Repost: Just Before the Muddy Middle

The path to completion is never easy…

Approaching the muddy middle… never a fun place to be. Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash
There’s a stage in every writing project where the first draft seems unfinishable. For me, that point is usually somewhere between the 50–75% mark. By then, I’m usually frustrated by how slowly things are going, feel like I’m never going to finish the first draft, hate most of what I’ve written, feel that either I’ll never have enough to say to finish a whole book or that there will be no possible way to wade through all the resources and rough notes to and whittle them down to a reasonable number of words that will fit within the target word count. By that point, I’m usually feeling bogged down by all the reading I’ve done and physically am buried under stacks of printed out articles and teetering piles of library books. The number of tabs open in several different browsers are slowing my poor laptop down to prehistoric speeds.
It’s all rainbows and unicorns around here at the moment. I wish I could hang onto this feeling of lightness and optimism as I approach the book-writing equivalent of the doldrums. Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

But just before I get to that dreadful muddly middle where it seems there is no realistic chance I will ever finish writing the first draft, there’s a lovely stage of enthusiasm and ease that lasts up until about the first third is done. I’m nearing the end of that blissful stage in That Deforestation Book and I thought I’d take a moment to pause, reflect, and enjoy the fact that things are going well.

There are loads of resources out there and I’ve sunk my teeth into several (though finished reading none). I’m finding my research is actually fitting quite nicely into the fairly detailed outline I set up in Scrivener. I’ve been told by my editor to be careful because Scrivener and Word (which is how I’ll eventually need to export the draft before it goes off to the editor) don’t always play nicely together. For the moment, I’ve decided not to worry about that too much because I’m finding Scrivener to be quite helpful and a good fit for the chaotic way in which I write. I jump all over the place in a manuscript when I’m starting out and only later go back and get all methodical and chronological about the material. That’s when I realize just how big the gaps are that I’ve left to deal with later…

Faulkner It May Be Bad IMG_7225 2

For now, though, I am merrily inserting ‘look at this later’ comments to myself when I discover I don’t know as much as I thought I did about specific details (like the percentage of forests in BC that are clearcut each year and how that number has changed over the past 50 years). On the other side, I’m finding resources like the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) document, Global Forests Resource Assessment 2015 which is available as a free Kindle download and which provides an interesting overview of global deforestation (and replanting) numbers over the past 25 years.

Basically, I’m still feeling optimistic and happy about how things are going. I’m approaching the 30% mark in terms of word count and am easily finding material to slot into the various sections. What I also know is that this feeling of ‘I’ve got this’ is about to turn into ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ as I approach the halfway mark and the beginning of the muddy middle.

Wish me luck!

Also reading: Breakfast of Biodiversity: the Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction by John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto [and various other titles procured from the library — love my library!]

Word Count (cumulative): Just shy of 3000 words

Suggestions? How do you deal with that terrible place in the middle of a first draft where things slooooooow right down and it seems like you’ll never reach the end?

Haven’t bought the last book yet? Here’s the link to Christmas: From Solstice to Santa

Pollard vs Coppice – The Pleasures of Research

Wherein a book is nurtured… and willow twigs are bent into all manner of odd shapes… Photo by Nynne Schrøderon Unsplash
If you are following along over on Medium (yes, I know, too many blogs…) you’ll likely recognize this as another in the accountability blog post series. That Deforestation Book, as I’ve been calling it, is coming along slowly but surely. Today’s research dug into the differences between coppicing and pollarding. Both involve lopping a tree off at its knees (or ankles) and then waiting to see what happens. In the case of most evergreen species, not much, but if you try this trick with something like a willow or a maple tree it’s more like, ‘holy crap! shouldn’t that thing be dead?’ because after a relatively short time the tree stump sprouts a bunch of fresh sprouts that rapidly grow into usable sticks, poles, and, left for a few years, fence posts. 

So, What’s the Difference between Pollarding and Coppicing?

The difference between the two ancient practices (according to this BBC article, there are coppiced trees in France that have been coming and going, so to speak, for six centuries!) is that one cuts a coppiced tree right to the ground, whereas a pollarded specimen has been cut a bit higher up. In both cases, the new growth is quick, vigorous, and eminently useful.

Furniture of various kinds made from young, flexible twigs… Photo by Isaac Benhesedon Unsplash

Thin, pliable, young shoots may be used for basket or furniture-making, but if you leave your fresh growth to mature for a bit, it’s possible to produce quite a large amount of usable wood in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to the basic concept, I’ve added some new vocabulary (stool, copse, lop, poll) and found a few decent photos, so that whole section is looking reasonable.

Back in my farm and gardening days, I made good use of my coppiced/pollarded bounty to build gates, trellises, structures for supporting beans, peas, cucumbers… Here, my niece is on an Easter egg hunt, oblivious to the magic of coppiced sticks to her left…
One of the interesting challenges of writing a book in the Orca Footprints series is that the authors must all have some sort of personal connection to the subject at hand. At first glance little old me, a tree lover, might not have an obvious hand in global deforestation (other than the vast number of sheets of paper I print out in the course of writing a book… ), but I’m finding that the connections, in this case, are plentiful. Take coppicing. 

Have I Ever Coppiced a Tree? Why, Yes I Have!

The first time I coppiced a tree was after a wild blizzard on Vancouver Island. A lovely old, but fragile, plum tree split in half and basically disintegrated under the weight of a huge amount of wet, west coast snow. The sprawling wreckage that emerged when the snow melted was heartbreaking, but the debris was also affecting other trees in our orchard as one half of the plum had fallen across a young cherry tree we had planted and the other half had crashed into one of our favourite apple trees. So, we cut the plum tree down thinking that was that. Lo and behold, when spring came a virtual forest of plum tree stalks shot up from the stump. We left the spindly young ones alone for a few years and they put on quite the show of blossoms each spring. Because the original fruiting part of the tree would have been grafted onto rootstock, we never did get any more edible fruit, but the amount of regrowth was truly inspiring and I used quite a few of the new sticks to build some rustic gates and other farm and garden structures.

That was my introduction to the concept of coppicing which, as my father enlightened me at the time, was a common practice back in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. In terms of That Deforestation Book, my fond memories of lopping and chopping have been recycled quite nicely into a sidebar in the pollarding section…

Word count: Running total 2663 (though, that’s a bit inflated because it includes my growing list of references which won’t be included in the final total…Using Scrivener, I’m not quite sure how to exclude a section when doing my word count. If you are a Scrivener expert, do tell…)

Meanwhile, over on the other blog…

I confess I’ve been terrible about making sure to cross-post my blog entries from over on my other website.

Instead of reposting all the original posts here, I’ll give you a quick summary and some links to get you started, should you wish to head over there and catch up (see the list of links at the end of this post).

 

IMG_4861.JPG
Arriving on the coast… sunshine, ocean – happy to be back!

 

I arrived a couple of days ago to spend some time with family, visit with students at a couple of schools, and meet with my editor, Sarah, about my new WiP, When the Time is Right (about medically-assisted dying).

 

IMG_3090.JPG
I’m not sure I can say it has been a lot of fun to work on this book about dying, but it sure has been fascinating! I’ve learned a lot and feel quite differently now about the subject than I did when I started working on this book a year-and-a-half ago. 

 

 

It’s been a busy few days since I got to Vancouver Island and several things come to mind. First, I really enjoy doing school visits and that’s still true even though I’ve done a gazillion over the years. Why? No matter how often I share my stories, the students never fail to inspire me. Their enthusiasm for reading and writing, their questions and curiosity always leave me reinvigorated and eager to get back to work on the next book(s).

Cliffhanger Front Cover.png         deadpoint cover

So where am I with all my projects? Recent releases include Cliffhanger and Deadpoint, both about mountain climbing and Better Together: Creating Community in an Uncertain World (part of the Orca Footprints series). The next book to come out will be Christmas: From Solstice to Santa which was co-authored with my talented daughter, Dani Tate-Stratton.

 

Christmas Cover
This book about Christmas, its history, and how its celebrated around the world will be out later this year… 

 

Now that I’ve met with Sarah, I’ll get to work on edits to When the Time is Right: Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die for a new Orca series about series, complex subjects for teen readers. Once that’s off my plate I’ll refocus on The Last Leg: Three Generations on the Camino, the memoir I’m working on with Dani and my dad (E. Colin Williams). If you are interested in seeing a few photos from the trip we made in the fall to northern Spain, visit our Instagram feed @thelastlegbook. In 2020, my picture book with Holiday House is scheduled for publication. It’s going to be illustrated by Katie Kath (you can see more of her work on Instagram).  That book (which combines baseball and bricklaying) will officially have the longest lead time of all my books with more than 6 years elapsing between the time I first discussed the concept with my agent to final publication. Patience, as they say, is a virtue!

ARC Cover Better Together

I’m also getting ready to start work on a non-fiction book for teens about civil disobedience and, after that, will return to work on the adult memoir I’ve been plugging away at for years about my mom, the nature of personality, and dementia.

BUSY!

As promised, here’s a list of a few links to posts over on the other blog…

During the month of April I took part in the AtoZ Blogging challenge and actually managed to post every day…

A is for Abessess (I was in Paris when I wrote a few of these, so that was pretty cool… what’s not to love about Paris?)

F is for Feet

Y is for a Year or So of Travels (It has been a great year and a bit of roaming the globe… this post touches on a few highlights)

 

IMG_3135.jpg
My journals and daytimer now include little sketches – that’s a first. Even when the drawings aren’t great, the pages just look more interesting. (This little sketch is from my recent trip to the British Virgin Islands where I was able to combine sailing and climbing. Heaven!)

 

The blogging challenge was lots of fun, so I decided to keep going at the same time as I also challenge myself to learn how to draw. Despite the fact I grew up with an artist (my dad is the painter, E. Colin Williams), I never really explored visual art, preferring to stick with writing.

I am really hoping that if I manage to keep going with this project for the planned 365 days of the coming year that by the end of it I will draw better than I do now… Things couldn’t really get much worse, I don’t think…

Lines (12/365)

Dots, Lines and 3D

Wow. That’s a lot of catching up! I’ll try to be better about posting regularly here, too!

Let me know what you are working on by leaving me a quick note in the comments below. Include a link to your website (or Instagram or Facebook account) so we can come over and visit you, too.

The Year of Making Connections

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

 

ARC Cover Better TogetherAn introvert by nature, it’s not always easy to reach out and connect with other people (you can’t imagine the depth of horror I feel when informed we have a party to go to… Eek! Small talk! People I don’t know!) But, when it happens and I actually get over myself and meet people or spend time with those I already know- there are few things more soul-satisfying and positive than spending time with others. I recognize some aspect of my inner nature does not make it easy to take that first step and make an overture, start a conversation… but my mind (and my heart) also know just how healthy it is to nurture relationships of all kinds, with all sorts of people.

I’ve been working on this for a while, but since we’ve just started a new year, I’ve decided to make this a theme. In the lingo of my yoga classes, I am setting an intention for the year which, hopefully, will become a new habit, a better way of being for the future. Which all sounds a bit airy-fairy, I know. So I thought I’d share a bit of some of what I’m doing/planning to do over the coming year to help make this new reality happen.

Better Together: Creating Community in an Uncertain World could not be arriving at a more propitious time. My fourth in the Orca Footprints series, this non-fiction book for kids will come out early in April (here’s a link to the book’s page at Orca Book Publishers… which reminds me, I should update my books pages here on the author blog… maybe I should add ‘connect with a personal assistant’ to my list of ways to stay on top of my To-Do lists!). The theme of the book is all about making connections, about finding ways to create a sense of community and why people in groups are such a powerful force for good and facilitating change.

Family Cabinet
Many members of our family got together this year in Vancouver, where we took in a Cirque de Soleil show and ate a LOT of popcorn. 

Writing the book was a terrific exercise for me. I began by looking at the most intimate bonds we form – parent and child, siblings, grandparents, best friends – families in all their many configurations. Of course, thinking about family made me very aware of how lucky I am to have a good one! Keeping in touch isn’t always easy with relatives spread out between Canada, Europe, Tokyo and Hawaii. It’s a good thing we all love to travel and are able to do so often enough that various branches of the extended family manage to get together fairly regularly. One day, we should host a massive family reunion somewhere in the middle and get every one together – the Germans, the Brits, the Italians, the Canadians, the Japanese, the Swedes… That would be a mighty fun event.

Kipling Better Together

Anyway, that’s chapter one, which looks at those very first key relationships. Chapter two branches out into neighbourhoods and local community groups, bonding through the workplace, at school, at the local community garden (and, under less pleasant circumstances, the ways communities form when people are thrown together in places they don’t necessarily choose – leper colonies and prisons, for example).

Religion

The third chapter pulls the lens back a bit and has a look at how people group themselves according to religion, race, ethnicity, peer groups of various kinds – and, what can go wrong when a group defines itself in terms of those who are excluded or when two groups decide they have no common ground and must use aggression to decide who is stronger/better/more deserving. Because, of course, the basic human need to form tight bonds has a dark side when we focus more on the differences between groups than on the fundamental similarities common to all people, no matter where we live or what we believe in.

Little Women

The final chapter takes another step back and focuses on global organizations and how they try to transcend borders, nationalities, religious affiliations, and cultural differences to try to work together to meet basic human needs for all. And, it turns out, in a world where it seems at times we are doomed to be unable to get along, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Acts of human kindness, generosity, consideration, gentleness, and cooperation based on a desire to help and nurture are abundant. And, they occur at all levels – from a simple gesture between siblings to UN missions costing millions of dollars and involving people around the globe.

Mind Map

When I sat down to write this post, I did a mind map, sprawling all my thoughts about community and making connections on a couple of pages in my new journal (I start a new one each January). The page is full – overflowing with thoughts and ideas. This post, which I thought was going to be a very general one reflecting all those ideas, wound up being only about one point on the page… which is a good thing, I guess, if I’m ever stuck for an idea for a post I can grab another one!

Note: If you are a children’s book reviewer, contact me and we’ll arrange to send you a digital reading copy…

That Way! (reposted from darkcreekfarm.com)

I am famous in my family for my ability to get lost. Spectacularly lost. Like, in Canmore (a cute town with half a dozen streets, town where I now live, town in which, yes, I still get lost). Before we set off on this trip there were quite a few jokes about how if anyone could get lost on the Camino it would be me.

Ha! I LOVE how incredibly well marked the route has been. Ever since we spotted our first arrow outside the albergue in Sarria we have never faltered. Occasionally there are a couple of options (a slightly more rural path versus following the road for a bit) but mostly every place where one could possibly get confused has a bright yellow arrow or a stylized shell or an official marker or all three…

Where the path crosses a road, motorists are warned to slow down.

Though we are tracking our progress closely using both google maps and the Nike+ Run app (Dani is using the latter to let her know exactly when she reaches each kilometre mark, at which point she snaps a photo – no people and within 10 steps of the km mark) there is really no need for technology when it comes to figuring out where to go.

Of course, the string of pilgrims stretching as far as the eye can see is another indicator we are heading in the right direction!

Now all I need is for the rest of the world to catch on to the idea of superb way-finding assistance… and maybe I need to figure out where in life I want to be going so the yellow arrows will start to appear whenever I need to see one!

We are finally on the Camino in Spain!

Oh my… while we were away I had terrible trouble posting to this blog for some reason…

Here, then, is a copy (I hope) of a post from October… If this works, I’ll add the few others I managed to post from on the road (over on my other blog… darkcreekfarm.com/blog)

The Chinese proverb sums up how we feel today after finally, finally setting off on our Camino adventure.

After several days of brilliant sun and hot temperatures, we were all relieved when it was cool and a bit foggy as we left the Albergue in Sarria. We were also pretty excited to spot our first yellow arrow and stylized shell indicating we were heading off in the correct direction. I have no idea how many arrows and other way markers we passed today – a lot – but each one is a small message of hope that we were a step closer to our destination.

The cooler temperatures helped mitigate the horror we all felt as we stood at the bottom of the daunting set of stairs that lead up and out of Sarria.

Dad has been training for months, but always on more or less level terrain and never with his daypack.

 

Thank goodness Dani planned today to be a shortish day. The total distance travelled was only about 4km, but it was tough going in places.

The old part of Sarria felt like the perfect place to start our journey, steeped in history and full of albergues and small

restaurants and bars it was also full of pilgrims.

We stopped often so Dad could catch his breath but by the time we started up the final hill leading to the village of Barbadelo Dad was pretty bagged. Dani and I redistributed everything he was carrying between the two of us and insisted on a refuelling break along the way.

At one point as Dad was puffing on his inhaler and looking pained, I thought we had perhaps made a terrible mistake. Much of today’s path was through the woods (yay – shade!!) but that did mean it would have been pretty well impossible to have hailed an ambulance should we have needed one. Various passing pilgrims stopped to ask if all was well or if we needed assistance. Dad waved them off, but I wondered several times if perhaps we needed to reassess and perhaps procure a donkey for Dad to ride for the rest of our journey.

Eventually, the grade lessened and our wooded path opened out into an area of fields and small farms and the going was much easier. By the time we reached Barbadelo, Dad was full of smiles and shocked both Dani and me when he declared the day to have been a lot of fun!

We are not going to set any speed records, that’s for sure, but if we just concentrate on one step at a time, eventually we will make it to our final destination.

So. Much. Going. On.

Gads – where to even start??? How about with brownie mix?

Brownies 01
Do you have any idea how hard it is to photograph brownie mix and make it look delicious?
Brownies 02
This could be a mud pie… it isn’t, but it doesn’t exactly look appetizing. Hats off to food photographers who can make you drool just by looking at a photo…

Why brownie mix you may ask? Well, the forthcoming Christmas book includes recipes and craft activities, so we’ve been testing… Which might be a fine, fun thing to be doing if I wasn’t also trying to get organized to go away next week. At times like this, the kitchen shouldn’t really look like a bomb went off…

kitchen mess.JPG
This was actually after I had tidied up a bit… See the relevant manuscript pages on the counter?
mix in jar.JPG
This is what the Brownie Mix in a Jar craft/recipe is supposed to look like. Note the snowmen? They are deconstructed seasonal earrings, destined to make a return appearance in the snow globe I’ll make after I run to the store to get glitter. Turns out it’s very hard to find small Christmassy items suitable for snow globe insertion when the retail cycle is currently hyping Halloween. I was sorely tempted to do a spider-themed snowglobe.

Meanwhile, over on the coast, Dani is going through thousands of family photos in search of suitable images to include in the book. We are both pretty excited about the book – another in the Orca Origins series – (what’s not to love about Christmas?), but also completely stressed as our respective planes are departing very, very soon… (according to my countdown clock, I will be taxiing down the runway in 6 days, 20 hours and 48 minutes).

So far, the recipes and crafts are working out fine – with the exception, perhaps, of the homemade tree decorations made from the strangest mix of applesauce, white glue, and cinnamon. They smell great and look like cookies (you cut the shapes out with cookie cutters) and one was very nearly eaten by a hungry family member as the gooey batch was drying on the counter! This is why we test recipes… I will be adding a warning that kids should make a sign warning people not to test the ornaments while they are drying, no matter how tasty they look!

patreon-logoEnjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.