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.
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).
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.
As a kid, summer was one long stretch of opportunity. More time to play—yay!—but even better, more chances to make stuff. Popsicle stick baskets at Girl Scout day camp, Plaster of Paris plaques at vacation Bible school, clay doodads and woven plastic lanyards at my school's summer recreation program. Plus an imaginative assortment of creations my neighborhood playmates and I dreamed up, like costumes for our backyard circuses and hula hoop shows.
I still see summer as an ideal time to pursue creative projects, and I guess I'm not the only one. The cover of the latest issue of Writer's Digest, billed as "The Creativity Issue," hooks readers with such headlines as "Train to Be Creative on Demand: 7 Ways," "Turn Your Inner Critic Into Your Greatest Ally," and "3 Artist's Techniques Every Writer Should Try."
Collect ideas, images, random thoughts, quotations—anything that catches your attention—and stash them where you can peruse them at your leisure. That place might be a pocket notebook, a file folder (physical or virtual), a drawer filled with paper scraps, a box on your desk or a bulletin board in your studio. Resist the urge to organize your collection. Random associations that emerge from the jumble just might trigger original ideas.
Speaking of random associations, you don't have to wait for them to appear, you can prod the process. On a blank sheet of paper, write down whatever words come to mind. The words can represent ideas, categories, topics or objects, or they may just be interesting in their own right. Randomly draw arrows between pairs (or groups) of words. Use the results to inspire a poem, a story, a collage or a painting.
I know—you got in trouble for doing this in school, but now doodling is in vogue. Witness the recent book, The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently, which posits that doodling is no mindless waste of time; it's a focusing technique that helped Einstein, Edison, Henry Ford, Marie Curie and other brainiacs innovate and problem-solve. Last year I got hooked on Zentangle and found it relaxed and cleared my mind, making room for new ideas. And by the way, daydreaming is also allowed—it's a pathway to insights, a 2012 study suggests, because it helps us tap into memory, even in the face of distractions.
If you're a writer, try your hand at painting. If you're a musician, write a story. Push beyond your comfort zone, and you'll exercise new creative muscles. In the process, you're bound to encounter other creative types and benefit from cross-fertilization. (For more on crossover creativity, see this blog post from last summer.)
A regular warm-up routine—say, sharpening pencils, doing a few stretches, reading something inspiring—can be a wake-up call to your muse. But be sure your routine fits your rhythms. Maybe you're at your creative best first thing in the morning; maybe you don't get fired up until after midnight. Find your personal golden hours and make the best of them. That said, don't be afraid to shake things up from time to time. While routine can get you in the zone, monotony can turn you into a drone.
For years, my morning routine has been some combination of meditation, yoga, reading over breakfast, then buckling down on whatever writing project I have in the works. But lately I've been altering the pattern—sometimes taking my camera out on the back porch for an hour or so before breakfast, sometimes doing my yoga just before lunch, sometimes writing in the evening. It's amazing how refreshing those small changes have been!
Decisions, decisions—every creative project seems to require a slew of them. Should I start my novel at the beginning of the heroine's ordeal or midway through? Should I add one more image to this collage or take one away? The urge to make a choice and move on is powerful, but sometimes it's best to sit with the uncertainty as long as you can. As one of my writing mentors advised, "Don't be afraid to get in there and make a mess." Eventually, clarity will come.
Your creations may not be all sunbeams and rainbows—how boring that would be! But whatever you're creating, I hope the process brings you satisfaction and a sense of joy. For me—and I'm guessing I'm not alone—joy is the juice that keeps the muse amused.
"A Few Short Rules on Being Creative," by Thierry Dufay, HuffPost, August 14, 2014.
"18 Habits of Highly Creative People," by Carolyn Gregoire, HuffPost, November 15, 2015.
"How to Be More Creative," A.J. Jacobs, Real Simple.
"9 Ways to Become More Creative in the Next 10 Minutes," by Larry Kim, Inc.com, August 11, 2014.
"7 UP: These 7 simple exercises will build core strength in your creative muscles," by Gabriela Pereria, Writer's Digest, September 2017.
"The Benefits of Daydreaming: A new study indicates that daydreamers are better at remembering information in the face of distraction," by Joseph Stromberg, Smithsonian.com, April 3, 2012.
"30 Tips to Rejuvenate Your Creativity," by Joel Falconer, Lifehack.
Now in its 25th year, Creekfest is a reunion of "kin," who may or may not be related in a strict genetic sense, but who all share genes for enjoyment of good music, good food and good times.
Held on Paul and Valerie's wooded property on Coolbough Creek, the event goes on for a full weekend, with many of the 150-200 or so attendees camping on the premises.
Things get rolling Friday evening, when local chef Tracy Murrell offers Thai specialties. Music and merriment typically follow.
Part of the fun is just taking in the setting. The "cabin," its additions and outbuildings have been constructed over the years with the help of friends. And everywhere you look are Paul and Valerie's creative touches, from Paul's metal sculptures to Valerie's moss gardens, to various intriguing objets d'art placed here and there. You could wander around for days and still not see everything.
Still more music followed, and went on until the early morning hours, long after we'd gone home to bed. We would've stayed longer, but Ray had another festive event to attend the next day—a car show in New Hudson—and he wanted to be up by 4 a.m., about the time things wound down at Creekfest.
"For one reason or another, each Creekfest is the best ever," she says. "Sometimes I've had to stretch a bit to say that, but each year has its best-ever moments, this year included."
"The music, the kids, our kinship and love, the camaraderie. Even the dogs keep things fun and lively."
All things considered, though, this year was the best ever. And next year? Better still.
-- James Carroll, novelist
-- Terry Tempest Williams, in The Open Space of Democracy
-- Sharon Rab, founder, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, quoted in Poets & Writers magazine, May/June 2017
-- Douglas Adams, author
-- Rebecca Solnit, writer, historian and activist
-- Susan B. Anthony, social reformer and women's rights activist
-- Lin Yutang, Chinese writer and educator
-- Henri Frédéric Amiel, Swiss philosopher, poet and critic
-- Message on a Yogi Tea bag tab
Sunshine smiled on the Enchanted Forest, AKA Camp Newaygo, for at least part of last Saturday, but Sunday's downpours had fairy-folk scrambling to take shelter under toadstools. No worries, though. Quick-thinking Camp Newaygo staffers whisked gnome homes and pixie palaces out of the wet woods and into drier hiding places, where twinkly lights made fairy-house hunting just as enchanting.
The occasion was the two-day Enchanted Forest walk, a fundraiser for the independent not-for-profit camp located on 104 acres along a chain of lakes in the Manistee National Forest region of mid-western Michigan.
Last year's Enchanted Forest event was a great success, and this year's appeal to artists and craftspeople to create and donate fairy houses again yielded a fanciful assortment of tiny abodes—forty-seven in all.
It's always fun to see what imaginative people use to craft these dwellings: tree stumps, gourds, clay, copper wire, twigs, feathers, tin cans. One of this year's creations was made from a cowgirl's boot. Another had a hornet's nest worked into the design.
Ray and I got a close look at many of them when we helped hide the homes in the woods and along the Wetland Trail early Saturday morning. Then, as visitors began arriving and heading out with trail maps, we made the rounds again to watch them discover the little houses.
If you missed out on the enchantment—or if you'd like a chance to relive it--here's a look at more of the fairy houses and the weekend's fun. And if you'd like a fairy house for your very own, all the houses pictured here--and more--are available for purchase on ebay through May 8. Proceeds help fund the camp's youth and family programs as well as renovations to facilities such as the Foster Arts and Crafts Lodge.
Plus this month's bonus: a preview of the fairy house Ray and I built for the second annual Enchanted Forest event at Camp Newaygo, coming up this weekend (April 29-30), and the story we co-wrote to go along with the house.
-- Emily Dickinson
-- Sawnie Morris, in Poets & Writers magazine, November/December 2016
-- Leonard Cohen
-- Roland Barthes
-- June Jordan
-- Dylan Thomas
-- Lord Byron
-- Christopher Fry
-- Adrian Mitchell
-- Robert Frost
I've been to art festivals, jazz festivals, strawberry festivals, logging festivals, Polish festivals and festivals whose themes were hard to figure out. At every single one, I've found something beautiful, engrossing, strange, entertaining or tasty. Yet nothing inspires me like a book festival.
Thousands of people, all gathered to celebrate the written word, to listen to favorite authors read from their work, to discover new authors, to have conversations about books! In this age of quick-hit info-bits and constant distractions, it's good to know that so many people still choose to engage deeply with a 300-page tale.
The two-day Tucson Festival of Books attracts more than 130,000 book lovers to the University of Arizona Mall and nearby venues, making it the nation's third-largest book festival (behind the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the Library of Congress National Book Festival). And the event enriches more than minds: visitors pour at least $3 million into the local economy.
Consider this: the whole festival—readings, lectures, panel discussions, musical entertainment, kids' activities, even a literary circus—is free of charge to the public.
And this: All proceeds from the festival go to sustaining the event and supporting local literacy programs. Since 2009, the festival has contributed more than $1,450,000 to groups that work to improve reading and writing ability among children and adults in Southern Arizona.
Just take a look at some of the session titles:
That's only a small sample—the tip of the saguaro, if you will. I couldn't even begin to hit all the sessions that appealed to me.
With sixty performances taking place during the festival, there are ample opportunities to give your brain a rest and listen to music instead of words for a while.
During one mid-day break, I feasted on blue corn tamales to the accompaniment of the most indefatigable yodeler I have ever heard. Honestly, she went on for what seemed like half an hour. And she was good. (So were the tamales.)
Want to know more about Arizona insects? There's a tent for that. Take a virtual tour of nearby National Parks? There's also a tent for that. Learn about self-publishing? Yep, that, too.
Meanwhile, the indoor lectures offer tips on writing and publishing fiction, poetry and nonfiction; getting your book reviewed; promoting your artwork; navigating the entertainment industry, and other helpful topics. I took advantage of three of these free workshops: "Nonfiction – Finding an Agent," taught by Daniel Connolly, author of The Book of Isaias; "Telling Your Story – Biography v Memoir," by Lisa Napoli (whose memoir, Radio Shangri-La, is a favorite); and "The Ethics and Personal Issues of Writing," by Joyce Maynard (whose memoir, At Home in the World, is another favorite).
Striking up conversations is easy—after all, you can always talk about books. And you never know what else will surface. I shared a lunch table with a Tucson couple who, I discovered, were originally from Kalamazoo, had relatives in Fremont, and used to spend summers at Diamond Lake in White Cloud, all close to my Michigan home.
At another mealtime, a lively bunch of strangers saw me eating alone and invited me to join them. All members of the Western Writers of America, they enlightened me on a genre about which I knew nothing. Among other things, I learned that western novels are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Plus, the authors get to wear some mighty fancy duds.
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