Friday, December 24, 2010

A Jewish Christmas

I absolutely love being Jewish during the Christmas season. Especially when Hanukkah is nowhere near the 25th of December, like this year. I don't have any shopping to do. Or wrapping. Or cooking. Or baking. Or cleaning. Or preparing for family gatherings. I don't have to decide who will be stuck at the kids' table. Or what I will serve to the vegan. Or to the one on the low-fat diet. I get to enjoy Christmas music and Christmas lights and Christmas sales. I get to receive lovely holiday cards with photos of kids growing up, and I don't have to send any in return. I wonder if this is this what it feels like to be Christian during Rosh Hashanah and Passover. Hmmm... must ask some of my Christian friends when those holidays roll around.

When I was a kid, my across-the-street neighbors, who were Jewish, used to have a Christmas tree, and we used to go over to their house and help them trim it. I loved it, but I never wished for my own tree. It sort of seemed weird to me for Jews to do that. But whatever. It was fun. And at the summer camp I attended, the last big activity of the summer was always Christmas, complete with a huge tree, cookie decorating, face painting, and presents. My senior year of high school, I spent Christmas with my friend at her family's farm in Virginia. I got to spend time with her younger cousins who firmly believed in Santa Claus. I got to go to Christmas mass. (I must admit I was nervous about that. I remember saying a little prayer to God before I set foot in the church, just to let him know I was still Jewish and this was only me sharing a holiday celebration with my friend.) I also got to milk a cow, but that's sort of besides the point.

So you see, I haven't missed out on Christmas. And I have to say, I loved when my own kids believed in Santa, and they plotted to stay up all night and watch the house across the street (the one with the twinkling Christmas lights) to see Santa arrive. I loved it even more on Christmas morning when they swore they saw him on his sleigh. And I loved it the most when we had a perfectly lovely lazy day, going to the movies and eating Chinese food.

So whether you're Jewish or Christian, or something else entirely, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I hope your holiday season is filled with love and laughter, good health and good fortune. See you in 2011!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

I hate waiting.

There. I've said it.

When I first started writing, I waited for the mail to come each day, hoping to find a magical acceptance letter hidden between the bills and magazines. I think my mail carrier might have been a little scared of me, the way I jumped out of my house everyday, the minute he came near.

Then, when I finally got published, I waited for reviewers to say nice things about my book. That waiting was even harder than the first kind. What if I stunk? Or what if I was a genius? Either way, my life would change dramatically. I became paralyzed with the anticipation. Waiting to see how my book would be received kept me from being able to focus on the important task at hand: writing my next book. Waiting was making me crazy.

After my first book got lovely reviews and even won a very nice award (and I determined I was neither genius nor stinky), I still had to wait. This time I was waiting to sell my second book. Then I waited for those reviews. And so on and so on and so on.


But, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to say that I have found the cure for waiting! It comes in two parts.

Part I: I understand that the level of success of my writing career is not going to change who I am. I'm a writer. I get crabby when I don't write. I like having stories and characters in my head. I like the challenge of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. I constantly strive to write better books and dream bigger dreams. That's just who I am. Intellectually, there's nothing to wait for because I'm doing the thing I love to do.

Part II: When the logical part of my brain (See Part I above) isn't working, I appeal to my emotional side by plugging into my competitive spirit. Instead of waiting, I race. Right now, my agent is trying to sell my third novel. I'm pretty sure this is the best thing I've ever written, and I'm really excited about it. But at the same time, the market is tougher than ever. My sweet coming-of-age story for tweens is going to have quite a struggle to find its home. It's the perfect breeding ground for waiting-itis. But as I've blogged about before, I'm writing a new book, one that is completely different from anything I've ever attempted before. So here's what I'm doing... I'm racing against my agent. My goal is to finish the first draft of my fourth novel before she sells my third. She thinks she's going to win. I think I will. Truth is, I win either way. But don't tell her that!

Monday, December 06, 2010

365 Day Challenge

There's a kid named Alex in my town who is an amazing runner. I see him sometimes when I'm walking my dog or driving around the neighborhood, and I recognize him from far away because his stride looks so effortless and fast and powerful. Last week, my son told me that it was a big day for Alex because he had run for 365 consecutive days. Every single day for a year! We live in the Chicago suburbs. Our summers are hot and humid. Our winters are blustery and frigid. Our springs and falls are wet and windy. Can you imagine a 15-year-old boy running every single day for a year in weather like that? With typical teen distractions available to him all the time? It's no wonder his stride is so beautiful. It's no wonder that as a sophomore he's already one of the best runners on the varsity cross country team. His running may look effortless, but it's an illusion. He is putting in 100% effort, working every day, bit by bit, getting better, stronger, faster.

And isn't that true of all great things? The more you dedicate yourself, the more work you put into the creation of something, the more effortless it appears in the end. I really admire Alex's dedication. And I figure if he could do it, I can too. (I'm not talking about running, mind you. I hate to run!)

So, inspired by Alex, I've created a 365 Day Challenge, and I invite you to join me.

Choose something that you love and that you want to dedicate yourself to for an entire year. Working out? Writing poetry? Learning an instrument? Knitting? Singing? Creating a new business? Painting? Meditating? Shooting freethrows? The possibilities are endless. Now get a calendar. And go. No excuses. Find the time every day. And let me know how much progress you make. I bet we'll all have amazing stories of success to share.

My 365 Day Challenge is to write fiction. I'm one of those authors who tries to write everyday but quite often finds excuses why I can't get to it. (It's the weekend, It's a holiday, I don't have enough time, I have a headache, etc.) Recently, however, I realized I can get a lot of writing done in a small amount of time. If I turn off the internet, set the timer on my phone for 35 minutes and tell myself I have to continually write until the alarm beeps, I'm amazed at how much I accomplish. And usually, I can find several 35-minute chunks of time on even the busiest days. Every day I write for at least one 35-minute chunk, I'll mark it on my calendar. So far I'm on Day 6. Only 359 days to go!

Are you in? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

After the Honeymoon

You may recall about a month ago I was going on about how much I loved my job. I had just come up with this amazing idea for a new book, and I had the feeling if you locked me in a room for a month, I could write the whole thing and it would be a bestseller.

That, my friends, is called the honeymoon. Your idea is all shiny and new, and you just can't get enough of it. But alas, every honeymoon must come to an end. And although you still may be in love, you aren't dying to be with it every moment of every day. Reality sets in, and you find that your idea is a regular idea, with good points and annoying points, and it demands the regular effort of writing and thinking and revising and writing some more.

Please don't feel bad for me. I'm okay with the honeymoon ending. I've got other things in life that I need to pay attention to anyway. (Hi kids. Hi husband. Hi house!) And it's not like I'm at the 7-year-itch yet or heading for divorce. We're still newlyweds, me and my Big Idea. I still love thinking about it and figuring out what it's all about. I'm still committed. I may not be writing with the passion and intensity that comes during the honeymoon, but I'm still writing.

So how long will this newlywed phase last? I will let you know!