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Tag: NaNoWriMo

Goodbye, 2016. Hello, 2017.

On the face of it, 2016 stunk it up, and so many of us are happy to see it go. 2016 brought a torrent of cultural and political pain from which the country is still reeling. On a personal level, it wasn’t exactly a banner year, either. As I reflected on the past year over the past week, I found myself scowling and angry, and frightened for what’s to come.

The year dealt multiple blows; we lost: Harper Lee, Bowie, Prince, George, Rickman, Wiesel, Cohen, Wilder, Ifill, Frey, Glenn, Ali, and more. The year dropped trou with a flourish by taking Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds back-to-back at the end, an enormous hand gesture to America that’s too crude to type here. The political scene was chaos and pandemonium, and most of us sat horrified and watched it unroll before our eyes, not believing that what was happening was actually happening. I don’t know whom to blame for that. The media? Nah. Russia? Naw. I think we have only ourselves to blame. And I think recovery is impossible until we admit that.

Personally, this year brought turmoil, too. A lung cancer diagnosis for my father sent my family into a tailspin. In addition to the fear for his health, we were forced to face some hard truths about what it takes to care for my mother, whose posterior cortical atrophy/Alzheimer’s continues to wreak havoc. His recovery was hard and scary, and everyone was pushed to the limits in multiple ways.

The foundation of our three-year-old home cracked and water poured into our finished basement. We ripped out drywall and baseboards and the front porch and, eventually, the entire front yard. Jury is still out on whether it’s completely fixed, but needless to say this wasn’t something we expected to have to do in a three-year-old home.

A dear friend at work learned that instead of launching into a new and exciting academic year he had to instead start fighting leukemia three days before the school year began.

A beloved family member on M’s side was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

We lost our parish, a huge blow from which I’m not sure I will ever fully recover. Thankfully we did not lose the community we’ve built there.

2016 gave me, at the end, the awful cold/flu crud that’s been going around. I was down for almost three weeks and had fought my way back to 99% when it slammed in again two nights before Zoe’s already-much-delayed birthday party. I self-medicated with caffeine and DayQuil, and forged ahead. A visit to the ENT the morning of New Year’s Eve confirmed that I needed antibiotics, nasal spray, rest, and quarantine from everyone. This made me crabby and hate 2016 even more.

Clearly, I was happy to see 2016 come to a close. Even with the uncertainty 2017 promises, I was just ready for the year to end. I spent the last six months praying that nothing happens to Tom Petty before he gets to St. Louis on tour again, because even though he’s been here a thousand times I’ve always had a conflict. He’s coming May 12. Hold on, Tom!

While sleeping half the day on NYE and grousing that I felt so crummy when I was conscious, I realized that I needed to flip my thinking. 2016 wasn’t all terrible, despite the fact that with little prompting I can reel off a litany of crap. So I made myself find 16 things that didn’t suck in 2016. Here we go.

  1. Zoe applied to, was accepted, and started at a new school that is challenging her in so many ways that we are continually reminded that we made a good, if tough, decision. She transitioned beautifully, made new friends easily, and is excelling academically. I cry when I think of the new worlds opened to her with this move. We made new friends through her new school, too. Our horizons are widened by these unique experiences and backgrounds, and the perspective gained is invaluable.
  2. I launched a new book project, a non-fiction work that I am still so excited about even while feeling bummed that life got in the way this year. It’s still there, waiting for me, which gives me hope and motivation. I hope to re-tackle in 2017 and get it moving again.
  3. The three of us enjoyed a mega-vacation that involved sleeping multiple nights on a train (one of Zoe’s most ardent desires) and experiencing San Francisco and Seattle. It was an amazing trip that gave us time together and memories I will cherish forever. M did an incredible amount of work planning this trip (mad props to him), and we all had a wonderful time.
  4. I got off my butt and started walking. I walked and walked and walked – almost 300 miles starting in the fall – and left nearly 30 pounds behind. I feel better and have retired a significant part of my wardrobe (significant both in size and in quantity). Better health led me to sign up for two fun runs late this year: the Girl Scouts Run for the Cookies and the Hot Chocolate 5K. We ran these as a family, creating more memories.
  5. I became more active in a private Facebook group for writers. This amazing group of people from all around the world is inspiring and motivating and supportive. We are collaborating on an anthology and I committed to writing a piece. It was hard, but I wrote it and gave it to two friends to beta read and edited it and submitted it and am so glad I did. Now I have to work on my bio, which I think may actually be harder to write than the original piece. I’m toying with, “Amy Zlatic lives, writes, photographs, mothers, wifes, plays and works in St. Louis, Missouri. She owns a cat that sneezes constantly. She likes pickles.”
  6. Because M retired the Christmas display, we were able to do the fun runs and more together. We decorated our tree as a family. We spent a Saturday in St. Charles to support a friend’s book launch and enjoyed the kick-off for the holiday season on Main Street. We’ve done Wild Lights at the Zoo and Way of Lights at Our Lady of the Snows. Never in my marriage have I had so much access to my husband before and even during the holidays. When people ask if I miss the display I am honest. No, I do not miss it. I spent too many years missing my husband. I’ve fallen in love all over again, with him and with the season.
  7. I won my second NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), this time finishing the middle grade novel I began last year. I haven’t brought myself to print the entire thing out yet to start editing (and oh boy does it need editing) but that’s on the 2017 to-do list. Word says it’s 323 pages. Not sure I’m ready to kill a tree yet, but I know it’s inevitable. It’s too hard to edit properly on-screen. I need hard copy and a red pen. And lots of coffee.
  8. I grew closer to two wonderful women who support me and love me and accept me and make me feel not so crazy. These women inspire me and motivate me every single day to try to be a better person. I love them and their families, and feel so grateful they have fully embraced me and my family. One of them actually happens to be extended family, which is just icing on the cake. (She can’t get rid of me, ever!) They taught me patience and the insanely valuable lesson of “Always respond in love.”
  9. We road-tripped to Cincinnati and enjoyed a jam-packed weekend full of fun and family. I don’t think we could have crammed more into that weekend, which included a Cardinals-Reds game, a big family bike ride, shopping, and a Labor Day party complete with fireworks and Boom! I love our Cincy family so much my heart hurts when I think about how much I miss them.
  10. Zoe participated in two piano competitions and earned highest marks in each. She continues to stun us with her talent, and I continue to marvel at the fact that I get to regularly cook dinner and clean the house to live piano music. At the second competition, she exited in tears, convinced that her errors had tanked her score. There was a lot of snuggling and reassurances and discussion over what to do to not feel that way ever again (more practice!). She was shocked to later learn she had received highest marks, and her teacher told her, “It’s not about the mistakes. It’s about how you recover, how you keep going.” What a great lesson for us all.
  11. I read so many good books. So, so many, including two books by writers of color which reshaped my world view. The last book I read in 2016 was “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I’ll be chewing on that one for a long, long time. I highly recommend, but offer this caveat if you are not a reader of color: you absolutely must go into it with an openness to accept that your point of view can be – and should be – challenged.
  12. My dad recovered from lung cancer and surgery. My colleague is in the final stages of chemo and has beaten leukemia. Our cousin had successful surgery and appears to be doing remarkably well. For all of this, I am grateful and relieved. They’re all staying on the daily prayer list, though. Just to be sure.
  13. For the first time in my life, I voted for a president who looks like me. Even though she didn’t win, I have a new sense of purpose and resolve. I never again want to feel like I felt on November 9, when I was overwhelmed with feelings of, “I could have done more.” I am now exploring involvement with She Should Run and EMILY’S List.
  14. When my work friend was diagnosed with leukemia, I volunteered to take his advisory until he recovered. I had no idea what I was getting into, taking on nine boys freshman through senior. It’s way more work than I anticipated, but the rewards far outstrip the work. I was also asked tasked with the position of faculty moderator for the yearbook, overseeing four seniors who are the editors. I have grown very fond of all of these students, and find myself worrying about them and championing them like a mother hen. It has been my privilege to take all of this on, and I’ve received far more than I’ve given. They make me laugh every day, and they challenge me in the best possible way. This has injected a new passion into my professional life.
  15. I rode a camel. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.
  16. When I couldn’t attend the big NYE family bash, I sent my family on without me. My husband, who shall be henceforth known as The Greatest Husband in the World, came back home to check on me and bring me food from the party. He sat and watched Parenthood with me while I sniffled and wheezed on the couch. When he was at the party, he texted and called me, so I didn’t feel quite so alone. And right before midnight, he and Zoe returned and made Sprite and orange juice mocktails so we could ring in the new year together. It was pretty damn special.

Come to think of it, there are a helluva lot more than 16 things to be grateful for last year. Happy New Year, my friends. Hang on, because I think 2017 will be a wild ride.

Move-ember

I covered a lot of miles in November. I’m not exaggerating or being facetious or even speaking in metaphors, which I have been known to do from time to time. I actually covered a lot of miles.

100.2 miles, to be exact. Most of them within eight miles of my home. I walked, and sometimes (very slowly) ran (downhill), 100.2 miles last month. My longest walk was over eight miles (Thanksgiving morning!); my shortest was two. I listened to hours and hours of podcasts. I walked at 5 a.m. and at 10:15 p.m. and all the hours in between. Mostly at 5 a.m. for a very good reason outlined below. I looked like an idiot many days, including times when my podcast made me laugh out loud or cry rivers of tears or that one day when the podcast app wasn’t working and so I listened to music, forgetting that the reason I stopped listening to music when I walk is that I can’t help but do this weird, funky, white-girl dance-walk thing that makes it look like I’m having some sort of fit because I love music and it makes me want to mooooove. I have learned how much to layer based on the temperature, and which jacket keeps me pretty dry when it’s raining, and to not stuff my headband into a certain pocket because it will fall out causing me to backtrack and search with the flashlight on my cellphone and throwing off my whole route with my exact mile markers. I have seen enough dead rodents to last a lifetime, including an unfortunate collision between a squirrel and a Ford Mustang. The Mustang won. The big Thanksgiving walk was the best, because I smelled wood fires burning, a turkey in someone’s oven, and, near the end, a pie baking. That’s pretty good motivation.

My legs weren’t the only appendage working in November. My fingers were super busy, too. I logged a lot of wordmiles on the keyboard. 54,288 words, to be exact. I committed to National Novel Writing Month again (NaNoWriMo), which is 1,667 words every day for 30 days, resulting in a solid 50,000-word novel. I didn’t start a new book, but finally fleshed out the novel I had started a couple of years ago before writing myself into a corner. Time off from the book plus lots of workshops, articles, and books on writing helped me figure out that I simply hadn’t made my main character suffer enough. She has suffered now, but I’m not entirely sure it’s enough. She may need to have some more terrible things happen to her. The book, as it stands now in all its SFD un-edited glory, is at just over 73,000 words. It needs a heavy red pen and I’m fairly certain that there are whole chapters that require replacement, but at least I have the base down. That ain’t nuthin’, friends.

Oh, yeah, and I also covered some miles in the air, traveling to Columbus, Ohio, for a conference for work. During which I continued my walking and my writing (boom). I can also now check the whole “travel with a Benedictine monk” thing off my bucket list. That was pretty fun.

I started walking in late September, when the weather was nice. I walked after work, when Zoe was at PSR or volleyball practice or piano. The timing was perfect and the weather was glorious. Then I decided to NaNo and realized that I’d need time to write every day. This isn’t something you can crank out in 15 minutes. At least, I can’t. Not fiction, anyway. I knew that some nights would require slogging away for almost two hours to get to that word count. And I knew that if I went walking after work and then made dinner and then ate dinner and then cleaned up dinner and did the family thing, all I’d be ready to write was a series of Zs on my pillow. I also knew that if I got up early to write, half the time would be wasted while I waited for my brain to fully wake up. So, starting November 1, I switched my walking routine to 5 a.m. most mornings. I can get four miles down in about an hour and be home at about 6, giving me a little over an hour to get ready for work and get us out the door before most of the bad traffic hits. This freed up my nights for writing. Food being a need most evenings, I subjected my family to a series of crockpot meals that I prepped late the night before and assembled that morning. Most were really delicious, which was a relief since I was trying new recipe after new recipe to stave off the boredom. I made real meals, too, but those crockpot dishes were a huge help on many nights.

So, in these ways, it was a great month. (In other ways, not so much, but those are topics for other posts.) I was completely absent from here which was disappointing, but there’s only so much a girl can do each day.

It’s no longer November, so I don’t have to continue walking so early in the morning. But here’s the thing: by the time I start walking at night it’s just as dark as the morning, and there are a lot more cars on the road. I get blinded by headlights, and it’s disconcerting to not see the sidewalk in front of me. I very much prefer the early morning walks, when it feels like hardly anyone else is awake and I’ve got the canvas of my whole day laid out before me. I now, much to my surprise, relish walking in the pre-dawn morning, before the cars are out but when there are a few other crazy people walking, running, and biking and when there are loads of stars twinkling or a gorgeous fog wraps everything in silence. It’s just a matter of launching my body out of the warm bed and into the laces. I never regret it, but dang, sometimes it’s hard. I did almost get clocked by a dude on a bicycle this morning, but he swerved at the last minute so all is good. (Aren’t bicyclists supposed to ride on the road, and not on the sidewalk? Eh, it might help if I wore a headlight like I’ve seen other early-morning people have. I do love the pre-dawn gloaming, though, and an LED headlamp seems rudely interruptive.)

Things I got from this blog post: I’m writing here again. Not anything spectacular, but I’m back on the beat. Which feels good.

Things you can get from this blog post: an amazing podcast list and/or good crockpot recipes. Send me a message if you want either. I’ll hook you up.

You’ll get the book I wrote later, I promise. This isn’t like last year’s book which was written with the intention of shoving it in a drawer. I’ll work on editing and then maybe recruit some beta readers and then shop it around for an agent. Since 2016 sucked on many levels, I’m determined to make 2017 rock.

This post is dedicated to my adorable husband, who put up with crockpot meals and an abnormally-cranky wife on the few days she didn’t walk and vicious snarls when he tried to talk to her about football, television commercials, and random internet stories while she was trying to write. I am well aware that many writers struggle with families who don’t understand their need to pound the keyboard, and I am so incredibly thankful to have a husband who has continually encouraged all of my art – be it writing or photography – over all of these years. You, quite simply, are amazing and I love you.

Resurfacing

I have been gone from here, but oh, how I’ve been writing!*

I participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to those of us familiar with the program, committing to get at least 50,000 words – the length of an average novel – down on paper in 30 days. I looked at my calendar before the month started and grimaced at all the commitments. I put M on notice that I was doing this, and that I’d need help. I scheduled one day each week to take vacation from work, if needed, in order to catch up because I worried about falling behind before I even started.

1,667 words each day. That’s it. And that’s a lot. Try writing 1,667 words about one topic and you’ll see that it’s not as easy as it sounds. I started out on fire, and kept going. It turns out that when you do something every single day it becomes a habit. And when you love what you’re doing, it’s not something to dread. Even when I opened up the laptop and pulled up the blank page without a clue what I was going to write, I was happy. It’s hard work, but it brings great joy.

Some nights the writing flowed easily, and I blew the 1,667 daily goal away. Doubling it, even. Other days, it was a struggle, and I felt like I watched the word tally click up even as I typed, just trying to reach that daily goal. I learned that it’s very easy for me to get lost in my writing, using it to blank out the rest of the world. This is both good and bad. I can tune out a busy coffee shop or kids running around or other writers talking. But I can also get pretty snappy when directly and frequently interrupted. This happens at home, constantly. I learned pretty quick that it was never wise to try to write in the heart of our family together time each evening. Too many interruptions (where is my t-shirt, have you seen my keys, did you respond to that email, can we talk about…, hey did you see…) led to me losing my temper and flaring with aggravation. I never want my family to be an aggravation, so I stopped writing while Zoe was awake and if M wasn’t lost in his own work. Writing isn’t something I can pop in and out of, like editing photographs. Trains of thought lead in different directions and I must follow or the flow is ruined. If I have to break off to describe where the graham crackers are located in the pantry, I go right off the rails.

Since I couldn’t write until after Zoe was in bed and M and I were finished with all the stuff that comes with married life, this sometimes meant I wrote when it was late and I was tired. I was never too tired to write, though, which was good, but I easily lose track of time when working and so went to bed too late many nights. I started carting my new, small laptop everywhere. Since it has a solid-state drive, start-up is nearly instantaneous. If I knew I’d have a few minutes waiting for a lunch date, I’d pull it out and bang out two or three hundred words. A drop, but a start. I found that I can write in all kinds of places. And I found that I can write every single day.

NaNo-2015-Winner-Banner

For 31 days now, I carved out time to write every single day, and in that time I wrote over 60,000 words. A book. I wrote a book. The NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 words. In case you’re wondering what a book of 50,000 words looks like, here are a few that clock in right around that mark:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Notebook
  • The Red Badge of Courage
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • As I Lay Dying
  • Fahrenheit 451

You may have heard of these. I’m not saying my book is anywhere close to these pillars of the literary world, but if my book were published, it would work just as well as any of these as a door stop.

No, you can’t read it. I will never submit it for publication, and I’ll be lucky if I ever even edit it into something I’d let anyone else read. I didn’t write 60,000+ words for publication. I wrote 60,000+ words for me. I wrote to prove to myself that I can write a book, that I am a writer. I wrote to prove to myself that with a full-time job and the responsibilities of a child and a husband and a home and friends and family and volunteering and all the other hats I wear, I can still find time to write every day. Must find time to write every day. I learned things that I will use in my next book, and the one I started earlier this year but stalled on. I learned things that will help me craft a story that I will submit for publication. This, my friends, is a most excellent use of 60,000 words.

In the last 31 days, I wrote at my desk, on the couch, in a chair pulled up to the fireplace, at the kitchen counter, and in bed. I wrote at Starbucks and Kaldi’s. I wrote in the Starbucks parking lot once when I realized I didn’t want a coffee after all, I just wanted to write. I wrote in the car outside of the piano teacher’s house (more than once), and on her couch. I wrote when I was tired and sad and hungry, and when I was caffeinated and happy and full. I wrote when I was angry, realizing after I wrote that the anger was gone. I wrote early in the morning before anyone was up, and late at night after everyone was asleep, sometimes both in the same day. I wrote even when I didn’t want to write, and learned that while it might be hard to write some days, it’s far better than not writing at all.

I wrote a book in the last 30 days. 60,000 words and counting.

I think I’m fairly tapped out with that particular piece now. It’ll sit in the proverbial drawer, and I’ll pull it out every once in awhile to take a look at it and prove to myself again that I can write a book.

And, most importantly, I’ll keep writing.

*I’ve also been reading. Because writers need to read. It’s almost as important as the writing. I read Still Alice, and had to stop reading because it hit too close to home, and then went back and finished it. Two Neil Gaiman books, because the man is a writing god and a genius, part of Jenny Lawson’s new book, a Shirley Jackson and half of another Shirley Jackson. It’s been a good month of reading. I highly recommend all of these books.