I took some time off writing after several moves, including a massive shift from almost a decade in Brazil back to the U.S…. talk about a climate change! Plus pregnancies, little kids, homeschooling, kids’ sports, and all the hilarity and mess (and moving boxes!) it all makes. There were days I barely got to shower or eat, much less write! Or even think about writing.
Writing, in fact, seemed to recede far back into the corners of my mind while I tried to read medicine labels on children's cough syrup bottles, change diapers, and vaguely remember what day of the week it was.
It’s still like that, actually. Sort of. My days of carefree pounding out words and paragraphs for several hours at a time are done. At least until my little ones are teenagers. Maybe. Because even then, I’ll still be a mom. I’ll still sit on the edge of the bed and talk. I’ll still make Brazilian black beans and rice and serve it out in steaming plates alongside garlic-sautéed collard greens (known as “couve à mineira” back in Brazil).(Yes, I know. Collard greens. But honestly, there’s probably no vegetable that sums me up more than collard greens: staple of the South, where I was born and grew up and dearly love, and near-daily visitor on the lunch plates of millions of Brazilians and Brazilian wannabes. Including me).
But I digress. Recently I’ve been feeling the little stirrings of wanting to come back to writing, and even to reading—which, honestly, comes more easily when my brain is too drained from the diapers and dirty cleats and rings around the tub.Like water flowing under the ice, I’ve learned that—despite our ups and downs, are fallow times and our full times—writing is always there. If you’re a writer in your heart, the writing never leaves. It may sleep, or wait softly, or sit in quiet periods of silence, but it is there.
Not long ago I was going back over one of my old craft books which I hadn’t touched in years, and one of the questions asked something like this: “How has your writing improved over the past year?”My first thought was one of despair. Writing? Improved? Are you kidding me? Have I written anything but grocery lists and frantic texts to my husband screaming, “Come home now! One of the kids broke the coffee pot!!” over the past year?
It’s been a year of silence—perhaps more—as our family changed, merged, moved, melted, grew, and formed something new. Something greater than we were before, something stronger and far more confident.But I couldn’t think of anything that had improved my writing over the past year. Until I began to think. And pray. And look back over these past months in a different light.
And bit by bit, the haze began to part just a bit.Here are some of the things I came up with:
· For starters, moving back to the U.S. from Brazil—and learning to listen to English again—was more monumental than I’d realized. In all the years speaking Portuguese, and speaking Japanese before that, I’d enriched my foreign language vocabulary—but lost many of my more complex and descriptive English words. Words I used to throw around in speech without thought—but suddenly I didn’t remember them, or remember how to spell them. (Really!) So over the past year I’ve made an effort to try to re-remember those words again. The rarely used ones, the ones that fit right into a sentence like the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
· I had two novellas published in collections by Barbour Publishing: one an original, and one a reprint of a novella they published several years ago. Both of those experiences expanded my view of fiction by forcing me to condense, condense, condense, and cut off billions of loose ends and rabbit trails I’d happily hunt in a longer volume.
· And even in the reprint there were corrections. ‘Nuff said.
· I started reading again, which is huge for me. I picked up our Kindle and downloaded freebies. My sweet husband bought me a Nook and takes me to Barnes&Noble at least once a week where I can read, child-free, for an hour at a time for free, any book I want, whether it’s in the store or not. (You should really check out this deal from B&N… it’s pretty amazing!) Now I’m anxious to read—whether it’s before bed, or while my oldest child is playing soccer, or whenever I can snatch a free moment. Even downloading free classics onto my phone from sites like Gutenburg.org has been wonderfully inspiring.
· And I’d almost forgotten that earlier in the year I helped co-author my very first non-fiction book called “Through The Storm” with Pastor Steven Earp. The book (which is yet to be released) is based on the award-winning documentary called “Where Was God?” about the 2013 tornadoes that swept through Moore, Oklahoma, and it was painful and exhausting and a zillion hours of research and listening to interviews (many with tears pouring down my cheeks). But so, so wonderful and inspiring that I don’t have words to describe it. “Through The Storm” was my first venture into non-fiction, my first freelance full-length book, and my first book publication outside of Barbour Publishing (whom I love dearly!)
As I sat there in the coffee shop that day, hunched over a blank journal and trying to think of all the ways my writing had improved—or expanded—or taken on new shape—over the past year, I was started to find that… well, it had.
And yours has, too.
There’s no such thing, really, as lost time. Not for a writer.
Especially when our writing and personhood seemed to have merged together, like two trees grown entirely into one. It’s not just my writing that has grown and changed and expanded, but so have I. I am not the same woman. Not the same mom. Not the same person.
We never are.
Even those strange feelings of culture shock, of returning to a homeland that does not entirely feel like home, brings with it a truckload of emotions, experiences, and struggles from which to write. I am brimming with them; they must overflow somewhere.
Maybe my next story idea will catch some of them, like an upturned bucket lifted to the rain. Poured out on that one tiny, tender seedling uncurling and ready to grow.
What about you? How has your writing improved over the last year?
Jennifer Spinola has published four full-length novels with Barbour Publishing, along with several novellas. This year she also co-authored her first non-fiction book this year about the tornadoes that devastated Moore, Oklahoma. In her spare time (does she actually have any spare time?) Jenny changes diapers, scrubs spots off the carpet, hikes with her family, and serves up Brazilian-style rice and beans nearly every day.
Visit her at www.jenniferrogersspinola.blogspot.com