Giveaway Time!

ebook giveaway

What’s better than winning a free eBook? Winning TWO!

This week I’m really excited to offer not just my debut novel, but Letters for Scarlet, the debut novel by my fellow VMP author Julie C. Gardner. Enter the giveaway below and you could win BOTH eBooks, just in time for your summer reading. You’ll be asked to enter a valid email address, but this is ONLY so I can email books to the 10 lucky winners. Your email will not be used for any other purpose, and you won’t be added to any lists. If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter “Writing Down South” and get a free copy of my story Beneath Our Skin, click on the bright orange box and get your instant download. Happy reading, y’all!

 

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Plant a Garden, Grow Your Writing Self

 

gardening
What does a binge writer do when she sends her manuscript off to the publisher? First, she wrings her hands for a few minutes, hoping they like it and it doesn’t put her in the dreaded sophomore slump.

Then she gardens. Or she tries. Even thought she is no gardener.

Why would she do such a thing?

I was thrilled to send my second novel off to my publisher in May. For most of April I was in nose-to-the-grindstone mode, struggling to hush my nagging perfectionist internal editor and make my deadline.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I sent that manuscript out. It was a great feeling to have it finished, to have successfully solved all of my plot problems and become the Mistress of Troubleshooting. But I was exhausted. My brain hurt. I love writing, don’t get me wrong. But it’s hard. Seriously hard. In the last week of revision, I spent 12+ hours writing and editing each day, and by the time it was over I didn’t even want to write a tweet.

But I have Novel #3 to plan. It looms over me like a thunderhead, because I have no idea what it’s going to be about. None.

My writer self said I had to get on that immediately. But some other part of me said I needed something different.

What I needed was to get outside. Get my hands dirty. Do some manual labor. So on my first day off from my regular job, I did not write. Instead, I went straight to the local nursery (Ray’s, the best around) and bought a flat of flowering plants. I had no plan, of course—I just grabbed one of everything that would come back next year and grow in the shade. (I owe a big thank you to Cathy, who has tremendous patience for greenhorns like me who point and say, “What is that? Can it take shade? Is it a perennial?” over and over, like a parrot with gardening gloves. She nodded her approval as I loaded my car with yarrow, salvia, peppermint, basil, black-eyed Susans, and a dozen others whose names I immediately forgot.

I’d never call myself a gardener, and I’m lucky nothing has died yet—but there’s something about shifting gears that helps me as a writer. Sometimes I have to give myself a break and stop looking at words, and stop crafting sentences—and stop putting so much damned pressure on myself. Don’t misunderstand—I can never stop writing completely, but sometimes when I freeze up thinking about the next book, the next chapter, the next scene, I have to take a time-out and do something different that uses another part of my brain. It’s my form of cross-training.

Sometimes as writers, we have to grant ourselves a vacation. I read once that if you’re struggling with a writing project (or any other that takes a lot of brain power), you should go running or do another form of exercise to give your brain a break. The argument was that by doing this, you relax your thinking muscles and create a quiet head space that invites creative inspiration. I’m no runner, but that tactic has worked in the past for me—swimming some laps or doing a little yoga has gotten me through moments of writer’s block and helped me troubleshoot my drafts with fresh eyes.

For me, playing gardener does the same thing. By doing something that uses my body and allows my brain to relax, I can make myself available to the muse. The cluttered thoughts disappear as I stop thinking so hard, and then I find the creative thoughts slipping in, and I see solutions that weren’t visible before.

I’ve given myself a month off now, and am finally feeling the urge to start writing my next book. In the meantime, I’ll plant these last few herbs and give myself permission to daydream about the possibilities of Novel #3. For all my writer friends who are feeling stuck, I’m giving you strict orders to cut yourself some slack. Step away from the computer or the notebook and get your hands into something else. Let your brain relax and make room for the creative thoughts that are circling around your head. You might be surprised by the bursts of creativity that come your way, and your writer self will thank you for it.

Download Your June Calendar

It’s that time again! To download your free desktop calendar, just click on the image below to get the high-resolution image saved to your screen. This month’s drawing was inspired by my sudden case of addictive gardening. I’ve spent the last few weekends planting lilies, phlox, salvia, tasty herbs, and a dozen plants I’ve already forgotten the names of. Then a fox came to visit. More on those adventures later.

Enjoy the calendar, folks, and check out my shop to view the latest additions. I’ve added variety packs of letterpress printed cards, and I’m experimenting with paper cuts. When I’m not gardening.

 

free june calendar

 

 

Letter #4: Where Our Teaching Takes Us

fontana lake, nc mountains, blue ridge

Note to readers: My friend Katie Rose Guest Pryal (who is also a talented novelist) and I are writing letters to each other on our blogs. I’m posting them here, and she’s also posting our letters on her site. Previous letters are in the archives.

 

Dear Katie,

Remember that time we were both teaching English Comp? You lasted a whole lot longer than I did. We were a little out of touch for a while and I probably never told you about some of the odd jobs I did instead of teaching. And I mean “odd” in the strict sense of the word. Things got weird now and then.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of things I love about teaching. The adjunct mill wasn’t one of them.

During grad school, I taught some classes to help with tuition. I also picked up other jobs. My art and writing degrees were supposed to help me get a job teaching one of those subjects while I worked on my own novels and artist books. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Did I ever tell you about working in the veterinary clinic? I did that until they wanted me to insert things into cats. (I was their receptionist.) I worked as a contract archaeologist for a couple of years, which meant digging holes every thirty paces through fields and swampland (I had this delusion of being Indiana Jones). I slung coffee in cafes, filed papers in a university law office, worked in a chocolate shop, and when it closed moved to the factory. (It was not as funny as that episode of “I Love Lucy,” though I did manage to knock over an entire baker’s rack of chocolate truffles.) I was a studio coordinator, a retail clerk, a web illustrator, a teacher at a military academy in middle Georgia. I did data entry for tax forms, and sometimes I got lucky and taught letterpress-printing classes.

What do all of those jobs have in common? Ha! Nothing. But here’s the thing: I wouldn’t trade those experiences (well, maybe the one with the cat). Each one taught me something I carried with me, and gave me a different kind of education that college doesn’t prepare us for. (I wrote about that here, and called it “How Liberal Arts Saved My Life,” because IT DID.)

Now I teach workshops in writing and letterpress printing, but on a part-time basis (you know, when I’m not writing those novels that you so generously beta-read). And now I work for the National Park Service. And guess what? I use a lot of those seemingly unrelated skills that I learned in all of those jobs I held for a year or less. AND I still get to educate people—just in a different way. Instead of sitting in a circle of desks, I stand outside and chat with park visitors about those elk they’re watching graze as the fog rolls into the valley. (Sometimes these folks have never seen a wild animal before.) We talk about why we have those new regulations about firewood, and why it’s important we protect the species in the park, because some of them are growing rarer by the day. After all, we want to keep our parks are around for another 100 years. (This is our centennial, did you know that? Google that to see just how many special events are happening. Did you know we have over 400 national parks? There are some nice ones near you.)

Just yesterday I read a job posting for a creative writing instructor at my alma mater, and for a moment I thought about applying. Then I thought, “I’ve been out of the teaching game too long. They’d laugh at my resume.” And they might—it’s all over the place. But then I remembered that what’s happening now is the right speed for me. (Sometimes when the grass starts to look greener, you have to check around your own feet again.) I don’t want to worry about teaching loads anymore. I don’t have the resolve to grade the endless papers. I’d rather stand in the drizzling rain, watching kids get that look of wonder wash over them as they tug on my sleeve and ask what that big animal is strolling through the valley. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: people can affect us deeply in the briefest of moments: a day, a week, a minute. I’ve got a long list of people who have affected me that way, so this “job” is a way for me to balance those scales.

Until next time,

Lauren

 

 

pictured above: a view from Fontana Lake, near the dam, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.