Today, I was supposed to be the host of a Conversation Cafe series put on by my campus’ Student Programs. I was going to talk about my cross-stitch hobby, and I was excited to show off my piece that won best in show at the local fair:
Obviously that isn’t happening, but just like in other times in my life, cross-stitching has been helping me cope with the changes going on in my life.
I found a cute little design from Heaven and Earth called Storykeep Storykeeper. It’s a cropped portion of Selina French’s artwork, and I loved it! I showed a daily update of my progress on Instagram, and it was a fun way to connect with people while everything felt so disordered.
When I started it, we were told that we’d only be out for a few weeks. I’m on day 34 of isolation and the project took me roughly 20 days with a few days of not working on it. (I’m not ashamed to admit that I hurt my pinky finger playing high stakes tetherball with the youngest…)
I love cross-stitch because beauty grows from small steps that don’t seem to be going anywhere until you back away from it. Then you can see that when you were in the blur of a section, you were really creating a meaningful part of a bigger picture, one that is often appreciated by those around you.
So today, I want to have a conversation about art! What have you created during the change in your daily routine, or what would you secretly like to attempt but have been too afraid to? What questions do you have about creating work?
“I’ve been holding onto these,” my son said with a wink. “How much will you pay for them?”
I opened the tiny case, and inside were three baby teeth. His little sister was sitting right next to me at the coffee table. She looked down at them with as much disgust as I did.
Mind you, my son is fourteen. Neither of us have declared the non-existence of the mythical creatures in our lives, but we both knew how these schemes worked. I obviously had my motives: I didn’t want to ruin the magic of the events. I love being Santa, although to be honest, I was a crappy tooth fairy. My son didn’t want to ruin his cash cow, and to ensure that he kept getting gifts, he would help keep his cover by vehemently defending Santa and the Easter Bunny to his little sister. But he had kept these teeth for months, saving them for when he needed money. His need to get a Fortnite Battle Pass was outweighing his need to keep his cover. Given that it was July and Christmas was a long time away, I couldn’t blame him for choosing the immediate concern.
“I’m pretty sure the tooth fairy only takes fresh teeth,” I replied. “And I paid the dentist to remove them, so why would I pay for them now?”
My youngest rolled her eyes and said, “Mom, we know.” But it wasn’t just a simple statement. There was major emphasis on the “know” that made it heavy with accusation and understanding. My cover as blown!
All kids come to a point when they know that Santa doesn’t exist. I realized it myself when I was eight. I had made custom bracelets for all the reindeer and later found them under the couch cushions. Like my son, I didn’t say anything. I just let the magic die.
I didn’t want that for my kids, so I had been planning for this day:
I explained that when kids are younger, they have a hard time conceptualizing abstract ideas that lead to them to be good people, like generosity, kindness, and empathy. It’s easier to teach these constructs when they have concrete examples. Additionally, kids can understand at a young age that a person has a role that they play, for example, doctors heal and teachers provide us with the opportunity to learn. Having these constructs within a corporeal form gives parents the opportunity to show examples of what it means to be good and generous. As such, Santa exists to teach children goodness in the world. Now Santa is most certainly not the only way to teach these constructs; it’s better in my opinion that the adults in their lives be examples of these things, but it’s easy to have Santa be these examples because society by and large helps to promote him. Although, society’s reasons are largely capitalistic, and therefore actually selfish… but not the point!
As kids get older, they realize that teachers don’t live at school and it’s impossible for one man to travel around the world delivering billions of presents. What a lot of people have trouble understanding is that when kids are old enough to understand the abstract ideas, they also learn another truth: the people they trust the most can and do lie to them. Thus, the good lessons that parents were attempting to teach are tainted, making it easy to sweep these lessons under the rug. I didn’t want that for them; I wanted them to focus on the good lessons, and if they could focus on “being the Santa” and understand the value of generosity, kindness, and empathy, they would be better people for it.
That’s a heavy kind of conversation to have with kids, but they nodded in all the right places. My youngest, per usual, asked a million questions, but we came to a consensus that they would think of others, and more importantly to them, it wouldn’t affect their own gifts at Christmastime.
That was back in July when we faced our hardest summer, financially. They learned a lot of lessons this year, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if the lessons that I had tried to convey in our conversation had been forgotten.
But they weren’t.
When December rolled around, they didn’t have a million things on their list that they wanted; they actually had a bigger interest in getting things for the family and not themselves, essentially adopting the Santa role for the people they care about. I could see they were getting the idea of being generous, but I wanted them to branch their Santa spirit outward beyond the family, so we set out to donate toys to charities. That seemed easy enough, but then I learned of a child whose mother was conflicted. Her son had never asked Santa for anything, and now that he was, she couldn’t make it happen. I knew this was a key opportunity to help a child that they knew by helping his Santa, the very concrete thing that would cement the giving spirit that I wanted them to emulate. They were on board, in fact, they were excited! They pooled what money they had left, hustled me and my mom for more money, and thus helped to continue the spirit of giving during the Christmas season.
It’s times like these when I think that maybe I am worthy of parenting two amazing kids.
Now I recognize that there is more to Christmas than gifts, but that is not the focus of this blog post. I’m providing my own story to help parents transition children from believing in Santa into being kind and generous members within society, although I suppose as time passes, we’ll know if these lessons truly stick or not.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Here’s to all becoming more generous and kind people in the upcoming year.
I work for a community college, and in higher academia, we are blessed with having a winter break that spans a little over a month. My years have taught me that I have to be careful with this time, because it feels like I have a lot of it. I do; it just goes quickly, leaving me wondering what exactly did I do during break other than binge watch Community and SuperStore?
This break, I am setting myself up for success! I’m going to use this time to invest in my independent author community. I asked the #writingcommunity writers to suggest some books to read, and they delivered, giving me a range of exciting stories to read during the coldest, darkest Connecticut winter months!
Here is a list of my line-up as well as a link to purchase the books, if you are break as well and want to do a pseudo bookclub.
This morning, I was like, hey! When is National Novel READING
Month, but I was informed by my kids that NaNoReMO is a year long affair. However,
NationalToday.com states that in 2003, the National Book Foundation recognized
October as National Book Month. We missed it this year, readers. Mark your
calendars though, because we will be doing it to the extreme next year!
We are on day seven of celebrating the month designated in the writing world as National Novel Writing Month.
I wanted to address three things that my excitement in the previous post didn’t allow.
I am not a National Novel Writing Month Master. In the past, I avoided it because I was not in a position to put myself into a 50k surplus of words. The first time that I entered NaNoWriMo was last year, and I was successful only because I trained.
I have spent years writing, building my literary muscles, and learning strategies that have made me relatively successful in meeting goals that I set in place. I also have a work environment that promotes writing, and I have amazing coworkers and mentors who are continually checking in on me. I have a relaxed home life with no expectations that consume all of my time. I am one of the blessed.
I also have a kickass kitty editor:
2. I was asked the other day, if your main objective is to just get 50,000 words in a month, aren’t they going to be really crappy? For example, you could just blather on about the blue sky, or well maybe it was more gray but at either rate something that made your character think it was about too to rain, which thus altered their mood and made the whole day seem pretty blahworthy? <~ in other words, wouldn’t you just be putting words on a page, and not really have accomplished much if you’re going to revise them out?
I agree that sounds like a waste, and I’m not going to claim that people don’t do that. However, I would say to give me more credit than that. I am as equally likely to put an excess amount of words into my drafts even when I’m not tracking them, not because I’m a bad writer, but because I know that my main goal in creating a draft is getting words on a page. My focus is on my ideas, or what I’m visualizing, which can change as I gain more clarity through the act of writing. I embrace the sloppiness and redundancy of my drafts no matter what time of year.
Despite my bravado in the previous paragraph, I was curious, so I looked back at a rough draft of a piece that I had started in September. It was a short story, still kind of crappy and needing a lot of revision. In this piece, I did what I’d like to call a very skeletal telling of the situation. The plot was moving on, but there was no real description of anything. There was also a lot of dialogue that felt awkward (Do people still say Greetings?). Then, I looked at what I had written on the first day of Nano. My first day of NaNo work was superior to the short story. But it wasn’t because I was focused on getting words out and spending more of my time writing, I credit the fact that I did more prep work for my NaNo project. For the NaNo project, I had spent October detailing things so I had a clearer picture, and because I had a clearer picture, it was easier to bring the words out. I don’t really know the characters in my September short story yet, so sometimes they became stiff as I was writing about them. As such, I would say that NaNo is not affecting my ability to write efficiently, plotting is. And it’s not to say that my September piece won’t eventually be on the same level, it just means I took a different approach to get there.
3. My biggest secret to the NaNoWriMo experience is that I don’t write all day, nor do I write in large spans of time. Never have, even as an academic writer, and to me, an hour is too long. During NaNo, there has not been a day so far that I haven’t been able to sit down and do some level of ninja writing sprints. In these sprints, I don’t look at 50k, I look at 500 words. I’m just going to commit to sitting wherever I am at, watching my characters, and seeing how they interact with each other… for 500 words. Sometimes it takes ten minutes, others 20-40 minutes, but after that, I am off to do something else.
I don’t make it a habit to be consumed with writing so that I become burned out. You will never catch me trying to sit down for more than 40 minutes to write, and this is a model that I celebrate throughout the year. The only thing that has changed during NaNo is how many times that will I sit down and sprint throughout the day. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t go over 500 words; I have on several occasions, if I am in the zone. I just don’t expect it.
I also don’t do any writing after 7 p.m. unless I am at work on Thursdays. I embrace the me time during these hours, but again, I have a schedule and support network that allows me to do this. Not everyone has that luxury.
I am really curious to see what every one else’s tricks to
NaNoWriMo are. What tricks do you find successful that I can add to my toolbox?
Or what are your reasons for not attempting NaNo? It’s not
for every writer, and these reasons are just valuable.
Forget Halloween and dressing up for candy, it’s time to
talk about my favorite time of year:
National Novel Writing Month! NaNoWriMo is an organization that collaborates with writers and helps them receive resources, thus allowing them to reach success within their projects. I’m a long time fan, and have blogged about it numerous times in the past.
This year’s project is a bit tricky:
My mother asked me to write a romance Navy-Sealesque type story for her birthday. She’s big into these type of books, which have quite a huge range to choose from. I got about one chapter done before scrapping it. Commission writing is hard, especially when you’re not getting paid for it, but the idea I had in mind stuck with me. Then, I had a genius idea to synthesize it with a previous story that I also scrapped. Throw in another romantic duo and BAM, an idea is ready to spring forth into fruition! It’s unlike anything that I have written before, and definitely not like the romance books my mom reads, but I’m excited to see how it all comes together.
This is the first time that I have done some serious
prepping for my upcoming project. I created an index: character profiles,
histories of each country involved, and all the socio-political issues being
faced. I’m quite proud of myself!
I also created a log to accompany me around, which was great in helping me strategize when I can write. In theory, 1667 a day seems doable, until you run into a day where you have only 3 hours free. As a result, my daily count ranges from 500-3,000 a day to make sure that I can maximize my free days and not stress about the days that aren’t. If I keep on track, I will have no trouble reaching the hefty 50,000 goal.
However, there lies the one catch to this whole process. To
get to 50,000 words in a 30 day window, I have to be really focused, especially
since I am a turtle writer. One missed 3,000 day will instantly derail me. And I
have a lot of distractions to contend with. I have a new writing buddy, who is
only seven weeks and eager to have my attention at all times. I have work, which
often exhausts me because it comes with a huge mental load. I have a family and
their numerous activities. NaNoWriMo is a serious test of perseverance.
And if that were not enough, I like to take NaNoWriMo to the extreme. On top of writing, I will be reading The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. When I saw this for sale in a scholarship bookfair event on campus, I knew that it would be perfect for November.
For audio pleasure this month, I will be listening to You Do You by Sarah Knight. It’s not about writing, which I try to stick to each year, but I felt like this had the right energy to keep things in perspective. Plus, her Tedx Talk puts me in the right mood to be reminded of how valuable my time is, and to spend it wisely. There’s no extra f*cks during National Novel Writing Month!
This has come up often in my various online writing groups:
There’s a writer, new to the world of compiling stories in a text based format. Like me, they want to be the next Ms. J.K. Rowling…
They have a manuscript ready for review and are eager to either workshop or jump straight into finding the agent that will make their dreams come true.
The only catch: they haven’t read a book in years, and this really doesn’t sit well with a lot of other writers. “How can you not love reading?” the other writers ask. The non-readers become pariahs in a community that was meant to support them.
In their defense, aren’t writing and reading separate activities with one being passive and the other active?
To me, it’s ok that that non-reading writers do not read; I’m not out to manage anyone else’s time, but I’m wondering if writers can become great if they don’t.
I tried to do some research.
I put “Famous authors who don’t like to read,” into Google, but I only found various sites telling me that this idea doesn’t exist. In order to write you MUST read! Article after article says it, so it must be true. On the other hand, there are some Reddit threads of people thinking it’s ok for writers to not read.
Or maybe the bolder point is that craft is of little interest to certain want-to-be writers. In our 15-megabytes of fame culture that favors quantities — friends, followers, number of comments — over quality this might be what it all comes down to, because if you can be recognized and rewarded as a writer without being much of a reader, guess what, most people will not try to read James Joyce.
Is it fair to say that all non-reading writers are just out for the fame? Sure, especially when a lot of reading writers are doing it for the same reasons.
I will openly admit that I have not had a huge amount of sales, but I have two shrines in various workplaces with my books on display. Whether these people have read my work or not, they know I have tangible books out there in the world that people are reading, thus identifying me as a writer. The books don’t have to be good for this to be part of my identity; they just have to exist. I love identifying as a writer and that others identify me as one.
To conclude, my research didn’t really answer my question on whether you have to read to be a great writer.
If anything, it led to more.
Despite respecting the non-reading writers, I haven’t lost hope in converting them into avid readers. Sometimes we just need to be introduced to a new perspective.
Here is my response to the top three reasons that I’ve been told why writers don’t read:
There’s never enough time:
That’s a valid point no matter what a person is trying to accomplish. There are only 24 hours in a day. Other than a serious dedication to time management, it’s hard to find a solution to this universal problem. Do you really have zero time to read, or do you not want to invest your time on it? Even 10 minutes a day is better than 0. I learned that philosophy from Hal Eldrod’s Miracle Morning.
In 10 minutes a day, maybe you could get a book read every few months. That puts you leagues ahead of fellow non-readers!
Which leads to the next reason also involving time: It takes away from writing time.
This is also legitimate. I read less when I’m writing, and write less when I’m reading, but I’m still always doing both within my day. When I was going for my B.A. in Creative Writing, I had already developed a deep link between reading and writing (which is probably why I am super judgmental in regards to writers needing to read). It was necessary to budget time for writing because it was part of my degree program, but I didn’t have the same level of eustress to manage reading. As such, I mentally converted reading time into an “Independent Study.” Every class that I enrolled within I found a book to correlate with it. For example, when I took a non-fiction workshop, I read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. With this philosophy, I made reading a priority, thus furthering my inability to separate reading from writing.
But ugh.. sometimes reading isn’t pleasurable, which is fair, especially if you were forced to read texts like the Scarlet Letter in high school. Writing and reading; however, are like muscles. They need to be exercised and diving into extreme sports, like 1000 pages of The Stand by Steven King, can cause serious brain fatigue. Ease into it, grasshopper! If you aren’t swallowing novels like they’re tic tacs, that’s ok. There are some amazing short stories out there, like Donald Barthelme’s “The School.” They can give you the same satisfaction as reading novels. There’s a yearly anthology that I love called The Best American Short Stories, which has some of our best contemporary authors compiled together just for you! A couple of pages a day can introduce you to great writers.
Now that I have addressed the reasons non-reading writers don’t want to read during their writing journey, here’s three reasons why I think you should:
Passion is hard to keep consistent when you’re writing. My first official novel took 2 years to complete from start to finish. It took J.R.R. Tolken twelve years to write The Lord of the Rings. If you are curious about other turtle paced writers check out this article: 7 Novels That Took Their Authors Years To Write (To Make You Feel Better About Not Finishing NaNoWriMo). Reading keeps you invested in the project even after your writing bug has disappeared. Additionally, it shows you that if books like those listed on the worst books can get published, it means your book can get published, too! <~ although hopefully it doesn’t show up on the worst books list.
Like I’ve said before, I’m a big time book pusher. When I’m talking about my book, I’m also pushing other books. “Oh you liked mine? Check out this one next!” This allows me to move beyond my one and done book and be a wealth of information for my readers, which keeps them coming back! It lets them see that I am just like them! I care about my readers, and I know they’ll appreciate my recommendations. Bonus points if they have recommendations for me! In the independent book selling market, this level of connection with readers is crucial.
I learned a lot from my creative writing classes, but none of the education really sunk in until I saw it in practical application. Reading immerses you into various techniques and styles, allowing you as a writer to better develop your own. By reading books, I learned about flow of ideas, how better it is to show vs. tell, and where to insert physical description. I also learned to reflect on my responses to what I was reading and utilize these to project the same responses for my audience. As such, reading has made me a better writer. Beta reading has made me an even better writer.
At the end of the day, if you’re a writer who doesn’t like to read, you probably didn’t read this post (totally ok; it kind of lost my attention at the end as well). If you did, you just read like 1000+ words, so you can now say you’re a reader. Kudos!
Am I saying that you have to be reader to write, nope, but I am saying that if you want to be a GREAT, you should.
If you have any recommendations of books that turned you
from a non-reader into a reader, please share them in the comments. I’d love to
see what books brought others to the reader side.
April is National Poetry Month. I haven’t always been a fan of poetry, and I really wasn’t thrilled with having to take poetry for my degree program. Structurally, it didn’t make sense to my brain. Why do you cut a sentence apart into lines or have no sentences at all?! I never realized that I cared so much about grammar as I did when trying to understand poetry.
Poetry was exactly what I needed in life, however. It’s become a way for me to express a lot of ideas that I can’t really do in other outlets. It’s also been a blessing in teaching myself to slow down, to examine things with time stopped. As such, it’s been very therapeutic to work things out in this format, and I find myself drawn to it quite often.
I’ve been going to poetry readings as well. One of my favorite professors is a poet; he did a spoken word event to bring awareness to HIV and AIDs in my first year, and I was floored by how much energy he can draw when he’s on a stage. He was recently recognized as Hartford’s first poet laureate, and so I’ve had further access to hear him read his poems aloud. He’s also introduced me to other local poets in the area. I can’t speak about National Poetry Month without also speaking about how awesome Professor Frederick Douglass Knowles II is!
So how can you celebrate this month?
Poems.org is a great resource for discovering what makes poems transcend time. They feature bios of poets and snippets of what inspired the poems. My favorite is their poem-a-day feature. I get an email every morning!
Today’s featured poet is Nikky Finney, a poet who I had never heard of until today. Check out her poem O’ Noblesse O.’
Another way to enjoy National Poetry month is to WRITE poetry.
Writer’s Digest is having a daily challenge on their site. They set out a prompt and you draft up a poem and share it within that day, if you find yourself unsure how to start the writing process. It’s also great because you can see how other poets tackled that challenge and learn from their perspectives.
When I discovered this daily challenge, it was already on day 6. So I gave that one a go. The prompt was to start with the word “After.” I wasn’t sure if I was going to post this, because it ends on a hot debate item in our family, but isn’t that what poetry is about, finding a way to navigate life, even the uncomfortable bits?
When I was growing up, my mom used to take me to a British
tea shoppe forty minutes away from our home. I’m guessing it was her way of
trying to raise me with some sense of her culture, but I was not cultured by
any means, which meant I was in constant opposition of the woman who ran the
shop. She was an “elbows off the table, child!” type of person, so you can
imagine we got along smashingly…
As such, I’ve always had a bitter taste for tea. Now that I’m an independent woman, in control of where I can put my elbows, I’ve been relaxing my opposition of tea.
Especially when I think of Lewis Carroll.
I loved Carrol’s interpretation of the world through Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, because it reminds me a lot of how children initially observe their surroundings and try to put everything into a larger context. They are paraded by adults through constant stimuli, all of which often seems new and disconnected!
As an adult, the book allows you to go back to the excitement of throwing all logic going out the window and appreciating the randomness that is left.
In his tale, there’s an iconic moment where Alice runs into the Mad Hatter, who is having tea with the March Hare and the Dormouse. I loved it because ALL THE RULES of tea time are flamboyantly and willfully ignored. Take that, mean tea shoppe lady!
If tea must be endured, that’s the kind of tea time that my kids will be growing up around.
For those not in the know, Camp NanoWrimo is the love child of NanoWriMo, a time away from the vigorous expectation of the elder namesake and it’s 50,000 words within a single month of craziness.
My story idea is a new one that I’ve been developing: a child not too school savvy who has fallen in love with only one book of his life, and it ends with a cliffhanger. The need to find the sequel to the book is strong, but it seems the author never got around to making it! What’s a kid to do? Give up?! Obviously, the answer is no!
One of my favorite features of the Camp experience is that
YOU, the amazing writer with a million other responsibilities, get to make your
own manageable goal. Forget the NaNoWriMo box; create your own!
This month I will try to write 30,000, which is about 30,000
more than I wrote for the month of February.
Ok I lied, I spent some time writing poetry.
But drafting stories is a mixture of feeling almost godlike to being reduced to a mere mortal within the same breath.
It’s not good for the blood pressure some days.
Which is why the second unique feature of CampNanoWrimo is so
valuable: bunkmates! In a forum-based discussion group, you are paired with various
people (or create your own cabin) to have a support group.
So far my bunkmates are ready for action!
Anyone else participating in CampNaNoWriMo this year?
Friday is almost
here, which means that Children of the Planes will be released into the world!
To celebrate, I
would like to spotlight those who supported me during the composing stages of
husband who is my biggest creative cheerleader and proudly serves his country. Without
him making the choices that he has made, there wouldn’t have been any need to write
a book about coping with deployment.
kids deserve the biggest shout out. They pushed me to create this story,
brainstormed ideas with me, and were my beta readers. I may have been a bit
crazy at times trying to form ideas or asking a million questions, but they
took it like champs. Seriously, this book should have their names on it too.
mother for her motherly intuition to know that I’d be a published author
Aunt Mo for being the first Allaire family writing trailblazer. Check out her own published series at mjallaire.com.
Shenanigans Crew for always being there, reading my work when I needed a set of
grown up eyes, and for celebrating my successes like they were your own.
and Kelli, the other lady leaders of our little crew. You are my village. Their
kids are like my very own, hence why they appear within this book.
The Gabriele family for letting me burrow in the corner to write while the children took karate classes. Sometimes that was the only time in the day I was able to write.
Miss Julie for taking the time to help revise this story. I can be a hot mess of a writer. If you don’t see the hot mess, it’s because Julie caught it.
Last, but not least, there were many more who have supported my journey, friends and family who were excited when I shared news about my progress or have promised to purchase the book. I can’t thank you all enough for being part of my original fan base!