I Give Thanks

I am trying to pause today, as one holiday swiftly passes onto the next. In the midst of family visiting, Thanksgiving cleanup, Black Friday shopping, Christmas decorating, and children racing around at a fever pitch, I reflect on all I have to be grateful for.

I am immensely blessed, during this holiday season and everyday:

  • My family is healthy (knock on wood!)
  • My children are bright, happy, and growing like weeds
  • My writing is improving every day and I am working on my third middle grade novel for this year
  • I enjoy writing a blog with my generous and insightful critique partner
  • I have a small group of friends that I very much enjoy reconnecting with each time we can sneak away from our families for a dinner out

On Thursday, we welcomed 23 people into our home for Thanksgiving.  You may be saying, Are you crazy? Pulling off a meal this large did mean a lot of work (deep cleaning, shopping, food preparation, etc.), but it was worth every effort. Thanksgiving in our home means both my husband’s and my families all around us, for the only time all year. It means cousins playing underfoot. It means lots of good food, from our kitchen and the kitchens of our families. It means smiles, laughter, catching up, and bittersweet goodbyes.

This year, my son and I created a paper chain of Thanksgiving. We wrote what we were thankful for on a slip of paper, and asked our guest to do the same. We joined them all in a long chain, reminding us of all we are grateful for. Here’s a sampling:

  • I am thankful for my mom and dad and house
  • Health, family, and love
  • My sister, baseball, books, mommy
  • Penguins, bears, goats, cats, butterflies, hummingbirds… (my brother’s girlfriend REALLY loves animals)
  • My family, monkeys, my friends (did she mean that her family are monkeys, or that her friends are monkeys?)
  • Food and shelter
  • I’m thankful to Aunt Katie for making all this yummy food

I think they covered the spectrum pretty well, don’t you think? However, it doesn’t matter whether we agree with what each person is thankful for. The most important part is the act of being thankful itself.

Given all of the suffering, poverty, natural disasters, and other impediments to just getting through the day, I feel even more blessed to be free to live my life. My only wish is to find time during this crazy holiday season to enjoy all of these blessings. Especially those cuddled up next to me reading books in footy pajamas.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving on Thursday, and are preparing for an equally blessed holiday season.  What do you do to express your gratitude for your blessings? Please share!

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The MFA: Part One

A few months ago I wrote a post about MFAs, specifically on whether or not I would apply for one of the few programs on writing for young people. I ended up applying to four schools, getting into three, and finally accepting a position at Lesley University in Boston (forever known to me as Bostron from my college days). I couldn’t be happier about Lesley. I’m not sure I totally understand what I have signed up for, and might not know until the two years are up, but I can already feel the momentum building underneath me. A literary adventure awaits!

In preparation for the first of five residencies, Lesley and Co. has sent out a list of required/recommended readings for workshops, and then there will be manuscripts to read as well. Having this work at first overwhelmed me. How was I going to tackle it all? But now that I’m engrossed in the reading, my excitement for the endeavor of getting an MFA increases with every assignment I read.  So far I haven’t gotten through that much, but I’ve already applied the readings to my own WIPs (at least mentally). I can’t wait to see how my writing and critical thinking improve through this program.

Lesley’s program appealed me for many reasons, one of which is their interdisciplinary slant. For the first three semesters I’ll take a class in a subject related to, but not necessarily on the craft of, writing. Maybe this will be Creative Writing Pedagogy (a class that would be great if I ever want to teach) or Historical Fiction. I could even develop an independent study specifically for one of my WIPs — like a class on 17th century Surinam for my historical YA manuscript. So interesting! As a generalist in almost all things, the opportunity to learn many different aspects of the craft is very exciting. Though I expect to work closely with my advisors so that I don’t spread myself too thin (one of my habits).

Amidst all this excitement is a good-ol’-fashioned case of stage fright (Book fright?). What if, once I get there, Lesley doesn’t think I’m good enough? <Sigh.> This is normal, at least for me, and I’ll do what I always do in situations that press me. Pretend I’m not scared! It’s not very suave but sooner or later I’ll be in it, doing it, using that strong self-critic to drive my work. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for!

Have you gone through later-in-life schooling or expansion of some kind? Was it harder or easier than you expected?

NaNoWriMo 2012

NaNoWriMo is here again. For those of the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, where November is designated as the month to finally write that novel! There are local community get-togethers, helpful posts, trackers, and other online resources. The goal is to write 50,000 words before the last day of November, which means about 1,667 words per day.

Last year, Joanna took on the challenge, and wrote a lovely historical YA novel during NaNoWriMo. She inspired me to try this year.

I’ve adapted the challenge slightly to suit my situation. I generally write picture books and middle grade novels. Middle grade novels are typically 20,000-25,000 words. So to meet the 50,000 word goal this month, I will attempt to write two middle grade novels. Yes, two. Piece of cake, right?

Not quite. Joanna makes it look too easy. If you write your tail off for 30 days, out pops a solid, well thought through draft, right? It’s a little more complicated than that (for me at least).

I have planned the two novels. One is the story of a brother and sister who discover a portal in their hall closet that takes them to 1983. The other novel will be a sequel of sorts to a novel I already have in revision.

So I’ve currently written just over 11,000 words of the first novel. As I expected, the writing ebbs and flows. I participated in PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) last year with a similar experience. Some days the words flow and some days they don’t. What I didn’t expect was a somewhat non-linear process.

I wrote from the beginning of my story to the end. I checked my word count- around 10,000 words. Hmmm. So I am now going back and filling out the characters, writing in more conflicts, and ramping up the stakes. But I have this nagging concern in the back of my mind: what if I fill out the story, add in everything I can think of, and I am still short of 25,000 words?

I guess I can only write until there is no more to write, and then put it aside until I finish the second novel.  Amidst family visiting (twice), my son’s sixth birthday, my husband’s <ahem> birthday, Thanksgiving, and Black Friday this month, I have my work cut out for me. I’m sure I will appreciate this in January when I have two novels to work with and revise!

Is anyone else participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Any encouragement or general cheering on would be much appreciated! You can follow my progress at the counter on the right side bar.

One and A Half Yards of Fleece

This past weekend I experienced a rare and somewhat bewildering burst of inspiration. If this burst had had anything to do with writing, I might feel surer about it, excited to run with it. Because isn’t that where I want to direct my creativity? To my manuscripts in revision and to the new ideas swirling in my head? Instead, here are the outcomes of this inspired rampage:

One fleece sweatshirt.Two fleece hats. One cardboard dinosaur head. One dinosaur tail. One pair very baggy pants with a drawstring. One pair mittens. A host of cloth sandwich bags.

That’s right. I crafted.

All weekend, basically. I sewed and cut and measured and sewed again. I glued and taped. I cursed my inability to plan ahead and started over. It began with my son’s Halloween costume. (Obviously, he’s being a T-Rex). It ended with a headband for myself made with scrap fleece. Oh, and I finally hemmed those pants that were dragging in the mud.

What makes this all so monumental is that I don’t craft. I don’t sew. I don’t—and didn’t—use patterns. Yet somehow I managed to CREATE all these things from scratch.

In two words: LOVED IT.

I don’t really *make* that many things. Things you can hold. Every once in a while I experiment with something in the kitchen. But by now I’ve chosen my easy-to-bake artisan breads, so there’s not that much enjoyment from the experimentation (oh, but the eating…). Writing itself is a drawn out, abstract process. I probably won’t feel complete in the way I do now until a book is published, in my hands, being held in the same way I can hold the mittens I just sewed.

Creating tangible things is such an important process for me, but one I haven’t really embraced for a long time. I used to paint, but my paints and brushes have been in some kind of cryogenic deep freeze since I started writing. I don’t know if I’ll take them out, or just keep on this sewing kick. But the pride I felt at having made something concrete was so overwhelming it made me realize I wasn’t meeting all of my creative needs. I’m predicting that attending to both the abstract and non-abstract sides of my artistic self will better serve my writing, though I’m not precisely sure how to detect or measure that influence.

What have you discovered about different forms of the creative process? Do you experiment with both abstract and tangible forms of creation? What have you made with fabric scraps lately?

(Also, email me if you want those bread recipes. The dino costume you can figure out on your own like I did…)