When life intervenes

Joe’s Post #2 — In our past posts, we’ve talked a bit about the obstacles that get in our way.  Distractions.  Obligations.  Life.

This week, for me, it was one of those life events that happens to all of us at some point.  Loss.

My dog, Freya, finally reached point where she had to be put down.  It wasn’t a sudden thing – she was 13 and had been battling cancer for over 2 years, but as much as you tell yourself “I’m ready,” “I’m ok with what has to happen,” sometimes you’re just not.

I want to say that I was stoic when I carried her from the car to the vet.  Her back legs had gone all wobbly and she barely had the strength to stand, let alone walk.

I want to say I that I was strong for her, shed no tears, controlled my emotions.

But I didn’t.

I couldn’t.  Somewhere in the journey of my life, I’ve lost the ability to be stoic, to be the strong, silent type.  I was able to be that guy when my dad passed when I was 14 or, later, when my mom then my mother-in-law passed.  But not anymore.

I was a mess.

Part of that may have been lack of sleep.  I spent Freya’s last night curled up with her on my bed, my arm over her, telling her what a good girlie she was, telling her how much I loved her, how much I would miss her.

Then, in the morning, I made the call to the vet and brought her in.  To be fair, I was dry-eyed when I came in but when they left me alone with her, Freya lying on a comfy blanket, too tired to raise her head, the fight gone out of her, I lost it.

I wanted to tell her, again, over and over, what a good girlie she was, to bolster her spirits, maybe even get a tail wag or two.  I wanted her last moments to be happy ones.

But instead I just buried my head in her fur and cried and held on to her and muttered good girls between sobs.  Somehow I rallied when the vet came back, and dried my tears and stroked Freya’s head and found my voice, repeating the litany of ‘good girlies’ while looking into her eyes as the vet slowly put her to sleep, then ‘to sleep.’

I stayed with her a long while after she was gone, why, I’m not quite sure, tears flooding out again, my face aching, and then I took her collar, the one with a dozen dog tags on it that made a tinkling sound when she walked, and left.  Alone.

As I wrote on my FB page:

Freya’s put up a good fight for 2 years. 2 years of dipping her tummy in the water or rolling in the mud , of chasing balls and roaring around with them, of licking feet or snuggling on the couch, of bossing Vegas (and, let’s face it, ME) around, of charging down every day, so excited, so full of life.
13 years is a good, long life for a retriever, especially since she could charm anyone into loving her. But she’d reached the end, and now I have to do what I hate, HATE, to do.

And, in the end, I did what had to be done, no matter how hard it was.

Now, for some things, this loss, this grief, can be worked through.  But writing is the business of the mind and soul, and when they are both in pain, it’s nearly impossible to sit in front of a computer and write fiction.  At least for me.

So, nearly a week lost on the writing front.  A few days leading up to Freya’s passing and a few days, I hope only a few, afterwards.  With luck and a little healing, next week I’ll be back at my world building, at creating a story that everyone will want to read.

I’ll post more about that next week.

I hope.

Beware of the bug

Helga’s Post #2: Three more weeks until the Surrey International Writers’ Conference opens. I decided to splurge again this year, having skipped last year’s. This will be my fifth time as I join somewhere between 700 to 900 writers and wannabe published authors, taking over the Sheraton for three days and nights. The vast majority are women, and they come from all over the continent. What I like best about the conference is talking to as many writers as possible. I like to find out what they write, and more importantly, WHY they write. There is one recurring theme: they all have a story inside them, bursting to be told. Often there is something autobiographical from their own childhood. And as I ask the question of WHY they write, they look at me as if I’m speaking Swahili.

“Because I HAVE to write. I have no choice,” is the resounding answer.

I understand. I don’t have a choice either. Oh, I’ve toyed with the idea to stop writing. There are so many reasons. First, the money. This is what my friends (in fairness, not all) mention when they offer advice. “Why do you spend all this time on something you don’t get paid for? You could do consulting. You’ll never get published. You know the statistics.” La-di-da. Or, some more supportive comments, “Why not write a ‘How-To’ book, you’ll at least get paid something. Or write magazine articles. But a novel?”

Well, thanks for cheering me on. Then there is the issue of ergonomics, or health. “You sit at the computer with shoulders hunched for hours and hours every day. That’s unhealthy. You should go to the gym.” To that I can relate. While my friends work out and tone their bodies, I am getting soft and bigger around the midriff, while my leg muscles seem to be on a perennial vacation. This is one argument that defies arguing. My friends are right. But at least this is something I do have control over. All it takes is to become more disciplined and a better time manager (Easy, huh?)

So the bottom line: If I stop writing, I could earn real money (since my chances for publishing are infinitesimal according to my critics), and I could have my (somewhat) toned body back. Makes sense, no?

The problem is this: Once the bug has bitten, it’s in your system. It demands center stage in your life. It won’t let you go. Ever. Like the chicken pox virus. It lives in your body forever. I got smitten early, like my friend Joe. I still lived in Vienna with my family.

Vienna – my first hometown

In Grade Two, we had to write our first essay, ‘Der erste Schnee’ (The First Snow). I remember it well. The teacher announced she would read the best one to the class. To my immense shock, she read mine. Bingo! The writing bug had stung. I decided to explore this a bit more. When I had to stay in bed after a foot surgery, I wrote my first novel. Taking clues from Pippi Longstocking, I wrote an illustrated story about a spy and a girl detective (my love for the genre has stayed with me over the years. More of that in future posts). I was eight or nine years old. And so on. Essay after essay landed me high grades in writing (to the detriment of grades in math and science). My teachers encouraged me to become a journalist.

I became a voracious reader. From children’s books, to Young Adult, to Adult books. I started reading novels in English, becoming proficient in the language. Graham Greene, Daphne de Maurier, John Steinbeck, W.Somerset Maugham, these were the authors in vogue at the time. One novel that left a particular impression was The Citadel by Scottish writer A.J. Cronin. I learned later that he was a prodigiously fast writer, averaging 5,000 words a day, meticulously planning the details of his plots in advance (listen up, my writing buddies).

I would like to share an anecdote about my passion for books and how it led to writing. Around Grade Three, my best friend said something to me that stung. Hard. It possibly even changed my future:

“You must be sad, being the ugliest girl in class”.

While she was no longer my best friend from that moment onwards, I did believe her. What to do? After nights crying myself to sleep, I decided, well, at least I will always have books. Nobody can take those away from me, ugly or not. The local library became my second home.

And from reading books to writing them is really just one small step.

But for all of us, life gets in the way. Remember how it goes when you’re a teenager? Obsessing over clothes, hair and makeup, first boyfriend, first kiss, second boyfriend, first heartbreak, all that good stuff. My former best friend’s words were long forgotten. Writing landed on the back burner.

But the passion for the craft came roaring back. Later in life. Much later.

Tonight – I am going to write

Paula’s Post #2 — Quite frankly, I’ve been distracted lately. Not just a little bit distracted, a lot distracted. Why? Well, that’s just the point. I think we are all being distracted by the over-complexity of the modern world. Let me give you an example, comparing life when I was a little girl, with my life now.

Life when I was a little girl:

When I was a little girl, my family was very fortunate to have a small summer cabin, right at the water’s edge, on Bowen Island. As I recall the story, Nana received some financial compensation after a railroad accident, and used the proceeds to purchase their own small summer cabin in White Rock, BC. My mother’s family occupied that little cabin every summer when my mother was a little girl, taking the train down from North Vancouver with the family cat, dog and guinea pig, (the latter safely ensconced in Nana’s sewing basket). When Nana passed away in the early 1960’s, my mother carried on the tradition and used a small inheritance to purchase our family cabin on Bowen Island. Every summer during my early youth we basked in ‘rustic simplicity’. We had no phone, no hot water, no indoor bathrooms (our ‘outhouse’ was several yards away up a slug invested path that no one in their right mind would brave in the middle of the night). We didn’t even have a “Dad”. My poor father, with just a few weeks holiday, merely deposited us at the cabin in June when school let out.  But for a few precious weeks in August when he took his annual vacation, he spent most of the summer toiling at his desk in Portland, Oregon.

So what did we have?

We had the sea, we had rocky bluffs and forests to explore, we had swimming and diving and row boats and a neighbour who took us fishing and water-skiing almost every day. We had a mother who loved the sun and the ocean and instilled in us a great love of the sea, teaching us that it was far more important to enjoy the great outdoors, playing, than to be cooped up inside, watching TV, (which in any event, we didn’t have anyway). My mother didn’t cook much – I can’t even remember what we ate for dinner – but I know that occasionally, she let me make pancakes on our old, wood fired, cast iron stove. That is what I remember about my life as a little girl.

Life now that I’m a not-so-little-girl:

Now that I am a not-so-little-girl, I am very fortunate to have a beautiful home overlooking Bowen Island. In the distance, the forested, blue-green cliffs beckon. Yes, the very same Island I summered on, as a young girl. But that is where all similarities end. Now, I no longer live in ‘rustic’ simplicity. I don’t live in any size, shape or form of simplicity whatsoever.

Why is that?

1) Two Homes: My husband John and I now own two homes, one here in West Vancouver, one in the Greater Palm Springs area. I’m not complaining. I know how fortunate we are (or rather, how hard we have worked to make this happen). But it’s a lot of work owning two homes.

But wait! My parents managed two homes, so maybe that’s not the problem. What didn’t they have?

2) Dogs: That must be it, dogs.

But wait, we had a family dog when I was a child, too. A Boston Terrier named Beans, a cutie of a dog who got kicked by a horse when he was a puppy and always ran a bit oddly. Oh sure, we’re now a bit more burdened in the ‘doggie’ department, with our rambunctious, 75 pound Standard Poodle and our almost 17 year old, blind and deaf Mini Poodle, (aka “The Duchess”) whom we inherited from my beloved late Auntie. But that can’t be the only problem.

3) Family:

No wait, I don’t have kids. At least not at home kids. All my step-kids are grown and moved away. Married, with their own little toddlers. My mom had to look after two little kids, all on her own, 24/7 as we now say, so surely that can’t be the problem.

4) Technology:

Ah! Now I think we’re getting somewhere. Between us, my husband and I have four cell phones (we used to have five, but my husband had to give up his Blackberry after developing ‘Blackberry Thumb‘ for which he has just had surgery!  (No, I am not kidding. Google it and see for yourself). We have five televisions (and that’s just in this house); two PVR’s plus Apple TV. We get Netflix; we have Pay-Per-View, we have two iPads. But even these distractions are not my Waterloo. No. My problem, is that we have THE INTERNET.

Cyber-Distractions:

Now, let’s be honest. The internet is a useful tool for both business and leisure. But has it taken over? This past seven days, I spent over 30 hours trying to produce one electronic eNewsletter for my work as a real estate agent. Add to this the 20 plus hours I spent trying to configure my Blogger blogs (I had trouble redirecting the domains) and another 10 hours spent on tech support with GoDaddy. (Blogger doesn’t even have ‘tech support’ but that didn’t stop me from spending another several wasted hours trying to research the ‘Blogger Domain Server’ issues on Google). Maybe I should switch to WordPress? What do you think?

Do you even know what I’m talking about?

I hope not!

Add to this the fact that I’m trying to increase my ‘social network’ by hitting 500 contacts on Linkedin (Yeah! I made it) and 400 ‘friends’ on Facebook (only two away), and 100 Facebook “likes” for our 5 writers Facebook page:

www.facebook.com/5Writers5Novels5Months

We’re only at 78 likes so far, which isn’t half bad since it has only been up for two weeks, but I’d really, really like it if you’d ‘like’ it.

Do you even know what I’m talking about?

I hope not!

Then there’s the small problem of the novel I promised to write, from scratch, in just 5 months. And this WordPress blog I jointly administer with the other 5 members of my writing group:

So, let’s just say I’ve been busy.

Busy posting on Facebook and Linkedin, busy building our audience for the blog (so we can get a following and look important and interesting and appear “social networking savvy” by the time we all finish our novels).

Oops! The novel. I almost forgot. I think I got distracted.

Gone are the days of pad of paper and pen. Gone are the days of the trusty black Remington with it’s cute little round keys. No, today’s writer uses ‘writing software’! Storymill and Scrivener are the two top contenders. So of course I had to spend hours researching and test driving both.

Result: We started our writing challenge on September 5th. Today, September 25th, I’ve yet to write the first word of “Chapter One”.

But you can sympathize can’t you? I’ve been distracted.

I think I mentioned that during our summers on Bowen Island, we didn’t have a phone, nor did we have TV. We may have had a transistor radio, but if we did, (and my recollection is hazy on this) I don’t recall listening to it – didn’t give two hoots about the darn thing. But we did have books and magazines. Life magazine (I recall that I liked to look at the pictures of the Kennedys); Time magazine, (I don’t remember looking much at that one) and the odd comic book, (Archie and Veronica, I think).

But mostly I remember books! Bowen Island had a small library and, as a family, we gobbled them up like turkey dinner. Every night, after the sun set and my eight year old brother played taps on his new trumpet (the somewhat off key notes echoing over the bay), my mother would read to us. She was a highly literate, educated woman with a beautiful voice and great dramatic inflection. I remember she read so well that she was even invited to make recordings of books for the blind. (They didn’t sell ‘audio-books’ back then). But for us, her gift was personal. And there, on Bowen Island, under a full moon and the buzz of the more-than-occasional mosquito, as she read chapter after chapter of The Hardy Boys, I fell in love with books.

I don’t think I’ve sufficiently reflected on the power of my mother’s ‘gift’ to me. It was her gift that led me to become a writer. She died when I was just 21, before I was even really interested in writing.

So tonight, as the moon rises over Bowen Island, I’m going to think about my mother and about her gift and I’m going to make a promise to her. Tonight, I am NOT going to be distracted.

Tonight, I am going to read. Tonight, I am going to write.

Thanks Mom, for reminding me there is a simpler way to live our lives and for the gift of ‘The Hardy Boys’.

My mom at the beach, the place she loved best, shortly before she passed away.

Arithmetic for writers

Silk’s Post #2 — This is a scary subject. But it has a happy ending. I hope.

One thing I love about writing and hanging around other writers is the buoyant bubble of optimism, inspiration and hope that surrounds us and keeps us afloat on our Sea of Dreams. I’m sure you’re wondering how I’m going to tie this awkward metaphor to the concept of arithmetic for writers, and come up with that happy ending. Just stick with me here.

Let me start by quoting a Master of the Universe on the subject of optimism, inspiration and hope. And of explaining stuff. Yes, I’m talking about Bill Clinton. A tiny little snippet of his very long speech at the recent Democratic National Convention shows us how it’s done:

“People ask me all the time how we delivered four surplus budgets. What new ideas did we bring? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic.”

Voila! Simplicity itself. I love that he called the secret ingredient “arithmetic” – same thing we used to call numbers in Grade 4 – not “math”. I love how – in a single word – he simultaneously dismissed all the bloated, useless, self-serving rhetoric about the economy, and stated the obvious: economic ideas are all subject to the unforgiving test of arithmetic. Politicians (and statistics) may lie, but arithmetic tells the truth.

So what truth does arithmetic have to tell to writers?

Well, in the case of the crazy group who launched this 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months challenge, and those who follow us, here’s the arithmetic:

  • The 5 months between September 5, 2012 and February 5, 2012 span a total of 153 days.
  • While some of us 5 writers may already have put some actual words on the page, others (including myself) have been busy clearing our desks and figuring out how to get a successful blog up and running, so that as of today (September 21), we have 137 days to get the job done from a standing start. Okay, not “we” … me.
  • But wait … do I really have 137 days? Of course not. There are at least 8 “holidays” over that period, including my Halloween birthday and my 44th wedding anniversary, when I am not likely to write a word … leaving 129 days.
  • I also have just a few other commitments … an 11-day trip to Boston to see old friends, a visit with my nonagenarian mother-in-law in California, 4 days at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference, and an actual paying non-fiction writing gig for the University of Victoria … so the nice, round number I think makes more arithmetical sense is 100 days of writing time.
  • Yikes!

Here’s where the buoyant bubble of optimism, inspiration and hope comes into play. I have 100 days to write, say, 100,000 words. What are the chances of that happening?

James Scott Bell says in his very useful book Plot & Structure:

Set yourself a writing quota. Each day you write – and preferably that is every day – you should not leave your writing desk until you have completed your quota. The magic number for many writers seems to be one thousand words.”

There’s even a very interesting writers’ blog called 1000-words-a-day, and another blog that promotes a 1000-words-a-day project. There are blogs that tell you “how to write 1,000 words a day and not go bat shit crazy” and others that give you tips on how to achieve 1,000 words a day, or tell you why achieving this is easy (easy? really?). 

So I think I’ve gotten to my happy ending here – or at least a happy beginning. The ending will be up to me. Because the cosmic grandaddy writing guru of them all, Ray Bradbury (who died this year at the age of 91) famously summarized arithmetic for writers in Clintonesque fashion:

“Write one-thousand words a day…and after a million words you’ll be a writer.”

Word association

Real dog foodKaralee’s Post #2 — I’m always amazed at word association. While making dinner the other night, there was a dog commercial boasting real chicken in their food. I couldn’t help but laugh. Why wouldn’t it be real? What’s wrong with society when food is not longer real, and when it is we need to advertise it?

Then I wondered what unreal chicken would be. A bunch of ugly pictures came to mind, nothing fluffy like a baby chicken with two heads or anything.

I kept associating, letting my mind go. And by the way, the onions on the stove got sautéed to a deep brown-almost-black, but in a casserole no one really knows what the scoop is, right? Are the onions really there? Growing up, my children had homemade soups and casseroles and they never really knew how many real vegetables were pureed in their food.

It’s like a mystery. Everything there for all to see, yet hidden in all the details and clues; the first sixty pages or so that introduce the characters and plant the clues in plain sight; the muddled middle that’s all about pacing; and the climactic ending that leaves the author tingling at the joy that everything came together as though the story really could be real.

My mind kept wandering. What can happen that seems impossible but ends up being real?

Presto: a plotline is born.

But I won’t tell you.

Thank-you dog food company that I can’t remember the name of because obviously that wasn’t what caught my attention.

Here comes the sun

My backyard where I am writing today

Helga’s Post #1 — It must be a coincidence – no, more likely a conspiracy by Loki, God of mischief and chaos – that our group’s challenge starts at the exact time we are in the midst of the last, and most glorious days, of summer. So I decided, without much success, to write outside, trying to read what’s on my computer screen in the bright light while the sun is warming my back. I doubt that a complete novel ever got written that way, but I swear the brilliant light of the sky is like a silver bullet hitting my creative streak. At least a little.

I come back into the house to take one of the ‘how to’ books on writing off the shelf. I am seeking advice on character development, the most critical phase of starting a novel. At least that’s how I see it. Strange how many titles there are. Like alphabet soup. Each promises to lead its followers to writing excellence and bestseller fame. I have read a few and have followed some of their sage advice. But not always. They’re a bit like a crutch, which is sometimes the opposite from letting your mind go to where it wants. Sometimes these writers get into my head (after they found a way to my wallet), pulling me in a direction that feels, well, contrived. So I pick and choose from their wisdom, like from a bag of colorful candies. But if they are messing too much with my head, I put up the ‘No Trespassing’ sign.

A writer’s toolbox. No shortage of advice

Having said that, I did get some fine ideas for plot development from James Scott Bell’s ‘Plot & Structure’.   And who knows, someday another title will be on the shelf, bearing one of my writing partners’, or my own name.  Hopefully five new titles.

But there’s work to be done, rain or shine. Let the games begin.

Restarting a Writer’s Journey

Story of Joe

Years ago, my wife asked me a question one rainy day in Scotland.  I’d just spent the week returning phone calls from work instead of enjoying the foggy views and highland lakes and ruined castles.  I was unhappy, stressed and hating that I wasn’t doing something I loved.

“What do you really want to do?” she asked.

“Write,” I replied.

It wasn’t like I hadn’t written.  In grade 5, I wrote my first novel.  Invasion of the Mole People.  Construction paper cover.  Stencilled title.  30 hand-written pages.  A dozen terrifying illustrations.

Born from my deep concern that something lurked under my bed, I did what writers do.  I wrote about it.

Everyone who read it said they loved, and it was at that moment I realized I HAD to write.

As I got older, I wrote about what happened to Fritha in the Snow Goose story, I wrote about epic heroes confronting Dark Lords and Fallen Angels, and (for Grade 12) I wrote my first full-length novel about a robot hunter who discovers he is, himself, a robot himself.

All good fun.  But this wasn’t something grown men did for a living, was it?  No.  They became accountants.  Regional managers.  Husbands.

And so, that’s what I became.

But on that rainy day in Scotland, when I replied, “Write.”  Margot said, “Then let’s make that happen.”

So I gave up the convertible, gave up the 70hr a week job and worked on becoming a writer.  I read, I learned from best selling authors who had made it.   I took workshops (run by Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch.)  I attended conferences (like the Surrey Writers’ Conference.)  And I wrote.  And wrote and wrote and wrote.

I wrote about our travels together, about angels returning to earth, about a handsome rogue travels across the world to save the woman he loves, about a first nation detective facing an unsolvable case, and about a young woman battling prejudice and brutal repression in Venice-like city.  With each novel, I learned more and more, getting (I think) better and better.

Then, 3 years ago, it seemed like I was on the verge of breaking through.  I’d been one of the winners of the Serial Thriller Contest run by the Vancouver Province, and I had just come up with a great idea for another novel.  A thriller. Desert Rains.

But that was when my wife got sick.  Cancer.  She passed away 2 months later.  My muse, my first reader, my supporter, my reason for living was gone.

Hard as it was to wake up alone, hard as it was to struggle through each day, it was harder to write without her.

But I know she’d want me to continue with my dream.  To write.  To get published.

And so I will try to write again.

For her.

For Margot.

Ready, set, go (panic)

Dragon boats racing

Karalee’s Post #1 — A week and a half has slid by already. I paddle on a dragon boat team and was committed to the regatta in Penticton, B.C. During the five hour drive there and the three days of the regatta I took the opportunity to think about my characters and plot and pray inspiration would seek me out amongst the 1,700 paddlers on the Skaha Lake.

I have to create new characters in a new setting with a new plot. Maybe I should write in first person? That would be a new and huge challenge for me.

Saturday morning the regatta went smoothly with hopefuls racing twenty to a boat, each paddling for an all-out 2.5 minute sprint (give or take) from the start line to the finish 500 meters later. No prize money, only camaraderie and a possible medal pushing every one to perform their best. The weather stayed hot with the wind gradually building under a changing mix of thick and thin clouds clearing to blue sky. I felt it matched my moods that kept swinging from being calm one moment, to euphoric excitement at taking on this writing challenge, only to feel my stomach lurch with terror at the realization of the commitment I’ve made to myself and my writing group.

High winds made the officials cancel the Saturday afternoon races. I took the opportunity to drive around the Okanagan taking pictures and hoping ideas would come to me. Of course, I expected my new characters would start talking.

My characters always talk to me. Don’t yours?

Possibilities started to emerge and tumble together as I kept asking “What if?” That is such an inspiring question. Thank-you to Donald Maass.

To-date I’ve written murder mysteries and short stories. Curiosity took me by the Royal Canadian Mounted (RCMP) office to check it out, but they were only open Monday to Friday. Don’t commit a crime on the weekends in Penticton I guess.

My to-do list started taking shape, the research I’d need to do piling up. TOO much to do!

Karalee on a dragon boat

Sunday’s dragon boat racing stayed on time and I was on the highway back to Vancouver by mid-afternoon with my van full of fellow paddlers. I’ve spent this week clearing my slate of late summer chores. I’m an avid gardener with fruit and vegetables spilling over everywhere on my small city lot. Harvest time can’t wait.

That done, my office was next. In order to write a new project, it meant a serious cleaning out and putting away all the paper, books and pictures that I had collected for my present project. I’m an organic writer and like to have physical references such as to-do notes, character/plot/setting descriptions, and pictures staring at me from the walls. I took time to surf writersdigest.com and collected some information to help me:

  • 10 Ways to Harness Fear and Fuel Your Writing
  • The 10 Commandments of How to Write a Thriller
  • Writing the Stand-Alone Book as a Series Pilot

I’ve also pulled out reference books:

  • Donald Maass’s book Writing the Breakout Novel
  • James Scott Bell’s book on Plot & Structure
  • Helen Palmer’s book on The Enneagram
  • Bob Mayer’s book The Novel Writer’s Toolkit
  • Hallie Ephron’s book Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel

The real cool thing is that I’ve met nearly all these authors at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference. It’s like having another support group with me 24/7.

And, I can’t let THEM down, can I?

To write or not to write, that is the question

My writing ‘room’.

Paula’s Post #1  So, unlike my friend Silk, I don’t actually have a well stocked desk to sit at, ergonomic or otherwise. Well, actually I do, but that’s not the way I write. I like to write on my laptop … on the sofa in the living room, outside on the terrace with my spectacular view of Passage Island and Howe Sound (at least when the sun is not shining on my laptop’s screen).

Most of all, l like to write late at night, lying in bed (and I guess, with these bad habits, I will indeed be visiting the physio in the next few months). But my perfect time to write is when the house is asleep (or at least my husband and the two snoring poodles who share our bed), and the muse is ready to come out and whisper ideas to me.

But right now, I’m not writing at all. Not yet. And although the clock is ticking away, and every second, every minute, every hour hurls us closer to our FEBRUARY 5TH DEADLINE, I can’t start writing yet.

Why you ask. Well, by now, we’ve all got at least one ‘practice’ novel under our belts, some of us more than one. And what have I learned from my own practice novels? I’ve learned that I LOVE TO WRITE! For me, the joy of writing is letting my characters take me on a whipsaw ride through the landscape of my manuscript. I don’t want to know where I’m going – I want my protagonist to tell me the story. To surprise me. And the faster I write, the more engrossed I become in the characters, the plots and subplots and my exotic setting, be it the dusty plains and poppy fields of Afghanistan or the or the sordid back alleys of pre-war Honolulu’s Hotel Street.

So right now, I’m itching to write. To enter my imaginary world, to meet my characters, to ‘hear’ them speak, to walk, to run, to hope, to fear.

 But not this time.

This time, I’m not going to start by writing. This time – dare I whisper this most unfamiliar word? – this time, I’m starting by ‘outlining’.

There, I’ve said it! Now if only I can make myself sit down to the tedious task of completing that outline. I’ve got to try, I’ve been lost in the sagging middle of some of my previous efforts, so this time, I know I have to change things up.

So, like Silk and perhaps like every one of our ‘5 writers’ I’ll be flipping through my writing books, looking for sage advice from Donald Maass, Hallie Ephron, James Scott Bell, Elizabeth George and even Stephen King.  I hope they are going to help me start off on the right track. I hope I can resist the temptation to say, ‘to heck with this, I’m going to start writing’.

Only time will tell. I’ve got some great tools at my disposal. I’m starting to outline my Young Adult thriller using a writing software program called ‘StoryMill’. And I must say it puts some fun into the process. Check it out and you’ll see what I mean.

Right now, I don’t yet feel like I’m free-wheeling down the sidewalk. Not yet. But I promise to tell you how I’m doing with my outlining. Whether I’m managing to conquer the irresistable urge just to write.

What do you think – am I right? Should I outline, or should I look at the calendar, panic and just write, write, write?

The getting-started brainfreeze

Silk’s Post #1  In the real world, I’m looking at my computer screen. And my cluttered desk, which is calling me to tidy things up before I get started. And out the window at my cat Zane stalking a vole. (The vole will not be of this world for long and I silently wish him well in vole Valhalla).

But in the inner world of my writer’s mind, I’m looking towards the peak of the mountain from the plain below. It’s Everest.

This desk is where I’ll be spending a lot of time over the next five months. Ergonomic nightmare. I’ll probably be visiting my friendly office furniture dealer, or alternatively my physiotherapist, before long.

See the calendar looming over my desk? It’s not my friend. What possessed me to add this whole separate writing challenge – a first blogging attempt – to the crushing schedule of writing a novel in five months? Instead of working on plot and structure over the past week, I’ve been stumbling my way around the strange landscapes of WordPressland. I’m already falling behind.

Okay, I’ll stop whining.

I glance at my writer’s bookshelf. I’ve practically cleaned out the Amazon titles on how to write right. Donald Maass, James Scott Bell, Hallie Ephron, Bob Mayer, Noah Lukeman, Brenda Ueland, Jessica Morrell, Christopher Booker – even Margaret Atwood. All their voices are in my ear. Like my Dad calling out advice behind me the first time I tried to ride my bike after he’d taken the training wheels off.

“Pump! Pump! Hold the handlebars straight! Look ahead!”

I’m zig-zagging my way down Hill Lane, loose gravel spraying, heart banging. I can hear him but what he’s saying doesn’t register. Too much to think about at once, and I’m … wobbling … tipping … falling … wait, no, going straight now. Upright. Pump, pump … now I get it. I’m down the street, turning the corner, wind in my face. Wheeee!

Well, that’s what I hope will happen. However you look at it, it’s gonna be an uphill ride. Wish me luck!