Category Archives: Writing

Oh, The Places You’ll Write!

This is entirely unlike the chair in my dentist’s office. I prefer this one.

Writers work in all sorts of odd places.

The actual putting of pen to paper or finger to keyboard happens in obvious places like homes, offices, libraries, airplanes, and coffee shops, but also in cars, waiting rooms, and grocery store queues, on park benches, beside pools, on outdoor trails, and beside campfires.

In addition, the part of writing that involves cogitating, planning, incubating, dreaming, and inventing can happen anywhere and often does.

Writers are encouraged to keep notebooks, or at least paper and pencil, nearby at all times to capture the thinking that happens in odd times and places.

Many writers, and I know this well because I fall prey to it too often, believe the planning needs to happen before the writing. Often, they go better hand in hand; many writers sort out their ideas through writing – it is because they need to write in order to understand that many became writers in the first place.

But, wherever it happens, the key to the incubating phase of writing is letting the subconscious work and simply keeping the conscious mind around to capture the thoughts.

As an example, this morning I had a routine dental appointment. My conscious mind needed nothing more than to keep my mouth open the right amount for the dentist to do his work. As I lay back in the chair, looking through the yellow plastic glasses I had been given to protect my eyes from the light shining into my mouth, feeling the dentist scraping and poking around, my mind wandered to the revision needs of The Red Oak.

I am composing a response to being tagged in a blog chain, The Next Big Thing, which involves a series of questions about an author’s current work in progress, and the answers to those questions collided with a conversation I had last weekend with M-E Girard and Tobin Elliott during the Writers’ Community of Durham Region Training for Writing Circle Facilitators (which is being led by the amazing team of Ruth Walker and Sue Reynolds and I highly recommend future offerings of it for folks in the Toronto/Durham region who want to lead writing circles).

M-E, Tobin, and I were talking about the way YA fantasies featuring a protagonist discovering that s/he is a paranormal being act as a metaphor for coming to terms with any number of ways that a teenager can be atypical.

Sitting in the dentist’s chair, my visual world bathed in yellow light, my brain hopped along a series of mental stepping stones: metaphor, source of inspiration for the novel, one sentence synopsis, coming out as atypical. When my thoughts landed on the far shore, I realized I had new possibilities for three major elements of the novel that have been blocking me on this revision. I need to write into them to see how they really fit, but for the first time in ages, I have a direction to go with these three issues.

So, there you have it – Writing in The Dentist’s Chair.

If you open your mind to your creative impulses, you can’t predict when or where they’ll show up.

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Starting the New Year Off On the Write Foot

What can I say? The end of 2012 was not good for my novel writing. It was good for all sorts of other things, including a short story submitted to a big competition and good non-fiction writing, but not for my novel.

I spent December making all these things for my nieces, which cut into my writing time substantially.

I spent December making all these things for my nieces, which cut into my writing time substantially.

I want to finish The Red Oak (there, I said it – it has a working title) in time to start something new for NaNoWriMo 2013. Given that I need a couple of months of planning and pre-writing to go into NaNoWriMo ready to generate a complete first draft of an MG  or YA book, that means wrapping up the next draft of The Red Oak by the end of February. I have a lot of things I want to add to the next draft, complete sections, scenes, characters, etc. Things I need to write from scratch. Big changes, not small changes.

I want to get back to writing 1,000-1,500 words a day of completely new material.

It would be easy to give myself today, the New Year’s Day holiday, off. My husband has the day off work. My kids are home. I am sick. But, I need to reestablish habits that I let go of during the fall. And that means no excuses.

And so, to prove to myself that I am serious about this goal, I wrote. 1,000 words.

I believe that the choice of the New Year as a starting point is arbitrary. Different cultures have marked time in different cycles and counted the beginning of each year around the sun from different points. January 1 is only meaningful because we made it so. But, given that we live in a world that turns the year on this day, I see no reason not piggyback personal rituals on it. I don’t believe in traditional New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe that a culturally signified date can be a marker to pin a personal shift to, as long as you hold it lightly and hold yourself with compassion if you should falter – because we all falter.

Have you done something today because it is a practice you want to develop in 2013?

How a Little Published Writer Tracks Development

I am not an unpublished writer, but my non-blog work is not published often. And I am okay with that at the moment. I am seeing improvement in my writing and an increase in confidence in myself as a self-confessed writer. Given that I took a decades-long break from writing fiction, I did not expect to start back up again and be able to make a living writing. I do, hope, eventually to sell my novel and to have more short stories published, but I am not tracking my development as a writer based on the amount of my work that other people have paid me to publish. Not yet.

But, I am watching my development. Not too closely, because I find that stifling.

For the past three years, I have been tracking my progress in relation to what I learn at the Ontario Writers Conference. Conferences that mix panels on the craft and business of writing with networking time and readings allow me to gauge where I am on the continuum from novice writer to award-winning novelist or fan favourite. I believe that the messages that stick with me after an event like that reveal more about me and my stage in the process than they do about the individual speakers. I hear the messages that I am ready for and the rest washes over me.

I first attended the Ontario Writers Conference in 2010. That year, Robert J. Sawyer gave the keynote speech, a lecture based on Robert A. Heinlein’s Rules for Writers, a lecture very close in content to an article you can find on his website. I had just started editing my first NaNoWriMo story and was feeling very discouraged, but I was committed to continuing to write fiction. Although three of Heinlein’s rules have to do with selling one’s work, I could only hear the first two: you must write and finish what you start. The main thought I left with that day was “Keep writing. Make time to write and don’t give up.”

The next year, I was still struggling with revisions of the same novel. I had been studying the art of plotting and had learned many things, but they weren’t showing up in my work. I heard Wayson Choi speak about writing the story that we have to tell, our story, the one that comes out of our pain, and I realized that my novel wasn’t working because I wasn’t allowing myself to write deeply enough into the pain of my own that had driven me to write the story. The work I did the following year was heavily driven by my desire to start writing from a deeper place, to write fearward and bleed onto the page more. And the work got better.

Last year, the talk the message that stuck with me the most was the need to submit my work to the marketplace, to start accumulating rejection letters. I no longer remember which speaker it was who reminded us of the image from On Writing of Stephen King with a nail on which he put reject letter after rejection letter, replacing it with a spike when the nail could no longer hold all the rejections. And so, inspired by that reminder, I have submitted my work more this year than in any other year. It has been tough leaving the current novel, which still contains elements of that first NaNoWriMo piece, for periods to write shorter pieces, but I felt the need to start getting some of my fiction out in the world. And I am starting to collect rejections. But, I am also starting to understand why I am collecting rejections, which means that my understanding of craft has deepened.

Next year, I don’t think I will be going to the Ontario Writers Conference. I went to the World Fantasy Convention for the first time this year, and I found the conversations about what writers are doing or trying to do in the specific genre that I am writing in speak to me more personally than the more generally directed discussions at the Ontario Writers Conference. This understanding tells me that my development is continuing. Getting to World Fantasy Convention is much harder logistically and financially than getting to the Ontario Writers Conference. I really want to go, but I can’t justify it if I don’t keep getting better. So, I have told myself I can’t even think about going to London for the 2013 convention if I don’t have my novel out with beta readers. I’m not sure I’ll manage it for this year, but the thought of celebrating with a trip to a convention is inspiring.

Each conference or convention I go to, I come away with the next step of my development laid out for me. I have heard the teaching that I am ready to learn. And by tracking the lessons, I can see how much deeper I am into the craft of writing fiction.

Do you have a way to measure your progress toward your intangible goals? Please share in the comments. I really would love to know.

Holding it Together When Things Get Busy, Part I

When Things Get Busy

Have you ever found that all the projects you have on the back burner came to a boil at the same time?

It is exciting when projects move from potential to production. But, the transition can require some adjustments. When more than one project makes the switch, your routines may need more than a little tweaking. Changing habits is hard, and especially so with the pressure of imminent deadlines. How do you do manage the transition without tearing your hair out?

Everything in my life has been in overdrive in November except this blog. I have been working behind the scenes to set up several projects.

Coming in 2013, in addition to my writing and theatrical activities, I will be:

  • Training as a writing circle facilitator and setting up a new circle
  • Teaching InterPlay workshops at a new facility
  • Setting up a new business as a creativity coach

All of this started coming together at once. And although it has been an adrenaline-filled rush, it has had me drawing on all of my tools for managing a multivalent life.

If you have been reading this blog for long, you know that my favourite life-management tools come from InterPlay, improv, and theatre.

Coming up over the next few posts, I will share some of the tools I have been relying on heavily over the last month. But first, a quick look at getting started.

Show Up and Start Anywhere

It doesn’t really matter where you start, but you must start. When there are too many things that need doing, just pick something and do it. Activity builds activity. And it doesn’t matter if you could have made a better choice. Getting started will often reveal what needs to be done better than any list-making preparation.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, pick one small task you know will move a project in the right direction. Now go and do it.

Beyond Word Counts: How Do You Measure Progress on Your Novel?

It is November. The annual explosion of bad first drafts, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo, is rushing towards its end.

NaNoWriMo is a great tool for folks who need to get past the hurdle of getting a large number of words on paper.

But, what if you want to get past the first draft phase? When you undertake the process of revision, tracking progress is harder.

A novel is a major undertaking. For a novice writer making time to write around a day job and a family, it can take years. A writer without an agent or a contract must  claim small victories to sustain enthusiasm and commitment through-out the process.

What progress can a novelist celebrate during the process?

  • Daily time at work
  • A successful scene
  • Creation of a timeline/an outline/a map or other support material
  • A thematic element repeated throughout the book to create a stream of unity
  • A comprehensive plot that holds together
  • A complete manuscript sent to beta readers
  • Revisions suggested by beta readers incorporated
  • Each time a revision is sent out for feedback and comments are responded to
  • First time pitching the novel
  • Each time pitching the novel
  • Each time the manuscript is sent to an editor or agent
  • Each rejection letter
  • Getting an agent
  • Getting a publishing contract

Some of these milestones are not in the writer’s control, but many of them are. Each incremental step forward should be acknowledged, and preferably celebrated. The small steps are what lead to the finish.

Am I missing any milestones that you celebrate? Let me know in the comments.

In Need of A Rapid Writing Revamp?

Over the summer, I made this image and immediately recognized that it has all the elements of a cover for my novel. I’m printing it out and posting it above my desk for inspiration.

I am.

I need to get my butt in the seat and start writing again.

For the months of September and October, my creative muses were busy directing The Mousetrap, but that show is running without my help now and it is time for me to return to writing.

I am creaky.

I need to stretch, warm up, and start slowly.

So, here’s what I’m doing:

  • Daily writing. I don’t care how much it is, but I will write something for my novel every day this month.
  • Giving myself permission to suck. After a break, I am rusty and I know it will take some time to sink back into the voice of my novel.
  • Shaking Things up a Bit. I need to feed my muse. In my case, I am reading political theory and attending World Fantasy Convention. The political theory will feed me indirectly, giving me material to use in building a world, if not in this novel, then in a later one. World Fantasy Convention will remind me of the breadths of my genre, rather than the specific limits of my novel. But, the key is not that they will be useful projects, but that they are projects that thrill me. Getting my muse revved up for a new project will help me find the discipline for daily writing.

What am I missing? What do you do when you need to get back into a groove after a break?

Giftedness, Creativity, and Storytelling – and Imposter Syndrome

It is the International Week of the Gifted 2012. Around the blogosphere, advocates for gifted adults and gifted children are writing about giftedness with a particular enthusiasm and energy. The World Council for Gifted and Talented Children is encouraging the use of International Week of the Gifted to pave the way for the International Year of Giftedness and Creativity 2013 with the theme “Stories and Story Sharing”.

Giftedness, creativity, and the power of sharing our stories are three of my passions. I feel compelled to do something, organize something, create something.

If I had my druthers, I would organize a series of workshops, offered to gifted children and their parents, using the storytelling tools of InterPlay to help them tell their own stories, hear each other’s stories, and share them through a public performance. I have the training to do this, but I am not sure I have the time, and I definitely worry about whether I have the gumption.

You see, I suffer from the great gifted woman’s disorder: Imposter Syndrome. Essentially, Imposter Syndrome involves constantly feeling like a fraud, like you are not as competent as people around you, and as they think you are. There is an accompanying fear of being “found out” and a lack of willingness to put oneself forth as a resource.

In my case, it manifests as a reluctance to set up workshops because I fear no one will come and that if they do come, they will feel like they have wasted their money. But, I know from past experience that I am a good teacher and a good director. When I lead InterPlay workshops, people enjoy them and many folks want to know how they can experience more.

Lisa Rivero’s article Who Do You Think You Are? Re-Thinking the Imposter Syndrome introduced me to the idea that the feelings of being an imposter may be a sign that one is heading in the right direction and that one should lean into the fear and work through it rather than letting it stop you. That idea resonates with me.

If you had asked me when I was 14, what work I wanted to do when I grew up, I would have said I wanted to run a theatre and associated theatre school. A few years later, I saw a performance by teenagers of monologues they had written about their own lives and was struck by the immense power of people telling their own stories in performance. I spent the next 15 years working in theatre, remembering the power of the autobiographical performances, yearning to be part of such things, and yet not doing any work in that area. Until I found InterPlay.

When I discovered InterPlay, I was teaching a class called Sacred Bodies, Sacred Play at Starr King School for the Ministry. I had developed a collection of tools for triggering spiritual experiences through physical play and creativity and was sharing them in the class I was teaching. The overlap between the forms I had discovered myself and was teaching in that class and the forms of InterPlay were uncanny.

But, I had not been formulating my system into a teachable tool for very long and Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter had been working on InterPlay for decades. InterPlay was in many ways simply further along the path than I was. More than that, InterPlay had developed the tools for combining the physical body, the spirit of play, and improvised performance into truth-telling performances sharing deep stories, thereby joining my play-based work with the power of performance autobiography that I had witnessed so many years before. It is no wonder that I started the InterPlay Teacher Training Program immediately after finishing my first class.

After completing the training, I didn’t dive right into teaching. For good reason. I was moving internationally while pregnant with triplets. I was otherwise occupied.

It is now time for me to start offering classes and workshops.

And, I feel the fear of the Imposter Syndrome surrounding me, telling me I am heading in an important direction, considering a meaningful path, and must take action.

I am not an Imposter. I am well trained for this work. But, sometimes, I have to remind myself of these facts.

  • I have been leading rehearsals and teaching performance as a director for 25 years.
  • I have been organizing rehearsals as a stage manager for longer.
  • I have organized events with substantial budgets.
  • I have produced theatrical productions and special performances for half-a-dozen theatre companies.
  • My InterPlay training was with the founders of InterPlay, including performance classes.
  • I have performed in several InterPlay performances as a dancer/storyteller.
  • When I participate in InterPlay Leaders Events, I am recognized as a peer by leaders with all levels of experience.
  • My understanding of the power of InterPlay as a storytelling tool has deepened through my writing about InterPlay.

I am hopeful that I will have time in 2013 to lead workshops for gifted children and their parents to share their stories. My family is going through some changes that will take some months to settle out, and until they do, I will not know what 2013 is going to look like.

But, I am committed to being a part of the world-wide community of people telling the stories of gifted people, sharing what our experience is. If the performance project looks too big, I will focus on telling more of my story through my writing.

Gifted people are identifiable because we are outside the norm. Sharing our stories helps us connect in a world where we too often feel isolated. I can be part of enriching that connection by sharing my own stories. One way or another, I will be creating work supporting the International Year of Giftedness and Creativity 2013 on the theme of Stories and Story-Sharing.

I hope you will join me in 2013 by either telling your own stories or finding other people’s stories to witness.

For a list of other posts related to International Week of the Gifted, click here

When Summer Is the Hardest Time to Write

For several summers in a row, I have had difficulty putting words together. July and August have been writing dead zones. Each year, I have inadvertently taken a complete writing hiatus in July and come back slowly in August – writing blog posts, but not making progress on my novel.

When the weather cools, the days shorten, and the kids go back to school, I get more writing done.

But I don’t like the break. There is always a little voice in the back of my head telling me I should be writing more. And the further I get into the summer, the louder that voice gets.

Next year, I think I will actively take a break from blogging in July – line up a few posts in advance and relax about the blog. I might even take a vacation from trying to produce new work as well. I could treat it as a mini-sabbatical, a prolonged period of feeding my muse rather than asking her to produce.

In the meantime, I am trying to turn August into a productive writing month. I started well with a post over at An Intense Life about getting ready for new schools for all my kids in September. And, I have devised a little project for myself.

I am a Camp NaNoWriMo Rebel. If you haven’t heard, the people who bring you NaNoWriMo in November started a pared-down version that happens in June and August last summer. I thought about participating last year, but I didn’t want to start a new project and my work-in-progress was in a stage of revision that didn’t fit with the goal of writing 50,000 words in a month. So, I skipped it.

This summer, however, I have a lot of first draft writing I want to do. In my class this winter, I did a lot of work sketching out more plot elements and discovering weaknesses in my characterization. I pruned heavily after that class, leaving gaping holes that need filling with new text.

And, NaNo is a great motivator for me to write a lot of new text. So, I am a NaNo Rebel, a NaNo participant who is not following the rules in some crucial way. Some NaNo Rebels write something other than a novel, some work on a work in progress, some work on several pieces; all break the rules but shoot for the 50,000 word count.

I believe in using writing challenges to serve your project. If the challenge doesn’t quite fit, modify it. So I am using the word count challenge as a challenge to generate material to fill the holes in my manuscript. At the end of July, I wrote a list of 31 things to write that will enrich my novel and I will work through those prompts as August continues.

So far, I have followed these prompts:

  • A detailed physical description of the antagonist and the prison from which he escapes (character development)
  • The story of the initial capture of the antagonist (backstory)
  • A phone call between the protagonist and her mother after the first scene of the novel (character development)
  • The first manifestation of the protagonist’s magical powers (backstory)
  • Diary entries in which the protagonist writes about the five kids at school who most impact her life (backstory and character development)

I am not sure how these bits of writing will fit into the next draft of the novel, but it is clear they are going to enrich it. The phone call between the protagonist and her mother is going to go right where the prompt says it should – but the way it turned out means that I will need to add another scene later about how the protagonist and her grandmother respond to the call.

It’s exciting. The novel is moving. My muse is shouting at me; I’m having trouble keeping up.

This is the kick in the pants I needed to get me back to the computer on these beautiful summer days.

The Danger in Blogging About Your Growth Processes

A recent Mixel thread involved presenting collages of what we do when we aren’t making Mixel art.

Hey, look! I’m back!

If you have been around for a while, you know that I take unscheduled breaks from time to time. Part of the reason for these breaks is the nature of my creative process. Part is the fact that my four children come before my writing, and children have irregular needs. And, part comes directly from what I have chosen to focus on in this blog.

The posts that seem to resonate most with my readers blend theories about writing and creativity with reflections on my personal journey. In writing these posts, there is an element of self-disclosure, and often related self-discovery, but also an element of analysis.

Sometimes, I am so busy living my inner transformations that I have no time to reflect upon my recent experience in a way that might be meaningful for my readers. And, when there is a lot of transformation going on, I can be so deep in trying to understand what I am going through that I find I cannot write meaningfully about anything other than my current experience.

During those periods, I often find myself struggling for cohesiveness in my writing and my blog goes dark for a time while I go through whatever life experience I am going through.

There is big stuff going on with me right now and I don’t have a handle on it.

Pushing myself deep into my emotions and imagination to improve my novel is awakening feelings and ambitions that have been suppressed for decades. I feel a need to honour these awakenings, but determining how to do that in the context of my current life (as opposed to the life I was living when I suppressed the dreams) is challenging.

At the same time, our new house is calling out to be transformed into a home that truly reflects who we are as a family. It is a unique house, perfect for a nonconformist family – and we are all nonconformists in this family. I speaks to me, “make me yours,” and I find myself wondering which aspects of me and of us should be reflected in the decor, furniture, use of rooms, etc.

I have been hiding in plain sight for years, acting like a pseudo-normal suburbanite, and delving deeper into my writing, choosing a house that reflects my unwillingness to look and act like my neighbours, and writing about giftedness for An Intense Life have all pushed me into an existential quandary.

Who am I?

Once upon a time, I knew I was in training to be an eccentric old lady. I think I am back in training.

But, I have been feeling adrift, without anchor, unable to encapsulate any of this experience in blog posts.

When I read Suzannah Windsor Freeman’s post Don’t Quit! Help for Burnt Out Bloggers on Write It Sideways today, I knew I had to write something about what I have been going through. I don’t want to disappear.

But, I can’t. Not clearly.

All of my past identities are vying for attention: artist, activist, intellectual, parent, wife, home-maker, preacher, existential philosopher, lawyer, biopsychology student, writer, actor, director. A desire to dream big and change the world has been awakened and is raging through me without direction.

My battles against petty fears have given me courage. My struggles with writing have given my sources of inspiration hope.

I feel like I’m on the verge of something, but I don’t want to jump too soon. I need to let these stirrings grow and coalesce without forcing them into an intellectually selected box.

There are passions rising within me. They need channeling and I have never yet succeeded in channeling them into productive projects that satisfy the big dreams.

I’m positively disintegrating.

I have been through periods of positive disintegration before. I am familiar with the feeling of not knowing who I am becoming – of my emotions and cognitive self-understanding trying to rearrange themselves in a more effective manner.

I know that my tendency is to force a  solution that only accommodates some of the crucial elements of my personality. Being adrift in all one’s potential is scary. Making meaning from so much richness is not easy.

I will try to keep blogging as my inner life reorganizes itself, but I expect that all of my theories will be tentative and all of my understandings limited for some time.

I’m okay with that.

I hope you are, too.

If these words resonate with you in any way, I would love to hear about your experience or get any advice.

New Growth: Editing and Gardening

I want to thank Sharon Overend for republishing my post from April of last year4 Ways Gardening is Like Editingon her blog about writing. Sharon has published short stories and poetry and is currently working on her first novel.

When Sharon asked me to contribute a guest post to her blog, she wanted something sooner than I could get her something new, so we discussed republishing an older piece of mine. The piece comparing editing to gardening came to mind immediately as it had been on my mind a few days earlier.

My new house has a pool, and although the pool was kept up well by the previous owners, my guess is that it had not seen frequent use over the recent past. Nearby evergreen shrubs had spread, encroaching onto the pathway next to the pool.

My kids are young and I expect them to tear round the edges of the pool at high speed; shrubs in the path are dangerous. So, I spent a day hacking at the shrubs, trimming them back to behind the edge of the path.

To clear the path, I had to saw off limbs that must have first been allowed to break the confines of the flower bed years ago. If you look at the shrubs now, you will see exposed, raw edges of many small and medium-sized branches, and it is ugly.

Ugly with potential.

Once the plants grow to cover the wounds, they will look fine. Nature will take care of the growth.

I have to be the force of Nature with regard to my novel. I have spent the last year pruning and shaping the large scale edits of my novel. I now have some spaces in the book that need filling, places where I need a scene to complete the picture. The gaps are more obvious after the pruning; the novel has a more unfinished feel than it did a year ago. But,the gaps are intentional, spaces of potential, waiting for the new growth that will give the complete work a more pleasant shape.

In the meantime, I am enjoying seeing a past blog post have a new life on Sharon’s blog. If you missed what I had to say about location, dormancy, treatment, and facing reality, click here and have a look.

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