A few writing tips

One of our sets of bookshelves. I think we have seven altogether.

Before I wrote for magazines, I wrote novels, and nope, you can’t buy one. They didn’t sell. I have the prerequisite three bad books in my desk drawer. Perhaps, one day, I’ll write another once the publishing industry calms down, but maybe not. I like writing online for Fiskars and Lowe’s and for magazines like Oklahoma Gardener, and I’m grateful I have a steady paycheck. (Thanks Patsy Bell for your words of encouragement years ago).

Still, what I learned in the School of Journalism at Oklahoma University, holds true no matter whom I write for, nor the subject. As I worked today on a complicated garden article on color, several writing tips came to mind, and I thought I’d share them with you.

Gardeners and gluten free eaters, if you’re bored, please come back later, and I’ll have something for you. I Promise.

  1. Know that for which you stand. This caveat holds firm whether we’re discussing faith, social media, writing, or just plain living. Be kind to others. Walk with a grateful heart.
  2. Write regularly and write often. I write every single day. There was a time when I didn’t, but once I did, my writing became better. If I’m not writing, I’m conversing with my audience and support group online. That’s where social media come into play, but I do my work first.
  3. Have a place to write. Mine is in the kitchen. Before, it was on a small table in my bedroom, but after we remodeled, I built a desk into the kitchen which I designed with cubbyholes to hold my reference books and muses. Yes, I do most reference like spellcheck and definitions online, but occasionally I still pick up the thesaurus from my high school journalism teacher, Mrs. Liz Burdette and thumb through for inspiration. My muse board is on the wall to my left. I have pictures of friends, the Holy Father (because I like him, and he reminds me of who I am), places I want to travel and a writing, fairy muse Curtiss Ann gave me. I also have a large calendar on the wall because I like the pretty pictures. A basket of seed packets sits on the desk where I can see them. In other words, my writing space is my haven.

    Where I work.
  4. Know your subject. This is also sometimes written as write what you know, but I’ve written lots of articles assigned to me because I am a good researcher. After going to OU, I graduated during a recession, and I couldn’t find a job in my field, so I went to school and became a legal assistant. Everything I’ve done in my life has led me to something greater. Nothing is wasted. However, don’t overdo the research. It can be a fast track to procrastination and Resistance (as defined by Steven Pressfield in The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.)
  5. Be true to yourself. No matter the topic you’re writing, frame it so that your voice comes through (see #1 above) and don’t plagiarize. People who do suck, and our profession has enough bad actors to keep people from believing what we write. Remember A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey?

    My muse board changes as much as my mood, but same things are there all the time.
  6. Don’t preach. Let the story or article evolve into completion, and even if you have a strong opinion on the subject, try show instead of tell. If you’re wondering what I mean, think of the Green Movement in horticulture. People want you to live your “religion,” not hit them over the head with it. Okay, enough preaching.
  7. When you get stuck, do something else. With my desk in the kitchen, I often get up and sweep the floor. I have the cleanest floor in Oklahoma. No, I’m kidding. I also get up and take a short walk of ten minutes unless I’ve finished my draft or pages for the day, then I take a longer walk or a bike ride.
  8. Give yourself a hard deadline. When I wrote novels, it was twenty pages a day. I stayed and wrote until I got the pages. Now, it’s a rough draft. Once it’s finished, I step away and do something nice for myself.
  9. Writing is hard work. Surround yourself with things you love which affirm you and set the mood. For me, this is hot tea, sometimes a candle lit nearby (I like fire), and dark, dairy free chocolate. I used to have jelly beans, but I now only pull those out if the situation is dire. Sugar is not my friend.
  10. Be kind to yourself. All creative people I know are their worst critics. Again, writing is hard.If you’re doing the work, be kind. Every time you hear that evil voice say, “You’re lousy at this. You can’t write,” etc., ignore it. It’s not what’s real.
  11. Don’t reread the first draft. Immediately reading over the words I’d written was one of the best ways to sabotage myself. I would correct and change until all my time was gone, and I’d only written a couple of paragraphs.
  12. Find a support group. Don’t confuse this with a writing group however. Some writing groups are good and offer great support including a kick in the pants when you need it, but others aren’t worth taking away from your writing time. When I consider joining a writing group, I keep thinking about what Sue Grafton told me when we met. She said she wrote alone and only her husband read her first draft. She had supportive writing friends, but was not part of a writing group. I was shocked. She also held my hand, looked me in the eye, and asked, “So, you’re a writer. Are you brave?” She was and is my favorite mainstream author, and her words shook me to my core. Sue, if you ever read this, I can now answer with a firm, “Yes.”

    On my Writing Fairy, it says, “I love the swirl & swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” James Michener
  13. Be brave, but don’t be foolish. Listen to those who know more than you. Be respectful of writing royalty who specialize in your genre. Ask questions. Most writers are very nice people and want to help, but don’t write to be famous. Write because you must; because you love the swirl and twirl of words. Write, because if you don’t, a little part of you dies.
  14. Dream big. Why not? There is never a good reason to dream small. Although I don’t buy into all that Universe gives you what you ask for stuff, I do believe God knows us intimately. He knows our dreams and yearnings, and he wants us to have what is good for us, so dream big!

My dreams? Well, one is to write a gardening book one day, and I will.

I hope these ideas help anyone who is earnestly trying to write and finding it tough going. For those of you doing the work, I’d love to hear your tips too.

Kitchen Gardener magazine arrives!

A gift of garden help

About a hundred years ago, when I first started gardening out here in the country in my red dirt, I subscribed to Kitchen Gardener magazine (formerly known as Kitchen Garden).  Like a vegetable garden bible, I carried this magazine everywhere, and I read its bimonthly issue cover to cover.  I was so entranced by one particular article that I ran with it to HH and begged him to make a garden like it for me.  The design was a diamond in the middle with four triangular beds surrounding it.  As those of you who regularly read RDR know, that design was later expanded.

After a few years, Taunton Press decided Kitchen Gardener would be no more, and I wept bitter tears.  I kept all my back issues and consulted them regularly like scrolls.  Then, one day, we had a roof leak, and guess what . . . my issues were ruined.  I had to throw away three years of them.

Are you wondering why I would so want a vegetable gardening magazine when I’m a writer myself?  Well, Kitchen Gardener was special.  It was written for those who loved to grow vegetables, and it was extremely forward thinking.  For example, there were articles on attractive deer fencing, potagers, and keeping your cold frame warm with an electric grid beneath it.  They wrote about cloches, and the best use of different cultivars of garlic (hard neck and soft neck), along with vegetable garden design.

Vegetable garden design.  Think about that for a moment . . . when was the last time, you read a serious article about the most attractive fencing (“Protecting the Harvest Beautifully by Stefanie Vancura); or, about the placement of fruit trees against walls (“Demystifying Espalier,” by Ron Clancy)?  These people were serious about gardens which were both beautiful and fruitful, and it’s nice to have such companions again at my fingertips.

As I began working on the design for the new potager and where it is to be placed, I found I missed my magazine more and more.  A couple of weeks ago, I was on ebay.  No one who knows me would be surprised.  I scour ebay for old, garden things.  I once got an old issue of a flower gardening magazine which featured daylilies from the 1940s.  Great history there.

A simple design belies the wonderful information between within

A woman had listed one issue of Kitchen Gardener for a pittance.  I decided to write and ask if she had any more issues.  I discovered she is an estate liquidation specialist, and she did.  Nine issues starting in 1999 and going on through much of 2000.  We made a deal, and today, they appeared on my doorstep.

I’ve spent a very pleasant, half hour going over those months.  Alas, the issue with my garden plan isn’t among them.  However, Taunton is having a fifty percent off sale, so I went and bought those issues I don’t have.  These may not contain the prize issue, but perhaps they will.  In any event, I will have most of my Kitchen Gardener library back again.

You may be shaking your head and thinking how sad it is that one person’s estate is being sold off piece by piece, but I don’t mind if my children decide one day to sell many of my things, especially if they go to someone who will enjoy them as much as I. I see it as the ultimate in recycling.  Being thrifty and reusing things would make my Grandma Nita proud I’m sure, and I know she’d like the reel mower I’m giving away.  She used such a mower.  I remember.

Last week, Frances wrote a post asking what will happen with our blogs when we’re gone, and although I didn’t yet comment, I’ve thought about it all week.   Earlier MSS wrote a post about this same subject.  What will happen?  Will anyone care to read our work once we’re no longer able to update it this side of heaven?  I don’t know the answer, but I’ve given my passwords to the Diva, and I hope, when my time comes, she’ll write a last post for me.  Then, if my friends want to comment, that would be lovely.  In the meantime, I hope my words help other gardeners who are trying to grow beautiful things in stubborn soil, and are a comfort to them.

I’m also comforted by the thought of some future gardener picking up the mantle where I left off and running with it after I’m gone.

Kind of like how I’m using the magazines now, and how my grandmother inspired me.  Not to tie things up with a cliche, but it truly is the circle of life.