Fifteen and Fearless: Writing Lessons From My Daughter

We’ve had the most lovely discussions lately regarding when we realized we wanted to be writers or when we knew what kind of children we were raising, all of which got me thinking about my own writing – and the lessons my daughter is teaching me. My husband and I have a daughter who, like most kids her age, is many things: teenager, equestrian, volleyball player, student – but most of all, she is a writer.

For as long as I can remember, she’s found enjoyment in the written word. There were never enough books to be read at bedtime, and every learning unit at school that involved writing was met with excitement. Songwriting, in particular, has been a passion for the past few years, and watching the progression of her skill is thrilling.

What I love most about my daughter’s writing, however, whether story or song or essay or poem, is that it’s fearless. Sure, she worries about grades and sometimes the feedback of her peers, but not in a way that prevents her from capturing her thoughts in writing and sharing them with others. There’s a joy and excitement that’s contagious when she comes running into whatever room her father or I are in to announce she’s finished a new song and is ready to perform it for us. Sometimes she’ll mention casually, “I’ve put something new up on Wattpad and received some comments” or “I’ve been doing some editing for a few people on Wattpad.”

It’s a bit of a mystery the source of this confidence, this willingness to put herself out there and accept or receive whatever may come from the experience; if we’re honest, teenagers are not always kind to one another, especially when you add the anonymity of the internet. And yet, she’s fearless. I suspect there’s a bit of a generational thing at play; after all, she’s never not known technology or social media, and this idea of posting personal thoughts to people one has never met is part of her generation’s normal. It’s bigger than that, however, as she’s equally willing to perform a new, barely rehearsed song she’s written at a school event.

The pleasure and joy she experiences through her writing, the way she uses it as an outlet for an overwhelm of emotion or as a means to process a situation or experience, her ability and willingness to share with others and receive feedback – it’s a powerful reminder that reading and writing can and should make us feel good, can help us navigate the complex, challenging, emotion-filled journey of life. And also that sometimes, perhaps more than sometimes, we as adults can overthink to the point that we remove the joy from the thing. (Me, yes, I mean me.)

The magic is in the fearlessness with which she pursues her writing, and the joy and release and community that the writing allows her to experience. Those things she can carry with her always, regardless of where her life journey takes her. (Besides, who can stay mad about a messy room when the teenager says, “I forgot to clean my room, but I finished a new song – want to hear it?!?”)


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AhCHOO!

All these recent posts about illness seem to be contagious! I’m kidding, of course, but after five remarkably healthy weeks, as I watched various ailments fell everyone around me, I’ve finally succumbed to the wretched head cold that’s been making the rounds. The recent trip to Miami for work probably didn’t help – being trapped in a flying tin can with recycled air twice in four days, while working on minimal sleep, is not a recipe for continued health. Ah well, it could be worse. (I’ve spent the last three days napping and reading, and I don’t have the flu. )

My foggy brain is not quite up to the task of a hearty blog post, so I thought I’d ask y’all for some help.

What’s your favorite guilty pleasure read/author?

What’s your favorite sick day read?

Which author would you most like to have deliver some hot tea/toddy to you during your sick day?

What’s your favorite “feel better faster” approach to the common cold?

Wishing everyone good health and an early spring!

Brain Candy

Polar vortex or not, it’s cold in New England in February. For those of us who lack a love of cold-weather activities, like ice skating or snowboarding, winter is the perfect time to curl up at home in a deliciously squishy, oversized chair, wrapped in a soft, fuzzy, possibly electric blanket, and a book.

My “to be read pile” has reached a point where it’s now “piles” and I have them separated by category. There’s the business/management/leadership pile, which are text-dense, educational, yet often dry books; these are the ones I need to read at my desk, in the morning, and in short bursts. They are not comfy chair books. There’s another pile I think of as the “be a good human” books – well-rounded, learned, and so on. This pile contains Michele Obama’s book, Humans of NY, and other biographies or books about interesting people. Sometimes these can be read in the comfy chair, but only in short stints. The next to last pile contains fiction that challenges me to think or makes me uncomfortable or anxious. This pile contains thrillers, suspense, and early mysteries by the authors many writers aspire to match.

And then there’s the brain candy pile. These are the books that have great plots, lovable characters, quirky/twisty/challenging puzzles, and realistic, engaging dialogue; they are also the kind of books that this reader can devour in a single sitting, the kind where I will forgive the occasional typo, head-hop, or other anomaly because the stories are so good, such sweet, tasty candy for the brain. These stories challenge the reader to figure out whodunnit, but somehow, they just go down easier (meaning less work, less anxiety) than other kinds of books for me. This is not in any way meant to demean, as these are quality reads; rather, these books are just so enjoyable for me that I can’t get enough. They make me happy to read, and I love them.

Often cozies fall into this pile for me, but also paranormal romance and paranormal mystery. I’ve been bingeing a couple of new-to-me paranormal romance series lately. They’re juicy, a bit more obviously formulaic than some genres, but not annoyingly so. There’s something about that predictability that adds to the candy – and even when the overall formula is there, the puzzles are different, which is what makes them a perfect brain candy read for me. They make me work to try and solve the crime, the characters are well-rounded and realistic, but there’s a comfortable rhythm and pace to how everything unfolds that keeps the anxiety level low, while never being boring. Right now I’m working through Renee George’s Peculiar Mysteries and Witchin’ Impossible series. (WARNING: These are NOT cozies.)

The paranormal mysteries I’ve been reading do amp up the anxiety a bit, enough to make me growl at my family when they interrupt, but again, they’re well-balanced stories that end up in a place that make me smile and reach for the next one. I’m particularly fond of anything by Amanda M. Lee — especially the Grim, Mystic Caravan, and Moonstone Bay series she writes.

Every reader has different tastes and preferences – what’s your brain candy read?


Happy New Year!

Can you believe it’s nearly the second week of January 2019 already?!  The weather here in New England is a bit cold and gloomy, but there’s something shiny about starting a new year, even when the weather is a dull gray, a degree of excitement that’s unique to this time of year.

My year is starting off with a fascinating array of “new”:  new health insurance, payroll schedule, and company name as my company continues on its path of merging with another; new master bathroom (our current one had a bit of an accident over the holidays – a bad ceiling fan caught fire, and thus. . .new bathroom); new adventures! I’m traveling to Albuquerque, New Mexico this month, a city/state I’ve never visited, and to Miami, Florida in February. (I’ve only been from the Miami airport to the cruise ship dock, so I don’t think that counts as having visited before!) Both are work trips, but I’m excited to see new places.

And perhaps best of all, new books! Santa brought me a couple of good ones, and I might have accidentally picked a couple out for myself when I was holiday shopping. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.)

Today I finished City of Endless Night, by Preston & Child.  This mystery thriller was released in January 2018, but I picked it up last week. It was fantastic, as all the books I’ve read by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have been. The multiple points of view were woven together beautifully, and the plot was delightfully twisty. The authors kept me on the edge of my reading chair!

Last week I read A Deadly Feast, by Lucy Burdette. (I received the book through Net Galley.) This most recent entry in the Key West Food Critic Mysteries series is possibly Burdette’s best work yet. I absolutely loved the plot, and the story kept me guessing. The strongest attributes of all the books in this series are the characters, including the setting. When I read one of these books, I feel as though I’m in Key West, walking or scootering along with the characters. The place and the people are so tangible, you can’t help but be drawn in. (Also, I’m always hungry when I finish her books.)

In the TBR pile, my newest additions include Michele Obama’s book, Becoming; Dare to Lead by Brene Brown; Suspect, by Robert Crais; and If on a winter’s night a traveler, by Italo Calvino. An eclectic mix, to be sure!

What’s new and/or exciting for you in the new year? Is the TBR pile ready to topple over? I hear a few of our own Mysteristas may have amazing books to add to your reading list this year.

Wishing you health and joy – and plenty of great mysteries to read – in 2019!

The Weight of the Things

As the parent of a teenager, I often find myself navigating the perilous waters of unpredictable emotion, continuously moving boundaries, and the vast conspiracy that is our educational system (surely, my daughter might suggest, the teachers are out to get her if they’re asking her to read Oedipus Rex ON PURPOSE, and for the second time in two years of high school). Trying to fill the role of coach rather than boss, I encourage her to problem-solve and think creatively about the challenges she’s facing. We discuss, I ask questions (and try really, really hard not to offer answers), and eventually she’s done with me and it’s time to Face Time the best friend.

I’ve found that being a parent has taught me many lessons I didn’t realize I needed to learn. (That’s not to say that these lessons could not have been learned another way, but for me, the journey was influenced by parenting.) A few years ago, we were going through a particularly hard time – middle school. As the daughter and I navigated through one series of tangled social interactions after another, I had my own personal epiphany: things are heavy. All kinds of things.

For instance, emotional things: what might have beens, what should have beens, how could they, why did I. Dwelling  on these emotional activities can weigh one down, impede forward movement, and become wholly distracting, keeping one from appreciating the good, the happy, the beneficial.

And then there are the physical things: gifts given, but never worn, still hanging in the closet with the tags on because we feel poorly about giving them away, but they’re taking up valuable space in the closet. Tokens saved, because somehow we believe we’ll lose the memory without the object with which to anchor it.

Clutter. Oh, the clutter. Yesterday was writers’ group day. We’ve been mostly using our meeting for dedicated writing time; one of our members is polishing a manuscript as she shops for an agent, another is in revision mode, one is on deadline for a new non-fiction book, and I’m. . .busy? The dedicated writing time is fantastic, and was particularly helpful during NaNoWriMo. I’ve determined that if I have at least a little bit of a plan, I can average about 1700 words every 90 minutes. It’s unlikely I could sustain that all day, but I’ve learned that I’m pretty consistent.  Why then did I only manage to write 6,797 words in November (plus another 1700 yesterday)?

Clutter. Sure, I’m busy, but everyone is. However, my desk becomes the dumping ground for things in our home that no one wants to handle: mail, coupons, magazines, receipts, to-do lists, and more. Currently, my desk chair is trapped behind a yoga ball my daughter no longer wants in her room, and all the things she took off her desk are on the floor – next to mine.

I wish I could say it’s only the home office. But that wouldn’t be true. No, our house has become an episode of “Hoarders: The Early Years.” I’ve been on an epic purge mission for about a year, and yet I only make incremental improvements because, sadly, there’s always more stuff coming in!  And it’s heavy. The burden of managing, sorting, organizing, recycling, selling, tossing the stuff is heavy. On those glorious weekends where all the laundry gets put away before we go to bed, it hits me just how miserable I am when there’s clutter.

Clutter is heavy. It’s a burden, a loathsome weight I carry around until I don’t. And yet, I find myself needing to sort through the clutter before I toss it, to review it, touch it all one last time before I make it disappear for good.

I think I’m done. When I finished my 1700 words today, I had so much more to say! The story is coming together, I love the emotional roller coaster my protagonist is riding, and her business partner is becoming a more and more significant part of the tale. But, when I got home, it was as though someone settled that weight back on my shoulders the minute I walked in the door and looked around.

I’m done. I haven’t quite figured out how to get it out quickly, short of ordering a dumpster (which I’ve done, and it’s quite satisfying), but I loved my writing time today and it’s past time to make that a priority. My daughter has been inspiring me, too. She’s doing her own purge of her bedroom, and she’s gone quite minimalist: no bureau, Japanese futon bed, no stuffed animals or throw pillows, and she’s even sorting her books. I like to think she’s learned something from watching our family navigate this journey, or even that some content from our mother-daughter talks has taken root inside her.

Maybe she’s just fifteen and going through a phase.

Regardless, our family is on the most amazing weight-loss program, and I’m psyched for the results.  Maybe I’ll even win NaNo next year!

Any great tips for minimizing the clutter, managing the chaos, and keeping the “weight” off? Is it a really bad idea to put my desk inside some sort of electric fence? What happens if I throw away the stuff without looking at it? 

NaNoWriMo: Update!

The stated goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in one month; essentially, a VERY rough draft of a novel. (See our previous posts on this event!) The volunteer cheerleaders from NaNoWriMo remind us that it only takes 1600 words/day to achieve this goal. The unstated goal is to build that oh-so-important writing habit. Writers love to talk about exercising their writing muscles, which is our way of saying that we’ve built a successful routine (habit), and it’s easier to get into the groove of writing when you can lean on that routine. Not to mention that fact that our writing gets better the more we exercise those writing muscles!

Sounds easy, right?

Hmph. Not so much. I struggle to prioritize my writing, to give myself permission to put the writing first – or at least second or third. Frankly, even fourth would be progress. (This might be why I haven’t published anything in three years.) But, for me, it’s also really hard to sit down and write when I have to re-read what I’ve already written each time to remind myself of where I’m at in the story – and more importantly, where I’m going. You’d think I’d learn!

Outlines have become this pantser’s friend, but even with an outline (mine are still very high-level), it’s hard to pick up the thread of where I left off, and rejoin the flow of thought I (hopefully) had going. In theory, NaNoWriMo is the perfect event to push me to prioritize my writing and build that routine.

Except, it requires me to prioritize my writing. Oops!

This month, I’ve written 4,199 words. That’s more than I’ve written in a while, and I love where my story is going. Those 4,199, added to the roughly 25,000 I had previously written, have allowed me to dive into this story in a meaningful and creative way. It would be lovely to say I’m going to crack that 50,000 target, and certainly the month is not over yet! (NaNoWriMo’s handy goal-tracker tells me that I only need to write 3,800 words/day to finish.) There are ideas bubbling, lots of threads in the story to tie off, and plenty of work to do.

I can do it.

NaNoWriMo: An Update

Recently, Mysterista Mia Manansala wrote about this crazy event known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s an online, community-driven event where participants attempt to write a complete novel (or at least 50,000 words) in one month. It’s a wonderful way to push a writer out of his/her comfort zone, write fast and dirty, and build a routine of putting butt in chair, fingers on keys. This is not the time to overthink, edit, or revise as you go – the goal is words, lots of words, down on the screen.

I’ve never won.

November is a terrible month for this.

And yet, here I am, giving it another shot. We’re four days in and I’m actually proud to say I got +1400 words yesterday. Of course, the goal is roughly 1600+ per day, so I’m a wee bit behind, but – I GOT WORDS DOWN! One of the things I love most about NaNoWriMo is that there’s a ton of enthusiasm. Volunteers do a fantastic job of communicating with participants, encouraging local write-ins or online conversations to help motivate and inspire. It’s a month of cheerleading and support for what is usually a fairly solitary endeavor. NaNoWriMo is a great reminder that there’s a whole community of lovely, supportive, encouraging people out there who are enduring the same challenges.

The program has expanded beyond the November event, too. There’s Camp NaNoWriMo in the Spring (April and July), with a less rigorous expectation for word count – you set your own word count goal, but you don’t have to hit 50,000. It’s a great way to stay in touch with your writers’ community and keep that routine going, with a degree of flexibility. The aspect of Camp NaNoWriMo I really enjoy is the cabins. For regular NaNoWriMo you can have a buddy community, similar to the concept of an FB friend. For Camp NaNoWriMo, you can become part of a cabin community, either of your own choosing or you can ask the organization to assign you to a cabin. Either way, it’s another fun option for coming together with a group of people sharing similar goals.

My cabin group has branched out and created an FB group, as well, so we continue to communicate even after Camp is over. I love the on-going opportunity to gather my community around me, sharing successes and challenges, and using the group energy for motivation. This is where social media and technology really add value to life, for me.

I’d love to hear about other virtual opportunities to create writing communities – any suggestions?