Mountain Day: How about a few “mountain moments”?

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Perhaps, like me, your email and facebook lit up this morning with the exciting news: it is Mountain Day at Mt. Holyoke! Do you remember the bells ringing, the happy buzz in the hallways of your dorm that yes, indeed, classes were cancelled? I had a message follow soon after the announcement from an MHC alum to two of us asking, “Why does this seem to mean more to me now than it did then?” And, I had to agree. When I was a student, the excitement was about no classes, hanging out and I hadn’t yet achieved the maturity to understand that unplanned time, particularly spent in nature or at some “useless” activity would be refreshing for body and spirit.

“Summit achieved by at least 100 students in first wave. Pres. Pasquerella greets climbers.” (From Alumnae Assoc. page on Facebook)

So, if you are living in the United States and possibly suffering from the drive to do, do, do constantly, can you carve a few Mountain Day minutes for yourself? If you don’t have time for a walk — or if the demands of work and children make that impossible — can you take a few minutes and reflect? Maybe write a paragraph about a Mountain Day memory, or if you could do a Mountain Day over again, what would you do differently? Sometimes, it is in moments of relaxation that we creative types receive insights — a solution to a block, a new idea, a change of direction for a character, etc.

May you breathe deeply and be good to yourself today. I think Mary Lyon would approve. Let us all know if you have success with giving yourself a mini-Mountain Day. 🙂

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Icebergs and Backstory – What holds your story up?

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“If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water. “

© Robert Davies | Dreamstime.com

At the Bread Loaf in Sicily conference which I’m recently back from, my instructor, the brilliant Lynn Freed, showed us a gorgeous image of an iceberg and mentioned Hemingway’s quote above. It’s an important topic for every fiction writer to remember.
When I’m working at the Red Oak Young Writers summer writing camps, I often find myself talking about the backstory. And, I’ve heard myself say more than once, “I don’t think you really know enough about this character yet. You need to know what got him/her to this point — what happened before? The reader doesn’t have to know it all, but you do.”
A wise writer friend of mine once recommended I journal as my character at a point where I was uncertain of something I needed to be certain of. That technique has helped me more than once when I needed to learn more to create a believable character/situation.
The best short stories and novels don’t overwhelm with the foundations, the past events and experiences that led to this moment in the character’s life; rather, the best authors are so clear on those unseen moments – the iceberg below the water – that the reader senses what he/she needs to know to wholeheartedly accept, and maybe even love, the character and the story.
Happy #writing all. Hope thinking about icebergs might help you and your work one of these days.

Deadlines — More than nightmares

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about deadlines and realizing that I’m the kind of person that needs them to function well. Many of us can remember the pressure of final exams, those dreaded paper deadlines, that feeling of a clock ticking in the back of your mind, morning, noon and night (which back in the day, may have had something to do with actual ticking clocks as well as excessive doses of TAB, but, whatever!) Yes, those kind of deadlines can and do become the stuff of nightmares as we grow older. But other deadlines don’t seem to enter my sleep. For example, if I’m in need of rediscovering my dining room table top, it’s time to invite someone over for dinner in a week or so. April 15 is a classic deadline (and maybe a nightmare unto itself) – we all know what it means and the majority of us meet or beat it. But deadlines don’t have to be just the stuff of nightmares. Deadlines are terrific motivators.

Since leaving teaching over ten years ago though, I’ve lived without frequent deadlines — no more grades due by midterms and quarter’s end; no more parent-teacher conferences; no more weekly meetings to run and respond to. I worked efficiently with those deadlines. I got a whole lot done in a day and think I made a positive contribution to the lives of my students and colleagues.

Without consistent deadlines, I’ve had to find ways to create some for myself, especially for my writing. I’m in a writing group that meets about every two weeks for the academic year and is sometimes on, sometimes not, in summers. I find that group works as a good deadline for me to aim toward with new work. Also, I’ve used writing contests as deadlines, and deadlines of favorite journals to submit to are often motivators for me.

Some of the staff of the Lyon Review have been wondering about incorporating deadlines into our submission calendar. We are wondering if that might motivate some of you to submit who haven’t yet. Do you think you would be more or less likely to submit if you knew there was a due date to work toward? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this!