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After yesterday, and thanks to Hannah Fergesen and Aisha Iqbal, I think that I am on the right track.  Mostly, I am comforted that there is no right way to start the writing process. 

* * * *

According to this article from the Wall Street Journal:

Some authors, like Dan Chaon and Michael Ondaatje, begin stories based on images or phrases, and in Mr. Ondaatje’s case, simply write from sentence to sentence and completely revise and re-order passages later.

Other authors, like Kazuo Ishiguro and Orhan Pamuk, intensively plan and prepare before writing.  Mr. Ishiguro compiles detailed folders and notes about his plot, characters, and their motives and emotions. 

Others, like Russell Bank, are still planners but begin writing with less preparation.  Mr. Banks may begin a story based on a sentence or phrase, but then he creates a rough plot outline and maps the coming pages as he goes.

Some authors, like Hilary Mantel, Edwindge Danticat and Laura Lippman, go to elaborate measures to set up story boards to help them develop their stories.  Ms. Lippman even uses colored cards and ribbon to create a visual of the layout of the story.

Others, like Nicholson Baker, dress in character, or like John Wray, immerse themselves in their character’s surroundings.

Or there are authors, like Kate Christensen or Margaret Atwood, who start a novel believing that they know where it is going only to discover the real story a hundred pages in.

* * * *

It seems that the right way to write a novel is the way that works.  Easier said than done, I imagine, but something that I’m eager to discover.

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To my writer friends:

Will you share how you start the writing process?  Until recently, I have focused primarily on writing short pieces of fiction, because short seemed manageable.  I long to write a longer piece, but the unknown is getting the best of me.  I know, however, that if I never start, I will never finish.

Do you map your idea first?  Or do you just begin writing?  The latter seems to me a recipe for chaos, however, I keep reading that honest writing is organic.  I agree, but I also wonder how you get there if you don’t know where you’re going first?

If my goal is to drive to somewhere, I don’t just get in the car and start driving.  I check a map and decide which roads are best-suited to get me to my destination.  By doing this, though, I miss the adventure of getting there.  Perhaps the road not taken would have been the better story.  What if in all my planning, I miss the point completely?

I see the middle ground, but I’d like to hear from those who’ve been there and done that.  Will you share your thoughts?

When I need a break at work – and I often do – I tend to turn to the Internet for quick break from my work reality.  During this interlude, I often visit the New York Times.  In the past several days, I’ve come across different articles that speak to me in very different ways.

Is Law School a Losing Game?

If you know my background, you might think that my immediate answer to this question would be “yes.”  After all, I left a big law job where I made a good salary, but made me hate life, to somewhat aimlessly go back to school, and then to return to a small law job where I make half of what I used to make (and that was when I worked fulltime.)

I will be the first to admit that I hated law school.  I hated every minute of it.  Fortunately, I did not have to pay for this torture.  Instead of going to the best school (according to U.S. New & World Report rankings) where I was accepted, I went to a well-regarded second-tier state school that paid me to attend.  After graduation, I knew that I was one of the fortunate ones.  Although I graduated before the downturn in the economy, many of my classmates (my husband included) finished law school without jobs waiting.  Unlike them, I knew where I was going.  The problem was, I didn’t like what I found when I got there.

Even so, law school was not a losing game for me.  It stretched me in ways that I didn’t realize that I could stretch.  It resulted in my ability to take part in a profession that, while not inherently enjoyable, could sustain me if I needed it to.  And, in my current job, I actually get to help people who really need help.  It is not my dream job, but it isn’t a losing game either.

The Benefits of Fever

I wrote about Bear’s high fever in October.  Seeing the thermometer read 104 was shocking – and frightening.  Despite my great alarm, Bear’s pediatrician kindly reassured me that a high fever was not a cause for alarm.  He told me to look away from the number and to assess Bear’s behavior.  He explained that a high fever would not permanently damage her, despite common thought.

Intellectually, I knew that he was right.  However, as a mom, I was terrified.  I knew that Bear was miserable and becoming progressively more miserable.  I was desperately afraid that as the night wore on, her fever would rise to a level where no one could help her.  Fortunately, her fever spiked and broke, and by the next morning, Bear was almost back to her old self.  Her body won that battle, but my heart was still damaged from fear.

I agree that patients and their parents should be better educated on the benefits of fever.  But, ultimately, it will serve medical professionals well to remember that when a child is sick, a mom thinks more with her heart than her head.

Newberry Awarded to Debut Author

When I was in elementary school, I eagerly anticipated the day each year that the librarian put out the cart of Newberry and Caldecott award nominees and winners.  I remember the joy I felt when I was fortunate enough to borrow our school’s one copy of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.  I recall reading Lincoln:  A Photobiography by Russell Freedman in the bathtub (shh, don’t tell my librarian), and I was surprised that I enjoyed it.

I am eager to get my hands on Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool.  It is the kind of book that I would have loved as a young girl growing up in rural Kansas.  In fact, it is the kind of book that I would love to write someday.  Ms. Vanderpool’s story inspires me.  She wrote Moon Over Manifest in bits and pieces; between making lunches and shuttling kids to activities.  She knew that she wanted to write, and she found a way to put her story onto page.   If she can do it, so can I.

I am sitting in my arm chair at home in front of two large windows staring into the cottony world outside, only ten or so feet away.  Bear is sleeping, and all of the sounds of the day are muffled by the blanket of continually-falling flakes.  I think that Bear must be wearing fluffy, white earmuffs, because she slept late this morning and continues to nap without any sign of waking.

I am supposed to be working on a motion.  I’d rather practice yoga in the snowy light.  Instead, I’m writing about it, which is good compromise, I think.

I woke early this morning with the intention of practicing yoga then.  I drug myself out of bed, stopped for a moment to peek outside at the white covering every visible surface, and snuck as quietly as possible down our squeaky hallway and into the room where I now sit with the intention of starting my day with yoga.  I was partway through my first sun salutation – battling my slippery hands that threatened to flatten my down dog – when my phone beeped.  I peered at it in my dark room thinking bad thoughts about the bozo who was spam-texting me at 5:30 in the morning.  Instead, after some contemplation, my still-sleeping brain realized the significance of the message.  Bear’s daycare was closed for the day!

As a hastily worked-out childcare arrangement, I spent several productive hours at work this morning, and then traded places with my husband, so he could practice law and I could stay and play with Bear.  I think that I negotiated the better deal.

This morning, my husband emailed to ask if the Cozy Coupe had all-wheel drive.  This afternoon, I think that we’ll find out!

RANDOM BEARISMs:  At lunch, Bear pointed at a picture of Martha Stewart and said, “Grandma.”  This is almost as complimentary as the time she pointed at a picture of Beyonce and said, “Mommy.”  I choose to understand this as “Mommy looks like Beyonce” rather than, “I wish Beyonce was my mommy.” 

Further RANDOM BEARISMs:  When Bear woke up from her nap, she sat up in her crib and told me, “Me and Margot are going to go out in it.”  Margot is a friend in her class at daycare.  And by “go out in it,” I think that she meant the snow.  I’m glad that my $14 at Target for snow pants will finally see justification.  Now, if only I knew where Margot lived . . . .

In response to my first post of the year, Kate of Infertile Myrtle reminded me, “Don’t let this blog cause you any sort of grief, . . . don’t feel like you owe anybody anything, remember, this blog is for you, not us.” She is right. I let so much in life cause me needless grief. I spend way too many hours attempting to work myself out of some self-created debt to others; worried what they think of me and what that must say about me.

Yesterday, as I lay in attempted repose in savasana at the end of my favorite yoga class, I found myself worrying if I was doing it correctly.  Are my shoulders in the right place? Is my face peaceful? Is my lower back arched too high? After all, the teacher had adjusted me twice before in previous classes, pulling my legs so that my lower back rested on the floor.

For heaven’s sake, can’t I even relax without beating myself up?

Kate’s words came to mind.  I reminded myself that this yoga was for  me.  Not anyone else. This was my savasana.  I need to take control of my life and stop living it for others.  I think that I’ll find it a lot more sustainable, peaceful, productive and creative – not to
mention a lot more enjoyable and fulfilling – if I silence the internal critic and empower myself to live for me.

Thanks, Kate.  Feel free to remind me of this. . . and often.

POST EDIT – Sorry for all of the re-posts.  I used Word Press’s application for my mobile device, and that was a MISTAKE.  It renamed my post and removed every hard return and inserted new ones.

I received an email from WordPress earlier this week.  According to WordPress, if my blog were steps, its viewers would have climbed The Leaning Tower of Pisa 4 times.  Or something like that.  Apparently, I am on blogging fire.  This is curious since I haven’t posted since Halloween.

I have developed a love-hate relationship with this blog.  In fact, at one point, I had an entire post written in my head where I was going to break up with the blog for good; a Dear John letter of sorts.  The purpose of this blog was to give me the impetus to write and the accountability to write more often.  Unfortunately, it also has caused me guilt.  I feel guilty when I am writing instead of playing with Bear on my days off from work, and I feel guilty when I am not writing, because isn’t that what I set out to do?

I decided to take a step away for a few months to distance myself from these feelings.  In time, I realized that I would like to continue this blog but to do so without the guilt.  I’ll write when I have time, and I’ll try not to feel badly about it when I don’t.

Thanks to WordPress for the kind, though slightly exaggerated, compliments about my year in the blogging world.  I can’t imagine what the blog looks like that got the “you suck” email.

Happy New Year, friends!

Contrary to my promise to do so, I haven’t updated my blog in a few weeks.  But, don’t worry.  It isn’t because I haven’t been writing.

I wrote a short story that, while still a work in progress, is a good first start and perhaps, something that I’ll submit somewhere someday.  I need more defined goals, don’t I?

Last weekend, I took Bear back to my hometown for the first time since March.  I am always amazed at how when I first arrive, my rural little hometown feels so foreign.  After half a day there, though, it begins to feel familiar again.  The first morning we spent there, I put Bear in her jogging stroller and took a twenty minute walk across town to visit my grandmother.  My hometown is flat with few trees in comparison to where I now live.  I reveled at how it was so quiet and peaceful that I could hear a car driving down the street three blocks away, and if I turned my head in time, I could clearly see it pass between houses.  As I walked, I could easily tell who was home, and even hear moms talking to small children inside their houses as I passed.  Sound carries easily there without the trees to soak it up and other sounds to drown it out.  On our walk back, I thought about how all of the familiar names on realty signs and inscribed into rocks in front of houses now belonged to my classmates rather than their parents.  Later, when we went downtown to shop, I was amazed how some people (mostly those from my parents’ generation) so enthusiastically welcomed me and how others (mostly those from my generation) looked at me like I was the prodigal son returning home and they were his brother.

On Sunday, Bear battled stomach issues that I am fairly certain can be traced to some mystery zucchini bread that a lady in a hometown clothing store gave to my grandmother with Alzheimer’s, who then gave to Bear while my back was turned.  There were a few exciting minutes that my aunt spent frantically digging pieces out of  my daughter’s mouth.  Bear spent most of the next day with some nasty diapers and had periods where she cried and beat on her tummy, crying “Owie!”  Her response reminded me why I work so hard to only give her food that I know will not cause her to react.

Yesterday, after several good days at daycare, Bear came down with a fever.  She also began using her new, favorite word “owie” indiscriminately, so while we knew that something was hurting her, it was impossible to tell what.   At first, she would pull up her pant legs and hit her knees and saying “Owie.”  Then, during diaper changes, she would say “owie.”  She would also open her mouth to say something, and a huge bubble of saliva would come out instead.  These symptoms, along with her fever, seemed concerning, so I called the pediatrician’s office and her allergist’s to see if he would call in a prescription for some compounded non-soy containing Tylenol-type medication.   Around 6:00 last night, Bear began acting strangely.  She couldn’t seem to keep her eyes open, and she was moaning softly.  This, of course, scared me, and I immediately took her to her pediatrician’s after-hours clinic.  By the time we arrived, her fever had reached 104.  Despite enduring a strep culture and a catheter to obtain a urine sample, we left without any answers. Her pediatrician promised that a high fever wouldn’t “boil her brains” but acted annoyed that her allergist wouldn’t let us give her generic painkillers that contained soy.  I was annoyed that he was annoyed, but mostly I was tired and sad that my daughter was still not well and that we didn’t have any way to help her.

Fortunately, Bear’s fever broke last night.  She has not felt well today, but the absence of the fever has greatly improved her spirits.  She seems hungry but doesn’t want to eat.  She continues to have strange drooling issues and to say “owie” when I change her diaper.  She has also started telling me that her hand hurts.  We think that she has Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, but until blisters start forming, we won’t know for sure.  She seemed happy to take a nap, and for now, is sleeping peacefully, and I am still waiting for a call from the compounded pharmacy that someone has made a painkiller that my little girl can safely take.  However, I am hoping that we’ve passed through the worst.

“Writing is effortless when we are alive to the world,” according to Julie Jordan Scott.  This is partly why I write.  Not necessarily because it feels effortless, but because it causes me to take pause and become alive to the world.

My daughter is fascinated by the outside world.  She desires nothing more than to frolic in the grass, paint the driveway with long strokes of water, or run wildly down the street away from the safe arms of her mother.  Lately, when I bring her home in the evenings after work, her lips immediately form the loose word, “owside.”    During our days home together, it is the first word she speaks after gulping her morning milk or being roused from afternoon nap.  I can hardly blame her.  I too feel most alive outside, particularly on an early fall day such as this one.

This morning, we met two new friends at a nearby park.  My daughter squealed with unbridled joy when she saw the playground.  She ran to a rocking horse; her new shoes hitting the rough ground with the unpracticed steps of a sixteen month-old.  She slapped the cool metal with her palms and listened to the delicious sound.  “Up!” she ordered.  I swiped at the remnants of last night’s rain on the horse’s saddle with the sleeve of my jacket.  “Up!” she demanded of me again, and I complied.  Once astride the horse, she threw her body forward and backward in quick jerks, and the horse followed.  She already knew what to do.

I am always amazed when my daughter shows me that she exists outside of me and my time with her.  If it weren’t for moments like these, I would have convinced myself that her experience with the world pauses while I am away.

She enjoyed similar, exuberant encounters with the swings, the slide, and a merry-go-round.  Later, at music class, she lifted her legs high as I lifted her into the air, enabling her to “jump” while the other children and their mothers sang their hellos to her.  I watched as she flirted with the teacher; coquettishly smiling and then hiding her eyes.  She would run to a cement pillar in the room, slapping her arms around it in a bear hug and watching me with happy eyes.  Then, she would gleefully yell, “Mommy” and dart back to me, faithfully throwing her entire body into my arms certain that I would catch her.  She repeated this throughout the entire “quiet time” that the teacher insisted upon.

I didn’t care that my daughter refused to be quiet.  I love hearing my daughter shout my name with such admiration.  I love watching her run back to me, and I love holding her close for a few moments when she wants me near.

Now, she lies in her crib speaking unintelligible words to herself or to her “babies.”  Which, I am unsure.  Our nervous dog paces back and forth across the wood floor of my bedroom across the hall, clicking loudly, and occasionally, I hear my daughter shout, “Doggy!”  She may not nap today.

My soul still feels peaceful, however, until I receive a call from work reminding me of something that was left unfinished.  I never seem to have enough time at work or at home and momentarily, I allow myself to feel burdened by a place that I did not plan to revisit until Monday.  My daughter’s muffled jabbering has grown quieter and more intermittent.  Perhaps, she will sleep after all.  I lean my head back, appreciate the breeze from the open window blowing across my bare feet and exhale sharply in an attempt to push that other world away from here back into its separate place.  “Mommy!” I hear cried feverishly from across the hall, and I am thankful that I am able to live in both worlds rather than only the other one.

This weekend, my daughter showed me that she can think outside of the box.

By thinking outside of the box, she found a comfortable place to sit when she needed to rest.

She embraced creativity when the whim struck her.

And, she found a step up when she needed help reaching her goal.

I can learn a lot from my daughter.

 

“Bountiful implies that your cup is already overflowing so you simply tip your abundance into the hands of others.”  Christina Katz at The Prosperous Writer, “52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers:  Number Thirty-Four is Bountiful.”

My cup overflows.  It’s true.

I should regularly reflect on the gifts in my life so I can more fully appreciate its bounty.   Instead, I often focus on the minutiae of each day rather than savoring each sweet, small moment before it has passed.

I spent the morning with my daughter.  We had appointments to meet and errands to run, but before the flury of daily activity began, I sat at my kitchen table soaking in the early morning light streaming through the window in front of me as I sipped my coffee and Bear chattered in her chair about “doggy” and “cereal” and “agua.”  The morning light softened her bedraggled hair and face sticky from peaches and post-nasal drip.  I turned my thoughts from the piles of magazines and junk mail on the table and dirty dishes in the sink.  Instead, I focused on the loveliness of sitting quietly at my kitchen table, with a warm drink in hand, and a sweet soul next to me.

Later, as we waited in an exam room for Bear’s allergist, Bear and I read a beautiful book about butterflies that my dearest friend gave us about a year ago.  I pulled the book from Bear’s bookshelf today for the first time, knowing that a long doctor’s visit might be the perfect time to read it.  Bear gazed lovingly at it from the moment she laid her eyes on the cover.  We spent long moments lingering on each page where Bear could pull out flaps revealing elaborate garden scenes and run her fingers over vibrant butterfly wings, kingfisher feathers, and sunflowers.  She continually amazed me as she pointed at the ladybugs and fireflies that I asked her to find, even though I didn’t think that she knew about such things.  I found myself holding Bear a little more closely, breathing in the smell of her hair, and sending a silent thank-you to my friend for the thoughtful book that had so completely captured my daughter’s interest.

As Bear has napped this afternoon, I checked in with the world at work and found that it has not fallen apart in my absence.  This has left me with a span of uninterrupted time to think and write.  The dog sleeps on the floor next to me.  The locusts sing and buzz soothingly outside my window, and our homebuilding neighbor builds quietly across the street.   I can sit at my computer reading, thinking, and typing; embracing this rare time to be alone with my thoughts and to focus them in the directions I desire.

My husband told me earlier that his day has been passing smoothly and quickly.  His work has been going well, and clients have been cooperative.  Before long, he’ll drive back to our home and his family.  When the garage door begins groaning and rising, the dog will scamper wildly around the house, and Bear will run to the door shouting, “Daddy!” and he will step through wearing an expectant smile at our celebration.  Then, we will start our long weekend together.

All is well in my world, and I am thankful for each sweet, small moment of the day and the bountiful life they signify.  I hope that by sharing the bounty that I enjoy in life, I’ll tip my cup to help fill up yours.