To go or not to go

Joe’s Post #153 —

headerThat is the question.

I’m talking about the Surrey Writer’s Conference. Oct 23rd -24th.

It’s a toss-up this year. Pros and cons.

So I did what I do when I can’t decide.

I make a list. And drink. Here’s the list.

the authors

My best writing buddies, The Five

Top 6 Reasons to Go

  1. I could pitch 2 books to an editor who’s interested in my genre.
  2. There are 3 agents there I could take to about my books.
  3. 9/10 times I get inspired.
  4. The food’s pretty good.
  5. I love to learn and there’s always something to learn.
  6. My best writing buddies are there.

 

Top 5 Reasons Not To Go

  1. don maassDon Maass is NOT there. See #3. He is my biggest inspirer.
  2. No Chuck Wendig, so that means I won’t spend 2 hours laughing my ass off and I do love to laugh my ass off.
  3. It costs a lot of money at a time that I don’t have that money.
  4. Most of the agents showing up don’t want to look at the books I write, or I’ve pitched to them and they’ve rejected my brilliant stories.
  5. I can’t find a full day of things I want to do. There’s a bit Friday and Saturday, but that’s a huge cost for basically 2 half days.
  6. My best writing buddies will not be there. Joe sad.

I tell ya, it’s a tough call. Not that there aren’t some great people there, not that there aren’t a few good workshops, and it’s always amazingly well organized, but this year, I may choose not to go. The weight of the list is clearly on the No side, but then there’s #1 on the Go side.

Is it worth it?

Thoughts?

 

Arithmetic for writers (redux)

arithmetic

Paula’s Post #114

For those followers who enjoyed watching our progress in the first 5writers challenge, you may recall Silk’s post Arithmetic for Writers published in September 2012 at almost the same stage in the original challenge that we are at today. In other words, closing in on the end of the first month of the ‘write-a-novel-in-five months’ challenge.

Thus it seemed to me the perfect time to revisit that post and to review Silk’s mathematical equations. A sobering look at just what our schedule is going to look like for the next four months (or five months, for any challengers who still wish to join us by committing to start the 5month challenge on October 5th).

But here’s the reality check: in Silk’s 2012 post on Arithmetic, she sagely deduced that we do not, in reality, have the luxury of a full five months for writing. Because just like everyone else (just like real published authors), we have other commitments during that 5month period that vie for our precious time and attention.

When Silk did the math back in 2012, she figured that, realistically, we have about 100 days left to get our novels done. And for a 100,000 word novel, that of course means the writers oft heard formula of 1000 words a day. Day in, day out.

Maybe that works for you Silk. Many working writers do possess the d-i-s-c-i-p-l-i-n-e to sit butt in chair and write 1000 words a day. Some even before breakfast.

But me?

Alas, I fear I am more a ‘binge writer’. Destined to have my days and weeks eaten up with work, family and other commitments. But I’m not one to gnash my teeth in despair, (my dentist wouldn’t like that). No, ever the Pollyanna, my hope is to meet my output quota by selected ‘binge writing’ episodes.

Maybe I’ll burn the midnight oil on occasion, maybe I’ll hope for some boring rainy days, perfect for working on my 5writer manuscript (though  I note that this may indeed be very ‘Pollyanna-ish’, considering I’ll be spending most of the remaining months of the 5writer challenge, wintering in the California desert). But never you mind,  I’ll get it done.

It just may require a different kind of discipline. A creative kind of ‘binge writing’ discipline. Something more like 3000 words a session, or 7500 words a week. But that’s just me. If you’re a disciplined, 1000 word a day writer, I’m envious.

Maybe you could share your secrets for success?

My 5writer Progress Report:

When I checked in last week in my post This Writers World I admitted to being conflicted about whether to shift my 5writers challenge novel away from Vancouver and back to the original locale, (pre-war Honolulu). Under heavy pressure from 5writer colleagues Silk and Joe, (who threatened to steal the novel if I didn’t shift it back there) I am now officially raising the white flag and committing to finish the novel as originally envisioned: a noir crime novel set in pre-war Hawaii.

Okay, I admit it. This is a bit of a ‘win’ for me, because while just like last week, I have no ‘new’ page output to report, I now have started to resurrect the original draft I started many years ago and ‘rework’ and ‘refresh’ those original pages.

  1. Pages rewritten and ‘repurposed’ for the second 5/5/5 Challenge: 60
  2. Repurposed Word Count: 11,800 (hereinafter the only count I’ll keep on this blog)
  3. Word Count of the set-in-Vancouver manuscript I started and then tossed:  7,408
  4. Total word count since the challenge started on September 5, 2015 = 19,208

Three steps forward, two steps back. I’m pretty proud of getting 19,000 words down on paper in September (even though 7,500 of those will now be filed away to await that future novel, set in Vancouver).

But let’s be realistic. 11,800 words is still a long, long way from a finished, 100,000 word novel.

But it is progress.

I know I’m going to feel ‘daunted’ when I get to the sagging middle. I know I’m going to panic a bit when I run out of old manuscript pages to ‘re-work’ into this new version of my Hawaii noir novel and ‘yikes’, actually have to start writing new material from scratch. But for now, I feel on track, and that just feels good.

It’s 1:30 in the afternoon, a gorgeous sunny day on the coast of British Columbia, and I’ve cosseting myself away in the public library for the rest of the day to ‘binge write’.

Maybe I can do this ‘arithmetic for writers’ thing after all?  What do you think? Do you have any writing ‘secrets’ to share?

Emotional weather

 

weather

Silk’s Post #140 — So, you’re writing a scene and there are a million things you have to remember to work into it somehow. The setting of the scene. Your point-of-view character’s “want”. Who the other characters are that he/she is interacting with, and what they want. The scene’s emotional hook. The plotting. The pacing. The conflict and suspense that’s supposed to be present on every page. And maybe you’re calculating how you can slip in some backstory without putting your author’s foot in your mouth.

Now, for really experienced writers – and, I imagine, for prodigies – all this is probably instinctive, like riding a bicycle. But for the rest of us, it’s like trying to remember all the individual component actions we need to coordinate to get rolling and have a successful ride. Hold on to the handlebars. Balance. Pump the pedals. Look ahead. Don’t go too fast. Don’t go too slow. Don’t turn too suddenly. Steer. Watch out for cars, dogs, potholes, loose gravel.

Like me, I’m sure the last thing you’re looking for is another thing you have to remember. However, recent events in the world have made me think about another component of storytelling that links “setting” to all the other elements in a very meaningful way.

It’s emotional context.

I don’t mean the specific emotions of your POV character, or even your whole cast of characters. I mean the emotional environment that is inherently part of the setting. The storyworld is made up of more than just physical landscapes, plot-related events, cultural attributes, eras and places. There are emotional dimensions to all these things that create an atmosphere in which the action takes place.

I would call it emotional weather. While it may be a subset of a broader, more persistent emotional climate (think, for instance, of the general mood in a place experiencing prolonged warfare, or economic distress, or their opposites), emotional weather is more volatile, difficult to predict, and local. And while it may be stormy in one part of the storyworld, or among one group of its inhabitants, it may be sunny in another.

Does this sound like a recipe for one of a writer’s most desired dishes: conflict? I think so.

All this may seem obvious as you’re reading it. But like a well-practiced bike rider, we don’t always think consciously about things that have become second nature to us. We all experience not only our own personal emotions that relate directly to our lives, but also participate in – and are affected by – the mass emotions of larger groups of people, people we don’t even know.

In the past couple of weeks, events have brought my awareness of this phenomenon up from my subconscious to my conscious mind. Think about the recent emotional weather experienced by these groups of people, and how it is likely affecting their perspective on the world, and yours …

  • Masses of Syrian refugees trying to gain safe haven in Europe.
  • 24 million people watching the televised Republican debates.
  • Tens of thousands watching Pope Francis’s addresses and homilies in person, and millions watching on television.
  • 60,000 attending the Global Citizen concert in Central Park in New York City, and millions more watching electronically.
  • 2 million Muslim pilgrims at the Hajj where hundreds were tragically crushed.

I defy anyone to experience any of these things directly – or even to observe them second-hand – and not react to them emotionally. Even if the experience isn’t deeply life-changing (which depends on how immediately and directly one is affected), it still can shift one’s perspective and attitude and beliefs. And in our era of mass communications, these “local” events are now experienced globally.

I think emotional weather shapes attitudes and actions more than we realize. And that makes it relevant to storytelling. It can infuse different groups of people with anger, bliss, intolerance, generosity, fear, hope, mistrust, trust, despair, joy. These feelings may be transient for some, but for others they may evolve into a permanent world view, especially if they seem to confirm pre-existing beliefs.

A key point is that people don’t have to directly experience the events or conditions that create emotional weather to be affected by it. Today, emotions can easily go viral.

So what does all this mean for a writer? I believe that when a story has deeper emotional context – when the writer builds emotional weather into the storyworld, as well as the personal emotions of the characters that are directly related to the plot – the book will be richer and more authentic.

Not only that, it will offer more opportunities to create conflict and tension. After all, conflict and tension are not just rational responses to stimuli. They’re inherently emotional. They may begin in the head, but they grow in the heart.

And that’s what storytelling is all about.


5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:

New pages written:  6 (that’s all?)

Word count: 6,916

Rewrites:  None

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  6 hours

Other progress:  5writers blog renovation – wrote new and revised background pages, updated photos, other tech fixes.

Best new thing: Thanks, Pope Francis, for stepping into the lion’s den, shining a light in dark places, and making everyone with a heart want to be a better person. You rock. (And I’m not even Catholic.)

7 deadly serious writers

hand-7-sevenHelga’s Post # 115:  If you have been following our blog you know that seven crazy writers are now fully committed to writing a novel by the deadline of February 5 of next year. Some of us start from scratch (myself included – I need the challenge) and some continue or re-write a work in progress.

Why are we doing this? Especially since the writer’s complaint bag is stuffed full with blights of our trade. Rarely do you hear one of us telling how incredibly lucky writers are, how fantastic the pay, how short our work week, how our friends believe in our success even if we are yet to be published after untold years of trying.

What makes us persist, year after miserable year, in this (on surface) least rewarding profession? Do we really have to be masochists to become writers? Why are we stubbornly clinging to the lofty goal of writing that novel that’s been playing havoc with our peace of mind for so long? The stories that take over much of our daily routine and then keep us awake at night.

That’s what this post is all about.

We have our novel all worked out of course, in vivid detail, with countless brilliant scenes and larger-than-life characters. We have a protagonist no reader is likely ever to forget, no, even fall in love with head over heels, and an antagonist that is beyond evil and so chilling he gives us nightmares.

Except for one slight problem… this wonderful, unforgettable epic novel exists only in our head. It resides there squarely, but try as we might, once we are ready to tease it from the recesses of our brain and put it in words, on screen, the story has turned nebulous. It even may elude us entirely. Perhaps we lose our self-confidence in the plot; the story suddenly has no legs (a writer’s biggest nemesis). Any of these could defy our attempts to make it real, to share it with the world.

Well, not all writers are equally challenged. We use different tools and tricks to make our stories real. Some of us are outliners, some are pantsers (what’s more, there’s even a hybrid: plantster) Whatever works. But there is another trick most of us use, even subconsciously.

We write autobiographies. I am willing to go out on a limb on this. We don’t simply invent characters. We create them in on our own image and the image of people who have touched our lives. Inventing characters based on real people allows the writer to go deeper than they’ve gone before emotionally. In fiction, writers aim to move our hearts. Not only the readers’ hearts, but our own hearts too. And I believe that herein lies much of the motivation for writing fiction:

Because it gives us a measure of power and control over our lives. It lets us create and recreate a life of our choosing. Fictional, yes, but we learn from it. The creative process may guide us in our real lives as well. In our stories we can reward the people we love, and take brutal revenge on those who have hurt us. With a click on the keyboard we can annihilate enemies. We are able to bestow everlasting happiness on those characters we love in real life (including, or especially, ourselves). We can bring people back from the dead and send others to hell. We enable our characters to master one of the toughest challenges of all: Learning how to forgive. Ultimately they will teach us.

Is there a greater power?7-strikethrough

A challenge to my writing friends

Joe’s Post #152

A Call Out To Writers

So it looks like we have 7 writers now committed to getting a novel done in 5 months.

Silk – Writing a great story set in Texas

Karalee – 5 short stories in 5 months. I’d personally find it easier to write a novel in that time.

Helga – Not sure what she’ll go with at this point, but it’ll be high concept and probably amazing.

Me – Writing a WW2 mystery set in Holland

Paula – Writing a mystery set in Hawaii that I’d love to steal

Richelle – Working on a sequel to her published book, Saints and Strangers.

Sue – A mystery? With all that’s going on in your life, a good murder may be in order.

we want youThat’s awesome. I can’t tell you how cool it is to have 2 more writers trying to get that novel done. Welcome!

But, as I look at our readers, I think to myself, self, why not more?

What do you have to lose?

It’s not the NoMoWobat or whatever the novel in a month is, it’s a novel in 5 months. Look at the math Silk did.

So, I officially issue a challenge to my writing friends. Oct 5th. Start a novel. Completion date – March 5th. Elena, write the sequel to your steamy mystery romance. I know you want to. Sheila, you’ve got a great fantasy story started, why not complete it (though for you, I would suggest starting the challenge after your black belt test.) Bev? Got another novel in you? Elizabeth? JM? Soffer? Luraos? Eugina?

Come on in. The water’s warm.

So, here’s what you need to know

  • If you leave it all to the last month, you will likely fail. This I base on my own experiences. It’s super hard to write a novel in a month, especially since life seems to throw all kinds of curve balls at you when deadlines loom. Start on day 1 if you can, or day 10, if you’ve got commitments, but start as soon as you can and keep at it every day.
  • You are NOT ALONE. Text other writers. Email us. Post on the comments of our blog. Even post on our blog. Stay connected with other writers. Meet them for coffee. Plumbers won’t understand your pain, your struggles. Accountants won’t get it. Only other writers can really empathize.
  • You will hit a wall. We all hit it. The middle sucks. My minor characters have taken over. I don’t know where to take the story next. I have overused the word penis. Whatever. Writer’s block, in whatever Gollum form it takes will eventually visit and pour poison in your ear. My advice, take a day off. Have a massage. Binge-watch Game Of Thrones. And call or text a writing friend who’ll understand, give you support, then tell you to get back to it the next day.
  • Do something to honor each milestone. Outline done. Maybe some new shoes? First 10 pages done. Maybe buy yourself a nice bottle of scotch, the writer’s drink of choice. First 30. Play a day of Candy Crush. First 100 pages. A wonderful dinner with waiters who will refill your wine without you asking.
  • You may not feel elated when you finish the novel. You may feel exhausted. You may feel like you’d rather read Twilight novels over and over and over, again, than take on another task like this. You may feel like you need a drink. Or a box of chocolate. Or a weekend in Vegas with Tatum Channing. That’s all normal. But if I may offer my last piece of advice… when you’re done, celebrate. Not everyone can get a novel done let alone done in 5 months.

So, if you take on the 5/5/5 challenge, would you also like to post on this blog? Let us know and we’ll sort something out. We’d LOVE to hear about your journey, your challenges, your successes, your thoughts.

We are all in this together.

*****

As for me.

30 pages done on my novel.

5 blogs written (see my journeys here.)

This writer’s world

Paula’s Post #113

If you’re a blogger, you’ll know WordPress has a “Quick Draft” function for when you really, really need to get a blog post up in a hurry. Particularly useful if you can’t connect to WiFi and you’re trying to pound it out with only the benefit of cellular data!

That’s me!

Sunday, I was in Santa Barbara at the USTA Southern California Sectional Championships where, yes, a miracle happened: my 6.0 Ladies Doubles Team (that’s two 3.0 players playing together- the lowliest low of competitive senior tennis) WON their division and are now headed for Nationals in 31 days time in Surprise, AZ.

No location could be more more appropriate. Why, no one could be more ‘surprised’ than me and my fellow teammates. Woo-hoo.

On a more sombre note. I wish I could have been in two places at once. Could have been like a character in a novel and could have been able to ‘time-shift’ myself so I could be in Vancouver, seconds after we won the Championship. Because I couldn’t get a fight out of California early enough to attend an important event back here in Canada. And I regret that. My 5writer colleagues rallied and did their best to step up and fill in the void, as did my husband. But it still didn’t feel right not to be here.

Instead, Monday I was back in La Quinta, doing laundry and making hotel reservations for Nationals. I then caught a flight from Palm Springs to Vancouver. It arrived late and didn’t make it past the airport. Just a quick stop for Chinese takeout in the airport food court and a night at my favourite airport hotel.

Today, Tuesday, still towing my rolling suitcase, I scooted downtown for a full day course at the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board, where I learned all the intricacies of Foreclosures and Court Ordered Sales. At least all the ones I didn’t already know: I’m old enough to remember the early 80’s, when interest rates were an astonishing 22% and the market was tanking. That’s just when I started my legal career. I spent my fair share of time in Chambers, making applications for foreclosure orders. A sad time. Still, it was good I sort of had a handle on the basics, because this tennis player’s thoughts are definitely still on cloud 9.

Funny coincidence though: in my course today, I sat next to a colleague who is a famous Canadian doubles star and actually reached ‘Finals’ at Wimbledon.

Poor guy!

At every break I pestered him for tips for my team on how we can stay ‘tournament tough’ all the way through to Nationals. But that’s the great benefit of being an extrovert: you rarely stop (at the time) to consider how ridiculous you look (or sound).

Ninety minutes later and I’m now at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, heading for my home on the Sunshine Coast. A gorgeous sunny evening with the hint of fall in the air.

Not so I’d notice, mind you. Because it this is Tuesday … that means “Paula-must-get-blog-post-done”.

Now!

My husband has been petsitting for 10 days straight, amusing the poodles, while I lollygag in Palm Springs and Santa Barbara. Oh yeah, he just loves the life of ‘husband-of-tennis player’ almost as much as ‘husband-of-writer’.

I cannot, tonight, disappear into my writer’s world of plot and character. At least not until he falls asleep, and that won’t be early, he’s on another Netflix binge.

So, I only have 25 minutes until my ferry arrives. More than enough time to share the ‘reading and writing’ highlights of my week (which frankly, given our intense tennis schedule, is going to be pretty short and sweet).

1. I think 5writer Silk has almost convinced me to abandon my ‘geo-shift’ idea for my Hawaii novel. I’d planned to move the whole story to post-war Vancouver. She more or less threatened to ‘steal the book’ if I didn’t leave the characters in Honolulu where they belong. All I can say is woe-is-you Silk, when I start texting and emailing you at 3 am, panicked (or despondent) because I can’t figure the pidgin dialect or the uniform of the house boys at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Or 1930’s surfing vernacular. Just you wait!

2. Though I have no page output to report, I’m still feeling pretty good. Returning the novel to the original Hawaii setting will let me retain more of my original (stalled) rough draft I resurrected from 3 years ago. So I’m going to pretend I’m ‘ahead’ of schedule in this 5 month challenge (and the operative word is ‘pretend’).

3. A very exciting 5writer update: we’ve gained another 5writer challenger! Yes, Susan Laufer, whom Helga and I met at the Hawaii Writers’ Conference several years ago, has been following our blog for quite some time. When the second challenge arose, she lurked for a bit more, then realized it was just the kick-in-the-pants catalyst she needed to get back to her own writing!

Bravo!

Susan says:

“I finally decided to quit being a “wanna be” and “just do it”. I predict a lot of late nights, with a glass of wine in front of the half finished fireplace, scribbling in my note pads. Nice dream. We’ll see if I can make it a reality. If the half finished fireplace didn’t give it away, we (that would be me, myself, and my over stressed husband) are in the middle of a remodel on our house which we spend what spare time we have as do it yourself handy folk. The rest of the time I work in the exciting world of high technology, go figure. They say write what you know. I don’t know a thing about murder but there’s a lot of reading material to draw from. I do know a few things about remodeling, dealing with the good and the bad of contractors, and living in a close knit neighborhood where everybody seems to know what everyone else is doing. Sounds like a perfect set up for a mystery, don’t you think?”

We’re thrilled to have Susan join in the fun as: 7/7/5

7 Writers/7 Novels/5 Months – but especially exciting for me to re-connect with Susan. Want to know what else is great? When we first met, Susan was actually living in Honolulu’s Chinatown – the modern day version of the setting of my Hawaii noir novel in progress. So now Silk can breathe a bit easier, as I’ll be texting and emailing Susan in the middle of the night too!

So, a big 5writer welcome to Sue!

There’s safety in numbers, so if you’ve been lurking in the background, wringing your hands, it is not to late to jump in!

4. I may not have gotten much writing done, but winding down from some pretty action-packed tennis days was the perfect opportunity to finish the mystery novel I’m reading. As writers, I’m the first to say we must continually study our craft, and the genre within, to see how the ‘masters’ do it! Right now, I’m on a little ‘kick’ of reading NY Times bestselling mystery novelists’ first published breakthrough novels.

This month, it’s Margaret Maron’s The Bootlegger’s Daughter featuring small town lawyer (now Judge) Deborah Knott. A very good read, in some ways reminiscent of the polished style and developed characterizations of Canada’s own Louise Penny. Just finished it last night and trying to figure out who to read next, so any suggestions are gratefully appreciated.

So, ferry’s here. time to board.

Back now.

The BC Ferry system may not have the world’s most reliable WiFi, but at least it has the pretense of maintaining ‘business stations’ with desks where you can plug in and charge, something and I desperately need, at 5:55 pm, to finish my 5/5/5 blog post for the week.

But you know what they say about ‘the best laid plans…’. Turns out the 100 or so excited six year olds on their school field trip, who had filled the waiting room with a cacophony of joyous chatter (making it near impossible to work, much less think), have just followed me onto the ferry and camped right across of me. I fear my hopes for more inspiration is doomed, drowned out by the crazy chatter of these happy children.

But what if one of them disappeared… mid voyage.  What if they counted twice when they got on… and twice when they were ready to get off. A frantic search, the adult chaperones are sure the missing child must be in a washroom… or they miscounted… or met up with someone they knew and… and… It’s a huge ship. Three levels of vehicles, two for passengers, restaurants and play areas and a gift shop… but where could she (or he) have gone? A mystery, to be sure.

And what if the child is still missing after they dock? What if the parents are frantic? What if the police are called in? What if they investigate and discover one of the adults wasn’t a parent at all? A complete stranger, posing as the parent of a child in the school. What if…?

Okay, that’s enough for now. Just another example of why, for some writers, it is so very hard to get one story told. One novel done. There’s always another pretty story, lurking just around the corner. A lovely pretty story. A story that isn’t yet mottled and marred by a muddled middle or a thin characters.

Sigh. If you’re a writer, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

How was your week?

IMG_1035

On the ferry… heading home, to ‘This Writer’s World’.

PS – the Captain just announced there is a pod of whales off to port, maybe if you look close, you just might see one.

Here’s to voracious readers

the-reader-young-woman-reading-a-book-1876Helga’s Post # 114:  This will be brief as I am in the midst of organizing an important family event. I am taking the unusual step of using someone else’s words in my post, a charming piece by Rosemarie Urquico. I am dedicating this to all you voracious readers and incurable romantics out there. As far as our male blog followers goes, take note, gentlemen. You could do worse.

“You should date a girl who reads.
Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a secondhand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.”

Rosemarie Urquico

5 Reasons why writers are like athletes

Tennis

Paula’s Post #112

A quick check-in from La Quinta California, where I, along with my teammates, are in the last stages of preparation for the USTA Ladies over 55 Southern California Sectional Championships in Santa Barbara California.

So, in the spirit of this week’s competition, I’d like to posit my 5 reasons why I believe, writing is also a sport, and should be approached with a competitive mindset. Caveat, this is just my made up list, but for me, a helpful reminder of the many important ingredients that go into training to be a good writer.

1. Practice – Just like in the world of competitive sports, the world of ‘competitive writing’ requires practice. And don’t think for a minute you aren’t competing (whether against all the other writers out there who want to get published or, more importantly, competing against yourself to constantly improve on your ‘personal best’). On our tennis team, not all of our players are created equal. Some are younger. Some are older. Some are slower. Some are faster. Some have finesse, some have power. Perversely, in tennis, a sport that celebrates agility and quickness and where players are considered ‘over the hill’ when they hit their early 30’s, most of the standout players on my tennis team are older. And baby, don’t forget this is senior tennis, where you can’t even get in the game unless you’re over 55. So I do mean ‘older’ in the nicest possible way. But here’s the thing: my older team mates are generally ‘ better’ because they’ve practiced more. They’ve learned certain ‘skills’. They’ve learned to keep their mind focused and avoid distractions. They’ve learned to pace themselves. They know that ‘the game’ requires both physical and mental agility. They know that by practicing, they can not only stay limber, they can get better. And for me, all these things are true about writing, too. On this note, you may want to check out my 5writer colleague Silk’s post on “Late Bloomers“.

2. The Right Equipment – Okay, even I am laughing a bit at ‘the girls’ making sure their equipment is in tip top shape for Santa Barbara. We’ve broken in new tennis shoes, have had the pro shop staff replace our worn-out grips and we’ve all been warned by our captain and co-captain to make sure that we have a back up racquet ready to go should something unforeseen happen. Just like athletes, we writers must have the right equipment. For most of us, that means a great laptop, access to dictionaries and a good thesaurus and perhaps most importantly of all, WiFi. Sure, there are exceptions, Danielle Steel has apparently written more than 100 books on her Olympia manual typewriter and Joyce Carol Oates prefers to write everything longhand, in 8 hour stretches. But they are the exception, rather than the rule. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going out on the court, carrying an old cat gut strung, wooden racquet in a pair of plimsolls. Not when my opponent is loaded for bear with graphite and ultra-lite carbon fiber. Give yourself an edge, it just makes sense. If you need a new laptop or some other vital piece of equipment for your writers world, get it! Maybe you’ll have to forego a few trips to Starbucks or some other small ‘luxuries’ but good equipment, for a writer, is a necessary as it is for a writer. It gives you that ‘competitive edge’.

3. Teamwork – Writing, as we know, is a solitary undertaking. So is singles tennis, where you alone face an opponent, one-on-one. But I’m a social being, and I play almost exclusively doubles. I like having a ‘team’ to cheer me on and support me. More than that, I like cheering my teammates on and supporting my teammates even more. We’ve said it before and we will say it again: if you do not have a great writing or critique group backing you up, get one. Your writing group helps you keep it in perspective. When you think you’ve written the best thing ever, and they tell you it is, well… ‘shite’, guess what? It’s shite! Your writing group is there to help you. To provide encouragement, cheer you on, help you get up when you’ve fallen down, celebrate your victories and console you in defeat. They are your team.

4. Support Network – This is really a corollary to 3 above, but writers do not exist in a vacuum. We have loved ones who support us. Just as an elite athlete has personal assistants, publicity agents, physiotherapists, personal trainers, nutritionists and sports psychologists, writers need a ‘support group’. If you are unpublished and laboring alone in your ‘writer’s garret’ like us, your support network may consist simply of another family member who volunteers to do the dishes or walk the dog to give you more writing time. It may be a friend who offers to be your ‘beta reader’. It may be fellow writers who provide companionship and collegiality (as we try to do for all our followers, via this blog). Point is, don’t ignore your support group. Don’t take them for granted. Thank them for all they do and for being there for you. And don’t forget to tell them why writing is important to you. If they know they are helping you to do something that is important, if they know they are appreciated, they will help you, gratefully.

5. The Mental Edge – Elite athletes rely on mental sharpness as much as physical sharpness. As an amateur tennis player competing in USTA competitive matches, I know how easy it is to get psyched out. How disastrous it can be to come to the court unprepared. Tennis is a quick game. You can lose a set in about 20 minutes if you are not careful. That’s why it is important to master nerves and keep your confidence up. Now, I admit the dangers of a fragile psyche in writing can be a little bit different, but not that much. We need to get over our stage fright. We need to be ready to share our work with others, and take criticism honestly and with a positive attitude. We writers must, just like elite athletes, become ‘tournament tough’ and ready to roll with the punches life throws our way. When we, as writers, feel we have ‘failed’ because we have didn’t win a contest or have received the latest in a long string of rejection letters, we mustn’t let that setback stop us from writing. We mustn’t stop creating. In writing, just as in tennis or any other competitive sport, we learn as much from our losses as from our wins (maybe more so) and thus must learn to use these setbacks and take all the positives from them that we can. Is your opening weak? What can you do to fix it? Did your muddled middle do you in? Go back to the drawing board and again study the three act structure and review some storytelling basics (like The Hero’s Journey). Your failures will help you get stronger.

Well, that’s my five. I could probably write down a hundred ways wiring is like competing in competitive sports. But five, as we all know, is our favourite number in the 5writers world.

In closing, I just want to share with you my feelings about ‘my other team’. The women with whom I play tennis. These women are remarkable. Most of us started playing tennis again just a few years ago, after a long absence. Most of us were rusty. Some of us were just learning basic strokes of forehand, backhand, volley and over-head. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard as watching us in the first group clinic when we practiced running down lobs for the first time. It was comical.

In our first year in the league our record was 1-7:  we lost 7 games and won the last one of the season.

But then something remarkable happened. We decided to get serious. We signed up for more clinics and lessons. We studied the fundamentals of the game. We focused on sports psychology and nutrition. Our family and friends supported our commitment every step of the way.

And guess what?

We started winning. Consistently. In this, just our second season, we went 7-1. We are the Coachella Valley Champions in our division (a remarkable feat when you consider that ‘the valley’ includes the famed California tennis meccas of Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells).

Some of our players are over 70. Some of our players haven’t played a competitive sport since high school. But we are going to the USTA Southern California Sectionals this week because of our team work, because of our support network, because our mental edge and because of our commitment to practice, practice, practice.

If I want to succeed in writing, I know I will need to focus on these very same things.

Making it up vs. making it real

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Silk’s Post #139 — As the 5writers and friends dive into our second write-a-book-in-five-months challenge, we will all (at some point) come face to face with The Research Conflict.

I’m dramatizing, of course – isn’t that what writers do? But especially at the beginning of a fiction project, research certainly can feel like a conflict. It keeps insistently horning in, begging for attention just when we’re trying to lay down some narrative riffs, slowing our progress and often carrying our attention off in far-flung directions.

How to manage simultaneous research and writing is a topic we’ve talked about before in this blog (search this site for “research” and you’ll see how many posts pop up), but it all came rushing back to me last week when I tried to get off to a quick start and pile on some wordage. For me, early progress is the critical push I need to keep momentum going. As Karalee noted in her recent post, “Commit to finish”, most of us are much better starters than we are finishers.

The last thing a writer needs is to get bogged down at the starting line, dragging a heavy load of research references along.

Now, we’re all writing different stories in the 5/5/5 challenge, with some projects still to be confirmed, but it looks like at least four of us are writing real-world fiction in which settings, topics and context will require a high level of accuracy and authenticity. Two of us have added the extra challenge of writing historical fiction, and at least two of us have chosen settings in places we don’t live – and perhaps have never even seen.

All to say that most of us are embarking on a research journey as an integral part of our story development. We’re not necessarily starting on a blank page, however. A lot of homework has already been done in preparation, and there may even be some outline-ish story plans lying around. Most of us also have early chapters drafted (some of these written quite a while ago and pulled out of the drawer again on September 5th).

But regardless of conceptual story plans, or background reading, or research notes … you know what happens when we sit down to actually write a scene. A ton of fresh questions suddenly materialize, demanding answers before we can confidently craft that next paragraph.

For example, I have an opening scene in a prison visiting area. Yeah, I know. What was I thinking? I’ll probably lose eight out of 10 readers in the first three pages (and the two that read on will be weirdos), but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m happy to say I’ve never had the pleasure of sitting in a prison visiting area, but as a writer that’s now a problem. I’ve seen lots of them on TV and in movies, but since this is a specific prison, I need to describe a specific visiting area, not a generic one.

My choices: 1) go there (not now, thanks); 2) search for information online (did that for half a day, didn’t find a visual representation); 3) call and request a photo or description (maybe later); or 4) make it up.

I chose to make it up, and that was okay.

Until curiosity got the best of me and I made another foray online, dug deeper, and deeper, and actually came up with some footage of the visiting area in that particular prison. Woohoo! I couldn’t have been more excited if I’d discovered a forgotten winning lottery ticket in the back pocket of my jeans. And all it required was, oh let’s see, about 8 hours of research.

Wow, this book is going to take a loooooong time to write at that pace.

There are lots of strategies writers use to work around this research vs. writing time/distraction conflict. Some dedicate a significant preparation period to research and outlining, then barrel on through their first draft without interruption. This doesn’t work so well for “organic” writers (sometimes called NOPs or pantsers), however. Others flag unresearched items with a “check later” note, and just keep their writing pace up without breaking stride – not a bad idea.

Most of us probably do a bit of everything: some basic research in preparation for writing, some interruptive side-trips while writing the first draft to research critical points that affect context or plot points, some good old making it up as we go, and some clarifying research at second draft stage.

But while that’s all well and good, it may also be worth thinking ahead about the level of detail and accuracy really required to tell a particular story authentically, and engagingly.

That’s my challenge to the writers on our 5/5/5 journey: stop now and consider the most congenial balance between making it up vs. making it real.

It is fiction, after all. It just needs to feel true, to be authentic enough to suspend disbelief. Yes, inaccuracies will be picked up by readers who are more intimate with your topic, or setting, or context than you are. It would be nice to make everyone happy, but the majority of readers really won’t know whether there are 15 cubicles in the prison visiting area, or 20.

And there’s another, even more important, consideration: the story flow. All the details that make a book “authentic” are really there to set the stage for your play. Story is king. The factual details should add texture, context and sometimes meaning – but not distract.

Inaccurate details or lazy generic writing distract. Have you ever read a book that made you mentally chew out the author for “obvious” blunders or frustratingly vague or clichéd descriptions? Of course you have. Even famous authors can be guilty of this. Tsk tsk.

But equally distracting is an avalanche of carefully researched, totally accurate details that are entirely irrelevant or unnecessary for telling the story. It’s just show-offy. Look how much research I did! When I encounter this, I want to scream I don’t care, just get to the point for crying out loud.

If I may repurpose the sly quotes Stephen King chose to open his wonderful book, On WritingI think they perfectly frame The Research Conflict …

Honesty’s the best policy.   — Miguel de Cervantes

Liars prosper.   — Anonymous


Word count:  5,658

Rewrote:  Prologue

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  2 days’ worth

Best new thing:  A weekend of harvesting the apples in our orchardapple-harvestjonagolds

Thought of the week:  Like so many other aspects of modern life, politics has now fully metamorphosed into a reality show. What’s next?

5/5/5 Taking up the gauntlet

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Paula’s Post #111 —

Here we go again!

Well, that was quite a week. Since throwing down the gauntlet late in the evening on September 5th, ‘My Challenge‘ has now been taken up, in one form or other, by all the original 5writers. I, along with Joe, Silk and Helga, have once again committed to trying to write the first draft of a  novel in 5months.

In other words, before February 5th, 2016.

Fellow 5writer Karalee, busy with a new endeavor and with limited time for writing in the next few months, couldn’t stand to miss all the fun and is adding her own twist: 1writer5shortstories5months.

This year, in yet another new twist, we also challenged our followers to consider jumping into the frying pan along with us. Crazy you say? Well, I’m delighted to advise you that one intrepid writer, Richelle Elberg, is game to join us. In commenting on my post last week, Richelle said:

To boldly go…..5/5/5. I first started reading the blog in 2012 when I was writing my novel Saints & Strangers. Been trolling ever since. But S&S is now available for Kindle (print soon!) and I need to write the sequel–The 2nd Peirce Patent. I’m in!

While we’re delighted to have Richelle join us, I am somewhat surprised and just a wee dsappointed we didn’t manage to tempt a few more brave souls to take up the challenge.

Writing can be, if we’re not careful, a lonely avocation. If you are even a wee bit tempted to follow Richelle’s example and ‘take the pledge’ it’s not too late. We stand ready to welcome you to the group and cheer you on from now until the finish line.

I hope to post my regular post day (this coming Tuesday), but just in case, I thought I’d update you regarding how many have taken up our challenge, and how I’ve done in this first ‘week’ of writing with the new 5/5/5 clock a ticking away.

So, that’s about it, except for this quick progress report for Week 1

  1. I’ve decided on my 5/5/5 novel. I’ll be combing a couple of storylines I’ve developed previously and am planning a ‘detective noir’ offering set in 1940’s Vancouver (my own 5/5/5 home city).
  2. After a computer crash that devastated my writer’s peace of mind two weeks ago, my hard-drive is replaced, software re-loaded and a fresh new version of Scrivener and StoryMill reside in my Applications folder.
  3. I’m researching. Maybe my favourite part of any story, I’m deeply immersed in the fascinating lives of unlikely, real life heroes and heroines, and the equally fascinating lives of scurrilous villains and their underworld haunts. I’m loving every minute of it.
  4. Progress so far: 7300 words. Not all original, mind you. Some of the output is story reworked from previous work-in-progress. But most of it is original and fresh and involves brand new characters I’m developing.
  5. Airplanes flown on: 2
  6. Weddings attended: 1
  7. Hours spent on the phone with Time Warner Cable technical support, trying to get the internet working here in California – 5.3
  8. Hotel nights: 3

So… all in all a good week. But this one will be even more challenging. Because, as usual, my life is… well, complicated. Last week I was in British Columbia, busy with work and family. Friday, I flew down to California where I’m joining my other “5/5” team mates (as in my Ladies 55 and over USTA tennis team, to practice up for our first ever appearance in the California Sectionals in Santa Barbara.

Since I’ve arrived, it’s been over a 100F every day and unseasonably humid. We practice between 7-9 and then that’s pretty much it for the day. Which of course, works out well and leaves some extra time for writing. So… I’m busy but cautiously optimistic. I hope that despite the travel to Santa Barbara later this week, and all excitement, I’ll still mange to get another 5000 or so words done.

Wish me luck.

How did your week go?

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering about the ‘flag’ image heading up my post – in my never ending quest for public domain and rights free images for use on the blog, I stumbled upon the international maritime symbol for the number 5. Yes, we have a flag (or more precisely, three flags).