To Build a Castle: A Cinderella Pumpkin Patch Party and the Good Idea that Should Have Stayed an Idea

cinderellapumpkinpatchbirthdayBefore you go thinking I’m the neighbor with the pumpkins still sitting on her porch come December, let me assure you that in the end this autumn story relates to the season at hand.

My October baby turned five this fall just before the leaves started to get their color. And so, we scooted ourselves over to the pumpkin patch, hiked through a mini forest of evergreen and found a thing of fairy tales, a pumpkin carriage. Continue reading

Contemplation, Creativity, and Companions by the Sea

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The first time I opened Gift from the Sea, I was pedaling barefoot on the exercise bike in the basement. It’s the story of this stage of my life, I’m circling my legs around in full stride only to realize I’m a hamster in a wheel. I stopped pedaling as Anne Morrow Lindbergh described my frenzied days in pointed poetic lines written half a century earlier. Continue reading

Writing Small While the Kids Are Small {A 2013 Retrospective}

writingsmall It had been three and a half years since I’d had a baby. I’d forgotten how my words would forget me, at least the written kind. They seemed to go down the drain with the dishwater or get lodged in the cushions of the couch where I sat for hours a day nursing the new addition.

One month I was full-throttle writing and interacting, posting daily in the Take Heart series, and the next month I barely existed on the Internet. In real life, I toggled between the cradling and fixing lunch and playing dollhouse and listening to the first grader read, three kids on three different schedules with lots of good things happening but virtually no time for documenting it.

Maybe I’d have a phrase or idea sweep across my mind, but the computer often seemed out of reach. It has happened to writers with much more on their resumés than I have on mine. When I read the preface to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, I was puzzled to find that although she’d published seven novels, Winifred Watson had left off writing when Continue reading

Media Manifesto {A Less Digital Life…Day 10}

familyBibles

The square on my calendar seemed familiar, as if I had some kind of big appointment slated for the day. September 26. But nothing showed under the date.

I got right to cleaning my office that morning, cramming for company the next day. And in a stack, more like a pile, of magazines and lists and school papers, I stumbled upon a paper-clipped collection of stories that I had read at a funeral two years earlier. Continue reading

A Creative Compost {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 18}

More than half of the trees have lost their leaves. My green pepper plants have shriveled up and fallen over. The newest tomatoes have suffered frost bite. The veggies have grown through drought and flood in this hearty stew of compost and peat and vermiculite, but now it’s time to clear out the garden and put away the shovels and shears.

But even as the plants give way to the season, there is potential in the slow and still. The garden extras, the piles of crunchy leaves, the scraps from the kitchen, if I allow them the space, they’ll come together and create a whole new substance.

While your notebook is tucked in a drawer and you are resting from your work, something is happening in that stillness. When you pick up someone else’s book, when you sit face to face with the good people in your life, when you venture out of your writing world into fresh contexts, borrowed thoughts mingle with the ones already written.

Onto the heap of our drafted ideas, we throw new clippings and scraps. Sometimes inspiration will come from talking directly about your idea (though I wouldn’t do too much of that or you may lose some of your steam!), but most often it will come in surprising forms, the cast offs from listening to a stirring sermon or someone’s take on a current events issue or a family struggle.

All these apple peels, blades of grass, egg shells, used tea leaves, pine needles, these textures and flavors of all sorts come together and sit a while. Then ideas turn over one another and heat up like compost in the bin.

Maybe your essay or blog post or short story feels stuck. You shove it in the drawer and wonder if it should stay. But bring yourself into a new context and see what happens.

Maybe you’ll be like the man in the 1960s who left a failure of a project at work over the weekend. He turned out the light and locked the lab door on this new formula for glue, one so weak that the pages barely stuck together.

But in the choir loft on Sunday, amid the reverb of soprano, alto, tenor and bass, he looked down at the hymnal with his makeshift bookmarks, torn pieces of paper falling all around like confetti. He scrambled that morning to reopen the page for the choir number, but he’d never have to do that again.

Weak glue? Paper that barely sticks? A hymnal sprawled open letting plain paper fly? All these problems came together to give him the perfect idea for a hymnal marker, one that would stick but wouldn’t tear the page when removed.

In this moment of synergy, in this completely different context, a place of rejuvenation, the man’s subconscious did the work for him and the idea for the Post-It Note was born.

We refine our writing when we enter new contexts, engage in conversation, or soak in the words of a treasured author, even with our own story put away out of sight.

I had written a draft for my Gift from the Sea series detailing my night swim in the luminescent waters off of the islands of Thailand when I set my own writing aside to do some reading. As I came across the words of a fellow blogger through a link-up, I read some punch in the chest quotes from Surprised by Joy, a book I’d been wanting to read for quite awhile. I grinned when I came upon the shelf at the bookstore. The spine of Lewis’ memoir stretched tall, just four books down from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s classic written in the same year, these two works sitting together in a picture of synergy. Joy sneaks up on us, they both said in their own way. And my story agreed.

On the small scale of a blog post, the ideas compost in a matter of hours or days. When it comes to larger stories in creative non-fiction and novel writing, we can expect a much longer process. I mulled over the theme of Dress of Many Colors for more than five years before I felt the story was ready for dedicated writing. And even now as I’ve taken a break from it, the ideas continue to react to my everyday experience.

Whatever the nature of our work, when we venture out of its bounds, we let ideas commingle, we stir them up and let them sit again. We put the happy process on repeat and soon the pile turns dark and earthy, each ingredient becoming part of the whole until we can’t tell one idea from another, all of them blending into one rich compost, the boost our story needs to flourish.

{Are you getting out enough? Are you listening enough in conversation? Are you reading enough? How have you experienced the synergy of ideas in a current or past project?}

This is Day 18 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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