2015, oh what a year you’ve been. Last year was a difficult year for me for many reasons, and so 2015 was necessarily a recovery year. A healing year, a growing year, a year of broadening mind and narrowing focus. It started off with a bang in New York and slowed down for a period as I focused on volunteering and breathing and just generally getting well. So much love to my husband who supported me through this period, physically, emotionally, financially. I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me this year.
The second half of the year was tightly controlled madness as I started a new job, went back to uni and wrote like a mad thing in whatever time was left. It’s breathtaking to think of the girl I was 12 months ago and how far I’ve come since. Of the fortitude I’ve developed, the sense of peace, and yes, the physical strength. 12 months of yoga and a very physical day job and dude. I have all the muscles. It feels so good to know just what my body can do. To feel functional and not merely cerebral. I’ve spent so much of my life living inside my head, it’s refreshing to embrace the physical world in such a way.
Because this year has been so growth-centred, I can sum it up pretty simply with the five biggest lessons I’ve learned this year:
When you spend your whole life looking for signs, you start to forget what you already know.
I don’t know when I became this person, relying on outside markers to set my path. I’m not talking about superstition — a black bird flew anti-clockwise on the third Thursday of the month — none of that. I’m talking about validation. An encouraging word on the right day to take me a little further. A good mark on an exam. Answers to prayer just when I need them.
These are all good things, but they all come from outside of me. My friends, my husband, my lecturer, some random stranger on a street can’t decide my path for me. They don’t know what I know. Because let me tell you, the world won’t know what you’re made of until you show it how far you’re willing to go.
And friends, from a more spiritual perspective: When God speaks He expects you to listen. It’s not His job to follow you around, reminding you again and again what you already know. Trust what you know. Trust what God/the universe/that little voice inside has told you. How many times do you have to hear something before you start to believe it’s true?
I lost sight of these things this year. I started to forget what I believe in. In looking for validation from external sources, I began to forget what I already know. I don’t need you to tell me I’m meant to be a writer, a philanthropist, an adventurer, a friend. I already know.
Hope is a choice. Faith is a choice. Joy is a choice.
I was looking through some notebooks from three years ago the other day. My notebooks are filled with writing notes but also just general notes on life, the universe and everything. I was looking for a specific note but what I found was that the tone of my journals back then were so… filled with hope. I don’t know when I lost that.
Hope, to me, has always seemed like a limited resource, dolled out in unequal measures. Some people have it, some don’t. You can’t make your bowl bigger. You can’t change your capacity for hope.
This is a lie.
That day, the day I found the notebooks, I decided to hope again. I decided to believe in the future I envision. I decided to trust what I already know. And oh, oh, it’s made all the difference.
Try it. You’ll see.
Your body can tell your heart how to feel and your mind how to think.
In recovering from a truly terrible bout of anxiety, earlier this year I turned to yoga. Exercise has always been calming for me, but I didn’t realise just how powerful it could be. For so long my emotions have controlled my body. For so long I’ve been crippled by stress-induced headaches, insomnia, breathlessness, and other, more serious things. For so long I sought to control my body by controlling my emotions. It never worked.
This year I discovered I could change my emotions by controlling my body. By using my muscles, deepening my breath, stretching long and slow, I can change how I feel. I can find focus again.
Two other things: a fake smile turns real given enough time. And there are some awesome apps out there if you are struggling with anxiety. Pacifica is one I particularly like — the breathing and meditation exercises help me take what I’ve learned in yoga out into the world. It’s with me when I need a reminder to breathe.
Writing the true things sometimes takes longer. Sometimes it takes no time at all.
Basically, it takes the time it takes. Repeat that after me: It takes the time it takes. Love your process. Embrace it. You’re stuck with it; you might as well 😉
There is a brilliance in first drafts that can’t ever be recaptured. Be careful whose voices you let in when you change it.
I was looking through some of my old writing the other day, searching for a particular passage. I love this scene. I’ve always looked on it as one of the favourite things I’ve ever written. But it took awhile to find. I’d written somewhere around six drafts of this particular novel and I had to go all the way back to the first one to find the scene I so loved. I’d made so many changes through all those drafts I’d lost what magic inspired me to write it in the first place.
Revision is so, so necessary. Don’t think I’m dumping on the editing process; I’m not. But first drafts are where the magic is, I really believe that. You don’t get that sense of discovery ever again. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know I’m going to keep my eyes open next time I revisit a draft.
I guess my lessons from 2015 can be summed up as this: Choose magic.
Choose [you are in control] magic [all good and wonderful things].
Chase the good things with everything you have, and when you catch them, hold them as tight as you can.
Choose hope, friends. That’s the best advice I can give you going into 2016.
I 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.
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!
The other night I dreamed I gathered all my friends and family together because I had something important to say. At the last moment, my bosses from work showed up. My husband’s extended family came. Random acquaintances and strangers from the internet arrived. The room was full and everyone had something they wanted to share.
At last, it was my turn. I stood up in front of them all, all those expectant faces, waiting to hear what I’d called them all here for. That semi-conscious part of my mind hovered over the room, as curious as the rest.
My dream self took a breath. “I have always dreamed of having an extraordinary life,” I said. “But I’ve come to realise it is a far more noble thing to desire a life of quiet and ordinary joy.”
I told the room that I was a writer, and I didn’t need my name on the spine of a book to fuel and feed me. That I had a joy no one else could give me and it came from a pen and a blank notebook page.
I told them in my childhood dreaming I’d never imagined I’d be doing this kind of work, this humble, physical task of hauling bags of fertiliser and preaching the wonders of weedkiller. But that this is the best job I’ve ever had and I am so grateful that I get to use my hands in good, useful ways. I come home from work each day with dirt under my fingernails and hair in my eyes and I would have it no other way.
I told them I’m studying economics right now even though it pushes me far, far outside my comfort zone, even though it brings me weekly misery and I have no chance of making anything better than a passing grade. I told them this because I’ve come to understand the importance of humility, of shaking off your own understanding of your limits like an old winter coat. I’m studying economics because I want to find small, practical ways to help other people. I’m studying economics because I no longer accept the lie of “I can’t”.
I told them I have an incredible husband and the great, fulfilling ordinary kind of love that occurs when two people commit to serving each other in everything they do. I told them I have a puppy and a roof over my head and a regular paycheck. I told them sometimes I get to travel and sometimes travelling means driving to the beach. I told them I have a quiet, gentle relationship with the Holy.
I told them there’s nothing else I long for.
I am content with my humble, ordinary life and the humble, ordinary joy it brings.
The other day I came home from work while the sun was still shining. I smelled my blooming jasmine and picked up after my puppy and watched the sunset for awhile and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
This is what I dream of. To have this quiet, ordinary, creative, love-filled life for the rest of my days.
The sea casts a net to find me. It sends salt out over the hills, a fine mist that clouds windows and sticks in throats. It glimmers, a blue jewel in the distance. I don’t come.
Michael drives me past the beaches on dreary winter afternoons. Come, says the sea. Come. But I turn my face away.
I dream of it sometimes, a giant swell that comes to eat the shore. It pulls at me, lifts me up, tugs me out into its great expanse, but I always pull free.
I am a sticky-fingered child. I am an unfulfilled promise. I am hiding and I don’t know why.
Months pass and the call becomes easier to ignore. I’m busy. I’m waiting. I’m losing myself in other things. But the sea is patient. Endlessly, it pulls and tugs, endlessly it calls, reeling me in.
It hits me like a thunderclap. It’s time to go back to the sea. It fills my mind, drowning all thought, and I can’t ignore it, not anymore.
I don’t want to.
I go one morning, early, and the wind is so cold it wrings me out, pulling the moisture from my bones. I watch from a distance at first, viewing it from over a coffee mug I hug to my chest to keep warm. The sea, the sea, the sea, my heart sings, and I don’t know why I have left it so long.
It’s like this: coming home after a long absence. In my travels I have loved other places and other things, but I know no love like this. Long ago, when I was a child, a lonely corner of my soul got snagged there, and though I wander I feel stretched thin until I make it back. I am home. I am home and I don’t know why I ever left.
Except, I do. In my heart, I do know why. It’s because I allowed myself to feel old for a moment. Because I was waiting for news and hope felt like a faraway thing, a bird perching on souls other than mine.
But I know now, hope is not a thing that visits and leaves you wanting. It is a mark on your skin, forged through disappointment and failure, and it only grows deeper the longer you fight. Hope is a battle scar. And I wear mine with pride.
I go back to the sea. I crawl right up to its frigid edges and I feel it fill me again, that lightness, that letting go. The sea purges me. It washes me clean. It welcomes me back without judgement, without rebuke. The sea is ageless and I have not been gone so long.
It receives me gladly, with gifts and good tidings. And this: A sliver of glass, the colour of the sea at its edges, worn down over 20 or 30 years and more beautiful for it. I’ve never found one before. Never, in all my life. It means something, that I’ve found it now.
I go back again the next day. I spent a whole day there, exploring beaches and cliffs, watching the waves pound upon the shore. I cry sometimes because it’s more ferocious and lovely than I remembered. Some people find God in a church. Some in the work of their hands or in the pages of books. I have always, always found God in the sea.
Then comes a day when I run out of time. The sea calls and I don’t go to it because I am an adult, and I feel the press of adult things. I do chores. I run errands. I go to work. I see the corner of blue at the end of my street and my snagged soul can do nothing but stretch a little further.
But Michael knows me and he knows my heart, and in the dead of night, when I return home from work, he bundles me into the car. He drives me, heartsick and wanting, towards the thing that feeds me. He takes me back to the sea.
“I am losing precious days,” said John Muir. “I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.”
I have learned to love the mountains, but I will always, always, heed the call of the sea.
You have to know what you’re working for. You have to fix it firmly in your mind so when doubt looks you in the eye and asks “why?” you can have an answer ready. This is why. This.
It can be publication. You’re allowed to want something big. But I have to tell you the larger you make your goal, the harder you will have to hold on to it, because years could go by, years, and all you have is that one dream to keep you warm.
If I had to suggest something, I’d make it this: the writing. Make the joy of creation your goal and your reward and the doubt won’t be able to touch you. Write and you’ll find it. Write and you’ll never grow cold.
The busier I get, the more I like to linger. I linger over the coffee pot in the morning, drinking up the steam. I linger in the lunch room, over a book I don’t have time to read. I linger in the shower and on the yoga mat and by my scooter as I’m leaving work in the afternoon.
These moments are me moments. Moments to notice things, to breathe. To watch the clouds, to sniff the air, to turn my mind to higher things than just the work of my hands.
Lately I’ve been lingering more and more by train tracks, those ugly rusted lines of metal, and I’ve been longing to go someplace. Honestly, this longing never leaves me, but it’s hard to find the time or the money to go. Planning complicates things. Planning adds snags to the equation, reasons to stay at home.
But then I found myself with a day off in the middle of the week and something whispered to me: this is your chance. Go.
And so I did. I jumped on a train in the early morning and I went. I followed the tracks up into the mountains, where the cool wind blows and plateaus and gullies are blanketed by trees.
I took a day. I went on an adventure.
And so I lingered. I looked, I listened, I ate far more than was good for me, and then I stayed a little longer, because two hours just wasn’t enough. The mountains do something to me. I feel freer, somehow, that close to the sky.
And after, after food and fires and lookouts and adventure, I stepped back on a train and let it carry me back down, to the city, and along the coast to home. I spent nine hours on a train that day, but it was worth it. And besides, the journey was half the point.
I’m writing a book set on a train at the moment, though “writing” sometimes seems too generous a word. Drafting, too, seems wrong because that to me implies logic and linear thought. Instead, I’m circling, dancing across the page, generating reams and reams of material, some of which I’ll use, most I’ll probably discard. It doesn’t bother me, really. This is the mulch, the fertilizer I’m sowing into the rich ground of my imagination, so that one day soon my crops will grow tall and proud. I’m preparing a way for the story to come.
Today, Laini Taylor released the very first scene she ever wrote for Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It bears only a small resemblance to the finished product, but you can see the seeds of what was to come. You can see the way she set her mind free to roam, to create, to ask questions she didn’t yet have answers to.
I think, sometimes, when we sit down and write “Chapter One” at the top of the page, we start creating borders in our mind. This is what a good first chapter should look like. This is how a story should begin. This is what has been done before. Sometimes we find ourselves wandering tired old paths, recreating stories we’ve told before, rather than starting something new.
It had never occurred to me that maps and petrol money and finding cheap accommodation wasn’t necessary to have an adventure. It had never occurred to me I could just step on a train and go. But oh, what a day I had when I did.
So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m lingering on the page, sniffing the air, turning my mind to higher things. I’m hopping on a train. I’m adventuring. I’m going someplace new.
I started a new job a couple of weeks ago, one that keeps me largely occupied in the daylight hours. Life lately has been a long series of sunrises and sunsets, steam rising from endless cups of tea, quick fetch sessions with the puppy, and falling asleep on the couch when all is said and done. Winter, at least, has offered up some spectacular gloaming hours for me to enjoy in exchange for sun.
Among all this madness, some wonderful things have been happening for some people I adore. This writing life isn’t all I imagined it would be when I was small. Far more goes into it than most people ever see, so much work and heart and years and years of your life. Happily for me, I’ve met some wonderful writers to share the journey with, ups and downs and in-betweens. Hearing their happy news is as good as finding some of my own, because I’ve seen the journey. We’re in it together! So when I tell you this news is well-deserved, you know I mean it.
First up, there’s my critique partner Kip Wilson Rechea, who found me when I was on the verge of giving up some years ago. She tugged me back up to my feet and brushed the dust off my clothes and gently nudged me back onto the path. Tremendously talented and one of the hardest workers I know in this biz, I am so, so thrilled that a couple of weeks ago she found her agent match in Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. I’ve been telling Kip for years that big things are coming for her, and I’ve always believed this to be true. This is only the beginning, dear Kip!
Second, my other critique partner, Shari Green, published both her debut novel, FOLLOWING CHELSEA, and a short story in the anthology FALLING FOR ALICE. This writer shares my heart. I can’t explain it any better than that. And to see good things happening for her makes my soul glad. I’m so privileged to know you, Shari, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming around the corner!
Finally (but not finally, because there is so much good news coming, I can just feel it), last weekend I was so lucky to be able to attend the launch for my lovely friend Trinity Doyle’s debut YA novel, PIECES OF SKY. It was my very first book launch and such a wonderful experience to see a book find its home in the hands of so many enthusiastic readers. Trinity is a newer writer friend. We first met just after she signed with her agents, and a few months before I’d find an agent of my own. So many of my writer friends live on the other side of the world, and it’s truly amazing to have someone local to write and journey with. I’m so happy for you, Trin, and so blessed to have witnessed all the good stuff that’s come your way so far! Here’s to the future!
This is only a short list. My Twitter feed is bursting at the seams with goodness lately, and I miss much of it working the hours I do, but I just wanted to put some space aside on this old blog of mine to do a little celebrating with these people I love dearly. It’s not an easy path we walk, but we walk it together.
Your Mother and My Mother
Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I would like to see you living
In better conditions,
For your mother and my mother
I know the Innkeeper
In this part of the universe.
Get some rest tonight,
Come to my verse again tomorrow.
We’ll go speak to the Friend together.
I should not make any promises right now,
But I know if you
Somewhere in this world –
Something good will happen.
God wants to see
More love and playfulness in your eyes
For that is your greatest witness to Him.
Your soul and my soul
Once sat together in the Beloved’s womb
Your heart and my heart Are very, very old Friends.
– Hafiz, transl. by Daniel Ladinsky
Finally, a small gallery of goodness for May and some of June: