Tag Archives: being a writer

This, That, Jealousy and Herding Cats

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Steve guarding the old watering can (it’s a family heirloom)

I keep getting emails from WordPress these days: “Shenoptikus Caractacus [or whatever other name] is now following your blog. They will receive an email every time you publish a post. Congratulations.”

Oh dear, I think to myself, I wonder what Shenoptikus Caractacus thinks he’s getting into. Perhaps he started following because of the advertising on Enchanted Conversations’ newsletter, and expects regular erudite Editorial Pontifications. Or he picked up my blog because of a fairy tale story post, or a cooking one, or a “Wordless Wednesday” snapshot, and he thinks that’s what there is going to be on a bi-weekly basis – writing, recipes, photography.

Instead, Shenoptikus, what you’ll get is a hodgepodge of topics (not unlike the hodgepodge of my house), posted with less-than-perfect-regularity. Sometimes I drop out of the blogosphere for weeks or months at a time, then there’ll be a flurry of posts and blog engagement for a bit. And every once in a while, there are posts involving a small stuffed bear – his name is Steve. You’ll see him in the photo above.

So I apologise in advance if my blog doesn’t meet your expectations. But it’s not like I asked you to follow my blog, is it?

Aaagh, yes – yes, it is like that. I did ask; I want people to follow my blog. I’m jealous of bloggers who have a huge following, who get dozens of “likes” on their posts and lots of comments. Truth is, I have a jealously problem. I’m jealous of others who’ve achieved what seems so far out of reach for me – for example, writers who have traditionally published books, or an actual income from their self-published ones. Or editors who have a large clientele of gifted writers lining up and clamouring for their expert services.

For that matter, I’m also jealous of people who have clean and tidy houses and neatly weeded and trimmed yards with thriving plants and beautiful cosy patio nooks (yes, I’m looking at you!), and whose ducks are all nicely lined up in a row, doing synchronised swimming.

Mine – well, I don’t even have ducks. I have cats, and you know what they say about herding them.

However, cats are also far more comfortable to cuddle than ducks (I think – I’ve never tried cuddling a duck). And, sure, they shed fur (Louis currently exists in The Cloud, i.e. he raises a fur cloud every time you pet him), and they bring in dead things (or even worse, live ones), and they claw the furniture (my dining room door post is completely shredded). But they’re soft, and cute, and such personalities; and it makes me happy to have them around. They’re part of my life, in all its messiness.

So I think I’d rather have my cats than someone else’s tidy, cold, quacking ducks, even if they’ll never neatly line up in a row. Like my blog posts – they don’t line up neatly under one topic, either. Which might mean I won’t ever get that really large blog following, and once Shenoptikus figures out what an eclectic mess this page is, he might unsubscribe again. Oh well, too bad.

Then again, if Shenoptikus Caractacus is a spam bot, I don’t care about him anyway. Steve and I don’t need him; we’ve got all of you.

Life, the Universe, and Herding Cats. Jealousy is a waste of time, isn’t it?

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Let the Crazies Begin, or: Why I’m a Wrimo

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“What’s the point?” someone asked the other day, when the conversation came around to NaNoWriMo. (NaNo-whatmo? you say. NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. You know, that Novemberly craziness where I, and several hundred thousand others across the globe, vanish into a deep rabbit hole of mad, bad and dangerous-to-know novelling, aiming to write a 50,000-word novel in the space of 30 days. I might have mentioned it a time or three [dozen] before.)

What’s the point, indeed. Why do this to yourself? Why engage in such a bout of insanity? And don’t get me wrong, it is insane. Every year, I get stressed to the hilt, moan and whine, say I’m not going to finish (my fellow local Wrimos can attest to that). And every year, I sign up again. This will be my seventh NaNo in a row. But why?

Grant Faulkner, the current executive director of NaNoWriMo, just wrote an excellent article about it: “How a Month of NaNoWriMo Can Lead to a Lifetime of Better Writing“. A lifetime of better writing. Or, in my case, writing at all.

If it wasn’t for NaNoWriMo, I wouldn’t be a writer. Because writing, dontcha know, is for special people. People who have talent. People who have passion, who must write or go insane. People who have grand ideas, big stories to tell – stories of adventures in far-off places, of lives lived in danger and darkness, of deep and harrowing emotions or high and lofty ideals. People who create unforgettable characters and bring them to life on the page. In other words, people not like me.

I’ve always loved stories, and as a kid in school, I was good at writing them. I even took creative writing courses in my undergrad studies, and a night class on how to write books for children. But what I learned from those classes, among other very useful things, was that I don’t have what it takes to be a novelist. I don’t have the stick-to-it-iveness to finish a whole novel, and even if I did, my ideas are kind of basic, trite. Light-weight, as it were. Not the stuff that real novels, and therefore real novelists, are made of.

And that was okay – it’s not like I was crushed or heartbroken about it; it was just a realistic estimation of my skills and abilities. I’m not one of those people who “always wanted to write a novel” – it never occurred to me that I could, because novel writing, dontcha know, is for… (see above, rinse and repeat).

Enter NaNoWriMo 2011.

I wasn’t going to “write a novel” – nah, I had no such lofty goal. All I wanted was to see if I could do this thing, could write 50,000 words in one month. I was going to have fun, and tell myself a story that I liked, and that’s all.

And you know what? I did. I wrote 50,000 words, told myself a story, and “won” my first NaNo. But that wasn’t all. When I was finished, I had a novel. A full, completed novel. And just like that, I was a writer.

Because a writer … is a person who writes.

And that’s what NaNoWriMo is about – writing.

The goal that all us crazies sign up for is to write 50,000 words. Not everyone makes that goal; in fact, not very many Wrimos do – a rough estimate is that maybe 1 in 4 reaches the full word count. But for the rest of them? They still write. Even if someone falls 40,000 words short of the goal, that means they’ve still written 10,000 words they hadn’t written before. Ten thousand words! That’s a lot of words, people. It’s about forty pages, printed out, and there’s novellas out on the market of that length.

And the reason these Wrimos wrote those words is because they signed up for it, and got caught up in the sheer enthusiasm and excitement that’s NaNoWriMo and swept along in the current of writerly excitement. Caught up just like I get caught up again, every year, for the seventh time in a row now. Surrounded by other crazies, talking titles and plots and word count tricks, sharing ideas and cheering each other on.

It doesn’t matter that those stories we write aren’t deep, or lofty, or weighty or important. They might be, but then again, they might not. They might be terrible, riddled with spelling mistakes, more full of plot holes than a broken sieve. But they are still stories, and they have been written. Written by writers.

And that is the point of NaNoWriMo: it makes me a writer. That’s why I do it, year after year.

Like I said, you don’t have to join in – by no means do you have to join in. But if, perhaps, this is something you think you might want to try – do it! Come on in, join the fun! It’s the best thing ever. And who knows, at the end you might have a novel in your hand – that’s what happened to me. And it was a game changer.

Life, the Universe, and Being a Writer. Thank you, NaNoWriMo!

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The book that started it all.

 

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Writers in Conference

I got to go to the Writer’s Conference, Word on the Lake, this past weekend. Now that I have (mostly) recovered from the excitement and adrenaline high, here are a few pictures:

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The dock on Shuswap Lake next to the hotel

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We stayed at the hotel; Steve got a bed all to himself

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Steve and me watching old Star Trek on TV in our room. He thinks Captain Kirk is silly.

I got to have a blue pencil (critique) session with Gail Anderson-Dargatz, an award-winning internationally bestselling author who just happens to live in the area. Gail is amazing. She went way beyond what is expected from a blue-pencil-er (blue pencil provider? critiquer? whatever that’s called). Her input was encouraging, illuminating, challenging, and informative, but aside from that, she’s just a great person to talk to. We got along like a house on fire (at least that’s how I felt), and largely thanks to her I came away from the weekend feeling that much more like a “real” writer. And of course I bought her latest book, The Spawning Grounds, and got her to sign it for me.

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Books and a CD by some of the presenters

And here comes the great big shoot-up-the-fireworks highlight: I won an award. That’s right: I got first place in the non-fiction category of the Word on the Lake Writing Competition! I got a cash prize, but even better, my story of how I immigrated to Canada (“Canada” being this year’s theme) was printed in the contest anthology. I’ve been published!!! It’s just a small little book, nothing all that amazing – but you know what, to me it is amazing. It was all very exciting. There was a banquet with lovely food and entertainment, and I had my hand shook and all, and got a beautiful certificate to take home.

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My award! And my story in print!

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The first-place winner in the poetry category performing his poem (song).

I had a sales table in the foyer during the conference where I tried to flog my books and/or get more editing clients, luring them with candy. The success rate was, shall we say, indifferent (i.e. I only sold one book, to a friend, and gave one away), but hey, having the table made for some good networking. Which is what a conference of this kind is all about. Plus, I gave people sugar. Muahahah!

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Me trying to lure readers and editing clients with candy.

Of course all of that was only part of it. There were so many learning opportunities in the amazing workshops – “How to Get Your Book Noticed” (by Gail), “Effective Book Proposals” (by Anna Comfort-O’Keeffe, a professional editor), “The Importance of Setting in Fiction” (by the very funny and Irish Patrick Taylor)… and another by one of the writers for Murdoch Mysteries, in which we learned how a mystery show episode is written (I’ll never watch TV shows the same way again). I came home with my head full to bursting; I still haven’t quite settled down to everyday life again.

Life, the Universe, and a Writer’s Conference. I’ll be processing the experience for quite some time yet.

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How Does Your NaNo Grow?

An interesting post by Helen on her experience with NaNoWriMo. Although my experience with NaNo has been somewhat different than hers, I very much relate to what she says about NaNo teaching us to be writers. I can honestly say that without NaNoWriMo, I wouldn’t BE a writer. What started as “Let’s just try this thing out, for fun,” became “Hey, I can write a novel! Who knew?” and from there, “This is who I am.” I’m totally sold on NaNoWriMo – I owe it, big time.
(Oh, and not to repeat myself or anything, but check out Helen’s new book. It’s great.)

Journey To Ambeth

img_0016It’s the first week of November and, for many of you out there, it’s also the first week of this year’s NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. (For those of you who don’t know, November is the month when writers around the world challenge themselves to write 50,000 words, or the best part of a novel,  in thirty days). I tackled the NaNo monster in 2014 – I had an idea, a little bit of time, and it seemed a good way to get started. I’d just begun blogging, so only wrote a couple of posts about the process (at the time I posted once a week). So I thought I’d take a look back and see how it went…

From A Month Without Ambeth, published November 8, 2014:

This month I’ve had to focus on a new book. It is November, National Novel Writing Month and I, along…

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