Written and Photographic Snapshots

DSC09957

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

DSC09493

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.

DSC00043

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.

DSC09729

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. 🙂

~

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

DSC09494

~

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

[Ecclesiastes 3:11a]

~  ~  ~

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.

13754271_10154356483883674_5775394249163712254_n

~  ~  ~

 

 

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.

IMG_3300

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.

IMG_3303

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.)

~

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

~  ~  ~

Writing Time vs Online Time (It’s all about balance)

I did say this post would be coming last ‘Friday’, didn’t I? Mmm, yes. This isn’t Friday, is it? Some bloggers might be inclined to say, “Oh, well, suck it up and let’s get on with it.” Personally, I wouldn’t think that was a polite way to respond. I’m more the apologetic type. “So sorry,” I’ll say. “Unavoidable interruptions. Sincere apologies.” Now suck it up and let’s carry on.

We writers sometimes need a jolt to unsettle our complacency. In my previous post I mentioned a comment from a book I’m currently reading by Jeff Goins. I went to his website for the URL to share with you, started reading his post and that’s where I got today’s jolt.

“…what do writers do? They write. There’s nothing mystical or magical about it — you just have to show up and commit to doing the work. Place butt in chair, fingers on keys, and start typing. And this, of course, is where most writers fail. They never actually write a word. They talk about writing, think about writing, even read about writing. But they do not write.”

I think that makes last week’s post even more appropriate. Not only is our “crazy social media platform maintenance” frenzy a form of stalling, the talking, thinking and reading about writing are all equally effective deterrents to any success.

It’s decision time. Time to make strategic choices that will provide the resources we need while allowing us to spend the majority of our time pursuing our creativity. So, what will those choices look like? Take a moment to…um, I’d say smell the roses, but it’s too early for them…so maybe just admire the snowdrops (they’re everywhere in my garden right now), then grab your notebook and start planning.

Winter Snowdrops

(Winter Snowdrops – Galanthus)

  • Restrict social media networks to the few that are the most useful

We agree: we can’t do it all. Ideally, the best networks will be the ones where we encounter people of similar interests, the sites where we will find the information that is most suited to our purpose or that will reach the most people who are likely to be interested in our product or subject matter. It isn’t necessary to constantly explore cyberspace. Once we’ve found them, settle on a select few sites.

I have a group of writing friends on Facebook in addition to my family, church and purebred dog connections, so next to my blog, that’s my network of preference. I check in on Twitter occasionally, but don’t spend much time there, I recently quit Google+, and I’ve avoided Pinterest entirely because I know it’s addictive.

My list of regularly visited blogs and websites have been whittled down considerably this year to include those of a handful of friends, fellow authors, and writing mentors, the Seekerville writing community, and a couple inspirational sites. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally visit some that are on my earlier lists, or go to places like Amazon and home-decorating sites, but they are no longer places to dally on a daily basis or let eat into my writing time.

  • Allot specific amounts of time to spend online

How long do we realistically need to check and respond to e-mail, to peruse a limited number of favourite blogs or websites, to do the research for a particular writing project? Determine that ahead of time and set a timer. Knowing it’s counting down should keep us more focused on our task and less inclined to dawdle. Once our ‘social’ time is over and we move on to the day’s work, I try to resist checking in online every few minutes. If it’s a writing day I might work for an hour and then allow myself a ten minute break to check for messages, get a Coke or a coffee, and carry on. Your daily tasks will be different from mine, depending on your day job, family responsibilities, and other commitments. How much time we allot to social media is up to us but we need to be disciplined, honest and realistic about how we ration it.

  • Include opportunities to ‘give back’ to the writing community

It’s easy for writers to become immersed in our fictional worlds and believe the online hype we try to create is all about us. It’s not. We relish the support and encouragement of those we look up to, those whose efforts have brought them success, and in turn we should be ready to offer what help we can to others. Whether it’s leaving comments of encouragement, interviewing newcomers on our blogs or offering book reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, we can show appreciation by giving back, regardless of our level of expertise or inexperience.

  • Schedule time into the day for creative refuelling

Whatever our workday consists of, it’s important to make sure we carve out a niche for personal refreshment. (And that doesn’t mean to go blog-hopping!) Some of my favourite writing books aren’t actually on the craft itself, but on nurturing the writer within. Julia Cameron recommends artist’s dates — going for a walk, visiting an art gallery or museum, spending quiet time in an environment that is personally rejuvenating. It can be a whole afternoon, or just fifteen minutes. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s “me time”.

That’s about it. I’m not all that proficient when it comes to how I spend my online time, but I’m trying to be intentional about it. When I succeed, I’m surprised at how much more I get done in a day.

As for those links I promised, here’s a list in random order of some of the more helpful writing sites I particularly like (no, I don’t visit them everyday, and you’d better not, either!):

Writer UnboxedWriter’s Digest, Anne R. AllenK.M. Weiland, Jessica Morrell, Chip MacGregor, Rachelle GardnerJane Friedman, The Write Life, Seekerville, The Writer’s Alley, Write to Done, Story Fix: Larry Brooks, The Kill Zone (Hey, don’t raise your eyebrows; I write cozy mysteries!), Jeff Goins, Pub Rants, Molly Greene, Kirsten Lamb, Live-Write-Thrive: CS Lakin, Jody Hedlund, Agent Query, Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, The Passive Voice: The Lawyer Guy, American Christian Fiction Writers, The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, Writers Helping Writers, Absolute Write WaterCooler Forum, Bookends Literary Agency blogWriting World: Moira Allen (blog has concluded, but has sixteen years of archived articles). 

~

DSC08746

~  ~  ~

 

The Writer and An Addiction to Social Media

GoldenEarsWriters

A comment left on my previous post reminded me why I began my venture into social media, AND why I have ever-so-slowly backed away again. Wendy Love said,

I love reading ideas that concur with my own as this one does. As a writer/blogger I keep reading that I have to spread myself all over the internet. But as someone who is challenged by bipolar disorder, I only have so much energy to go around. At one point I cut myself off of everything but now that I am back to writing online I realize I should probably be reaching out more. Can anyone suggest a select few that they would recommend?

Part of my reply: “I began blogging chiefly because I heard the same thing: that to be a successful author you need to establish a tribe…a crowd of online followers. There’s a certain benefit to being part of the social media community, but if we become obsessed with developing numbers to the detriment of our personal growth and writing time, we counteract the value.”

Also detrimental is the subtle addiction to social media. It’s too easy to get hung up on being a courteous communicator — checking online conversations and making sure we reply promptly. One week I discovered I had spent more time trying to react to comments and other people’s articles, and to provide thoughtful responses, than I did working on my own writing project.

Most of my early writing years were spent in cognito as far as any online presence was concerned. I stalked popular agents’ and editors’ blogs while reading ‘how to’ books on the craft of writing. I was in learning mode, and I stayed there until one day the urge to respond to something prodded me into visibility. (I think my first comment was on Rachelle Gardner‘s blog, and I was almost in a cold sweat as I fearfully pressed the SEND key that first time.)

At one point I had well over a hundred blogs and websites bookmarked — all interesting and useful, but, of course, I couldn’t visit each of them every day. A pattern developed, and I found a way to code my favourite, more favourite and most favourite sites. Later I joined Facebook, then also Twitter and Google+, but managed to withstand the temptation of everything else. As I mentioned last week, in conjunction with my blogging, even those few have become too time consuming.

I’ve come to believe that establishing a specific online community is desirable for gathering personal support and industry information, but trying to be present everywhere and “do it all” will eventually drain my energy and shift the focus of my writing towards maintenance rather than creativity. And before having published books to promote, the creative writing aspect is what I need to pursue.

The question of which social media sites are most useful has no single correct answer. I qualify that by adding it depends on what genre you write, how experienced you are, and what your goals are. It also depends on what ignites your passions. I’ll share some of mine in the next edition of my Musings.

I’ve been reading Jeff Goins’ YOU ARE A WRITER (SO START ACTING LIKE ONE). One of his observations struck home:

You know what most of this crazy, social media platform maintenance is? Stalling. Procrastinating the real work you need to do, which is writing. I don’t play that game anymore. I pick a few networks that work for me and I say ‘good riddance’ to the rest. If you’re going to be a real writer, you’ll have to make similar sacrifices.

I hadn’t read that when I decided to jump ship from Google+, but I think he would approve. I’ll be back here on Friday to share what social media I haven’t abandoned and which blogs and websites get the majority of my attention.

In the meantime, in Jeff’s words, “do a little purging and get to work.”

~  ~  ~

Difficult Deadlines

As writers we know all about deadlines, don’t we? They are entwined with commitments and are equally unpopular. There’s something about seeing a big circle looming on the calendar that automatically turns off my enthusiasm. At the very time when I need to be productive, I often can’t dredge up the necessary words. As the deadline draws closer I can become panicky. Nothing kills creativity like panic! But we don’t have the luxury of submitting to that panic if an editor is waiting for our work. We must write and we must do it now. So how do we accomplish the seemingly impossible?

William Faulkner once said: “I write only when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” How does a person “get inspired” when the words aren’t coming?

In the book “Take Joy”, Jane Yolen suggests one way. She speaks of “priming the writing pump”. It’s a common analogy in the writing world, but I love her imagery:

“My late father-in-law had a cabin in the West Virginia woods. There was no running water, only a pump that needed to be primed each morning with river water…. Pouring the river water into the mouth of the pump, I would then lower the handle, lift it, lower it again. The gurgle of the unseen machinery alluded to the sympathetic magic taking place: like calling to like.

     “The pump would wheeze, snort, pull, the handle becoming harder and harder to push. And then suddenly water–not the river water laved into the pump, but fresh, earth-chilled, underground, sweet-as-spring water would gush forth.

     “Everyday writing starts that way. The old river water thrown into the pump is metaphorically your letters, revisions, journal entries… and then that sympathetic magic takes hold. As water calls water, so words call words. Up they come from the unplumbed depths, what some call inspiration and some call talent and some call soul: sweet-as-spring new ideas. Sentences. Paragraphs. Stories. Poems. Gushing, flowing, even overflowing. The writer’s day starts.”

For a Christian writer the added ingredient is prayer. Long before I begin trying to prime the pump I have engaged in conversation with the creator of all creativity. Only then do I check the clock and settle in to write. I don’t have many deadlines, but I haven’t missed one yet.

~  ~  ~

Taking control of the I.E. (again)

As I wander my way through this month’s NaNoWriMo writing, there are days when I would be making better time if I could ignore the whispers that keep reminding me the energy isn’t being well spent — that even when revised, the end result isn’t going to be worth the effort.

This week I remembered a post I wrote back in 2009, and I decided this would be a very good time to pull it out of the archives. I need the reminding, and I hope you’ll find it useful, too.

~

Some days the grouch inside me  can turn me into an unpleasant-to-be-around whiner. Those are the days you hear me muttering at the computer screen as if the words thereon are animate: “What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see that isn’t what I intended to say at all? Get it right, for Pete’s sake!” The words never answer back. They just sit there and leer at me.

On her original blog, my friend Earlene once talked about the creative “entities” that invade a writer’s mind. When the wrong ones gain control and squelch our dreams, we don’t achieve our goals. In fact, a little of our writing spirit is destroyed every time they even knock at the mind’s door.

12194791_10153682936247464_7690693956621838251_o - Version 2

(“Really? You think this garbage is writing?”)

Among such beings is every writer’s voice of doom, the I.E., or Internal Editor—the nagging voice that constantly reminds us we don’t know how to write, everything we’ve written so far is garbage, and the project is destined to be a failure.

So what do we do about it? Most aspiring authors recognize that we all suffer from a form of split personality, where one part of our minds is full of developing characters anxious to take on a life of their own. We welcome them as an important part of our story planning.

12190080_10153588436867419_586701174802319711_n - Version 2

(But I don’t WANT to be whapped!)

It is the negative voices on the other side, the procrastinating urges, and the don’t-write-until-the-concept-is-perfect impulses that we have to recognize and snuff out — whap them smartly with a wet blanket until no embers remain.

Otherwise the tendency will be to hesitate, to falter, to be discouraged. Then our writing ceases and we blame it on Writer’s Block. We wait it out, hoping Ms. Muse will miraculously return to our office, but it rarely happens, or at least not as quickly as we wish.

IMHO, there’s no half measure. Either we take control or we lose it, perhaps to one of those unworthy entities. And truly, I don’t want one of them authoring my books!

(With apologies to my granddaughter for stealing her photos!)

~  ~  ~