I'm always amazed by the things that can be created from a simple prompt. This year's Valentiny prompt was to write a Valentine's story about being brave. Immediately I imagined a fantastical scene, where a mystical tree of the best kinds of Valentines stood at the end of a long and arduous journey. I think it says a lot about the commitment and bravery it takes to nurture and honor love, not just in its romantic form, but every love the world gives us to cherish.
The Gift Tree
The Tree grows from the highest peak of Valentine Mountain. Strange and wonderful tokens of Real Love droop from the branches: missing pieces, tender stories, invisible crowns.
Of course, the way is perilous and you must go alone. For the courage to brave the high and ragged cliffs, tuck a memory of your loved ones into your shirt pocket. Your mom. Your grandma. Yourself.
First, the rocky meadow. The Tree seems so close. But as you climb, it looks further and further away. Trust your earnest heart that you are going in the right direction.
When the path dips into the forest, you will lose sight entirely. In the darkness, brambles will snag your clothes and hair. When you fall over a log and into a tree, it will be ok to cry and shout. That will make your heart stronger.
So when you emerge at the base of the cliff and look up, up at the tower so tall you’re sure it will topple, you will be ready to climb, tremulously, with your memories in your pocket, to the plateau.
And there is the Tree. For your mother, the gentle tenacity of wildflowers. For grandma, the song she lost as a girl. And for you, three words you never thought you could say.
A new year, new ideas, and new perspective on growth.
As January barrels by, there are a few pools of thought my brain has been diving into.
First of all... oh boy. I only want to write. It has been an absolute scrabble trying to keep myself invested in my dance company because I just want to be writing! (Of course, then when I sit down to write, I can't because I feel to guilty about not working.) And so the cycle continues.
Second, and related to the above, I've been participating in Storystorm this month for the first time, and I am absolutely ASTOUNDED by the list that I've come up with. With a goal of 30 in 31 days, I have over 50!!!!! in 25! Averaging two ideas a day gives me LOTS to write about this year. See paragraph one above.
Finally, I've been marinating in what it means to grow. Doing Julie Hedlund's 12 Days of Christmas for Writers for the second year in a row, and comparing notes at the end of the process, gave me a really clear picture of how much my writing practice has grown in the last 12 months, despite the mess that was 2020. Next year I'll have to take the time to reflect on my business and personal growth in the same way (see paragraph one above), but for now, I can share what I learned about writing.
During the process of 12 Days of Christmas, many participants expressed some level of stress related to comparison and legitimacy- a pre-published author comparing themselves to a published writer and saying, "I'm not a real writer," published authors who don't get up at 5am every day to write for three hours thinking the same thing. But when it comes to comparison, only one thing matters,
"How far have I come since last year?"
Below, I've copied a post I shared with the 12x12 participants earlier this month, in the hope that it might resonate with other writers who are feeling like their journey isn't a real writer's journey. (Spoiler alert: it is.)
This is my second year going through this process, and as I sat down each day, and as I read through everyone's fears that they weren't living up to x, y or z, I was struck with an urge to look up what I'd written at the end of 2019. It was a blessing that I didn't have it with me until last night, because I think it would've gotten in my way. But now I've found it, and I have some insights to share.
2019 Ciara wrote, "That I found an agent I'm excited to submit to."
2020 Ciara wrote, "That I got some really positive feedback and champagne rejections from agents."
Both of me referenced a story I wrote that I had no idea I could write.
2019 Ciara listed having five complete drafts and submitting to two agents.
2020 Ciara listed writing thirteen new stories and submitting to 6 agents and an editor.
Both of me referenced meeting with a critique group/ partner, learning more about the industry and making more connections within it.
BOTH of me listed not writing enough & not submitting enough.
BOTH of me judged that I'm so lazy and hard-work avoidant, that don't care and probably don't even want to be published.
2019 me felt limited by having to meet in-person
(2020 me is like..... dammit, past self, YOU brought the zoom life upon us.... )
Both of me felt overwhelmed.
2019 self suggested 12x12 and an online critique group. Did it. (The latter because, well.... zoom.)
Both of me suggested a writing buddy/ co-working group, so that is definitely something I need to seek in 2021.
Building on Successes:
Everything I wrote down became true.
2019 word: Celebrate
2020 word: DIG IN.
All of this to say, wherever you are on your writing journey, you ARE on your writing journey. I've also been thinking a lot this year - in writing and in social justice - that there are ALWAYS people ahead of me, who I am tempted to think are better at it than me, but are really just further along the road. These are the people to follow, to be inspired by, to learn from. I'll never catch up. That's not the point. The point is to be on the road in the first place.
And folks, listen. My current brain is literally trying to read last year's reflections and tell me that past self did the assignments better. OMG. No, brain! Stop comparing! It's a beast, but it lives within us.
I loved the Glennon Doyle quote in Julie's video on day 10. "We're only envious of those already doing what we were made to do." I guess, by that metric, it makes sense that I envy my past self the maybe slightly deeper dive she took into her needs and goals and dreams and failures. But anything she can do, I've already done.
Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
Another week, another kidlit contest, another prompt that seems totally uninspiring until I figure out how to make it work with my brain and the things I love to write about. The words skeleton, creep, and mask don't really live in my world- I'm a total wimp when it comes to all things spooky. But I'm always amazed at the magic that happens when I start to look at the possibilities beyond the first impressions. And I'm proud to share this little story that clocks in right at 100 words.
Thanks for reading!
Emma knew Grandma’s room was off-limits, but Grandma was busy doting on trick-or-treaters.
Emma had tried every lock in the house with the tarnished skeleton key she discovered glinting under the basement stairs. All except the cedar trunk at the foot of grandma’s bed.
Emma crept upstairs and waited until the doorbell rang to creak open the bedroom door. She knelt by the box and the key gave a satisfying clunk in the lock.
“You found my key.” Emma startled at Grandma’s voice. “Go on.”
A golden mask glimmered beneath the heavy lid. Grandma smiled. “You’ve unlocked a magnificent memory.”
I'm Ciara. It's pronounced Key-are-ah, and it's a good story.
I'm from Vermont's green mountains and Nebraska's golden plains. I've lived under Seattle's sweet grey skies since 2013.
I'm a writer and a dancer and a teacher and a human. I make art and magic and, on occasion, cookies.
I didn't think I wanted a blog, but I must be doing it for a reason. I usually have reasons for things, but I don't always know what my reasons are.
Anyway, I don't plan to be here much, but I might pop in from time to time.
All my best,
I'm excited to be sharing my first writing contest entry today! I'm proud of this little story and the threads of myself that are woven into it. I'm also really thankful to Fall Frenzy for the opportunity and inspiration to stay up until 4:30 in the morning bringing it to life, and to my critique partners for the accountability and quick feedback for revision!
Claire knew the spell for spring. At the end of winter, she mixed herbs and light, water and warmth into her cauldron. Green steam swirled up from the pot and slowly, slowly, the prairie bloomed into life.
But today was the autumnal equinox. As autumn witches prepared the prairie for winter, the grasses turned gold, then brown, then dusty white. Claire stood in the rustling stalks, her face red as the maple grove.
Claire understood the cycle of the seasons—growing, fullness, fading, rest. She understood the plants withered now so they could grow again in spring. But she felt like she was withering, too.
She cradled a thin stem laden with seed pods and pictured its roots spreading deep under the soil. A thought unfurled. Even through the dead of winter, the prairie must stay alive underground.
So Claire mixed herbs and light, water and warmth, into her cauldron again. Green steam swirled up from the pot and disappeared. But when she cupped the seeds and brushed her fingers on the ground, she could feel it—a single drop of spring in every seed and every root to keep them warm through the winter.
By Ciara McCormack Greenwalt