Changing course, and embracing where I'm at

fiction galore For years I have wanted to write fiction.

In 2007, I participated in NaNoWriMo and "won," which means I completed a 50,000-word novel. Of course, it had lots of holes in the middle and not much of a plot, but hey, I "finished" something, which says a lot for me. ;)

Since probably my grad school days I have been interested in writing some kind of chick lit or women's fiction, and writing YA has also always been on my radar, basically since my own days of being a YA.

But recently I had this realization that as much as I love reading those kind of stories and still dream of writing my own, that's really not the world I'm immersed in right now in real life.

In addition, I see authors cranking out a book a year and I think to myself, if I actually somehow was able to write something really good, get an agent and get published, am I even in a place where I'd actually be able to be a working writer?

I don't want to give up homeschooling and as of now, I don't have any days (or even daytime hours) in my week where I am kid-free and could really devote myself to writing. That could change, maybe even next year, but that is all still as of now unknown, and not something I can count on.

All I can do is be right where I am. 

And where am I? I'm smack dab in the life of mainly-elementary-school-age child-rearing. I'm reading kids' chapter books aloud and studying classics and children's literature with my kids.

So my new plan and project?

I'm writing a middle-grade novel, and I'm hoping to have it finished and printed to gift it to my kids for Christmas this year. (People who know my kids: please don't tell them!) :)

outlining my novel

Tools I'm using to whip my lazy self into shape:

  • I'm attempting an outline for the first time ever, in hopes that having the general skeleton of the book laid out for me will help me know where I'm going in the story, and actually finish it. I recently read K.M. Weilands's book, Outlining Your Novel, and I'm following her guidelines for creating a novel.
  • Starting tomorrow, I'll be tackling the month-long project called Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a modified, customized version of the November challenge. My personal goal is an extended outline of my book, with a minimum of 10,000 words written (either in the outline or in the beginnings of the actual novel).
  • I'm starting in a spiral notebook where I've already begun brainstorming, but soon I'll move to Scrivener, the program I like to use for writing projects.

I'll share a more about my book in the future after I develop it a bit more, but I'll tell you now that it's about a set of 10-year old triplets who go to summer camp. :) I'll probably share more detailed updates about my book project in my newsletter, so if you haven't subscribed to The Scoop, you can do that (it's free, and I don't bother your inbox too frequently, and you get a free ebook if you subscribe).

If you're looking for a month-long writing challenge (doesn't have to be a novel in April), come join me at Camp NaNoWriMo-- there's room in our virtual cabin for you! (For reals, let me know if you join and I can see about getting you added to our "cabin.")

3 spheres of influence and calling

3 spheres of influence and calling Sometimes it's hard to try to summarize and recap a powerful experience. I want to try to give you a succinct summary of my trip to Portland last weekend, but I'm struggling to put my finger on the right words. Which is ironic, considering the main purpose for our trip was a writing conference.

It was a weekend of beauty and friendship and encouragement and kick-in-the-pants inspiration. Of good coffee and the best donut I've ever had. Of virtual friends made real and reconnecting with dear old friends as if no time had gone by at all, that is to say, of oh-so-kindred spirits.

Jumping back into regular life has honestly made it hard to try to process all that I learned, both in conference sessions, and also in heart-to-heart conversations.

I have twenty pages of notes in my Moleskine journal and a million thoughts swirling in my head, but this is what I'm most concretely able to pin down right now. As I process this, it feels a little like a manifesto, and maybe it is.

As a believer, my main goal in life is to glorify God and live out the gospel. But as an individual, I believe I have a few specific spheres of influence, areas of calling and responsibility.  I can't deny any of these or I will not be living fully as the person God created me to be. The more I invest in these areas, the more fully I will become myself (which, it turns out, is a pretty darn good definition of success, according to Emily).

1. My family. I have been gifted with the wonderful responsibility of being a wife, and a mom of three. It is my job to, in the grace of God, put forth my best effort in these relationships. A weekend away with my husband was a darn good way to invest in my marriage (but so is making his favorite dinner and sacrificing a Saturday so he can play golf).

Discipling my kids and training them in education and gospel living is my primary quotidian job. Parenting is really the hardest job I've ever had, and it refines me more than I ever wanted to be refined. It also teaches me more about my relationship with God than any other experience has.

2. My community. I believe that the sovereign hand of the Lord has put me exactly where I am for a reason, and that my family is right where he wants us to minister at this time. I love opening my heart and my home to others and I take the hard with the good because I wasn't created for isolation but for community.

My church family (and our community group and the music ministry), our extended family, friends, neighbors, school, sports teams, my local Community Bible Study group, even my long-distance friends and our farther- away extended family-- God has me right where I am to live out the gospel and connected to the very people to whom I am meant to be connected. I'm thankful for these people and for the privilege of doing life with them.

3. My words.

Two weeks after I graduated college I married David. This stage of life of marriage and raising a family and being a veritable grown-up seemed to start that day in June. Since then, those first two spheres have become such an integral part of my daily life and who I am.

The third one I have wavered in. I always felt called to words. A voracious reader, one who loved to write stories and poems and essays, a student of language and languages. I have bounced around in figuring what I felt like I was supposed to do in addition to those first two areas, but I've always known it had to do with words.

Sometimes I feel like it would be easier to not have a third sphere of life-- no calling beyond family and community-- but then I feel that I would not be living out true to who God made me to be. And I don't want to miss out on any of His plan for me.

I don't have this one nailed down yet--I don't know when it will fully emerge or what it looks like-- but I'm getting more and more inklings and feeling more of that heart-thumping pull to releasing the art I was meant to create.

In the pre-conference retreat day, we were asked in one of workshops, "How will this realization/lesson/experience change what you do on Monday after the conference?"

And so that's where I've started. I've started with words, with continuing to read, and with just plain ol' writing. I'm craving more consistentency in exercising this craft that I feel called and pulled towards. Because I've been waiting for inspiration and time, but time is just an excuse and "inspiration follows work" (Madeleine L'Engle).

There is beauty and glory in the world that needs to be translated into words, and our goal as writers is to show that the beauty of the kingdom is breaking through here on earth, and to show that to others. (Thank you, Seth and Nish, for articulating that for me).

So that's my calling, my third responsibility in life. I don't want to shy away from it even though there are a million fears that want to drag me down and away from it.

I have so many more thoughts from my experience at the conference that I'm sure will come out in one way or another as I process them. But for now, I leave you with this little manifesto, and I guess, I'd love to know if you've nailed down your own spheres of influence and calling. I know this life isn't the be all end all by any means. But I still want to make it count, and I want to be all who I was created to be.

The day I let my kids in on my dream

ready to fly Today I sat down with my kids to have a little chat with them over a cherry smoothie and those veggie snacks that taste like greasy air (oh, is it just me? my kids love them, but ew.)

I don't always sit down with them to eat during the day because I'm usually doing like five other things while eating or drinking. But today, I sat. I think they all knew we were going to talk about something because they looked at me expectantly.

"What do you think I wanted to be when I grew up when I was a little girl?" I asked them. They were a bit dumbfounded by this question actually and I had to help them out a bit.

"Do you think I wanted to be a mommy?" They nodded enthusiastically. "Yep, I did. Do you think I wanted to be anything else along with that?"

They  mumbled a few answers (I think Gigi mentioned teacher, which was a pretty good guess, and I think Brody mentioned cowgirl. Okay then.) and then Hallee, 3.5, said, "Work? Like on your computer?"

I smiled. "Do you know what I do on my computer?"

Gigi knew this answer. "Blogging?"

"And what is blogging?" I asked her.

"Talking to people? And writing stuff?" I think she gets the basic gist. ;) But I tried explaining it a bit more, and then I went on to tell them that, guess what! Mommy actually always had a dream of writing something else... books! So when I blog, I do it both to encourage people (hopefully) and also to practice writing so that I can someday (hopefully) achieve that dream of writing books.

letting the kids in on my dreaming

And then I went on to share a little more of my heart with them. It went something like this.

I'm trying to work on being more present with you during our days together. To really focus on you guys and be there when you need me or when you want to show me something or talk about something. I want to do my best to really be with you when I'm with you, ya know? {Nods around the table.}

We do lots of fun things together, right? The beach, the park, school, playing outside, reading books, having playdates etc, etc, etc. But sometimes I need you to occupy yourselves, right? Be creative, read a book, play with toy, stuff like that.

And since I'm trying to be more intentional about this, I'm also going to ask that you give me some time to work on my writing dreams too. When do you think I do this? Yep, early in the morning, during quiet play time, and sometimes (when I'm not too tired) after you're in bed. So when I ask you to occupy yourselves for some afternoon play time after we've done lots of fun things together all morning, does that seem fair?

They nodded again and answered affirmatively. It was a good conversation.

I'm hoping that laying this foundation will help them see that as a mom it's okay to have dreams still and to work towards those. I'm also hoping that during this season of Lent I can die to myself a little more in my parenting.

I didn't give something up for Lent, but instead I'm digging in here, trying to be more intentional and more available in my mothering. Be all there, and then not feel guilty when I take some time for myself as well.

During the season of Lent, we try to give things up to train our raw fingers to let go of old ways. But to reconcile with God and to breathe in the springtime, we have to do more than just let go. We have to replace our icy vices with the good, warm things of God...

This lenten season, let’s do more than suspend our vices—let’s run to Christ. Let’s be brave, come out of hiding, and be reconciled to Him. ~SheReadsTruth's Lent study, Day 3

The day I let my kids in on my dream

I scratched out this post on February 19th and since then I've gotten into a good groove of intentionally leaning in with my kids while also carving out time to work on my own writing. I don't feel like I've "arrived," but I do feel like the days go smoother when I intentionally decide whether I'm focusing on the kids or my own work (whether that's writing, housework, communication with other adults, or whatever) for the time being, rather than always trying to multitask.

Last week I submitted my first short story for a writing contest, and it was really cool to be able to share with my kids this little milestone and know that they are along for the ride on this dream journey of mine. 

A fresh start for 2015: from Gidget Goes Home to Nicole V. Bennett

Welcome to my new online home! Same me, same content; new, fresh, exciting look (and name). going boldly into 2015, one blog post at a time

It's a bit hard to believe I've been blogging for six and half years (that's gotta be like 20 in interweb years). A few months ago, I was starting to feel the spark of change barely starting to smolder.

It's like that itch I feel when I really really want to move the furniture around right now. Maybe this was inevitable since my house is too small for changing the configuration. It had to bleed over somewhere...

This time, I didn't scratch that itch right away though. I pondered a bit, prayed about my calling and direction, talked to friends and mentors, did some research, and looked for inspiration.

(Leaving my old online moniker behind is a bit scary. That name and identity were comfortable. Change is exciting, but it's also intimidating.)

It didn't take too much deliberating, because this new direction was pulling me strongly. And I already owned the domain. So I did it. What the heck! Here goes nothing! I took the plunge.

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I hired a very talented and sweet artist, who hand-lettered/painted my pretty logo. Don't you love it?

I'm been feverishly working to get this new blog up and running and I'll be honest, it's given me a renewed passion for blogging, taking me back to the hours I spent getting Gidget Goes Home up and running in my early online days. I've been fiddling with widgets and code and let's just say it's a bit out of my comfort zone and every time I click "save" I cross my fingers that I don't break the blog. :)

The biggest message that this re-branding says to me, to my own heart, is that I'm stepping out, making a bold statement, that I am actually pursuing this writing thing in a more intentional way.

I'm looking at myself as a writer who blogs, rather than a blogger who writes (which for me, is scarier, because the word writer feels so much more official, like it has to be earned or something).

So here I am. I'm a writer. Always have been.

A bit about the blog

I hope you like the new design-- my goal was that it was really user-friendly and that you'd be able to find your way around easier here.

You can see all my categories laid out up top in drop-down menus, and a highlighted post in each main category over on the sidebar. Down at the bottom of the page, you'll excerpts from me around social media. I even started a new Facebook page.

Maybe most exciting of all, is my updated newsletter. I've renamed it The Scoop and hope to use it a bit more this year to connect with my subscribers with special content and notes. If you haven't already, I hope you'll subscribe.

A little look back

As I say goodbye to Gidget Goes Home, I thought it'd be fun to take one last look back at some of the different styles she's worn over the years.

2008 (um, yes, that's Gigi, my seven-and-a-half-year old)

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2009

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2010

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2011

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2012

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2013

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Thanks for being here, reading along, whether it's since the beginning, or just recently. I'm grateful for each one of you, for the ministry God's given me here, and for His calling on my life to use this blog for fun and for His glory.

xoxo,

nicole :)

P.S. I appreciate your patience as I iron out the kinks. Please feel free to email me if you see any broken links or anything looking wonky.

This is how I know I'm a writer

I love to read, and I have a real love for books. The earliest memory I have of loving a book is first grade, when I fell in love with Harriet the Spy. I loved how she kept a journal and took notes as she observed the world and the people around her.

And I remember how proud I felt when I wrote my first book that year in school-- it was "bound" and covered in rose-colored contact paper and told a story of a panda who was happily surprised to have a baby (seriously).

In junior high, my dad and little brother played hockey and we were obsessed with The Mighty Ducks. I wrote my first (unfinished) novel about a girl who played hockey. I think I sensed, even at a young age, that I was designed for this, created to string words together in one way or another -- be it a novel, a thank you note, a research paper, or a poem for my kids. Like others, I'm realizing, that it has always helped me process my thoughts and feelings to write them out.

I can't read, watch, or observe without thinking about writing. That's how I know I'm a writer.

The more I read books, watch movies, and observe stories unfolding around me in real life, the more I feel the tug to write. To write blog posts, articles, stories, memoirs, even just to narrate my own life in my head (I really do that, but only after I read a novel whose voice I really connect with or like).

That's how I know I'm a writer, because I can't read or watch or observe without thinking about writing. I think about all those who have gone before me as writers and what that looked like for them, whether it was ink on parchment or fingers on keys, I wonder how they constructed such a plot (and thought of such a twist!), or whether they took lots of notes while they traveled, or what inspired their story.

I read a lot in the cracks of the day, early in the morning, and late at night. And I can't read without longing to write.

Of course, I'm a mom in the trenches, too. I've got mouths to feed, lessons to teach, playdates, and activities to drive to, but underneath it all, I think I really am a writer.

I feel a little brave and audacious saying that out loud here on the internet: {I'm a writer.} I feel like I'm daring myself to believe it and to walk forward in that truth.

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Have you heard of MOOCs? MOOC stands for massive open online course and the classes are taught by real professors through real universities. My husband has been taking free classes on line for "fun" for a couple of years now. His usually have to do with programming or statistics or something nerdy like that. :)

I'm starting one this weekend called How Writers Write Fiction through the Writing University, which is part of The University of Iowa. You can join me if you want, for free! Register here.

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Books to inspire me to be more brave that I'm reading (or will be soon):

A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles by Steven Pressman

Glitter in the Blood: A Poet's Manifesto for Better, Braver Writing by Mindy Nettifee

You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins

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Tomorrow starts October, and I'm hoping to join in with the other 31 dayers to (casually) process this a bit more. Not writing itself per se, but well, you'll see... :)

Affiliate links included. Thanks for your support!

Happy to be alive, because, and why I won't give up on YA lit

why i won't stop reading YA lit There's been some debate recently about the worth in adults reading books written for children or teens.

I've enjoyed many a YA book in my day, so when I first read the headline, I simply dismissed it as hogwash. And then my friend Anne rebutted it quite poignantly, and I proceeded to cheer enthusiastically.

One of the commenters on Anne's post quoted Madeleine L'Engle, and I wondered why I'd never thought about it this way before: “I am every age I’ve ever been.” I love that quote. I feel its truth when I read books about characters younger than me.

Ms. L'Engle also said this: "You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children." That one makes me smile a bit.

Stories are powerful, and just because I'm (technically) an adult doesn't mean I can't be moved by a story written for a younger audience. They might make me feel like I can be strong & braveunique and more than I realize, or even... a writer.

And while I appreciate wordy, well-written prose as much as the next book-lover, sometimes the story is powerful enough to eclipse words that might not be strung together as eloquently as a classic or as maturely as a book written for a highly educated, middle-aged reader.

Simple phrases can still convey a meaningful story. I might roll my eyes at the characters' immaturity at times, but that doesn't mean I haven't been there before, that I can relate, or I can't put myself back in my 16-year old shoes and imagine what that might feel like.

your art matters

Last weekend I read the book Happy to Be Alive, Because, and even though its protagonist is 17 and I'm 33, I was captivated by the story, the raw emotion, and the idyllic setting (you can't go wrong with a quaint beach town in my eyes).

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Was it realistic? Probably not. But I don't care. I was browsing around on Chelsea Jacobs' blog (she wrote Happy to Be Alive, Because) and was struck by a post where she shared how she was advised to write something she would want to read. That spoke to me.

She also shared a quote (by James Van Pelt) that gives a little insight into the way writing fiction removes us from the real world ever so gently: "Writing fiction feels like an adventurous act, nudging aside reality a word at a time." So does reading fiction.

In the book, Avery records reasons she's happy to be alive, in a journal left to her by her mom. It's an exercise reminiscent of Ann Voskamp's call to record gifts, and it's a powerful thread that weaves a depth into this tale of friendship, first love, and growing up.

I'm not inherently a melancholy person-- to me, it wouldn't be too hard to fill a journal with the reasons I'm happy to be alive. But I loved following Avery's journey to learn to be able to honestly complete that sentence, and to start to really feel and believe it.

As I consider this phrase for my own life-- where I'm at right now-- after reading this book, it's pretty simple. Simple, but deeply heartfelt.

I'm happy to be alive, because I have a story tell, a message. I'm still figuring out exactly what that looks like, but one thing is clear to me: I was created to create and to connect with others.

Even a YA beach read can inspire us to think... what's one way you'd finish the line I'm happy to be alive, because... ?

For more info on Happy to Be Alive, Because, and its book tour, click here. Thank you to Litfuse for the review copy-- all opinions are my own. Affiliate links included in this post-- thank you for your support!

Top photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt

3 Little Things {5.2.14}

Untitled I'm back this week to share three little things making me happy this week, along with Amy from MomAdvice.

Three Little Things

1. Community. 

It's pretty impressive to watch a blog post or meme "go viral" through social media, but it's quite another thing to see a much-needed prayer request go viral. In the last week, since my pastor's daughter went into the hospital for a brain tumor, my church's Facebook page has gotten over 10,000 hits (this is a smallish church of around 500 people give or take).

People from around the world have been praying for sweet Katherine, and her family can feel the power of that. She's not out of the woods yet, but we're hopeful. And to see our local community rally around them with support, in addition the world at large praying and sharing concern for them has been really moving.

Do you have a passion for community? Check out my free prayer calendar that's available to my newsletter subscribers.

2. Party prep!

Tonight we're having a little birthday party for Gigi. We're keeping things pretty simple, and I've been having a lot of fun thinking about the "camping" theme. The only real décor will be a couple of paper buntings made with my Cricut Mini. Dessert will be s'mores, activities will include rainbow looming, friendship bracelets, a scavenger hunt, a few other things. She's beyond excited. I'll share details about it with you next week. :)

3.  "Bubbly water"

I can remember when I studied abroad in Chile in college that you had to order your water "sin gas" if you wanted it still, otherwise the default would be mineral water. At the time, the idea of "bubbly water" (which is what we now call it with our kids) totally grossed me out. But how I love a little Pellegrino over ice mixed with juice, or with a half of a lime or lemon squeezed in. We've been having ourselves a little heat wave around here and it's been just the thing this week for a little glass of refreshment. (That, and dipping our toes in the cool ocean water.)

This & That

I'm still recovering from the bundle sale, and haven't been reading around the internet much this week to have anything interesting to share with you.

The first of the month always seems to sneak up on me. So early next week, I will try to get my May goals posted (since I was hoping to persevere with that), and I will also get a Pinterest to Real Life post up, although I'm brainstorming changing things up a bit with that...

State of the blog

I wanted to give you a little bloggy update on me. I've been thinking a lot about what role I want blogging to take in my life and how I want to make time for blogging. A lot of this thinking stemmed from reading Laura's blogging series over at Hollywood Housewife.

I think for now, my goal is to post here at least twice a week. I'm going to try to consistently post on Tuesdays and Fridays, and then leave room for spontaneous extra posts in between when I'm feeling inspired. 

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I've gotten pretty active on the Facebook page-- I'm posting there multiple times a day usually which is fun. This week we talked about what we make for dinner when it's too hot to cook, among other things..

I also love sharing Amazon finds and deals there. As I've shared, those are affiliate links (I take them on FB with #afflink) and whenever you click through on a product or book I love, you support what I do here with your purchases. I'm really grateful when that happens, and it helps keep the lights on, as it were, around here. Affiliate money, mainly Amazon, is how the main way I make any money blogging. It pays for my hosting service, and any other blog expenses I might have.

Of course, I'm always pinning things I'm into or inspired by on Pinterest. Are you following me there? And I'm trying to get back into checking and interacting on Twitter. It was my first social media love. Do you tweet? I'd love to connect there.

And my favorite way to connect online is definitely Instagram. That's where I share snippets of my life with you guys on a regular basis. You might see me posting there with the hashtags #pinteresttoreallife, #motherhoodandjaneausten, or #sewingschool101.

As always, I'm all ears to know what content you love (or don't) here and what you'd like to see more of. You can always send me an email.

So let's hear it, what's making you happy this week?

Affiliate links included.

It's newsletter time... and my love/hate relationship with the Olympics

Coffee, sunshine, and good books. Three things that bring new life to a hard day. (That, and Jesus). #motherhoodandjaneausten #notesfromabluebike I'm working right now on my first newsletter.

It's going out a bit later than I had hoped, but it's finally almost ready and I wanted to make sure you didn't miss it if you've been wanting to sign up.

The newsletter is like a secret blog post that doesn't get published on the blog, like a personal note from me to you. I might share favorite products with you, update you on what I'm reading or projects I'm working on, give you special Pinterest tips, and maybe share what I got for my birthday, to name a few things.

Just think of it as an extra, behind-the-scenes portion of what you see on the blog reserved for my most special readers and friends.

You're all welcome to check it out-- simply click here to sign up.

When you do, you'll receive my little printable prayer calendar, a little gift I created for you and me to help us be in prayer for the community around us. Just don't forget to click the confirmation email that goes out to you, both to officially get on the list and receive the printable.

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Olympics and pom-pom making a la @rebagough.  #pinteresttoreallife

The Olympics have pretty much ruined my blog over the last week. We've been up late every night to watch them-- we are sports fans in general, but there's just something about the Olympics that we love, something that keeps us up till almost midnight every night for two weeks.

All that to say, I hope to get back to my regular rhythm in the next week that includes early morning writing and evening publishing time. In the meantime, you can always pop in on Facebook or on Instagram to connect with me.

A few more Olympic-ish notes

“Will you make your challenges your excuse or your story?”

I listened to a podcast this week, a nice Olympic analogy, that really spoke to me, inspired me and may have actually had me tearing up in the car on the way to the park. Thank you, Kat, for the encouragement. I'll be mulling over for weeks to come I'm sure how I can weave my challenges into my story here on the blog.

In case you missed it, the mini-documentary on Jessica Long's journey to meet her Russian birthfamily was incredibly moving.

And my friend Amy's look behind the glitz of the Olympics was sobering.