Tipsday: Writerly Goodness found on the interwebz, July 21-27, 2019

July is winding down and we’re heading into the dog days of summer: August. We’ve already had more than our share of hot, humid days—fact, I’m not complaining—and I’m trying to make the most of each one. I hope you’ve been making meaningful progress in your creative projects.

It’s time to reward yourself with some informal writerly learnings 🙂

Janice Hardy offers a Sunday writing tip: reveal something new in every scene. Then she wonders, are you asking—and answering—the right story questions? Fiction University

Alexa Donne talks about nailing your beginnings (first sentence through first act).

Tracy Hahn-Burkett says, if you want to make a difference, tell a story. Heather Webb offers some notes from a book tour. Keith Cronin shares some serious lessons from a fool on a hill. Writer Unboxed

K.M. Weiland explains how to make your plot a powerful thematic metaphor. Helping Writers Become Authors

Jenn Walton says, let your imagination run wild. Gabriela Pereira crawls inside the mind of a worldbuilding junkie with Fonda Lee. DIY MFA

Angela Ackerman visits Writers in the Storm to discuss character building for pantsers.

Jenna Moreci discusses some of the differences between flat and round characters.

Justin Attas wants you to create a credible magic system. Writers Helping Writers

Lisa Bell wonders, is your writing plan ready for a crisis? Jami Gold

Chris Winkle explains what storytellers should know about normalization. Choose compassion. Write stories that normalize the positive. Then, Oren Ashkenazi examines five stories with premises that don’t suit their settings. Mythcreants

Structuring a chapter. Reedsy

CBC books recommends ten Canadian science fiction and fantasy books you should be reading.

Ada Hoffman is moving towards a neurodiverse future by writing an autistic heroine. Tor.com

Thanks for visiting. I hope you’ve found something for your writerly toolkit.

If you’re looking for some inspiration or research material, be sure to come back on Thursday for some thoughty links.

Until then, be well, my friends 🙂

Tipsday2019

The uncertainty post

I mentioned a couple of (a few?) weeks ago that I’d be posting about the uncertainty in my life these days. Then I went away to When Words Collide and all bets were off. The literary festival was great, but the pace was intense.

So I figured I’d give you this piece before I got on with transcribing session notes from WWC. That will start next weekend.

The uncertainty at work

This is a multi-layered situation.

  1. Massive hiring requiring massive training.
    Last December, a first group of internal hires came through my office to be trained. I trained them, was briefly given an acting assignment (all of three weeks in length), and when I returned to the training team, I was given a special project, and thus largely excused from the burdens of training and/or monitoring the 50 additional internal and new hires that started in January.
    In March, I piloted the training that was the result of the special project and then cofacilitated two sessions of Business Writing to help a colleague achieve her certification (good news there – she got it!).
    As the new fiscal started in April, the second round of training and monitoring began. Once more, I trained the local group and it soon became apparent that while my manager wanted me to continue to work on special projects (three this time), that this would not be possible.
    I dove into monitoring, and then into advice and guidance, which, having been ignored to give priority to the monitoring, was backlogged by several weeks. Our mandate is to respond to these requests within 48 hours. Yeah.
    Starting in September, there will be another wave of new hires to be trained and monitored followed by a third in November, which I may or may not have to assist with because the position they are being hired for is outside my expertise.
    I’m steeling myself for several weeks out of town in September, and further training in late November.
  2. We may be losing our manager.
    This is a mixed blessing, because my manager is younger than I am, she has a lot of potential for mobility, and, more importantly, she has the skill set to take her fairly high in the corporate hierarchy. Our manager is a driving force for our team, though. She fights for us, and ensures that we have what we need to succeed in our jobs and careers, and what we need to achieve work/life balance.
    About the time I was assigned the second set of special projects, she received and accepted the offer of an acting senior manager. For a few weeks, she attempted to manage both teams. This soon became untenable, and the training team received an acting manager.
    This was supposed to be a temporary situation, until the assessment process for the senior manager’s position was concluded and a permanent senior manager moved into the position. The thing is, my manager’s in that process. If she’s offered the position, she will likely accept. Or she should, because it’s an excellent opportunity for her.
    In the meantime, we have a very capable acting manager, but one who is unfamiliar with our business line, and the responsibilities of the team. We’ve been there before. When I started with the training team back in 2009, we were without an actual manager for years, and the team had been for years previous to that. It does not make for a good situation. Most acting positions last a day short of four months, and with that many changes in leadership, the team was foundering.
    Plus, there have been several retirements among the executives in the last year or so, and as gaps appear, they must be filled, generally from levels below.
    I anticipate we’ll be in a very reactionary mode for some time while the corporate structure stabilizes.
  3. I’m on the verge of giving up ever moving beyond my current circumstances.
    The last pool I was in, for consultant, expired Dec 31st, 2013. Since then, I’ve applied for no less that five other positions. I’ve been screened out of all but one. That one is also for consultant, and I was almost screened out of it, but managed to squeak by. At the interview, most, if not all of the candidates must have failed the written portion, because they had a second written test. We were supposed to know the results of the assessment by the end of June. I think the board members must be on holiday.
    I’m coming up against a geographical brick wall. Our regional headquarters is in Toronto and our national headquarters is in Ottawa. I live in neither city, nor am I willing to move. This is the reason I’ve been screened out of several of the assessment processes. Even though our work environment is virtual (I currently work on a virtual team) someone in the hierarchy wants to consolidate skilled workers in our respective HQs. I get that, but still feel the patent inequity of the situation. I have skills. Mad ones even. While I’m content in my current position, the coming overload of training and monitoring and the potential lack of, or frequent change in, management makes me much less content in the day job.
    I’m getting to the point, though, where I want to give up the fight. Even if I make it into the next consultant pool, I’m not likely to get anything more than an acting position, precisely because I’m anchored in Sudbury. There’s no indication that the situation will change any time soon.
    Always hovering on the edge of my mind is the possibility of leaving the day job early in order to pursue my writing. Do I want to persist in a losing battle for the remaining years of my career?
    Also, Phil may be looking at reducing his hours, transitioning to a subsistence job, or retiring in a few years (which option depends on the uncertainty at home – see below). Since he works for a charity, and I work for a larger employer, I’ve always made more money that he has. Even when I make an agreement for a self-funded leave, that basically takes us to a rough parity. But I still make more. I won’t take the risk of sinking us below the poverty line so I can write full time. Though if I can write full time, there’s a much better chance that I will be able to make a reasonable income within a few years. What will we do for those critical years, however?
    Quandries, quandries . . .
  4. My satisfaction with my writing life is quickly outstripping my satisfaction with my day job.
    Yeah. So. That’s pretty self-explanatory, but my last point, above, is a concern. A big one. I have no answers.

The uncertainty at home

This year, the city has been working on Regent Street, right outside my house. This process has involved the tearing up on my front yard and driveway. A retaining wall is going to be constructed once our gas line is rerouted and the rock in our front yard (which is the same rock in our basement) is hacked away. Our driveway has to be sloped properly and will be resurfaced afterward. There’s no estimated time on when this will happen, but they can’t leave things the way they are for the winter.

Regent Street construction

There has been talk of developing our little street and of extending it through to the other side of the block for years. And I mean YEARS.

The driveway . . . for now

I’ll be clear: this is not happening now.

We’ve been told that it is happening, though. At some vague point in the future. Officially, no one can confirm anything.

In order for this to happen, Marttila Drive has to conform to the dimensions of the cross street. They’ve already made the opposite side of our street conform with Bouchard, which has narrowed the street considerably. On our side, there is a huge rock to deal with, and our house.

Our former front yard

Apparently, there will likely be a new turning lane when the street is expanded. This will cut into both the side and the front of our yard. The proposed retaining wall is already at our front step. Our easement is effectively gone.

This means expropriation.

Really, it’s not a bad thing.

If we had to sell our house, we’d have to invest tens of thousands of dollars to do so, and we probably wouldn’t get the investment back. The value in our property is in the fact that our zoning is commercial/residential, and the property is deep. Yes, it’s mostly Pre-Cambrian Shield, but that’s not unusual in a city like Sudbury. Most developers anticipate blasting.

Plus, it’s not the best place to live with the constant traffic, which includes transports, and the continual noise, which includes inebriated patrons walking home from the bar down Regent.

We’ve been led to believe that the city will make a reasonable offer for the property based on the assessed value. We’re good with that.

My mother lives next door to us (yes, two Marttila’s living on Marttila Drive – it was my grandfather’s property and I’m so over the notion of always having a Marttila live on Marttila Drive, thank you very much) and she will likely opt to sell, if her property is not also expropriated, and we’ll work on some mutually satisfactory solution. My mom’s pretty cool, and Phil and I have already discussed the option of a granny suite, or a duplex, or some other, at this time unnamed, solution.

But we don’t know when any of this will happen.

Last year, one of our neighbours went to an information session and he was told that the development would occur in three to four years. But plans change, and this is why no one Phil has spoken to has been able to tell us anything. It’s so aggravating.

Though our mortgage is paid off, we still have a sizable debt on our line of credit, and a car loan.

This is why I’ve been so reluctant to take any kind of chance on my writing.

I’m still working steadily toward the publication of at least one of my novels, and this year, I’ll have two short stories published in paying markets and I just won a prize for another piece of short fiction (yay!). This still amounts to less than $500 income from my writing. I’m not comfortable with leaving a $60K a year job for that, as wonderful as the publication credits are.

So that’s the deal.

The only stable things in my life right now are my relationship with Phil/my family/my friends, and my writing. It’s enough, and I can still claim contentment, but the rest just makes my head ache.

Thanks for letting me vent.

I’ve tried my best not to descend to the whiny, self-pitying voice in this post. I’ve tried to stick to stating facts, but I know my irritation has likely leaked through. Honestly, these are all first world problems. No one will die, or even go hungry, as a result of any of the above.

Unless I break completely and decide to quit. We might go hungry, then.

I keep this in mind as I wake up each day and I hug my contentment tightly to myself, take a deep breath, and move forward.

I have absolutely no control of all the uncertainty in my life. I can only control my own reaction to it and how much I let it affect my life. Frankly (Frankl-ly?) I don’t feel like giving it that much power.

I’ve bound it in words now. Writing is potent magic 😉

Wishing lots of that for you, my friends!

Break a pencil!

Muse-inks

The Right to Write

As part of the Wordsmith Studio Goodreads group, I have been reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write.  I think I’ve fallen in love 🙂

Cover of "The Right to Write: An Invitati...

Cover via Amazon

Julia’s philosophy of writing is something that I’ve aspired to for years and I think that I’ll be referring to her book for some time.  The book has an organic quality to it that I admire.

What follows are the gems I mined from Cameron’s book, and all the credit for them must, of course, go to the author.

Gems:

Introduction
“Writing has for thirty plus years been my constant companion, my lover, my friend, my job, my passion, and what I do with myself and the world I live in.  Writing is how, and it sometimes seems why, I do my life.”
“Our ‘writing life’ … cannot be separated from our life as a whole.”
“… writing is a powerful form of prayer and meditation, connecting us both to our own insights and to a higher and deeper level of inner guidance …”

Begin

“It’s a luxury to be in the mood to write.”
“… writing is like a good pair of pyjamas …”

Let yourself write

“We have an incredible amount of mystery, mystique, and pure bunk around exactly what [becoming a writer] means.”
“When we just let ourselves write, we get it ‘right.’”

Let yourself listen

“Writing is about getting something down, not about thinking something up.”

The time lie

“The myth that we must have ‘time’—more time—in order to create is a myth that keeps us from using the time we do have.”

Laying track

“For the first time, I gave myself emotional permission to do rough drafts and for those drafts to be, well, rough.”
“Writing—and this is the big secret—wants to be written.”

Bad writing

“Bad writing—when it’s good—is like New York street pizza.  Sometimes it’s a little too crusty.  Sometimes it’s a little soggy, but the tang is undeniable.  It has flavor.  Spice.  Juice.”

This writing life

“I have crawled out of lovers’ beds to sneak off and write.”

“There is a great happiness in letting myself write.  I don’t always do it well, or need to, but I do need to do it.”
“Writing is alchemy.”

Mood

“All of us have a sex drive.  All of us have a drive to write.”
“Writing may be an art, but it is certainly a craft.  It is a simple and workable thing that can be as steady and reliable as a chore—does that ruin the romance?”

Drama

“Keep the drama on the page.”
“Keeping the drama on the page is ruthless, enlightened self-interest.”

The wall of infamy

“… I advocate writing for revenge.  I advocate writing ‘to show them.’  You turn the dross of your disappointments into the gold of accomplishment.”

Valuing our experience

“Seeking to value ourselves, we look to others for assurance.  If what we are doing threatens them, they cannot give it.  If what we envision is larger than they can see, they cannot give support for what it is we are doing.”
“Valuing our experience is not narcissism.  It is not endless self-involvement.  It is, rather, the act of paying active witness to ourselves and to our world.”

Specificity

“One thing at a time, one thought, one word at a time.  That is how a writing life is built.”
“Detail allows us to communicate precisely what we mean.”

Body of experience

“Because we think of writing as something disembodied and cerebral, because we ‘think’ of writing rather than notice that what we do with it is meet or encounter it, we seldom realize that writing, like all art, is embodied experience.”
“True knowledge, authentic knowledge, is something deeper than the mind entertains.”

The well

“Writing is what we make from the broth of our experience.  If we lead a rich and varied life, we will have a rich and varied stock of ingredients from which to draw …”
“Sanity in writing means acknowledging that we are an creative ecosystem and that without fresh inflow and steady outflow the pond of our inner resources can grow stagnant and stale.”

Sketching

“If I see or hear the impulse to put in a tree, I put it in the landscape of what I am writing … the writing itself knows when and how and where it will use it.”
“‘It’s a sort of lucid dreaming where I carry the idea of the story and the Universe delivers to me bits and pieces as I need them.’”

Loneliness

“Not writing is the lonely thing.  Not writing creates self-obsession.  Self-obsession blocks connection with others … with the self.  Writing is like an inner compass.  We check in and we get our bearings.”

Witness

“What writing brings to life is clarity and tenderness.  Writing, we witness ourselves.”

“Why don’t we do it in the road?”

“People who write from discipline … take the risk of trying to write from the least open and imaginative part of themselves, the part of them that punches a time clock instead of taking flights of fancy.”

Connection

“Writing is a way not only to metabolize life but to alchemize it as well.  It is a way to transform what happens to us into our own life experience.  It is a way to move from passive to active.  We may still be the victims of circumstance, but by our understanding of those circumstances we place events within the ongoing context of our own life, that is, the life we ‘own.’”

Being an open channel

“When writing dominates a life, relationships suffer—and not coincidentally, so does the writing.”
“Although we seldom talk about it in these terms, writing is a means of prayer.  It connects us to the invisible world.”

Integrating

“The root of the word ‘integration’ is the smaller word ‘integer,’ which means ‘whole.’  Too often, racing through life, we become the ‘hole,’ not ‘whole.’”

Credibility

“Based on the idea that writing is product, not process, the credibility attack wants to know just what credits you’ve amassed lately.  The mere act of writing, the fact of which makes you a writer, counts for nothing with this monster.”

Place

“The accumulation of details, the willingness to be specific and precise, the willingness to ‘place’ a piece of writing accurately in context—all of these things make for writing that a reader can connect to.”

Happiness

“It is my belief that writing is a way to bless and to multiply out blessings.”
“Writing is a form of cherishing.”

Making it

“The universe is not, to my eye, a cruel and capricious place.  I believe that our desire to write is a deep-seated human need to communicate and that it is answered by an equally powerful human drive to be communicated to.  In other words, for every writer there is a reader—or many readers.”

Honesty

“Writing is about honesty.  It is amost impossible to be hinest and boring at the same time.”

Vulnerability

“Vulnerability in writing is the enemy of grandiosity … of pomposity.  It is the enemy of posturing; the enemy of denial … Vulnerability is writing health, and health—as I can assure you—can be a scary-feeling experience for some of us.”
“Vulnerability, which is honesty’s shy younger sister, is the part of ourselves that renders un capable of great art, art that enters and explores the heart.”

Dailiness

“Writing is the act of motion.  Writing is the commitment to move forward, not to stew in our own juices, to become whatever it is that we are becoming.”
“Reality happens in daily doses.  Life lived a day at a time is life made much of.”

Voice

“Writing from the body—dropping down into the well of your experience and sounding out how you feel—ultimately yields a body of work.  We say that a voice is full-bodied without realizing that this is a literal phrase: when we write from our gut rather than from our head we acquire the same resonance that a singer does when the breath comes from the diaphragm rather than high up in the chest.”

Form versus formula

“… joie de vivre, … kick-in-the-pants power comes when we allow form to triumph over formula.  In other words, when we trust that writing ‘live’ has a real and valid life to it.”

Footwork

“It is a spiritual maxim that God never closes one door without opening another.  It is a spiritual joke that while this may be true, the hallway in between is murder.  When we are ‘stuck’ in our writing lives, it is usually because we are clinging to a situation that has outlived its usefulness to us or we are unwilling to explore a new risk that we sense we really must take.”

Practice

“Practice means what it says: writing is something to be done over and over, something that improves through the repetitive doing but that needs not be done perfectly. … Consistency is the key to mastering the instrument that is you.”

Containment

“Showing our writing to hostile or undiscerning readers is like lending money to people with terrible fiscal pasts.  We will not be repaid as we wish.”
“We must write from love and we must choose those to read us who read from love: the love of words.”

Sound

“We talk about the writing voice but seldom about the importance of literal sounds in the sound it makes.”
We talk about music in writing but we seldom focus on the music all around us.”

I would live to write, but …

“We want official validation that we are ‘really’ writers.  The truth is, we need to give that permission, that validation, ourselves.”

Driving

“I have a drive to write and I do drive to write. … the art of writing devours images and … if I am going to write deeply, frequently, and well, I must keep my inner pond of images very well stocked.  When I want to restock my images, I get behind the wheel of my car.”

Roots

“… writing benefits from other commitments.  Writing responds well to some gentle scheduling.  A day job not only promotes solvency, it promotes creativity as well.”

ESP

“It is my belief that all of us are naturally intuitive and that writing opens an inner spiritual doorway that gives us access to information both personally and professionally that serves us well.  I call this information ‘guidance’ …”

Cheap tricks

“… the part of me that writes in young, vulnerable, and easily swayed. … I use a lot of cheap tricks to bribe my writer into production.”

Stakes

“In writing, stakes are a question of clarity and empathy.  As writers, we must make it very clear what our characters stand to lose or gain so that our readers, encountering these stakes, can feel empathy and care about the outcome.”

Procrastination

“Writers procrastinate so that when they finally get to writing, they can get past the censor.”

Into the water

Julia’s prescription of morning pages, a narrative time line, and cups.  You’ll have to read the book to find out what these are.

The right to write

“To be truly human, we all have the right to make art.  We all have the right to write.”

These are only a few of the gems I could have plucked out for you, and all of them are of a similar nature.  If you are inspired or intrigued in any way by these, go grab the book.  Go on now!  Give yourself a lovely gift for Christmas.  Or suggest it to a loved one.

Cameron includes exercises at the end of each chapter and it forms a kind of writer’s rehab.  The Right to Write is, if nothing else, Cameron’s attempt to heal the injured and encourage the aspiring writer.