The Writer’s Honey

“Like bees who by instinct go from flower to flower gathering honey, writers, merely by being alive, are constantly gathering ideas and impressions—their honey—which eventually will lodge somewhere in some book….”

——Eleanor Estes

I really like this quote. Why? Because it’s so true. Writers are constantly gathering ideas and impressions that eventually will make it into their writing in one form or another.

Reading this quote I was reminded of the morning many years ago when I awoke to hear a chorus of cedar waxwings in the apple tree outside my bedroom window. I looked out to see them frantically eating the apple blossoms, something I’d never seen before. It shouldn’t come as any surprise then, that a similar scene showed up in Bitter, Sweet as I was writing it. It wasn’t anything earth shattering but it fit in well with the story and helped set up for the scene where Jesse shoots the porcupine and they eat it for their supper.

One of the secrets in writing (and there are many) comes from breathing new life into everyday happenings. Look for something new in the familiar. When I wrote that scene about the apple blossoms, by adding the cedar waxwings it gave the scene a whole new look. I wasn’t simply describing the pretty apple blossoms. There was actually something happening.

Some people might think they haven’t experienced enough throughout their lifetime and therefore have nothing to write about that would be of interest to others. In fact I’ve heard that complaint before. “I want to write but I have no idea what” or “My life is boring, who would want to publish anything I wrote?”

But we all have unique life experiences that make up who we are and what’s important to us. We have all experienced, happiness, sorrow and joy. But we experience life through our own eyes. And no two sets of eyes see the same thing, nor do we feel our emotions in the same way as someone else.

When we write, or create in any way, a part of each one of us goes into that creation.  I like the thought that my ideas and impressions will eventually lodge somewhere in a book. How about you? Do you agree with what Eleanor Estes says? Does your honey make it into your writing?

Flower or Weed?

When I was a child my sisters and brother would pick dandelion green every spring. In my neck of the woods it was almost a springtime ritual to cook the first tender sprigs of the dandelion greens, add salt and pepper, a bit of butter and vinegar. Back then we gave little thought to the notion that it served as a good spring tonic and was good for cleansing the liver. 

Then there is the dandelion flower— a totally different story. Did you ever bring your mum a handful of the yellow flowers to sit on her kitchen table?

Back in the “old days” we’d pick a bunch and use the stems to make dandelion chains. My sisters always seemed to have the longest chains for some reason. Maybe it was because they were older, and everything they did seemed better to me. Then of course as the dandelions died off, we’d pick them again and we’d blow the seeds into the wind. How lovely it seemed to watch the tiny bits of fluff fill the sky, floating off into the world.

Flower or weed? Have you decided yet?

Working Overtime

These past few weeks I’ve been working overtime, deep into revisions. As I’ve been working away my mind had been fluctuating between words of praise for what I’m doing and words of, “Will I ever get it right?” I’m not what I would consider a perfectionist by any means and when it comes to writing I’m the one I’m aiming to please. When it sounds right I’ll know it. Do you get what I mean?

I’ve noticed I’m a bit impatient by times. I’m willing to work hard at my writing but I expect results after a certain number of attempts. I mean, how many times can you rewrite a paragraph before you realized it was better five or six drafts earlier. Yes, you can over edit. I know. I’ve been there.

But the story I began with is transforming, there’s no other way of putting it. It’s amazing how a story’s plot line can remain basically the same and yet the story itself can be completely different. That just right “voice” is what makes the difference and can change a story from mediocre to simply stunning.

I’ve switched some of my paragraphs to first person accounts and really like the results. I like writing in first person. I’ve always felt comfortable there. First person allows the writer access to feelings and thoughts that we might not otherwise be able to show our reader. I’m really big on getting to the heart of people’s emotions, finding out what really makes them tick. For me, this is easier to do while in first person.

I find human behaviour to be quite fascinating, why people think and do the things they do. What gives them their “flaws.” (Not sure I care for the word flaw as it indicates that we all must follow a certain behaviour pattern to be what society considers “normal.” ) Lets just say I like to read about interesting characters. I like the idea that almost everyone, despite these “flaws” has some redeeming qualities. Sometimes knowing the motives behind their actions makes them feel a bit more sympathetic. Hey, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. But then I’ve been told I have my head in the clouds!!

So here’s where I’ve been lately, deep in revision land and it’s really been keeping me busy. It feels as though the end is quickly coming near but that could just be me with my head in the clouds again. Regardless, it’s a good feeling and I don’t mind working overtime at it. At least I can admit, that for the most part, I’ve been enjoying the process.

The Balance

Today I’ll be attending a third funeral in a little over a week. Death is a part of life. I have to remind myself of that. It helps sometimes, brings comfort when the person who is taken from us lived a long and full life.

Birth. Death. Joy. Sorrow. There is a balance to everything.

This reminder doesn’t always help. Not when a childhood friend is suddenly taken away.

I found myself grieving; not only for this friend, but also for the forgotten childhood memories that came suddenly back to life.

The community I live in is changing with the times. The number of life-long residents is dwindling as our young people go off to live their own lives and our seniors pass away. Fortunately, new people are moving in all the time. Without them the community might one day cease to exist.

To every thing there is a season; a time and a purpose

Seeds:


Seeds of inspiration.

Seeds of change.

Seeds of hope.

Seeds of doubt.

What seeds are you planting in your life at the present moment?

Jazzing it up!

As a rule, I’m not a cereal eater but recently I discovered steel cut oatmeal. It’s the kind that requires 20 minutes of cooking time. My husband commented that, uncooked, it looked a lot like chicken feed. It’s not so attractive. Okay, so even cooked oatmeal isn’t much of an eye pleaser, and maybe that’s why I’ve never eaten it very often. But I went into it with an open mind and what I discovered to my amazement was that I actually enjoy it. In fact, it’s good. Sometimes I cook it with a few raisins and sprinkle it with cinnamon to jazz it up.

I’ve been doing that with the revisions I’ve been working on recently. I didn’t want the story to be plain old oatmeal when I could jazz it up and make the writing livelier, breathe life into the characters and plot. It’s been cooking for a long time. Why didn’t I see that it needed a few raisins and a sprinkling of cinnamon? Oh well, better late than never. And guess what? I like the story so much better now.  :)

Meanwhile @ the Lunenburg Library

I had a great time reading at Library in Lunenburg today. I was excited to see an announcement about my reading on the library door when I arrived.

Doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Okay, so Margaret Atwood didn’t show up. I know, I know, maybe I should have tweeted her earlier in week, reminder her that I came to the Pearl Theatre when she was in Lunenburg, and was one of the few people who actually had a copy of “The Tent” that evening since there was a mix-up with the publisher and the books hadn’t arrived. She’s a busy lady; I figured I’d have to jog her memory. I’m pretty sure she’d have been there if only she had known. After all, I’m one of her “T-Pals.” Don’t I deserve some perks?

Maybe as she reads this post, she’ll drop a comment. I can always hope, right?

In a relaxed atmosphere, I read from my book. After the reading, we chatted about the book and I answered questions. See Margaret, you missed your chance. I would have answered any question you asked.

But look who did showed up. It was Syr Ruus, author of Love Songs Of Immanuel Taggart. Have I mentioned I love that book?

Okay, so my husband bribed her with a free bookmark if she’d hold up a copy of my book for a photo. Amazing what people will do for a bookmark. Isn’t it?  It’s a good thing Syr is so good-natured.

So that was my afternoon. Lunenburg is one of Nova Scotia’s most historical and, might I add, beautiful seaside towns.

I’m already planning my next trip.

I’ll catch you next time, Margaret.

I’m Waiting For You, Margaret Atwood

Tomorrow I’ll be reading at the Library in Lunenburg. For the past two weeks the Lighthouse Log has publicized the event. (You never know if it’s real until you read it in the paper. Right?”)

For anyone sitting in the audience (I know, I’ve been one of those people) you’re just sitting there waiting to be entertained by the person doing the reading. I’m not expecting that I won’t be a bit nervous. It’s my first library reading, after all. Easy to be all blasé about it while I’m sitting in the comfort of my own home but it’ll likely be a different story come 1:30 tomorrow afternoon.

I really don’t mind. Heck, I’m only human. I’m actually looking forward to it.

I haven’t been to a whole of readings. A few years back my husband and I went to the Pearl Theatre in Lunenburg, to hear Margaret Atwood read, when her book, “The Tent,” first came out. Okay, so Margaret Atwood is a real pro and I’m still a baby when it comes to all this. We all have to start somewhere. Right?

Margaret has done this so many times I’m sure she could do it with her eyes closed. She’s bright and witty and a real joy to listen to. Unfortunately, the pictures of she and I together ended up being deleted from my camera….I could have cried but, what good would that have done? It was my own fault for not taking the time to learn how to take photos off the camera. I’ve since smartened up about such things. I’ve had to. My kids have all moved out and my husband (God love him) knows nothing about digital cameras or computers. But wait until the next time Margaret’s in town. I’ll have pictures galore. Just you wait.

And who knows, perhaps she’ll return the favour and put in an appearance tomorrow at MY reading.

Can you tell I’ll be holding my breath on that one?

Wish me luck tomorrow!!

Trust

Trust in yourself. Your perceptions are often more accurate than you are willing to believe………….Claudia Black

This quote presented itself to me today at a time when I really needed the reminder. These past few days I’ve been doing some heavy revisions. I’ve been brutal. I’ve had to be. Once I realized what needed to be done I had to trust my instincts, something I didn’t do the first time around. Cutting can so be painful.

There’s something to be said about putting some time and distance from your work. I’ve been away from the particular story for several months. This time when I picked it up it was with a fresh pair of eyes. Thanks to some trusted advise I immediately saw what needed to be done. The strange thing was it was SO obvious. I can’t imagine why I didn’t see it before. It’s hard to watch certain paragraphs and sentences get cut but, if it’s gotta go it’s gotta go. No two ways about it. There’s no sense bellyaching. A writer has to be tough.

Already I can see the story more clearly and I like what I see. I’m following my instincts and it feels pretty good.

So how are you when it comes to trusting your instincts? Do you usually get it right the first time around or does it usually take a couple of tries?

Memories May Be Beautiful And Yet…..

Perhaps I should have called this post : Memories May be Beautiful and Yet Totally Inaccurate . Sound remotely familiar? Sure does to me.

My contributor copies of Country Roads: Memoirs From Rural Canada arrived late last week. You know the book, the one edited by the lovely and talented Pam Chamberlain with the funky chicken on the front. Before writing, The Place I Call Home —that’s my piece in the anthology— I’d never written a memoir piece. In fact, I’d never considered there was anything about my life worth writing about, certainly nothing that anyone else would ever want to read. That’s why I write fiction. But it was kind of fun to see the piece come together and even more exciting to see my words printed in the book. Thanks, Pam! You’ve been super to work with, not to mention very patient.

People who have only known me as an adult will learn a bit about my growing up years here in East Dalhousie when they read the book. It’ll all be news for most of them. But the truth is most of it will be news to the people who have known me my whole life, too.

I got to thinking about the human mind and our ability to remember events from the past. We’re all told to live in the moment and that’s good advice, but without our memories, those small random remembrances of our past, who are we really?

When my older sister read my piece in Country Roads she was surprised to learn that I was one of three girls who had made a mile long swim to an island in the lake we frequented as kids. It really shouldn’t have been such a shock since she was also one of the three. Talk about a memory malfunction! Okay, just so you know, she remembered making the swim. She just didn’t remember me being in on it. Sheesh! Thanks sis! Didn’t ya remember me being there, singing my head off, when we reached the further shore?

The headline in the local paper read, “Long Swim No Big Feat For Three Girls.”

My point is, had my older sister been writing this same piece, she’d have written an account with a headline that would have read, “Long Swim No Big Feat For Two Girls.” Heck, who am I kidding she wouldn’t have remembered there being a headline.

Memory is a tricky thing, no doubt about it. What causes us to remember some things while other memories are lost along the way? Just where do memories hide out? Ever find yourself remembering something right out of the blue, something you didn’t even know you remembered?  Sometimes it’s scary, other times it’s rather pleasant especially when the memory is a fond one. Dwelling on the past is unproductive. Reminiscing, however, is pleasant. It tells us who we are by where we’ve been. It gives us a sense of where we belong in the world.

I’ve always known that each person has his or her own recollections of events. And when two people tell two slightly different stories, I’m willing to accept the fact that they’re probably both right. That’s why memoir pieces can be so tricky. How much is the real truth and how much is the truth as we remember it? And does it really even matter?

So what are your thoughts about the mind’s ability to recollect memories?  Have you ever suffered from a memory malfunction?  If so, I’d sure love to hear that story.

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