Skipping the present to get to the future

There’s frost here this morning. Our shake roof glistens white in the sunshine, and trails of mist play at the edges of the marsh. An e-mail from family in the southeastern corner of the province brought photos of their first major snowfall — 22 cm that delighted the children but required plowing at 5 a.m. to ensure everyone could get to work and school.

I love the early fall, when bright colours dapple the landscape. It’s my favourite season.

Geese on the go in the Fraser Valley

Geese on the go in the Fraser Valley

Fall on the Fraser River

Fall on the Fraser River

Mist on our lake in BC's Cariboo

Mist on our lake in BC’s Cariboo

I’m not so enamoured by late fall. We west coasters know that many weeks of grey skies and constant rain are on the horizon. But if I dwell on what is to come, I won’t fully appreciate the present.


When it comes to my writing, during November if I’m not revising one particular manuscript I’m working on the first draft of another. That one is still new and I don’t have a clear view of its ending. As I work on preliminary scenes I’m sometimes tempted to skip ahead and try to figure out exactly how my characters solved their dilemma. However, to do so would mean missing the excitement of discovery along the way. For now, I plan to focus on the present and worry about how the future unfolds when the time comes.

There are many different ways of constructing a novel. What’s your process during a first draft?

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How organized is your writing compared to your gardening?

Hail rattled down our cedar roof, pinged off the glass patio table and rolled onto the deck. It’s only mid-October, for crying out loud! I’m not ready to let go of summer yet, never mind fall.

But nevertheless we are taking precautions… those necessary pre-winter preparations that can’t be left too long, just in case. Our RV has been tucked into its cozy spot beside the house, freezeables removed and special antifreeze poured into its traps and drains.

Much (but not all) of the deck furniture has been stacked in the basement and garden hoses drained and put away. I spent time Sunday afternoon cutting back flattened daylilies and planting a few winter pansies. I’m not ready to part with the tubs of gangly annual greenery quite yet, but their time is coming.

It’s too soon to be winterizing everything, but a little advance planning minimizes a mountain load of work later.

That’s true for my writing projects, too. I’m not a plotter by nature, so I never try to get every detail under control before I start writing. But the pantser approach can put me in a riding-off-in-all-directions-at-once situation requiring mind-boggling revisions later. I do just a little preliminary planning so I have a starting point, main characters, a destination, and at least one major conflict in mind. Then, if the characters hijack the story and go tearing off with it, I’m flexible enough to take the detour with them and guide them back on track.

In the case of my garden, if a hard frost hits unexpectedly, I’ll deal with the aftermath on the next sunny weekend. There’ll be the inevitable deadheading and I’ll have to cut back the hostas. A few shrubs will need to be tied up before the snow falls. Snow? Snow??? One mid-October hailstorm and now I’m thinking about snow? This can’t be allowed to continue. Time to go for a walk and enjoy the 12-15 degree (celsius) sunshine that is predicted for all of this week. I might snip a few geranium buds for a vase while I’m out there.

I could ask you if you’re a plotter, planner or pantser, and you can tell me if you want, but today I’d really like to know about your fall gardening. Are you one to dig up bulbs and overwinter them, maybe wrap evergreen shrubs in burlap? Hastily toss fallen leaves over perennials for insulation? Or just stand in the window and admire the falling leaves while the garden fends for itself?