Friday, April 25, 2014

Owning My Awesome: 4 Key Tools for Writing a Novel in a Month

I blame my father-in-law.

He's the one who put the idea in my head, you see.  A screenplay and fiction writer (check out his stories here), one night as we gathered at his and my mother-in-law's house for dinner, he mentioned romance novels.

He knew a lady, he said, that was a good writer trying to self-publish her work, but no one was buying.  Then she'd heard how lucrative the romance fiction market was so, after doing a bit of research, she churned out a few romance novels of her own.  And -- they sold.  Like, a lot.  She's now completely sustained on income from her words.

I'd been missing writing when he told me this.  Writing fiction, that is.  Reading and writing stories has been in my blood since birth.  I studied creative writing in college, and have more than a few of my own NaNoWriMo novels, not to mention a host of poetry and short stories, under my belt. 

But I quit writing, back in early 2011.  Writing fiction had turned into a devastating trigger for my eating disorder.  It got to the point where the choice was between my health and my words.

I chose my health.  I walked away from fiction. Forever, I thought.

But I've been missing it.

So when my father-in-law mentioned romance fiction, I thought, why not?

Because romance novels are not serious.  They are fun and light and entertaining, even when there's conflict.  They end happily as a rule.

So I gave myself a month.  Try your hand at romance, I told myself.  Something you've never done before.  A genre you never dreamed you would writeNo pressure, no need for no one to ever read it.

And -- I did it. 

I did it.

Without triggering anything.

I wrote a damn novel, you guys.  And not a bad one either, if I do say so myself.

It'll be published soon.  June, I'm hoping.  I'll let you know when it's available.

And now -- I'm writing another one.

I'm writing books.  Sans triggers.

So what's different?  Why in 2011 was it a choice between life and living dead, a choice between fiction words and health, when now I'm sitting down nearly every day to churn out words and I'm okay?

A few things are different.  Big things.  Here they are -- my four key tools for writing that I didn't have (or didn't quite have) in 2011:

  1. Community.  I'm not writing in a vacuum anymore.  Okay, I wasn't writing in a vacuum in 2011, either.  I had a few writer friends I'd met through Twitter, and we cheered each other on.  But now I have a lot more community.  I have a digital family of Story Sisters (and seriously, this group is the bomb -- please check it out).   I have friends and family who know I'm working on a novel, who ask me how it's going and urge me on, people who I can complain to and celebrate with.  People who care.  This is vital.
  2. Accountability.  Accountability is an aspect of community, but is not the same.  It is more direct and deliberate than encouragement, and a little less nice (but no less kind).  It is more kick-you-in-the-ass and pass-the-chocolate than yay-let-me-hug-you.  I send my words every day to my husband, and update my word count here and with my amazing friend (who is also a writing coach).  I tell other friends I'm working on a novel.  I post my progress on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter.  I have people who will challenge me if I try to abandon my goal out of fear or boredom or {insert your favorite excuse here}.  These people are my word doulas, and I need them if I'm going to get through my book-birthing.
  3. Believing in myself.  This is something that I completely lacked in 2011, and is absolutely key.  I felt guilty for taking time to write, when I could be doing something more "productive."  You know, like working in a traditional job that, no matter how awesome it was, sucked all of this ISFP's energy and left nothing for my dreams and passions, or my loved ones.  And while I do have guilt now, too -- this time of the you-are-a-bad-mom variety -- I push it aside because a) I love doing this work, b) I believe in my words and these stories, and c) I am drive by the very real and optimistic hope of being able to provide for my family by working damn hard at something I love doing.  I'm owning my awesome.  Working on Made last year was huge in how it taught me that my ideas matter, can impact many, and can provide income for my family.
  4. Doing the work.  I am getting this shit done.  It's scary.  I procrastinate a lot, spend a good bit of time letting fear lead me to while away time on Facebook.  But when push comes to shove, I do the work.  I do it.  Every weekday, I send my sweet son to play at a drop-in childcare (which he adores -- no crying on the drop off with this guy) and hurry away to a nearby coffees shop where I spend a few hours punching out words.  That's where I am right now, in fact -- writing this post, and then getting to work.  In 2011, every morning I'd wake up and tremblingly wonder, "Will I write today?"  Now, this is not a question.  I will write today, and I will write 2,000 words today.  And then I go do it.  I guess that old "apply the seat of the butt to the seat of the chair" advice really works, huh?

That's how this mama churned out a light but textured and engaging romance novel in one month (stay tuned for its release -- June-ish!).  That's how I'm currently in the process of penning a delicious (and terrifying to write due to said deliciousness) novel loosely based on Celtic myth.  Has there been risk?  Oh yeah.  Paying for childcare, investing money in something that might come to nothing?  That's been scary, damn scary.

But it's also been worth it.  Even though our financial situation is tenuous at the moment, my husband fully supports my writing.  I'm following my dream.  The first big dream I ever, ever had (other big dreams included being a mega horse breeder, and becoming an astronaut and exploring the universe -- those are dreams currently on the back burner).  And that has meant everything.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Unbelieving Easter: When Good Friday Comes Alive

Easter is two days away.  It is my favorite holiday.

At least, that's what I would have said with ease six months, a year ago.  

Now, I'm not so sure.  I've distanced myself from the things of religion that, when I hear them or read them or taste them, shut me down faster than you can say "He is risen indeed."

The many problematic and conflicting Bible passages . . . being encouraged to believe in an abusive and terrifyingly mercurial version of god that is not very unlike the ancient pagan deities . . . people who tell me how bad I am, how bad we all are, "for my own good" . . . theology that completely denies the value of darkness . . . ideology that requires me to marginalize any minority group, or yield faithfully to abusive individuals and/or doctrines . . . all things absolute -- the briefest of encounters leaves me swallowing back a sudden, visceral nausea, my hair tangling from the breeze of my soul's walls of protection flying up.  Danger, danger.

I am left wondering what Easter can mean to me when the Church that proclaims the paschal message has, in my opinion, gone so wrong at the core.  Because the heart of the gospel is, in my understanding, love.  From Duck Dynasty to the World Vision debacle to Chick-fil-a's protests, and so on and so on and so on, Christianity isn't coming off so well in the love department.

Which pains me to say, because I know so many Christians who are doing an amazing job at being love with skin on.  Our local church family, the women running some of my favorite babyloss support organizations, the online community of doubters and deconstructors and "free-range Christians" that has refreshed my life blood -- there are still people getting it right.

But I still don't know what to do with Easter this year.

* * *

When it comes down to it, though, it's not the dysfunction and hatred and cruelty I see infesting and infecting the Church that drives me away (although it certainly is a huge turn-off, and something I will continue to address and, in doing so, hopefully help heal).  It's the Bible itself, the fact that every time I turn those impossibly thing pages, I come away hurt and confused and sick-feeling.  It's the fact that I begged God, begged Jesus to please fill the empty parts of me, and those parts remained devastatingly empty.

It's the [delicious] reality that I only began experiencing Jesus' promised "through and through" freedom after I stepped away from religion, only after I walked and then ran with abandon into the desert with its gray sands and harsh sun and endless sky. 

It's the fact that I am experiencing deeper peace here in the borderlands, in the wild country, than I ever did inside the prescribed bounds of Christianity-dictated safety.

I used to wish I could find a happy home inside churchianity's expectations.  That I could find peace being the dutiful evangelical so many wish I would be.

But I don't wish it any longer.  Because I've found more of Jesus' gifts out here with the heathens and the homosexuals and the written-off wastelands than I ever unearthed when I faithfully peeled open my Bible's cover each morning, when I prayed the kinds of prayers I'd learned to utter, when I tried to mold my soul and my skin so I'd fit in on Sunday morning.

* * *

The Jesus I thought I knew is dead.  My right answers died with him.  I don't know if I'll ever see him again.  The future is wide and uncertain. 

This is Good Friday.  This is the Good Friday experience.  I have never lived it more truly. 

I wouldn't trade it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

When We are Awakening

Big news -- I am so thrilled to be a part of the Sprout Online Magazine team!  I'll be contributing new pieces every month to the pages of this incredibly luscious publication.  And even bigger news, friend and Sprout creator Amanda interviewed me for this month's Thrive interview.  Yay!

This month, Sprout is all about awakening.  As I feel that the past months of my life have been all about awakening, rebirthing, opening my eyes to the sun at last, this issue is near and dear to my heart.

Here's a peek at my conversation with Amanda from Sprout: Awaken . . .

Beth, you’ve declared this your year of fearless living. What does that mean to you? 

When I picked this word, I thought it would teach me how to defeat fear, to erase it from my life. That by the end of 2014 I’d have learned to live without fear, or beyond it. But now I’m learning that it can’t be erased from life, that it is part of the human experience, and that it can actually carry important messages for us. So, for me, to live fearless means to do the things I need to do or want to do, to be the way and the woman I would like to be, even though I am afraid. It means feeling the fear and doing the thing in question anyway, as bravely as possible.

For more inspiring words and amazing artwork, nab your copy of Sprout: Awaken here.  Or join the Sprout community on Facebook.  Yum! 

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