The Writers' Loop

For Readers and Writers


Growing Inspiration


I returned from the Break Out Novel Intensive Workshop in Oregon energized with fresh writing tools and recommendations for my novel. A flood of plans and possibilities crisscrossed my brain and each time I looked at my manuscript I thought, “Not yet.” The seeds of the workshop were germinating but not ready to sprout.

0406151229At the same time, I came back with beautiful images of the workshop setting in the Hood River area. Unlike my home in Saratoga County, New York, Oregon was in the full bloom of spring. Their trees flaunted a rich array of greens and pastel flowers of lilacs, hydrangeas, and mixtures of pink blossoms. Golden daffodils and red tulips lined paths along the conference center, and tiny daisy-like flowers peppered large sections of an adjacent park. If my memory serves me—from my childhood days of eating wild raspberries as fast as I could pick them—the banks along the Columbia River just outside our hotel, teamed with budding raspberry bushes. Everywhere I looked, there was color. Everywhere, new life.

At home, the trees were bare and grass was brown, but, alleluia, the snow was gone. Then, within two days, I noticed tiny buds emerging on sprightly branches all across my yard. I gathered up my gardening tools, and headed to my april 2015 004perennial beds to see what was or was not happening. Then I saw it. Just as the writing workshop’s seeds of inspiration were germinating, so was my garden. By the end of the week, my forsythia bushes sprouted blooms, april 2015 009 the chive was tall enough for salad, and the oregano and day lilies were wild with life. Energized by the season’s promises, I now feel ready to transplant my manuscript’s sprouts from head to page.

For me, working the garden and digging hands deep into the soil is no different from writing. Both tasks require careful, thorough april 2015 011planning. I learned this the hard way when I jumped into my first novel without a road map for my plot. Likewise, I jumped into my first garden by planting 36-inch tall cone flowers in front of 12-inch high lavender, another plot without a map. Fortunately for me, drafts are revised and rewritten, sometimes for years and years. (But that’s another story.) While in the garden, most plants can be moved easily and are usually quite forgiving of the change.

Patience is essential in both writing and gardening. Neither job can be rushed. Each needs its own time to develop, grow deeper, and flourish. Writing and gardening both demand tons of weeding and pruning, yanking and tossing what doesn’t belong, what detracts and chokes.

There are libraries of books on gardens with A to Z growing instructions, designs, and worlds of information. There are books on writing fiction, developing the narrative arc and characters, creating tension, and even producing a breakout novel. But in the end, it’s a personal path in both cases. Yes, we refer to the experts and then throw ourselves into the work, filling it with our individuality, creativity, passion, and preferences. Above all, we want others to take notice of our work and feel as moved by it as we do. We want to touch hearts and lives through the voice of our writings and gardens.

Beatrix Potter is one author who enjoyed gardening and found inspiration there for her writing and her painting.  Marta McDowell’s book, Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales, is a beautiful accounting of Beatrix Potter’s love of gardening and plants, and how that passion came to be reflected in her work.  McDowell told Joyce Neuman of Garden Variety:

“There are many writers who garden and who write about gardening: Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edith Wharton, Eudora Welty, Emily Dickinson and, of course, Beatrix Potter. Why? Here’s my guess. Writing is a solitary, cerebral pursuit. Gardening is tactile, physical. Writing tends to be indoors, and it is divorced from nature.  All nature is imagined, during the act of writing. Gardening balances that, by connecting the writer to life—plant life, the life in the soil, the insects and animals that the garden attracts and sustains. You can feel alone at the keyboard, but never in the garden.  The garden is also the place to work out writing problems—other problems as well. Emerson said something like “All my hurts my garden spade can heal.”

Beatriix Potter's vegetable gardent at Hill Top, Cumbria, UK


You can read McDowell’s complete interview by clicking on the snoozing rabbits in Potter’s garden:

rabs slp

WE have a little garden,                    
A garden of our own,                                   peter r
And every day we water there
The seeds that we have sown.                                   

WE love our little garden,
And tend it with such care,
You will not find a faced leaf   
Or blighted blossom there.  

~ Beatrice Potter

View and read a bit about the inspiring gardens of famous writers such as Agatha Christie, George Bernard Shaw, Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Roald Dahl, Virginia Woolfe, Beatrix Potter, and more at The Telegraph’s Twelve Wonderful Writers’ Gardens.  Click on Oregon’s hydrangeas visit:




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A Writers Workshop Isn’t All About What Happens Inside Class

By Peggy Morehouse

One of the joys of being a writer is going to writers’ workshops. Your craft improves, your manuscript deepens, you meet other writers, and you have plenty of fun. Although the speaker and the content are my priorities when choosing a workshop, a nice location is an added bonus. I wasn’t disappointed when I attended the Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop hosted by Free Expressions in Hood River, Oregon at the beginning of April. The instructor was literary agent and author of several novel writing books, Donald Maass. Attendees also submitted pages from their manuscript to him and staff editors for critiques. The good news is the instruction and feedback I received will make my novel  more intriguing. The bad news is I have to temporarily delete The End on the last page of my novel, but after a couple of months of revision, I’ll be set to go.

I not only gained valuable information inside the classroom, but found new beauty to weave into my stories in the natural areas around Hood River. Authors like Henry Thoreau and John Muir were masters of nature writing, but their work primarily described the outdoor world from their personal perspectives and experiences. Nature certainly can be  included in fiction when it comes to describing lush settings, but what about how characters interact with oceans, trees, and animals? Can they effect someone’s feelings and emotions? Do they have the power to change someone?


Take a look at how some of my favorite authors used nature in their novels:

From Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver:

“This was a living flow, like a pulse through veins, with the cells bursting and renewing themselves as they went. The sudden vision filled her with strong emotions that embarrassed her, for fear of breaking into sobs as she had in front of her in-laws that day when the butterflies enveloped her. How was that even normal, to cry over insects?”

From Mudbound by Hillary Jordan:

“When the river takes me I don’t try to swim afloat. I open my eyes and my mouth and let the water fill me up. I feel my lungs spasm but there’s no pain, and I stop being afraid. The current carries me along. I’m flotsam, and I understand that flotsam is all I’ve ever been.”

From Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck:

“As the day went forward the sun becomes less red. It flared down on the dust-blanketed land. The men sat in the doorways of their houses; their hands were busy with sticks and little rocks. The men sat still -thinking- figuring.”

As writer Ron Harton says, “Nature writing is relational. It is about the interconnections, the interrelationships, that form our world. Nature writing binds people to the natural world with words of understanding, respect, admiration, and love.” The way a bird caws can send a message. A still dark river can create a mood. A cloud blocking the sun’s rays can reflect emotion.


If your character saw this image when he/she gazed at the sky would they focus on the darkness of the cloud, the surrounding sun rays or both.

So I escaped from the indoor world of my writer’s workshop to go into the outdoor world for a little while.  Perhaps I’d find a few hours of quiet, stumble upon an incredible view, or have an encounter with an animal. Maybe I’d have a revelation or a new idea for a story scene. Just like a good novel, stepping into nature is an adventure because you’re never quite sure what it has in store for you.


Here are a few photos from the natural area around Hood River. How could you use them in your writing especially as they relate to a character?


Waterfalls divided by a bridge



A tree obstructing the view of a waterfall or did they blend together?



A moss covered tree



Apple Blossoms with snow covered Mount Hood in the background

I strongly recommend the Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop hosted by Free Expressions. Click here if interested in future workshops: