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Book Review: “The Enlightenment of Bees”

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links, meaning I receive a small commission if you make any purchase through links marked clearly with an asterisk, at no cost to you. Please read my full disclosure for more info.

In my ongoing battle with insomnia, I’ve been reading for at least 20 minutes before bed. Most nights it helps: I know I’m ready to go to sleep when I started dropping my book in my face!

I’ve learned I can’t read anything too spooky before bed (hence why I try to read the scarier chapters of Marissa Meyer’s Scarlet during the day), nor do I want to wreak anymore havoc on my sleep cycle by reading Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone or The Rise of Kylo Ren on my phone (blue light, apparently, tricks your brain into thinking it’s time to wake up). So my nighttime reading actually consists of the stories I can’t write, but love to read: contemporary and historical novels!

The Enlightenment of Beesby Rachel Linden, recommended to me by my dear friend Caroline, is the perfect right-before-bed sort of story. It’s hilarious, compelling, and absolutely darling. And to my surprise, it even spoke to some of the hurt places in my own heart.

@ Amazon

The Enlightenment of Beesis the story of 26-year-old Mia, an apprentice baker in Seattle with dreams of settling down with her longtime boyfriend, Ethan. When Ethan gets cold feet in the middle of proposing marriage, however, a brokenhearted Mia finds herself with no plans and, seemingly, no future. In her desperate need to get away, she joins her best friend Rosie on a humanitarian trip around the world, making new friends along the way and learning what it means to make a true impact on the world.

Mia is an utterly relatable heroine: a little awkward and intensely creative, she both craves and fears adventure. She never really had any ambitions beyond marrying Ethan and raising “a little curly-haired girl and a blond boy with a dimple in his cheek”–beautiful and valid dreams, to be sure! But when those dreams are obliterated, Mia isn’t quite sure what to do with herself.

What she does know (or thinks she knows) is that her real passion, baking, is hardly worth seriously pursuing. As her philanthropic aunt sternly instructed her as a child, she needed “to aim higher.” Baking won’t change the world, so why develop that skill?

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Mia’s brother, however, encourages her to “start with the dreams [she] had before Ethan.” And since those dreams always involved travel, Mia seizes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do some “real work.”

But “real work” isn’t what she expected. “Real work” consists of showing simple kindness to children in India. “Real work” means dressings the wounds of Syrian refugees in a camp just outside of Budapest. Nor is she quite prepared for her growing attraction to her very fine, very kind (and also Hawaiian) fellow worker, Kai. But in spite of emotional confusion, unexpected detours, hair-raising rickshaw rides, and riots, Mia slowly regains her confidence. And as her compassion is stirred by the downtrodden and courageous souls she meets along the way, she soon realizes that her purpose lies in “the space where [her] greatest passion meets the world’s great pain.”

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

I hardly ever cry for books, but this one brought tears to my eyes more than once. So often I’ve felt like Mia, afraid that my small life and my art don’t really matter much in the grand scheme of things. But I, too, am making peace with the way my life has unfolded. It doesn’t look anything like I once thought it would. But I’m learning that “for the moment it is enough to just be here, just be me”–and that God has an uncanny knack for revealing exactly how to use my own gifts to meet the world’s pain.

I really can’t overstate how much I enjoyed The Enlightenment of Bees*. It was an easy and thoroughly enjoyable read, full of vivid settings, scrumptious food, and sympathetic, diverse characters. From punk musician Winnie to formidable French-Tunisian doctor Delphine, from vivacious West Texan Rosie to Coptic refugees Yousef and Maryam, Mia finds herself with quite the cohort of unlikely friends. But it also has a heartwarming and important message. As Delphine tells Mia in a moment of quiet companionship:

It’s true, a cookie is a small thing, but many small things make the world a brighter and happier place, do they not?

  So enjoy the small things this week, dear friends. They truly are the stuff of life. 

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Defending The Rise of Skywalker: A Collab Post w/Emily!

It’s the fourth of May, guys! MAY THE FOURTH! And you know what that means! It’s STAR WARS DAY!

I’m so excited to share this very special post with you today, Readers–and to introduce to you (if you don’t know her already) my dear friend and sister in Christ, Emily of The Altogether Unexpected! She and I absolutely love The Rise of Skywalker, and we thought it would be fun to write a post together explaining why we love it (and how we would’ve made it better if, y’know, the Mouse had put us in charge of the storytelling). Emily has also posted this Q&A with her own introductory thoughts, so be sure to head over to The Altogether Unexpected and get her perspective!

Enjoy this awesome post, friends (and the two special announcements at the end)–and May the Fourth be with you 😉


What were your expectations for The Rise of Skywalker?

@ Google Images

MB: Honestly, I just expected to have a good time! I’d already heard some of the negative rumblings about it, but I knew that if I didn’t get to hear that majestic opening fanfare in the theater one last time, I’d hate myself. I also knew walking into the theater (thanks to Twitter) that Rey was a Palpatine…but that she’d rejected that heritage, standing on her identity as a Jedi instead. Believing in and remembering who you truly are is a message that has always resonated with me–so as far as I was concerned, I was seeing TROS for Rey’s sake.  

But I never would’ve expected to leave the theater in such a happy daze! There was just so much to love about TROS. The Rey/Finn/Poe Trio (and their hilarious banter), all the nods to the original movies (Lando, Threepio, THE DEATH STAR), the beautifully-handled redemption of Ben Solo, Rey’s Tony Stark-esque “I am all the Jedi” declaration…gah, it was wonderful. 

EB: I was incredibly nervous going into the film. During the day leading up to the premiere (which I was really looking forward to), I read a myriad of spoiler-free reviews discussing how horrible the film was. I even remember seeing a headline which claimed that it was one of the worst films since the prequel trilogy. I was expecting the worst! For me, The Last Jedi was a “good” movie, but I was left disappointed on a few levels, and this also influenced my expectations for The Rise of Skywalker

Hearing the critics’ response to TROS was heartbreaking, but I was determined to see it anyway. I went into the theater with as open a mind as I could muster, and I ended up falling in love with the film. As Maribeth said, I too left the theater in “a happy daze!” There are so many things I love about the film: the introduction of Rey’s new force powers on Pasaana, “Poe Dameron, spice runner,” Jannah and the Orbaks on Kef Bir, and (most notably) the long anticipated Bendemption, which was done so well. Their little team-up at the end made the entire film so memorable. But, more on that later… 😉

Some have claimed that The Rise of Skywalker feels like fanfiction and isn’t consistent with other aspects of the sequel trilogy. What is your response to this?.

MY BABIES. (Source)

MB: As far as it not being consistent with other aspects of the sequel trilogy, I think that’s a valid argument. TROS takes the story in a wildly different direction than TLJ. Whereas TLJ seemed to be setting up a possible “Grey Jedi” conclusion (where a true, Buddhist-style “balance of the Force” would be endgame), TROS is much more of a black-and-white morality play with surprisingly strong Christian overtones. As a Christian, I definitely prefer TROS’ worldview, and at the same time acknowledge without hesitation that this worldview “shift” is very noticeable.

As far as the fanfic accusation goes…my snarky side would like to point out that most of The Return of the Jedi feels like fanfiction, too. Leia spends an inordinate chunk of time in a skimpy slave outfit, adorable teddy bears take down stormtroopers, and Han Solo acts OOC half the time. (Just sayin’.) If TROS feels like fanfiction, it’s not the first Star Wars movie to face that accusation

EB: I too would have to agree with this but only on some levelsThere are a few details that feel a bit incomplete and illogical about the film (i.e. Palpatine being Snoke, the wayfinder scavenger hunt on the Special™ knife that just happens to be in the right place at the right time, Threepio’s fake memory-wipe).

And, it deviated very far from the sharp left TLJ made after TFA. Better communication between directors probably wouldn’t have hurt! I enjoyed the changes J.J. Abrams made to correct the way the sequel trilogy was heading, but I feel like so many things were swept to the side. Rey and Finn’s friendship never went anywhere after being set up so well in TFA. At the ending of TLJ, the Resistance is left with only ten people on one ship, but at the beginning of TROS, they have their entire fleet back and loads more fighters. The time gap between the two films was never completely explained.

Would you have changed the ending of The Rise of Skywalker in any way?

BTW, according to the novelization, Rey & BB-8 did NOT stay on Tatooine. (Source)

MB: There’s this beautiful moment in the novelization right after Ben dies, when Rey hears him whisper to her through the Force, “I will always be with you.” Not gonna lie: when I first read that, my poor lil’ heart nearly exploded, haha! I would’ve included that, then shown his Force-ghost alongside Luke and Leia’s at the very end. Just little glimpses like that would’ve given us some nice emotional closure…and reminded us that no one is ever really gone in Star Wars.

(*sips tea with a meaningful quirk of my eyebrows*)

EB: Rey and Ben Solo kissed, my Reylo dreams were fulfilled, but then all of a sudden, he died. Literally, he fell over without saying another word and he was gone. First of all, I would have preferred a few dying breaths, in which Rey shed some tears!!!, comforted him, and maybe even affirmed his redemption to soothe any remaining doubts he may have had. Gentle reminder that the Exegol team-up is his first interaction alone with her since the Kef Bir fight. 

I would have loved for him to say how he felt about her or to even say thank you for giving him a chance at redemption when he couldn’t even give himself that chance. I would have really appreciated a bit more time before he just went and died like that. And then she takes off in her x-wing and doesn’t spend a few moments to cry over his body?? That might have been nice, if I’m being honest. It was so sudden and really shocking for my little Reylo soul.

Kylo Ren was considered a terrible villain by the majority of the Star Wars fandom; was redeeming Ben Solo the best way to cure that reaction?        

“His defiance will shake the stars…” (@ Pinterest)

MB: I mean…he’s still a terrible villain. Let’s not forget the villagers he had massacred on Jakku, his invasion and violation of Rey’s mind, Han Solo’s murder, or his attempt to annihilate his mom and the Resistance on Crait. Kylo Ren did some really heinous things. We’re missing the point of his story if we don’t acknowledge that. 

But as a perceptive fan once said, Adam Driver actually played three different characters in this story: Kylo, Ben, and the conflicted soul caught between the two. That is so accurate. And now that we actually know how the saga ends, it brings a whole new beauty and complexity to his story arc. It certainly changes the way I watch Ben/Kylo now. I have so much more compassion and sorrow for him than I used to. I find him fascinating, infuriating, occasionally rather funny (“The droid…stole a freighter???”), and heartbreaking–but in the end, quite the impressive hero, as well.

(Also, I don’t think I would’ve just bought all four issues of the Rise of Kylo Ren comic series if I didn’t have this much more nuanced view of the character now. Ahem.)

EB: From the moment he took off the helmet in TFA, I remember being so shocked. My initial reaction was a tiny gasp, followed by a, “Whoa; he’s a kid!” I remember hearing of other actors who were considered for the part, one of whom was Hugo Weaving, who is much older than Adam Driver. I personally enjoyed Kylo Ren being a young villain as an alternative to the older villains of the Star Wars universe. However, Kylo’s temper tantrums/bursts of rage in TLJ feel “kiddish,” and he seems like a little toddler trying to play with his toys (i.e. The First Order). 

In a way, this childishness is what represents the fact that he simply doesn’t belong on the Dark Side. Sith lords and Imperial placeholders are all incredibly composed, confident, and cooly evil, and when you put Kylo Ren up against their images, he is quite different. He’s erratic, impulsive, angry…tormented is probably the best word. He tries too hard to embrace the dark, and it is with him as it is with the audience: he’s trying to convince himself that he’s evil.

Redeeming Ben Solo gave the audience what they wanted all along: a character who knows what he is. As Ben embraces the Light, so the audience embraces him. Remember how much you wanted him to not murder Han Solo on the bridge? Remember how much you wanted him to come to the Light? Well, that’s what we finally get in TROS, and I think it was the perfect way to resolve Ben’s internal conflict and the problems audiences saw with his “badness.”

Rey’s incredible Force powers are sometimes considered unbelievable by critics since they have not been seen in other (or more powerful) Jedi of the Star Wars universe. What are your thoughts on Rey’s Force powers?  

Probably, Poe…probably. (@ Pinterest)

MB: When I first saw TFA, I was convinced Rey was either a Skywalker, a Solo, or a Kenobi. The movie had set her up to be “Somebody,” and that seemed to be the only logical explanation for her powers! I simply had to wait and see whose daughter (or granddaughter) she would be. Turns out I wasn’t too far off the mark, haha. 

Of course, part of her strength isn’t just from the fact that she’s a Palpatine. She’s also one half of a Dyad. But again, we didn’t know that back in the days of TFA, so I suspect this criticism of Rey’s abilities has been rendered irrelevant.

EB: Qui-Gon Jinn sure could’ve used some of those healing powers, eh? I’ve heard that one quite a few times around the interwebz.

Anyway, I would like to argue here that The Force knows no bounds. If an individual uses The Force to accomplish something that’s never been done before, why is that so wrong? The fact that The Force exists is enough to warrant the stretch of the imagination! Why can healing someone with it (which has never been seen before) be so difficult to accept?

I think Rey’s force powers make her unique from the past Jedi we have seen in the Star Wars universe. The way she uses The Force isn’t just in combat. She actually uses The Force to bring life, health, and forgiveness to others. Let’s not forget the way she healed Ben Solo on Kef Bir, which actually helped trigger the Bendemption. 

Palpatine. That’s it. That’s the question.     

Whaddaya mean, this isn’t the sum of that conversation? (@ Instagram)

MB: It is a Very Big Question, haha! I do like the fact that ol’ Palps returned. It makes thematic sense, seeing as how he was the Prime Villain of both the Prequel and Original Trilogies—but it needed so much more foreshadowing! If I were in charge of the Sequel Trilogy (and actually planned the story out from beginning to end like a responsible writer…*side-eyes Disney*) I would’ve woven his return into the story all the way back in TFA. 

That said, the excellent TROS novelization answers ALL our questions about his return. The Palps we see in TROS is actually a clone: the Emperor did die at the hands of Anakin Skywalker in The Return of the Jedi, but through all kinds of nasty Sith sorcery his henchmen created a series of clone bodies to house his spirit. And NO, Palpatine did not have a wife or a biological child. Rey’s father is actually one of those clones, albeit a failed one: he turned out to be much too good-hearted to house Palpatine’s spirit, so he was expelled from Exegol, ended up marrying a lovely woman, and had Rey. When Palpatine found out, he decided he wanted Rey for himself–hence her parents’ desperate attempt to hide her.

Why the filmmakers didn’t include this information in the movie is beyond me. Heck, why they didn’t plan out the whole Trilogy in a more organized fashion is also beyond me. I love it to death, don’t get me wrong–but it’s a mess.

EB: I’d like to add on to Maribeth’s point here. Palpatine was never once hinted at during the preceding two films of the trilogy. I never even found so much as an easter egg. Apparently Rey imitates “Palpatine’s fighting style from the animated series Clone Wars,” in TFA (as per this article which was very interesting) but that’s probably the only hint that we were ever given. But then, TLJ gave us no clue as to who Rey’s parents are, and I never for one second believed that “they were nobody” as that film implied. It felt very “thrown together” at the last second, I will admit. I also feel like Disney probably hadn’t planned Palps’s return since TFA. 

BUT! I will say that I can totally believe that he survived. This is Star Wars, people. Teddy bears live on jungle planets in tribes. Abominable snow monsters live in ice caves. People can make things move by flicking their fingers. A guy who was thrown into a volcano and had every limb on his body burned to a crisp and amputated became the strongest supervillain in the galaxy. So…can an evil overlord fall down a pit, save himself through means of clone tech and sorcery, and then come back with a master plan fifty years later? Umm…why not? That’s not even a stretch with all things considered.

Should Ben Solo have died?

Fan art by Taevyn Astra–because our poor lil’ hearts need this kind of content.

MB: This is where I become the actual human personification of those hilarious Head-and-Heart comics. “Head” insists that Ben Solo’s death is morally satisfying because 1) his sacrifice for Rey proved his conversion was genuine, and 2) it atoned for what he did to the Galaxy and his father. But “Heart” stomps its foot and wails about how the Jedi should have granted him a second chance at life so he and Rey could have beautiful lil’ babies, train those Force-sensitive kids from Canto Bight, and just be an awesome, happy Dyad. 

Clearly, I am emotionally compromised.

EB: If I was a part of this film’s production team, things would have gone very differently. It should never have happened at all. It would have proved way more interesting if they had given him an opportunity to redeem himself with the Resistance. We only had ten minutes (if not less) of Jedi Ben, and I loved Jedi Ben. I was actually really shocked when he just fell over not ten seconds after kissing Rey. It was way too abrupt. There were no dying words, last breaths, moments of reassurance from Rey (which I mentioned earlier), etc. When it came to Ben Solo’s death, there was no emotional closure. I was also particularly perturbed when his Force Ghost™ did not appear alongside Luke and Leia’s on Tatooine. That really hurt my soul. Very deeply. 

Maribeth mentioned to me earlier this week over text that in the TROS novelization, Ben whispers to Rey, “I will always be with you” through the Dyad after he has died. And Rey responds with “no one is ever really gone.” If this was inserted into THE FILM, it would have made me a much happier bean indeed, especially since it shows that even though he has died, their Dyad knows no bounds and is still strong in death. And, if I may be so bold *looks over glasses at Disney,* does this mean we’re not too foolish in possibly expecting another Star Wars film with our Rey and Ben? 

*smug smirk* 

I’m just gonna leave that there.

Some have criticized Ben and Rey’s relationship, labelling it “abusive.” What is your response to these claims, and why do you ship Reylo?

I realize these are TLJ pics BUT THE EDIT IS TOO PERFECT TO PASS UP. @ Pinterest

MB: As someone who stubbornly refused to ship Reylo for 4 years, I understand and even agree with that objection. A romance between Rey and Kylo would’ve definitely been toxic! Rey herself knew that: that’s why she refused to take his hand. But she had faith that her vision of Ben’s redemption would come true. She wanted to take his hand, not Kylo’s. She was always in love with Ben—who he was and who he could be again.

This is why I ship Rey and Ben: it’s basically Beauty and the Beast in a galaxy far, far away. You don’t ship Belle with the Beast when he’s horrid…but you do ship them when the Prince inside comes back to life.

EB: So, I didn’t officially “ship” Reylo until The Last Jedi. But, ever since The Force Awakens, I was pretty insistent on the fact that Ben had feelings for Rey. Then I thought I was just overthinking things.

 BUT…The Last Jedi really confirmed it for me. Their Dyad connection, how close she got to him in that elevator (*mmhmm*), the “join me” scene, their communication in the hut on Ahch-To (when she confides in him after the mirror cave incident especially), the conflict in Rey and her decision to try and save him, etc. Even she was beginning to show feelings for him against her better judgement, and the tears she shed when he asked her to join the Dark Side (and she had to refuse) were proof of that.

So yes: when The Rise of Skywalker came around, I was hoping for some Reylo. Do I think it would have been super toxic if they had been together before he came to the light? Definitely. I’m not denying that. But I never wanted Rey and Ben to be together whilst being on opposite sides of the Force. I always wanted Ben to come to the light and for them to be an adorkable Jedi duo (which only happened for like TEN MINUTES! WHY DISNEY, WHY???)

They are a Dyad. They are drawn to each other. Rey showed him enough compassion to turn his heart. These factors made it a deal maker for me, and Reylo officially became my Sequel Trilogy OTP. Too bad it was only canon for like five seconds. *sighs*

How do you feel about Rey being a Palpatine?

Rey Skywalker, All of the Jedi. (Source)

MB: I may be in the minority, but I actually love this plot twist. Like I said earlier, TFA heavily implied that Rey was a “Somebody.” And as painful as thinking your own parents sold you into slavery would be, finding out your grandfather is the biggest, baddest Sith Lord in the history of the universe is even worse. What’s to stop you from following in his footsteps? Maybe your doom is already sealed: from the Dark Side you came, and to the Dark Side you shall return. 

But Rey’s rejection of her grandfather, in my opinion, actually confirms (rather than undermines) the message we got in TLJ: you’re defined by the choices you make and the allegiances and convictions you stand on, not by who your parents or grandparents are.    

EB: I thought it worked out really well, to be honest. Maybe it wasn’t planned from the beginning, but I think making her a Palpatine shattered a lot of people’s fan theories and made it incredibly interesting. I remember theorizing that she was a descendent of Qui-Gonn. Especially after that hair style she rocked in The Last Jedi. Major Qui-Gonn vibes there, honey.

I actually love that Rey is a Palpatine. A lot of fans had hoped that Rey really would turn out to be “a nobody,” and many took issue with the fact that she wasn’t, because it supposedly meant that “nobodies” couldn’t be Force-sensitive…that you had to be special to be a Jedi. As it turned out, Rey was actually the descendent of an incredibly powerful Sith Lord. 

But hang on! 

Her transformation into possibly the most powerful Jedi the fandom has ever seen showed us that even those with an evil ancestry can make their own conscious choice to choose the Light. Besides, maybe making Rey a “nobody” would have been interesting, but it would have been really anticlimactic, especially after all the hints Disney left us and all the crazy things they put us through over the last…gosh, has it really been five years since The Force Awakens?? Was I really only thirteen when that film came out? Gee willikers. 

What were the biggest surprises of The Rise of Skywalker?  

Did I hold my breath through this entire scene? Yes…yes, I did. (Source)

MB: For me, the biggest shocks were Chewie’s apparent death, Han’s return, and the Lightsaber Swap. I either didn’t see those moments coming, or (in Han’s case, at least) I knew it would happen at some point but didn’t know when or how. 

EB: Ooh. This is an interesting question. Sehr interessant!

For me, the biggest surprise of The Rise of Skywalker was when Rey blasted that one transport on Pasaana with lightning bolts from her own hands! This started giving me Palpatine vibes, and my little head was very excited and near the point of blowing itself up. Also Ben’s redemption…I wasn’t sure if it would ever happen, and when it did I was happiness itself. 😉


If you got to the end of this Q&A, CONGRATULATIONS–you must be a dedicated fan, haha! Feel free to discuss, debate, and (of course) fangirl in the comments!

And in conclusion, here are two more more goodies for all you faithful readers…

  • On May 19, Lord willing, Emily and I will be sharing this post’s sequel: a filmed discussion of the Christian themes in The Rise of Skywalker! We will seize any chance to nerd out over theology and Star Wars, so stay tuned!
  • I’ve finally started posting my (completed) 11-chapter story, Brave the Wilderness, on Archive Of Our Own and Fanfiction.net–so if you’re into alternate versions of The Last Jedi where the Bendemption and that breathtaking Throne Room Scene actually coincide…I’ve got you, fam 😉
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5 Lessons from Camp NaNoWriMo 2020!

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate Links, meaning I receive a small commission if you make any purchase through links marked clearly with an asterisk, at no cost to you. Please read my full disclosure for more info.

If April 2020 had gone the way we’d planned, I would’ve had two whole trips–one of them solo–under my belt already. But alas, the Virus That Shall Not Be Named had other ideas, which meant I had a choice: either I could allow April to remain a dull, dreary blank and feel sorry for myself…or I could take advantage of the long stretches of eraser-smudged days on my calendar.

I’m quite happy to say that while my disappointment remained real, I accomplished a lot in April. One of those accomplishments? My second Camp NaNoWriMo win in a row! Another even more significant accomplishment? Finally starting a viable, exciting new science fiction/fantasy novel about which I am incredibly passionate. 

I know I mentioned either here or on Twitter (I can’t remember which now) that I was considering a contemporary novel instead. I had an idea–a very cute one, I might add–and I’m not saying it’s something I’ll never revisit.

But “The Cupcake Story,” as I called it, just wasn’t resonating with me. It didn’t get me up in the wee hours of a Saturday morning like my Star Wars fanfiction had…and certainly not like Operation Lionhearted did.

So I embarked upon Camp NaNoWriMo with 5 very specific goals in mind:

1. To jumpstart a new novel, implementing the biggest thing I learned from 3 months of writing Star Wars fanfiction: that sci-fi/fantasy IS my one true love when it comes to writing.

2. To shed self-belittling thoughts and doubts about the legitimacy of such stories as opposed to contemporary/historical fiction.

3. To write a combined 20,000 words of rough sketches and opening chapters.

4. To have outrageous levels of fun in April, which should’ve been a month full of travel but which will now be a month of figuring out which story I want to write.

5. To write the kind of sci-fi/fantasy novel I’d want to read.

For those who don’t know, Camp NaNoWriMo (“National Novel Writing Month”) is a more relaxed version of November’s NaNoWriMo, an annual challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel. With Camp, however, you can set whatever goal you want, for whatever project you please. Wanna write 10,000 words of novel prep? 25,000 words of fanfic? 50,000 words of screenplay? They got you, fam.

I chose 20,000 words of novel prep: outlines, character sketches, brainstorming, and opening chapters. The first couple of weeks were difficult. My Inner Editor didn’t like being told to go home, and I kept vacillating between two very different ideas–both of which were inspired by abandoned stories of mine from years ago.

Finally, however–on April 15, no less!–I knew exactly which one I preferred. And guess what?

I’VE BEEN WRITING IT. WITHOUT SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS. And it’s been SO much fun.

So here are 5 things I’ve learned from this Camp NaNoWriMo experience…

1. It’s okay if I don’t enjoy writing contemporary/historical fiction. 

Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter and Katherine Reay’s Dear Mr. Knightley are two of my favorite novels of all time, but guys…I just don’t enjoy writing that kind of fiction. I’ve beaten myself up about that, fearing that my own sci-fi/fantasy (SFF) stories will never be taken seriously. And if I want to be taken seriously, I should be writing more contemporary/historical stories…right?

Yet when I try writing those, it’s like I’m pounding a fist against a diamond wall. But when I write SFF, I feel more like Eric Lidell in Chariots of Fire: “When I run, I feel [God’s] pleasure.” Maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe I’m meant to write make-believe. Maybe I should write it with all my heart.

2. I write for my target audience…and nobody else.

As a Christian, I ultimately write for the audience of my Triune God. But in earthly terms, I can’t write for everyone. Not everyone will enjoy my SFF novels, and that’s okay. But I’m also learning how to write for my target audience: late teen/new adult women. Since I have four sisters who are in this age group (three of whom love SFF), I’m training myself to write this new story with them in mind.

Of course, I do hope other demographics will enjoy it! But it does help to have a specific audience in mind.

3. No word is ever wasted. Even the ones that’ll never see the light of day.

One morning I wrote 1,600 words for this new story that I probably won’t use. It was background stuff–a boring scene that took place right before the actual opening lines. Once upon a time I would’ve castigated myself for spending a whole morning on something so superfluous. But it helped me understand my heroine and her “normal world”–and because of that, it served a glorious purpose.

4. It’s okay if I do Camp NaNoWriMo my own way…BY MYSELF.

Usually Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual community event, and that’s wonderful. This year, however, I needed it to be more like a silent retreat. I needed to shut myself up in my own private cabin and hammer things out, change my mind, delete stuff, and type-shout in all caps without worrying about what anyone thought of me or my progress.

That sounds awfully isolationist, I know–and as I learn more about “the centric genius” I would not recommend it long term! But for just four short weeks, I needed the freedom to figure out this story in peace and in silence. The results have been well worth the brief withdrawal into my own head.

5. The words flow when I give myself “emotional permission” to write imperfectly.

This month I’ve been reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write*. Although she doesn’t write from a Christian worldview, Cameron has wonderful insights on the creative process, especially when it comes to the lies we writers tell ourselves and the truths that set our words flowing again.

In her fifth chapter, “Track,” Cameron writes:

I remembered that once upon a time, writing had been fun for me. My job was to do the writing, not judge the writing. I discovered that the writing seemed to contain an inner plan of its own…I follow it and lay it down. I can pare it, shape it, polish it later. For the moment, my job is just to get it down, just to catch the thought, which I can add to or embellish later on.”

So that’s what I’m doing: following the inner plan, trying not to over-polish. It only confirms something else I’ve learned this month: contrary to what I always assumed, I’m not a plotter. Nor am I a “pantser”–someone who writes by the seat of their pants. But I am a “plantser”: I have a good idea of where this story is going, but there’s nothing like letting it surprise me along the way.

Does that mean I’ll have plot holes to fix in the second draft? Eh, possibly. Does it mean I’ll have to go back and delete unneeded scenes and characters? Most probably.

But I’m writing a first draft, for Pete’s sake. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

And there’s nothing better than simply delighting in my work again.