My Word for 2017: Bravery

Each year for the past few years, maybe on and off a bit, I’ve picked a word for myself. That word was usually focused on my writing, because, well, I’ve been pretty darned lucky, and I have room and ease in my life so I could focus on my writing. 

This year feels a little different. Okay, it feels a lot different. On the one hand, I still have a life of room and ease, and I feel relatively safe from the things I fear are coming down the road. On the other hand, I know I may NOT be safe–I’m a woman and I’m Jewish and I’m a liberal…all groups who are already coming under attack and who will almost certainly continue to be attacked.

Still, the odds are decent that, if I chose to, I could tuck myself into my sheltered little life, duck my head, and come out relatively unscathed. 

But I don’t want to. I want to stay out of my shell, keep my head out of the sand, and fight.

This will take, I’ve been thinking, courage. Which is the word I’ve been leaning toward for 2017. And which, ironically, I’ve been leaning away from, too…out of fear.

And then, today, I picked up my copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, thinking I’d start a reread to get inspired for the next year of writing. And almost immediately I came across a description of what a poet named Jack Gilbert (no relation) told some of his writing students. 

“Most of all, though, he asked his students to be brave. Without bravery, he instructed, they would never be able to realize the vaulting scope of their capacities. Without bravery, they would never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, their lives would remain small–far smaller than they probably wanted their lives to be.”

I was not a brave child, teen, or young adult. Cravings for adventure? I had none. Impulse control? Enough for a dozen kids. Fear of what MIGHT go wrong? Drove most of my decisions (usually to NOT try something). Growing up and growing older has been, in many ways, a process of growing braver. 

In the past few years, I’ve thought that maybe I had got “there,” that I was a good level of brave, that I didn’t have to keep stretching myself. And then November 8 happened and now January 20th is right around the corner, and I find myself thinking about bravery and wondering–yet again–if I’m brave enough. And, honestly, dreading having to get back into that stretching place.

But in one paragraph, Jack Gilbert and Elizabeth Gilbert reminded me that bravery and growth isn’t only about the struggle, but also about the growth of capacities and richnesses we maybe just can’t see yet. They reminded me of all the rewards I’ve claimed whenever I did step out of my safe spot and taken a risk (which so many other people wouldn’t even see as a risk). They made me sit up and look around at the bigger, happier life I have, because–sometimes in very small steps and occasionally in leaps–I was being brave.

So, it may be just semantics, but I’m setting aside “courage” for 2017 and choosing “bravery” instead. The bravery to get my introvert self out there, with people and crowds and noise, and find some way I can volunteer and make a difference. The bravery to make a time commitment and stick to it, when maybe (probably!), I just want to go home, hold my cat, and read my book. The bravery to attach my name and identity to my beliefs, in public and in person.

And, on the other side, the bravery to take care of myself and choose to tuck myself away when I need it, trusting that almost 3 million people voted for Hilary Clinton and Tim Kaine and against Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and that some of them will keep the shields up if I’m not there that day or week. The bravery to actively look for and at the good things people are doing for each other every day and to soak in that goodness, not discount it as not enough. The bravery to find balance between valid worrying and overall happiness. And, finally, yes, the bravery to carve out time for my writing–unselfishly because words and stories are important, and selfishly, because the writing nourishes and sustains me.

Bravery. 

Have you got a word for 2017?

How to Keep On Keepin’ On

I’ve been thinking about motivation lately. About how, even when we want to be writing, when we have a project we love, when we want to see that chapter or that draft or that book get done, we still might not be writing as much as we can.

Where does the motivation come from, I was thinking. And where, when it’s not there,  did it go?

And then today, at my day job, I was reading a study report about the maker movement and its place in education. (If that’s of interest to you, or you want more context for the small part I’m about to quote, the report is from Agency by Design at Project Zero, a research organization at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and you can find it here.)

Anyway, I’m reading along, and I get to this:

“…to be called a cyclist, you not only need to have the ability to ride a bicycle, but you have to be motivated to ride your bike on a regular basis, and you have to be alert to occasions to do so.” (Bold font, mine.)

Huh.

And a bit more:

“…the biggest bottleneck to behavior isn’t a lack of motivation and skill, it’s a lack of sensitivity.” 

Double-huh.

The article goes on to bring the metaphor back to students, and I went on to read more about them. But in that one instant, you just know that I completely replaced cyclist with writer. Oh, come on. So did you.

Maybe I haven’t been thinking about motivation. Maybe I have plenty of motivation. Maybe what I’ve been missing, especially, since–oh, I don’t know, early November?–is the awareness of opportunities to do the writing. Maybe I’ve even been helping to pull the cloud cover of fear and anger and worry over my awareness and blur the edges of whatever awareness I was managing.

You think?

It pretty much always comes back to mindfulness, doesn’t it?

I’ve done better this month than last, in terms of separating politics from life and compartmentalizing a little bit more. Not as well as I’d like, but better. And it’s something I think I’ll have to keep working on, because what’s going on in politics (and life) is important and–guess what–what’s going on in my (our) writing is important. And having a knock-down, drag-out fight between them in my brain is only going to make me tired.

And tired brains miss opportunities for writing. Or drawing. Or composing. Or any creative art.

I can do battle with a tired brain. But I can’t write with one–not fully or deeply like I need to be doing. Like any readers I might someday have need me to be doing.

Like your readers need you to be doing.

So back to the now, whenever we can. Back to the safe, quiet place where the monkey brain is tucked into a soft blanket and told, gently, to hush for a while. Just for a while, while we go bring ourselves to awareness, to seeing and seizing the opportunities.

Right? Right.

I Bought an Extra Present, so…GIVEAWAY!

Well, apparently I had a brain blip while I was preparing my holiday shopping list. NO book is really a wrong book, and absolutely no book by Kate Milford is in ANY way a wrong book. But I didn’t buy the book I MEANT to buy for a certain someone on my list. And that’s all I’m going to say about that here, because, shh…sekrits!

Anyway, the extra book I now have in my possession is Kate Milford’s GREENGLASS HOUSE, which is made of awesome.

So much awesome that even though I already have a copy in e-book form, I was tempted to keep the lovely print version for myself.

But that is 1) silly and 2) not in the holiday spirit. What IS in the holiday spirit is to pass it along and either introduce someone new to the awesome or fill in a painful gap for someone who has all the rest of Kate’s books, but not this one. Or…oh, any of the many other possible reasons.

Giveaway time!

Leave a comment and tell me one book YOU are giving as a holiday gift. Or if you’re worried about someone seeing the comment, just write “sekrit” with your preferred spelling. You’ve got all week, and I’ll draw the winner the weekend of the 17th.

Good luck!

Jason Reynolds’ GHOST

I’m blogging today over at MG Lunch Break, talking about the amazing voice with which Jason Reynolds drew me into his new novel, GHOST, and kept me there, in love with his hero and his story.

http://www.mglunchbreak.com/2016/12/06/jason-reynolds-ghost-the-sentences-behind-the-voice/

Reaching for Powerful Words

I’m thinking about the reading I’ve been doing since the election. For a few days, honestly, I couldn’t find anything to read. This has only happened to me a couple of times in my life, and it’s always scary. Because…not being able to pick a book? Not being able to lose myself in a story, in characters, in words? That’s absolutely terrifying.

Then one day I knew I wanted to re-read Kristen Cashore’s Bitterblue. It’s the third of her Graceling books, and–for me–it’s her best. It’s the story of a young woman who has inherited a kingdom, a kingdom full of people whom her father controlled and tortured, manipulated with his mind, forced to do terrible things. Memories are traps for everyone in her world, including herself, places of gaping holes and sudden transports into the past. Bitterblue’s need is to learn and understand as much as she can about the past, to fill in the holes, and find some way for everyone to move forward from the travesty they all lived through. While Bitterblue is active and physical and well able to defend herself, she is a hero of intelligence, of logic and code-breaking and puzzle-solving. I think I needed to seep myself in “smart,” in the power of someone to ease people’s pain through analysis and thinking and direct speaking.

Since then, I’ve stayed in fantasy–reading through several books by Cinda Williams Chima. Chima’s books are tightly written and draw me easily into the heads of characters who look head on at their own problems and at the larger problems of the world around them, who tackle those problems with force and focus, and who–after many losses–win the bigger picture.

I think what I’m craving in my reading these days, is the feeling that we can do this. That we can take on the next four years and, frankly, kick our enemies’ asses. For now, I’m finding this reassurance in fantasy, in words that don’t look a whole lot like ours, that give me some distance and escape from the crap we’re facing, even as–at the same time–they maybe give me strength to believe in the battle.

I think I’m also, though, craving words of power. Both Cashore and Chima are good writers, strong writers. Their books don’t lose me in vagueness or mushy prose–Cashore, in particular, has done an amazing thing in writing a book about mental powers that feels anything but inactive. I’m not sure I could read a literary novel right now if you paid me. I know that, at some point, I’ll step out of the fantasy world and back into reality, but when I do I think I’ll still be craving strength and energy from the story words. I rarely read poetry, never have, but I found myself thinking this morning that maybe I needed to get a collection of Adrienne Rich’s poems and read through one every day or so. For the power and the strength in her words.

What I did do was track down Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise and listen to it again. “Does my sassiness upset you?” No, it doesn’t. It expands my heart.

Has your reading been impacted by the election results? Have you noticed yourself reaching for a certain book, a certain kind of book? What books of power have you turned to? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Leveling Up on Craft (Hopefully)

I wrote this post just before the election. And since then it has felt off and unimportant and irrelevant to be sticking it up on the Internet. It felt all of that to even be prioritizing my writing. But as I talked about here, creativity is still important, even if all it does is let us fall into a good place for a while so we can step back out and do battle. And maybe it’s important for the impact it has on our readers.

Anyway, I wrote a little bit last weekend, and that did help. This week and next are regular-life-busy, and I think still having all this other crud in my head makes the focus and time commitment harder. But regular-life will settle down and I will carve pieces of time and focus out to stick with my WIP and make progress. Because…and here’s what I was thinking about way back when.

I had a realization the other day. Well, kind of a two-fold realization. The first part was that I love this WIP enough and am writing some stuff in it that, I think, means it could be–if not The Book that gets me out there–the book that takes me to the next level of my writing.

The second part of the realization was that it could just as easily NOT be. I feel like I’m at the point where I can make just about any scene work–as a scene. I can create conflict, I can pull the balance of dialogue and action together, I can polish the words until they shine in an actual good way. But…I also feel like I could be doing that into infinity and beyond, over and over and over, without somehow making the story work as a whole. I can make tension build to a turning point in a chapter, but I’m not all that sure I can do it well/right over the story as a whole. I can produce, if need be, a set of perfectly fine, even good, chapters that still don’t make a book that holds together, that engages over all the pages, that keeps people reading to the end.

And I kind of want to do that.

So this next year is about getting off the plateau I’m on and climbing to the next peak.

climbing

The first step in this path, I can identify: Finish this draft, with care. I’m on Draft 3, and it’s the first one that feels like…something. I’m making myself slow down, get to some actual depth in each scene, reach for that truth about my main character and his journey. So steady progress on this, but without rushing, that’s where I’m at.

And then…I don’t know. I know there’s a new/different kind of learning for me here, and I know that recognizing the goal is a good thing. But I still don’t see the steps of the path clearly. I will probably do some more reading/re-reading of craft books–so if you have any new ones to suggest, please stick the titles in the comments! I am looking into more in-depth workshops and learning programs–specifically, I’m waiting to hear about next year’s Nevada SCBWI mentoring program. I may end up hiring a good editor, but that may stretch the old budget a bit too far. And I will ask my critique group and possibly some Beta readers to do a whole-manuscript read, focusing on the connections and the overall story arcs.

So I expect I’ll be exploring all this here at the blog. And I’d love to hear from any of you who have found yourself at a place where you wanted to level up–what you tried, what worked, what didn’t…it’s all helpful and good to hear about!

Writing in the Midst of it All

Okay, my thoughts here are going to be nothing new and certainly nothing profound. But I’ve had a block in my writing all week (Anyone else? Yeah, I thought so.), and I’m hoping processing it here a bit will free me up to get back to my story. Which needs to happen.

My Facebook feed is filled with posts from other writers, because, well, that’s one of my biggest tribes. And I’m hearing so much the past few days about how we need to write, we need to keep putting out words, we need to give stories to children–stories that help keep their hearts and minds and arms open. And I believe this.

Except, I don’t always believe it. Partially, this is probably because for me, reading has always been more of an escape than anything else. Books do inspire me about writing, but I haven’t ever had that connection so many other people talk about–that a book turns their life around. Okay, wait, no–Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star did have a profound influence on me. But that’s nonfiction, and I was in my forties before I read it.

Also, while I am extremely aware that words won the Presidential election (empty, empty, nothing words, from my pov), I also know that there were wonderful, strong words on the other side, my side, and they didn’t win the election. So, I don’t know…I’m a very inactive person who is realizing she had darned well better find some actions to do, soon, and I’m struggling with believing that my words can do enough.

But…oh, you knew there would be a “but.” I have to write. I believe in self-care, and I know that a me without writing is not a me who’s going to be happy or strong enough to do much else. And, like I said, logically (and usually emotionally), I totally know that words have power.

So here’s what I’m telling myself. I am working on a story these days that has a hero I love. He is not diverse, in any of the ways we often use that word. But I think he is part of a personality population that sometimes, maybe often, does get overlooked, ignored, not understood and not recognized. And if, if, I can tell his story in a way that one day, one child, might actually see themselves in this hero and feel better, then…well, maybe doing that is a part of all this–this active fight that I think we have to take on. So I’m coming back to the commitment I made earlier this year–to write more slowly and write more deeply and paint this true character onto the page. As best I can. Even if, for now, the only one who benefits is me.