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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Making Excuses

I missed a week! Lost it entirely. Earlier in the week I looked ahead on the calendar and was sure today would be July 8. Then, during a recent family telephone conversation, the arrival of mid-July this weekend was mentioned. Oops!

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Perhaps I was preoccupied by the church’s steak barbecue that was happening here last Saturday evening. Fifty-three people had signed up for the annual event and, although a committee does the grocery shopping and food preparation, there were still gardens to spiffy up and housecleaning to do in preparation.

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I’ve mentioned our gardens before. Our two-plus acres are surrounded by woods, and much of our gardening takes the form of constantly pushing back the buttercups, ferns, salal and assorted cedar seedlings. It’s an ongoing battle to keep the wildness at bay.

It’s not that we haven’t attempted to civilize the gardens. Through the years we’ve dutifully added trees, shrubs and perennials that are known to prefer our shady, acidic soil. They prefer it so well they quickly overgrow the beds and mingle happily with the wildness. We’re resigned to the ‘au natural’ look.

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Distracting me from the gardening and housework has been the near culmination of another writing project I’ve been working on periodically for several years. I’ve been compiling and editing a book containing all the sermons of the late Reverend Kris Davidson. I took a hiatus to work on the church history, but since publishing that last year, I’ve turned my focus back to the book, which is finally done. At least, the compilation and editing parts are done. Now it’s been draft-printed and the line-by-line proofreading is underway. That is the slowest part of the whole job!

And that is essentially what kept me from realizing I’d missed posting anything last week. So here I am, making excuses. I’m afraid excuses don’t make the best of blog posts, but it’s this or nothing. Hey, I provided garden photos. That’s something, isn’t it? 😉

 

Uncomfortable Visibility (or, An Introvert’s Woes)

With each passing year I am increasingly surprised at my endurance here. This morning WordPress reminded me today is this blog’s eighth anniversary. My 1,086 posts during those years average more than two-and-a-half posts a week.

My Bio warns that musings here may wander through my assorted realms of interest, and they certainly have, although most have ended up relating in some way to a writing theme, because writing was my initial reason for creating this internet residence. After writing devotionals and occasional magazine articles sporadically for years, I finally moved into fiction and needed a different audience — a new kind of visibility.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 9.10.56 PMI don’t have a huge following here — WordPress tells me the total is 667 — but I’ve appreciated the cyber friendships that have developed both here and on Facebook.  The visibility that I referred to in that first post eight years ago, has been relatively painless because of them.

Other writers might understand the reluctance with which I embarked on this online journey. I’ve discovered many, like me, are introverts. Like my backyard ursine visitors, we’d prefer to remain unnoticed … to view the world’s activity from a safe and somewhat unobtrusive distance.

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The very definition of visibility indicates why it isn’t a welcoming situation for us. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary explains it as…

  • the ability to see or be seen
  • the quality or state of being known to the public

But I’ve forced myself into other beyond-my-comfort-zone situations through the years, knowing that in order to achieve a particular goal, I had to overcome my hesitancy. When I think about some of those situations, I am encouraged  by the realization that I can do things I once believed weren’t possible.

  • establish a business that involved interacting with and being depended upon by hundreds of people
  • accept public accolades from an astronaut, and subsequently be interviewed by newspaper and magazine reporters about my role in his life
  • act as a consultant in the making of a major motion picture
  • be the theme speaker at a community youth convention

Life is all about growth. I may not have actually ‘enjoyed’ every growth opportunity, but I recognized the necessity of stretching to do a job; plus there were benefits. I gained satisfaction from getting involved in something new and from doing the job as well as I could.

So now I continue on my writing journey, blogging my way into another year while also working on assorted writing projects. My thanks to those of you who have stayed connected with me here and on Facebook. I truly appreciate your faithfulness and support.

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Céad Mile Fáilte — Yes, welcome!

Although I’m a second (third?) generation Canadian, on St. Patrick’s Day I always enjoy taking advantage of my vaguely Irish roots. I haven’t been spending much time here on the blog, so no “new” post today, but if you’d like to catch up on some of my earlier Irish-hued entries, you could click back into the archives:

2009 and again in 2014 – A Green Moment in Time

2010 – Spreading the Green Around

2011 – The Luck o’ the Irish and Other Blessings

2012 – An Irish Recipe and a Blessing

2013 – Going Green?

I apparently missed posting anything last year, but there’s enough now to keep you reading for a while, if you’re so inclined. And if you needed a little Irish song (with men in kilts, no less) to set the mood, you might like this…

Go n-éiri an bóthar leat

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Spring Things and Other Excuses

I haven’t gone AWOL, but I admit to ignoring my blog recently. It’s one of those priority things I mentioned a couple weeks ago — I had to decide if writing posts was a bigger priority right now than family, work commitments, the mess that passes for our slowly-unwintering garden, and my ongoing novel writing. It wasn’t, so blog posts lost out.

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The annual ‘March Madness’ challenge with my #wipmadness gang began on March 1st. ‘Speedbo’, a similar effort involving the Seekerville peeps, also started then. AND my garden began showing signs of spring. Next weekend Daylight Saving Time will begin, and we’ll lose an hour that I won’t be able to find again until November.

Everyday life still has its share of obstacles this month, too, so if I don’t plop new posts into this space quite as often as usual, please don’t hold it against me. In fact, you might even consider joining me in the writing frenzy. We can keep each other accountable since excuses don’t wash under scrutiny.

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Writing Time vs Online Time (It’s all about balance)

I did say this post would be coming last ‘Friday’, didn’t I? Mmm, yes. This isn’t Friday, is it? Some bloggers might be inclined to say, “Oh, well, suck it up and let’s get on with it.” Personally, I wouldn’t think that was a polite way to respond. I’m more the apologetic type. “So sorry,” I’ll say. “Unavoidable interruptions. Sincere apologies.” Now suck it up and let’s carry on.

We writers sometimes need a jolt to unsettle our complacency. In my previous post I mentioned a comment from a book I’m currently reading by Jeff Goins. I went to his website for the URL to share with you, started reading his post and that’s where I got today’s jolt.

“…what do writers do? They write. There’s nothing mystical or magical about it — you just have to show up and commit to doing the work. Place butt in chair, fingers on keys, and start typing. And this, of course, is where most writers fail. They never actually write a word. They talk about writing, think about writing, even read about writing. But they do not write.”

I think that makes last week’s post even more appropriate. Not only is our “crazy social media platform maintenance” frenzy a form of stalling, the talking, thinking and reading about writing are all equally effective deterrents to any success.

It’s decision time. Time to make strategic choices that will provide the resources we need while allowing us to spend the majority of our time pursuing our creativity. So, what will those choices look like? Take a moment to…um, I’d say smell the roses, but it’s too early for them…so maybe just admire the snowdrops (they’re everywhere in my garden right now), then grab your notebook and start planning.

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(Winter Snowdrops – Galanthus)

  • Restrict social media networks to the few that are the most useful

We agree: we can’t do it all. Ideally, the best networks will be the ones where we encounter people of similar interests, the sites where we will find the information that is most suited to our purpose or that will reach the most people who are likely to be interested in our product or subject matter. It isn’t necessary to constantly explore cyberspace. Once we’ve found them, settle on a select few sites.

I have a group of writing friends on Facebook in addition to my family, church and purebred dog connections, so next to my blog, that’s my network of preference. I check in on Twitter occasionally, but don’t spend much time there, I recently quit Google+, and I’ve avoided Pinterest entirely because I know it’s addictive.

My list of regularly visited blogs and websites have been whittled down considerably this year to include those of a handful of friends, fellow authors, and writing mentors, the Seekerville writing community, and a couple inspirational sites. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally visit some that are on my earlier lists, or go to places like Amazon and home-decorating sites, but they are no longer places to dally on a daily basis or let eat into my writing time.

  • Allot specific amounts of time to spend online

How long do we realistically need to check and respond to e-mail, to peruse a limited number of favourite blogs or websites, to do the research for a particular writing project? Determine that ahead of time and set a timer. Knowing it’s counting down should keep us more focused on our task and less inclined to dawdle. Once our ‘social’ time is over and we move on to the day’s work, I try to resist checking in online every few minutes. If it’s a writing day I might work for an hour and then allow myself a ten minute break to check for messages, get a Coke or a coffee, and carry on. Your daily tasks will be different from mine, depending on your day job, family responsibilities, and other commitments. How much time we allot to social media is up to us but we need to be disciplined, honest and realistic about how we ration it.

  • Include opportunities to ‘give back’ to the writing community

It’s easy for writers to become immersed in our fictional worlds and believe the online hype we try to create is all about us. It’s not. We relish the support and encouragement of those we look up to, those whose efforts have brought them success, and in turn we should be ready to offer what help we can to others. Whether it’s leaving comments of encouragement, interviewing newcomers on our blogs or offering book reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, we can show appreciation by giving back, regardless of our level of expertise or inexperience.

  • Schedule time into the day for creative refuelling

Whatever our workday consists of, it’s important to make sure we carve out a niche for personal refreshment. (And that doesn’t mean to go blog-hopping!) Some of my favourite writing books aren’t actually on the craft itself, but on nurturing the writer within. Julia Cameron recommends artist’s dates — going for a walk, visiting an art gallery or museum, spending quiet time in an environment that is personally rejuvenating. It can be a whole afternoon, or just fifteen minutes. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s “me time”.

That’s about it. I’m not all that proficient when it comes to how I spend my online time, but I’m trying to be intentional about it. When I succeed, I’m surprised at how much more I get done in a day.

As for those links I promised, here’s a list in random order of some of the more helpful writing sites I particularly like (no, I don’t visit them everyday, and you’d better not, either!):

Writer UnboxedWriter’s Digest, Anne R. AllenK.M. Weiland, Jessica Morrell, Chip MacGregor, Rachelle GardnerJane Friedman, The Write Life, Seekerville, The Writer’s Alley, Write to Done, Story Fix: Larry Brooks, The Kill Zone (Hey, don’t raise your eyebrows; I write cozy mysteries!), Jeff Goins, Pub Rants, Molly Greene, Kirsten Lamb, Live-Write-Thrive: CS Lakin, Jody Hedlund, Agent Query, Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, The Passive Voice: The Lawyer Guy, American Christian Fiction Writers, The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, Writers Helping Writers, Absolute Write WaterCooler Forum, Bookends Literary Agency blogWriting World: Moira Allen (blog has concluded, but has sixteen years of archived articles). 

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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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