Keeping track of what I read…not as easy as it sounds!

Good intentions get a bad rap, but I suppose it’s justified when they end up as only intentions. I know the problem all too well.

Books

Years ago I decided it would be useful to keep a record of what I read. My memory is terrible when it comes to recalling titles and author names. Someone would ask, “Have you read so-and-so’s new book? What did you think of it?” Not until they recounted a bit about the plot would I recognize the book in question.

I started a spreadsheet and added relative information, including a little blurb for each book. And it worked well … for a while. Before the end of the first year I was frequently playing ‘catch up’, trying to remember books that I’d read but already returned to the library, lent to friends or deleted from my kindle.

Blaming my lapses on the inconvenience of having to get the spreadsheet up and running on the computer, I printed out a copy with lots of blank spaces where I could jot down the details until I had time to transfer them to the computer.

That worked until I misplaced the sheet. I mean, how likely is it that a single sheet of paper would get mixed up with others on the desk of a writer? It had to be there somewhere, but I never did find it.

So I hunted up a notebook. The obvious choice, right?

It had to be just the right notebook. Big enough that it couldn’t easily be misplaced on my desk. Not so small it could hide in my purse, but definitely small enough to pop into my tote bag alongside my book-du-jour or kindle. My choice was one of two that were gifts from family — each with a grandchild’s photo on the wipeable, laminate cover. It brings a smile every time I look at it. I enjoy using it when I remember to.

Those good intentions I mentioned at the beginning? Any method would work if I were more self-disciplined, and I intend to be, but in reality the daily distractions and interruptions often mean when I finish a book, I put it aside and move on. The advantage of the notebook with a pen clipped on, is that it stays with the book until I record the details. If a library due date is approaching I’ve been known to renew online to give myself an extra few days to get the task done!

The other benefit to the book is that I usually remember to write down the title, etc., before I start reading, leaving a half page to add the blurb or my reaction/review later.

What works best for me is flexibility, not discipline. I like to be organized, but when I’m not I need a system that can compensate, and my just-right notebook delivers.

Do you think there’s value in keeping track of what you read? If you do, what method works best for you?

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The Writer and An Addiction to Social Media

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A comment left on my previous post reminded me why I began my venture into social media, AND why I have ever-so-slowly backed away again. Wendy Love said,

I love reading ideas that concur with my own as this one does. As a writer/blogger I keep reading that I have to spread myself all over the internet. But as someone who is challenged by bipolar disorder, I only have so much energy to go around. At one point I cut myself off of everything but now that I am back to writing online I realize I should probably be reaching out more. Can anyone suggest a select few that they would recommend?

Part of my reply: “I began blogging chiefly because I heard the same thing: that to be a successful author you need to establish a tribe…a crowd of online followers. There’s a certain benefit to being part of the social media community, but if we become obsessed with developing numbers to the detriment of our personal growth and writing time, we counteract the value.”

Also detrimental is the subtle addiction to social media. It’s too easy to get hung up on being a courteous communicator — checking online conversations and making sure we reply promptly. One week I discovered I had spent more time trying to react to comments and other people’s articles, and to provide thoughtful responses, than I did working on my own writing project.

Most of my early writing years were spent in cognito as far as any online presence was concerned. I stalked popular agents’ and editors’ blogs while reading ‘how to’ books on the craft of writing. I was in learning mode, and I stayed there until one day the urge to respond to something prodded me into visibility. (I think my first comment was on Rachelle Gardner‘s blog, and I was almost in a cold sweat as I fearfully pressed the SEND key that first time.)

At one point I had well over a hundred blogs and websites bookmarked — all interesting and useful, but, of course, I couldn’t visit each of them every day. A pattern developed, and I found a way to code my favourite, more favourite and most favourite sites. Later I joined Facebook, then also Twitter and Google+, but managed to withstand the temptation of everything else. As I mentioned last week, in conjunction with my blogging, even those few have become too time consuming.

I’ve come to believe that establishing a specific online community is desirable for gathering personal support and industry information, but trying to be present everywhere and “do it all” will eventually drain my energy and shift the focus of my writing towards maintenance rather than creativity. And before having published books to promote, the creative writing aspect is what I need to pursue.

The question of which social media sites are most useful has no single correct answer. I qualify that by adding it depends on what genre you write, how experienced you are, and what your goals are. It also depends on what ignites your passions. I’ll share some of mine in the next edition of my Musings.

I’ve been reading Jeff Goins’ YOU ARE A WRITER (SO START ACTING LIKE ONE). One of his observations struck home:

You know what most of this crazy, social media platform maintenance is? Stalling. Procrastinating the real work you need to do, which is writing. I don’t play that game anymore. I pick a few networks that work for me and I say ‘good riddance’ to the rest. If you’re going to be a real writer, you’ll have to make similar sacrifices.

I hadn’t read that when I decided to jump ship from Google+, but I think he would approve. I’ll be back here on Friday to share what social media I haven’t abandoned and which blogs and websites get the majority of my attention.

In the meantime, in Jeff’s words, “do a little purging and get to work.”

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The Intrusion of Real Life

Do you ever try to visualize what it would be like to live someone else’s life? Real life for some is a dream world for others.

There were days when I wondered if my life might have been different if I’d made different choices. The grass was greener, much greener where I envisioned I could be, and yet now, decades later, hindsight proves me wrong. Their colours might have seemed more appealing at the time, but the weeds and wildflowers grew just as abundantly in the grass on both sides of that fence. It was only my perspective that changed the view. I was exactly where God intended me to be.

Everyone’s life is filled with a lot of ordinariness, interrupted by occasional mountaintop and valley experiences.

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While I know perpetual tranquility would be boring, during times of upheaval and crisis I’m pretty sure most people wish life could be more serene.

I have family members who are currently wishing for less upheaval in their lives. What seemed like a simple plumbing-related flood upstairs in their home on December 9th resulted in damage also being done to several areas downstairs. The insurance and restoration companies were quick to tear out walls, ceiling and floors, to get drying underway. The repairs, however, are taking several weeks — which, when you are having to live somewhere else until the work is completed, is frustrating enough. When full weeks go by  and nobody comes to do any work, or when a carpenter arrives by himself, and puts in an unproductive day, working slowly while admitting he wants to get paid for as many hours as possible, it becomes downright maddening.

Almost eight full weeks have gone by, and it’s obvious there are more yet to come. Cold, hard “real” life continues to intrude on their daily existence as family members live out of suitcases and add extra commuting time to work and school schedules. It’s stressful for them, trying to carry on with all their normal activities under these abnormal circumstances. And yet they do it.

The thing is, they aren’t the only people who have to cope with the intrusion of the unexpected. I often read other author blogs and Facebook posts and note how their writers mention the impact of unexpected events, but they still manage to meet their writing, editing and publishing deadlines.

It’s a reality that we do what we have to. We compromise on the unimportant in order to give priority to the important. It’s a strange reality that no matter how challenged we may be by life, we always manage to make time for the things that are important to us. At least, it seems that way to me.

While the insurance company handles the paperwork at an unemotional distance, I hope my family members make it through this upheaval without any nervous breakdowns.

Have you experienced any inconvenient intrusions of “real life” and had to function around them? How did it work out for you?

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Reading for writers

I hear it all the time. If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader. It’s logical, but apparently not considered necessary by some aspiring authors. I’m not sure how a person can know how to write or what is worthwhile to be written if they don’t read extensively. But what should we read, and what’s considered extensive?

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I included the above photo in a 2011 post, displaying how-to books from my bookshelves on the topic of writing. Did reading them make me a better writer? A successful writer? I don’t think so. I learned what other people said I needed to know and do. Trying to apply what I learned — trying repeatedly — has been a step in the right direction, but it’s hard work, and I still have a long way to go.

More than craft books about writing, what’s important to read is well written narrative by successful authors … in any genre, but especially in the one we are trying to write. We need to be able to recognize good writing before we can hope to produce it.

Reading isn’t an option for writers, it’s a requirement; and it isn’t an either/or thing. If you read at the expense of actually writing, you’ll defeat yourself before you start. You don’t have time to do both, you say. Make time. Yes, I know it’s hard, but nobody promised being a writer would be easy.

An article on Hugh C. Howey’s blog earlier this week talked about the dream of becoming a professional writer. In “So You Want to be a Writer“, he suggested the goal is attainable — that a lifestyle of “sitting in your underwear, hearing voices, talking to people who are not there, mumbling to yourself, Googling how to dispose of bodies and the firing rate of an uzi submachine gun” can be achieved, provided we’re willing to do certain things.

There are ten points Howey offers as priorities we need to consider if we want to be successful at writing, and perhaps make a living at it. I wish I could reproduce the whole article here — it’s that good — but, of course, I can’t. Here’s an excerpt:

“…here’s the #1 secret to success and a career of working in your underwear: You have to work harder than anyone else. Period.

“Look around. What are other aspiring writers doing? That’s your ground floor. Your minimum. That’s where you begin. Double that. I promise you, this is the easiest path to success. What follows is specifics. But this is the general rule: Work harder than anyone else. If you don’t have this as your benchmark, you are going to have to rely on too much luck. And this blog post isn’t about the luck, it’s about how to minimize your required dosage.

“Let me tell you about my luck. I was lucky in that I started writing when a whole lot of people were working a whole let less. The amount of effort required to make it as a writer today is in some ways greater, even as the tools of access have lowered the barriers to entry. Yes, barriers are down. And yes, the castle courtyard is now more crowded. So you’ve got to do more than your neighbor. [Below], I’ve ranked the priorities I believe you should have and how to approach them. Anyone who follows this list has a great chance of making a living as a writer. I don’t say this as someone who saw it work for me; I say this as someone who has studied the hell out of this industry and profession, who has taken a very large sample of those trying to make it and those who are making it, and finding out what the latter group has in common and what separates them from the former.”

The rest of the article contains the other nine priorities, and I highly recommend you click over — here — to read the rest. I’m going back to read it again myself. I think it should be compulsory reading for all aspiring authors.

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What’s your philosophy about writers and reading? What have you read lately that is helping to make you a better writer?

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It’s Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Birthday!

One of my favourite authors is Lucy Maud Montgomery, the creator of the ‘Anne of Green Gables‘ series. I’ve enjoyed her stories because of her wonderful settings and delightful characters. I mean, what’s not to like about Anne Shirley?

I’m glad both of my daughters read her books, too, and followed her escapades during a long-running television series. Megan Follows brought Anne to the screen with the very personality I had always attributed to Montgomery’s creation.

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L.M. Montgomery (1897)

Beyond the magic of story, however, L.M. Montgomery’s writing has something more to offer aspiring writers. There’s much to learn from her. She began writing when she was nine, keeping a journal and writing poetry, but it was many years before her writing was published.

“During her years in Cavendish, Montgomery continued to write and send off numerous poems, stories, and serials to Canadian, British, and American magazines. Despite many  rejections, she eventually commanded a comfortable income from her writing. In 1899, she earned $96.88 – certainly not much by today’s standards but a nice sum at the turn of the century. Her earnings from her writing increased to $500 in 1903.

“In 1905, she wrote her first and most famous novel, Anne of Green Gables. She sent the manuscript to several publishers, but, after receiving rejections from all of them, she put it away in a hat box. In 1907, she found the manuscript again, re-read it, and decided to try again to have it published. Anne of Green Gables was accepted by the Page Company of Boston, Massachusetts and published in 1908. An immediate best-seller, the book marked the beginning of Montgomery’s successful career as a novelist.” *

Despite the success of her Anne stories, she was often anxious about how her writing was perceived and disappointed that her poetry never received much acclaim. “Montgomery herself considered her poetry to be more significant than the novels she sometimes characterized as ‘potboilers’.” ** And yet she never stopped writing. She was still journalling in 1942, the year she died.

She once said, “I cannot remember the time when I was not writing, or when I did not mean to be an author.” I’d say Lucy Maud Montgomery proved the value of persistence, of refusing to let rejection or fear deter her from pursuing her goal.

The Green Gables farmhouse featured in her series is a heritage building in Cavendish on Prince Edward Island, and I loved the opportunity to see it during a cross-Canada trip our family made in 1980. (Another highlight was taking in a live performance of Anne of Green Gables in Charlottetown.)

But there’s another connection our family has with Montgomery’s history, although it’s rather tenuous. In 1911 she married the Reverend Ewan Macdonald, and they moved to Leaskdale, Ontario, where Macdonald ministered in the Presbyterian church until 1926. Half of L.M. Montgomery’s twenty-two novels were written during her years living in the church manse in Leaskdale.

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The Presbyterian manse in its original state ****

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The Presbyterian manse (circa 2000) ***

The history of the Leaskdale Manse dates to 1886. It is now both an Ontario and a National Historical Site. I remember being in it at one time, but can’t recall if it was during our cross-Canada trip, or during the time my brother- and sister-in-law lived in it. Murray spent a year as minister in Leaskdale Presbyterian Church in 1972-73 while on furlough from his missionary work in Taiwan. All I remember for sure is seeing a small pump organ in the manse and being awed that it had belonged to LMM.

An encouraging lesson from Lucy Maud Montgomery, and lots of good memories.:)

Happy 141st Birthday, LMM!

~

* (Her Life: L.M. Montgomery Institute)

** (Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

 *** (Photos: Canada’s Historic Places / Parks Canada)

 **** (The Toronto Star)

LMM Photo: (Wikimedia Commons)

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Another Mañana Morning

While I’m immersed in other Monday morning things like puppy training and NaNoWriMo writing, I hope you won’t mind this 2009 rerun from the archives…

Coffee Owls

Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you I’m not a morning person. While I’m thankful for each new day, I waken groggy, slow to acknowledge its presence. I’m always in awe of writers who rise before dawn to snatch hours of quiet creativity before the rest of the world has left their beds.

I think I may have been a mañana kind of person in a previous life – not the “esta mañana” kind but a “hasta mañana”, a let-me-sleep-and-I’ll-see-you-tomorrow sort.

mexicantime234Maybe that’s why I was drawn to Tony Cohan’s book, ON MEXICAN TIME. When Los Angeles novelist Tony Cohan and his artist wife, Masako, visited central Mexico one winter, they fell under the spell of a place where the pace of life is leisurely, the cobblestone streets and sun-splashed plazas are enchanting, and the sights and sounds of daily fiestas fill the air. Awakened to needs they didn’t know they had, they returned to California, sold their house, and cast off for San Miguel de Allende.”

(My friend Joylene Butler has taken to doing something similar. For the second winter in a row she and her hubby have traded their usual northern winter for six months of Mexico’s warmer climate. I call it escaping reality, Joylene. LOL)

Cohan writes of a sensual ambience and a sometimes languorous lifestyle that suits my version of time … at least, my mornings. Eventually my days gather speed as I muster enthusiasm for their upcoming tasks. Coffee helps.

That’s what I need this morning: coffee. Perhaps a cup of one of the excellent organically grown coffees from Mexico. That would do it. Okay, I’m off to fill my favourite mug.:)

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Conference Reflections, Past and Present

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(Mealtime in the Sheraton Guildford Ballroom)

The Surrey International Writers’ Conference was, as it always is for me, an incredible weekend. So many wonderful people to meet, informative workshops to attend, and inspirational opportunities to absorb. So many books available to buy (I would have liked one of each but settled on four).

Each time I return home and begin reflecting, I say many of the same things here. Perhaps now would be a good time to look back at a few previous years’ blog excerpts…

2008 — Follow the link to see lots of photos and a not-very-poetic list of  Conference afterthoughts, among which you’ll find:

Tired butts
Feverish note taking
Nerve-wracking interviews
Moments of enlightenment
Incredible presenters
Sumptuous food
Purple tights
Exhilaration
Shock Theater script
Daunting dinner table companions
Glimpses of genius
“Glorious Mud”

2010 — “Even if you leave late nights to the partiers, the pace at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference keeps your brain in perpetual motion. Every year I come home emotionally recharged but physically and mentally exhausted. It takes a couple days before my brain kicks into gear again, and I can begin to digest all the nourishment it’s been fed.”

2012 — From morning’s first light to the latest hours of the night, conference coordinator Kathy Chung, her sidekick kc dyer, and their fellow Board and Committee members were everywhere, sometimes white with exhaustion, but still smiling and making sure everyone was having a good conference experience. I don’t know how they did it all, but I know why. Because they believe in the goal that has been the conference mandate for all twenty years: “To inspire, educate and motivate aspiring and experienced writers alike.”

2013 — A reminder from Jim Hines’ keynote speech:
“There are people out there
who need the stories only YOU can write…
Your voice matters.”

2015 — This was my seventh year (I didn’t begin blogging until after the second) and a highlight was discovering DD Shari Green’s short story, SANDBAGGING, won an Honourable Mention in the writing contest, judged by well-known authors Jack Whyte and Diana Gabaldon. (For anyone interested, her story and the other winning stories are available to read here.)

Back in 2010 Shari won top spot in the Writing for YA category of the contest, so this additional award and recognition of her writing ability was very sweet. Of course there was a tiny bit of celebration. Very sedate. Mine was with a decorous glass of Chardonnay; I think Shari’s was a more exotic-sounding Lavender Gimlet!)

Shari-Contest-Award

Now it’s time to harness the renewed enthusiasm and put all the inspiration to work. I have a manuscript I want to read through one last time before sending it out into the world, a critique group to prepare for later this week, and then I’ll start thinking about what I want to work on during November’s upcoming NaNoWriMo writing frenzy.

To use a double negative, there’s never nothing to do when you’re a writer.:)

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