Where are you headed?

I’m on a five month road trip around Australia. As fabulous as this is, it comes with many challenges. Often these challenges remind me of the writing life:

  • No matter how carefully you plan where you’re going, you don’t always end up where you expected. Planning is important but accept there will be delays and detours.

  • A lot of time may be spent searching for things that don’t appear. You may climb many steps, walk many trails, without seeing a platypus or quokka. Then a huge flock of endangered white-tailed black cockatoos bursts from the forest. That’s when you realize some unproductive hours have led to this one brilliant moment. Be patient with the process. Don’t stop looking because the first effort didn’t work.

  • The idea of undertaking a huge adventure may seem wonderful at first but there will be moments of doubt. Some days you may even want to quit. Take the adventure one day at a time.

  • Other people may have been where you’re going before you. Ask for advice. Other people can save you a lot of time and disappointment. They also can send you in the wrong direction. Be a discerning listener. Sometimes the voices you hear aren’t the ones to listen to.

  • Sometimes it’s the same thing over and over again. Drive. Unpack. Pack. Drive. The monotony of one day paves the way for great discoveries the next.

  • The journey is not intuitive. You get better at it the more you do it. Practice improves the process.

What have you learned from your latest trip, be it across a continent or across a manuscript?

Photo from Wikimedia: a female, long-billed, black cockatoo (aka Baudin’s Black Cockatoo) at Margaret River, Western Australia by Snowmanradio

Second photo: the road from Pardoo Station Western Australia by Maggie Bolitho



Enter, stage left.

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 

Lost in the words?

A marine inversion layer covered Vancouver in a blanket of fog for much of October. When I rode the SeaBus from Lonsdale Quay to Waterfront Station last week I couldn’t see six feet beyond the windows. That felt a bit like writing a novel:

  • I couldn’t see where I was going. 
  • I couldn’t be certain of reaching my hoped-for destination
  • There was a sense of being suspended in time and space with a cast of unknown characters  
  • The short commuter ride into the gloom was both frightening and exhilarating.

Word count: 433                                                                               Reading time: 1-2 minutes

Over the years I’ve collected some tools and practises that help me navigate past the obstacles that threaten the direction of my work:

  • Free writing. Ten minutes minimum. Don’t lift the pen from the page. Just keep going. Great prompts for free writing exercises can be found here, Sarah Selecky and here, Writers Write Daily Writing Prompt.
  • Copy type. I pull out work by a respected author and let his or her words flow through me. Ten minutes minimum.
  • Don’t worry about the big picture: look at what is in front of the bow. Write that one small scene. The next day, write another one.
  • Get on a bus. Go to a coffee shop. Listen, smell, taste, and feel. Give the brain a holiday from the screen.
  • Turn off the ruthless self-editor. Accept permission to write something truly dreadful. After that, there is no way but up.
  • Read a good craft book. There are tried and proven ways to improve writing; skills can be sharpened, new techniques can be tried.  
  • Go for a walk, a run or a bike ride. Do something to wake the body up.
  • Share the work. On Questions Tuesday recently John Green said Curiosity is not the most important human trait. The urge to collaborate is. A second or third set of eyes are often the ones that find a critical weak spot and help a story shine.
  • Read the work aloud. From Neil Gaiman’s acknowledgments at the end of his book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane: As this book entered its second draft, as I was typing out my handwritten first draft, I would read the day’s work to my wife, Amanda, at night in bed, and I learned more about the words I’d written when reading them aloud to her than I ever have learned about anything I’ve done.  

What methods do you have for finding light in the darkness? How do you keep your bearings when the path ahead is unknown?

 ***

 Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Burrard Street Bridge & Fog, DougVancouver

Critical mess

Word count: 394            Reading time: 1-2 mins.

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft said HG Wells. I wish I’d known that quote when I sent my first short story to a competition. It was rated Highly Commended and one of the judges asked me if I’d like some help polishing it. Without so much as a by-your-leave, she rewrote it and read her version to the audience on the awards night. Her rewrite wasn’t wrong; it was just different. It wasn’t my voice.

Do-not-rewrite-someone-else’s-work was my first lesson in editing. Here are a few more I’ve picked up since:

  1. It takes courage to share your work; make sure the person who sees it is worthy of your trust.
  2. A good writing partner pinpoints the areas that might benefit with revision. She never replaces your words with hers but suggests solutions to problem areas.
  3. A constructive editor encourages your strengths. Note: I’ve paid for professional reviews where the readers seemed totally unfamiliar with classical thinking like: correction does much, but encouragement does more (Goethe). If you have to ask questions - like what parts worked better than others - it’s time to find someone else to help you.
  4. The more you study and learn about writing, the better your writing gets and the more you have to offer as a writing partner and editor.
  5. Some people want intensive feedback; others only want their typos caught. Remember Somerset Maugham’s words: [some] people ask for criticism but they only want praise. If you’re committed to doing a meaningful review, the latter will waste your time.  
  6. You don’t have to take onboard everyone’s suggestions but it doesn’t hurt to listen. You’re the creator; you decide whose opinions are most relevant.
  7. Still, even when you think you’ve absolutely nailed something, be receptive to the fact that it could be better.

Once books are published and hit the public domain, imperfect strangers emerge from the woodwork to criticize them. Until then, we can select readers who help us strengthen our voices, not drown them.

What are your expectations from an editor or writing partner? Is there something else you hope for that I haven’t listed? Do you use other writers, professional editors, or good friends - or a combination of all three - to help you improve?

***

Artwork by: Tom Morris via Wiki Commons

Magic Time

Word count: 478                  Reading time: 2 minutes

5:00 PM on Halloween afternoon I looked at the two pumpkins sitting on the kitchen counter. Should we bother to carve them? The weather was foul, not Hurricane-Sandy foul, but heavy-rain-warning-in-the-Pacific-rainforest foul. And rain it did. The downpour drowned the stereo and pounded loudly enough to suspend conversation. No trick or treaters were going to come out in this mess.

But still. Miss this holiday and it would be gone forever. So we rolled up our sleeves. When we were done, we set the two jack-o-lanterns on the front steps. Twenty minutes later our first and only callers of the night arrived: three young girls in garbage can costumes with big plastic lids for hats. I admired their tenacity and determination to celebrate one of the most fun holidays of the year. I also knew that two shining lanterns had drawn the kids to our house.

The next morning, November 1, marked the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I thought of many reasons not to participate this year:

  • I only have a story idea. It’s not fleshed out. There is no timeline or well-defined story arc. It’s just a fragment.
  • NaNo is hard. It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice even to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It means saying no to many things. Christmas fairs start in November. And I love Christmas fairs.
  • All I’ll have at the end of will be a SFD, the start of a work, not a finished product.
  • I can’t do it. It’s just not possible.

All of this, of course, is ridiculous. I’ve done NaNo for the past two years. It is a productive, intense experience. So many reasons to participate:

  • All stories start with a single idea; they have to be told to find out where they are going. NaNo is the chance to capture what Anne Lamott calls the ‘down draft’, the getting down of the story. The ‘up draft’ – when the story is fixed up – comes later.
  • Anything worth having is usually hard work and normally involves sacrifice.
  • At the end of the process I’ll have another SFD, the important starting point for another novel.
  • I can do it. I’ve done it twice before. In fact, my 2010 NaNo novel is currently under contract to Great Plains Publications. There are lots of published NaNo books.

Like Halloween, NaNoWriMo only comes once a year. A thirty day commitment isn’t forever. And if I miss it this year, I’ll have to wait twelve months to participate again. If I roll up my sleeves and finish a glowing jack-o-lantern for the front porch, who knows what fun characters might show up at the door.

How do you keep moving forward even when your psyche throws up the stop signs? How do you keep the prize of finished work in clear view?

***

Photo by: Alan Bolitho, LM

 

Jump!

 

Word count: 361                     Reading time: 1-2 minutes

Kingsley Amis said of Dylan Thomas: “A pernicious figure, one who has helped to get Wales and Welsh poetry a bad name…and done lasting harm to both.”

Paul Theroux reviewed Erica Jong’s novel Fear of Flying in a similar tone: “This crappy novel, misusing vulgarity to the point where it becomes purely foolish, picturing women as a hapless organ animated by the simplest ridicule, and devaluing imagination in every line…represents everything that is to be loathed in American fiction today.”

That’s the thing about writing – no matter how good you are, someone will disapprove and will not mind broadcasting their contempt. It’s very much a leap of faith to work and hope that someone, some day, somewhere, will eventually value what has taken you months or years to produce. 

When you decide to write, you have to grow a thick hide so that people’s thoughtless comments don’t stop you in your tracks. I gave one of my first short stories to an online critique group and an American writer replied, in clearly challenging tones, that he’d never heard of the bird called a crimson rosella. Because that one detail was inauthentic to him, he took it as grounds to tear apart the rest of the work. I shrank at his criticism – for a little while. Then I quit the group and continued writing for the benefit of one close friend and my darling husband. Nervously I sent the next two stories to a competition where they received minor awards. The point is, if I hadn’t been resilient and just a little bit brave, I might have stopped writing altogether.

Imagine if Dylan Thomas had let Amis’s criticism stop him or if Jong had tossed writing because of Theroux’s fine sensibilities. Maybe you’re the next literary sensation but how will you know if you don’t just jump in and do it?  And keep doing it…

Soren Kierkegaard said, “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose one’s life.”

Do unkind comments from any of your early readers haunt you still? What helps you dare to continue?

***

Photos by: Oleg Kozlov (above) & Kafusfoto

On your mark....

Word Count: 398                                  Reading time: 1-2 mins.

Australian swimmer Leisel Jones has collected a sack of Olympic medals since she first competed in Sydney in 2000: 3 gold, 4 silver, and 1 bronze. Not satisfied with that outstanding record the Herald Sun newspaper attacked her this year because of her body size. How much does a person have to give before it’s enough?

When I think of Olympic athletes, I think of how young they have to start, how early someone has to recognize their talent and start grooming them for a prize way down the road. I envision all the dark mornings when parents get up and chauffeur them (if they are lucky enough to have a car) to far away venues. I imagine all the holidays that focus on sporting competitions. The costs must be off the scale and family sacrifices immeasurable, like those of Chinese diver Wu Minxia who rarely speaks to her parents so her training won’t be disrupted by potentially disturbing news.

All that perseverance for a few weeks in the sun, once every four years if an athlete is lucky enough to qualify for more than one Olympic meet. And if they are off their form at any point in the qualifying rounds, they may never even hear the starting pistol; they’re finished before they’re out of the gate. Injuries may end their careers permanently.

So if you train and train and never make it beyond the city championships, has all that effort gone to waste? Not really; the habits of hard work, endurance, and courage last a lifetime.

Writing also demands hard work, endurance and courage. Katherine Anne Porter called courage the “first essential for a writer”; it’s essential if we’re ever going to be true to our stories and our characters. Getting a novel to reader-ready status demands both hard work and perseverance. In the end, if we are lucky, we might achieve moderate success, maybe the equivalent of a win at a city championship: a publication and good sales. And, unlike Leisel Jones, even the greatest among us will never have their pictures splashed the front page of the paper, questioning whether they are fit enough to compete in the frantic world of publishing.

What type of writing athlete are you? When you’ve had a bad day writing do you put your losses behind you and jump back into the pool, ready for the next heat?

***

Photo by: Epicstock

Make No Mistake

                                                           

 Word count: 248          Reading time: 1 minute

To enter the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, it’s necessary to bow to pass through the Door of Humility. As a writer who seriously wants to get better, I’m developing a supple spine from bending through that door often. I’ve had a lot of practical lessons in writing and the most valuable have not been from seminars or courses; the greatest improvements have come from critiques.

 To be truthful, the opportunity for improvement isn’t apparent right away. First there’s disbelief that what I wrote wasn’t perfect. Next there might a dark hour or so of resentment when I think that the reader doesn’t appreciate my cleverness. Finally I slip through the door and see that the feedback is more than well-intended, it’s enormously helpful.

Humility makes us accessible to learning, to new ideas. Unlike insecurity which whispers that nothing we ever do will be good enough, or vanity that blinds us to other suggestions, humility reminds us that there is work to be done and alternate ways of doing it. When a manuscript comes back covered in notes, I try to remember the words of Alexander Pope No one should be ashamed to admit they are wrong,  […], that they are wiser today than they were yesterday. I’m a much wiser writer today than a year ago, which is to say I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

How is your writing caper going? Are you bowing through the Door of Humility as you progress?

 ***

Photo by: Renewer

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Word count: 437                                                           Reading time: 1-2 minutes 

How to get a book deal:

  • write a novel
  • give it to a few friends to read
  • revise accordingly
  • send a submission to an agent or publisher
  • sign the contract.

That’s how it works for some authors and there is an entire chapter devoted to them in the book Life’s Not Fair. If you google “how to get a book deal” (over a billion hits) you’ll quickly realize how elusive a contract can be.

Four weeks ago, on a cold, grey morning that was more like January than June, my phone rang as I was coming out of the dentist. When Anita Daher said that Great Plains Publications wanted to offer me a contract on my most recently-completed YA novel (tentatively titled Lockdown), I looked up at the cloud-shrouded mountains and decided that the weather had never been finer. Two nail-biting weeks later a soft copy of the contract arrived and there was my name, Maggie Bolitho, hereinafter called the Author.

 Last week, more thrilling still, the hard copy of the contract arrived. After another read, front-to-back, I signed page 8 and returned it. Scheduled release date for the book: Spring 2014.

I wrote the SFD of Lockdown just over 18 months ago (NaNoWritMo 2010). Unlike the lucky authors who hit their stride right out of the gate, it’s taken a while for me to get this manuscript ready for prime time. My warm-up included three or four dozen short stories, two other YA novels, two adult novels, and I even experimented with futuristic Sci Fi (the less said bout that, the better). When my energy stalled, I took courses and joined online and R/L groups. I paired up with a tireless writing partner who is both forthright with her insightful critiques as well as encouraging. For over a year I worked with writing coach, Bruce McAllister, who helped me polish my work and hone my query letter to the point where it finally became market-ready. I’ve scaled stout walls over the past few years. 

So now I’m at the next bend in the road and I can see a few hurdles ahead. I’m primed and ready. I’ve been preparing for this part of the adventure for a few years now.

Where are you in your writer’s journey? Are you laying track and looking forward to pulling the entire novel together? Are you finished and revising, getting as much feedback as you can before you submit the work to the market? Or are you in the arduous process called submission, waiting for your phone call?

Maggie Bolitho, Author

 

The jury is out

Word count: 300                                 Reading time: 1-2 mins.

This spring, after years of avoiding it, I went to an open mike night. As I read the first poem I had written since high school, I clamped my hands together so they wouldn’t telegraph my nervousness. After that, I was invited to join Word Whips, a group led by the amazing poet Fran Bourassa. The challenge there was even greater: not only do writers read work aloud, they compose it on the spot.

“Speak only the truth even if your voice shakes,” sang The Blackout in Keep On Moving. That could easily be the motto of Word Whips as Fran’s free-writing exercises trigger deep emotional responses. Group members write powerful, often exquisite, pieces in five and ten minute sprints. In my inaugural session, both inspired and intimidated by the talent around me, I wrote a bitter poem to someone who once betrayed me. My voice quavered as I read it. When I finished, several people laughed, one even applauded. In being truthful, I had touched a universal chord.

No fear, no envy, no meanness Liam Clancy advised the young Bob Dylan in their early days in Greenwich Village[1]. There is so much to be learned from other artists, I have overcome my fear and envy and returned to Word Whips every month. When there, I remind myself it isn’t a critique group; it’s a sharing exercise, the chance to stretch artistic muscles. No fault-finding, no blame. The only thing anyone is guilty of is the desire to improve.

What are your experiences with reading your work aloud? Do you do it only in the privacy of your own home? Or have you taken the most difficult challenge and stormed through the barrier of your first public reading? Do you ever read out loud to anyone?

***

Photo by: Kenny1


[1] No Direction Home

Stick-to-it-ness

 Word count: 286                    Reading time: 1-2 mins.

This past week we took a brief road trip to the Shuswap and Okanagan areas of BC to visit friends. We drove there on the old roads, the roads that have since been superseded by more direct routes forged by superior engineering. On the way home we switched to the Trans-Canada Highway, Route One, that winds along the Fraser Canyon. The often harsh landscape and the wild waters of the Fraser River reminded me, once again, of the determination of early explorers as they mapped the New World. I tried to imagine the perseverance those men mustered everyday as they woke to face new challenges, be it lack of food, inclement weather, hostile environments or (rightly) suspicious indigenous people.

That got me thinking, yet again, about perseverance as a writer. How hard should it be to keep at this endeavour, even in the face of chaos in the publishing world? Randy Pausch had it right in his Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon University when he said, “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” (By the way if you have an hour to spare and need some inspiration, this lecture is worth watching.)

So where are you with your writing? Are you at the top of the canyon frozen with inaction as the white water churns below and the storm clouds gather above? Or are you heeding the words of Randy Pausch, determined to scale that brick wall?

 

***

Photo by: Timothy Epp 

Do you think it's sexy?

Word count: 326                               Reading time: 1-2 mins

In her blog Discover Your Inner Geisha Leslie Downer advises that the kimono should be worn low at the back, to reveal the nape of the neck. Because almost every other part of a woman’s body was concealed, the nape of the neck was held in high regard in the Japanese culture. In this portrait, Powdering the Neck, by Utamaro the poem in the upper left corner compares the graceful line of the courtesan’s neck, her hairpin and her white powdered face to snowy, moonlit landscape[1].  It’s an erotic work from a pre-eminent artist of the Ukiyo-e movement.

Years ago I scuba dived with a guy who always walked behind me as I clambered up the beach with my tonnage of gear. We dived together in spring and summer and I invariably wore clunky European sandals because they were like 4WD at the end of my legs. On our last dive together my buddy confided he had a foot fetish and I had a particularly good pair. Shortly after that we went our separate ways but the foot fetish comment stayed with me for a long time. For one thing it made me realize how varied sexual preferences can be.

Then along came E L James and her admitted mid-life crisis which she turned into the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. It’s billed as erotic romance. I’ve also heard it called bad writing with lots of excellent pornography. Maybe this fetish-based literature is just the 21st century equivalent of the nape of the neck, one of the last few taboos that remained, and has now been revealed to mainstream readers.

If your work involves characters over the age of thirteen, you probably need to know something about their sexuality. How do you know if your character has a nape-of-the- neck tastes or salivates at the sight of certain body piercings? Does he or she have a chest in their bedroom full of ropes and riding crops?

 

Print: Utamaro

 


[1] Wendy Shore, Ukiyo-E, (Shorewood Fine Art Books 1980)

How do you know? When do you know?

 

Word count: 248                                   Reading time: 1 minute 

How did best-selling writer Jodi Picoult know that she was a good writer? Okay there were those degrees from Princeton and Harvard, along with the sales of two short stories to Seventeen magazine while still in college. All of that probably persuaded her she knew something about the world of fiction. Still the question is: after she’d received one hundred rejections of her first manuscript, what made her keep trying?

It’s hard for an emerging writer to stay confident when working in isolation with only a select few friends and even fewer relatives (if any!) to offer encouragement. Low moments have crept into my life and made me consider giving up writing altogether. However, I can’t do that because my head will explode if all these stories and characters aren’t released.

So I’ve searched for methods that might help me determine if I have the stuff of a true writer. I scored high on Caro Clarke’s Am I Really a Writer test. Pamela Redmond Satran offers some reasons that a person might quit here and Adam Heine adds more to the list. I’ve considered all of their arguments but none of them have persuaded me to throw in the towel. Then there’s that exploding head problem after all.

Without encouragement, without a note of music to play for your family, without a dance step to show them or splashy canvas to wow them, how do you keep moving forward? How do you stay motivated in this solitary endeavour?

***

Photo by: Juliasha

Finding the Santa Within

Word count: 274                        Reading time: 1 min.

By the time I was seven years old, my mother’s interest in being a homemaker and nurturer of children was fairly exhausted. When Christmas rolled around there was only one way I would see Santa Claus and that was if I took myself. So I boarded the bus to town, rode the escalator to the fourth floor of Eaton’s and whispered my secret wishes into the ear of a complete stranger.

I left Santa’s kingdom with free candy and an enormous sense of self-reliance. That early sense of assurance has helped me in and out of many situations since, but none less than my efforts as a writer.

Successful writing demands independent thought and a significant level of self confidence. In the words of Sylvia Plath: “Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

I jumped into creative writing with absolutely no training and a vague hope of entertaining family and friends. When I submitted my first short story to a competition in Australia and it received a Commended award, it inspired me to write more.

Since then I’ve tried to associate with positive-minded people. After all, as Vince Lombardi said, “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” I’m on that bus to see Santa Claus and no one is going to persuade me I shouldn’t be there. I’m independent enough to believe I belong and I’m grateful to have met encouraging people along the way.

What made you get on the bus? Does your self-reliance and confidence increase the more you write?

***

Photo of Santa Ross by Greg Johnson  

Take a deep breath

                                    

Word count: 285                             Reading time: 1-2 mins.

No man is an island entire of itself wrote John Donne. The advice-to-writers’ take on that quote is: if you want to succeed you must join a writers’ group. This advice pops up frequently and, for all the benefits group membership promises, there is a potentially disastrous downside: the destruction of your work.

I have seen a writer leave a meeting early, only to have another member of the group turn to the rest and say with a sneer, “Who’s going to want to read something like that?”

I sat speechless and wondered, “Is that how my prose will be discussed when I am out of earshot?”

Likewise I have had fiction shredded by members of an online group who felt that anyone else’s success detracted from theirs. I left that group quickly and didn’t bother to report back when the two much-criticized stories won awards.

Julia Cameron in her book The Writer’s Life says, “I have seen more good writing destroyed by bad criticism than I have ever seen bad writing helped by good criticism.”

Anyone who’s ever had the best from a writing group – support, companionship, and encouragement – may not understand the damage a bad group wreaks. Anyone who joins a group needs to proceed cautiously and remember the words of E.B. White A writer’s courage can easily fail him…I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.

I agree writing does take courage but sharing it takes even more. How do you avoid feeling stranded at the edge of the world with your work? Do you share with a group or only let a few select readers have a look?

***

Illustration by Harmsen Van der Beek

Don't Look Back

 Word count: 297                                Reading time: 2 mins

Years ago my friend Valerio, who was a bit of a petrolhead, used to joke, “I don’t need a rear view mirror because it doesn’t matter who’s behind me.”

 When I write, I look back often to see how I arrived at where I am. Sometimes this is a pitfall that stops me from advancing the story. Maybe that’s why other writers, probably all of whom finish NaNoWriMo in five days, don’t touch their work until it has reached SFD status.  

 Editing is just another part of writing so it’s a non-issue, right? Maybe not. Some people will revise a scene five or ten times while major parts of the book hang like a giant blank canvas. Editing allows them to avoid the steep hills in the road: advancing the story, pulling together the threads of the plot, and developing a compelling denouement.

Still I can’t imagine starting the next part of a novel without reading some of what I wrote the day before. This practice invariably sparks some tinkering and often proves that editing, when done properly, can take more effort than writing. When my rolling revisions stop the work dead, I know it’s time to consider ways to start it again.

At the 2010 Surrey International Writers’ Conference, the marvellous performance artist Ivan Coyote led a session called Writing Boot Camp for Procrastinators. One of her suggestions was to either cover the screen as you type or to change the font colour to white so you can’t actually see what you’re laying down. Her point was that creative potential shines strongest when it’s unfettered, particularly when it's unfiltered by fear.

Do you throw away your rear view mirror and ignore what you’ve already done? How do you push through to the end of your story?

***

Photo: Drew Hadley

Getting there (I hope)

Word count: 252               Reading time: 1-2 mins.

“How long does getting thin take?” asked Pooh anxiously. He’s stuck in the door of Rabbit’s house and wants to be free.

I’m suspended in the land of commercially unpublished authors and I want to be free of this place. How long does getting published take? How long should it take?

 In the book Outliers Malcolm Gladwell asserts that acquiring greatness demands a huge investment of time, about 10,000 hours. Okay maybe I can’t aspire to greatness but I do want to create the very best fiction I can. Perhaps my apprenticeship isn’t complete yet.

Gladwell also points out that success "is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky.” Maybe 2012 will be the year when the planets will align in my favour.

When I am discouraged at how long the getting-published process takes, I search for perspective. The Crime Fiction Blog has a list of ironically-named overnight success stories that can take the edge off an emerging writer’s anxiety. Another source of comfort is reading rejection letters that were sent to famous authors. In the meantime I remind myself of Robert Heinlein's fifth rule of writing: keep it on the market until it is sold.

So I look to the shiny New Year with fresh hope and determination. Something’s got to give.

All you struggling apprentices out there, are you in it for the long haul? How do you handle those bruising rejection letters? 

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Artwork: E.H. Shepard