Now, Part 2: DRAFTCEMBER is coming!

Draftcember headerI have a whole post planned about busyness, about what it’s been like these past months to balance work and study and writing, but this week was full of Thanksgiving prep and pie-eating and I’ve run out of time. Because something cool is coming and it starts in just a few days.

I’ve loved watching all my friends participate in NaNoWriMo this month, and while strict word count goals have never really been my thing, I’ve been a little sad at having to watch from the sidelines. At least until I finish my degree, November is going to be a month of exams and assignments for me. December, on the other hand, offers a little more time and a lot more Christmas cookies. And so, this year, I’m doing my own month-long writing event. I’m calling it DRAFTCEMBER!

Here’s the deal. I like working with a little less structure than NaNo allows, so I won’t have a word count goal. If I make 20,000 words, GREAT! If I make 50k, AWESOME! But I do need motivation, so I’ve come up with a series of reward platforms.

Draftcember Rewards
(Graphic template found here)

So what counts toward word count? Anything. I think I know which story I’m going to work on, but that could change. I might work on two stories, or three. Blog posts count as well. Anything that is creative and makes me smile.

I love these words by Ray Bradbury, and I think they’re a good representation of the true spirit of Draftcember:

“If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun–you are only half a writer. It means you are so busy keeping one eye on the commercial market or one ear peeled for the avant-garde coterie, that you are not being yourself, You don’t even know yourself. For the first thing a writer should be is–excited. He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms, without such vigors he might as well be out picking peaches or digging ditches; God knows it’d be better for his health!” — Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing.

Would you like to join me? Please do! Create your own reward list and your own rules. Post about it or don’t. But together let’s make December the most fun and productive month of the year, bursting with zest, gusto and Christmas cookies. Be big! Be bold! And write your heart out, my Draftcember warriors!

Some fuel for the journey, made with love.
Now, Part 2: DRAFTCEMBER is coming!

Now, Part 1

Five years ago I dropped out of university. It was a combination of things, but mostly this: I didn’t want to be an anthropologist. I didn’t want to be a journalist. I wanted to be a novelist, and I didn’t have the time to pursue two goals. It was a hard decision, but it was also incredibly easy. By then I was used to making these kinds of sacrifices. I wanted to be a writer and I was willing to give up anything to make that happen.

Five years is a long time, but in many ways not long at all. Good things have happened in pursuit of my dream; bad things, also. But I’m privileged to be chasing after a dream that rewards the years, that values insight and maturity over youth and enthusiasm. I’m getting better at this, and I’m also getting better at the life that comes with it. More and more, my goal has been to write rather that to be read. And so, in many ways I’ve already achieved it. I’m living the life I dreamed of when I was 21. I’m happy.

Perhaps as a consequence of this, I’ve found myself in pursuit of a new dream. An additional dream. Another grand awakening of the soul. It started years ago, but it also feels incredibly new. I’ve always had it but I’m only now taking the first steps to make it real.

Always, besides be a writer I’ve been clutching help people. For a few years there I lived a sweet delusion that I could use one to achieve the other, but, dear past-Beth, writing with an agenda is no way to make great art. In fact, it’s a great way to make terrible art. That’s not to say that art can’t help people — it often does — but readers can tell when you’re proselytizing and it never feels good.

I’ve known this for awhile, but it’s taken some time to find the way. The way my skills and strengths and life experiences, limited though they seemed, could become something important. How could I help people? What did I have to offer? Nothing felt like enough. I was still searching when I went overseas last year. And that’s when things really got rough.

New York for Christmas with the family seemed like a magical idea. Christmas trees and cold and holiday windows and maybe even snow. I guess I never thought about the other side of New York until I got there. Poverty. Homelessness. Loneliness and greed. I remember walking the Brooklyn Bridge with my family and thinking: I shouldn’t be here. What right did I have to holiday in a place where people were starved for food, warmth, shelter? How could I enjoy Christmas knowing so many people were out there in the cold, hungry and alone?

New York broke my heart. But that’s necessary sometimes. Only after breaking can something begin to mend.

On Christmas eve we went to a church service near Times Square. It was a church started by Australians and it felt like a little piece of home. The sermon was on waiting for a plane, waiting for a dream to be realized, waiting for direction, and at the end of the service we were given bundles of blankets and food to give to the homeless people we passed on our way home. I remember the first homeless woman we encountered on our walk to the subway station. She cried when a man handed her the gift. Are you sure? she asked him, as if she couldn’t believe this humble bundle was for her.

That was the start of things. I still wanted for a method, but I’d found my cause. I was going to help the homeless. And with that realization came a sense of urgency. It wasn’t enough to know what I was meant to do, I needed a how. I needed a big idea, and these things don’t always come quickly.

While I waited (oh, how good I’ve become at waiting), I volunteered. When I got home I signed up with a local community group providing emergency relief to families in need. It was heartbreaking and healing, frustrating and energizing. I’d been there three months when the government cut our funding. Suddenly we had all these volunteers and nothing to give. Time wasn’t enough; we needed money. We needed resources. We needed income that didn’t rely on the whims of the political machine.

And that’s when I found my how. Halfway through this year I enrolled in a new degree: Business, with a focus on managing not-for-profits. Last week I finished my first semester. Three weeks ago I had my Big Idea. I know how I’m going to change the world, or at least my little corner of it. And even when it means struggling through subjects like economics, I’m going to make it happen. Funny how, when you care about something strongly enough, I can’t so quickly becomes I must.

I have so much more to tell you, dear friends, so many plans and dreams and Big Ideas, but this post is long enough for now. And I have time. My next semester is still months away.

Here’s to big ideas, for dual-wielding dreams, to heartbreak and I musts. Here’s to now. Cheers.


Now, Part 1

Declare Yo’self

It’s my birthday this week, so I’m slightly more neurotic than usual. Birthdays, for me, are less a celebration of my existence than a vehicle for self-evaluation. Depending on the year that’s been, this process can be wonderful or terrible. What have I done with this life of mine? Something great or something mediocre? How much closer am I to becoming the person I want to be?

It’s been an interesting year. There have been moments of failure and moments of triumph. International adventures and revelations that changed my whole life trajectory. I left one job and I’m about to start another. I began volunteering and experienced all the accompanying joy and heartbreak. And I grew one year older.

If there’s one big change I’ve noticed in myself, it’s that, far more than last year or the year before, I know who I am. Identity is not a fixed point, of course; I’m still growing, and I expect to keep on changing for the rest of my life. But I know my heart. I know what motivates me and what I require for happiness. And I’m not afraid to share that with other people.

I’ve been going through the induction process for a new job in the past few weeks and it’s been an interesting experience. Meeting so many new people in such a short period requires distilling yourself down to a few points of interest. How do you represent yourself to others? How comfortable are you in revealing the deepest parts of yourself?

We talked a lot about values in induction. One activity had us literally pinning our values to our sleeves and talking about them with the people around us. And, you know, we faced a choice there. We didn’t have to choose the things we valued most. No one would know if we discarded our deepest values in favour of something easier. Happiness, maybe. Everyone understands happiness. And a few years ago, maybe I would have.

But I know, now. I know who I am, I’m comfortable in myself, and I’m willing to pin my heart to my sleeve to share that with others.

Maybe growing older isn’t so bad after all.

USA Trip 2014/2015
USA Trip 2014/2015
Declare Yo’self

Friday, 13th February 2015

This is an entirely self-indulgent post. So self-indulgent, in fact, that I’m not going to share this anywhere. Really, it’s just for me.

“There are moments that you’ll remember for the rest of your life and there are moments that you think you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and it’s not often they turn out to be the same moment.” — Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races

I had an idea the other day. Well, really a collision of a number of ideas in one big explosion, spitting out plot and character and setting all at once. Where one moment I didn’t have a story, the next I had a whole novel, from beginning to end.

Ideas on their own are flat, useless things. They don’t become something until you start to write them. Maybe this idea will go nowhere, maybe it will fizzle out, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels big and important and mine.

Today, I spent all morning searching for the perfect notebook. You know, the one that feels right. I found it:

The perfect notebook.
The perfect notebook.

This afternoon, I wrote the first lines. Not the opening lines, but the first ones. And oh, they were lovely.

So, I’m writing this because one day I might want to remember standing there in the kitchen with a mug in my hand, the spicy scent of chai in the air, the sound of the Fringe theme song playing in the next room. My housemate is home with a new baby, and that show is her connection to the world, a small escape between feed times and nappy changes. I’ve been thinking of it a lot lately, the way a sci-fi show can make me cry with the depth of its characterization. I’ve also been thinking of unusual story structures and finding ways to push myself as a writer. And I’ve always wanted to write a story with a very limited setting, like an elevator, perhaps, or a train. And suddenly, it appears. The idea.

It’s a good one.

Happy Valentines Day!

Friday, 13th February 2015

Peace and Pine Trees

It’s the 6th of December and I just finished packing for our Overseas Christmas Adventure. On Wednesday, I finish up at my job, and not just for the year. On Friday, we fly out. We’ll be gone a month and it’s unlikely I’ll be posting any updates while I’m away, so this may be my last post of the year.

Plane packing.
Plane packing. 1. Superman socks, because I’ll be flying. 2. A scarf I made, which doubles as a blanket. 3. Headphones. 4. My True Love Gave to Me, because holiday stories are the best. 5. A notebook and pen. Always. 6. My wallet. 7. A novel. Maybe this one if I haven’t finished it by then, maybe something else.

There’s something significant about traveling at this time of year. Choosing what to carry with you and what to leave behind. Leaving one country, arriving in another. Time in airports, on trains and buses, with nothing to do but reflect. Celebrating Christmas in a place where you have nothing but a bag full of clothes and the people you love the most.

If our life is a TV series, this is the final season. The season in which everything changes. The season of big decisions and big milestones. Our housemates are having a baby, we’re traveling overseas, and when we get back, I’ll be starting a new job, a new adventure.

If you insist!
If you insist!

I’ll be honest, I started the reflecting early. My resolutions for 2014 were this:

– Make Major Life Decisions
– Query Project 1 and write Project 2
– Find Wonder and Adventure

And I did. I made the decisions that needed to be made. I queried The Sea Wolves and signed with an agent. Project 2 was derailed a bit by revisions on TSW and a fun Project 3 — a story that was like a pressure release valve when I needed it most — but I’m coming back to it now with a new vision and a new dedication. I found wonder in the woods and by the sea and after a year of Writer Beth I’m finally embracing Adventurer Beth once again.

Sometimes it feels like you’re stuck in the sand and no matter how much flailing you do, you just aren’t making it any closer to your goal. But you are. I am. We achieved some things this year, you and I.

Vision 2015
Vision 2015

I don’t have a clear vision of what 2015 might look like, but I know what I’m taking with me on the journey. I posted this photo to Instagram originally, and this is the description I gave:

The succulent, because even in the desert things can grow. The teacup, because we ask for what we need and it is given to us. The notebook because words are precious and powerful and should be carefully curated. The pencil, because mistakes can always be erased. The fox, because cute 😉 #LIVEfree2015″

Every item is important in its own way, but the notebook is particularly precious to me. I started this journey with just a notebook and an idea, and I want to get back to that. That simple gratitude, that wonder, the slow, miraculous unfurling of stories under my pen.

There’s something holy about this: a notebook, an idea, and time for dreaming.

Maybe I lost track of that that somewhere between full time work and querying, computers and ambition, but I’m going to get it back. That’s what this trip is about for me — returning to those days of free hours and a free mind, undirected dreaming, a well of inspiration that starts somewhere in my soul and spills forth from there.

Christmas is my favorite time of year. It encompasses everything I believe in: family, faith, gratitude, compassion, giving, love, joy, peace and pine trees. It’s a time for reflection, for choosing what to bring with you into the new year.

Christmas is always significant to me, but this one feels particularly important. I have a feeling I’ll remember this Christmas for a very long time.

Whatever this time of year means to you, travel or home, ham or Chinese food, I wish you peace, joy and a little bit of time to write.

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!
Peace and Pine Trees

Major Life Decisions

** Warning: this will be a rambling, mumbly, self-indulgent posts on dreams. Feel free to look away.

If 2013 was the Year of the Sea, 2014 is turning out to be the Year of Major Life Decisions. I had an inkling this year would be a big one and that’s turning out to be true. Doors are closing, but windows are opening. Life is opening up to us in ways we never expected. We’ve spent so many long afternoons this year pondering the big questions: Where do we want to live for the rest of our lives? What do we want that life to look like?

There’s this image that keeps creeping into my head when I think of “home”. I’m coming home after a long day, feeling tired and miserable. It’s dark already, and cold, the days getting shorter now that winter is here. I walk up to my house and I pause for just a second. There’s warm light spilling from all the windows. There’s a fire on — I can smell woodsmoke, and dinner bubbling on the stove, something rich that will require bread to soak up. The chill on my neck and the ache in my shoulders don’t seem to matter anymore. I know in just a second I’ll walk through that door, shed my coat and shoes, and everything will be alright. I’ll find comfort and warmth and family.

At some point it occurred to us that we didn’t have to spend the rest of our days in the place we sprouted. We’re just now coming to figure our where we might like to be and all I can think about is that one image of home. I want snow. I want rain. I want weather that keeps you inside on cold evenings with those you love best. I love summer and I love the sun, but maybe after 24 years of it I’m full up. I want the other side of it, too.

There are other reasons: It’s in the weather and early dark that I find my inspiration as a writer. It’s in that intersection between comfort and hardship that I find my stories. I’ve never yet been able to write a book set in summer. I find it intensely difficult to write when it’s beautiful and warm outside, to the point where I have to close the blinds and turn on in order to get down a scene. What if I lived in a place where weather was a daily event? What if winter shut me in for months at a time, with just my words and my loved ones? What if going outside was an adventure, and coming home was sweet relief? What then?

The best part of dreaming is that logic doesn’t have to be part of the process. I can romanticize the cold and rain as much as I like. I can send us to Washington State or Massachusetts or Finland tomorrow and we can live out the rest of our lives in a rustic cabin in the woods. But we’re doing more than dreaming, now. Little windows of opportunity are opening up here and there, and we’re checking them against the dream. Will they bring us closer to it? Or further away? What do we really want for our lives? Is it here? Or somewhere else?

Big things, guys. Big dreams. This is the stuff I live for.

Mt. Rainier, WA
Mt. Rainier, WA
Major Life Decisions

Flotsam and Jetsam

It’s been a little while since I posted last. In that time I’ve wallowed in a new story idea and I’ve completed another draft of Restless, which is now off with crit partners. This means I’ve got a bit of time on my hands, and it’s time to start making decisions about the Sea Story. I have my characters, my plot and my setting, but there is still one element I haven’t quite figured out. To me, it’s the most important part: Atmosphere.

All writers face the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s a hard question to answer, because as far as I can tell, ideas are the flotsam and jetsam of the mind. They are the waste product after all your experiences, all the things you see and hear each day, have been sorted and cataloged in your brain. They are the mulch of our lives.

There are so many ways I could answer that question, but there is one answer I think would confuse people. I get my ideas from video games.

Not the core ideas, mind you. Not the plot or character or setting. But the most important part: Atmosphere.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I can’t start a story until I have the atmosphere down. The few times I’ve tried, I’ve lost interest in the story pretty quick. But honestly, I never knew this about myself until I discovered video games, or one video game in particular.

Now, I know I won’t be able to convince you to play the game itself, but here’s a sample of the music:

True, I could probably just listen to some music, but there is something so immersive about video games. In a way it’s like my post on wallowing. For a few hours, or a few days, you can get lost in this other world.

The game above was how I landed on the atmosphere for Restless. The video game I will be playing this weekend, and which I hope will help me nail down the atmosphere for the Sea Story, is called Heavy Rain. I think you can hear why:

And once I have my atmosphere, there will be nothing left but… to write!

I’m excited and nervous and I’m trying not to think of how long it will take me to write another book. A book is such a huge commitment. You really need to be sure. You have to know it’s the story you can live with for the next year or more. And the great thing? I’m certain. I’ve been unsure with other stories,  but not this one. THIS is the book I’m meant to write.

I just hope I can do it well.

P.S. For the curious among you, Flotsam and Jetsam are different kinds of shipwreck. I think that’s kind of apt, don’t you?

Flotsam and Jetsam