Writing a Novel

Over a year ago, I sat in the pub of a small in on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, outlining a novel. The ideas had been swirling around in my head for a few months, and there it all began to come together: the reluctant heroine, the unexpected hero, a villain for the reader to empathize with, a story in the future and in the past and in the present of our hearts.

I mentioned it here and there — I was so excited about it that I just couldn’t contain my enthusiasm. People ask me about it now and then. They want to know how it’s coming along, how many chapters I have written, what my progress has been. I’m almost embarrassed when I tell them that there is no progress, that the novel is on hold. It’s still a piece of me, and I will breathe life into someday, but that time hasn’t come yet.

My inner critic calls me lazy, points out my unfinished endeavors: a novel, an adventure, a magazine, a masters thesis.

We fight, this inner critic and I.

I may be not writing that novel, but I am writing something much more exquisite and complicated: my life.

There are twists and turns and unexpected surprises. I’m living in uncertainty and adventure and beauty. There are highs and lows, and just when I think I know the next step and can control the ending, I discover there’s another path for me.

In the last year, I’ve started my own business, delved deeply into archery, fallen in love, moved to a new city, struggled, soared.

That chapter was titled “Following Your Heart.”

Now I’m plumb in the middle of one titled “Doing What Feels Right and Finding Balance.” And let me tell you, this one has been a real doozy.

What would you title the chapter you’re living right now?

The S Word

In the autumn, I learned that “goddamn” gives most people a near heart attack down here in southwest Virginia. After years in New York City, words like that just slip off my tongue, and I don’t think much of them because I believe there are bigger things to be offended by. But here, there are no words more horrible in the English language, no words that could curse a person more. And yet there is one word we all stand cursed by, one we use every day, one used against us nearly every day.

Should.

I should do this. He should have done that. You should say this. She should dress like this. They should be this way instead.

‘Should’s have become our shackles.

They have kept me from this space. I have spent months wondering what I ¬†should write, what I should I do to grow my audience again, how often I should post, what photos I should use…

‘Should’s have challenged the happiness I’ve found. Apparently I should want a corporate job with good pay, job security, great benefits, and free lunches. I should finish my master’s thesis so two years in California weren’t a waste of my time. I should move to a city I fell in love with over a decade ago, even if I don’t want that lifestyle any longer, because that city is where great people congregate. I should want to have babies, especially now that I’m in my early 30s. I should choose more money over freedom. I should be more sensible and think with my head rather than my heart.

Those ‘should’s have never made me feel good. They sit in my stomach, they weigh on my chest, they steal my radiance. But these expectations only haunt me.¬†For some people, these ‘should’s aren’t ‘should’s at all. They may be exactly what’s right for them. But we are all troubled by ‘should’s of some sort.

I’m tired of these shackles. I’m done shoulding and shaming myself.

This is me. This is my joy: words and images and sharing whatever light I find inside myself. My purpose is this moment, this conversation we have, the way we weave in and out of each other’s lives.

The only things I expect of myself from this point forward are greatness, growth, and love.

What “should” do you need to unshackle yourself from?

The Stone Angels

There are stories about the statues at Bonaventure: whispers of them moving locations when no one is looking, stories of statues possessed… And they do seem to have a life to them I’ve never seen in stone before.

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Savannah was built on cemeteries, and the tales there run thick — not just from Bonaventure Cemetery, which lies along a stretch of water away from the historic downtown area. On New Year’s Eve, my boyfriend and I found ourselves on a ghost tour, walking around Savannah’s historic streets and listening to some truly frightening tales. I’m not one to scare easily, but I still find myself waking in the middle of the night now and then with stories running through my head: the hag who latches on to women and tortures them at night, the ghost child who paces around a house with a dark history, the stone statues that refuse to stay still.

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It was in Bonaventure that Savannah’s haunted tales meet its southern charm most obviously. There was a light rain the morning we wandered the grounds and though it was quiet, it was still humming with mystery and memories.

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There was Gracie, a young girl who tragically died and who is said to possess the statue her father commissioned to honor her memory. Some have claimed to have heard Gracie laugh, others have seen a tear of blood roll down her marble cheek if a toy or doll is removed from her grave site. She was quiet when we visited.

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Offerings are left with other statues as well: apples, bracelets, flowers. One statue we encountered wore a scarf. In Bonaventure, the living interact with the dead regularly.

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And in Savannah, you cannot avoid or ignore the ghosts.

 

A Wish List

I turn 33 in 3 days. I love the time around my birthday, not because it’s the holiday season, but rather because my birthday has always been a reflection point for me, a time to dream, make wishes, and plan.

For the last three years, I’ve been making lists, strange lists of what I wanted in my new year. I ask for odd things like an accent or to hear bells or take a stroll in the woods. Almost every wish is granted, not always the way I expect it to be, but always in a more beautiful way than I could have dreamed.

So I’ve started to make a new list for this year. Here are its beginnings:

  • a garden and grove of fruit trees
  • words that haven’t been spoken yet
  • a spot to write
  • a picnic at an abandoned homestead
  • a field of wheat at sunset
  • serenity
  • an opening to something unbelievable
  • a home that wraps itself in the sounds of nature at night
  • a star
  • certainty with a splash of confidence and a dollop of generosity
  • lightness of spirit

There’s more to come. And what a good year it will be…

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Credits

Jane Reaction

(logo and original branding) is a graphic design and art director who works with with small businesses and creative entrepreneurs, creating cohesive and interesting brands and websites.

Carrie Coleman

(photography) is a wedding photographer, whose goal is to capture the visual expression of a couple's love through timeless, organic images. She is based in Charlottesville, Virginia.