Archive for April, 2010


About a year ago I had a little knee surgery to smooth out a slightly torn meniscus. Last weekend I ran sixteen miles, my longest run since before the surgery. My knee isn’t back to normal, and that three-hour marathon goal I was closing in on a few years ago is looking pretty distant; but I’ll keep on running if I can because I love it. With age, injury, and wear and tear, it’s inevitable that the human body slows down, breaks down.

One thing I love about writing is that barring any major physical or mental impairments, you can keep improving forever.

My recipe for improvement has one simple ingredient: Persistence.

For me, persistence means:

  1. Not wasting whatever amount of time I’ve created in my life to write.
  2. Studying well written novels and craft books and attempting to apply what I’ve learned.
  3. And, to paraphrase Laurie Halse Anderson: asking how I can make what I’ve written better instead of looking at it and saying this is pretty good.

I’ve heard a couple successful writers say that if you don’t have what it takes to write, i.e. talent, you never will. Quit wasting your time. James Scott Bell, in his book, Plot and Structure, referred to this as the Big Lie. He spent several years of his life believing the Big Lie before he realized that he could learn how to write fiction. Now, as you probably know, he’s published over twenty books.

What does persistence look like for you?

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Our garden, which we carved out of the birch forest, is still partially covered with snow but we’ve got tomato and cucumber seedlings started in our house.

The growing season up here is compacted with fewer frost free days than most places, but the days are long, about twenty-two hours of daylight on Summer Solstice.

Here’s our garden mid-summer last year. For perspective, the fenced in area is about 50 feet long and 30 feet wide.

And here are a few yummy remnants from last year’s harvest.

Green Beans and Pickles

It took several years to build this garden. All the raised beds—which help keep the soil warm—I built from previously used wood.

The seven-foot tall fence is to keep all the moose out.

Bull Moose next to our garden.

Some of our tomatoes ripen in the green house.

But some don’t. These we hang by the vine on a wall in our house and they ripen over the weeks as fall changes to winter.

I made a lot of mistakes building our garden and with gardening. Too many to list, but I learned, and continue to learn, a lot from gardening and have revised many of my old ways. But I still try new things too.

Like the corn I started too late that didn’t mature.

Or the beans that everyone said wouldn’t transplant well—mine did fine.

Like writing, you find some things that work and perfect them, but hopefully you keep bringing in the new, and that adds to the richness of whatever it is you are working on, and to your writing life in general. You get your hands dirty.

Any other gardeners out there turning the soil? Or writers getting their hands dirty? How’s it going?

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When I was teaching I used to take my students to the World Ice Art Championships every year. Once I started writing full-time the ice carving displays slipped from my mind until this year when I decided to head down to the River to check them out. Experts come from all over the world to carve. They work with 3 foot by 5 foot by 8 foot blocks of ice that weigh about 10,000 pounds cut from local ponds .

These days I put most of my creative energy into writing. But in the recent past I’ve done some basket-making

and canoe building.

Both of these projects resulted from grants I’d written for a summer program that my former employer runs for at risk children. I was able to hire a local expert who worked with me to see these projects through to completion. I was fortunate that the school I worked for was very supportive of special projects, and I was able to create some projects that both engaged the students and fed my own creativity.

When I was doing those projects I wasn’t doing a lot of writing but I’m sure they helped my writing, especially the canoe building because it pushed me into new territory, showed me I could do something that I’d never done before. We did lots of problem solving as we encountered difficulties we hadn’t anticipated, kind of like writing a novel. For a while, every time we tried to bend the ribs in place they’d break.

What other creative outlets do you have besides writing?

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I’ve had my head buried in my rewrite this past week, coming up for air only to take care of personal business.

The above is an attempt to make a face from some items plucked from my windowsill. I found all these things in some remote corners of this amazing planet, and there’s at least one personal story attached to each of them. And I might tell some of those stories someday.

But those stories are interesting mostly to me because I’m the one attached to those objects. Yeah, we could debate that. I do read and love lots of nonfiction.

But this past week as I tried to stretch and push and mold and refold my WIP, one of my favorite writing quotes kept nudging its way into my brain. I don’t even need this quote written out to remember it.

I heard the prolific YA novelist, Richard Peck speak a few years back and he said something like this:

           A story is not what happened. It’s what might have happened.

Sometimes, for me at least, simple wisdom, like the quote above, is just what I need to keep digging. To try to see beyond what I’ve already seen. To keep reaching toward what my story is becoming. To remain open to what might have happened.

And to remember that yeah, this is my story, but it needs to be way bigger than me if I want readers to connect with it.



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