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One of my daily duties in the spring, or after the land begins drying after a summer rain, is to walk the corral looking for anything that might harm Lady Liberty. Our place was homesteaded in the late 1800s.

Rusty nails (sometimes hand-made), broken glass, and china are shoved to the light of day after who-knowshow-many-years underground. In addition to protecting Lady Liberty from stepping on something that might harm her, scouring the corral stimulates my writer’s imagination.

I’ve written several romances set on the Minnesota prairie in the late 1800s, so it’s no surprise the things I find cause me to wonder who the items belonged to and how the person related to the item. Did the tea cup handle of white china with a blue rose come west from New England with an early housewife? Was she disheartened at the loss, or did she throw the cup on the floor and break it herself in a fit of temper and frustration at the daily grind of life on the prairie?

Who used the medicine in the old, thick-glassed medicine bottle, and for what illness? Did it come from a traveling peddler, or was it purchased in town at a general store, or did an old-fashioned doctor sell it to the patient?

Was the milky-blue glass from a ball on a lightning post broken during a storm? What other destruction might the storm have wrought? Did the family hide in the cellar?

Were the hand-made nails made by a farmer on the property, or by a neighbor, or local blacksmith?

Some things I’ve found I’ve used as details in stories; others have given me ideas for entire stories.

Often I’ll walk right over or near a nail or piece of glass a number of times before seeing it. The time of day, cloud cover, the angle of the sunlight and the amount of moisture in the dirt all make a difference in whether I notice an item. Sometimes a colorful rock or an unusual-shaped twig catches my attention to the point I miss a nail lying beside it; apparently there are distractions in every area of life. Occasionally I’ll pull a weed to find a chunk of jagged-edged glass beneath a leaf.

A writer crawling out from a career mud season likely will find hints of creative and/or problem-solving ideas similar to the manner in which I find bits and pieces of the lives of the farmers and their wives and children who lived in our house during the last 100-plus years. Seldom do I find entire bottles, pieces of crockery, or tools. Even nails are often missing their heads. I find bits and pieces that show hints of the original item.

If you are emerging from a career mud season, pay attention to the bits and pieces pushed to the surface of your life and consciousness during the last year. An idea that seemed too broken to develop into a story might look different to you as you move into a new period in your life. Or perhaps the idea will be a solution to a career problem such as whether to go with a certain agent, or to submit to a certain house, or selfpublish a specific story. Pay attention to what distracted you from writing. Is there something close by it that is just what you seek? Those weeds you don’t want to look at—is there something valuable lying beneath them? Sometimes we know there’s a problem in our career, but it’s too painful to look at it; yet when we muster the courage to look at the problem we find the solution.

I’ve read that diamonds are formed deep in the earth, and pushed closer to the surface through the centuries that follow. The pieces of other people’s lives that I find lying in the dirt aren’t diamonds, but are a form of treasure in this writer’s life. I suspect all writers can find treasures, revelations of spring, pushed from the depths after a career mud season.

JoAnn Grote is the award-winning author of 38 books, including inspirational romances, middle-grade historical novels, and children’s nonfiction. Contact her at 

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