Christmas Blessings!

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Yes, it’s November

Halloween buzzed by in the blink of an eye, and suddenly it’s November. We had some gorgeous fall colours happening until a windstorm whipped through and removed many of the brighter leaves. Now the first snowfall is waiting in the wings for tonight, suggesting autumn is going to be a short, sweet season.

I’m sad about that. Fall is always my favourite, with many flowers still blooming and not-too-hot-but-still-pleasant days. I console myself by repeating, “But it IS November now.”

Along with November comes NaNoWriMoNational Novel Writing Month. I started participating (albeit half-heartedly) in 2006 and, while I rarely succeed in completing a brand new 50,000-word novel in November’s thirty days, I do use the month to focus on my writing, and am usually happy with what I accomplish.

This year author Denise Jaden is offering WriMos daily emailed encouragement and writing prompts, and critique partner Katherine Wagner has established a Facebook NaNo support group linked to the Golden Ears Writers group.

The purpose is to spur writers on toward their individual goals, and support their efforts because — face it — writing isn’t as easy as some folks might think. Sometimes  words flow, but other times they drip, one excruciatingly slow drop at a time.

Occasionally I attend a write-in — WriMos who gather in one location to provide moral support (and peer pressure!) for each other during a specific period of writing. Ours are usually held in the local branch of our public library — a much quieter location than a Starbucks or cafe. Some writers like the stimulation of a busy location while others (me!) prefer silence and solitude. It stretches my introverted nature to attend write-ins, but I also like to support my fellow writers, so I compromise and go once in a while.

What’s your preference? And are you participating in NaNoWriMo 2017 or other writing-focused endeavour this month? Whatever the case, this is the month for it…because after November comes December, and we all know how much writing we’re likely to get done then!

I’m off to chalk up some words. Happy NaNo-ing!

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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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Fire!!!

Nothing speeds up the heart rate like hearing someone shout, “Fire”! It instantly generates visions of an out-of-control blaze, and right now there are several of them burning in our province.

Forest fires aren’t anything new here. Every summer lightning and human carelessness cause many hectares of land, trees and property to be destroyed. There are currently 167 wildfires burning in British Columbia. Since April 1, 2017, there have been a total of 616 wildfires in the province that have burned a total of 114,929 hectares.* It’s tragic, but it happens. It never seems personal until suddenly it is.

As of this morning, there are 39 evacuation orders and 24 evacuation alerts in place due to wildfires. Approximately 16,250 people are affected by the evacuation orders, the majority of them in BC’s Cariboo and Chilcotin areas. Nine sections of provincial highways are either fully or partially closed.*

Our off-the-beaten-path little Cariboo cabin is on the fringe of an evacuation alert which itself is behind the boundaries of an evacuation order and road closure. There’s no way to get to it now, and there’s nothing we can do to protect it, even if we could. We can only hope the winds won’t drive flames in its direction.

It’s not much of a cabin — more rustic on the inside than its exterior might suggest. It was built by my father and husband from wood cut on the land, slowly finished and furnished by family members over several decades, with used and free materials. It’s not insured because it’s worth nothing, and yet in sentiment and memories it’s worth everything to us.

Adjacent to the cabin and just across the creek is the home my parents built over fifty years ago — the only full time residence on the entire lake. They’ve been gone and their property sold and re-sold multiple times, but our cabin still makes it feel like “our” lake. It’s where we’ve been coming together as generations of a family since I was four years old.

Trees surround both properties, and indeed the whole lake, right down to the water’s edge. If the forest fires reach here, I can’t envision anything stopping them. I can’t envision what this secluded sanctuary would look like. I don’t want to envision it at all.

There are already people who have lost their homes and their livelihood. Several towns were given just ten minutes to evacuate. Businesses had to be abandoned. There are friends in the area whose total homestead and ranch are at risk. Our little cabin is insignificant in the overall picture of this disaster, but still … I can’t help selfishly hoping and praying it won’t be among the casualties.

In the meantime, I wait and write.

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*Information from BC Wildfire Service

 

Tuesday’s This and That: Birds, Writing and a Conference

I’m sure birds must have brains — isn’t that where the term ‘birdbrain’ comes from? — but I have no idea whether or not they ‘think’. I’m having a battle of wits agains a pair of Juncoes who are as determined to build a nest in my hanging geranium basket as I am determined not to let them. By sheer perseverance they’re slowly outsmarting me, and that irks!

For some reason I am reminded of a quotation by George Carlin: “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”  

My hubby has inserted a criss-cross of kindling pieces into the one basket that’s been getting the most attention, but it appears the birds see that as more of a sturdy building foundation than a deterrent.

The Juncoes are persistent, but so am I! We’ve lived here twenty years and this behaviour only began a couple summers ago. (I see I posted a similar complaint at this same time last June.)

It’s not like there isn’t a multitude of other potential nesting spots around our two-and-a-quarter wooded acres, so I’m not sure why the hanging baskets outside our family room window are so appealing to them. Certainly their poop on the window as they swoop in for their landings isn’t appealing to me!

We’ve temporarily relocated our two hanging baskets onto the deck outside the patio door so I can more easily shoo them away. At the moment I’m not confident about winning this battle with the birds, but the survival of my geraniums depends on it.

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A member of my writing critique group has invited fellow writers to join her for ‘Writing in the Garden’ one morning a month between May and September. She has a beautiful garden — it was featured during a Maple Ridge Country Garden Tour a couple years ago — and would be an inspiring venue for writing … if the weather would cooperate.  A covered lanai protects from rain, but it’s been too chilly to sit outside, so for May and June we were invited inside to write in her lovely home.

I’m not one of those writers who chooses to gather up writing tools and head out to a local coffee bar to write. Normally, I need solitude to transfer the words in my head onto a page, so it surprised me to produce several hundred words during each session. I guess a little peer pressure must have helped.

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Registrations opened last week for the 25th anniversary Surrey International Writers’ Conference, and, despite a budget that barely accommodates attending every second year, I’ve registered again, for the third year in a row! I’ve been attending frequently since 2004 and it’s always an incredible conference. As much as I might wish my encounters there with industry professionals would result in acquiring an agent or a publishing contract, I’m enthused about just being there — being immersed in all things writerly for a four day weekend of workshops and inspiring camaraderie.

SiWC is one of the most popular writers’ conferences in North America and draws attendees from many different countries. The day after registrations opened, it was more than 50% sold out. One of the more popular Master Classes on Thursday was sold out in a record-breaking five minutes! It’s a very large conference and yes, for an introvert like me that could be intimidating. But the atmosphere is always welcoming and inclusive, regardless of one’s level of writing expertise or achievement. And by booking a room in the host hotel, I’m free to slip away and decompress whenever necessary.

This year the conference dates are October 19 – 22. This is only mid-June but I’m already hyperventilating a bit. 🙂

Best not to think too far ahead. Better I wave a tea towel at these pesky Juncoes and get back to my writing.

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