In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I have taken down the brown "butcher" paper that held ideas, photos, drawings, and my hand-drawn maps and plot outlines for the past five or six books. I've placed all those items into three-ring binders, and cleared the deck for paintings and photographs that involve courage, as I move forward in GHOSTKEEPER, the new novel set in Lyndonville, Vermont. My 1850 Vermont adventure THE LONG SHADOW is under contract with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you a publication date as soon as I know! Scribbling lots of poems, too. And there's a possible route to publication of the "Vermont Nancy Drew" novel I built on Wattpad (see right-hand column). 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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