A Solo Trip to North Carolina

Late last night I arrived back home after six wonderful days in North Carolina. I was apprehensive about this trip from the beginning – was it too self indulgent to go on a second major solo vacation this year, after my trip to Book Bonanza in Dallas in August, plus also having already been on two major family/couple vacations earlier in the year to Florida and Colorado? Was it selfish to insist on doing another thing that only benefited me and made life a lot trickier for everyone else in my family? And in the most recent months, was it worth risking my wavering mental health to go to a conference that could very well just end up making me feel worse about myself by not spending more time on this thing I supposedly love so much? Between just LIFE stuff, being so behind on Heartstring Annie, and now all the uncertainty with my liver and needing to completely upheave my entire lifestyle…the CONFERENCE aspect of this trip felt overwhelming. But I couldn’t exactly back out of it at that point, so I decided to trust that I made the right decision way back last spring when I told Greg that I needed to make this investment in myself. And honestly? I think this might have been one of the best things I have ever done for myself and I don’t regret a minute of it.

I’d like to write more about what I learned at the conference after I’ve had a few more days to collect my thoughts and process all of the encouragement and new ideas I was given. Tonight I’ll just tell you a little bit about the trip itself!

I had a pretty early flight on Thursday morning – but out of Madison! I never fly out of Madison! So the boys slept over at Grandma’s and Greg dropped me off at the airport bright and early. Well, technically it was still dark, so not bright. And the roads to Madison were sheer ice after yet another snowstorm the day before. WHY is it snowing so much and already so cold in early November?! Anyway, I made my way to Charlotte without any issues until I picked my rental “car” that was supposed to be in the same class/size as the cars I own and am used to driving. I was instead given a Jeep Compass. Which I guess compared to other vehicles, is really not THAT big. But it was a whole lot bigger than what I’m used to driving. Plus, MY car is 17 years old. I am so not used to driving newer vehicles with all their bells and whistles. It was a pretty stressful start, especially because I could not for the life of me figure out how to connect the GPS from my phone to the vehicle, or find any kind of navigation system on the vehicle alone. Trying to drive a huge vehicle in heavy traffic while also holding my oversized phone in one hand in a city I’ve never been to before – it was rough. My phone wasn’t even verbally giving me any of the directions and at one point when getting on a highway it fell under the seat! Fun times, you guys.

Alas, I made it to my first destination! Superica – the restaurant owned by the author of Tex Mex, my all time favorite cookbook that came out earlier this year. I realized after eating there that I should have asked how they pronounce the name of the place. All this time I’ve been calling it in my head “super-ICA,” and realized later it’s probably supposed to be more like “soup-erica”, like “America.” It just seems like I should maybe know how to properly pronounce the name of the restaurant I was most excited about eating at! Anyway, the place was huge and really fun! They gave me a ton of chips with two salsas – the smoky verde was delicious. (I believe the recipe is in the cookbook!) I ordered a combo from the lunch menu of chicken tortilla soup and chicken suiza enchilada. Oh, and the seasonal aqua fresca – pineapple/banana/mango/ginger. It was a ton of food! But very delicious.

I had a long list of unique shops and areas that I wanted to hit up on the trip. But after the stress of just getting from the airport to the first restaurant, I knew very quickly I didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on myself. So I looked up the one place that sounded most intriguing – a gift store called Paper Skyscraper – and realized it was only a few blocks away, so I put more money in the meter and booked it over there. The store was so amazing! One of the best gift shops I’ve ever been to. I purchased a rainbow heart mug (based off of a graffiti mural of the same thing that I didn’t find out about until days later and was SO ANNOYED to learn was actually just on the other side of the block from Superica!), a really cute Christmas mug, and a Christmas in Carolina candle. All of which were added to the very large box of things I bought on the trip and shipped back home to myself and will hopefully arrive in one piece!! I probably could have stayed for hours in that store, but I didn’t give myself a ton of time (ran out of change! forgot how slow I walk!) and needed to get back.

My next stop was my hotel where I was thankfully able to check in an hour early and take a short nap. I had planned on getting a quick dinner or coffee before the conference started at six, but chose the extra time to rest instead. Then I headed out to register and find my seat at the conference! The whole thing took place at a large church and there were 450 attendees, though it honestly didn’t feel like that many. We jumped right in with a short performance by Arielle Estoria and then our first session on the six writing stages Hope*Writers has come up with. It was a great start to my learning!

Afterward I was pretty keyed up – and hungry – so I found a Cava. I love Cava so much. I get it every time I go to DC. I wish they’d come to the midwest! I just get a pita with harissa, chicken, diced cucumber, and lemon dill tahini, but it’s just so dang good. I haven’t been able to replicate it at home with the same quality. It was a great treat after the long day. I also stopped at a grocery store before driving back to the hotel in the pitch black pouring rain (that was fun). I LOVE hitting up grocery stores when I visit new areas of the country. Normally I’m on the lookout for unique flavors of chips and cool snacks, though now I’m mostly interested in local products and coffee.

Friday was a full conference day. It was a bit overwhelming, but so awesome.

At the lunch break I went to a place called Emmet’s Social Table, one of the founder’s favorite restaurants. It was cute, but I was hit with my new constant predicament of what can I eat? All this liver stuff I have going on right now is very confusing. I have a general idea of what I should be avoiding, but I’m not so clear on what exact substitutions I should be making. Normally eating out is my favorite part of every vacation, but was really just a huge source of stress this time around. My meals were sporadic and not the most enjoyable. I figured at this lunch I could have a “splurge meal” and immediately regretted the decision. It was my first time (okay, so I did have a pita the night before) in weeks eating white bread and potatoes and fried items. It was all good, but also just made me feel like crap. And made me really, really wish I liked salads. I was trying to make BETTER choices at every place I went, but choosing the BEST options was never really on the table for me (yet). It’s too depressing.

The afternoon portion of the conference was really great as well, but I was so tired and just overloaded with information by the end. There was an optional/encouraged night out at The Nester’s barn with food trucks and a bonfire and fellowship with other hope writers. But it was also a 45 minute drive each way, in the country, in the dark. I wasn’t comfortable yet with my Jeep, was not super interested in having more awkward conversations with strangers no matter how nice they might be, and just needed to rest my brain for a bit. So I didn’t go to that part and really don’t have any regrets. Before going back to the hotel, though, I stopped at a place called Viva Chicken and had a Peruvian Tacu Bowl. The photo is before I loaded it up with an amazing spicy sauce. It was very tasty. (But I shouldn’t have been eating the rice.)

Three food photos in a row! That’s really all I took pictures of on the trip… Saturday morning I was back at the conference for the final day. I went to a place called Sabor Latin Street Grill for lunch and had two chicken authentic tacos with chips and a bunch of salsas from their salsa bar. It was my cheapest and simplest meal, but it was really delicious.

I forgot to mention that on Friday night I made the leap and JOINED Hope*Writers. The conference was open to anyone, but the majority of attendees were actually already hope writers. I am proud to say I am now one too! I’ll have opportunities to learn every week with fresh teachings, plus access to all the archives. I can also connect in smaller hope circles with other members to spur each other on and achieve our goals together. I haven’t had a chance to do much besides just sign up yet, but it’s one of my top priorities in the next few weeks. Another investment in myself that I hope will also be the right decision.

The conference ended around three and then I booked it out of there because I had to get to my next hotel in Wrightsville Beach, almost four hours away. I was really hoping to get there by sunset – just to drive in the light and also see the beach before it got dark. Unfortunately, the sun sets really early! I didn’t make it. And then I was very confused by my hotel and couldn’t figure out how to get to the beach. And I was irritated by all the bored valet drivers that kept watching me whenever I went in and out of the building. The parking lot was also quite confusing and I didn’t want to leave again worried I wouldn’t have a spot when I got back, even though I also really wanted some dinner after only having that one meal the entire day. (Breakfasts – too much work!) I spent a ridiculously long amount of time trying to figure out how and where I could order food, but nothing was really sounding good. Well, real problem – everything was loaded with carbs and/or fried. So I decided to just go out and walk, despite how dark and terrifying it was, until I finally came across a tiny ice cream shop and decided to just have a chocolate peanut butter malt for dinner and call it a day. I was kind of a wreck by that point. Despite being on this trip by myself and technically having a lot of time in the evenings, I only got about five hours of sleep each night I was there, no naps other than the first day, and so much stressful time driving. Plus the mental exertion of learning so many new things! I was just at my breaking point by Saturday night.

Sunday was my one totally free and open day. I took my time getting ready in the morning and then finally found the beach! I got my workout in, squatting in the sand for an hour picking up the prettiest shell fragments. It was really fun! The weather was about as perfect as it could be too. Fallish temperatures (45-65) and lots of sunlight. All the natives kept apologizing for the cold weather when they found out I wasn’t from around there. I just laughed every time.

I wanted to spend my day finding cool shopping areas – it felt more feasible than in the busier Charlotte areas. I ended up parking in Wilmington and walking all around the downtown area. There were a couple of buildings that had multiple shops inside of them, which was fun. I finally found my first local coffee shop – after four days! I didn’t really like it, but felt obligated to drink it. I believe the only thing I bought in that area of town was another North Carolina scented candle. I smelled every single one of the shop’s about one hundred scents and liked the very last one the most. Again – hope it gets back to me in one piece tomorrow!

My boring lunch at Front Street Grill before rushing back to my car right when my time ran out. I mostly just ate the chicken salad plain and the bowl of fruit. That was a depressing meal when the rest of the menu items that I would have picked out at any other occasion before my liver stuff came up, sounded SO much more delicious.

I spent the next portion of my day hitting up my favorites – TJMaxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods. You better believe I find those branches of stores in every single city I visit on every vacation I ever take! You never know what you’re going to find! It’s such a treasure hunt! I don’t even feel dumb about it (I did last year in Minnesota when I probably visited at least 20 versions of the same store because literally every single city has all three of the branches). They’re my favorite place to dig around and I’m not going to apologize for it anymore. I also went to a bookstore and another grocery store. I finished my night having dinner at a place called Flamin’ Amy’s Burritos. It was a rush menu decision at the counter so I picked a Jerk Chicken burrito and didn’t take a picture because how boring is a picture of a burrito? I don’t even like burritos. I don’t like flour tortillas. So it was another disappointment. I just ate the filling with some chips. I was pretty fed up with eating in general at this point. I did have some snacks with me, but no matter how good those snacks seem when packing for a trip, they fall VERY flat when it’s the only thing you’re filling yourself up with.

I stayed up really late back at the hotel on Sunday night. I shouldn’t have, but I was still having a hard time shutting my brain down and needed to force myself to just chill out. I also set my alarm so I wouldn’t miss the sunrise on the beach – since I had missed both sunsets. I actually got to the beach about an hour before it officially rose and took about a million photos, but cell phones just don’t really do it justice. I was the only one on the entire span of beach that I could see, and it was a really beneficial time for me. I wish I had an outdoor space like that around home where I could watch a sunrise or sunset. I’m generally not a beach person because I hate being hot and in the sun. But at this time of year, it was incredible.

After making one more stop at Marshall’s and a local fresh/healthy foods only grocery store, I began my long trip back to Charlotte. I wasn’t in the mood to keep hunting around for new things to do, so I chose a large antique mall near the airport and spent about two hours just wandering around. During that time I was getting texts about every five minutes saying my flight was delayed another half hour. My flight was already later than I would have liked, so this wasn’t helping! By the time I left the antique mall, however, it was suddenly back on time! I didn’t know airlines could go back and forth like that. But it was a relief!

I wanted to get some food before I got to the airport – it was already 3:30 at that point and I hadn’t eaten at all. So I picked something close by – a Caribbean restaurant with a ton of great google reviews. I ordered the jerk chicken. Let me just ask – does that look like chicken to you?? The third piece in the background was definitely a leg. But the two pieces in front? The shape of them – those were bones. What kind of CHICKEN has bones like that?! There was also a goat curry on the menu, and I think they maybe gave me that. Which kind of makes me want to cry. Sorry, I do NOT want to eat a sweet cute goat. There was hardly any meat on any of the pieces – it was just skin and bones. The SAUCE was delicious. But it was a pretty disappointing meal.

The rest of my night was very uneventful! I got to the airport about four hours before my flight because I was so tired and needed to just be done. I spent most of that time walking around every terminal because I was so tired and didn’t know how else to stay awake. I got a Starbucks coffee and it gave me a stomachache. I read a whole (short) book. And then we finally took off, flew across country with no issues, and landed to fresh snow and ice and 7 degree temperatures. Oh, Wisconsin.

And that was my trip! I feel like I should go back and re-title this post to “All the food I couldn’t eat in North Carolina.” Sorry about that. I know nobody likes to hear about food restrictions and limitations. It’s just so high on my mind right now, with my liver biopsy happening TOMORROW. For that reason alone, it was not a good time to go on a trip. But I’m so glad I went and I really had the most fantastic time. I will write more about the depth of things I learned (and not just what I ate and where I shopped!) at another time!

November 2019 Goals

I was struggling to come up with a list of goals again this month because October was such an epic disaster. I’m still just in survival mode right now and can’t handle adding anything extra on top of the things I’m doing just to get through my days. So – I’ll stick with those! I think November is going to fly by so quickly. I’m going on a five day trip, which will immediately launch me to the middle of the month, even though the month just started. Then I’m hosting a big sign painting party which feels like it’ll basically consume a whole week of my time to prepare for. And then it’s pretty much Thanksgiving, which also means it’s basically Christmas! I am not AT ALL prepared for Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday sales and have no clue how I’m going to get even close to making enough dolls to feel worth it. But….I don’t want to lose my mind to stress and being overwhelmed this month. I just want to focus on those couple of things that matter above all else and the rest will hopefully just fall into place. Or be good enough. And I’ll have to be okay with it.

1. Focus on health above all else.

THIS is what’s important right now. While my official diagnosis is up in the air and who knows if I’ll even figure it out this month, I NEED to start taking the steps to be a healthier person. Not a diet to lose weight (though hopefully that’ll be an outcome), but realistic lifestyle changes that I can manage for the rest of my life. I have three main things I want to focus on this month to kick things off.

  • Use the treadmill every day until it becomes a habit. No goals for specific times or distances yet, I just want to GET ON IT every single day. Well, every day except the five days I’m out of town this month. I started a notebook to log all of my walks, so hopefully I’ll feel a nice sense of accomplishment every time I add another one to the list. Caden also started a log so he can see how much he beats me every time…
  • Cut out almost all white flour and processed foods. I don’t want to be insane about this, or be super annoying to people who have to eat with me in the coming months. But I do want to make a conscious effort to avoid them as much as possible. Especially when I’m home alone and most prone to mindless snacking. But I don’t plan on being super strict with myself when I’m on vacation, or a date night, or like Thanksgiving day. But MOST of the time, I am going to learn how to just say no and find a better option. I’ve been working on this for two weeks now and it’s gotten easier, for the most part. I did have noodles at HuHot last week and pizza at my brother’s birthday party last night. I did try the lemon cake I made my friends on Friday. But I’ve been doing pretty good at all the times in between. As long as I have other options available, it’s going okay.
  • Avoid fast and fried foods. I think some of my biggest food related downfalls are when I’m running a lot of errands and extremely hungry and tempted by all the surrounding restaurants and just desperate to get something delicious and fast in my stomach. I actually don’t eat that much fried food to begin with, but fast food chains are definitely an evil temptation on my busy days. I’m nervous about feeding myself three meals a day for five days a week when I go on my trip later this week. I know it’s going to be challenging not to overindulge. But if I stick with the plan to avoid fast food and fried food, it’s a good starting point for picking healthier – and probably much tastier! – options.

2. Go to my Hope*Writers conference with an open heart and mind.

When I bought my ticket to this conference last spring I was SO excited about it. It felt like the best possible investment I could make in myself and the future I’d truly like to have as A WRITER. And then life, like always, got in the way. I still struggle a lot with what I’m really meant to be doing with my time and my life. I love doll making, I do, but it’s not essential to my happiness the way it was a few years ago. It’s definitely more a job now, and one that I’ve really been slacking on. In theory, I would love to be a writer, but I have some serious self doubt and just aren’t sure I could, or would even want to, make a full time career out of it. But I still want TO WRITE, whether it’s only on this blog or even just journal entries that nobody will read except myself. The majority of my writing comes out in emails to a friend – the truest story of my life for the last fifteen or so years. I would really like to direct that writing desire to other things and I’m hoping this conference will help give me hope again. Pour some optimism into my heart that I’ve lost along the way. I’m definitely nervous about the entire thing, but I know it’ll be good for me. I leave super early Thursday morning, have a few hours to explore Charlotte, and the conference begins that night and goes through late Saturday afternoon. Then I’m heading three hours east to the coast for two nights in a waterfront hotel just for the fun of it. For the last few weeks it’s felt like this conference couldn’t come at a worse time. But now – I’m ready for it. I’m excited for a break from my everyday life and maybe a chance to get some perspective on everything. I’m going to trust that no matter what, I am meant to be at that conference at this time in my life.

3. Buy/Craft/Plan at least 1/2 of all Christmas presents!

I really, really love gift giving. But I also get super swept up in the excitement of it all and go way overboard every year with impulse purchases that feel too good to pass up. This year I need A PLAN. A focused direction for every gift I give, trying to cut back on spending, be more creative (if I have time!!), and just generally be a whole lot more organized. I’m also trying to work up a treat plan – something to gift neighbors and friends that is maybe something different than cookies and candies. Baking was one of my first loves and continuing to bake without being able to freely eat the fruits of my labor…I think it’s going to be too hard. And I know so many other people are always trying to eat healthier too. Something I never have been that great about respecting. But now I get it and I want to only gift things that will truly be appreciated and used. It’s a lot to think about! But I’m hoping if I spend more time in November working on gifts, I can spend more time in December actually sewing for my customers. Most years I take the bulk of December off because I can’t handle everything happening at once. This year I’d like to be more accomodating. But only if I’m prepared with all the other gift stuff ahead of time!

What I’m Looking Forward to in 2019

I recently discovered that instead of writing straightforward lists of resolutions and goals for the year, some people chose to write out what they’re looking forward to in the new year instead. It’s still a way to get your greatest hopes and dreams for yourself out in the universe, but you’re writing them as something to look forward to instead of something you have to do to make your life better. I loved this idea and became a lot more excited thinking about 2019 in these terms. I still fully plan on giving myself smaller accomplishable goals at the beginning of every month to truly focus my time and energy, but for the year as a whole I’m really liking this format instead!

In 2019, I am looking forward to…

1 – Becoming a healthier and more energetic human being.

I’m going to use what I’ve learned in the last two months and continue to take better care of myself. I’m going to go back to only eating the foods that I know will make me feel good and avoiding things like fast food which I know will make me feel bloated and gross the rest of the day. I’ll walk Annie as often as I can and find exercise videos to do in the house when I’m too freaked out to risk slipping on ice if I go outside. I’m going to continue to take my internal health into consideration with many of my choices because that’s what has a greater influence on my motivation than the number on the scale or the way my clothes fit.

2 – Having a better work-life balance.

I think a lot of my work frustration in the last few years is that I expected to be able to just jump into making this a full time job now that my kids are in school all day. I need to – and I WILL – accept that I only have a part time job slot in my life right now. And THAT’S OKAY. The internal war has been waging for years on what I should be giving the most of my time to and no matter what option I choose, it feels like the wrong one. This year I am going to give myself grace and remember that sewing dolls is not the most important thing in my life. People matter more. Life happens. I still want work to be part of my life – but only PART. I’d like to strive for only working 20-30 hours a week with as few nights and weekends as possible. I’d like to prioritize my family and friends if I’m in a busy season where that truly matters more. And I’m not going to feel guilty about it or start worrying what other people think of me. I believe I can have the best of both worlds and this is the year I’m going to figure out how to do it.

3 – Going on vacations!

I’m excited about going on some fun and much needed vacations this year. Greg and I have a one night getaway scheduled in a few weeks to celebrate 19 years of being together. In early February we’re going to Nebraska to see Guster play with the Omaha Symphony. We may or may not bring the boys, but either way we’ll be staying with my brother and spending some time with Hudson too (as long as the weather holds out!). In the middle of February we’re all going Florida to see Universal and Harry Potter World with Greg’s parents, which should be an awesome family vacation. In August I have tickets to Book Bonanza, which will bring me to Texas for the first time. I’m hoping we can take an actual three or more night vacation somewhere new and special for our 13 year marriage anniversary in May or June. Greg has been talking about wanting to take one or both boys to San Francisco, so if that happens I’ll either do something special with the remaining kid or have one heck of a staycation by myself! We’re hopefully going to have a really full year of getting away and making some amazing memories.

4 – Reading all the books and tracking them closely.

Reading is and forever will be a huge part of my life. But it still deserves a big spot on what I’m looking forward to in the new year! I’m hoping that maybe audiobooks will eventually win me over and might start replacing some of my tv time. I think I could be much more productive sewing that way since I don’t need to constantly be looking at a screen! But I also have to get better at paying attention with my ears. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reading MANY of the physical books I have on my shelves. I’ve re-fallen in love with physical books and may have gone a bit crazy buying them in the last six or so months. Now I need to read them! I’m also looking forward to tracking them much more closely on the Book Riot tracking spreadsheet, as well as continuing to track on my own spreadsheet and Goodreads and writing about them every month.

5 – Really just tracking all the things!

I’ve used a bullet journal for most of the past year and it’s been an awesome way to keep track of my daily to do lists, meal plans, work hours, gratitude lists, etc. This year I’m planning to take things a step further and track things like how much money we save, how much weight I lose, the dates we’ve been on, the books I’ve read from my shelves, as well as all my usual stuff – tv, podcasts, movies, happiness levels, etc. I want my bullet journal to basically be the one thing I can’t go a single day without sitting down in front of and writing in. Not because I have to, but because I love it so much.

6 – Writing more and reformatting my website so it’s more accessible.

I really do love to write! This year I’ve found the most joy in writing recaps and intentions and lists of things I’ve consumed each month, with books being my favorite. I feel like most of the stuff I write about is really personal and is probably much more interesting to me than anyone who happens to read it. And I’ve been okay with that. But I would like to try just a tiny bit harder at growing my readership. I will be more active on instagram to promote my posts, plus just more about my everyday life. And I’ll figure out how in the world to reformat my website so posts of similar content can be grouped together and easier to find. I have no clue how to go about doing that, but I will learn!

7 – Reenergizing my relationships.

Mostly with Greg. But also with friends. And maybe with Greg AS my friend and not just my parenting partner, which is sometimes what it feels like. I want to make monthly OUT OF THE HOUSE date nights a real and exciting thing that I cherish and look forward to more than anything else in the month. I want to kiss more and laugh more and find things to do together that we both enjoy besides just watching tv every night. I love watching tv together, but I think we need something more. I also look forward to spending more time with my friends and maybe making some new friends! This last year has been so weird with me being locked away in the house for so many months and everyone just being “too busy.” Well, guess what? If it’s important, we will make time. And I’ll start taking the initiative again to make sure those things happen.

8 – Using my cookbooks and making actual meal plans on a weekly basis.

I adore cookbooks. I have a ton of them. But when it comes to making my meals I always just look to pinterest because it’s fast and easy and convenient. But my cookbooks are overflowing with amazing inspiration and new ideas and foods that will bring us all joy and excitement. I plan to start with just picking one cookbook at a time and finding 2-3 meals I want to make from it in the next week or two. Nothing crazy or elaborate or stressful. Just take the five minutes it requires to open a book and find something fresh to make. It will be so worth it.

9 – Having one massive, mega, crazy garage sale and then donating whatever is left.

Our garage is overflowing with items that didn’t sell at our last garage sale, two years ago. I fully planned on having one last summer, but then didn’t feel up to it with my lack of walking abilities. This summer, hopefully right in early June, it will happen! And when it’s over I’m not going to save everything for some future sale. This is it. I want it all gone. It’s going to feel AMAZING to get rid of all those boxes of things we no longer need. It’d be great to make a little money in the process, but really – I just want it all gone.

10 – Learn how to be good at hand lettering. 

I usually have some hobbies at the back of my mind that I never seem to get to. This year the only thing I can think of are these two new hand lettering books and brush markers I got for Christmas. I would like to go through each of those books carefully, practice, and become pretty awesome at writing things out fancy and cool. I have no real purpose for this other than my bullet journal and my own enjoyment, but it’ll be worth it!

I think it’s safe to say that 10 is enough! I truly think that 2019 is going to be an amazing year. Happy new year, everyone!

Thoughts on My First Creative Writing Workshop

Well, I did it! I pushed my anxiety aside and promptly walked myself over to the library annex last night to attend my first creative writing workshop.

It wasn’t exactly what I expected. There were nine people, including the instructor and the library employee that didn’t consider herself a writer, but was sitting in. You didn’t need to be a writer to be there, you just needed to want to write, love to write, appreciate the written word. I think that was the best part – spending two and a half hours in a small circle of like-minded people who enjoy writing as much as me. Sometimes I feel so incredibly isolated in all of my passionate endeavors. I know they obviously must be out there, but it’s pretty rare for me to interact with anyone else in my real outside of the internet life that enjoy writing, reading, sewing. So it felt like quite the treat to meet a group of people that could come together simply for the love of writing.

The author who created the workshop writes YA and middle grade fiction. It was interesting that within the group there were two aspiring novelists, a legacy writer, a children’s book writer, two poets, a man who has never written anything but was curious about it, and me – who specified my writing as “nonfiction.” Which was apparently interpreted as wanting to write how to manuals? When I later clarified I was interested more in the personal essay type style, I received a lot of understanding grunts. I’m not even sure if that’s the correct classification of the type of writing I enjoy doing. All I know is that I don’t write fiction. And I’m not entirely sure I’d ever want to. But in order to stretch my creative writing muscles, perhaps it’s something I will soon try.

Over the course of the evening, we went through a packet of papers that was clearly geared toward writing a fictional novel. It felt incredibly overwhelming to me. Hence my aversion to writing fiction, as much as I LOVE reading it. It was things I heard before in high school and my college English Writing major courses. But it’s not something I’ve given thought to in the last fifteen years. I liked learning more about book structure and themes and dialogue. But it was also making me feel a bit panicked about how hard writing a novel must surely be. I keep hearing the advice that if you want to be a writer, JUST START WRITING. This workshop made me feel like I’d need to do a massive amount of research and planning before I could even sit down at the computer. And the pressure to word everything so perfectly is overwhelming!

We participated in three creative writing exercises while we were there. In the first, we were given a random photograph and were supposed to tell a story about it. This reminded me of an exercise we occasionally did in high school orchestra – the conductor would play a long piece of classical music and we had to write an accompanying story about it as quickly as possible. I LOVED when we did those exercises. This photograph prompt felt more challenging because I’m not used to making up stories on the fly like that. It might be something I’ll try again this month in my daily writing exercises!

The second exercise was to create a unique dialog between two characters from a list of ten starting statements. I chose, “I don’t ever want to hear you say that again!” I chose it because that line is said almost daily in our house when interacting with a very angry child. I didn’t need to make anything up for this one, I just wrote a version of arguments we have with him almost every single night.

The third exercise was supposed to be told through a one of the senses other than sight. I chose to describe a first kiss. Which may or may not have been factual. 🙂

One of the things I was most worried about when going to this class was being forced to share writing when I wasn’t prepared to. Fortunately, we were all given the option to share our responses to these prompts and there was no pressure to share if you were uncomfortable. About half the people shared for each exercise. I did not volunteer. But I was surprised to find that I kind of wanted to. I kept extremely quiet during the entire evening, only spoken when asked a direct question. But part of me really did want to jump into some of the discussion, which I’m taking as a sign that I was meant to be there.

My takeaway from the evening was that writing is awesome and it’s something I want to pursue with greater time and intention than I have in the last few years. I would love to write a book, someday, but also think that maybe it’s not really in the cards for me. I like to write for the sake of writing. I like to talk about my life. I like to set goals and evaluate how well I did on them. I like to journal about every tiny moment of interest that happens to me in a day. But to find a central theme and write an entire book about it still feels way too daunting. I did find out from a few people in the workshop that UW Madison offers a bunch of continuing education writing classes. I just looked up them up and they’re not very expensive, so I think that’s something I might look into in the coming months. Probably not this month – I have enough going on with all this weight loss drama. And next month is busy with Christmas. But maybe in January?!

Overall, it was an inspirational night that I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope there will be another one offered soon!