Excavating a Life

Momphotos-18This is a happy coincidence: I’m starting a new, ongoing theme here at Books Can Save a Life (in addition to my usual book posts) called Excavating a Life on my fourth anniversary, to the day, of blogging.

Excavating a Life will be my informal, occasional, online creative journal: notes and jottings about the writing life as I try to finish this exhilarating and confounding marathon of writing a memoir, which I’m aiming to complete in 2016.

I hope these musings will speak to you who are immersed in a creative endeavor, or inspire you to begin one, and that you’ll share the challenges and high points of your own journey.

For those who follow me primarily for books, I’ll often highlight an author or work that has taught me something about pursuing a writing or creative practice with intention–so books will be a big part of Excavating a Life, too.

For instance, you’ll see a lot of Vincent Van Gogh here. I’m not a painter by any means, never learned to draw (though I’m making attempts to keep a nature journal), but I find Van Gogh’s letters an endless source of inspiration; I have three collections of them.

Here is a nugget of wisdom from Van Gogh. And it doesn’t just apply to painting (or writing) does it?

“If a peasant painting smells of bacon, smoke, potato steam–fine–that’s not unhealthy–if a stable smells of manure–very well, that’s what a stable’s for….Painting peasant life is a serious thing…”  Vincent Van Gogh: Ever Yours, The Essential Letters, Yale University Press 2014


I’m thrilled to acknowledge and thank my longtime friend and writing coach extraordinaire, Debra Marrs, who presented this gift of an idea for Excavating a Life when we met up a couple of times in Florida for afternoon tea and some fabulous Cuban food. We were in Florida to spend holiday time with family–a Christmas quite different from our usual upstate New York kind.

Thanks to my sister- and brother-in law, who have the perfect guest quarters, I started off the year with a week of intensive writing. During my mini-retreat, I was able to add 10,000 words to my memoir–not quite my goal of 13,000, but good enough.

Wat Mongkolrata Temple

My sister-in law, who is from Thailand, took us to the local Buddhist temple, where I meditated and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. It was a unique blend of spiritualities for me this mid-winter. That, and a change of scene, did wonders for my writing.

Before I close, here is one more tidbit. Have you ever heard of the Helsinki Bus Station Theory of creativity? I hadn’t, but apparently it is well known among many photographers. I found out about it yesterday. I love it and agree with it. Don’t get off that #!?&! bus. And remember, in the first stages of a project, feedback from others or your own emotions “aren’t a reliable indication of how you’re doing.”

A different Christmas this year: orchids instead of evergreen. My niece said these look like butterflies, and I agree.


Are you immersed in bringing something to fruition? Or would you like to be? It could be anything: writing a book, building a stone wall, starting a business, learning to knit, climbing all the Adirondack mountain peaks, whatever. What’s your biggest creative challenge at the moment?

I bought this well worn leather journal cover in Florence years ago.


17 thoughts on “Excavating a Life”

  1. Happy Anniversary to you, Val and to Books Can Save A Life. What an auspicious day to introduce Excavating A Life too. Because writing and reading are so intertwined, it’s only natural that both find their way to your blog. And thanks for the mention! LOVED sharing our time together so very much., and I’m hoping that’s the first of many visits to come.

    1. Debra, we are on the same schedule today, I just read your comment! Thank you so much for inspiring me to make my fourth anniversary here at Books an opportunity to do something new. Talk soon! And if you’d ever like to do a guest post….

  2. Hi Val. I am way overdue in exploring your blog but am so glad I finally did– it is beautiful and inspired. I especially like your creative musings. I am a big fan of Oliver Burkeman but had never heard of the Finnish bus station theory. It’s great! Glad your time in Florida was so productive, and I look forward to more reading.

    1. Louisa so glad you visited, I’ve so enjoyed our discussions about writing in the past. Thanks for your kind words and for stopping by, and I always love to hear what new and interesting turn you’re taking in your life.

  3. So excited to learn of your blog! We share similar passions and books have and continue to save my life. I’m committed to getting my book out this year too. I look forward to sharing your journey.

    1. Dorothy, I LOVE following the aging abundantly book club, it is just right up my alley. I’m thrilled to hear you’ve a book in the works, too. Mine certainly won’t be published in 2016 but maybe 2017 if all goes well. I expect to complete drafting and revising around September, but then who knows, when I send it off to a developmental editor he/she may say the whole things needs extensive reworking. Hope not, but you never know. Anyway, I hope you’ll keep in touch about the progress of your book, and if you have ideas – issues or concerns – about the writing life (or books) that you’d like to see addressed, please let me know. And if you’d ever like to do a guest post here, I’d welcome it. I know you must have more work than you can handle, but keep it in mind! I always appreciate ideas for books to read, too – my comments are always open!

  4. Happy blog anniversary and what a fitting new theme to divert into, alongside your excellent and poignant reviews. Creativity is in the air, I admire your courage to keep the creative wheels turning, and bringing your blog along to assist in the uphill climb.

    I have a draft novel that’s had a ‘developmental edit’ and requires me to commit to taking it to the next stage, that’s my challenge, to decide if I’m ready to commit to that endeavour, a long, solitary road…

    1. Wow that’s great Claire. If you decide to continue with it and I’m sure you will if not now later I would love to be a kindred spirit in you journey. It is so solitary isn’t it? We need to cheer each other along. Thank you for your word of support.

  5. My best wishes to you that your writing project goes extremely well and that you feel great satisfaction from beginning to end. I’ve thought about writing down a few memories but never have although I certainly wish my grandmother had done just that. 🙂

  6. grazie

    ________________________________ Da: Books Can Save A Life Inviato: domenica 17 gennaio 2016 14.55 A: pinosansone@live.it Oggetto: [New post] Excavating a Life

    Valorie Grace Hallinan posted: “This is a happy coincidence: I’m starting a new, ongoing theme here at Books Can Save a Life (in addition to my usual book posts) called Excavating a Life, on my fourth anniversary, to the day, of blogging. Excavating a Life will be my informal, occasion”

  7. Happy blog anniversary! That is a wonderful idea, Valerie, I’ll be following your posts closely.
    I wrote a book a couple of years ago but never went through with the final edit. I hope this will be the year I do that so I look forward to this new theme. .
    The journal is beautiful. I have something similar that I started last year to keep me writing.

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