Category: Writing life (page 1 of 10)

Is Writing Routine?

I used to have a writing routine. After my husband left for work, I wrote, without interruption until he came home for lunch. After lunch I might do editing, but more likely I’d do my chores — shopping, cooking, gardening, sewing. Before bed, I’d read.

Life events have thrown that routine out the window. I’m seeking a new routine that fits with my present lifestyle. I found that coffee shop writing works well, but I don’t like leaving home every afternoon and our recent spell of snow on snow on snow has made that impossible.

I decided to research how other authors maintained their routines, or even if they had one.  The results showed nearly all of 20 famous authors kept to a strict early morning time for writing every day and most employed vigorous activity in the afternoons.  Maya Angelou wrote in a tiny hotel room with no distractions. Jane Austen wrote in the sitting room while her sisters and mother sewed. If visitors came, she hid her papers and joined in the sewing. E.B. White in the busy living room of his house. His family ignored him and he ignored them. (Rather like my coffee shop method – lots of activity but all as white noise.)

Fascinating facts, but none that suggested a routine that did not include early morning writing hours. Of the modern authors, all mentioned the need to turn off social media, etc. during writing hours. That siren call of “you’ve got mail” seems hard to resist.

Philip Roth said  “one skill that every writer needs it the ability to sit still in the deeply uneventful business.“ At least this advice isn’t tied to a time of day. On the surface, sitting still seems a simple requirement. It is not. How often have you sat at your writing desk and decided to just run out to the mailbox, or throw in a load of laundry, or make that one urgent phone call? Sitting still and concentrating on one, difficult, mental task requires a tremendous amount of discipline. That may be why writers desperately seek routines, or rituals.  If we do the same thing, every day, in the same place, perhaps some magic will happen. Our brains will turn on to “writing mode” and the words will pour out on their own.

I wish. Only rarely have the words poured out for me and that is when I’m on a roll. Getting started is a whole other question.

I did find one piece of encouragement. Nora Roberts began her writing career by making notes on stray bits of paper while caring for twin boys with too much energy and a no school day.  No special morning hours there!

This quote from Jennifer Crusie gives hope to the scattered approach .

Do you spend eight hours a day/ 40 hours a week writing or is it less structured?  Honey, I don’t do anything for forty hours a week. It’s “less structured.” I like that. “Less structured.” Instead of “completely random and chaotic.”

None of my research has provided an example of a successful writer who uses the afternoon hours as prime writing time, but I did learn that consistency is a virtue, no matter what the time of day.  And sitting still . . . I’ll work on that.

Over to you, dear readers. Do any of your have a routine that includes filling the empty pages in the afternoon? Please share.

 

Nineteenth Century Internet?

Driving in the last spike

 

In 1886, the time period for my first book in the Prospect series, there were no railways through the rocky mountains in Canada.

Lottie Graham, the heroine of the first book, The Man for Her, had to travel by stage and boat and horseback to reach her destination in the mountains. The journey took months. By the time her sister, Louisa arrived in the latest book, Her One True Love, the railroad had been pushed through at incredible cost, but what a feat of engineering it was. Tunneling through solid rock, skirting along river banks and crossing fantastic trestles, the Canadian Pacific Railroad helped to bring B.C. into Confederation, brought down the government of Sir John A. MacDonald and made the trip from Toronto to Vancouver in four days.

Banff Springs Hotel

To put it into modern terms, the railroad was like the internet of its day. Newspapers could be delivered in under a week. Where Grey North, the hero of Her One and Only,  read of his father’s death weeks after the event, railroads meant telegraphs and communication across the world in mere hours. Goods could be shipped year round, not just during the summer months when waterways were open. Tourism boomed. The railroad brought thousands of wealthy visitors to the spectacular lodges in Banff and Lake Louise. New industry flourished and railway towns such as Field B.C. sprang into existence.

In my current work-in-progress, Prospect is still on the edge of the wilderness, but it is accessible to anyone with the price of a railroad ticket. Hopeful Adams, and his donkey have come from Louisiana to join the hoards of gold seekers. Scarlett, a saloon girl, comes from the deep south of America. The heroine, Verity Chance, has come from Ireland, and the hero, Dr. Nordale hales from Montreal. All have come together in Prospect to seek their fortunes—some on the creeks, others in the town. It is an exciting time to be in Prospect.

Gord Lightfoot is a well-known Canadian folk singer. One of his iconic songs concerns the building of the railroad. The opening line is”there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run.” He goes on from there to describe in music and poetry the building of “an iron road running from the sea to the sea” It is one of my favourite history lessons. You can listen to it here.

Some years ago my husband and I took a rail journey from the Pacific Ocean, across the mountains, the prairies, Ontario and Quebec, the Maritimes and arrived on the Atlantic coast. We had to change trains twice. There was no steam engine but the excitement of boarding the train is something I’ll never forget. The tedium of airport security, the cramped, airless conditions on board a jet plane has made air travel lose its appeal for me, but the thundering of steel wheels on a steel track makes my heart beat high.

It saddens me to see tracks abandoned, or even torn up in our modern age. Roads and transport trucks have replaced the freight cars but they are not nearly as efficient or as clean energy as a locomotive. Not to mention that the railroad cemented our disparate colonies into one nation stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific and up to the Arctic.  In later years thousands of immigrants peopled the prairies, arriving by train.  There’s romance  in riding the rails, falling asleep to the clacking of steel wheels and eating breakfast in a luxurious dining car.  If one has time, it’s the best way to travel.

What about you, dear readers? Do any of you have a railway story to share?

Reading for Love

One of the side effects of my Christmas indulgence in books has been recovering my joy in reading. As a writer, I read — a lot. But I read about the business. I read books on craft. I read books written by my writing colleagues. I read in my genre. I read to learn the trends in fiction. But all that reading can sometimes feel like a chore. Taking a “reading break” over the holidays reminded me of how much I love a good story. From my earliest memories of bedtime stories to the latest novel, a good book has transported me to other worlds and other times. It has introduced me to characters who have stayed in my memory forever.

  •  Rumpelstiltskin.  What a name! But whenever I look at a pile of  straw, I remember the little man who could weave it into gold.
  • Green hair, quite fashionable now, takes me to Prince Edward Island and a red-headed Anne who hated her hair.
  • Inspector Gamache is firmly embedded in my heart, rather like a grandfather I’ve heard about but never met.
  • Hester Prynne. Just the mere mention of her name puts me in a rage.
  • I still ache for Rhett and Scarlet. How could they hurt each other so?

I’ve just turned the last page of The Piano Maker.  Part mystery, part romance, this book included some fascinating details on how pianos are made. I don’t need to know those details to enjoy my piano, but the information is another reminder that reading for pleasure is not a waste of time, as some of our more Puritan ancestors might insist. Reading for pleasure broadens the mind, enhances the spirit and lifts the heart. It’s also a great way to make new friends. “What are you reading?” is a great conversation starter.

If you’ve finished this blog, go read something. I hope you’ll read one of my books, but that’s not necessary. If you are blessed to live in a part of the world where books are plentiful and the ability to read is ordinary, take advantage, and count your blessings.

Christmas Book Madness

A funny thing happened on my way to book Nirvana this Christmas.  For anyone who asks, I’ve told them I love books for Christmas. My husband knows this, my neighbour knows this, my best friend knows this, even mere acquaintances know this. Apparently, I’m quite vocal about my favourite authors as well. Louise Penny is a “must” buy for me and she had a new book, Kingdom of the Blind,  out just in time for Christmas. I got three copies!

Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page just won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. She is a British Columbia writer, living on Salt Spring Island. It’s a kind of love story – the history of a very long marriage that begins in World War II. My neighbour and I belong to the same book club and I was sure she’d like it. So I bought it for her as a Christmas gift, knowing I could borrow it later. Well, my darling husband heard me talking and a copy of the book showed up under my tree.

Jack Knox is a local columnist with a wry sense of humour. I bought his latest book to give to my husband. But before he opened his, I opened one from him to me.

Fortunately, all the replica books can be exchanged so I’ll still have lots of new reading. It’s also nice to know that my friends and family actually listen when I talk books. 🙂

I read all of Dear Evelyn on boxing day. Lovely writing and a story to pull at your heartstrings. Evelyn and Harry belong to “the greatest generation,” and their stories are worth hearing over again. I’m glad Ms. Page preserved this one so beautifully.

Kingdom of the Blind was devoured in two days. Louise Penny is a master at making the reader turn just one more page. Fortunately there were enough leftovers in the fridge that we didn’t starve while I followed Armand Gamache and his team from the idyllic village of Three Pines into the darkest streets of Montreal and out again. A very satisfying read, though I felt a little sad at the end. I’m hoping there’s another book to restore the joy in the Chief Inspector’s life.

There are still three new books by my bedside and I’ll filch Rick Mercer’s Final Report when my husband finishes it.

Books, books, and more books. It’s been a great Christmas.

If you got some good books at Christmas — or even double copies — please share in the comments below.

Good Will – Take Three

Christmas is almost here. Have you done your baking, shopping, wrapping, cleaning? All those Christmas chores threaten to rob the holiday of its true meaning. I hope this little collection of “good will” stories helps you to remember “the reason for the season.” 

Story One:  While hustling out of the rain the other day I went to enter a narrow doorway, with a triangular step. Not the easiest of entries but no a problem for me. I’m quite able. However, an elderly gentleman stood in the rain to hold the door for me. Feeling a bit embarrassed to have put him to the trouble, I mumbled thank you. “My pleasure,” he said, with such genuine warmth that I believed he enjoyed performing that small service. I went on my way with a Christmas glow in my heart.

Story Two:  While standing in the check-out line of my local grocery the clerk and I were exchanging stories of political correctness run amok. Every year it seems, Christmas is the victim of some outrageous slander — like declaring “White Christmas” racist.  The white is about snow, people.   Anyway, I shifted the conversation by explaining about this blog and my collection of good will stories. Three people cheered and one asked for the URL of my blog. So, lady in Fairway checkout, if you’re here, Merry Christmas, and thanks for making my day.

Story Three:  this incident was perhaps more an accident than an act of good will, but it made me happy, so I’ll include it anyway. My husband and I were touring the Butchart Gardens to look at the lights. They are absolutely stunning! In one window was an installation of a toy train, with mountains and tunnels and a curling rink and a carousel. I was trying to take a picture when a young lad, so overcome with excitement jumped in front of my camera. Another little girl was fascinated by the toy merry-go-round so I asked if she’d ridden the real one in another part of the Gardens. Her eyes grew round as saucers. “Can I?” She vibrated with excitement. We all shared a moment of Christmas cheer. Thank you, generous parents, who allowed strangers to share in their children’s wonder.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of good will stories. I’ve been delighted to read the ones you contributed in the comments section. Please keep them coming.

This will be my last post until after Christmas. I wish you all a joyful and blessed Christmas. May you know peace and good will throughout the season and in the new year.

Peace, Good Will

 

‘Tis the season of frantic shoppers, aggressive drivers, wild-eyed bargain hunters and parking lot fender benders. The newspapers are full of stories of selfishness and greed and down-right bad manners. As an antidote, I’m collecting stories of generosity, selflessness, and kindness.

For the month of December I’ve got “good deeds” on my radar. Not the seasonal ones like serving dinner in a homeless shelter, or putting a float in a parade, or being a secret Santa to a shut in. Those are certainly good deeds and kudos to everyone to participates in those kinds of activities.

But for the purposes of this blog, I’m collecting  small acts of kindness, the unorganized kind. The kind that spread the Christmas Spirit everywhere and anywhere, even in unexpected places.

  • Story One: While waiting in a line-up outside Tim Hortons I encountered a young dad taking his little hockey players out for hot chocolate after an early morning practice. Reason enough to give him a pat on the back. But, he went further. He talked to a young man sitting on the sidewalk. Asked if he was hungry, exchanged names, then offered to bring him a breakfast sandwich. The young man on the sidewalk opted for a donut instead. The dad obliged, even after trying to talk the young man into a healthier choice. I was so uplifted by that dad’s good deed, I emptied my purse into a collection box when I finally reached the counter.
  • Story Two: I lost a prized jacket. Searched the house top to bottom several times. Looked in the most unlikely of places. Retraced my steps. Finally, in a last ditch effort, I called the airport. I was sure I hadn’t worn the jacket when I went to the coffee shop there, but  I was ready to try anywhere. Lo and behold, I did wear the jacket and left it hanging on a chair. Some honest soul found it and turned it in to lost and found. Two days after the jacket went missing, the commissionaire produced it from a back room and restored it to me. I am so very grateful to the people who enabled me to get my coat back. It would have been so easy just to walk away with it.
  • Story Three: I needed to make a left-hand turn mid-block. An oncoming vehicle stopped, allowing me to turn and freeing the line of traffic jammed up behind me. Thank you lady driver. You are a remedy for all the angry drivers out there who drive down the shoulder, cut in and out of traffic and steal parking spaces. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and that your act of kindness inspires others.

So, that’s my list for this week. Watch for more as I celebrate the Christmas season. Please share your own story of peace and good will in the comments section. Let kindness reign!

Read to Me

I was in contact with two elderly friends last week. Both are the same age, both are underweight, both have a vision problem that means they cannot read.  One misses newspapers more than anything. The other misses reading piano music.

One is quite robust, despite her tiny size. She works out for an hour every morning and insists on walking everywhere, even though she can’t see the pavement under her feet. The other is extremely frail and requires help to move from bed to chair and back again.

Both have found solace in the spoken word. One listens to audio books while doing her workout. She says twenty minutes just flies by when there’s a good story playing through your earpiece. She has just discovered , Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell. The audio version takes about twenty hours, as compared to the usual ten hours for most books, but my friend finds the writing and the reading so engaging she’s happy to keep listening. In fact, she plans to look for more of this author’s books in audio form.

The other has a volunteer who sits with her one afternoon a week and reads aloud from a paper book. They are about to start , The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough, another tome.

What struck me about these two ladies, apart from their similarity in age and vision impairment, is their joy in listening to a story. Note, even the news junkie would rather have a story playing on her device than a newspaper article.

There’s something wonderful about being read to. In my day, a bedtime story was a requirement from every parent to every child. Even when I could read for myself, my brothers and I loved gathering in the living room of an evening and listening to our mother read aloud. We had stories from the Family Herald, books by Thornton W. Burgess, Bible stories, Mother Goose tales, Pollyanna and Anne of Green Gables, and my mother’s voice.

From listening to my two friends, I realize that we never outgrow that “read me a story” stage.

My Mom didn’t do funny voices, but she read at a pleasing pace, in a clear voice and loved the story. Other parents excelled at “voices” when telling bedtime stories. I had a cousin who could “tell” stories as she made them up.

Some authors read their own work for audio books, others hire voice actors. Whatever the method, it seems “read me a story,” is a universal desire that technology has expanded but cannot displace. Three cheers for those who still read aloud to their children – or grandparents – and congratulations to the techies who figured out that we all want to “hear” a story.

What about you? Do you want to listen to a story? Do you prefer live readers or digital versions? Do you ever consider reading your own work aloud to an audience?

Leave a comment and receive a copy of my latest Christmas short story.

The Look of Love

Just what is the look of love? Artists have tried for centuries to capture it in oils. Poets write verses to it and writers of romance cover pages and pages with words to describe that special quality of expression.

Sara Teasdale wrote: Strephon kissed me in the Spring, /Robin in the fall, /But Colin only looked at me/And never kissed at all.  Sterphon’s kiss was lost in jest,/Robin’s lost in play,/But the kiss in Colin’s eyes/Haunts me night and day.

“. . . take down this book/And slowly read, and dream of the soft look/Your eyes had once. . .” W.B. Yeats

The look of love is that glow in the eye, the softness of the mouth, the unmasked face. It is the longing to gaze endlessly at the beloved. There is a tenderness that moves me to tears — usually.

Last week, at the mall, I saw that look, but this time it made me smile. On a bench sat a very large dude. He looked like a pro football player, maybe a linebacker. In his big hands he cradled a tiny, little baby.  He raised her up so they were nose to nose and the look on his face was pure love. My heart melted, but I had to smile at the incongruous picture they made.

Years from now, when his teenaged daughter is driving him nuts, I hope he remembers that moment.

I hope we all remember such moments when stress, fear, worry, deadlines, and endless demands overwhelm us.

Love is stronger than hate. 

Joy and Thanksgiving

Canadian Thanksgiving occurs this weekend.  It is one of my favourite holidays, celebrating harvest and the abundance of the land. During our stretch of sunshine at the end of September I got into Thanksgiving mode a little early.  

We picked pumpkins, 

                                                              harvested apples,

 

and gathered seed for next year’s flowers.

.  

 

  

                                    We were dazzled by dahlias and 

enchanted with a late blooming rose.

 

My world teemed with abundance.  My soul stretched and soared in gratitude.

Then, to top it all off, we attended a stage production of “Glorious” by Peter Quilter.  This is the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, the world’s worst opera singer.

And she was a terrible singer.  She tackled the most demanding coloratura repertoire and murdered it in spectacular fashion.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  Apparently her real life audience laughed too, but they loved her and she was invited to sing at Carnegie Hall in New York City.  Why?

I believe it was because of her exuberant joy.  She loved music, loved singing.  It brought her unparalleled  happiness and she wanted to share that happiness with the world.  I think she felt the same way on stage as I feel when I gloat over the harvest from my garden.  We are uplifted, exultant and full of joy.

At this time of thanksgiving, I wish all my readers overwhelming joy, the kind that cannot be contained in a safe, conventional life.  I wish you the exuberance of my dahlias and the bursting enthusiasm of Florence Foster Jenkins.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I

Kneading the Generations

I made scones for lunch the other day. I did it the old-fashioned way with a sifter, a pastry cutter and my hands. No machines.  Don’t get me wrong. I love my bread maker, but I miss the experience of working the dough. There is something eminently satisfying about kneading bread. I love how the dough changes from sticky and formless into a smooth, round ball as I work it.  I love the gentle movement of pressing the heel of my palm into the dough, flipping and turning it.  I like the way this timeless activity connects me to my foremothers.  Generations of women have performed this same task, turning flour, fat and yeast into tasty food for a family.

This photo of my grandmother, at an advanced age, baking bread at the kitchen table evokes feelings of warmth, and family, and connection. You can’t see it in the photo, but all around her, her daughters and granddaughters are preparing Christmas dinner. It’s one of my favourite memories.

In my wip, the heroine has devoted herself to making a home for her sister. She succeeds, but her success is hollow when she realizes that she had provided shelter, but not “home.” I think I’ll have her make bread.  The kneading will connect her to the place.  The smell of fresh bread will put heart in her hearth.

Any other fans of kneading out there?

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