Category: The Writing Life

From NaNoWriMo to Winter’s Words

Winter's Words

The Birth of Winter’s Words: My Personal Writing Challenge

For those who aren’t involved in writing and/or publishing, NaNoWriMo refers to National Novel Writing Month, which happens in November of each year.  As an event, it has reached epic proportions since it was first kicked off in 1999, with almost 400,000 taking part last year, and many authors’ books being published and even reaching best-selling status.

Every year since NaNoWriMo was launched, I have considered registering and taking part in its activities, and felt like I had let myself down when I let it pass by without participating. All of the initial excitement was contagious, but I found myself in a period of self-blame for letting the opportunity to finish my novel pass me by once more.

All I needed to do was to commit myself to writing 50,000 words during November.

This year, I decided that I was going to participate, but never actually registered. I read what was recommended on the NaNoWriMo website and found that it didn’t fit me.

When shopping for an article of clothing, if we find something that doesn’t fit, we must make a choice to buy it and wear it as it is (telling ourselves that it doesn’t really matter that it is a little long, or short, or tight, or loose), or find (or create) something that fits perfectly.

I decided that I would need to create my own version of NaNoWriMo, tailoring it to my own needs. Here are the reasons for creating my own personal “Winter’s Words Writing Challenge”, which will take place in January and February of 2018:

  1. November is a crowded month, when time seems to accelerate. Our family’s Thanksgiving celebrations are already our first priority and each year call for more flexibility in scheduling our (ever-expanding) events. I could see almost immediately after my recent and premature decision to participate in NaNoWriMo, that it would simply overwhelm me. My husband was scheduled for surgery on November 1; I already had several readers’ and writers’ events on my calendar that I didn’t want to miss; we were looking forward to a visit from Tom’s son; and then it would be time for Thanksgiving.
  2. In my world, November is also prep time for December and the holidays. I enjoy the planning, the process and the results, and go into full swing in the days following Thanksgiving. This Christmas will be an especially joyful occasion because all of my children and families will be together, something that hasn’t happened since before my youngest grandchildren were born. Again, November will be spent enjoying Thanksgiving and in anticipation for Christmas.
  3. I am choosing January and February for my writing challenge because I would like more than one month for my personal writing goal. These two months have traditionally been a time for taking a breath and focusing on what we want to accomplish during the coming year.
  4. In Oklahoma, ice and snow are often on the horizon and there are days when we are advised to stay at home. That “digging in” can naturally be transformed into an extra day or two of focused writing.
  5. There are three holidays during the months of January and February which could be earmarked for writing.
  6. I am happy to set my own goal for the number of words or pages to be written, instead of approaching it from what someone else considers appropriate or doable.
  7. My personal writing challenge is not limited to novels, but can be adapted to any form of writing. For example, deep winter could be an excellent catalyst for poetry or memoir.

Some of these reasons for creating my own writing challenge are covered quite nicely within the NaNoWriMo umbrella and I will be consulting the website for the many resources that are offered there. I also want to congratulate all of my friends who are participating in NaNoWriMo and will continue to follow their progress during November.

My primary reason for “Winter’s Words” will be to set my focus ahead to what I wish to accomplish during January and February. I will report my progress here in my blog and, in more detail, in my Marginalia newsletter.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my “Marginalia” newsletter (click here). You’ll receive it by email each month and see links to each of my blog posts, other bookish news and information, and progress reports on my own writing.

Your Story — Your Legacy


Your story is about how you changed or what you learned from your experiences. Nobody can truly know this except you. Your gift is sharing what you learned with others, so that they can learn from it, too.

1. Your story is being created.  It may not be written down, but it is being told, except maybe not the way you would want or by whom you would want.  It could be everything that you remember, but perhaps not the way you would remember it.  If you grew up in a family with siblings, you know what I mean.  “My side of the story” was often in conflict with my brothers’ and sister’s, and sometimes still is.  That is because we have different perspectives on events that we shared, the household we grew up in, the people we knew and the people we loved.

2. Your story is your own. You are the narrator, the protagonist, the hero. There are those who would disagree with your story, but that’s because it’s not their own.

3. Your story is about how you changed or what you learned from your experiences. Nobody can truly know this except you. Your gift is sharing what you learned with others, so that they can learn from it, too.

4. Your story is probably incomplete or inaccurate if you depend upon the objects you leave behind to tell it for you. I have photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, journals, poetry, report cards, greeting cards, household and personal items, yearbooks, scrapbooks – that witness my life and the lives of people who were and are important to me.  They can contribute to, but not tell my story.

5. Because I have all of the above, I have a good starting place for my own stories – my own personal collection of “story prompts”. You probably have your own, waiting for you.

6. If you choose to do nothing, your story may turn into a challenge (or a burden) for someone else to figure out. The day may come when people who don’t know about how Aunt Agnes taught you to cook from your great-grandmother’s book of recipes will toss that very cookbook into the trash along with the unlabeled photos of family members nobody recognizes.

7. If you get started, you’ll be ahead of where you are now. You’ll have more labeled family pics, plus you might have photos of meaningful items you possess, with notations of why they are important to you. You might have a new binder filled with written pieces by family members (or yourself). And you might have a plan (and/or instructions) for where your story legacy should be passed on.

8. You might decide it’s time to write a story – your own story – one page at a time. You can tell the world (or just your family, or just yourself) what you experienced and what you learned. It might turn out to be your greatest legacy.


A Bookwoman’s Vision: Myopia, Cataracts, Glaucoma and Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome

Journal and Eyeglasses

Are you familiar with Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome? Read on to learn about this rare but sometimes devastating visual condition can affect those who have lived in Missouri, Arkansas, parts of Oklahoma, as well as other states.

I have attempted to write this post twice before and I hope the saying about the third time being charmed is true. I am in a state of uncertainty about how to talk about my own issues, especially about my health,  in light of my blog’s focus on books and reading. I don’t want to make this about me — but don’t know a better way to illustrate how vision can shape the worlds of us all, particularly those who love and promote reading. So, I will share my vision story while I prepare for my cataract surgery tomorrow morning.

My vision problems became apparent when I was eleven years old. I remember that my dad noticed that I was squinting and pointed it out to me, suggesting that I try to break what could become a bad habit.  He also decided to have my eyes examined and I was diagnosed with myopia and fitted for glasses. I was also subjected to weekly sessions in a darkened room at the optometrist’s office with exercises that were designed to improve my vision. I don’t remember any positive results from the exercises, but have memories of how tedious and boring they were.

The good news was that I could see beauty in new detail with my new glasses.  The shimmering leaves became visible individually and the fluffy white clouds appeared to take on lives of their own.

The bad news was that I could also see (what I perceived as) ugliness in detail. The only positive effect of my glasses was that they partly camouflaged my pimples and the red birthmark on my cheek. I could also see much better, so I wore them.

Julia Reagan -- Age 14 -- High School Freshman

I had heard the Dorothy Parker trope which was popular at that time: “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” At age eleven, I had no experience with men (or boys) making passes, but I had hopes for the future.  My glasses didn’t reassure me, and as I entered high school, I became even more dissatisfied with my appearance. I was given permission to experiment with makeup (with strict admonishments when my experiments went too far) and I looked for ways to “accentuate the positive”, as the teen magazines advised.

Very fortunately for me, contact lenses became available and I was fitted for mine in 1963, when I was a junior. Some of my friends tried to wear them without success, but I was determined and fought through the days of getting accustomed to the hard lenses. I had chosen vivid blue lenses, which made them easier to see if dropped and which made my eyes a rather startling color, which I loved.

With my new contacts, new skills in makeup, and the new popularity of hair teased and sprayed into unconquerable heights, I finished high school and entered college with new-found self-confidence.  I thought that my vision problems were over.  They weren’t.

It is true that I had years of uncompromised vision — time enough to complete college, marry and have children, and enter a career as a librarian. I am grateful that my contacts gave me few problems, other than an occasional broken or lost lens and discomfort from wearing them too long or (horrors!) while sleeping.

Then I noticed an oddity in my vision, a certain waviness in the outside line marking the lanes of the highway where I was driving. By this time I was in my early forties and so accustomed to seeing without difficulty that I convinced myself that the problem would disappear.  It didn’t.

I made an appointment with my optometrist and he sent me to the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City. Their tests concluded that the wavy line was a result of Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome, a rare bi-product of a fungal infection that I had as a child.

I learned that as many as 90% of the population in the states where it is endemic (including all of Missouri and Arkansas and part of Oklahoma) have had the infection, which is spread by breathing the spores released by bird and bat droppings in those areas.  (It turns out that people in the construction trades are especially vulnerable, since their work often includes the disturbance of the soil where the bird droppings fall.  My dad was a building contractor and we usually lived near or in subdivisions he was developing.)

Most of those infected by histoplasmosis are not aware of it, because the symptoms are similar to a cold or mild flu.  Occasionally it can spread to other parts of the body and cause serious illness. Rarely, the spores can travel from the lungs to the eye(s), eventually causing vision problems or loss.

What I was seeing was the result of the growth of abnormal blood vessels.  I was told that surgery was an option and that waiting could sooner or later result in the movement of the affected area to the center of my vision.

I decided to wait (for just a while).  Within a couple of weeks, the movement had occurred, and my vision was gone in the center of my right eye.  It was and is as if someone placed a gray splotch in front of whatever I focus on (including any sentence or paragraph I’m reading or any person’s face I’m trying to recognize).  It was final and irreversible.

My eyes adapted and my left eye took over the tasks my right eye could no longer perform. I continued my life as usual until middle (and beyond middle) age took their toll.  Isn’t it amazing how many conditions can affect something as small as your eyes?  I now have four: myopia, glaucoma, cataracts and OHS.

It is time to deal with the cataracts so that I can feel comfortable driving (and reading road signs) when it’s raining, at night, and when I’m out-of-town. I would be dishonest if I told you that this surgery on my left eye doesn’t cause me a little anxiety. I’ve been protective of the full (if flawed) vision it provides me.

At the same time I am a realist — my husband says that I focus too much on the negative. I don’t consider it negative to practice walking with my eyes closed (to see what it would be like to lose my vision completely) or to think about how I could still read if I couldn’t see. (I would use audiobooks or press family members into service to read to me.)  I call it preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

I am also full of gratitude for the corrected vision I’ve enjoyed and the members of science and medical community who have guided me through my problems.

I am also aware of the many, many people who have dealt with more tragic and heart-breaking health issues than my own and admire the grace and grit that most of them display.  Several of them are in my own family and I imagine that some are in yours.

As for myself, as always, I look forward to seeing more clearly.