Category Archives: Holidays

Are you making a resolution to write?

Since I published my first novel, several people have told me they’d also like to publish a novel or memoir.  I think this is great, but in some cases it’s surprised me because I didn’t know these folks were interested in writing.  Maybe–in some cases–they didn’t know it either.

            If there’s anybody out there who is inspired by my example to pick up a pen, I say, Yes!  Go for it!  But now here comes the unsolicited advice.

            If you haven’t been doing a lot of writing, but now you’re wondering “Shall I write a novel or a memoir?”–well, I have to say I think you’re asking the wrong question.  Here’s the right question:  Do you like to write?—because if you want to write a novel, it helps if you like to write.

            Try this:  set aside some time to write.  I suggest 30 to 60 minutes, three to five days a week.  I think it’s best to aim for the same time every day (e.g. right after breakfast, during your lunch hour), but I’ve heard some people schedule blocks of time in their calendars every week, wherever it fits.

            The idea is to develop a Writing Practice.  You’re like a musician practicing scales or an athlete doing warm-up drills.  Writing every day helps you develop a habit so when you sit down to write, the words spill out and you actually write, rather than thinking about writing.

            Now when you first start this practice, don’t try to write your novel or memoir out of the gate.  At this point just write.  Write fast.  Write whatever comes into your head.  You’re practicing.  You’re learning how to get into a flow, a rhythm.  Write silly stuff, write angry stuff, doesn’t matter, just write.

            DO NOT spend three or four hours writing everything you’ve been holding inside for years and years in one giant cathartic rush that you just can’t wait to get onto the page, and wow, it feels so good to finally do this, yes, yes, I can write and I can write a lot for a long time, all right, and now I’m done.  You read it over, it sounds brilliant!! You feel great about it–but you don’t pick up a pen or sit down at the keyboard again for four months, because you’re waiting to feel inspired like that again.

            Yeah, sure, you can do that if you want, and probably somewhere there’s a successful novelist or two who writes books this way.  But I’m here to tell you that most people who write novels sit down and work on it day after day after day.

            So when you want to develop a practice, on Monday you write for an hour and it’s trash.  On Tuesday, you write for an hour and it’s trash.  On Wednesday you start to write a cool story about your Mom leading the Girl Scout troop in fourth grade, and the hour is up but you’re not done.  That’s great.  You stop anyway and the unfinished story rides around with you for the next 23 hours and when you start on Thursday you waste no time. You get right into it, and the story is richer in detail and complexity because it’s been cooking in your subconscious.  Maybe you don’t finish it till Friday, or maybe not even till a week from Friday.  That’s fine.  But the day after you finish that story, you come back and start again.  And maybe it’s trash again.  That’s okay, it’s all part of the process.  But now you know that, because the practice gives you the confidence that you can stay with it for the long haul.

            I suggest you try this for a month or so, just to see how it goes.  I know it’s not easy to stick to a schedule.  If you need to skip a day now and then, that’s okay, just start up again the next day.  The main thing you want to find out is this:  is it fun?  When you’re actually writing, is it fun?  Is it satisfying?  Are you enjoying putting the words on the page?  If the answer is yes, then you’re going to write that novel.  You will.  You’ll figure out when and what and how.  But if you don’t enjoy it, well, maybe you’ll want to re-think this novel-writing goal.  But if you’re determined to write even if it’s not so fun, I do have another idea.  Join a writing group.  Not a critiquing group—that’s for later.  No, join a group of people who actually writes together.  Because we writers are so much fun, we’ll guarantee you a good time.

            Here’s a link to an earlier post about books I’ve loved that have helped me with my writing:

 https://nancyschoellkopf.com/2013/06/09/my-writing-life/

  And here’s a link to a post about writing groups:

 https://nancyschoellkopf.com/2013/06/09/writing-the-amherst-way/

Good luck, have fun, and drop me a line if you’ve got any questions!  Happy New Year!

New Year Musings

This is not about New Year’s resolutions, because I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  I figure you don’t need to limit yourself to January 1st to try new things.  And I don’t think it’s necessary for us to try to improve ourselves, because we are already perfect.  We are God Essence, or (if you prefer) beloved children of God, and you just can’t improve on that.  What we can do is spend more time in prayer and meditation with the intent of discerning the unique energetic path that each of us has, that will lead to an expansion of consciousness.  As Rilke says, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. . . ask yourself what makes you alive because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”

Nonetheless, it occurred to me yesterday to try a few new things, and since it’s nearly New Year’s Eve, I thought I might share my quirky new ideas with you.  I invite you all to share any plans you have here too—whether you call them New Year’s resolutions or not.

I read in Parade Magazine yesterday that healthy active people simply stand up more!  The article said it doesn’t matter if you get up and run a couple miles first thing in the morning, if you then go to a desk job and sit for the next 23 hours (you know, give or take a few hours for sleeping when you will presumably be inert too!)  So I got this idea to tackle a couple issues at once:  I decided that every time I feel like crying I will do ten jumping jacks!

Regular readers and friends know I’ve been grieving the loss of a friend and I’ve gotten kinda weepy this holiday season.  It’s only been one day, but this jumping jacks idea has been pretty effective so far.  I’m not saying I’m working up enough of a sweat to get any endorphins flowing, but it does nip the weepiness in the bud.  On the down side, I’ve discovered I will need to wear a sports bra around the house.  Bummer.

My other—okay, I’ll call it a resolution—is to watch more comedies.  I’ve always been a big fan of the melancholy—be it movies, TV shows, sentimental songs, and novels.  This has aggravated my grief.  I do think it’s important to go through the grieving process—don’t get me wrong.  But I’m feeling a little stuck.  So I’m seeking suggestions of good funny movies and books to check out.  I’m not a fan of slapstick or bathroom humor, but I’m open to suggestions.

So hey, if you want to tell me about your resolutions, that’s cool!  I’m interested.  But please do me a favor and recommend a few comedies available on Netflix.  Many thanks, and Happy New Year!

Shepherd’s Story

In December

the sky darkened

but a star cracked

the blackness

to perch like a red bird

on the waiting finger

of an evergreen tree.

Hiking through the field

we knelt on damp leaves

and knew:

the Earth will heal herself.

Merry Christmas and Happy Solstice!

Loving Harvey

Last week my former companion Harry called me to see how I was doing since the passing of my dear friend Craig.  It was incredibly kind of him to call because our relationship has at times been rather prickly.  We had a brief conversation and as we were about to hang up he said, “You’re in my heart, Nance.”  I responded most sincerely, “I’ll always love you, Harvey.”  OMG!—I called him Harvey!

Harvey—as Harry well knows—is the name of one of the main characters in my first novel.  Best laugh I’ve had in weeks!  (Harry thought it was funny too.)

Now let me assure you that Harvey is a fictional character.  Resemblance to any person living or dead is accidental and unintentional.  And the similarity in names is coincidental!  I’ve always loved the name Harvey.  I named our kitten Harvey when I was a kid, and he grew into one of the best cats ever.

Later that day in a more introspective mood, it occurred to me that what I’d said was the absolute truth. I want to love Harry, but what I really love is the image of Harry I’ve created in my head.

I don’t think this is so unusual.  I’m guessing a lot of couples idealize their partners (especially in new relationships).  When our partner doesn’t live up to the character we’ve created, that we imagine them to be, well, there can be hell to pay.  Parents might do the same thing with their children, and children (particularly “adult children”) with their parents.  Employers definitely have created a box they want their employees to fit into.

It seems to me that Christmas is a good time to open our eyes and hearts and do the best we can to love our families, friends and co-workers exactly as they are.  Most of us have some picture of an ideal holiday:  it was generated by a childhood memory, a saccharine TV show, Martha Stewart’s magazine or a frienemy’s boasting of holiday bliss on Facebook.  If only we could get our families and friends to comply!  Then we too could have a perfect holiday!  I’m not sure, but I’m guessing this isn’t how Jesus would want us to celebrate His birthday.

And what about Jesus?  What about God?  Are we willing to love God exactly as God is, or have we created an image of God inside our heads that we love and worship?

Now it would be very tempting for me to point a finger at people who hold political views divergent from my own and say, “You have created an image of Jesus to justify what you do, but you’re wrong!”  Yes, it’s tempting but that’s not my purpose today.

I think there may be as many ideas of what God is—and what God is not—as there are people on this planet.  I believe every idea is valid, but every idea is incomplete.  In How the Light Gets In, Pat Schneider explains that she has come to use the word “mystery” (with a lower case “m”) as her pet name for the Divine.  Her story acknowledges a hard truth:  none of us in human bodies (what my friend Janice calls our “earth suits”) can fully know and understand God.

This Christmas season I invite you—while praying, meditating or just sitting quietly—to ask God to reveal a bit more of Him or Her Self to you.  I don’t know what will happen.  Maybe nothing will happen.  But, hey, it’s Christmas!  Maybe God will surprise you!

My Mother’s Orange Tree

On December 7th, 1941, my mother was at her friend Louise’s house.  They were picking the first oranges of the season when Louise’s mother came out to the yard to tell them the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

 

Every year after, my mother commemorated the date by picking, and then eating, the first orange of the season in honor of those who had fought in World War II.  Hers was a silent tradition; for decades she never even told anyone she was doing this.  She finally shared the story with me, and if I could, I would come to her house on December 7th so I could pick an orange with her.

 

My Mom died in October 2009.  That first December I made a point of driving over to her empty house after work to pick an orange for her.   My brother and I were preparing to sell the house where we had grown up, and I wondered where I would pick oranges in the coming years.  I wondered if I could fit a tree in the tiny yard of my midtown bungalow.

 

Later the following year I made a decision that surprised even me:  I decided to move into Mom’s house.  It’s been nearly three years since I’ve moved home, and it’s been a great blessing for me to be here in this lovely, quiet neighborhood.  Now another December has arrived, and I’m excited to see all the beautiful orange fruit hanging like Christmas ornaments amid the glossy dark leaves.

 

So I invite you to join me:  eat an orange on December 7th in memory of my Mom, and in memory of any of your family—your parents or grandparents—whose lives were touched by that horrendous time in our history.  Its aftermath has affected us all.  Eat an orange in memory of the Greatest Generation!

 

Post script:  please say a prayer for California citrus farmers whose crops are enduring a week of hard freeze as I post this.  Hoping I don’t lost my entire backyard crop, but at least my livelihood doesn’t depend it!

Happy Birthday USA!

I pledge allegiance

to this sand and gravel road

that runs between the river and my house,

clumps of California poppies

rangy stalks of fragrant fennel

and burgeoning

fig trees

that grow wild

on the river bank.

 

I pledge allegiance

to the rhythm

of the spoken word

to cheap pens

and notebooks

that welcome my untamed

first drafts,

subsequent scribbles

and finally the respectability

of punctuation.

 

I pledge allegiance

to wild dreams

and imaginings,

the strength of the human heart

and the power of universal mystery.

 

Happy 4th of July!  What do you pledge allegiance to?