What are you expecting?

Every thought we have is creating our futureLouise Hay.

Last year my husband and I ran a positive thinking experiment. Every evening, one or both of us noted a good memory of the day and stuffed it into an old Planters peanut jar. Recently we started reading some of those brief records of our lives just 12 months ago.

The Huffington Post cites scientific proof that optimism improves our lives. Other sources say it reduces rates of depression, lowers levels of stress, and even boosts our immune system.

Positive thinking doesn’t develop in a single day or a week. Like other things in life worth having, such as a good friend or a fine wine, it takes patience and practice to claim the prize. So we began with something small, notes in a jar. Sometimes we recorded things as simple as spring birdsong at dawn’s first light. Other days our joys were bigger and grander but the idea was simply to recognize that every day was a good day.

What small pleasures do you find in ordinary living? What role does optimism play in our ability to weather difficult times?

Does absence make the writing stronger?

A couple of weekends ago, we returned to our tiny place on Salt Spring Island (SSI). We hadn’t visited for eight months, because of the extended trip to Australia. What happened in our absence?

  • Spiders moved in, about 4,126 of them. They festooned the rooms with sticky webs and left their pencil-dot droppings under their favourite spots.

  • Weeds choked the front walk.

  • I forgot how the oven worked.

  • When the internet service restarted, the server no longer recognized our modem and vice versa.

  • Our neighbour’s dog forgot who we were and approached us warily.

Neglect was a show stopper as I found when I went to work:

  • My writing had become became slow and ponderous, as though trapped by spider silk.

  • Adverbs threatened to choke the narrative.

  • The discipline of daily writing had weakened.

  • I’d lost touch with some of my characters. Worse still I wasn’t using Scrivener or even a basic spreadsheet to track them. What colour were the protagonist’s eyes?

On the other side of that coin, taking a break delivered these parallel benefits:

  • We discovered we were hanging on to a lot of things we didn’t use. A big clean up ensued and a carload of gently used household items went to the local thrift shop.

  • My prose was thick with extraneous scenes and description. I was able to edit ruthlessly.

  • Coming back to a favourite place after a long absence, refreshed my love of SSI.

  • When I looked at work I hadn’t seen for months, I found quality writing that can be improved and sharpened for publication.

Have you ever stepped away from a place or project for an extended length of time? Was it a happy reunion when you came back?

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