On stories and writing

In mid-October, I was preparing for a trip to Austin, Texas. I was anxious. I was anxious about leaving The Campground Kid for the first time, anxious about the logistics of a week-long international trip, anxious about meeting a group of people who I had been chatting to online for the last two years but had never actually met.

And as I prepared and packed and worried, I had a sudden flash. The flash said “this is a valuable story, and I want to tell it!” And that little flash quickly turned into “I am going to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I am going to write the story of this amazing group.”

This lightning bolt of an idea surprised me, because I have never really seen myself as much of a writer. Sure, I’ve had blogs on and off for all my adult years. I’ve kept journals. Whenever I’ve needed to process something, I’ve written it. But in my mind, these things didn’t make me a writer. My older sister was the “writing one”, which meant I couldn’t be. At least that’s how I subconsciously saw it.

Then, a little over four years ago, when I found myself in Brunei with no job, desperate for a baby, depressed, that smart older sister suggest I write my story. Not for publishing, not for any purpose, just for me. So I did.

Well, I started.

I plotted a story out with post its on the wall. I wrote scenes. I set up my office. I very briefly joined a writing group (which never really got off the ground). I wrote every few days, until I ended up with 30,000 words.

And then, my computer was stolen. I hadn’t backed my writing up anywhere online. I cried.

And then, I got pregnant.

And then, although I salvaged about 10,000 words from various places, the infertility story no longer felt alive in my mind. My writing fire fizzled down to a little ember which occasionally whispered “you should write”, but never grew to a flame.

When this story idea appeared, I tried to talk myself out of writing again. “I have a job now, there’s not enough time!” “It’s not like you’ll finish, what’s the point?” “But people will feel weird about it!” “You can’t finish. So there’s no point starting.”

But the story kept on pushing through the doubts, so I opened a template and started to plan.

And then I told the group, and they mostly thought it was more great than weird.

And the characters developed and grew and came alive.

And my mind just kept coming back to the story.

I went on the trip that I had been preparing for, the trip that had sparked the idea, and it was more wonderful than I could ever have imagined.  I was overwhelmed and amazed at the love that brought 70 mamas from all over the world to celebrate and love one of our own. I was tired and excited and jetlagged and thoughtful.

So when I arrived home on 1 November, physically and emotionally exhausted, I started to write.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but to be honest I wasn’t too hopeful. I have a busy job and a busy 3 year old and 50,000 is a lot of words.

I tried to write every day. Campground Papa made it easy to carve out the time by being exceptionally helpful and onto it. The story and the characters made it (mostly) not too hard to find the words. The broken quote mark key on my computer made it pretty annoying at times, but it seemed to go okay. I wasn’t tracking along to make the target, but I figured that any words were better than no words, and even though I wouldn’t make it, I’d have a good start.

On 27 November, I had 37,000 words written.

On 28 November, Campground Papa took The Campground Kid to her swimming lesson, cooked dinner, and let me write. I put my headphones on and wrote 6,000 words.

On 29 November, I wrote in the car to and from Hamilton. And in the evening, I put my headphones on again and listened to Christmas carols and Carole King. A prompt from a wonderful friend kept me going, and I wrote 6,000 more.

With 49,000 words, there was no way I wasn’t finishing. So, on the final day, I wrote the final scene. And, with a few hours to spare:

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It’s a funny thing, because it was both harder and easier than I expected. It seemed easy enough to find time and words, but I also felt pretty exhausted for most of the month.  With my inner editor firmly turned off (as in, so turned off that on one day I wrote “disbelievement” and didn’t even catch it until a few days later), it was easy to get words on the page. But turning it off also meant I didn’t do a lot of the nitty-gritty scene connection and checking for consistency that will be needed to make these words into a story.

But, at the end of the day (well, the end of the month), with the support of a great partner and the help of a great pair of head phones, I wrote 50,000 words of a novel in 30 iced-coffee-fuelled days, and I’m proud of that.


Taking our kid camping, and other goals

We have been The Campground Family for nearly a year, and I have a confession to make: The Campground Kid has never ever been camping.

She’s never stayed in a tent or a caravan. She’s never known the joys of campsite cooking. She’s never slept outside. She’s never woken up in a tent-oven. She’s never pushed the huge puddles that build up in the roof of a canvas tent after rain.

She HAS helped set up a tent, and she HAS slept in a sleeping bag. But STILL… What kind of Campground Parents are we?!

This is something that NEEDS to happen. And SOON.

So our goal for this summer? Go camping.

We have all the equipment. We could go camping for free pretty much at our house, pretty much any day of the week.  We’re coming into Spring now (HOW?!?) and Summer is just around the corner. This is not a difficult goal for us, but with this first goal in mind, I started thinking about goals in general.

The Campground Kid in a tent last summer. The closest she’s come to camping!

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been feeling drifty and planless. There are reasons, but one of those reasons it just that we haven’t made a plan. So, inspired by a great list of at home date ideas by a friend, we decided to sit down and extend this one easy goal into a list of 100 life goals.

We started our list yesterday, and as we hoped, it was a great chance to talk and a fun thing to do together. (Can you tell we don’t get out much?) We’re up to 30 goals on the list now, ranging from tiny (have a freak shake) to medium (travel to the Great Barrier Reef) to huge (buy and run our own business).

Even The Campground Kid got in on the action. And her additions were surprisingly appropriate: See a volcano; Ride a rollercoaster.

But a list of goals is nothing but a kinda fun distraction if you just create it and do nothing about it. Which is a thing I tend to do. So along with the list of goals, I’m taking some life advice from a dude on reddit (OF ALL PLACES) and committing to no more “zero days”. That means that every. single. day. I’m going to take some action towards one of these goals.

Some days, I’m sure, are going to be very-nearly-but-not-quite-zero days. Some days are going to be I-really-really-don’t-want-to-but-I-will-not-do-zero days. Some days will probably be I’m-stretching-it-to-call-this-non-zero days. But I’m hoping that building up my number of non-zero days will lead to more really-truly-not-even-close-to-zero days.

Two days into the #nonzeroday challenge, it’s good (OF COURSE it is. EVERYTHING is good two days in!) It’s not exactly life-changing just yet (after all, this is what I’ve done so far, as well as working working working):

Day 1: start a list of goals
Day 2: write a blog post

But I think that, with time and consistency, it could be.  (Don’t burst my bubble!)

We might have to wait a bit to get to the camping one, though. We’ve had a shit ton of rain this week, there are new ponds and lakes popping up all around us, and there’s more rain in the forecast. Thanks New Zealand Spring!