National Parks Birthday – 100 This Year (Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore)

imageStu and I visited Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore this October for the first time – after passing by it for decades, going from east to west or west to east. It always seemed such a mystery. Unattainable. But when I visited, I found it quite attainable.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore turned 50 years old this year. I’m grateful for the insight of those who wanted to preserve lakeshore views for the public. Many of the roads in the park are two-laners (one lane in each direction), with no shoulders. Some roads pass through swampy areas.

I’m glad I went on an afternoon in fall v.s. summer. I imagine traffic is bumper to bumper during the hot summertime being so near the Chicago area. Parking is limited, but the view of the southern end of Lake Michigan is LGL (Lovely Great-Lakey). If you look toward the west, you do see the industrial structures along the coast. Look north or east, please.

I look forward to returning sometime to hike some of the trails – not, I think, in summer when there are lots of bugs and lots of people. I prefer my forest walks to be Foresty and quiet, except, of course, for the natural sounds and sights.

It still felt a little claustrophobic for my National Parks taste, but again, I have the woods yet to explore.


Writing in Spite of Everything

There are times when outside circumstances cause me to not want to write, and I’m not talking about winter coming, John Snow. They may be priorities of a family or relational crisis, or joys, or a visit. It may be work-related times, or trees flying through our house. A death. Or a celebration. Or even when I ponder our present political oddities. It is exactly in these times when I need to write. Writing gives me focus and sanity when the world around me swirls in confusion and insanity. Whenever I think, “Why bother?” I need to center in on the bigger picture, to see beyond all the confusions and conflicts which can so easily suck me down.

Perhaps your life or thoughts aren’t as twisty as above, but you are a writer who is still not writing for all the many other reasons you can list. Well, stop it! You can always journal. When you use the highly emotional trying or joyful times to jot a few words about that moment, they can someday be used in a story. When a childhood memory is stirred up, grab it, record it, remember with all your senses.

You cannot blame circumstances for not writing. You must not blame emotional times for not writing. Those are exactly the times when you need to be writing, even if it’s “just” journaling. Writing gives us focus and clears our minds of clutter.

And then there is NaNoWriMo coming up next month. I have not finished the revisions of my one story yet, which was my plan to have done so before NaNoWriMo starts. However, as it’s not the end of the month, and I have talked myself out of all the outside circumstances, my goal has not crashed. I encourage you to do the same. Write (or revise) in spite of everything.

Whole Book Revisions

I have a book which is half done-ish at 50K. That is, I’ve completed the rough draft of one of the character’s POV, with lots of hours of revisions and rewrites already done to it, which also means the word count fluctuates as I add or delete. I was going to start in on the other character’s POV. I mean, I already have done that with 18K down, but decided to hold off until NaNoWriMo in November to completely rewrite it and add a bunch of twists and complications. It is so hard to wait when all I want to do is write. In the meantime, until November 1st, I am doing a whole book revision on the first guy’s story.

Some of my writer friends love revisions as the best part of the writing process. Perhaps that’s because the story line is done, the characters already developed, etc. Revision means delving into both the big picture and the micro (even down to a single word use) picture. To me, that’s like wading knee-deep in mud. That said, I really, really like my completed revised drafts. I just whine pitifully all the way there. And these are just my own personal revisions, not an agent’s or editor’s input.

I’ve got Darcy Pattison’s shrunken manuscript workbook next to my tiny-print manuscript and go back and forth and back and forth between them. I’ve done the “simple” tasks of marking strong chapters, boxing off scenes, etc., and can’t help but also do some micro editing. Sorry, Darcy. I know. I know. Big picture first. And so much think-time! They never teach you that in writing classes/books. There’s so-so much think-time to writing a book.

After I do this particular whole book revision, I’ll then print it off again and mark any major, medium, or detailed changes still needing attention. And then print it off again for another look-though.

You would think I would be content doing whole book revisions. I mean, it is writing, after all, isn’t it? Well, in fact, no, it isn’t. Revisions are a part of the writing process, the part to make your story stronger, to plug up those plot holes, to make your characters more loveable…or more hateable. Whether I particularly like this bit of writing or not, it sure will fill my time for the next five weeks. And then–hurray!–I can start in on a new story which has been teasing me ceaselessly to pay attention to it, which is actually the other side-of-the-coin story.

(All right, Sandy, quit writing all these fresh words and thoughts and get back to work already! Revisions-ho!)

Volunteering Your Writing Time

I feel like this old rug has been beat to threads.  But I have volunteered for my entire life, so not doing so just feels wrong. Am I volunteering for free author school visits? No, to that. I ought to be paid for those. Am I volunteering in our public library in November to run a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Workshop for six weeks? The answer to that latter one would be yes, for I will do anything I can to help kids (and adults) to write, and write better.

Okay. You may beat the rug if you like. What are your favorite volunteer activities? (As long as they do not interfere with your own writing, that is.)

Revisions – The Big Picture

They say (“they” being conference speakers and authors of books on craft) that first you must get your story written before you go back to rewrite, revise, send through your critique group, revise more, and make the big picture make sense.

I thought after nearly a year of writing that I was done with my WIP story, and could look back on the big picture. Actually, I am far from it. What I thought I was finished with was the one character’s POV of the story. And then this past week I saw the big picture and realized that I had it snowing (in my story) from mid-September to the end of December. All I can give for an excuse is that while I wrote the bulk of the story last year that it must have been a long, cold winter. I mean, whatever happened to autumn?

I love the fall. It’s my favorite time of the year. And here I went and wrote a story going from summer directly into winter, totally skipping an entire season. And, yes, it was a long, cold winter last year. Still…no excuses.

The past couple of days I’ve been getting rid of winter (until the more appropriate later in the story). But another, perhaps more serious, trouble I have is that when I look back on whatever I’ve written, I have the irresistible urge to do revisions, not just seasonally related. It’s like I can make every single sentence in my 60K story better.

When I taught second graders one year and used the cute term “sloppy copy” for the rough first drafts of their stories, some of my best writers scribbled, scratched out, and wrote in both big and little letters even in the same word. I was confused until I realized they had taken me quite literally and had tried to make it sloppy.

I am not joking that my file with this WIP on it reminds me of my second graders’ sloppy copies. A couple weeks ago, I felt so good to be “done” with at least one character’s POV. I now know I am a long, long way from done. Oh, what a yucky sloppy copy. But at least I know the story, where it’s going, how it ends. Now to take care of ONE of the big picture revisions.

Keep on writing (and revising and learning).

One Way of Handling the Writing of Different POVs in one Novel

My WIP has two characters’ POVs. One character is our hero. I was getting distracted by the other character, but knew his story also needed to be told, for they intertwine, of course. Oh, how to weave them together into make-sense archs? The recommended alternate chapters did not allow for the larger picture. I found that the dance I was creating involved a lot of toe-stepping.

After continually getting myself confused (Which month is it now? Where did I leave the other?), I finally decided to focus on one character at a time. Oh, how writing life becomes so simple when centering on one thing at a time. (I’m not a very good multitasker, anyway.)

Our hero’s tale is done at 45k. The other messy tale is at 20k, but only about half-done in rough draft stage. Since extracting one POV from the other, I’ve realized exactly how messy messy is. I’ve taken the 12 chapters and started a new file. Oh. It is so messy!

Now I have color coded the chapters within the text and am in the process of writing out the chapter summaries, title, or sometimes a lone scene, onto index cards. In the order I wrote them, it looks like someone shuffled up the deck pretty good. But this is a start…or rather, a middle. I must determine what character #2 really wants, and then what he really, really wants, and if it has any connection with character #1 at all. Then I will have to decide whether to toss half of the chapters I’ve already written in his POV, or twist them into cohesive shape. Or just start fresh.

Ah, the writing life.

National Parks Birthday – 100 This Month! (Oregon Trail – Register Cliff)

Tomorrow – yes, tomorrow – is our National Parks’ 100th anniversary. (And all National Parks are free admission for four day. Happy birthday!)

Although not part of the National Parks System, I felt the need to include in this series some shots of Stu Patterfoot along the Oregon Trail in Wyoming. Because it’s history. Because it’s Stu. And because it’s so interesting.

During the mid- and late-1800’s, wagon train emigrants stopped overnight along the nearby North Platte River, and many recorded their names and dates in the soft limestone bluff, which has come to be known as Register Cliff.

Registration Cliff is a rock face where travelers could record by carving into the soft rock that they had made it that far. But today if you try to record that you, too, have passed that way, you’ll be arrested for vandalism. So acknowledge the history, sense the history, look at the history, but don’t touch. The near-barren landscape (trees only grow because of the nearby river) gives one a desolate feel of what early emigrants may have felt.

Most impressive (to me) at this spot was the worn rock made from thousands of wagon wheels heading for a new life further west. The sides of the prairie schooners must have scrapped the walls as they passed through here, with each wheel cutting deeper into the rock.

There are also thousands of cliff swallows guarding the wall. (Look above Stu’s head on the Register Cliff sign.)

As you write your stories, visit your settings. See the flora and fauna, and smell the history. Gather hundreds of ideas for future stories. Keep on writing.


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National Parks Birthday – 100 this month! (Mount Rushmore National Memorial)

Back in March I mentioned in a blog post the up-coming National Parks’ 100th birthday on August 25 (only three days away now). I showed a photo of Stu in front of Mount Rushmore. We lived about thirty minutes from there for about ten years. The scenery and wildlife of the Black Hills of South Dakota is stunning.

History: Many years ago a tourist was horseback riding in the Hills and asked his guide the name of “that mountain.” The guide said it didn’t have a name, so the tourist named it after himself. Fast forward a few decades and a visionary sculpture, Gutzon Borglum, saw faces in the bare cliffs. He designed and started the long process of creating the four US presidents seen today on Mount Rushmore. Can you name the four presidents? One had to be started over during the carving. And the original design was to be full busts, not just faces.



National Parks Birthday – 100 This Month! (Jewel Cave National Monument)

Six more days until our National Parks’ 100th birthday! What awesome places to visit, for  anyone,  but especially for writers and illustrators. There are ideas at every turn, every look.

Here is Stu Patterfoot visiting Jewel Cave National Monument in the Black Hills of South Dakota. There are about 1,000 acres of land on the surface with woods, rocks, and animals, with hundreds of miles of tunnels and passages below the ground. You really don’t know the term “pitch black” until you are deep in a cave and the lights are (intentionally) turned off. Even when experienced, it’s difficult to describe.


National Parks Birthday – 100 This Month! (Grand Tetons National Park)

Eight more days until our National Parks 100th birthday. Here are some photos of Stu Patterfoot in beautiful Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming. (Need a different, inspirational setting for your WIP? Visit a National Park!)

One fall, my husband was at a conference in nearby Jackson (which used to be called Jackson Hole until the millionaires in the area decided they didn’t like that historical reference). I’d taken the day off for a photo shoot. Before I’d left the motel, my husband ran through the checklist: driver’s license? wallet? keys? cell phone? Yes, yes, yes, yes, plus jacket and water and snacks for the day. See? I was prepared.

I was just inside this park’s boundary, with the edge of Jackson about three miles behind me when I stepped out of the van to snap my first photo of the day. (See the unedited version below with me holding Stu by the sign.) It was early morning. Very little traffic. And nothing here except a sign, about ten parking spots, and a gorgeous view. What I hadn’t counted on was the wild wind whipping through the valley. The open door banged my elbow. The van door shut. I thought nothing more about it because I was on a photo shoot, not until I went to get back in the vehicle. The wind and my elbow had collaborated to lock the door. Because it was a frosty morning, I’d had all the windows up. I was prepared for the day. What I hadn’t been prepared for was all my valuables just out of reach, but within sight on the passage seat along a very lonely, hardly-anyone-stopped-here, side lot. I could have walked to Jackson, but I was counting on my faith in humanity (and someone to stop help a maiden in distress). Plus, there was my open purse.

45 minutes later, someone stopped. They didn’t speak English. 20 minutes after that someone else stopped and lent me their cell phone so I could call AAA. An hour after that, a man came and in two minutes he got me back into my van and I was off for the rest of  day taking photos.

Grand Tetons – a stunning place year round, but in the fall…oh, my, the fall is gorgeous. Just remember to take your keys with you when you stop at lonely wayside lots.

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