Lessons from NaNoWriMo, from First Person Plural blog

What I learned from attempting NaNoWriMo last month: Be flexible.

Feel free to read my post at First Person Plural, the blog for The Writer’s Center (Bethesda, MD), where I currently intern.

 

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<i>The Picture of a Hummingbird<i />

The Picture of a Hummingbird

I uncovered another short story from a past writing class! One that I have not shared yet. I don’t remember the inspiration for this one, but I did always have a particular affection for it. Enjoy!

 

A light fell across my face, and I opened my eyes to the stream of sunshine peaking in through the window blinds. I didn’t have to look at my clock to know it was about seven in the morning. I was an early riser. There was someone else who would be awake before me, though, and I hopped up out of bed to go see her. A cold blast of air met me once I opened my bedroom door. I never liked sleeping in the cold. I turned around and snatched my robe off the back of the door before heading downstairs to the kitchen. I stopped at the entrance and just looked on to the image of my little sister, sitting daintily on one of the chairs, her golden head tilted up to the window. I looked where she was looking. Hanging just outside the kitchen windows was a bejeweled hummingbird feeder. An equally glittering and bejeweled hummingbird hovered busily, collecting the red-colored nectar from the little holes. I looked back at Julie. She was faced away from me, but I could imagine she had a gentle, dazed smile spread across her rosy cheeks. I made sure to have my slippers on before I came down, so I wouldn’t make too much noise moving around the tile. I set about to make Julie and I’s favorite summer breakfast: pancakes with blueberries and raspberry syrup. It was obvious I was there, what with the clattering of pans and containers, but Julie did not look away from the hummingbird. Another had joined the first, and both of them shimmered like rainbows in the dewy morning light. Julie giggled as I poured pancake mix into a circle in the center of a frying pan. I smiled to myself. She had the loveliest laugh. Sometimes I wish she really believed that herself.

“Good morning, Karen.”

I turned and at last saw her emerald eyes glowing at me. Every morning it was as if she captured some of the magic of the hummingbirds in those eyes, and they retained that magic all the way to bedtime.

“Good morning, Julie.”

“Aren’t hummingbirds beautiful?”

She asked that question every morning. And, every morning, I would smile and give her my answer.

You’re beautiful.”

She blinked at me, as if saying, oh, sis, you’re so funny. She turned back to the window, and my face fell.

“Are you working today, Karen?”

“Yeah, but I’ll be home by three today. Are you going to work in your garden today?”

Julie didn’t answer. I looked away after flipping a pancake.

“Julie?”

She was still looking out the window, but the hummingbirds were gone. I hummed our special three-note tune to get her attention, quietly and smoothly. It was something Julie’s therapist had taught me. She slowly turned her head, and I saw that her emerald eyes glistened like they were underwater.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Not today. My tulips are dead.”

“What happened?”

“They weren’t blooming big enough.”

“You have to give them time. They will bloom eventually.”

Julie’s brow crinkled, like she was becoming angry. I knew that look, and I sucked in a steady breath.

“Julie, did you-“

She stood up so suddenly the table shook. I sighed heavily and shook my head, turning my attention back to the pan.

“Would you like to get the blueberries from the fridge?” I asked. I didn’t hear the fridge door open, so I looked back at her again. She stood with her arms tightly crossed in front of her body, glowering at the ground. I approached her steadily and attempted to uncross her arms, but she whipped them out herself at a numbing speed.

“No!” she bellowed. I kept myself sturdy. She didn’t like when we jumped. I glanced over her head and noticed another hummingbird at the feeder.

“Jules, look. Another hummingbird has come,” I said, nudging her shoulder with a small amount of force. She turned, and I felt her shoulder relax as she gazed upon the little creature. I returned to the stove and finished the pancakes, and I didn’t mention the garden again as we sat down to enjoy our summer breakfast. Mom was awake by then. She had those bags under her eyes, something that told me she didn’t sleep well again, and something that told me I shouldn’t mention that Dad called again last night. She kissed us both on the top of our heads as she brushed past us to the pantry. Out of mom’s view, I saw Julie scrub her head rapidly, as if trying to rid it of an unwelcome pest that flew into her hair.

I left work right at three. I wanted to go home as soon as possible. Something inside told me Julie would want to go outside today, and after her reaction this morning I was worried about her. I came in through the door to the sight of my mother standing at a window across the way, looking out to the backyard and biting her knuckle.

“Hey, Mom, where’s Julie?” I kept my voice solid and steady.

“Outside.” She glanced at me timidly, as if she feared making eye contact. “Your dad called.”

I groaned aloud. “Why? And she was having a good day.”

I immediately headed for the backdoor. I found Julie outside, poking aimlessly at the dirt of her garden with a tiny shovel. Water was dripping rhythmically from her face to the ground. I knelt down beside her and pinched the soil between my fingers.

“Remember what I said about him, Jules,” I said.

She nodded. “Don’t bother with him.”

“Right.”

A gentle breeze shifted by, stirring up her golden hair and my nut brown locks.

“I wish I was as talented as you, Karen.”

I flicked some dirt at her. “Don’t be ridiculous. You are talented.”

“Dad thinks you’re talented. And beautiful.”

“You’re beautiful.” I brushed a bit of dirt across her cheek, leaving a brown streak. “Even like that.” I wanted to get her thoughts off of him. I could imagine she was recalling memories, memories of him and mom and their fights and how much they tormented her fragile mind. I myself couldn’t help but recall a memory: I was four years old, sitting outside mom’s delivery room. A nurse knelt in front of me with a hand on my knee and told me my newborn sister was mildly autistic. I still wonder to this day why she bothered to tell me. A four year old wouldn’t know what that meant.

She seemed to try to smile, but I accepted what tiny lift of the lip she could offer. I looked over the garden, ravaged and pitiful. Some of the tulips lay flat against the ground, smashed in.

“You should replant your tulips,” I suggested, caressing a delicate petal that still clung to life and color.

“They don’t attract hummingbirds,” Julie said. I furrowed my brow, a little confused at what that meant.

“Hummingbirds are beautiful when they’re moving. Flowers don’t move,” she said.

“You silly. Something can be beautiful even if they don’t move.”

“I don’t move.”

“Yes you can.” I grasped her hand and pulled her to her feet. She fought me, but I persisted. Once she was up I pulled her along with me, and I made my way across our hilly yard, speaking to my sister through my eyes. Don’t you see? Don’t you see how amazing you are?

She squirmed her hand out of mine and stopped. I stood where I was, keeping a respectful distance. Julie looked up at me with emerald eyes that were beginning to grey.

“Dad doesn’t think I’m beautiful.”

It did not come out mournfully, or even the least bit regretfully. She said it like it was.

“That’s okay,” I whispered, my voice almost disappearing in a passing breeze. “He doesn’t think I’m beautiful either.” If he didn’t accept Julie’s beauty, I wouldn’t let her think he accepted mine.

The sun was gone over the hill when the doorbell rang. Mom wouldn’t have gotten it. She went to her room earlier that day, and I heard the click of the lock, so I knew she wasn’t coming out. It was the regular routine since her divorce. I opened the door, and when I saw who it was I drained all emotion from my face.

“Hi, Karen,” Dad said with struggle. He shuffled his feet while he stood there on the steps, attempting to keep eye contact with me while he held what looked like an empty frame against his hip.

“I, uh, called earlier. I guess Jules wasn’t feeling good…”

I pressed my knuckles into the inside of the door.

“Not her best today,” I replied with dignity. I even smiled, because I was well practiced with Julie.

“I just wanted to tell her I got her this.”

He turned the frame around, and my breath caught in my throat. It was a painting of a hummingbird, pastel and faint. The wings were frozen, painted with smooth strokes of blue and green. The birds hovered with its long, thin beak poked daintily at a large pink flower.

“She’s a lot like a hummingbird, you know? She likes to, you know, go everywhere, and stuff…”

I wordlessly stepped forward and grasped the picture on both sides. It was beautiful, and I couldn’t tear my eyes from it.

“Would you…give that to her for me? And let her know I hope she feels better soon.”

I think that was the nicest thing he’d ever said about my sister. Dad rubbed the back of his head roughly. I remember him doing that a lot.

This time, I smiled for real. This time, I looked my dad squarely in the eyes, and this time, I felt my heart pulse inside my chest.

“Sure, Dad.”

He smiled awkwardly and walked backwards a few paces.

“I guess I’ll, uh, I’ll see you soon,” he said. And he turned. I didn’t bother seeing him get into his white sudan. I had looked back at the picture of a hummingbird.

Yeah, I think Julie will feel better soon.

 

 

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.

What I’ve learned about writing so far…

What I’ve learned about writing so far…

When it’s come to my journey of writing, I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about myself in the process. And there’s been plenty to learn. If there’s one thing that has stood out, it’s that writing is all about the right moment. It’s both versatile and formulaic, and it really depends on the moment when choosing which route to take. I’ve also learned…

  • I enjoy editing perhaps a little more than writing. It’s a good thing I want to be an editor, then. It’s especially great when I have writer’s block and need something to work on. I have found, though, that even when I do have something to write, I tend to enjoy making existing pieces better.
  • Goals are goldFocused goals are the best. With each draft of my novel I established a small list, generally 2-3 items, of specific things to focus on when editing and rewriting. For example, with my current draft, it’s all about adding detail and increasing word count by 5,000.
  • I’m not reading enough. No matter how much it’s been stressed, it should always be stressed some more. If you are a writer, you must read. You know what always looks great? When you know your authors. Therefore, it helps you in the industry to be well-versed.
  • I pretend I’m an actor. Actors ask themselves the question, “How would this character respond?” If I’m not physically acting out something, I will at least give voice to dialogue or narrate prose. I pretend I’m an actor playing this character in a movie. I think what it helps with the best is bringing emotions to life. If I’m not sure how a character should be expressing a feeling, I put myself in their shoes.
  • The process of writing is however long you make it. You can make time to write. The question is whether you will.
  • I doubt my ability to be versatile. A writer should learn to write in different voices. I often convince myself that I can only write one way, but then I end up succeeding. I still have doubt, but I’m working on it.

 

What are some new things you’ve learned on your journey so far?

<i>Up, up</i>

Up, up

I met him on the stairs.

To heaven. I don’t care to recall how I died. I don’t even remember it. Why should one bother to remember their memories of earth when they are on the stairway to heaven?

I was always looking up, up, into a light that I could see with both eyes, wide open, irises dilated. I saw him smile at me with clarity. The purest smile. His golden eyes glistened as I approached. He reached out a hand and I grasped it. It did not feel like a hand. It was like…warm as the sun, and smooth as the surface of the sea.

“Who are you?” I asked as I gazed into his face, as beautiful as the fresh cherry blossoms that bloomed in the spring.

“You don’t know me, but I know you,” he said. “Very well.” His voice sang in my ears like the chimes in the backyard when the wind ruffled through. He kept my hand as I took the next step. Together we turned and climbed up, up.

“Do you know where you are?” he asked me. I took another step.

“Am I in heaven?”

“Not yet. Very soon.”

His feet made no sound as he stepped beside me. My feet, on the other hand, hit the stairway of glittering silver marble with a bejeweled tone that bounced like a hammer on a bell.

“My name is Ramiel,” he said. “I’ve guarded you all your life.”

My feet played a song as I just looked back at him. Neither of us had to watch where we stepped. It was always up, up.

“Do you remember when you fell out the window when you were two?” he asked me.

“I landed in rocks and opened a gash in my head.”

“Those rocks saved your life. Otherwise, you would’ve broken your neck.” Step, step. “I put them there.”

One of my steps resounded like a trembling symbol. It echoed out and up, up.

“Do you remember when you got lost in the woods behind your house?”

“My flashlight died. I was cold.”

“Your brother found you before dawn.” Step, step. “I led him there.”

He never let go of my hand. Always, he pulled me up, up.

“Do you remember when your best friend fell in love with you?”

“It broke my heart. Our friendship was over.”

“But you told him no. He understood. It was saved.” Step, step. “I gave you the right words.”

I started to remember some other things now.

“But why were you quiet when I fell in love? Why were you quiet when another rejected me?” I asked.

“That man is in jail now,” he replied.

Another step carried like the purest whistle from the most radiant bird.

“Why did you do nothing when I crashed my car?” I asked.

“If you reached the intersection,” he said, “you would have flipped.” Step, step.

I lost my step. My foot slipped backwards and my knees hit the marble with a bellow like a deep violin plucking a single string. Ramiel squeezed my hand. My other hand rested against the marble, cold as the coldest ice. My head lilted and I closed my eyes.

“Don’t let me go,” I whispered. “Please, don’t let me go.”

Then up, up, I went. My body rose from the steps as slowly as a spirit severing from a body. Ramiel knelt before me and enclosed my hand within both of his. He gazed back at me, and I saw my reflection in his eyes. I did not look the same. My face shone like the reflection of the sun on the lake of my summer camping trips.

“I never did let you go,” Ramiel said. “But I let you take some steps.”

And step, step went my feet. A chorus of rings and chimes followed. Up, up went my feet. Up, up the stairs. To heaven.

If I could visit just one site today…

I’m taking another opportunity to spotlight a fellow blogger that I think is a very talented and informative individual, and not just for the writing community. Ryan Lanz of A Writer’s Path is a published author, but he also knows his stuff about both the creative and business aspects of writing. He shares lots of great advice, tips, and resources that I can consume with wide eyes and an open mind. Plus, when someone has an innovative mind, they always win in my book. He’s clever with his presentation, and I love reading his posts.

Whether you’re a writer or not, and whether you’re at the beginning of your career or an already established author, there’s something to learn from Ryan’s brilliant blog.

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Check out A Writer’s Path today!

If I could visit just one site today…

I have a question: if you could visit only one site today, which one would it be? Now don’t be superficial and think Facebook or Imgur…

For me, I’m going to take the time to highlight one of my favorite fellow bloggers. If I could visit just one site today, I’d check in on Cristian Mihai at his website cristianmihai.net. His was one of the first blogs I started following when I joined WordPress. Cristian is a self-published author and innovative go-getter who has built his way up along the path that every writer is too familiar with. He’s a pleasant inspiration to me. I always enjoy his refreshing down-to-earth blog posts, each one offering another little piece of food-for-thought that I can dwell on for the day. They are simple, relatable, artistically driven, and usually sport a captivating quote from someone we admire. Oh, and check out his About page; it’s short-and-sweet, humorous, and so memorable.

As someone who wants to be a self-motivated, business-minded dream chaser, Cristian reminds me I can do it too, as long as I take action (show them your dreams…). With over 110,000 followers and counting, I think that speaks for itself. Whether you’re a writer or not, if you have not already, you should totally check out his website!

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If you could only visit one site today, which would it be? Share a link in the comments. I’d love to check it out!

 

5 Inspiring Dream Followers

We all have our inspirers, the people we admire who influence us to keep going at our dreams, even when they seem impossible. These five people (four of them writers, what can I say?) inspire me from either their personal stories or what they managed to accomplish.

1. J. K. Rowling

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I have to confess, I’ve never read or watched any Harry Potter books or movies. Truth is, they have never appealed to me. Before you hate on me now, I do admire the author. I especially admire her story. The first Harry Potter being a saving grace kind of book for her (she was on the brink of poverty) is inspiring enough, but the fact that it was rejected 11 times before someone decided to say yes is an inspiring tale of its own. I like to imagine all those editors who said no kicking themselves to this day. Whenever I think about my own writing, and the fear of rejections, her story gives me courage.

2. Kathryn Stockett

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If Rowling’s story of persistence in the face of rejection is inspiring, then Kathryn Stockett’s story is even more so. Her successful novel The Help was rejected 60 times before she got representation. Within a few years it was a bestseller and a movie. And it was her debut!

3. Stephen King

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Another 60 rejections receiver, he just refused to give up on writing, despite poverty clinging to him. I’ve read his nonfiction On Writing, in which he explained how he pushed through: “By the time I was 14…the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.” That’s how, he kept on writing.

4. Martha Stewart

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The face of cooking, crafts, and DIY, her stint in prison from a stock scandal looked like the end of her career, but she bounced back beautifully, so much so that I don’t recall remembering her absence.

5. Rachel Hartman

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I came across the book Seraphina in Barnes & Noble and looked it up to see if it was any good. Reviews were great, and when I discovered that it was this new and unknown author’s debut, I felt a deep connection and bought it. I have since now finished the second book, Shadow Scale, and I highly recommend these novels. Hartman enchanted me with her twist-on-dragons story, and it showed me that you can take old classic elements and give them new life. It was an excellent debut, and I can see this author going far.

 

Who are the influential dream followers that inspire you?