Walking out some ideas

Birds are very distracting.

I went for a hike today, with several goals in mind.  One of those goals was to work on some of Mara’s story, to get the creative juices flowing again.

It was a very birdy hike, with lots of birds calling.  In fact, my “heard” list was longer than my “seen” list, which was both awesome and also not the primary purpose of the hike.

Even with the feathered distractions, I did manage to work out some details for a section of Mara’s story as well as come up with a couple of new ideas as well.  While I haven’t put them on paper yet, this type of idea development is my usual process, and it’s great to have it start again!

Time on my hands

I worked this morning, but only for a few hours, and I don’t work tomorrow.  This may seem like no big deal to most of you, but my schedule has been really bizarre for the past several weeks due to some crazy work stuff.   After I got off from work, I went to the farmer’s market, grabbed some lunch out, and then came home and took a nap.  A few hours later, after some reading, TV, and web browsing, I found myself at a loss.

If we’re being honest, I was flat-out bored.

I started to call my mom, but then realized two things that made me hang up.  First, running to my mother whining, “I’m bored” is something I should have outgrown a decade and a half ago.  Second, I already knew what she’d say.  Go for a walk.  Take your dog to the park.  Write.

Heeding my mother’s unoffered advice, I went for a walk.  I had planned to use my foot-brain connection to start stirring up Mara’s story again, but instead I made a realization.  I have forgotten how to relax.

Perhaps that’s not the right wording.  It would probably be better to say that I’ve forgotten how to enjoy my down time.  For the past several weeks, what personal time I’ve had has been consumed with getting enough sleep, feeding myself, and keeping my apartment in livable condition.  Now I find myself once again with time to spare, but with my previous habits all but vanished.

Tomorrow I plan to go hike at a local state park.  Nature always has a way of helping me center myself, so I am hoping that a good morning out-of-doors will realign this odd new situation.  That foot-brain link should also kick in, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally have some pages to show for it.


I’m going to tell you a story about birding, and then one about reading.  They are related; you’ll figure it out.

When I was in college, I went to Grand Cayman with my mom, my sister, and my mom’s friend for spring break.  I was already on my way to being a bird nerd, but not fully there yet.  My mom (who was also in college at the time) connected me with one of her professors, who loaned me a field guide for the birds of the Caribbean.  This same woman, whose name I regretfully do not recall, asked me at the time if I kept a life list.  I shrugged it off, said something about lists from ornithology and high school, but she persisted.  Serious birders kept lists of the birds they saw, and I should do the same.

I took her advice, writing down the twenty or so species that I saw in Grand Cayman and then compiling my list of things I’d seen in high school, college, and my backyard.  I ended up with about 100 birds or so, with a total of 125 when I moved to Texas for my first real job.

I’ve kept the list going, and it currently stands at 783 birds.  My goal is 1000 in my lifetime.  I think occasionally about that nice professor who suggested that I should keep a list, and I am grateful for her suggestion.

Recently, I met a young lady while I was home for my sister’s wedding.  It was at my family’s church, the Sunday after the wedding.  My parents had to get there early for a commitment they’d made, so I was sitting alone in an empty row, reading.  (I take a book everywhere.)  To my left I noticed a girl, maybe eight years old, sitting with her family.  She was also reading.  After a bit I decided that it was worth it to go say hi and ask what she was reading; I think it’s important to encourage girls who like to read.  During the discussion I had with her and her mom (who was sitting next to her) I mentioned that I keep a journal of the books I finish.  She looked skeptical at first, but when I told her it meant I could go back a couple of years later and figure out the title of that book I remember reading, she lit up.  Her mom asked her if she thought it would be a good idea to start one of her own, and she agreed.

I have no idea if that young lady started a book journal or not, but that’s not the point.  If I had started one at her age, it would have been filled several times over within just a few years; I was a voracious reader then, even more than now.  As I walked away, I realized that I had possibly just done for her what that professor did for me so many years ago.  To all the females out there, I encourage you to encourage girls to read.  We need more smart women on this planet, and reading seems like a good place to start.

Welcome Back, Mara!

Last night I had wicked insomnia.  This wasn’t the usual “brain won’t shut up” version that keeps me from falling asleep in the first place.  No, this was a middle of the night, panicked and guilt-laced litany of the things I forgot to do that were suddenly going to loom large.  Telling myself that I could deal with it in the morning didn’t help.  Even getting up to look at the list of deadlines (only one of which I missed; thanks for the exaggerated panic, brain) did little to still the hamster wheel.

As I usually do when I can’t get my mind out of a nocturnal loop pattern, I turned to my creativity.  Creating story or developing characters can be a great way for me to bring my flailing conscious back to a calmer, more focused place.  A quiet focus on one mental task is usually just what it takes to get to sleep.  (That’s why counting sheep has the reputation that it does; counting backward from 300 by threes is also a good one.)

Last night I had a pleasant surprise as I called upon my writing mind to help lull me into rest; Mara reappeared!  For the past six weeks, my brain has been so full of work and stress that my characters had run in fear.  I rarely needed to work on story to sleep – I was physically and mentally worn out – but when I did, the best I could manage was a rudimentary love story with characters so flat they didn’t even ask for names.  It was so nice to finally bring out some of the people who I need to continue my current project.  I even had some good inspiration for a scene in Mara’s tale!

It feels like I’m finally getting back to a place that will let me bring out my creative side more often, and Mara’s reemergence last night is a great sign.

Why everyone should have a collection of short stories

Everyone should have at least one collection of short stories in their personal library.  It should be a collection that you like, that you can read over and over.  (I have five.)  The reason for this is best illustrated by an experience I had today.

Before I begin my tale, let me first explain that I do not like being without reading material.  When I finish something, I start something else.  Even if I don’t open the reading material for a day or two, I don’t feel complete unless I am “reading” something.  Now, to the story.

I am reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series again from the beginning.  (I haven’t read the three concluding books yet, but I decided I would enjoy them better if I worked my way there.)  I do not currently own any of the series, so I’ve been requesting them from my local library.

When I get to about 100 pages left, I put a hold on the next book in line.  This time, when I was nearly done with book two, someone already had book three checked out, so it took a bit longer.  Fortunately, I had two months worth of National Geographic waiting for me.  I switched right over to those when I finished The Great Hunt.

Last night I read the last article of this month’s NG.  This morning I had the realization that I was without reading material, and at one of those “reading required” moments in my day.  These moments, when I am mid-series and yet without material, are when I reach for one of the well-worn short story collections on my shelf.

Here is the beauty of a book of short stories: they give you something to read without requiring a great deal of commitment.  You can read one story to get you through until the next trip to the library, or you can read several stories to get a fiction fix in the middle of a long stretch of non-fiction.

The end of my tale is quite fun, too, although not entirely related to the point I’m trying to make.  I was not without reading material for long, because I got both my notification from the library and next month’s National Geographic today!

Writing Rest Area

I frequently drive across Iowa on trips between my current home state of South Dakota and the state of my birth, Illinois.  (In fact, most of the drive is Iowa, and it crosses the entire state.)

While the drive tends to be long and tedious, there are some good things about crossing Iowa.  Unlike many of the other long drives I’ve taken in my life, there are no “dead air” zones where the radio fails me.  There are lots of good places to stop, including a visit with friends in Des Moines.  The Iowa Department of Transportation has also made an effort to take care of drivers in the state.  There are lots of rest areas available, and fifteen of them have been renovated and themed.  There’s a Lewis and Clark rest area, an agriculture rest area, and a very cool wind energy rest area.  On this trip I discovered what they call the “Iowa” rest area, which is writing themed.

There’s a huge sculpture of a fountain pen nib in front of the building.  There are names of novelists, poets, and playwrights from Iowa displayed throughout the building, with a large wraparound LED screen near the ceiling with constantly scrolling quotes.  Even the picnic shelters are themed, with quotes cut into metal at the back of each.

For someone who writes, it’s an inspirational place to pause.  I took the time to walk around and read several of the shelter quotes.  It was a really neat find, and it will be a planned stop on future trips.  The next time I drive through without animals in my car, I might even take a few moments to write with inspiration all around me.

Want to know where to find it?  It’s on Interstate 80, eastbound, near Tiffin, Iowa.  🙂

Finding Writing Again

To start with, I need to thank you for your patience.  I know I disappeared for a while – between all the work crazy and my sister’s wedding, my downtime has been reserved for eating and sleeping!

Now that things have leveled out a bit, I have time for writing but I’m having a bit of trouble getting back into it.  This is probably why all the writing advice says to write daily; when you get out of the habit it’s hard to bring it back to life.

There are some blog ideas on my bedside notebook, and Mara’s tale has begun bouncing in my brain once more.  I’m also still four rejections short of my 2013 goal!  Here’s hoping that coming back today is just what my inspiration and motivation need!