Write Loudly for Linda

Write Loudly for Linda

It was a humid Thursday night filled with anticipation and excitement.  Our annual gathering of Write Loudly students coming together to celebrate accomplishments and catch up with those who had taken a break from sessions because life gets in the way sometimes.

We were still unloading food and drink in the kitchen when Linda arrived wearing a stylish new pixie “do” that made her look ten years younger.  We oohed and ahhed over her hairstyle and told her we were so glad to see her at the party because it had been since the Spring when we saw her in class.

Quick-fire catch up questions while we chattered in the kitchen led to Linda’s statement that quieted the room.

“Well, I’ve been a little busy battling breast cancer.  And yes, this new do is actually a wig.”  You could have heard a pin drop…for a moment.  The next breath was full of exclamations, hugs and smiles.

“We’re so glad you came!”

“You look great!”

“Come, sit down and tell us your story.”

It is not Linda’s personality to walk into a room and draw everyone’s attention.  She is a listener, full of laughter and wit, a writer and storyteller even though she doesn’t see herself like that.  She has no aspirations of being published.  She has on more than one occassion, not completed her homework from the week before.  She attends our 8-week sessions when she can.  She provides great feedback and support when we share our work.  She comes to class because she loves to write and loves to interact with other writers.  When Linda commented that she was uncomfortable walking into the party and blurting her story and drawing attention, we responded as friends and writers.

“Sorry Chica.  You just walked into a room full of storytellers.  We need to hear your story and you need to tell it.  It’s the only way that we can rally around you to provide comfort, support and love.  And to help you kick this thing’s ass.”

I won’t share the details because those are Linda’s to tell.  What I will tell you is that during her story, I saw a woman with a fire in her eyes.  A woman who deemed her chemo treatment as her “internal body wash to get rid of all the junk that didn’t belong.”  Linda didn’t drink that night because she was slated for chemo the next day.  She sipped her gatorade and participated in the lively discussions that bounced around the room.  She blew her husband off for dinner in lieu of spending an evening with her girlfriends.  He understood why.

Driving home that night, I felt compelled to do something in her honor.  I ran my idea by some of the other members to see if there was an interest.  The last question was whether or not Linda would agree to it.  I was able to reach Linda at home on Saturday afternoon and she was thrilled and honored that we were willing to celebrate her and create a team to walk in her honor at the 18th annual Rays of Hope walk for breast cancer in Springfield, MA.  Write Loudly for Linda was born.

I’m spreading the word and beginning to fundraise.  Please visit my Rays of Hope webpage to make an online donation.  Donate because you:

  • Survived breast cancer
  • Are battling breast cancer
  • Know someone who has lost their battle with breast cancer
  • Want to make a difference in raising funds to cure breast cancer
  • Want to support a fellow writer

All donations are tax-deductable.  Please spread the word and visit my page here.  October 23rd is right around the corner and my individual goal is $100. 

Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops… at all.  ~Emily Dickinson

Just keep writing, just keep writing…

It has been well over a year since my last post.  I suffered from total burnout.  All the things that writers juggle got in the way of my writing: family, work, health issues, social networking, reading, writing YA reviews for Examiner.com, sleep, blah, blah, blah.  I even took time off from my writing class which is something that I look forward to every week.  My novel seemed to float out there, completion just chapters away.

2011 hit and my writing took off.  Perhaps it was the motivation of a fresh slate, a new year full of promise or promises kept.  I experienced a few life changing events that have spurred me on. 

In January, I joined two of my YA author friends, Sera Rivers and Lorretajo Kapinos for a long weekend at the NYC SCBWI Conference.  We survived a snow drift delayed train, coffee dates with editors and writers, days full of presentations by some of the best in the industry and nights full of meeting new friends and downing adult beverages.  What?  I had a rare girls only weekend.  Don’t judge.  🙂 

In February, I turned the big 4-0.  Yup.  I know, I don’t look a day over 32, but fate has blessed me with a youthful appearance and the imagination of a 6-year-old.  My husband surprised me with a roomful of my closest friends and family.  My two worlds collided…in a good way.  My family wanted to meet “these writing folks that we hear so much about” and vice versa.  I was so excited to introduce everyone.  It felt like my characters had become real.

In the spring, I finished the first draft of my novel.  This was momentous.  I really felt like I had pushed and pulled my way up a mountain and was sitting at the top with a bird’s eye view.

This summer, I attended a Writer’s Digest webinar on the picture book, hosted by Mary Kole of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.  I came away with a deeper understanding of what I needed to do in order to edit my picture book.  As part of the webinar, I was allowed the chance to submit my manuscript to Mary for critique.  My writing group helped me to tear it apart and put it back together in the best shape it’s ever been.  I am looking forward to hearing from Mary in a month or two.

I have decided to begin setting my alarm for an hour earlier each morning.  I am going to squirrel myself away in the pre-dawn minutes to dig into edits for my novel.  Following a quick-fire critique from one of my writing cohorts, I have a good sense of what I need to fix and things that I need to dig into deeper.

September is going to explode around me with my oldest starting 2nd grade, swim lessons and dance classes for the girls beginning again, my work with a new boss hitting stride and every weekend tied up with travel or functions.  I don’t want to lose my momentum nor do I want to stop writing. 

Looking back at 2011, I realized that I’ve accomplished some amazing things.  Through it all, I’ve had the support of my husband, my writing crew and my close family and friends who I share all the best bits with.  My mom summed it up when I mentioned the things that I learned in the picture book webinar.  She looked at me with a smile and said, “Niki, it’s so good to hear you talk about your writing with passion again.  You lost that for a bit.” 

I realize that life won’t ease up and allow me endless hours to hone my stories.  Case in point, this blog post has been walked away from umpteen times in order to help my four-year old find a Tupperware “hot tub” for her doll, order take out, referee an argument between two seven-year olds about the proper way to play Clue, change over a load of laundry, help free a bicycle from the garage where it was wedged behind two cars and a trash barrel, allow the hubs to check his fantasy baseball (on this computer) and field a phone call from the take out restaurant to repeat the credit card number to the ditz answering the phone who wrote it down wrong.  I have patiently completed each task and diligently walked back to this post to soldier on.  I haven’t even had to shout “I’M WRITING OVER HERE!”  Well, not at loud, that is.  Yes.  Early morning will have to do.  Those of you who know how much I love to sleep will understand my deep committment to my writing and my future fans.  I apologize in advance to my co-workers who will have to endure my snarky, in-need of caffeine coma with which I will most likely arrive each morning.  Wait…that’s me now.  Add sleep deprived to that mix.

I will continue to morph the Finding Nemo quote from Dory…”Just keep writing, just keep writing.”

NaNoWriMo has officially begun…am I ready?

For those of you wondering “what the heck is NaNoWriMo?”…let me explain.  It is 30 days of writing abandon where writers challenge themselves to complete a 50,000 word novel.  It can be ROUGH.  The point is to get you into the writing mode even if some of the content is complete drivel.  I have friends that have tackled this for a few years now.  They have given advice and explained the stages of NNWM with regard to the ups and downs.  I won’t know what to expect until I am fully immersed.

I have decided to stick with young adult content since that is my passion.  The piece has to be original and written during the month of November.  I have outlined a story that is a post-apocalyptic world full of zombies, scientifically engineered assassins and a group of maniacal leaders pulling all of the strings.  I was drawn to a zombie story when I dug into my Halloween reads for Examiner.com.  I noticed a trend toward this type of genre when I heard about the PA panel that was held in October.  “Panel discussion and signing featuring four accomplished authors in the growing genre of “post-apocalyptic teen fiction.” Panelists were James Dashner, Michael Grant, Carrie Ryan and Scott Westerfeld.  Carrie Ryan and Scott Westerfield are two of my favorite authors.  Having just finished Carrie Ryan’s debut novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth…I was hooked.  (Check out my blog on Examiner for my review.)

I can do this.  The storyline is complex, visual and combines twists on the classic themes of the God complex and segregation with a little bit of Frankenstein’s monster thrown in for good measure.  The protagonist is not entirely human, but feels the pull of humanity around her as it changes what she knows of life, lot and free will.

Will I end up like one of the undead…glassy eyed and unable to focus on anything around me other than word count and moving the plot forward?  Things will be challenging because life will go on around me.  I can’t and won’t spend every waking moment in front of the keyboard.  There will be dinners to cook and little ones to tend to.  In the end, I will commit and drive myself crazy in the process.  That is what writers do and that is what I am.

Word count:  392NaNoWriMo

When the writer by night becomes the writer by day…

Well, I have joined the rest of the unemployed minions that are multiplying throughout the US.  Last week, I woke up everyday at 6:30am to get me and my two girls out the door.  One to daycare, one to Kindergarten and me off to the office.  It was like the proverbial punch in the gut when everything sunk in. 

I started the work day off on a busy note that hummed through the afternoon.  Attended an Operations meeting at 2:45pm which confimed that there would be a need for some layoffs.  We sweated for over an hour waiting to hear our fate.  I was one of the first to go.  Considered a part-timer at 35 hours, it was only a matter of time.  By 5:10pm, my desk was packed up and I was walking out of the building in a daze.  Thirteen of us were let go.  A father of newborn twins, a college student, an empty-nester, an aspiring writer…the last one is me. 

All those excuses for not having time to write are out the window.  I attended my writing class the same night that I was laid off.  My head was still spinning and I needed to stop for a moment and focus on something positive instead of thinking about when our family health benefits were going to run out.  True to the nature of my group of colleagues and friends, they rallied around me. 

“This is the best thing that could have happened to you!”

“I’m so excited for you!”

“You are going to be the first one of us to get published!  I can feel it!”

It has officially been a week since the layoff.  I have done a lot of laundry, dishes and organizing of our basement office.  I have not done a ton of writing.  Ok, so I’ve published an article or two for Examiner.com, but does that count towards my bigger goals?  Maybe?  I guess I had to ask the question…”Am I writing SOMETHING?”  The response is yes.  Have I picked up with my YA novel?  Nope.  Have I written the assigned story for writing class?  Nada.  Have I Twittered, LinkedIn’d and Facebooked trying to increase my connections?  Yup.  I’ve created a new list of agents to query for my picture book.  I’ve even outlined a story idea for NaNoWriMo.  Yeah!

I’ve found that being unemployed garners as much unwanted advice and attention as does being pregnant or getting a hideous haircut.  You have to take the good with the bad and appreciate the intentions that come with.  I AM ok for everyone that has asked.  In fact, I’m better than ok.  I have a plan…ok, lots of plans.

I’m confident that my unemployment will not last long.  I refuse to stay in my jammies all day, clicking through OnDemand movies.  (Ok, I did that for one day)  I promise to finish what I have started…especially my young adult novel.  I look forward to a new journey.  I appreciate that my supportive hubby is keeping his “I’m freakin out over here!” feelings to a dull roar, allowing me to navigate these waters at my pace. 

For someone who has only ever taken time off of work through two maternity leaves, it is very strange to work on my own schedule…punch my own clock.  I’m tweaking it everyday and finding what works and what doesn’t.

I truly believe that everything happens for a reason…including this.

A sense of accomplishment…

I am a big list person.  The more lists the better!  Sticky notes, scrap paper, writing on the back of a bank slip…I am constantly swimming in them.  The best feeling comes when I can cross off completed tasks and toss the note.

Pick up milk (check)

Submit article to Examiner (check)

Write story for contest at the Gazette (check)

Of course, for every item checked, there is another to take its place.  At the beginning of the week, my lists engulfed me.  I didn’t know where to begin and which item to tackle first.  Should I finish reading the book that I borrowed in order to pass it to the next person waiting to read it?  Do I finish editing my friend’s memoir knowing that she is currently working on the revisions and could use my input immediately?  When am I going to post a new blog?  Thinking about a NaNoWriMo contest idea that came to me at a red light.  Should I sit down to outline it now, before November?  Having edited three new articles for Examiner, when should I post them and will I have time to promote them?  Bought my new book with agent info.  When will I have time to dig through it and begin writing my second batch of query letters for my picture book?  Blah, blah, blah… 

In addition to all of this writing madness, I am juggling a  full-time job, schlepping the kids to and from school open house meetings to dance class while trying to make time to get to the gym and schedule a date with my husband.  Am I trying to be superwoman?  Nope.  Although my stress headaches and muscle pain will tell you different.  I’m simply an overextended gal with a penchant for biting off more than I can chew and thriving on it!  I hate being idle.  I despise being bored.  I am constantly in motion, without any diagnosis of ADHD for that matter.  I love to be challenged and am really proud that I have accomplished so much in such a short amount of time.  I get inspirational emails from my uber-proud hubby who gives me creative breathing room and actually enjoys reading the things that I write.  I get warm, squishy hugs from my girls as they send me off to writing class with sticky kisses and prompts to “write a good story tonight Mom”. 

I am loving this journey.  I am loving the challenges that I find everyday.  I am loving the folks that I am meeting through website interactions and classes.  I am loving that people consider me to be a writer.  And I am loving the sense of accomplishment that comes with every finished project or deadline.  (self-inflicted or otherwise)

Reluctant readers…

While tackling new articles for Examiner.com, I came to the realization that I LOVE to read.  It’s a sickness really.  I have multiple books going at one time.  One in my bedroom and one in the family room.  Part lazy…part “so much to read, so little time”.  We have instilled a love of reading with our girls since they were old enough to sit still and look at the pages.  Bookshelves are crammed full of colorful picture books and beginner readers.  My youngest clambers to climb in my lap demanding two books every night.  My Kindergarterner is constantly sounding out words and letters as she tackles the concept of learning to read.  I read recently that children of writers have a tendancy to love the written word and might in fact gravitate toward some sort of career that involves writing.  How cool would that be? 

Then I thought about the children whose parents don’t make the time to read to their kids.  How about the children that would rather play video games than pick up a book?  Where is the disconnect?  Where does the fear of or aversion to reading come from?  I sat down for my latest article to research and tackle the topic of reluctant readers.

There is such adventure packed in the pages of a book, it’s a shame to think of all the kids out there that are missing out.  Check out my most recent post and add comments.  I’d love suggestions for getting kids to read.

http://tinyurl.com/oauxey

Enjoy!

School has begun…

SchoolbusWell, my oldest has started Kindergarten.  The days are starting to morph into a routine as we move toward chilly nights and crisp autumn mornings.  I was excited for her as she hopped on the bus toward independence and a future of unknowns.  I realized that I was excited for my own class schedule to begin.  Once again, I would be dedicating Thursday nights to my Write Loudly adult writing classes.  I was hoping to see old friends and connect with new authors who were willing to throw their hat in the ring and share their experiences.  My supportive husband puts on his best “Julie McCoy” and coordinates the evening’s festivities for our girls.  Dinners at McDonald’s or Friendly’s followed by runs to the park or an indoor playscape are usually followed by late night ice cream and pillow fights.  I think that he secretly looks forward to Thursday nights as much as I do.  The neurotic mom has left the house and he and his girls can run amok.  I truly appreciate having a creative night to myself once a week.  A night that inspires me to work harder at honing my craft, challenge what I think I know about writing and get some great stories out of my head and onto paper.  Not to mention the opportunity to hang out with friends afterward for a glass of wine.  🙂

This Thursday, I ran to the gym for a spinning class to clear my head after work.  I had just enough time to hit Taco Bell for a healthy taco and run to class at the local YMCA.  I was excited to see that we had a new member in our midst.  A seventy year old gentleman named Lester has signed up for class.  He is a retired history teacher from Westfield State College who likes to write skit comedy.  He is currently working on his memoir and wants to learn to write by utilizing his dialogue skills.  It was wonderful to hear his perspective on writing in general.  Our assignment for the evening was to begin crafting a short fiction story for a local competition.  Lester gave fantastic critiques on everyone’s pieces.  I’ve found that our class can be very social and comfortable.  Adding a new person into the mix makes us step up our game.

It is so interesting to see how my fellow students and I have grown over the last few months.  Four of us are writing for Examiner.com now, two of us are editing our drafts for a YA novel and a memoir, I’m querying an agent for my picture book and several of us have had stories and poetry published in Southwoods Journal.

Do I have a ton of irons in the fire?  Yup.  Time management has become my best friend.  I find drawn to the computer whenever I have spare time.  Between posting articles on Examiner.com, updating my social networking sites like Facebook, freaking out when I realized that I was being followed by Simon and Schuster on Twitter, updating my blog and starting all over again.

Someday, I want to look back at this time period and realize that it was really a beginning.  With the support of my friends and family, I can honestly consider myself a writer.  Who knows, maybe someday, I’ll have a string of published works under my belt and be able to call that my main career.  I am confidently heading towards my 40th year and realize that I’ve still got a lot to learn.  I don’t think that I’ve ever been this excited for school before.

A beginning…

It was late December, the holidays were upon us and I was in a complete funk.  Stressed out and overwhelmed with planning and attending parties, shopping, wrapping, decorating…you get the drift.  I truly believe in fate and things happening for a reason.  My mother-in-law has a habit of cutting out articles from the newspaper in the event she finds something of interest for me or my husband.  (We do not purchase newspapers in our house — no time.)  I sat down to leaf through one of these stacks of papers and noticed that she had cut out an ad for an adult writing class at the YMCA.  It was a reasonably priced 8 week session with the added bonus of a night away from the kids.  Yipee!  Where do I sign up?

Ready to tackle my writing dreams, hone my craft and interact with fellow writers, I packed up my notebook, kissed the kids and hubby goodbye and set out for my first class.

I timidly walked into a room full of strangers and took my seat.  What the heck was I doing here?  These people look like professional writers.  I really haven’t written since college.  Our teacher, Sera, was young and enthusiastic.  She introduced herself to get the ball rolling.  Sera had always wanted to write.  In addition to teaching her writing classes, she had written a non-fiction book about her son’s learning disability and was working on her memoir.  I was impressed.

The people in class came from all walks of life: teacher, Ombudsman, yoga instructor, nurse, hairdresser, etc.  The one defining characteristic about everyone was the passion for storytelling.  Some people had been published in local journals or online.  A few had completed manuscripts and were getting ready for the editing process or securing agents.

I had written a children’s picture book in the Spring which was safely tucked away until I could build up the courage to market it to agents.  This was where I needed to be.  Leaning on the experience of the seasoned writers and feeding off of the energy of the newbies like me, I was prepared to brush the dust off my thesaurus and learn something new.

Little did I know how far I’d come.  33 weeks, two published short stories, accounts with Facebook, Twitter, Digg, LinkedIn, a writing position with Examiner.com and now a blog…I have to pinch myself.