Archive for the 'Writing life' Category
by Jessa Slade on June 28th, 2010
Currently working on: Staying on top of the raspberry and snow pea harvest
Mood: Wondering how many dishes include both raspberries AND snow peas…
So we’re halfway through the year. (Well, halfway plus a little bit, but I’m always behind.) This is usually when I pull out my New Year’s Resolutions, laugh hysterically, and reassess. What are my NEW New Half Year’s Resolutions?
When I look at what I have to get done before the end of the year, the hysteria becomes more pronounced and other living beings in my household find heavy objects to find under. But the trick is always first things first. So in honor of this week’s blog topic of “My next project,” I bring you my first task: Announcing the winner of last week’s Ava Gray SKIN GAME giveaway. Random.org picked:
Spav, who is distracted by Twitter. Aren’t we all? Congrats, Spav, and thanks to all who commented.
Now, onto the next task…
I’ll be attending RomCon, a new convention for romance readers and writers, in a couple weeks (which, like the end of the year, is coming faster than I anticipate, I know). I’m very much looking forward to stalking some of my favorite authors, hanging with friends, chatting with readers, and signing books. If you live in Denver or have friends, family or Facebook acquaintances who live in Denver or anywhere in the Rockies for that matter, come join us! The giant book fair is open to the public. Details:
Crowne Plaza Denver Airport
15500 East 40th Avenue, Denver, CO
Saturday, July 10, Noon Book Fair
Meet Jo Beverley, Christine Feehan, Julia Quinn, Lori Foster, Meljean Brook, Nalini Singh, Carly Phillips, Susan Mallery, Melissa Mayhue, Catherine Anderson, Jodi Thomas and dozens of other fabulous authors [Note from Jessa: You'll see I am not a listed author at this point in my life, but at least I am fabulous] our multi-author booksigning sponsored by Borders. Bring up to 3 books from your own library for your favorite author to sign!
But before I go, I have to finish writing a short story from the world of the Marked Souls. It’s the possession story of Corvus Valerius. I’m going to give away limited edition prints of the story at RomCon before I post it to my website. If you want a copy (when I finally finish it) email your snail mail addy to jessa at jessaslade dot com with the subject line: Corvus.
Writing his story has been harder than I thought it would be. Okay, all writing is harder for me than I think it will be. But Corvus’s tale is especially hard because… Well, as soon as I started writing him, he became my hero.
There’s a saying among writers: Every villain is the hero of his own story. That’s been true of Corvus through the first two books of the Marked Souls and it’s even more true when we see how he gave in to temptation — and his demon. What do you think, does evil always believe itself in the right, or sometimes does evil just say, hell yeah I’m evil?
I’m also running a contest/asking a favor/assigning you an enviable task at my personal blog. I need to find a royalty free picture of Corvus for the cover of the short story. If somebody finds a shot I can use, she’ll get a signed copy of SEDUCED BY SHADOWS or FORGED OF SHADOWS. You can read the details here.
See you (hopefully) in Denver!
by Annette McCleave on June 22nd, 2010
The hardest part of writing—for me—is the first draft. Editing stuff I’ve already written is so much easier than getting the story down in the first place.
I don’t think that’s surprising. The first draft of any story requires a huge investment in creative brain power. It not only draws on my smarts (from a plotting perspective), it draws on my emotions. In order to capture the story properly, I need to FEEL it.
When all goes right, I end the day on a satisfied but weary note. When it wrong, I tend to avoid the computer or avoid the manuscript by hanging out on social network sites and playing computer games. Not productive. And usually guilt-inducing. So, I do several things to keep myself moving forward:
1. Plan my day to include several breaks. It’s hard work to be ‘on’ for hours at a time. So, I schedule downtime. But I use an alarm clock to remind myself when it’s time to get back to work. If I don’t, I find myself goofing off when I should be writing. Ooops.
2. Turn off the internet. I actually have an old computer unplugged from the internet, and when I’m in the throes of draft one, I work there. There’s no wireless connectivity in the machine, so it’s truly cut off from the rest of the world. Conveniently, that computer also has no games on it except a very basic solitaire game.
3. Reward myself. I set daily goals, and when I make those goals, I give myself a little treat. It can be anything from a cup of Starbucks to watching a DVD. And, of course, the best reward is the finished manuscript. The feeling you get when you type THE END is incredible.
4. Keep a visual progress bar posted near my monitor. This works amazingly well for me. Watching the green bar edge closer and closer to the finish line stirs my competitive instincts and provides more satisfaction than cold, sterile page numbers. It also helps me with pacing, because I know where I am in the story at all times.
My competitive instincts were honed as a speed swimmer in my youth. I wasn’t Michael Phelps, but I competed in several regional and national events. If there’s even a whiff of competition in the game, I’m keen and eager. I can’t help but compare my progress bar on my current manuscript to the progress I made on previous books. I hate to lose…even to myself.
Now all I have to do is figure out how to work this same kind of magic on housework…laundry is my nemesis. I use it as inspiration for the evil monsters in my books: It sucks my energy every time I look at it, it doubles in size whenever my back is turned, and it instantly springs back to life every time I think I’ve slain it.
What’s your least favorite household chore?
by Jessa Slade on June 14th, 2010
Currently working on: Book 3 revisions, due tomorrow! Aye!
Mood: Fuh-wreaking out
Summer is a terrible time in the Pacific Northwest. Terrible for writing, that is.
June through September, the Pacific Northwest offers some of the most spectacularly perfect weather on the planet (all the more marvelous when compared to the weather October through May) with outdoor adventures that range from ocean beach tidepooling to mountain biking to high desert rock hounding. In other words, it can be hard—very hard—to sit inside, staring at a computer, getting words on the page.
As if jaunts to the coast or forests weren’t distracting enough, I’m also a gardener. Gardens can be as all-consuming as a 100,000-word work in progress. In fact, I learned a few writing tips from my garden that help me make the most of summer’s joys.
Time your fallow season
Like gardens, stories—and writers—often benefit from down-time. In a small but hard-working garden like mine, that period of rest and recuperation is winter, when nothing else is going on anyway. For my writing, I try to time my fallow moments—those times when I’m letting a story sit between revision, when I’m brainstorming a new story (which I equate to plowing under rich compost), or when I’m critiquing my writing partners—when I know I’m going to be distracted by things like sunshine, watermelon (it’s impossible to eat watermelon around a computer), and camping trips.
Work in concentrated bursts
Despite its small size, my garden has an amazing capacity to grow weeds. The thought of tackling the whole space at once is daunting (and gets me itching for a backhoe and a load of quick-set concrete) so I pick one area and whack at it for a set amount of time, then relax. For example, on a hot day, I weed the shaded north-side beds and reward myself with a popsicle in the sun. Same with my writing. I set myself goals that play to my strengths—and weaknesses. Since I like to laze around on summer mornings, I don’t even pretend I’m going to write. But in the hot afternoon when my black dog is begging to get inside out of the sun, I go up to my office with her and get my words in.
Experiment, have fun and get dirty
In the more sober and contemplative months of winter, snuggled in at my desk, I find it easier to concentrate, kind of like my winter garden pared down to evergreens and stark branches. But all work and no play… Summer in the garden, with its bright colors and sweet fruits, is a great time to try those fabulous tropical annuals, to yanks things out and move things around, to go a little wild. Like a solar charger, I read more in the summer, get excited about new stories and take that energy with me back to my writing.
And never worry about excessive summer distractions. Trust me, the rains will return.
by Our Guest on June 3rd, 2010
Note from Jessa: I got to dance with Marie-Claude Bourque at RT in Columbus this year, so I can attest to her fitness! She’s willing to give away a copy of ANCIENT WHISPERS to one lucky commenter, so you can experience her wonderfully evocative writing yourself!
When it comes to writing fast, face it, unless we are specially gifted, it all comes down to motivation and how much time we spend putting words on the page.
I spend 15 years as an AFAA certified fitness instructor, the last 5 of those as a coordinator and trainer of instructors. I learned a thing or two about motivation, because really, taking the steps to stay fit and healthy requires a lot of motivation.
So here is what I taught my fitness clients and class participants and how you can adapt it to find the motivation to be more prolific in writing (and, as bonus, learn some fitness tips).
Keep your goals intrinsic:
Fitness: This means that your goals should be things that you can do something about as opposed to goals that involve someone else or external factors. I can have a goal of losing 10 pounds by next month or looking like Heidi Klum by my birthday but I’m fighting a lot of things here, my metabolism and my genetics. It is impossible with that goal to reach success. If I say I’ll exercise 4 times this week, or take my latte nonfat for now on, the goal is completely under my control. If I do fail, it’s my fault.
Writing: Similarly if my goal is to sell my first book within the year, hit the NYT list in 5 years or become as famous as Nora Roberts, I am not setting myself up for success. However, I can be quite successful if I chose to submit my manuscript to ten agents this month, or my proposal to my editor by next week or finish my 2 completed novels by the end of the year. It’s all under my control.
Write it down:
Fitness: Most successful fitness professional write down their progress. In an exercise or a food log, in a notebook, calendar or on a smart phone, it doesn’t matter but it seems that people who track down what they are doing tend to think more about what they are about to eat and are motivated to see their progress on paper. I lost 40 pounds of baby weight twice by writing down everything I ate. It works.
Writing: We can do this in writing to. Track your daily word count or pages written, whether on a calendar that you see every day or in a special notebook, by coloring blocks on a chart, using a word count meter online or posting your accomplishments to your social networks, whatever works for you. Seeing the number add up every day is very motivating.
Make it social:
Fitness: I always tell my participant to make dates with friends at the gym. If you know your best friend is there, you can’t change your mind at the last minute. She might be upset. Planning for coffee afterwards with a bunch of pals makes you more likely to go because it’s fun. Having a running buddy who picks you up at your house also gives you no choice but go ahead with your exercise.
Writing: Writing is more solitary but you can make it social. Why is Twitter so popular with writers? You can meet a writer friend at the coffee shop to write, you can have a writing buddy that you email in the morning then at the end of the day to encourage each other or you can belong to goal oriented group like Amy Atwell’s Goal in a Month groups. It’s a lot more fun when you are not alone.
Get your stuff ready ahead of time:
Fitness: I like to keep my gear close by and accessible. If I am not spending 15 min. looking for my gym socks, I am much more likely to stick with my daily walks. I like to have my clothes ready if I know I’ll exercise in the morning and I would always pack my gym bag in my trunk in the morning when I used to work outside to head straight to the gym before going back home. In college, I would pack my locker with a fresh supply of all my gear for the week including swimsuit and rackets, so I could just go there and decide what kind of exercise I would do on the spot.
Writing: I write first thing in the morning and I am not blessed with an office. I found that when I put my notebook, pen, and laptop all ready for me to write, I am much more likely to do it. If you keep your material organized and easily accessible in an obvious reminder that you need to write now, you are more likely to do it.
If all fails, buy something.
Fitness: I used to tell people to go buy some nice exercise wear when they felt their motivation slipping. Yes exercise it hard, but we might as well look pretty while doing it. Trust me, it works. Plus if you’ve invested some money, you’re imposing a little guilt on yourself to actually use the stuff.
Writing: I cured my writer’s block last summer by downloading a song each time I would finish a scene. I figured the most it would cost me would be $75 for a whole book. Pretty cheap! It worked for me. Soon I was writing one-two scenes a day and even started to forget to buy songs because I was having so much fun writing. Find a little treat that you can get once you’re done, it might help!
Just do it
Fitness: In the end, there are no tricks. That’s why Nike got its trademark bang on. You just have to get there and do it. Don’t think. Learn to shut that part of your brain that moans and complains that you are tired and will start tomorrow. Get out there and exercise. Do it first thing in the morning (early exercisers are more successful at keeping up with it) or head to the gym straight after work. Don’t get comfortable, do it. Do it for 5 minutes, hey you might actually stick with it for 30 min. but if not, at least you got into the habit of doing it. It does get easier.
Writing: BIC: Butt in Chair. Is there any other way? Again, just do it. Don’t think about it. Sit and stare at the blank page. Even if all you do is sit there for your allotted time and think about your book, you are being productive. Find times to do it when you are so tired there is nothing more you’d like to do than sit down and daydream (I like early morning and right after my run).
So now, make a date with yourself and write! (or exercise or both!)
Marie-Claude Bourque is the American Title V winner and author of ANCIENT WHISPERS, a sensual gothic paranormal romance filled with sorcerers and Celtic priestesses in search for eternal love in modern time. She worked as a climate research scientist, a scientific translator and a fitness expert until she turned to fiction writing. She draws her inspiration from the French legends of her childhood and a fascination for dark fantasy.
ANCIENT WHISPERS, a Dorchester -Love Spell release is available now wherever books are sold. Find more at www.mcbourque.com and don’t forget to enter the contest for her month-long virtual release party at www.mcbourque.com/launchparty
by Jessa Slade on May 17th, 2010
Currently working on: Argh, look behind you!.. What? Oh sorry, never mind. My mistake… What was the question again?
Mood: Focused as a laser beam
No, I’m kidding, I have been working. Hard. I’ve been composing guest blog posts in preparation for my blog tour to support the release of FORGED OF SHADOWS next month. (Which will be here before I know it. That’s what’s behind us–the relentlessly creeping Time Monster!) One of the interview questions I had to answer was: What do you do when you’re not writing?
I thought about it for awhile. And couldn’t come up with anything.
If I’m not writing, I SHOULD be writing. After all, I have the life many writers long for–a published book and another on the way. To not write seems disrespectful. Guilt makes not writing not fun.
So to circumvent the Guilt Monster (second cousin to the Time Monster) I often try to find a way to make my non-writing activities support my writing activites. Dog walks are brainstorming sessions. Reading is research. Twitter (http://twitter.com/jessaslade) is networking. Buckets o’ cookie dough are much-needed energy. Naps are…well, cookie dough only takes you so far, doesn’t it?
Even my other creative pursuits have taken a back seat to writing. The little sketching I’ve done in the last few years has been of the horde-tenebrae monsters in my books or settings when I can’t quite picture the staging. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush at all. Only my beading has resisted the all-encompassing suck of The Book, mostly because I’ve been making Possession in Pearl earrings–from demented, weirdly shaped pearl sticks–to use as blog tour giveaways.
I’m always glad when I blow off my guilt and sneak in an utterly non-writing project because it was a personal beading breakthrough that I think really opened some doors in my mind when it came to my writing.
See, I’m a perfectionist. Nasty habit, that. Striving for excellence is a worthy goal, but perfectionism will drive you mad. For a long time, I would string beads to make a necklace…and then unstring them because they weren’t quite right. I was constantly on the lookout for the “perfect” bead to complete a given project. I amassed more and more beads, but it was impossible to be sure I had the “perfect” bead because–as many beads as I had–I didn’t have them all. What if the “perfect” bead was still out there? Time to come unstrung again.
Then one day… I’d like to say I stopped being stupid. But really what happened was a poverty-induced Christmas panic. I had decided to use up some of the ridiculous amount of beads making jewelry for my female relatives. And now I had a deadline.
Suddenly, “perfect” was less pressing than “wrapped, packed and shipped.” I learned to come to peace with the pieces I had. And they were perfectly lovely. At least according to my mother, grandmother, sister, and aunt, who I’m sure were utterly objective.
Now when I’m writing, when I feel the urge to look for the perfect word, to wait until I have perfectly visualized every element of the story, to rail at myself for being less than perfect, I think of my beads. To be lovely, to come to life, they have to be strung and hung around someone’s neck or dangling from someone’s ears. And I’m the only one who can make that happen.
I think most people have beads rolling around the drawers of their life that should be out for the world to admire. Maybe not perfect, but shiny or sparkly or intriguing or whatever is good enough. How do you support the creativity in your life?
Leave a comment and you’ll be entered for a chance to win a pair of Possession in Pearl earrings similar to the ones pictured above. I’m making another pair as soon as I finish this post. Hey, I can’t write ALL the time.
by Jessa Slade on May 10th, 2010
Currently working on: Still unpacking from the RT Booklovers’ Convention
Last Monday, when I was supposed to be blogging here, I was flying back from Columbus Ohio after the RT Booklovers’ Convention, where more than a thousand women — and a few men — gathered together for a solid week of book lovin,’ Mr. Romance-ogling (I did mention there were a few men), drinking, and more book lovin.’
Highlights of my trip:
- Whiskey shots with Joe Konrath, author of WHISKEY SOUR (see, those shots were networking)
- Scoring Jeri Smith-Ready’s newest, SHADE, a paranormal YA, before she sold out at the book fair — mine, all mine!
- Four nights of dancing in person with online friends
Lowlights of my trip:
- The DJ who, when I asked if he had any Bollywood dance music, responded that, well, he had Molly Hatchet — er, not quite
- Forgetting my tiara for the prom-themed dance party
- The flight home from Ohio to Oregon via New York — don’t ask
Back to the highlights though. I got to mingle with all sorts of people, from voracious readers to aspiring writers to famous authors. (Is that Charlaine Harris?! OMG OMG! I adore name dropping!) What an amazing, fun, savvy, dedicated group it was. For a newer author like myself, it was a wonderful opportunity to talk with a wide swath of book people and contemplate, “Geez, who let me in here?”
Turns out, there wasn’t a sekrit handshake required at the door.
Oh, I knew there wasn’t really a sekrit handshake, but when I was racking up rejections in the early years of my writing (uh, and in the later years too) I desperately hoped there was a large, Raybanned, cross-armed bouncer guarding a NYC office building with “Publishing” somewhere on the letterhead who could be bought off with the right open sesame. In many ways, it seemed easier to imagine a trick than to think of all the hard work.
After all, ”work hard” just isn’t an inspiring call to adventure.
But one theme I heard repeated at RT time and again was the value of perseverance, the stubborn dedication that goes with hard work. I talked to a multi-published author whose number of rejections quadrupled mine. I met writers in all stages, from “I have this idea” to just receiving a request for a complete manuscript from an editor attending the convention. I had dinner with a reader who drove ten hours after work through the night to make the convention, blowing a tire in the process. “I need chocolate,” was her only complaint. They all wanted the same thing: books. Lots of books.
Can you be clear eyed and starry eyed at the same time? I think so. I saw that at RT, and it reminded me, the door was always open. I just had to get there.
The RT Booklovers’ Convention is in Los Angeles next year. Maybe I’ll see some of you!
by Jessa Slade on April 5th, 2010
Currently working on: Marked Souls Book 4
It’s spring! I have lilacs blooming and sunlight clearing the north fence and temptation to run around outside without seven layers of clothes on (tank top, long underwear, short-sleeve T-shirt, long-sleeve T-shirt, sweatshirt, fleece, waterproof shell)! Six layers are entirely enough!
It’s spring! The beginning of new life, a.k.a. the death of New Year’s Resolutions.
Or maybe that’s just me. But something about that first quarter of the new year seems so full of possibility. It doesn’t hurt that I’m stuck inside, which makes it easy to focus on my goals. But when the sun returns, I’m lured to all sorts of anti-resolution activities:
- Strawberry season – there goes the diet! I know strawberries seem like good diet food, except that fresh strawberries must be eaten with ice cream and whipped cream on a thick, soft bed of pound cake, sponge cake, short cake or — who am I kidding? — any cake at all.
- Nicer weather outside — there goes the exercise! Can’t do sit-ups and push-ups outside without the whole neighborhood pointing and laughing. (Although I admit I’m thinking about adding a jump rope and hula hoop to my routine and I can’t do that IN the house without busting out a wall.)
- Sun doesn’t go down until almost quarter to eight at night — there goes half my evening writing session!
About this time of year, I have to rededicate myself to my resolutions. Because I do WANT to keep up with my diet and exercise… Well, no, not really, but I NEED to. And I most certainly LOVE my writing.
But evenwhat I love isn’t always easy. Like diets and exercise, sometimes I need inspiration or castigation to keep writing. So for the next six weeks here at Silk And Shadows, we’ll be writing about writing. If you’re a writer, we hope you’ll chime in and share what works for you, from the start of the process to the final polish.
I just started the next book in the Marked Souls series. Book 4 adds new twists, new characters, new evils. That’s the inspiration part. For the castigation side of the equation, I’m chief cheerleader of the April writing challenge through my local writing group. A bunch of us have sworn blood oaths (or was that chocolate syrup?) to write 25,000 words in the next 25 days. Huge raspberries (not sweet strawberries with whipped cream) will be blown at anyone who falters.
The start of a new book. The start of a new season. The start of a new challenge. The start of every day offers opportunity to start again. C’mere, day, I’m going to seize you.
Have you let any resolutions lapse? Do you want to rededicate to them, or have you refocused? How do you stay inspired in the presence of distraction?
by Jessa Slade on March 29th, 2010
Currently working on: Freedom from cocoa tyranny
So I’m giving up chocolate for Lent. As I’ve mentioned on this blog once or twice before, I’m addicted to buckets of double chocolate cookie dough.
Eight pounds of cookie dough every month was starting to seem a little… excessive, which is not to say OBSESSIVE. And, really, what better time of year to give up chocolate than the Easter season?
I mean, I have a perfectly fine imagination on my own. It’s not like romance writers NEED chocolate to be inspired.
There are lots of ways to say “I love you” that don’t include theobromine.
Sure, Godiva has furnite made of chocolate. But I didn’t make that bed, so I won’t lie in it. Even if it would be awfully convenient from a snacking standpoint.
Think of all the time I’ll save not mixing up incredibly difficult desserts that are huge hits at picnics like the following:
Cheap box of brownie mix (recommend Duncan Hines family size prepared to “fudgy” directions in 13×9 pan)
Minty middle: Beat together 3 Tbl soft butter, 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp pure mint extract, 2 Tbl milk
Chocolate top: 2 Tbl butter & 3/4 cup decent chocolate (recommend Trader Joe’s 1 pound bittersweet block — did I mention that buying chocolate by the pound is probably an indication of a problem?)
Nope, instead, I can sleep well knowing I’ve beaten my chocolate addiction. Maybe it’ll be a bed of chocolate. Yum….
by Jessa Slade on March 15th, 2010
Currently working on: Done!
Did I mention I’m done with Book 3? It was due today (hence my late posting) and it’s off my brilliantly insightful and lovely editor and agent. Glory be!
“The End” are the most satisfying two words in novel writing, I think. Followed closely by “The Call” and “The check is on its way” (which I know is more than two words, but is awesome nonetheless).
I had a rare opportunity with this book that might possibly change the way I write. A writing friend invited me and another writer to share a condo on Mt. Hood for a weekend of intensive word production since we were all on deadline.
I’ve done brainstorming retreats with writer friends for years. A bunch of us get together, rent a room on the beach (we swear the negative ions from the sea water waves keep us sane), and plot books. It’s fabulous fun and borderline brain damage by the end of the weekend. I’ve also attended many writers’ conferences which are wonderful chances to network and learn.
But I’ve never gone away to just write before. Here’s where we were:
(Collins Lake Resort, Government Camp)
And ooh I liked it!
Yeah, perhaps it was stupid to wonder whether I’d like it. But I was worried about not being surrounded with my stuff — my favorite craft books, my refrigerator full of snacks, my dog, my XY with his endless capacity for staring at me blankly while I rant about faulty worldbuilding, recalcitrant characters and dead-end plot points. Turns out, the looming mountain (not pictured) in the background was perfect for the looming deadline.
Not that I had the chance to really appreciate Mt. Hood in all its slumbering-volcano beauty. Because I spent three days looking at this:
(Book 3, Chapter 1)
Which, considering the deadline, had a sort of threatening-volcano fascination of its own.
Turns out, all I really needed for a pure writing getaway were these:
- My computer with WIP (work in progress)
- My 19″ monitor (the smaller keyboard of my netbook was fine, but the 10″ monitor wasn’t as nice for revising; it would’ve been okay for hot drafting)
- Lots of water (peeing is an excuse to get up and stretch, thus staving off leg blood clots)
- Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, it was water plus some wine and coffee
- Snackage — And now a word from our sponsors… Book 3 is brought to you by: Whoppers ™ Robins Eggs candies, York Peppermint Patties™, and Froot Loops™ (Sorry, I’m a brand-name snacker)
- Comfy pajamas and thick socks
Real food is unnecessary. Real clothes are unnecessary. Heck, a shower kit is unnecessary because we’re writing. (Plus, I count the hot tub as ritual purification.)
Three writers. Three computers. Three stories. One amazing weekend that has refreshed me for the next looming deadline (Book 4 proposal, due in April — zoiks!).
Much thanks to Kristina McMorris (LETTERS FROM HOME) and Elisabeth Naughton (the STOLEN trilogy and the “Eternal Guardians” series) for the long stretches of eerie silence interspersed with book talk, a.k.a. writer heaven.
Do you have a favorite getaway place? Do you have a way to recreate that closer to home for every-day moments?
by Jessa Slade on January 25th, 2010
Currently working on: Brooding
Last year, the grapes tried to come in the house.
XY bought me a couple gorgeous Interlachen grapes for my birthday three years ago, and last year, they really took off. They ran up into the birch tree and across the porch. They tangled in the yuccas and wrapped around the sun shades. When they started scratching eerily at the front door on windy nights, we knew they had to move.
So this weekend, while they’re dormant for the winter, XY whacked them back and transplanted them to brand new holes on their very own trellis, where they can run this way ‘n’ that way without opposition. XY also moved the fruit trees to accommodate the new grapes trellis. One of the roses, a lilac, and a bunch of perennials had to go to make room for the fruit trees. It was cold, wet, muddy work, and the front yard looks like a cemetery with its piles of dark earth and skeletal plants.
Tonight, when we took Monster Girl the dog for her walk, we paused in the 5 o’clock, low cloud darkness to stare at the wreckage, and it was hard to believe spring will ever come.
At some point in my writing, I always feel like that.
There always comes a time in my writing when the story is out of control. Tendrils are choking the life out of anything nearby. Too scraggly and unwieldy and ugly, my writing begins to creep me out. The darkness descends. The winter of our discontent, indeed.
This is my fallow season. Since the cycles of my writing echo the seasons in my garden, I’ve learned to apply a few rules to both.
1. Just cut back the dead wood already.
I have roses that bloom through November. At Thanksgiving, they still have buds forming. But invariably, sometime in December we finally get a hard frost which kills the last blossoms. The buds blacken and slump on their stems. The surviving leaves give me (false) hope that I’ll get another glimpse of pink. But no. Really, there’s nothing to do but get out the clippers and whack everything back to sturdy greenery. That first cut is the sharpest, but the harsher I am, the more lush and vigorous the blooms are the following year.
2. Lay the ground work and run the guide wires now.
I read a garden book once that said you should always put your 50-cent peat pot in a five-dollar hole. I get impatient (and cheap) and am sometimes tempted to skip ahead. But there’s no rushing the prep work. So now I start by honing the spade and invest time in reading craft books and taking workshops that can make me a sharper writer. I dig a deep and rock-free hole of prewriting. I string my story arc wire on securely concreted plotting posts. And I turn my well-aged compost into a hot and steaming muck.
3. Nurture the seedling.
Good God, but a seedling is so small and pathetic. With only two baby leaves, I can’t even tell the peppers from the potato, the carrots from the kohlrabi. And knowing how long it will take before harvest, sometimes it seems so pointless. But I have faith that if I put a tiny toilet paper roll anti-slug collar around them, if I spread the compost thick, and thin the weeds, if I water them regularly with my blood, sweat and tears (minus the cliche), in the end — The End — I will hold the fruits of my labor.
Sure, it’s a dream. But it’s always easier to dream in the dark.
Do you have rituals for the dark and fallow months? Or do you vegetate?