Tag Archives: inspiration

When It’s All a Pile of Sh* * *

Has it happened to you?  You’ve worked hard and with good heart all day.  Your manuscript seems to be going well.  Before you step away, you go back to reread your day’s output, and you’re satisfied.  More than satisfied, maybe.  You are really pleased.  Your words sing.  You can feel their music deep in your belly.

You wake the next morning.  Sunrise, breakfast, birds scrabbling at the feeder. You return to your work with the same good heart that carried you through the day before.  Before you can write the next line, though, before you can imagine the next word, you do what you do every morning.  You pause to reread the newest pages, to get back into the rhythm of the piece.

But . . . surprise!  Those pages have mutated during the night!  How could you have been pleased with this?  Only now can you see clearly.  It’s all a pile of sh***!

Credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

Even after all these years of writing, all these years of publishing, I still find myself upended from time to time when in the midst of working on a manuscript.

In the early stages of my career, I often made a mistake that contributed to that kind of upending.  When I finished writing for the day, I would set the pages next to my typewriter—yes, it was a typewriter then, by today’s standards an instrument only slightly more advanced than a quill pen—I would set the pages next to my typewriter and move into the demands of my evening.  Making supper, checking homework, baths and pajamas and night-time stories.

Throughout the evening, though, I would find myself detouring through my study.  (It wasn’t much of a detour.  My study was a convenient passageway for everyone in the family to everyplace else in the house, but that’s another story.)  And truth be told, the detour didn’t occur just once or twice.  I detoured again and again through the evening.  Every time I passed my typewriter and that newly minted stack of pages, I paused, picked them up, and read them.  That’s rather nice, I would say to myself. And you did it!

Then I’d return to the demands of house and children, content.

You can guess what happened the next morning when I sat down to my work.  I would pick up those same pages, read them in preparation for climbing back into my story, and find that they were dead, flat, terrible . . . a pile of sh**!  It was as though I had sucked all the life out of them the evening before.

The solution to that one was easy.  I learned not to peek at my new work again until the next time I’m ready to work.  That way the pages stay fresh.

So I no longer read and reread my work in progress when I’m not working on it.  But even without that, my perception of it can change radically from day to day.  That has been especially true with my memoir.  Some days when I go back to read I can say, quite objectively, “This works.”  And some days I sit down at the computer, pull up the manuscript . . . and want to throw up.

I don’t like anything I see.  My language, my form, my topics.  Especially I don’t like the person I’m writing about!

Solution?  Perhaps I should read some self-help books on building self-esteem.  But I have so many other more important books I want to read.  And I’m not sure self-esteem is a permanent commodity, anyway.

I could take my emotional temperature, make sure it registers high-regard, before I allow myself access to the manuscript.  But how easily that could turn into an excuse for not writing anything at all!

Or perhaps I should simply remind myself that my father was right, that it is absolutely disgusting to talk about myself this way.  That would be an easy way to decide to discard months, years of work.  But truth be told, part of my reason for writing the memoir was to undo some of my father’s truths.

So instead I do, day after day, what most of us do.  I keep muddling through.  I’ve discovered, after all, that my disdain for my writing or for my story’s main character isn’t usually permanent.

Or when the yuck factor is especially strong I set the whole thing aside in favor of walking the dog.  Or having lunch with a friend.  Or writing a blog.  Then I come back to it later.

Most of these solutions work pretty well, but sometimes I still find myself wondering.

Am I the only one?  Does anyone else wake up on a sunny morning and find work that was perfectly fine the day before has turned into a pile of sh**?

The Odds Against Us

…the odds against us are endless,

Credit: jppi | morguefile.com

our chances of being alive together
statistically nonexistent;
still we have made it, alive in a time
when rationalists in square hats
and hatless Jehovah’s Witnesses
agree that it is almost over,
alive with our lively children
who – but for endless if’s –
might have missed out on being alive
together with marvels and follies
and longings and lies and wishes
and error and humor and mercy
and journeys and voices and faces
and colors and summers and mornings
and knowledge and tears and chance.

 –  Lisel Mueller

LoonSong, Once Again

“Magical!”  It’s what the participants said last fall about the first ever LoonSong Writers’ Retreat set in the stunning wilderness of northern Minnesota.

“The best writing retreat I’ve ever been on!”

“Intimate and yet expansive.”

“My soul sings.”

And it’s going to happen once again, September 7th through the 11th,  2017.  Faculty—and oh, what a faculty!—and participants will gather on the shores of pristine Elbow Lake, so far north in Minnesota as to almost be in Canada, for stimulating lectures and panel discussions, writing prompts and workshops, readings and one-one-one agent, editor and marketing consultations.

Last year the retreat filled early.  This year more than half the spots were gobbled up in the first hours registration was open.  But there are still places.  If you are a children’s or young-adult writer at any stage of your career, just-beginning or been-going-for-a-long-time-and-in-need-of-rejuvenation, this retreat is for you.

We writers work in such deep isolation, we need one another.  Here’s your opportunity to learn, to refresh, to make connections, to get fired up again.

The 2017 faculty?  M.T. Anderson, Gary Schmidt, Eric Rohmann, Candace Fleming.  Can you think of a more stellar cast?  Faye Bender from The Book Group will be there as agent. Jordan Brown, Executive Editor with Walden Pond Press and Balzer+Bray at HarperCollins Children’s Books will be our editor. Vicki and Steve Palmquist of Winding Oak will offer advice as marketing consultants.  And more.

Elbow Lake Lodge Credit: Loonsong.org

Elbow Lake Lodge where we meet is rustic, comfortable, beautiful.  The food, served by the Ojibway Tribe, is outstanding.  Besides time to write, to share, to listen there will be opportunity for kayaking, paddle boat rides, bonfires.  You can even swim if you are the hearty sort!

You can fly either into Duluth or into Minneapolis/St. Paul and there are multiple ways—including a shuttle provided by LoonSong—to reach the resort from there.

This retreat is the dream child of Debby Dahl Edwardson, graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, author of many highly regard books and finalist for the National Book Award.  Growing up, Debby spent her summers on Elbow Lake, and the place inspires her still.  She has always wanted to bring other writers here to share the inspiration, and after a lot of dreaming—and a lot of work—LoonSong is it.

LoonSong is sponsored by Vermont College of Fine Arts, and if you’re interested, you’ll have an opportunity to learn about VCFA’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults, the first program of its kind and the most highly regarded in the country.

But LoonSong isn’t just an introduction to another program.  It is its own place, its own opportunity, its own magic.  Check us out.  You’ll love every minute, and you’ll return home filled to the brim!

Credit: Edwardson | Loonsong.org

All the information you need is available at www.loonsong.org.

I’ll be there, too.  I hope to see you!

The Flame Within Us

Credit: JulesInKY | morguefile.com

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

Albert Schweitzer


It’s the time of year to think about beginnings.  And endings.

We on this globe—at least those who live some distance from the unchanging belt around the middle—live in a world of constant beginnings and endings.  The snow blesses then gives way to flowers.  The leaves unfurl then tumble into dust.  The sun rises then withdraws its bounty.

Credit: Koan | morguefile.com

The essence of our Earth is change, a world constantly remaking itself in earthquake and volcano, in fire and flood, in life evolved and life eradicated.  Even the seeming constant stars die, and planets are born in their fiery deaths.  In the midst of this birthing and dying of everything we know, you and I enter, breathe for a brief patch, and are gone.

And while we are breathing we keep starting over.  And over.  And over.

There was a time when I thought my life was meant to be a straight line toward some distinct and thoroughly desirable goal.  What goal I didn’t know, but I was certain I would arrive there.  Otherwise, what was the point?

Today I look back across nearly eight decades and find a different truth.    My life has been—still is—crammed with discovery, with dreams, with joy more sweet than anything I’d ever been told I deserved.  It has also been littered with missteps, mischance, misperceptions, misunderstandings, mischoices.  Perhaps that dichotomy shapes every life, but certainly it shapes of mine.

To my own credit I can say that I have learned along the way.  Not everything.  Perhaps not even enough.  But the learning goes on, even in age.

Now, already deep into a century I found unimaginable when I was a child, I stand at the threshold of another New Year starting over once more.  Not just nodding to an artificially declared holiday but truly starting over.  So much in my life is new, is being done over, tried again.

New work.  Work I have never dared attempt before.  Hard work, even harrowing sometimes, but good, so good.  Will it find a place in the world out there?  I have no way of knowing, but it calls and I tiptoe after.

New understanding.  So much I thought I knew seems unimportant from the vantage point of age.  So much I understood has been proven wrong.  Or if it isn’t wrong, it has moved on to become something I can no longer fathom.  What to do in the face of my ignorance?  The only answer seems to be declare my incompetence and open myself to discovery.

New peace.  Not the kind of peace from which the chaos of the world doesn’t matter, but a struggling peace, one that seeks openness before the intractable, quiet in the midst of noise, caring against a world of indifference.

And love.  A new love.  Sweetest of all, this new love.

What have I learned as I start over once more after so many other startings?  One thing that I can name.

I eschew regret.

My mistakes have formed me as deeply—perhaps even more deeply—than my gifts.  And here I come carrying it all, mistakes and gifts together, into another day.  Another precious day.

What can I possibly do but rejoice?

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