Author Archives: Arlene Somerton Smith

About Arlene Somerton Smith

Plain and simple writing on meaningful topics.

Living the first draft

I posted this on a previous blog. It’s come to my mind again in recent weeks.


Sometimes I wonder . . . Did someone ever say to Mozart, “Ya know what, Wolfgang? I think that should be two quarter notes instead of one half note.”

  • Have you ever been lost for words in an emotional moment only to think later, “I should have said this . . .”?
  • Or perhaps you said the absolutely worst thing possible only to think later, “If only I hadn’t said that!”?
  • Or maybe you have thought, “If I could do that over again, I’d do it differently.”?

We don’t get to edit our lives before publication. Everything we do is first draft.

Anne Lamott encourages writers to “Write shitty first drafts.” She knows that getting something—anything—down on the page is key. Writers can’t believe that words are supposed to sprinkle gracefully onto the page in perfect pearly rows. We’d never get anything done, we’d be so frozen with apprehension.

A mediocre mess of an idea out there is better than a perfect pearly idea hidden.

Every day we meet people and choose words to speak to them. Sometimes we choose appropriate, helpful words. But sometimes we choose hurtful ones.

Every day we choose clothes and do our hair. Sometimes our wardrobe and hair could be on the cover of Vogue. But sometimes we manage only sweatpants and a washed face.

Occasionally  life kneecaps us with unexpected blows. Sometimes we rise above it with wise, rational choices. But sometimes we solve problems with beer and a whiskey chaser.

We can’t edit our lives before publication, and that means our words and actions won’t sprinkle gracefully in perfect pearly rows. We have to live our delightfully shitty first draft and forgive ourselves for it.

Because one mediocre mess of a life out there is better than a perfect pearly one hidden. 

Rose petals scattered across an light pine hardwood floor.
Scattered rose petals. A beautiful mess.

Ravenous and peckish: Eating like a bird?

This sign stood propped outside the doors of the Lake Louise ski resort.

I contemplated the raven and asked myself, “Is that where the word ravenous comes from?” As in, so hungry you’ll tear something to bits in search of food.

Apparently not. According to etymonline.com, the word comes from an old French verb raviner meaning “to prey, to plunder, devour greedily.” The word is not etymologically related at all to raven.

In light of that sign, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

A few days ago, my husband said that he was feeling peckish. The word is not commonly used, but it was a favourite one of his parents. He adopted its use for when he has that, “I could eat” feeling. I asked myself, “Is that word related to birds, as in how they peck at their food?”

I prepared myself for disappointment, after the ravenous let-down. But this time my good friend etymonline.com brought me joy. The word originates from Middle Low German pekken “to peck with the beak.”

At the moment, I am not ravenous, but I expect shortly I will feel peckish. When the time comes, I will eat like a bird.

Soft and supple: Thoughts for new life

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life. 
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
- Lao Tzu, as found in Atomic Habits by James Clear

In this season of Easter | Passover |Ramadan—all times of self-reflection—we contemplate what it means to live fully and well.

The soft, supple, tender, pliant, and yielding are alive and growing. They stretch toward sunny new truths.

The stiff, hard, brittle, dry, and inflexible are breaking. They crumble and return to dust.

For me this is Easter Monday morning. A time of new life, in whatever way you believe it to be. A time of recognizing that good always arises out of the darkest of times.

I just need to remember that during the dark times.

Not grow dry and brittle. Stay soft and supple and ready for new life.

A field of corn in spring with rows of new sprouts about six inches high. A barn in the distance.
Soft and supple sprouts reaching for sunny new truths

Planner, Pantser, Pouncer

At a recent gathering of writing friends, the topic of planner vs pantser came up.

I declared that I used to call myself a pantser (a person who writes by the seat of their pants according to the whims of the day), but I learned that I needed to add in a little more planner (a person who plots out stories in advance) to get things done.

Cover of Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) by Lisa Cron

For more on this, I recommend Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) by Lisa Cron.

One man in the group had never heard these expressions. He asked for clarification. “Did you just say planner vs pouncer? Because that’s what I do. A thought occurs to me and I pounce on it.”

How wonderful! He added a third element to the conversation, one that both planners and pantsers can embrace.

For example, careful planners who are stuck at a story plot point might take a walk for inspiration. While strolling their eyes might fall on something that triggers the solution to their next step. Ah ha! They would cry as they pounce on the idea, hurry home and add into their overall plan.

Freewheeling pantsers might sit with fingers on keys or pen hovering over paper. Open to receiving as they are, a thought—the genesis of an idea—arrives to them from the Amazing Mystical Universal Supply of Ideas and they pounce.

Are you a planner or a pantser? Even if you’re not a writer, have you pounced on any good ideas lately?

Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

What friendship looks like: #TheTellMeChallenge

In social media these days, the #TheTellMeChallenge asks people to reveal something about themselves without directly mentioning the subject.

For example, “Tell me you’re a baby boomer without telling me you’re a baby boomer.”

Romper Room logo

In that spirit, I took this picture in the woods near my house. There are three paths trodden through the snow: two for friends to walk side by side and a third for social distancing while greeting fellow walkers.

Tell me you are a friend without telling me you are a friend.

Three paths trodden side by side through the snow in the woods.
Community spirit

Being rid of that which does not feed us

I have been reading Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, a recommendation of TheHomePlaceWeb blog.

The book provides solace to the soul, and that is something we citizens of Ottawa, Canada need in our difficult times.

Katherine May writes about how we think of life as linear, a slow march from birth to death. That is true, but May reminds us that the pattern of life is also cyclical, or seasonal. We circle through periods of beginnings and endings, storing up and shedding, and wakefulness and sleeping throughout our lives.

At the beginning of a day, or a project, or a course of study, we are similar to trees with green leaves full of chlorophyll. The leaves absorb sunlight and convert carbon dioxide and water into tree food, and we absorb information and convert physical supplies into some sort of product that serves to advance our lives. Spring and summer cycles are about gathering and growing.

At the end of a day, or fiscal year, or a career, we prepare for change in the way of a tree. The chlorophyll in leaves breaks down in fall. The green disappears and exposes other beautiful colours that were always there but hidden. In a process called abscission, the cells between the stem and the branch weaken until supply to the leaf is cut off and the leaf falls. In our lives, this is when we pass on clothes we no longer need, or clear out university textbooks, or pack up personal belongings from the office and walk out the door.

Abscission, the process required for shedding of leaves, is “part of an arc of growth, maturity, and renewal.” In other words, to protect ourselves and stay strong, sometimes we need to rid ourselves of that which no longer feeds us.

BUT—and this is important —even on the coldest, darkest days of winter, when deciduous trees appear fully dead, there are buds. They are small and protected by thick scales, but they are there.

“We rarely notice them because we think we’re seeing the skeleton of the tree, a dead thing until the sun returns. But look closely, and every single tree is in bud . . .”

From Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
A twig of a deciduous tree in February against a background of snow. The branch has buds protected by thick scales.
Buds waiting for the sun

On this cold winter day in Ottawa, it helps me to know that buds are in place. It allows me to believe that the events taking place in downtown Ottawa had a spring, summer, and fall season and that the time of shedding approaches.

Soon we will be rid of that which does not feed us.