Thoughts for Success

Betty cowboy hat prairie.1

 

By Betty Kuffel

Believe in yourself when that voice in your head tells you your writing stinks, or you’ve spelled “the” wrong, or you just don’t have it in you to finish the novel that has been living in your brain for years. Don’t listen. Believe in yourself.

Find a positive motto that fits you. Put it over your computer in full view, read it when you have second thoughts about your skills or ability to complete a writing project. Let it stimulate positive thoughts. Mine is from Dr. Seuss:

You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.

Einstein counting My writing area is a positive corner with a desk facing East. I accomplish the most in early morning, love sunrise, and am usually there to greet the lightening sky. The singing early birds brighten my days, too. Over my desk I have a couple important photos, one is of my granddaughter who makes me smile. I also have a photo of Albert Einstein counting on his fingers to remind me my lacking math skills shouldn’t stop me from accomplishing my goals. I also have a quote from him: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what then is an empty desk a sign?”

When my desk looks like his, piled high with books and cluttered with papers, I don’t worry, I press on and put cleaning off until tomorrow … or later.

There are so many things to do instead of writing we have to avoid the distractions, ignore them. At the end of your writing day, take an hour to clean and straighten things out, but get ready for your next day of writing and get a good night’s sleep.

Feather women

Each morning I arise in early morning darkness. I dress, put on a little lipstick as if I’m heading to work and sit down at my computer with a cup of coffee. I look up and admire a woman flying over my desk with feathers in her hands and read my Dr. Seuss motto. It works for me. 

I don’t believe in writers’ block. When a story stalls, go on to another writing project as the stalled one churns in your thoughts. Or take a break and write a blog for deposit in the Montana Women Writers’ blog bank.

Remember: Life.Piano 

Happy writing.

 

 

 

 

The Write Day

palmquist

 

 

By Anne B. Howard-

It’s so easy to pour a hot cup of coffee and retreat to the writing cave for hours, during our long grey Montana winters, but when spring finally arrives, the procrastination and excuses begin. I’ve fought the same battle with myself for years. Give me an inch, and I’ll take The Wild Mile above Bigfork every time. The good news is that this year I’ve called a truce, which doesn’t involve crawling out of bed at four in the morning, as several of my writer-friends happily do, or closing my eyes, ears and soul to the reasons I moved to Montana in the first place.

It’s my way of touching base with the natural world, getting some exercise, and carving out the time to actually plan and commit myself to new goals. Instead of “time I could have spent writing,”FullSizeRender (23) I consider this meditative daily four-mile-walk as the first and most critical stage in my writing day. It’s where I brainstorm for ideas, hit upon solutions, and gain insight, confidence and enthusiasm for tackling the tasks on my to-do list, renewed and inspired by the never ending miracle of new life around me.

Some days, the ideas come so hard and fast I have to sit down and make notes, which is why I never leave home without my big screen iPhone 6-Plus, or the iPad with keyboard.  “Idea traps,” I call them. And, fortunately, if I look closely, great places—no, actually, perfect places—to sit, sip a little coffee from my thermos, and record these ideas abound along that trail, inviting and enticing me to take my time. It’s all good. No second wasted.

Once home, I water the flowers, tidy the house, and prep a quick lunch for the hubs before heading upstairs to the cave, without guilt or resentment, filled to the brim with new plans for committing to paper the stories I feel inspired to tell.

How do you balance the need to write with making sure all of life’s bases are covered?

(Originally published May 9, 2016)

 

Breaking Twig (excerpt)

eppersonBW

By Deborah Epperson

PROLOGUE

 I must have been about five the first time Grandpa Eli told me the story of the Pickers and the Picks. He was sitting in his rocking chair on the back porch of the modest plantation house he’d built twenty years earlier. My imaginary friend, Claudia, and I were having a tea party under the shade of the weeping willow. A clump of purple flowers plucked from the wisteria vine trailing along the back picket fence served as our grapes, while half-a-dozen emerald leaves pilfered from a hothouse geranium represented mint cookies.

  “Becky Leigh,” he called. “Did I ever tell you the story of the Pickers and the Picks?”

  “No, sir.” I headed for the porch. “What are Pickers, Grandpa?”

  “Pickers are mainly folks who are big on the outside, but small on the inside.” He gave a push and the oak rocker resumed its familiar cadence. “Not necessarily tall and heavy big. Pickers are more like puffed up big.”

  I climbed into his lap, nestled into the crook of his shoulder. “Like popcorn puffs up when you cook it?”

  “No, more like a sore that’s got infected and is puffed up with mucus and poisons.”

  “That’s yucky.”

  He laughed. “That’s a true fact, Miss Becky.”

  “What do Pickers do?” I asked.

  “Pickers hunt for someone who looks like easy pickin’s.”

  “Easy pickin’s? You mean like when Momma makes Papa and me pick dewberries along the railroad track instead of by Lost Mule Bog because she says it’s easy pickin’s along the tracks? But it’s not really. It’s just the bog is messier, and you know how she hates messes.”

  Grandpa stopped rocking. “Are you going to be quiet and let me finish my story, young’un?”

  I covered my mouth to stifle a giggle. It was the funniest thing, my grandpa pretending to be mad at me. “Yes, sir. I’ll be quiet.”

  The rocker started up again. “As I was saying, a Picker hunts for someone he thinks will be easy pickin’s. That’s usually someone smaller, younger, or weaker in some way. It can be someone whose only weakness is that he or she is a nice person.”

  I tapped Grandpa’s shoulder. “How does a Picker change nice people into Picks?”

  “Well, he screams and hollers at them. He makes them do things they know they shouldn’t do. Champion Pickers are experts at bullyin’, intimidatin’, and dominatin’ other folks.” The rocker stopped once more. “Do you understand anything I’m saying, Becky?”

  “I think so. Maybe. Will I be a Picker or a Pick when I grow up, Grandpa?”

  “Can’t say for sure. Let’s try an experiment.” He helped me down and pointed to a line of ants marching across the porch floor. “Go stand by those ants.”

  I did as I was told.

  “Now, Becky, I want you to stomp them ants as hard as you can.”

  “Why should I kill the ants, Grandpa? They’re not hurting me.”

  “Because you can, girl. Because you can.”

  I began to stomp. I stomped the ants in the middle of the line, the ants in the back of the line, and all the ants at the head of the line. I stomped so hard my cat’s dish vibrated across the floor, tumbled over the edge, and landed in the azalea bushes that circled the back porch. I didn’t stop stomping until all the ants were either dead or beyond my reach.

  Grandpa Eli motioned for me to come back. He put his hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eyes. “That’s what Pickers do, Becky. They hurt other living things just because they can.” Pulling me closer, he asked, “How did stomping those ants make you feel?”

  I lowered my eyes. “Bad. I felt bad, but . . .”

  “But what?”

  “But when I was stomping them I felt . . .”

  “You felt strong?”

  I nodded, too ashamed to acknowledge my Picker-like feelings in words.

  “How do you think the ants felt?”

  “Terrible,” I said. “And so will Pinecone when he sees his supper is gone.”

  “Don’t you worry about that cat. He won’t starve. But that’s what happens when a Picker gets riled up. Lots of innocent folks get hurt too.”

  “Does this mean I’m gonna be a Picker when I grow up?”

  “It’s all up to you, child. You don’t have to be a Picker or a Pick. You can choose to be nice to people and insist that they be nice to you.”

  I climbed back into his lap. “And if they’re not nice to me?”

  “If you stand up to the Pickers in this world, they’ll leave you alone. Remember, they like easy pickin’s.”

  “Have you ever been a Picker, Grandpa, or a Pick?”

  “Sure. At certain times in life, most people are either a Pick or Picker. It usually takes a lifetime for folks to figure out they don’t have to be either one.”

  “Grandpa, do you think a Picker, a champion Picker that is, can ever change?”

  “Maybe. With the passage of time and a heap of prayers, I think anyone can change.”

  I gave him a hug. “I think we should start praying for Momma right away.”

  Grandpa Eli smiled. “I think you’re right, Becky Leigh.”

       *****

I did start praying. But after both my grandfather and my beloved Papa died, and after the only noticeable change in Momma—despite eight years of fervent prayers—was her new husband, I stopped. I let the tales of Pickers and Picks slip from my mind and forgot Grandpa Eli’s warnings on the perils of becoming easy pickin’s.

  Not until one day in November of ’63 did I recall the lessons of the porch. That was the morning Momma and her new husband, Frank, went to the Miller’s house to watch President Kennedy’s funeral, and the time I got caught slipping into my new stepbrother’s room to borrow some paper. It was also the day a seventeen-year-old boy decided to teach a thirteen-year-old girl a lesson she wouldn’t forget. That was the day I knew for sure I was a Pick.

Breaking TWIG

Breaking TWIG

 

The Magic of Middle-Grade Literature

by Jenny Mattern

C.S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Throughout all the years I have been reading and enjoying middle-grade literature, I have found this to be eminently true. What exactly is middle-grade literature, you ask? It’s that sweet spot between beginning chapter books with their controlled, simple language and young adult literature, which so often seems to venture into dark places. In middle-grade literature, the main character is a child on the cusp of something else–in that place between childhood and adulthood where magic can still flourish.

Not long ago, I read The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. It’s not even twenty thousand words, this little novel, but it’s powerful. I handed it to my fourteen-year-old daughter. “Just read this,” I told her, and she did, very quickly. Afterwards, our conversation went something like this:

Me: What did you think of that book?
Teenager: I really liked it.
Me: It made me cry. How about you?
Teenager: Yep.
Me: What did you like about it?
Teenager: I’m not even sure. It was just so, so beautiful.

I do read books written for actual grown-ups, but I probably read twice as much middle-grade literature as any other genre, because when it’s well-written, few things can rival it. Are there books you read as a child that you’d consider reading again? C.S. Lewis also said, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” Try to remember what delighted you at age ten or eleven or twelve, and revisit it. If you spend all your time at the library searching through the shelves of the adult books, venture into the children’s section once in a while. You just might be surprised. 

Here are a few suggestions to get you started… 

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Happy reading!

To Plan or Not to Plan?

Photo.cropped by M. Frances Erler

I know I’m paraphrasing Shakespeare, so I hope he doesn’t mind.  With the Shelter-at-Home orders due to COVID19, I’ve been facing a challenge I’ve never encountered before.  We all have, I know.  Over the past three weeks all the plans I had for the next five months have gone out the window.  Or into the trash.  And yes, I know I’m not alone.

My quandry is whether to have a schedule for my empty days or not.  I’ve always been a planner, with a daily schedule on my bulletin board and a well-marked calendar on the wall. Setting up a new schedule has the appeal of helping me cope with everything and giving me some stability.  And a way to make sure I don’t ‘waste’ my time.

On the other hand, now that the calendar is gone, along with the schedule, I feel a strange sense of liberation.  I can do what I feel now, go with the flow.  Though I admit I find myself playing Solitaire on my Kindle a lot.  But maybe I need this bit of down time in a stressed life.

Hmm…I’m not sure which is better.  To schedule or not to schedule, that is the question.  Any ideas out there?