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?

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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.”

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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?

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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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Maybe I’m Writing; Maybe I’m Not

Success as a writer depends on many things. When I started writing fiction I didn’t think much about being successful. I just wrote. I wanted to create an interesting story in an imaginary setting. It took me years, but I completed that story, then revised it several times. In some ways it was a waste of time.

Despite all the revising, I knew it wasn’t a good story. It had fatal construction flaws. During those years I also began exploring authors’ blogs and writing sites. That’s when I realized I didn’t know how to write a novel, so I backed off the writing and began reading how-to books.

Since then I’ve written more novels. I’ve even sent off occasional queries and submissions, investigating the possibility of agent representation and publication. But I haven’t persevered. The reasons are vague — partly lack of confidence in the quality of my work, partly reluctance to share with a public audience what seems like a very private part of me.

To be a good writer I truly believe one has to be honest — willing to do what K.M. Weiland so aptly describes in her recent blog post:

“Creating is about sticking your fist down deep in your soul, ruthlessly clawing at whatever you can find, and then dragging it out to be shared in the shocking light of day.”

In the novels I’ve written, I haven’t been digging down far enough. I know I’m a private person, and that has me wondering if I can ever find what it will take to write with complete abandon and honesty.

Does that mean I’m thinking about quitting? No, I love writing too much; but my goals may be changing. Instead of writing fiction, I’ve been inserting other tasks into my free time, feeling the push to complete projects that have been sitting in a corner (literally) for years. One involves gathering bits and pieces of our family history together to finally create our family tree. I’m sure my advancing years play a part in this (I’m appalled at how quickly time passes!) but a dose of reality is redirecting my focus.

I’m interested in your feedback. If you’re a writer, has your writing journey moved ahead without interruptions? Has it ever changed directions? Am I wrong in taking my current approach?

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Written and Photographic Snapshots

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During my blogging absence over the past month I’ve taken an uncountable number of snapshots — hundreds of them — with my camera and iPhone.

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It makes me smile to remember a trip our family took in 1980 when, despite feeling significant guilt, I clicked through nineteen rolls of 35 mm film over the nine weeks’ journey. It was extravagant, but it was unlikely I would ever make that same trip again and I wanted to record every memory regardless of the cost.

Our first digital camera was a gift when my hubby retired in 2003. At first I was inhibited by the limitless opportunity of  amazing photographic freedom. It took a while to accept that I could depress my finger as often as I wanted and there would be no cost attached to any of my ‘mistakes’. One click recorded something; a different click deleted it; a third click printed it, but only if I desired an ‘hard copy’… and because I purchased photo paper in quantity, even that cost was negligible.

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I’ve been told the difference between an average photographer and a good one is in the number of discarded photos. Savvy photographers don’t display their mediocre shots. My laptop’s photo folder says it currently holds 6,874 pictures. On my desktop computer in the office there are 18,246 more, and that doesn’t account for the files saved on disks and memory cards. I don’t suppose a dozen of them are what I would call really good shots, but I keep all their files, just because I can. The only person besides me who likes to browse through them is my eight-year-old granddaughter and she doesn’t seem to care about quality. She likes revisiting the scenes, as do I.

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One advantage of keeping all of them is having a ready source of something to use in a blog post or add to the collages I like to create for inspiration while writing my novels.

Writers have various means of encouraging their creativity. Some have rituals they follow before settling into a writing session — maybe preparing a cup of tea, lighting a scented candle, turning on favourite music, or setting out a particular talisman.

One of my favourite go-to blogs is Writer Unboxed, and recently it ran a post about using a collage to create a snapshot of your novel. It turns out, I’m not the only one whose creativity gets a boost from visual stimulation. For each of my novels I’ve put together storyboards with photos, graphics and other items that reflect aspects of the plot. Some of the references might seem nebulous to someone unfamiliar with the developing story, but there is value to me in the artistic endeavour of assembling the collage. On the few occasions when I begin to bog down part way through the story, I stop writing and return to the collage, searching out new bits and building them into the existing collection until my enthusiasm for writing returns.

It’s almost as effective as taking a walk in the woods or beside the lake or seashore with my camera in hand. 🙂

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If you’re a storyteller, what techniques do you have for maintaining your writing momentum? 

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“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

[Ecclesiastes 3:11a]

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Awaiting a Transformation: Butterflies, Bathrooms and Books

Butterflies returned to our garden this week. I see them flitting from one bright bloom to another. This one’s favourite spot to hover seems to be the lilac bush beside our back deck.

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I’ve been hovering out there a lot, too, escaping the dust and noise of the bathroom renovation inside. Not that it’s been a negative experience … the renovation has been going smoothly, well supervised by the cheerful and very efficient contractor. It’s the disruption of our usual household routine, having people coming and going every day, and trying to maintain separation between our curious Labrador and the busy workmen.

This weekend, as work winds to a conclusion, we have a second Labrador here — we’re dog sitting — and she isn’t so much curious as she is affronted at strangers being allowed in our house. We keep shushing her barks and assuring her that they are no longer strangers to us, and they’re creating something new and beautiful out of our twenty-five year old bathroom. Like the butterfly, it has undergone a metamorphosis. (You’re going to be subjected to photos next week.)

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Metamorphosis is a fascinating process (at least, in butterflies, although there are similarities with our bathroom).

First, an egg has to be produced, the larva or caterpillar has to hatch and be nurtured. Then it must pupate while the transformation takes place. And finally, after about a month, the adult butterfly emerges.

In our bathroom metamorphosis, the seed of an idea was first produced, followed by a period of planning, researching products, and finding a contractor. Then we watched and waited as the actual transformation happened. Finally, almost a month later, we’re about to reveal the finished room.

Interesting … it occurs to me that writing a book is a whole lot like this same process. Granted, a book takes me considerably longer than a month to produce, but in due time it comes to fruition. Now, if I could always ensure the end result would be as lovely as my bathroom or the butterfly, I’d be content! 🙂

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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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