I understand why people live with peeling wallpaper and ancient kitchens with drawers that jam and stick. It takes courage to venture beyond the planning stage. Once a renovation starts, there is no turning back. The old bathroom gets ripped out, but what looked good on paper may not proceed according to plan. Electricians, plumbers, and builders come into the mix. They each have an opinion and they often contradict each other. Maybe it’s easier to live with the crack in the bathtub and the toilet that flushes away 13 litres / 4 gallons of potable water with each use.
Word count: 327 Reading time: 1-2 minutes
Is an unknown result the reason some people fail to finish the big artistic projects they start? How many outlines of stories have I scribbled into my notebooks over the years? I love that playful stage. So I write the first scene. It’s satisfying to see the characters come to life, say and do things exactly the way I expected.
Deep into a manuscript, I often find that a story is not unfolding the way I expected. The electrician arrives on the scene and says that my protagonist has no spark. No one is getting a charge from her. The plumber informs me that my throughline is jammed and needs to be reworked. I need to rip out half of what I’ve written.
Sometimes the weaknesses are beyond repair. Better tear the old house down and salvage the parts. Other times I just need to pull out the rotted wall and replace it with something more substantial. The urge to destroy is also a creative urge according to Picasso. So really, when unexpected obstacles pop up in the narrative, isn’t that the time to muster the creative courage and smash what needs fixing?
Do you avoid writing your great novel because you know hard it’s going to be? Or do you have the perseverance to get through the project, so you lay out your blueprint and get started?
Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Bedroom and sitting room of the White House during the Renovation 2/27/1650 by Abbie Rowe from the US National Archives & Records Administration
In early February this year, three of us North Vancouver writers drove halfway to the US to see Ivan Coyote at the Semiahoo Library. “The stage is a sacred place,” she said in her presentation Talking the Talk. Ivan emphasized that writers who are invited to participate in public readings or launches should treat the event with respect. They should work as hard preparing for public readings as they did writing the material in the first place.
Word count 425 Reading time: 2 minutes
This spring my novel Lockdown will be launched. That means for the first time, I’m going to have to read this work in public. That thought terrifies and excites me. Pain is so closely linked to pleasure after all.
Thank you, Ivan, for the wisdom, humour, and experience you shared that night. For those of you who may never have the opportunity to hear this wonderful speaker, here are some of her points:
- Foundation rule: who are you on stage for? Choose material with your audience in mind.
- Listen to other performers who are sharing your stage—and reference them.
- Watch other authors reading and learn from them. (Hint: google spoken word artists and open mic events).
- If you are reading from a book, let the audience see it.
- If you are reading from your own copy, print the material in a large enough font that is easy to read.
- Read the material aloud before you stand in front of the crowd. And practice practice practice it—at least twenty times beforehand.
- Think of your piece as ascending a 15 story building. Pace your reading so there are landings—pauses that allow your listener to absorb the material.
- The length of your pieces should be timed to fill about 85% of your time slot. See previous comment about landings.
- Arrive early and check the facility out. Introduce yourself to the sound people and event managers. Try to remember names.
- Don’t go on stage starving, after drinking carbonated beverages, dehydrated, or after a big meal.
- Most importantly, bring your best self to the stage. Don’t trash anyone or complain.
Still, I think the book launch will be a challenge for someone like me who avoids the spotlight. But it’s an essential part of the writing caper so I’ll set a date, put on my extrovert disguise, and take the leap.
What are your experiences with public readings? Is there something else that prepares a person for the first time (or the tenth) that they read their work in public?
Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Sarah Bernhardt performs as Sorceress, Library of Congress
When our house sold in February, it had only been on the market for a few days. The buyers wanted possession in three and a half weeks. My husband and I had anticipated the usual sixty to ninety days to ease ourselves out of our North Vancouver lives. However, we are nothing if not adaptable. A bird in the hand and all that. We went into overdrive, and last week packed up a trailer and said good-bye to the house on the hill.
Word count: 335 Reading time: 1-2 minutes
For the next few months, we will live out of the suitcases and few boxes we brought with us. Our new place is in its original thirty-year-old condition and needs many upgrades. We’ve rented a tiny apartment a ten minute drive away. Empty and bare, our home waits for the contractor to start ripping out walls and tearing up the stained carpets. The ordered, relatively predictable life I had in November has vanished into the ether.
To add spice to the mix, my novel Lockdown is ready for release. I have been given a budget by my publisher, Great Plains Publishing, and must start planning my first book launch. Next week I travel back to Vancouver to lead the March session of the Young Writers’ Club.
Recently I read this Nietzsche quote: You must have chaos to give birth to a dancing star. I have adopted it as my personal mantra. From all this upheaval some good writing will surely be born.
What is writing if it isn’t chaos anyway? Still, for two weeks I’ve barely written a word. Now I am shaking myself out of my stupor. It’s time to retreat to writing when everything gets a little crazy. For one thing, it’s much cheaper than therapy. Writing is one place where I can create a world that makes sense, at least to me. It’s a place to escape the turmoil of building codes and construction.
When your world gets turned upside down do you capture the madness in your writing? Or do you step away and wait for things to settle before you start the next chapter?
Photo from dreamstime by: Stuart Miles
Fog rolled around the cold acres of the Tsawwassen terminal. Two thin lines of cars and trucks waited for a ferry that costs thousands of dollars an hour to run.
In the toilet stalls in the women’s washroom, a conversation bounced off the shiny tiled walls, like ricocheting bullets:
“He’s really mature for his age.”
“I know but he still gets on my nerves.”
“I think he’s a nice boy.”
“He’s driving me crazy. He wants things his way all the time.”
“I could take him off your hands if you want.”
“I really like him. I could get him moving nicely.”
Silence from the nearest stall.
“You know...if you didn’t mind. I bet I could get him to stand still for brushing.”
“Cool. And that would give me more time to work with Esme.”
When I emerged to wash my hands two young women stood at the sinks, dressed in the winter uniform of horse riders everywhere: waterproof jodhpurs, fleece vests, and muddy, knee-high boots.
As soon as I got back to the car, I wrote up the earjacked conversation in my notebook. Thus one writing task for the day drew to a close, proving once again how important it is for a writer to always carry a notebook, and to keep her ears and eyes open.
Where have found gems like this? Did you seek them out or were you simply a prepared opportunist?