Life is for Enjoying


 “Thirty days and nights of literary abandon.”


November 1st is the start of National Novel Writing Month NaNoWriMo.  This year I am going to participate and write in honor of my brother.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo five years ago, and used the general principles to write my first middle grade story.  I’d been filling notebooks with stories for years, but I did it strictly for the fun of it.  Suddenly I wanted to do more and NaNo seemed like the perfect way to launch that spark.  So I started writing with more of a purpose.  The only person I told at the time (other than my husband) was my brother.  I remember him being fascinated by the idea of writing a thousand plus words a day.  He was a creative type–he drew, wrote, cooked (even went to culinary school), so he was the perfect person to understand the need to do a writing marathon in a month.

When I finished that first draft, I put it away to read it at a later date with fresh eyes.  Then, when the time came to go back to it, I decided I didn’t really want to write.  So I went out and got a job, leaving the story behind.

I was afraid.  Afraid to read the rough draft.  Afraid of what it would mean to move forward with my writing.  So I went about life and work without it.

And then a couple of months later, my brother died.

It was sudden–a brain aneurysm.  He was 31.

My brother was so funny.  He did the best Chewbacca impression ever.  He was also incredibly kind.  Maybe it’s the sharp finality of death that smooths away the rough edges of a life, but I truly can’t remember him ever being anything but nice to me.

But I think he was hard on himself.  He had unrealized dreams.  He had physical obstacles, like when he stopped working in restaurants because he couldn’t be on his feet for that many hours (he battled Type 1 diabetes starting from the age of 11).  But I think maybe some of his biggest struggles were more internal.  He got bogged down by dark moments, the kind that show up to shadow your plans and leave you filled with self-doubt and fear.

I know that fear.

I have one of my brother’s journals.  In it there’s the beginnings of a story, some sketches and some personal notes he wrote to himself.  One of those notes sticks with me:

“Write damn you! Write! Anything, something, Please!”

My first instinct is to feel sad at that personal plea to his self, but then I realize that goes against what he wrote.  Because he didn’t want to get stuck in those paralyzing fears.

In fact the first line in the journal he wrote is: “Life is for enjoying.”

I remember my aunt said at his funeral that she was sad because she couldn’t learn anything more from him and I get that because I would love to know what he would have thought of the LOST finale (our last conversation happened to be about the beginning episodes of season three and the oh so random subject of peanut butter).  I also am curious what his thoughts would be regarding Twitter, the Kindle or his take on the whole new world of publishing.  I would love to hear his opinion on all of this crazy writing stuff I’ve been pursuing. Plus I wonder if he too would be blogging, putting his writing and drawings out there. Tweeting.

But then again I know now, five years later, that I am still learning from him.

I am learning not to be afraid.  I am learning not to worry about regret.

And I am learning to enjoy my life, from random peanut butter moments to marathon writing months.

my brother daniel patrick opt

 My brother, Dan

What are you looking forward to?



22 thoughts on “Life is for Enjoying

  1. Such a powerful post, and so sorry for you loss. I can’t even imagine losing my brothers. But how wonderful that he can help you, even now, to realize your own dreams.

    I am not doing NaNo – I just don’t think I have the time this year. Instead, I’m doing PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) which seems a little more possible and will hopefully set me up with enough ideas to write picture books for months 🙂

    Good luck with NaNo!


  2. Wow, Colleen, thank you so much for sharing your story. It is absolutely amazing and inspiring. I think writing for your brother is a tremendous tribute.

    I will be doing NaNo as well–perhaps we can encourage each other!


  3. What a beautiful post. I’m so sorry about your brother, but I think it’s wonderful how you celebrate and honor his memory by pursuing your dreams of being a writer.


  4. Thanks for this post. Lots of tears but they are happy ones. I always wonder if he would love Dexter and imagine having conversations about it, laughing at things Masuka says. Thanks. 🙂


  5. Coleen,

    What a heartfelt post. I’m so sorry for the loss of your brother.

    He inspired you and now you’re both inspiring us all. And he’d undoubtedly be proud of you and all you’re doing. May you feel his presence and learn from him always.
    Thanks so much for sharing!


  6. What a great idea, writing in honor of your brother! I have heard of NaNo, but never thought about participating. This year I plan to write as much as I can of my current WIP and pay attention to my word count in November. I will follow you along your journey and hopefully it will keep me motivated to hold myself accountable. I look forward to reading more.


  7. Wow Coleen! This is an amazing post. What a fitting tribute NaNo will be to your brother. I am so sorry for your loss, but I also admire you for taking that loss and using it to move forward in your own life – dealing with your own fears.

    I so know what you mean too about not getting to learn more from someone. I miss talking to my dad about college football. I wonder who he would have voted for in the last election and how he would be relating to my kids these days.

    Anyway, I also want to say that you knocked the High Concept lesson out of the park with this post! Good luck with NaNoWriMo!


  8. Thanks for sharing with us. Like others have said, you’ve made a beautiful tribute to your brother. Right now I’m looking forward to a visit with my mother and seeing my daughters at Christmas. Good luck with NaNoWriMo!


  9. Coleen,

    Your courage in the face of grief nudges me to remember one lesson I learned when my own brother, John, died not so long ago. At that time many people spoke of our loss. But the truth is that although I miss my brother, I haven’t lost him.

    I can hear you saying that your brother, too, still lives inside and with you. And you said it well.


  10. I think your brother’s entry would be good to post on my computer screen. It’s great that you will write in NaNo in his honor. Good luck. I’m doing the picture book idea challenge in November and working on a my writing goals for 2012. No novels, but I’ll have some ideas by the time Dec. 1 rolls around.


  11. Oh my goodness. My heart hurts reading this but it also swells in a good way. I love this post.

    And I’m sooo glad to hear you were able to use my story to inform your daughter! Given my trade I LOVE talking about college and its role in life 🙂


  12. I’m so sorry you lost your brother so early on but how great is it that he can continue to motivate you. I’m sure it makes him happy wherever he is, most solidly in your heart. Good luck with everything this coming month.


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