Continuing Education

I just finished a two-week intensive course on plot arcs. Writers aren’t required to get CECs the way health and fitness professionals are. I don’t have to renew a certification or have to take a certain number of courses per two-year period to prove to anyone that I’m keeping up my skills. But I have to keep learning.

People sometimes ask me why I go all the way to Albuquerque to take yoga classes every couple of weeks, classes I don’t get CECs for. The other teachers in T or C are good, after all. But they’re my peers. We’re equals. While I enjoy their classes, I also want to study with someone more advanced than I’ll ever be. I get excellent critiques from other writers, my peers, but I took a class with my editor’s editor.

It forced me to outline my work in progress before I completed the first draft, which I don’t usually do until I’ve improvised the whole plot, so it was challenging. I’m not sure my outlines made sense. But the ideas the instructor brought to the course did. Her structure for pacing and tension, for weaving in secondary storylines, and the key elements that need to take place in various portions of a book, will help me when I revise. She said she admired my bravery in staying with my “pantsing” (writer-talk for flying by the seat of your pants through the first draft) style while being required to outline. Maybe that was a diplomatic word for stubbornness. I don’t think I was brave. It’s just how I create. When I make plans, my characters seldom go along with them. I look forward to applying what I learned in the course when I do the major revisions in the second draft—once I know what everyone is up to.


Relative Discomforts

Cloudy winter days aren’t as blissfully beautiful as the sunny ones with pure bright bowls of New Mexico blue overhead, but the payoff comes later, with mind-blowing, psychedelic color and texture at sunset. The changes happen so fast, I have to time my sunset viewing exactly right and pick the right location for it. The sunsets may technically be in the west, but the colors can show up anywhere. There was a thick, creamy, red-purple display in the southeast one evening, a blazing orange total-sky event on another, then a softly glowing purple radiance in the north the next night. On a cloudless day, all we get is a pale rim of gold on the edge of the bowl.

Most of these lovely clouds haven’t rained, though. Yesterday’s shower was the first in around two months. It’s been a warm, dry winter. One day in December was actually cold. One day. High temperatures should be in the fifties, not sixties or seventies. I wonder if the snakes ever brumated. The other day, a little yellow jacket wasp was walking around on the top of my shoe while I was working out by the river. I like bees and wasps, but should they be out and about in January? The pines trees have shoots of new growth and I think they’re pollinating. The fig tree in my yard is budding. A mosquito tried to bite me. I’m comfortable, but too comfortable. The bugs and plants and I should be enduring bit of a chill. I’m sure my East Coast friends would like to ship a big load of winter to the Southwest about now, and I wish you could. Without snow in the mountains, we could be headed for a dry year.

The following is not a complaint: My home internet was down for a week and I had a cold—events so insignificant in the realm of human difficulties that they remind me my life isn’t hard. My immune system probably appreciated the chance to do a little work. I wasn’t knocked-out-flat sick for even a day. To avoid spreading germs, I was less social, but less dancing meant more writing. And while I had to schedule my limited online time and leave home to do it, my reading changed for the better. Fewer news articles, and more in articles in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, a medical journal I still find fascinating even though I’ve retired. A challenging read keeps the dust off my brain, and I occasionally get plot material from it, including the remarkable studies that help shake up Mae’s world view in The Calling and the Tibetan medicine material in Death Omen.

I can cope with minor personal discomforts and even benefit from them. The uneasy comfort of the weather troubles me more.