Sometimes you just have to slog on through…

I imagine most people have heard the quote, “The best way out is always through.” [Robert Frost’s A Servant to Servants] I don’t know how many people agree with it, but it’s true for me as I muddle with decisions over renovation materials.

Bit by bit we’ve been updating our twenty-seven year old home, upgrading portions of the kitchen in 2015 and the main bathroom in 2016. Now we’re embarking on the en suite bathroom, and right from the get-go this renovation has been challenging.

It shouldn’t be. The colour scheme and materials are the same as we used in the main bathroom — the same bianco carrara tile floor and walls around tub and shower, the same decorative mosaic accent, light grey cabinet with a dark grey quartz countertop, white fixtures and chrome faucets. It all pulled together quite easily last time, but now …? Ack!

In a bath supply showroom the freestanding bathtub we wanted this time was waaaaaay too expensive, but we found it online from a reputable dealer for a much better price. There was a delay in shipping. The toilet we wanted was out of stock. We chose a different one. The desired tub filler wasn’t in store but could be brought from the warehouse in a couple days. After two long delays we gave up, cancelled the order and picked up an alternate. Two weeks later the original order came in and, despite having received its refund, we continue to get phone calls (three so far) to please come and pick it up. Then we couldn’t find an affordable rainshower kit in a design we liked.

The most recent pucker in our plan is tile for the shower floor. The other bathroom has a tub/shower combo, so tile wasn’t required. This bathroom has a custom shower stall, hence the need for a base. The contractor thought a plain white tile would work well, except we have a lot of iron in our water here and I refuse to have white tile or white grout in an area where standing water can stain them orange. We decided on a medium grey.

I found the perfect one — actually, our young granddaughter found it; it’s the one in the right hand bottom corner of the above photo — but when the contractor went to collect the tile order, that particular one had gone out of stock, was no longer available, and they had nothing else like it. ::sigh::

We selected an alternate at Lowes, got it home and found, away from the store’s fluorescent lights, it was almost black, not grey at all. Now we’ve chosen another, but I’m second-guessing the choice because it has veining in it that might be too ‘busy’ alongside the carrara. I couldn’t bring a sample home so won’t know until the contractor delivers it. Then it will be too late to change.

And so it goes. Decisions, choices, backtracking, second-guessing … a stressful process for me who likes things organized and straightforward. But there is no way to bypass this part of the process. We just have to slog on through.

It’s reminiscent of my writing-and-revising process. Some days the words come easily while on others they are plucked like eyebrow hairs, one at a time, sometimes painfully, from the not-so-creative pool. I recently finished a story, edited, revised and finally rewrote it, then edited again. There were moments when I just wanted to flush the whole thing, but the only way to finish was to trust my intuition and keep going. It’s out on submission now, but I know if it’s accepted anywhere for publication it will undoubtedly have to undergo even more revision.

I want things — bathroom and books — to turn out the best they can, so will take a deep breath and keep slogging on through to completion, hoping the niggling internal voice is wrong and the end result will be worth the struggle.

How do you deal with misgivings and the taunts of your internal editor? 

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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.

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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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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

Written and Photographic Snapshots

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During my blogging absence over the past month I’ve taken an uncountable number of snapshots — hundreds of them — with my camera and iPhone.

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It makes me smile to remember a trip our family took in 1980 when, despite feeling significant guilt, I clicked through nineteen rolls of 35 mm film over the nine weeks’ journey. It was extravagant, but it was unlikely I would ever make that same trip again and I wanted to record every memory regardless of the cost.

Our first digital camera was a gift when my hubby retired in 2003. At first I was inhibited by the limitless opportunity of  amazing photographic freedom. It took a while to accept that I could depress my finger as often as I wanted and there would be no cost attached to any of my ‘mistakes’. One click recorded something; a different click deleted it; a third click printed it, but only if I desired an ‘hard copy’… and because I purchased photo paper in quantity, even that cost was negligible.

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I’ve been told the difference between an average photographer and a good one is in the number of discarded photos. Savvy photographers don’t display their mediocre shots. My laptop’s photo folder says it currently holds 6,874 pictures. On my desktop computer in the office there are 18,246 more, and that doesn’t account for the files saved on disks and memory cards. I don’t suppose a dozen of them are what I would call really good shots, but I keep all their files, just because I can. The only person besides me who likes to browse through them is my eight-year-old granddaughter and she doesn’t seem to care about quality. She likes revisiting the scenes, as do I.

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One advantage of keeping all of them is having a ready source of something to use in a blog post or add to the collages I like to create for inspiration while writing my novels.

Writers have various means of encouraging their creativity. Some have rituals they follow before settling into a writing session — maybe preparing a cup of tea, lighting a scented candle, turning on favourite music, or setting out a particular talisman.

One of my favourite go-to blogs is Writer Unboxed, and recently it ran a post about using a collage to create a snapshot of your novel. It turns out, I’m not the only one whose creativity gets a boost from visual stimulation. For each of my novels I’ve put together storyboards with photos, graphics and other items that reflect aspects of the plot. Some of the references might seem nebulous to someone unfamiliar with the developing story, but there is value to me in the artistic endeavour of assembling the collage. On the few occasions when I begin to bog down part way through the story, I stop writing and return to the collage, searching out new bits and building them into the existing collection until my enthusiasm for writing returns.

It’s almost as effective as taking a walk in the woods or beside the lake or seashore with my camera in hand. 🙂

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If you’re a storyteller, what techniques do you have for maintaining your writing momentum? 

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“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

[Ecclesiastes 3:11a]

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Writing in Summer Solitude

Last spring author Debra Purdy Kong blogged about her need for solitude. She said, “scientific research has shown that creative people need solitude. An article in Quartz revealed what many of us writers have known for some time. Solitude has nothing to do with being bored or being lonely. In fact, it’s an essential component for any type of creativity.”

DSC09480The creative person’s desire for solitude isn’t limited to summer, but for many of us that’s the time we’re most likely to find some. School’s out. Organizations put their meetings on hiatus. Employees take their vacations. It’s the best time to escape … or, at least, that’s what we seem to think. Maybe we’re brainwashed to believe that, when we should really be looking for periods of solitude throughout the entire year — any time our well of inspiration is in need of replenishment.

A solitary stroll on an crisp fall morning or a snowy weekend evening might be all it takes to let fresh ideas break through what I call a cotton batten brain. A rainy day spent at the museum or art gallery does it for some, while others find refreshment pouring through shelves in a library or bookstore. Personally, I’d never turn down the opportunity to spend an hour in any season, sitting on a log at the beach or by the lake, emptying the mind to ready it for refilling.

My writerly sub-conscience needs that, but so too does my spirit. Solitude and stillness help me open myself to God and let peace and renewal seep in.

I saw this graphic on the (in)courage website recently with the words, “May you have the chance to be still, to hear His voice in the quiet spaces.” I’ve borrowed it to use here as a summertime reminder. I’ll be absent from the internet during portions of August as I focus on experiencing stillness and refreshment, and on redirecting my creative efforts. I hope you’ll make time to do the same.

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Putting My Imagination to Work

In one of my posts back in 2009 I made a comment about imagination…

“Imagination is a fascinating phenomenon. With it the writer’s mind creates people who don’t exist, places that have never been, events that didn’t happen, and somehow combines them to create a world that readers accept as real.”

Such imagination can be found in more than fiction.

During Spring Break I accompanied my DIL and granddaughter to a local nursery. Their goal was to find a few plants and accessories to make a Fairy Garden.

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No, this isn’t her garden; it’s mine!

This is where I admit to a love of little woodland hideaways and secret places. Stories like The Secret Garden and Alice in Wonderland that feature wild, abandoned gardens or hidden worlds accessed via a rabbit hole still fascinate me as an adult.

I’ve coveted every fairy garden I’ve ever seen, and yet never taken the initiative to create one for myself. I’m not sure what prompted me, but last week, after acquiring a few leftover plants from my granddaughter’s, I set out to make one, too.

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The one resident fairy is probably lonely as she basks in the shade of her miniature gypsy-style wagon, but the garden’s not finished yet. And once it is, I have another project along similar lines, although that one may require some assistance from my hubby. There are a couple stumps in our woodsy acreage, and ever since seeing the video about “The Gnomist”, I’ve been wanting to add a little door or two … access to a tiny new Gnome’s ghome in my woodland garden. 🙂

It’s all just my goofy imagination at work, but at my age I figure people will forgive my lapse into early senility. After all, we never really outgrow the need to indulge in a bit of whimsy, do we?

If you’ve never seen “The Gnomist” you might enjoy taking a few minutes to view it now. The story behind it is very special. (A Kleenex or two would be wise. Be forewarned.)

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Are you tempted to add a little whimsy to your life now, too?

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