Re-entering the Writer’s World (i.e., Post Conference Determination)

This morning’s first rays of sunlight found a gorgeous place to touch down. The one and only Vine Maple on our acreage is visible from the kitchen windows and provided a wonderful first ‘welcome to Tuesday’ sight.


I didn’t notice the colour yesterday. Monday was a grey morning, plus I have to admit my eyes weren’t fully open until much later in the day. I was in reluctant withdrawal mode, recovering from three-and-a-half days at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

It’s my annual insanity — a long weekend where I push my introverted and sometimes claustrophobic self aside and venture into a crowd of more than seven hundred writing delegates, presenters, trade show vendors, conference staff and volunteers. Yes, seven hundred! This year’s attendees came from eight Canadian provinces and territories, twenty American states, and from as far away as Switzerland, Australia, Luxembourg and Dubai. There were fifty-eight best-selling authors and industry professionals who offered more than eighty workshops, keynote speeches and special events. Whew!!!

(A workshop on ‘Diagnosing Story Problems’ with Mary Robinette Kowal. That’s my chair in the back row. It makes for a quick escape when claustrophobia kicks in.)

Yes, it can be overwhelming, but I’ve been attending since 2004 and I know what to expect. I don’t find it intimidating anymore. I end up physically exhausted, but I’m always mentally exhilarated. Professional development is the goal; rejuvenation is a byproduct. All that valuable information topped off by mingling with others who know what it’s like to spend a ridiculous amount of time struggling to maneuver the right word from tip of tongue onto page — it’s a heady feeling!

It’s impossible to convey every fabulous detail and benefit of this unparalleled conference. After 2015’s I didn’t try, but instead did a round-up of my comments from previous years, complete with links back to each of them. I can’t say anything that will reverberate any better than what I’ve said in the past, so I think I’ll simply refer you back to that conglomerate post which you’ll find HERE.

During this year’s closing session, however, I had a bit of a revelation . Every year the walls of the Sheraton Guildford Ballroom are covered with conference banners, as seen here to the left — attractive, colourful, boldly proclaiming the conference name and logo. Last year I noticed they had been replaced with new ones, also attractive, colourful, boldly proclaiming the conference name and logo. But now the banners carry a variety of icons, all representative of a writer’s task.

And suddenly I realized they have a personal message for me! The pencils, pen, and typewriter, the hands on a keyboard, and jumble of alphabet letters…they’re all tools on which I must focus in my journey to create stories if I hope to share them one day with readers. Anything else is superfluous…a distraction from the goal.

All weekend I was surrounded by the subliminal message that the goal of the weekend — the hours learning in workshops, listening to keynote speakers, conversing with other writers, agents, and editors, and sharing ideas — is writing. If I don’t return home and delve into my words with renewed inspiration and the desire to produce better stories, the weekend doesn’t serve its ultimate purpose and I’ll have let down all those whose efforts went into hosting it to help me become a better writer.

It’s a great kick in the pants for me. I write most days, but I haven’t been proactive when it comes to finishing revisions and pursuing publication. I’ve been dawdling on the path. Things are about to change around here!

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How about you? Do you have achievable goals? Are you working your way towards them? How important are they to you?

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The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. [Michelangelo]

I’ve always found that anything worth achieving will always have obstacles in the way and you’ve got to have that drive and determination to overcome those obstacles on route to whatever it is that you want to accomplish. [Chuck Norris]

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Private Spaces

The phrase, “a room of one’s own” is forever linked to feminist author Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), as the title of her famous 1929 essay, but it has been adopted by many of us who long for a space specifically designed to meet our personal taste and needs.

I thought of that this morning while reading a blog post by Katrina Kenison. She calls it “Making Room“. She has just turned 59 and finds herself wishing for somewhere other than at her kitchen table to write —  “a place in which some new work might begin to take shape, privately and quietly” away from the hustle of her everyday household.

“My sixtieth year has begun with an urgent longing for quiet time and open-ended hours and, too, for a space that is devoted not to many things but to one thing: the work of the imagination, the murmurings of the soul, the possibility of articulating and embodying some just-forming ideas about how to live in the world as an older person.”  [Katrina Kenison]

At the beginning of every fall, a similar yearning overtakes me, but it has nothing to do with my increasing age. At least, I don’t think it does. The odd thing is, I do have a room of my own in which to write, but I don’t often use it, which makes me think it has more to do with attitude than age or location.

I’m always anxious to recapture the sense of mystery and adventure that accompanies the start of a new season or a new writing project. It’s akin to the delight of discovery in the story of A Secret Garden, but then again, I suppose that story did have a lot to do with place. And age. Hmmm. Well, never mind. Should place and age really determine the extent of a person’s creativity? What is it that makes a room of one’s own so appealing?

Katrina says it would mean not having to clear her writing materials off the kitchen table and make room for her family’s next meal.

There’s that, of course, but I suspect it’s also the ability to surround oneself with favourite things — things that inspire us — or to spread out our tools however we might prefer, and not have to answer to anyone else for our choices (or the mess). It’s that sense of privacy and personal space a closed door gives us — the opportunity to retreat into the backcountry of our minds without distraction.

KatherineSome of my friends have created personal writing spaces. In the past year Katherine Wagner repurposed an upstairs bedroom into a library/writing room with a view over her exquisite back garden, and Dawn Dalton’s hubby built her a separate writing hut, a la Roald Dahl’s, in their back yard.

What a treat to be able to indulge ourselves with such special spaces! I should feel guilty that I don’t make better use of mine. That I don’t, suggests my creative efforts don’t depend on an inspiring environment, but that’s not entirely true.

Where I most often sit with my laptop is in my family room. My recliner is adjacent to a wall of windows that overlook the ‘backyard’ — a rural haven surrounded by trees with a somewhat overgrown arbour leading to the unseen marsh beyond. It’s private and quiet. That’s pretty much all I need when I’m writing.

The environment we crave is as individual as the words each of us produces. The main thing is to identify what we require to produce those words and then get writing.

“When I am up here I see only the paper I am writing on, and my mind is far away with Willy Wonka or James or Mr Fox or Danny or whatever else I am trying to cook up. The room itself is of no consequence. It is out of focus, a place for dreaming and floating and whistling in the wind, as soft and silent and murky as a womb…”  [Roald Dahl, ‘Roald Dahl: From the Inside Out – the Author Speaks’]

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“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” [Virginia Woolf]

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Now it’s your turn. Tell me, what’s your ideal writing environment or location? Is your creativity dependent on being in that space?

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Seasonal reality versus perception

Reality versus perception. That’s what this is about. I know one day on the calendar is little different than the day before it or the day after. The sun rose a minute later today, and will set two minutes earlier, but otherwise not much has changed. But today is the autumnal equinox and suddenly it feels like fall.

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I’ve been noticing hints of its approach — those dratted spiders hanging out everywhere in their webs (why, oh, why do they have to dangle right at face level?), leaves fluttering down among recent raindrops, subtle colour changes in the garden that I’m sure weren’t there last weekend.

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There’s a new freshness to the warmth of today’s sunshine … crisp undertones that bespeak of a hastening away from summer’s heat. It isn’t quite time to pull out the garden annuals, but the spiky Iris and Daylily leaves are droopy, hinting that it’s time to cut them back. I’m sure they don’t look any worse than they did yesterday, but today they’ve edged into my awareness, along with the blousy, browning Hydrangea blooms.

Yesterday was summer, but at some point when I wasn’t paying attention it went into decline; today is autumn.

~

“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools.”

[Henry Beston]

“Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the LORD our God, that gives rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserves unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest.”

[Jeremiah 5:24]

“Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.”

[Jim Bishop]

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Dealing With Change

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One thing I love about living on the BC south coast is having four distinct seasons. I can’t envision living where it’s green and warm all year ’round. Granted, I don’t enjoy being too hot in summer, or too cold in winter (or constantly wet in spring and fall), but I love the variety each year. Just when the status quo begins to get tiresome, everything changes.

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Last week, on one of our showery days, I discovered leaves were beginning to fall. Smatterings of gold and brown scattered over slick grass and shiny pavement.

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My first reaction was surprise, followed by regret. How can the season of sunshine be ending so soon? I’m not ready to say goodbye to shorts and sandals weather, or the lazy, unscheduled days of summer. But what I want doesn’t much matter to Mother Nature. If change is due, change will come, and like it or not, it’s that time of the year.

I’ll adjust. Oh, I’ll probably grumble a little, but before long you’ll notice I’m raving about autumn’s changing colours and the fresh, crisp edge to its shortening days. Thanksgiving will come, and the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, which is always a highlight of my year. I love autumn!

Life is full of changes but there is also continuity. I like the saying, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” If we’re fixated on the closed door, however, we won’t notice the window opening.

In our church, an August day brought the devastating news that our pastor’s wife had suddenly died. Amid the shock and sadness, our Vacation Bible School needed to carry on. Now that September’s here, groups that were dormant through the summer must refocus and begin again. Where needed, other people are stepping in to take up tasks to which they will bring their own unique abilities. Ministry will continue, albeit in different ways within a hurting community. We will be more prayerful this fall, and hopefully more aware, more loving.

Changes happen. After the hurt begins to ease, a season of healing will come. God is always faithful. A new season always comes.

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“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God,
the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love
with those who love him and keep his commandments,
to a thousand generations.”

[Deuteronomy 7:9]

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A rainy Friday

Sorry, no profound words today. I’m back to writing and using every spare moment to work on my NaNoWriMo project. A gal does what a gal has to do in November. 🙂

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(The ‘Satomi’ Kousa pink dogwood tree in our back garden this week)

He will give the rain for your land in its season,
the early rain and the later rain,
that you may gather in
your grain and your wine and your oil.

[Deuteronomy 11:14]

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A Season of Changes

Just a musing today…

The first fall after we planted our Burning Bush shrub in the front yard, its leaves turned a brilliant scarlet. Most other years since then a few leaves partially changed, but the majority remained mottled green until they eventually ended up on the ground.

Fall Garden

(Consider clicking on photo to enlarge.)

This fall’s changes have been somewhere in between — some nice colour, but nothing so vivid as the first year. In the back yard a few shrubs are still changing, while others have already dropped their leaves before any colour had a chance to develop. Strangely, the annual Begonias out in the garden are still blooming, while on the back deck our hanging baskets and tubs have lost their flowers and only gangly greenery remains.

Autumn is my favourite time of the year. Although I admit to liking something about every new season, I’m always happy to escape summer’s intolerable heat, winter’s barren landscapes, and  spring’s on-again, off-again rain.

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Winter is an etching,
spring a watercolor,
summer an oil painting
and autumn a mosaic of them all.
[Stanley Horowitz]

~

We teeter on the brink of another new month, drawing closer to winter, wondering what effect the predicted El Nino may have. I think it must be time to retrieve the boxes of winter clothes from the basement. After months of T-shirts and cotton blouses, I’m looking forward to cozy turtlenecks and woollen sweaters.

~

The leaves fall, the wind blows,
and the farm country slowly changes
from the summer cottons
into its winter wools.
[Henry Beston, Northern Farm]

~  ~  ~

(I’m not a huge fan of Hallowe’en,
but for those who are…
HAPPY HALLOWE’EN!!)

Fall Snapshots: Looking for the good stuff

They always seem to arrive before I expect them. When the Northern Flicker made his first autumn appearance here I didn’t have my camera handy. I made a dash for it, but I needn’t have hurried. He hopped onto the railing and waited impatiently.

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He peered up at where he’d last seen the suet and bird feeders seven months ago. How does one explain to a bird that it’s too early in the season to hang his food out… that the bears are still roaming around looking for tasty treats?

His presence was a great photo opp for me, but he soon had me feeling guilty as he moved in closer to scrutinize the usual corner where the suet hook sat empty, just under the eaves.

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His buddy, a male Varied Thrush, arrived on the deck at the same time and stomped around, also peeved at his missing repast. He’s a ground feeder like the Flicker, but during past winters they’d grown accustomed to an occasional domestic supplement. Now they were here looking for a handout of the good stuff once again.

Thrush

I finally took pity on both of them and threw a few handfuls of seed on the deck while hubby hung a container of suet. If the bear arrives to chow down, too, I’m going to be frustrated, but there was only so long I could handle the guilt trip these two were dumping on me.

As I watched them enjoying the goodies, I was reminded that I will soon have to do some persistent searching of my own. As I bash out the words of a first draft during this NaNoWriMo writing marathon, I recognize that the underlying story is present, but it’s minus a lot of the good stuff… the rich descriptions, insights into my characters’ motivation, and sensory details, to name some. There is an abundance of weak verbs and supporting adverbs to cull, too, along with a lot of my typical mental meandering.

Once November 30th becomes history it will be time for me to start revising. I’ll have to dig in and search out nuggets to salvage among the drivel. In the meantime, I’m dumping words on the page, a few hundred at a time, and squelching the internal critic that tries to convince me my daily average isn’t half what it should be and I’m pursuing an impossible goal.

Total words to November 13th = 7,786

Are you writing? Are you counting words and making measurable progress, or does that matter to you? Are you focused on finishing a project and gleaning the good stuff later?

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Facts or Fiction in Writing a Novel

One of our signs of autumn is the Woolly Bear Caterpillar, which is the larva form of Pyrrharctia isabella, the Isabella Tiger Moth. It waits out the cold winter, sometimes freezing solid, and thaws out in the spring to pupate and eventually become a moth. (Such interesting tidbits I provide for you on this blog!) The width of its coppery brown stripe is said to be an indication of the severity of the approaching winter  — the thicker it is, the milder the winter. That’s the myth, anyway. 

Furry Fellow

Wikipedia says, “Folklore of the eastern United States and Canada holds that the relative amounts of brown and black on the skin of a Woolly Bear caterpillar (commonly abundant in the fall) are an indication of the severity of the coming winter… In reality, hatchlings from the same clutch of eggs can display considerable variation in their color distribution, and the brown band tends to grow with age; if there is any truth to the tale, it is highly speculative.”

Separating truth from fiction can sometimes be a challenge. When we’re writing non-fiction or memoir, truth matters, but in a novel it’s not so important. At least, that’s what some writers seem to think.

There’s a difference between truth and accuracy. A novel may be fictitious but any details must be accurate for the story to remain credible. But, you say, it’s contemporary fiction. We write what we know. Why do we need to research anything?

Yesterday on the Seekerville blog, author Amanda Cabot‘s post, “So You Want to Write a Contemporary“, asked seven questions writers should consider when deciding whether to write contemporary or historical fiction. In her sixth question she debunks the idea that contemporary doesn’t require research. The reality is, all writing requires research.  It’s true that research for contemporaries is different from historicals, but it’s still essential that your details are correct.  If anything, readers are more critical of contemporary authors who get their facts wrong because it’s so easy to get them right.”

Hopefully our contemporary fiction isn’t devoid of an interesting setting or enriching details just because we’re writing only “what we know”. It’s good to stretch our horizons and venture into a bit of unfamiliar territory once in a while.

What kind of facts do you deal with in your writing? How did you research their accuracy?

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