Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Silent Room: Part 24

Prompt from writing with Copper


There had been the initial sensation of cold thick wetness pressing in on all sides after Grenfelder had dropped through the last portal, and then everything had simply slid away as he lost consciousness.

The sense of time and space and being present came back very slowly.  The darkness cradled his senses in a gentle cocoon of muted sound and sensation. The low whoosh-whoosh of a compressor starting and stopping. After a long time of listening to the soothing rhythm of the compressor, like listening to waves lapping at the shore, Grenfelder began to become aware of the room in a more general way. 

A hazy blue star hanging above his head slowly dissolved into a single blue green light located on a large gray white machinery arm.  Eventually he noticed that the machine arm hooked to something around his head, its vice-like grip holding his head in place and a ridged tube filling his mouth and throat. Puffs of air pushing in and out.

He might have freaked out then, have struggled violently against his bonds where he lay half submerged in a slowly draining tub. He might have tried to fight free. But his mind felt disconnected from himself and the present, as though he was looking at the world from a long way away. The present had nothing to do with anything. Eventually when he thought to move his hand it did not bother to respond to his commands.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Scratchpad: Mindset

Part 3 of a three post series adapted from a project in an interesting (and free!) online course called "Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects" by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski.  I'd highly recommend it for anyone who likes to learn. If this is something you are interested in, there is a new class that start on January 3rd HERE. Or you can buy the book HERE.  

The last thing I want to tell you about is how important mindset is on making it easier to get work done.

1.      Focus on the PROCESS not the Product.

Don't think about the novel you are trying to write. Think about the paragraph or the scene you are trying to write. A paragraph, a scene... that's doable, even when the novel is stretching away from you like an impossible undertaking.

         2. Go through your checklist

Make a list of things or routines that help you get into the flow of writing. Pens or computer at hand? Appropriate story music playing? Glass of water or coffee at the ready? Phone turned off? Excellent. Now get writing.

3. Perseverance

Remember, you are in this for the journey and the long haul. Just focus on today's little piece and keep building on what you've learned and what you've written.

4. Stay Flexible

Things may crop up that prevent you from getting the work done, or a character may become decidedly uncooperative with the direction you are trying to take the story.  Staying flexible helps you roll with the punches.  Here is a great post by Veronica Roth on not letting yourself get derailed unnecessarily because the story just won't roll itself out according to plan.

5. Switch on the "Cool Dispassion"

Often the voices/internal monologue going on in our heads is not as supportive as we would wish. This may lead us to doubt our capability or focus in pursuing a writing project. "This writing is terrible." or "What was I thinking when I started climbing this impossible mountain?!"  There is also the frustration that comes with working on a project that seems to have no immediate benefit.  

Turn on the dispassion and don't let these voices sidetrack you from the work you are doing. Refresh them with the truth. You are writing because it is something you want or need to do. You are unique. You bring something to the page that no one else does. It may not be clear yet what you it is you are trying to say or what the connections you are making will turn out to mean, but that is okay.  Keep plugging away. Be proud of the steps you have already taken.  Be  confident in the steps you are taking as you move forward.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Scratchpad: Fighting Procrastination

Part 2 of a three post series adapted from a project in an interesting (and free!) online course called "Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects" by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski.  I'd highly recommend it for anyone who likes to learn. If this is something you are interested in, there is a new class that started on October 3rd HERE. Or you can buy the book HERE.  

Tackling the problem of getting back to the writing, tomorrow, the day after that, even when the going gets rough or its a bad day...has always been the hardest part of writing for many of us. We are writing in isolation, and we are writing with our own personal motivations as the driving force.  Procrastination has a real chance to get his foot in the door.  Here are several tools and techniques that research suggests may help with this:

1.  Keep a planning journal.

This is a bit like Ernest Hemingway's trick of stopping in the middle of a sentence. It gives your mind the time to use diffuse mode thinking to your advantage and figure out interesting ways to problem solve your writing.

Initially take a little time to think about what you want to accomplish long term with a project. Later, you can update this as you go.  Perhaps you want to write a rough draft in the next two months.  Or maybe you want to do research on a topic to see if there is something there that sparks a story.

With that in mind, write out a list of things to do or complete this week that will move you toward those goals. Then, at the end of each writing session, look at what you've accomplished and make a list of what you would like to do at your next writing session. That way, you are ready to start when you sit down the next time and don't have to scratch around trying to find your place.  

      When you sit down at the start of the next week to make out a new list, see how you did. Did you hit your targets? Did your list of to dos lining up with what was actually doable for you? How often did you make it to the writing? Keep that in mind as you make out your new plan for the upcoming week.

2. Arrange your work into a series of small challenges

The long aim (say a novel) can be too big to think about and still get work done. Break it down into smaller pieces or organize it under a larger challenge. Say a big group challenge like NanoWrimo which is coming up in a few short weeks for getting your first rough draft down on paper.   Or doing prompt challenges with websites like Today's Author or The Write Practice for doing your craft building work.  This keeps things fun. It also makes them doable.  Revisit them periodically or change them up for different things to make sure they are still working for you.

3. Rewards are the way to go

Have trouble getting to the writing desk? Reward yourself when you do sit down at the writing desk or when you close that internet browser and get back to writing. Give yourself a piece of chocolate. (Or something else small and motivational.)  

      In the long term, the finished writing itself will set up a reward loop in our brains and draw us to the writing, but that doesn't help us much today. Giving ourselves a small reward for doing the thing we want to be doing helps establish that positive link in our minds, and it helps us to overcome that initial mental hurdle of getting to the page by adding a positive motivator. 

     Plan out bigger rewards for larger milestones. It helps make the work fun instead of only the long slow trudge toward completion.

(If you want to know more about this and how it works, see this video by Robert Wright, (April 21, 2012). "How to Break the Procrastination Habit" The Atlantic.)

4. Set a time to work on something.

Set a daily appointment with yourself. Say for 25 or 30 minutes if it is a particularly daunting project. When that time comes around, sit down and work on it. Once the time is up, you are free for the day and don't have to think about it until the next day's appointment.  This also feeds in nicely to the other advice we so often here- "Write every day."

Now I just need to try these out for myself on a regular basis....

What about you? Do you have any great trips or tricks for getting yourself to the page or finishing projects?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Silent Room, Part 23

Grandma Nan's

The warmth of the farmhouse banished dark thoughts and welcomed them in when they reached it. Now they sat in the kitchen on curved wooden chairs around a heavy oak table.  A large bay window looking out across the back lot to more grazing sheep and a rolling corn field.  Sora hummed a little tune to herself as she chased the last of her breakfast around her bowl.  Somewhere behind them the comforting presence of Grandma Nan, fake or not, radiated.

It was a good idea to come here, Kerr thought, stuffed now on baked oatmeal rich with peaches, brown sugar, and cream.  A second cup of fresh hot coffee sat steaming in front of him.

A switch to the back of his head from a tea towel brought him out of his thoughts, and he carefully set the front legs of his chair back on the ground as he shot a rueful half grin at Nan.  Whatever her age under the iron gray curls and layers of fine crow's feet, she was rail thin and strong as a whip.  Her words while gentle had been pretty lean and to the point, too.   She was going to use that tongue on him now, he thought, as he watched the teasing glint in her eye shift to a quiet certainty. They were going to talk.

He didn't know how he knew this of a woman he didn't know, but he did.  He felt a cold iron fist tighten in his gut.

"Sora, darling,"  Nan's mellow voice broke the silence, "there are kittens out on the back porch if you want to have a look."

Sora was on her feet and disappearing out the back door  in a flutter of white night gown before Nan had even finished her sentence. Before he could call her back and delay the inevitable.

She didn't waste any time.   "Have you figured it out yet?" she asked , sliding into a chair across from him with her own cup of coffee.

"That I'm stuck in a dream that doesn't make sense?" he tried to make light of it, to turn the impossible away, but the crack in his voice gave him away.

"Yes, and what's behind that,"  she waited patiently for  him, as though she was only waiting for him to catch up with the plot.

"Who I am?" she prompted.

He stared into her narrow, kindly face and tried to find an answer.  The certainty there... it terrified him.  Ripped the icing of good food and welcoming kitchen away. He felt the void in his mind again. The giant void with the answers locked tantalizingly out of reach.

"The Institute," she prompted again.

This time the words registered, a can of memories bursting and spilling across his mind.  Graduating college.  Getting that government job so quickly. He had been thrilled. Had taken the job without a second thought. And then everything that came after...

Suddenly he straightened, eyes shooting to the back door. Horror dawning.

"I have to leave her here. I can't take her. I..."  He didn't. He couldn't. How could he?

Warm fingers wrapped around his clenching shaking fist,  "I know, dear.  I know."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

ScratchPad: Focused and Diffuse Modes- Harnessing Your Thinking for Improved Creativity and Learning (plus Update)

Update-  I've been a bit MIA around these parts the last month or two.   Taking Scott Dinsmore's "Start a Blog/Revive a Blog" Challenge  to see if I can jump start my intentionality again. For starters here is the first part of a three post series adapted from my final project in the fascinating (and FREE!) online course I took through Coursera called "Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects". A very worthwhile and useful exploration of the topic by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski.  I'd highly recommend it for anyone who likes to learn. If this is something you are interested in, there is a new class starting on October 3rd HERE. 

You know how many famous writers and creatives seem to go out for long walks on a fairly regular basis? Turns out they are taking advantage of the brain's use of diffuse thinking.  Use this to your advantage as well and make your story deeper and fuller!

So what exactly is happening when they are out for a walk that gets all these advantages?  Most of us think about periods of high level focus or concentration as the important bit in getting words down on paper or in learning something new. It is important. Nothing beats BIC (butt-in-chair) for getting closer to a finished piece of writing. Turns out, though, that the periods of inattention and lack of focus (when we make another cup of coffee, google random questions that happened to pop into our heads, doodle in a sketchpad, or wander around aimlessly...)  are just as important.  They give your brain the necessary space to making the new connections that will lead you to a better understanding of what is going on with your characters and story world, and ultimately to a better piece of writing. 

You can think of it like having two kinds of pinball machines in your head. When you are focused, the pins of your mind keep your attention tight and narrow, bouncing around in only one narrow defined area. When you are involved in activities that activate the diffuse mode of thinking, the pins are more widely spaced, allowing you to make connections between that amazing song you heard last week, the random radio interview with a French historian playing as you drive to the grocery , and a Pick Up Sticks game you played as a kid.  These broader context connections will add layers and depth to your writing.

When you do the first focused round of writing (or learning), the brain lays down tracks for the new material, but it often doesn’t make sense of it in a meaningful way until it  begins to make connections with other things in your mind and memory. You also need time for the new tracks to solidify.  Writing a little every day gives your brain that time and makes a tighter, better "wall" for you to sit on. Then when you step away for those periods of diffuse thinking, you allow time for the subconscious brain to step away from the new material, turn it over, and then come to new conclusions and connections about it. It cements things and firms them up.  Binge writing  on the other hand (of which I am VERY guilty) gives you a potentially more crumbly wall without all those connections and hardened cement framework.

So what does all this new research actually mean in getting better writing done?
1. Plan focused times to sit down and do your writing. Set a timer and actually be there at the 
      page for that period of time.
2.  When the timer goes, step away and do something completely different for a bit--listen to 
      music, draw, go for  a walk, … It should feel like a reward.
3. Then come back and focus for another stint!
4. Follow it up with reward--diffuse mode thinking take two.
5. Show up again tomorrow.  (This is the tough one for me.)

The length of time you set the timer for will be individual and dependent on the day. Maybe the writing is difficult and you only feel up to committing to a Flylady Fifteen (You can do anything for fifteen minutes!) rather than a Pomodoro Twenty-Five  or an Amy Alkon Sixty (from her interview in the above mentioned MOOC). Experiment. Find the amount of time that is optimal for you.

If you give this a try, let me know how it works for you! Best of luck in your writing and your learning.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Silent Room: Part 22


The walking went on and on once he finally hauled himself to his feet and resumed his steady march.  Eventually, his eyes began to play tricks.  The mirage of a farmhouse surrounded by fresh green grass beckoned.  In the landscape of nothingness, something.  He turned his steps away from the invisible wall.

He refused to wonder if he had been wrong to choose the farmhouse out of all the broad dusty landscape. The napkin would be here.  It had to be.  He refused to think about how much searching he still had to do.

By the time he got to the farmhouse, he was beyond the end of his reserves. Thick layers of dust crusted over him, sticking to the sweat- drying, cracking, chafing.  The heat had sapped away any last energy hours ago.  He was lightheaded with fatigue and hunger. Only sheer force of will put one agonizing foot in front of the other.

When he at last reached the bright green circle amid all the blowing dust bowl of fields, he fell headlong onto the grass. The damp blades of new grass pressed cool into his sun-crisped cheek.  He lay there for a long time.  He may even have passed out for awhile. Afterwards, when he thought about it, he was never sure.   He only knew that eventually he found his way to his knees to drag his body forward toward the steps.

As he clawed  his way up the porch, he saw a picnic basket sitting there.  Peaking out the top was a blue gingham napkin.

The end. The last thing.  He let out a sigh just short of a huff of relief as he settled onto the top step. Knees pulled up, his back leaned against the porch post, he just let himself stare.

The end.  But... was he ready for the next thing? What would be the next thing?  What...

He forced his thoughts to a stop. He had left all those questions and their circling gamble of answers hours ago in the dusty fields.  He didn't care anymore what the wrong or right or possible answer was. He would pick up the napkin, and it would be what it would be.  He had left hope on a beach not that long ago. Now wasn't time to be picking it up again.

A bottle of lemonade sat next to the basket. Condensation glittered on the glass.  He reached first for that. Felt the impossibly cold bottle solid under his hand.  Popping the cap off the top, he drank it long and slow, with his head tipped back.  Letting it side down his throat, gulp after gulp, until it was gone.

Once it was empty, he set it firmly on the porch beside him. He  took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. Moment of truth.  "Let's do this thing," he mumbled to the crowding air.

 He closed his eyes, leaned his head against his left fist, and in one smooth motion reached forward to grab the napkin.  His hand closed over the napkin.

Water, cold and thick, closed over his head.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Scratchpad: Creativity in 3D

Scratchpad is the new catch title for my creative process, reflection posts.

Do you allow creativity to take up its necessary amount of space in your life?

This question came up when I was meeting with a couple of writer/artist friends last week to talk life and creativity and synchronicity.  (We have begun working our way through Julia Cameron's The Artist Way book, some of us for the second time .)  It started with a conversation about body image and how our cultural definitions of beauty and body often come from flat two dimensional images (photos) while we actually live in 3D or three dimensions.  We take up space.  We are in the world. We are objects to act and react against, a presence that requires others to coordinate around. Just as we must coordinate around them. We are beautiful and flawed.  We take up space.

Which brought us to the question of creativity in our lives.  Do we think of our creativity as the 3D thing it is?  Or does our fear of it and our desire to "control" it lead us to try and smash it into a 2D flat space within our lives? Do we scrunch it up into tiny disconnected pieces at the tired corners of our lives, keeping it root bound?  And are we frustrated and discouraged that our attempts at executing our artistic work feel stilted, unoriginal, and uninspired?  What if we instead allowed it to be the breathing, fluid, bulky, 3D presence that it is.  Would that allow it and us to flourish more fully? Would that make our work more enjoyable and effective?

We often hear that creativity and inspiration and process are different for each of us.  That it is something we will discover as we go about doing our work. One writer  Jane Vandenburgh in her book Architecture of a Novel even goes so far as to argue that each individual work (novel) has its own rules and shape and way of coming into being that we cannot know ahead of time. We can only discover it bit by bit as we work our way through. The process of that discovery takes up space and requires a willingness to experiment and make a mess.  Have we given ourselves that space? And have we been gentle and kind and forgiving of our stumbles and mistakes when we do?  How would our creativity and our productivity be different if we took intentional time to nurture it and cultivate it and allow it to come to life in its own particular 3D shape?

What about you?  How have you given space to creativity in your life lately? How have you watered it and allowed it to come to life?

Best wishes in your creative endeavors this week!

On a side note, if you are a writer and interested in "puttering away" more at craft this month, consider joining Gabriela Periera's 29 Day Conquer the Craft Challenge. (HERE)

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Silent Room: Part 21

Dr. Adelheid

Dr. Adelheid stood in frozen shock when the doors to the Silent Room swung open suddenly.  Caught before she even made it to the bio board with the disconnect serum.  Then she saw the form of a man crumpling slowly to the floor, his dark curls splattering across the tile.


He sat with relief, drawing in great gulping breaths of air and emptiness.  No screaming pterodactyls, no chasing wolves or stampeding horses.  He was alive.  He didn't know which side was up or down anymore. He was just glad to be able to stop moving for five minutes.  He kept thinking everything would start to make sense at some point. But the scenarios just kept getting stranger and stranger and less like any place he had ever been.  At least this time he didn't feel like he was five minutes from dying a miserable painful death by crazed, clawing animal.

It took a few minutes to come into himself, to begin to think of the fourth and last item on his list- a blue checked napkin.

In front of him was a stretching flatness.  There was no sense of reality in the distance. Nothing in the landscape to anchor him.  Just empty dusty fields stretching away from him in all directions.  

At last he started by turning around.  Then he chose a direction at random and walked straight ahead. And very nearly knocked himself out when his jaw shot up and  his feet spun under him like a rug being pulled out.

From his new place on the hard ground he blinked at the space in front of him. It seemed to shimmer like ripples spreading out from a central point. Then it calmed and smoothed into invisibility.  A way to break through this false reality!

Eagerly he stood up and spent the next hour trying to break through that same spot.  It didn't work. All he managed to do was make himself nauseous and dizzy.  And sore.

Next he tried finding the edge of the wall to see how far it continued. He had walked at least a mile with no break in the wall when he realized that the wall wasn't as straight as he'd first thought. Instead it seemed to be curving ever so slightly inward like the  underside of a great bowl. Maybe this world was just curving around in a big circle, and he would come back to his original spot. If he dropped something and it was a circle, he'd come back to it.  He went through his pockets looking for anything he could drop. There was nothing.  Eventually, he used his feet to scuff out a giant x in the hard ground of the field.

Keeping the wall to his left he continued on,  putting one foot in front of the other.  Nothing changed.  And he certainly didn't see anything that resembled a checked napkin.  Not in all that great open space.  He did not come back to the x.  He kept on walking until night fell.  Then he settled down against the invisible wall and tried to catch a few hours of sleep.

In the darkness, thoughts came.   He had been searching in this great emptiness, going at it for who knows how long. Maybe days. With nothing to show for it.  He needed to solve this. For himself and the redheaded doctor and all the rest of his countrymen.  But what if there was no napkin to find? Or what if he found the napkin, but when he got out of this he was so dead tired that he couldn't function to put one foot in front of the other?  How would he get his real body to get away then?  He thought of the bottle he had carried for so long.  Thinking to much when you had the time to sleep never did any good.  He let the exhaustion flow through him, weight him down. He let his head slump forward and let sleep wash him away.

When he woke, day had returned full and bright. As though someone somewhere had simply flipped a switch.  He just sat and stared across the empty fields and expanse. He was hungry and thirsty and not that much less tired than he had been when he fell asleep in the darkness.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Things He Couldn't Hear

Prompt Writing with Copper. The prompt was "things he couldn't hear".

The world had grown useless in his old age.  Simon spat fiercely at an irritating weed, then shifted his chew from one cheek to the other.  Useless, good for nothing young people who couldn't be bothered to say so much as a please or a goodbye or a thank you.  And mumbling like nincompoops all the rest of the time.

Too annoyed to think about the sorry state of the world any longer, he shoved himself up onto his knees and tried to stand.  They creaked and grumbled and all around complained as he struggled.   Eventually he gave in and used the cane laying on the ground next to him to get to his feet.  About the time he got to his feet, he thought maybe he heard a bang.

He took his time but eventually got turned around to face the house.  His wife waved wildly at him and pantomimed hitting a pan with a wooden spoon.  What on earth?  He was starting to think she was going as crazy as the rest of the world. Well, if she wanted to play charades.  He pointed at the half full wheelbarrow next to him and gestured toward the trash pile. She nodded, then held up the phone.  Oh right, Cindy was calling at 6 pm sharp.  He looked at his watch. Thirty minutes yet.  He'd about make it.  He nodded, then huffed out a sigh before turning to wrangle with the wheelbarrow.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Silent Room: Part 20

Okay, turns out I "lied" about continuing to post TSR episodes in a timely manner. Posting now resuming...

Out in the fields

The early morning sun had tipped over the horizon to paint the sky in lemons and salmon pinks. A drifting gauze of mist softened the edges of the grassy field. Several sheep dotted around the grass, lazily chewing their cud.

Sora, a bitty slip of a girl, sat huddled up against a tall lean man with dirty blonde hair in the shadow of a craggy rock along the fence line.  

Her thick wavy hair had been forced into two tight fat braids, and tiny curls sprouted around her face and watchful blinking brown eyes.  His milk pale skin looked almost transparent next to the warmth of her darker skin.

She pulled her feet tighter under the hem of her white flannel night dress, trying to keep them warm. Most of the other strangers had already gotten up, grumbling, and wandered away. Disappearing as so much dissipating mist as they walked toward the road. She was ready to go somewhere else too.

“Uncle Kerr, are you awake yet?” she tried again.

“Maybe,” his voice croaked back at her this time, creaky and hoarse with disuse. At the words she popped up on her knees peering at his face. His eyelids fluttered.

"Please, wake up?" She tugged hopefully at the front of his sleeping shirt. 

 This, along with the cold discomfort of hard ground underneath him and the reality of her presence, finally brought him fully awake. His eyes snapped open, and he sat up abruptly. Then blinked at the impossibility of his surroundings. 

When he had fallen asleep he could have sworn it was in his own bed, in his old college apartment above Ralph's Apothecary. A city away from Sora. The strangeness of that thought penetrated  his thoughts.  Never mind the distance between where they lived. He had lived in that apartment with Hank years before Sora was born. Years before Hank had even married Lily. He looked down at her, dazed. Now she was old enough to be a girl of...six.

How could he have been living in that apartment? How could he have forgotten about Sora? About everything that came after his college years? How could he be in a field?

He looked down at his feet for a moment to block out the sky and the grass and the wide brown eyes and the questions. Then he saw what he was wearing. Hang on, why was he wearing the red candy cane striped flannel sleep set his mother always insisted they wear on Christmas morning? He hated them, all scratchy and cheesy.

"Where are we?" was the question he finally settled on voicing, not expecting a reply.

"Shepherd Sam's field," piped back Sora.

"What?" He looked back at her, trying to translate the words into something that made sense.

"Shepherd Sam's field. From daddy's stories?"  Her words were patient, if slightly patronizing now.

"That's a real place?" He couldn't keep the shock out of his voice.  He would have sworn on his life that the world of Shepherd Sam was completely fictional. 

In fact, he was positive it had been fictional, a composite of photos torn from magazines, and culled from old books, and printed off the internet. He had watched his brother sketch and design and redesign all through college.

"Duh," Sora rolled her eyes at him and climbed to her feet.  She was cold and tired of waiting for him.

He scrubbed his face with his hands and wished for a cup of hot steaming coffee. It was too early to deal with this insanity.

As he took a look around he found the world making even less sense. The pastoral scene and winding road did in fact look very much like his brother Hank's Shepherd Sam comic.  Off in the distance he could even see a shepherd teetering on the stilt seat that was straight out of a pen and ink drawing Hank had found in a book from the 1800s.

He looked back at Sora, who very definitely existed. From a future he hadn't remembered before he went to sleep last night. As she stood in a made up field.  She seemed to be having a whole lot less trouble with this than he was.

"Can we go see Grandma Nan now?" asked Sora, pointing.

And, sure enough, down the winding road off to their right, he could just see the puffing smoke from a fat chimney that looked a lot like Grandma Nan's. The fictional Grandma Nan. He sighed. Grandma Nan was always good for coffee and hot food in Hank's comic wasn't she? Maybe she would feed two passing friendly strangers dressed only in their nightclothes and going slowly insane. Yes. Coffee was definitely the next step. Even if it was fictional coffee.

He shoved himself to his feet and then bent to pick up Sora.

"Let's see if we can find some breakfast before we try to think about this, hey?" He felt her head nod against his neck before it dropped to his shoulder.

For those who are interested in the pen and ink drawing of the shepherd see here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Run Like A Girl

Prompt writing with Copper: Run Like A Girl.

The trail beneath her rose to greet each foot. She felt the forest around her pulsing with slow breaths, her own rapid breaths a staccato ragtime to its earthy exhalations.

She let the breeze dance over her skin, carrying away the fatigue and heat.  A mile marker came into view around the bend with its faded numbers and splintered top. Two more miles to go before breakfast.

She thought of Allen's scoffing  face when she had told him she'd beat him in the upcoming competition.

"You run like a girl,"  he'd scorned. "No way will you beat me."

With a smirk she picked up the pace.  Oh but she did indeed run like a girl. A very fast girl with a lot of records to her name. He would eat his words with a healthy side of defeat.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Of Pearls and Peas

A belated posting of the P is for... post from the A to Z challenge.

Mist rolled in off the Atlantic, wispy and damp. It wandered vaguely around Ellis where she  stood, gazing out to sea, lost in contemplation.  Somewhere beneath the  crashing drum of waves against rock, the distant mournful pull of a foghorn sounded its long low call.  Between her fingers, she gently rolled her strand of  pearls, thinking of Bodie and time and the quiet pounding of a thousand drops of water.

Behind her, past the drifting patches of mist and over a few fence rows, their small cottage lay empty now of all but a few take away containers and a box of cleaning supplies. She had come out this morning for a walk across the pasture and  down to the rocky beach.  Such a grand lot of rushing water stretching away sight out of mind. Its siren song her grounding point through all these years.  She wondered if she'd miss it more than she was missing Bodie now.

Bodie had gone ahead of them almost four months ago.  The boys had caught the train last week.  Only she was  left now to hand over the keys.  She'd stayed behind to give everything one last scrub down and to make sure the last of their things made it into the moving truck.  She would follow in another hour.

The timer on her watch beeped.  Time up.

She let the necklace fall back against her skin.  Brushed her fingers against her jeans as if to wipe away her muddled thoughts as so much dust.  She turned away from the water, the solid rooting comfort of its presence, and walked away.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zinc

  A preliminary review of A-Z challenge and how it went, since this is a zinc blog and all.

So, yeah.... the training wheels came off this past week or two, and this blogger bit the dust.  Even with posts half written, I just couldn't quite find that inner something to dig deep  and WANT IT. Guess that's why I'm a struggling novelist/fiction writer and not a wannabe professional blogger!  At least not yet anyway. The final current count stands at four missing posts - P, R, X, Y.  As three of those are partially written, who knows, they may still show up today.

Overall though, I've found this challenge very worthwhile.  It let me meet so many incredible bloggers out there, most of whom I plan to keep reading after this month is over.  If I've commented on your page during the past month and its not AC (sorry! I read at work sometimes), you've been added to my feedly account.  If you don't think I've discovered you/added you to my list of reads yet and you would like to be added, just comment on this post!  I will hop on over lickety-split to check your page out.

This challenge also pushed me into writing different kinds of posts than I typically have in the past. It was fun; it was interesting; and I am very curious to see how it influences the kinds of writing I will do here in the upcoming months. One thing I can say for sure though, this has decided me on knowing that I am not the kind of person who will blog every day.  It interferes too  much with my other writing.   I could, however, stand to be more diligent about when, what, and how often I post

Thank you so much for reading and journeying along with me this month! You are greatly appreciated, whoever and wherever you may be.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Wonder

  W is for Wonder

Good books and good coffee.

Celebration and hints of green in the cold of winter.

A sentinel of upcoming spring 

 Connections. Wide open space. Horizons.

A touch of snow to decorate spring with a hint of whimsy.


Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Voice Journals

Voice Journals  are a new "tool" in the character building workshop that I have been trying out.  I first heard of voice journals when I was hop-skipping around  the book The Art of War for Writers   by James Scott Bell.  In it he writes
The voice journal is my favorite way of getting to know a character.
A voice journal is simply a character speaking in stream-of-consciousness mode. You prompt the character by asking the occasional question, and then just let your fingers records the words on the page.  
’s essential that you do not edit as you write. It’s best to write in five- or ten-minute chunks, without stoppingIt. Over and over again.
(- If you want to see a longer excerpt of Bell's essay on the voice journal, see Alan Rizler's post on the topic.)  
I also stumbled on a version of voice journaling while listening to an interview by  Steven Moffat over at the BBC Writer's Room.  (Moffat is the writer behind the BBC Sherlock series which you should definitely check out if you have somehow managed to miss this great show.)  In it he talks about finding the voice of his character's by first writing pages of dialogue for them, until they say something he thinks is truly them. Then he scraps everything else and starts over with just that line.  Since he has created quite a multitude of characters many of us also eventually come to love, it is obviously a process that works well for him.
Of course, I tried them out when I was already feeling blocked, which only lead to a voice journal like this:

Director: Morning. Casting calls have finished. Characters are sitting in the waiting rooms ready for interviewing and life story recording.

Author: Sigh. I don't know if I'm ready for this.  (I start shifting toward the door)

Director: Stop right there in your tracks. NO edging out of this one. We've done our part. The characters have shown up.  Time to start talking to them. Or listening anyway.

Author: But...

Director: No buts. Just get in there and start listening. (shoving Author toward the character rooms) Seriously get in there. I'm flipping the switches for them to start in about t minus 45 seconds, so you'd better find your way to your first  character before then.

With  another sigh I slump my way toward the sounding booths and prepare for a long afternoon.  What if this story didn't work. What if this motley collection of characters couldn't be pulled off.  It was all going to be down to me screwing it up.  After all the work everyone had done. All the characters brewed and created from scratch.  Here I was about to start designing a story world for them and crafting their official voice. Botching it up.  Grrr. 

As I entered the long oval room, all in white with leather padding on the ceiling, the lights for the central room began to dim. Along both sides ran a row of gleaming windows into individual rooms. Each of the rooms was lit from within, the window framing a character. Each a character had a protrusion of wires and tabs connected to their scalps, linking them to a projector that could shower their room with flashes of  images from their memories.

Director:  Places everyone!

With the third sigh in less than a minutes, I slumped into the comfortable chair in front of room one and propped my feet up on the available foot rest.    Somewhere a buzzer sounded.  I pulled out my notebook and paper and slid on the special head set and glasses attached to the back of the chair.

Might as well take notes.  Easier than getting clubbed by the Director.

Hmm. Perhaps channeling my inner angst wasn't quite what I was going for.  What about you? Have you tried voice journals for getting at your characters?  What has been your experience?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Uvula

There are so many words in the English language. So many beautiful words. Things like uvula and verdigris and patina and susurrus and round-about and pluviophile. So many words to just roll around in your mind and feel the edges of them, let their meaning bloom in your mind into a particular, detailed thing.
I don’t stop and marvel often enough. Like seeing the most incredible miracles every day and just letting them slide around me in the commonplace. Instead of grabbing on to the wonder.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for TED Talks

T is for Ted Talks.  TED is an amazing project, and I have spent many hours watching talks on interesting and amazing things.

Here are a few videos for inspiration on creativity and fear and finding your voice.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Silence and Solitude

 (I have been out of town the last few days visiting family, but posts for P and R will appear ... sometime. Perhaps next Sunday as a double post.)

Silence can be a blocked voice, a page of a book you (we) are writing where you don’t say what you mean.

Solitude can be a place apart and removed from community.

They can also be good and necessary things.  Hallowed, luxurious spaces to sit and be. Where you let the worries roll away and the sounds filter in.

Welcome little bird, back for the spring. Welcome rain drops murmuring on the roof, washing the world clean and fresh again. Welcome sunrise, with your soft glow and your gentle mist. Welcome place to let the soul fill up. Welcome time to “get the work done”. Welcome other half of life, jut as needed for creativity as the people we call loved ones, friends, colleagues, community.

Wishing you at least a moment of open space and silence and solitude today to say I am glad to be here.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Questions

Questions can be hard, but they can also be fun or meaningful.  Questions can take us places we might not have thought to go. Help us clarify our thinking about something. Let us see things...better or differently or from a broader perspective. Their answers may even loosen our fingers to let go of things we are doing, or choices we are making, because they are not actually doing what we thought they were.

Having passed the midpoint in the A-Z challenge now, it seemed a good time to pause and think about my experiences so far and to begin framing things to think about after it is finished.  Questions I might ask myself include-- Have I grown as a blogger in participating in this challenge? In what ways? Have I connected with other writers and bloggers in a meaningful way? What do I want to take out of this challenge? Are there types of writing I hadn't thought much about before that I should be cultivating?  Are there topics I might want to explore in the future that I wouldn't have thought about before? What do I want my blog to be about moving forward?

On her blog, writer Justine Musk wrote an entry about starting a blog as a fiction writer.  In it she urges us to consider using the questions that drive us or intrigue us as the thing around which we circle our posts.  She writes-
"[As] fiction writers, we have our obsessions: those questions that we’re compelled to ask again and again, entering the same theme through different doorways, like Monet and his water lilies or Degas and his dancers. 
How could you take one of those questions and put it at the center of your blog?   
Instead of using it as a catchall drawer for random musings, why not turn your blog into a personal quest through asking, researching and answering or exploring different aspects of that central question? 
It could be spiritual, emotional, or social."

What about you?  Are there new (or old) questions you are asking yourself about your blog or your writing as we work through this challenge together?  If you are completing this challenge for the second plus time, how is your experience different this time?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for OpenSimulator

Have you ever wanted to try your hand at making your own virtual world?   OpenSimulator might be your (our) chance.

I'm not a gamer, but ever since I stumbled across this tutorial by Alpha Rats I've had it on my list of things to "try" someday.  What can I say, I am a bit of a sucker for gadgets and toys, especially if you can just click buttons to create things or try them out.  Something to do on a rainy Saturday when I'm busily avoiding writing...

What about you? Have you ever designed a world or an image?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Night Circus

A magical book of fantasy and intrigue if you are looking for a  good read.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Morning Pages

  If you've been around the writing or arts community for any length of time, you've probably heard of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way or Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones at least in passing.  Both of them recommend doing morning pages - an exercise in daily stream of consciousness writing, a kind of moving meditation, to get the brain unstuck and the creative juices flowing.  (Here is Julia Cameron's more detailed description of morning pages.)

The main thing, really, is not to get too stuck on specifics. If you'd rather type them, type them. If it's easier to fit them in before you fall asleep at night, do them then.  There's magic in them whether you do them "right" or not.  And, over time, they begin to their work.

 Since it is late, and my brain is too tired to think clearly, I am going to offer up a bit of my own stream of consciousness thoughts on the subject done just now as part of my belated morning pages entry, rather than trying to wax on coherently on the topic.

What do I tell them about morning pages?  Morning pages are stream of consciousness at their most dizzying. Without an anchor of topic beyond the fluffed up brain stuff meandering endlessly on repeat between the ears.  You are guaranteed the mother of all rollercoaster rides if you keep them up.  Sure there are pages, there are days, there are endless repetitive riffs of boring stuff and nonsense conversations  with yourself you wish you could get out of.  It is the other stuff, the unexpected gems that you are panning for in among the gravel and the dirt.  And oh, how shocking, and surprising, and glittering they can be. 

I started them "seriously" somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen months ago (Jan 2013).  Before that, I'd started them ... an unknown number of times.  Without success. I put too much weight on them.  I thought they had to be good. I thought they had to be quality. Forget that. That just gets in the way.

Since then, they've become  a life line. A way of getting words out on the page.  Who knew half of "writer's block" is having too many stopped up, un-thought, unspoken words crammed up in all the nooks and crannies of the brain and chest and heart until there's no space for them to move, let alone come pouring out on the page.

So now I do them; and life and art and I go better.  My black gel pen and my battered wide ruled composition books and my stolen minutes, not always in the morning or even all at once.


If you don't keep them now, I dare you to try them for three months.  You'll be amazed at what they come to mean to you, even when they literally say "nothing".

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Life and...

L is for Life and Laughter. Lists. Leonardo da Vinci. Light coming in through the window. Letting go. Letting in. 

I hope for all of you that your lives this week are filled with Lots of Good Things.

 (a random photo with lots of lights from about town)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Kaleidoscope

Did you have one of those wonderful kaleidoscope toys? Cardboard tubes filled with bits of colored plastic. Point it at the light and away with the fun.  A bit of cheap joy.  Though I wonder if they would be as cheap to buy now? Probably not.   They seemed so ubiquitous when I was kid.  

I loved how a quick flick of the wrist could change the colors and design. Each new combination just as beautiful as the last.  Insta-art at its best.  This Silk app reminded me of that.


Friday, April 11, 2014

The Silent Room, Part 19

Number 11

Behind the brilliance, circles of white wrapped around and around into a tall dome somewhere above his head.  The Silent Room, Bailey thought, as he came slowly into the awareness of being present in his physical body again. The machine arm that had come at his head earlier was no longer in front of him, though he could still feel a helmet on his head.

Looking down at his feet, he found he was standing on a hexagonal plate set into a white tile floor.  He shifted his shoulders slightly, finding them stiff and sore.  Then he reached up slowly with his right hand to see if he could push the helmet off his head.  It came away easily, clattering in the stillness. Like a hundred tiny cymbals.  It was the last thought in his mind before pain began to explode outward along every nerve fiber in his body.

It started from his left eye, radiating back and through his brain, then down his spine, then out from his core, dancing down his shoulders to his fingers, down his legs to his toes. A scream ripped from his lips as the world blacked out, and he dropped to his knees.

After a minute, the pain vanished almost as quickly as it had started. A flash of lightening pain, draining away out his fingers and toes like so much electric current leaching into the ground.  By then he lay curled up on the floor, ragged and exhausted. Eventually, he forced himself to struggle against the limpness of his body. Time was running out. They'd know he'd beaten their game already. It was only a matter of minutes, seconds even, before the guards descended on this room and dragged him away to something even more horrific. He had to get out. Now. There would be no second chance.

Somehow, with more energy than he had in his reserves, he got turned over on his hands and knees and began dragging himself toward where the doors had been. He couldn't see them outlined in the brightness of the white light, but he remembered them. He'd find them and claw them open with his bare hands if he had to. It took nearly everything he had in him to make it those few feet. It felt as though he was dragging bricks with every movement. When he had nearly reached the side of the dome, the wall in front of him suddenly retracted outward to reveal a door frame. His sigh of relief was short lived. On the other side, stood a doctor with a syringe already in hand. Defeated, he let his head and shoulders slump to the floor.

J is for Joann Sfar

  Joann Sfar, if you haven't discovered him yet, is a talented French graphic novelist (plus artist, novelist, film director, etc...) who is also quite prolific. He has a real way of capturing life in his drawings and of incorporating pieces of his cultural heritage into his stories.  I mention him here, because I heard him say something in a documentary last summer that has stuck with me.  "Reality is to an Illustrator, what Exercise is to the Athlete." 

He also went on to say (and please forgive me for the terrible paraphrase; I only have what I originally scribbled in my notebook and not the actual text for reference),  "sometimes I need to draw what is right in front of me.... sometimes there is a dog and I just need to start drawing the dog.... When I was drawing the different musicians for Klezmet, I found I had to learn to play the instruments myself in order to get the hands right, to look natural.  The hand is like a cup of water, taking on the shape of everything it touches, having no shape of its own...." 

It got me thinking about how I might be overlooking the practice of writing as I chip away at turning one or another of my stories into more polished, finished versions.  Do I regularly take the time to sit and observe, and then describe on the page, the what and who right in front of me? Does doing so add depth or nuance to my writing in a way that is moving me forward in my "craft" over time?  Do I get out of my own way and let go enough of what I am trying to do in my storytelling to see what actually is?

Still mulling it over to some extent, and not sure I've really gotten to the root of it.  But I've written a lot more prompts over the past year, and I've rewritten the quote as a shorthand reminder to ground myself in my writing when my mind starts trying to launch my stories off into the fantasy stratosphere.  Perhaps you'll find it useful as well. 


For those anywhere along the writing path, I'd be curious what you think.

Addendum:  I stumbled across this Write Practice entry this evening, and I think it says what the Sfar quote says, in a far more practical way.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Idea Buzz

We all have something that makes us energized and happy in a way other things don’t. Something we crave like chocolate or coffee. It may be exercise, or getting out among trees, or having loud, noisy debates with friends. And if we don’t get it, well, all cylinders may be firing but the usual oomph just isn’t there.

Me? I need Ideas with a capital I. Give me Google search; give me TED talks; give me NPR radio like Q or This American Life or Splendid Table; give me long tangential conversations with my brother. Just give me ideas.

Good idea, bad idea…unless its a topic I care passionately about, that part doesn’t really matter as much. It’s not the weight of the individual idea that’s important. It’s the possibilities associated with it. The ping, ping, ping of connecting ideas.

It took me a long time to realize that it was an actual thing I needed to make space for in my life, not just something that was nice to do.

 What about you? Are there things you’ve found you need to do regularly to keep your energy and creativity levels up and humming?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Happiness

I have had collage on the brain lately, having come into a new supply of discarded magazines from work. Cutting out words the other day, I held the traditional phrase “Live Happily Ever After” in my hand. And realized for all the fairy tales and Disney movies, I’m not such a big believer in the existence of such thing. After all, bad and difficult things happen all the time, even in the best of moments. But cutting off those last two words “ever after” gives me a phrase I can much more easily subscribe to.

Live Happily

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

G is for Gratitude and Gratefulness

  (Today I am keeping it very simple.)

David Steindl-Rast talk on cultivating gratefulness in the present moment. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

F is for Father

Good evening, from Jim, sporting his new do.

Never thought I'd see the day you could pull off a mohawk as a badge of honor, dad!  Or the day we'd be glad you had four new holes added to your head. Love you. And so glad you are on the mend.

F is for Father.  I am very grateful for mine. I got a good one.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

E is for Empty Out

  As a saver and a packrat, I have perhaps come more slowly to recognizing this need within myself than perhaps someone else might have done, has done.  About a year ago, at the prompting of my dear friend Anna, I started keeping a daily journal of stream of consciousness thoughts or "morning pages" as we worked through the book The Artist's Way by  Julia Cameron. Since then I have been keeping them for most days. At first I just thought they were an interesting idea, but the longer I have kept them, the more I have found them essential.  They are a space to throw all those random fragments of ideas or emotions or daily frustrations and let important things begin to bubble up and through.  Somehow that process of emptying out yesterday leaves me with more space in my life for filling up in the present moment- whether processing or creating.  A way of making time bigger Perhaps it is a bit like meditating, except more active. Making it more likely to be something I do.  I am paraphrasing slightly, as I can't remember his precise words, but MZ summed it up well when we were talking about it this morning-  You have to empty some of the water out of your bucket from yesterday, in order to have room to put some of the water from today into it.

It makes me curious about how others approach this, though.  Are there ways you empty the mental bucket in order to make more effective room in the present? 


Friday, April 4, 2014

D is for DIYMFA

  As a "weekend" writer with a day job, keeping the inspirational fires stoked enough to just get the story out on the page can seem to take all the extra time there is.  Trying to also put together an intentional plan for furthering the craft of my writing? That can seem like a task better left for another day.  That's where finding a good writing community to push you forward and encourage you can become especially important. (Thank you, Arlee Bird, of Tossing It Out for putting together this writing community A-Z challenge and giving us the space for encouraging each other on our writing journeys! And thank you,  Sylvia, of Sylvia Writes for letting me know about it.)

I've been lucky enough to find several of these communities, especially online. The one I'm going to mention today is  Gabriela Periera first began to work on this website when she was finishing her own MFA program, as a way to keep learning in her writing after she left school and as a way to offer something to those of us for whom a grad program in writing is just not an option.  She has a wide range of articles and guest posts and a great (free!) writing workbook that makes that "intentional planning" a whole lot less overwhelming. In it she walks you through some simple exercises to begin putting those big picture pieces together of where you want to go with your writing in the next few years and what you need to do to get there.

Already planning to block off some serious time this weekend on a particular writing project, but wishing you didn't have to go it alone? Now's a good time to jump in and test out her site.  She has a major Weekend Sprint planned for this Saturday and Sunday- complete with videos and inspirational prodding.

Are there other websites or online "programs" that you have found particularly helpful in pushing you forward in your writing?  I'd love to hear about them.