Just Before the Muddy Middle

The path to completion is never easy…

Approaching the muddy middle… never a fun place to be. Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

There’s a stage in every writing project where the first draft seems unfinishable. For me, that point is usually somewhere between the 50–75% mark. By then, I’m usually frustrated by how slowly things are going, feel like I’m never going to finish the first draft, hate most of what I’ve written, feel that either I’ll never have enough to say to finish a whole book or that there will be no possible way to wade through all the resources and rough notes to and whittle them down to a reasonable number of words that will fit within the target word count. By that point, I’m usually feeling bogged down by all the reading I’ve done and physically am buried under stacks of printed out articles and teetering piles of library books. The number of tabs open in several different browsers are slowing my poor laptop down to prehistoric speeds.

It’s all rainbows and unicorns around here at the moment. I wish I could hang onto this feeling of lightness and optimism as I approach the book-writing equivalent of the doldrums. Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

But just before I get to that dreadful muddly middle where it seems there is no realistic chance I will ever finish writing the first draft, there’s a lovely stage of enthusiasm and ease that lasts up until about the first third is done. I’m nearing the end of that blissful stage in That Deforestation Book and I thought I’d take a moment to pause, reflect, and enjoy the fact that things are going well.

There are loads of resources out there and I’ve sunk my teeth into several (though finished reading none). I’m finding my research is actually fitting quite nicely into the fairly detailed outline I set up in Scrivener. I’ve been told by my editor to be careful because Scrivener and Word (which is how I’ll eventually need to export the draft before it goes off to the editor) don’t always play nicely together. For the moment, I’ve decided not to worry about that too much because I’m finding Scrivener to be quite helpful and a good fit for the chaotic way in which I write. I jump all over the place in a manuscript when I’m starting out and only later go back and get all methodical and chronological about the material. That’s when I realize just how big the gaps are that I’ve left to deal with later…

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For now, though, I am merrily inserting ‘look at this later’ comments to myself when I discover I don’t know as much as I thought I did about specific details (like the percentage of forests in BC that are clearcut each year and how that number has changed over the past 50 years). On the other side, I’m finding resources like the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) document, Global Forests Resource Assessment 2015 which is available as a free Kindle download and which provides an interesting overview of global deforestation (and replanting) numbers over the past 25 years.

Basically, I’m still feeling optimistic and happy about how things are going. I’m approaching the 30% mark in terms of word count and am easily finding material to slot into the various sections. What I also know is that this feeling of ‘I’ve got this’ is about to turn into ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ as I approach the halfway mark and the beginning of the muddy middle.

Wish me luck!

Also reading: Breakfast of Biodiversity: the Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction by John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto [and various other titles procured from the library — love my library!]

Word Count (cumulative): Just shy of 3000 words

Suggestions? How do you deal with that terrible place in the middle of a first draft where things slooooooow right down and it seems like you’ll never reach the end?

Haven’t bought the last book yet? Here’s the link to Christmas: From Solstice to Santa

Repost: Coppice vs Pollard – What’s Happening with That Deforestation Book

Wherein a book is nurtured… and willow twigs are bent into all manner of odd shapes… Photo by Nynne Schrøderon Unsplash

If you are following along over on Medium and my author blog (yes, I know, too many blogs…) you’ll likely recognize this as another in the accountability blog post series. That Deforestation Book, as I’ve been calling it, is coming along slowly but surely. Today’s research dug into the differences between coppicing and pollarding. Both involve lopping a tree off at its knees (or ankles) and then waiting to see what happens. In the case of most evergreen species, not much, but if you try this trick with something like a willow or a maple tree it’s more like, ‘holy crap! shouldn’t that thing be dead?’ because after a relatively short time the tree stump sprouts a bunch of fresh sprouts that rapidly grow into usable sticks, poles, and, left for a few years, fence posts. 

So, What’s the Difference between Pollarding and Coppicing?

The difference between the two ancient practices (according to this BBC article, there are coppiced trees in France that have been coming and going, so to speak, for six centuries!) is that one cuts a coppiced tree right to the ground, whereas a pollarded specimen has been cut a bit higher up. In both cases, the new growth is quick, vigorous, and eminently useful.

Furniture of various kinds made from young, flexible twigs… Photo by Isaac Benhesedon Unsplash

Thin, pliable, young shoots may be used for basket or furniture-making, but if you leave your fresh growth to mature for a bit, it’s possible to produce quite a large amount of usable wood in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to the basic concept, I’ve added some new vocabulary (stool, copse, lop, poll) and found a few decent photos, so that whole section is looking reasonable.

Back in my farm and gardening days, I made good use of my coppiced/pollarded bounty to build gates, trellises, structures for supporting beans, peas, cucumbers… Here, my niece is on an Easter egg hunt, oblivious to the magic of coppiced sticks to her left… 

One of the interesting challenges of writing a book in the Orca Footprints series is that the authors must all have some sort of personal connection to the subject at hand. At first glance little old me, a tree lover, might not have an obvious hand in global deforestation (other than the vast number of sheets of paper I print out in the course of writing a book… ), but I’m finding that the connections, in this case, are plentiful. Take coppicing. 

Have I Ever Coppiced a Tree? Why, Yes I Have!

The first time I coppiced a tree was after a wild blizzard on Vancouver Island. A lovely old, but fragile, plum tree split in half and basically disintegrated under the weight of a huge amount of wet, west coast snow. The sprawling wreckage that emerged when the snow melted was heartbreaking, but the debris was also affecting other trees in our orchard as one half of the plum had fallen across a young cherry tree we had planted and the other half had crashed into one of our favourite apple trees. So, we cut the plum tree down thinking that was that. Lo and behold, when spring came a virtual forest of plum tree stalks shot up from the stump. We left the spindly young ones alone for a few years and they put on quite the show of blossoms each spring. Because the original fruiting part of the tree would have been grafted onto rootstock, we never did get any more edible fruit, but the amount of regrowth was truly inspiring and I used quite a few of the new sticks to build some rustic gates and other farm and garden structures.

That was my introduction to the concept of coppicing which, as my father enlightened me at the time, was a common practice back in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. In terms of That Deforestation Book, my fond memories of lopping and chopping have been recycled quite nicely into a sidebar in the pollarding section…

Word count: Running total 2663 (though, that’s a bit inflated because it includes my growing list of references which won’t be included in the final total…Using Scrivener, I’m not quite sure how to exclude a section when doing my word count. If you are a Scrivener expert, do tell…)

Keys to Creativity: Part 2 Just Start!

There’s nothing quite so intimidating as a blank page. Except, maybe, the first blank page of a brand new journal or sketchbook. I don’t know why it’s so terrifying to make that first mark, but I experience a distinct feeling of dread blended with uncertainty mixed with more than a dash of insecure anxiety when I crack open a new journal. That’s true even though I’ve managed to fill dozens of journals over the years.

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Dad at work making a crayon rubbing on the flat stones along Spring Creek. The smoke from forest fires across the BC/Alberta border was awful for most of the time he was here. 😦

Dad came out for a visit to my place in Canmore and we spent almost a week together making marks and experimenting with new mixed media techniques. One of the first things we did was head down to Policeman’s Creek and Spring Creek to do some rubbings on the big flat stones and the weathered wooden railings beside the creek.

We weren’t intending to use the rubbings by themselves, but rather as elements in another project.

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Crayon rubbings in Canmore, along the creek. These will become elements of other pieces.

Crayon Rubbings on Stone

Though the patterns were random, a couple of them immediately suggested natural forms – mountain ranges and river deltas. Having something to start with made a huge difference when it came time to sit down and start to work. Over the next week we layered our rubbings (done with peeled wax crayons on plain old copy paper) as backgrounds, cut them up and used them as textured layers in mixed media pieces, and then filed the extras for future projects.

Meanwhile, back at the condo, we transformed the place into a wild and wonderful (and very messy!) creation space!

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We both had several pieces going at any given time – so, when we got stuck on one (or a layer needed to dry) we just switched over to another project.

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What we didn’t worry about was where we were going… we both just dived in (dove in?) and tried a whole bunch of stuff… Some worked, some didn’t, but along the way we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, playing and experimenting.

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I liked the way this mixed media piece with a Paris theme was going, so I glued it onto the intimidating first page of my new sketchbook. I’ll add some text about Paris on the facing page.

Tip of the Day: Cheat

If you really can’t bring yourself to make a mark on the first page of a brand new book, create something on a piece of separate paper and then glue it in. That’s what I did with my new Art Journal/Sketchbook (see the Paris mixed media page above). And, once that first page had something on it, I was off to the races and have already filled the next several pages! Another trick is just to leave the first page blank (for now) and come back to it later. Perhaps your journal will develop a theme and then you can do a title page that suits the content several weeks (months) down the road.

Confession:

I have several journals where the first page is still blank, years after I started them.

Do you struggle with figuring out what to put on that first page? How do you overcome that block? Add a comment below – I’m always curious to hear how others deal with getting started…

Come! Join Us: Create in Provence!!

Want to come play with us and learn all kinds of tips and tricks for banishing that fear of creating something – anything – to break in that new notebook? Check out our creativity retreat in France next spring!

Keys to Creativity Series: Part One Don’t Worry About the Outcome

Create Like Nobody’s Watching

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A year ago if you’d told me I would have been sitting out in public scribbling away in a notebook DRAWING (!!) I would have laughed… long and hard. And if you’d told me I would have posted my crude efforts, I would have told you to stop drinking so much.

After a somewhat chaotic year full of interruptions, distractions, and challenges, I am reapplying myself to my yoga studies with gusto. And while it may seem that yoga has nothing to do with creativity, I’m finding the opposite to be true. Part of the course I’m taking includes quite a lot of yoga philosophy (in case you are wondering, it’s the Kaivalya Yoga Method, 500 Hour Teacher Training through Yogadownload). To be honest, I thought that part (the philosophy bit) would make me a bit squirmy, something to endure, you know? But the reading and thinking about the philosophical aspects of yoga has actually been both inspiring and useful and I’m enjoying it more than I would have thought possible.

Yoga, Writing, Drawing, Acting, Art Journals, Collage, Creating: It’s all Related

 

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Collage in my art journal… yes, I’ve got one of those now. This was sort of an art meditation done while listening to a recording of a rolling om…

 

At the same time that I’ve been doing my down-dogs and studying anatomy and thinking about how ancient wisdom can still be very relevant in terms of dealing with the complexities of the modern age, I have also been madly productive on the writing front. I’m putting the finishing touches on the non-fiction book for teens about medical assistance in dying and working on fiddly details relating to the picture book that’s coming along beautifully with Holiday House (LOVE the preliminary sketches by the talented Katie Kath). Research has started for two more non-fiction titles for youth (one about civil disobedience, the other about global deforestation) and, of course, I continue to slowly work on the book about the three-generations Camino trip we did last fall.

Walk the Camino, Think About Creativity

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Though it has been slowest to progress, that project is the one that has a strong hold on my heart, in part because it had me examining my relationship with the creative process. Walking with Dad and Dani, the conversations Dad and I had about art and the creation of art before, during, and ever since our oh-so-slow stroll across Spain really got me thinking about what it means to be creative. What the word means as an adjective. And, as a noun. I’ve been referred to as ‘a creative,’ and that implies that creativity is some sort of integral component of my makeup.

We Are All Creative Children, Trapped in Over-critical Adult Bodies

 

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First attempt at a freehand mandala – on the cover of one of several yoga notebooks I’ve got happening at the moment (of course! where else would I attempt a freehand mandala?)

 

Aren’t we all creative? I think we all have some kernel of creativity within us. Just look at a kindergarten classroom and what happens when you set children loose with paint and blank sheets of paper. You can’t get the paint smocks on fast enough before the brushes are flying!

What happens to us to make us so afraid of exploring our natural desire to create? To explore? To play?

Let Go of the Outcome

My theory is that at some point we attach output with being good enough. If our drawing or painting or story or poem doesn’t measure up, then we have no right to be drawing or painting or writing. We become embarrassed to show our work to anyone else. We second guess our efforts and, before long, most of us give up. When asked, we say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body. I couldn’t draw to save my life.”

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You may be wondering what on earth all that messy art stuff has to do with yoga, but the connection is this. One of the things yoga philosophy has to say is that we spend way too much time attached to the outcome of an action, rather than just allowing ourselves to be fully engaged in whatever it is we are doing. All those poses and paying attention to our breath are about finding a way to tune out all the busy, negative, distracting, endless thoughts that plague us and having us fully enter and engage in the present moment. Does it matter if my triangle pose is a bit wonky and my drawings will never hang on a gallery wall? No. 

What my yoga studies (and recent explorations in visual art) have shown me is that creative output happens a lot more easily when you let go of worrying about how it will all turn out. It’s the process of creation that matters, exactly as it matters only that I embrace my yoga practice both on and off the mat. 

 

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Come – explore your creative side! Bust loose and send those doubts scurrying!

 

Come to Our Creativity Retreat in France!

If you are interested in exploring your creative side, why not join us next May at a really cool retreat we are organizing in Provence. We’ll be holing up in a pretty swanky villa with a small group of people who want to try their hand at painting, journaling, writing, collage, sketching… But more than that, we’ll be exploring what it means to embrace life creatively, no matter what form of expression you choose to pursue. And, yes, – there will be yoga to help fuel that process- every morning out by the pool. I can’t wait!

There’s more to this train of thought, but that’s why this is just Part 1. Stay tuned!

Full disclosure: If you happen to get all inspired and decide you’d like to sign up for the YTT course I mentioned above and you use the link in this post, I’ll get a small referral fee. If you have any questions about the program, shoot me a message and I’ll happily answer. I love the program and have learned a lot.

 

 

Come! Let’s Get Creative in France!

Give Yourself the Gift of Time to Create

Writing, Painting, Creating Retreat in Provence, France

Think you might be interested? Have a look at the listing here.

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Amazing location (check out that pool!!) – nifty field trips (can you say wine? truffles? ancient markets?) – a chance to try your hand at watercolor painting, journal-writing, pen & ink, or drawing… Work on your novel… or, finally try your hand at writing a magazine article… outline a book of family stories for your grandchildren… Wherever your creative heart leads you, that’s where you’ll go… What about a scavenger hunt with your iPhone, honing your photographer’s eye? What would you do with a week (or two, space permitting, you can score a great deal if you book two weeks back to back) in Provence where we’ll feed you delicious local meals, provide you with space, time, and as much peace and quiet or inspiring workshops as you choose?

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We’ve structured this retreat so people can come and experiment, play, and create with as much or as little involvement from the facilitators as you like. We’re organizing some pretty nifty local field trips, which you can choose to participate in, or not. Everything is included – we’ve made it easy for you to change your mind on the fly, opting in or out of activities as the mood strikes you.tim-arterbury-126157-unsplash

Don’t let that blank page intimidate you! Join us in France and let your creative side come out and play!

Book Your Spot – Don’t Miss Out!

For more information or to book (spaces are limited and there is a discount if you register early), follow this link:

Book Now

And, watch the blog for more details…

Oh, Juliet…

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So then, Juliet drinks this potion stuff (didn’t her mother ever tell her not to take drinks from strangers?) and, sure enough, she falls into a deep, death-like slumber. Fools everyone – her mother, her nurse, all the townsfolk and, yes, Romeo! Somehow a letter describing the intricacies of the plot-twists never quite made it from the Friar to poor old lover boy…

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Funeral Symphony (V) by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, 1903

Today, being Canada Day, was a day of processions, though not of a funereal type.

Spirits were high as we sang, danced, and laughed our way through the streets of Canmore!

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Happy Canada Day!!!!

No More Counting! (And, R&J)

Ok, life is just sometimes going to get in the way of the blog. Rather than agonize over a missed day and beating myself up over having to start the count again at 0… I’m not counting any more. Until such time as things settle into a nice, boring routine around here, at which point I’ll pen some nice, boring blog posts.

Meanwhile, here’s the next installment of, “What happens in Romeo and Juliet?” – the brief, illustrated edition…

 

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The dude in the bell bottom pants at the top is Friar Lawrence. But, our version of R&J takes place the late 60’s, early 70’s, when bell bottoms were oh so cool. Hey – if you are around in Canmore tomorrow, come on down to the Canada Day Parade – quite a few cast members from both shows will be in costume and taking part!! 

 

I know Juliet looks a bit like Gretel (of Hansel and Gretel fame) in this fine drawing, but take my word for it, that’s Juliet. Gretel never had a knife or she would have dispatched the old witch a lot faster.

If you are hoping to come to see the shows (afternoons will be The Apple Kingdom, a musical fairytale with princes and princesses and the most adorable lizard ever, and evenings Romeo and Juliet), performances start July 4, so get your tickets if you don’t want to miss out!! If you are trying to decide whether to come based on the how good Juliet looks in my drawings… well, our real life actual Juliets are lovely, fine actresses who look a LOT better than depicted… (there are two Juliets – Kiki Monteith and Sarah Keith are alternating shows). Likewise, both Romeos (Ben Francis and Liam Brett) are better looking than my scribbles may suggest. What is entirely accurate, though, is that both Romeos flop to the ground in despair, weeping and wailing and acting like limp noodles… you know, typical woe-is-me, my-life-is-over teenager stuff. For that matter, Juliet has her moments of misery, too… One must keep in mind that this is R&J and maybe they weren’t actually being that melodramatic about their problems…

(If you missed the first installment of R&J – the Comic Strip – here’s the link to the earlier post).

 

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Hansel and Gretel by Mikhail Vrubel, 1896 (You see what I mean?)