Keeping an eye on the goal

The last day of March! That means it’s also the last day of my month-long March Madness and Speedbo projects. All the other participants will likely be joining me in a last-minute dash to the finish line, hoping to reach or exceed the goals so publicly set out before the start of this endeavour.

What then? Do we heave a sigh of relief that it’s over, and walk away? I don’t think so. I think you’ll find those who have persevered through the month will still be working on their projects tomorrow, or moving on to new ones. I know I will be. When one goal is reached, there’s usually another waiting in the distance. Keeping an Eye Out I think one of the main differences between those who succeed and those who don’t is the determination to push on… to keep eyes focused on a long-term goal despite failures or successes, challenges or disappointments along the way.

March is just one month out of twelve. April will return me to my Monday and Friday posting schedule, but in between I’ll continue to write the story that has kept me occupied this month. I didn’t get the first draft finished and I’m anxious to see how it ends.

What about you? Besides Easter, what’s on your horizon that’s enticing you forward into April?

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Chickadee Black-capped

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Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection,
not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.

[Martin Luther]

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March Madness 3: Fragile Reflections

Bubbles 1A couple weeks ago a granddaughter was here for the afternoon. One of her activities of choice was bubble blowing with Grampa. There are various soapy solutions and different shaped tools that all seem to work, although some produce better bubbles than others.

This particular afternoon the bubbles were very fragile. After blowing them she would try to recapture one, hoping it would balance on the wand. Each time a bubble was touched, however, it popped with a splat and splatter into the air.

Left alone, the bubbles were light enough to catch the breeze and soar away.

Bubbles 2

Thinking back on this I was struck with the similarities between those bubbles and my new WIP. One of the reasons I lean towards the ‘seat-of-my-pants’ kind of writing is because I like the unexpected pleasure of watching a basic idea develop into a beautiful story. I don’t generally talk much about it during the first draft because the concept seems fragile, and too much poking around can easily destroy whatever beauty my spontaneity may be creating. If I try to wrestle it into position, something that at first seemed exciting, begins to lose its appeal. The bubble finally pops and a rainbow idea disappears.

I’ve been moving gingerly into this new story, and now that we’re half-way through our March month of Madness it’s clear my original goal of a complete first draft isn’t realistic. As other MM hosts have suggested, it’s not a bad thing to step back periodically to evaluate what we’re doing, to redistribute our efforts over the remaining available time, and possibly even tweak our goals.

There is no shame in adjusting our goals, only in abandoning them. March 31st is only an arbitrary deadline. Do whatever it takes to stay focused on your destination but also retain joy in your writing. Don’t let anything burst that bubble!

Just sixteen days of this madness left. How are you faring? I hope you’re soaring!

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Hanging in there on a Monday

It’s Monday again… and I imagine many of you went into it already counting down to Friday. I happen to like Mondays, but I’m probably an oddity. (Stop nodding your head and laughing!)  Living through the week while being focused on something else is a little like what our resident squirrel does.

Squirrel 1

He took all winter to figure out how to work his way over the squirrel-proof bird feeder and reach the one beyond it that contains his favourite black oil and striped sunflower seeds.

Squirrel 2The problem is, he’s so enamoured by his discovery of the food, he sometimes forgets where he is.

Squirrel 3Squirrel 4He throws caution to the wind (along with a lot of millet) and neglects the important aspect of hanging on, occasionally slipping right off.

The fall to our deck is about seven feet, but if he misses that — and he often does — he falls fifteen feet to the gravel path.

Lack of focus may not be his problem so much as ineffective multitasking.

Squirrel 5

“Didn’t your momma tell you it isn’t polite to laugh at others?”

So, about this yearning for Friday business…. maybe wishing the days away isn’t as wise as putting all you’ve got into the present, even when you’re planning ahead for the weekend.

I’m sure there must be a writing analogy in this, but I don’t know what it is. I’ll leave it to your imagination. Meanwhile, I’ll go back to burying myself in my March Madness and Speedbo writing. :)

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March Madness: Taking a deep breath…

There is a moment, a thin slice of time just before something momentous is about to happen, when everything becomes still. It’s as though the world has taken a collective breath… waiting. I’m sure it happened as the hatch opened on the Apollo 11 to let Neil Armstrong out onto the surface of the moon, but I’m equally sure less history-making events have caused a similar response, though on a smaller scale.

  • Teetering at the outermost edge of the high diving board.
  • Listening for a baby’s first breath in the delivery room.
  • Watching the morning sun as it begins to break over the horizon.
  • Waiting for the hanging drip to drop from a melting blob of ice.

Icy Branches

I get a similar feeling every time I prepare to hit the ‘send’ key to whisk a query or submission into cyberspace. It happens the night before I begin NaNoWriMo every November, too. It’s easy to say, “Sure, count me in” when the event is weeks away. Faced with that last no-turning-back moment, however, I always have to take a deep breath to steady myself before I’m able to make the leap.

Today it’s all about jumping into March Madness. If you haven’t heard about it, or would like to join us, check out the details on Denise Jaden‘s post. (She’s our co-ordinator and Boss Lady.) This is my fifth year participating, and I know it’s all good.

My goal is attainable, but even if it isn’t, any progress I make will be useful. There’s no reason to feel hesitant. I have a fresh notebook on my desk; a new file has been titled and saved on the computer; the few notes (very few) I made about this new novel have been read and re-read. A fresh stock of Diet Coke fills half a shelf in the refrigerator. I’m ready… and yet I’m not. I never feel quite ready at this final moment. A whole litany of excuses rise up to taunt me. Fortunately I know there’s also a whole #wipmadness community that’s been holding its own collective breath, and is waiting to jump into this month of writing (or reading or illustrating… whatever you’ve committed to) with me.

Do you have trouble making a start on big projects, or are you one who starts with enthusiasm but perhaps has trouble staying the course? Together we CAN do this and accomplish our goals. March Madness here we come!

Let us know how you feel about leaping into the madness today, and then tomorrow be sure to head over to Angelina Hansen’s blog, http://yascribe.blogspot.ca, for Sunday’s check-in, and let us know how your first day went.

So here we are. We’ve arrived at the brink. Let’s link arms and race in together. ONE, TWO, THREE… GO!!!

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Image courtesy of khunaspix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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March Madness (i.e., #wipmadness) is almost here!

We’ve reached that time again — our semi-annual dip into insanity. In November it was NaNoWriMo. Now March is almost here and we’re ready (sort of) to tackle March Madness. You’re invited to join the challenge. Whatever your bookish endeavour — reading, writing, blogging or illustrating, etc. — you tell us what you want to achieve in March, then you get busy and start achieving. Each day there’s a blog post to offer encouragement and act as a check-in location where you can report your progress and cheer each other on.

mm 2014 wordle

Author Denise Jaden coordinates us, and today is Goal Setting Day on her blog, so click on over there and let her know your March goals.  They don’t have to be mind-boggling ones. Make them reasonable — ones that you know are attainable but that will push you a little beyond your comfort zone. Then let your public declaration boost your willpower.

There will be loads of encouragement and prizes galore to help provide motivation. In fact, Denise is offering the first prize to someone who comments on her post TODAY. 

We’ll tweet regularly under the hashtag #wipmadness, and bloggers will be posting their encouragement every day of the month. There will be lots of great prizes available to those who check in regularly. Here are the daily check-in locations beginning here on Saturday, March 1st:

It all starts here on Saturday, BUT you need to get yourself over to Denise’s blog TODAY and let her know you’re committed to our mad-dash month of writing (or whatever your pursuit) and make yourself eligible for the very first prize giveaway.

Do it! Go on… don’t over-think it. Just click HERE and spill your plans to Denise. Then we’ll see you back here on Saturday for the kick-off. I guarantee it’ll be worth it.

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wipmadness borders badge

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Procrastinating on Snow Days

BlogBlankWe had a friend, Nel, who maintained February always had at least nine sunny days.  She wasn’t a meteorologist but relied on her memory to substantiate the claim. When we started paying attention, it seemed as if she was right. February might be too soon to plant or mow, but nice days often had us outside, cleaning winter debris from garden beds and planning spring projects, like power washing decks and cleaning gutters.

Not this year. This February tossed winter fury at us by way of sub-zero temperatures, bitter windchills and — this past weekend — more snow. For easterners this wouldn’t be unusual, but we BC west coasters are offended! Enough is enough!

Snowy Squirrel

It was still snowing when I went to bed last night, but I think… I hope… this week’s rising temperatures will soon be melting our six inches of heavy snow into puddles and mud. It’s not that I like mud, of course, but it’s an inevitable forerunner of springtime, and now that the Olympics are over, I have my sight set on spring.

There are plenty of indoor projects that could use my attention, but if I can’t do what I want to do, then I might not choose to do anything. Yes, I’m reading books and organizing a manuscript, and for a writer those are valid, even necessary, occupations. But this ornery weather is putting a pucker in my seasonal intentions. It’s allowing me to procrastinate when I shouldn’t. I think I need to start a list.

I’m being flippant. If I procrastinate, the worst thing that might happen is a few tasks will be put off for another time. Is that a bad thing? Probably not, although it sets a bad precedent. Then again, I’m retired and schedules are a thing of the past, so who’s going to care? I do have a routine of sorts — things I do each morning — but beyond that the day is my own.

Hmm… not entirely true. If I were in charge of my day’s activities, I’d be gardening in the snow today, and that’s not going to happen. Ah, well… patience! The snow will eventually melt. I’ve never met a summer that was chilling under six inches of snow.

Do you procrastinate? Does it matter?

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Repetition: Reinforcing or Boring?

BlogBlankYesterday my husband brought in a pussywillow branch he had discovered on his daily walk with the dog. I was ecstatic! Yes, he brings me one almost every year, but I never tire of seeing this early hint of springtime in the wings.

Pussywillows

I regularly rejoice about pussywillows. (If you doubt it, I can point you to a number of previous posts such as this one, and this one, too.) I’m not exactly sure what their attraction is. They aren’t nearly as pretty as unfurling pink-tinged Helleborus buds  or  petite Snowdrops with their nodding white heads. I suspect it has something to do with the contradictory nature of their silken hardiness. It probably helps that since my childhood and beyond, they have never failed to appear with their springtime promise, despite late season snowfalls such as we had yesterday. You’d think I’d grow accustomed to their annual appearance instead of going on and on about it, but I never do. (I’ll stop now, before you start muttering about how boring I am.)

Repetition has its uses. For the child constantly reminded to ‘stop, look and listen’ before crossing a street, it can get boring, but the repetition hammers the message home and helps keep him safe on the way to school. For choir members who don’t read music, many repetitions of a new song eventually cement the melody and harmony into a cohesive unit… a creation suitable for performance.

Repetition reveals old things in a new light, and it provides emphasis. At my writers’ group yesterday I was reminded that I often need to hear the same message, and read the same advice multiple times but from different sources, before I finally ‘get it’.

Writers also know there are no new plots — nothing that hasn’t been written about before — so we keep producing new stories by putting our unique spin on the same old themes.

The reappearing pussywillow? I suppose it’s a visible reminder of God’s endless promises…

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat, summer and winter,
day and night, shall not cease.”

[Genesis 8:22]

“… His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

[Lamentations 3:23]

How have you experienced repetition? Has it been a positive or a negative?

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Oh, Spring… wherefore art thou?

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Sleet pelts the windows, driven sideways by 50 km per hour gusts of wind. The storm was predicted and will be over by morning, although rain showers will continue. I’m not complaining. We had an unusually dry January and we need this moisture. But… well, yes I suppose I am complaining. Just a wee bit.

Snowdrops and Hellebores are blooming, and some years by this point we’ve already had to mow the lawns. Not this year. This year the grass is sodden, and early shoots are struggling up through uncleared winter debris — orangey brown bits of cedar, hemlock needles and mud-spattered moss. I hesitate to mutter too much, given there are places where folks are still under multiple feet of snow, or a deluge of flood waters, but still….

When springtime hovers just out of reach and the weather is miserable day after day, it can be hard to keep depression from settling in.

Tulips

I know of two friends who received red roses for Valentine’s Day. They’re beautiful, of course, but I don’t think anything is as romantic as having someone know me well enough to bring me a bouquet of cheery tulips. I adore tulips, and they were the perfect spirit brighteners for a blustery February 14th. (And yes, he received a kiss for his thoughtfulness!)

During this in-between-the-seasons time, another way to lift spirits is to put some energy into a project. Many years my hubby would choose the early New Year to paint a room or two. (This month he’s bucking up a tree recently felled, slowly building the pile of next winter’s firewood.) I’m more likely to rearrange furniture or start a new writing project.

This month I’ve already moved the furniture. In ten days I’ll begin the writing.

Every March a group of writers and readers band together under the banner of #MarchMadness. We encourage each other to set and fulfill significant goals, and then cheer each other on. We commit to checking in… every. single. day. all. month. long… and reporting our progress. It’s surprising how much we achieve when guilt stares us in the face. Mind you, it helps that there are prizes offered, too.

Author Denise Jaden coordinates us, but we have seven different hosts this year, one for each day of the week. (I’ll be providing Saturday #MarchMadness postings here.) Earlier this month Denise posted a heads up that “there are some great prizes trickling in – like audiobooks, and high-demand books and even at least one agent critique. Start thinking about what writing/reading/blogging goals you will set for this March, and I’ll be back soon with more details.”

Our goals aren’t necessarily lofty ones. They’re meant to be individualized to meet specific needs. Maybe you’d like to join us this time. As Denise said, start thinking about what goals you’d like to set. There will be more information coming, and on March 1st we’ll all leap into action.

Just think… before we’ve completed #MarchMadness SPRING WILL HAVE ARRIVED! Oh, joy!!! I’ll be happy-dancing! :)

As a writer, reader or blogger, might you be tempted to join us for #MarchMadness 2014?

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Transitioning from Autumn to Winter and Pre-Christmas

Fall’s wardrobe is dusty with a hint of winter to come — a sharp, crisp morning turned fuzzy with frost.

Frosted Rhoddie

Neglected garden flowers are iced and finished, reminding me there is still work to be done before winter takes hold… before I turn resolutely away from summer memories and embrace Christmas preparations.

Frosted Flower

Except for baking my Christmas cakes six weeks ahead, I don’t begin thinking seriously of Christmas until Advent begins. This morning I realized that’s barely a week away! I won’t begin digging out the bins of memory-drenched decorations quite yet, but it’s not too soon to start planning how I want to celebrate this year.

Yesterday I watched a webcast with Ann Voskamp and Liz Curtis Higgs, Christmas at the Farm: Unwrapping the full love story of Christmas. It was the perfect precursor, reminding me that having “a sane, sacred and simplified Christmas” is not a matter of circumstances — but a matter of focus. “Simplify Christmas? Celebrate Christ.” The webcast video will continue to be available online, so if you missed its debut, do please consider pouring yourself a steaming cup of coffee or fragrant tea (or perhaps a spicy eggnog if you’re already that far into the season) and settling in to watch it now.

Frosted Leaf

Frost is in our forecast for the next week or so, with freezing nights and sun-filled days. I’ll need to take advantage of this last opportunity to finish up some of the fall chores and get set for the about-turn into winter. Then, except for meeting my NaNoWriMo goal, I’ll be more than ready to welcome December! How about you?

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(Consider a click or two on the photos to enlarge for a closer look.)

Skipping the present to get to the future

There’s frost here this morning. Our shake roof glistens white in the sunshine, and trails of mist play at the edges of the marsh. An e-mail from family in the southeastern corner of the province brought photos of their first major snowfall — 22 cm that delighted the children but required plowing at 5 a.m. to ensure everyone could get to work and school.

I love the early fall, when bright colours dapple the landscape. It’s my favourite season.

Geese on the go in the Fraser Valley

Geese on the go in the Fraser Valley

Fall on the Fraser River

Fall on the Fraser River

Mist on our lake in BC's Cariboo

Mist on our lake in BC’s Cariboo

I’m not so enamoured by late fall. We west coasters know that many weeks of grey skies and constant rain are on the horizon. But if I dwell on what is to come, I won’t fully appreciate the present.

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When it comes to my writing, during November if I’m not revising one particular manuscript I’m working on the first draft of another. That one is still new and I don’t have a clear view of its ending. As I work on preliminary scenes I’m sometimes tempted to skip ahead and try to figure out exactly how my characters solved their dilemma. However, to do so would mean missing the excitement of discovery along the way. For now, I plan to focus on the present and worry about how the future unfolds when the time comes.

There are many different ways of constructing a novel. What’s your process during a first draft?

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