May Pole, May, May Not…

I’m old enough to recall dancing around a maypole on May Day. Dressed in our best, with an art-class-created crown of flowers and ribbons, my Grade Two classmates and I did our best to skip in and out, around each other, guiding the long streamers from the top of the pole. Rehearsals must have given our teachers grey hair. Time after time we giggled our way through the pattern, only to have at least one of us mis-step and end up with the streamers tangled instead of neatly braided.

There’s a special post-Easter  joie de vie that wends its way into May. The dreary, colourless winter is subtly overtaken by springtime blooms, and I become impatient for my pre-Mother’s Day treat which entails a trip to the local nursery for bedding plants to begin filling deck tubs and hanging baskets.

This year the impatience hit me on April 2nd while in Costco. Multiple shoppers passed me with beautiful baskets of bright flowers in their carts. When I discovered their source (and the ridiculously low price) in the garden section, I squelched the little voice that told me it was wa-a-a-y too early in the season, and I picked up two hanging baskets. My usual choice of colours would be pastel, but these screamed with bright red, deep pink and sunny yellow. My inner self apparently craved colour!

Of course, once home, I had to pamper and protect them against the still-frosty nights. They spent three weeks nestled under the eaves, against the patio doors where I could slip out every night and wrap plastic bags around them. But now it’s May. They’ve been hung where I can admire them from our family room windows, which is where I sit when I’m writing.

The trouble is, now that I have something lovely to stare at, I’m doing more staring than writing, and that’s not terribly productive. I sent a manuscript off in early February, then occupied myself developing another work I had in progress. Writing went relatively smoothly through March and part way into April. Then I turned my attention to Easter projects I had committed to doing for my church.

And after Easter? Mmm … my hanging planters are so pretty.

To be honest, I have to admit as I stare at those flowers, the same little voice that cautioned me about buying them has been whispering other discouraging ideas, ideas that make me question if I’m waiting to hear about the submitted manuscript before finishing another novel; and if I am, why.

I will always write, because I love creating stories. But — I resist saying this — I may not always write with the goal of publication. I’ve received considerable encouragement from agents and editors, but without the validation of the next step, the little voice suggests that continuing in the current direction is futile. I want to ignore this unsettling whisper — after all, it was wrong about the flowers — and I’ve never been a quitter.

It’s a time for thinking, for contemplating my options, and, while I’m at it, I can also draw up the list of bedding plants I plan to buy on Mother’s Day weekend.

~

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens”

(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

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Preparing to Write

I’m with Aristotle, at least when it comes to creative achievement: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” I don’t do New Year’s resolutions because I’ve learned from years of experience that making them sets me up for failure and discouragement.

So it is with my writing; I’m not likely ever going to change my natural creative rhythms. I’ve learned that working with them is more productive than fighting to overcome them.  Identifying my optimum writing time was an important discovery. I’m definitely not a morning person. Ask anyone who knows me: my brain takes a long time to wake up. So I’ve accepted that mornings are better used for devotions, journalling, and/or social media.

My best time to write is in the evening … the late evening. When the day’s routines are over and the house is quiet, nothing needs me except my manuscript. There are no time constraints so if the words don’t flow quickly, it doesn’t matter. Nobody is around to pressure me. In the blackness beyond the windows, the world sleeps. At least, most of it does.

There are the occasional late night visitors, but, while admittedly they’re a distraction, they don’t create much of a disturbance.

I don’t write as long into the night as I once did — the older I get the more sleep I seem to need — but I can still produce more words in an hour after midnight than I can during a daytime hour.

Location is important, too. I need a quiet place so I can hear the voices in my head. (Did I just admit to hearing voices???) I have a well-equipped office where I can close the door if need be, but the recliner in our family room usually draws me at night. Part of the problem in my office is the clutter. I can’t seem to be creative if my space (or my mind) is full of unrelated messiness, and my office usually is.

Decluttering is probably my single most effective aid to writing. I’d do it more often except one thing leads to another when it comes to my office, and I could spend the entire day in there, trying to organize the piles of paper, books and photos. Setting a time limit on tidying or any other preliminary activity would help, but when I’m in the mood to write it’s far easier to choose a location that doesn’t require preparation. Hence, the family room wins at night.

LL Barkat has a recent post that inspired me to think more about mental decluttering. (Simple tricks to make space for your writing) I think I’ll head back over there and reread it. I could use some extra inspiration today. How about you?

~  ~  ~

 

Summertime & Keeping it Real

When there’s deep snow to slog through, I complain. When it rains for weeks on end, I complain. When hot sun arrives and pushes the thermometer up past the 30C degree mark, I complain. Apparently I’m hard to please. LOL.

After several days of suffocating heat, the summer solstice arrived today in delightful moderation — filtered sunshine, a breeze and 21C degrees. It couldn’t be more perfect.

(Lantana ‘Marmalade’)

My bare arms were even a bit cool as I sat out on the back deck this morning. (But I did NOT complain!) Now I’m doing a bit of writing and revising, and have suddenly been faced with the realization that in this current manuscript, my characters haven’t complained. Not once. That made me think back to the previous book. Did anyone complain in it? They argued (sometimes a lot), they objected to some happenings and reacted negatively to others, but I can’t recall anyone actually complaining.

I may have to go back and check, because reality says ordinary people always seem to find something to complain about — the weather, a child’s behaviour, the condition of lettuce at the grocery store. Even glass-half-full people don’t live every minute of every day in a Pollyanna glow.

As writers, we have the ability to create make-believe worlds where everything is the way we would like our lives to be. The main characters can always be thoughtful and kind in their interactions with other likeable characters (we’re not thinking of the villains at the moment), but how realistic is that? How credible?

When writing dialogue, it’s important to make our characters speak ‘normally’, which means they won’t always use full sentences, or show a clear step by step progression of thoughts. Colloquialisms and abbreviations will happen. To have them speak formally would make for a stilted conversation. A similar parallel occurs in how they live their lives. There are going to be occasional speeding tickets about which they will grumble. Granted, storytelling should minimize the mundane and stick to the important scenes that move the story along. But a glimpse into the everyday reactions of our characters is necessary to keep it real. It’s okay if they occasionally complain.

In a word or two, how would you describe your main character’s personality? How does that affect how s/he reacts to conflicts encountered in the story?

~  ~  ~

(Peony)

 

 

Writing Despite Distractions

Sounds of a table saw and power nailer add to the smell of freshly baked bread and contribute to my Saturday morning distractions. My hubby is outside, glad for the sunshine as he power washes the final side of the house, and I’m sorely tempted to abandon my inside chores and escape out to the garden. But I mustn’t. Not yet.

I promised myself I wouldn’t let this week slide by without finishing a chapter in my new manuscript and writing a blog post, so I’m chained to my laptop until that’s accomplished.

It can be difficult to ignore distractions, especially appealing ones, but I try hard to stick to my priorities which, right now, are to rough draft a second book in a series, then return to an older story and rewrite it to become the third. I don’t have a definite timeline, but am squinting hopefully at year end.

Aspiring writers are often heard to say they’re going to write a book sometime … perhaps when the baby finally sleeps through the night so they aren’t always exhausted, or when the children are in school, or when retirement from the day job arrives … sometime, when they have time. The problem is, time rarely makes itself available. Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion” and Isaac Asimov’s corollary to that says, “In ten hours a day you have time to fall twice as far behind your commitments as in five hours a day.

It’s a safe bet there will never be any leftover time, so whether or not a book gets written will depend entirely on the writer’s commitment to the task and the desire to make time. I think all of us have dreamt of endless hours sequestered in a hideaway writing our life’s work uninterrupted from beginning to end. I think we also all know it’ll never happen.

Even full-time career authors and retired writers with no children at home acknowledge the reality of everyday life and the limitations it puts on time. I’ve always had trouble settling in to write when I know I have only a half hour, or some similar time restriction due to an impending appointment or meeting. But I’ve learned to recognize that restless ‘I-don’t-have-enough-time’ voice as the negative influence it is, and to ignore it. Even short sessions can be productive.

In proper manuscript format, one page consists of about 250 words. Depending on the genre, a first novel is usually no more than 90,000 words, so if a person could steal enough time to draft one page per day, that would produce a finished novel in one year. Just one page! Some days I can write an entire chapter; other days I struggle to find those 250 words, but it averages out.

For the next month or so the main distractions around here are going to be the coming and going of workers doing the renovation in our en suite bathroom. They have their supplies and equipment in one bay of our garage, so they come in through the adjoining door to our laundry, and trek down the hall through the middle of the house. They are very considerate, but inevitably there is noise and dust and frequent questions. (And in the middle of it all is our wild-child Labrador, unhappily kept away from the hallway by a cardboard barricade and advising me regularly that there are strangers in the house.)

Still, I will write. I have this story nagging at me, revealing its scenes in small bursts. When I know I won’t likely get all the needed words on a page at one time, I make notes as a blueprint for my next session. I want to get it done, and doing it is the only way.

How about you? What’s your dream? What distractions keep you from pursuing/achieving it?

~  ~  ~

 

Sometimes you just have to slog on through…

I imagine most people have heard the quote, “The best way out is always through.” [Robert Frost’s A Servant to Servants] I don’t know how many people agree with it, but it’s true for me as I muddle with decisions over renovation materials.

Bit by bit we’ve been updating our twenty-seven year old home, upgrading portions of the kitchen in 2015 and the main bathroom in 2016. Now we’re embarking on the en suite bathroom, and right from the get-go this renovation has been challenging.

It shouldn’t be. The colour scheme and materials are the same as we used in the main bathroom — the same bianco carrara tile floor and walls around tub and shower, the same decorative mosaic accent, light grey cabinet with a dark grey quartz countertop, white fixtures and chrome faucets. It all pulled together quite easily last time, but now …? Ack!

In a bath supply showroom the freestanding bathtub we wanted this time was waaaaaay too expensive, but we found it online from a reputable dealer for a much better price. There was a delay in shipping. The toilet we wanted was out of stock. We chose a different one. The desired tub filler wasn’t in store but could be brought from the warehouse in a couple days. After two long delays we gave up, cancelled the order and picked up an alternate. Two weeks later the original order came in and, despite having received its refund, we continue to get phone calls (three so far) to please come and pick it up. Then we couldn’t find an affordable rainshower kit in a design we liked.

The most recent pucker in our plan is tile for the shower floor. The other bathroom has a tub/shower combo, so tile wasn’t required. This bathroom has a custom shower stall, hence the need for a base. The contractor thought a plain white tile would work well, except we have a lot of iron in our water here and I refuse to have white tile or white grout in an area where standing water can stain them orange. We decided on a medium grey.

I found the perfect one — actually, our young granddaughter found it; it’s the one in the right hand bottom corner of the above photo — but when the contractor went to collect the tile order, that particular one had gone out of stock, was no longer available, and they had nothing else like it. ::sigh::

We selected an alternate at Lowes, got it home and found, away from the store’s fluorescent lights, it was almost black, not grey at all. Now we’ve chosen another, but I’m second-guessing the choice because it has veining in it that might be too ‘busy’ alongside the carrara. I couldn’t bring a sample home so won’t know until the contractor delivers it. Then it will be too late to change.

And so it goes. Decisions, choices, backtracking, second-guessing … a stressful process for me who likes things organized and straightforward. But there is no way to bypass this part of the process. We just have to slog on through.

It’s reminiscent of my writing-and-revising process. Some days the words come easily while on others they are plucked like eyebrow hairs, one at a time, sometimes painfully, from the not-so-creative pool. I recently finished a story, edited, revised and finally rewrote it, then edited again. There were moments when I just wanted to flush the whole thing, but the only way to finish was to trust my intuition and keep going. It’s out on submission now, but I know if it’s accepted anywhere for publication it will undoubtedly have to undergo even more revision.

I want things — bathroom and books — to turn out the best they can, so will take a deep breath and keep slogging on through to completion, hoping the niggling internal voice is wrong and the end result will be worth the struggle.

How do you deal with misgivings and the taunts of your internal editor? 

~  ~  ~

 

 

 

 

 

Hoarding on the Bottom Shelf (Rerun)

In lieu of something new and shiny to share with you, today’s mental meandering is a re-run from November 2008 and 2011. I hate to admit publicly that I’ve been contemplating some office tidying. When I say contemplating I mean staring ineffectively at the accumulation of paper that surrounds me in here. It seems nobody else is likely to do anything about the mess, so I guess it’s up to me. I’m not sure I’m up to tackling the task, but I’m contemplating it. That’s a positive step, isn’t it?

~

My bedroom closet should be purged. It contains sizes I haven’t worn in a decade. There’s a dresser drawer full of sox I don’t wear, too. They’re in assorted eye-catching colours but I only wear black ones now. (It doesn’t matter what else I’m wearing, black is always chic.) Then there are those kitchen cupboards devoted to empty plastic containers that should be recycled, and gadgets that looked indispensable when demonstrated but have never been used.

You get the picture. I’m a hoarder. This may explain why I have in my office a virtual bottom shelf piled to capacity with printouts of successive drafts of my novels and copies of all the articles I’ve written–kept for what purpose I don’t know. After all, I have clips of the published articles neatly filed away. And you can be sure those early novel drafts will never be offered as reading material, even to uncritical family members. So why haven’t they been tossed out? My theory, if anyone happens to ask, is that writers should keep a record of their journey towards publication.

During the months (and years) while rejection slips accumulate I can take encouragement from the knowledge that what’s been sent out is far superior to the earlier versions. If proof is required I need only browse a few pages of Draft #1 and compare them to Draft #20.

As those pages collect dust on the shelf, however, I wonder if some will outlive me and my publication hopes for them. After I’m gone might someone believe these old manuscripts should be circulated? What a terrifying thought!

“… If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my drafts to take.”

~

Do you keep copies of all the old versions of your manuscript(s)? Or are you ruthless in eliminating every trace of them? And, the big question… why?

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!

~  ~  ~