Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Settling down #amwriting #amrevising

writing in a journal on the lawn
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

A lot of writers have been posting about how the pandemic and the quarantine have disrupted their writing. Despite spending so much time at home, they are having a tough time focusing. Heck, a lot of people have trouble sleeping. COVID dreams, anyone?

Now with the turmoil of the past couple weeks added on top of all that, settling down to write seems to be a losing battle. All of the things going on right now foster anxiety, fear, anger, and frustration. Then there’s the whole being cooped up 24-7 with people you love but honestly need a break from sometimes–erm, on a regular basis. 😀

All these things disrupt the flow of creativity, at least for me. Considering it’s been what, three months since the pandemic kicked off the quarantine, there’s been time to try different things to settle that creative energy enough to use.

My Writing Sisters chat every week, and this week we shared some of the things we’re doing to help us attain the calm we need to write. Maybe you’ve figured out what works for you by now. If not, here are some of the things we are doing:

  • Turn off the news: Um, yeah. That’s what’s disrupting our energy to begin with. Hopefully you don’t live with someone who is a news junkie. Check in occasionally to stay informed (provided, of course, your source is non-biased and well-balanced, and no, I won’t go there), but anything more than an hour or so is probably too much.
  • Get outside: There is something grounding about being in Nature. Sure, we need to be mindful of where we go and physical distancing, but a walk in the woods or a park has a calming effect. Green trees, bird song, whispering leaves, maybe a laughing brook, flowers. Pay attention to it all. It’s like mindful breathing: it gives you something to focus on instead of the mental clutter encouraged by all the news lately. The weather this time of year is great (if you discount temps above 90 F and humidity above 80%). The southern hemisphere is heading into winter, but hopefully your weather isn’t like MN’s winter 🙂
  • Exercise: Walks or runs help work off anxious energy. Yoga and other activities like tai chi are both a physical workout and a meditation. Anything to bleed off that unsettled energy helps.
  • Write longhand: Writing longhand is a great way to pull a writing brain out of the mire. Even if it’s just journaling or stream-of-consciousness writing, it lures creative energy out, giving it a ball or a piece of chalk and a bare sidewalk to play with. Double bonus: Do writing-focused activities, like deep-dive character bios or setting histories in longhand. Try it. It works 🙂
  • Listen to music: Not head-banging, death-metal stuff (unless that’s your thing), but instrumental music. Or music with words, but the key there is to listen and not pay attention to the words. I listen to what we used to call “New Age” (maybe we still do call it New Age) and a lot of instrumental covers of popular music (The Piano Guys or David Garrett, for instance). And there’s always nature tracks, like waterfalls, rain, or bubbling brooks. Thunderstorms and ocean waves are my go-tos.
  • Get creative in other ways: Something that isn’t writing but is still creative helps to exercise that creative energy without weaving it into the structure writing can require. I know writers who are doing more quilting these days. I’ve been doing some crocheting (easy stuff like scarves and afghans). Playing music is another way to work the creative energy and settle your mind. I sat down at the piano again after ten years of not playing. It felt good.
  • Meditate: There are a lot of apps that help you learn to meditate, one of which offers a free subscription to health care and other front line workers (Headspace, I think), and another that offers a free membership for a year because of COVID-19 (Balance. Don’t know if they are still offering the free year). One of my writing sisters discovered a series of meditations for writers here. She ‘s been having a lot of success with them as she works on her WIP.
  • Get out in the garden: You knew this would be on my list, right? This ties back in with getting outside. Of course, there are annoying things like mosquitoes and weeds to contend with. Maybe it’s that physical connection to the earth that helps to ground us, because that’s really what it’s like. Nature can help us a lot if we pay attention.
  • Read: I’ve been reading a little more lately, and listening to audiobooks when I run. Full disclosure: Jim Butcher’s next Dresden book (after a six-year absence) is coming out soon, so I indulged in reading some of Harry’s earlier adventures. My favorite wizard! Reading to escape is different than reading to learn, but that’s the point, to escape. Reading to learn is also important to help us understand different perspectives and move forward in our craft and in our society.

Now that things are opening up, people who have been chomping at the bit because they’ve been cooped up are getting some respite, but I think a lot of writers have been pretty okay with the whole isolation thing. Yet even if you are an introvert, there is something to be said about being with other people, especially if you want to help in the midst of the chaos of the world.

Volunteering (taking proper safety precautions, of course) is a way to be around people and do something good for others and know you’ve been able to make a difference. This in turn helps you feel better and more settled, even if it’s nothing more than helping your elderly or sickly next door neighbor get their groceries for the week, or taking them to a doctor’s appointment.

My first round of revisions is coming along. I have one assignment left for my class, but I noticed a writer’s meditation that may help me with that. It’s on my to-do for today. It seems my other stories are starting to stir more, so once round one is finished for Book 2, I’ll give another story some attention for a bit while I let Book 2 rest.

Hope you all are doing well, staying healthy, and writing!

PS: I didn’t make it to the final round for the RONE award, but THANK YOU to everyone who voted!


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Week 6: Spring sticks around

leaves-4112335_640
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

I can’t believe it’s been 6 weeks of working from home now. Wait. Okay, I can believe it. I believe it so much I’m going to take a mental health day next week, due in large part to unending frustration with our internet provider and slow internet speeds.

On the bright side, we’re one week closer to new service. I just hope the new service is way better than what we have now. We won’t know until we get it.

“You’re looking at it wrong, love.” My Muse closes the back door to my writing office and toes off his sneakers. He’s wearing a purple sweatshirt with the Minnesota Vikings logo on the front, a fitting(?) match to the Packers green sweatpants with the Green Bay logo on a thigh. “If you can’t use the internet, you won’t be so distracted.”

NFL Minnesota Vikings logo Green Bay Packers logo

“You know it’s risky to wear both those colors around here, right?”

“Here?” He waves a hand to include the entire office. “No. A sports bar in either state? Sure, but lucky for me there are no bars open right now.” He snags a beer from the mini-fridge and plops into one of the two recliners. “Besides, we have more important things to do than watch the draft.” He gestures with his beer. “Right?”

Don’t roll eyes. Don’t roll eyes. “Right. And you know that I’ve been working on my revisions.”

“Yes, you have. For the most part.”

“What do you mean, for the most part? I’m halfway through. And I’m going to turn in my next homework assignment this weekend.” Once I decide what scene to use.

“Uh-huh.” He narrows his eyes. “Just how much revision have you done this week?”

Not as much as I should have. Story of my life. “Hey, I did some revision every day until the internet started acting up a few days ago.” I think it’s the combination of week six of stay-at-home and frustration. At least spring seems to have locked in. “Besides, I took walks. Even went for a run the other day. That’s important, too.”

My Muse nods. “Yes, for you it is. However, you need to finish this class, and one more to get your second badge, and you have to finish your manuscript to get the certificate.”

“I know, I know. Which is why I’m using my WIP for homework assignments.” I’m participating in a Fiction Writing certificate program through UW-Madison’s Continuing Studies, and just received my first badge. I like to think of it as genuine “street cred”.

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Writing Fiction I - 2020-04-09

“It’s good incentive, love.” He slides to the front edge of the recliner and plants his elbows on his knees. “Let’s get that next assignment turned in so you can focus on revisions.”

“Wow, you are being exceptionally accommodating.”

“You are being,” he hesitates, “pleasantly diligent. Keep it up.”

I think “pleasantly diligent” means “butt in chair, fingers on keyboard without coersion”. Anyway, even though this stay at home stuff is getting old, especially with the internet issues, I feel I’m making progress. It helps that my daughter is working every day, and my son is still at his apartment (though he’s been home a few times over the past couple weeks). It’s warmer, so hubs is doing more stuff outside (read: the TV is off!), giving me more quiet time to write.

Hope you are all well and safe! Keep on writing!

Zoey the cat chilling on the deck


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Cabin fever yet?

Today I finished my second week of working from home.

Needless to say, the home office idea is climbing on the to-do list. However, it’s still below spring cleaning, mostly because every time I see a cobweb or dust bunny or muddy dog prints on the kitchen floor I am reminded how much better I am at procrastinating than I was yesterday. Or last week.

On the bright side, we had SUNSHINE today! Yippee! And warm weather, around 50 F. I enjoyed a couple nice walks. It’s amazing how good a sunny spring day makes you feel.

So, in the spirit of a long-awaited awakening of trees and weeds, and a drier yard (short-lived low mud levels since we’re supposed to get rain this weekend), I have a couple pics of my baby plants.

This year hubs and I decided to try using genuine grow lights for the seedlings. For years we have been using shop lights with fluorescent lightbulbs. They worked great in the beginning, and hubs rigged them up so I could adjust the height as the plants grew.

Thing is, those bulbs weaken over time, so the last time I started seeds, the plants ended up leggy (tall and spindly) even though I had the lights almost touching the plants. Plants get leggy when they are stretching to get more light. That’s why being able to adjust the distance between the lights and the plants is important. Keep the light close enough so the plants don’t need to reach for it.

Anyway, grow lights tend to be pink in color because apparently seedlings like red and blue wavelengths in particular. These days, grow lights are often a combination of red and blue LEDs.

Ready?

You sure?

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture.

Peppers, onions, and more peppers. Can’t see the tomatoes very well.
Peppers, onions, and kale in the blue container

Do the plants like the grow lights better than regular lights? It’s hard to say so far. Once the plants get big enough to transplant, it’ll be easier to tell if the oh-my-god-PINK light makes a difference.

Now, to help your retinas recover …

I’ve worked from home before, and Zoey has a routine in the morning: come downstairs (she sleeps in my son’s room), stretch and roll around on the floor, snack, then beg to be petted. Since I sit toward the front of my chair, there’s room behind me for her to jump up and hang out behind me.

Has she ever sat on my lap while I’m working? Nope. That is, until this week.

I’m not sure if she was just curious about what I was doing, or just felt needy since my son had returned to his apartment the night before.

Anyway, it was fun while it lasted.

Hope everyone is staying safe, washing hands, practicing social distancing. Remember, you can still enjoy the outdoors, just not within 6 feet of anyone else. Sunshine does a brain good!


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Happy Spring! #amreading #amwriting

Minnesota welcomed the vernal equinox with rain. And more rain. And the next day? Below freezing temps in the morning. On the bright side, it was sunny all day, albeit with a nice brisk, crisp, north wind.

Image by Capri23auto from Pixabay

Nothing like March to assure us Mother Nature is dealing with indecision. Spring? Nah, maybe more winter. Well, on the other hand, spring is kinda the thing now.

Sheesh.

To make things worse more interesting, everyone, for the most part, is in quarantine. I’ve been working from home pretty much all week, and for the foreseeable future. On the plus side, no hour commute each way. On the negative side, since I do not have a dedicated office, and this whole “don’t go out if you don’t absolutely have to” thing, it’s getting to be an interesting exercise in co-habitation.

If hubs and I were thirty years younger, we could really enjoy it 😉

In any case, I am taking the opportunity to continue procrastinating on spring cleaning in order to work on Book 2. Of course, with those two extra hours, I should really catch up on that.

“Yes, you should, love.”

I look up from my writing desk. My Muse, with the sleeves of his burgundy henley shoved halfway up his forearms, shows me a finger coated with dust. He wipes his finger on his worn-well jeans before he saunters to my desk and rests a hip on a corner near me.

I lean back in my chair. “I thought you needed a break. Besides, it isn’t like you are susceptible to this COVID-19 thing.”

“I’m not, but they have cancelled writerly gatherings everywhere.”

“And? It’s not like you need an excuse, is it?” Not that I want him to go anywhere, but he’s started reminiscing about his adventures, like, all the time. If I hear another story from the bubonic plague in Australia

He leans over me. I catch a scent of the woods in spring, with that fresh, loamy musk promising new growth. “You realize, love, this is a great opportunity–with few excuses, mind you–to work on Book 2.”

“Yes, I know. And I am. I have pages of notes.” And it isn’t as bad as I thought. I think once I finally nailed down the plot (after writing more than three-quarters of the story), things fell into place. Now it’s a matter of verifying the timeline and fleshing things out.

“I’m aware. And without that commute, you have two more hours each day to spend on it.” He straightens and crosses his toned arms over his broad chest. “With me.”

Who the hell else would I spend them with if I’m writing? I stand to face him eye-to-eye, since he’s still leaning on my desk. Wow. I’m always amazed at how blue his eyes are. “You’re not thinking about moving on, are you? To another less-aggravating writer?” He can’t. After all these years, I don’t think I could work with another muse. Or Muse.

A crooked grin deepens the divot in his chin. His low chuckle raises the temperature in my office. Or maybe it’s just me. “No, love. I don’t want to break in another writer. I’m talking about your distractions.”

“You mean like the veneer of dust you so helpfully pointed out?”

“That, and the rest. I know how you get when there’s too much other activity in the house.”

“Which is why I have this.” I sweep my hand to indicate my writing office.

“Hmph. This isn’t a physical space, love. You need a physical space.”

“I’ve been doing fine for years.”

An eyebrow arches. “Really, love? Let’s work on that during your breaks from Book 2, when you let the story sit after each round of revision.”

Whatever. After I manage some spring cleaning. We postponed our family Easter gathering, so there is no hard deadline. Still, I’ve been letting things languish way too long. I’ll have to collect cobwebs and chase out the dust bunnies before it’s time to plant the garden. 😀

Stay safe, everyone! Stay calm, wash your hands, maintain social distance, and WRITE ON!


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Now for something a little bit different #minnesota #spring #gardens

It’s time. I start getting seed catalogs around Christmas, and stash them until about now. I’ve been getting those pesky marketing emails from other seed catalogs too, but there’s something about looking through an actual catalog to feed thoughts of spring and warm and gardens.

Not that the past week has been miserably cold. It’s been downright balmy here with temps around freezing. Warm enough to make snowmen, and we have enough snow. Part of me is tempted to build a snowman for old times’ sake. Part of me says, “You know, you should be writing. Or at least cleaning.”

I know a lot of you like my garden posts, so I figured I’d share my pre-garden fun (because hey, why not?)

Every year when I plan my garden, I have the old standbys I always plant: tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers, zucchini, beets, green beans, radishes, brussels sprouts. I always like to plant something new, or something I haven’t planted for a while.

Last year I got all my starts from the local greenhouse; I didn’t start any of my own seeds. That was convenient, but also restrictive: I’m limited to the varieties the greenhouse has. Which is fine, but I like particular varieties of some veggies, like peppers, onions, and tomatoes.

I don’t know what onion variety I planted, but the onions were far smaller than in previous years. I like the Candy variety, which are usually baseball-size or larger onions. I intended to plant sweet snacking peppers, but the variety I got at the greenhouse ended up being too spicy for snacking. The tomatoes were okay: the Early Girls did fine (but they are small tomatoes), but the other variety succumbed pretty quickly to the blight that plagues the garden. I thought I had gotten a resistant variety. I thought wrong, apparently.

Over the years, I’ve learned what veggies grow best, or at least which ones I have the best luck with. Every year is different. Last year was bad for tomatoes, meh for onions, but a great one for brussels sprouts and peppers.

Garden, 2019

This year I’m planning to buy some starts, like brussels sprouts and peppers, and start onions, tomatoes (some tomatoes anyway), and maybe kale.

For new stuff/stuff I haven’t planted for a while, a pie pumpkin is on the list this year. I haven’t planted pumpkins for years, because, like cucumbers or zucchini, one plant = lots of pumpkins. I’ve been thinking about making pumpkin bread, so what a great excuse 😀 I can bring the overstock to work and pawn it off on them 🙂

No zucchini, though. I think I cooked one zucchini all last summer, and brought the rest in to work. I can use that space for something else. This year on my “new” agenda is Persian cucumbers, if I can find seeds. Somewhere they were listed as the type of cucumbers you find in the store as those snacking cucumbers. We’ll see. I haven’t made pickles for years (I learned my lesson the year I pickled over 3 dozen quarts), but maybe I’ll do a dozen this year. Maybe.

I have to thin out the raspberry patch, too; they’re starting to choke out the asparagus (which also should be moved, or a new patch started). I love raspberries, but they spread! The problem is deciding where to move them: someplace close enough to monitor, exposed to sun, and not in an area we tend to mow. I know, with eight acres that might be a challenge 😀

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on that front again. In the meantime, take a break and page through some seed catalogs. The pictures of flowers and veggies always reminds me spring is coming!