Tag Archives: writing

My writing albatross

Why can’t I write this blog post? It’s been pressing on my shoulders for three weeks now. Coleridge’s damn albatross. The emails from my fellow Restless Writers were initially gentle reminders, but have now become electrified prods like I’m a cow to be herded back to my quarters. (OK, they’re not that mean, but I am feeling the pressure.)

Every time I sit down in hopes the “grand inspiration” will come, the screen sits in silence. The keys remain idle. My fingers await their commands.

And alas, when a few words do splatter on the screen they are out of focus, blurry like a…like a…what? The simile alludes me. My muse is clearly on vacation enjoying steamy weather and sunlight, while I freeze in this record cold winter, surrounded by greying snow and the greying sky out my window that reflects the current grey in my brain.

fireplace

Where is the light in my thoughts? Where is just a spark of an idea? I’m sitting beside a fire for God’s sake! Nothing?

Have I left it too long? Have the distractions of my life stolen my ability to create something new? Perhaps I have starved Calliope for too long and she has found refuge in another writer’s home.

What’s a writer to do when a fog has descended on her creativity? Here are some ideas:

  • Try a writing prompt to start you off and help focus your brain.
  • Write something, anything every day – even if it’s crap – at least you’re writing.
  • Read. Read anything – about writing, a novel, a blog, poetry. Read…a lot.
  • Schedule your writing time and be disciplined to make it happen with no distractions.
  • Take a step back for a moment and set some goals. Maybe it’s time to regroup and figure out what you want to achieve with your writing. Check in to ensure you are heading in the direction you want to be with your writing. Maybe it’s time for a left-hand turn to stir things up.
  • Stop and have a good look at your life recently.  What needs to shift? Where are you out of balance? (This one’s mine. My life’s been spazzy these last months and my writing has suffered because of it.)

Writing takes persistence, perseverance and patience, and each ‘p’ word comes in waves. Sadly my surf board has been stuck behind my snow shovel lately. I know I have to dig it out…once I dig my car out of the driveway. The worst ‘p’ for me is the third one. Damn that patience thing. It’s the new albatross around my neck now that this blog post is done.

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Filed under Blogging, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation, Starting up, Writing ideas

A reflection on vulnerability, writing and character

TissuesI just watched a TED talk by Brené Brown about vulnerability. I love TED talks. Every time I watch one my perception about life shifts a little bit, and as a result, so does my approach to writing. In the case of Brown’s talk, I was in tears as I thought not only about my own vulnerability as an artist—clearly her message was hitting the mark with me—but also the importance of vulnerability in the characters I create.

The thing is most of us hate feeling vulnerable. We hate feeling out of control. We get paralyzed by “what if I put myself out there and I get turned down or ridiculed or end up going down a road I didn’t want to go down?” Yet, as humans we have a fundamental need to be connected to the world and to each other in order to feel truly alive. Therein lies the struggle: to feel connected, we need to be vulnerable and show who we are, but our instinct is one of protectionism. As writers we become vulnerable every day we create. It’s part of our calling. We describe and reflect the vulnerability of life, so others will be moved and their lives shifted as a result.

But vulnerability takes courage, and writers are human. We all struggle to be courageous day in and day out. I mean, how can you keep feeling courageous when a piece gets rejected or ignored over and over? How do you continue to write a story that takes you to dark places in your own life you’ve probably worked years to bury, but is needed in order to make the story authentic? Yet that journey is exactly what is necessary. As Brown even says, “vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity.”

And what does this mean for our characters? Our characters have to reflect the same human struggle we face ourselves in the most real way. If we can effectively show a character’s struggle for connection, readers, in turn, will feel a deeper connection to our work. (Maybe this is partly what Maria was talking about in her last post about finding her character’s voice.)

So, how can you create characters that reflect this inner humanity? Well, one way, of course, is to start with yourself. Examine when you feel vulnerable. I mean, really examine it…without fear. The better you understand your own humanity, the better you can reflect the humanity of your characters. As a start, I found some ideas from Writing Through Life journaling blog.

Another way is to start with those around you and then turn what you discover onto your characters. Here are some steps:

  • Describe when they feel vulnerable and why. Is there some memory triggered?
  • What physically happens to their bodies in that state? (e.g., forehead tenses, palms become sweaty)
  • What do they say in reaction? (e.g., turn to blame someone else? Try to exert control in the situation or command that they are “right”?)
  • What do they do as a result? (e.g., many try to numb the feeling of discomfort by drinking or eating excessively or taking pills. When developing your characters, remember these actions also numb joy and love at the same time, like Brown indicates.)
  • Now, write when they feel the opposite, i.e., in control. What does that look like? You can repeat the other steps from this point of view.

As Brown concludes her talk and I’m near the end of my Kleenex box, she reminds us that what makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful. So, keep your courage to be vulnerable as you write because it is fundamental to what makes your work beautiful too.

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Confession Time

I dumped the entire contents of my purse on the floor of my doctor’s waiting room this week. Embarrassing? Yes. But there was a silver lining. While I was crawling on the ground (in a skirt!) gathering up the little pieces of my life, I made a few choice discoveries, including a $50 gift card for The Bay that was MIA since last Christmas and the head of my son’s much-coveted Darth Vader Lego figurine. Better than this though, I also found my ideas—long-forgotten writing ideas for book plots and characters that I’d jotted down on the back of receipts and sticky notes.

I have a habit of doing this. If you came to my house, you would find more of the same random notes on my bedside table, my phone, my laptop and in the back of my agenda for work.

This system for organizing my writing ideas is about as effective as it sounds – chaotic and unreliable. My notes, if I even remember that I’ve made them, are never where I think they should be when I want them. In fact, right now I am leafing through my agenda in search of a bright yellow sticky note that had some great ideas on it for this blog post. Ah, actually found it—crumpled at the bottom of the bag I cart back and forth to work every day.

Clearly, I am in need of some sort of system to help organize my writing. 

I turned to my fellow Restless Writers to see how they keep track of their projects.

Maria wondered if a binder qualifies as a system—I say yes. In her binder Maria says she keeps hard copies organized according to the working title of the piece, including previous versions, all dated.  Beckie relies on file folders, storing notes and papers in folders, one for each writing project.

A quick Internet search tells me there is a myriad of stuff out there for people just like me. Programs like Evernote, Mindjet, and an eBook The Oraganized Writer that promises 30 days to more time, money and less frustration. There is even a mobile app Werdsmith, created for writers to help them keep track of ideas whenever inspiration strikes.

Do others have organizing systems they’d be willing to share? What works for you?

 

 

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Filed under Organization, Trials and Tribulations, Writing resources

It all starts with a spark

Spark in handWhen it comes to storytelling, I like to think of a quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland: ‘”Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”’

This approach to storytelling, however, doesn’t describe my writing process.  Most of the time, it’s a little spark of a concept, a bit of dialogue, or an irresistible image that gets my fingers flying over the keyboard.  If I can’t get the image or the idea out of my head, I know there’s more I need to do with it.

Once I have a handle on that tiny scrap of an idea, I can start working with it, tumbling it around in my head or on paper, drawing out the threads of the story. The characters, the setting, the plot—everything emerges from that one bright spot of inspiration.

I suppose my writing has always started with a spark—something that ignites the story and gives it the energy to move forward. Rarely does that spark kick the story off—and it’s hardly ever perfect. Sometimes it doesn’t even make it past the second edit. Its job is to act as the catalyst that gets me moving forward on the story.

American children’s book writer Beverly Cleary said it best: “I don’t necessarily start with the beginning of the book. I just start with the part of the story that’s most vivid in my imagination and work backward and forward from there.”

What about you? Does a spark ignite your writing? Or is your approach more planned and methodical?

Maria

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Call for Submissions: Short political fiction

Man Speaking Into MicrophonesThe Restless Writers are happy to post a call for submissions from editor Sandra McIntyre of Roseway Publishing (Nova Scotia and Manitoba).

The call is for short story submissions for an upcoming anthology of political fiction. Here are the criteria in brief:

  • 4,000 words maximum, no minimum length
  • Short graphic fiction welcome
  • Simultaneous and multiple submissions are okay
  • Submissions of previously published stories are okay
  • Canadian authors only
  • Payment of $100 for anthology rights (print and electronic rights)
  • Deadline: June 1, 2012

For more details about what is considered political fiction and for submission instructions, check out the full call for submissions on Sandra’s website: http://www.sandralit.com/

Happy writing!

Maria

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Five ways to start your own writing group—or crash one

Yes, this is our writing group...if Meryl Streep were a member.

The Restless Writers are often approached by people looking for a writing group to join. For the most part, these writers want what we’ve got—a kick-ass little troop that is supportive, energetic, thoughtful, caring, and hells-to-the-yeah fun.

Here’s what we tell these would-be Restless Writers about finding or starting a group of their own:

Dear [Would-be Restless Writer]:

The Restless Writers are a group of three women who get together in person on a semi-regular basis to share and critique pages, act as sounding boards for new ideas, kvetch about our husbands, and drink wine. We think we’re a collective hoot. We think we make each other better writers. 

We love meeting people like us who write and live and tear out their hair trying to do both well. However, we’re not really a formal writing group with rules and deadlines and firm meeting dates, which makes us irritating as hell if you’re looking for structure.

Trying to find a writing group can be like online dating, except with a greater chance of hooking up with sociopaths. You want to find people who have good writing skills, creativity, passion, joy, and intuition. Plus great hair and awesome personalities. We were lucky.

Here are five ways to find a writing group you can call your own:

1) Check out http://quick-brown-fox-canada.blogspot.com/ and subscribe to Brian Henry’s e-newsletter (and sign up for one of his workshops too if you’re in Ontario). You could place a call-out in his newsletter for writing peeps in your area. Note: This worked for us.

2) Make friends with an independent bookstore in your neighbourhood. We’re lucky to have A Different Drummer Books and Bryan Prince Bookseller close by, both with plenty of events throughout the year to enjoy and meet other writers at. Even the big-box booksellers have events.

3) Your local library is a great resource—attend a reading, enter a writing contest, or talk to a librarian to see if they know of a local group.

4) Keep an eye on your community newspaper for announcements about writing events. You may even find an article about a certain Restless Writer who was recently interviewed… (ahem, it’s Beckie! As soon as it’s online we’ll pressure her to post the link.).

5) Talk to people! You’ll never know if your co-worker’s husband’s best friend is a writer who’s also looking for a writing group…unless you ask. Shelve your shyness and mingle!

We wish you the best of luck at finding a super-supportive writing group that helps you be the best writer you can be.

Maria

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Filed under Group meetings, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Starting up

Plan the Work and Work the Plan (unless you can’t, in which case…whatever)

This past summer was one of the best for me and my family, full of relaxing days at the lake and fun adventures. Aside from one great week in July, I took a holiday from working on my manuscripts. Like Trish over at Word Bitches, I looked forward to getting back to my work in September, once my kids were in school. I’m now a week into my plan and things are going…not great.

Last year my daughter was in school for two mornings a week and I worked part-time from home, yet I managed to crank out a decent number of words in those six hours. She’s now gone every morning—which frees up 20 hours a week—plus I was laid off in August. In theory I should be writing non-stop. The reality is very different. Here’s how the first week of school mornings has gone down:

Day One
I went straight from the school drop-off straight to the hairdresser, reasoning that the glare of my grey roots on my monitor was too blinding for me to focus on the screen. Bought groceries on the way home (the Serb someone scarfed all of the lunch treats).

Day Two
The Serb is self-employed and I’m his de facto secretary. He informed me that he would be going to Europe for business in two days, leaving me to book his hotel (sold out), flight (ditto) and car (“Can you get me a Mercedes for under $80 a day?”). I do this because making his trip go smoothly increases my chances of getting something other than airport Toblerone for a present.

Day Three
A friend visiting from Australia could only see me on this particular morning. There may have been maple-flavoured Timbits involved. What am I…made of stone?

Day Four/Five
Weekend. On my own with the kids. Didn’t have time to shower, let alone write.

Day Six
The morning was spent cleaning up the aftermath of having both kids home on a rainy weekend. In addition, I bought more groceries (see also: stress eating).

Day Seven
I received a call that kitchen countertops we ordered a month ago were in and that I needed to buy a new sink/faucet before installation could take place. The morning was wasted at Home Depot, where I stared at a wall of chrome for 90 minutes.

Day Eight
I confirmed with a contractor dude that counters would be installed the following day. Spent the morning emptying all kitchen cupboards, then returned the sink/faucet bought the day before in search of something less…chromey.

Day Nine
My husband will be home tonight and until then, I’m dealing with this all day:

Oh well, tomorrow is another day, right? RIGHT?!?!?

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Only so many songs?

Monkey on a laptopHands up if you love you a little bit of early-90s Canadian punk rock! No, just me? Well, check out this tidbit: “Only so many songs can be sung with two lips, two lungs and one tongue.” I love Nomeansno, but on this point the brothers Wright and I must disagree.

Human beings have been singing their songs and telling their stories for eons. From the spoken word to the first papyrus-backs to today’s e-books, there have been millions upon millions of bits of fact and fiction, turned into content for readers to enjoy, disagree with, cry over, burn and ignore.

It’s a never-ending stream of books, articles, songs, speeches, poems, graphic novels, plays, blog posts and tweets. And we never get tired of it.

Will that stream ever dry up? Will there ever be a time when there are no more stories to tell? Definitely not (although that itself would make a great story). Yes, the themes of human life—love, death, spirituality, growth, forgiveness, existence—these are common to all of us. But our own stories…well, those are as unique as DNA. And that’s what other people want to hear.

If you’re like me, you get a dozen ideas a day. Each one of those ideas has the potential to be exceptional, because you’re the only one who can write it.

By all means, read as much as you can and research your genre and the market. You might want to consider tweaking that sparkly-vampire love story you thought was so amazing, or the friends-with-benefits rom-com you thought was so daring. But never think that just because someone’s written something similar to your idea that you can’t put your unique spin on it.

According to the infinite monkey theorem, given enough time, a monkey hitting the keys of a typewriter at random will write the entire works of Shakespeare. But there is nothing random about a writer’s voice. Applied with intention, your creativity and individual perspective can write a story that no-one else can.

Only so many stories? Don’t you believe it for one second.

Maria

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Tax Tips for Writers

“Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors…and miss.” Robert Heinlein

Help with taxes please!It’s tax season, and for me that always means the necessary frustration of figuring out what I owe the government on my freelance earnings. (I make enough to have to pay them something, but not enough that I can pay them quarterly throughout the year. Go figure.)

Doing my taxes is made even more interesting because my mother is my accountant. I thank her for her help when I can’t figure out what a capital cost allowance is, and bite my tongue when she chides me for spending so much on reference books.

As a freelancer with a day job and some surprisingly complicated tax scenarios, I’d like to share some key lessons I have learned when it comes to doing my taxes. (Keep in mind, these are my experiences only! Get advice from your accountant or tax preparer, or visit the Canada Revenue Agency website. I am certainly no expert.)

  • DO claim your office chair. DO NOT claim your cat’s basket just because it happens to be in your home office and your cat is your muse.
  • DO keep track of your costs from that writing conference out west. DO NOT think that you can claim the in-room massage you splurged on the first night.
  • DO consider how much of your home is dedicated to your professional activities and for what portion of the day. DO NOT say your whole house is your office just because you write in the kitchen, laundry room or TV room, depending on your mood or where the fridge is.
  • DO calculate how much of the costs of your new hardwood floor can be allocated to your home office. DO NOT assume that your accountant will agree with claiming the cost of your mammoth new walk-in closet because your “work clothes” live there.
  • DO realize that doing your taxes takes a bit of brain power and elbow grease. DO NOT giggle and say “Oh, I’m no good with math,” so your nebbishly cute tax preparer will give you a break.
  • DO file on time and as accurately as possible. DO NOT assume that because you’re not bringing in a big freelance income the feds won’t audit you. The Canada Revenue Agency likes to take a closer look at the self-employed.

I’d love to hear some more tax-related “lessons learned” from our fellow restless writers.

Maria

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Filed under Life and stuff, Trials and Tribulations

Taking a Vacation from Myself

I spent last week in a drunken stupor with my family and some friends in a rented condo on Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. It was away from the touristy all-inclusives and my kids were thrilled to spend every day in the pool (fun fact: I totally could’ve taken them to the Hilton in my hometown for a week and saved a few bucks). My point being, I had some free time on my hands.

I expected to make progress on outlining my current WIP, but had zero interest in pursuing it. I’d scheduled some prewritten blog posts and even managed to scribble some off-the-cuff blog entries, but those were done in under ten minutes while my kids showered. It wasn’t writing as much as a public e-postcard.

For the first few days I was like an antsy college student the week after school ends, when your brain won’t turn off and you feel guilty for not studying or finishing a paper. Although I had my journal with me at all times should the muse strike, a funny thing happened: it didn’t. At all.

Instead I read a ten-year-old John Grisham novel I found in the nightstand.

It’s not like I was too relaxed to write – too drunk maybe, but only after five o’clock (p.m.) – I think my brain just needed a break. From me.

I’m back now and it’s not like I’m suddenly invigorated with dozens of new ideas. I’m not even that relaxed (anyone who has kids or watches Modern Family knows how stressful vacations can be…for the moms, anyway). But it was nice to get out of my head, put the iPhone away and stop tweeting for a few days. Focusing on other things (i.e. does a Mojito taste the same with Splenda?) may be just what I needed to re-focus on my writing.

What about you? Does getting away help you connect with the muse? Tell us all about it…

LD

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Filed under Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation