heart at ease. No more would she hate herself for putting it off—no longer would her naysayers scoff. 

And so writing a schedule–for she must have a plan–finally, she began:

January

Wake up at 6, breakfast, goodbye.

Then meet with the Lord, at 7 or so.

Eight was for exercise, don’t get flabby!

 Then 9 was for work—let the writing begin!

The plan was to write until 4 or more—

Her memoirs, her art, her triumphant score.

But alas, as soon as she began,

She got the email from the man

Who wanted revisions on his manuscript…

So she said, “Okay, I’ll look at it.”

Then April came…

She’d made no progress

On her own goals…but I digress.

 

April

As the writer looked back on the past three months, she realized she had not stuck to her guns. Besides some blogs and some personal slime, she had nothing to show for her time. Something had happened, but she was not sure what—had she just wasted time, sitting on her duff?

As she searched the memories of her mind, she discovered it was not that she hadn’t tried—it’s just that some stuff had come up inside.

The joy of Jan was followed by blues…somewhere in Feb, kids came up, too. Then, in March, she thought back to home, a topic deserving a fully-fledged tome. So maybe her story isn’t written yet, but perhaps just now its reaching denouement.

What has she learned, this freelancer babe? In three months of blogging, and burbling, and talk? Maybe she just needs to lay off the clock.

  • Sleep in sometimes, and let the mind rest.
  • Talk to a friend, get things off of her chest.
  • Relax, and take the stick out the rear.
  • Go for a run, the fog will clear.
  • Relax, be a wife, and a friend, and a person.
  • Those bad writing days? Well, you win some, you lose some.

As she thought on these lessons she’d learned over time, she decided her life was really quite fine. The dream was not lost, merely delayed—and even if slow going, it still with her stayed. Maybe, she thought, I’ve been under delusion—thinking my story needs a conclusion. Maybe, in fact, I’ve been all wrong—and I’ve been living the dream all along.

 

The Lonely Vegetarian

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So apparently in India, you can get a Mcveggie burger. We vegetarians in the states are still waiting.

Oddly enough, today again I find myself sitting in Mcdonalds, writing. Why would a vegetarian go to Mcdonalds, you ask?

Over the past few months of being homebound, I have discovered that Mcdonalds is actually a nice place to come and write. That’s true, of course, except when you sit down in an empty play area only to have it fill up with screaming kids (which happened to me a few weeks ago.)

ImageBut seriously. At Mcdonald’s, coffee is just a buck, and you get free refills.

And this was a pleasant surprise: Mcdonalds has renovated to make itself more modern and coffee-shop like. A poor man’s Starbucks, really.

Right now, in fact, I’m sitting on a cushy couch-like thing in front of a fake fireplace, with a flat-screen TV just to my upper left. It’s 10:18 a.m., with few people here except for some good-natured seniors in the corner over my right shoulder, smiling over their senior-sized coffees and chatting. (Once I interrupted a high-spirited Bingo game in the Playroom on a Friday. Kindly, the Bingo players let me sit quietly in the corner and blog.)Image

There are four Mcdonalds relatively close to where I live, so I have rotated among them, trying not to look like that loser who has nothing better to do than go sit solo in the same place day after day. So far I think I’ve remained relatively anonymous. I mean, I don’t go every day. Just when the house feels too empty.

Well, actually, that’s kind of the point. Why would a vegetarian go sit at Mcdonalds, you ask? And why am I drinking coffee, anyway? Health conscious Christian that I am, I’ve tried to quit several times. I was successful for a few weeks in 2010 when I had my heart conversion and found myself cutting out lots of old, icky stuff from my life.

But for the most part, I’ve been a steady drinker for almost ten years, ever since I dropped out of college and entered the most lonely phase of my life.

This is kind of embarrassing to admit, because in my particular church, caffeine use is seen as a bad thing. We focus lots on good physical health. That’s why I’m a vegetarian, in fact. And good physical health is a lovely thing.

But what happens when your bad physical habits are a result of bad mental health? Bad emotional health?

As I’ve learned in the past year, all bad behaviors stem from negative beliefs we have developed. Our negative patterns are reactions to negative thoughts and feelings implanted by Satan, the father of lies (see John 8:44), such as I’m alone, I have to protect myself, or I deserve to reward myself.

This is one of two “pillars” in The Hidden Half of the Gospel, the book I’m co-writing with Paul Coneff of Straight 2 the Heart ministries.

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This is the gist of what our book cover will look like. Currently, we are in round two of a three-round editing process. Thanks to Paul for letting me use this image.

And for me, it’s not just some high falutin’ theory. Nope. It’s what my own introspection keeps confirming. Day after day. Mcdonalds visit after Mcdonalds visit.

So I order my Egg McMuffin without meat. So I’m a healthy weight and I exercise pretty regularly.

So what?

I’m still here today—the lonely vegetarian—sipping joe with seniors. (Is that sad?)

At least I’m not sipping deadly medicinal cocktails.

“You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Is that God’s voice I hear?

Well, maybe someone else said that.

Anyway, I think God understands that recovery is slow. And egg McMuffins are good. Not vegan, but I think He understands: heart health is more than meat or drink.

“We’ll keep working on it,” He says.

And for that, I’m lovin’ ‘im.

When Writers Retreat

The writer’s retreat is a common trope in writing circles. Often this term is used to refer to a place remote from the world where writers sequester themselves away to do their lonely work. Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, describes some such places in her own writer’s journey. One is a pine shed on Cape Cod, another a room in a dark library, and still another a deserted faculty lounge where she spreads out the pages of her manuscript on the table.

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Often “retreat” is used as a noun, but for me, who doesn’t have a remote cabin in the woods or a breezy bungalow on a beach, the verb is the thing.

When I get deep into a project, like I am now with the book, I find myself pulling back from the rest of the world. Almost unconsciously, I become inaccessible. I pull away from Facebook. I resist my phone. The blog slides to beyond necessity and rests uneasily on some guilty mental to-do list.

Whether this is just a characteristic of writers in general or just certain personality types, I’m not sure, because I have the sense I used to do this as a college student. As a teacher. I pulled away from the world to sit and think and work. The current paper, or project, or unit, became all consuming, always looming in my brain.

These days this mass consumption of my mind means I become flaky in all else. I don’t like  feeling that I won’t be able to read my Bible again until this book is out of my head. But frankly, my brain is just too full, too busy chewing on lately manifested manuscript problems, to hold another thought.

Sometimes I feel guilty for going light on my devotions, but I still pray every day, sometimes spending up to twenty minutes on my knees.

When I remember that the Bible says Jesus rose early to pray—it doesn’t say He got up early to read His scrolls—I think maybe this is okay.

It’s a kind of retreat even Jesus needed. In these times of prayer, when my head is full with work and my mind can’t accommodate whole chapters of the Bible, sometimes I can latch on to just one Bible verse and meditate on that, such as “Jesus is the Word of life.”

I’ve liked that one lately, because I’m struggling to find words. But knowing I can rest my cares on Him who created words—who is the Word (even if I don’t fully understand that) gives me peace.

As a Christian writer, I get a special kind of retreat that other writers don’t. And best of all, it doesn’t cost a thing. Today I’m thankful for the Word of life—I’m thankful that God doesn’t need my words to get the job done.

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When I look at my dining room table these days, I am reminded of these lines from Annie Dillard:
“How appalled I was to discover that, in order to write so much as a sonnet, you need a warehouse. You can easily get so confused writing a thirty-page chapter that in order to make an outline for the second draft, you have to rent a hall. I have often ‘written’ with the mechanical aid of a twenty-foot conference table. You lay your pages along the table’s edge and pace out the work. You walk along the rows; you weed bits, move bits, and dig out bits, bent over the rows with full hands like a gardener. After a couple hours, you have taken an exceedingly dull nine-mile hike. You go home and soak your feet.”
–Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

One Big Tangle: Thoughts on Blogging versus Book-writing

As you may know, Writing to my Roots is chronicling the writing and publication of my first memoir—or the progress toward my lifelong goal. In other words, I’m writing about writing, both about how it’s going as a writer, and also about what’s happening in the writing—what roots I’m uncovering. In other words, where is the writing taking my story, book-wise, and me, person-wise?

Trying to untangle all of the above is not an easy task. And tangled is the right word. I feel so tangled up right now with conflicting tasks in storytelling. I’m telling you a story about a story I’m telling—and I find myself worrying about telling both stories right.

Something tells me I’m going about this all wrong. At least the blog. A book should be carefully organized, but a blog is a place to be more free, right? We’ll go with that for today, so I can get on with writing about writing.

Book Progress and Problems Since October, 2012

For starters, I have penned (literally, written with a pen) around 350 pages of my book. This morning I think I may have even written the last scene and decided on my title. So the writing is going well. Indeed, I feel like I have all the component parts of my book recorded in some form or fashion. I’ve got most of the big themes and thoughts I want to include collected into those once-empty notebooks I told you about last week.

But now comes the hard part. Revising and organizing. Shaping this amorphous blob of memories and musings into something pretty. The other night my dad asked me how many chapters I had written, and I had to just shake my head and say, “Dad, it doesn’t work like that.” (He’s a radio-advertising salesman who occasionally writes copy for commercials. How could he understand the complexities of drafting, revising, and organizing a book-length manuscript?)

I told my dad that my first draft was just emerging through the recording of scenes and ideas as they came to me. I’ve just been trying to get it all out of me, and then worry about organizing it. But that’s not so easy to do these days. The organizing, I mean.

Some Concerns Faced by “Real” Writers (especially Memoirists)

If you read contemporary memoir, you know that stories don’t always unfold chronologically. “Real” writers (and I think I have a little pride about being one, even though I probably shouldn’t, being that I have not yet published a book) make difficult literary maneuvers such as

  • flashback
  • flash forward
  • magnification
  • compression

Writers also

  • make use of extended metaphors and symbols, sometimes all throughout the book
  • pay attention to pacing and placement of scenes
  • carefully select and balance important versus unimportant detail.*

(see chapter two of The Portable MFA in Creative Writing for more)

*For memoirists, specifically, this selection and balance of detail is particularly hard, because all the details are personal. Which ones do you share, and which ones do you shelve? Here, we have tangled up literary concerns with personal, and sometimes moral, ones. There is so much to think about!

These are just a few of the challenges I’m encountering as I progress through the writing of my book. And I’m nowhere near close to figuring them all out. But yesterday I did find hope for making sense of my thoughts—and bringing order to my writing…through reading the memoir Riding the Bus with my Sister by Rachel Simon.

Riding the Bus with my Sister: Inspiration for the Aspiring Memoirist

In a nutshell, Simon tells the story of what she learned through one year of riding city buses with her mentally handicapped sister, Beth. At the beginning of the book, I expected the story to revolve around this year of bus-riding—I thought that was the core story. But the further I got into the book, I realized that, with carefully chosen, carefully placed flashbacks, Simon was telling the story of her family’s breakup, and her broken heart. Ultimately, it was through riding the buses with Beth, by slowing down to enjoy life again, and by remembering her roots, that Simon found a great deal of healing by book’s end (there’s more to it, of course, but I’m compressing).

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Wow, I thought, teary-eyed by the closing scenes. That was a job well done. Not only was her literary execution great, but her story was worth telling. And she didn’t go overboard with her tale of woe. Indeed, I was shocked halfway through to read of the horrific things that happened in her teenage years—so that was why she has all these problems in her adult life…not getting close to people, overworking, lacking hobbies. Suddenly the journey described in the book became much deeper than just a year of bus-riding with her sister. It was a journey of healing for herself.

In both Simon’s writing and her story, I see visions of myself. The personal story is similar to mine, although without the handicapped sister; and the sum total of her book’s organization leaves the effect I want my own book to have. What a great story—and what a great way to tell it, I want my readers to think of my book (just like I thought of Simon’s).

So, for today, I will disentangle myself just a bit with this: at least if my blog is not pretty, I want my book to be. For today, I’m feeling grateful to Rachel Simon for her story—and hoping you’ll ride with me as I untangle the telling of my own.