Do you know when to lie down?

sheepdog2.jpg

Earlier this month I went to the 152nd Highland Games in Victoria BC.  Arriving early we had excellent seats to watch the Border Collies work. I’ve seen these dogs in action on huge sheep properties in Australia and admired their skill and enthusiasm. Their talents, demonstrated in the video called Power of the Border Collie, are:

  • Speed
  • Concentration
  • Focus
  • Patience
  • Persistence

Word count: 374                                                            Reading time: 1-2 minutes

As I watched them at the Games, I thought of how their work was like a writer’s.

  • Writers need speed when attempting a NaNoWriMo challenge or simply trying to make an editorial deadline.
  • Swearing off the distractions of the internet and other social temptations is only possible by the sheer force of concentration.
  • Without focus, novels ramble and become weighted down by too many characters and random actions. Finding Focus in Your Fiction by the Literary Corner Café discusses the pitfalls of unfocused writing.
  • Patience, and a lot of it, is needed in the editing phase. Watch the Border Collies as they herd—they don’t run the entire time. Sometimes they seem to almost tiptoe around the mob. Other times they simply lie down and strong eye the stock.
  • Persistence—have I mentioned the need for this in writing before? Persistence is what carries me beyond the prosaic dull words that first fly off my fingers. It leads me to the occasional moment of that’s it! That’s what I’m striving for. Tobias Wolff said it best: “We are made to persist. That’s how we find out who we are.”

Of all these virtues, for me patience is the most difficult one. I want to chase those sheep until they’re rounded up and through the gate but that’s not how life works. Watch this champion dog Nell as she lies down and nudges the sheep to her will. Sometimes I need to just back off and strong eye my manuscript. Look for the stray story lines and extraneous characters that are cluttering up the scenes.

What is the hardest part of the writing discipline for you? Are you impatient? Do you focus on word count while giving character and plot development less time than they deserve? Do you need to get in front of your work, lie down, and give it the strong eye?

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Sheep & Sheep Dog by Rosendahl

Cleaned any cupboards recently?

For the past few weeks my life has slipped away in tiny increments. The decision to sell and move was sudden and immediate so what has to be done, has to be done quickly. I’ve spent many hours sorting through cupboards, closets, and filing cabinets. The tape gun has become an extra appendage. I’ve lost count of the number of boxes I’ve assembled and filled.

Word count: 446                                                                     Reading time: 1-2 minutes

Hours spent in manual labour are one of my favourite times to think about plot and characters. As an additional bonus, I’ve discovered that moving is actually very much like writing:

  • Just when I thought I’d found a place for everything, it was time to sort through it and toss all the excess. Stephen King aims to tighten ten percent out of his first drafts. The amount of stuff we’ve given to the thrift store, friends and neighbours surely must account for ten percent of our house. Editing my life, like editing my fiction, is a cathartic process.
  • Once I’m on a roll with packing, it can be hard to stop. Sometimes, around midnight, I think something ridiculous like I’ll just edit one more chapter. In moving it’s: just one more box.
  • Both writing and packing can lead to physical exhaustion if I don’t pace myself.
  • Both benefit from input of talented outsiders. Just like my writing improves with feedback from my critique partners, a skillful stager is helping us get the house looking its best.
  • Every step of the way dozens of decisions raise their troubling heads. Some solutions are easy and obvious. Sometimes easy is the wrong choice.
  • I have to resist the impulse to look too far ahead. When I’m packing, it’s disheartening to try to imagine the new home and how things will fit. That’s another job for another day, just like the clear ending of my novel may not be visible from the first chapters. I have to rein in my impatience to know exactly how everything is going to be resolved.

Soon enough we’ll be moved. Oh yeah there are all those small adventures ahead of us, like selling this place, working on the new one, and shifting everything from one home to another. Soon enough my current novel will be finished in spite of its current dishevelled state. It just needs me to pick up my tape gun, open the next chapter, and get on with the job.

When did you last do a deep clean of your writing, tossing out all the stuff you hang on to simply because you can? Should we all ‘move house’ on a regular basis just to keep our lives tidy?

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons: house being moved from Colton & N Boylston Streets for construction of Hollywood Freeway, Calif. 1948