The Girl No One Saw

Growing up, I had what I will call, an alternative childhood. I loved books and one of my greatest unmet childhood desires was to be read to. My mom and step-dad worked crazy hours and there was rarely anyone around to guide me or nurture me let alone read to me. Without a present parent, the circumstances were far from ideal. I did not have sleepovers or even a best friend. How could a girl have a best friend when she had no clue how to even be a friend? Now, as an adult writer, it is my job to not only write about what happened to me but how it affected me and how I grew because of it. Most importantly, how I managed to get through to the other side.

I’ll be honest. I made it through by stumbling my way along, picking up experiences as I went. I learned life-lessons from sharp comments and public humiliation. I learned how to laugh because of social ostracization. I learned how to do things by watching others from the sidelines of life. The perpetual wallflower. The fly on the wall. The girl no one sees. Finding better ways to be ignored rather than to be abused or humiliated was my central goal during my early years. During this period, I tried to make myself small and insignificant– to which I succeeded for the most part but also hindering my growth.

Also, my alternative childhood left me too scared to try new things, a problem which has continued to plague my adult life. I was not taught that it was okay to make mistakes because that is how you learn; I wish I had been taught that one. Instead, I was taught that not only was making mistakes a bad horrible thing but that I was only good at making mistakes. That was my everlasting teenage state. I was always wrong. I was born wrong into a world that would always see me as wrong, a single weed in a valley full of beautiful flowers.

But in a way, these turned out to be good experiences. I learned to entertain myself. I learned to embrace my weirdness and used it to create laughter when I could. I was semi-cautious and managed to stay out of trouble for the most part. However, I’ve struggled as an adult to learn all the things I missed out on as a child. I’ve found that as a writer, I must observe everything around me in detail, and in doing so, I also am able to shine a light on my own flaws. “To succeed in life is to be able to transform.”

I think this is why I like writing so much. I can write to my heart’s content. I can let it all spill out on the page. I can use what I find within myself, deep below the surface. I can take what I learn about myself and transform my ideas both on paper and in my mind. I can choose what I focus on and how I focus on it. I can find my own alternatives and develop positive action.

When I share what I have written, I am always surprised to find others who feel how I feel, have had similar experiences, or who share my perspective. It reminds me that no matter how alone I feel, I’m not. There might not be many people like me in the world, but there are enough of us that I can finally open to the world around me. I cannot change it no matter how much I want to. All I can do is observe and adjust my own sails. I will always come up with solutions. Being resourceful is how I have made it to my alternative adulthood. Growing is how I made it to the other side.

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Something Magical

Last year I made one specific decision that changed my life forever. I decided to quit talking about being a writer and become one. I made the commitment to write every single day. I wanted to become not just a writer but the best storyteller I could possibly be. I dived into book after book on the topic of writing and read numerous articles. I filled notebook after notebook and tried new things with my writing that I never tried before. Not simply with the way I string words together but weaving in emotion, direction, and vitality. It felt like I was making magic.

I’ve made life changes over a handful of decades with varying degrees of success. The idea of hard work comes easily to me but learning to combine that with dedication, consistency, and discipline is quite another. To add weight to my decision, I threw in the idea of finishing things, which has never been my strong suit. I figured I might as well work on all my weakest links if I wanted to succeed at this. The one thing I didn’t prepare myself for was the genuine change that change itself brings.

I usually finish off my years disappointed that I didn’t accomplish anything and dwell negatively on all that, but this year was different. The first thing I finished was the Nanowrimo, writing just over 50,000 words on a novel during the month of November. I completed this challenge by finishing the first draft of a novel that I have been working on for close to a decade. The second thing was completing the writing challenge called #52essays2017 where I posted a blog every week, forcing me to display my work to the public. The third thing was to write every day for a solid year (I missed two days, close enough). I also met some of my random writing goals by going out into the world to meet and write with other writers. I honestly don’t think I could ever catalog all the things I have learned by doing all this.

During my research, I’ve read or watched interviews of creative people, where they talked about the depressive emotions and great turbulence that follows behind the completion a project. I didn’t feel I was included in that exclusive club. Because it had never happened to me, it was completely out of my range of experience. I assumed that I must be either flawed or not as creative as I once thought.

So, in the middle of January, I was completely shocked when I was hit with a warped sense of creative depression. It came out of nowhere and barreled into me without warning. There were mornings I didn’t know if I could even bother to tie my shoe. I felt like a four-year-old lost in the woods. I couldn’t figure out what happened. I experienced an overwhelming confusion until I remembered what my creative mentors had stated. I was included after all!

This realization didn’t bring me joy but instead gave me an understanding. I have allowed myself to dink around, mucking through this feeling by reading, cleaning, toying with things, taking naps, all to move through this stage as peacefully as possible. The whole process is not at all what I thought it would be. Perhaps it is dampened by the fact that most of what I have been working on will never truly be done.

However, now that I have traveled through it a little, I understand it’s nature and will be able to navigate it better in the future. I even developed a plan for next time (part of this plan involves pumping my mind with positive TED videos and taking brisk walks). While I don’t think I will ever welcome the feeling, it feels good to know it is there waiting for me with consoling arms for the mourning of the next project I finish. I have not experienced much success in my life and I am still learning what to do when it strikes. I suppose that is part of the process too. Writing is becoming an alchemy of sorts to me. I take one thing and turn it into something else, something bigger than it was before, something magical.

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Personal Essay #52

It was about this same time last year I had made up my mind I was going to do it. I wasn’t sure if I could, I had never tried anything like this before. It was a whole new experience and a whole year of it as well. I was excited, I was nervous, I was hesitant even. But just like that, I made up my mind to do it, to write and post one personal essay a week for every week of the year. It was my writer friend Julia who suggested it. I admire Julia’s writing prowess and decided she put it in my path for a reason. The final result isn’t just this last essay but an experience that brought so much to my life. So, as we get ready to enter 2018, here is essay #52 for the project #52essays2017.

So, first off I would like to say a quick thanks to anyone and everyone who has followed me along this bumpy journey. There is so much about this I will miss. Second off, I would like to apologize for not following standard protocol regarding things like technicality and style or even expected structure for that matter. Technically my pieces are not “personal essay’s” as far as format goes. I have always written this way to figure my own thoughts out, never really thinking that structure was needed for things like sticky feelings. Well, this challenge has sent me into a heavy-handed era of learning in my writing life and I know that my pieces here haven’t met those expectations but I am okay with it. I stuck to my initial vision while I focused instead on learning more about the actual craft of writing. Thereby using this as almost a personal journal at times.

I also realize that it was highly uncreative of me to never actually name my pieces, even though the numbering seemed effective enough. I struggle with that and am working on it along with all my other weak spots. I also didn’t always write from the heart. Sometimes it was just about getting through it and getting it done. Out of all 52 pieces, there are probably only 15 that I truly love and am proud of. But I committed to this and I wanted to finish, no matter what. I learned how to be brave by sharing my words with the world. I am grateful that no one bashed me for following my own path and that some of you might have actually gotten something out of this too. I don’t think I’ve never grown more in one year as I have because of writing these.

This challenge had some unexpected results. I found my voice. I finally found it. It’s eluded me for decades and I am so happy to have stumbled over it as I was focusing on other things, like learning the actual craft of writing. My writing voice still needs work and I will continue to give it a daily workout even though I won’t be writing these anymore. I considered it but I have a long list of writing goals for this upcoming year. I will still be writing essays but now they will be fully developed and I will take my time with them until they shine. It sure was nice to color outside the lines though.

This year I’ve done so much more with writing than I ever have and more than I ever thought I could or would. This was the year I didn’t quit. Oh, there were points I wanted to. About half-way I think. I hit a wall and thought that I couldn’t go on. But I did. I pushed through that wall like the Kool-Aid man and I came out the other side the happier for it. I learned how to persevere. I learned how to follow through. I learned how to push myself even when I didn’t want to. I learned not to let life get in the way of my writing. I learned that I can always do more than I think I can if I just keep going. I learned not to give up. I am a better person and writer for it all.

I want to thank Vanessa Martir for creating this challenge and giving so many of us a chance to walk through this wordy jungle and add something unique to our writing lives. This was just the recipe I needed. I got something indescribable out of it. Something that changed me forever. Perhaps someone reading this will decide to give it a shot for a year and it will change their lives as well. I personally am walking into 2018 with a little more confidence, a lot more knowledge, experience, and my writer’s voice. I am ready for the next leg in this journey. Farewell, my friends.

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Personal Essay #50

Over the years I have written hundreds of pages but 2018 is coming and this is the year I finally submit. I have had numerous pen pals, exchanging thick handwritten letters on a regular basis. Of course, there were plenty of papers and homework from high school through college. Then there were the personal journal rants and venting essays as well as the occasional but wandering attempts at short stories and juvenile poems. I have literally only submitted my work a couple of times and that was decades ago. Whether the lack of submitting my work has been out of fear or reluctance, who is to say? Either way, I know that by not submitting my work, I am undermining my own credibility and stunting my learning.

Everyone’s heard the old phrase about how you can’t win the lottery if you don’t play? Well, it is the same with writing. Whether my writing is good or bad, it’s not going anywhere if I don’t send it on its way. I am the only one in control of that outcome and the only one who can change it. And like anything else in my life, if I don’t do something with one of my written pieces, it will end up underdeveloped and quickly forgotten. Since writing and sharing are cornerstones of human growth, it is my duty to not allow this to happen.

Now, mind you, I feel I’ve made great strides this year even though I still have a long way to go. I am especially proud of myself for publishing this weekly blog consistently (I’m on 50 of 52) for the writing project #52essays2017. Accomplishing that in itself is a small miracle for me. The fact that people read it and actually comment in a positive way still blows my mind. Even though to me this is barely considered publishing— it’s still a great first step out of my comfort zone.

I’ve been studying submission heavily over the last few months and feel fairly prepared. I’ve studied it before but this time it is like watching a flower bloom in a fast-forward video. I am learning so much about starting this very scary process. This is my next big step on the road to improvement. The act of submitting starts to connect the dots and helps to paint a larger more encompassing picture of the entire writing process.

So yes, 2018 will be my year of submission. I will find good homes for my best and most well-polished pieces. I will take my time developing beautiful art. I will even submit to the painful process of naming my pieces, which is one of the hardest parts for me. While on this next leg of the journey, I will also continue to submit to my learning while I grow as a writer. I am ready for this final step in the writing process, the completing of the cycle, the bringing of my love of writing full circle. 2018 will be the year I submit myself fully to the entire writing process. I’ve never been more ready to dive right in.

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Personal Essay #48

For the last several years, while I was piddling around the writing community, I heard about and wanted to try Nanowrimo, but much like the rest of my writing life at that time I was mostly talking and rarely wrote. This year I finally did it and finished, all while finishing a novel that I started writing earlier in the year. I immediately experienced the benefits of this challenge. I can easily see how it has made me a better writer in a wicked short period of time. It’s one of those situations in life where you can only learn by doing and learn best by not having any real expectations of the process, just full immersion.

The moment I finished I felt stunned, I didn’t know what to do with myself as I had never reached my goal before. I assumed that I would immediately want a nap, but I didn’t. The only way I could have felt more awkward would have been if I found myself happy or excited about something at a funeral. So, I started to clean my writing desk. I put everything relating to my manuscript into a tray. This included the draft, the notes, the ideas, every little scrap of paper all put away nicely to sit and marinate and simmer. I have promised myself I will not look at any of it until after the new year. I will have plenty of time to get back into it once the holiday humdrum is over.

“Now what?” I asked myself. Well, I don’t want to lose all these great writing habits I have instilled into my life over the past month. So, I set up my writing desk with fresh books to read, a fresh notepad and pens, a stick-it note of things to write about and I restructured my writing schedule to reflect my new goals. I’m dropping my word count down slightly. With all my writing combined for the month of November, I wrote over 79k. The previous month it was a little over 40k. I’m thinking 60k would be reasonable and allow me to maintain some sense of normalcy in my life.

My goal this month is to shift into shorter successes. I will be working on learning to correctly craft personal essays (through some brief reading I have discovered that I am writing these technically wrong, but it’s okay) and to learn to finally write short stories (perhaps I should have started there…). Another goal that I have is to create a bank of story ideas so that I always have something to work on. All of these goals will lead me to another goal that I always talk about and never do, submitting my work. Whether it is a contest or paid publications, this is what I will be focusing on during the upcoming year while I polish and rewrite my next succession of novel drafts.

Other than my blog and a brief stint as an editorial columnist for WSU Vancouver, I’ve never gone public with my work. It’s always been either for me personally or as correspondence. Once upon a time, I submitted some poetry with zero success (secret, I am so NOT a poet). My current goal then is to write my heart out and work hard to create a veritable chest of publishable essays and short stories before finding a home for them. So, my goal is actually multi-layered as I continue to hone my craft, producing better work each time I write so that I am growing my portfolio as I sharpen my first novel. These tasks are time-consuming and necessary if I want to pursue my career as an author. I don’t write with monetary value in mind, but I want my work to be worthy of payment.

I would feel blessed and honored to finally reach my writing goals after all these years. It’s the reason that I now plant my butt in this chair every morning at 6 am. Being a published successful author is the goal and the plan but it is not the reason I write. I write mainly for me and secondly for my audience (which I believe is out there) in the hopes that they too find comfort and connection with the words I write. If they do, then I have done my job as a writer. That is how I see it all coming together and I am grateful to be on this journey. The experience of doing Nanowrimo changed my writing forever. The best part is that I did it. I wrote an entire first draft, which means, if I did it once, I can do it again. Writing life might just be the most challenging of all the arts, but I didn’t choose it, it chooses me, over and over again.

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Personal Essay #47

While I have considered myself a writer for most of my life, it’s only been in this last year that I have really made lifestyle changes to not only reflect that but to ensure it. It’s like anything else in life, if you see it every day, you don’t notice the gradual changes. It’s only when you step back and look at the timeline of things that you actually notice a change. The difference in my grandchildren as they move from infants to toddlers is a perfect example. I don’t think about it much until I see a photo from a year ago when the changes are plainly visible.

A year ago, my writing photograph would have looked like this: I only wrote when inspired. I tried to write stories based on scenes I envisioned in my mind and sometimes they didn’t even go together. My writing was often jumbled and nonsensical. I had never written a genuine story with a beginning, middle, and an end (not once, yet I thought I could write a book somehow—laughing). I did not write every day but I did read nearly every day, which was about the only thing I was doing right. I wanted to be a real writer, a published author. My dream was only that, a dream that had never magically happened for me like I thought it should and like I thought it did for everyone else.

I’m not sure what book or article I read that truly inspired me to make a solid commitment or what changed within me that made the difference. But something did during the month of December 2016. First, I chose to meet a challenge called #52essays2017. That got me not only writing something regularly but got me to publish it publicly every week, getting my feet wet. The second change I made was joining 750words.com. I get up every morning and write my 750 words before I start my day and since I started doing this at the end of January, there have only been two days so far that I haven’t written at all this entire year. The third thing I did was to try to learn as much as I could about how to write a novel while at the same time I worked on improving my writing in general.

The next thing I changed was the process. I have always edited as I write, which I have been told is a writing fatality but I never heeded the warning. I decided this time I must. So, although I really struggled with it at first, I managed to keep my novel moving along, just writing, no editing. I started off with yellow legal pads and pencil. I still wasn’t really getting anywhere. My story lagged and I could not keep the momentum going for any length of time. I was beginning to lose hope, I kept extending my personal deadline. I never realized how hard actual writing could be. I also started getting up at 6 am to write, which anyone who knows me is next to impossible.

Midway through October when I realized I didn’t have a shot in hell of finishing on time, I threw up my hands and decided to try something that truly scared me. The National Novel Writing Month aka Nanowrimo. I almost chickened out of the pre-writing meetings with the regional chapter, but I swallowed my fear and stood up and did it all anyway. It was good that I did. I met some cool people, I learned a few new tricks, I gained some much-needed confidence and I plunged right in, not knowing how to swim. I had more information though than when I started and I hoped that would be enough. I also upgraded to using a pen, much faster.

At about the halfway or midpoint I faltered. I froze. My story froze. Fear caught me and wouldn’t let go. I hacked it out and after a couple of days was back on track. I am currently one week away from the finish line. I am a little above target but more on track in my soul than I ever have been in my whole life. Not sure what changed again, or how or even why. I just know that now I am “getting it” in a way I never have before. I feel like a floodgate opened but instead of it bowling me over its washing over me like beautiful music.

My story keeps moving as if on it’s own. Yet I put forth that effort every single damn day. It doesn’t feel difficult anymore though. It seems as natural as breathing. Yesterday I crossed off my 40k mark. I am still in awe. The best and the worst part of this whole thing is that I truly don’t know how my story will end. Since the general plan is a series, I feel that is okay because I have a general idea of how it needs to end. But so much of what I have written has surprised me that I am not sure how it will end exactly. So, for now, the best part is that I can’t wait to find out. What a difference a year can make when you add dedication, discipline, and determination into the mix. Finishing strong.

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Personal Essay #46

I’m still here.

I’m still alive and still trying. The past few days have threatened to stop me and squash me in my tracks with anxiety. I don’t have time for anxiety or setbacks right now. I am in the middle of doing Nanowrimo and have a 50k word count to fulfill. (In case you don’t know, Nanowrimo is a writing contest done during the month of November. 50k words would be roughly equivalent to a 200-page paperback novel.) I am using the motivation of this contest to finish a book I have been trying to write for a decade. I’m both proud and embarrassed to say that I’ve never written this much in such a short period of time in all the years I’ve called myself a writer.

None of this comes easy for me. I struggle hard with fear of failure but eventually overcome it in due time. However, I am committed to finishing this latest version of my novel that I have been writing since June. In a matter of weeks, I’ve already tripled what I wrote in that 5 month period of time. I am not allowing myself any time to or giving myself the chance to edit it or make any major revisions. The only luxury I sometimes allow myself comes only after I write and only by making brief editing notes in the margin.

I have 12 days left to write and now that I have scaled some of the tallest structural parts of my novel and passed beyond the midpoint, I feel that these last 20k are completely attainable. I even have a backup plan for if I happen to get to the absolute end of the story before reaching my word count. I have plenty of areas where the story still needs further development. When I look at my previous days writing, certain parts of it tend to stick out at me and seem absolutely horrible, begging me to cut or edit them. That’s when I have to I remind myself, I can’t rework material that isn’t there and when I get stuck that I can’t edit words that don’t exist. I can only keep trying till I get it right.

This challenge has taught me a great many things. One of which is, no matter how much preparation you’ve done, there comes a time when prepared or not, you just have to dive in or you’ll never finish. I have learned that writing a book is way harder than I ever expected (and I am only on the first draft! No panicking.) but I love it. I love everything about it and I hope that love shows with each word on the page. This process has taught me that sometimes you have to give up other things to get stuff done (my reading time is suffering.). I have learned that you can’t wait for inspiration and you don’t have to. You truly can create your own. I have learned that I can always do more than I think I can, even when it feels impossible.

So, even if I don’t hit my mark every day, I have to be okay with that. I have to accept when I don’t succeed. I know it’s okay to keep trying harder till I get there. It might take me a bit longer but I will always get there as long as I keep trying and never give up. I’m still here. I’m still alive. I’m still trying, no matter how tough it feels, there is always hope to carry me even when my will doesn’t want to.

The only reason I look back is for the motivation of seeing how far I’ve already come because if I’m not trying I will never get anywhere.

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