Saturday, June 18, 2016

An Update-

Hello, everyone!

So, I know it has been a long time (almost a month!) but I think life is calming down enough for me to begin writing here again. I have been so busy, I had to decide: write in my novel, or write on my blog? I chose the novel.

So, a super-quick writing update: I finished the fourth draft of my NaNoWriMo novel, and sent it off to my wonderful team of Beta Readers. I did that a little over a month ago, and plan on giving my readers who have not responded yet another week or so (to get to the six week mark) before shooting them emails to ask if they have read it/are reading it, if they need more time, etc. So far I have gotten three of my ten readers' responses. Two more have been reported to be in my hands by early next week. As for the others, I remain in the dark.

Good news, though! The responses I have gotten back have all been positive! Even the people I don't know very well (and are therefore unbiased or only minimally biased) have been helpfully critical, but very positive. This is encouraging like nothing else has been.

When you write a novel, it is like a part of yourself. You know it has flaws, but you can't always see them. You think about it, work on it, grow to love it, and the characters become your best friends for a time, because you know everything about them, and they know all about you. The story, even if it is fantasy or sci-fi, is a little window of words that allows people inside you, to see how you see the world and what you think of. When you give that up to people to read, to critique (which, let's be honest, is just a nice word for judge), it is like opening yourself up and letting people poke around. You have to make yourself vulnerable. And to do that well, you have to admit to yourself first that you are really not all that and a bag of chips. You're not the greatest writer ever to grace the earth, and that's okay. You don't have to be.

One of the most exciting things about the whole Beta Reader process is that these characters that have lived inside of you for so long now live in other people's minds. Some of them may even take root in that person's heart and stay there. Talking to some of my readers about my book, characters in particular, makes me giddy. All the little quirks I thought I would be the only person to recognize are lauded as endearing, likable, and real. The conversations I slaved over and still felt weren't quite there have done the job, and my story is told. Not perfect; I still have another (and possibly one more) draft before I put this book on the shelf, but the story is told regardless. I may have some typos, some choppy passages, some unclear, verbose, imperfect sections, but in the end, my story is told, people get it and relate to it and even like it. (Something else that makes me giddy: my book has made three people cry, and one person come close. *Smiles*)

Okay, so, now to what I planned on writing here: why have I not written here, where have I been, what have I been doing?? Let me enlighten you.

Where I've been...

In  August  of  last  year,  we  began  planning  a  trip  to  Peru  to  help  a  local  church  there.   And  in  late  May,  we  went.  This  is  where  I've  been  and  what  I've  done.

An "average" view in Peru
I, with a team of about fifteen others, went to a small town in Peru. We were there for eight days, working at a constructions site to build a church, and also spending time with some local children. It was my first time out of the country (I know, I know, I'm a noobie), and it was everything I hoped it would be and more.

Once the jet lag wore off, we were up and ready to go. We all worked everyday, and though most of our work consisted of passing buckets full of dirt up a treacherous hill, we made a difference. And the next team that goes will have less work to do, and the next and the next until it is complete.

In the afternoons, I and several others went to a public basketball/soccer court where we met about thirty or so kids. We played with them, had a story/lesson time, made crafts, sang songs, and gave out snacks. It was by far my favorite thing we did in Peru, even above sightseeing and souvenir shopping! I fell in love with a few of the children, and I'm afraid I left part of my heart there. I just have to go back someday; I have to.

Turn all the way around; this is everywhere.
I would like to share with you all a bit from my journal in Peru. It is not perfect writing, but I think this excerpt will pretty much tell you how I felt every night as I sat on the roof of the house I stayed in.

"A light breeze blows, billowing my friend's blond curls. I sit perched on the ledge of a roof, three stories high, watching the casual goings-on down below. I love how the mountains rise up, seemingly from the many buildings that make up the city.
   A burst of sweetness floods my mouth; I've always loved SweeTarts. As I watch the streets below, I count: one, two, three street lamps buzzing to life. Dogs bark, horns blare, a couple laughs in the distance.
   The smell of diesel and roasting meat permeates the air, making it all real to me. I am here. I am so, so alive.
   A cloud is moving lazily toward us, and a boy starts wailing somewhere below. The trees of the park glow yellow in the dusky light of the street lamps.
   I smile.
   This is Cajamarca."

The work site on Day 1
 Some of our team members got sick while we were there, but I was happy enough to not be one of them. With how much we worked everyday, it's a wonder we didn't just keel over from exhaustion and exertion. But we didn't, and we all made it home in one piece.

Let's see, what other things of interest did I do?I played Pato, Pato, Gonzo with Peruvian children. (Pato, Pato, Gonzo translates to Duck Duck, Turkey.) I ate cuy (guinea pig), a Peruvian delicacy. It was a lot of work for a little meat, and it was very salty. Glad I tried it (I mean, when in Peru, right?), but I probably will not have it again when I go back. (And I will go back.) I learned how to haggle in the markets, and in a language I don't even speak, too. (That was fun.) I bought a pair of Peruvian pantalones, which are kind of like pajama pants, but it's acceptable to wear them in public, and they have great pockets, and, heck, they're Peruvian pants, why not? I wear them all the time now.

I learned a lot while in Peru; a lot about the world, about myself and those around me, and about airport rip-off prices. I wish that everyone I know (and you, too!) could go on this sort of trip. It really opened my eyes to all that I have, and all that most of the world doesn't have (microwaves, dishwashers, washers & dryers, Chick-fil-A... to name a few), and it taught me to be grateful for what I have. Which is more than enough.

I also made great friends with so many of the wonderful people there. When it came time to leave, there was not a dry eye in the tiny airport. Goodbyes were lingering, and I felt I had lost something precious when our plane was in the air. But when I returned to the US, I realized I had not lost anything, but gained oh, so much.

Now that I am back in the States, I have been trying to put into practice some of the many things that I learned in Peru. I love thinking back on my time there, though I am sad that I now have to think back on that time. And I look forward to when I can go back there again. I'm ready to start the planning! Let's do this; get there, do work, stay longer, and soak up every single second of it. It's all worth it (yes, even the six hour layovers).

Kids playing Pato, Pato, Gonzo
But why have I dedicated most of this over-long post to my travels abroad (I mean, other than because I loved it and want to talk about it)? And what has this all to do with writing?


And everything.

I am happy to say that when I was in Peru, I barely thought about my writings once (save my journal, which went everywhere with me). I was not at all thinking, oh, this would make a good scene opener for such-and-such book. Character development was far from my mind, and my thoughts never dwelt upon things like theme or plot. Honestly, it was nice to take a step away, almost to another world. So, in that sense, all of this has nothing to do with writing. But that is only the first part.

My rooftop view 
While I may not have consciously been thinking of my writing, I learned a lot on this trip. I grew as a person, and had new, exotic experiences. I felt things I had never felt before, tried things I hadn't yet tried. And who's to say that none of these things will come in handy one fine writing morning? Although I do not think that you should limit yourself to "writing what you know," I also don't pretend to think that experience isn't helpful or useful. Why is the clever six-year-old not so good a writer as, say, a sixty-year-old? Because the sixty-year-old has more life experiences that he can draw on than the kid who's six. I'm not saying you can't write if your young, but it's a darn lot easier if you know a couple things about life and the world first.

So, if you go on a trip this summer, even if it's just to the beach an hour away, keep your eyes open, and soak it all in. You never know when inspiration will strike.

Until the next time then (which will be soon, I promise!),

Happy Writing!

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