Searching…Again

My creativity seems to go through cycles, not only periods of inspiration and darker periods, but also times when I am more inspired in one way than another.  Sometimes I just go with the flow, writing when the words are there, sewing when the spirit moves me, whatever.  As long as something was created that day, I was usually all right.  Other times of course, I am not as relaxed.  I want to create using a specific medium and I want to do it now.  By now of course, I actually mean right now.

April’s session of Camp brought me about 75-85% of the way through the novel I was working on and I decided I wanted to get the other 15-25% done in May, giving me June to prepare for the July session of Camp.  Easy enough, right?  I know, famous last words.

Of course, the words have been stalled.  I’m not sure if it’s a story issue, or simply that I have been pressing too hard for too long.  The outline for the story is still there, but my inspiration seemed to disappear.

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Even without my inspiration, I have been sitting daily, getting at least a few words in.  Realistically, 1000+ words a day isn’t even that bad.  It’s more of the feel of the writing that has changed.  Yes, I am still writing daily, but I don’t seem to be connecting as well as I feel I should be.  It’s a petty problem, but it still stalls me out.

I’ve mentioned before one of the ways I push my inspiration higher is through travel.  Overtime we go on a trip, preferably for at least 3 days, I come home feeling relaxed, renewed, and ready to write.  I think it comes from reconnecting with the world.  I am seeing new things, watching people and seeing how they live their lives.  It shapes my writing by keeping me in reality.  Yes, I am writing fiction, but it needs to feel as though it could be fact.

Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly the type of fix that is possible right now.  Instead, I decided to see what I could do to capture that feeling at home.  I started with a couple of realities.  First, I had to be able to walk to where ever I was going, and second, it had to fit into the time frame I had before Little One would be dropped off by the bus.

My town is small, mostly residential with a median age of about 60, though I think it is slowly getting younger.  We have houses, a small grocery shop, a butcher, a new coffee shop (I’ll get to that in another post!), and of course since we are in Europe, a large church.

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You may have noticed, when we travel, we go to churches.  A lot.  The churches out here are different from the ones I saw growing up.  These are not modern buildings with benches, pulpits, sound systems, and jacuzzis they claim are only for baptisms.  These old churches are works of art, works of art that usually hide even more works of art.  It’s beautiful.

I’ve never been inside this church, inspire of living in its shadow for two and a half years.  (And I do mean in its shadow, I can see it from my backyard.)  I took a visit today, but I still haven’t been inside.  Firstly, because I am still deeply uncomfortable visiting churches without dressing up.  I may have moved away from the religion I grew up with, but it seems disrespectful to enter a church wearing jeans and meditation beads.  Maybe a rosary would have helped, but oh well.

The real reason I visited the church today was the cemetery.  I am a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know there was a cemetery at the foot of the church until a few days ago.  I had past the church at least a hundred times, but never really paid attention to what I was seeing, and then poof.  It was there.

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The cemetery was small, with tombstones dating from the early 1930s to  the late 1960s.  My Flemish isn’t great, but it seemed to be a combination of priests who had served in the church with a few parishioners.  Some of the stones were old and worn, making it hard to even read the words.  Others  were shiny and new, as though they had only been put in yesterday.  There were plots with planters, where flowers could be growing, and others covered in marble.  Some of the graves seemed as though they had been forgotten, and others had clearly been visited recently, with gifts of flowers, wreaths, and even a candle (not lit anymore).  There was so much to see in such a small place.

I know, some people out there are instantly asking, why did I go there?  I didn’t know anyone, I wasn’t leaving flowers, or cleaning.  Simply put, I went to visit those who were gone.  Each of these people had a story.

The priest in the back, who died in his seventies, and was born in the later years of the 1880s.  His plot was large, covered in white marble with a simple black cross above his name.  As a priest, he obviously did’t have a wife or children, but someone felt it was important to bury him with well.  Even all of these years later, the tombstone is clean and well cared for.  It seemed obvious that he was well loved in his time to get such a tribute.

There was the couple buried under the large tree.  The husband was almost fifteen years older than his wife, but she died within two weeks of his passing.  People talk about dying from a broken heart; maybe she just couldn’t stand the idea of continuing on without him.

In a tiny corner, a plain cross marked the grave where a four year old was laid to rest.  The plot next to him was empty, perhaps still waiting for his parents to join him.

It is said that no one who is remembered is ever really dead.  I don’t know these people, but how they were laid to rest tells me a part of their story.  It’s stories of love, and heartbreak.  Most of our everyday lives are filled with routine, the boring things that must be done for us to continue on.  When we die, everything we ever were becomes clear because that is how we are remembered.

If this isn’t inspiring, I’m not sure what is.

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Keukenhof

I’ve been living in Belgium for a couple of years now, but because of it’s location often our day trips take us to different countries.  Having grown up in Northern California, the idea that I can travel for a couple of hours and be in a new country is still a little exciting.  On that note, a couple of weeks ago we made a trip to the Netherlands.

There are many things that the Netherlands are known for; wooden shoes, windmills, debauchery in Amsterdam, and tulips.  One of the best places to go for tulips in the spring is Keukenhof, a large garden.  It’s only open for a couple of months out of the year, but when it is in bloom, it is amazing.

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After a two hour drive, we found a parking spot and walked up to the unassuming outside.  This was my first trip, but I had an idea of what was hiding inside.  I was not disappointed.

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Fun dandelion fluff fountain!  It was the closest thing to a weed in the entire park, at least that I saw.

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As expected, the inside was filled with flowers.

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Lots of flowers.

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In lots of different colors.

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Seriously.  Lots of flowers.

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I mean.  Flowers everywhere.

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I know, it’s a flower garden, what would you expect.  But there was more than just flowers here.

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Little one is always ready for a picture, so we went for it.

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We went walking on these wooden platforms through a pond.  It was strange, as solid as they were, I still felt like we were about to fall at any minute.

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The platforms brought us very close to these lovely swans.  It may have taken about 30 shots to get one without their head in the water, but they were still cool to see.

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We watched a giant game of chess.  Little One was bummed that she was not allowed to move any of the pieces, since someone else was playing.

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We even visited the pigs.  Little One LOVES pigs, and she has since she was tiny.  I guess knowing they become bacon gives them a special place in her heart.

Each year, Keukenhof has a theme, something they use to create a special flower feature.  This years theme was Van Gogh.  Now, I’m not huge on art in general.  I mean, I like it, but I don’t know all of the nitty gritty details.  I’ve never studied art or art history, I just know what I like, and I like Van Gogh.  I was looking forward to seeing the flower portrait based on one of his self portraits.  However, as the line was very long to get on the platform, and I could see from the ground the colors were off, we didn’t wait.  I mean seriously, there are about a hundred different kinds of tulips in a range of colors.  Why choose hot pink as his skin tone?

Instead we visited the selfie garden.  Since Van Gogh loved his self portraits, they created a small section designed to give a modern twist.

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Big One refused to be a part of this, as she is opposed to selfies in any way shape or form.  Instead as usual, Little One and I were in the pictures.

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Say cheese!

All right, so this was more pictures than words, but let’s be real.  It was a trip to a flower garden.

Happy travels to everyone!

Editing

I worked throughout April on a new manuscript as a part of Camp NaNoWriMo.  This is no secret, and was actually a part of my temporary radio silence.  At the end of the month, I had met my word goal by writing 40,111 words, but had not actually finished the story.  I suppose I should have aimed for a higher word count, but based on the last couple I had written, my young adult first drafts tend to hit slightly on the lower side.

While I am still completing this novel, I am also beginning to think about the next step.  No, not publication and inevitable success.  (Okay, maybe occasionally.  I am an unapologetic dreamer after all.)  No, as I finish my mind begins to turn to the dreaded task of editing.

There are different views to editing, and honestly different needs based on the writer.  Many successful writers have made statements indicating that editing was a key part of their success.  True or not, Ernest Hemingway is credited with stating, “The first draft of anything is shit.”  Of course there are others who only edit for spelling errors, and are completely happy with their end results.  So who is right?  I don’t know, and I don’t really care.

For me, I hate editing.  It requires me to be objective about my own writing and my own story.  I begin to second guess everything and suddenly I not only believe Hemingway, but I realize that no matter how much you polish, a turd is still a turd.  I take everything about my own writing personally because it is technically personal.  This is something that came from inside me.  Even if it’s not actually my biography there are parts of me in every character and every choice.

It’s much easier to be objective and honest when I am working with someone else’s work.  I’ve done beta reading before, reading the draft of a story and giving honest feedback.  I feel like I can give constructive criticism without making it unnecessarily cruel.  It’s not about what I like or don’t like, it’s about what makes sense.  Occasionally, I even do it without thinking.

I recently finished a novel, a new adult story that at first seemed like a straight forward girl goes away to college and falls into the middle of a love triangle.  Instead it felt to me to be several books in one.  As I read I could not help but cut through the chapters mumbling to myself about what was unnecessary and what was distracting or weird.  To me, this book needed some severe editing and should not have gone to print without it.  But then, as far as I could find, the writer is at least reasonably successful so my opinion may be the unpopular one on this book.

I hate editing because at the end of the day it is going to arbitrary.  There are many books I have read and wondered how the hell they got to print through a major publishing house without someone saying something about editing the story in some way.   If I had been the agent, or publishing house rep, I would have sent it back and said redo it and we’ll try again.  But no one did, and the world (or part of it) thanks them for sending it through as is.  I can look at someone else’s work and whine about how they should have done things, and doubt all of my own work, but at the end of the day I am only one reader.  My opinion is not the one that makes decisions, and clearly I shouldn’t be the one to make those decisions.  I might have saved the world from some poorly written books, but I also would have saved myself and everyone else from a large quantity of money.

So what does this mean for my own editing?  Hell if I know.  I guess it means I will be one of those writers who needs someone else to help me sort through my own mess.

Het Hallerbos

Several weeks ago I stumbled on a forest here in Belgium.

I’ve done a little research on forests before this.  When writing, I always try to find some sort of an element of truth that can be included in my works of fiction.  A story I was working on a year ago needed a forest, and as I currently lived in Belgium, it seemed a good place to start.  There are myths, legends, and everything I wanted for the topic I needed.  I was writing frequently, and then it fizzled out.  The inspiration was gone.

This travel destination wasn’t a part of my research, or anything else interesting.  It wasn’t exactly like stumbling through a wardrobe and into Narnia, so much as seeing a link on Facebook.  Of course, how I found the forest isn’t the story here.  The point of my little babble, is the stories, both how I came to be walking through the forest, and the story I was working on.

Enter Het Hallerbos.  I tried to translate what it meant, but I only came up with ‘The Hallerbos.’

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Most of the year, Het Hallerbos is a normal forest, with hiking and running trails leading you on a run through the great outdoors.

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However, in the spring, this forest near Brussels explodes in bluebells.

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There are sections where you can’t even see the green or brown of the forest floor.

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It was like something out of a fairy tale.  Of course, as that was what I was writing, this was the perfect inspiration.  To be a writer, you need to write, but those words need to come from somewhere.  It’s nice to get out and see the world so I can bring it home with me.