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)

 

 

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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!

~  ~  ~

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!

~

How about you? Do you have achievable goals? Are you working your way towards them? How important are they to you?

~

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]

~ ~ ~

 

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?

~  ~  ~