While I'm taking a break for relaxation and recreation, I've invited some of my fellow bloggers to fill in with guest posts. This week's is from blogger/photographer Ruth Daly, who blogs here. Whether or not you carry a camera around, you can apply these insights on slowing down, focusing on details and really learning to see, to your everyday observations of the world around you.
Noon. I joined Mark on our shady, makeshift ground cover. We ate a snack and gulped down water. I tested out my safety glasses. The sun was a complete, round, orange ball. I ducked back in the shade. Twelve fifteen. A tiny Pac-Man bite showed in the top right section of the sphere. Someone shouted, "It’s starting!" Over the next half hour, we kept checking. The Pac-Man effect increased and the air began cooling, even though the sun cast shadows. By twelve-forty or so, standing in the sun no longer felt intolerable.
By one p.m., the sun appeared as a slivered, orange crescent. One-fifteen. Like sentries on cue, several hundred people wrapped their eyes in safety glasses, bent their heads back, and stared skyward.
I've been a fan of Colleen M. Story and her blog, Writing and Wellness, since I came across her posts on Twitter a year or so ago.
When I learned that Colleen has a new book coming out, I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy. What writer could resist a book titled Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, with this tagline: "Stop drowning in your to-do list and start living a more joyful creative life!"?
Though the book has "Writer" in the title, the advice in it applies to creative folks of all kinds, and even those who don't consider themselves creative.
Art of any kind takes a ton of focus and mental energy. And most of us are working it in between our day jobs and family responsibilities. But in today’s world, writers must also market themselves, and that’s like adding on a third job. Marketing takes a ton of time and education, and so we’re squeezing every second out of the day blogging and interacting on social media and running giveaways and learning about what else we need to do to promote our work.
In the midst of all those activities, we’re losing time to write. That was hard enough to find in the first place! On top of that, we’re living in a world of constant distraction. There are just so many things vying for our attention, and we often lose the battle and succumb to watching YouTube videos instead of writing (or painting or composing).
-- Og Mandino
-- Count Antoine de Rivarol
-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
-- Albert Schweitzer
-- Alberto Manguel
-- Neil Armstrong
Every inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
-- Walt Whitman, Poem of Perfect Miracles, Leaves of Grass
One fine swath, only a 15-minute drive from our house, is the Michigan Nature Association's Newaygo Prairie Nature Sanctuary. I visited the site last Saturday with a group from the River City Wild Ones native plant organization. Led by Michigan Nature Association regional stewardship organizer John Bagley, we poked around the prairie for a couple of hours, admiring such late-summer bloomers as rough blazing star (Liatris aspera), gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), fern-leaf false foxglove (Aureolaria pedicularia), prairie sunflower (Helianthus petiolaris) and cylindrical blazing star (Liatris cylindracea).
Before long, members realized they needed to do more, and the group began purchasing sensitive property to set aside as sanctuaries. Today, the organization maintains more than 170 sanctuaries throughout the state.
- Fern-leaf false foxglove, a bushy plant with bell-like, yellow flowers that are popular with pollinators, is semi-parasitic and needs oak trees to survive.
- Porcupine grass has a nifty way of getting its seeds into the ground. The long, bristle-like awn coils and uncoils in response to changes in moisture, drilling the seed into the ground.
- The small, white flowers of sweet everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium), smell like maple syrup when crushed. Sweeeet, indeed!
Night before last, an eclectic group gathered in the basement of Artworks cultural center in Big Rapids. There was Chris, a dental hygienist; Théa, a former social worker; Sally, a retired educator; Susan, an artist who's, well, hard to sum up in a few words; and me. All brought together by our interest in writing—and in improving our writing.
That one suggestion you gave me last time has added two-thousand words to my document!
This did read much better for me, and now I have a clearer idea of the story. I'm more pulled in to what's happening.
There is a difference between a run-on sentence and a long sentence that moves the story along. I've read 93-word sentences that are absolutely amazing. If you were to break one of those up, it wouldn't work.
Ohhh, so I need to open the chapter with what the hell is going on!
I think you're nailing the struggle I've had all along with the voice I want to use to tell the story.
I didn't feel like I was reading this just for this group; I was reading because I enjoyed it.
In one form or another, the Artworks Second Monday Writers have been carrying on like this for a dozen years. Founded by poet and writer Phillip Sterling, the group originally focused on fiction. Later, under the guidance of writer-photographer-biologist Stephen Ross, and then with writer and all-around lovely person Mikki Garrels at the helm, the group expanded to include writers of both fiction and nonfiction.
Below, I'll share a few tips for writers' groups, in case you're thinking of starting one of your own (or already belong to one and need suggestions for making it work better).
I’m currently working on a horror/supernatural story. It involves Dhampirs hunting old school demonic beings, set in a dystopian future. I've worked in many different genres, including Sci-Fi, fantasy, non-fiction and poetry.
At the moment, I work as a dental hygienist in Lakeview Michigan.
I consider myself a skilled Hunter/Gatherer and resale shopping a blood sport. My work-in-progress, A Wilderness Guide to Resale Chic, is loaded with tips on how to sniff out treasure and navigate unpredictable resale terrain. Its message: You do not have to be born rich, win the lottery, or max out your credit cards to dress well and surround yourself with beautiful things.
My background as a Licensed Master Social Worker and Cognitive Therapist informs my approach; having grown up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula gives me an edge. My adult years in Chicago supply field experience: true tales and insider information.
In addition to being a member of the writers group, I contribute to several Michigan newspapers and have been published in Michigan History magazine and Health and Safety magazine.
I live on the Muskegon River near Big Rapids.
I also write poetry, essays and non-fiction stories.
A retired early childhood educator and social worker, I also did Trager Bodywork and taught Movement Therapies for many years. In the mid-1980s, I lived and worked in Mexico and Central America with my husband, where I learned to speak and read some Spanish. In December 2016, I returned to Cuba, a trip that serendipitously coincided with the week of national mourning for Fidel Castro.
In addition to writing, my interests are travel and learning about history and culture, reading, drawing and outdoor activities that correlate with the seasons, all balanced with political activism. I delight in caring for and playing with my granddaughter.
Editor's note: Sally is also my neighbor and a member of the Monday morning yoga class and the Wander Women hiking group.
I write paranormal romance/humor, urban fantasy and horror for adults, new adults and young adults.
My current project is a young adult urban fantasy that I'm co-authoring with Christopher Rizzo. I will write a seventeen-year-old shapeshifter wolf who does not accept her role in the wolf pack. Christopher is writing an angel with faery blood who was sent to earth to earn his wings by saving the shifter.
Where I draw my characters from: I grew up in the streets of Bridgeport Connecticut, and that's where I got my education. By ten years old, I took care of my sister and brother and our four-room apartment while my mother worked two jobs. The city was a melting pot of good and evil, and by ten I knew it well, above and below ground, and was cold to its hardships. In my writing world, I weave reality with mythological creatures, fantasy, folklore, legend, and a fair share of humor, because without humor there is no sanity.
What makes me smile: Walking in the woods, rainy days, and listing to the coyote at night. My art—watercolor, acrylics, book-cover and marketing graphics, stained glass. Listening to classic rock and writing.
You can find me and my books here:
- Start small and build gradually. It's more productive to create a solid core of writers who work well together than to fill seats.
- Commit. Show up for meetings and do your homework, allotting plenty of time to read and provide thoughtful critiques of other members' writing.
- Have a plan for lulls. There may be times when no one has anything ready to submit. Instead of cancelling the meeting, use the time to share tips, discuss a writing book, exchange information about workshops or play with writing prompts.
- In critiquing, look at big-picture issues such as plot, character development, dialogue, voice and pacing, but note smaller problems, too, especially if the same problems crop up frequently in a writer's work.
- Mind your manners. Present your comments respectfully and listen to others' comments on your work with an open attitude. Try not to interrupt, defend or argue.
- Begin and end on a positive note. Even the most leaden piece of writing probably has some shiny parts. Starting your critique with a positive remark puts the writer at ease, and ending with encouragement softens the blow of tougher comments.
- For many more excellent suggestions on starting and sustaining a writers group, with details on how to give and receive critiques on all sorts of writing, see The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, by Becky Levine, from which these tips were adapted.
Lately, we've been taking drives through the countryside with no particular destination in mind—sometimes only for an hour or two, other times for a whole day. A couple of Sundays ago, we headed out with the vague intention of ending up somewhere around Pentwater, a lovely little village northwest of here, bordered on one side by Pentwater Lake and on another by Lake Michigan.
After driving through forests and rolling farmland, we came to Cherry Point Farm and Market and couldn't resist stopping. I'd heard about the farm—one of the oldest operating farms in Oceana County—and its lavender labyrinth. We could see from the road that the lavender was in bloom.
Many people use labyrinths for meditative walking; the spiral pattern suggests a spiritual journey or one's path in life. Lavender, with its calming scent and medicinal properties, seems a perfect fit for the design.
By the time we'd taken in the gardens, it was noonish, and breakfast had worn off. Lucky for us, lunch was available in the farm's Board Room, a pole barn paneled with barn wood and furnished with mismatched chairs and plank tables topped with charming little sand-and-stone-filled lanterns. The menu was as appealing as the setting: whitefish chowder, tomato basil soup, and a selection of sandwiches, some garnished with homemade cherry jelly or cherry mustard.
-- Jenny Han, The Summer I Turned Pretty
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
-- Henry James
-- John Lubbock, The Use Of Life
-- Alison Croggon, The Naming
-- Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle
-- Yukio Mishima, Runaway Horses: The Sea of Fertility, 2
-- Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy
-- Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
-- E.B. White, Charlotte's Web
-- Deb Caletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart
-- John Mayer
I didn't know whether to laugh or wince when I read a recent post by blogger/photographer Ruth Daly, titled "You might have a problem with photography if . . ." The post listed twenty signs that photography is taking over your life. I had to admit, quite a few items on the list applied to me.
- If you go fishing a couple of times a year when you go away to the coast, then this is an interest.
- If you go fishing a couple of times a month and maybe read a magazine or two, this is a hobby.
- If you go fishing as often as you can, read magazines and books, maybe be a part of a club and plan things around fishing, then this is a passion.
By that standard, writing is clearly a passion for me. There have been times when I've tried to do less of it, to make room for other things in my life, but writing feels so essential to my being, I have to keep coming back to it. A glance at the magazines stashed beneath my coffee table reveals that fully half of them are about writing; I belong to a writers' group; I blow my vacation budget traveling to writers' conferences; and I plan my days around my writing time. Yep, it's a passion.
Now, when I find myself getting immersed in an activity, I try not to let it interfere with the rest of my life. Which brings me back to Ruth Daly's post on photography. After reading it, I asked myself, Do I have a "problem" with photography?
from the heart of the woods
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.
Last Wednesday Wisdom