Difficult Deadlines

As writers we know all about deadlines, don’t we? They are entwined with commitments and are equally unpopular. There’s something about seeing a big circle looming on the calendar that automatically turns off my enthusiasm. At the very time when I need to be productive, I often can’t dredge up the necessary words. As the deadline draws closer I can become panicky. Nothing kills creativity like panic! But we don’t have the luxury of submitting to that panic if an editor is waiting for our work. We must write and we must do it now. So how do we accomplish the seemingly impossible?

William Faulkner once said: “I write only when I am inspired. Fortunately, I am inspired at nine o’clock every morning.” How does a person “get inspired” when the words aren’t coming?

In the book “Take Joy”, Jane Yolen suggests one way. She speaks of “priming the writing pump”. It’s a common analogy in the writing world, but I love her imagery:

“My late father-in-law had a cabin in the West Virginia woods. There was no running water, only a pump that needed to be primed each morning with river water…. Pouring the river water into the mouth of the pump, I would then lower the handle, lift it, lower it again. The gurgle of the unseen machinery alluded to the sympathetic magic taking place: like calling to like.

     “The pump would wheeze, snort, pull, the handle becoming harder and harder to push. And then suddenly water–not the river water laved into the pump, but fresh, earth-chilled, underground, sweet-as-spring water would gush forth.

     “Everyday writing starts that way. The old river water thrown into the pump is metaphorically your letters, revisions, journal entries… and then that sympathetic magic takes hold. As water calls water, so words call words. Up they come from the unplumbed depths, what some call inspiration and some call talent and some call soul: sweet-as-spring new ideas. Sentences. Paragraphs. Stories. Poems. Gushing, flowing, even overflowing. The writer’s day starts.”

For a Christian writer the added ingredient is prayer. Long before I begin trying to prime the pump I have engaged in conversation with the creator of all creativity. Only then do I check the clock and settle in to write. I don’t have many deadlines, but I haven’t missed one yet.

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Taking control of the I.E. (again)

As I wander my way through this month’s NaNoWriMo writing, there are days when I would be making better time if I could ignore the whispers that keep reminding me the energy isn’t being well spent — that even when revised, the end result isn’t going to be worth the effort.

This week I remembered a post I wrote back in 2009, and I decided this would be a very good time to pull it out of the archives. I need the reminding, and I hope you’ll find it useful, too.

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Some days the grouch inside me  can turn me into an unpleasant-to-be-around whiner. Those are the days you hear me muttering at the computer screen as if the words thereon are animate: “What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see that isn’t what I intended to say at all? Get it right, for Pete’s sake!” The words never answer back. They just sit there and leer at me.

On her original blog, my friend Earlene once talked about the creative “entities” that invade a writer’s mind. When the wrong ones gain control and squelch our dreams, we don’t achieve our goals. In fact, a little of our writing spirit is destroyed every time they even knock at the mind’s door.

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(“Really? You think this garbage is writing?”)

Among such beings is every writer’s voice of doom, the I.E., or Internal Editor—the nagging voice that constantly reminds us we don’t know how to write, everything we’ve written so far is garbage, and the project is destined to be a failure.

So what do we do about it? Most aspiring authors recognize that we all suffer from a form of split personality, where one part of our minds is full of developing characters anxious to take on a life of their own. We welcome them as an important part of our story planning.

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(But I don’t WANT to be whapped!)

It is the negative voices on the other side, the procrastinating urges, and the don’t-write-until-the-concept-is-perfect impulses that we have to recognize and snuff out — whap them smartly with a wet blanket until no embers remain.

Otherwise the tendency will be to hesitate, to falter, to be discouraged. Then our writing ceases and we blame it on Writer’s Block. We wait it out, hoping Ms. Muse will miraculously return to our office, but it rarely happens, or at least not as quickly as we wish.

IMHO, there’s no half measure. Either we take control or we lose it, perhaps to one of those unworthy entities. And truly, I don’t want one of them authoring my books!

(With apologies to my granddaughter for stealing her photos!)

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Starting another new month, and NaNoWriMo

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There’s nothing realistic about the premise of National Novel Writing Month, i.e., that “the world needs your novel”. No, it doesn’t. It isn’t likely to need the 50,000 words that will spew uncontrolled from the chaos of my less-than-organized mind.

But I need them, and I need NaNoWriMo. I need the discipline to force those words out of my head, onto a page, into a manuscript where they can then be rearranged and revised into something resembling the story I’ve been imagining.

So now that November is here, I’m once again committed to participating in NaNoWriMo for a month of BICHOK (the acronym for Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard). My name on the NaNo website is Wildwood Gal, if you’re looking for a buddy. I may cheat during this first week because I have a completed manuscript that requires another read-through and minor revisions before I’ll be ready to start something new; but you can be sure I’ll be working on words every day, all month.

What’s your project during this new month? If you’re writing, are you taking part in NaNoWriMo, or do you have a personal goal? 

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Everything Writing

This week my life is all about writing. Oh, I write pretty much every day, but there’s a special focus on it right now.

On Tuesday I joined my daughter, Shari Green, for an evening hosted by the Golden Ears Writers in Maple Ridge. She and her fellow authors Denise Jaden and Dawn Ius Dalton took part in a panel-style workshop on ‘Ideas and Imaginings: Finding and developing story ideas and exploring the world of re-tellings and re-imaginings.’ Such great insights and so many good ideas emerged!

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(Denise Jaden, Dawn Ius Dalton and Shari Green)

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Now Shari and I are at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, a long weekend that is always the highlight of our writing year. For our very introverted souls, it’s both exhilarating and daunting to be a part of the hundreds-large crowd of literary peeps — big name authors and writers of all levels of experience, editors, agents, publishers and screenwriters — and be immersed in everything writing for three (very long) days.

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With several dozen workshops and presenters, keynote speeches, book signings and banquets plus all the hobnobbing in between, it provides a huge dose of information and inspiration, boosts our creativity and rejuvenates our writerly souls. It’s also exhausting!

It will be good preparation for November and the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) marathon  — our zany effort to produce 50,000 words in thirty days.

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With it following a week after the conference, we’re always more than ready to creep into our solitary spaces and start prepping for a month of concentrated writing. Then, with the arrival of November, more times than not, we manage to hammer out a rough draft of a complete novel.

So I guarantee you won’t see much of me around here for the next few weeks — there won’t be a lot of musing and mental meandering time — but I’ll pop in with periodic updates. Let me know what you’re up to, too, and I’ll offer encouragement where I can. Any new projects? Are you finishing old ones, revising, mulling, or deep in tearing-your-hair-out frustrations? Let me know. We can console each other. 🙂

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On the Cusp of Conference Time!

You might have noticed (or maybe not … it doesn’t matter) that references to writing in this space have been getting rather sporadic. I have to admit my enthusiasm has been, too. Oh, I’ve been writing, but it’s routine, uninspired stuff, interspersed with editing.

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I think that’s why I’m so excited about the upcoming Surrey Conference. It’s not a giddy kind of excitement this time, but more of a desperation type — the feeling I’d probably get if I were hanging by fingernails to the edge of a cliff and discovered someone above me holding out a rescuing hand. An oh-thank-goodness feeling.

I love this conference and I’m counting on it for an infusion of inspiration. Every one I’ve attended (and this will be my seventh) has never failed to send me away rejuvenated, ready to dive back into my writing project du jour.

Advance registration closes soon — next Friday, the 16th — unless they sell out before then, which is a good possibility. This is a very popular conference, which is why my daughter, Shari and I always register on the very first day. There’s that, and also the opportunity to get first dibs on appointments with the agents, editors and/or authors of our choice.

So, it’s coming, and I know my enthusiasm is going to be building as the days pass and the best conference weekend ever finally arrives.

Is there a conference in your future? What are your go-to resources when you need to revitalize your writing?

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Is it Discipline or Discouragement?

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When used correctly, crates and exercise pens are very handy tools for dog training. Like a child’s playpen, they can be overused, or used for the wrong reasons, but they are invaluable when it comes to having a safe place to contain a puppy and avoid the havoc he could wreak when left untended.

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Yes, he’d rather be outside romping with the children, tromping unfettered through the gardens, or chasing birds through the meadow and scampering down the driveway to the road, but for his safety and my sanity he can’t be allowed that kind of freedom.

As wistful as he may look in these photos, he doesn’t spend all of his confinement grumbling about it.

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He snoozes, plays, and observes what’s going on — and dances with anticipation when one of us approaches with his leash. That means there’s a training time coming, complete with praise and snacks, and followed by a walk with opportunities for lots of exploration. It’s all part of the discipline associated with a puppy’s education (and in the early stages, of housebreaking).

I was writing a short story the afternoon I stopped to take these inside photos of our new puppy. When I later reviewed one of the shots, his expression seemed like one of reprimand. “How come you won’t take me outside if you’re not really working?”

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Why was I so easily distracted? Was it lack of discipline or something else? I have to admit it was more a matter of discouragement. I have three pieces to write this summer, each with a deadline. The one with the closest deadline is for a contest I enter every year, and it’s giving me the most trouble.

I’ve had a breakthrough, though. I recalled the definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein — that it’s doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. While my early entries in this particular contest were shortlisted a few times, they never won, and more recently they haven’t caught anyone’s attention. The same two people have been judging the fiction category every year for more than a decade, and I’ve realized that if they haven’t rewarded my writing before, it’s probably ‘insane’ to think they ever will. The contest is sponsored by a very reputable group and there’s great prize money, but no feedback is provided, no critique. You either win, or you don’t. I don’t, and I’ve finally concluded I’m wasting my time, energy and entry fees!

The revelation is freeing. I finished a different article and submitted it today, well ahead of when I’d planned. The remaining one is drafted and I have a month to work on its edits. I have time to go romp with the dog! Woo hoo! So much for my self-discipline. 🙂

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How do you view writing contests? Do you enter many? Have you ever won?

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So much promise…

My first peony of the season opened on Sunday. I’ve been keeping an eye on the buds as they show colour and swell with promise, but this one appeared while I wasn’t paying attention.

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The clematis are showing promise, too, but none of the buds have opened quite yet. (The banner photo is from last year.)

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So much promise! I love seeing all the spring newness as it happens. It’s hard to believe that in just two weeks — on Father’s Day — spring will be replaced by summer.

We’re already into a 30+ celsius week here, and the annuals that have burst into bloom in my baskets are dipping their heads against the oppressive brilliance and begging for extra drinks. It’s taking them a while to get accustomed to the sudden heat. (It’s taking me a while, too! I am SO not a lover of hot weather, but it sure gets those buds into bloom quickly.)

Seeing all the buds makes me think of ideas — those tight little word capsules that show up in a writer’s mind and tantalize with all their promise of what might be coming. It doesn’t help to be impatient when they’re slow to blossom into a potential story. It doesn’t help to focus on them, willing them into reality. Like a watched clock, they aren’t going to move ahead any faster for all our extra attention.

All the potential will surprise us, as the peony did, by simply showing up when the time is right, probably when we least expect it. At least, that’s been my experience.

How do your new ideas develop?

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Limitless Imagination

Focused on homework, my visiting granddaughter was unaware that her imaginative head gear was beguiling. The oversized maple leaf was one of her ‘finds’ during an earlier walk with her sister and Grampa.

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She brought home other leaves, wrapped around the stems of wildflowers to create formal little nosegays, but this one she plunked on her head and wore unselfconsciously through the homework session that followed the walk. It was the only prop she needed to be a studious pixie princess.

Where does imagination come from? A Popular Science article explains it this way:

Cognitive scientists hypothesize that our ability to imagine, to come up with mental images and creative new ideas, is the result of something called a “mental workplace,” a neural network that likely coordinates activity across multiple regions of the brain.”

Personally, I’m convinced the ‘mental workplace’ can be stimulated to even greater productivity by exposure to various forms of art, such as the written word, colours, sounds, shapes and textures.

Leo Tolstoy believed, every work of art causes the receiver to enter into a certain kind of relationship both with him who produced, or is producing, the art, and with all those who, simultaneously, previously, or subsequently, receive the same artistic impression…

The feelings with which the artist infects others may be most various — very strong or very weak, very important or very insignificant, very bad or very good: feelings of love for one’s own country, self-devotion and submission to fate or to God expressed in a drama, raptures of lovers described in a novel, feelings of voluptuousness expressed in a picture, courage expressed in a triumphal march, merriment evoked by a dance, humor evoked by a funny story, the feeling of quietness transmitted by an evening landscape or by a lullaby, or the feeling of admiration evoked by a beautiful arabesque — it is all art.

I’m not sure I fully understand how art and imagination are linked, but I believe that most children who from infancy are exposed to music and books, and who are motivated by parental example and encouragement to explore artistic realms beyond their experience, are more likely to be successful in self-expression and academic achievement.

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Julia Cameron understood the value of stimulating imagination by going on ‘artist’s dates’, taking time to refuel, and rediscover creativity. Our ‘mental workplace’ needs an environment that is conducive to empowering its potential, and unleashing its limitless capacity. If we want our stories to ‘infect others’, we must first experience the necessary emotions and images, and then be able to convey them as textual art on the page. We must constantly nourish our imaginations.

My granddaughters don’t seem to have a problem with that, but it’s an endless challenge for me!

Do you view your writing as art? How do you enrich it to be its imaginative best?

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Uncluttered

This graphic always makes me smile. While it’s meant to be funny, there’s a kernel of truth tucked within. Einstein Cluttered Desk Clutter drives me nuts! A temporary, working mess doesn’t count, but the kind that builds slowly, insidiously, sneaking into places where it should never be–? I hate it!

Our master bedroom closet and my office are two offending locations right now. The closet is just plain overcrowded, while the office qualifies as cluttered. It’s important to make the distinction because overcrowding can be frustrating, but clutter is mind-warping. Granted, both are first world problems … an embarrassment of overabundance that should fill me with guilt for having what much of the world does not.

What it does, however, is immobilize me. In my office, creativity is at a standstill. I can neither write, nor push myself to do something about the clutter that is to blame, so I escape with my laptop to the family room. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’, right? Not totally, but it helps.

The closet is harder to ignore. It’s a mid-sized walk-in under the guise of being an all-season storage locker. If it were smaller, I’d do what one of my daughters does, and every few months sort off-season clothing into a bin and put it in the basement. But because our closet gives the illusion of being generous, my hubby and I keep our entire wardrobes in it. As a result, the rods and shelf space allotted to me are woefully inadequate, everything is squashed together and I can never find what I’m looking for!

(This is embarrassing, but it's all for the sake of honesty. I yanked a T-shirt out of the pile and it toppled.)

(This is embarrassing, but it’s all for the sake of honesty. I yanked a T-shirt out of the pile and it toppled.)

Closet-1 I need to clarify that I am not a shopper. Some of my most frequently worn clothes are ones I’ve had for more than twenty-five years. I own about six pairs of shoes, but wear the same ones almost every day. I’m not an hoarder, either, although perhaps I qualify as a keeper-of-things-I-like.

That’s why a recent Facebook post caught my attention. A friend talked of “creating a minimalist capsule wardrobe”. She advocates “paring down your closet to include only the clothes you love and really enjoy wearing. (And the ones that fit…not that you hope will fit in 2 months.)” Her inspiration came from the Un-fancy blog.

Now that our kitchen’s mini-reno is complete, I’m ready to embark on a new project. I’m not likely to go out and shop for anything to create a new ‘capsule wardrobe’, but I feel inspired to do some paring down. When I pack a suitcase my criteria is always comfort, coordination, condition and ease of care, and I see those as a good goal for my closet clearing.

A tidy closet won’t contribute anything towards my writing, and whether or not this exercise will inspire me to tackle the office clutter is yet to be seen. I’ll let you know.

Do I dare ask you to describe the condition of your closet and/or desk? Are you one who produces best in a distraction-free, pristine environment, or while nested within the comfort of familiar clutter?

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#wipMadness Day 26: Making Your Mark

One of my favourite sights and sounds at our remote cabin is of the loons. There is always one or two pair of Common Loons there, and soon after we arrive every summer and fall we are greeted by their unique call. My fascination with loons has grown since first encountering them when my parents took me there as a child over sixty years ago. As a result, I’ve also developed quite a collection of loon items — carvings, glassware, sculptures, and this delightful watercolour painting, commissioned by my hubby as a surprise gift for me. The artist is a member of our church, Elizabeth Hancock.

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I remember her saying how it had taken her some time to decide on how she wanted to depict the subject … that loons are so often shown swimming, with or without a baby, and she preferred to paint something more distinctive.

The result is unique and beautiful, and holds a place of honour on our living room wall.

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Liz’s signature tells anyone who views this painting that she is its creator — she designed its story and chose how she would tell it within the context of its watercolour medium.

Writers do much the same as they pen their stories in text. Names on title pages and book covers announce to readers that the words tell a unique version of a particular story … one drawn from the author’s imagination and soul.

For both writer and artist, once released into the world, the creation and the creator’s mark become a part of history, forever inseparable. Wow! Maybe that’s why passion has to be such an integral part of the process.

As you create this week, I hope you’ll feel the passion, the inspiration and also the responsibility as you strive to make your special mark!

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This is the last Thursday of #wipMadness, so this is my final contribution to our month of writing-reading-blogging madness. There are just five days left in the countdown to its end and to the day when we’ll all have to take stock of our month’s achievements. Make each one count, fellow Wipsters! And don’t forget to check in tomorrow with Tonette.

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(If you’re in the Maple Ridge, BC area and would like to see more of Liz Hancock’s work, you might enjoy ‘The Art Studio Tour’ on Mother’s Day weekend. Check it out here!)

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