13 Take-aways from 2013: HAPPY NEW YEAR!

NYE Champagne glasses

As the New Year is upon us (be GONE, 2013, don’t let the door hit you in the A**!), I’m reflecting on the lessons I learned, the moments that will be remembered, as well as contemplating what’s to come. I’ve made a list of 13… nothing better than writing it all down to flesh out the perspective… take-aways from this year:

NYE Cartoon B

NYE Lessons learned

1) Expect the unexpected – no matter how well you’ve planned your life out, how perfectly (in your head) the details all fit into one beautiful mosaic, curve balls will be thrown and you must be ready to catch them

2) Be kindER – as a result of The Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, coupled with my reading of R.J. Palacio’s book Wonder, I have a heightened sense of just how much benevolence matters.

3) Believe – in something, a higher power, perhaps, or simply the power of people. I’ve tattooed myself with the word on my wrist to remind me that there is a plan bigger than myself, bigger than what I can see in front of me right now, and I just have to trust it.

4) Be resilient –  changes happen around us all the time: some we easily ebb and flow with, while others are like trying to swim against a powerful tide. In these moments, we must focus on our own goals, do what we need to do with the power we’ve been given, and forge ahead resiliently according to what we know is right.

5) Learn to let go – in life, I’ve come to count on some things, like my family being together — it’s comfortable and it feels right. However, in the grand scheme of parenting, I know I’ve raised my children only to set them free. Many things are like this. Change is uncomfortable, but in order to let the new in, we somehow need to let go of the old (even when we aren’t necessarily ready to). I’m learning. So, in the spirit of being a taker-of-baby-steps, I am finding comfort in the benefits of letting go.

6) Be thankful – as an experiment, I wrote down every day, for 30 days, during one of the most trying periods of my life, something I’m grateful for. And what I learned is that sometimes big goals are overwhelming, so in making strides (small ones) toward something positive, the journey is much less painful.

NYE Memorable Moments

7) Seeing Chicago and my son’s new beginning (his world) through his excited eyes. It amazes me that after all these years (twenty-two), I’m still seeing the firsts through his eyes.

8) In a moment of real connection (and with teens, these are few and far between) my son told me that I’m his best friend. While, as a parent, you tell yourself over and over, “I must be his parent, not his friend,” particularly in getting through the obstacles of this stage. If through all of that hard parenting, he can tell me that I’m his friend (with no strings attached), I have truly succeeded as a parent, in my eyes.

9) Laughing. Simply laughing with my daughter. No matter how hard life gets, I find comfort in the playful moments we share– two girls who love & respect one another, as well as enjoy each other’s company.

10) My sanctuary. The building of it mostly. For years, I’ve waited for some place in this house to be only mine. Putting the words on the wall, and standing back to admire them– such a cathartic experience. I finally, again, have a room of my own.

11) My students words. Two, in particular. First student, “Somehow I just feel a connection with Mrs. Carbone that I haven’t felt with any other teacher. We have a lot in common.” Second student, “I always feel comfortable in Mrs. Carbone’s class. She makes me love learning, and the best part is that I’m learning a lot about myself.” These gems are the reason I love my job.

NYE goals

12) Live in the present. Love it. Cherish it. Recognize it as the chance to do something I’ve never done before and will never do the same again.

13) Follow my dreams, my intuition… ultimately, be truest to myself.

NYE Poster Final copy

And as an added bonus:

NYE blog

30 Days of Thankful

LEGACY: The People Who Leave

The Magic of Teaching: First-Day-Ever Teaching Advice to My New-Teacher Friends

Wonder, R.J. Palacio- So much more than a review, a call to action

SummerGarden Splendor

 NYE Thank you

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NaNoWriMo 2012: OUT!

Nano Winner 50k 2012 certif

Well, I made it through the month of NaNoWriMoing w/ my final count at 65, 256. Not too bad. Not anywhere close to completing my book, but well underway. I’m thinking best seller! 😛 “If you dream it, it will come.”

The most important lesson I learned is that, even during one of the busiest months of the year, I can carve out time everyday for my craft, and so I shall.

I’m kind of sad to see it end, as it’s something I looked forward to everyday. The daily, “So, what’s your count?” from various people in various walks of my life was encouraging and I gained a sense of pride everyday, when I was able to say a higher number than the day before. Looking forward to blogging about my progress, entering a thought on one of the NaNo FB groups I belong to, reading about everyone else’s progress whether it be on FB or a blog, was inspiring; it kept it fresh, helped me to look from a new perspective, try things that others suggested. Being part of a writing community is something that was wholly reinforced throughout this process. I also liked giving myself permission to step outside of my comfort zone because I pleasantly am surprising myself with the product. This will prompt me to challenge myself more often to write outside the box or throw a new wrench into my process. I always think “change is good” which is reaffirmed every single time I embrace change, but in between my leaps has always persisted the fear of it.

Would I do this again? Absolutely. Perhaps not annually, but certainly again. This served as a welcome jump start for me– between projects, not knowing where I wanted to go. Now, I have direction. And I’d like to publicly make a vow that each time I participate in NaNoWriMo, to change something up, challenge myself in new ways– use it as a platform for growth.

Thank you to Megumi for inspiring me, my NaNo buddies for keeping me going, my family for allowing me the-month-long-excuse of “Mom is writing her novel,” my blog followers for reading my progress & maintaining interest,  and, most of all, myself for finding it in me to be self-disciplined in reaching my goal.

NaNoWriMo 2012 OUT!

Winner widgets

Day 24 :Reaching Goals, NaNoWriMo Style

I was turned onto NaNoWriMo by a colleague, who was challenging her Writers’ Workshop class to set a writing goal for November in the young adult division; she suggested I participate too, since she knows I love to write novels. I was ambivalent, at first, for two reasons: it occurs during a busy month (Thanksgiving and the month before Christmas– shopping time), and I would be looked upon to succeed because I had written novels before– the pressure was on.

Now, I’d never before written so intensely or routinely as I have over the past 25 days. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up the momentum. I do have a process, which I needed to alter significantly in order to meet my 50k word goal within the time allotted. Normally, my process involves doing some preliminary work– some pretty detailed character sketches, a sketchy (at best) outline/plot. With NaNoWriMo, however, I needed to nearly quadruple the time spent on the brainstorming phase– not only would I need to brainstorm, I’d need to plan, even tediously plan because I couldn’t give into becoming stuck. I needed to have the foresight to also know what kind of research I’d be using because I wouldn’t have the time to stop what I was doing to spend on research. Luckily, and perhaps skillfully, I chose a topic that didn’t require as much research as my previous writings.

During my writing season, usually Spring & Summer, I write habitually, but not on a schedule, and, when I hit a block, I walk away for a couple of days in order to return refreshed. And, usually, that does the trick. Writing when I’m off from school enables me to write in the morning, my writing time. It’s the part of the day I feel most refreshed and creative. During school (November, when I’m waking at 5:30), I needed to find a new writing time, most often right after school and before dinner prep time. It didn’t turn out nearly as bad as I’d envisioned; perhaps, I just hadn’t given afternoon writing a chance.

Prior to this exercise, and I viewed the entire time as an experiment of sorts, I wrote with purpose, and I’d tediously read back what I’d written the day before, every day, editing as I went. If something wasn’t good, I’d scrap it, altogether. I’d become stuck in editing mode until I felt it was good writing before moving on, even if I was working on one chapter for days. For this exercise, I didn’t have the time to edit as I was going. Instead, I had to retrain myself to write through the crap. But what I learned was that, there will be crap, and there will be whole sections, when, upon completion, I feel thoroughly satisfied with how my writing turned out. I’ve been noting where I’ve written through in order for the purpose of moving my story forward, so I can go back at a later time to develop, alter or scrap it, altogether. I think these sections will pop out at me during editing, screaming at me to work on them.

From the start, I viewed this as a writing project versus writing a novel. I knew that I wanted to write something that wasn’t so inherently based on personal experience as what I’ve written in the past. I took this on, initially, as an exercise of moving outside my comfort zone. I chose a character who is unlike anyone I really know (perhaps very loosely based on a mixture of people I’ve heard about or read about or seen in movies)– but I wanted to see if I could develop someone who mostly came from my imagination. I also set out to create a situation for her that was made up– from start to finish. I have drawn upon what is opposite from what I know, or attempted to. In the writing, however, I found myself infusing aspects of my day and morphing them into something completely different. I questioned a lot, thinking well what if she reacted this way or that way– and often chose the more/most outlandish of the choices. Now, roughly two-thirds into what has shaped itself as a novel in the making, I’m finding that while the premise is completely based upon imagination, there are, in fact, facets of my reality that appear there. So, my original hypothesis, if you will, did not exactly come to pass; instead, I’ve realized, no matter how my characters are unlike me or anyone I know personally, or how the plot can be something I only remotely am familiar with, I cannot, no matter how hard I try, separate the writer from the writing. And, I’m okay with that.

Because writing has been a hobby for me, I’ve been writing for myself, primarily, for years. There have been a handful of occasions, that I’ve tried to publish my work, and once I even got really close, then I back away. So, because I haven’t been forced to meet deadlines, I’ve been working at my own pace. The only goals I’ve set are the goals for the content of my material. As far as a time frame is concerned, there has never been one for me. This project forced me to attain daily goals and ultimately big goals. The first being to thoroughly plan prior to November 1st, the second being the daily word count of 1,667 words or more per day, the third being reaching 50k words before November’s end, and now that I’ve accomplished all of those, my goal is to complete the first draft of my novel prior to the month’s end. A lofty goal, I know, and one that I may need to modify. But, if nothing else, I’ve learned that goal setting is something I can and, moreover, should adhere to because I want to take it to the next level by becoming a published author.

As an ad hoc member of the Writers’ Workshop community of writers, I was invited to participate in writing activities such as the Kick Off party and café dates, in addition to being a member of the group Facebook page. Writing this blog has also led me to making other acquaintances who have NaNo-writing in common which led me to belonging to another group Facebook page. Really, the last time I felt a sense of the writing community was when I was in college writing workshops (poetry and fiction). I’d forgotten what a force of support a writing community can be. What also feels good as a writer is having the ability to share my own experience/advice with others. For example, I told the student writers the best piece of advice I could give them was to never end a writing session at the end of something (a conversation, a chapter, an event or thought); always end in the middle, that way it gives you something to come back to which allows you to easily and fluidly settle into writing mode. It was so nice that, now 25 days in, one of the students thanked me, telling me how useful it’s been through this project for her. From herein, I will seek out a community of writers (whether it be fellow bloggers or tweeters or people in my physical world)– a writing tribe, of sorts.

Thank you, said-Colleague and NaNoWriMo and inspirers from many walks and my family/friend supporters (who monitored my progress often– because it made me feel like what I was doing matters). I took on this project with not a lot of expectations– certainly not with the expectations that really have proven to be useful and surprising results. I got so much more out of this project than anticipated, and I can only hope that is evidenced in what I produce as a result of it.

Day 14 Update

Day 14

32k words

3 chapters

106 pages

I’ve been writing for four hours because over the next two days, I won’t be able to work much on my novel. I know I should look at these next two days as a reward, which I do and I’m looking forward to them, but I’m also a little sad to miss a day or more with my characters and their story. I’m finding that when I write every single day, I’m feeling a stronger affinity to my characters. I’ve taken copious notes, so I don’t forget where I wanted them to go and how I wanted them to get there.

Claire is hopelessly looking for love and failing miserably at it; she’s nearly exhausted online dating and is now looking into other methods. Meanwhile, her job is looking up. Through the play she is creating with her students, she’s getting to know them (by default) and becoming involved in their lives– finding herself more invested as a result. She didn’t mean to care about them, but somehow she does, and it’s not as bad as she thought.

17 Days to go

18k words left to write

7 more chapters

1 completed draft

20121114-224132.jpg

Switching Gears

With more than 50% of my count in and more than 50% of time left to get there, my focus has turned from just trying to get to 50k to trying to complete the first draft of a novel.

I have to admit, that I’m completely invested in my characters as they are really taking shape now, and they have a story. While at times, I’m writing through a particular event, making a note to go back and develop it further or tweak it or revisit it altogether, I’m still resisting real editing temptation. That said, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to resist. I find myself taking more copious notes than usual because I’m allowing myself to just write through my trouble spots.

One strategy that is really working is jotting down some notes about where the next phase of the story is going upon completion of writing each day. Just a couple of bullets at the end of the writing does the trick for me. It really helps me to focus more quickly than my usual routine which would be to completely re-read the day before’s work.

There are also sections/chapters that upon completion of them, I recognize as good writing. Ahh… and that feels REAL good! At least, there will be substance to work with when this insane writing race commences and it’s time to noodle.

I am thoroughly happy that I decided to tackle this project, even though it is amidst the end of one marking period and the beginning of a new one, xmas shopping, 1 child returning home from school for the month of November and picking up the other (4&1/2 hours away by car) on Friday for a week, and Thanksgiving. Yes it is a crazy busy month, but I’m making it work and so proud that I am able to do so. I began this task mostly excited but also scared that I was biting off more than I can chew. I was thinking I’d just do my best (translation: it’s okay if I can’t meet the daily word count). Now, I’m thinking I’m doing my best (translation: exceeding my own expectations). Thank you, NaNoWriMo for giving me the push I needed.