Finding Joy: Challenge Accepted

Over the weekend, as I sat on the shores of a lake with my toes in the water and a glass of Prosecco dripping condensation on my hand, I had a bit of an epiphany. (Though I’m not sure I can call it an epiphany when it’s really a continuation of a thought that started back last summer.)

My arms were still shaking from a frantic race around a distant buoy in a kayak, my legs a bit trembly from a second race toward a closer buoy – while standing up and backwards because why not. The unseasonably warm weather had brought pink to my cheeks and my stomach ached from laughing at my competitors’ attempts. The sun was low in the sky and painted the hillside as orange as the leaves from my apple tree.

It was a stolen moment of joy made all the sweeter by its lack of intention.

My holiday weekend plans included marathon writing sessions at my favorite coffee shop. I had my talisman rings, my word count goals, a general idea of the direction the book needs to go. I was ready to write, to meet the NaNoWriMo challenge I’d accepted on November 1 because unless it comes to running actual marathons or getting up before dawn to go to the gym, I’m a finisher. I set myself to what I want to accomplish and then go for it.

I’ve NaNo’d three times and, three times, I’ve completed my word count by the skin of my teeth. I’ve set everything aside and pushed through hours of writing. I’ve turned down invitations to be with friends, time with my children, and piles of books waiting to be read all for the self-imposed goal of finishing 50,000 words in 30 days. And then, on December 1, I would put away my bare novel and not look at it again for months as if my brain had depleted itself of nouns and verbs and could only conjure adverbs.

This year, though, I couldn’t.

Not to say I didn’t write! I have a solid 28K words and…no real idea how I’m going to finish this trilogy. The characters aren’t speaking to me the way Candace and Remmings did. They’re not running through a forest, getting drunk with older brothers, or battling wits. The 28K words includes scenes with my favorite people, but something felt off. The story isn’t ready to end.

I’m not sure what that means, but what I do know is that I’m not going to rush it for an arbitrary challenge.

So I gave up.

I quit.

I quit and I spent my writing weekend playing Yahtzee and trying to paddle a kayak while standing up. I ate smashed burgers with cheese oozing from the sides. I listened to music from my 20s, rode shotgun on a winding country road with my boyfriend laughing at a podcast. I slept under the stars and pulled the sleeping bag over my head to block out the sounds of the serial killers lurking behind a pine.

I quit and spent my Saturday morning baking a pake, two actually. I patiently moved my oven racks around until they were baked and ready to be taken to work to be added to a giant stack of sweetness.


I quit and went to the movies with my children, crying through a story of Wonder and another of life after death. I savored lines from the screen like fine chocolate, letting them melt in my mouth with all their beauty. I turned on Christmas carols and supervised the kids decorating the tree, the scent of pine and cinnamon filling the house.

I found joy in not accepting a challenge, in quitting.

And in doing so, I also found another story. Something a little sweeter, a little softer, a little less epic. I found a new character with a glasses that slip down her nose and a penchant for knitting hats and completing crossword puzzles in an actual newspaper. I found a man who is broken beyond all hope of a happily ever after until he walks through a door and picks up a dropped scarf, catching a whiff of Christmas.

There’s no hurry.

There’s no reason to rush.

There’s no reason to let the art monster control my life.

There’s every reason to stop, to soak in the moments, and to find joy.


4 thoughts on “Finding Joy: Challenge Accepted

  1. I’m proud of you! Setting aside your writing…. when the details didn’t fall into your lap…. or wherever writers keep their collected thoughts. I love your descriptions of your food, your joy of life and your honest confessions that allowed you to set this book aside. I’m proud of you Mandy!

    • I think if this had been my second book, I’d have assumed this was just how it goes. But having written the second one and felt the flow of the story and the life of the characters, I knew something was missing with this one and that if I continued I’d only be doing it to hit a word count, which doesn’t help the story at all.

    • The whole idea of the art monster and what that means to me has been weighing on me for a while now, which probably means that monster is closer to the surface than I’d like to think.

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