As I’ve been diving into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November, I’ve been trying to root myself into the present moment, focusing on the words in front of me in order to allow myself the joy of writing itself.
Even so, sometimes I can’t help but imagine a reality different from the one in which I exist. My mind drifts, draws up plans for the career, the house, the relationships I might or could have one day. A kaleidoscope of possibilities both achievable and not.
The person who exists in these scenarios is not me. Or not me exactly. Instead, the person is kind of a mirror self with a little mental photoshopping thrown in. An Andrea refracted into something better — braver, wiser, smarter with her money, confident in speaking her mind, and overall easier to love. The flaws and sorrows and doubts all vanish in this reflected persona.
For all my efforts to stay in the present moment, I don’t want to discount the value in such imaginings. As I noted in a previous post, there are points when drifting off into pontnetial furture can hinder progress in the here and now. At the same time, being able to visualize my dreams and goals provides me with a signposts for how to achieve what I want in life.
In other words, it helps to know what you want in life in order to achieve it.
Focusing on the now during NaNoWriMo has been an incredible blessing. I was looking to experience the joy of writing — and that’s what I’ve achieved.
I don’t necessarily want to write every day and I writing is still work, but its work that comes with surprises and delights and deep emotional resonance, when I let go of worry about the future and let myself setting into the process.
Currently, I’m around 10,000 words behind on my daily word count goals — and in all honesty, there’s a chance I might not make it to 50,000 with all my other commitments. (Writing this post is itself a kind of procrastination in that regard.)
But the word count, in and of itself, is not necessarily the point. I’ve written nearly 35,000 words and am still finding the story compelling. The events that have transpired on these pages have through the course of writing managed to both make me cry and creep me the hell out. My main character is messy and complicated and fighting so hard to survive. I love her and my heart breaks for her.
Regardless of where my actual word count lands on day 30 of November, I aim to hold to the story and the process of writing it. The work will go on and change, and I’ll discover new challenges along the way.
I may never reach the glassy perfection in the imagined reckonings of myself — and that’s okay. As a human, I’m messy and complicated and fighting hard (almost) every day to be better.
There is a value of envisioning the high in the sky possibilities.
There is a value in staying focused on the present moment and the tasks at hand.
The way forward (for me, I’ve found) is often through the blurred boundaries between the two.
What are some of your big dreams? What practical ways can you work to achieve them?
I’m a long-time fan of the National Novel Writing Month (belatedly called NaNoWriMo) challenge to complete 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. (If you want to know more about it, a recent episode of Annotated looks at the history of the NaNo challenge and why people dig it.)
I’m not entirely sure when I first starting taking part — probably around twelve or so years ago (way back in my LiveJournal days). I was immediately drawn in to the sense of camaraderie inherent in the challenge and often attended local write-ins, where I was able to sit down with a dozen other writers at a coffee shop and share in the experience of putting words on the page.
Some of the years, I completed the challenge, and some of the years I didn’t. Either way I always enjoyed the experience — regardless of whether I churned out anything editable or not.
It’s been several years since I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo (the last one being in 2014), and I’ve finally decided that it’s time I jumped back on the bandwagon.
California has a tendency to fool me this time of year — days swinging into cooler temperatures one week and then quickly rebounding into heat. Summer clings, refuses to let go. Leaves rarely yellow or brown in the expected colors of the season. The Fall never really feels like Fall.
And yet, October is my favorite month. The advent of Halloween carries with it the whispering of spirits, the trickery of fae folk, the glowing of jack-o-lanterns, the dancing of skeletons. It’s a powerful time, a witchy time.
The days are dimming, growing shorter. The nights are darker.
This can be comforting. Darkness and shadow can be a fertile space for transformation — bulbs and seeds lie hidden within the earth, gestating, awaiting their moment to burst forth and bloom.
I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m feeling a desire to draw in, close off outside influences, and wrap myself in the comfort of hearth and home. I long for rich, warm foods, good books, and quiet.
What I’m desiring is not only an external drawing in, but an internal one. As I settle into what comforts me, I’m wondering what lies within the shadowy places within myself. What have I kept hidden? What fruits can I reap from this year’s work? What do I want to plant anew? What do I wish to nurture and grow?
What about you?
Note: This was first published in A Seed to Hatch, my (semi)-monthly newsletter on the writing life and things that are interesting to writers. If you enjoyed reading this, please check out the archives and/or subscribe:
Every year, I look back at last years goals and try to assess what worked and what did not work for me. 2018 was an interesting year, bringing a considerable amount of stress and anxiety — and I’ve noticed a number of others have experienced the same, if not more in that regard.
Just looking at my goals from the previous year, I can see that I’ve accomplished a couple of things: my blogging year was pretty consistent and I did manage to launch and successfully fund a kickstarter, among other things. But some of the major projects I was hoping to complete (finish the novel, run a half marathon) did not reach completion.
During the second half of the year, I’ve especially been felt a sense of stagnation. I stopped running, attending few writing events, and in general felt that there was little progress on my personal projects.
But this feeling of stagnation is a bit of self deception, because if I consider things as a whole, then it’s actually been phenomenal year for me in terms of writing and travel — a year I could and should be proud of. So, instead of worrying about what didn’t work for me in the past year, here are some of the good things that have gone down in 2018.
It’s been a rough year — and I know I’m not alone in expressing that sentiment. Putting aside the politics and news stream (which has been a constant barrage of stress and frustration), if I were to sum up 2017 in a single word, it would probably be: overwhelmed. As it turns out, this has also been my usual response these days to the question, “How are you doing?”
The year also presented a great family sorrow, as my grandmother, Florence Schlegel, passed away at the end of November. She had an amazing history — worked as a coat check Girl in NY, serving the likes of Howard Hughes and other celebrities; worked at Lockheed Martin constructing aircraft during WWII; lived on a homestead in Alaska and shot three black bears; served her community in Anchorage in a number of ways; and she was always witty and funny, and all around awesome. We miss her so much.
For all the stress and sadness that the year has yielded, though, it’s also offered up some wonderful experiences — adventures in travel and the writing life, some amazing books, and delightful moments with friends and family.
Below is some of my 2017 journey. If you’re inclined to share, then I would love to hear how your year treated you, as well.
I feel like I’ve done more writing than I’ve done in any previous year, although I don’t really have a way to prove that (and I’m not certain it’s true when I think about the multude of 30 challenges I did in 2016). I haven’t really been keeping track of word counts or other forms of tracking, partly because my work has been across so many diverse projects (poetry, script writing, fiction, etc.).
A part of why I might feel this way is that I’ve been trying to consistently focus on my writing in two ways — first, by getting to work early and using the extra time to write, and second, by using my lunch time to write. These little chunks have been helpful in not only getting words on the page, but also accomplishing the business side of writing, like getting work out on submission.
During the year, I sent out 47 submission packets (with anywhere from one to five poems or short stories — nine more than previous year I received 42 individual rejections and had a total of ten poems and one short story published. Not bad. Nowhere near the 100 rejections I was aiming for, but still not bad.
This does not include the collaborative poetry, submissions, and publications that have occured over the past year. I am so grateful to Laura Madeline Wiseman for being my partner in this work, and an inspiration in general. Together, we have had eight poems published in 2017, and have received an acceptance for our chapbook, Every Girl Becomes the Wolf, to be published by Finishing Line Press.
For a couple of years, I have been doing weekly updates noting writing progress, books read, goals for the week, and other tidbits. The idea of these posts was to hold myself accountable for the progress (if any) that I was making, as well as keeping the blog itself active. I started off 2017 continuing these posts, but stopped doing them about halfway through the year when they began to feel more burdensome than helpful. Rather than spending time crafting an obligatory weekly post, I tried to focus on posts with more content to them, like my revisit of The Dark Tower book series.
In total, I shared 45 blog posts, about half the amount of posts from the previous year. I’m okay with the lower number, since it’s more important for me for focus on finishing my existing poetry and fiction projects than sharing things on the blog. However, I would like to share more (hopfully) thoughtful posts in the coming year.
Normally I share my top reads in a longer, separate post — but I’m starting to run out of spoons to make it through the end of the year, so here’s a truncated version.
My reading stats are they lowest they’ve been in probably a decade. In years past, I’ve averaged about 90-100 books per year, this year I’ve managed 45 (as of this posting), which kind of pains me. The reason for this significant drop in my reading rate is because of how I refocused my time at work (taking up my lunch to write instead of read) and the introduction of Netflix into my home life (and the subsequence TV binge-watching that that implies). That said, I’ve managed to read a number of books that have delighted me this year, which I present below.
Top Ten Fiction Books (with series books counted as one)
The Obelisk Gate & The Stone Sky (Broken Earth Book #3) by N. K. Jemisin
It’s been an interesting year for running. On the one hand, all totalled up, I ran 73.63 miles over the course of year — which sounds like quite a bit. But most of those miles were in the first half of the year with March being the highest month at 17.58 miles. All of this is reflective of how my motivation regarding running shifted throughout the year (with an impact on my body health).
One of the highlights of my running practice this year was attending the She is Beautiful Run in March (despite being incredibly hungover at the time). My sisters came along and we took part in the joys of this event. I’m looking forward to finding more events like this next year.
The day job certainly kept me busy in travel and sent me on some great adventures, including some good times in Nashville, Tennessee and most notably a two week trip to Dubai and Singapore, during which I fit in a short hopover to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I loved the cultural experiences of that trip, although the heat and humidity was so intense that I was soon happy to head home to more moderate weather.
And just for funsies, my sister and I put together a two week trip to South America, squeezing in a few days in Peru (including Machu Picchu), Chile, and Argentina. Since our time was so short, we only saw a fraction of these countries, each of which I would like to take far more time to explore.
Well, that’s my year in a snap shot. How was your 2017?