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Author. Word gatherer. Developmental editor. Speaker. Wayfinder. Encourager.

Brought to you by the Letter R: Ritual, Resolute, Routine

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 09•17

Image result for Cascade Mountains snowfallWe’re in the second week of January and the Portland area has come through another snow and ice storm. The southern part of Oregon has accumulated a lot more snowfall than we have although the nearby Cascades boast record snowfall levels. My Facebook friends’ photos of snowy wonderlands have left me with a bad case of snow envy even though I’ve been snowed in twice this winter. But they’ve got the real deal, the kind that sticks around. The kind that brings a permanent hush to the landscape.

Meanwhile, I’m finally falling into a routine. I so love some kind of routine to scaffold my days around, don’t you? You see my routine vanished last year to be replaced by bizzarro world, starting over, and a lot of anxiety, loss, and sadness.

Because I’ve been absent so much from this space I feel like I owe an explanation. Are you familiar with the lists that depict all the possible life stressors that can set a person over the edge? I experienced most of them in 2016. Since my mother died in 2015 and my dad is doing fine, I cannot claim I hit the jackpot and slogged through every major change. Mostly because I didn’t end up in prison.

But then again, my hellfire list is impressive. Major illness, check.  Car accident and multiple injuries, check, check. Lots of doctor visits and physical therapies, check, check. Dissolution of a long-term relationship, check. Long, maddening search for a place to live in a crazily-expensive housing market, check. Moving out of our beautiful shared home, check. Leaving behind my garden, check. Remodeling a ‘fixer upper’, check. Remodeling horrors from plumbing to foundation to electrical, check. Resulting money problems from recovery times and fixer upper horrors, check. Surgery, check, check. Recovery from surgeries and the accompanying exhaustion, check, check. My favorite person moving to the other side of the country, check.

In January when my year began with Norovirus while visiting Vegas it probably was an inkling of what was to come.  I’m not a Vegas-visitor type anyway, but I still haven’t forgotten the audacity of the stomach cramps when they hit. Or the hallucinatory juxtaposition of the garish Vegas strip and an I-wish-I-was-home illness.

So when the new roof I paid too much for leaked in November amid record downpours and the ceiling needed to be torn out, and the contractor who is licensed in the neighboring state won’t fix the problem, I wasn’t all that surprised. Just like  I wasn’t all that shocked when I went flying down the stairs in August landing in a twisted heap and injuring my back (yet again) so that my left leg and foot still buckle from time to time and pains keep me awake at night. In fact, after the sudden flight, knotted and twisted in a crumpled, awkward heap, I wondered if locusts or frogs would next plague me. And laughed out loud.

Nor was I surprised when the second recent surgery was so much more painful than bargained for; the recovery so much longer. Which explained the largest bottle of Percocets a doctor ever prescribed to me.

And yet here we are, another circle round the sun. A new year beckoning with promise and dread, but let’s leave politics out of this. Right now my living room is festooned with about 10 Chinese-red Rubbermaid tubs filled with my Christmas decorations. That’s right, I just took down my dried out, but formerly glorious tree yesterday. Partly I couldn’t bear to see it go and say good by to my favorite season and partly because I didn’t decorate it until the eve of the Solstice.

Which brings us to ritual. You see, I am still moving. If you can avoid moving for the rest of your life, do stay put.  I visit my former home several times a week and pack my turquoise Nissan full of boxes and detritus of my former self and haul them here, vainly hoping somehow I’ll fit my belongings into rapidly-filling nooks and crannies. My office is stacked with boxes so there is a wiggly, narrow path to my desk. I ran out of book cases, the windows leak, my first electric bill was astronomical, and the roof is still not completed.

Ritual. A way to mark a special day or transition; a behavior or activity that stamps a moment into memory. A passed-down custom. A pause amid the ordinary passage of time.  A rite, a ceremony, a tradition.For years I celebrated the Solstice by hosting an open house, but over the years with granddaughters arriving, Christmas celebrations and traditions took over the end of the year.

However, each Solstice and Equinox feels special with an almost mystical link to people throughout time, throughout the world who have celebrated the changing seasons. The shortest day and longest night seem especially potent and need rituals to mark them.

Without really planning to, I fell into ritual on December 21st. I had lit candles and was listening to carols when I  strung lights on the Noble fir and then hung my first ornament. The ornament was a little gold bird with the banner HOPE in its beak. It was given to me my niece Naomi. The moment it nestled among the branches it was as if a spell had been cast. I felt a peace descend that I hadn’t felt in all the previous year. A sense of connection and rightness that’s difficult to describe.

And as I hung ornaments and festooned strings of gold stars, the feeling remained andbird ornament never completely vanished throughout the cookie baking, music, present wrapping, gathering, and generosity that was Christmas.

I believe in ritual. Especially for writers and artists. Small acts and remembrances that help transport us to a place of attention, inspiration, and openness. And the fun part: each of us gets to invent our own rituals, our own means to reach that focused engagement. What does your writing ritual look like? Do you make a pot of coffee before you sit down? Clear off your desk? Light a candle? What small act can bring you into the writing mindset?

Writing gives us purpose.

Onward. Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

Next: Routine

January…..at last. What are your writing plans for 2017?

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 01•17

january-snow-covered-treesThis is what January looked like when I was a kid and it’s how my father’s yard looks in northern Wisconsin. Still. Cold that bites. Dusk arriving early. In the northern hemisphere it’s the perfect time to write. And read, of course. Write down your plans. Make them specific. Dream large. Use the quiet of the season to focus and take stock and slow down. It’s writing season.

NaNoWriMo: The Final Push

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Nov• 26•16

It’s here: the final days to finish your NaNoWriMo novel and hit your word count.  Your rewards are within reach. You can do this. The weekend is  sprawling before you with time and space and granting permission to write.

In case your story is stalling or thin here are a few idea for you:

Introduce a new character: every new character enters the story with a mystery attached to him or her. Because readers don’t know a darn thing about them.

godfather-sonny-shotAdd a Plot Point: A plot point spins the story in a new direction, often forcing the protagonist to act or decide or react. After it happens there is no going back to the way things were. An example of a major plot point from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather is when the son-in-law Carlos sets up Sonny, the oldest Corleone son for an assassination. Once Sonny is dead it’s clear that the Five Families must find a way to stop the war, end the bloodshed. Vito Corleone calls for a major meeting where terms are put into place.

Add a twist: This can be a complication or even a solution  readers didn’t see coming, but shifts the situation in a new direction. In The Hunger Games sponsors back in the Capitol can send gifts–food, medicine, tools, supplies to the tributes while they’re fighting it out in the Arena. The gift can be life saving. This factor was foreshadowed earlier when Katniss and Peeta were training for the fray.  Some water, a knife or even matches can mean the difference between life and death. And those things only come from sponsors. And to get sponsors, you have to make people like you.Haymitch Abernathyhunger-games-gift-from-sponsors

Speaking of Foreshadowing: Can you add a payoff at this point for something you foreshadowed earlier in the story? Foreshadowing is such a primo literary device, don’t overlook it in your repertoire. I lean toward subtle methods rather than Chekov’s gun in Act 1.

“The term “Chekhov’s gun” comes from a bit of advice Chekhov shared with other writers. In an 1889 letter to playwright Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev, Chekhov wrote:

One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it….

Chekhov is warning against extraneous detail. A gun is a looming image. It’s full of meaning; it has the potential for danger and death. To give it attention is a signal to readers that they should pay attention. If nothing comes of it, readers can feel duped. Every detail must have purpose. If you give something significance early in the story, follow through on it.” from Gotham Writers

Return to your outline: What scenes or ideas are you leaving out or can you flesh out? Your outline should lay out:

  1. Who the story is about.
  2. Where it takes place.
  3. What is at stake/the central conflict.
  4. What obstacles will thwart your protagonist.
  5. How it will all turn out.

Aim hard for that ending. At a good clip, but not a gallop. Make a  quick list of questions that need answering, problems that need to be resolved. All the consequences of what has come before are in play now. Are all the main characters going to survive? Will there be a comeuppance, a hard lesson, a battle royale?

Caffeine. Lots of it.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart.

Stay inspired by nature and language

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Nov• 16•16

winter-tree-with-birds“November – with uncanny witchery in its changed trees. With murky red sunsets flaming in smoky crimson behind the westering hills. With dear days when the austere woods were beautiful and gracious in a dignified serenity of folded hands and closed eyes – days full of a fine, pale sunshine that sifted through the late, leafless gold of the juniper-trees and glimmered among the grey beeches, lighting up evergreen banks of moss and washing the colonnades of the pines. Days with a high-sprung sky of flawless turquoise. Days when an exquisite melancholy seemed to hang over the landscape and dream about the lake. But days, too, of the wild blackness of great autumn storms, followed by dank, wet, streaming nights when there was witch-laughter in the pines and fitful moans among the mainland trees.”
 – Lucy Maud Montgomery

Post-election advice for grieving writers:

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Nov• 10•16

a-writer-is-a-person-who-cares

If you’re scared or angry or feeling disenfranchised, write. If you are choking on grief, write. If you’re worried about future Supreme Court nominees, write. If you’re worried about our political system in the largest possible terms, write.

Create stories like our lives depend on them because they do.  Create stories because storytelling is  generous, important, and uniting. Write to prove we cannot be cowed or terrorized or mocked. Write to feel less alone. Write to protest and howl so the sound of your soul ache reaches the farthest star.

Writing will bring you back to your body. Writing will help you notice  what is immutable, beautiful, and true all around you. This noticing will help you break through fear. Write and your heart will begin to stitch back together.

Make art and stories because they heal and are an expression of your soul. Make art starry-nightbecause art prevails through the ages and brings meaning to a sometimes disheartening reality. Make art because we need beauty.

Step up. Or perhaps I should say sit. Get quiet in your writing space or studio. Now is the time.

 

Advice for Wri Mos from Laini Taylor

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Nov• 05•16

be-an-unstoppable-force-quote-laini-taylor

Unstoppable. Machete-toting. Sounds good doesn’t it? And if you don’t make your word count one day do not panic. Just keep plugging awmachete-dudeay. Live that story in your head while you’re walking the dog or microwaving dinner. As you and Rufus the Border Collie head to the park, stride or swagger the way your protagonist would. Become your detective or woman on the run–and not just when you’re imagining scenes at your computer. Roll over your next scenes in your imagination before you fall asleep at night. Live the story.

 

NaNoWriMo Survival Guide

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Nov• 01•16

Last November I posted a long, smart (yes, I know I’m bragging), and practical  survival guide for making it through November and succeeding at NaNoWriMo. As writers everywhere know, it’s a giddy, laborious, exhausting and fulfilling marathon to crank out a 50,000-word novel in November. Thousands of people worldwide have joined and pulled it off.

And you can too.hyena-snarl

We’re tough, we’re wily, we’re survivors.

Here’s a piece that illustrates 8 successful novels that proves it can be done. What a list! Some of these books have sold millions like Hugh Howey’s Wool.

So here’s the link to my best survival advice. Actually, it’s called NaNoWriMo Hacks & a Bit of Tough Love.  Best of luck to you and just keep writing.

November

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Nov• 01•16

rosehips

12 Reasons to Join NaNoWriMo

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Oct• 29•16

I. We think quicker than we write. Writing fast helps you catch up with your brain, empty your swollen imagination.pen-tip

II. Breakneck writing is energizing and immersive. Once you’re into your story, you fall into enchantment, fall away from the ordinary world. When you take breaks for life’s necessities you long to come back to it. You ache for it like a first love.

III. For the comradery, support, and fun of being part of a giddy, committed world-wide  community of writers.

IV. To stretch and test yourself. May published authors, especially those who write series, have a NaNoWriMo schedule every month. Think about that.

V. Blazing, high-speed writing helps with consistency of voice, tone, and viewpoint. It creates fluidity as you live amid your story day after whizzing-past day.light-waves

VI. It teaches you to trust in the process.

VII. Anything is bearable for 30 days. Well, according to several women I know, bed rest with triplets is almost unbearable; but after November  your eye strain will ease, the dust piles can be vacuumed, your mate embraced with renewed affection.

VIII. Writing fast makes your brain limber.

IX. You’ll have more fun, you’ll stay loose and potent and nimble.

X. Because you owe to yourself, your muse and the stories locked in your imagination. You don’t want to carry around those untold stories like hungry ghosts scratching to escape.

XI. If not now, when? Next year? When you’re 30? Retired?

lightningXII. Because all the changes in the publishing landscape means you need to learn to write at a quicker pace. The whole book biz is moving at lightning speed these days, so writing solid first drafts  as quickly as possible makes sense for beginning writers or have-not-yet-broken-through yet writers.  None of us can predict what a writing career will look like ten or twenty years from now, but creating a backlog of manuscripts is a wise move in these tumultuous times.

Always noticing….

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Oct• 28•16

deep-blue-storm-clouds-over-farmhouseIt’s stopped raining and the morning sky is almost cloudless and a dusty, pale blue. In the Pacific Northwest we sort of skipped autumn and jumped into winter. Usually September and October are our finest and most golden months. Not this year, rains have battered the region, and even brought tornadoes to the coast. But in many parts it’s been welcome because some southern counties were experiencing drought and the whole region has had lower snowfalls, thus snow packs.

Put weather in your stories, my friends. Weather adds drama, reality, and mood. And while you’re at it, note the quality of light, the indelible details of dawn and dusk, the subtleties of the season, the way the wind feels and sounds. Witness the world like a poet. Always noticing. What does the sky look like right now?

And here’s a fine example:

And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.
– Edward Hirsch
from Fall

You might want to visit Hirsch’s site here.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart