Resilience – in gardening and writing

Hydrangea-Lacecap

If you’re a gardener, ‘Lacecaps’ and ‘Mopheads’ will likely be familiar terms. They describe the two main groups of hydrangeas within which there are several different species and varieties. And that’s just about all I know about hydrangeas!

DSC05937On second thought, that’s not entirely true. I know that many of the varieties are sensitive to soil pH and the colour of the blooms reflect that. In acidic soils like ours, even when I plant pink varieties, the flowers usually revert to blue. In alkaline soils they’re more likely to stay pink. If you prefer the blue you can add soil sulfur, or to encourage the pink colour you can add lime.

I also know my hydrangeas prefer more shade than sunshine, and they would like more water than I give them.

Blowsy blossoms explode their summery colours in many gardens, and most look much better kempt than mine. It hasn’t helped that the bears romped through the garden bed this spring and broke branches on one of the blue bushes. It now has a decidedly bedraggled and lopsided look … but it’s blooming.

The thing about hydrangeas is that they’re survivors. Despite all the neglect and abuse, every summer they put renewed effort into providing colour. Even if their branches die, I can cut the plants down to the ground and so far they’ve always come back. That says a lot about their resilience … and their persistence.

I think that makes them a suitable floral emblem for writers. No matter the treatment, the rejections and resulting discouragement, we can always pare down to the essentials and start again. Given time, the regrowth may even turn out better than the original.

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Putting the ‘friend’ into cyber friendships

On her blog a few years ago, author Jody Hedlund questioned if our modern cyber world is distorting the meaning of the word ‘friend’. She asked, “How would you define a true friend and can you find that kind of friendship in the cyber world?” I’ve often thought about that question but never really come up with a definitive answer.

“What constitutes a friend in the truest sense of the word? We all value different qualities in our friends. but certainly we can all agree that a friendship must involve a genuine relationship. My pocket Webster defines friend as: close companion. More specifically as writers, we need genuine friends who can encourage and challenge us in our writing journey and we can do the same for them. Do Facebook friends fit that definition? Are they close companions or are they another “list” of people to help us in our quest for publication? For that matter, do any cyber friends live up to that definition?” [Jody Hedlund]

::shifting gears here::

On Friday, June 6, 2008 Joylene Butler published her first blog post. At least, it was the first one that I know about. She had sold five copies of her first novel and was moving to the next step: blogging to promote it and become more visible.

I didn’t know her then, nor had I found her blog when I began my own three weeks later with an initial post on June 28, 2008. My fiction wasn’t published yet so I had nothing to promote, but I was following the trend to be prepared by developing an online presence in the writing community.

There were no comments on my first post, just as there weren’t any on Joylene’s. We were newcomers in cyberspace.

CG&JBI don’t recall how I found her blog. Something in the mysterious realm of cyberspace drew us together. There was a post that November about eagles ‘fishing’ among the ducks on her lake that caught my attention and prompted me to respond with a comment about the goose who nested atop a beaver house in our marsh. Later in November she left a comment on my blog, and as our exchanges continued we discovered we had a lot in common.

When her second novel was being released I interviewed her on my blog. At some point she read and critiqued a story for me. Mostly, though, we’ve just played the role of encourager for each other. She has her own long-standing circle of writer friends and I’m involved in a writing group of my own.

We interact online regularly but we’ve met only once. She lives about 900 kilometres from me, but we managed to arrange a rendezvous when she came south for one of her book signings and I was visiting with family in a nearby city. When she answered the door that day I felt I was being greeted by an old friend.

::returning to the original question::

Friend? One who can encourage and challenge? Hmmm.

JB2Joylene and her husband went to Mexico on November 1st and are renting a casa for the winter at Los Arroyos Verdes in beautiful Bucerias. It’s a place that obviously agrees with her. But two weeks ago she posted about how she had fully intended to set up a strict writing schedule and finish a WIP while there, but so far hasn’t managed to write much at all. You can read the post here, but she concludes, “It’s disheartening to realize I’ve turned into one of those well-meaning persons who can’t get anything done past getting her nose burned.”

Dozens of people have left encouraging comments for her that range from, “I don’t blame you for being distracted. I’m sure you’ll settle back into writing soon,” to “Enjoy yourself and don’t worry too much about the productivity side of things,” and “Keep the faith. You will get there.”

It’s comforting to receive this kind of response, but I’m starting to wonder if any of us were being true friends in offering those consoling virtual pats on the shoulder. Maybe we should have been saying more challenging things like, “It looks gorgeous there. Take a day or two or three every week to soak it all up, but be sure to honour your desire to use a portion of the time for finishing that manuscript (or starting another if that’s the direction you’re led). If you don’t, after six months away you’re going to be cross with yourself when you get home.”

What do you expect from your cyber relationships? How would you want a friend to react when you were avoiding the very thing you normally loved to do — the writing that you promised yourself (and all of us!**) you were going to do during your several months of free time?

If I actually said that to Joylene, would I be a true friend, or just a nag?

Joylene writes suspense thrillers … has two published, with two more in the works, and has a story in a recently published collaborative steampunk anthology.

After reading this she’ll probably write me into her next story and kill me off!

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** I will gain momentum soon and begin a routine of writing and blogging and whatever else I promised myself I’d do while here. The right schedule will arise in short order. In fairness, my internet connection has been terrible and I’ve had to stifle my impatience. Which also means I’ve had no excuse for not writing. That will change. I pledge to finish my current WIP, Shattered and to smooth out any clinks in my Vietnam political thriller, Kiss of the Assassin.” [Joylene Butler, Blog post: November 17, 2014]

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Confidence-building TLC for Writers

My lack of gardening skills isn’t news to most of you. I regularly mutter about the invasion of weeds and wild things throughout my rural garden. We’re on a well, so after their first year, most plants don’t even get watered unless the weather decides to rain down on them. It’s no wonder things barely survive from year to year!

When we moved here eighteen years ago there was a clematis vine that entwined itself around the stair railings on one side of our deck — a Jackmanii, I think (although I never knew for sure). Every year despite severe neglect it faithfully bloomed, albeit half-heartedly, in late September and early October until 2012. That year it didn’t make an appearance and I assumed it had finally given up and died. So last spring I bought a replacement — this time well labelled as a Jackmanii. I found a better location for it where its head would get sunshine (at least as much as any place on our property sees the sun) and its feet would be in the shade.

It grew. That’s about all I can say for it.  Its tendrils clung to the lower trellis and a nearby rhododendron like an insecure invalid while it made a feeble effort to produce a half dozen blossoms. Something ate holes in its rather small leaves.

This spring as I was pouring my usual dose of liquid fertilizer on the assorted bedding plants in our deck’s tubs and hanging baskets, I leaned over the railing and emptied the last half bucket’s excess onto the still-struggling clematis. After a June trip I came home to see lush vines of healthy green leaves enveloping the trellis. Encouraged, I included it in the next regime of fertilizing and watched buds materialize. I recently returned from a brief holiday and discovered — yes, you guessed it — lots of clematis blossoms! (I realize it may not seem like lots to some of you green thumb gardeners, but it’s a relative thing, and trust me, for me this is LOTS!)

Clematis Bush

It’s amazing what a little encouragement can do! Add to that, the fact that the forgotten and presumed dead original clematis has now decided to put forth tentative new growth, and it’s all quite miraculous. 🙂

It reminds me of the rejuvenation I feel after I attend writers’ conferences. By sheer osmosis I soak up the camaraderie and enthusiasm along with all the writing information and success stories. I always come home feeling inspired and ready to resume my creative endeavours with renewed energy. I realize it’s not possible for everyone to get to a conference, and I have to forego attending this year myself, but whenever I’m asked for my favourite writing resources, attending a conference (preferably the Surrey International Writers’ Conference) tops the list.

What’s your favourite writing resource for a boost… your go-to for renewing the glow and rediscovering your excitement of writing?

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Clematis 2

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“Without inspiration
the best powers of the mind remain dormant.
There is a fuel in us
which needs to be ignited with sparks.”

[Johann Gottfried Von Herder]

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Wednesday’s Words of Worship: Life Shadows

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Writers know a lot about insecurity, rejection, disappointment and discouragement, but I don’t suppose there is anyone whose life at some time hasn’t dipped into the shadows. The reassurance and confidence expressed in this hymn remind us of God’s promises. He said he would always be here for us even when shadows make it difficult for us to see him. We can depend on that. Great is his faithfulness!

 His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness. 

Lamentations 3:22-23

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How’s your week going? Some of you have been particularly on my mind, so this is just a bit of mid-week encouragement to keep you going until Sunday rolls around again. 🙂

Great Is thy Faithfulness
(Chisholm / Runyan – 1923)

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What will this New Year mean for your writing?

It begins again… this cycle of seasons bundled into the whirlwind called Time.  We’re perched on the cusp of 2013, wondering how the past year – for me it’s more like the past decade – could have swirled away so quickly.

The last page of the 2012 calendar will fall away tonight. There’s a new calendar underneath, ready to take its place. Other than that, what’s likely to change around here? Probably not much.

The New Year is considered an ideal time for new beginnings but I’ve mentioned before that I don’t do Resolutions. I can’t see the point of setting myself up for failure by promising to do things I haven’t been able to accomplish during the past twelve months. But not making resolutions doesn’t mean I can’t make fresh starts.

Last week my DD Shari Green posted a Saturday Snapshot on her blog, sharing a photo of crocuses and suggesting the year’s end “is a time of metaphorical crocuses and fresh green growth and signs of life. It is a time of hope.”  I like the metaphor. While my crocuses won’t be visible for a while, the Hellebores buds are showing already and I expect the snowdrops will be close behind. They’re always an early reminder that despite blustery winter weather, a new season is on its way.  As Shari says, there are signs of hope out there.

Last spring's Helleborus orientalis blooms

Last spring’s Helleborus orientalis blooms

I need that hope in my writing life. It’s been as cyclic as the seasons. All year I’ve waffled between determination and doubt, enjoying my storytelling efforts while wondering if I’m wasting my time… one week believing the words have potential and the next convinced they’re total drivel. Then I came upon a comment by Nathan Bransford:

“Terror and joy. Confidence and self-doubt.
The best artists live right in that uncomfortable middle.”

He was referring to a talk by Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO of Pinterest, who mentioned that “even after all the success he has had with Pinterest he lives at the intersection of terror and joy.” Nathan went on to explain how that also applies to writing: you have to be brave and confident, willing to risk putting your words out into the world because you believe in them. “But you also have to be self-critical enough to edit your work and fear failure and be worried that your best might not be good enough, which pushes you just that much further. You have to be scared of what will happen if you don’t do your best. You can’t ever get comfortable. Terror and joy. Confidence and self-doubt. The best artists live right in that uncomfortable middle.

I gleaned encouragement and hope from those words. In the New Year I’m going to remember it’s okay to waffle… to teeter occasionally on the edge of uncertainty… as long as I don’t let it discourage me, but rather, make it feed my determination to produce better writing.

How about you? How do you feel as you get ready to launch into a New Year of writing? Hopeful? Fearful? Or…?

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“Rejoice in your hope,
be patient in tribulation,
be constant in prayer.”

Romans 12:12 [RSV]

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The View from Here

Have you ever yearned to be somewhere else… to see something other than the everyday ordinary? “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” is a saying with more truth in it than I care to acknowledge.

With our lake-to-lake and through-the-mountains travels concluded, I could be mourning the lack of all the beautiful scenery now that  we’re settled into our daughter’s home, “baby”sitting our two granddaughters. I could be immersed in catching up with a holiday backlog of laundry, making lunchtime grilled cheese sandwiches and playing paper dolls while regretting the end of lazy vacation days.

It’s easy to get sucked into a mundane mentality — to see the dust and dirty dishes and wish for something more… more what? More interesting, attractive, stimulating? When I let such thoughts overtake, I miss the fragments of everyday joy that encapsulate the ordinary.

Yesterday, while saying goodnight to the precious youngsters, I happened to glance out the window and discovered this:

If I hadn’t lifted my eyes, I would have missed something just as spectacular as anything I saw on our trip through southern BC. And it was right there, waiting to be recognized outside the window through which I normally only “see” the neighbours’ homes, passing cars, light standards and the occasional person walking a dog.

As an aspiring author, I often don’t see beyond the daily writing and my wish to have my novels published. I don’t accept the pleasure of the endeavour as being enough.

As a wife, I frequently fail to acknowledge the comfort, companionship and assistance of a very thoughtful husband because he’s always here and I expect him to be.

As a woman… as a mother… as a member of my church, community and world, I fail to experience all that life is, because I fail to look and truly see.

Ann Voskamp challenges me to find joy in ordinary moments and to be thankful for them. It’s a challenge I accept and also pass along to you. This weekend a new month begins — a fresh start, not only for grandchildren returning to school, but for us leaving vacations behind and taking up the regular routines once again. It’s an opportunity to revamp my attitude and rearrange my priorities. I’m going to print out Ann’s 100 Days Calendar and use it not only as she suggests, but also to record at least one special joy discovered in the ordinary of each day.

Acknowledging the view from here will encourage me to use thankfulness to overpower lingering discontent.

Let’s get a head start on September. What one everyday joy can you find today for which to be thankful?

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“Open my eyes so I can see 
      what you show me of your miracle-wonders.”

Psalm 119:18 (The Message)

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“Open my eyes that I may see
glimpses of truth you have for me…”

Clara H. Scott
(Click composer’s name to listen to the hymn)

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I. Am. A. Writer.

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K.M. Weiland says a lot of things that grab me when I think I can sneak past with a cursory glance at her site. It’s that moment when time is limited and I promise myself I’ll just snatch a brief look at her topic du jour and get back to work. She never lets me get away with it. There is always something that captures my attention.

What was that???

I have a section in one of my writing binders with quotations and excerpts intended for inspiration and encouragement. Some of the entries are gleaned from her websites. One favourite:

Writing is both a gift and an art.

As a gift, it must be approached with humility: the writer is only the vessel through which inspiration flows.

As an art, it must be approached with passion and discipline: a gift that’s never developed wasn’t worth the giving.” 

[K M Weiland]

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I found another gem in her post today that has already been printed out and added to my collection for days when I need reassurance — a reminder that, regardless of what I may think of my ability on any given day, I am a writer and my writing is important to me. I love what I do, and I will write with joy.

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 Do you sometimes need a reminder that what you do as a writer is worthwhile?

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Sunshine, Shadows and Moving On

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As much as we might wish it, life isn’t full of blue skies. There are clouds and shadows, too — a lot of mountaintop and valley experiences. We know that.

Blog posts from fellow bloggers illustrate that many have faced staggering obstacles and struggled through difficult times.

The internet has made it easier to share our troubles and our faith, as well as our support for others. It helps to know we aren’t alone, but most often we’d prefer resolution to empathy. We’d rather have health than sickness, life than death, tolerance than bullying, peace than war – and, in the world of writers, publication rather than rejection. But those positives are elusive.

We all look for answers, but the reality I’ve found is that the only way out of the valley, out of the shadows, or past rejection, is to keep moving. Sustained by faith, we keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Occasionally there are magic and miracles, but often as not we simply have to persevere on the journey. A hand along the way makes the going a bit easier. It gives us the opportunity to look up from the rocky path and see the sunshine in the distance. A glimpse of hope. But we still have to keep moving to reach it.

Have you reached out to accept, or offer, a hand of encouragement lately? What difference do you think it made?

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Sending prayers and wishing sunshine to those in the shadows.

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Thou art the Sun of other days. They shine by giving back the rays.
(John Keble, “The Christian Year: Easter Days”)

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God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
(Psalm 46:1)

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He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
(Psalm 91:1-2)

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The effect of nurture… in a landscape, on a writer

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When I’m struggling through a bad writing day I’m always amazed at what happens when someone unexpectedly blesses me with a bit of encouragement. It’s nurturing. It’s like irrigation to a barren landscape.

Nowhere is the impact of water more evident than in arid locales near Cache Creek in south central British Columbia. My recent vacation trip took me along a highway that paralleled the Fraser and Thompson rivers. The water was there, racing through deep slices in the dry and rocky mountains. Only where industrious farmers had installed pumps, waterlines and sprinklers, accessing that water and transferring it to their thirsty crops, did the dusty brown soil support lush green growth.

A lot of nurture happens in the writing community. The pursuit of publication is often likened to a challenging climb up the ladder where aspiring novelists receive advice and assistance from more advanced writers above them, and in turn pay it back by helping those who are less experienced on a lower rung.

But have you ever considered those more experienced, successfully published authors might also need nurturing in the way of support and encouragement? A little praise, recognition of editing or scheduling stress, perhaps commiseration over an undeserved bad review, all can raise spirits and help someone move forward in their writing career.

Remember, just like the effect of irrigation in a desert, a little colour in a day’s mundane landscape can makes a big impact.  In what ways could you add a bit of colour to an author’s day? Or what kind of encouragement would you welcome?

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I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God … So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?” [Ecclesiastes 3:12-13, 22 – NIV]

Sagebrush

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Challenging Changes

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Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Our trip home from the Okanagan mid-week was one of those things. The afternoon’s drive started out pleasantly enough. Sunshine. Picture-perfect clouds. Hardly any traffic.

I barely noticed as more clouds snuck in…

… until suddenly, well along the mountainous Coquihalla Highway, the darkened skies dumped their contents.

Then, just as the clouds began to lift and we neared the town of Hope, BC, bordering the eastern edge of the Fraser Valley…

… we encountered an ominous sign.

Earlier in the day there had been a massive mudslide which closed the Trans-Canada Highway. Traffic from three different highways backed up for miles as vehicles united into one lane and were re-routed by police and Department of Highways personnel through the town to a secondary highway on the other side of the Fraser River. That last leg of the trip should have taken us an hour and a quarter. It took us five.

As we finally approached home, the remaining clouds parted. We arrived late and tired but safe, and were glad to learn that no-one had been seriously injured in the slide or any of the subsequent traffic accidents.

Of course there’s a writing application coming. 🙂 I think it ‘s true that the writer’s journey often encounters unexpected changes and challenges, too.  There are the pleasant and productive times, as well as long hours of struggling with the direction our stories are taking. Times of hoping and waiting. Disappointing detours that make us wonder if we’ll ever reach our goals.

But if we follow the guidance of those who have expertise, if we do our part with patience and persistence, we’ll find our way. The route may not be quite the one we intended to take, and perhaps we’ll have to compromise a bit on the destination, but if we trust God to be the Navigator in charge of our lives, He will see us safely through the maze.

Have you encountered major detours in your life or your writing? What got you back on track or did you permanently alter your course?

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“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.”
[Proverbs 3:6  AKJV] 

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