field notes (4.29.16)

reading Amethyst and Agate: Poems of Lake Superior and it’s just right, right now

in CHICAGO! for a writing conference

cleaned and purged and refreshed my (tiny) writing studio so that when I return from my travels, I will be ready to write

I’m not sure where the idea of “paying your dues” came from, but for my entire writing life I have bought into it. Until now. I AM DONE PAYING MY DUES. (Do you hear me, universe?) DONE. It is time for me to produce and produce and produce and submit and submit and submit

sleeping and sleeping and sleeping (gathering my strength for all to come)

Wondering about story structure: I took a class this autumn that was all about following the W story structure. And I have spent the last few months unsuccessfully trying to get my novel to fit into that form. In the depths of my frustration, I read a beautiful essay by the accomplished John McPhee in the New Yorker and he basically said that structure is essential, but that each story has a unique structure. As a writer, you’ve got to figure out what structure works for each story. This was so liberating. I went through my picture-book biography manuscript and all my columns for the newspaper and drew diagrams of each essay: none of them fit the W form, but they all had a solid structure. Now, as I think about the structure of my novel, I’m keeping this in mind. This is not to say that I am throwing out the W form, it just means that I’m considering other forms. And wondering…

field notes (4.22.16)

Made it to the Talley Gallery to see the McKnight exhibit. Brilliant. Especially Kip O’Krongly’s work.

Finished WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron. So much insight contained within this book. Now, going back and attempting to make sense of my notes and create a cohesive vision for my novel.

Planted mesclun, spinach, radishes, gemstone and DMR lettuce mix. And they have started sprouting!

Reading Jim Harrison’s trilogy of short novels – REVENGE, THE MAN WHO GAVE UP HIS NAME and LEGENDS OF THE FALL – and absolutely hanging on his every word. What a ride! Also, slogging through A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN by Virginia Woolf and now that I’ve typed that I’m pretty sure I’m going to stop the slog, because life is short and there is such great writing waiting for me to read it.

field notes (4.15.16)

The theme here this week is S L O W

Slowly reading and writing and thinking my way through WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron

So many events I was looking forward to have been cancelled this week: my visit to the Talley Gallery, the Kerlan Collection Archives, the Loft to hear Helen Macdonald speak. Schedules changed and now I can’t go. Boo.

The sun is shining. The mineral smell of the soil surprised me this morning when I stepped outside. It’s been so long.

My Palomino Blackwing 602 pencils arrived. Swoon.

I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t spoke to for 20 years. You guys, it was so lovely and reaffirming to hear her voice, hear her story. We’ve got plans to see each other in early May. But also, after I spoke with her, I cried on and off all day because I have missed so much of her life. She got married, had babies, built a career, lost a sister. And I wish I could turn back time and stand with her through all of that, maybe help carry her through some of the hard things. I comfort myself with the thought that I’m back in her life now. I can’t undo the past 20 years. But I can do the next 20.

More watercolor painting and pencil scribbling and chalking and oil pasteling happening on my kitchen counter. Makes me incredibly happy.

Steady on with my essays!


field notes (4.8.16)

I wrote another essay: Ode to an Ugly Quilt

Reading: LITTLE BRITCHES by Ralph Moody, a Carl Linnaeus biography (whose title escapes me), THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Finished H IS FOR HAWK in preparation for Helen Mcdonald’s upcoming visit to the Loft Literary Center

Enjoying some mindless knitting. I’ve been chipping away at a new pattern that has me looking up every. single. stitch. and it is soooooo tedious. And, for a break and as a way to renew my knitting faith, I am knitting simple washcloths. Lovely. I don’t even have to look as I go! Also, enjoying the yarn color names so much: River Run, Pewter, Deep Turquoise, Copper Spice.

Discovered flavored San Pellegrino – blood orange!

Credentials measure what is quantifiable, they represent results. A call, on the other hand, is pure process; it cannot be measured, quantified, or controlled by institutions. People who are called tend to violate the rules in annoying ways.” – Kathleen Norris

This is a strange time for my writing: I’m chipping away at some essays and that’s about it. But I’m not writing miles and miles of words and scenes for my novel. I am craving sleep and reading novels and craft books and freewriting and knitting and painting and so those are the things I am pursuing. It makes me a bit nervous. I am trying to be OK with this. Trying not to panic. But trusting that God has a plan that will use all this for good. I feel a big shift coming.

field notes (4.1.16)

Truth. “People like us do things like this.” – Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux

I’ve read Austin Kleon’s books, STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST and SHOW YOUR WORK, and now I’m considering purchasing them.

Thinking hard about my in-the-flesh and my in-the-world women mentors, the qualities they possess that I most admire and how to add those to my life. Full-on, full-volume dreaming and scheming happening between my ears.

Painting in watercolor every day. I set up a work station on my kitchen island and I’ve not taken it down. I work a little bit throughout the day. This practice is feeding my soul, my inner artist in so many beautiful, powerful ways. But. It’s also got me thinking. I believe that making art and calling yourself an artist makes you an artist. But there is this nagging little mosquito-pitched voice in my head that says that I have to make money with my art to be called an artist. This is not true. But I act like it is. Trying to change this thought pattern. Making art makes me an artist.

Reading: H IS FOR HAWK by Helen Mcdonald, WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron and JESUS FEMINIST by Sarah Bessey. (What a mix!)

I’ve gone back to my storyboard this week. Haven’t glimpsed it since October 2015, when I first started writing my novel. In that time, everything about the novel has changed, particularly my thinking and my lens. And I feel as if I need a new map. So, I’m working on creating a new map. It is difficult. I’ve been crying as I work. But, I love the work. I feel it is leading me into lands I’ve only imagined.

Discovered Palomino Blackwing 602 pencils. I love pencils and had no idea that such beautiful tools existed. (Will order soon.) Also, discovered the Blackwing Long Point sharpener which sharpens using a two-step sharpening process in which the first step sharpens the pencil’s wood case and the second second step involves sharpening the graphite core. My heart flipped when I discovered such a grand thing existed.

Every few years, I am compelled to write a letter to myself. I started doing this when I was 24, then again at 27 and 33. And I’ve been resisting it this past month or so, but the need to write a letter to myself again will not let me rest. And so, I am writing. You guys, I have a lot to say to myself. I hope I will listen well and be BRAVE.

Also, thinking about trying Blackout Poetry.

field notes (3.25.16)

“Frustration is not an interruption of the process, frustration is the process.” – Elizabeth Gilbert (keeping this in mind)

Crafting a playlist for my current WIP: so much fun. This is the first time I’ve ever done this for a project and it’s incredibly helpful. It’s remarkable what the right music can do to evoke a time period and recall memories.

“Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.” – Cheryl Strayed

Reading: JESUS FEMINIST by Sarah Bessey and WIRED FOR STORY by LISA CRON (both books are so insightful that I purchased them both so that I could just go ahead and write in them.)

Making hotel reservations, pre-purchasing tickets, checking hours, making lists, checking them twice, niggling over all the little details in preparation for my upcoming road trip.

Epoch: a period of time marked by distinctive features, noteworthy events, a change in conditions.

I’ve got some intentional letting go to do. And I’m not sure how to do it. I need to do something physical to mark my release of old thoughts, ideas, heartbreaks, anger. So, I’m carefully considering what this may look like. Trying to close an epoch in my life.

field notes (3.18.16)

Reading: THE SUMMER OF LETTING GO by Gae Polisner and WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron and A TANGLE OF KNOTS by Lisa Graff

Neck deep in my preparation for my upcoming SCBWI conference

Honing an essay that is taking me down some wild back alleys: I love it when this happens, when I can let my bossy mind take a backseat to my wild, knowing mind…

Putting together a play list for my current WIP. I’ve never done this before; it’s never occurred to me. But, with this WIP, the music is practically walking up to me and asking to be included. That’s my clue to pay attention. And start downloading music.

Went to a bluegrass concert last weekend that almost killed me with happiness: Monroe Crossing, you are beautiful. (Also, live music, people. Live Music!)

How Annie Dillard wrote PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK

Note to self: “Writing starts internally, personally. We start writing about ourselves, our emotions and we do this for years. And then maybe we look up and start to realize that other people have needs. Encouragement, for example. And then we write about that. And we keep moving, radiating outward: to family, friend, neighbor, community, region, culture, world. To making this world a better place by extending empathy and understanding and love, love, love. We leave behind navel-gazing because we understand the story is bigger than us (but also includes us) and because we understand history and context and the idea that we are all living stories. We have experience in this world. And we see where we fit in. Our views become more global, encompassing, compassionate.” – Kelsi

field notes (3.11.16)

Hey! My latest column was published this past weekend, REMEMBER: YOU’RE THE BOSS.

Reading BONE GAP by Laura Ruby, A LONG WALK TO WATER by Linda Sue Park and FOREST OF WONDERS: WING & CLAW also by Linda Sue Park.

Digging this quote: “By all means, take these intellectual risks. But not when you’re skydiving. Being uninformed doesn’t make you a renegade. It merely makes you uninformed.”  – Seth Godin

Went to a utilize-your-smartphone class and it was a disaster. (The whole debacle was a reminder of how much I HATE wasting my time and how much I value autonomy and personalization in education.)

Note To Self: Any piece of writing (essay, novel, picture book, etc.) is just a breadcrumb trail though a forest of ideas and thoughts that the writer makes for their readers with the purpose of leading them along a trail of their own making (hopefully without too many detours.)

field notes (3.4.16)

Friends, we made it through February! Which means we are through with the darkest, coldest days of winter. (This is a BIG deal in Minnesota).

It’s March 4 (March Forth!) one of the most fortuitous days of the year.

Went through the speaker/presenter list for my upcoming conference and reserved and started reading so many book. My favorite so far: WOOLBUR by Leslie Helskoski

My friend, Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux, just released her marvelous book, THE MARVELOUS IMAGINATION OF KATIE ADDAMS. It is a delicious story. Go buy a copy or 10.

Loving this quote, Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” – Dolly Parton

Reading: DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy, SEX & VIOLENCE by Carrie Mesrobian, JESUS FEMINIST by Sarah Bessey and WILD by Cheryl Strayed (this is the second time I’ve read this book, this time I’m reading it to study its structure.)

Practicing and pondering the immense power in self-care. May turn this into an essay?

Another quote that is resonating with me these days, “Our idol of the autonomous individual is a sham; the truth is we expect everyone to be the same and dismiss as elitist those who are working through a call to any genuine vocation.” Kathleen Norris , THE CLOISTER WALK


field notes (2.26.16)

You guys, we lost a gem of a woman, writer, truth-teller this week: “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” – Harper Lee

Reading: SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo (amazing) and THE SELECTED LETTERS OF WILLA CATHER edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout for the second time, but this go-around I own my copy so I can write in it all I want (wheeeeee!)

Cannot get enough of lemongrass and wintergreen oils during this last full, grey, dull week of that soul-sucking month called February

Replenished the colored pencil supplies: Prismacolor is where it is at

Updated my business cards!

Reminding myself to give my essays my very best love, attention, effort because they are teaching me so much. And because I enjoy puzzling over them so much. And because I am creating clips and stories and ideas I can be proud of. (It is a delight to be spending my time and energy writing instead of trying to place my essays.) And it is so much fun.

Went to the Talley Gallery to see Stefan Markov’s exhibit. When I sat down in the gallery, slowly and quietly studying his work, a headache that I’d been hauling around all day just slipped away. Ah, the power of art.

Questions I’m pondering regarding my next writing project: What is the main character supposed to learn? How can structure best support the story? What is the initial taste/urge/compulsion/idea that made me want to write this story? Which scene represent the core of the story I’m trying to tell?