It’s #NaNoWriMo Day…

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 10.01.06 PMToday is the first day of National Novel Writing Month. The competition, commonly hashtagged as #NaNoWriMo, encourages creative writers to draft 50,000 new words (a “novel”) in the month of November.

I’ve decided to participate this year, and I’ve set my own goal as I did when I wrote in 2013. My goal then was 30,000 words. Though that bar will be more difficult to accomplish this year, that’s my goal for 2015 as well. Yes, I create my own rules!

I’ve done more pre-work this year. Well, more isn’t saying much as I did none at all in the past. I’m very excited about my ideas in progress. They are a culmination of seeds long ago planted, and I can’t wait to tend to them.

Deciding on my project was a tug-of-war. The truth is, I can’t see an outlet for it. But believe it or not, that’s what made me truly press ahead with this idea and not another one. There’s no pressure to perform! There’s just fun and exploration! It’s an idea with themes, characters and conventions that are important to me, so I’m going to honor that inspiration and just write.

This has been the root of my most consistent acts of self-sabotage: worrying about the audience and the next steps instead of being true to my own ideas. Who’s gonna read it? Where might it go?

It doesn’t matter. I’m gonna read it and it’s going on the page.

Getting free is goodness. What’s holding you back? What small thing can you do today to set yourself free?

To #NaNoWriMo or Not to #NaNoWriMo

It’s been a couple of years since my first and only participation in National Novel Writing Month. Despite my reticence of previous years, I found it a great experience and I was very glad I tried it.

Last year this time, I thought I’d try it again, but the beginning of #NaNoWriMo happened while I was on a honeymoon. Who knew two people could sleep so much when relaxing on a boat!? Suffice to say, I was focused on other things and could never really get my mind on starting or continuing work on anything major last fall.

So here we are.

I think I’m in, but I’m not positive. In a few short weeks, I’ll be undergoing a surgical procedure. I’ve never been under general anesthesia. I’ve never even had a broken bone. I simply have no idea what to expect (and I do know anything is possible). For sure I’ll be completely out of commission for a few days, and then managing pain for an undetermined length of time after that. What effect will this have on my writing momentum? What about the fog of painkillers? What about the energy required for healing? It’s all a guess.

But as I type this, I feel a sense of rebellion against the “play it safe” stance I’d normally take. I don’t want to be deterred from starting, just because the finish looks so uncertain.

So that’s that.

I’m in for #NaNoWriMo this year. My month might be more like two weeks, but no matter what, starting is the first victory.

Are you in?

Nic and Blue on an excursion during our honeymoon cruise.
Me and Blue on an excursion during our honeymoon cruise.

Getting Free

It’s such an amazing feeling – freedom. Freedom from my own thoughts of limitation. Freedom from an old path. Freedom from what no longer serves me.

I’ve felt this freedom in recent days, swelling in a joyful crescendo this evening. To celebrate and reaffirm my recent decisions, I started tossing and recycling items long outdated. Tomorrow I get to cart them away.

There’s new space in my garage where anchors used to be. There’s new energy and mental clarity where there was once clutter and dread. It’s wonderful.

Embracing my true self.
Embracing my true self.

Even an individual at cross purposes with himself is certain to end in failure. Yet a hundred or even a thousand people can definitely attain their goal, if they are of one mind. ~Nichiren

Although many quote this passage from Many in Body, One in Mind to highlight the second half, I reference it most often for the first. More than once, I’ve found myself wavering about a decision. I have clear thoughts about where I want to go, but take steps at cross purposes with my own desires. It’s like stepping on the gas and the brake the at same time. You don’t go anywhere, and if you do, it’s a jerky, unpleasant experience.

It’s liberating to choose life over fear. Now it’s time to be who I’ve always said I wanted to be… 

New Moon, New Start

It’s been a long time. I shouldn’t have left you…

Keep going if you know the words. Meanwhile, I’ll just bob my head and smile. It has been a while. And since I’ve last appeared in this space, I’ve been out and about in the world collecting experiences. My most recent one was a glorious trip to Sesimbra, Portugal with my cousins. I may write more about that later.

brown beauties in portugal
Brown beauties in Portugal.

Today I’m dusting off the blog to say hello. It’s fall in the western hemisphere and it’s a new moon. And y’all know I love a good reason any reason for a fresh start. After this hiatus, I’ve got a lot on my mind. Some of it I’ll share here, but other things I may share in two new spaces currently under development. Every few years I reimagine my online identities and now feels like a good time to allow some things to stand on their own.

We’ll see.

In the short term, I just wanted to tap the mic, say hello, and welcome you back to the studio. coco’s brewing…

On Mission

You will not find your mission by standing still. The only way to find it is by challenging yourself in something – I would almost say it does not matter what. Then by making consistent effort, the direction you should take will open up before you quite naturally, just as wide, new horizons open up before someone walking up a hill. Little by little you will come to understand your mission. That is why it is so important to have the courage to ask yourself what it is that you should really be doing right now, at this very moment.

It is likewise important to set your sights high. The greater the tasks you chose to take on – one step at a time – the more rewarding and joyful your life will be. A person with a strong sense of mission is a source of light. For such a person, there is no darkness in the world.

– A Sense of Purpose in A Piece of Mirror by Daisaku Ikeda

Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.
Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.

Two days after my 41st birthday, I ventured to Aspen, Colorado. I had never visited the state, nor participated in a Socratic seminar. Most of the texts we digested in preparation for the week-long session were “classics,” yet foreign to me for one reason or another. In more ways than one, the experience was an education.

Although I wrote primarily of the texts and our conversations around them, I also made heartfelt connections. Several of the women stand out, and two of them left me with words of encouragement related to mission. I spoke with them separately and about very different things, yet their guidance was quite similar. Although I “know” what they shared, it was a warm nudge and a great reminder to take action. Do the work, don’t just think about it, or wonder about it. Don’t just dream it. Live it.

If you discover an idea in a moment of inspiration, that’s your story to tell. Tell it! ~Stevie Kallos

Hermana, we are in this world together to create the opportunities that matter. ~Lisette Nieves

In short we all have something to contribute – something to do. Not only that, we don’t have to walk that road alone. Allies are nearby if we are open to them.

So it’s Monday, which is a great day for beginnings. It’s time to get moving. What is your work? How will you be productive this month, this week, this day?


Here’s the round up from the series:

  • The Aspen Seminar. Things get underway this evening and I plan to document my experiences while I’m here.
  • Opening. We just concluded the opening session of the seminar. We’ll be here another six days so there’s a lot in store.
  • First Full Day. Today’s session was on human nature. Our readings included Aristotle, Hobbs and Darwin.
  • Toklat. Today’s readings investigated individual rights and liberty.
  • Three Poisons. In Nichiren Buddhism, the three poisons are greed, anger and foolishness.
  • Over the Hump. Our morning focus was equality and social welfare. Notably today also featured poetry, fiction and writings from women.
  • Antigone. Perhaps the highlight of the day was our late afternoon performance of Antigone.
  • Leading from Within. Today was the closing session of the Aspen Seminar.

6 to go

I’ve been 40 for six months! Yesterday was my half birthday.

We have to blame Sojo and Sam for this whole half birthday thing. They are the ones who introduced me to the concept, and it took a few years before I actually paid attention to the calendar and remembered my own. But this year, finally, I did, and so happy half birthday to me!

Some days it seems I haven’t accomplished much this year, but as I sit and reflect, I have to admit that’s impatience talking.

I’ve gotten new opportunities at work and landed some interesting freelance contracts. I’ve made strides in my creative projects and midway between my birthday and my half birthday…

Me and Blue in NYC at an impromptu engagement party.
Me and Blue in NYC at an impromptu engagement party.

I got engaged. *shimmies*

It’s been a fun year thus far. My only regret is not documenting more of it. I’ve been writing morning pages and journaling semi-regularly, but I can do more to record this chapter of my life. In anticipation of the next six months, I plan to write a letter to myself to arrive on my 41st birthday.

There’s always a balance to strike between living life and writing about it, but inspired by Pearl Cleage’s work, I want to maintain the one, increase the other, and enjoy the hell out of both.

Cheers to life and love and all that jazz. And happy (half) birthday to me!

Blog Tour: My Writing Process

I can’t lie. I shimmied when I received Tayari’s invitation to the blog tour. I’ve admired and appreciated her since the release of her wonderful book, Silver Sparrow. I met her via Twitter, and because she was so warm and engaging, I bought the book and attended her book signing in Athens, Georgia. Gracious and welcoming, she shared her wisdom, time and friends with me that day.

So the purpose of this blog tour is to showcase the ways writers engage in the writing process. To that end, bloggers answer four questions and pass the baton to two others. The questions and my responses are below:

novel outlineWhat are you working on?
I’m in the early stages of a short story. I’ve not written very many of those, and in fact, my last attempt was years ago. I’m also 30,000 words into a novel, but I’ve spent time away from it and I’m just about ready to start over. I need to rework the central conflict and stop making life so easy for my protagonist. I can’t help it though. It’s my first time writing a novel and I want things to work out for her in the end (spoiler alert?).

Fiction is a major departure for me even though I’ve always wanted to write it. I have lots of ideas to explore, most of which are grounded in compassion and love.

How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
Generally I write because I need to express an idea, document an event, or think through something. Rather than writing for public recognition, I write to recognize myself. To that end, I usually write personal narratives and the occasional brief essay. I’ve not modeled my work after anyone, nor have I sought to distinguish myself from anyone. I seek to understand and be true to myself on the page.

Recently I began reading short stories penned by a well-respected writer. I couldn’t finish them because they were simply too depressing. The men were abusive and abrasive. The women were abused and wholly devoid of agency. Horrific circumstances happen in real life, but so does fighting back. So does healing. This collection is not representative of short stories, but as I move into fiction, I’m clear I want to tell stories that uplift. I want us to imagine and live lives of joy. I want to write stories that help us do that.

Why do you write what you do?
I write because I am moved to do so. Sometimes my heart is full and I want to share that feeling. Sometimes I completely disagree with the prevailing thought and I want to provide an alternative point of view. These two ideas also undergird the writing I have planned in the near future. I believe in peace. I believe in restoration over retribution. I want to challenge people to reconsider the ways we treat people individually, societally, institutionally. I write to make us think, feel. I write to confirm triumphs of the human spirit.

longhandHow does your writing process work?
If I already have ideas about what I want to say, I sit at the computer and type stream-of-consciousness. It pours out pretty quickly and do not censor as I go.

I write as much as I can, as fast as I can, placing {insert _____ here} or XXXX whenever I am missing a word or detail. I don’t search for anything midstream. I go until I’ve expressed everything I can.

It’s out of order. It’s repetitive. It’s a mess.

I reread and elaborate where it makes sense, and move sentences and whole paragraphs from place to place. If it’s a longer work, I print it out with line numbers and physically cut out paragraphs and sections, moving them as I go. Once I feel like most of the ideas are on the page and more or less in the right place, I fill in missing details. Crafting (poetics) is the last step.

But what if I don’t really know where I stand? Or I’m not really sure where I’m going? That’s when it’s pen to paper. Longhand helps me think. I write until I have sense of where I’m going. Then I either type what I’ve written, and revise it as needed, or I start a new brain dump on the computer.

Sometimes I’m stuck and need a push to keep going. At those times I find a relevant or provocative quote and write a response, or I type a question a friend or editor might ask about the work and answer it. Somewhere in there is the catalyst I need to continue my work.

There’s more to say about preparing the space, carving out time to write and strategies I use to focus. Maybe I’ll tweet about them…


So who’s got next? Stacia and Joshunda.

Stacia crafts gorgeous prose about life – hers and society at large. She recently finished a weeklong stint blogging at the Washington Post and she has a few social media outlets. You can always find her here.

Joshunda is a prolific author and journalist. Every time I turn around she has a thoughtful piece in yet another publication. She has an inspirational Tumblr and her main home on the web is here.

Magical thinking. Mixed feelings.

I’m reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. It’s wonderfully written, yet halfway in, I’m not sure I like the book. Well, the book I like. It’s my relationship to the book that puts me ill at ease.

I came to the book from several sources.

One. A mentor/advisor recommended it once she discovered my renewed interest in journalism and creative writing. She spoke highly of the author in general and this book in particular, so I added to my ever-growing List of Books to Read.

Two. Every now and again I review the list of Pulitzer Prize winners and add them to the similarly growing, often overlapping List of Writers to Know.

Three. Pearl Cleage’s newest book arrived amidst much fanfare, and more than once I saw Joan Didion’s name referenced as a peer. As in, this book is autobiographical/confessional and brings to mind other well-read writers like Joan Didion.

Four. In the aforementioned book, Pearl notes Joan’s work (although not this offering – it hadn’t been written at the time). As it was already on two Lists, and her name was becoming a steady fixture in my consciousness, I finally ordered it.

So, the book…The very first page compels. Yet soon thereafter, I’m repelled. She’s exploring her husband’s sudden death, and it’s so well done, I feel it.

Having experienced my mother’s death up close (albeit 11 years ago), much of what she wrote hit notes I wasn’t prepared to experience. The circumstances and the relationship were different, but the trauma and the grief remain true.

I put it down for a day or so.

I picked it up again and found myself, at turns, congratulating myself and questioning the book. Congratulations because I saw whispers of my writing style in hers, and I thought this might be a good mentor text for professional development. Questions because, unlike Pearl’s book which seemed to edify and affirm something in me, Joan’s book felt more… I hesitate to say it… self-serving?

I believe in the power of storytelling, yet something about this storytelling seems to serve the teller. Which is an interesting critique given my praise of Pearl as her journals were originally meant to serve herself. Pearl didn’t write them to publish them. She wrote them to reflect. I don’t know if Joan set out to document this period in her life so she could publish it, or decided later on the story could be valuable. It certainly can be. I’m sure it has been.

To be fair, I’m at the halfway point. And maybe the crux of my resistance is the emotion. Because her writing is so clear, because she lets you inside the black box, you know and witness and feel everything. Which is good writing, great writing, but a bad feeling if that’s not the feeling you want.

So I have mixed feelings. I like the book, but I don’t love it. I do plan to finish reading it.

Did you read it? What did you think of it?

200 pages down.

I’m 2/3s of the way done with Pearl’s book. I’ve been on a first name basis with her since I began this journey.

parchment-23662_640Reading it makes me wonder how much wisdom gets lost because women don’t share their most intimate thoughts? Either aloud or in writing? Many of us live our lives, and simply figure out the hard shit as we go along.

Some read the self-help gurus say, and I’m sure there’s plenty of insight to be gained by doing so. Others bond and grow through occasional talks with a close friend.

But how many of us engage in a systematic effort to document (your real) life and the lessons it teaches you? Either for your own reflection and edification or for the express purpose of passing it on? If we are not the keepers of our stories, who should be? When our stories fade, our wit and wisdom fade also.

I’ve written before about questions I’d love to ask but can’t. There’s also this about the importance of family narrative. There’s so much learning to be gained in the living of life, yes, and eve more so in the telling and retelling of it.

Do you document your life? Why or why not? How do you or how would you if you started today?