The Inspiring Bit
Fifty shades of green
This time of year is perfect for the writer wanting to flex their writerly muscles. Autumn, when the leaves are turning and falling there is so much to ignite the muse within.
We all know the benefits of going out and walking in nature; it’s an antidote to the winter blues. For me, though, a walk in the woods at this time of year gives me time to think, to clear my head, to devise poems and lessons and to give my eyes the chance to focus on something that is not a screen within a few inches of my nose.
These are the times when I like to play a game with my inner lexicographer. It goes like this…
As I wander, I take time to mindfully look, I mean really look, at everything I see. And after a second or two focusing on something I make myself come up with an unclichéd description of it. So, the bark of the silver birch could be like old white paint peeling off in sheets from a damp black wall. The spreading branches of the horse chestnut are not allowed to be like arms reaching to the sky because that’s a cliché, but they could be goddess Shiva’s arms or a hanukkah candelabra. The few dried and shrivelled leaves that cling to the ends of those same branches could be the scorched remains of love letters the tree can no longer bear to read but still clutches with the tips of his fingers.
The painter inside you can have a field day trying to find exactly the right colourmatch for each of those leaves. No, you can’t say the beech leaves are like shiny new pennies, that’s been said before. But they could be butterscotch, discs of honeycomb or a cheetah’s iris. In addition, just to make this even harder the word you choose must also convey the emotion you feel. Those autumn leaves are beautiful, right? So while many leaves may remind you exactly of the contents of a newborn’s nappy, you can’t say that. No, you need to choose a word that describes something you love, like brandy snap tuiles.
On a walk in November I found leaves the colour of merlot and a whore’s fingernails. I saw lichen the colour of a 1960s bathroom suite and moss the same shade of green as mushy peas. You are not allowed to use sage, mint and basil to describe leaves because that would be too easy. They are plants too and have leaves of their own. Trying to come up with new words for green is the hardest part of this game.
William Wordsworth is known as the poet of nature and he delighted in personifying nature. He writes that leaves ‘kiss’ each other as they tumble to the forest floor and that his famous daffodils ‘dance’. As you walk among the trees and footpaths, notice how some tree roots might be the feet of marching elephants, others the slender feet and ankles of a pair of ballet dancers, high in en pointe. Might the deciduous yew be jealous of the jeweled colours of the beech beside it, for we all know that green is the colour of envy? Trust me, when you start to play this game you’ll soon find there are 50 new shades of green and that nature and your writing comes alive.
The Connecting Bit
Isn’t nice to hear about a success story about an expat writer who is making money from what she loves to do?
Olga Mecking is a writer friend of mine, based in the Hague, who is creating a storm with her upcoming book with the working title, Niksen, the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing. Just five years ago, after some time spent blogging as European Mama, Olga, who is Polish by nationality, decided to move towards writing and selling articles, seeing success with Huffington Post,The BBC, The Guardian, Playboy and many more. But then, about a year ago, after finding an article in Dutch in a free magazine she picked up at her local organic shop, she learned about something called niksen. With mindfulness being on trend at the moment, together with hygge, tiger parenting and slow-pressed juices, the new writer realised that the Dutch belief in just doing nothing could be bang on trend. First she pitched and sold a ‘trend’ piece to Woolly magazine, being paid about $400 for this. By February she had pitched a ‘service’ piece on the same subject to The New York Times, this time earning $600. After an initial rejection and three rounds of revisions, the piece was published in May and received an incredible 150,000 shares. Olga, it seemed, had discovered the next big thing.
A couple of months later she’d been spotted. Both a Dutch publisher, Kosmos Uitgevers and a UK-based agent reached out, urging her to write a book for them. By September she’d made a choice and signed a contract and shortly after foreign rights had been sold to nine other publishers worldwide meaning that her book will be published in 11 languages.
“They got a first draft in six weeks,” she explains, “and want my final draft December 1st.” This is moving so quickly but when you write about a topic that is bang on trend you need to act fast. The 50,000 word book should be published in April, less than a year after that piece in the New York Times.
When I asked Olga how this meteoric success made her feel, not to mention the size of an advance that most new authors can only dream of, she said one word, “Stressed.” She puts her incredible success not only to the fact that she hit on the right topic at the right time and received publication in a top notch publication, but that she had spent a few years establishing herself as a paid-for journalist first. “It was smart that I wrote for high-end publications,” she says. “More people were reading me. I got good bylines.” I think Olga is an example of someone who made their own luck.
You can read more about Olga and follow her journey at www.olgamecking.com and join her busy Facebook group, The Nikseneers.
I don’t know about you but I love a fast fix of inspiration now and again. This is why, for several years, ever since my friend Jacinta gave me my first, I’ve bought myself one of those stand up Page-a-Day calendars for Christmas. I always get the Zen Sayings one, which is a mix of haiku, koans, parables and sayings. A couple of days ago it read: “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness,” which comes from Robert Frost, the nature loving poet best known for The Road Not Taken.
I read that extract the other day and it stayed with me as I considered its truth and the way, indeed, that so many poems begin with deep emotion, often sadness. In turn it inspired me to reflect on how art, such as poetry, can make something good out of a bad situation.
I’m off to buy myself my next Zen Calendar now because, thanks to Jacinta, it has now become an essential addition to my morning.
What I'm Working On
Watch out for the soft launch of The Life Story Jar programme – BUY ONE AND GIVE ONE TO A FRIEND
I admit that this isn’t ready as soon as I would have liked, but hey, I’m only human.
It’s almost time for my brand new 12-week e-course, The Life Story Jar, to go on sale. Now you can stop procrastinating and start writing your precious stories and preserving them for the future. the programme, divided into modules on themes such as Growing Up, My Travels, My Family and People in My Past will teach and inspire you to leave an important written legacy.
Want to register your interest now to be sure you don’t miss out? Just drop me an email.
What's on in December
WHEN: Tuesday 10th December and Tuesday 14th January, 09:30-15:30
WHAT: Definite Articles – learn to write articles based on your overseas experience
WHERE: Jo’s house, Archipel, The Hague
ENQUIRE: Email Jo
WHEN: Friday 13th December, 10:00-14:00
WHAT: Writers’ Circle with Christmas pot luck lunch and Secret Santa
WHERE: Jo’s house, Archipel, The Hague
ENQUIRE: Email Jo
Jo Parfitt's Monthly Inspirer