Summertime and the writing’s easy…or not

[Note: Here’s an old newsletter article I wrote for Rose City Romance Writers that I found while looking for something else on my hard drive. I’m still having the same troubles!]

Summer is a terrible time in the Pacific Northwest. Terrible for writing, that is.

July through September, the Pacific Northwest offers some of the most spectacularly perfect weather on the planet (all the more marvelous when compared to the weather October through June) with outdoor adventures that range from ocean beach tidepooling to mountain biking to high desert rock hounding. In other words, it can be hard—very hard—to sit inside, staring at a computer, getting words on the page.

As if jaunts to the coast or forests weren’t distracting enough, I’m also a gardener. Gardens can be as all-consuming as a 100,000-word work in progress. In fact, I learned a few writing tips from my garden that help me make the most of summer’s joys.

Time your fallow season

Like gardens, stories—and writers—often benefit from down-time. In a small but hard-working garden like mine, that period of rest and recuperation is winter, when nothing else is going on anyway. For my writing, I try to time my fallow moments—those times when I’m letting a story sit between revision, when I’m brainstorming a new story (which I equate to plowing under rich compost), or when I’m critiquing my writing partners—when I know I’m going to be distracted by things like sunshine, watermelon (it’s impossible to eat watermelon around a computer), and camping trips.

Work in concentrated bursts

Despite its small size, my garden has an amazing capacity to grow weeds. The thought of tackling the whole space at once is daunting (and gets me itching for a backhoe and a load of quick-set concrete) so I pick one area and whack at it for a set amount of time, then relax. For example, on a hot day, I weed the shaded north-side beds and reward myself with a popsicle in the sun. Same with my writing. I set myself goals that play to my strengths—and weaknesses. Since I like to laze around on summer mornings, I don’t even pretend I’m going to write. But in the hot afternoon when my black dog is begging to get inside out of the sun, I go up to my office with her and get my words in.

Experiment, have fun and get dirty

In the more sober and contemplative months of winter, snuggled in at my desk, I find it easier to concentrate, kind of like my winter garden pared down to evergreens and stark branches. But all work and no play… Summer in the garden, with its bright colors and sweet fruits, is a great time to try those fabulous tropical annuals, to yank things out and move things around, to go a little wild. Like a solar charger, I read more in the summer, get excited about new stories and take that energy with me back to my writing.

And never worry about excessive summer distractions. Trust me, the rains will return.


Jessa Slade flowers


My day-job desk is messy, but now it’s lushly beautiful too, thanks to some garden blooms this morning. This probably breaks many flower arrangement laws (even numbers of flowers, too many colors, etc.) but I just grabbed a little bit of everything: calla lilies, poppies, foxglove, iris, purple bell flower, some peppery-scented little pink flower.

I figure the bounty doesn’t last forever. (Although it does come back every year.) I should revel while I can. I hope you revel too!

Spring bounty

It’s spring in Oregon! Spring means the garden is awakening. My lily of the valley patch has spread in the years since I transplanted a few stalks from my mother’s garden. Now I can pick masses of the scented blooms for my writing space, for the bathroom, for my day job office, for my neighbors (since I stole some of their snowball blossoms).

The peonies are just starting to open with their lovely bright color even more vibrant against the snowball whiteness. I expect this little bouquet to become a complete disaster because when the petals start to fall on these flowers, they exPLOde. The stink bug came along for the ride.

Spring veggies are some of the best after a long winter of cold-hardy produce. And notice how I color coordinate with my dinner! The arugula overwintered in my raised garden bed, but wow, the arugula flavor became very concentrated over the colder months. It definitely makes an ARUGULA salad even with just a few leaves. Contrast that with the delicate flavor of the first asparagus, grilled with just a little salt and pepper. Yum. Next spring, I’m* going to clear a whole loose, sandy bed for more asparagus.

I hope everybody is enjoying the change of seasons. I love to watch the shift in my gardens, but I have to admit, I’m impatient for strawberries!

* By “I”, I means the XY. Upper body strength is meant for digging in the garden. Also, for opening jars.