Sunday, October 26, 2014

mother nature packs up her palette

Do you dread winter's arrival? Then you probably wish today would last forever.

I stepped outside this morning just as the sun came up expecting to feel a chill in the air and a gusty wind in my face. Instead, the day dawned quiet and bright.

Not a cloud in the sky. Not a breeze.

Not a dog barking in the distance or a plane rumbling overhead. It was silent and still outside. Even the birds--usually so chatty in the morning--seemed to respect Mother Nature's need for a little peace and quiet. This, ahead of a cold front that is working its way in our direction, bringing with it the gusty winds and falling temperatures that will get us thinking ahead to winter.

With that in mind, here is a short passage from "The Bandaged Place" that describes the change of seasons:
"November takes me by surprise. I should have seen it coming. Like incense over the altar, wood smoke hangs heavy in the air.

There are pumpkins on every porch—Smiley, Goofy, Grumpy, Spooky—so that Middleburg takes on a personality of its own. This is one of those powder puff mornings when the rising sun causes everything to blush. The air is so still that the chimney smoke reaches straight up into the soft pink haze that clings to the treetops. Instead of dew, we awaken to the glitter of frost on the grass, to ice on the windshield, to breath that crystallizes in mid-air. I can tell that snow is on the way. I know it as surely as I know the smell of honeysuckle in May, of fresh cut grass in July, and burning leaves in October.

Summer has surrendered to autumn. Sightseers choke the mountain roads by day and jam the restaurants and bars at night. But these are fair-weather fans. They may extol the glories of blazing foliage and crisp, clean air but they’ll be sure to head home before snow flies, before Mother Nature packs up her palette and heads south leaving behind the soft soothing shades of oatmeal and brown sugar, of seashells and sand, of bone.
Before the sun pales and the sky turns to lead. Before the wind shifts and whistles unchecked through the bare branches, tossing fallen leaves around like the snow that is sure to follow."
Try to enjoy the change of seasons.
"I prefer winter and fall,
when you feel the bone structure of the landscape.
Something waits beneath it.
The whole story doesn't show."
~Andrew Wyeth~
I'm with Andrew. What about you?






Sunday, October 19, 2014

are you willing to take the risk?

The decision to depart from my chosen path in life and to start all over again as a wannabe writer both broke my heart and healed it.
It broke my heart because my life was dedicated to the practice of medicine. Leaving medicine felt like a desertion. A defection. My patients panicked. What would they do now, they wonderedMy colleagues steeled themselves to take on the extra work load. 
It wasn’t as though I simply got fed up with things, turned in my stethoscope and tongue blades, and slammed the door on my way out of the office. I agonized over the decision for three years...from the first rumblings of  discontent, to fierce vacillation, to growing conviction, to the ultimate proclamation, the day I cleared off my desk and said goodbye. I wasn’t impulsive about it at all.
No, what finally got to me was the subversion of the American health care system by self-proclaimed intermediaries who had neither knowledge of nor concern for patient care...
...that and the perpetually long hours that seemed to get longer as I got older. The fact that I’d been running behind schedule all day, every day for thirty years of my life with no chance I’d ever catch up. An oppositional defiant EMR system. A baffling coding and reimbursement system. The ever present threat of litigation. A pharmaceutical industry that invests as heavily in marketing as it does in research. A health insurance industry whose number one priority is corporate profit…not compassionate care. Aggravations that follow physicians through life like a swarm of angry bees.
It wasn't easy to step away, but I had to do it. I had to decide which path to take. One was familiar but I didn't like where it was taking me. The other one--the healing path--led off into the unknown.
 But, I had a book in my head that insisted on coming out. Several, in fact. So, writing became my compass. Uphill or down, through sunlight or shadow, I have chosen my path.
It's a good thing we get plenty of practice with life changing decisions over the years because, over time, we acquire a knack for discernment. To marry or not. To have a child or not. To start chemo or not. Will we follow our head or our heart? Will the way lead us to love? To happiness? To fulfillment? Or will it bring us heartbreak? Disappointment? Defeat?
Are you facing a major decision? Will it affect your future? Are you willing to take the risk?
Frost warnings are up tonight. Can winter be far behind?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

revising vs polishing

The word "revision" is known to strike fear and loathing into the writer's heart. It sometimes means cutting out a beautifully written scene for no better reason than that it simply isn't necessary. Unless it advances the story or increases the conflict, we're told to get rid of it. That, of course, affects our word count so we have to replace it with something better.

But, what if we've already done the best we can. Then what? It can be downright frustrating.

Revision can be a slow, painful process.


I'm in the process of revising a non-fiction manuscript right now. In my first draft I said pretty much everything I wanted to say on the subject. The problem is that it isn't very well organized. There isn't a clear thread that connects the dots. So, a lot of what I'm doing involves rearranging paragraphs, even switching around entire chapters. I've been hard at work on it for weeks.

I keep reminding myself that once I finish this round of revisions, the fun part begins: polishing it!

There's a  big difference between revising and polishing a manuscript. By polishing I don't mean simply correcting grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I mean looking at it with an open mind--open to clearer images and crisper dialogue, to language and rhythm. It means looking for loftier ways to engage the reader, touch his heart, and kindle his emotions. It's the part of the process that is fun for me, one last fling with creativity and invention...

Featured Friday: Steaming Into Print last chance to get it right.

Which do you enjoy more: writing the first draft, revising it, or polishing it?
"Writing without revising
is the literary equivalent
of waltzing gaily out of the house
in your underwear."
~Patricia Fuller~
Mother nature is having a blast this year. Autumn has been spectacular. I wonder when she'll pack up her palette and paints and head south for the winter.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

how to unravel a knot one word at a time

"Just put one foot in front of the other," I tell myself. "Put one word after the other. Just write."

That's what it has been like for me lately, hobbling along but not making much progress on my WIP--a non-fiction book about faith. It's not a case of writer's block exactly. I know what I want to say. I'm just having trouble expressing what's in my heart. It's as though my thoughts on the subject are all knotted up.

When this kind of thing happens...and it happens a lot, it seems...I have a couple of strategies for unraveling things.
  • I put the manuscript away for a while and come back to it later when I have a fresh perspective on it. But I already tried that and it didn't work this time. We spent a week away at the beach and I'm still stuck.

  • I read. Inspiration often emerges out of the writings of my favorite authors. While on vacation I read two books on writing, "The True Secret of Writing" by Natalie Goldberg and "The Sound of Paper" by Julia Cameron.

          But, I'm still stuck.
  • I walk. Often the knot loosens little by little as my mind wanders. This actually seemed to help this week. I made some progress. Of course, it didn't hurt that autumn has arrived in all its glory and the weather was perfect.


Again tomorrow I'll put one foot in front of the word after the other. Maybe I'll just take another walk.
"I would rather sit on a pumpkin
and have it all to myself
than be crowded on a velvet cushion."
~Henry David Thoreau~
What I love most about autumn is that winter can't be far behind. What do you love about fall?