Summertime & Keeping it Real

When there’s deep snow to slog through, I complain. When it rains for weeks on end, I complain. When hot sun arrives and pushes the thermometer up past the 30C degree mark, I complain. Apparently I’m hard to please. LOL.

After several days of suffocating heat, the summer solstice arrived today in delightful moderation — filtered sunshine, a breeze and 21C degrees. It couldn’t be more perfect.

(Lantana ‘Marmalade’)

My bare arms were even a bit cool as I sat out on the back deck this morning. (But I did NOT complain!) Now I’m doing a bit of writing and revising, and have suddenly been faced with the realization that in this current manuscript, my characters haven’t complained. Not once. That made me think back to the previous book. Did anyone complain in it? They argued (sometimes a lot), they objected to some happenings and reacted negatively to others, but I can’t recall anyone actually complaining.

I may have to go back and check, because reality says ordinary people always seem to find something to complain about — the weather, a child’s behaviour, the condition of lettuce at the grocery store. Even glass-half-full people don’t live every minute of every day in a Pollyanna glow.

As writers, we have the ability to create make-believe worlds where everything is the way we would like our lives to be. The main characters can always be thoughtful and kind in their interactions with other likeable characters (we’re not thinking of the villains at the moment), but how realistic is that? How credible?

When writing dialogue, it’s important to make our characters speak ‘normally’, which means they won’t always use full sentences, or show a clear step by step progression of thoughts. Colloquialisms and abbreviations will happen. To have them speak formally would make for a stilted conversation. A similar parallel occurs in how they live their lives. There are going to be occasional speeding tickets about which they will grumble. Granted, storytelling should minimize the mundane and stick to the important scenes that move the story along. But a glimpse into the everyday reactions of our characters is necessary to keep it real. It’s okay if they occasionally complain.

In a word or two, how would you describe your main character’s personality? How does that affect how s/he reacts to conflicts encountered in the story?

~  ~  ~

(Peony)

 

 

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Writing Despite Distractions

Sounds of a table saw and power nailer add to the smell of freshly baked bread and contribute to my Saturday morning distractions. My hubby is outside, glad for the sunshine as he power washes the final side of the house, and I’m sorely tempted to abandon my inside chores and escape out to the garden. But I mustn’t. Not yet.

I promised myself I wouldn’t let this week slide by without finishing a chapter in my new manuscript and writing a blog post, so I’m chained to my laptop until that’s accomplished.

It can be difficult to ignore distractions, especially appealing ones, but I try hard to stick to my priorities which, right now, are to rough draft a second book in a series, then return to an older story and rewrite it to become the third. I don’t have a definite timeline, but am squinting hopefully at year end.

Aspiring writers are often heard to say they’re going to write a book sometime … perhaps when the baby finally sleeps through the night so they aren’t always exhausted, or when the children are in school, or when retirement from the day job arrives … sometime, when they have time. The problem is, time rarely makes itself available. Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion” and Isaac Asimov’s corollary to that says, “In ten hours a day you have time to fall twice as far behind your commitments as in five hours a day.

It’s a safe bet there will never be any leftover time, so whether or not a book gets written will depend entirely on the writer’s commitment to the task and the desire to make time. I think all of us have dreamt of endless hours sequestered in a hideaway writing our life’s work uninterrupted from beginning to end. I think we also all know it’ll never happen.

Even full-time career authors and retired writers with no children at home acknowledge the reality of everyday life and the limitations it puts on time. I’ve always had trouble settling in to write when I know I have only a half hour, or some similar time restriction due to an impending appointment or meeting. But I’ve learned to recognize that restless ‘I-don’t-have-enough-time’ voice as the negative influence it is, and to ignore it. Even short sessions can be productive.

In proper manuscript format, one page consists of about 250 words. Depending on the genre, a first novel is usually no more than 90,000 words, so if a person could steal enough time to draft one page per day, that would produce a finished novel in one year. Just one page! Some days I can write an entire chapter; other days I struggle to find those 250 words, but it averages out.

For the next month or so the main distractions around here are going to be the coming and going of workers doing the renovation in our en suite bathroom. They have their supplies and equipment in one bay of our garage, so they come in through the adjoining door to our laundry, and trek down the hall through the middle of the house. They are very considerate, but inevitably there is noise and dust and frequent questions. (And in the middle of it all is our wild-child Labrador, unhappily kept away from the hallway by a cardboard barricade and advising me regularly that there are strangers in the house.)

Still, I will write. I have this story nagging at me, revealing its scenes in small bursts. When I know I won’t likely get all the needed words on a page at one time, I make notes as a blueprint for my next session. I want to get it done, and doing it is the only way.

How about you? What’s your dream? What distractions keep you from pursuing/achieving it?

~  ~  ~

 

A New Page

I’ve kept a diary or journal off and on since I was fifteen. I remember my first had a tiny lock and key that wasn’t sturdy enough to have kept out a little brother, if I’d had a little brother. Fortunately I didn’t. (No disrespect meant to little brothers, but if I’d had a sibling I would have preferred a sister. Despite occasional hints to my parents, I didn’t get either one.)

Some of my journals contain ramblings that cover multiple years, while others fill up quickly and don’t manage to include one complete year. All my teen volumes went the way of my childhood belongings, and I didn’t resume writing until I’d been a wife and mother for several years. At that point there was a troublesome time that drew me back into writing for therapy. I’ve kept all my journals since then.

There are usually a few blank books waiting on the shelf, since buying journals is a weakness of mine (as is shopping in any stationery or book store…surprise!). And starting a new journal, or a clean page in an ongoing one, is a welcome fresh start…like New Year’s Day, or reaching retirement, or like today — the first day of Spring.

I finished the green 2013-2018 book (shown near the top of my above pile) this past weekend, so it was time to pick a new one. My choice was one I bought while attending last fall’s Surrey Conference.

Can you read the words embossed in gold across the bottom? Here, I’ll get closer…

“Always believe something wonderful is about to happen.” That kind of optimism ignites my creativity. Despite all the obstacles and discouragements that are a part of the writer’s journey, I want to believe it’s all worthwhile…that there is a goal justifying the effort, waiting just beyond the next bend in the road. (Although, truth be told, I love writing enough that the destination itself isn’t my motivation.)

My writing is always a little neater on the first pages of a new journal. I do a lot of my musing and mental meandering before the first entry, thinking it should be a significant thought. Eventually, though, I pick up my pen and begin scribbling.

Today’s entry began with, “It’s Spring! Yay!!!” Not particularly inspiring words. Not even writing-related. But they’re in a new book, on a new page. I’ve made another fresh start, and maybe among these pages I’ll find there has been something wonderful to record. Who knows?

Right now I need to get back to percolating ideas for my fictional characters. I left them perched on the edge of another chapter and I imagine they are as anxious as I am to dive in.

~  ~  ~

 

Winter’s Worn Out Its Welcome

We’ve arrived at the second weekend in March. Did you remember this is when our clocks jump forward an hour (not on their own, of course; you have to change them) and our bodies rebel at losing an hour’s sleep?

I dislike these biannual time changes. There was a purpose for Daylight Saving Time way back in 1916 when it was first introduced in Germany to save electricity, but I’d be happy to keep one or the other — either Saving or Standard time — and not have to change back and forth.

What I DO like about mid-March is the coming official start of Spring on March 20th. We’ve finally taken down the front door plaque that says ‘Winter Welcome’, because winter has worn out its welcome around here. I’m tired of it. I want the snow to go away and let the buried crocuses show their cheery colours. It’ll be a while before the mini-avalanches disappear. Our shake roof relieved itself of several loads, one of which landed on the back deck, and I imagine that pile is going to be there for a while.

My hubby likes to say we are an Easter people, and Sunday morning at our church one more candle on the Lenten wreath will be extinguished, bringing us another week closer to Easter. As the Lenten material says,

Lent is a season that focuses our attention on discipleship.  It pushes us to examine ourselves and the many ways we have turned away from God.  Rather than a shallow giving up of personal pleasures, Lent invites us to give up those things that have pulled us away from God and take up those things that draw us toward Him.”

I like March. It’s a forward-looking month and right now I’m all about saying goodbye to Winter and looking ahead to all that is to come.

Now, it’s an hour later than my clocks are proclaiming. Time to change them and go to bed, even if it’s a bit early for me. I’m going to need all the hours of sleep I can get tonight!

~  ~  ~

 

Advent II – Live in Peace

Our world sure is a troubled place! Every newscast I saw today featured shots of hatred in action: fighting, killing and destruction.

Today was the second Sunday in Advent, and we began the worship service at my church by lighting the second candle representing Peace. (The first candle last week was for Hope.)

There are lots of platitudes about peaceful living, but they might not mean much to people who are mired in turmoil and war. “Where is God,” they ask, “when good people are hurting?”

All I can answer is, “He’s right beside them, hurting, too.” This world isn’t what God intended, it’s what we’ve made it. People are quick to take potshots at others with their words, their hands and their weapons, and the innocent get caught in the crossfire. It’s painful and sinful, and oh, how God’s heart must ache!

In this season of “Peace and Goodwill towards all people” we see random acts of kindness and generosity all around — goodness is emerging in small doses, if only for a few weeks. Would that we could start a movement that would promote peace year ’round.

Why couldn’t we?

~

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.

[Romans 12:18]

Make every effort to live in peace
with everyone and to be holy;
without holiness no one will see the Lord.

[Hebrews 12:14]

~  ~  ~

And so it begins…

December 1st. It’s not even 4:30 p.m. and already it’s pitch black outside. At least, it is until the outside Christmas lights, recently strung along the roofline around our back deck, suddenly blink on and shine through the windows to illuminate the family room.

Advent arrives this weekend and we’ve begun some of the annual decorating. We have a friend who mocks our early start because, for her, Christmas doesn’t begin until December 24th.

But the season passes faster with each successive year and now we no sooner put out our favourite items when it seems time to pack them away again. I like to savour the season for as long as possible so I begin when Advent starts.

We often refer to it as the Season of Waiting, or of Preparation and Anticipation, but Ann Voskamp‘s comment strikes home:

Advent is a whole lot more than waiting for Christmas, Advent is a whole lot more than preparing for Christmas — Advent is ultimately about preparing the way for the Light of Christ in a world dying for light. Advent is a whole lot more than passively waiting for the King — it’s about participating in the work of the Kingdom of God.

It does make me wonder, though, why we wait until December to show compassion and generosity, as if the need exists only within the parameters of the Christmas season. Surely “the work of the Kingdom of God” is a 365-days-a-year thing.

Perhaps we need the Christmas season to remind us of this. To give us a nudge out of our complacency and into action. To focus on the One who came as a Child and changed all history. To remember that he said,

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. [Matthew 25:40]

Yes, the world is dying for light” and too often we feel there is little we can do to make a difference. But even as small blips of light can illuminate a room, so in this Advent season we can reflect God’s love, hope, joy and peace into the world and help brighten someone’s darkness.

~

~  ~  ~

A Strange Start to September

“Don’t ever open by writing about the weather,” the workshop instructor warned. “It’s deadly.”

Well, yes, I get that talking about the weather has been overdone. It’s a cliche. But these days it’s all I can think about. This is British Columbia’s west coast — what we locals often call BC’s rainforest — and yet once summer got underway this year, rainfall became all but non-existent. July and August were the driest in our recorded history, and September is starting out with another heat wave.

So you’ll have to forgive me for having hot sunshine on my mind. I can’t get into the mindset of the television broadcasters who keep mentioning that because it’s back-to-school time, the end of summer has arrived. No, it hasn’t! Even if it’s too hot, I’m not letting go of it until the bitter end.

The spiders obviously believe the untruth, since webs are popping up in all the wrong places. This one caught the mist from the hose while I watered begonias one morning. I’d be impressed by its beautiful symmetry if I didn’t know its rather large creator was lurking nearby.

Since we’re on a shallow well here, we don’t usually water the gardens, only the few annuals that are mostly in baskets and tubs on the deck. Once new shrubs and perennials are established, they’re on their own. I’m surprised how many survive despite being neglected.

There have been periods of smoky haze this summer — earlier from all the forest fires in central BC’s Cariboo and Chilcotin, and more recently from those in Washington and California. We missed our usual August vacation at our lakeside cabin in the Cariboo because access roads were under fire restrictions. The cabin itself has remained unscathed so far, so maybe this month we’ll get there. Or maybe not. The wildfires have been difficult to contain and the situation changes from day to day. I’ve heard some of them may continue to burn until next spring.

The southeastern section of the province is now also dealing with multiple wildfires and we watch with concern since we have family members in their path.

September is usually one of my favourite months of the year, but this one…? It’s off to a strange start.

~

What does September bring for you? Back to work? The usual schedules and deadlines? Or will this be the time you decide to find a better balance — time for commitments, time for yourself … body, mind and spirit?  

BALANCE

Life is a segway
If you let God handle it 
It balances out.

[Ashley Somebody] 

~  ~  ~