Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hang On To the Leash!

Last night I saw a dog walking himself.

I was strolling along in our local park just before sunset when a Golden Lab trotted by me, one end of his leash properly attached to his collar, the other end neatly folded between his teeth. There was no master-type person in sight.

I watched, transfixed, as the dog trotted purposefully along the park walk, but then as dogs will do, picked up an intriguing scent and veered off on the grass, heading over the nearest hill. At that point, a jogger in the distance, turned around, and, catching sight of the dog about to disappear over the hill, gave a holler. The dog, fortunately, did respond and galloped back, leash in mouth, to his owner.

I couldn’t help smiling, and thinking, as I’m apt to do, how this very situation reminds me of my story writing process. Too often, I forget that I am the author, the master of this story, and I let it go galloping off, far from where I was initially headed. “My character just took over,” I say sometimes. Or (worse) “I think this is just one of those plotless stories.”

Nope. It really isn’t so. What’s usually happened is I am so busy being “creative” I’m not taking the time to plan out the story, or to periodically go into my editing mode to see if plot, character, setting and all those other writerly things are happening in my story.

I’m letting the story go off on its own, just like the dog last night. At first it may seem to work, the story may trot along on a nice story arc, but sooner or later, without a little tug on the leash from me, I guarantee that story will gallop off over the hill, and I probably never will find a decent end for it.

It’s a good thing to ponder at the end of my writing day.

Coming up soon: Part 2, Creative Detours,
Or: Is it ever better to just let the dog go over the hill?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Backyard Campfire

This week we had a fire in my rose garden. Really.

My grandkids (Josh, 4 and Amanda, 6) asked me, “Grandma can we make a fire in the backyard and roast marshmallows?” And I, good grandmother that I am, agreed.

First we had to find a safe place to build it. There was a nice bare spot in the rose garden. (I spend more time writing than gardening and my rosebushes periodically succumb to neglect.)

Josh and Amanda cleared the area of stray weeds and dug a small fire pit. Next they circled it with stones, and then together, we carefully arranged a pyramid of paper, small kindling, bigger kindling, and readied a log to put on top, should our fire stay lit long enough to do that.

We were (to my great surprise) successful! After a couple of false starts, our fire began to burn bright. As Josh and Amanda did a delighted fire dance, I began to think how this process of making a campfire is like the process of making a story.

First we have to clear a space, both in our lives for the time it takes to write, and in our hearts for the emotional work needed to create a story.

Next we need to circle up the stones—to put up some barriers around that space we’ve created. For me that means saying no to lots of lunches with friends, shopping, TV, and other such things.

Then we arrange the materials that will create the fire. It takes some time and thought to arrange those flimsy paper thoughts that will then light the kindling of a stronger story idea. This, if carefully fanned by the breeze of our spirit, then flames up with a real, true-to-my-deepest-heart plot that catches fire with a believable character and setting to finally ignite that mysterious and wonderful fire log we call STORY.

We did roast marshmallows that day, Josh and Amanda and I, a most satisfying end to our day. Just like a good story can be.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Family Reunion

We did it! 40 of us came together in my Kirkland, Washington home this summer for a long-awaited family reunion. Children and grandchildren, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews came from New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, California, and even from Berlin, Germany to celebrate.

For me, a sun-lit moment occurred when my granddaughter, 2 year-old Anika reached out and took the hand of 3 year-old Ceci, her cousin from Berlin. “We are family,” she said.

And I admit it, I had to swallow down my tears, because in 3 words, my granddaughter Anika spoke the core truth of why we had come together.

We are Family.

We have different ideas about almost everything:

What to eat (vegetarian for some, barbecued steak for others)
When to get up (5:30 AM appears to be the time of choice for 1 year-old Louisa, but definitely not for the rest of us.)
And where to go (Seattle Center and the busy waterfront shops for some, a quiet forest hike for others.)

And yet we somehow managed to accommodate everyone, not all at once, and not without compromise. We laughed a lot, ate a lot, talked all hours of the day and night, and we cried together, especially when we had to part.

Through it all the blessed truth rang through, and left us all smiling to remember:

We are family.