Two new endeavors, both slightly terrifying

i haven’t done a great deal of writing lately—maybe i haven’t done any since that essay; i can’t remember for sure. But i have been reading, and reading, and reading. The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and CurdieThe Warden and the Wolf King (and Pembrick’s Creaturepedia!), A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Smoke on the Mountain, Peace Like a River, The Oracle of Philadelphia (and The Timely Arrival of Barnanabas Bead again, and the Budge-Nuzzard again), My Bright Abyss (although i am not sure i will finish it), King Lesserlight’s Crown, The Best of H.P. LovecraftGilead, Roverandom. And still somehow i have time for Facebook and other forms of time-wasting; clearly, i need more books. (Thankfully, there’s the Rabbit Room for that.)

That last one, Roverandom, i just read this week in preparation for one of the titular terrifying new things i’m attempting this summer: Story Camp.

i run our church’s library, and this year i am finally making good on my years-old desire to organize a summer reading program. Somehow—because i am crazy like this—i decided that this would also be a great summer to have weekly read-alouds in the library (The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic), host a Skype chat with an author (Jennifer Trafton of Mount Majestic fame), and spend all July encouraging library patrons to write their own stories. This will take the form of Camp Nano-style write-ins for teens and adults, but for kids, i’m running a week-long program i’m calling Story Camp, where the kids and i will play storytelling games, read J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s story Roverandom together, use Roverandom as a jumping-off place for discussions on how to wrangle story elements like character, plot, description, setting, and theme, and then spend time daily writing our own books. i am really excited about this! And also fairly terrified, as i have never done such a thing as a) teach writing, b) teach elementary-schoolers, or c) run a week-long library program of any sort. But the planning is going well, and i will have a helper at least three of the five days, and i think it’s going to be awesome.

The other thing i’m doing this summer, also writing-related, starts on Monday. i’m taking an online writing class taught by Jonathan Rogers, acclaimed thinker of thoughts and author of the middle-grade Wilderking Trilogy, which combines meaning, action, and the best use of setting and written accents i’ve seen in awhile. He says the class, which is titled “Writing Close to the Earth,” could alternately be titled “Writing More Like Flannery O’Connor,” whom he has written a book about, and i am ashamed to say that i have never read any of her stories (although i have heard enough about them that i can pretend i have a grasp of her style). That class will require weekly writing—essays, and sentence exercises, which i am really excited about. i have already done the first week’s reading—i say that i have started early because this summer’s busyness requires me to work ahead while i can in anticipation of weeks when i’ll have less time for homework, but really i’m just a big nerd and i can’t wait to discuss the reading with other students and have JR tell me why my sentences are bad.

Last night, though, i had a hard time falling asleep because it occurs to me that if i am running write-ins this July, it really would behoove me to actually be writing some narrative fiction while encouraging others to do so. And not only am i going to have a lot of homework to do, plus Story Camp (which occurs during my class as well as during July’s write-ins)—i have no idea what to write about.

Sometimes i do wonder if i have already had all of my good ideas.

But aside from that pervasive nonsense fear (and the more realistic what-have-i-gotten-myself-into trepidation)—i am really excited about this summer.

Rabbiting and renewal

i used to be very into music, back when i was in high school and everyone was into music. On my own i listened to Rich Mullins, Audio Adrenaline, dc Talk, and Steve Taylor; with my friends i listened to MxPx or Joy Electric. In college i discovered Andrew Peterson, who (i am certain) is incapable of creating anything that is not sehnsuchty. Then, somewhere along the way, i simply stopped. i stopped listening to the radio. i stopped buying albums. i stopped keeping up with favourite artists. i had been soaking in music for years and had become saturated, and something in me began craving silence.

Little by little, that silence has become filled with noise. Streaming TV shows while i cook and checking Facebook nonstop on my phone have replaced both the saturation of ceaseless music and the blessed peace of silence.

Discovering the Rabbit Room Radio burst the dam.

Over December and January’s 4000 miles of travel, Jonathan and i read all three books in Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga (book four and final is due out in April). When we finally came home to roost, all i wanted to do was soak in the story—it is painfully, beautifully glorious—and listen to AP’s music. “Beautiful Things” by Gungor required several listens as well; it is the anthem of my heart, especially in regards to creating. One thing led to another, and i ended up at the Rabbit Room Radio.

i feel like i am waking up from a decade-long sleep to discover that the whole universe is singing, and i have missed so much.

But where on earth do i start when i have been asleep for so long?

i am still yawning and rubbing sleep from my wide eyes, and the Rabbit Room Radio has been playing nearly nonstop. Along with a wealth of AP songs i have never heard, i have been discovering new artists, one song at a time. Josh Garrels. Melanie Penn. Andy Gullahorn. Jason Gray. Eric Peters. All members of the Square Peg Alliance, their songs and styles inhabit a shared musical acreage, but each one awakens something different in me.

While streaming the radio, i have also been reading articles and interviews at the Rabbit Room, and here and there i switch music for podcasts on topics such as tragedy in literature. (i am deeply jealous of the conversations these people are having, but grateful to have the opportunity to listen and think, and, sometimes, discuss with my own community.) An article by Travis Prinzi hit home. And an interview with AP’s brother, Pete Peterson, yielded a little comment that has grown into something much larger as i continue processing it.

In the interview, Pete was asked about the phrase “feeding the gnome,” which he acknowledged gleaning from Stephen King’s celebrated book On Writing (which i have not read). The concept is that every writer has a “gnome” inside which feeds the author story ideas, but the gnome must be well-fed, or else it’ll wither away or become fat and lazy. i think mine is the latter, and it was convicting to read this. My gnome has, for a long while, mostly been fed junk food. Reading about this idea while learning to listen to music again after so long made me start thinking about what i consume and how that affects what i’m able to imagine and produce.

i need to read fewer Facebook posts and more literary fiction.

i need to pay less attention to ideas about crafting and spend more time actually crafting.

i need to fill up my ears with music rather than with noise.

i need to become comfortable with silence again rather than seeking always to fill it.

i need to spend more time in Scripture, engaging it fully and letting it renew me, rather than checking off a daily reading every other day.

i need to learn to think deep thoughts again, rather than rely on sound bites or shallow article-skimming (by which i mean shallow skimming of shallow articles).

i need to recover the lost art of soaking in and reflecting on and enjoying what i am reading, rather than jumping to post about something before i’ve even processed it.

i need to make an effort to express myself well, rather than rely on internet shorthand.

i am still working out what i expect this to look like, but one change i want to make is to spend very little time on Facebook and TV shows this month. That time may instead be spent reading or writing, if it comes in blocks (and i do expect to have more blocks of time, as watching TV while doing tasks always makes the tasks take longer). If it is time cleaning the kitchen or making the weekly menu or cooking dinner, and i would normally fill the silence behind these tasks with TV shows, i will instead fill the silence with music or prayer or nothing.

i think i am actually very close to catching up in my work on Rixi. There is a natural pause coming which is nearly upon me, and it will not take long to get there. i need to make space for that to happen. But even aside from the practical implications of spending less time ingesting shallow televised stories and memes and more time creating my own stories, i need to develop better habits as a subcreator and as a human.

Now to break the news to my Facebook constituency.

Early January musings

Nothing much has happened in my head or on paper, story-wise, in the last few weeks. i spent a lot of time with family, read out loud to my husband, and bought several books on writing. i have even read bits of a few of those books. But nothing much has happened.

That’s to be expected during December and early January. Christmas and New Year’s and traveling and, for that matter, coming down from Nano, all mean i don’t get much done during the holiday season. That changes on Monday.

Just saying that is a little scary.

Like many creatives, i tend to binge when my muse shows up and look at cats on the internet when she doesn’t. But writing, i realize, is a craft. It’s something that takes time and effort to develop, and time and effort mean intentionality and planning. So i am planning to write, starting Monday.

One day while we were out of town, i spent a few minutes at my in-laws’ kitchen table thinking of strategies. i thought, if i could set a word count goal, it would help me tremendously. Nothing like Nano—maybe a third of that pace. If i can plan for around 4000 words per week, that means i’ll get not quite 50K in before April, when Camp Nano starts. It means i’ll be making progress—tangible progress, not just thinking about thinking. The thinking side of writing is very important—but the actual writing needs to happen, and i don’t always get there. And setting a weekly rather than a daily goal allows me to be a bit more flexible.

So now, i have a weekly writing journal where i can jot down goals, ideas, and actual progress. i’ll seek out writing challenges, work on year 5 of Rixi’s letters, and start feeling good about sitting down and writing.

Today, i spent about twenty minutes  working on a poem in between floor-mopping and bathroom-cleaning. Alas, i can’t count; the meter ended up a little wonky. But i put words on paper, and that felt good. (The poem is a sehnsuchty one for me; i knew it would take a few tries and it doesn’t bother me at all that i was right.)

So, we’ll see what Monday brings. For now, time to dance.