Gaining Words and Losing Pounds

There must be a corner of hell that is all burpees, all the time. That’s how awful burpees are. They belong to the realm of torture. Yet twice a week you can find me sweating through combos of running, jumping, planks, squats, crunches, lifting weights, and yes – even those hellish burpees.

Some time ago, a friend invited me to a free exercise class. I showed up, even though I was pitifully out of shape and had gained 40 pounds over the past dozen years. I hated the class. So much. I could barely do any of the exercises. It’s awkward and embarrassing to be the person who can’t manage one crunch. It was an intense workout. I felt sure that I was going to throw up. (I didn’t). At the end, I slumped on a bench like a sack of potatoes while other women chatted and rolled up their mats. When my heart rate stopped galloping, I trudged my sweaty body up to the front and signed up for an 8-week course. Are you wondering why I signed up if I hated it so much? A major factor was the friendliness and positivity from the instructor. So different from the pilates instructor who didn’t know my name. So different from the aerobics instructor who said I was “unacceptably fat.”

I’ve been going now for four months. It’s the only fitness program I’ve ever been able to stick with. There are a few characteristics of this program that are great, but I want to highlight one in particular: the community. The community, in class and in their facebook group, is encouraging and supportive. The morning session I’ve been doing happened to have two instructors exercising alongside me, just getting their own workouts done. These women are fierce, and their energy is contagious. I love having them there because they cheer me on, tell me that I am strong. They tell me that I can do whatever tortuous combo is next. And I believe them.

What does any of this have to do with writing?

I had been doing very little writing (other than this post about grief) during a taxing winter that left me drained. I emerged from that gray place, but my mind was preoccupied, and my to-do list was long. I wasn’t properly prioritizing writing. Then I had an encounter with a community, and I felt a resulting change as noticeable as the decreasing numbers on the bathroom scale. But this wasn’t a community of work-out buddies; this was a community of writers.

The writing community may be old news to you, but for me it was a fresh and invigorating experience. I knew they were out there, but I hadn’t had much face-to-face interaction with other writers until I went to the North Carolina Writers’ Network Spring Conference. Discussing writing with other writers was thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating. I soaked up the energy that buzzed through the creative community. I’m going to milk as much productivity from this glow as possible.

I scribbled a lot of notes throughout the day, but there were two thoughts spoken by Michael McFee during the keynote address that especially resonated with me. Regarding reading, he said that other writers’ words should be nourishment for your own creativity. I’m an insatiable reader, but for various reasons I’ve done very little of it in recent months. It’s time to dust off my to-be-read stack. The second thought was that we should be more jealous of our own writing time. I’ve heard before how I should carve out writing time. But the way he couched that idea in terms of jealousy had more impact for me. So I’m spending more time writing, gaining words on the page, grateful for the opportunity to tap in to the writers’ community.

I’ve got a few writing projects swirling around. There’s my novel and this blog. I’ve also been reflecting on some aspects of writing while being a parent of an autistic child. I’m not sure if that will end up being a blog post or something else, an article maybe. I’ve been motivated to start pitching articles to online and print magazines. I spent a recent afternoon compiling a list of potential submission sites and reading up on their guidelines. And since I never make a move without research and preparation, I subscribed to every magazine and journal on my list so that I could get a feel for their tone and material.

And as if I don’t have enough to do, I’m also in the early days of writing a nonfiction book. Again, for me, early steps must include prep work, and so I went to UNC’s library and took out a load of books on doing local historical research. Then I went back for a fresh pile of books about writing creative nonfiction. (I did this two years ago when I started writing fiction. Two standout books I remember are Wired for Story by Lisa Cron and Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer).

My nonfiction book will be on the history of the Chapel Hill Service League, a women’s service organization that is celebrating their 80th anniversary next spring. I want to not only create a timeline of the League’s activities from its founding to today, but also to feature the women who led the way, some of whom are known only by their married names in the earliest League documents. As I delve into the League’s history and unearth these women who helped mold this town I love, I’ll need to investigate the history of Chapel Hill and provide societal context for their lives.

It feels like an enormous endeavor – what was I thinking? But, to be honest, I’ve always gotten a rush from starting a huge project. Just thinking about it has got me a bit tingly in my fingertips as I type out these words. My brain is whirring away with ideas as I begin the process of sifting through the League’s historical collection and sniffing out stories.

I am so excited about these projects – I’d love to be able to talk to other writers about them! I’ve already decided to attend the NC Writers’ Network Fall Conference. Additionally, I hope to find a few local writers with similar writing interests and genres who are interested in forming a small writers’ group. We can talk about this crazy scribbling we can’t not do.

 

Want to know what’s in my current book stack? If you think I’m missing a great title, let me hear it!

Books about doing local historical research

  • On Doing Local History by Carol Kammen
  • Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You by David Kyvig
  • Rethinking Home by Joseph Amato

Books about writing creative nonfiction

  • The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante (for fiction & nonfiction)
  • Keep It Real by Lee Gutkind
  • You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction – from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between by Lee Gutkind
  • Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder
  • To Show and To Tell by Phillip Lopate
  • Creative Nonfiction: Researching and Crafting Stories of Real Life by Philip Gerard

Other books in my to-be-read stack in no particular order

  • The Lake on Fire by Rosellen Brown
  • Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
  • Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman (nonfiction)
  • Angels at the Ritz by William Trevor
  • This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (nonfiction)
  • The Vienna Melody by Ernst Lothar
  • Fallout Girl by Katie Rose Guest Pryal
  • Grace Period by Kelly J. Baker (nonfiction)
  • Bleachers by Joseph Mills
  • The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer
  • Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro (nonfiction)

 

(If you’re interested, the fitness program is Fit4Mom. I believe they’re in multiple cities around the country, although I can’t guarantee that the women in your town will be as friendly as they are in Chapel Hill).

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