Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, June 12-18, 2016

Your writerly goodness for the week.

Most common writing mistakes, part 51: one-dimensional characters. K.M. Weiland. Helping writers become authors. Kate returns with these eight tips for editing other writers’ work while remaining friends. And . . . for the hat trick: grab readers with a multi-faceted characteristic moment.

Writing “linked novels,” a series of standalones sans spoilers. Katy Rose Guest Pryal on Writer Unboxed.

Cassandra Khaw is vexed about voice. Terribleminds.

Kristen Lamb explores using time as a literary device.

Angela Ackerman guest posts on Writers in the Storm: how to deliver critical backstory using setting.

This is where I was last weekend: Mark Medley reports on the Canadian Writers’ Summit. The Globe and Mail.

I’m also a professional member of the CAA, so here are a couple of CWS bits of news relating to the CAA literary awards (which were presented there):

Alexis Daria covers the do’s and don’ts of querying your novel. DIYMFA.

Janet Reid warns against shopping an offer. And over on Query Shark, she posted no, no, and no.

Kameron Hurley engages in some real publishing talk: author expectation and entitlement.

Choosing the best categories for your book sales on Amazon. BookBaby.

Ceridwen Dovey wonders if reading can make you happier. The New Yorker.

Misc Magazine: The future according to women.

The Heroine Bookstore interviews A.M. Dellamonica.

John Glover writes about the life and afterlife of horror fiction on Postscripts to Darkness.

J.K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech.

 

Now it’s time to get writing 🙂

Tipsday

Advertisements

Embracing zero

This week’s prompt:

QOTW 10: Embrace Your Zero Moment

The hardest step in your creative development is the “zero moment,” the point where you go from doing nothing to doing something. The distance between the zero moment and being a newbie is far greater than the distance between newbie and pro, yet rarely does anyone celebrate this pivotal, important step.

Today, I want you to celebrate. Think back to your zero moment and do something to celebrate that incredible leap of faith. Maybe your zero moment was ages ago and you’ve forgotten all about it. Maybe you’re in that moment right now. Regardless of where you are on your writing journey, I want you to pause and celebrate that enormous first step that brought you to where you are now.

 

I’ve actually written about this before, but it’s been a while, so this will be a good refresher.

So . . . I was deep in my agnostic writer phase, post-MA.

What’s an agnostic writer, you ask? Exactly what it sounds like.

The angsty version: I hoped this thing I wanted for myself (writing) was out there, but I didn’t know for sure. I’d written before, fairly regularly, even, but the MA had shaken my faith and self-confidence so much that I had serious doubts as to whether I had what it takes to find it again. What if I wasn’t worthy (as certain people had suggested)?

The funny/grounded version: I couldn’t get my ass to believe in the existence of the chair long enough to sit down and git ‘er done.

I felt the need to write within me, but I also felt fear and the fear was bigger than the need.

It’s not like I didn’t write during this period, but there are only so many times you can rewrite the first fifty pages of a novel. Story ideas stayed largely buried in the pages of my journals. Every time I sat down to write one of them, the words seemed unequal to the task.

It wasn’t the words that were unequal.

I joined the local writing group. I started to attend workshops.

And then, Nino Ricci came to town for a weekend workshop. For those of you who may not know, Nino is a big name, award-winning, Canadian literary author. Part of the weekend was workshopping our stories, the other part was a series of informal talks in which he shared his thoughts on drafting, revision, process, publication, and other aspects of the writing life.

The pivotal moment for me was when he shared his struggles in graduate school when his advisor was a legendary Canadian literary author.

His experience mirrored my own.

I wasn’t alone.

After that workshop, I sat in the chair. I wrote my words. At first, I was happy if I could write anything, even a sentence or two. Some days I faltered, but I worked up to a page a day. Then I wrote two a day.

At the end of a year, I had the first draft of my first novel.

More writing workshops, conferences, online critique groups, and I had a revised draft. I started writing short stories again. I tried NaNoWriMo. I started tracking my writing progress.

Now, I’m a writing machine 🙂 I have six novels drafted and I’m working on revising them. I’m querying my first novel. Two of my science fiction short stories have been published in paying markets.

And it all started with someone sharing his hardship.

That’s why I share my story. If I can help one writer the way Nino Ricci helped me, I am happy to show my tender belly. Every writer has been there. You are not the only one.

Please raise a glass to the zero moment. We each have our journey. It has to start somewhere.

Muse-inks

A life sentence with mortal punctuation: part 8

How did what was supposed to be a mere two-part guest post get to be this huge?  I think it’s what project managers call “scope creep.” 🙂  Essentially, the story demanded something more, and as with many of the things I write, it told me the shape it wanted to be in.

Thanks to everyone who’s stuck with me through this very personal tale.  If it touches you in any way, I encourage you to like, share, comment, or subscribe as your conscience dictates.

I’ll take the opportunity here to remind everyone that while this story is based on my life, that it is filtered through my frame, and is, no more and no less than anything else I write, a story.

Last week: I discussed some of the things that I do to keep the wolf of my depression from the door, or perhaps invite it in, let it curl up by the hearth, and make itself at home.

This week I’m going to pick up the original thread of the tale where I left it.

Those sixteen years

The years during which I was “growing up,” getting a job, and learning how to deal with my depression were largely fallow ones for me creatively.  I got off to a good start in my undergrad years, both at Guelph and at Laurentian, but faltered during my struggle to achieve my master’s degree.

Though my primary poetic publications, NeoVerse and Battle Chant, emerged around the time that I finally received my graduate degree, I found it difficult to continue writing.  A handful of scattered publications in poetry and a short-lived foray into publishing weren’t enough to validate my still-fragile writer’s ego.

I’ve never had a thick skin.

As I slowly worked through my issues, however, I started to realize that writing wasn’t something I did or didn’t do.  It’s something I am.  My inability to commit to the writing life on a regular basis made me question my calling.  If I couldn’t write, how could I call myself a writer?  Maybe it was time to throw in the towel and commit to a life without magic.

The sheer impossibility of that thought told me that writing was what I was meant to do.  I just had to find my way to it without a map or any orienteering skill whatsoever.

Upon my triumphant return from Windsor and contract jobs interspersed with unemployment, Phil and I decided to get a puppy.  We already had two cats, one a three-legged refugee from my days at the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Mississauga, the other a sweet-natured black cat that Phil got me for my birthday one year.

Our dependent quadrupeds helped me immensely.  I believe that pets have a lot to teach us about unconditional love and being good people.  My pets are some of the best people I’ve known 😉

I got my full time job with my current employer.  Phil and I got a house and a car.  I made use of my new benefits to get some serious work done on both my body and my mind.  I figured out that medication was not the way to address my feral disease.

My mother was still working, part-time at the local hospital, at home, taking care of my father, who had graduated to a disability pension and therapy, and at the seniors’ residence where my grandfather now lived.

I went out with her to see my grandfather about once a week, and helped her to transport him to his various appointments.  My father began to have issues with his heart, eventually diagnosed as arrhythmia and congestive heart failure.  He got a pace-maker, and a new suite of medications.

Shortly after retiring from the hospital, my mom developed diabetes.  Dad started to fall.  If it happened at home, either Phil or I, or both of us would have to help Mom, because Dad couldn’t get up under his own power and she couldn’t lift him.  If it happened outside home, it generally involved a hospital stay.  Dad was on Cumadin by this time and as a result, even the smallest injury could become serious due to the complications of the medication.

Then my dog died

ZoeIt wasn’t something sudden.  Zoe developed hemangiosarcoma and though we caught it early, the vet wasn’t able to catch it all with surgery and internal lavage.

The issue with this particular type of canine cancer is that it likes vascular areas, that is, places in the body where blood vessels tend to gather, like the spleen and the liver.  Once it takes hold, it disseminates quickly and almost always results in death.

The biopsy taken in the surgery came back malignant.  It would only be a matter of time.  As it turned out, we only bought Zoe a couple of weeks.

At first, it seemed like she was recovering.  Phil and I had taken to sleeping on the futon in the living room so we could be close to her if problems arose.

The morning she woke me at 5 am looking for comfort was her last.

I won’t describe that morning other than to say that I called in sick.  I was devastated.  For the first time, I cried legitimately over the loss of a loved one.

Papa

My maternal grandfather was the only one of my grandparents left alive.  He’d been a hard-core smoker, and alcoholic for most of his life.  When my grandmother passed away, he reacted poorly and within a few months, a fall resulting from TIA, landed him in the hospital.

From there, arrangements were made to move him into a seniors’ residence and for many more years, he lived happily, adjusting to the fact that he couldn’t drive anymore, that he had to go outside the residence to smoke, and that he had to depend on my mother to ration him a few beer on special occasions.

Some irregularities regarding his heart landed him in the hospital and when I got the call at work that I should come to the hospital, I had a bad feeling.  In the time it would take me to get the car, drive to the hospital, find parking, and get to his room, I could walk, so I sped along as quickly as I could, hoping that he would hold on long enough for me to get there.

Turns out he’d already passed away when I got the call.

Papa’s passing wasn’t all that traumatic for me.  He’d lived 94 years despite his addictions and was, so far as I know, happy.  I also felt confident that I had been there for him as much as I could.

I helped Mom settle his estate.  Being able to help her out in that way made another big difference for me.

I received a small inheritance, just enough to invest in my first laptop computer.  That year, I started to get back to my writing and the novel I’d conceived of all those years ago in university.

In another year, Phil and I felt that we could bear the love of another pup.  That was when we got the Nuala-beast.

The butt-in-chair breakthrough

Though I was writing more, I wasn’t writing daily yet.  It wasn’t until Nino Ricci came to town to do a workshop with the Sudbury Writers’ Guild that my head got turned around the right way on that.

It was his sharing of his own guardian tale that helped so much.  Every writer has at least one, that big name, well-established Author who tells you that your work is crap.

The breakthrough was that I could choose not to let the well-meant, but unfortunate words of my guardian keep me from entering the inner sanctum and gaining my prize.

Productive or not, I’ve been writing every day since, and that, as the poet said, has made all the difference.

The diabetic cat

Our little black cat, Thufir (named after the Mentat Thufir Hawat due to his fondness for Thufir Hawat the Mentat Catflashing lights) developed feline diabetes.  Phil and I were surprised because he wasn’t obese or showing any of the other signs, but his blood glucose level didn’t lie.

He was on Metformin for a year and graduated to insulin after that.  I became very adept at taking his blood sugar levels and injecting him daily.  He came to tolerate, if not anticipate his injections, like he knew that they made him feel better.

Once again, however, it was a matter of time.  Eventually, organ failure took out little guy.

I wasn’t sad this loss either.  I’d been the best kitteh-mama I could have been and I knew that I’d done well by him.  I’d kind of made my peace with death by this time.

I’m going to leave things here for now.  The next big event for me was the death of my father, and that’s going to need a post unto itself.

After that, I’m going to delve into my insights into happiness as a result of all I’ve learned and that will be the culmination of the series.

Tomorrow I’m going to be writing the Wordsmith Studio Anniversary post 🙂  What’s that, you ask?  Read and find out, my friends.

Coming soon: I have a few wonderful authors who have agreed to do interviews for little ole me.  Look out in the next few weeks for six questions with fantasy author J. L. Madore, poet Barbara Morrison, and D. J. McIntosh, author of The Witch of Babylon, and the soon-to-be-released The Book of Stolen Tales.

I’m finding all sorts of writerly goodness to share 🙂

What happened afterward

Last time on My history as a so-called writer: NEOVerse opened new possibilities 🙂

About the same time that I started working for ACCUTE, my sister-in-law told me to apply for a job with her employer.  I did and before the year was out, I was once again working two jobs at the same time, up to sixty hours a week.

Exhausted, I left ACCUTE and stuck with the better career opportunity.  It was in a call centre, not something I’d generally choose for myself, but in Sudbury at the time, it was a very good job (considering pay, benefits, and pension) and I needed that.

It felt like selling out, though.  Plus, I wasn’t suited to it.  Every negative call stayed with me.  Every anguished personal tale made me feel guilty that I couldn’t do anything to help.  I tried working full-time, but couldn’t hack it long-term and returned to a part-time schedule after six months.

It was at this time that my depression, which I’d been trying to deny since I was seventeen, reared its ugly head in earnest and I had to deal. Medication and therapy provided a short-term solution, but eventually, I weaned myself off the meds and tried to manage my illness through diet, exercise, meditation, and persistent awareness of what my body, heart, and mind were telling me.

They were screaming at me to get out, but I didn’t have any other options.

Term employment led to permanent, a mortgage (negotiated to consolidate our debt including our sizable school loans), and a car loan.

I was an adult now, with an adult job, adult debts, and adult responsibilities.  I was a home-owner.  All creativity seemed to vanish.  Though I was still certain that I wanted to write, I was unable to muster the necessary dedication.  Writing was now something reserved for vacation.

This went on for years.  I tried to wedge my butt in my desk chair, but it never stayed for long.  I did pull out my old project from time to time, but couldn’t focus. I joined the Sudbury Writers’ Guild and attended a fall workshop with Rosemary Aubert.  To be honest, I’d never heard of her before, but the workshop was great and I was inspired.

When my grandfather passed away, part of my small inheritance went toward a lap top computer.  That helped a little too.  I wasn’t chained indoors in the middle of summer anymore.  I wrote more that year.

I was successful in an internal competition at work.  Better pay and a better job.  It was a good thing.  Just before I started, the Sudbury Writers’ Guild scored another coup: Nino Ricci.  That was when my writing life changed.

In the wake of that workshop, I started writing every day.

That was the real beginning of my life as a writer.

Took me long enough, didn’t it?

Gratuitous links regarding the butt in chair phenomenon:

____________________________________________________________________________

This is my last post in My history as a so-called writer for the foreseeable.  Other tales of Writerly Goodness can be found under my categories: Work in progress and Authorial name dropping.  Next week, my blogging schedule will change, so stay tuned.

I will continue to post in Select poetry, Alchemy Ink, Work in progress, and Breaking open the mind, my learning category.

The first draft

Last time on Work in progress: I finally found a way to wedge my butt in the chair!

I wrote through, just like Nino said.

In the years previous, I’d tried a number of different tactics: outlining, character sketches, plotlines for the major characters, world building, timeline, research.  None of it got me writing … like writing.

I’d always heard that if you want to write, then write.  I’d even said it to students.  It’s true, but you have to be ready to see the truth, to accept it fully, and live it.  After years of struggling with my inner critic, informed as it was with all of my weaknesses and doubts, all my past experiences … I finally got it.  I finally wrote.

I’d never gotten past the first hundred pages before.  They were written and rewritten many times, but I’d never gotten past them.  This time, I tried a new strategy: ctrl-g 🙂  I’d note the page I stopped on, and went right to it the next day.  Starting from the beginning every day merely trapped me in an endless loop of editing.  Another authorial truism: the work is never finished, only abandoned.  The first draft isn’t the time to tweak and fine-tune, it’s the time to get the words out.

By September of 2008, I’d written my way to 1000 pages.  It was scary, and exhilarating.  Then it was called Initiate of Wind.  As a reward, I treated myself to a writing workshop with Sue Harrison at the W.O.W Retreat in Bruce Mines.  Loved it, loved it, loved it!  Watch Authorial name dropping for my post on the lovely Sue 🙂

I’d started out writing the novel as I’d intended, changing point of view in sections, cycling between the major characters.  Then, some of the plot points started to change as I wrote.  New sections wanted to be included.  New characters.  Toward the end, I was working on fumes and dropped all the fancy stuff.  The last three chapters were written in the same p.o.v.  I just got the words out.  All of them, good or bad, were out.

That year, I went as "The Sander" for Hallowe'en

My refractory period was the renovation of my office.  Five weeks of nothing but physical work: demolition, insulation, vapor barrier, mudding, sanding, painting, floor refinishing, and furnishing.

At the end of it, I had a room of my own.  An office.  A place to write.  I think that helped me to keep at the writing too, but by then, I’d been writing every day for two years, so I guess the office was a kind of reward too.

A room with a view, no less

Then it was back to real life, back to work, and back to writing.

What I learned: Write.  The first draft is no place for revision.  Write.  Commit to your relationship with your creativity, and you will go back to it, every day.  Write.  Just write.

Have you completed the first draft of a novel?  What did it teach you and how did you feel?  What did you do to reward yourself/celebrate?

What got me going again

Last time on work-in-progress:

In an environment rich in creativity and ideas, I started to write my first novel.  When I left that environment, I abandoned the project … sort of.

The thing is that those two spiral-bound notebooks full of my scribbling, typewritten pages full of corrector tape, and the few scattered dot matrix print-outs, never really left me. The novel was called Rain then, after the main character.  As the title might tell you, my idea started with my protagonist.  The story was hers, and all about her journey.  All the other characters grew out of her story.

Over the next years, I tried refining my opening paragraphs.  I worked on a prologue, and a couple of pivotal scenes.  I wanted scope, breadth, space.  I felt I had to develop my world and my characters kind of got lost in the shuffle.

I enrolled in a creative writing course by correspondence and received my first computer as a part of that deal.  In between writing assignments, I worked at my novel again.  It was in fits and starts though, no dedicated time.  I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with the story and where I wanted it to go.  The name changed to Rayne.  Could that count as progress?

After some soul searching about what I wanted to do with my life, I decided to complete the bachelor’s degree I started at the University of Guelph.  I chose Laurentian University in Sudbury, and felt that focusing on an English degree would be my best bet.  My ambition was to become the best writer I could be.  I’d turn the academic world to my purpose.

My writing improved substantially during my years at LU and workshops like Susanna Kearsley‘s gave me a boost.  So too, did my slew of writing successes: a contest win; a short story written for the premiere issue of Parsec Magazine; a regular column in Llambda (LU’s student newspaper); an article in Slin Roller Magazine.  It never translated into my opus though.

I made another fateful (and ultimately foolish) decision to pursue my education by completing a master’s degree in English literature and creative writing at the University of Windsor.  Though I trotted out my novel (and other novel ideas) there, because my chosen genre was fantasy, my work was disparaged.  After leaving discouraged, and returning to complete my degree with a thesis composed of vaguely literary short stories framed by the shamanic journey, I felt defeated rather than victorious, and couldn’t look at my novel for a long time.

After Windsor, I had some modest success in other creative endeavors: poetry and short stories.  Every once in a while, though, I’d have to pull out the old notes.  Once I got my lap top computer, things took off a little more.

By the time I’d joined the Sudbury Writers’ Guild in 2004, and attended Rosemary Aubert‘s workshop in 2005, I’d closed in on the fifty-page mark (oft-revised and agonized over).  I still wasn’t writing every day though.  I just couldn’t get my butt wedged firmly enough in the chair.  There was always something else that needed to be done first.

Then came Nino Ricci.  One of the SWG had met him and managed to arrange for him to come to Sudbury.  It was to be a weekend of workshopping our stories/novels/poetry.  In the course of the workshop, Nino talked about his own development as a writer, his years at York University, and his own challenges with his thesis advisor.  From that weekend, I learned that perseverance and passion win out.  I also knew that I had a long way to go on my novel, but the only way I could get there would be to write it.

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: J. Paxon Reyes)

Another thing Nino said that settled in was that his first drafts, at least at that time, were written to get his ideas out.  Sometimes the next draft was completely different.  Sometimes, he didn’t even refer to the first.  I’d heard the message many times over the years that first drafts didn’t have to be perfect, or even particularly well-written.  First drafts have to be written, though.  I finally understood.

I started writing every day and was amazed at how easy it was.  I made a commitment, a decision.  I was finally taking control of my creative life.  The initial goal was simply to write.  Once my practice was consistent and the habit ingrained, I aimed for a page a day, then two.

I emailed Nino after the workshop to thank him for the opportunity and to let him know the influence he’d had on my creative life.  Always gracious, Nino wrote back with some kind words of his own.

Even though I had a full time job by this time, I kept at it, and two years later, I’d finished my first draft.

How did you start writing your novel?  Was it a focused effort, or did you struggle?  Did mentors appear to guide you, or were you confronted by guardians at the gates?

Nino Ricci

October 21-22, 2006.

Through long-standing member Rosanna Batigelli, the Sudbury Writers’ Guild was able to arrange a workshop with Nino Ricci.

The first day of the workshop was devoted to the author sharing the insights into the writing life that he learned through his experiences.

One of the most helpful stories shared (for me) concerned Nino’s struggles through graduate school.  I was still grappling with a pretty powerful “guardian at the gate” of my own and his tale gave me hope and inspiration.  Not to be overly dramatic, but it spoke to my writer’s soul.

While working on his graduate degree at York University, Nino’s advisor was none other than W.O. Mitchell.  He’d given Nino some negative feedback, but Nino, though discouraged, determined to find his own way through the novel.

We all have our gatekeepers to circumvent, and if a Governor-General’s Award winner could be successful despite his, then it gave me hope that I might be able to as well.

On the second day, we workshopped our poetry, short stories, and novel excerpts.  I received some excellent feedback and to this day, I credit the workshop with inspiring my own rededication to the writing life.  You may remember last week, I mentioned that I’d been writing agnostic for years …

After this workshop, I dedicated myself to daily writing practice in a way I frankly never had before.  Despite work and other life challenges, I had my first draft finished just under two years later.  It may not seem like a monumental accomplishment, but it was the first full draft of a novel I’d ever written.  It taught me a lot, and I have Nino Ricci to thank for it, at least in part.