What's leaving on that jet plane?

If there is a better summer moment than floating on a freshwater lake, red-winged blackbirds trilling in the background, watching a jet lay its fleeting signature on an azure sky, I can't name it. As I bobbed on Stowel Lake, Salt Spring Island, last weekend it occurred to me that the contrail fading into blue was like so many of my creative sparks: ephemeral and quickly forgotten.

Word count: 378            Reading time: 1-2 minutes

Which brings me to the subject of notebooks: Why have one? Why have only one? What should a notebook include anyway?

I have notebooks in my car, in my purse, in my night stand. They come in all shapes and sizes: small spiral ones that fit in the palm of my hand, efficient steno pads, beautifully bound journals with elegant covers, and binder-sized exercise notebooks, one (at least) for each novel. There’s an electronic notepad in my iPhone with a whole raft of entries: song lyrics that inspired, conversations I’ve eavesdropped on, details of the sounds and smells on a wharf on a chilly spring morning.

My physical notebooks have lots of words. They are a shotgun approach to ideas and experiences, scribbled down in passing moments. They also house a few of my rough drawings, along with pictures, cartoons, and quotes cut from magazines and newspapers.

Does every entry inspire a story or a scene in my writing? Not by half. But if I don’t capture them as they flash across my mind, they will likely disappear forever.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. I like to hope that within my copious notes there might be an acorn or two that will lead to my next story or novel. One word or sentence might create a thousand more.

Have you ever had an inspiration make your heart pump at the time it flared into being? Did you forget to write it down, only to have it disappear like contrails on the summer sky? Conversely have you ever scribbled a note only to look at it the next day, now fully awake and/or sober, and wondered what on earth you meant by Marie Antoinette’s dog?

What do your notebooks look like? What do they say about your writing life? Where have they led you?


Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Contrails_001 by G. Larson

Pick and choose

 Word count: 460                         Reading time: 1-2 mins

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

When summer finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest (last week) I was on Salt Spring Island. Summer on SSI means swimming in lakes, hummingbirds thrumming, eagles whistling, and hiking the gentle mountains in the company of a golden dog. Roadside farm stands groan under the weight of organic produce and at Artspring, the island’s main arts venue, there are concerts and exhibitions.

On the other sides of this heavenly coin:

  • it takes a half a day to get to SSI from Vancouver and BC Ferries seems to have forgotten its mandate to be part of the highway system as the fares ratchet ever higher.
  • the house here uses aquifer well water. The rain stops in June and doesn't start again until September. That means constant vigilance about water use, listening for the sound of the pump which signals the time to turn off the taps. Showers are short. A soaker tub would be an obscenity.
  • the gorgeous birds that sing outside the window feed on a wide array of insects. At night the thousands of bugs that didn't end up as bird food swarm through the screens and cracks in the doors and congregate in the bedroom, throwing themselves in my face as I attempt to savour the best moment of the day, my reading time.
  • lake access is limited and the small beaches are often crowded.
  • spiders lay eggs in the corners as soon as I dust them (which isn't often).

None of that matters. When I think of SSI in summer I remember only the very best parts: the great walks, the buzz of the farmer’s markets, and the soothing silence at night, broken only by the call of the barred owls. As I hiked up Mount Maxwell on Sunday a loose sock rubbed a blister on my heel, but I was too taken by the fragile Garry Oak meadow to notice until much later.

So let it be with my writing. I have to choose to let my strong scenes move me forward and forget about the times that the words fall flat and lifeless on the page. I have to remember the idyllic moments when the stories flow from my fingers and forget the moments when dull clichés launch themselves at me like desperate insects at a slim beacon of light. I have to choose today as the best day ever to write.

What choices are you making today to keep yourself motivated? When you feel the blister of discouragement do you look ahead to the next bloom of inspiration or do you stop hiking for a while?


Photo by: Alan Bolitho, LM