Category: Writing life (page 1 of 7)

Flowing Waters

Spring has arrived in my corner of the world.  Blossoms popping out of the ground, buds swelling on the trees and ditches full of running water.

Don’t know if it’s the weather, but the creative juices are flowing afresh for me too.  I’ve an idea for a spin-off from my latest book (to be released in early summer).

This is that lovely honeymoon stage of the writing process.  The stage where I believe the book will be easy to write, the story will come together like magic and the finished product will be brilliant.

This is also where I employ my favourite plotting method.  The one where I lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling, letting words and pictures and ideas float freely through my mind.  Kind of like looking at clouds when I was a kid. No barriers to the imagination. The part before the hard work.

All the school children in my district are on spring break.  I feel a bit like I’ve been let out of school too.

Happy Spring, everyone.

Change the World?

 Placido Domingo is said to have given this advice to a young musician.

  • Give the audience your all, even your mistakes.  You are human.
  • Put on a smile.  It is a gift.
  • Never stop trying to change the world, no matter what your age.

It is that last point that intrigued me.  As writers we rarely meet our audience face-to-face so they won’t know if we smile.  Writing allows time for re-writes, proofing and corrections, so we have a chance to correct out mistakes before they are in the readers’ hands. 

Change the world?  That is what the arts are all about.  No matter if we write or sing or paint or sculpt, the artist’s job is to change or clarify the way people view the world.  We evoke emotion that inspires action.   One has only to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television to realize our world is beset by problems that are overwhelming to the individual.  It would be easy to take refuge in cynicism or ignorance. Yet, collectively, we can make a difference.  The artists among us have a responsibility to reach that place within humanity to urges us to build a better world.

Remember “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.  Published in 1962 it inspired the environmental movement that began in earnest two decades later and resulted in the ban on DDT.

Consider the “Singing Revolution” where hundreds of thousands of Estonians gathered to sing forbidden patriotic songs as a protest against occupation by the Soviet Union. Estonia is now a free nation.

Aesop used story to illustrate and motivate in his famous fables.  Who doesn’t know the tale of the tortoise and the hare, with it’s moral of perseverance over flash and dash. Written over 2500 years ago, the lessons still resonate.

Setting a romance novel alongside these great works may seem presumptuous, but romance is read by millions of women.  In the past few months we’ve all seen the power of women united in a single cause.  The romance genre has been routinely dismissed by academia, but now various universities are offering courses on it.  That’s the power of good story-telling; the power of art.

I’m a fan of Mr. Domingo.  His advice resonates with me.  I do try to give my best in all circumstances.  You can’t see it, but I’m a smiling sort of person. Change the world?  That’s a big task.  Still, my stories celebrate love. They illumine positive relationships between men and women and children.  They are hopeful. They are uplifting.  They portray a world of decency and faith and good neighbours. That’s how I try to change the world.



The Most Important Element

“The most important element is passion.”

Those are the first words I heard when I turned on the radio this morning.  The announcer was speaking of music, but the same applies to all walks of life, whether it be career, sports, relationships or hobbies.  I’m watching The Brier (the national championship for men’s curling in Canada).  One of my favourite teams has had a poor year, losing many matches.  But they’ve got their old form back and are top of the standings now.  The difference?  Passion.  Even the broadcasters remark that the team is demonstrating the intensity that won them past championships.  They are exciting to watch.


Last week the clutter in my office reached the tipping point – literally. The pile on the desk tipped over into the pile on the chair which tipped into the pile on the floor.  I was trapped.  Unless I did some clearing out, I couldn’t get from the desk to the door.  It took a whole day and some tears as I sent old notes, cards and manuscripts to the recycle bin, but now when I walk to my desk, I’m energized by the clean surfaces and neatly stacked supplies. 

As part of the clear out, I examined old workshop notes. That brought a few tears too.  I remembered my naïve self heading off to those classes convinced I would learn the “magic” element that would turn me into a prolific, best-selling author. I’d come home from each session invigorated, eager, feeling on the cusp of something wonderful.

Time passed. I’m not a best-seller.  Realism has overtaken passion. The manuscripts are more polished, better structured.  The characters are more rounded. The prose is clear and fluent.  So, I’ve learned much in my years of writing, but I’ve also lost some of the passion.

How to get it back?  

Last week I talked about learning something new. That’s a good step. 

Reading a good book is another. My tablet is full of new e-books, my bedside table has a stack of TBR titles, but so much of that reading feels like work. I’m studying my craft.  For a change of pace I returned to an old favourite.  Joy coloured my reading time. I remembered that, as an author, I wanted to give that kind of joy to my readers.  The passion is stirring.

Make new friends. There is nothing so wonderful as an old friend, but a new friend can stir up  the soul. It’s kind of like going out on a blind date. So much to discover.  Will she become a soul-mate or turn out to be a dud?  I don’t know, but the journey promises excitement.  I’ve joined the Pioneer Hearts group on facebook, where I’m meeting new people who share my passion for history.  I’m excited to chat with them.

In her iconic book on writing, bird by bird, Anne Lamott talks about the writing frame of mind. She points out that starting and abandoning numerous projects indicates a lack of passion for them.  She recommends that writers look to their core values and write from that place.  You probably aren’t even aware of your core values, they feel like universal truths that no one has ever not known.  But it is the job of the writer to explore those truths, to lay them out for the world to see, to dissect them and put them back together again.  A writer’s passion lies in telling her truth.

I’ve made a start on all of the above. Now, I’m going to do some of the exercises from those old workshops.  After all, in my office clean up I unearthed coloured pencils, index cards and a variety of charts. I’m already smiling in anticipation. The exercises won’t create passion in the work, but they may put me in the frame of mind where passion happens.

Anyone else like to share some tips on how to keep the passion alive in your writing when you feel jaded with the whole thing? Please share.

Benefits of Learning New Things


In the last issue or RWR® Holly Jacobs reported on her return to school and taking ceramics. She liked it.  It improved her writing. It improved her life. Her story is only one of many describing the benefits of life-long learning.

Google “try new things” and you’ll get a raft of articles, some scientific, some opinion, some psychological and some medical.  From all of them, you’ll get encouragement to try something new.  Here’s a brief summary.

From a “happiness” perspective.

  • You grow as a person
  • You rejuvenate yourself.
  • You’ll become more adept at every day skills, saving time and reducing stress.
  • If you’re not learning something new you stagnate.
  • Learning something new improves your self-esteem.
  • You meet new people. As old friends drop away through life changes, it is essential to cultivate new friendships.
  • You become a more interesting person
  • You aren’t bored

From a scientific point of view.

  • Learning new things changes the white matter in your brain, improving performance.
  • The more you learn, the easier it becomes. By stimulating neurons in the brain, more neural pathways are formed and messages from one part of the brain to the other travel more quickly.
  • You make connections between different skill and knowledge areas. In other words, the more you learn, the more you learn. The more you exercise your brain, the better it works.
  • You adapt better to change. In our world where change is happening at an unprecedented rate, the ability to adapt is priceless.
  • You may decrease your chances of developing dementia, or, at the very least, slowing its progress.

Let’s look at these benefits as they apply to writers.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron explores a number of ways writers can become more creative, productive, and happy. Among her chapters are:

  • Recovering a sense of Identity.

Surely learning new things plays into that sense of identity. You are not the person you where at 15 or 25 or even 55. You are a life-long learner, an interesting person.

  • Recovering a Sense of Power.    

Having more skills and information at your disposal must confer a sense of power.

  • Recovering a sense of Possibility.

Once you’ve mastered one new skill you are open to the possibility of learning another, and another. Your mind is open to new experiences, your senses are tuned to notice the world around you. With a sense of possibility, your writerly antennae are aquiver.

  • Recovering a Sense of Abundance.

With an ever expanding circle of friends, days filled with satisfaction of learning and striving, your creative well is filled—abundance.

  • Recovering a Sense of Connection.

Taking a class, joining a new group, reading outside your comfort level. All of these things connect you to the ever-changing world around you.

  • Recovering a Sense of Autonomy.

Fear is an unwelcome companion to many writers. It sits there on your shoulder whispering that “you’re not good enough. You can’t do this. You will fail.” By learning new skills, you whack Fear in the solar plexus. You have an A+ on your paper, or your musical composition or your woodworking project. Proof positive that you can. You are free to pursue your writing career without constantly worrying that you can’t.

I did a very small new thing this week. I downloaded the Libby app to my tablet in order to borrow electronic books from my local library. It worked! A miracle considering how many computer glitches I’ve encountered in the past month.

As a result, I feel empowered, connected, and my self-esteem has risen. Such an amazing lift to my spirits from a very small accomplishment.

Have a happy week. Go learn a new thing.



Twists and Knots in Yarn

On Valentine’s Day is seems appropriate to talk about expressions of love–handmade love. As witnessed by the response to last week’s blog, quilters love their craft .  This week, let’s hear from the knitters and crocheters.

I’m more adept with needles and yarn than I am with needle and thread.  As usual the impetus for my projects is a baby in the family.  This little blanket is not much to look at, although I tried to dress it up with a picot border, but it is made of a yarn that babies love.  It is very, very soft and the little ones always reach for it when they want to snuggle down.

This was a more ambitious project and one of my favourites. I loved the soft texture of the yarn and warm cream colour.  I did not love sewing it all together!  Each square is made up of four little squares. I had eighty short seams, then twenty long seams to do, then a border.  By the time I finished I was vowing never to tackle that project again.


For the next project I used a technique where each little square is attached to the next little square as you go along! There is a term for this but I can’t remember what it is.  I’ve tried Google, but they only help when you can tell them what you’re looking for. J  Anyone here remember the name of this technique?

And while I’m on the subject of baby projects, here are a couple of crocheted blankets I made to welcome newborns to the family. The pattern is all printed on a grid so I had to get a magnifying light to read it.  Very easy to lose count of the stitches.  The one with the pig I did twice as the first effort was lost in a house fire.  I thought, if I could replace at least one of the items destroyed it might help to ease the family’s pain.


Not all my projects are for babies. Here is an afghan I started to use up the leftovers in my stash.  My friend persuaded me to put it in the fair, where it won a “special mention.”  The judges loved the colours but noticed that I’d run out of yarn on one stripe and had to substitute another.  Just like with quilting, I like to use up my left over bits.

Anyone else want to share? I’d love to see pictures of your favourite projects.

Do you like to read about household arts in your favourite books? I enjoy weaving a bit about my hobbies into my books.  In “The Man for Her,” the heroine is adept with needle and thread.

And please, if you know the name of that technique for knitting one square onto another, please tell me.

Happy Valentine’s to all my readers.



Are you a quilter?  My friend is a first-class practitioner of the art.  Here is one of her machine-stitched prize-winners at our Fall Fair. See the blue ribbon in the lower left corner?

In my heart, I’m a quilter, but my skill level sets me as rank amateur.  Still, I keep trying.  I love quilts for special occasions.  Here are a couple I made for new babies in my family.  I get along all right in putting the pieces together and in doing the stitching – I prefer hand stitching to machine stitching, but I really have trouble finishing the edges.  I’ve tried adding a border, turning the bottom up over the top and turning the top down over the bottom.  All come out as less than picture perfect.

The examples on this page are made of new material and designed as artwork, that’s the modern way.  But what really appeals to me about quilting is the old-fashioned notion of using up scraps of worn-out items to create something new and useful and beautiful.  That was the impetus behind the pioneer woman’s quilt-making.  That and the quilting bee, I would imagine.  An opportunity to spend an afternoon with other women, catching up on the neighbourhood news, exchanging recipes, and having a cup of tea together would seem like a vacation to our hard-working foremothers.  And at the end of the day they had several finished quilts and a perfect excuse for taking the day off from their other household chores.

I recently cleared out several bags of fabric scraps that are never going to make it into a quilt of mine, but I’ve kept enough that if I’m ever struck with a burning desire to frustrate myself again, I’ve got bits of red velvet for the heart of a log cabin design.

One of my favourite examples of quilting is a wall hanging my mother made years ago.  She used bits of fabric from my old clothes.  I can look at that hanging and see the blue velvet of a flower-girl dress I wore when I was five, or the embroidered white organdy of my graduation dress, or the red velvet she remade many times as a Christmas dress for her daughter.  I also see one of her favourite blouses and something in mustard yellow that I hope neither of us ever wore as a garment.  To me, this hanging represents the spirit of the quilt; practical, beautiful, and glowing with love.

But, our foremothers were creative as well as practical.  They could have just cut out squares and sewn them together to achieve the practical and useful portion of the equation.  However, they looked around them, and just like an artist in paint, transferred the everyday of their lives into patterns that reflected the country they inhabited.  “Duck’s Foot in the Mud,” must have come from a woman living near a slough, where she saw the tracks of a waddling duck on a muddy bank.  Or how about “flying geese?”  I live on a migration path for Canada Geese and their twice-yearly honking and long vee formations always stir my soul.  Of course that shape belongs in a quilt.

For years I had a hand-made “grandmother’s flower garden” quilt on my bed.  It looked a lot like this one, with the yellow centres and single row of matching petals against a white background. Now it is worn threadbare, the colours faded, but the quilting stitches are still intact.  I keep it in a memory corner.  Maybe one day part of it will end up in a memoir hanging of my own.

And speaking of memories.  I had an idea for a project for the Fall Fair this year.  I took a bunch of my old prize ribbons (I win prizes for my roses, not my quilts) and wove them together to make this colourful hanging, the little one on the right with the “well done” ribbon.  No prize—my imagination continues to outrun my skill—but lots of fun and a great conversation piece.


What about you?  Do you quilt?  Do you have a favourite example?  Hand-stitch or machine?  Purpose bought fabric or scraps  from the rag-bag?  Share your thoughts in the comments section and win a free e-copy of The Man for Her, first book in my Prospect Series.  Limited to first five commenters only.

Life in a Small Cabin


In my part of the world it has been raining for days and days and days. Hard rain, the kind that dances on the pavement, makes big puddles, and turns the ground sodden.  The skies are unrelenting grey, the cloud cover so low I can’t see a 100 yards from my house.  (I normally have a panoramic view.)  We keep the lights on all day to dispel the gloom.  I’m getting cabin fever.

How easily that phrase comes to mind – and how ridiculous! In my “cabin,” I have many rooms.  I have the distraction of radio, television, internet, books and the telephone.  I have electricity, that allows me to keep the lights on.  I have natural gas that keeps the fireplace burning with no effort on my part.  I have running water – no need to visit an outhouse.  And I have a vehicle that allows me to travel in comfort and connect with others. If I think I suffer from “cabin fever,” what did our forebears suffer during long winters when deep snow cut them off from fellow human beings?

From Wikipedia: “Since prairie madness [cabin fever] does not refer to a clinical term, there is no specific set of symptoms of the affliction. However, the descriptions of prairie madness in historical writing, personal accounts, and Western literature elucidate what some of the effects of the disease were.

The symptoms of prairie madness (cabin fever) were similar to those of depression. The women affected by prairie madness were said to show symptoms such as crying, slovenly dress, and withdrawal from social interactions. Men also showed signs of depression, which sometimes manifested in violence. Prairie madness was not unique from other types of depression, but the harsh conditions on the prairie triggered this depression, and it was difficult to overcome without getting off of the prairie.”

The short story, “The Lamp at Noon,” by Sinclair Ross gives an indication of the overwhelming sense of helplessness of a woman on the prairie during the dustbowl. The isolation, fear, and daily life in harsh circumstances overwhelm her.  Would a friend have helped?  Even a casual visitor from the outside world?  Ellen is imprisoned by hardship, dust, poverty and loneliness-a graphic description of cabin fever. “One’s a Heifer,” by the same author follows a similar theme.

The photo at the top of this blog is of a replica log cabin close to my home.  The collage at the left is of the interior. The whole building is roughly 12×24 ft.  It is one room with the bed, the baby crib, the cookstove and the table all squished in together.  Note the “distractions” for the woman of the house–the cookstove, the wash tubs, the sewing machine, the baby crib, the baking cupboard, the hand-braided rug, the handmade quilt, the spinning wheel, the water bucket–“women’s work is never done.”  Imagine a whole family, mother, father, baby and likely other children, living in these tight quarters.

In my stories, my heroines have space to call their own.  My heroes embrace the rugged landscape.  Children run and play, unfettered by fences or timetables.  Note, I write fiction.


So, now that I’ve considered the true source of the term “cabin fever” I’ll stop my grousing, turn on my full-spectrum lamp, and enjoy my photo-album of sun-filled days.

What about you? Does the weather get you down?  What are your coping mechanisms?



Resolution – Meh!


It’s the new year and media abound with lists of resolutions

  • 8 ways to a happier marriage,
  • 10 tips to lose those holiday pounds,
  • 6 foods for better health,
  • 101 reasons to exercise.

This blog will not give you any suggestions for resolutions.  If you’re like me, you are a work in progress, always seeking to enhance your lifestyle, to improve your mind, to work smarter, and to cultivate relationships.  Those are not one-off resolutions to be written down in January and checked off in February. They are part of daily life.

What I am doing to mark the  new year, is clearing my closets. Over the years, I have accumulated “stuff,” and lots of it.  There are rods full of old clothes, that I kept because they might be good for costuming, or I could wear  again if I lost that ten pounds. (See 10 tips to lose those holiday pounds.)  Those closet hogs are going to the thrift store.  If  those extra pounds ever disappear I want new clothes, not old ones.

Dated or broken electronics.  We are never going to need that old VCR and the idea of repairing a broken tv is just a pipe dream.  Off to the recycling depot they go.

Harder, are the old Christmas decorations.  They have sentimental value, even if they no longer go on the tree.  Apparently, they have monetary value as well.  I saw a set of my old tree balls in an antique store, priced at $30.00 for a box of nine. I’ve still got mine in the original box and I paid $3.99 on sale, according to the price sticker.  Anyway, I’m keeping the pretty cut ball ornaments, but those fabric ones the cat scratched up?  They can go.

Clearing book shelves is harder still.  Some books were gifts, with the donor’s name on the inside page.  If I get rid of the book, am I telling the donor she no longer matters to me?  However, I got new books for Christmas, just like I requested, so space must be freed up.  I’ll take some old treasures to the used book store so someone else can enjoy them.

The basement and attic, I’ll leave to the man of the house.  It’s mostly his stuff in there anyway and I don’t have to look at it, except for my canning shelves.  They seem to be full of jars, yet when the season hits, I’m always running out of jam jars.  Another run to the recycle depot in my future.  Just because a jar is shaped like a bear, does not mean I must keep it.  I never put jam in an old bear jar.

Fabric, odd balls of yarn, worn out linens, these are the hardest tasks for me.  The last time I gave away my stash of yarn, I needed it a week later.  Even tiny scraps of pretty fabric can go into a quilt.  I dread clearing out my sewing supplies.  But it must be done.  The drawers are full and I’m still buying new stuff. However,  I’ve instituted a rule about not adding more storage space. Everything I have must fit in the space already allocated.


All this clearing and tidying and sorting gives me fresh energy. I feel as though I’ve cleared the decks for new adventures. The energy carries over into my writing life as well.  I’m better at seeing “stuff” in a stodgy sentence and throwing out the unnecessary words.  A ms that has languished for years is bound for the recycle.  It occupies space on my computer and in my mind but does nothing to promote my career.  Time to let it go.

There is nothing magical about turning a page on the calendar, but our culture seems to think January 1 is the start of new things. So, I take the first weeks of January as an invitation (command?) to clear out the dead weight of the previous months.  Then I feel refreshed and ready to go.

What about you? How do you mark the beginning of the year?

Finishing Touches

One of the Christmas traditions on my list is a handmade tree ornament for each of the children in my clan who are under eighteen. I started the practice when I moved far away from my birth family.  Although I kept tabs on everyone, I was not up-to-date on the interests, needs and desires of the youngest generation.  Some said I should just forget about presents, but I like Christmas.  I like the excitement of wrapping a gift, of hiding it under the tree, of watching the smiles on Christmas morning when someone receives exactly what he wanted.  Besides, I worried I’d become nothing but a name in my extended family if I didn’t do something to maintain a presence with young relatives I rarely saw face-to-face.  So, as a compromise, I agreed not to spend much money and my siblings agreed I could send little remembrances. 

All went well for the first generation. There were eight of them.  A manageable number.  When each of them reached the age of eighteen, they had a collection of eighteen ornaments for their own tree.  (I assumed the kids would move out of the family home and set up on their own.)  At first, I didn’t know whether my idea was well received or not, but in later years I’ve heard from nieces and nephews that my gift to them had a special ceremony all of its own.  In one family, it was the only gift to be opened on Christmas Eve and then hung on the tree.  Another wrote to me years later, when she was a mother herself, about unpacking her collection of hand-made ornaments and explaining them to her children, and feeling loved. 

So, now I’m full of warm fuzzies, and could have said “my work is done,” but instead, I started in on the children of the children. Now there are thirteen ornaments to be made every year, often in a mad, last-minute scramble.

This year, I tried to get ahead of the game by completing the ornaments in October. I set them aside, feeling smug, with a note that they needed a few finishing touches, but I had lots of time.  NOT! 

When I went to package up the gifts, I realized there were many finishing touches still needed. Names to add, loops to attach, ribbons to affix.  I was, once again, behind the eight ball.

As a writer, there is a lesson for me here. That first draft, or even second draft, that I confidently put away saying it only needs a tweak here and there, is not ready for other eyes.  In this age of instant communication, it is wise to pause before hitting the publish button.  Novels, short stories, social media posts, even e-mails, can all benefit from fine tuning.  Where my ornaments needed ribbons and tags, my prose might need tightening, the plot might need clarification, the characters could do with some polish.

I’m happy to report, that my Christmas gifts, with loops and ribbons attached, are all in the mail, carrying love from me to little folk I may not have met but who hold a place in my heart.

What about you? Any Christmas traditions in your family you’d like to share? A favourite book? Movie you have to watch?

Artificial Intelligence

My brain seems to have gone onto Christmas mode and I have no idea whatever for today’s blog. So, I thought I’d try one of those “blog idea” generators. 

I got a bunch of titles like 5 Ways to —–, 10 Things You Should —–, and a bunch of verbs and nouns.  I also got some weird stick figures with various parts of speech attached to them.  None of this produced anything for a blog but it did make me think of the current discussion on artificial intelligence.  You know, that thing where machines are smarter than humans and make decisions for us.  e.g. Facebook’s algorithms decides which ads you should see.  Amazon’s brain decides which books you should buy.

So long as artificial intelligence is confined to advertising blurbs, I guess it won’t hurt me, but if AI starts running political parties, or setting government policy, or determining patient treatment in medical situations, we’re in trouble. Some would argue that that is already happening.  Since I just spent a fruitless hour trying to place an order on-line, I can attest to the fact that computer programs don’t always work.  I would be afraid of a situation where there was no human to over-ride the machine’s decisions.

Have a look at this report aired on the CBC Monday night.

Robert McCheseney is a leading author on the subject of economic, democracy and technology. He suggests that deep artificial intelligence can pose a serious risk to society and even the future of humankind. e.g. AI, which is built and programmed by humans, can become autonomous and put their “prime directive” above all other considerations.  Thus humans could lose control of  autonomous weapons, programmed to kill.  The weapon then kills indiscriminately because there is no check on its operation.

Self-driving cars already exhibit a form of artificial intelligence, but if the self-driving car is told to drive on the left hand side of the road in North America, mayhem will ensue. I’d want the human driver of that automobile to have an over-ride button.

And that brings me back to the question at the top of this blog, “what will I write about today?”

Mr. McChesney tells us that a robot, or deep artificial intelligence is unlikely to adopt human emotions like love or hate or jealousy or forgiveness. So, I’ll keep writing stories about humans who suffer the joy and despair of love. Characters who struggle to find meaning in hardship, and sacrifice for the good of others;  people who’s souls respond to beautiful music or poetry; children who delight in the first snowfall and the wonder of Christmas.

Maybe, one day, a computer will write better plays than Shakespeare, or greater symphonies than Beethoven, or paint masterpieces that surpass Rembrandt. Until that time, I plan to revel in my humanity.  I’ll celebrate other humans and I’ll give thanks for the Child born in Bethlehem, come to save us all.

Older posts

© 2018 Alice Valdal

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑