Love Your Trees, Please.
June is a lovely month where I live, usually. My part of the world is one of the greenest areas in all of Europe – or at least it was, until the bark bug started chomping away at the pine trees in our woods, stripping them bare of their bark.
We did nothing wrong in terms of forest density or usage, but we probably did have too much of a monoculture, as in too many pines, on the whole, and the little pests just happen to love pines. A combination of too-dry and too-warm weather over the past years contributed to the spread of the bugs, and we saw it coming, but it was already too late by then, and there was nothing we could do about it.
We’ve had huge losses over the past two years, and it breaks my heart to go walking along my usual routes at the moment. Anyone who knows me knows that much of my peace of mind and inspiration comes from the wooded hills and valleys in my area, and the myths and legends that are rooted there.
It makes me really sad to see the harvesters going in and out, leaving a sad, scarred landscape behind, but there’s nothing for it – the diseased and dead trees have to go, even if they have to be sold at a fraction of their worth. The money is needed to buy new saplings. Other communities are actually having to pay to have their woods harvested and the lumber sold to the US and China, so we’re counting our blessings here in my region.
I’m glad to be a part of a collective that owns large parts of the forest in my area, which has been a traditionally lumber-farming community since the late Middle Ages. There have been other crises to deal with in the past, and our forefathers managed, so we will, too. My children are learning a lot about life, the environment, and dependencies right now, because they are growing up within a community that’s been living, loving, breathing, and working these woods for centuries. We all like the thought of being able to help hands-on, and we'll try to do our bit by helping repair the damaged paths, prepare the grounds, plant new trees, and take care of them by making sure they survive the coming years.
The saplings will grow. They’ll thrive. But slowly. Hillsides may erode. Endemic animals may lose their natural habitats. And still: by the time my children have kids of their own, the new trees will populate the humongous empty spaces we’re looking at right now. The animals will return. Hopefully the bark bug and its relatives won’t.
So… June is going to be different this year than it has been over the past decades of my life, but there’s always hope as long as you can see a way to tackle the problem, envision a better future, and come up with a feasible plan to make it happen. It'll take a lot of work - many weekends and a lot of manual labor from all the collective's members and their families, but it'll be worth it.
Don’t forget to go for a nice walk in the woods near you this summer – and don’t take them for granted.
Yes, I’m a tree-hugger.
Have a lovely month, everyone.
Crisis and Creativity
It’s cold and all kinds of stormy here in Wonderland today, so I’m happily typing away at my desk while the kids are busy either reading (miracles do happen, yes) or catching up on homework (of course they are – it’s Sunday evening).
I’m currently working on a short story that’s going to be a part of an anthology. I’m enjoying the process and taking my time, thinking about words and phrasing, molding the characters to play their parts exactly the way I want them to.
I’ve come to like writing shorter works, though I have to admit I’m more comfortable with the extra wide open spaces and the amount of room for world-building that full novels can accomodate.
Novels tend to be more forgiving about details and phrasing as you go – and I need a lot of forgiveness, believe me. My editor is a saint.
The whole build-up of a short story is very different to the way you craft a novel, and in short stories, every single word has to be just right and in its place in the story arc. It’s a shorter hike, but not an easier one. On the contrary.
I suppose that this is what used to scare me about writing shorter works up until recently. I don't like tight spaces.
But then, last year, in the middle of the initial Covid-chaos, I found that I just couldn’t bring myself to work on the two unfinished novels I had lying on my desk. It was too much. Everything was too much, and I wasn’t sure if I could write with what was going on around me at all.
Like many of us, I spent a few weeks in shock at the situation, another few weeks getting my day job sorted, and then I decided I could live with not writing and creating content for a while as long as everything else just fit into my day-to-day schedule.
That being decided, something interesting happened.
With the self-inflicted pressure off, I found back to a very elementary spot - that place where my oldest children currently are in their own development as young pen-wielders: they just write for the sake of it. They do it without deeper intent, pour in two cups of passion, and a huge spoonful of not giving a hoot what other people might think, and then they type until they get to The End.
Despite my working-hours doubling, I unexpectedly ended up writing lots over the past year – I suppose that's because storytelling is what makes me tick. I'm a storyteller, and it's what I do. Only I did it differently this past year to how I’d been doing it three or four years previously.
I tried various approaches to getting my stories down on paper that I would never have given thought to if I’d been working on one of my novels. I stopped setting big goals for myself in terms of word counts and deadlines (I'm lucky in that I can work in my day job that pays my family's bills). I wrote lightyears (for me) outside of my usual subgenre, and ventured into areas this Lisa has never gone before...
And it worked wonders for my creativity. It didn’t solve my time problem, and it didn’t do a thing for my business in terms of selling my work, but it was balm for a sore, nervous, sleep-deprived writer’s soul.
I think that many of us who work or even just dabble in imaginative and artistic areas can agree that Covid has been a major suck on the creative part of our minds. The anxieties, uncertainties, and the economic impact of the past year have hampered the productive processes for so many of us because we were suddenly faced with issues we’ve never had to deal with before.
So... here’s a shout out to the musicians, the artists, the writers, and all the other creative folks who’ve persevered throughout this difficult year, and who have found ways of working in spite of the problems 2020 and 2021 have left us with.
Here’s to taking things one stormy day – and one short story – at a time.
Take care of yourself and stay safe.
The First Five Years are the Hardest...
When I first began writing, I joined an online group, like many aspiring writers do. I had a lot of questions and I was looking for people who were in a similar place (not quite young anymore, only slightly naïve, but ready to work hard for the big goal) - I found them. Thousands of them!
I have to admit that I was really a bit intimidated. Not that I viewed these people as the competition I would be up against, one day, but it gave me an idea of the number of hopeful writers who would all be in the same boat. Many of them were better than I, some were about the same level, and some ended up just hanging out for the fun of it without ever committing a single word to paper.
It took me about a year of outlining and planning, and about another year of writing to complete my first manuscript to a point where I thought it was ready for an editor. Then I spent months searching for an editor I thought I could work with, and after that, several more months figuring out how to publish my work on Amazon.
All in all, I was probably over three years into the process by the time I published my first book - five years ago now. I can't believe how fast those years raced by!
I learned a lot during that time – much of it from the other self-publishers in that old boat we were all sitting in. I made a few really good friends, which in and of itself made that part of the journey worthwhile. In terms of writing and publishing, I learned and developing more after I put out that first book than I had beforehand. The process is still ongoing, but it's a good kind of challenge, and it’s become a big part of my life.
Every now and then, I get a little nostalgic and wonder how I made it this far, looking at what I started off with - nothing.
Well… maybe not nothing, but certainly very little in terms of the tools of the trade.
Where I come from, creative writing isn’t part of any curriculum, and I was never lucky enough to find any community college courses on it here. My only asset was a love of reading, a habit of writing just for myself, and friends who encouraged me to keep at it, as well as a very forgiving family.
Some of the most important things I learned about writing and publishing over the past years:
- Anyone can publish a book (even I)
- Not everyone should
- I’m a good planner (I have to be - I have three children and a day job)
- Not all well-planned books are good books (even if I wrote them)
- I can still love writing even after six months of suffering through countless revisions and editing
- I can still love publishing a new book even if the last one didn’t do well
- marketing sucks (or I suck at it, possibly)
Five years into the journey of publishing, I still have no idea where it’s going beyond that I will always keep moving on to the next story. I never run out of them, and even if I temporarily do, there's always chocolate and wine... but then it's on to the next adventure: another new story, another new book.
A lot of people can write one book, but few people move on to the second one, and even fewer write a third. When I started publishing, my goal wasn’t just to write and publish one book – it was to become a writer who publishes on a regular (or fairly regular) basis. I think I achieved that over the past five years. To date, I’ve written and published four novels, two novellas, a novelette, and five or six short stories. I’m not a fast writer, but I’m doing what makes me happy.
There’s a lot to be said for being happy with what you’re doing.
Be happy, whatever you're doing.
Take care of yourself and stay safe.