What lies ahead?

Perseverance of a decapitated tree by Wing Chi Poon

Nobody told me there’d be days like this sang John Lennon. When I looked at what lies ahead of me this week, I was reminded, once again, how little I knew about the publishing industry when I started. Here’s a mud map of what may be necessary, after you’ve polished your novel and got it fit for general consumption:

1. Master the art of writing a query letter, which is infinitely more difficult than writing the book itself. Writer’s Digest offers Ten Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter. Janet Reid’s Query Shark site gives examples of what turns agents off in actual submissions. Then there’s the whole question of whether you should seek an agent or go directly to a publishing house. Di Bates has a good discussion of Literary Agents on her site Writing for Children. One thing is certain, unless you intend to self publish, your query letter will open or close doors for you.

Word count: 474                                                                             Reading time: 1-2 minutes

2. Develop a web presence. Or should you? There’s a question for a search engine! It seems logical that if you want people to be interested in your work, it’s probably best if they can find you. It is sometimes suggested that this step should precede step 1, that agents and publishers are people too.

3. Familiarize yourself with the basics of contract law, or at least develop the tenacity to wade through legal documents. Even if you self publish you need to understand what to expect under the T&C’s (terms and conditions) of your contract.

4. Prepare yourself for editorial input. Allow time for more revision.

5. Before the book is published, assemble a press kit and gear up for what Jill Corcoran calls Book Marketing and Sell-Through.

6. Be prepared for a book launch or even a book tour. Start researching these events well before your launch date. If your publisher doesn't support these events, look for inexpensive ways of hosting your own.

7. Investigate the possibility of a blog tour which is a less physical way of creating buzz for your work but also very time consuming.

8. Between all this – start working on your next novel because if people like your voice, they’ll want more and you’ll want to deliver.

I’m on step four of this list and the road ahead looks exhilarating, to say the least. No one told me it would be so demanding at the outset but I would have soldiered on even if they had. I’m nothing if not perseverant. I’ve had setbacks and false hopes but I keep Winston Churchill’s advice – never never never give up – close to my heart.

What part of the writing journey has surprised you the most? Have you encountered obstacles that you just didn’t anticipate when you started the deceptively simple ambition of telling a story that was burning in your head?


Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Keep on shovelling

Word count: 442               Reading time: 1-2 minutes

Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing to do is shovel shit from a sitting position.Stephen King.

This year, like the other years I’ve done NaNoWriMo, the feeling that King described has haunted me on a regular basis. There are times when my story seems mired in cliché and dead ends and I’m tempted to throw it in and work on something else. Then I remind myself of Neil Gaiman’s thoughts on writing: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It's that easy, and that hard. So I get back to work and a little glimmer of light shines through the darkness. For a while it’s easy again: the characters come alive on the screen, I can smell the mountain air, and see the next plot twist clearly. Margaret Atwood is right. A word after a word after a word is power. It’s the power of finishing the first draft, digging up the gems along the way, and the power of pushing through to completion.

The end of my novel is in sight. It’s just around the next corner. As I clear the last hurdle, I’ll keep Robin McKinley’s advice in mind: One of the biggest, and possibly the biggest, obstacle to becoming a writer... is learning to live with the fact that the wonderful story in your head is infinitely better, truer, more moving, more fascinating, more perceptive, than anything you're going to manage to get down on paper. (And if you ever think otherwise, then you've turned into an arrogant self-satisfied prat, and should look for another job or another avocation or another weekend activity.) So you have to learn to live with the fact that you're never going to write well enough. Of course that's what keeps you trying – trying as hard as you can – which is a good thing.” Even after I type ‘The End’ for the first time, I’ll keep working on this novel. I’ll keep trying to improve it, to make sure that the right words follow each other in the best possible order.

What keeps you shovelling when you’d rather do anything than attempt to write? Do you have inspirational quotes taped to the top of your computer screen? Do you bribe yourself with a treat to get through the next 1,000 words? Once you break through a barrier and your characters are really talking to each other, do you work through the night to capture them before they vanish with the rising sun?


Image by: mspraveen

The Busy-ness of Writing

Word count: 376                        Reading time: 1-2 minutes

When I qualified as a Certified General Accountant I knew my education didn’t stop with the parchment handed out at the graduation ceremony. Being a member of the CGA Association meant that in addition to the usual long work week, I was expected to complete defined courses of professional development every year to keep my skills relevant. Then I chucked it all to become a writer.

My second career evolved slowly because there was no clear route to what ensures success as a writer. After a lot of time invested and an enormous amount of trial & error, the only thing I know for sure is that a writer needs, at some point, do some or all of the following:

  1. Write
  2. Research
  3. Read extensively
  4. Go back to school
  5. Find a trusted writing partner or two and share your work with them
  6. Rewrite
  7. Give generously of your time to other writers who need help and encouragement
  8. Revise
  9. Polish the revision
  10. Submit and track your submissions
  11. Repeat steps 1-10 – stick with it
  12. Join at least one writers’ group
  13. Attend writers’ talks (local library, university, writers’ festival – wherever)
  14. Build an online profile
  15. Build a profile in your local community
  16. Stay healthy
  17. Play; renew the energy that brings freshness to your writing
  18. Track related income (if you’re lucky) and expenses for your tax return
  19. Repeat any or all of the above as required.

Once my first novel is released, what then? Well I expect there’ll be a whole 'nother list that comes along. I’ll post it later, when I have a better sense of all that's involved.

When I did the mind map for this blog (thank you Daphne Gray-Grant), I was astonished at the commitment of time and resources involved in writing. My CGA training pales in comparison to what it takes to be a writer, but this is so much easier. You know why, don’t you? Because pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work. Aristotle said that and he knew a thing or two.

What's on your list and what's missing from mine? Is there something I should be doing that I’m not?  


Photo by: Uschi Hering

Labouring the point

Word count: 420            Reading time: 1-2 minutes 



In December 1872 the Toronto Trades Assembly took to the streets to support the Typographical Union's strike. The printers had been pounding the pavement since March that year, seeking a mere nine-hour work day, six and a half days a week. Yeah, you read that right: a 58 hour working week. Canada’s Labour Day holiday, this coming Monday, commemorates workers’ rights to campaign for improved working conditions.

For the past few days I’ve been cursed with the blahs, the nagging sensation that I have neither an original idea nor a creative insight to bring to writing. In spite of temptation, I didn’t stop trying. It was more important than ever to keep on plugging. As Janet Frame put it: “The only certainty about writing and trying to be a writer is that it has to be done, not dreamed of or planned and never written, or talked about (the ego eventually falls apart like a soaked sponge), but simply written; it's a dreadful, awful fact that writing is like any other work.”

So every day I’ve sat at my desk and teased the current work-in-progress (WIP) a line or two closer to its next revision. I’ve copy-typed. I’ve done writing exercises. I’ve researched. I’ve gone to the Word Whips group and forced myself to compose and read on the spot. I’ve walked away from human company and avoided the lulling drone of the TV in favour of tinkering with the WIP. I’ve (mostly) resisted the siren’s call of warm August days and stayed on course. The minutes ground into hours, maybe not 58 hours, but a long work week that started the moment my eyes opened in the morning and haunted me after my head hit the pillow at night. My chagrin built as progress stalled. Finally a tiny slice of light cut through the darkness and a new idea or two started to germinate in its warmth. But it didn’t happen because I gave up for a few days, it happened because I pushed through the doldrums.

Was it hard to write without a wisp of inspiration? Very. Was it as hard to write as it must have been to bend over stinking, deafening machines in 19th century working conditions? Not by half. This Labour Day I’m reminding myself how easy writing is. I’m celebrating this fun, often frustrating, pursuit

Are you inspired as August draws to a close? If not, how do you respond to that niggling sense that your work is going nowhere fast?


Photo from Wikimedia Common

Keep on plugging

Word count: 307                                         Reading time: 2 mins.

The NaNoWriMo week-2-slump is right in front of me. I can feel it. It’s like when I’m hiking and I think I’ve bagged the worst part of the hill only to turn a corner and find a bigger, uncharted rise in front of me. This happened to me recently and if I’d been alone I would have gone around it. I believe in the path of least resistance.  

On that hike my three friends were navigating the fallen timber and thick bush like it was a walk in the park. Super-fit people really irritate me, especially when they’re fifty feet ahead on a steep hill. Still, sometimes the hard way is the only way to get there.

Next week is the NaNoWriMo sharp rise. So far I’ve been walking small undulations. The first 21,000 words have flown off my fingers. Only now one character has had a stroke. What do I know about strokes? Not much. Her daughter is shop-lifting to supplement the family income. More research needed.

I decided to send myself a greeting card for encouragement. I found an $8 one, wrapped in a cellophane envelope. Printed on heavy stock paper was this quote: With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable. (Thomas Foxwell Buxton) I didn’t buy the card because I could remember what it said. Is that a form of shop-lifting? Hmm maybe that was a research trip after all.

So I’ll take those words to heart and keep pushing along. When I’ve reached my daily goal today I think I’ll take a walk, somewhere long and flat.

How do you keep the story moving forward when faced with the side of a mountain? Do you start up the side of it or do you work around it, on the parts that are less challenging? 

Photo: Aidan Cassie