Tag Archives: writing

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 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…

The Death of Me… (Reboot365-5)

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By the time you get to the end of Romeo and Juliet there are bodies everywhere… There’s Paris, for example… about to be discovered in the dark by the Friar. Come to the Canmore Summer theatre Festival (coming up SOOOOOON!!!) to see who else winds up sprawled across the grass…

Here, though, in my world (which has shrunk to the dimensions of my computer keyboard), I’ve been obsessing about death. Still. Again. I’m deep into revisions of my book about medically-assisted dying and oh, my – it isn’t getting any easier. The subject matter, or being a writer.

 

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Mountain Graveyard, by Kurt Schwitters, 1919

 

How is it possible that I can get to this point in a manuscript after so many years of writing books and still feel that I should perhaps be looking for other work? But it happens with every manuscript – I get to a point where I completely lose perspective and think that the whole project is worthless. It’s more boring than anything ever written by anyone – the subject is boring. My opinions are boring. Death is boring. Life is boring. Being a writer is definitely boring. Everyone in the book is boring because – guess what – they all die!

Sigh. This is the point in my day where I push back from my desk and throw in the towel. There is no point in flogging this sorry horse to… yeah, death any longer.

 

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Thanks, Picasso. I can always count on you to have painted something appropriate to my bleaker moods. This is “Minotaur With Dead Horse in front of a Cave Facing a Girl in Veil” by Pablo Picasso, 1936

 

 

Christmas is Here!! (Day 8/365)

Guess what was waiting for me in my mailbox after we got home from the BVI?

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It’s the Advance Reading Copy of the newest book!! Christmas: From Solstice to Santa will be out in September, 2018 – in plenty of time for stocking stuffer season…

 

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That’s a somewhat younger version of me sitting on Santa’s knee… 

 

As always, the book looks lovely thanks to the hard-working team at Orca Book Publishers! Also, a special shout out to Dani, co-author, daughter, and Christmas-lover who came up with the idea for the book waaaaaaaay back when… it’s so cool to see this inching toward final publication!

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Also waiting for me once I was back in regular contact with the virtual world was a message in my email in-box. What a relief to read the wonderful note from my editor, Sarah, who says the first draft of the book about medical assistance in dying is in reasonably good shape. By this I mean, it doesn’t look like I need to go back to the drawing board and completely rewrite everything, which is most excellent news. Of course there are all sorts of issues to have a look at, some things to move around, and a few gaps to fill, but overall, we are off to a great start with this book about our ultimate ending! (Tentative title: When the Time is Right: Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die)

All of that’s fine and dandy, but let’s get back to Christmas… and, art – which, if there’s going to be an over-arching theme to the posts over the coming months, it will likely be that… Art, I mean… not Christmas…

 

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Christmas at Home by Grandma Moses

 

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In case you have always wanted to know what Grandma Moses (1860-1961) looked like, there she is… Her full name was Anna Mary Robertson Moses and what is most inspiring about her is that she didn’t get serious about her painting until she was 78!! Which means I have decades in hand if I get my finger out and start doing some visual art now…

 

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I can’t say this is really art, but it probably counts as a decorative element  in my journal (or, a doodle). And, yes, we did get stuck in the Puerto Rico airport for a bit as a result of an unfortunate ticketing error that had us boarding a plane bound for Tortola while we were still in the air travelling from Chicago… Obviously it all worked out ok because I’m now back in Canmore, but we did have some sweaty moments while trying to sort it all out! 

 

I’m a bit too jet-lagged to write much more today (if you didn’t clue in based on the rambling incoherent  somewhat disorganized nature of this post), but it feels good to be back, unpacked, laundry done and looking ahead to what’s coming at me over the next few weeks. Hint: more sailing, some school visits, climbing, the Camino book, art-related projects, and a bit of Shakespeare… Stay tuned!

 

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Calendar – 1902 by Theophile Steinlen

 

Note: What the heck – given I’ve now passed the 40-days-needed-to-create-a-new-habit mark, I’m going to set my daily blogging goal at 365 days and see if I can keep this streak going. Though, I wasn’t actually going to count the blog posts in April. If I counted the AtoZ posts, that would make this #38 and not #8. But really, who cares? I feel like this is the start of a new challenge embarked upon without the benefit of the inherent structure of the alphabet… and that, for some reason, feels quite daunting.

X is for Xavier, Xanadu, Xi, Xlotl, and Xul… and, yes, X-rays (AtoZChallenge2018)

Thanks, Dad! Xavier Cugat is not a name I’d ever come across, but Dad, who has been following along as I’ve worked my way through the alphabet for the AtoZ Blogging Challenge this month, sent me a note this morning saying I should include Xavier and his Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra as they play this 1943 song, Brazil. While you are playing that in the background, I’ll keep going with the letter X.

As it turns out, this month I’ve actually had three sets of X-rays – two on my jaw (sadly, the result of those eXplorations will be removing a root canal and installing a new one… that does not sound in any way like it’s going to be fun), and the other on my hips. The findings there were that yes, my left hip is basically shot – arthritic and rather exuberantly sprouting bone spurs, perhaps in a misguided effort to replace the cartilage which seems to have gone missing. Using an ultrasound (sort of a watery X-ray…), we managed to shoot the hip full of cortisone and some weird lubricating gel stuff and the pain is much relieved. Good news, as I should be able to keep hiking and climbing on it while I wait to get old and decrepit enough to qualify for a hip replacement.

 

 

 

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Hm… this map doesn’t include the red dot showing exactly where Shangdu town (near where Xanadu used to be) is located… Curious? Click here…

 

I love to travel, but one of the places that’s been on my wish list for the longest is one I have yet to get to; Outer Mongolia. Turns out that Xanadu, in Inner Mongolia, was once the summer palace of Kubla Khan. One of these days I will get to Mongolia… no plan yet, but that seed was planted so long ago it has grown into a serious old oak and such a large tree is a bit uncomfortable to keep lugging around.

While vaguely in the neighbourhood (and speaking of trees), here’s a painting by Guo Xi from the Northern Song Dynasty (920-1126).

 

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Trees by Guo Xi, a long time ago in China

 

 

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The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Señor Xólotl by Frida Kahlo (1949)  I have to say that’s one of the longest, most intriguing titles I’ve come across… But it does contain an X. Thanks, Seńor Xólotl!

For those who are biting their nails and wondering how the manuscript/deadline race is coming along, here’s the update. I’ve finished a rough and tumble draft, which is a bit long. I’ve got that printed out and am going through it searching for the 2500 or so extra words that seem to have snuck in there. If I keep going at the pace I’ve been working, all things being equal I should have made the cuts (on paper) and entered the edits into the digital draft in time to send it off to my editor by Sunday midnight. That’s a day ahead of schedule, technically, but I’ll be heading to the airport on Monday and I really don’t want to take it with me, so that’s the plan.

This is the first draft my editor will have seen, so I fully expect that not long after I get back I’ll have my draft and a set of notes back to work on. But, that’s getting ahead of myself. There are a couple of things I already know I want to change in the next draft, but that’s what the revision process is all about. Modifying and refining. As always, I’ll be pretty excited to see what the editor has to say as her wise insights always make the books better…

I’ll leave you with this final image by an Argentinian painter, Xul Solar. It was cooking hot here in the mountains today, so it feels appropriate to celebrate the sun!

 

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Pegaso de Sol by Xul Solar, 1922

Until tomorrow! Ciao!