Sunday, November 30, 2008

Decorating A Weird, Little Corner

One wall in our family room has three wicked corners. They are very, very wicked. And I was flummoxed.

First, I tried a cloverleaf table, art, and a lamp.

Next, I moved the chinoiserie secretary into this room; I added a floor lamp, hung a picture, and propped a mirror over the chest. I liked what the mirror reflected...but something was wrong. So I emailed pictures to my friend, Allison.

Allison took one look and suggested I remove the mirror and add art. However, I went hog wild. But I always go hog wild.

Allison said to remove one picture and to edit the accessories.

It looked so much better with the edits.
After a long while, I added two paintings: a fox and a chicken (based on a real adventure that happened on the farm--I like art--and rooms--to tell a story...and this art just happened to be in a dusty, old store at the right time). For Thanksgiving, I added two porcelain birds (this room has a major animal theme with lots of wire birdcages).

A close up of the birds.

The birds will be flying back to the hearth room this week. I love to move things around.

Corners can be a wicked challenge. But I learned to use the wickedness to my advantage--I learned to play up the corner, to create a mini-vignette that could stand alone and still work with other elements in the room. I have a friend who put a black chest in a corner (it was a corner chest), and then she hung bird prints on either side of the corner, with a tall, thin lamp in between: it was gorgeous.

Couldn't have done this in a million years without you, Allison. :-) Decorating is always better--and a thousand times more fun--with friends.



Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tablescape in Progress

This morning, Dr. Gollum stopped by the big, after Thanksgiving sale at the antique mall--and I am now the proud owner of twelve Spode turkey plates. I tried to upload more pictures, but Young Gollum is bellowing about bandwith or somesuch. I'm off to see a movie with friends, so maybe when I return, Young Gollum will be asleep.

Oh, I love the plates! Any tablescaping ideas? Maybe you all can give me some tips and exercises to break "tablescape block," which, I suspect, is a kissin' cousin to writer's block, only with china.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Gollumy Thanksgiving

The day began with our "Thanksgiving" notebook. I wasn't sure how this would go over, but it was a huge hit. So was the cream sherry! Everyone had fun listing funny "thanks" and heartfelt ones.

While the turkey roasted, the family chilled.
My mother is on the right, my son on the left; the guy in the black shirt is my brother. (The dog, Jazzy, is my mother's Shih Tzu. Mister is mysteriously absent--he was right behind my brother.)

Dr. Gollum with Cosette Belle Rouge (the poodle)

Lynne, you'd asked about my shelf--it's here!

Here is the dessert bar

Meanwhile, the rolls were rising...

We bought a fresh turkey this year (Publix--not from our farm! :0). My mother said, "It was the BEST turkey ever." But she always says that. :-)

My niece's boyfriend, my brother, and my niece

My baby son is on the far right

Each plate had a present

My niece fixed my mother's plate

The side dishes were placed on a side table..

cornbread dressing and green bean casserole

Fruit salad (not pictured: sweet potato casserole, 7-layer salad, cranberry relish

A close up view of the "treat" tower. I found these at K-Mart--three little boxes filled with candy. This is the Santa box:

And the snowman

So, how was your Thanksgiving? Any favorite dishes?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Part II: Taming Your Inner Critic

Let's say that you started a notebook or a private Workshop Blog. You've banished the I.C--for the moment. Now, you sit down to write. Soon you fall through the page. The words are flowing.

If your I.C. pops up and starts giving you lip, put the comments in RED. Then take the I.C. out of the box, tell it off, return it in the box.
You will have zero tolerance for your I.C.
When you return to your WIP (work-in-progress), please delete those red words. And move forward.

It's important to give yourself permission to write what the heck you want. Misspell words with glee. Use all the damn adverbs you want. Tell, don't show. Violate every rule you can. As long as the story is flowing, let it flow. If your story begins to shift direction (a good sign for many writers), let it run. Let it fly. And don't look back. It's like climbing a mountain--keep looking straight ahead.

If you look back, then YOU will be in the box, and the I.C. will be roaming free.

If ideas pop up, make kinder, gentler notes to yourself in GREEN or GOLD or whatever color you want.

Whether you create a private blog or not, when you are finished with your project, you will want to spell check--or even revise. Now is not the time to invite your I.C. for coffee. Not yet. Don't look at your creation for a few days. And for heaven's sake--don't throw it away! Put it in a drawer. Leave it on your blog. Stick it in the freezer (this is what I do, lol).

After you've waited a few days or a week, you will return to your WIP with a clearer eye. By this time, you have achieved the necessary distance. Steve King says this is the time to "murder our darlings." He is right. But first, you need distance.

Now: you are ready for your I.C. Invite it for coffee.

First, print your WIP. Correcting a WIP on a computer screen is very, very different from correcting a hard copy (with an old fashioned pen).

Grab your pen of choice and start reading. You are wearing a different hat, so to speak--an editor's hat. (Some people even put on a stern, 50's hat when they are in self-edit mode.)

When the I.C. shows up, smile. Offer cake.

Just don't let the I.C. get too comfy. Lay down the law. Be specific. Do not let your I.C. be a "free range" critic. The I.C. can't pass judgment about anything you've written/decorated/baked/painted. The I.C. isn't allowed to say, "This stinks!" No eye-rolling, either.

The I.C. can point out spelling errors. You might even let it circle adverbs .

The revision process is eerily similar to decorating--editing a tablescape or items on a shelf. Sometimes you can get too close -- and you need to step back, listen to your intuition.

Later, as you become more comfortable with your I.C. (and when you learn to trust your intuition), you can let your I.C. answer specific questions. Your questions will be different from my questions (because writing is deeply personal).

My I.C. sits on my shoulder. It might say, "Wait, go back to that sentence. Yes, that one. Gee, it's kinda clunky, isn't it?"
I ball up my fists, ready to pounce. "Why, you little--"
The I.C. sighs. "Sorry, Gollum. That was harsh. I just meant you've got a lot of words in that sentence."

At this point, you and the I.C. are in sync. Just to be sure, though, read the sentence out loud.

When you read out loud, you are using a different part of your brain than when you read silently--and you will hear things that your eye would skip. (This is similar to taking digital photographs of a room--and you see what's wrong.)

Ask yourself:

  • If I cut a word from this sentence, will the sentence be stronger? Or will I sacrifice clarity? Not all sentences need cutting (but most do). How many words can I cut from the paragraph? The page? (A good rule of thumb is to cut about 10% . )

  • Have I used all 5 senses?

  • Have I been too vague or too specific? (We'll get into the show/tell dilemma another time.)

  • Here's an example:
    The car sped down the street is a perfectly okay sentence.
    The red BMW sped down the street is much more visual.

    You can even say, The red BMW sped through downtown Savannah and you've got a completely different scenario.
    Make a note on your draft. Then keep reading. Don't dither. If you can't think of the perfect word, make a notation. And move on.

    When you slow down, you are letting the I.C. get the upper hand. But if you write "as fast as the Gingerbread Man runs" (Steve King, again), then you are outrunning the I.C.

    And you are listening to your intuition.

    Here's another example:
    She ate pie is a competent sentence, but it's a little vague.

    This is better:
    Casey lifted her fork and cut into a thick slice of apple pie. (Vanilla ice cream is optional. :-) )

    Here's another thing your Intuition might flag:
    The diner was empty except for a child with a dirty face.

    Your pen might hover over this sentence. Something just feels...wrong, your Intuition says. Well, not wrong. But off kilter.

    Give your I.C. a crack at this:
    Your I.C. says, "Hey, I know--it's too vague. You need MORE words! Ha!"

    So you jot down a few experimental words:
    The diner was empty except for a little blonde girl with cake crumbs on her mouth.

    Yes, says my Intuition.
    But my I.C. says, Not so fast, Gollum. See, "diner was empty" is the passive voice.

    True, I say. But I need that "quiet" before the Reader gets to the little blonde girl.

    My I.C. wanted to know what kind of cake the girl was eating. I'm leaving that for the Reader to fill in. That's part of the fun of reading--filling in details the way you see them.

    But I listened to my I.C. and started scribbling. Adding words. (I have a tendency to do this with tablescapes, too.)

    The Drive Bayou Diner was empty except for a short, blonde girl with strawberry cake crumbs on her left cheek.)

    My Intuition tells me that I've goofed. But how? It's specific, yes. But do we really need to know that the cake crumbs are on her left cheek?
    On the other hand, don't tell us the girl is short. Show it.
    The girl jumped off the stool. Her eyes peered over the counter.

    (My I.C. heehawed at this one--"Her EYES PEERED?" Next you'll be telling me that her eyes dropped or somesuch!)

    Oh, SHUT UP, you vile, filthy, stinky....
    But the I.C. does have a point. Okay, let me amend that to: She peered over the counter.

    This is where the notebook/secret blog is helpful. But try to practice every day. Even if it's just a sentence. You will need to write big, hairy things in order to write toned, buff things. But the big, hairy things will always creep out. Always. If you live to be 150, they will be there. I've been writing for decades, and hairy things pop up like weeds.

    But you need them...just like you need the I.C. Hairy words have a function. They keep us on our toes, keep us from being lazy, keep us pushing forward up that mountain.

    Writing is a lot like cooking--and decorating. Knowing what to leave out. Knowing what to add. Just like with decorating--don't "over polish." Don't edit the life out of your WIP. Just study your WIP the way you would a tablescape, and you will be fine.

    Happy Thanksgiving

    Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    Part I: A Space Of Your Own

    A long time ago, I believed that I needed a room of my own--a place to think and create, with time and silence blowing around me in wispy sheets. But I quickly learned that I could write anywhere, and under many conditions. I took yellow legal pads to football/baseball/basketball practice. I was the mother in the car, the mother with pencils stuck in her crazy hair. I also wrote in McDonald's and in coffee shops.

    In a way, it's like socializing a dog? You know? You take the dog to Kroger and let people pet the dog. You take the dog on errands. And hopefully, the dog will not bite your guests. Or each other (if you have more than one dog.)

    A writer isn't like a dog (although I know people who disagree). But it's wise to "socialize" yourself. In the case of the writer, socialization means learning how to write under all kinds of conditions.

    That said, most writers write at home. Writing can be messy. It's just easier if you have a spot for your junk. A place to pile your papers, your Thesaurus, your totems, your ink pens.

    I write in the corner of a room

    ..and when I sit down, my mind shifts gears. Because I have come to associate this place with writing. I don't do another blessed thing in this corner. It's just for writing.

    While a "space" is important for practical reasons, it's more important to know your interior landscape. When you are working on a blog entry, do you need noise or quiet? How do you react to interruptions? In order to write creatively, what is your bottom line? What disrupts your creative bubble?
    My ideal bottom line looks like this:
    • Dogs
    • An empty room
    • Music
    • A fresh pot of coffee
    • No TV
    • No phone calls
    • No major conversations going on (in the same room)
    • No one sneaking up behind me and shaking me--"Hey, did you wash my underwear? Well, I'm out!"
    Okay. This is my "in a perfect world" bottom line. But I can't have all of these things. So I must edit this list. What do I really, really need in order to "fall through the page?"

    I can work without coffee. I can work if others are watching TV. I can even work if people startle me. But I can't be around talkative people.

    Or ringing phones

    It's important to define your real bottom line--and shrink it to its lowest denominator. Then try to make it happen. This isn't a piece of cake. Sometimes your bottom line is perfect for you but terrible for others. One time my mother sent the police to my house because I didn't answer the phone. (If you want a mental image of my mother, think of the mother in Terms of Endearment.)

    But I digress. When it comes to blocks and bottom lines, you just have to experiment. I've read that Agatha Christie ate apples in the bathtub. The poet, Schiller, kept rotten apples in his desk drawer.

    Me, I can't unplug the phone. So I use an IPod to create invisible doors.
    I have also used "Playlist" (, a free music feature for bloggers), too. I just added earphones, and within minutes, I was in my own, little space.

    After you've defined your bottom line, you need to think about "must have" tools.

    If you are serious about blogging, then you need some type of notebook--a place where you can play with words and ideas.

    In the old days, paper was cheap. But the cost is rising all the time. Each time I change the cartridge on my printer, I have to get all Zen and breathe. An excellent, zero cost alternative is to create a private blog--just for your writing.

    My I.C. tells me that you are prolly thinking, What??!!She wants me to create another blog? what? Is she out of her head?

    Crazy? Mmmhum, yes. But it's a lot cheaper than buying reams of paper and pens. Not only that, it's a lot less messy. You don't have to find a place to stash your papers.
    But what about photos and prompts?
    Instead of stuffing a 3-ring binder with ideas, you stuff things into the Workshop Blog. Inspirational photos, ideas, notes--all go into the blog.

    And you can use the italics and the color feature to your best advantage. (I'll talk about this in detail another time...but let me just say that while italics and colors are distracting for Readers, these "tools" are indispensable for drafts--and for dealing with the Inner Critic).

    Whether you create blog-space or not, you still must learn to deal with your inner critic--it's not the bugaboo that I painted it to be. Not really. In fact, it is a necessary part of the creative process....but I'm getting ahead of myself.

    Part II, "Taming the Inner Critic," will continue tomorrow.

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Dealing With Your Internal Critic

    Sometimes it is easy to recognize an Internal Critic. It is the snide, little voice that speaks up just as you are sliding a cake into the oven. "Hope it doesn't fall!" says the voice.

    ...and sometimes it's not so easy to understand what's going on. The Inner Critic can be deceptively cute. It may seem helpful--incapable of inflicting psychological harm...

    For example, does this IC look dangerous?

    This type of innocent-looking IC will will appear to go along with your creative project; then it will say, "Wouldn't you write/paint/cook/sew/decorate a LOT better if you washed the towels? Just get that out of the way, and you'll concentrate a lot better."

    You'd forgotten about those towels. But now, the cute, blue IC has mentioned this oversight. How thoughtful! Because you really need to do the laundry. While the washing machine is churning, you open the refrigerator. As you reach for a Diet Coke, the IC says, "Gee, it wouldn't take a minute to wipe this shelf."

    The next thing you know, the morning is gone. But it hasn't been a wash out, has it? You've got a neat pile of towels to show for your effort. And your refrigerator is sparkling clean. You can just write/bake/sew/paint/decorate tomorrow.

    Tomorrow, your IC is stronger, and even more devious. It knows how to push your buttons. It knows YOU.

    But there is peace on the other side. The Internal Critic can be banished--not forever, but for a while.

    It's impossible to know the enemy unless you've got a few clues. The easiest way is to give your critic a shape. A face. You can find one in your child's toy box (plastic action figure):

    You can draw one--or create your own--a Mr. Potato Head Internal Critic. Or maybe it is the plastic snake (or gnome) from your garden.

    This may sound strange, but it can be helpful to give your IC a name--because the more you know about it, the better.

    Sometimes yelling will work. Tell it to hit the road, Jack. Tell it you'll send a text message. Just don't get too worked up, because the IC feeds on your energy. It loves for you to blame yourself and others. It needs you to focus on anything but your project. The IC scores big time when you waste time--and words--on It.

    Now that you've personalized the little monster, find a box. It should fit your Internal Critic.

    A drawer or closet will work, too.

    When you get ready to write a blog entry, cook a meal, sew curtains, arrange objects on your mantle, or set the table--your Internal Critic will soon materialize. "Hi!" it will say in a sugar-won't-melt-in-its-mouth, I'm your friend sort of voice. "Hey," it'll say, "before we get started, shouldn't we make those brownies?"

    "No," you tell the Internal Critic (or IC). "I'm writing/sewing/painting."
    "That's great," IC says, "but you did promise your (husband/child/PTO) that you would make those brownies. I'm just trying to HELP is all. But go ahead and write/sew/paint. I'm sure the world won't end if you fail to make brownies."
    (But only a truly bad person would promise something and then not deliver," the IC whispers. "I'm just saying.")

    You look at the clock. It's only nine am. Maybe you should make those brownies. Then you'll have the rest of the day to work.

    Even the strongest mind can fall prey to criticism--especially if that criticism has been disguised to look like LOGIC. And the most scathing kind of criticism comes from ourselves. Just like in the movie Poltergeist, "It knows what scares you."

    I keep a box next to my laptop. Some days I just drop my IC into the box. Other times I make a big production out of it.

    Sometimes no matter what you do, this critic just won't shut up. You can give it a face and a name. You can put it in a box, and still, it won't shut up. This type of "resistant critic" needs a firmer hand. I recommend writing it a letter. You can write a one liner: "Get lost!" or you can write pages.

    At this point, just talking to your IC won't work. You need to get it in writing. Don't forget to tell it that you'll need it later--after the blog entry has been written. This is the only time the IC is needed. Because sometimes the Internal Critic can segue into Intuition--and we all need that.

    We just need it on our own terms.

    You may have to do something symbolic--and drastic. You may have to dig a hole in the backyard and bury your IC. Of course, it will return. Eventually. But you'll know what to do; you will need to find another toy or fluff ball and stick it in your box.

    Now. Before you start your project, visualize something calming. Find a soothing picture and pin it to your bulletin board (I like to pin mine to the draperies).

    Another effective IC-banishing tool is music. Since I don't have an office, and I write in a room that doesn't have doors, I use an IPod as a sort of "door." That said, some people can't stand noise when they are creating. It's highly personal.
    I know writers who can't stand the sound of the refrigerator. Me, a bomb could go off in the next room, and I wouldn't notice. In fact, one time a tree fell on my house, and I didn't even know it till my husband came home. :-)

    Also, I like to keep totems nearby. I made a little table out of a concrete garden stool and a round, black tole tray. On this tray I have my box (with the internal critic trapped inside), along with my IPod, statue of St. Jude, a Limoges bread and butter dish filled with rocks and shells, an egg cup, and a very old rabbit planter (I keep pens in this planter).

    When your creativity starts flowing, time will slow. Or speed up. You will "fall through the page," as Steve King says. With professional athletes, it's called being "in the zone." Basketball players say that when they are in the zone, the rim just looks bigger--and it's easier to make a basket.

    That's your goal. You want to slip into a zone. If you are writing a blog entry, do not stop to spell check. Don't reach for the Thesaurus. Just let the words flow. Give yourself permission to write gibberish. The same goes with decorating--you must give yourself the "OK" sign to take risks. Go ahead and try something new and different on the mantle. Break out of the mold and take a risk.

    Maybe you think you aren't creative because your IC is keeping YOU in the box. :-) The way to climb out of the box is to take a risk, try something new, something that pushes you out of your comfort zone--and into a creative zone.

    Because sometimes, just sometimes, true gems are discovered when we think we've made a mistake. We wouldn't have penicillin if Alexander Fleming hadn't made a "mistake."
    And that's the IC's power over us--it is so worried that we will make a mistake. That we will take a pretty room and make it ugly. And if we make mistakes, then we are bad and unloveable. But if we remove this fear, then we remove its power over us.
    It's a work in progress, but a worthy one.

    "Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes." Mahatma Gandhi