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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I have miles to go…

Miles-2

(Consider clicking on photos for a larger view.)

In round numbers, we drove about 500 miles on a weekend in mid-July, then 600 more on a round trip to our Cariboo cabin in early August, and another 1000 to the Kootenays and back in the past couple weeks. I am always awestruck by the seemingly endless miles of wilderness in our province, and how long it takes to get anywhere.

Miles-1

Although he was speaking of a winter landscape, Robert Frost said it well:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep.
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It takes time and effort to travel any major distance, whether it’s a journey by car or by pen. Wherever we’re going, we must stay the course or we’ll never reach our destination.
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A novel of 90,000 words may take one writer only a few weeks, and another, several years. The speed doesn’t matter as much as the consistency of effort. (There’s a lesson for all of us in the story of the tortoise and the hare.)
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As mentioned in my previous post, I abandoned the journey on a short story this month, not so much because I wasn’t enjoying the writing, but more because the effort lacked purpose. Not to say I won’t ever finish the story. One day I might, but I’ll need a better reason than to meet the deadline for a contest of dubious value to me.
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I want to feel passion for a story — a yearning to record and share its characters and their message. I want to immerse myself in the creation of words that will transport me into and through their world. A novel-in-progress is beckoning me to put aside less challenging distractions and get back to work.
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A journey awaits.
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I’m curious. What motivates you to write?
Miles-3
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Some days are more conducive to writing than others. (Or are they?)

Bitter wind rattles the windows and flings icy pellets at the glass. The rhododendron leaves are curled into themselves, huddled against the cold. It’s wild and wintry outside … a good day to stay home, turn up the thermostat and catch up on the writing we’ve been meaning to do all week.

Cold Snowflake

Of course, it’s also a good day to do a bit of Christmas baking. Or finish cleaning the bathroom. There’s too much to do. We’ll have more time to write in the New Year, after Christmas is over.

But perhaps New Year’s Resolutions will make fitness sessions and the gym more of a priority, (Of course I’m talking hypothetically here! You know me better than that!) so we’ll take a breather and get back to writing next month … or in the spring. Well, after the garden beds are dug and seeds planted. Oh, but there’s always summer to look forward to … all those lazy vacation days with endless opportunities. In the summer the excuse becomes the heat. It’s too muggy to stay inside and write. Better to take advantage of the sunshine and opt for gardening, or vacationing, or enjoying some family time at the beach. When the fall rains start there will be time enough to stay inside and write. We won’t talk about the changing colours and crisp autumn afternoons that will tug us outdoors for walks.

From what I’ve seen, successful authors don’t procrastinate. When there’s writing to be done, they write. But when being interviewed, it’s interesting to hear them describe what they consider ideal writing conditions.

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Darkness has enveloped everything beyond the window. The family room is lit only by Christmas lights, the fireplace crackles and the room is cosy. Lyrics of a winter song come to mind: “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we’ve no place to go”–we might just as well write, right? Except it’s too cosy, too comfortable. I’m content to stare into the flames and let my thoughts wander.

I think it’s time to grab a mug of black coffee and take my laptop into the office where the room is cooler and distractions are minimal. It’s time to get down to work and make the most of the next hour.

What are your ideal writing conditions? Is there one season or situation that’s more conducive to a productive writing session?

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Do It Anyway!

Wow, did it ever rain yesterday! It pounded down, flooding over the eavestroughs, creating instant puddles, pelting the house with so much force it sounded like hail.

Rainy Day

Even the small, seasonal creek that runs through the trees along one side of our property became an honest-to-goodness stream for a time.

Rainy Creek

It was a good day to hunker down… avoid the nasty weather and wait it out, protected by home and hearth. I didn’t expect anyone to venture out. Certainly not the birds. Wouldn’t the fat and furious raindrops pummel them… give them a headache or something… knock those tiny Hummingbirds off course?

But no, right on schedule they all arrived to fill their tummies and empty the feeders. Nothing was going to deter them from meeting their daily caloric requirements. “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”* No, wait… that’s the U.S. Postal Service’s motto! 

Rainy Birds

As writers, we can find all sorts of excuses to explain why the words aren’t accumulating on our pages. Maybe the heavy mood of a miserable day isn’t conducive to being creative. The Muse isn’t cooperating. There isn’t enough time left after the day job or family commitments. We’re just plain tired.

I’ve heard it said that those who want to write, will. Those who wish they could, won’t. All excuses aside, accumulating enough words to write a book requires a commitment to get the job done. As I plod along in my new story, I’m frequently frustrated that the words aren’t streaming out as they sometimes have in the past. I could let my lack of speed discourage me — mutter my way down to a standstill and go find something else to do — but, like these birds, I have a need to fulfill and that can only happen if I keep at it.

When there’s a job to do, we need to do it, no matter how we feel about it on any given day. “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” Oops… that’s not the analogy I was looking for! I think “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is more appropriate.**

Then again, if you’re hungry like the birds but need some creative nourishment, maybe thinking of elephants isn’t a bad idea. After all, elephants wouldn’t let snow, or rain, or heat, or gloom of night (or a nasty downpour), stay them from the swift completion of their appointed rounds any more than the birds have. They’d keep plodding along, just as I am.

So, what’s keeping you from achieving your goals today?

* Herodotus, 503 B.C.
** Lao-tzu (604 BC – 531 BC)

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Taking my own advice…

I attended a ‘Lobby Night’ presentation by my writers’ group last night — a very worthwhile event, but as I drove home in the descending darkness I realized how scratchy my eyes were. Unfortunately I had left writing this post until the end of the day and when I opened my laptop to begin, I was suddenly too tired to find anything pertinent to say. I sat here with my eyes blinking faster than the uncooperative cursor, until I decided this was probably as close to Writer’s Block as I wanted to get. My solution? Re-run an old post. Just over four years ago I posted the following under the title of A Daily Dose of Motivation. I hope you’ll forgive me if I post it again. My brain is lost in a fog tonight. Tomorrow I’ll take my own advice about getting motivated for Friday’s column.

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Everyone has an opinion about how to combat Writer’s Block. Whether believing it’s a mythical non-entity or a super-size monster, experts are quick to offer suggestions for overcoming a writer’s inability to make words materialize on the monitor.

The one I like best? “Just sit down, put pencil to paper (or fingers on keys) and start writing anything that comes into your head. Don’t stop for ten minutes.” Yeah, sure — recommending writing as a cure for not being able to write. That’s logic for you. But what can we do when the words won’t come, when we honestly try but the effort only magnifies the angst?

I’m not convinced I’ve ever faced Writer’s Block. Yes, there have been days, weeks, even months when I haven’t written anything significant, but in retrospect I think I was procrastinating. I wasn’t ready to risk failure, so I found something safer to do. I read.

There is a real danger in procrastination, even in the short term, because the time we would previously have spent writing slowly becomes absorbed by a substitute. Reading is easy to justify because writers need to read — for exposure to good writing, for knowledge, for inspiration. But as an excuse to avoid writing? I don’t think so.

I always have an assortment of books on the go from my TBR pile but when I finally realize I’ve been reading at the expense of writing I figure it’s time to shift my focus. I reach for the volume that continues to give me daily writing inspiration no matter how many times I read it: Bonni Goldberg’s Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer’s Life. (Tarcher/Putnam, 1996) There are lots of daily meditations available but “Room to Write” has been one of my most useful tools. Admittedly I don’t often do the accompanying exercises but the short readings motivate me.

Excuses are impediments to achievement. Had I continued to stare at this blasted blank monitor until my eyes blurred, blaming my lack of words on Writer’s Block, or  immersed myself in someone else’s plot as I was tempted to do, this posting wouldn’t have happened today. Mind you, it’s already 11:55 p.m. If I don’t immediately staunch this flow of words that originally wouldn’t start, today’s posting will become tomorrow’s!

See what a bit of motivation can do!

Do you have any favourite go-to books that provide motivation in those moments when writing inspiration is lacking?

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Taking a risk; making a start

Climbing StairsYou know the feeling. That breathless, gasping ache for air as you force one foot ahead of the other, climbing one more step, and one more, and one more… desperate to reach the top.

It may have been a challenge, a climb, a race, a chase. Or maybe you were recovering from surgery and pushing yourself just one more step was part of your therapy.  Whatever the case, the first step had to be taken, then another. Without making a start, there was no way to reach the top.

Yesterday I came across this poster on Facebook* and was reminded of how often we don’t make progress because we never quite muster the momentum that’s needed. We never succeed because we can’t accept the risk of failure. We never finish because we don’t start.

Taking small steps

Writers face this every day. There are those who would like to write a novel but aren’t sure they can create 90,000 consecutive words. Or they have too many ideas and don’t know how to round them up into a cohesive story. Others have written their stories but aren’t able to share them with editors or agents, or even other writers, for fear they aren’t good enough. Some published authors fear their initial success is a fluke and whatever else they write won’t measure up, so they don’t try again.

I’ll bet you can think of times you’ve hesitated, turned aside from pursuing a goal or a dream for what seemed like a very legitimate reason. Did you ever return to it… eventually make the effort… or did you accept it wasn’t meant to be?

It’s never too late to try again. If the original dream is beyond reach, you can always modify the goal.

“Tip toe if you must, but take the step.”

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“I don’t so much mind looking back on having lost the election,
or having been denied a role in the play, or having had my novel repeatedly rejected,
or having been turned down for a date,
or recalling laughter at my expense when I attempted some silly challenge.
Those things simply prove that I lived life.
What I do mind, however, is looking back on the lost opportunities
where imagined concerns kept me from even trying, lose or win.
I’ve learned that there is no regret in a brave attempt. Only in cowering to fear.”

Richelle E. Goodrich

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“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us —
yes, establish the work of our hands.”

Psalm 90:17 – NIV

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“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished
by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

Dale Carnegie
Quotes and Fantasy

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#WIPMADNESS Week #2 – Excuses, excuses, excuses!

Summer finally arrived here last week. The temperature yesterday reached 31+ C. (about 90 F.) — nothing comparable to what central Canada and much of the United States are experiencing, but hot enough for me. In last Friday’s post I asked, “How will you combat the distractions and/or inertia that often accompany hot weather holiday time, excursions to the beach, bored out-of-school children, and visiting relatives?”

I offered suggestions to help carve out time for writing from summertime’s unscheduled days. But suggestions are only that… non-compulsory ideas. Unless we act on them they don’t help at all. I think most of us are guilty at times of offering excuses for why we have to be somewhere other than at our desks, especially in the summer.

“Every day, your life bombards you with perfectly legitimate excuses not to get your writing done: sick kids, leaky roofs, roots in desperate need of a touch-up.”  [Claire Cook]

Excuses are our enemy! Excuses will keep us from reaching our goals! DOWN WITH EXCUSES!! Oops… seems I’m a little rabid about this topic. Sorry Wipsters, but no matter how justifiable the reasons are, if we aren’t getting the writing done, we’re letting them bully us out of the one part of publication that should be ours to control.

How did last week go for you? Did you accomplish what you planned or did excuses wreak havoc with your intentions? What are you planning for this week?

WEEK #1 DRAW WINNER
Jaye Robin Brown

I hope Jaye will be able to say that excuses didn’t interfere with her writing last week, but either way, she won our Week #1 draw for her choice of a novel from my summer reading basket. Congratulations Jaye! Please e-mail me at caroljgarvin [at] gmail [dot] com with your title of choice, and a mailing address.

Now that everyone has had a week to contend with July’s schedules, I’m thinking we might need a little extra burst of motivation to face Week #2, so listen up…

Every comment on today’s post will be entered for the Week #2 draw, which is being donated by author, writing coach, freelance editor and workshop instructor extraordinaire Jessica Page Morrell. She has offered to review a synopsis (or query) and the first five pages of a manuscript. How’s that for motivational?

As was the case last week, the remaining names not chosen will be kept for an extra draw at the end of the month, for a copy of Julia Cameron’s book, “THE SOUND OF PAPER”.

Now go toss those excuses in the nearest trash container. Don’t let them bully you out of your writing time!

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So, how’s your writing journey going?

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Sometimes it’s clear sailing, and sometimes… um, it’s not.

During our December travels we encountered all kinds of weather. For the most part, the roads were good. On the homeward portion of the trip, as we left Cranbrook, BC, we traveled north for a time in a trench between two mountain ranges. It was a glorious day!

To the east of the highway were the rugged Rocky Mountains

… while to the west were the Purcell Mountains.

Eventually we had to leave the easy-to-navigate valley highway and turn west. The remainder of our trip was through the mountains … sometimes literally, via tunnels or snow sheds that are designed to deflect avalanches.

From the summit of the Coquihalla highway south through the Cascade Mountains  the weather began to change again, the road conditions were conflictingly described as “bare, snow packed, some slippery sections” and we drove through snow and slush until we got closer to the coast where rain washed everything slick and shiny. Driving was anything but a pleasure.

My recent Christmas trip has comparisons to my writing journey. Any objective, whether a holiday destination, a writing goal or picking a tree clean of its crop, requires some kind of journey. Success first requires desire – we have to want that ‘something’ badly enough to pursue it, regardless of the obstacles. Then there has to be forward momentum.

On the Magical Words blog yesterday Kalayna Price said, When the words are flowing and the muse is generous, writing is easy, sometimes even euphoric. But when the writing gets tough and every word has to be dragged out with jagged, rusty hooks – that is when you have to apply BIC [butt in chair] and slough through it.”

The beginning of a new year is often a time of re-evaluation. For me, it’s also a time of recommitment. My goal hasn’t changed but too often detours have sidetracked me.  The journey itself brings satisfaction but every journey needs to have a destination to fulfill its purpose. It’s time to settle my butt in the driver’s seat and start chalking up the miles.

How about you? We’re almost a week into this New Year. Have you made measureable progress on your 2012 journey?

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“By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”  [Philippians 3:14 MSG]

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Making the most of your December writing time

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I sympathize with anyone who has a January editorial deadline, because there are so many December distractions. These last two weeks of December are probably the busiest time on our calendars. No matter how we celebrate Christmas (or don’t), there is so much to do as another year draws to a close.

And even when we’re caught up and the schedule is clear, we’re often too tired to do anything more than pour a glass of wine, collapse on the couch and maybe reminisce a bit in front of the fireplace. It’s not a good time to expect creativeness to emerge from our depleted minds.

If we’re staring at a deadline, however, something has to make its way from brain to page. At that point a glass of wine is more likely to put us to sleep rather than stimulate thought. So what to do?

My recommendation is to first commit to the task, kick procrastination in its derriere, and carve out a block of time, preferably a minimum of an hour, to work on your manuscript. Set a specific starting time, write it large on a sticky note and plunk that somewhere obvious, like on the fridge, your bathroom mirror or the television screen … or on the cover of the book you’re tempted to pick up in isolated moments. (Trust me, that book will become the worst procrastination or escapist mechanism around, if you let it.)

When the allotted time arrives, spend the first five or ten minutes in preparation:

  • Open a window, stand in front of it (or stand outside the patio door) and do three or four minutes of exercise in the cold air – jumping jacks, jogging on the spot, knee bends, or just deep breathing and stretching if fitness isn’t your thing. You may be breathless and shivering when you’re done, but you’ll have increased the flow of oxygen to your brain.
  • Hit the kitchen and collect something that will provide more stimulation. For me it would be coffee or chai tea, but a few sugar candies to suck on (or c.h.o.c.o.l.a.t.e) would work, too. As much as wine seems to be a popular choice for some writers, this is not the time for alcohol. While acting as a temporary stimulant, it’s actually known to be a depressant.
  • In your writing place of choice, set a timer for fifteen minutes and settle down to write. Even if you’re not feeling inspired, write anyway. Keep writing until the timer sounds.

If you’re anything like me, at that point you’ll look at what you’ve written and toss it into the virtual garbage can! But persevere.

  • Set the timer for the remaining thirty minutes and carry on writing. You may be starting from scratch again, but I’m willing to bet my second chai latte that the quality of writing will be respectable and you’ll finish your session feeling encouraged. In fact, if time permits, you might just decide to carry on writing. Go for it! Remember, there’s a deadline looming.

What other methods do you use to psych yourself up for a necessary stint of writing when you’re not in the mood or circumstances are helping you procrastinate?

 

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* Calendar photo by Renjith Krishnan
 

A Vocation or Avocation?

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How we think of ourselves can determine how others think of us.  Our attitude affects our demeanor, and that in turn affects how others respond to us.

What does this have to do with writing? I believe respecting our right to be serious about our writing can determine whether we become known as word dabblers, hobbyists or career writers. (If you’re content to dabble I’ll jump in here to defend your choice because I realize not everyone intends to write full time.) But so often we make excuses for what we do… apologize for the time we spend closeted away with our computers or pen and paper, as if our pursuit is frivolous or perhaps even sinful.

I’ve heard writers claim that it wasn’t until they received payment for their work that they began to take themselves seriously. (Okay, I’ll admit I’ve said that!)  It wasn’t until they considered writing a legitimate form of employment that they felt entitled to set aside a formal workspace, and claim the right to uninterrupted work hours.

As a hobby, writing can be relegated to the leftover moments in our lives, but if it is to be more than that, we have to treat it like the commitment it is, and write… guilt free.

If someone provided you with a homecare worker and an uptown office on the condition that you write there at least four hours a day, would you feel more like “a real writer” than when you sit at the kitchen table and write during junior’s naptime? What does that say about your attitude?

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