Month: February 2020

Celebrate Writers

authors rockValentine’s Day was twelve days ago but it’s never too late to celebrate. On Saturday my writers group, VIRA, held our annual luncheon. At one time, we held a formal ceremony with volunteer awards, writing awards and mentorship awards.  Over the years we’ve simplified. We’re all volunteers, so we all got a box of chocolates. Instead of a few door prizes, we all took home a party favour. I got a painted stone that says “Authors Rock.”

We used to arrange a set meal, now we all order individually from the menu. It makes life easier for the organizers and each attendee gets her own choice of food.

What hasn’t changed is the good will and good wishes. With 27 women and 1 man in a small room with bare floors, bare walls and a bare ceiling, the din was deafening. But it was a cheerful din, punctuated with bursts of laughter and lots of cheers.

We heard from a writer who wrote her first book while living in the Yukon with three small children at home. The weather was too cold to go outside and the view from her window presented only a landscape of white.

In search of her sanity, our author decided to write a book. She composed at twenty-one words per minute on an electric typewriter. By the time the book was finished, she’d achieved 60 wpm and a request from a publisher. Major celebrations followed. Sadly, the publisher decided to pass on the finished ms.

More stories followed and life went on. With the children grown and gone, our author re-edited her masterpiece. This time, 37 years after she first put fingers to keys, her book was published with a traditional publisher.

From the joy in the room when this tale was told, one would think we’d all been offered a writing contract. Writerly kindness in abundance.

It’s been said many times that writing is a lonely and often discouraging business. That’s why it’s important to celebrate even the smallest of steps, and to find a group of friends who “get” what it means to be a writer.

It was a lucky day for me when I found this group of authors. There is so much kindness and encouragement — and the most interesting people.

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Look at Me!

“Do a favour for a person, and the world will reward you with a flat tire.”

That cynical line is worth a good laugh, but it is not my experience. Remember, I’m still on the lookout for writerly kindnesses.

Today, when I opened my e-mail I found that I had a new follower at Bookbub. I was thrilled. Maybe I never outgrew the childish cry of “look ma, no hands!” Or perhaps it’s a universal desire that someone notice our accomplishments. Is that at the core of a romance novel? The hero or heroine long for the other to notice. To really see into the heart of the other. To understand his/her longings and desires. To truly connect.

One of the hardest things about bereavement is that no one is watching anymore. A new dress, a brilliant idea, a gold star. There is no one standing there cheering and encouraging. My heart aches for the many widows and widowers that I know–people who have lost their cheering section. I try to notice when something about them has changed. I try to remember their special days or the names of their pets. I try to notice. It’s a little bit of kindness that I can offer.

On the writerly front, a new follower is the best kind of cheering. Someone not only read my words, but took the time to pat me on the back.  I, of course, went to my bookbub account and checked the list of books I’d recommended. A few that I’d enjoyed recently weren’t listed so I immediately sent in a review and a recommendation. I hope the gold stars I gave those authors gives them as much joy as my follower has given me.

Thanks everyone. Keep practicing kindness, whether the writerly sort or the human sort. We can make a better world.

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How to Solve your Story Puzzle

jig-saw puzzle I love puzzles — crosswords, Sudoku, word wheel, scrabble and jigsaw–I can wile away many hours happily studying the clues. When I find an answer I get a little buzz of satisfaction. One of the traditions in my house is a jigsaw puzzle at Christmas. Guests know it will be on the kitchen counter and all are welcome to fit in a few pieces. Sometimes I have a hard time prying people away from the puzzle and getting them to the dinner table. It’s a fun pastime and well suited to the holidays. Usually the puzzle is complete by the second week of January.

It took me until the second week of February to complete the one shown at the top of this blog because I had “help” from a calico cat. Her form of help is to sit on the pieces so they can’t be used, or to roll around on the completed bits, totally disarranging them, or, as a special treat, she’ll pick up the pieces in her paw and run away with them. I had to resort to covering the puzzle when not in use, that’s what that rolled up white sheet is all about, and only working on it when the cat was asleep or outside.  So, my frisson of gratification has been all the sweeter for being delayed.

Constructing a story is a bit like solving a jigsaw. The writer starts with a few ideas about what might happen — the pieces of the puzzle. Then she has to figure out where to put those pieces in the story — the timeline. Often a writer will know the beginning scene and the end scene, but the stuff in the middle is a bunch of jumbled pieces, some don’t even belong in this story. As she sorts and fits the pieces together, inevitably the author will realize that there are missing pieces. She has to go back and write more scenes. The entire process may take longer than expected –usually it takes longer. Some happy writers find the pieces fit together quickly without a lot of holes or leftovers. Most of us have to try the bits in different places, turn them one way or the other to get them into the overall design.

Just as I find having room to spread out my jigsaw, I find having a visual “board” for my story helps me see the overall shape. If you have a lot of wall space and a white board, this initial phase of solving the story puzzle might include a few trusted friends. If drawing on the walls doesn’t suit your lifestyle, you can do what I do, and use a large file folder to layout the pieces of the story.

I draw in big squares to represent the chapters in my book, then use post-it notes to itemize the scenes I know will be in the book. The ones in this example are all yellow, but you can refine the system by colour coding –pink for the heroine’s scenes, blue for the hero, yellow for narrative, etc. I gave up using the colours because there was so much overlap. Hero, heroine and exposition all ended up in one scene and I wasted hours worrying about the colour of the post-it. Still, some authors love coloured paper, coloured pens and pretty little stars. Laying out this “storyboard” is also a great excuse to run to the stationery store and buy new pads of paper, new pens, stamps and stickers. Kind of like getting new supplies for the first day of school.

However you lay out the story, on post-its, on a whiteboard,  on a corkboard, or in a computer program, doesn’t really matter. It’s your puzzle, play with it as you will. But I do encourage you to try the “puzzle” method of composition. It makes for a change and change can spark creativity. And aren’t we all chasing that will-o’-the-wisp, creativity?


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In a Rut vs Freedom

rut vs freedomRoutine.

To some that word means “rut” to others, “freedom.” I fall into the latter category.

For weeks I’ve been bumbling along without a routine. Words haven’t gotten on the page, because I’m distracted with one self-made crisis after another. Meals are pitiful, and onerous because I didn’t get to the grocery store. More garments lie in the laundry hamper than hang in the closets.

What’s worse, all that unorganized time isn’t joyful. I pick up a book to read, then put it down because I have a nagging sense that I should be doing “something.” Knitting makes me cross, because it’s wasting time. Everything feels off kilter.

Without a routine, my life feels out of control and I am cranky, really cranky. Maybe that is the reason interviewers are constantly asking writers about their routine. Instinctively, they know that a productive life needs organization.

The light dawned for me as I turned over the calendar to February. One month of 2020 gone and I was a mess. Something had to change.

A trip to the stationery story to procure a new ledger. A few concentrated hours at the desk to close out the books on 2019 and start a fresh new page for 2020. I do like a new notebook. All those clean pages inviting me to fill them with useful words or beautiful words, or orderly words.  I feel my spirits rising along with the little red tick marks on those clean pages.

That sense of order is why routine equates to freedom for me. When I have a list of “to do” I can check off the tasks as they are completed. This gives me a sense of accomplishment and gives me permission to enjoy my free time. Knowing the fridge is full of food, the car has gas, the bills are paid and my WIP is moving forward, I’m released from the rut of discontent and set free to pursue my passions.

My crankiness has taken wings and flown away. My house is in order. My mind is free of distraction.  It has been a good week.

Writerly Kindness Update

Our writers group, VIRA had an unexpected glitch for our September conference, when the two planned speakers cancelled. Panic ensued. Timetables are already set. I contacted Laurie Schnebly Campbell and she agreed to come on our preferred dates. She offered a great choice of workshops and she figured out the best flights — then booked them herself. She never once remarked on the short notice. I call that an extreme example of writerly kindness to a group of authors in distress. Thank you Laurie.

If you have a story of writerly kindness please share. I hope to have a considerable collection of examples by the end of the year. Contributors are entered in a draw for my latest “Prospect” book, available by the end of the year.


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