During the past two weeks I’ve taken steps, tiny toddles which moved me as a person, and an author. It began when a blanket of cold air and puffy clouds blocked the sun and Old Man Winter blew out a frosty breath. I have been, downtrodden. I’ve never experienced SAD before, the winter ailment that changes happy people into someone who doesn’t want to get out of the bed. But this year, I am SAD. I could feel the difference in myself, in my body and worse, in spirit. There has been a heaviness wrapped around my body, constricting the person I am like a turtleneck sweater that’s two sizes two small.
As most of you know, I am an author. This life isn’t one of glamour and fame; it is filled with hours, and hours, and hours of solitude, worry and fret. For a people person such as myself, solitude is a recipe for disaster. People persons who prefer hugs really shouldn’t do this writing thing; it is far too painful. I am working on my first novel and this work-in-progress has been locked down tight. Unmoving. Frozen like I-285 during last week’s snowstorm. My next book is coming out this October, but my first novel really, really needs to be complete before then. That is why two weeks ago I started making steps toward the person I think I’m supposed to be.
My house is a dark monstrosity, shaded by hundreds of beautiful trees that I adore in the summer, but in winter, block the sun. But like a lizard, I determined to seek the sun, and doing so meant leaving the house with my work in progress tucked inside my bag. I set up my office in a local coffee shop. Literally: tea goes here . . . pencil, highlighter, eraser and paperclips there . . . work in progress, front and center where it belongs. Sunshine drove out the chill and being surrounded by chatter energized me. On days when I didn’t really want to leave the house, I hold up in my writing room, which is nothing more than a sunny window in our bathroom. Yes, the bathroom.
I have also placed myself on a strict schedule which hasn’t been easy. Limiting Facebook has been necessary. There’s too much negativity and right now it sticks to me like a static-covered sock. As an example when I asked for prayer for a family who had just suffered a tremendous loss due to suicide, three people started blaming the family for the suicide. Compassion, it seems, is as scarce as the sun this winter. My new regimen: Facebook in the morning, then once more before dinner, and then I am unplugged. Nothing electronic after 6 pm, not even email.
Tuesdays are devoted to Bible study. I admire women of faith. Strong women who are ready to grab your hand and pray, who have an encouraging scripture during times of trouble. I have wanted the knowledge of Godly women, and then one day it occurred to me, BOOM, that type of knowledge doesn’t happen by osmosis. I must study the word. I guess you could say I am seeking the Son and the sun.
By 9:30 each morning I’m either in the coffee shop, or my writing room at home. Soaking up the sun and writing – by hand – as fast as I can, except when I’m seeking the Son.
Part of my discouragement came in December. In November of 2013, I accepted the NaNo challenge to write 40,000 words during the month of November. I don’t know why I did this to myself, I can’t write 40K words in 30 days. I am a mother, a wife, a ball-thrower for our Labradoodle. Each day NaNo writers enter a word count reporting how many words they have written that day (notice the last word in that sentence . . . day). The goal is to motivate yourself and others, and know how you are progressing. The problem is that there are always, ALWAYS, people who by day two say they have written 10K words and by day four, they’re posting 30K. Going from zero to 30K in three days is not physically possible. At minimum, one must eat, and use the bathroom. Let me call that behavior what it is: lying, cheating and wrong. Even I can tell when someone is taking their old work in progress and plugging the numbers into the counter. That type of behavior, like negative Facebook posts, discourages. I finished NaNo with roughly 28,000 NEW words with a personal goal of finishing my manuscript by January.
That did not happened.
But this week I pushed past 40,000 words. These were my words. I own them. I wrote every single word and they’re not half bad. I have studied books on scene, plot, character development. I didn’t copy someone’s ideas, they came from inside of me. I found a sunny spot, poured a cup of tea and invited my characters to join me. They told me their stories. I listened. For that I am incredibly grateful, and while I am no braggart, I am also a tiny bit proud. If you are an author, step away from the nonsense and the desire to be like someone else or write like someone else tells you. Find a routine that works for you and your characters. Be yourself. Only you can pen the story inside of you. Write your words and then be proud of that accomplishment. If you have a routine that works, please share.
Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com