Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Nanowrimo - My Annual Reminder that Anything is Possible

Nanowrimo - National Novel Writing Month.  It happens every November.  Around the world, the challenge begins in October for those who prepare outlines, research ideas and plan to work ahead on, or set aside, as many household responsibilities as possible.  When the clock strikes midnight and we welcome November 1, fingers begin flying across keyboards in time zone after time zone around the world.

This year I completed my third Nanowrimo challenge.  I wrote just over 50,000 words of a brand new story in 30 days.  I am a winner!

Each time I have participated - 2012, 2014 and 2015 - I have experienced the challenge on a similar curve.

Day 1: Anything is Possible!  This year will be fantastic!  Here we GO!!!

Day 2:  Oh yeah.

Day 10: Um, maybe this wasn't such a great idea.  When am I going to get a minute to add to my word count again?

Day 13: If I take the hyphens out, I can increase my word count...

Day 15: If I don't get my butt in the chair and my hands on the keyboard, this is going to be a wash.

Day 18: YES! Back in the groove and it feels SO GOOD!

Day 21:  This is a stupid story.  No one is going to want to read this.  What was I thinking?

Day 22:  If I break the compound words apart, I can increase my word count...

Day 23: That would make an interesting plot twist.  Yes, I'll try that!

Day 27: Work it.  Work it.  Just keep writing.

Day 30: OH YEAH! 50,000 words, there it is! Anything IS Possible!

The actual days may differ from year to year, but the curve of the experience has been the same all three times. This commitment, this challenge to myself to write a novel in 30 days seems to have a predictable pathway.

But, oh - the exhilaration when I am done!  What a wonderful feeling.

I have two part-time jobs, two volunteer positions and I am the primary parent of 4 kids ages 9, 12, 14 and 17.  I am busy all the time.  Despite my deep desire to write, it is hard to make time. Nanowrimo has given me three first drafts and has underscored the importance of making time.

Novel # 1 was revised during a weekend retreat in September and sent off to a writing contest.

Novel #2 has been reviewed and is ready for the first major revision work.

Novel #3 has only 50,099 words, with about 15,000 more to go to finish the story arch.

Anything is possible. What a wonderful feeling, indeed!

Monday, 28 September 2015

Making Time to Write and Revise

In my last post, I said I was going to enter a contest.  Having a goal would motivate me to get revising some work I had set aside. I've got lots to gain from making a commitment, by writing the deadline on my calendar.

The days of September slipped by, filled with the day to day realities of back to school season with four school-age children. New shoes and backpacks, forms to fill out and open houses to attend. Schedules to keep track of and homework to guide.

Of course, the tasks of my work demanded attention as well.  Telephone calls to make, interviews to conduct, reports to write and classes to teach.

September was getting away from me and the deadline loomed.  I was not going to have time to prepare my contest submission.

Last week, however, a gap suddenly appeared in my schedule when a planned event was cancelled. Behold! An opportunity!

So Friday night I checked into a hotel near my home.  I prepared my work area and settled in for a solid rest.

Saturday morning dawned bright with hope.  I worked from 8 AM to 2 PM, fueled by coffee, almonds and raisins.  I made it halfway through the first draft, editing and revising as I went.  A shower and a quick trip out for some pizza, and I was back at the desk by 3:30 PM.  I happily worked until 1 AM, finishing the second half, then adjusting and adding in scenes to build up my characters and the plot.

Another sleep, this one restless with ideas, and I was ready to begin again on Sunday at 8 AM.  I tinkered and fiddled with words and phrases until it was almost time to check out.

Today, I am taking a rest day - catching up on other items on my to do list, like this blog.

Tomorrow, I will make time to go through my story one last time.  I'm sure there will still be room for improvement, but the deadline looms.

I will make it.  I will be ready to submit a novel draft, 55,000+ words of a story of love.

The first prize is $5000.00 and a publishing contract.

5 runners up will receive an iPad mini loaded with stories.

Whether I place in the top 6 or not, I have already won.  I made time in my life for this work that I love.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Why Enter A Writing Contest?

It came to my attention today that there is a current open story-telling contest.  One that I am eligible to enter! The Second Annual Authors First Novel Competition is on.  The prize includes $5000, a book contract, an iPad mini and a year's worth of books.  That all sounds very exciting!

The contest opened in March 2015, and it closes September 30, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST.  Submissions must be a minimum of 40,000 words. Authors from anywhere in the world are invited to submit unpublished works.

Why am I considering entering - scanning my September calendar for time I can block off for writing - with the deadline looming so close?

I figure I've got nothing to lose.

I suppose if I don't win and I am not one of the 5 runners-up, I will 'lose' my $50.00 entry fee.

What do I have to gain?

Right now, I have three projects that are between 50,000 and 75,000 words, more or less complete first drafts. These works have compelled me enough to see them through the first stage and I am still pretty interested in them. But I am a busy person, running a business and parenting a bunch of kids.  I don't always make time for writing as I make calls, attend meetings and do business between cooking, chauffeuring and cleaning.  Especially writing that takes the level of concentration required for editing and revisions.

So, what do I have to gain?

The opportunity to set a goal: Edit and revise one first draft enough that it might be submitted for this contest.  Without a goal, I find it hard to get moving.

The option to work toward making writing a priority in my busy life. Writing satisfies my soul and I want am worthy of nurturing.

The chance to share one of my stories.  I love to share my stories.

What about you?  What have you got to gain by entering a contest?

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

One at a Time or Multiples? How Do You Approach Writing Projects?

I have been making an effort to write regularly for almost 4 years now.  In that time, I completed and submitted a draft historical romance novel to a publishing company.  I have also begun work on several other projects. I find my style helps me avoid writer's block.  I have enough on the go that when it's time to write, there is always something I want to add to one project or another.

I began a memoir about parenting a child on the autism spectrum through elementary and high school. That work will remain in progress for a while, as my Aspergirl is just entering grade 9 this year. My daughter approves this project and thinks it is a good way to offer other parents hope about what is possible when the challenges sometimes seem overwhelming.

I have won NaNoWriMo both times I attempted it, and have two 50,000+ word novels waiting for revision and refinement. I can't wait for November to roll around again!

I completed a rough draft of another novel, not a romance at all, but a look at the toll taken by some of the professional caregivers in our communities.

I've started a sequel to the first historical romance novel. It feels like this may become a trilogy as there is one more character whose story arc begs for completion.  What fun this is, as I get to spend more time in the fictional little community I fell in love with writing the first story.

I have one more little project begun, a modern romance being written for fun.  It's not very far along yet, but it captures my attention now and again.

How do you approach writing projects?  Do you stick with one start to finish, or is your habit more like mine, hopping from idea to idea, working on what inspires you from day to day, week in and week out?

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Idea Files

Are you like me?  Do you have notebooks, file folders (and digital versions of these storage methods) full of snippets of ideas?

I'm forever jotting points down - whether it is in one of my standard lined notebooks, a special journal, a scrap of paper, on an app or in a word processing file.  I try to capture fragments and phrases that I hope will mean something to me when I pull them out and look at them again.  I call these my idea files.  It's not a particularly original title for a collection of sort-of-original thoughts, but it captures the essence.

Do you get back to the ideas in your collection of inspiration?  Can you make use of them?

I have found that in trying to cultivate a regular writing practice, these ideas have been handy from time to time.  Usually, I have some project that I can't wait to write about when I have time.  But sometimes I have the time and no outline in mind.  This is when my little cache of notes proves its worth.  I can choose a topic that has grabbed me before if it moves me again, or I may find myself inspired about a new tangent as I read through my scattered notes.

Are you feeling blocked?  Remember to take a look through your own idea files.  It may be just the inspiration you need to get going again.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Beta Readers: Value Added in the Editing Process

When I finished a decent draft of my novel, "In Angel's Wake", I hired a professional to provide editing feedback.  This service was invaluable, and my editor pointed out gaps in my plot, weaknesses in my writing that included repetition of some of my favourite descriptions and generally provided ideas to strengthen my work.  It was an excellent experience.

After I made several revisions inspired by the editor's feedback, I had a handful of copies of my book printed and bound.  I handed them out to a select few folks who were willing to read my work and offer some opinion: my very first batch of Beta Readers!

As suggested at one of the workshops I attended at Ontario Writer's Conference, I offered a set of highlighters with each copy.  Green for "Good work", yellow for "I'm not sure I understand/I'm not sure this fits" and Pink for "No. Not this." All of my beta readers, except the one I met at that conference, were surprised by the highlighters. Some tried to embrace the markers but found them cumbersome, choosing pencil instead to mark up their copy.

My very favourite response to the highlighters was one beta reader's comment "I'm sorry, I didn't use the markers much.  I was so involved with the story I forgot about them."

My first group of beta readers have taught me a lot.  One, who was very keen to offer, didn't finish my book.  One, who I know likes me very much as a friend, didn't even start. One, who laughed at the markers, sent me a lovely note and let me know that my manuscript is being enjoyed so much it has been passed to a few other people to enjoy before it will make its way back to me with written feedback. One was the young woman who printed and bound the copies and requested a copy for herself, though she didn't get to read it until her mother was done.

The feedback I've received from my beta readers so far has been quite different from that of my professional editor. It has been just as useful as I consider further revisions to this story.  In fact, some readers suggested they would like more, sparking the idea of a trilogy to tell more of the tale of Angel and the people in her small Newfoundland community.  It also helps very much to pass the time while I wait to hear whether the publisher I have queried might like to read the whole story or whether I must knock on another door.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

What's Your Writing Habit?

Common advice for writers includes the recommendation to write every day.  Establishing a daily writing habit, a work schedule for your craft, is encouraged to increase both quantity and quality of writing.  Making time daily means more opportunity to write, edit and revise.

I am not an every day writer. Even during NaNoWriMo I have been unable to write every day. With two part-time jobs, two volunteer gigs, four school-aged children and a live-in in-law, my days are hectic and my schedule is erratic.  I don't really have any kind of daily routine established, and haven't for years.

In the past three years, I have won NaNoWriMo twice, finished and submitted a novel for publishing, finished a second novel that is in the first round of revisions and begun a third novel.  How can this be if I am not writing daily?

I write whenever I can, wherever I can.  Parts of my first draft of my first novel were written in the parents waiting room during horseback riding lessons, in the bleachers during football practice, in the waiting area of the dance studio and at the local library.  Revisions were done when I blocked off days to spend alone with my laptop in our trailer.

Life is often unpredictable.  Trying and failing to write daily might have left me too disheartened to continue.  I loved my stories too much to give up on them, and it turns out that my writing habits work well for me.  I've managed a pretty good word count since I returned to creative writing.  My stories are making their way into the world.

So, what is your writing habit?

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Struggle for Consistency

I knew it was past time for another blog post, but I was a little bit surprised to see that it has been 32 days since my last effort.

Sometimes, life just carries us away and our to-do list can suffer.  In my house, June is chaotic, a feverish dance of special events and endings that bring ritual and celebration. This year it included two out-of-town conferences (one for each parent), various field trips, Brownie camp, a grade 8 graduation, a child rehearsing for the opening ceremonies of the Pan Am Games in Toronto and another writing grade 11 exams. Added to this special stress elixir was the unexpected ingredient of a gastrointestinal bug that made the rounds through our house.

In the blink of time's eye, here I am on July 8.  Sitting and waiting for my child again.  Finally, with moments to write and all my other obligations met.

I keep an old fashioned date book handy. Each week, I block off time for specific important activities. Exercise. Writing. Unfortunately, I only mark my schedule in pencil, as I have learned that life will unfold in its own way whether I have written my plans in ink or not.

So, I will continue to struggle for consistency - aiming for two blog posts a month and several writing sessions, no matter how short a session may be.  Imperfect, but about right for this time of life.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Luxury of Time to Write

I happen to have a child who performs on stage.  As a result, I happen to spend a lot of time out of town, waiting while she rehearses or performs. 

What a luxury! Time to write. 

The first half of the time is usually spent taking care of some unfinished business. This morning it was preparing a presentation and cleaning out my in box. 

But the second half - ah blissful creation. With two novels on the go and an idea for a non-fiction book brewing, I treasure this time alone, waiting. 

Now if only I could get the other parents to stop trying to keep me company!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

On Writing as Valued Human Communication

"Writing is a medium of human communication..." So the Wikipedia entry about writing begins.

It is true.  Writing is a way to share our stories, both fiction and non-fiction.  It is a way to offer our thoughts up for consideration.  It is a way to send messages, both personal and formal.

I love writing.  I love reading.  These things have been true for me throughout life.

I also love to talk and I have excellent listening skills.

Communication is an important key to life satisfaction in my experience.  By sharing my stories and my thoughts, and by absorbing the stories and thoughts of others I broaden my world view.  I know that I am not alone, and I offer that knowledge to others.

Writing is a medium of communication, and an important one.  It allows us to hold a thought still for just a moment as the ink flows onto the paper or as our eyes pause on the words.  It allows us to return to the thought, when we have gained perspective through knowledge and experience.  It allows the opportunity to capture the human experience so that we may reflect, learn and enjoy.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Why Attend A Writer's Conference?

Throughout my life I have written many things. Short stories, a little poetry, letters, journals, professional reports, magazine articles, blog posts and finally a novel. Sometimes, the words just spill out over the paper, filling the white space with my thoughts. Sometimes, just a few words are enough to express what is in my heart.

A few months ago, I saw an announcement; registration was open for the Ontario Writer's Conference. I hesitated. Am I a writer? Do I belong in a place like that, with the folks who have been writing longer, with more dedication, and with more acclaim? Isn't a writer's conference for those who have published their work? The folks who work at writing full time and maybe make some money at it.

As I read the website, I could see that in fact all writers are welcome. Master classes are offered by seasoned authors, and seminars are available on topics of interest to all levels of writer. It looked like all levels were welcome, so I registered.

My schedule this spring allowed me to attend the Saturday program. I am so glad I did!


I met other people who love writing and playing with words as much as I do. As Anne MacLachlan suggested during her seminar, I found some of my tribe by hanging out in a place where they would too.

I realized that I AM a writer. The same is true of my fellow conference attendee who loves to write but hasn't made time for it recently, the colleague who has mainly written non-fiction and promotional materials so far but has some other projects in mind, and the editor who doesn't have time to write while the call is answered to improve the writing of others.

I learned that I am doing some things well, and I have other areas I can develop. Allyson Latta's editing tips were enlightening and reinforced the lessons learned during my recent, excellent experience with Firefly Creative Writing.

I met other people who understand the power of sharing our stories. When we tell our truth we allow others to know they are not alone. Although this life can be hard, there is hope. I was inspired by the writers in the room with important stories to tell.

I listened to beautiful, moving, inspirational words spoken by Wayson Choy, Linden MacIntyre and Paula Todd. From three unique perspectives I receive the same message: Writing Matters. My writing matters.

If you are wondering whether you are ready to attend a writer's conference, my experience suggests the answer is a resounding YES! No matter where you are in your writing journey a writer's conference is a great place to be if you love to write.

Monday, 20 April 2015

What's A Writer to Do?

Last week I submitted my first fiction novel for consideration by a publishing company. In about 6 months I will hear from them whether they like my story and how I tell it.

What's a writer to do in the meantime? Write some more, of course.

I have a bunch of ideas bubbling, as usual. The trick is to choose the project that will grab my attention, and hold it. The one I will love enough to keep going when life as the working mom of four kids makes it easy to drop writing from my "to do" list. The idea that will wake me up in the night from time to time with ideas for moving it forward whenever I have a spare moment.

I picked up a copy of the 2015 Writer's Market. I have had copies of this reference book in the past. I took a distance writing course at one time and explored the idea of submitting some magazine articles or querying a book idea. Somehow, I didn't get around to it. I was busy. I was also afraid. I didn't have an idea that captured my enthusiasm enough to keep going through thick and thin.

Things have changed in my life. I'm still busy. I'm still afraid. Somehow though, I have found at least one idea that captured my enthusiasm and enough of my love and attention to see it through to submission.

This recent accomplishment has me sifting through my new resource (the 94th annual edition!) with an eye to possibilities. As I consider my ideas, and I examine the many options offered in this volume, I know I will find the right project to tackle next. The one that will have me overcoming challenges and facing my fears as I see it through.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

#amwriting Allow me to introduce myself...

I have been back at creative writing for about three years now.  Writing was a joy in my childhood, something I did for fun.  Writing was therapy in my adolescence, something I did to help sift through the agonizing emotional upheaval.

Creative writing was lost to me for a while in the obstacle course of life.  Between essay writing for University courses, the grind of professional report writing, and time consuming child-rearing tasks I did not make much time to write.  My dad encouraged me to write, and gave me a beautiful set of journals one year for my birthday.  There was simply never time and energy to write. So I thought.

Just over 5 years ago, my dad passed away at age 65.  He had already been ill a long time.  Watching his decline offered me the opportunity to reconsider my own priorities in life.  Surely at age 55, newly retired and enjoying his hobbies, he did not envision that he would have only 5 short years of good health to enjoy it all.

My grade 8 teacher visited the funeral home to offer his condolences.  His words still ring in my ears: "Tell me you are doing something with your writing.  You must do something with your writing."

It would be another two years before I finished with the chaos of my master's degree program and began to write creatively again.  Now, I can't imagine how I lived without it for so long.

For three years, I have worked on my first novel.  I have written in the parents' waiting areas during horseback riding lessons, theater rehearsals and football practices. I have written late at night and early in the morning.  I have written with background noise provided by whooping and hollering children as they play in the pool on a hot summer day.  I have written in the solitude of our trailer on beautiful fall days.

My first draft is complete, I have received editing feedback and made revisions.  I am almost ready to submit my work.  I am almost ready for the possibilities of acceptance, or rejection.

Then, I can start working on my next novel.  The one that was half formed in November during NaNoWriMo and sits patiently waiting for my returned attention.