In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I am working on book #3 in the Winds of Freedom series, a teen adventure series set in the 1850s in North Danville, Vermont. My 1852 Vermont adventure THIS ARDENT FLAME is scheduled for June 2021 publication with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you updates and early order information as soon as I know! I'm also writing a memoir; revising a mystery; in the midst of a novel about a grandmother and her granddaughter; and always writing poems. Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Learning the Downy Woodpecker's Call(s): Why That Matters in Writing Today

I watch for when this spring's robins start tidying up last year's nest.
Walk for 20 minutes in the morning and your brain lights up with oxygen delivery in the areas that feed the writing process. The brain scans are quite clear about this effect!

But it's a bit more complicated to say why I am so excited that I learned the call of the downy woodpecker a few days ago. (You can hear it -- in fact, you can hear three different calls, the "pik," the "whinny," and the "drum" -- on the Cornell University ornithology site: When I first starting trying to notice birds more deliberately, I realized I had an odd assumption left from childhood: If I already recognized a bird by its plumage and knew its name, I believed the bird was "common." And if it was new to me, I assumed it was "rare" because I hadn't become acquainted with it before. Wow, was I wrong! The birds I already "knew" turned out to be the ones my mom could name, so she taught them to me when I was a child: robin, sparrow, chickadee, bluebird, cardinal. My mom always wanted to see a hummingbird, but never had, and she considered them exotic.

Turns out that hummingbirds are common! I can see a dozen or more in a summer, now that I pay attention to them. So are woodpeckers, and in the trees around my home there are downy woodpeckers and pileated woodpeckers (the ones that remind me most of "Woody Woodpecker" from cartoons, because of the tall red crest of feathers on their heads). I think there are hairy woodpeckers, too, but I'm not yet good at differentiating them from the downy ones.

How do you learn to "see" a woodpecker? For me, it came from learning to hear one! Not just the rap of the beak on the tree -- that could be any of the three I've named, or even a "sapsucker" (more on those, another day). But the downy woodpecker has a distinctive call, and if I notice it and look up right away, it's so easy to see the black-and-white bird after all.

How different a lilac bud looks, compared to the eventual flowers!
Bringing the invisible, the unnoticed, the mysterious and marvelous, into a poem or novel makes a huge different to how vivid and memorable the writing becomes. It also helps me reach more fullness of characters, and to question, in the best of ways, why I'm choosing a particular path for a work. So each day, on my 20-minute walk, I question what I'm seeing and hearing, asking names, changes, explanations, and yes, seeking the invisible within the story at the same time. It matters to me.

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