Tag Archives: writing

The Narrative Bug

16 Oct

BKS_l_BooksByTheFootLast night my ten-year old daughter caught the narrative bug. This was quite a surprise as my husband—the elementary school teacher—was always having to push her write anything. Isa is lucky (or unlucky and she will undoubtedly assert) to have a built in teacher at home who knows how to teach all the tricks for writing the essays needed to get you through school—or life, for that matter. The tricky part is that when it’s your dad telling you what to do, one tends to resist the help. And one also tends to whine a lot—or outright cry at times.

That was our story until last night when Isa decided to try her hand at narrative writing. Her dad gave her an old laptop and she went into her room for an hour and wrote. Now this kid has always been exposed to literature—in fact, she’s quite the book junkie. Case in point—just yesterday at school, she got to eat In-N-Out with the principal because she earned so many Accelerated Reader points (not sure if rewarding reading excellence with junk food is the right way to go, though.) Isa reads all kinds of stuff—Percy Jackson, Diary of Anne Frank, The Book Thief. She even pretends to read the New Yorker, but I know she’s really only looking at the cartoons. Her idea of a fun afternoon is to head to the library.

A book so good you can't put it down.

Her favorite thing to do.

Before bed last night, she brought the computer upstairs and asked if she could read her first couple of chapters—yes—chapters! Mind you, there were short chapters, but still. Not only that, her first paragraph hooked me right from the start. The voice of the protagonist—an eleven year old girl named Fiona Garcia (is that a great name, or what?) is so likable and funny that I can’t wait to find out what happens to her.

You’re probably thinking—get a grip, Jess—it’s just a story. It doesn’t mean Isa is going to be the next Pulitzer Prize winner in Literature (hey, you never know) or even become a published author. I guess the reason I’m so elated about Isa catching the writing bug is because I wish I had embraced writing more when I was young. To see such light come into her eyes when she talks about her story reminds me of my own childhood passion for creative writing. I remember often being told I was a good writer but as I lacked my own internal self-motivation, I allowed my writing bug to fly away. Now, over forty years later, I’ve managed to recapture that bug and although it’s often difficult, I think I’m managing to tame my it enough so that it won’t fly too far from home.

I’m more than happy to support Isa in all of her writing efforts. I will lovingly make suggestions and eagerly help with any editing requests. What I won’t do is tell her about the crushing self-doubt, fear of rejection or hitting that hard wall of writer’s block. I’ll let her discover these things on her own.

Where the magic happens.

Where the magic happens.

I’ll keep you posted on Fiona Garcia’s exploits. Or maybe Isa will. She just told me this morning that she wants to start a blog.

Oh Lord. Here we go.

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Our Home Away from Home

28 Jul

oax 16Our family just returned from a two-week vacation in Oaxaca, Mexcio. We had a wonderful time lounging on the beach, eating the most delicious food, visiting with family and traveling up to my husband’s isolated hometown in the mountains.

Much of the novel I’m writing (which I swear to you is almost finished!) takes place in Oaxaca so it was wonderful to travel there and research even more ideas and descriptions for the book. It is truly a magical place.

The Oaxacan people are some of the most interesting, kind and generous people in the world. Someday, we hope to build a vacation home there. Ah, it’s good to have dreams…

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This is the main church in Yalalag, my husband’s hometown.

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While we were in Yalalag, we attended a wedding. This is the bride, Melina who is wearing the traditional wedding outfit of Yalalag.

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I thought this was interesting because the little girl is tied to the back of her mother with a traditional Mexicanl “rebozo” and yet the little girls is wearing sparkly gold shoes instead of huaraches.

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This is an old photograph hanging in the municipal building in Yalalag. It was taken in 1936 and shows a family standing in front of their home wearing traditional clothing. Not much has changed in 75 years (except that the town now has internet!)

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You can’t go to Oaxaca without eating Mole Negro. Delicioso!

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A painting of La Virgencita in one of the churches.

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Oaxacan chocolate is to die for!

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The fresh produce in the marketplace smells wonderful!

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen any building painted this shade of cobalt blue before!

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Dried chilies for sale in the marketplace.

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My absolute favorite Oaxacan treat: Rose flavored sorbet!

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Another stunning doorway in downtown Oaxaca.

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The inside of the Church of Santo Domingo. Awe-inspiring.

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One of the many meals served over the course of the weekend for the wedding. First the men would all sit down and be served by the women, and then the women would sit and be served by the men.

Leaving the Guilt Behind

28 Mar

flower 3All week long I’ve been chanting in my head: “Just four more days until vacation…just three more days…just two more…just one”—and poof—it’s finally here. I’m actually on vacation where I don’t have to do anything, go anywhere or teach anyone how to play the piano for nine glorious days.

Husband is off to L.A. to watch a soccer game. Ten year-old has been dropped off at the sleepover. Son is off somewhere in southern California with his friends. Daughters are off living their lives.

No one is asking me what’s for dinner or why there’s no milk in the fridge. I’m not having to bite my tongue to keep myself from screaming at that particular student who’s played the same wrong note for the third week in a row. At the moment my husband is not lying on the floor in front of the television watching Mexican soccer at full volume while begging me to please rub his feet.

The house is quiet—check. I’m barefoot—check. My unwashed hair is up in a messy pony tail—check. I’ve taken off my bra—double check. I’m wearing my most comfortable show-all yoga pants (which my husband tactfully calls unflattering—translation: your butt looks huge in those)—check. I’m on the couch with my feet up—check. The dog is curled up on the couch next to me—check. I have a hot cup of Starbucks coffee right in front of me—oh baby—CHECK!coffee cup

I am totally and utterly alone to do whatever my little heart desires and my mind is abuzz with all the things I should be doing with my free time. It’s the most beautiful spring day outside and I tell myself I should be going to the beach or out taking a hike even though I don’t really feel like doing either of those things the moment. I tell myself there is a huge basket of clean laundry that won’t magically fold itself; I tell myself the front lawn needs to be mowed; the flower garden needs to be weeded; there’s hair on the bathroom floor that needs to be vacuumed up; there are bills to pay; I need to go to the grocery store…ARRRRGH!

I can come up with a million things I should be doing with all this free time, but the truth is, I don’t want to do anything but sit right here on this couch and write. Writing makes me happy. Writing is my bliss—thoughts, words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters—eventually a finished novel. This is what I love to do.

So, for today—for right now, I’m leaving the guilt behind.

And I’m writing.

Self-Sabotage

11 Feb

GetAttachmentI honestly don’t know what’s wrong with me. When did I become a self-sabotaging idiot who will do just about anything to avoid working on her novel? Since last Friday, I’ve been practically salivating about today because incredibly, there is nothing on my calendar for a four hour block of time. I’ve been eagerly anticipating finishing a particularly difficult chapter that’s been hounding me for weeks and yet I’ve already wasted more than an hour of precious writing time on the most mundane tasks possible.

Here is a list of the things that I believed were more important to complete today before working on my novel:

1) Stripping the bed and throwing the sheets in the washing machine. I mean, who can even think of writing anything when they know the bed sheets haven’t been washed for over a week?

2) Running out to Starbucks to get a coffee. I really shouldn’t count this as unnecessary as all writers know that coffee is needed to get the creative juices flowing (and other important juices as well.) Plus, they know my name and order at Starbucks and this makes me feel important.

3) Realizing that I need to pick up 25 Valentines for Isa’s class, plus candy to attach to each Valentine even though you’re not really supposed to do that because candy is so unhealthy and the school district frowns upon it. Then after seeing how crowded Michael’s Craft Store is, immediately deciding to let my oldest daughter handle the whole Valentine undertaking when she gets off work tonight.

3) Arriving home and switching the sheets into the dryer while noticing that there are toast crumbs all over the counter and the dishwasher needs emptying.

4) Wiping toast crumbs off counter and emptying dishwasher while mentally grousing how nobody in this goddamn family ever cleans up the kitchen but me.

5) Opening the refrigerator door and noticing a rank odor that turns out to be a bag of rotting cauliflower florets that now resemble hunks of yellow mucus. Throwing said cauliflower away while grousing that nobody in this goddamn family ever cleans out the refrigerator but me.

6) Taking the dog outside to poop. This task is quite a production and can take up to ten minutes as Cody, our Jack Russell/Chihuahua mix must sniff every inch of the front lawn while intermittently pausing to bark at invisible threats before his own creative juices start to flow, wherein he’s finally able to produce the tiniest nugget of poop imaginable. Wherein, I have to praise him in a high squeaky voice and give him a treat.

7) Removing sheets from dryer and realizing that two balled-up pillow cases got stuck inside the fitted sheet which means they are still sopping wet while everything else is dry. Deciding to put wet pillow cases on the pillows anyway and hope they’ll dry by tonight.

8) Reading and answering emails. Checking Facebook. Sharing a post about how Annie Lennox thinks older women are more interesting. Love her!

9) Deciding that even though I’m an older woman and I’m certainly more interesting, I still can’t think of anything compelling to write about lately, and it’s been way too long since I posted anything on my blog. Realizing that if I don’t post something soon, my readers might eventually forget all about me which will be a problem when I finally get this stupid novel written and want them to read it.

There. Almost two hours gone. Damn.

Now it’s time to start thinking about lunch.

Insignificant Things

28 Dec

IMG_4675For the first time in weeks, I find myself completely alone in the house. No kids, no husband, just me and the dog. As a functional introvert who constantly pines for alone time, I should consider this to be a minor post-Christmas miracle. Oddly though, I find this unexpected quiet to be strangely unnerving. I even feel a bit lonely.

I attribute my current unease to the fact that it’s been so crazy around the Mireles household over the holidays with a steady stream of people coming and going (we had sixteen people for Christmas dinner) that I’ve done nothing but shop, cook, clean, wrap presents, entertain small children and do about six loads of laundry each day. I guess I’ve become so accustomed to the constant noise and commotion that now the silence feels thunderous.

A recent sunset in Santa Barbara.

A recent sunset in Santa Barbara.

But that’s just me—always longing for something I don’t have or not appreciating what I do. Being dissatisfied is a tough habit to break and for much of my adult life I’ve had to work really hard at being grateful. This is really the most ridiculous thing ever because the real truth is that compared to most of the world, I live a privileged and abundant life.

What’s most remarkable is that I’ve discovered when I post something on my blog, my gratitude meter begins to rise. I believe this is because in the process of writing and posting photographs, I’m compelled to think about all the good I have in my life and I become more cognizant of the wondrous beauty that presents itself to me every day. And you, dear readers, are largely responsible for allowing me this chance to become more aware and mindful of my good fortune. For this gift I humbly offer you my thanks.

My best junior high school girlfriends during our annual beach house get together.

My best junior high school girlfriends during our annual beach house get together.

Paper origami cranes in a local church created to honor the many lives lost in mass shootings.

Paper origami cranes in a local church created to honor the many lives lost in mass shootings.

I hope that for all of you the coming year is filled with hope, love and deep gratitude for all of the grand events and milestones that may come to pass, but even more importantly, gratitude for all of the insignificant things that make up the moments of our days—the ones we pay little attention to—but are ultimately responsible for making our lives that much more extraordinary.

I so appreciate your readership.

The amazing sunset at the Santa Barbara Harbor where Rene and I had dinner recently.

The amazing sunset at the Santa Barbara Harbor where Rene and I had dinner recently.

Yours,

Jessica

 

Christmas Eve dinner with my beautiful family.

Christmas Eve dinner with my beautiful family.

Three Years of Literary Bliss

5 Sep

photo (35)Three years ago today, I published my first blog post. To be honest, it was a momentous experience for me as it was my first real step in believing that I could actually refer to myself a writer. Since that decision to expose myself literally to the world (yes, pun intended) I’ve grown and changed quite a bit as a writer.

When I first began blogging, I would spend three to four days working on a post, revising, amending, altering, and rearranging the words until there was no possible editing left to do (or so I thought.) My posts were usually WAY too long and often focused on the many deep thoughts I felt I needed to share with the world about my angst-ridden childhood or my skewed sense of self-worth. Whew—it was heavy stuff, and in retrospect I believe I owe you all a very big thank you for slogging through it and then being kind enough to leave me a comment.

These days, I don’t post nearly as often as I did three years ago. My latest posts are much shorter in length (you’re welcome) or maybe they’re just photographs. As I spend the bulk of my free time working on my novel, I usually don’t have the energy or time to write weekly posts and it’s almost a miracle if I publish once a month.

I get advice from other writers that it’s important to keep at the blogging. You’ve got to get your name out there! Build up that fan base! Get that mailing list organized! That way, if my novel is ever published—wait—I take that back—WHEN my novel is published, I’ll be able to market it more efficiently.

GAH! That’s the hard part—I hate that idea of posting just to get “out there.” I’m told that with all the changes taking place in publishing these days, authors have to really work hard to get their novels recognized, but the idea of self-marketing somehow rubs me the wrong way.  And I don’t want to post just for the sake of posting—I want to share only when I have something really interesting to write about.trailing vines

Today, what I think is interesting and what I choose to write about is that it’s my three year blogging anniversary and I’ve come a long way since I started. I’ve met some very interesting people along this journey and I hope to meet many more. Thank you all for reading, for commenting, for supporting and for following me.

And just so you know, each and every one of your names will be listed on the acknowledgement page WHEN my novel is published.

Cody will also have his name listed as he keeps my feet warm while I write.

Cody will also have his name listed as he keeps my feet warm while I write.

Done Dabbling

26 Jul

writing studyA few years back, someone asked me if I thought I’d ever write a novel some day. My first reaction was to laugh. At that time, I had just recently delved back into writing after a twenty-five year hiatus of not writing a single word (actually, hiatus sounds like I was once a prolific writer—I wasn’t—the best word to describe my attempts at writing in college would be that I “dabbled.”)  Sure, writing short essays and a blog post now and then was feasible—but a novel? I couldn’t even fathom writing something that extensive.

I’m not ashamed to admit that my childhood dream was always to become a writer—I thought about it incessantly for years. I loved books so much—the smell of them; the texture of the paper between my fingertips; the way the words jumped out at me from the page; how I could easily lose myself in a story and experience someone’s life other than my own even if it was just for a short time. The library was my home away from home.

Being somewhat of an introvert, the solitary life of a writer has always appealed to me. As a young girl I created this elaborate fantasy in which I envisioned myself writing my literary masterpiece while tucked away in a cozy study with soft lighting and wall to wall bookshelves. While sitting quiet and alone at an antique desk, I would sip hot tea with honey while a blazing fire crackled in the fireplace. When I needed inspiration, I would glance up and look out through the French Doors onto my picturesque English garden where my flowers somehow managed to bloom year round. Oh—I almost forgot—in my fantasy there was always a gentle rain falling outside.english garden

That perfect fantasy never really got off the ground—with a husband, four kids, four dogs and my mother, I’m never alone. I don’t have French Doors, I live in Southern California where it rarely rains and it’s usually too hot outside to light a fire in the fireplace. I prefer Starbucks coffee to hot tea and rarely go to the library anymore because I always forget to return the books and before I know it I’ve racked up over fifty dollars worth of late fees. I read most of my books on my Kindle and I don’t have an antique desk.  I do my best writing while sitting on the couch.

But get this: I’m thirty-three chapters and almost 70,000 words into my first novel. BAM!  That’s right—I am fifty two years old and for the first time in my life I’m doing what I always dreamed of doing—I am writing a novel.

Now, who knows? My novel may very well turn out to be trite, sentimental and cliché, but then again, it might turn out to be a really great read with a real plot and interesting and lovable characters. We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’m carving out a little time every day in my busy schedule to sit down on my couch and get a paragraph or two written down, which more often than not gets deleted the following day (I mean, who in their right mind would write such crap?) No matter—one good sentence at a time and somehow the job gets done. And I’m having the time of my life.

Who needs fire, tea and rain to write a book? Not me.

This girl is done dabbling.

 

If  you’re interested, here’s the synopsis of my novel (still untitled)

After a devastating accident permanently injured the fingers of her right hand and ended her promising career as a concert pianist, thirty-six year old Camille Childs has lived a sheltered and lonely existence teaching piano lessons out of the guest house behind her mother’s lavish Santa Barbara estate. After ten years of teaching piano to Graciela, the very talented daughter of the Mexican housekeeper, Camille finally has the opportunity to validate her teaching expertise after Graciela wins a prestigious piano competition and is about to be presented in her own solo debut recital. Not only will this recital help launch Graciela’s own career as a concert pianist, but it will also help Camille build her reputation as a master teacher and bring her the recognition and acclaim she feels she deserves.

Three weeks before the grand debut recital, Graciela suddenly disappears and Camille learns that she has left the country for her mother’s isolated village in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico. Against the wishes of her own controlling and alcoholic mother, Camille travels alone to Oaxaca to search for Graciela and bring her back home in time for the concert. There, during a monsoonal thunderstorm, Camille almost loses her life in a terrible bus accident, but at the last minute is saved by Alejandro, a handsome indigenous Zapotec originally from the same village as Graciela.

Despite a contentious first meeting with the spoiled and self-centered Camille, Alejandro befriends her and helps her navigate the mountainous terrain and unfamiliar culture of the Zapotec town of Yalálag, Oaxaca. With Alejandro’s help, Camille embarks on a journey of self-discovery that will change how she views the world as well as herself.

Villa Hidalgo Yalalag, Oaxaca. This is where much of the novel takes place.

Villa Hidalgo Yalalag, Oaxaca. This is where much of the novel takes place.

Letting it Out

9 Apr

photo (28)You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting on my blog as much as I have in the past, which I sincerely hope you don’t think is a good thing because that would be a definite blow to my already fragile ego.

I remember when I first starting blogging, I was so in the writing zone—I would post something every few days—my brain was constantly popping with ideas. After a while the posts went down to once a week, twice a month, and then finally whittling down to once a month if at all. You get the picture.

There are several reasons I’m not posting as often. Primarily, it’s because I’m spending what little time I can carve out of my busy day to work on my novel—which, I’ve just begun to realize, is going to take way longer than I thought. I’m up to twenty eight chapters with no end in sight. I never would have thought that writing a novel would consume me so deeply. It’s a very strange process where I feel like my characters are these horrible, rebellious little people stuck in my brain, fighting with all of their might to come out while gleefully taking me down in the process. I hate them at times but mostly I love them.

I’ve also stopped blogging as much because the truth is that I’ve begun to bore myself by writing about the same topics over and over. God knows that if I’m boring myself, I can only imagine how you feel. I can even hear your voices in my head: Please stop making me cry with sad stories of kids with cancer, or For god’s sake, stop going on and on about how happy you are now that you’ve hit fifty and I swear if you post one more picture of your flower garden I will come over and personally drive my car right over your flower beds. I know, right? Sorry. Even as I write this, I’m realizing that these words sound strangely familiar which means I’ve  probably already written this exact post somewhere in the not too distant past. I’d go back and read through the archives to find it, but I’m way too tired to check.

The writing process is often agonizing. Lately I find myself trapped in these moods where nothing is ever right and all I do is moan and groan and complain and try to blame it on my husband or my kids or on the hormone situation (another topic beaten to death) and then I realize that I’m most likely grumpy because I need to let something out and the way I do that is by writing and sharing it with others. Through the act of writing I feel alive and connected with the outside world and even if it’s just a photo on Instagram, a line or two on Facebook (or Twitter, which I’m only now getting the hang of) or an essay on my blog, I feel more alive after hitting  the “publish” or “share” button. If just writing a post on my blog makes me feel so satisfied, I can only imagine the high of publishing an actual novel, so I’m going to keep at it no matter how long it takes.

Talk about good timing. Yesterday, writer Elizabeth Gilbert posted this on her Facebook page and it totally resonated with me. Here is an excerpt:

I am a writer. If I have a story in me that I’m not able to tell, things will start going wrong all over my life. If I have a story in my head and I tell it, “I’ll get to you in 2015,” that story will start to rebel, start to act out, start to claw at the walls. That’s when the shit gets dark in my world. 

Because having a creative mind is something like owning a Border terrier; it needs a job.  And if you don’t give it a job, it will INVENT a job (which will involve tearing something up.) Which why I have learned over the years that if I am not actively creating something, chances are I am about to start actively destroying something. 

And that ain’t good.

I believe that readers don’t need good writers, although that’s always a plus. The truth is it’s the writers who need good readers. Someone  probably already wrote that somewhere and I should find out who it is and give them their due credit, but I’m way too tired to check.

Life can be crazy at times and I’m often too tired to do a lot of things, but I’m not too tired to tell you something important: I appreciate you for being my good reader. Because without you, I can’t share who I am, and then all kinds of chaos breaks out inside my head.

And that ain’t good.

Another shot of my flower garden. It's just too pretty not to share.

Another shot of my flower garden. It’s just too pretty not to share.

A Joyous Season

24 Dec

mexican starFrom the bottom of my heart I’d like to wish you all a very joyous holiday season and may the coming year be filled with so many blessings that you won’t be able to count them all.

I would also like to express how thankful I am for your readership; for taking the time to leave a comment to let me know you’ve read my latest blog post; for all of your encouragement with my writing, and for just being a part of my life–cyber or otherwise!

With heartfelt gratitude,

Jessica

Here are a few photographs of what is special to me about this time of year…

Paper snowflakes that my daughter, Leah made for the front window

Paper snowflakes that my daughter, Leah made for the front window

Isa as Mary in the church play

Isa as Mary in the church play

Isa looking through the front window
Isa looking through the front window

The lights in our front yard
The lights in our front yard

Peppermint cupcakes!
Peppermint cupcakes!

Rescuing Myself

7 Nov

photo (26)I’m really good at being my own worst enemy. Having just delved into this whole writing thing a little over two years ago, I’ve realized that although I’m relatively new at honing my craft, I do have something to share with others through my words. But I’ve also found that I’m much too eager to rip off all my clothes and dive into that dark pool of you suck way more often than is good for my literary health.

Case in point: I belong to a writers group which meets twice a month where we share our work in a positive and accepting environment. Recently, the group has gone through some changes (several writers have left and quite a few new writers have joined) and at our last meeting, I was  impressed as well as a bit intimidated by the high quality of writing that was shared. Some of these folks are real writers—novelists, poets, essayists, even professional editors—who have been at this writing thing for years. Not only do they write well, but they read their work with drama and flair. Also, a number of them are originally from the literary Mecca of New York—another reason for this Santa Barbara native to feel like a West Coast country bumpkin.

When it was my turn to read, I shared a chapter of my novel which, in my opinion fell a bit flat. Perhaps because the new members hadn’t heard the previous chapters, they were a little lost as to what the story is about or maybe they just didn’t like it. Whatever the reason, I didn’t get the Woot-Woot response I was hoping for and that fertile seed of doubt about my ability as a writer began to sprout. By the next morning it had grown into a thorny bush of angst and uncertainty.

Now, I understand that self-doubt is a zealous assassin of motivation and inspiration, and I’m the first one to encourage others to keep at it no matter what. My mantras have always been: Find the lesson and Look for the positive, but this time, I couldn’t seem to get my head above that murky water.

Usually, the morning after my writers group, I’m inspired and excited to write more. I had carved out three hours in my schedule that morning to write, but I just couldn’t get myself to sit down at the computer. Instead, I busied myself with mundane tasks around the house that I’d been putting off because I’d been so busy devoting myself to daily writing. As I folded laundry and scrubbed the bathroom, the words you suck burned through my thoughts like the caustic scent of bleach. I was ready to throw in the towel and soon decided that maybe it was a good time to take a break from writing my novel.

Then after two days, something interesting happened. I began to itch to get back to writing. I missed interacting with my characters and finding out what they were going to do. I realized that the process of daily writing was really something I look forward to—it’s something I love doing for myself and my perception of what others thought of my writing was just that—my perception. I live my life, I experience my reality—so what really matters is what I think.

I said to myself, Boy, Lady—you’ve really got a lot of nerve—acting so critical and damning toward yourself—you  would never dream of treating a fellow writer in this way—enough already!

So for today, I’m rescuing myself from that murky pool of despair and I’m choosing to believe that someday, someone out there will enjoy reading what I have to write. And if not, well I’m going to just go ahead and enjoy writing it anyway.