Month: Feb 2018

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.

 

 

Opening Lines

Heading into my final round of editing this week. I’m very excited and scared to death at the same time.  This book, the third in the Prospect series, has been a long time in the incubator.  Now that it’s ready for publication, I want to get it “right.”

I’ve already made several passes through the ms on the computer, now I’ve printed it out for a final read. My twentieth century brain “sees” things on paper that it misses on a screen.

Aside from the usual eye out for typos and inconsistencies, like changing hair colour or a week with two Mondays, I want the story to engage the reader right from the start. I’ve been studying opening lines in my favourite books, reading advice columns and watching “flog a pro,” on Writer Unboxed.  Ray Rhamey  writes a regular feature on that blog where he quotes the opening paragraph or two of a best seller and asks readers if they’d turn the page.  It’s a fun game, but I’m often at odds with him.  Rhamey wants lots of tension and action in the opening lines.  I understand that.  It’s a great hook.  Yet, when I check out my favourite stories, they often begin slowly, setting the scene, hinting at a problem but not diving straight in on the first page.  Many books on my keeper shelf begin with dialogue, which may seem innocuous but speaks to character and motivation.

Advice for writers always emphasises the importance of the opening line. It should ask a story question, hint at the protagonist’s character, introduce the setting and exhibit the author’s “voice.”  All in ten words or less.

I think lots of writer advice books are geared to high-concept stories – thrillers, action novels, suspense; the type of book, that when turned into a movie, opens with a gun fight or a car chase.

Romantic movies usually start more gently. “You’ve Got Mail,” begins with a long sequence of shots setting the location in Seattle.  “Casablanca” starts with a map and ominous music while a voice over sets the scene.  In a book, that would be omniscient author. “Titanic” is a sepia scene of passengers waving from the deck of a cruise ship.  There are other examples, but you get the idea – no gun fights.

My book starts with setting, gold rush town in 1888. The heroine is excited about a new business venture.  She has risked her inheritance.  She has a sister.

There’s more, of course, but if we were to follow Ray Rhamey’s model, that is all you would get before he asked the question “would you turn the page?”

Over to you, dear readers. How do you like your opening lines in a romance?  Would you read the next line after this opening?

On a hot sunny morning Louisa Graham stood on the boardwalk of Prospect’s main street and pointed with pride to the brand new sign over the photography studio.  “What do you think?” She craved her sister’s approval.

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.

 

Quilting

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.

© 2018 Alice Valdal

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑