Wolf Moon

The beautiful January full moon shining on deep snow right now is a Wolf Moon. Which reminds me of a story.

Many years ago when we first moved to this area, a couple guys from the Department of Fish and Wildlife came to our cabin wanting permission to cross our property for two things. One, they wanted to count returning Coho salmon in the creek that bisected our place. My father gave them permission and told them he’d have the salmon stacked neatly to make their counting easier. They weren’t sure if he was joking or not.

They also wanted permission because they were tracking a pair of tagged, denning wolves on our property, on the ridge. They asked us to not talk about the wolves to anyone because at that point in time they were still endangered and it was rare to have them in the area.

A few weeks later I was working on our water wheel down by the creek. I looked up and here was a wolf watching me. He had used the log foot bridge to cross the creek and stood only a few feet from me, just watching. And yes, I know the difference between a coyote and a wolf, and domesticated dog breeds and wolves. I knew exactly what I was looking at.

This guy was huge. And just standing there calmly watching me. I stood up, and he simply turned and went back over the bridge and into the woods.

That was the moment when I not only knew the definition of a word, but felt the definition of ‘awe’.

I’ll never have a moment like that again, looking into the eyes of a wild animal for a stretch of time with only wonder and no fear.

Granted, after the wolf left, I ran for the cabin yelling for our little toy fox terrier to get inside. Jello would have been a snack-size treat for the wolf. But before reality hit, there was awe.

I know that pair of wolves are long gone, though I don’t know whatever happened to them. But I hope their spirits are out there on the ridge under the winter moon.

Social Platform Dilemmas

Two blog posts from me in one day. That’s a first. While posting on how to grow as a writer, I realized an interesting dilemma.

This blog has over 1400 followers and has had over 13,000 hits. The blog is linked to show up on the author website, Facebook page, and Twitter. On Facebook people will comment and click the ‘like’ button. I have regulars who take a moment to ‘like’ or comment here on the blog (which I appreciate greatly!). But more people tend to ‘like’ or comment on Facebook rather than here.

And that’s the dilemma because comments and the ‘like’ button are the life-blood to a writer. When you comment you add vital dialog to the subject matter. You make people think about what they just read. You encourage people to add their thoughts. Clicking on the ‘like’ button, or, more importantly, the ‘share’ button, means you’ve just invited your friends to take a peek. All those simple actions do more to help a writer than any paid advertising ever could. But this is about more than advertising.

When I look for a new blog post to read, one of the first things I do is go to the comments section. How many comments does that person get? If it’s only one or two, the blog doesn’t feel active. I’ll read the blog anyway, but may not comment.

So how do you ask followers to comment without begging or cutting into their valuable time? After all comments take more time than simply hitting the ‘like’ button. How do you ask followers to comment on the blog itself as well as the Facebook page? How do you ask people to hit the ‘share’ button rather than the ‘like’ button so more people might see your post?

And how in the world do you do any of that without coming across as desperate for attention? Or coming across as desperate for book sales? After all that’s what it looks like when people ask you to share their blog. When in reality, almost every writer I’ve ever come across wants a comment in order to have dialog and relationships with their readers.

Like I said, that’s life-blood to a writer. Being able to interact with their readers, to chat, to learn from them, to improve their work, and to make new friends.

I don’t know how to solve the dilemma so I’ll just keep tinkering away with blog posts and hoping someone understands that when I daydream about comments it’s not begging for sales, it’s hoping for interaction.

I know, still sounds kind of desperate, doesn’t it? All part of the dilemma.

How Do You Grow?

I came across an interesting question a few days ago. How do you grow as a writer? In other words, how do you continue learning?

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A blurry photo of the one-room schoolhouse/church my grandmother taught at

The most common answers from writers typically include the following: writing groups, writer’s conferences, resource books, reading in your chosen field/genre, and support from other writers.

All of these are excellent ways to continue to improve. All of them, with the exception of conferences, have been beneficial to me personally. But of course I have to add to the list.

Editing teaches me a great deal. When I read what others write, as their editor, I have to take apart why something works and why it doesn’t. If I’m going to tell a writer something may not be working, I have to be prepared to show why not, and what can be done. This isn’t, by the way, changing the writer’s voice, but the underlying structure. I learn from this job, and when I go back to my writing, I pick out the places where I’ve done the same thing I just critiqued. Without the gift of editing for someone else, I wouldn’t see so clearly in my words. Not that I catch all the mistakes. I have an editor for that!

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A mistake I learned from

Which brings me to the next point. When I send something off to my editor and it comes back all marked up, I know I’m going to learn a great deal. I may not be thrilled at first, but when I’m done the piece is much better and I’ll hopefully remember the lessons for the next time.

I also learn from talking to writers and readers at book events. What a great resource readers are! Especially when they give you honest feedback or when they tell you the part that resonated for them, or the part that dragged. I immediately want to read the section they refer to in order to find out why they reacted that way. I don’t always change anything because that same section, obviously, will get a multitude of different responses. But I’ll study the section to find out why. If nothing else, I can use that later to get a response I want.

Meeting regularly with my close writer friends is another way I learn, for obvious reasons. That works just like a writer’s group does. I prefer the one-on-one meeting, or with maybe three or four, rather than a large group. It’s easier to share in a more intimate setting.

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The right intimate setting or ambience to learn in

I’ve recently signed up for an on-line course on character development that I hope to learn from. The last attempt, signing up for an on-line university course, was a dismal failure with no visible presence by professors or instructors. I’m hoping this course will be more fruitful.

This blog teaches in a small way because it makes me struggle to come up with something to talk about. I mean, everything that can be said about writing has been said already, and much better. So the blog forces me to write somewhat regularly, to think about what I want to say, and to limit the word count so I don’t write a novel.

People watching teaches me a great deal. Overheard conversations, watching body-language, and studying facial expressions gives me information for character development. I watch faces and ask myself how I would describe that nose, those eyebrows, that smile. Watching actors and actresses in movies also helps me figure out how to describe emotion without words.

I know there are many more things that teach me but if I keep going the blog post will become that novel. So how do you learn, no matter what your art form is? How do you keep learning, keep stretching, keep improving? I’d love to learn what works for you.