May 30 2011

Captured on Cudde

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Things look a bit more sinister at night, don’t you think? For me at least, living in the true desert where things go bump – or growl – in the night, the veil of darkness seems to heighten my senses and engage my overactive imagination.

Some nights, the movie camera of my mind is really rolling. For instance, if I have to go outside to pull clothes from the line (that I forgot), I can make it back into the house faster than an Olympic sprinter, shirtsleeves and pant legs trailing behind me like finish line tape.

Talk about eerie. This band of javelina is bigger than those captured on film. Take a look at the glowing eyes in the background. I count at least seven. Click to enlarge.

Even with that healthy dose of apprehension, my animal-loving fanaticism wins out more often than not; I am always curious to see just what, exactly (or who), is rustling around among the creosote bushes, cat’s claw and brittlebush around our desert ranch while we sleep comfortably in our bed. That’s why hubby and I purchased a Cuddeback scouting camera (trail camera) a few years back.

As this outdoor photography gadget will attest (and to my absolute delight), lots of somebodies roam around under the star-studded skies – and even in the glow of the rising sun. In fact, lots of critters use the wash on our property as their own animal super highway. Take a look:

Although they are generally camera shy, this coyote, captured under the darkness of night, was very close to the scouting camera. Click to enlarge.

The morning sunrise colored the entire desert a soft pink as this coyote stood in our driveway. Click to enlarge.

A frequent visitor around our property, this very large bobcat is photographed at 4:45 a.m. near our woodpile. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: As you see from the day and night photos that the camera snaps, each evokes a different emotional feel, doesn’t it?

Do you think the bobcat looks less threatening in daylight? The same cat is pictured here at 4:05 p.m. near a mining tube directly behind our gate. Click to enlarge.

As an author, do you strategically plan nighttime or daytime settings/scenes in your novels, or do the days and nights just happen naturally, like a domino effect? What if you were more calculated about the way you planned sunrises and sunsets?

Here’s how I see it: a field – or in my case, a rocky desert hill – lit by an early morning sunrise offers a much different perspective and “tone” than the same hill colored with the glow of sunset or the reflection of the moon. Paying close attention to day or night can evoke different sensations, result in richer visual descriptions, and spur unique emotional reactions in your characters and also your readers.

The sun and the stars offer a goldmine of sensory opportunity to the writer! Why not pluck one from the sky and place it in your WIP?


May 23 2011

State of Flow

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Forgive me, as I may appear to be a bit obsessed with water lately.

Perhaps that’s because our patch of the Sonoran Desert hasn’t received measureable rainfall in the past 41 days (this, while my parents in Pennsylvania consider purchasing a rowboat for their front yard, which is not lakefront property … usually).

I’m reminded of this deficit daily, as the scorched desert dirt sends tendrils of earthy smoke from under my running shoes, from beneath my truck’s tires. I imagine it screaming, “I’m parched! I’m thirsty! I need relief!”

Despite the very dry state of the desert when this photo was taken in March, water trickled down Copper Creek into this tiny tributary from the 4,000-7,000-foot high Galiuro Mountains. I love the way the water intensifies the peach color of this igneous rock. Click to enlarge.

Perhaps my growing liquid-less unrest has been further exacerbated by last week’s failed promise of rain? Or maybe it’s because June 15 seems so far away still – the official start of our desert monsoon season. Even then there is no guarantee, no magic button to push, to ensure that the skies will open on that day (though even the mere promise of it is refreshing …)

For all those reasons, it seemed the perfect time to share photos that I snapped when water was flowing near my desert home. Think of this photo montage as a bit of a pre-monsoon celebration (or my own silly, superstitious precursor to rain … a way of eliciting good vibes for a wet June, July and August)!

Right down the road, Aravaipa Canyon does feature a perennial creek, as photographed during a group hike in December of last year. This is one of my favorite desert spots, and I’d love to dip my toes in that babbling brook right now. Click to enlarge.

Heavy rains from the Santa Catalinas re-contoured the normally bone-dry wash that cuts through our driveway. Thanks to Mother Nature’s sculpting, we now have a curvy drive instead of straight. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: Do you ever experience days when your writing is flowing, the words tumbling off the keyboard on to your screen like water in a stream, without effort? Time just zips on by, your creation is nearly flawless, and the ability to achieve that perfect crescendo in your work seems effortless (yeah… it doesn’t happen to me often, either). For me, it’s pretty hit-or-miss.

Well, guess what? You can learn to harness this flow! I am intrigued and breathless knowing that this kind of creative momentum can be practiced and perfected. At the same time, I am absolutely terrified, because, at its heart, achieving a state of flow means letting go and becoming focused.

And let’s just say I have some anal retentive tendencies that make letting go a bit difficult. Plus, I am always switching from right brain to left brain when I write (Write a sentence. Edit. Write a sentence. Edit). This is counterproductive to flow, as I’m learning.

According to Everett Bogue, author of The Art of Being Minimalist, “Flow is a moment in time when you’re both challenged at the activity that you’re doing, and when you also have complete autonomy in the task you’re conducting.” He believes it’s a time when no thinking is involved, when “the conscious part of the mind switches off and awareness of self slips away, allowing you to just do.”

Sounds easy, huh? (Note sarcasm).

But here’s the good news. In a guest blog on zenhabits.net, Bogue offers some pointers for achieving flow. I’ve paraphrased them below (adding my wit and eloquent vocabulary, of course), but feel free to consult his entire post, which really is a must-read if you want to save time, increase productivity and get in the “zone.”

9 Ways to Achieve Flow

  1. Choose something challenging. The key is to select something you love and have a passion for (like writing!). Tedious tasks won’t ignite flow.
  2. Turn that damn social media ‘stuff’ off. Phones, Twitter, e-mail, Facebook … it’s all distracting. Flipping back and forth between writing and these tasks disrupts flow (I know this firsthand).
  3. Research first. Before your flow session, be prepared. Have your research done in advance so you don’t jolt yourself out of the groove. That means understanding your character’s motivation for the scene, knowing the setting, understanding the medical scenario or how blueberries are processed (or whatever) before you start.
  4. Become a temporary hermit. The key to achieving flow is being alone – not in a room full of people (little ones or big ones).
  5. Give in. This is the tough one for me: let go. Have no preconceived notions about the results you will achieve. Let that word count, page count or chapter count slip from your mind. It narrows your focus and leaves you open to disappointment if you don’t reach said goal. (Again, I have lots of experience in the ‘disappointment’ area).
  6. Use a timepiece. Start out with a goal – maybe 30 minutes of uninterrupted flow time and put your all into it. Let ‘er rip! If you go at it with gusto, you may just forget about time completely.
  7. Keep the synapses firing. Don’t stop long enough to let your mind wander (tame the urge to log on to Twitter, pet the cat, take pictures of birds outside your window!). Choose a challenging pace, but not a frenetic one. The goal is to remain calm, but while moving forward.
  8. Turn off your brain. Try not to second-guess everything you do, and turn off the self-consciousness of your every move (also known as sabotage).
  9. Practice makes perfect. Don’t freak out if you aren’t a flow master from the start. Like all things worth pursuing, it takes practice. Choose a regular time every day to practice your flow skills. After a few days, a week, a month, you may just have a new, free-flowing approach to your writing.

What about you? Do you already have flow mastered? What are your secrets? Or are you one of those tortured souls like me who feels the need to ‘perfect as you go’? What works for you? Would you consider trying any of the above techniques?

*Special thanks to writer and creativity guru @lizmassey68, who first introduced me to this article and the “flow focus.”