Creating New Rituals

Happy New Year, readers! I hope you all had a wonderful and fulfilling holiday break. My family and I had many relaxing moments, but I am very happy to be back to the real world today. The week between Christmas and New Years was a bit of a haze for me.

Our homeschool co-op doesn’t pick back up until next week, but we started our second half of first grade today. I’m excited about all the things JC is excited for this year, and I’ll be writing a full blog on it soon.

But for today, I want to talk about creating new rituals for a fresh year. This year I’m not setting any resolutions, because I feel like making a list of things to do and ways to be better is just setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration. I know I’m not the only one who had a rough go of 2016, and this year, I really want to be good to myself. Here are some of the rituals I hope to create this year for myself and my family:

  • Ending our day with music: At the end of the day when dinner is done, parents are exhausted and the kids get that wild, pre-bedtime wind, we often turn on the TV to kill time before bed. I would like to start trading the TV for music and audiobooks. I’d love to see what playlists my family come up with.
  • The Best Year Ever jar: I’ve made room on our kitchen bookshelf for a big empty jar, and I’m encouraging my family to drop a note inside when something good happens or when they’re thankful for something. At the end of the year, we’ll have a whole jar of happy memories.
  • Using essential oils in my showers: Most days, a shower is the only time I get to myself–and some days even then I have a small visitor pushing trains around the bathroom. I would like to utilize some essential oils and scents to help set a tone for my day.
  • Starting my writing time each day with a writing prompt: I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to writing prompts and at least 3 books full of them, all for when “I have time”–and this year, I will make the time.
  • I want to set aside a time each week to be creative outside of writing: I used to love to sew and scrapbook and do crafty things. As a homeschooling mom, it was very easy to let those side projects slide. I’d love to pick some of them back up, though. I started a Harry Potter pillow almost 3 years ago I haven’t finished. Is there really any excuse for that?
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It should not take 4 years to make a pillow.

 


I’d love to know: what rituals do you have? 

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Perfect Things

I found this quote in a new book I’m reading (Love Walked In by Maria de los Santos–I’m only a chapter or so in, so the story hasn’t evolved too much yet–but her writing style is beautiful). It stuck with me and I chewed on it all day, so I thought I would share.

 It made me think of items and things I’d put on my perfect list. Some I came up with:

  • The beginning of spring when the weather is amazing but it is too early for bugs.
  • The opening bars of Billy Joel’s Piano Man.
  • Twilight. The time of day, not the stupid books.
  • The way babies move their little mouths when they’re asleep.
  • Using your favorite pen.
  • The first bite of ice cream.

What would be on your list of perfect things?

Seasons in the South

Seasons are tricky in the south.

It’s the first day of spring, but it’s cold out. And it seems even colder than the number on the thermometer because we had a glorious few days of warm, sunny weather last week. We were lulled into a false sense of security that winter was over for the year–but we were wrong.

That’s because winter in the south is like a cantankerous old uncle. He shows up around Thanksgiving. He kind of hangs around through Christmas, coming and going, and then camps out nonstop until February. By early March, you’re tired of him and you give him the boot to make way for the spring that you’re oh-so-ready for.

Spring in the south is like that friend we all had in our early 20’s. She’s fun. She’s hilarious. She throws the best parties and she’s always up for adventure. And she’s totally unreliable.

She comes and spends a weekend, maybe a whole week–and then disappears for a few days, leaving you shivering in the sweatshirt you had to dig back out because she’d convinced you she’s here to stay and that you have no need for scarves, long sleeves, or anything with down in it. And when you finally think you have her pinned down, and that those lovely spring days are here to stay, she disappears for a whole year.

And in comes summer.

If spring is a flamboyant, youthful friend, then summer in the south is like a three-year-old.

Instense and extreme, there is no middle ground in a southern summer. Much like a toddler, you can be having a wonderful and sunny time in the pool and then BAM–the winds change and there’s a torrential downpour.

You plan out your entire vacation, book your airline tickets and pack your suitcase. Then you look at summer the wrong way, or you give it the wrong color cup at breakfast…and then there’s a hurricane and you have to stay home and wait it out.

And finally when summer is over and you’re ready to be back on a schedule comes the most elusive of southern seasons–autumn.

Autumn, the responsible daughter, gives us an extra hour of sleep. She paints the mountains in beautiful colors. She brings cool breezes that are a relief after summer’s temper tantrums and we revel in slipping on coats and curling up with blankets and hot drinks.

The summer stomps it’s feet and refuses to stay in bed like a good child and it gets hot again and we all sweat for a week or two, determinedly drinking our pumpkin spice lattes because it’s supposed to be fall, darn it. 

Before we know it, autumn has slipped away, off to her college courses at a prestigious university somewhere, leaving us with an empty space for old uncle winter to move in once more.

And we begin again.

Happy spring everyone! Are you bundled up or enjoying the sunshine?

 

NaNoWriMo Wrap Up

Hi everyone! Sorry for the radio silence, but over Thanksgiving I hurt my right shoulder and lost all movement in my arm for a week. Talk about a nightmare for a writer! Since it’s no longer agony to type, I thought I’d bring everyone up to speed on how I fared during this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge.

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I made it to 35,000 words, 15,000 away from the goal number. But I’m not upset or disappointed for 2 reasons:

  1. I wrote every single day. Rear end in chair, pen in hands, keyboard clacking away. Some days, there were lots of words. Other days, there were very (very!) few words. But there were words.
  2. I came to the realization that as far as I’m concerned, a single month is not enough time for me to write a good, real, deep story. The 35,000 words I got down last month aren’t a cohesive novel. It’s perhaps the bones of one–but it was really me getting to know my main character. There’s a lot of internal dialogue. Since I started with a relatively new idea and only did minimal outlining, I’m not really surprised.

I really like to the idea of National Novel Writing Month. I think it helps a lot of people (like me!) sit down and focus. But when I consider some of my favorite contemporary authors–like Chris Bohjalian, Jodi Picoult, and Kate Morton–and the fact that it takes them years to research and write a book, I don’t feel so bad about my long process of “getting to know” my characters (not that what I managed to churn out last month is comparable to any of them, but you know what I mean).

I guess I should probably just admit to myself that the fast-paced, deadline-driven atmosphere of NaNoWriMo doesn’t really cater to my life situation or my personality…but I’ll probably try again next year anyway!

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Those are my results–how did you do?!?

 

 

 

It’s my “Blogiversary”!

WordPress was kind enough to inform me yesterday that my little blog has turned a year old! It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.

When I launched Mama Writes Words, I was not new to the blogosphere. I had a blog but I felt like I’d written myself into a corner, and I was struggling to write about things that weren’t a part of my world any more–and even worse, I didn’t think any one was listening. So I took a break for about 6 months while I thought about what I wanted out of  blog and the experience. Because blogs take time and effort, and I knew that if I returned to the format I wanted it to be because I was writing about something that I REALLY cared about.

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And so here we are a year later! I’ve loved getting to know all of you who are out there reading–I’ve loved sharing stories about JC, book reviews and getting feedback on my writing. And I’ve learned a few things:

  • It’s okay to break the rules every now and then. For example, I have trouble following a set blogging schedule if it means I have to put up fluff. I’d rather post less and make my posts more meaningful.
  • Not everyone is nice. That’s what the delete button is for. Constructive criticism is good. Meanies are not.
  • Other bloggers can be an awesome support system–and they have some pretty great book suggestions, too.
  • It is really an honor to watch readership grow. Everyone is busy, and the fact that people take time out of their busy days to read and comment amazes me. So if you’re reading, and you keep coming back–thank you.

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Thank you all for inspiring me!

Here’s to another year!

Where Were You?

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It’s been 14 years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. When people look back on September 11th, a dozen years ago, most don’t remember anything happy. They remember the devastation, the loss, the heartbreak. And I remember that, too–but what I remember the most is falling for a boy.

I was 18, and I was a brand new freshman at a small college outside of Atlanta. I was still getting used to my new life, and I hadn’t slept well, so I put on a yellow shirt to brighten myself up. I had an early morning class–Health and Wellness–and I darted into it at the last minute. The desk I sat in was wobbly and creaky.

Hmm, I remember thinking. I hope today isn’t going to be a wobbly desk kind of day.

“Anyone watch the news?” my teacher asked. “Looks like a plane hit a building in New York. I think the pilot was drunk.” And then he started the lesson.

When I stepped outside after class, I was immediately aware of the buzzing around me. The little campus was alive and humming, and it took me a few moments to understand what the odd noise was.

Everyone was talking. To each other, on the phone. Some were crying. A girl I knew from theater auditions caught my eye.

“Al!” She yelled, using the nickname that I only ever let her call me. “Al, they blew up New York!”

I ran back to my dorm, flew up three flights of stairs and crashed into the first room I saw with it’s door open. There were four or five other people in it, all staring silently at the TV. I joined them, and watched the second tower fall.

I reached into my back pack for my brand new cell phone and dialed the number of the only person I knew who would have the answer.

“Daddy?” I whispered when he answered. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know, darling,” he said. “I really don’t know.” He didn’t have the answer that morning, and that scared me more than anything.

Classes were cancelled for the rest of the day, and everyone on my hall crowded into one room to watch the news. We were still all practically strangers, but we sat close together–heads on each other’s shoulders, hands held, knees touching. We found comfort in the physical contact.

Of course, I was affected by the day. It changed all of us–tragedy and devastation had come to our soil, and it shook us. But I didn’t have any friends or family in NYC. I had no brothers or sons in the military. For all intents and purposes, my every day life shouldn’t have changed that day. But it did, because I met him.

He was a year older than me. He was smart and popular–he played soccer and tennis, sat on the student government, and was a student advisor and tutor. He was the first boy who ever used a word I had to look up–ad nauseum, in case you’re wondering. And he had a smile that made me feel a little light headed.

And he was Arabic.

When he came across me walking the night of the attacks, pacing the quad and wondering if anyone in NYC could see the stars, he fell into step with me and asked if I was okay. I nodded, feeling suddenly shy around this boy I had only seen around campus.

“You’re Allyson, right?” He asked. “Your family okay?” I told him all my family was fine, and asked about his. He had family in Vermont, he told me, but they were all safe.

We walked and walked late into the night, talking. At first I thought he was just being nice, making sure the scared little first-year girl didn’t freak out. But then as the hour got later, and he started talking about himself, I began to hope it was a little more than that.

Over the next few days, as we got a sense of the magnitude of the tragedy and terrorism, I felt horribly guilty. I felt like I should be in mourning for our country, to be solemn and serious all the time–when I actually felt giddy and lighthearted. This boy I had found–this smart, sweet, dark-skinned boy–was changing my world.

I’ve gone over it so many times in my head that it plays out like a cheesy movie: small town girl goes to college, finds romance and diversity, broadens world view. But that’s exactly how it went. I was not raised to be terribly trusting or accepting of people different than me, except maybe in a controlled, Girl-Scout type environment. But there I was, dating a boy raised in a Muslim family, while my country declared war on them. Needless to say, my father was NOT pleased.

I just couldn’t align what I was seeing on TV with the boy in front of me. One night he sat next to me on the floor of my dorm room, head and shoulders sagging: his sister had tried to fly down and see him and had been detained at the airport simply because of how she looked. I was overwhelmed by the desire to see the bad guys, the enemies, caught–but I was quickly learning that the way a person looked did not a bad guy make. That may seem like a simple lesson, but it was one that would have been harder for me, with my upbringing, to learn with words alone. It would have been very easy for me to judge–and to hate–based on the way a person looked. But thanks to him, I didn’t.

I know the situation back then was culturally and politically complicated. It still is. I’m glad my child isn’t old enough yet that I have to explain these things to him, because I’m not sure I entirely understand them myself. How do you explain the Uni bomber, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, or the Boston Marathon bombing? How do you explain school shootings? My seriously over-simplified thought: bad guys are bad guys because of their actions, not because of the way they look. You certainly find some traits and beliefs that are more common among groups of people, but there are always the good guys– people that are searching for tolerance. And, just like the bad guys, they can be any color or shape.

My heart goes out to all the people who lost someone on this day, fourteen years ago. To all the people who will never get another phone call from their spouse, their friend, their loved one. To all the children who lost someone: my heart breaks for you. I, along with the country, share your pain–even though I know it doesn’t lessen it. And to all the people who risked and lost their lives trying to save others–I can only hope to be half as brave as you. Thank you for being one of the good guys.

Creativity

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I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot lately.

This summer has been absurdly busy, and I haven’t had a lot of time for creativity: no crafting, very little writing, no projects. All work and no creativity makes for a very unhappy Mama. Am I right?

We’re all busy. We all have children, jobs, responsibilities, pets, schedules and other creativity suckers that get in the way of the process. And creativity is a process. For me, creativity begets more creativity. painting salt dough Easter eggs with my son one afternoon this spring led to a late night where the words just flew out of my pen. The more I do, the more it flows. On the flip side, the less I do, the harder it is to start back up.

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In what I consider to be perfect timing, my Writer’s Digest magazine for July/August arrived at the beginning of the summer with the headline “The Creativity Issue”. I immediately dived in and became obsessed. I subscribe to several writing magazines and usually flip through them leisurely, reading what applies to me and skipping the parts that don’t. I read this particular issue cover to cover…and then started again. When we moved, I kept it in my purse (which may sound dramatic to some of you, but let me point out I carry an enormous Mom Bag, in which things go in and are not seen again for weeks).

The first half of the issue is devoted to creativity roadblocks when it comes to writing. Some of my favorite takeaways:

From Amy Sue Nathan, Making More Room for Writing: 

  • Having a designated writing space of any sort increases the likelihood that you will actually use that area for writing.
  • Know what you need. Quiet, a window, a sweater, a crunchy snack.
  • We hold ourselves to high standards with word counts and deadlines and critiques. But letting ourselves off the hook–just a bit–can open up room for writing. (This is a big one for me. I am a little anal when it comes to filling out my calendar on Sunday night with goals and plans, and if I get behind or they fall apart, I fall apart with them).  

From Grant Faulkner, Naked (On the Page) and Afraid

  • I suppose that somewhere within myself I believed my stories were good enough–or feared others’ reaction would prove they weren’t good enough. Perhaps I worried about being exposed as a creative charlatan, a dilettante, a fool.
  • It’s a common writer’s fear: that one’s life will be confused with the text. Because I grew up in a small town, where lives were constantly under scrutiny, such a fear was embedded within me and had surely become magnified over the years.
  • There are two levels of vulnerability at play: Having the courage to write those words in the first place, and then having the courage to share them with the world. 
  • Why put a book into the world with hesitation? Why be ashamed of a creation I put my heart into?
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Anyone have Phoebe’s problem?

From Steven James, Creative Under Pressure: How to Write Yourself Out of a Corner:

  • Forcing yourself into a place where you can’t easily discern where to take things will allow for twists that readers never see coming, stretch you as a wrier, increase reader engagement, help you avoid cookie cutter stories and add mystery and intrigue.
  • After writing yourself into a corner, examine the walls for hidden bookshelves and secret passages. 

From Deb Caletti, Cultivating Creativity:

  • Creativity is often described as a garden that needs tending–accurate if that garden also includes rocky ground, carnivorous plants and periods of doubt. 
  • Expectations, self-pressure and attempts to outsmart the market are the surest ways for creativity to make a run for it. And, they’re the surest ways to jeopardize the most powerful thing in your corner–your honest self-expression.
  • Focusing on the experience, on the joy of the act, on what makes writing (or any other creative endeavor) what you love to do, keeps the rewards coming and the desire alive.
  • Creative professionals understand that practicing their craft is not an indulgent, frivolous extra, but an essential piece of a rich, productive life. 
  • We mistakenly link creativity with writing a book or painting a painting, but ongoing artistic expression is often more about the continued search for meaning and understanding.

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Of course, the hard part is putting all of this into action. For me, creativity flows most freely when I don’t feel like I should be doing other things–so my first step is to give myself time each day. The way my life is right now, it won’t be at the same time every day–perhaps it will be when JC starts kindergarten and we’re a little more structured, but we’re still in summer mode! So my goal this week is to look at each day and find the best space to give myself a little time.

How are you creative? Do you have a certain space you create in or time to be creative?

How are you creative? What is your trick to make time for creativity?