Thoughts on Having a “Day Job.”

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Today I finished Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? by Ally Carter. I started reading it back when I was living in Kansas, but I didn’t have time to finish it before I left. So I bought it for Mom’s birthday present. Hehe. Listen, I genuinely thought she would like it too, as she’s currently learning to write fiction books.

Anyway, near the end of the book Carter talks about how most authors also have “day jobs.” Which sounds really discouraging, like having “author” be your real job is almost impossible.

But before I let it get me down, I remembered how much I’d rather be on the combine than in front of a computer right now.

Actually, here’s the truth: Being a full-time writer was never my dream. Don’t get me wrong, I deeply and dearly love writing. But it was never my dream, nor my plan, to do it all the time.

While traveling around working as a writer was a very awesome experience (except for the bad health), all the people who enthusiastically applauded me for living my dream were wrong. I wasn’t living my dream, I was taking a leap of faith.

The dream was to get a cool job like…I don’t know…working at Disneyland, or working for some cool online media company, or working backstage on Broadway shows, or doing PR trips for a mission agency, or becoming a children’s librarian. And then writing on the side, if I felt like it.

Then, I did the “day job” thing for a year. I worked part-time, between 20 and 30 hours a week, as a secretary for our church school. Which should have left me plenty of leftover time to write.

And it did. But I barely wrote at all. Self-motivation is hard, ya’ll. There was nothing forcing me to write, and even if I did get really inspired, my “real job” always came first.

So I stopped having a day job.

Now, I had financial motivation. If I wanted to, you know, buy shampoo and stuff, I’d have to write.

For me, this leap paid off big time. I am now MILES ahead of where I was a year ago in the self-discipline department. If I continue to gain skills in this area, maybe I’ll eventually be able to have a day job as well as be a writer. (Of course, a lot of that depends on my health as well.)

Currently, though, I have a summer job. A harvest job, driving combine. I don’t exactly consider it a “day job,” though. More of a “writing break.” (Although I’m still getting a wee bit of writing done. Hooray for self-discipline!)

But it’s delightful. What I especially love is that this year, I’m working for my Dad’s cousin on the original family farm that was owned by my great-grandfather. So I’m always passing by the businesses of my dad, uncle, cousins, etc…who all built on bits of the original land.

As much as I’m loving this fun little break from writing so much, I’m still uncertain as to the future of day jobs, or lack of them. A big reason writers have day jobs is that it provides a guaranteed income, whereas income from book publishing/sales is very uncertain and fluctuating. I really feel that. I’d love to travel more, and live in more places, but it’s hard to plan when you don’t know how much $$$ you’ll have to work with.

Still, I sorta think that the main reason most book writers have day jobs is that they just want a break from writing books.

Those are my thoughts on the subject. Writers, please tell me your experiences with day jobs! Do you have one? Do you wish you had one? Do you wish you could quit yours?

Your Darkest Secrets May Not Be Safe

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Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

When I was sixteen, I wanted to keep a diary, but I was terrified of other people reading it. Also, I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with my thoughts. So I began typing up my diary entries and emailing them to myself.

That way, they were protected by a password at least.

However, I used to have nightmares that I would accidentally press a wrong button, and WHOOSH! All my deepest darkest secrets would be emailed to real people, not just myself.

It never happened. But the nightmares were terrifying.

That’s what I’m reminded of right now, because I accidentally posted an unfinished draft I wrote last fall.

Thankfully it didn’t contain my deepest darkest secrets. But it’s still embarrassing. And it still gave me that feeling of WHOOSH! Can’t take this one back.

Here’s what happened:

Last fall, I had a really cool dream, and it gave me a fun book idea that merged with a book idea I’ve had for years. I was really excited about this. I wanted to drop all the projects I was working on, and focus exclusively on this new idea.

(I didn’t. But later, I did use the idea for my NaNoWriMo book in February, where I ended up hating it before I even reached 30,000 words because I forgot to put humor in.)

So I pulled out my phone, and started to write a blog post about what it’s like when a shiny new idea jumps in my brain and tries to take over.

Now, let me make it clear that I have endless ideas but limited follow-through. Which means that I have many, many unfinished blog post drafts. Right now, I have 107 drafts on WordPress and 24 drafts in the notes app on my current phone. This one was nothing special, just one of the many.

But this particular draft, about new ideas bounding in and trying to take over, I must have written when I was not connected to the internet. It was saved to my phone as a “local draft,” but was not saved online, and because of this it always floated at the top of my “drafts” tab on my WordPress app.

Okay. So then today happened. And I’m still very baffled, but here’s what went down:

I got a notification on my phone that someone had commented on my last post, “Endings and Beginnings.” I clicked on the notification to read the comment, which brought me into my WordPress app.

After reading the comment, I clicked over into the “Reader” tab to see if Trudy Metzger had posted anything recently. After scrolling down and seeing that I’d already read everything, I exited the app.

Then I went on Twitter. As I was scrolling through the tweets I saw a tweet from myself, posted one minute prior, linking to a blog post.

“This is strange,” I said to myself. “I haven’t posted in like, a week.” But I clicked the link, and it went to my blog, and there was this unfinished blog post from last fall.

Now, I have no idea how I managed to accidentally post it. I’m baffled. It must have posted while I was bipping around in the WordPress app, but it wasn’t like one slip of the finger would post an entire blog post. I would have had to click “My site,” and then “Blog Posts,” and then “Drafts,” and then “Publish.” That is four clicks.

Frustrated, I immediately deleted the post. My blog automatically links to Twitter and Facebook, so I went on Twitter and Facebook and deleted the links. One person had already “liked” the Facebook link.

Sigh.

Then, I realized that everyone who is subscribed gets it emailed to them automatically. And there is no undoing that.

SIGH.

Then I went of Facebook again, later, and there was ANOTHER link automatically posted. Multiple “likes.” One comment saying that it was a broken link, and the suspense was killing her.

DOUBLE SIGH.

Okay FINE. For those of you who desperately want to know what dumb unfinished draft was accidentally posted, here it is in all it’s glory:

It happened again. A new idea, shiny and bright and big, came barrelling into my brain, tossing her glossy hair and dominating all conversation.

I keep zoning out, completely missing my friends’ conversations, as I play around with plots in my head. More than anything, I want to start this book. This new book. Because surely this is the best new idea that ever existed.

But I’ve been ’round about this town before. And I know that while I’ve been gifted with gallons of ideas, I only have about half a teaspoon of follow through. Every new idea ends up the same way: a beginning. That’s all.

I’ve been working on a middle grade novel since this summer, and I’ve been trying so, so hard to keep going even when it feels boring and riddled with plot holes. “I can fix it in the second draft,” I tell myself. “

That’s it. An unfinished thought, ending with a quotation mark that has no quotation behind it.

Hope you’re happy now.

I’ll be over here having nightmares about old diary entries accidentally posting on my blog, or something.

Endings and Beginnings

Well, there you have it. My year-long adventure is over, and I am back in Oregon.

I anticipated having a few weeks to relax, get some writing done, and enjoy the Oregon summer before harvest starts. But life just bellows full steam ahead, doesn’t it? So many friends to catch up with. So many events to attend.

Amy graduated from Linn Benton Community College on Thursday. Exactly six years, to the day, after I graduated from LBCC.

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“It’s a funny thing, having my big sister follow in my footsteps,” I joked.

Jenny is also finished at Linn Benton, but chose not to walk. Both of them are going on to Oregon State University. Amy will have her Bachelor’s in another year, and Jenny will have her Bachelor’s in two years. With Ben finishing up his PHD around the same time, and Steven completing his second Associate’s degree this fall, hopefully my geeky family will be finished with schooling and ready to settle down and start families already, heehee.

Well, not Jenny, I guess. She’s planning to get her Mastor’s yet. But she has plenty of time.

Anyway, I don’t know where Ben was, but the rest of us went to Amy’s graduation. Of course it was rather long and boring, as graduations are in general. Someone’s name would be announced, and a small group of their friends and family would cheer from one corner of the room, and then another name would be announced, and another cheer would erupt from another corner of the room.

I cheered for Amy, and also our friend Rachel Nissen. But Steven cheered for some random person I didn’t know.

“Do you know her?” I asked.

“No, but nobody else was cheering for her,” said Steven.

I thought that was the sweetest thing.

As the line got shorter and shorter, Steven started cheering for more and more people. I wasn’t listening too closely most of the time, but my ears perked up when I heard the announcer lady say “Waldo French.” I’d seen Waldo’s name in the program, and it had stood out to me as being very odd. People, I was sure, must constantly make jokes about it.

So, “Waldo French!” said the announcer.

Steven, only half-listening at this point, cheered. “Woo hoo! Yeah Rhonda.”

“It’s Waldo,” I corrected him.

“Heh heh. Oops.”

“Where’s Waldo?” Dad asked, looking around.

Steven and I lost it. I mean, such a Dad joke, but funny.

I’m sure Waldo wouldn’t find it funny, though. I’m sure he hears this joke approximately twice a day, 730 times a year.

We all went to Dairy Queen for ice cream afterwords.

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This has been a weird week for me, as I’m sure it’s been a weird week for every Mennonite everywhere. I’d sit down to write and get so distracted reading every new article about Jeriah Mast’s sexual abuse of Hatian boys and the CAM cover-up. And then reading all the comments. And then getting angry. I mean, this shouldn’t be news to you…I’m sure that’s how at least 80% of my readers spent this week.

I finally got to the place where I didn’t let myself read any updates, comments, anything for 24 hours. I was just so worked up and not in a good head space.

I did write a draft of a blog post for my Patreon blog, all about how to grapple with your Mennonite identity when you come face-to-face with evil in your culture. But I didn’t post it because I was so worked up and needed to get some distance from the topic for a bit.

I do plan to return and finish it, though. Hopefully this week. At least by the end of the month.

Also, I will add that the first Patreon post I wrote Is actually rather applicable to the Jeriah Mast case. In it I explored the term “toxic masculinity,” a term that is thrown around in greater American culture today. I argued that Mennonites are actually a feminine culture, more likely to suffer from what could be called “toxic femininity.” Which people tend to be skeptical of, because we’re also a patriarchal culture. But I think people see it a little clearer now. People from greater American culture would want to punch the living daylights out of a pedophile. People from Mennonite culture want forgiveness, compassion, remember-that-we’re-all-sinners. It’s a feminine cultural trait that seems so good at first, but was absolutely toxic in the case of Jeriah Mast.

So yes, that’s where my brain was at this week, as I caught up with friends, and tried to get some writing done, and unpacked my belongings.

Of course, now you’re probably wondering what my life plan is now. Have I moved moved back to Oregon? Wasn’t the whole point of this year of travel to try to find a place where I could move permanently?

Well, that was one of my points, though not the whole point necessarily.

The biggest roadblocks I ran into this year were health issues and financial issues. With my health, I’ve decided that moving around every month is not something I should really ever do again, as fun as it was. Moving anywhere seems beyond me at this point. So I’m planning to stay in Oregon now at least through the summer and most likely through the fall as well.

I had fun in every place I went this whole year. Besides Oregon, Lancaster was the best place as far as people go, since I was near my cousin Annette and some of my close friends, including Esta and Janessa.

I really really loved Philadelphia. I was only there for a week in March and another week in May, but I would love to move there if something opened up. It would also have the advantage of being close to Lancaster, and also close to DC, where Matt lives.

I might have recency bias with Kansas, but I could also seem myself moving there. It has the advantage of cheap rent, and I love the way the community is involved in outreach right there in the town of Hutchinson. It’s also somewhat close to my Uncle Fred, and it’s the only place on the whole trip where I felt healthy the entire time I was there.

As far as money goes, I find myself in an odd financial situation. This year I lived off of freelance writing and editing jobs and some of my own savings. But I found that, while freelance writing and editing pays the bills, my heart is in writing books and plays. It’s also financially smarter, especially for someone with dubious health, to write things I can continue selling. That way if I’m, say, too sick for a month to do any freelance jobs, I can still earn money by selling books and plays that I’ve already finished.

Still, it’s tough to make that transition. Freelance writing pays right away, whereas these longer projects require a lot of work with no immediate payout. But since I am trying to slowly make that transition, it means that I have a hard time predicting what my monthly income will be six months or a year from now. Which makes it hard to plan a move.

Right now I’m planning to stay in Oregon until I get my book about this year finished and self-published, hopefully this fall.

Beyond that, I’m not sure. I do dearly love Oregon. Maybe I’ll live here part of the year, and jaunt over to other places for random three-month trips now and then? Just to keep life interesting? I don’t know. I honestly don’t feel very settled anywhere. Someday I really do want to buy a house and settle down. But I’m not financially there yet.

So for now, I guess I’ll live like I’m 19 instead of almost 29, just bipping hither and yon like I’m young and carefree. And then I’ll sleep on a hard mattress somewhere and get back pain and remember my age again, LOL.

Anyway, whatever the future holds for me, I’ll be sure to keep you all updated here on the blog.

 

Driving from Kansas to Oregon to Surprise my Family

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I hatched a wild plan to drive to Oregon with my brother Ben, hide in the cupboard while my family was at church, and surprise them all. Would I succeed? Watch to find out!

So yes, this means that just like that, my year of travel is over! Hopefully in the next few blog posts I’ll process how the trip as a whole went for me and meant to me.

 

What I’ve Been Reading This Month

I’ve consumed heaps of books this last month. A lot of stuff that’s more “fun” than “thoughtful,” if I’m gonna be honest, but hey, better than scrolling through Instagram, right?

Here’s a blurry picture of all of them lined up on my vanity:

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1. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

I thought I had read Sense and Sensibility, but in reality I’d just watched multiple movie versions. Haha. Time to read it for real.

Current Status: Halfway through

Verdict: Delightful. Not, however, one of Austen’s best. We don’t burrow as neatly into the character’s heads as we do in some of her other books. Elinor falls in love, but the audience is informed of this from the perspective of a watchful outsider, instead of from the perspective of the inside of her head. We don’t know how she’s feeling, really.

Because of this, Sense and Sensibility is, along with Mansfield Park, at the bottom of my list of favorite Austen novels. (Emma is at the top for me, with Pride and Prejudice a close second.) Which is interesting, as it’s the second-most-popular Austen book when it comes to movies and plays. I think that’s because it really is a good story. My issue, of not being able to see into the characters’ heads, really isn’t an issue in movies and plays where you never get to see into any character’s head.

2. Hopeless Savages, by Jen Van Meter

I picked this up at the library because I do enjoy a good graphic novel every now and then. A family of punk rock stars? That looked like a fun, interesting read.

Current Status: Read two chapters.

Verdict: Boring. Will not finish.

3. The Girl from Paris, by Joan Aiken

I did this fun thing where I went to the first shelf of the fiction section of the library and read every book title until I found something that looked interesting.

This one looked interesting.

Current Status: Read the whole thing.

Verdict: This was a story about a young woman who went to be a governess for a strange family in Paris, and then later went home to England to take care of her own younger half-sister.

I found it rather interesting, although there were some odd parts, like a really rushed romance, and the abrupt location change mid-book. About 2/3’ds of the way through I realized it must be the second or third book in a series.

I looked it up online later, and yes, it was third in a series. LOL. Reviewers on goodreads were very annoyed at it for not living up to the standard of the first two books. While I agreed with all their criticisms, the truth is I still found the book rather fun.

After all, it contained two random things that I happen to love in books.

  1. A sensible main character
  2. Close, and perhaps rather strange, male-female relationships that are not quite romance.

As far as #2 goes, I’m not sure why I enjoy this so much in fiction when it often turns out disastrous in real life, LOL.

4. Spoiled, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Way back in the day, the teen YouTubers were all reading this book. When I saw it on the library shelf, I flipped to the back cover and saw that it was about a girl who finds out that her dad is actually a famous movie star. Hee hee. Who could resist a plot like that?

Status: Finished

Verdict: If you’re into fluffy YA that’s pretty clean you’ll enjoy it, but probably will never re-read it, haha. It does have an interesting subtext about family relationships, both father-daughter and sister-sister.

But what’s really delightful, for me, are the masses of 2011 pop culture references. I was actually really into pop culture in 2011, so it feels nostalgic.

5. Drowned Ammet (not pictured) and The Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones

These are books 2 and 3 in a series. I read the first book in Tennessee, and was delighted to see that the library here carried the rest of the series.

Current Status: Finished

Verdict: I love it, but then again, I love everything Diana Wynne Jones writes, so there’s that. It’s middle grade fantasy with a sense of humor, as all her books are. This particular series, The Dalemark Quartet, has the best world-building I’ve ever seen from her. It’s a bit darker than some, with war as a central theme.

I don’t know what else to say. I really feel like my readers probably won’t like this book, so there’s probably no sense in recommending it, haha.

Here’s what I’l say: If you’re thinking of getting into Diana Wynne Jones, start with Howl’s Moving Castle. If you happen to love it, then branch out into some of her other books. Maybe the Chrestomanci series. And if you love those too, maybe then give The Dalemark Quartet a try.

6. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson

Esta thought I would like this book, and then mailed it to me. Aww! #bestfriendoftheyearaward

Status: Finished

Verdict: Absolutely delightful. I’d say this is the most universally appealing book on this whole pile. Just a happy, satisfying book in the vein of The Blue Castle, or The Enchanted April.

However, I should note that it does have a few problematic moments. Particularly when the main character makes this derogatory, passing comment about how it’s best for an English person to marry someone who’s fully their own race, and that it might not be the best to marry someone with Jewish blood.

Also, the main character, in “living for a day,” rubs shoulders with people who have somewhat loose morals.

7. Elizabeth and her German Garden, by Elizabeth Von Arnum

This book also came from Esta. I wanted to read it because it’s by the same lady who wrote The Enchanted April. And while the charm did not live up to The Enchanted April, it was, in fact, quite charming.

It’s actually more of a memoir of Von Arnum herself, and her absolute delight in her garden. It’s just a happy little book about the joys of gardening, and about her three babies called “April Baby” and “June Baby” and “May Baby” according to the months in which they were born.

I liked that she had a sense of humor, but at times I thought she was a bit unfair in the way she made fun of her guests. And her husband went on the oddest rants about how women are inferior to men. I think he was meant to be laughed at by the reader, but I’m not quite sure.

But anyway. It was charming and delightful, nonetheless.

8. The Way of a Bride with her Groom, by Earnest Witmer

I picked this book up because I know/know of the author. I’d heard that it was the story of himself and his wife, Rachel, who was killed in a car crash six or seven years ago.

Status: Read the story parts, skimmed/skipped the marriage advice parts. (To be honest, I almost never read nonfiction books. I do enjoy a good memoir and the occasional writing advice book. Other than that, I’m a nonfiction article reader, but for books I stick to fiction.)

Verdict: I found the story parts very interesting, but I feel I’m somewhat biased because I know the author somewhat. And also biased because I take great delight in hearing people’s romantic stories, heehee.

I think my favorite scene was this one where Earnest asked Rachel out, and she turned him down, but he still felt honored, and like it wasn’t shameful or embarrassing that he’d asked. Personally, I wish I’d received more training on how to turn a guy down in an honoring way. I have this hypothesis that if girls were better at turning guys down, guys wouldn’t be so nervous to keep asking girls out even if they’d gotten a lot of rejections, and so everyone would have better odds at finding a life partner.

Of course, that hypothesis remains untested. Feel free to pull it apart as much as you desire.

9. Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? By Ally Carter

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This book was displayed in the teen section during the same library run in which I picked up Spoiled. I snatched it up because I often ask that very question. How do I write a book?

Status: 1/3 of the way through.

Verdict: Fantastic. I recommend it to anyone who wants to know how to write a novel. Here are the things I’ve loved so far about this particular book, as opposed to other books on writing I’ve read (or skimmed.)

  1. The book has a concise, narrow focus. It is about how to write a novel, and does not veer off into general musings on writing.
  2. The book is aimed at teens, but doesn’t talk down to teens, which I really appreciate as a former teenage writer of books.
  3. Also, maybe because of teenage focus, Carter writes in a very interesting, engaging, concise way.
  4. She also answers all the random questions I’ve always worried about, but never got good advice about. Like, “how many words should my novel be?”
  5. Also, she gives specific answers to even the most squishy questions. Most authors, when giving advice on something like word count, will say something like “that depends on the book.”
    Carter says, “that depends on the book,” but then she provides a full page spread of authors listing the word count of their shortest book, and the word count of their longest book.

10. Lady in Waiting, by Debby Jones and Jackie Kendall

I was writing a play on the book of Ruth, and was amused by the way that Ruth asked Boaz to marry her. This prompted me to write on Facebook, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a Christian dating advice book based on the story of Ruth? Ladies, find a rich guy, sneak up to him while he’s sleeping, and ask him to marry you.”

Well, I was quickly informed that there was a dating advice book called Lady in Waiting which was based on Ruth. Then my roommate told me she owned a copy.

Status: Skimmed.

Verdict: Um….let’s just say, Lady in Waiting draws some very strange conclusions from the book of Ruth. How do you get “Don’t chase boys! Wait for the right man to come along and sweep you off your feet!” from a Bible story in which the woman asks the man to marry her?

In fact, I was so irritated that I wrote a whole bonus blog post titled “Five Actual Romantic Lessons from the Life of Ruth.” It’s available now on my Patreon page, for those who subscribe for $1 or more per month.

So those are the books I’ve been into for the last month. What have you been reading lately?

Notes on Kansas

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

It was 1:30 am, and I was eating donuts and pretending I was still a teenager. It was a funny little donut shop. With its outdated wallpaper, random mugs hanging on the wall, and old paneling, it reminded me of somebody’s basement, mostly finished back in the ’70s, and then forgotten.

Apparently the place doesn’t even open until 11 pm.

I was hanging out with my roommate Kim’s youth group, and when they suggested a donut run, I couldn’t resist the enchanting allure of midnight donuts. But then, after those midnight donuts were ingested, there were storm warnings and we all got worried and scuttled off towards home.

Thankfully I wasn’t driving, because there were warnings of hail and severe winds and all sorts of frightening things. We drove straight into the storm, and I sat in the back seat, mesmerized by the purple. It was everywhere, in bursts of lighting that lit the entire sky.

I’m remembering, now. If you want to be awed by mountains or oceans you go to Oregon, but if you want to be awed by the weather, you to to the Midwest.

One Oregon night a few years ago there was intense, sky-splitting lightening, and no one in my family could sleep. We all ended up on the front porch in the middle of the night, watching it together. And yet that lightning was perhaps only half as intense as this stuff.

For some reason I ended up in either the East or the South this entire year, so I’m glad I decided to get a small taste of the Midwest before heading home.

Wait…what all states are considered to be “Midwest?” I just googled. Ohio is part of the Midwest? How?

In my brain, the Midwest ends with Illinois. In my brain, the Midwest is where land is flat and roads are straight and everyone waves at everyone and you say “hi” to every Mennonite you see and folks are chill and the weather in the spring is absolutely crazy. Where Mennonite communities are not so isolated as they are in the West, but they’re not piled up on top of each other either.

If you are from Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, etc, do you think of Ohio as part of your Midwestern culture? I’m just an ignorant Oregonian who knows nothing about this.

I’ve been here for two weeks, and it’s been absolutely magical. Not because of the weather or the people or the midnight donuts, but because I’ve felt so healthy. 

Health is such a funny thing. All of the things I dislike about life–all my feelings of incompetence, or loneliness, or the burden of having a to-do list that I can never possibly finish–seem to quietly become not-big-deals if I’m feeling healthy.

Maybe Kansas has a magical climate that is perfectly suited to my health.

Although, after experimenting with so many climates and houses this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that my health woes are probably not related to climates and mold and things external to me.

I think–sad as this sounds–I think that my body is just not suited to the nomadic life I crave.

Stress makes me sick. It has, ever since my West Nile days.

My last week in Lancaster I got horribly sick–the worst of this whole trip–but I felt a strong conviction that after I recovered I was going to have a time of wellness.

That’s what I’ve had, so far, in Kansas. The sort of wellness that allows me to eat donuts with teenagers at 1:30 am.

What I really mean when I say I’m “working on a book.”

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I walked into the Hutchinson Starbucks, and there was Sarah. Oh! I know her! My first random connection in Kansas. We began to chat.

“Are you just about finished with your book by now?” she asked me.

“No, I’m just plodding along with it slowly,” I said. Because right now I’m only about 1/3 of the way through my first draft.

But then, after I got my tea and sat down to write, I realized that the “book” of her question was a completely different book than the “book” of my answer.

When I drove through Kansas in September, which was the last time I saw Sarah, I was working on Book A.

Book A was a middle grade novel. Fantasy, but with no actual magic in it. I was trying really hard to finish something, even if it turned out terrible.

But when I was in Ohio, I gave up on Book A. Something just was not working. I couldn’t place my figure on what. The plot, probably. Plots have never been my strong point.

I was determined to fix my plot issues. In Delaware, I used my Ohio library card to borrow an e-book called “No Plot? No Problem!” The book wasn’t remotely helpful, so I went to the Delaware library and borrowed real books and took notes.

Notes in hand, I spend my week-and-a-half in Washington DC working on Book B.

Book B was a project I’d first worked on in the summer of 2016. Unlike Book A, it had a strong plot idea, and seemed like a good candidate for plot practice. I didn’t even write more chapters, I just sat in coffee shops with a notebook and tried to trace the story arc and resolution for each character.

And it was good practice. But then I got busy and stopped working on it. Book B is a strange story–not really marketable–so probably not a good time investment right now.

In Florida I had no wifi and no library card and one afternoon I was bored. I opened my laptop to see if I had any books downloaded on my Kindle app. Oh! There was my copy of “No Plot? No Problem!” that I’d borrowed in Delaware. The lack of Internet had prevented it from automatically returning.

So I read it.

“No Plot? No Problem!” wasn’t a book about plots, it was a book about how to write a novel in a month. And as I read, I decided that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to write a novel in a month.

So I began Book C.

Book C came from a fun idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for years. Writing it was fun at first, but eventually I began to hate the book. I mean, I loathed that thing.

Something was not working, and it was more than just the plot.

I was driving down the 501 when it struck me. The Big Problem with Book C, and also, coincidentally, the Big Problem with Book A, and the Big Problem with most novels I’ve attempted in the last five or so years. It’s not the plot that trips me up. It’s the lack of humor.

I don’t enjoy reading books without humor, or reading poetry without humor, so why would I enjoy writing without humor? No wonder I started writing books and then ended up hating them!

In any case, I gave up on fiction for a bit, and instead started working on Book D. Book D is a memoir, the story of this year. Nonfiction feels easy after struggling along with fiction for so long. You don’t have to worry about plot. You just write down what happened. And humor nestles naturally into my nonfiction.

However, this was not the end of my fiction journey. There was, and by “was” I mean “is,” a Book E.

Book E happened because one day as I was walking along the streets of Lancaster, I came across a little free library, and found a book called Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar.

It was a book I knew I liked, and I knew I didn’t own a copy of it, so I took it home with me. And I began re-reading it carefully. And I began noticing things.

First, Sachar doesn’t really have a plot in the book, but rather writes individual stories based on different characters. The book is held together by repeating characters, incidents, and random elements paced throughout.

Second, the entire book is filled with humor. It’s a humor based on repetition and silliness, and it reminded me of an unfinished children’s book I’d started over ten years ago. I dug up my old manuscript, and started reading.

The first three chapters were written when I was seventeen, and they were fantastic. Very similar to Wayside School, full of silliness and repetition and fun times.

The last half-chapter was written when I was 25. It was awful. I was desperately trying to contrive a plot to tie the whole book together, and all the humor was gone.

I started working on Book E again, determined to channel the humor and silliness and repetition, heedless of plot, that somehow came naturally to me when I was seventeen.

Of course it’s taking a back seat to Book D, but right now, if you asked me, I’d say I’m working on two books.

If you’re wondering why I stopped putting humor into my fiction, well, you tell me and  we’ll both know. Was it a result of the the humorless literary fiction of my writing classes? Was I focusing so much on plots that I forgot all about humor? Was I putting myself under too much pressure to reach a word count, leaving myself no time to contrive good jokes?

As to the haphazard way I keep starting books but not finishing them, I’ve ceased to let this bother me. When I was young I thought my unfinished books were all going to waste. But now, I’m always taking that old manuscript from four years ago and finding the perfect new twist to keep it going. And if it dies, well, perhaps I’ll revive it again in another four years.

But Book D, the memoir about this year, is in very little danger of being abandoned. And that’s what I mean, right now, when I say I’m working on a book.

Note: I now have a Patreon page, where you can get bonus blog posts by subscribing for $1 or more a month. My latest post is titled, “How Mennonites Set Women Up to Reject the Head Covering.