Does absence make the writing stronger?

A couple of weekends ago, we returned to our tiny place on Salt Spring Island (SSI). We hadn’t visited for eight months, because of the extended trip to Australia. What happened in our absence?

  • Spiders moved in, about 4,126 of them. They festooned the rooms with sticky webs and left their pencil-dot droppings under their favourite spots.

  • Weeds choked the front walk.

  • I forgot how the oven worked.

  • When the internet service restarted, the server no longer recognized our modem and vice versa.

  • Our neighbour’s dog forgot who we were and approached us warily.

Neglect was a show stopper as I found when I went to work:

  • My writing had become became slow and ponderous, as though trapped by spider silk.

  • Adverbs threatened to choke the narrative.

  • The discipline of daily writing had weakened.

  • I’d lost touch with some of my characters. Worse still I wasn’t using Scrivener or even a basic spreadsheet to track them. What colour were the protagonist’s eyes?

On the other side of that coin, taking a break delivered these parallel benefits:

  • We discovered we were hanging on to a lot of things we didn’t use. A big clean up ensued and a carload of gently used household items went to the local thrift shop.

  • My prose was thick with extraneous scenes and description. I was able to edit ruthlessly.

  • Coming back to a favourite place after a long absence, refreshed my love of SSI.

  • When I looked at work I hadn’t seen for months, I found quality writing that can be improved and sharpened for publication.

Have you ever stepped away from a place or project for an extended length of time? Was it a happy reunion when you came back?

What did you survive today?

Driving down the steep, twisty roads of the Australian Alps this afternoon, my husband and I did not die.

We did not die by approximately 4-5 seconds. A car careened around a blind corner toward us, on our side of the road. He was racing at 30-40 kph an hour over the speed limit and 100% over the sanity limit.

We screeched to a stop while the blue bullet swerved back into its lane. In our car, the ABS grabbed and the dash cam blinked into emergency recording status.

A couple hours earlier we saw a car that hadn’t been so lucky. Maybe it was a warning.

Car on the side of the road, Mt. Kosciuszko National Park.

Car on the side of the road, Mt. Kosciuszko National Park.

Either way we made it to our next accommodation—an old church—in one piece. I’m going to give thanks the best way I know how. I’m going to work on my novel!


What stories of near-misses do you have to tell?

Got any news that's fit to print?

I've been in Australia for two weeks. In that time I've met Rochelle Fernandez and Laura Brading from HarperCollins for the best cup of coffee ever.

Since then Rochelle has moved on to be Associate Publisher for International fiction, looking after all the books that come in through HarperUS and HarperUK. Good luck, Rochelle!

Enter: Anna Valdinger and Vanessa Williams to guide the Impulse writers along. I’m so excited to work with them!

The first edits for the Outback journey will be coming to a laptop near me around the middle of May. I’ll be nicely back at a desk by then, welcoming new thoughts on my story of sorrow, betrayal, and fresh growth.

We survived this first week’s super storm. So did most of the birds. My Aussie ear is coming back, sharpened by their song. Did you know that all songbirds, worldwide, came from Australia, part of the Gondwana?

Walking around Wentworth Falls yesterday was fabulous. Every bird in the forest was singing its survival song. “Look at me! I made it!”

TG for technology – I have voice recordings of them!

From the moment of our arrival, friends and fabulous memories have filled our days. We walk, visit, swim, eat. Get up the next day and start again.

Sydney feels like our home but we are anchored in Victoria. We love this place. We prefer our gentle island neighbourhood where a traffic jam is a five minute wait.

Australia delivers some of the best things imaginable: warm and engaged people, top beaches, fine horses, excellent wine, and good—often unusual—food.

Foods that I have personally sampled or considered sampling: bullets, melting moments, yoyos, vanilla slices, shark n taters, neenish tarts, lamingtons, party pies, hamburger with a fried egg, chook (fried or roasted), potato scallop, run over rooster. Over eight years, I’d forgotten most of these things.

Tomorrow is ANZAC Day. Alan wants me to go to the dawn ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli with him. I may even do that.

So many new things in such a compact time period! Finally tonight I sat down and started a new novel.

How do you get through times of great change? Do you lose yourself in the moment or scribble notes madly and turn them into golden prose?


Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Eastern Whipbird by Greg Miles