Gardening and Writing au naturel

Our instinct is to push back. Unfortunately, our energy level can’t keep pace with either the instinct or the desire, so year-by-year the wildness surrounding our rural home has encroached on the lawn and gardens.

It’s a tapestry of textures, weeds and wildflowers amid original plantings. At one time I’d be stressed about not being able to keep ahead of them, but … it is what it is. This is rural living and at this point in our lives it’s never going to look like a well manicured city property unless we hire a professional gardener, and THAT isn’t going to happen.

So, buttercups mingle with cranesbill, salal creeps beneath the canopy of maple branches, ferns pop up in the midst of hostas and iris, and we embrace the au naturel look.

The whole gardening endeavour here is a little like my writing. I admire the works of many published authors — words neatly gathered on the page and polished to present the perfect story — and wish mine could be similar, but I’m not them; I’m me.

My method of writing is a lot like my method of dressing, of entertaining and of dealing with daily routines — a little haphazard and a lot informal — so it’s not surprising that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’ and face queries and submissions so casually that they often don’t happen. It’s not surprising that my garden is a little on the wild side, too.

Some days I look at the results (of both) with a degree of discouragement, wishing I could produce something better, but other days I acknowledge this is the way it is. I remind myself there are good things to be said about the au naturel lifestyle.

And as the poster in my office says,

“Be yourself.
An original is always worth more than a copy.”

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Tuesday’s This and That: Birds, Writing and a Conference

I’m sure birds must have brains — isn’t that where the term ‘birdbrain’ comes from? — but I have no idea whether or not they ‘think’. I’m having a battle of wits agains a pair of Juncoes who are as determined to build a nest in my hanging geranium basket as I am determined not to let them. By sheer perseverance they’re slowly outsmarting me, and that irks!

For some reason I am reminded of a quotation by George Carlin: “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”  

My hubby has inserted a criss-cross of kindling pieces into the one basket that’s been getting the most attention, but it appears the birds see that as more of a sturdy building foundation than a deterrent.

The Juncoes are persistent, but so am I! We’ve lived here twenty years and this behaviour only began a couple summers ago. (I see I posted a similar complaint at this same time last June.)

It’s not like there isn’t a multitude of other potential nesting spots around our two-and-a-quarter wooded acres, so I’m not sure why the hanging baskets outside our family room window are so appealing to them. Certainly their poop on the window as they swoop in for their landings isn’t appealing to me!

We’ve temporarily relocated our two hanging baskets onto the deck outside the patio door so I can more easily shoo them away. At the moment I’m not confident about winning this battle with the birds, but the survival of my geraniums depends on it.

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A member of my writing critique group has invited fellow writers to join her for ‘Writing in the Garden’ one morning a month between May and September. She has a beautiful garden — it was featured during a Maple Ridge Country Garden Tour a couple years ago — and would be an inspiring venue for writing … if the weather would cooperate.  A covered lanai protects from rain, but it’s been too chilly to sit outside, so for May and June we were invited inside to write in her lovely home.

I’m not one of those writers who chooses to gather up writing tools and head out to a local coffee bar to write. Normally, I need solitude to transfer the words in my head onto a page, so it surprised me to produce several hundred words during each session. I guess a little peer pressure must have helped.

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Registrations opened last week for the 25th anniversary Surrey International Writers’ Conference, and, despite a budget that barely accommodates attending every second year, I’ve registered again, for the third year in a row! I’ve been attending frequently since 2004 and it’s always an incredible conference. As much as I might wish my encounters there with industry professionals would result in acquiring an agent or a publishing contract, I’m enthused about just being there — being immersed in all things writerly for a four day weekend of workshops and inspiring camaraderie.

SiWC is one of the most popular writers’ conferences in North America and draws attendees from many different countries. The day after registrations opened, it was more than 50% sold out. One of the more popular Master Classes on Thursday was sold out in a record-breaking five minutes! It’s a very large conference and yes, for an introvert like me that could be intimidating. But the atmosphere is always welcoming and inclusive, regardless of one’s level of writing expertise or achievement. And by booking a room in the host hotel, I’m free to slip away and decompress whenever necessary.

This year the conference dates are October 19 – 22. This is only mid-June but I’m already hyperventilating a bit. 🙂

Best not to think too far ahead. Better I wave a tea towel at these pesky Juncoes and get back to my writing.

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Procrastination by any other name…

Have I been procrastinating? Judging by the date of my previous post, apparently so. Or maybe I could call it prioritizing. I’ve been writing, gardening, working on my genealogy project, capturing spring things with my camera … all desirable activities, but not productive when it comes to writing a blog post.

A recent question about Writer’s Block in one of my Facebook groups reminded me of how often writers use it as an excuse to procrastinate:

“Most of us probably experience writer’s block in some form from time to time. What are the … strategies you’ve used to bump yourself out of the ditch, and back into productivity?”

If I’m not writing, it’s easy to call it Writer’s Block and blame it on an uncooperative muse.  The truth is, I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. And before you smack me upside the head and swear you’ve experienced it so you know it exists, let me quickly add that I’m convinced it’s our sub-conscience not wanting to write. In that respect it’s very real.

It is not, however, some outside force that controls my brain. ‘Ms. Muse’ doesn’t straddle my computer monitor and refuse to let me write. As much as I might like to blame some evasive, independent entity, I am the only one who chooses not to place my hands on the keyboard and press word-forming keys.

Like many others writers, I’ve sat in front of my monitor with hands poised … and hesitated. I wanted inspiration to strike and send me into a frenzy of creative energy. It does happen that way on rare occasions, but most often I must choose words and throw them at the page whether they seem inspired or not.  I’ve learned that if I sit and wait, hoping for perfect words to manifest themselves, I will face a blank page indefinitely.

Perfection is the enemy of creativity. While I have faith that God will loosen a stream of words if I start typing, I also have faith in my ability to edit, revise and re-craft them if at first they aren’t exactly what I was hoping for.

And, believe me, they are frequently far from what I was hoping for! That’s when it would be easy to get discouraged, walk away from the computer and find something more rewarding to do. What’s more rewarding, however, is sticking it out — leaving the less-than-impressive words on the page in favour of moving ahead with new ones, because it is the new ones that will eventually get me to the end, and there is nothing more satisfying than reaching that goal.

So, call it what you will — writer’s block, an unhelpful muse, procrastination, endless prioritizing, or just plain not getting it done — BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) really IS the only way to overcome it.

I know, because I just did it. 🙂

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Research? What kind of research?

It doesn’t seem to matter what the task is, unless it’s something I’ve done before, research has to come first.

  • Changing the needle on the sewing machine? Check the manual.
  • Removing a stain from delicate fabric? Google my options.
  • Bake a special dessert? Get out the cookbook.
  • Refinish deck furniture? Find a YouTube video and follow the steps.

My current project — creating a family tree — has been a major research project. Once I made a start, I found lots of formerly unknown sources of information.

An old family bible provided pages of family births, deaths and marriages from the mid-1800s.

Other distant relatives had information to share, such as their discovery of an abandoned cemetery and lost family gravestones.

I’m accumulating details from birth, marriage and death registration certificates that, in addition to cause of death — a surprise to me — often included names and birthplaces of parents, residence at time of death, religious denomination, and occupation.

I mentioned in an earlier post my excitement over locating forty pages of my father-in-law’s WWI military service records. I’ve gleaned all sorts of interesting albeit irrelevant tidbits, like the name of the ships he sailed on between Canada and Europe.

It’s such seemingly irrelevant information that can make the research fascinating and bring an ancestor to life again.

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For writers, it’s those details that can make our stories appealing to readers. The little bits of personal trivia that help readers ‘see’ the setting and get to ‘know’ the characters. They make the story more intimate, more meaningful.

I know this. I just have to remember to implement it in my writing!

What kind of research do you undertake in preparation for (or during) the writing of your stories?

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MASKI: BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD – Joylene Nowell Butler

I first introduced you to Joylene Nowell Butler here in 2011 at the time her second published novel, BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD, was being released.

During that interview, in addition to telling us about the story, Joylene shared bits about her writing process, gave us a peek at the beautiful lake she overlooks as she writes, and succinctly provided some excellent advice to aspiring writers:

“… to write … to learn your craft in earnest. Know your grammar to the best of your ability. Understand POV. Study the 3-Act Play. Learn to give and get critiques. It’s amazing what a wonderful tool critiquing is. Though others will tell you it’s your story and you know what’s best, don’t assume you do. Educate yourself. You have access to the internet? Use it. And read. Read everything in your genre that you can. Study why you love your favourite authors so much. Then get back to writing. Oh, and don’t forget to be stubborn. It helps.”

Since then, the sequel, MATOWAK: WOMAN WHO CRIES, has been published both as paperback and ebook.

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Now, with a slight change to its title, MASKI: BROKEN BUT NOT DEAD is releasing today in ebook format for both Nook and Kindle.

Joylene’s psychological thrillers have never failed to capture me. They are the kind of stories you start and then can’t put down until the last page is turned. If you like mysteries, Maskwon’t disappoint.

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OVERVIEW

To the Breaking Point…

When Brendell Meshango resigns from her university professor position and retreats to her isolated cabin to repair her psyche, she is confronted by a masked intruder. His racial comments lead her to believe she is the solitary victim of a hate crime.

However, is all as it appears? After two bizarre days, the intruder mysteriously disappears but continues to play mind games with her. Taught by her mother to distrust the mainstream-based power structures, and with her stalker possibly linked to a high level of government, Brendell conceals the incident from the police. But will her silence keep her safe?

Then her beloved daughter, Zoë, is threatened and Brendell takes matters into her own hands. To save Zoë, Brendell searches for the stalker and confronts not just a depraved madman but her own fears and prejudices.

I wish Joylene much success with this, as with all her books. I’m particularly happy to be able to help get the word out, since she’s presently rather incapacitated. Last week Joylene suffered a nasty fall at her winter home in Bucerias, Mexico. It resulted in a broken femur and required a total hip replacement. She will be returning to Canada this weekend. Sending prayers up for a good trip and a very speedy recovery.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iTunes
Amazon.com
Amazon.ca

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Maybe I’m Writing; Maybe I’m Not

Success as a writer depends on many things. When I started writing fiction I didn’t think much about being successful. I just wrote. I wanted to create an interesting story in an imaginary setting. It took me years, but I completed that story, then revised it several times. In some ways it was a waste of time.

Despite all the revising, I knew it wasn’t a good story. It had fatal construction flaws. During those years I also began exploring authors’ blogs and writing sites. That’s when I realized I didn’t know how to write a novel, so I backed off the writing and began reading how-to books.

Since then I’ve written more novels. I’ve even sent off occasional queries and submissions, investigating the possibility of agent representation and publication. But I haven’t persevered. The reasons are vague — partly lack of confidence in the quality of my work, partly reluctance to share with a public audience what seems like a very private part of me.

To be a good writer I truly believe one has to be honest — willing to do what K.M. Weiland so aptly describes in her recent blog post:

“Creating is about sticking your fist down deep in your soul, ruthlessly clawing at whatever you can find, and then dragging it out to be shared in the shocking light of day.”

In the novels I’ve written, I haven’t been digging down far enough. I know I’m a private person, and that has me wondering if I can ever find what it will take to write with complete abandon and honesty.

Does that mean I’m thinking about quitting? No, I love writing too much; but my goals may be changing. Instead of writing fiction, I’ve been inserting other tasks into my free time, feeling the push to complete projects that have been sitting in a corner (literally) for years. One involves gathering bits and pieces of our family history together to finally create our family tree. I’m sure my advancing years play a part in this (I’m appalled at how quickly time passes!) but a dose of reality is redirecting my focus.

I’m interested in your feedback. If you’re a writer, has your writing journey moved ahead without interruptions? Has it ever changed directions? Am I wrong in taking my current approach?

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My Memory (or Lack Thereof)

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I take my mind for granted until it fails me. In my younger years it wasn’t uncommon to forget a name, or forget to pick up something I’d planned to get while grocery shopping, but at that age nobody worried about a bit of forgetfulness. In my ‘golden’ years, such lapses make me stop and ponder whether I’m losing my mind altogether. Still, I take a deep breath and tell myself that hasn’t actually happened…yet.

What brought this to mind today was the recent frustration of not being able to remember the magazines that used to carry a favourite article. Granted, it was forty years ago that I eagerly awaited each issue. The featured article was written by Marjorie Holmes and most often it was just a bit of homestyle wisdom or a descriptive observation. I loved her outlook on life and her way of expressing it on the page long before I realized she was a successful author of many books.

But could I remember the name of even one of the magazines? Nope. The harder I tried, the more elusive it became. Exasperated, I finally put it aside and left to do something else … and promptly had the names of two magazines — Family Circle and Woman’s Day — pop into my head, both of which carried Ms. Holmes’ articles. My mind likes to play games with me. Maybe it finds that kind of thing entertaining. Personally, I find it annoying.

It’s frustrating to have my body fail me as it ages, but as the quirky quotation says, “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” * Way back in 2009 I posted on the topic  ‘Where Does the Mind Go?’. Eight years later I still don’t have that answer. I do know it doesn’t help to stress over it.

There’s a notebook and pen on my bedside table because no matter how much I might struggle (and fail) to sort out a particular scene in one of my writing projects in the daytime, I can be sure if there is a solution it will find its way out of my grey matter just as I’m dozing off for the night (and  I’ve learned from experience I won’t remember it in the morning). The urge to burrow deeper under the covers is overcome by the urgency to record precious words; I reach for the notebook.

It’s a contradiction that I focus most efficiently when a deadline is looming, but the one hundred billion neurons in my brain won’t cooperate when I try to force them. I know that, but still….

With Alzheimer’s in my family, possibly I’m super-sensitive to memory lapses. Do I put too much importance on the need to remember everything exactly when I want to? Maybe my problem isn’t about memory so much as impatience.

At least I can be comforted by knowing I haven’t tried hanging up my truck keys in the refrigerator or some other equally inappropriate place. But at this rate, if I’m to keep frustration at bay, I think I may need a larger collection of notebooks so there will always be one close by when my memory provides some recollection that I’m bound to forget again within moments. I’m also going to have to develop some kind of indexing system so I can locate the record of those memories when I need them.

Now, back to hunting up that Marjorie Holmes article.

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If you’d like a good explanation about how memory and the brain work, this Science Daily article is an interesting read.

*Attributed to both Ozzy Osbourne and Mark Twain