Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, June 2-8, 2019

Here’s a nice bundle of informal writerly learnings for you 🙂

Jael McHenry is making room for silence. Nancy Johnson: what white writers should know about telling black stories. Donald Maass explores the myriad ways in which mystery shapes your story (and returns to the pithy one-word titles). Cathy Yardley offers a snapshot of her writing process. Writer Unboxed

K.M. Weiland explains how to write interesting scenes. Helping Writers Become Authors

James Scott Bell wants you to stay thirsty. Writers Helping Writers

Sara Letourneau is identifying themes in poetry. Laura Highcove wants you to reclaim your agency from writer’s block. Then, Charlene Jimenez describes the five people fiction writers need in their lives. DIY MFA

Jenna Moreci rails against her ten most hated hero tropes.

Fae Rowan suggests these six f-words to create compelling characters. Writers in the Storm

Tara East guest posts on Joanna Penn’s blog: how overwriters can reduce their word count. The Creative Penn

Emily Wenstrom suggests several different tools to track world building in a fantasy series. Writer’s Digest

Chris Winkle explores five relationship dynamics for stronger romances. Then, Oren Ashkenazi explains five ways terrain affects fantasy battles. Mythcreants

Hank Green shares eight things he wished he’d known when he wrote his first book – vlogbrothers

Nathan Bransford thinks this Roald Dahl video is everything. I so love process-y stuff 🙂

And Catherine Ryan Howard shares her process (in parts—more to come): the BIG IDEA.

I hope you enjoyed this curation and found something for your current of next creative project.

Come back on Thursday for your weekly dose to thoughty!

Until then, be well, my writerly friends 🙂

Tipsday2019

Lessons learned and takeaways from my European adventure

Over the weeks since my return and interspersed with monthly updates, I’ve been recounting my European adventure. Now, I’m finally ready to talk about the benefits I’ve gained and the things I’ve learned from the experience.

Muse-inks

Planning and preparation are important

I committed to the Writing Excuses Retreat and WorldCon in early February. It could have been January, but I was hesitant because of the expense. Ultimately, it was a confluence of events: WXR doing a Baltic cruise—they usually cruise the Caribbean, WorldCon being in Helsinki, my desire to visit the country of my ancestry, and the fact that I could do all that AND get in some quality first time tourism at the same time as I continued my professional development as a writer.

Once I committed, I was hip-deep in making the travel arrangements. WXR had their own travel agents and I was able to get a great price on a return European flight through them. All of the cruise arrangements were made through the travel agency.

They facilitated the registration for the cruise, the booking of all the tours at each of the stops, and the issuing of all electronic travel documents.

I made my own hotel booking and, with very little back and forth, I was able to secure the convention rate for my extended stay.

While I attempted to make my additional travel arrangements through the travel agents associated with the cruise, they were busy enough handling the details for the cruise. I’d noticed that the Canadian Auto Association, of which I am a member, was promoting their European travel services. I decided to make the remaining arrangements through them.

There was much more back and forth, but by staying on top of the email thread, I had my flight from Hamburg to Helsinki booked, my rental car, and my bus tour to cover the days in between the cruise and WorldCon.

I went to the airline sites and to CATSA to help me with my packing. My thought was to travel light and only have my carryon luggage and my (fairly large) purse. I reviewed my itineraries for the flights, cruise, and the schedule for the convention to plan out, in rough strokes, where I’d have to be, when.

I was as prepared as I could be by the time I left, but while planning and preparation are important, they aren’t everything.

I still suffered panic attacks in the week leading up to my trip. I still had to deal with ongoing anxiety during the flights—not because I’m afraid of flying, but because I was afraid that despite all my planning, that something catastrophic in terms of making my connections, delays, or other uncontrollable elements (weather) that attend travel would render my planning useless.

Fortunately, none of that happened.

Travelling alone is empowering

Because so much is out of your control when you travel alone, you quickly realize you just have to put on your big girl (or big boy) pant(ie)s and git ‘er done.

Anxiety serves no purpose in these situations and, frankly, can’t be indulged. Yes. I wrote that. Anxiety, in some situations, is an indulgence. It’s an indulgence of imbalanced or malfunctioning neurotransmitters, and not easily managed, but it’s still an indulgence.

I have a friend who lives with obsessive compulsive disorder and its attendant anxiety. I invited her up for a short visit that, because of its brevity, was highly structured (I guess planning’s a thing with me). In the ensuing whirlwind, she didn’t have the time to perform her particular rituals.

Months (it might have been years) later, she told me how that visit had changed her. It was concrete evidence that even if she couldn’t indulge her OCD, that the things she feared would happen, didn’t. It was a breakthrough for her.

I travel alone all the time. I drive down to Ottawa, to Toronto, or to other cities in southern Ontario to train for my day job. I attend writing conferences, conventions, and workshops alone. Some of these have been across the country, or in the States. But I’d never been outside of continental North America before. In a very real way, I had never been more alone.

After the pre-departure panic attacks, though, I progressed straight to a semi-fugue state during travel. I was completely in the moment. I had to continually check my itinerary to make sure I was making progress to the next queue, or boarding, or whatever, because it was too tempting to slip into a place in which I wouldn’t care if I got anywhere at all.

Though I spent my waiting and flight time reading or watching movies to keep myself distracted, I wasn’t really forming solid memories of these things. I felt like a deer in the headlights most of the time. It was a test of endurance more than anything else, but I didn’t have a panic attack for the duration of my trip.

A little bit of that disconnect from reality followed me throughout my journey and reasserted itself for my days of solo travel. I was more in control once most of the uncertainty was behind me, once I’d reached the Atlantic Hotel in Kiel, for instance, or embarked on the cruise ship, or checked into the Sokkos Presidentti.

During the retreat itself, I had to be intentionally vulnerable, painfully honest, and resist attempts to make my work, accomplishments, or failures—essentially me—sound better, less devastating, or more professional than they were. It takes effort to do this when your body and brain is used to preventing you from doing these very things. It’s very liberating.

And, as my friend Kim told me, it’s also empowering. I can be authentic and the world doesn’t end. People still like me. I can be honest, and my tribe (writers) will support me.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts about this trip, the experience is still changing me. I’m a creature of habit and change is slow to come.

It was bucket-listy

When I started to attend conferences, conventions, and workshops, I started to set goals. Attend  Ad Astra. Check. I’ve now attended three. Attend the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Check. Attend When Words Collide. Check. Attend Can-Con. Check. Attend WorldCon. Check.

When I started to listen to the Writing Excuses podcast, I became aware of their writing retreats. Initially, they were held at Mary’s parent’s house. Eventually, though, they became more ambitious and the retreat took place on a cruise ship.

So I put that on my list of writerly goals. The Baltic cruise was special, though. The Writing Excuses cast will likely not be doing something similar in the near future. I could have made it even more bucket-listy by attending the German castle tour that followed the cruise, but I had to draw my financial line somewhere.

Still, to attend a writing retreat on a cruise ship, in Europe, and to be able to see some of the world in addition to developing my skill as a writer? As they say on the credit card commercial, that was priceless. It was the perfect storm of opportunity.

Travel and experience are critical parts of becoming a better writer. You have to push your limits, get out of your comfort zone, to make a breakthrough.

Ask and you shall receive

I left on my trip with a couple of personal goals in mind aside from travelling Europe and participating in the cruise.

Again, as I’ve mentioned previously, I have been having increasing difficulty with creative burnout. I wanted to see if I could get some practical advice and solid strategies for identifying and addressing the underlying reasons for this.

K. Tempest Bradford and Emma Newman were particularly helpful in this respect. The path they’ve lit the way to is one I’m still walking. I’ll have to devote another blog to this in the future, once I’ve sorted more of it out.

For now, I’m easing up on the writerly goal setting. I’m making room for other entertainment, down time, and self-care. I’m not so obsessed with heeding the siren song of production (moar!). I’m working on understanding that what I can get done is enough, that I am enough, and that reminding myself of the reasons I chose to write in the first place (love!) take precedence over external validation.

The other thing I was looking for was something that I’ve been trying for a couple of years to get in place, a mentor, editor, or some other form of support to help me get to the next level, so to speak, in my writing. I’ve tried to get a situation in place, but often personalities, interests, or skill sets have not meshed.

I’ve also been a part of many informal writing groups in real life as well as on line over the years. Again, personal goals, interests, and skill sets have not meshed. Or the methodology has been, in my opinion, flawed. Focusing on the first X pages or chapters doesn’t result in appropriate feedback, and feeding chapters, or sections, to readers over months or years isn’t necessarily productive either. Neither approach allows the reader or critique partner to get a feeling for the whole story, which I think is critical to feedback that results in improvement.

By the end of the cruise, I’d expressed interest in a full-novel critique group. Over the course of WorldCon, connections were made and things were firmed up. Starting in January of 2018, there’s a group of us that are going to give it a shot. I have hope and expectations, but not so many, nor so high, that they will be easily disappointed 🙂

One thing that I wasn’t expecting to receive was the excellent advice of Thomas Olde Heuvelt on how to develop and maintain a creative life plan. I’ve been setting writerly goals for years, but they’ve been primarily one-dimensional and focused on production.

Thomas’s advice to let the over-the-top, blue-sky, dreamy goals inform your overall writing goals and to include holistic life goals, like health—physical and mental—and financial, in the plan helped me to realize how much wellbeing I’ve been leaving out of my goals in recent years. He also recommended having a five year plan in place, subject to change (life does have a habit of intervening).

My European adventure was truly a life-changing experience, in many ways.

I’ll have to let you know how everything works out, but as many of my takeaways were things I’m going to be implementing over time, the results may be a while in coming.

Next week, I’ll be devoting some time to Kim’s launch of Some Other Sky and my presentation for the Sudbury Writers’ Guild on Fantasy (yes, the topic is wide open—it’s going to be fun). After that, I’m going to be participating in NaNoWriMo and taking a month-long blogging break, except for the Thoughty Thursday coming out on November 2nd.

I’ll catch everyone up in December with another bonanza October/November next chapter update. There are also going to be some writerly events coming up in November, including WordStock Sudbury and a possible Gail Anderson-Dargatz workshop with the Sudbury Writers’ Guild.

There will be more writerly goodness coming up.

Until next I blog, be kind, be well, and stay strong, my friends. The world needs your stories.

The Canadian Writers’ Summit 2016: Achieving your dream: the shadow side

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that needs correction or clarification, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com

Panellists: Suzanne Alyssa Andrew, Carrie Snyder, Maria Meindl, Heidi Reimer, Sarah Henstra (Moderator)

theshadowside

SH: Everyone talks about the struggle that precedes publication, but what about what happens afterward?

[Panellists introduced.]

What’s been your experience with the shadow side?

HR: I’ve been thinking about this because I achieved my creative goals and felt things nobody I knew had ever mentioned. I finished my novel and I felt depressed rather than elated. My spouse is an actor and he’s experienced in the art of letting go. In his world, it’s a recognized thing that all actors experience. It’s not in mine. When I won the Chatelaine contest, I was elated, and then terrified. I looked up their distribution and readership on line. That amount of exposure made me feel vulnerable. I physically recoiled. Something intensely private was about to become public. I talked to friends about my distress.

MM: I feel like I’ve confronted the connection between success and darkness in my life. My grandmother was Mona Gould. By the time I was a child in the 60’s, her poem, “This was My Brother at Dieppe” was everywhere. When her success faded, she turned to alcohol and became bitter. What I learned from that experience is that success is harmful. It can destroy you. When she died, I received boxes of her materials. It took me five years to sort through it. She started promoting her work at the age of eleven. Her poem was sponsored by an arms manufacturer, but she was a pacifist. She didn’t feel she could object. Now I understand that it’s not success that’s destructive, but the lack of a forum and the means to use it.

CS: I always wanted to be a writer. As I was driving in from Waterloo, I tried to figure out what that seven-year-old girl’s impulse was. I focused everything on becoming an author. I published by first book at the age of twenty-nine. It was written when I was twenty-six. It was another eight years before I published my second novel. In 2012, The Juliet Stories came out and was nominated for a Governor General’s Award. It was a huge moment for me. I embraced the high and I rode it. I wasn’t prepared for not winning, though. I mean, I knew I wasn’t going to but knowing it and experiencing it are two different things. They informed us ahead of the public announcement and I sat with the secret for a week. I felt ashamed. I was afraid of disappointing my kids and everyone else who’d been so supportive of me and my book. I didn’t know how to cope with it. I am so grateful for my blog because I was able to get my experience out there. I almost changed careers. I had my acceptance to McMaster’s midwifery program in one hand and the offer for The Girl Runner in the other. I thought I’d made a mistake in pursuing my dream. Now I’m making a living as a writer. It’s wonderful and it’s amazingly difficult at the same time. It’s hard to be here and to be vulnerable in front of you.

SAA: Everything you’ve all said resonates. I’ve just published my first novel and I, too, have always wanted to be a writer. I went on a book tour and it was the first time my family had heard me read my work. I play bass in a band. It’s a group, a community. We share. In literary circles, I find there’s a lack of transparency, especially about publishing in Canada. I think the reality’s worse than any of us realize. There’s a lot of pressure to market your own book. I invested in promotion. I’m a freelance writer. I don’t regret making that investment. At the time I figured, I’ll worry about it later. Well, it’s later and I’m feeling the financial impact. I have second book paralysis, knowing how hard it was promoting my first. Musicians are open and honest about the challenges. They offer each other advice and strategies. Authors in Canada don’t talk about these issues. We’re worried about seeming ungrateful. It’s very isolating. We need to be more vocal as a community.

SH: Can any of you comment further on shame and vulnerability?

CS: You’re novel is something you’ve worked on for years. It will be judged. There will be reviews. I’m a private person. I work through things in writing. It doesn’t feel right to be so exposed. To create anything of value, you have to go there, though. I was terrified of being changed by success. I can deal with rejection, but I have no experience in dealing with success.

SAA: It’s about being a creative person in the public sphere. You can get so involved in the persona you adopt for the media that you can start to feel schizophrenic. We don’t express our real feelings on social media. Everyone else seems more successful, happier. You compare yourself to others and find yourself wanting. There’s another reality to the one presented on Facebook.

HR: When I was published for the first time (I wrote an essay about the experience) I suffered anxiety and panic attacks. If it’s not discussed openely, everyone thinks it’s only them. I have a novel on submission. I received a rejection and felt relief. I know what to do with rejection. A ‘yes’ involves a whole other world. I was happy to stay in my identity as a rejected writer. You have to redefine yourself in light of success.

SH: Is this a question of gender? We’re all women on this panel.

MM: There’s a line between the inner and outer worlds of the author. There’s a free-floating shame still attached to being a woman and a woman writer in particular. Hélène Cixous once asked, “write? With what right?” We’ve internalized this social message. It’s about taking charge of the narrative. Take hold of the narrative. Be heard. It’s a gendered issue.

CS: Are there any men authors in the audience?

Aud: Yes. When the questions was asked, all the women were nodding and the men were shaking their heads. We don’t talk about the shadow side.

MM: The word authorship, etymologically, it means leadership, mastery. As a woman, I didn’t feel welcomed into that world.

SH: Many authors speak of their novels as their ‘book babies.’ There’s a stigma to post-partum depression. You’re not allowed to feel down after having a human baby. Have you found anything that helps?

SAA: Being someone who had this dream, I had high expectations. Being in a band dialled those expectations back. Check your expectations. Talk about it with other authors. What does success mean to you?

CS: Create a safe, private space in which to create. Don’t get down on yourself if you can’t create while you’re doing publicity. It’s not what I thought the job was. I have to remember why I write. I have to turn off all of my expectations. I’m still a writer, even if I never get published again. I wanted to make a living as a writer. I have. But there are worse things than not making a living as a writer.

HR: I did a releasing ritual. I needed to get all of that stuff out. Society says you should be happy. I felt loss. I had to write it out. I had to acknowledge the feelings and affirm what I wanted.

SH: How do you not miss the moment because you’re rushing on to the next fifty things you have to do? You have to celebrate your successes. Ania Szado says you also have to honour your losses.

MM: When my book came out, my Rabbi did a blessing over the book. It was a wonderful thing, on the Sabbath, so, no selling, no pressure. We were just honouring a life event.

SH: Do you want to say something about your definition of success?

MM: The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much others define success for us. We also internalize those definitions and move the bar.

CS: My ‘word of the year’ was success. It terrified me. To everyone else, it looks like success. To me, it doesn’t feel like success. It has a lot to do with what we expect.

SAA: Amy Winehouse’s definition of success was to sing. That’s it. When she got big, she imploded.

Q: What issues turn you on to writing?

CS: I write because I have something to say. Later, the issues grow out of what I’ve written.

SAA: Despite all the challenges of writing, we all have something to say. The joy of writing is in expressing something, of speaking to your readers.

Q: How do you relate to your readers and how is that relationship affected by the shadow side?

MM: I used to be more involved in small press publication. A man bought my book for a dollar and then returned later to tell me that he was moved. It was a wonderful feeling.

SAA: I started out on fire about online marketing. Eventually, I felt like I was speaking into the void. It wasn’t until I went on tour that I felt it was real. I could talk to people. Writers are rarefied outside Toronto.

CS: I was at a writers’ festival in BC and a woman gave me an envelope. In her letter she asked me how I had known her so intimately? She felt like I had written for her, to her. It was humbling.

SH: When I launched Mad Miss Mimic last year, a girl bought the book, sat down, and didn’t stop reading all night. My favourite thing is when parents send me pictures of their kids reading the books. It’s old school. One reader can change your world.

Q: What kind of support do you look for?

SAA: I get the best support from other writers. I have a wonderful agent, Samantha Haywood, and she held my hand through the process.

Q: What strategy do you use to deal with criticism?

CS: I bounce back really quickly now. I’m as polite as possible in person. Privately, I allow myself 24 hours of bleakness, and then I get over it.

SAA: A lot of critique says more about the critic than the writer.

Q: Do you get requests for information from aspiring writers?

CS: Yes. I have advice on my blog. I’ll respond to individual requests for advice from friends.

HR: Take me out for lunch and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.

Q: How do you deal with family stuff?

HR: I write what I write and when it goes out into the world, I panic. The Chatelaine article reveals some personal information about my relationship with my dad. I had to tell him when I heard that it would be published. I was worried, but it was good. It’s best to deal with it directly.

And that was time.

Next week, I’m going to post another book review.  It’s a five-star so you can look forward to that 🙂

Be well until next I post, my friends.

Resistance is futile … or is it?

This has been a rough week, the second of two spent out of town for the day job.  I’m exhausted, feeling ill, and I seem to be getting a lot of bad news, or rather I’m taking the news (in itself, neither bad nor good, just news) I’m receiving rather poorly.  I know, that’s my problem, not yours, but I’m sharing anyway in the hope that someone out there might benefit from my momentary struggles.

On a side note, I was moved to join Alex J. Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writers’ Support Group, but the sign up page does not appear to exist at the moment (!)  Yes, it’s been that kind of week.

This goes back to the issue of having, or in my case lacking, thick skin.  When I blogged about this originally, I wrote that having thick skin was kind of like being brave.  Being brave doesn’t mean you’re fearless, it means that you act despite your fear.  Having thick skin doesn’t mean shrugging off criticism or refusing to be affected by it.  Having thick skin means that you have to find a way to view criticism objectively, find a way to accept what you can, compromise where necessary, stick to your guns on what you believe is truly essential, justify your position, and write on.

That’s where I’m having trouble this week, and I think I just need some time to get some objective distance.

So what was the news?  The biggie was the illness of a friend.  The specifics I won’t get into because they’re not mine to share.  Needless to say, it was a bit of a blow.  Perhaps it was more of a trigger.

It’s coloured everything else I’ve done, and all the feedback I’ve received, this week: my coursework, my day job, and especially my writing.  What would otherwise be constructive criticism (taken in stride), or even compliments, have taken on a significantly more subversive tone.

Fraud, the sub-text whispers …

writer's block - crushed and crumpled paper on...

writer’s block – crushed and crumpled paper on notepad (Photo credit: photosteve101)

Why?  I’m blocked.  For the first time in years I can’t write a sentence without rewriting it five times.  Even then, I delete half of what I’ve written (the equivalent of the old-timey writer crumpling up sheet after sheet of paper as they emerge from the typewriter) and try to come up with something that has meaning.

For five years, I’ve written every day.  I’ve returned to the words and they haven’t failed me.  Until this week.  I’m hitting a crisis point, truly overwhelmed, and clueless as to how to proceed.  Surely this means that epiphany can’t be far away?

What I really think is that my old frenemy, depression, is starting to rear its ugly head again.  And yes, it’s my head, so I can call it ugly if I want.

Time to count my blessings:

  1. My health.
  2. My husband (wonderful man – unlimited hugs).
  3. My mom (amazing woman).
  4. My friends (all of them, a blessing in my life).  I have to note a couple of specifics here: Margaret, out of the blue, sent me a card because we’d shared emails of woe; Kim put a quote of mine on her forthcoming book cover (wonderful poet! I’m so honoured!).
  5. My work friends.  More specifics: Monica, dealing with some heavy personal issues of her own, saved our training bacon this week; the training team – most of us got together last night for a lovely evening out and lots of laughter and hugs were shared; my manager commended the training team for our superb work and dedication.
  6. My dog.  Has to be said: unconditional love and sweetness.  Panacea 🙂
  7. My critique group, honest and tough, but very supportive.  They help me become a better writer.
  8. The Wordsmith Studio community, sources of great ideas and resources, chats (though I don’t get to participate as often as I’d like), and networking.
  9. My classmates and our instructor: encouraging and informative.  Another virtual community in the making.

I’ll work my way through this rough patch.  The way is not yet clear, but with all of the above help, how can I not succeed?  Sometimes we just need a reminder.  Life is good, folks, for all that it seems otherwise.

Is anyone else out there fighting the good fight?  What do you do to remain positive?  Any tips and tricks to share?