Michaeline: Nothing to Say

Baby lemon balm plants with about six leaves each, peeking through the mulch

So, here’s a bonus nothing: I am a terrible gardener. Lemon balm, which is viewed by most as a pernicious weed, is something I need to baby with frequent mulching, and every year, I worry if it will come up again. I’m safe this year!! Hoorah! Unless we get a sudden frost, I think I’ll have enough for tea and insect repellent. Also, in further nothing news, I was afraid that my husband had killed my bee balm (Oswego tea) last year with a good application of herbicide. But, no . . . that stuff apparently LOVES herbicide! While mowing, my first hint was that lovely smell of crushed bee balm . . . and when I looked down, I saw clump after clump of beautiful, healthy, 15 cm tall bee balm! It’s taken over almost a third of the back yard, which is wonderful news for me, because then I won’t have to mow it — just around the lovely little clumps. Unless my husband applies another dose of herbicide . . . but if it’s mowed, he won’t be tempted. Good lord, give me the ankles to keep this mowing up and save my beautiful bee balm! (E.M Duskova)

I haven’t got anything to say this week, so I thought I’d spin a little bit of nothing out into a few paragraphs. Frequent readers of the blog may know that I left my job at the end of March. I wallowed most of April, and in May, I started to get stuff done – but all the wrong stuff.

I’ve decided I like gardening again, and I want to have flowers and a relatively kempt lawn this summer – there are several ceremonies attending my father-in-law’s death this year, and the next one coming up is the 100th Day on July 5, and the first Obon in August. (I’ve written about ghosts and Obon before. But more of the nitty gritty about dead relatives returning during the Obon season can be found on Wikipedia.) Coronavirus concerns will mean we have fewer guests than we might have had, but I’m sure we’ll still have guests.

And they have appreciated the flowers I’ve bought and arranged for the first 49 days of weekly ceremonies. To tell the truth, it’s been a comfort for me, too. My father-in-law was a man of few words, but he showed his love for his family and his community through doing things, and doing them right. I could sit in front of the family altar and tell him how much I appreciated him, but it just seems right to let the flowers do the talking. I hope he would have liked them.

So, I just completed the first lawn mow of the season yesterday. It took four days and a lot of ice on my ankles and muscle recovery meditations, but I survived it. Barely. I hope that now it’s done, it’ll be my daily 30 minutes of exercise and also thinking time for my writing. But if we get several days of rain . . . I’ll be back to mowing knee-high grass for hours and hours again.

I can’t remember which book I read where a man talked about how physical labor drove all the dreams and imagination out of his head. I want to say Thoreau, but that doesn’t sound like a Thoreau sort of thing to say. Quite the reverse, if I remember my Thoreau. (It’s entirely possible that I’ve made up a False Thoreau in my head, based on a few facts like his mom did his laundry while he was playing survivalist on Walden Pond.)

I’ve forgotten how to Continue reading

Michaeline: Happy Thanksgiving!

Hearty Thanksgiving Greeting 19th century girl in a dress and apron, harvesting very large pumpkins.

Thanksgiving — and writing time — can be whenever you say it is. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, today I’m at a community center about an hour away from my home, helping to prepare (and then eat!) a Thanksgiving feast. I’m not the boss; my friend M is in charge of that, and has everything totally organized, from laminated stuffing recipes to the table design chart.

In Japan, Thankgiving Day (US) and Labor Thanksgiving Day are nearly the same time, but they don’t often coincide — and even if we are lucky enough to have them fall on the same day, we have to work on Friday. So, a big Thanksgiving feast is in the cards, but a recovery day is not.

Even when everything is perfect, it’s not. So, we are doing it on a Saturday, near the holiday. About 60 or 60 people come — there are old folks chatting at the tables and little kids crawling around under the tables. . It’s a great chance to catch up with people I haven’t seen for a whole year, and they always have news I haven’t heard. This year, we’ve had four marriages in our group. One year, it was the Year of the Babies, with four babes in arms, passed around so parents could partake of the turkey.

Let me just bludgeon you over the head with a moral for a minute: even when things are perfect, they often are not. Writing is a lot like that, isn’t it? We have grand expectations about how it SHOULD go, but sometimes my best writing takes place when I had no expectations at all.

Like a good feast, writing takes planning. You’ve got to have writing materials, and it helps a lot to have a period of time set aside.

But like a good feast, it doesn’t have to take place at the optimum time — whatever that fantasy describes. It can take place three days early or two days late. It’s still good.

I’m wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving, no matter where you are on the time-space continuum or what you celebrate. There’s a good chance that the time is now.

Nancy: Boom and Bust

Several weeks ago, I found myself in a familiar place. I was coming off a big day-job project, which had included long hours every day for the last couple of weeks to complete it. I hadn’t been able to touch my writing during that time and for weeks before that, because even when I wasn’t working quite as many hours, I was expending all my mental energy on that other job. But now that I and my team had completed that project and submitted it to the customer, I was able to reclaim my life, including my writing time. “All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” right?

Um, no.

When last I’d communed with my writing, I’d been on a hot streak (despite that pesky novella that I’ve struggled to revise). I was writing for long hours and wracking up word counts, knowing all the while it couldn’t last. I’d signed a consulting contract. A company was going to write me a monthly check; it stood to reason at some point they’d want me to do something to earn that money. Then I got a call saying a project that was supposed to start in October was actually starting six weeks early. I went cold turkey on my writing. Turns out, by the time I finally got back to it, it had gone cold turkey on me. I had one novella and one full-length novel in need of revision, and the first act of a second full-length novel all set in the same story world. I also had the first half of my women’s fiction story waiting for completion. But when I sat down at the computer, I couldn’t get back into any of those story worlds. I’m not going to lie – some panic set in. After all, it’s only a matter of time before I get the next call about the next day-job project, and then I’ll have to go cold turkey on writing again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Continue reading

Nancy: Can Creativity Be Scheduled?

Week 1 of My 12-Week Year Creativity Schedule. I might have gotten a little carried away…Note that I did not schedule transition time between major activities. Or  lunch time.

There many, many schools of thought regarding creativity, grasshopper. Looking specifically at writing, there are pantsers and plotters, planners and wingers, outline enthusiasts, outline eschewers, thumbnail sketch makers, muse-seeking free spirits, spreadsheet weirdos (raises hand). It seems creativity refuses to be contained. You can’t put creativity in a corner!

But can you put creativity in a time block on a calendar?

Ever willing to be a cautionary tale, I threw myself on the sword of research with an intense productivity system, called the 12-Week Year, so I can report my findings. For more information about this system and how to implement it, there are books, courses, and seminars. Boiling it down for you, the idea is based on data that suggest companies (and individual employees), when aligning to their annual plans, see a burst of productivity and forward progress during the last three months of their fiscal years. Why? Continue reading

Michaeline: Gordon Ramsay Crossover Writing Lessons, Part One

Gordon Ramsay with a lamb around his neck and shoulders.

Gordon Ramsay took this little lamb to school. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

WARNING: Profanity. (It involves Gordon Ramsay. What did you fucking expect?)

To a certain extent, art is art is art. Still, I was surprised how applicable some of the lessons Gordon Ramsay taught his restauranteurs were to the art of writing.

Here’s the deal: I’ve avoided Kitchen Nightmares and that kind of reality show because I heard there’s a lot of yelling, and humiliation just isn’t my jam. But I was feeling depressed, spending entirely too much time on YouTube, and the only interesting thing in my recommended feed was a clip from such a show. I’d seen Gordon Ramsay on things like Jimmy Fallon, so I decided three minutes of my time was not too big of a loss.

Dear Readers, three minutes turned into hours and hours of binge-watching over the last couple of weeks. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, I’ve seen British Kitchen Nightmares, American Kitchen Nightmares, clips and full episodes, and an assorted chocolate box of Gordon Ramsay all over the modern media. And I regret nothing.

Yes, there’s yelling and sometimes humiliation. But there’s also a combination of mystery Continue reading

Elizabeth: Pre-NaNoWriMo Recharge

writing_typewriterAs Michille mentioned in her recent post, the annual writing extravaganza known as NaNoWriMo is fast approaching; thirty days of writing 1,667 words along with the existing demands of everyday life.

Sounds fun, right?

As with other goals, a little up-front prep-work can make the difference between a successful finish (however you measure success) and an angst-ridden struggle.  Or something like that.

Part of my pre-work has been getting the basics of my characters, conflict, and setting, nailed down so I have some idea of what I’m trying to write.  An equally important part of my pre-work has been ensuring I’m mentally and physically ready to write. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Celebrating 2014

10624684_10152440604581945_883025701607382375_nAs yet another year comes to a close, it seems like a good time to reflect on the past year.  In my first post of this year, I stated that my resolution for 2014 was to write. I wanted to spend less time making excuses for not writing and more time actually writing. As part of that goal, I was shooting to have a finished, polished manuscript ready to go by the RWA National conference in July of 2014. I was quite confident that my goals were both reasonable and achievable. As one might predict, however, things didn’t quite go according to plan. Continue reading