Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Serendipity, sort of #amwriting #amlearning

someone reading a book

Serendipity (Merriam-Webster): the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for also : an instance of this

Serendipity (Dictionary.com): an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; good fortune; luck:

It’s been one of those weeks. You know, the ones where nothing seems to go right, yet sometimes it does. I know, sounds weird. Let me try to make sense of it (because I know you have nothing better to do than read a rambling post 🙂 ).

There’s been a few things going on lately, besides the gawd-awful, waay-to-early-in-the-season heat wave we’ve been having. This is July weather, not June. Man, I miss mid-seventies in June. We’re almost at 10 straight days of 90+ degree (F) heat, with little to no rain. My tomatoes are loving it; everything else has yet to offer an opinion.

First and most anticipated is our Writing Sisters reunion–IN PERSON! Yippee! I miss those gals. We had a virtual reunion last year because, well, pandemic. We’re all fully vaxed now, but we still hit a few speed bumps I wasn’t sure we would manage. There is still anxiety about the pandemic, especially since so many in the general populace seem to have lost any sense of, well, critical thinking. I wonder how many know someone who had polio or died from it, which wasn’t all that long ago. And smallpox. Do they know why we don’t talk about smallpox anymore? Anyway, we smoothed out those speed bumps, and come the first weekend in August, I’ll be enjoying a weekend in WI with my favorite fellow writers.

Next, I mentioned a few weeks back that I’ll be a casualty of a corporate buyout at the end of July. When I found out my position was being eliminated, I decided to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement benefit before I go (something I should have been doing all along. Lesson learned.). The class I’m taking focuses on the user experience, which sorta has something to do with technical writing. I am learning a lot more than I thought I would, and I did discover the relevance: some of the job postings I’m considering mention the user experience (UX). Hey, if asked, I can speak like I know what I’m talking about now. Bonus!

The other thing about my position being eliminated and our company’s software dev process being adjusted: because the release schedule for our software seems to have slowed down, I’ve been taking advantage of the “down” time to do some online learning about the tools I use. Good thing, too, because I’ve learned some stuff that will help me with my job hunt. Again, I can speak intelligently (or make a good show of it 🙂 ) about things I wouldn’t be aware of if I hadn’t started doing online tutorials. On the down side? I’ve learned some things I should have been doing but didn’t. I’m toying with the idea of making some last-minute changes to some of the projects I work on. Then again, in a month and a half it won’t matter. But I’ll be learning something, right?

Speaking of job hunting, I’ve had a few interviews now. Most of them went well, but one I had this week went really well, so I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get a call for a second interview. Again, I’m so glad I decided to look into those online tutorials and webinars, because those topics are now specified in job postings. Now to adjust my portfolio so it looks like I can do really cool stuff (which I should have been doing over the past half-dozen years, but didn’t have the time or need to do).

A casualty of all this school stuff and job-hunt stuff over the past few weeks has been my WIP and current revisions. Sigh. I half-expected one of my MCs to knock on the door of my writing office and scold me for leaving them in limbo. Now that the garden is in and seems to be holding its own, and my last class assignment has been turned in, I plan to get back to them. Promise!

So, overall, things seem to be, well, not falling into place so much as being part of a life-affirming realization in the sense that actions I chose to take (the class, online tutorials) in response to losing my job at the end of July were decisions that will help me find a new job sooner rather than later (crossing fingers!!). Serendipity sounded like the right word, at least for today.

Stay cool, everyone! We’re a week or so away from the solstice, so enjoy the long hours of daylight!

Keep on writing!

Wake me when it cools down


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YAG (Yet another garden), 2021 version #amgardening #mn #mngardening

As promised, I got my garden planted last weekend. Thank goodness there were no mosquitoes, decent temps, and not much wind. This year I thought I would share the play-by-play with you.

tilled garden, bare ground

First step: Till the garden. We have an old Ford utility tractor (4400 for you tractor geeks out there) with a tiller implement, which is a VAST improvement over the walk-behind, front-tine tiller I used the first few years we lived out here. We left the fences up again this year, but I think at the end of the season we’ll take them down and till it all. The creeping charlie is hiding between the fence and the chicken wire and invading my garden.

Stakes spaced using a tape measure.

Next, and I know this is going to sound somewhat, erm, weird, but I use a tape measure to space the rows. I try to keep the rows 4 ft apart, and at least that far from the fence. The tomatoes are on the north side this year, so I left an extra couple feet between the fence and the tomato row.

Once I get the stakes spaced out on both ends of the garden, I lay out the soaker hoses and put up the tomato fences. The past few years I’ve used hog panels to support the tomatoes. Last year I added cattle panels.

When we bought the place, it came with a lot of leftovers from the neighbors (whom we bought the property from), including hog panels, which are heavy-duty wire. The cattle panels are hella heavy cuz they are steel tubing. In the picture at the very top you can see the cattle panel, and you might be able to see the hog panel grid behind it.

Hog panel and cattle panels set up for cucumbers and tomatoes

Here you can see a hog panel. This is what I’m using to support the cucumbers this year. I used a hog panel last year, and that worked pretty well. At the other end you can see the cattle panels where I’ll plant the tomatoes.

And no, I did not plant pickling cucumbers this year, as promised. I went into the basement to get a jar of pickles, and stopped counting how many quarts I put up last year. Yep, not going to miss it this year.

soaker hoses laid out between the stakes on each row.

Next, I lay out the soaker hoses. The rows this year are about 44 feet long. Our hoses are either 75′ or 50′ long, so in the past, I’ve connected the 75′ hoses together and wove them up and down three rows. That didn’t work this year; I think I have a 50′ one I connected to the 75′ one, so that ended up covering three rows. I caved and used a 50′ one for each of the last two rows, so I have five rows total. Yeah, I didn’t realize how much room that was either until I started figuring out what to plant where.

Wow. Writing it out like that makes it seem a whole lot bigger than I thought. Sheesh. Someday I’ll learn how to plant a smaller garden. Maybe.

soaker hoses now covered with cut grass as mulch

Okay, this is the key. Mulch. Lots and lots of mulch. Underneath the grass is fabric mulch. So, on top of the hoses I lay down black fabric mulch. On top of the fabric I pile on cut grass. Which I mowed with the tractor (our other utility tractor is a Farmall 460 utility, for those tractor geeks) and the bush hog, which is a 5′ mower deck pulled behind the tractor and run off the tractor PTO.

So, I mowed a vast area of quackgrass and saw grass, then raked and collected the grass. By hand. It probably takes just as long to rake by hand as it does using the lawn tractor to collect it, when you figure stopping to empty the collection bins every fifteen minutes. And I use less gas. 🙂

rows--cucumbers and tomatoes, peppers in the next row.

I did get hubs to bring me some wood chips from the pile left a couple years ago by the power company guys when they cleared a part of our grove because the trees were within one storm of taking out the transformer on one of the poles. I used the wood chips to cover the last hose and had enough to line the fence on the south side. Take that, creeping charlie. (I’m sure it’ll laugh at me later when it breaches the chip pile.)

Once I get all the hoses covered, I can start planting. The peppers are closest on the right. You can see the tomatoes at the far end; I put old 1-gallon greenhouse pots with the bottoms cut off around the tomatoes to protect them until they get going. They seem to work better than the coffee cans we used when I was a kid. Not that you can get coffee cans much anymore.

row of tomatoes on either side of cattle panel

Here’s a better shot of the tomatoes. I have to remember not to start them so early; they were fine until a couple weeks ago when they started going a little wild in the house.

You can see the cattle panel here. It’s thin-walled steel, but most are from 16′ to 20′ long, and heavier than one person can manage. It takes two of us to move them. Except my husband moved the ones around his garden himself. He’s either trying to prove he can, or he’s tempting the back-injury gods.

Yeah. Note to self: Make sure young, strapping son comes home the weekend we put the gardens in.

garden planted

Finally, finished planting! I started onions in the house, because it’s cheaper than buying onion plants, and they don’t sell the variety in sets at the local greenhouse (for those who are curious, we like the Candy variety. Nice big onions!). However, hubs suggested I pick up some onion sets because the onions I started seemed sparse. So, I did.

Soooo, I now have three rows of onions. BTW, I count a row on either side of the hoses. Which means along one side of one row of mulch and along both sides of another row of mulch I planted onions. Hoo-boy. Good thing we cook with onions A LOT.

another angle of planted garden

And there you have it. I put the tomato cages around the peppers. The cages are worthless for tomatoes, but my peppers tend to fall over once they have fruit on them if I don’t support them somehow. The tomato cages work well for that.

Now to keep the weeds at bay. The more mulch, the merrier, so I try to collect the grass whenever we cut the areas south of the garden and over on the other side of the hog shed (that worn-looking building on the far side of the garden).

Now I can get back to … homework. Yeesh. I’m taking classes for a Technical Writing Certificate, so I’ve got one class this summer, and plan to take one class every semester until I manage all 24 required credits. It’s all online, which is nice, but still. Homework. My class lasts another two weeks, and the garden is in, so there is that.

I’ll get back to my revision. Eventually.

Happy Writing!


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Muse-ing “street cred” #amwriting #amrevising

Badge from University of Wisconsin - Madison Writing Certificate: Fiction
Made it!

I straighten the framed certificate of completion for my writing certificate on the wall of my writing office behind my desk. It looks good, if a bit lonely all by itself. Maybe I should frame a picture of my first royalty check to balance it.

“Looks good, love. Congratulations.”

I don’t bother to turn. “Thanks. The book still needs work, though.”

“You knew that before you turned it in.” My Muse is standing on the other side of my desk, arms crossed on his broad chest. His smile reaches his blue eyes. He’s wearing his burgundy henley, sleeves pushed to his elbows, and his worn-well jeans.

“I also thought my writing teacher would only read the first 200 pages. She read the whole thing.”

“And that’s a bad thing why?”

I groan. “The part after page 200 is the part that needs more work than the rest because it’s where I made the most changes over the past two revisions.”

“At least you recognize that, love. It comes with practice.”

“And learning,” I add. “It’s kind of annoying, really.”

His brow arches. “How so?”

“Do you know I’m starting to analyze television shows for storytelling? Just last night Hubs and I were discussing how a new plot thread was introduced into a show, and how it felt like someone just decided that the main storyline wasn’t enough, so they shoehorned a new angle to it. It seemed to me like they just found out the show would be renewed, so they had to add something else to carry it through another season. They didn’t do it very well.”

His smile changed somehow from proud to knowing. “How could they have done it better?”

“A lot of ways. Especially seeding more hints along the way.” I get that they wouldn’t take the effort unless they knew it would pay off or they would need it later, but still, it could have been little things and pretty easy. “At the very least, they could have given a better explanation of something major that happened in the very first episode. That would have been smoother than a character dropping a bombshell reveal out of nowhere.”

His knowing smile broadened.

“What?”

His chuckle rose from deep in his chest. “You are growing as a writer, love. And a storyteller.”

That was kinda the point of going for the writing certificate. “Writer, sure. Storyteller? I can name a dozen people off the top of my head …”

He cuts me off. “You recognize the elements of good storytelling, and you are aware of them in others’ writing as well as your own.”

“Oh gawd. Now you sound like a writing craft book.”

“You are learning. And you are putting what you learn into practice, which is why it took you six …”

“Seven,” I correct.

He sighs. “Seven tries to get your plot right in this manuscript. It’s better than finishing the manuscript with a flawed plot and starting over after three rounds of revision.”

True. “All that writing stuff I’m trying to learn is sinking in.” I look at my writing certificate of completion. It took me over a year, but I’m glad I did it. I just wish they hadn’t cancelled the program. Stupid pandemic.

“To celebrate,” my Muse says as he heads to the mini-fridge, “Beer and chocolate.”

“Wine,” I say, because beer doesn’t go with chocolate as well as wine does, “and better hold off on the chocolate for now. I have another revision to finish. You’re sticking around, right? No celebratory pub crawls with E?”

“Of course, love. I’ll be here.”

I’ll hold off on the next round of revision until after I get the garden in. This weekend is garden weekend, so I should have some pictures for you next week. In the US, enjoy your holiday weekend, and remember those who served our country and fallen.

Happy Memorial Day! Keep on writing!

Zoey sitting outside


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Tricks of the revision trade #amrevising #amediting #amreading

To answer your first question, yes, I did get my manuscript turned in to my writing teacher before our Zoom call this week. Woo-hoo! Happy dance!

Well, except I didn’t make it all the way through the manuscript on that last revision round before I sent it. I was working on it last night and realized there are still a few inline notes I haven’t taken out yet. Mostly because I still need them. 🙂

I’m one of those writers who likes to go through printed copy when revising, because for me it’s easier to make notes right on the page. I end up doing some brainstorming work as well, filling margins with my chicken scratch. The toughest thing is always catching silly flaws, like missing words or misspellings, because as the author, we’ve been through the words so many times. It’s like when you have kids and you see them every day; they change and you notice, but don’t. Then when a relative sees them for the first time in months, they are in awe at how much the kids have changed (which is another tip: leave your work alone for a couple weeks before diving in to the next round of revision).

I have a few go-to techniques I use when revising, but one I especially like. Here’s a peek into my revision technique (wow, that rhymes!):

Compile to Word and read on my iPad

My writing tool of choice is Scrivener, for many reasons. I know, I know, writers have a love/hate relationship with Scrivener: they either love it or hate it. I’m one of the love crowd. While I compose using Times New Roman, when I compile to read through it, I use a different font (actually, I change the font on the Word end). Seems that is enough to knock my brain out of writing mode so it can look at the book a little differently. Less “OMG, I’ve been staring at these words for how long? I know what they say”, and more “Hey, look, it’s different.” Yep, not much, but it’s the little things 🙂

Print it out

Once I’ve read through the book on my iPad (and yes, I still use paper to take notes of things to fix) and made a round of corrections/revisions, I print it out (again using something other than TNR), then go through the hard copy. It’s easier for mark it up. There’s something about paper that inspires me to brainstorm while I’m revising (which just complicates the next round 😐 ).

Back to front

Another thing to try: read the story from the end forward. Start with the very last sentence, then read each sentence that comes before. It’s enough to trick your brain into seeing the prose differently. Of course, by the time you’re halfway through, your brain has caught on to your sneaky tricks.

Read it out loud (my favorite!)

I love this one! Why? Because I think it is easier to hear problems with rhythm and stuff like echoes and missing words (which your brain tends to fill in automatically) when I hear them read aloud. Reading the prose out loud yourself is helpful, but I think hearing someone else read it to you is better. And wouldn’t you know, Word has a read-aloud feature. Sure, you can’t have Sam Elliott or Mae West read it to you, and it does sound like a computer reading (not as mechanical as it used to be), but it beats recording yourself reading it aloud then playing it back. I mentioned this in a post a couple years back, when I had an older version of Word. I have a newer version now, and it’s easier to turn on. Here are instructions if you are interested.

And there you have it. These suggestions are for the read-through-and-figure-out-what-needs-work stage. Every writer is different, and what works for me might not work for you at all, but I think any time we can offer suggestions to each other to make our tasks more effective, if not easier, we might pick up something new that works for us.

It seems we blew right past spring here in MN. Average daily temps this time of year are supposed to be around 70 F. This weekend (at least the next 4 days) are supposed to be tropical heat (80s +) and humidity (dewpoint in 60s+). Ugh. It’s garden planting time, and tropical heat and humidity just make the dirt stick easier to my sweaty skin. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but c’mon, we get that weather in July.

I’ll try to take pics of each stage of my garden planting adventure, so stay tuned.

Have a great writing weekend!


Hiatus, part 2

Do you ever wish you had a place where you could go and leave the real world responsibilities behind and just write? No cleaning, no full-time job, no migraines, no cleaning … you know, that alternate reality where all you have to do is get your revision done? Or write that first draft (for the second, third, fourth, etc time!)? Or polish that stupid extra scene you had to add because you came up with a brilliant way to address the plot problem you ran into?

Yep. I don’t know where that exists, either, so I’ll have to make do with working around my to-do list that I’ve been putting off for weeks. Any-hoo, I’m almost finished, and damn it, I will turn my WIP in to my writing teacher before the next time we Zoom chat (on Tuesday).

I’m gone writing. Be back next week, when I’ll make up some brilliant wisdom to share (or just the fortune from a cookie 🙂 )

Zoey the cat chilling on the deck