Waking Up Earley

Thoughts, Ideas and Inspiration by Melissa Earley

Category: Writing

Don’t just build the nest egg. Fly!

I was braced for a scolding. I was going to see my certified financial planner after several years since our last appointment. Bless me CFP, it’s been four years since my last assessment. My savings was depleted from a couple of fabulous trips. I thought about my dining room table and couch. Why had I bought that stuff instead of sinking more money into my pension? But instead of shaking his finger at me, my CFP gave me three questions as homework. 

The first question was, How would you live your life if you had enough money to take care of your needs now and in the future? This wasn’t a new question. I think about it a lot, usually on a dreary Illinois day when I’m dealing with a boring part of my work or a bitchy person at church. It’s the escape hatch. If I didn’t have to make money I would… and I’m off imagining a very different life.

The last question was, If your doctor told you that you had a day left to live, how would you feel? What did you not get to do or be? I was surprised by a sense of gratitude and satisfaction. I’ve had a pretty good life. Sure, I wished I’d written the great American novel (or any novel) but I’ve done good work as a pastor. I’d have liked to have been in a deep, love relationship, but I’ve had good friends. I did wish I’d been to Tierra del Fuego at the bottom of South America. There’s a trek there I’d like to do. I wished I’d known my nephews longer. There are things I regret and disappointments I carry, but I have room in myself to accept my life’s imperfections.

It is the middle question still sticks with me: Your doctor tells you have only 5 to 10 years left to live. You won’t ever feel sick, and you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do with the time you have left?

I knew immediately I’d figure out how to begin living the dream I’d imagined with the first question. I’d move someplace beautiful. I’d write more. I’d spend time with people I care about and sluff off those I don’t. There are conversations I need to have, apologies made, forgiveness extended. I’d go to Tierra del Fuego and visit my nephews.

could be living the last five to ten years of life. You don’t get to be 52 years old and have over 20 years in local church ministry without having seen lives cut short and dreams dashed. What makes me think I’m guaranteed another 30 years, exempt from the disasters that befall others in middle age? 

If I would hypothetically change my life if told I had only five to ten years left to live, why am I not changing my life now? As I left my follow-up appointment, my CFP told me to go ahead and plan that trip to the bottom of the world, even if it means putting less in my pension. I’ve been in more touch with my three nephews and am working toward writing every day.

 Life isn’t hypothetical. It’s real. It’s now. And you only get one. 

How Do You Know When It’s Over?

Is it time to call it quits on “us?” We’ve been on again off again for almost two years. Even from the beginning we were more than just a fun little fling, more than a mere distraction. Even before I met you I knew you.  It seems that you’ve been a part of my life forever.

I thought we had real potential. I imagined what it would be like to reshape my life so that we could make a life together. I knew it was a risk. I knew not everyone would be supportive. I knew I would hear warnings and stories of others whose hearts you broke.

I’ve seen the warning signs. You’re intent on keeping your distance. I can’t always reach you when I want you. You have secrets you don’t share. We make plans and you don’t show up. I fool myself into believing I’ve accepted you as you are, that I’ve adapted to your inconsistency. Then you disappear for weeks at a time and I’m hurt all over again.

Monsters of insecurity lurk under my bed. They come out on sleepless nights and whisper what I fear is the ugly truth – that I’m just not good enough for you.

And yet, when we are together, really together, I come alive. That’s what brings me back to you, over and over again. With you I discover the world and myself.

Please, dear Novel, just tell me, do I keep writing or is it time to hit “delete?”

 

 

Just for the Fun of It

There isn’t a lot I do just for the fun of it.

Remember swinging? You pumped and pumped your legs but didn’t get anywhere. What do you do that’s like that?

I just finished National Novel Writing Month. A not for profit of the same name encourages people to sign up to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. “What happens if you don’t finish?” friends often asked when I lamented how many words behind I had slipped. “What do you get if you finish?” they asked when I celebrated a great day of writing. The answer to both was “nothing.” No great honors for winning, no fines for not finishing. It was just for the fun of it.

I’m sure it’s been good for my writing to put butt in chair and write most days. I’m sure my “sticktoittiveness” muscles got stronger. But the real reason, at least in the end, that I stuck to it is that it was fun.

Most of what I do has a “so that” attached. I exercise so that I can get in shape. I cook so that I can eat. Doing something just for the pure joy in it is the definition of play, and a critical part of Sabbath. It’s what children know how to do.

I want to finish my novel and go back and edit it. I’d like to see where the story takes me. I do have the occasional fantasy about what it would be like to have it published and be on the New York Times best seller list and get interviewed by Oprah…but if that’s why I continued to work on the story then I would have quit long ago. The “who do you think you are?” demons would have silenced me right from the beginning. Doing something just for the fun of it gives you permission to do it because it doesn’t have lead to anything meaningful.

Like swinging.

8 Things I Learned About Writing (and Life) from Stephen King

I just read Stephen King’s memoir On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I highly recommend it. He doesn’t give any quick fixes or secret tricks to writing, just good solid advice (that I think applies to life too):

  • If you want to be a better writer then write more. Goes without saying, right? Well apparently it does not go without saying. There are plenty of things I have wanted to be better at that I haven’t actually practiced. Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to be good at something. I did the math. If I write for two hours a day every day of the year I will get to 10,000 hours in 13.69 years. I’ll be 61.
  • It also helps to read as much as you can. It’s probably better if it’s good writing, but it doesn’t have to be. You can learn from people who are terrible too.
  • With practice a good writer can become a great writer. A good writer will probably never become an iconic, once in a generation writer. Those are born not made. Not everyone who wants to write is a good writer.  We are not created equal.
  • Less is more. The real trick to editing is taking out everything that isn’t necessary. “Kill your darlings.” Take out the phrases, paragraphs, plot lines that don’t move the story forward.
  • Avoid adverbs.
  • It’s okay to not have a plot outline. You can start with a general idea and just see what happens. You don’t need to know where you’re going when you start.
  • Use failure as a way to learn but not as an excuse to stop.
  • Use your own words. If you use big words use them. Don’t invent a vocabulary to impress others.
  • Be honest. Don’t let the decency police get in the way of what you want to say.

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