Breathe in, breathe out

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s been a long time since I’ve written anything . . . and not just here – anywhere.  Well, anything I haven’t been obligated by a contract to write.  I’ve tried a few times here – only to ditch a half written post that felt forced.  I’ve opened my journal, I’ve tried to conjure up characters but I just couldn’t do it.  Part of it was certainly stress, a larger part of it was probably being too busy and occupied with other tasks and other matters to allow myself to be moved or inspired by anything else.  Well – the last of my major stresses of the past few months should be over with tomorrow and although I’m slightly nervous I won’t pass this test, which will create new stress – it’ll probably just be fine.  This knowledge, the knowledge that there’s probably nothing more I can do is helping me feel just a little bit lighter.

I thought to write earlier today though and still it seemed a daunting task.  Just a moment ago though I read a message in a newsletter for the Writer’s Federation I’m a member of.  The author was speaking about his or her own inability to write.  How with the life and energy of spring and summer words were just flowing but now, just as  the gardens are dead and bare, so too are his words.  He mentioned that rather than being disheartened by this he was seeing it as a time to breathe in the words, the ideas, the inspiration so that when he’s ready to write again he’ll have something to write.

I have three weeks stretching before me with very little work I’m obligated to do.  That means there are three weeks in which I’ll be able to let myself be inspired by words, by experiences, by nature (and feel no guilt connected to investing my time that way!)

Just the thought allowed me to write something new!

How will you make use of any holiday time you have off?  What will you let it add to your life?

And here’s to The Pitch

A few days ago I posted about a pitch I was afraid to do, well, I’ve done it!  And I didn’t faint, and my leg didn’t thump like it was trying to outdo Bambi’s Thumper, and I only tripped over my words a time or two.

I didn’t get much feedback on the plot of my novel, there wasn’t really time. I got some feedback on my pitching ability – two things I could have done better, and I got just a glimpse of that dream outcome.  One publisher said he was interested – I’m not exactly sure what that means – he has my written pitch and C.V. so if I don’t here anything from him I’ll probably submit to the publishing house and another said specifically that she wanted to see it!  What I learned after is that I’ll have to go through the normal submission route for her publishing house, but she’ll tell the lady who handles the first rounds to look out for it and that she wants to see it – she’s one of the final round decision makers!  Pretty, pretty, pretty good. (Not sure why Larry David just popped into my mind – that hasn’t happened in months!) 

So, hurdle number one conquered – now time for hurdle number two!  The people who’ve been reading the first revised version of my manuscript and I both agree that the first few chapters of my novel are the weakest.  Unfortunately (but for good reason), submitting it to a publishing house means I only get to submit the first few chapters.  I’m hoping for some brilliant idea or burst of creative energy to turn it into something that will really grab the reader . . .

Oh, and remember how scared I was about making that pitch?  Well, not only did I conquer those fears and deliver to the best of my ability, it paid off – out of the 13-14 other pitches the three publishers all voted mine best pitch.  I was shocked . . . but pleased. 🙂

Now I just have to hope my pitching ability doesn’t surpass my novel writing ability!

Being a writer and being a hermit – you can be one without the other . . .

. . . although it may be difficult.  I remember back in my teen angst years when I spent hours and hours . . . and hours alone in my room writing.  Now some of this was ridiculously horrible, angst infused poetry but some of it wasn’t.  Some of it was writing that still brings a smile to my face.  Deep and still profound reflections on life, delightful starts to stories, infused with hopeful, living, breathing characters and even my first novella.  Throughout this though, I recognized that while I loved the time spent at my clunky old computer or curled up in my bed with a pen or notebook I was also using writing as an escape from a life that I often  found less than appealing.  As I grew up, and grew out of my hermit type behaviour I found that a rich, involved life outside of the four walls of my room didn’t leave time for the kind of devotion I was used to giving to my words.  You see, there were often times that I would write for 7 or more hours at a time, sometimes even skipping meals, and if I had to stop before I was ready it felt like I had lost something that I wouldn’t be able to get back.

When I started university and quickly found that I actually needed to devote hours outside of class to maintain the stellar grades that came easily in high school I found I couldn’t devote hours to my writing, even if I wanted to. When I started developing an active social life with friends I could confide my deepest concerns, fears, and joys to, I realized I no longer needed to use words the way I once had.

I can’t remember when exactly, but at some point I went through a struggle where I held the belief that I couldn’t be both a successful novelist and have a social life . . . with difficulty I chose my friends.  Now, clearly this didn’t mean I stopped writing all together but for years I let go of the dream I’d held from early childhood that I would ever be a writer.  I’ve recently reclaimed that dream and I just realized that along with it, this summer I’ve also seemed to somewhat internalize the old belief that focusing on my writing meant I couldn’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) make time for any but the most important social interactions.

I’ve taken time away from home (and from writing) to spend with my family and I have not abandoned Skype dates with my significant other but beyond that I’ve hardly participated in more than three or four social activities the whole summer.  The reason being (although I’m not sure how consciously I made these decisions) that unless something was really meaningful, I couldn’t justify the time away for writing, reading, or otherwise enriching my mind.

This weekend, however, held two out of those three or four and they were wonderful.  I had great conversations, I danced from the heart, and I was blessed with moments of euphoria during that dancing.  I was also reminded that although a lot of the great writers were pretty much hermits, a lot of them weren’t and I don’t have to be.  It’s equally important (and probably necessary) to get out of my apartment, out of my head, and take in some new stimulus.  I also noticed that my editor’s block seems to have eased up –  I’ve done more revising of my novel since that night out than I had the whole week previous!

To the artists out there – do you ever fall captive to the idea that you need to devote yourself to your art to the exclusion of taking in some of the other pleasures life has to offer? (Or do you ever just realize that the idea it’s becoming a truth in your life and you’re pretty much living as a hermit?)  How do you get past this? . . . or do you?

Editor’s block?

You hear all this talk about writer’s block.  It’s a common phenomenon that seems to plague pretty much every writer at some point in their lives – for most writers, at a lot of points in their lives.  I don’t hear so much about editor’s block though . . . I think I have it.

I decided to do a read through of my novel draft.  I wanted to just read it through, get a feel for the flow, the order of things – it very quickly turned into editing and rewriting.  As a result, it’s a lot slower going than I planned and I’m not really getting ‘the experience’ of the story the way I wanted.  I think, however, that this probably means it needs an edit before the story can be properly experienced.

Part of my frustration had been the little netbook I was using to do that editing (as well as all my other work.)  If I needed to go to another part in the 329 page manuscript I could wait  20-30 sec. to get to it.  Now opening the file up in the first place?  That could be a minute or two.  And if I wanted to switch pages to my browser to check on the name of a town, the year a particular restaurant was open to make sure my character wasn’t eating in a place that hadn’t even built yet, well, it was a good 45-60 second wait for said page to load, said search to occur, and several seconds more to get Word opened again to make the change.

“Good novels are not written, they’re rewritten.”

Michael Crichton

So, finally fed up with the time all this wasted (and the time it wasted during the articles I was writing and editing for my ‘real’ work) I spent almost all day searching for a fast new computer.  And it’s great!  I can get so much more done, I can start to do a task and actually do it before the time waiting for a page to load sends me to another task.  I love it.  I love it so much I spent a large part of yesterday reading tons of information and advice on the art of editing.  I even downloaded a 52 page book on editing and read it all. It was excellent.  I highly recommend it.  Needless to say, I didn’t get any actual editing done. I justified that fact by the truth that my editing will be better now that I’ve done all that reading, and it will.

Today I woke up with intentions to get through three chapters before going through the to-do list for my contract work.  A phone call stopped me before I’d started so I did that interview and thought – well, I’m on a role, I’ll get my to-do list done first and I did. I had an amazingly productive day, largely thanks to my new computer – I affectionately have named it Turbo.

To-do list completed, I opened up my manuscript.  I got through one chapter and decided I needed a snack.  Said snack didn’t seem to agree with me and I went to bed to try to sleep through a horrible stomach ache.  I woke up feeling considerably better and headed to my computer.  I opened up the manuscript and thought, you know – my files are a mess – now that I’ve got Turbo I should use his speed and ease to make everything organized.  It will save time in the future.  (. . . I guess I just decided Turbo’s male – makes sense – I’ll probably be investing more time into this relationship than with any other, including my fella – if you’re reading this don’t be jealous!)

Files organized, I realized I’d yet to write a blog and here I am.  I’m determined to get through those chapters as soon as I publish this.  Oh!  The oven timer just went.  I guess dinner’s ready . . .

Please tell me I’m not the only one who deals with writer’s block!  How do you deal with it? What advice have you gleaned?  Why do you think it’s so hard to get past despite the fact that we really want to see our stories ready for other eyes? – I have my own ideas about that – but I’d love to hear yours!

Missing Nomadism

I’ve spent about five years of my life living more as a nomad than most people ever have the opportunity to. I’ve lived in 6 provinces, 4 countries, and travelled (sometimes extensively) through 10 others. Before I started these travels I always felt that until I had the chance to live in other parts of the world and soak up other cultures I would never truly be experiencing life.

And it’s true, my travels taught me a lot about life. I saw the way various cultures differ from the one in which I grew up.  I saw the way family units worked in ways that seemed foreign and strange to me at first, almost primitive, but that enabled me to make a decision about my life that has charted the course of my most recent 5 years. I had experiences that I know would not have been possible if I’d never had the courage to venture ‘past my on front door.’ But most importantly, I learned that no matter where you go and no matter how different a place and people seem from the places and people that are familiar to you at their core all people are essentially the same.  Whether in a jungle village in Thailand, an urban neighbourhood in Poland, a flat in London, or an apartment in Nova Scotia, we all have pretty much the same essential needs, wants, fears, hangups, and flaws as well as the desire to be understood and loved. And because of that, we are all just as capable of having eye opening, life changing experiences in the place we’ve lived our whole lives.  The difference is, we’re often not open or aware enough to recognize those experiences for what they are.

I loved my travels and had some of the best and most memorable experiences of my life because of them. I also had some of the worst. I also, despite the excitement of new stimulus, became very tired and worn out from constantly having to say goodbye to the many people I came to connect with and even love. I desired to be closer geographically to the people who’ve always been in my life and always will be.  I wanted roots again.

In the past five years of living in the same city (with the exception of about a 3 month hiatus spent backpacking) I’ve had to adjust to being the one left instead of the one leaving. And lately I’ve been getting that itch to take off again. Some movies I’ve watched recently have fanned the flame from that ember of desire.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you choose to look at it, my situation in life doesn’t give me the freedom to just pick up and follow the cry to ‘Go West young [wo]man!’ or East or North or South.

I will explore foreign locales again at some point in my life – I’m determined to do that. But until that point I’m lucky enough that I can live my experiences over again through my writing and even give myself entirely new ones. I can’t remember where, but I read something yesterday about scents and touch and sound being essential to writing that draws the reader in and lets them truly experience a piece of writing. So that’s my new goal – drawing from my experiences around the world and reaching deep into my memory bank, I’m going to work to write stories that carry the life pulse of the many lands I’ve loved. And by doing so, visit them once again.

Hopefully that will quiet my travel itch for the time being!

Fellow writers and/or travellers: I’d love to hear any anecdotes, experiences, or lessons you’ve gained from your own travels and perhaps how they’ve influenced your own writing!

Following my bliss

For the first time in a well over a week I was able take a few consecutive hours to work on what will be my first full-length novel.  I’m mere hours away from having the first draft completed and unlike the last few times I went to write, when I often became stuck or lost or fearful that I wasn’t going to be able to make this work what it has the potential to be, today the writing flowed.  I couldn’t get ideas down fast enough on the page (I actually opened a new document once to write out a scene that I knew couldn’t come for several pages, but the heart of which I didn’t want to lose). Connections I hadn’t previously thought  of came to me, little ways to make the characters more real popped into my mind, and tidbits of foreshadowing that would draw my would-be readers in floated across the screen like little jewels.

It took all my discipline (and an adamantly grumbling stomach) to pull myself away from the keyboard, make lunch, and head back to the more practical and time sensitive work I knew I needed to finish today.  But the writing gifted me with one of those rare days when I feel like all my anxiety for spending so many hours on something that may never bring me income but that I call ‘work’ to justify the hours I’m not spending on endeavours that are more likely to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly is worth it.  One of those days when it’s not really even important whether the novel ever gets published, whether – next step – it actually does become a source of income.  One of those days when even if my close family and friends are the only ones to ever see the words and get to know the characters I’ve poured so much into, it’s okay – heck, it doesn’t matter if even those few don’t read my novel.  It’s been one of those when I know I write because it’s in me,  because it brings me joy and makes me feel more me than just about anything else in this life.  One of those days when I know that the decision to spend a significant number of my “working” hours on something that in the world’s eyes may never come to fruition is a hundred percent worth it because it’s a decision – in the words of the much admired entrepreneur and fashion guru of Clutch Culture* – to follow my bliss.


* . . . and Joseph Campbell

. . . never let that person be you.

Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do, but more importantly, never let that person be you.” – A. Grant

I went to a business conference a few weeks ago. I expected to come away with some business tips. What I received, however, was a renewed look at my belief in myself.

I had already decided a few weeks before the conference that I was going to continue past my self-declared one year trial of being self-employed. The conference reaffirmed this decision.  It also gave me the opportunity to hear from numerous successful entrepreneurs (and I imagine as I go over my notes of their words, they will prompt future posts).

The quote above was attributed to the grandfather of one the speakers, a man named John Grant. According to Grant, his grandfather was born a slave, worked to buy his freedom (for $50) and went on to establish himself enough that he was able to return to his home city, establish businesses, employ people, and build a community school.  It was clear during the conference that people were awed and inspired by this story.  I was too, of course, but the words written above, “Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do, but more importantly, never let that person be you,” are what really stuck with me.

There are times when I let someone else’s negativity bring me down, but usually a person not believing in my ability will only prompt me to work harder and prove them wrong.  The real barrier against my potential successes is usually my self.  As I heard this man’s words, words he carried from his ancestor, I wondered how many times I had not tried something new, not continued with something I probably could have been successful at, not followed my dreams and passions because of that nagging voice from within that was whispering, ‘you can’t do this,’ ‘you might fail,’ ‘why bother even trying?’

There are more moments than I could even remember when the whisper has won over, blocked out all the other voices telling me I am able . . .some of those moments relate directly to my writing, and, more specifically, to the novel I started . . . wow . . . ten years ago.  I started it, left it for about 5 years, finished it, submitted it to a writing contest and a writer in residence, received some very positive feedback but also the knowledge that it was in fact not a novel, but a novella and needed to be flushed out – finished.

This past year, finishing it has been my goal.  I’m very close to completing the first draft but I know I could have been done months ago.  Part of me loves writing it but part of me is also terrified that all of this time and effort and heart that shows up as words on my computer screen will ultimately fail . . .

Now, of course, the act in itself is an accomplishment – that’s what people tell me – and I believe it.  But I also want these words to be read by others. It’s been the dream I’ve held since I first remembering dreaming.  When I surf the web, read a book, watch a movie instead of doing the writing I planned on doing, when I get stuck and stop if I’m honest with myself I know it’s because on some level I’m hearing that voice that says I can’t do it . . . but the thing is, if I listen, if any of us listen when that voice that only we can hear starts speaking, our dreams will never be realized, and we will never know what we could have been capable of or what gift we could have contributed to this world.

I have the quote above written on my bathroom mirror, reminding me that sometimes I’m my worse enemy and also reminding me that I have the power to be champion over that annoying, nagging, demoralizing whisper.

Whatever your voice may be telling you you can’t do, take a moment, acknowledge that the voice is coming from within, then promptly speak back – “You’re wrong.” – and smile.