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Reflections on writing process

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A writer is someone who writes. You have done it; you have expressed yourself on paper. Getting started is almost always picking up an old dream, an old desire. Getting started is usually getting started again.

Pat Schneider

I have discovered there is no easy way to begin writing. You simply have to sit down and do it. For the past several years, I have been keenly interested in how other writers work. How do they ensure their creativity flows best? Do they choose a particular time of the day to unleash their muse? Or is it the medium they use. A computer, writing longhand, or through dictation. Do they choose to use a writer’s journal to capture random bits of imaginative flotsam throughout the day?

Perhaps they use a specific type of app, or a special pen. Leather bound journals, plain paper, or lined notepads? The quest to understand what tools other writers use often mirrors the desire we possess to tap into the writer’s path easily, instantly, or perhaps through a magical manifestation.

But we all have rhythms that influence our ability to work, to write, to rest, and to reflect that we must discover for ourselves. There is no trick to the writing life and what works for other writers may be helpful but won’t transform us. Our way into the words we must bring forth and express seems to require both trial and error and meditative reflection on what works.

Learning to shed fears, worry about judgment from others, self-doubts are as important as routines, writing tools and process. Finding your way into writing what you need to often requires a simple beginning. Pen to paper, fingers on the keyboard, and just start letting the words flow as they need.

And understanding that every day you return to write, requires that you have to get started all over again.

And that’s just fine.

Happy writing!

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It’s time for Flash Nano!!

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Creating with words is our continuing passion. We dream stories; we make up stories, poems, songs, and tell them to ourselves. All alone, we write. We also write with others.

Pat Schneider

Yesterday morning was the first day of Nancy Stohlman’s Flash Nano 2022. I had set the alarm on my phone for an hour earlier than I typically open my eyes. Setting the alarm was a deliberate action that seemed important in my plan to write through the month of November and to celebrate every moment of that.

I’d like to be able to say that as soon as the alarm went off that I bounced up out of bed, heading straight over to my computer. After making coffee, of course. But that would be fiction. When that alarm first went off, I couldn’t remember why I had set it and groggily hit snooze.

When it went off the second time, I literally dragged myself out of bed. After a cup of coffee, I decided to check my emails to see what Nancy had sent as the first prompt for Flash Nano. With a small shiver of anticipation, I experienced a hit of dopamine as I read her message and thought about what the first flash fiction of this month could be about.

The best idea seemed that I should take a walk first to let the prompt roll around in my head and just as I was ready to leave the house an idea rushed into my head. It felt too important to ignore.

I thought I would just open a word document and write some jot notes for the story that beginning to take shape inside my writing mind. But instead I sat down and furiously wrote a first draft of over 650 words that just might be worthy of a sharper pencil. An editing process that I will gladly go through when Flash Nano is over.

I won’t question what this month means as a writer who loves flash fiction. Writing small stories by myself but as part of a much larger whole makes it special in ways that are difficult to define. I have been thinking about linking some of the stories this month together or maybe not. The prompts that come to my mailbox each morning sometimes seem to take on a life of their own.

And that’s the best part of all of this. Paying attention to the process of creativity as it unfolds over the upcoming month. Knowing that perfection has no role to play over the next 30 days because it’s all about putting words on paper. That’s all I can expect from myself. Hearing from other people who are also accompanying me on this journey. Knowing that other writers across the globe are participating in some type of creative adventure for the entire month of November.

At the beginning it is pure, unadulterated fun. But who knows what day 22 or day 27, will bring. Lethargy, resistance, or boredom? Or not.

And that is part of the magic in this process. Going through the ups and down of creativity, not knowing what the road map is or where you might be at the end of it all. But one thing is certain, you will not be in the exact same place as you have started. You will have written words that you might share with the world or that will never see the light of day. You will be able to face your reflection in the mirror and whisper that you are indeed, a writer.

Whether you are trying to write a novel in 30 days, or 30 flash fiction stories, or have other defined writing goals that you will attempt to meet in the course of the month of November – best wishes to all.

Happy writing!!

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Which “witch” is which?

Photo by L. Meyer

Sometimes making the world a better place just involves creating space for the people who are already in it.

Jodi Picoult

With Halloween just around the corner, a quick walk through my neighbourhood reveals many fabulous decorations, signifying an intense interest in this special celebration. It is always amazing to discover what costumes the children in my community have created before they venture out trick or treating. When they arrive on my doorstep, it is fun to ask them about their costumes and to muse about the ones that stand out either through detail or wild imagination.

Parents can be spotted on the sidewalk waiting with pride and anticipation while their children gather the spoils of the evening. And clearly relish this time to celebrate creativity, connections with others, and the fun spookiness of the evening.

The celebration of Halloween comes from a long history of various cultural traditions and has evolved over time into the present day exercise. The tradition where now each young person attempts to be as individual as possible and where diversity of costume design is honoured and celebrated.

And where you can run up and down the streets of your neighbourhood asking for and receiving treats!

But it’s worth spending a moment to consider how we approach representations of diversity the other 364 days of the year?

When you consider how difficult it is for children to stand apart from one another in any way, the Halloween exception could either be seen as an oddity or as a guideline to follow all year long. Why should it become so difficult to stand out and simply celebrate who you are? We pay a lot of lip service to reconciliation, respect for all aspects of diversity yet it just takes a quick moment of reflection to admit that we are not very far along that path.

What would a world look like where everyone could experience a sense of belonging regardless of any aspect of being or feeling different from others? Just imagine a world where all forms of diversity would be celebrated every day of the year, not just on Halloween. That would be a treat!

Have a safe and Happy Halloween!!

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Navigating liminal spaces

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Choose courage over comfort by vitally engaging with new opportunities to learn and grow, rather than passively resigning yourself to your circumstances.

Susan David

Liminal spaces are often uncomfortable places to be. You have neither moved forward nor will you be staying where you have been. So it can resemble walking a tightrope or being lost in a cavern. Transitions and changes of any type often present this type of liminal challenge.

This week presented one such struggle. I need to take a course to maintain a teaching certification but seemed to be having some reservation about returning to working with people face to face in a classroom format. The annoying voices locked in a fierce debate in my head had me up and down like children on a see saw.

Questions on this teeter totter ranged from, Should I bother doing this? to Yes, of course, this was something you used to be energized by. What about my writing goals? Would this knock me off course? Sitting down, writing through this process taught me that I had once enjoyed the process, the people, and sense of purpose. And that I could certainly do more than one thing.

But fear of having been away from this work for too long coupled with feelings about being concerned about how to step back into the path I had been on before Covid knocked the world off course kept me fretting. Rumination followed by more ruminations.

Reframe. Recognize resistance for what it is. Breathe. It is truly amazing how mind over matter really matters. This tendency to overthink things has only intensified during the past two years. So I just challenged myself to drop all preconceived notions and took the recertification course.

And was pleasantly surprised at how easily I re-engaged with the process and the people. And not long after the course, I was struck with a story ideas and cracked off a first draft of a flash fiction. Hah!

Liminal spaces are like way stations. The kind of thing that won’t last forever especially when you think it will. Choosing courage to embrace a new opportunity became the gentle push that nudged me along the path I need to be on.

Stay happy and safe!!

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Add wander and wonder, then mix

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The key to a wonderful life is to never stop wandering into wonder.

Suzy Kassem

My greatest pet peeve during the pandemic was the loss of things to look forward to. Isolation, fear, and constant worry negate hope, feelings of optimism and the sense of wonder about our world.

Planning for the future, with little faith that you can predict meeting the goals you aspire to, began to seem futile.

Diminished social connections added to the sense that life’s adventures were being held in abeyance. So many aspects of life had been placed on hold. Until what? Til things become safe again?

Once I wrapped my head around the reality that managing the risks we are all exposed to is simply a pathway we are likely on forever, I have been ramping up my life planning efforts. Looking forward to something has always been a touchstone for me. My desire to wander can still keep me grounded. No one ever said I had to travel the world to do that.

Finding a sense of wonder about what is around me is fast becoming a routine that wakes me up. Getting up extra early to enjoy the sunrise. Visiting a friend who has a new puppy. Those wiggly creatures place newfound meaning on the word energy. Talking to my son and his new bride, listening to that afterglow of post wedding happiness. Going out for coffee with friends. And lunch, too!

Balancing writing classes on Zoom with in person writing group dates. Resuming book club, in person, distanced, maybe masking? Doesn’t matter, it’s the connections with others that matters.

Spending time, indoors and outdoors, with friends who also monitor their health and manage the risks of the ever present virus. Masking around large crowds of people indoors and outdoors, if it feels necessary. Regardless of what seems to be needed, the decision made to stop isolating, being afraid, and to continue to embrace and look forward to the unexpected and amazing things that happen in life.

That is all now a part of the life plan. It was time to press the pause button and get back to the realization that anything is possible. May we all spend time wandering and enjoying the wonders of our world!

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Fall – Time for a fresh start

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Today expect something good to happen to you no matter what occurred yesterday. Realize the past no longer holds you captive. It can only continue to hurt you if you hold on to it. Let the past go. A simply abundant world awaits.

Sarah Breathnach

With fall peeking around the corner, and closing the chapter on a difficult year, it seems right to dust off my normally held sense of optimism and move forward. Without worry about personal stressors, annoying politicians, devastating traumatic events or the death of a long standing monarch. And most certainly without amping up undue anxiety about whether Covid is here to stay or not. It is. Full stop.

It means dusting off goals that got put on the shelf in March of 2020. And going back to the drawing board where I am free to play with all of the ideas I have rolling around in my mind about what I would like to do next in my life.

There is freedom in that. In actually being able to sit back, spend time in reflection, writing and journaling about any and all ideas when they pop into my head. Without fear, or worry that something will interrupt, interfere, or blow up my life plans.

And really when you consider our life’s journey, it is indeed, full of detours, some of our own making and others beyond our control. And that is okay.

What seems most important is the recognition that you have passions that reside inside of you meant to be pursued. At times, they are apparent and at others, they are elusive. It’s just fine to search for that thing that really resonates, that whispers in a kind and gentle voice to try on. It’s comforting to know that you can dabble until you find what feels right.

Knowing that we can pick some things up where they were left off, bid farewell to those that we won’t be able to continue on with, and choose more intentionality with what we do in our lives regardless of the external world around us.

The fall season, resplendent with changing colours, temperatures, clothing choices, and activities seems a perfect time to reflect, consider new goals, and then carry on.

Enjoy what today will bring!

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Respectful Summer Get Togethers

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Messages that feel like commands – even good advice coming from a friend- aren’t always received well. If you feel like you’re being pushed into a corner, you’re more likely to push back.

Elena Renken

Most stories being told around the world right now seem to share several common distressing themes. Inflation and what is driving it. The war in Ukraine. The Pope’s apology to Canadian residential school survivors. Heat waves creating unbearable conditions in parts of the world that normally don’t have them. Fires, droughts, floods all predictable as a result of our continued environmental destruction.

And then the predictable debates about who, what, and how we should address climate action.

Affordable housing crisis, food insecurity, moving into a recession, extraordinary gas prices, and of course the ever present supply chain issues. Gun violence. School shootings. Grocery store shootings. Mall shootings. Continued anger about Covid vaccine mandates and the odd, lingering protest about public health guidelines. Populist political bullying, dismantling women’s right to choose, coupled with a full on attack on “woke” culture.

And you’ll never guess who’s back delivering mayhem and ridiculous soundbites cause he got raided by the FBI?

The stories we are telling each other range from angry conflict that sometimes disintegrates into outright chaos all the way to a senseless war across the ocean. This polarizing rhetoric gains traction as people are not feeling heard and from dangerous people who then take license to impose their will through bullying behaviour or use of force.

When did we stop listening to each other. Agreeing to disagree. Respecting democratic institutions that we have taken pride in building. Collectively. Collaboratively. It seems so far away from the world I thought I knew. Disenfranchised people whose demands across social media are no longer about civil society but about individuals rights and freedoms.

What does that actually mean? When I hear the word freedom right now, I know my personal definition can’t be similar to fellow Canadians who decided to disrupt and destroy the narrative most familiar to me. Horns blaring because Freedom. My freedom trumps yours.

How do I listen to their stories and really hear them?

Would anything make it easier for them to hear my stories?

All stories matter and have the potential to shape attitudes that colour our views on relationships, politics, and our society. But they have little meaning when we stop listening to one another. And when we also stop caring about the importance of the stories that each of us needs to tell.

It seems bizarre that at a time when we need to come together to address so many challenges that we keep moving far apart.

But there are glimmers of hope. Right?

I can’t help but remain hopeful that the celebrations we have this summer have mostly remained respectful of the stories that each one of us carries in our hearts. No matter how different it seems from our value base and moral codes.

We have a long ways to go but if we all learn to listen a little more, we just might make the upcoming fall and winter a different story than the one told last year.

Stay happy and safe this summer!

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Rainbows – a new beginning?

Photo L. Meyer

Rainbows bring the promise that the troubles of today will surely come to pass, hold strong in your faith and vision and the rainbow will bring fresh beginnings

Presley Love

Getting caught last evening in a flash thunderstorm where huge drops of rain fell sideways due to wicked prairie winds felt like just another hurdle to surmount. I stood inside the vestibule of the building I was leaving, wondering if I should just go for it and run out to my car or try to wait out the onslaught and stay dry.

My internal debate went back and forth as puddles outside grew into small lakes.

Fortunately, common sense won the day and I patiently waited for the rain to quit. It seemed to stop as suddenly as it began, with Mother Nature’s special alchemy mixing atmospheric gases creating a spectacular double rainbow. It easily met the standard of an awe inspiring moment.

By the time I got out my iPhone to shoot a quick picture, it was starting to dissipate. But the magic of a rainbow after a harsh storm, somehow speaks directly to you, causing you to pause and pay attention. We all experience those inner shifts at times of transitions in our lives. When we are able to consolidate our thoughts and feelings with memorable external experiences that seem to delineate an important marker in time.

A symbolic way to tuck the past behind us while moving forward.

Rainbows have symbolized new beginnings, inspiring hope, in most cultures around the globe through the ages.

If a new beginning is in the cards, I’ll gladly take it.

Stay happy and safe!

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Scatter your creative story seeds…

Photo L. Meyer

Let your story surprise you. Lay a place at the table for an unexpected guest. Embrace the unforecasted storm. Allow kind characters to do something cruel. Let the selfish ones sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Be surprised. Be amazed.

Sophie Anderson

When the writing process becomes routine or even worse, when you get stuck in a bottomless rut, it may be helpful to simply turn your work on its head. Shake everything you are doing up, down, even sideways. At the very least, you may have some fun or discover a few diamonds in the rough worthy of using in some form of prose.

A recent foray while editing a piece of micro fiction left me stymied and ready to permanently hit the delete button. But a stray piece of creative advice from a writing retreat last month about cutting up writing that doesn’t seem to work, must have planted a small seed in my brain. And sprang forth when I least expected it.

I took the piece that I had been wrestling with, enlarged the font, then printed it out. With what felt like a whim, I proceeded to just cut it into pieces. The pieces dropping onto my desk reminded me of ephemera for collage or words cut for found poetry. So it seemed natural to paste them on a sheet of paper. Randomly. Without really looking at the actual text on each piece of paper.

Convinced that this would simply be a transformed word jumble, I left the mess to dry and went to make a cup of coffee.

When I returned to look at what I had done, I was surprised by what I found. Sure, the order of some of the pieces of paper stretched the grammar aspect a wee bit, but overall, I read in those words, the glimmer of a new story. A better story.

It was legible enough that I was able to return to my computer and resurrect a new piece of prose. I was slightly amazed that from that jumble of words pasted haphazardly on a piece of paper, a transformed piece of fiction began to emerge.

This time round this tiny micro fiction story resonated somewhere deep inside of me bringing forth new energy for the editing process. Who knows what this piece may look like when something clicks and lets me know that it is finished. But the reawakening of this prospective prose piece inspires hope and optimism.

Stories living inside of us are at times, weird and wild things. But finding ways to keep working to guide them into the world, brings a sense of satisfaction like none other.

Happy writing!

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Release the pause button on play…

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We do not stop playing because we get old; we grow old because we stop playing

George Bernard Shaw

Have you ever found yourself slugging through your day to day life and realized that playfulness is not part of it? Watching two neighbourhood children today, chasing each other while blowing soap bubbles and giggling so hard one of them began to hiccup, I felt like I had an epiphany. Play. That is what seems to be missing from my present “taking everything far too seriously” adult life.

It’s typically something fairly innocuous that alerts you to that dawning sense of something being amiss. But once you figure it out, you can’t unsee it.

Probably the state of mind most helpful during times of stress and strain, is a playful mind. But it is also the hardest state to transition to when everything in your immediate focus is through an intensely serious lens. And when it seems any spare moment should be dedicated to some task or type of work that needs to be completed, or at the very least, doing something “worthwhile”, play seems frivolous and far removed.

Knowing that there are adverse consequences to play deprivation, I have been trying to create a “play” list. (Pun intentional, ha – maybe I will get there after all!). Photography has always been my favourite way to play and I haven’t had my camera out for quite some time. Point of fact, the battery was almost dead. So as I write this, I can glance over at my camera on the charger and see that it still has a ways to go. Just like I do.

There are a multitude of ways to tap into this desired state of mind. A quick web search reveals a plethora of articles, blog posts, research studies on the importance of play to our overall well being and stock ideas about how to incorporate it into our busy adult lives. But it seems trite to assume that by playing video games, doing crossword puzzles, dancing in your kitchen as though no one is watching, could magically counter the impact of stress and burnout.

So where to begin. Reflection on this challenge seems to point to a sort of mind over matter type of thing. So it seems like if I can wrestle with the biggest barrier, attitude, I feel like I might just be on my way. And it also seems important to set goals to play, to do things with absolutely no purpose, to simply seek out moments for mindless enjoyment and fun.

How weird that part of responsible adulting becomes losing touch with that most important aspect of childhood. To be playful. Seems so simple when I write it like that. But I have a sense that I am going to have to work hard at my play goals. Wish me luck!

Stay safe, have fun!