Life is a mystery story

halloween

Silk’s Post #144 — Today, which happens to be Halloween, also happens to be my birthday. In my heart, I really own Halloween. I’ve always considered my birth date profoundly lucky. And, somehow, significant.

All Hallows’ Eve (or holy evening) is the night before All Saint’s Day. It’s Pagan and Christian. To ancient Celts, Samhain celebrated the end of harvest season, a liminal time for welcoming the souls of the dead who were apt to cross the threshold between their world and ours at the cusp between summer and winter. To early Christians, Allhallowtide was a time to honour and pray for dead saints, martyrs and the faithful through nighttime vigils and daytime feasts.

Sound similar? Of course. Both observances invest meaning in the turn of the seasons from warm to cold, from light to dark. And both ritualize the greatest of all mysteries: the cycle of life and death. Scary, big ideas. As the Northerners would say in Game of Thrones, “Winter Is Coming”.

As a free bonus, my birthday came along with a treasure chest of rituals, traditions, myths, symbols and celebrations, some historical and some modern. Really good, spooky ones, especially for kids. Costumes! Witches! Black cats! Ghosts! Jack-o-lanterns! Bonfires! Trick-or-treating! Mmmmmm. Candy.

But this post is more than just a walk down memory lane and a shameless plea for birthday greetings. It’s a musing on the purpose of storytelling. And Halloween – the Pagan new year – is a perfect time for contemplating the mystery story of life.

So here’s my theory: life is essentially a game of survival for all the creatures on Earth. We’re born, we live, we die. Cats and hedgehogs and oysters and giraffes probably don’t think much about the meaning of life, beyond the next meal and the urge to multiply.

But humans … well, we’re burdened by this generous, three-pound lump of gray matter sloshing around in our skulls (thanks, Eve!), which compels us to ask questions and seek meaning in everything. Why is the sky blue? Where did everything come from? What am I doing here? What’s the point of life? And what comes after it?

And so we try to explain reality to ourselves, largely through our imaginations (and, relatively recently, through science). That’s where storytelling comes in. Not only do we make up stories to explain what we actually see and experience, we fill in the unknowable blanks by creating spiritual world views that explain the remaining mysteries. Because it just doesn’t seem right that life might not mean anything in the context of the universe. It must. Right?

This need to discover and create meaning has spawned most of what we know as human culture, from the arts to the sciences, from religion to politics, from philosophy to birthday parties.

Wait, what? Birthday parties? Yes, special occasions are important expressions of meaningfulness (if that’s even a word).

Look at it this way: trotting around on four feet grazing the savannah every single day is an existence for creatures who don’t contemplate the meaning and mystery of life. They simply live it. Totally in the moment, every moment. Internal needs and external conditions dictate behaviour. Special occasions are not self-created, but are delivered by nature. Think floods, fires, meteors crashing into the planet. That’s survival (or, in unfortunate cases, extinction).

We, on the other hand, live in the past, present and future. We make rituals, and build monuments, and celebrate occasions, and organize knowledge, and create art, and write stories … all, at the heart of it, to elevate (or invent) the meaning of life. That’s something beyond pure survival. It’s a form of creation. (Science fiction, and probably NASA, have even given some creative thought to overcoming the meteor-collision-extinction scenario).

Of course, we also do a lot of other things that are destructive, rather than creative, but that’s another discussion entirely. It’s creativity’s evil twin, which can only be brought to heel through enlightenment.

The heaven and hell story is one way to understand it all, but there are many themes and variations. And so the mystery story of life continues. I believe the need for storytelling grows, rather than diminishes, as the speed of progress increases.

I love the symbolism of Halloween, with its rich cultural depth and vivid life-versus-death lore, as an enduring example of how we tell ourselves our own story. How we explore the mystery of life’s meaning by creating a narrative for the things we perceive and experience and imagine, but don’t always understand.

As long as humans seek meaning, storytelling will remain one of our most powerful tools. The way we’re built, we can’t resist mysteries, and we can’t put them down until they’re solved.

So don’t worry about what the future holds for writers. The truth is out there, and we’ll need someone to tell it.


5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:

Sorry to report, I’ve been a very guilty truant for the past couple of weeks. Not only did I miss my blog post last week, I made little progress on my novel while on the road – best intentions notwithstanding. I’m hoping to piggyback on the jet stream created by all the (even crazier) writing colleagues out there who will embark on NaNoWriMo in just a few hours’ time. I’m thankful I have 90+ days left to complete my first draft, and not the 30-day deadline the NaNo’s are working to. Special thanks to 5writer friend Paula, who delivered a beautifully written and well-timed butt-kick in her post Write on!

New pages written:  Let’s not go there

Word count:  Still 9,320

Rewrites:  None

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  Yes!

Best new thing:  A wicked good Halloween birthday, with thanks to my wonderful tribe of well-wishing friends.

Apple progress:  Piemaking tomorrow!

What is a short short story?

Karalee’s Post #126

My fellow 5’ers have stated in their blogs that they think that writing 5 short stories in 5 months may be as or more difficult than a novel. To put things in word perspective, I came across this table in Wikipedia:

______________________________________________________________________

In fiction
Classification Word count
Novel over 40,000 words
Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words
Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words
Short story under 7,500 words

Word count – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

______________________________________________________________________
So in effect if I write say, 7,000 words for each short story it would be 35,000 words. That’s close to a short novel, but about 30% of the length of a typical novel.
I’ve found that it’s common for many short story contests to set the word count somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 words. If I did this then I would write somewhere between 15,000 to 25,000 words.
Then there’s the short short story. What in the heck is that?
short short story
Apparently a short short story is under 1,500 words. Not an easy task.
Writing a short story or a short short story sounds like it should be a whole lot, I mean a WHOLE lot easier and certainly faster than writing a complete novel.
And, truth told, in the end (pun intended) it is, in my opinion.
Certain challenges are the same. There needs to be a beginning, middle and an end. There needs to be a story to tell, some conflict, some changes, and an ending to make it all work and make sense. What makes a short story easier and faster to write is the confines that the length of the story dictates. The “shortness” doesn’t allow a whole lot of character development with growth and changes. Heck, it doesn’t allow a whole lot of characters period. There aren’t enough words to give many to a sub-plot or to introduce more than one or two conflicts. Long descriptions take too many precious words that are needed to keep the story moving.
What a short story does command are strong characters, conflict up front, concise descriptions and quick flow of story.
In a short story the end comes quick. Make sure the story ends in time too. That’s the hard part.
____________________________________________________

5/5/5 challenge this week:

Short story word count:   Story 1 –  still at 1000 words. Maybe I will have to do a couple short short stories…

Candy eaten:  All I can say is that it’s a bad idea to buy Halloween candy before the aforesaid event.

Gratitude for:  Connecting with my daughter that lives across town with her husband. I always appreciate when she calls for a check-in chat. With social media these days, it is refreshing to hear her voice.

____________________________________________________
Perspective Photos:
mist in park
bee on flower
Happy writing!

Write on!

when the clock strike midnight,

In retrospect, the title of today’s post, “Write On” seems more than a wee bit hypocritical, since my exhortation to ‘keep writing’, which was actually written last week, fell through the cracks, interrupted as it was by my week at USTA Nationals in Surprise AZ.

Ah, well, another road, paved with good intentions.

But I did get that blog post written last week, even though being on the road and other issues meant I didn’t actually get it posted.

Perhaps I will make up for it this week, by sneaking in a remedial post before I’m once again, ‘on the road again’.

Written Last Tuesday, at YVR International Airport:

One of the looming perils we unpublished writers must constantly be on the lookout for is that ubiquitous menace known as ‘evil wee beasties who lurk in the dark’. Half-formed, unseen creatures who slink behind us, dogging our trail, snarling, ready to lunge at the slightest opportunity.

Creatures who feed on ‘self-doubt’.

Omnipresent, like wolves trailing a wagon train.

These evil wee beasties and they’re related brethren lurk in the woods, at night. They hide in the shadows, crouch behind rocks, yipping and howling, until our dreams turn to nightmares.

When we wake, things look brighter.

For a while, the beasties seem safely at bay. You go about your morning in a delusional state of cheerful optimism. I’m safe, you think.

At least for awhile.

But do not fool yourself.

You make a fresh pot of coffee, maybe answer a few emails, settle down into your ‘writing space’ and then, just like that, it happens: you read what you wrote yesterday and you see in an instant that the wolves are back, scratching at your office door, howling to be let in.

Your thin veneer of safety and security crumbles… self-doubt is right there… right outside the door.

Take heed. You cannot afford to relax for even a moment. You must keep constant vigil.

Even as the evil beasties yip and snarl and howl until you must cover your ears, lest you go mad. Write on! For if you do not, you’re lost.

Instead of starting on Chapter 12 as you planned, you suddenly find yourself back at Chapter 1, rewriting your ‘opening’.

Put it down! Now! Go back to Chapter 12! Write On!

It’s not that I am completely unsympathetic. I know the temptation of lingering over Chapter 1. You know it well. Chapter 1 is your friend. You feel in familiar territory here. Your writing is strong, the wolves far behind.

Why not fix up Chapter 1 just a little more, you think. After all, isn’t it the most important chapter? Don’t all the experts say that if you don’t hook them in with the first word, first line, first paragraph you’ll never get an agent, never sell that book?

Well, to that I say ‘poppycock’.

Your Chapter 1 isn’t going to be worth diddly-squat if you don’t finish the book.

You’re never going to show it to anyone if you don’t finish the book.

Put down Chapter 1 and quit messing around! Your date today is with Chapter 12, or 14, or 42 or wherever you last left off. Your job is to Write On.

Finish the first draft.

But what about Chapter 3?

What if now, in retrospect, you’ve discovered you’ve disgorged way too much back story much too early in the book.

I mean, how can it hurt to just go back and fix that one little chapter and…

No. Write On!

Maybe you’re committed to pressing on, maybe you’ve just flipped back to your latest pages, just to see where you left off and then… OMG!!

You read your latest pages with critical dismay.

What started out so promising last night when you crafted those words at midnight has now morphed, in the cold grey light of dawn into sheer, incontrovertible drivel.

Oh yes, I’ve been there. I know of what you speak.

So, what are you to do? What are we all to do?

Fix it! Your brain screams. For that is your natural inclination, goaded on by what I like to think of as our ‘evil twins’ aka the voice of your inner ‘self-editors’.

Cover your ears. I beg you! You must ignore those voices of self doubt and Write On!

Remember, it is not safe to dawdle here. Wolves lurk in them there woods. And those wolves are hungry.

Press on at speed! Write on! Write on!

Back in the midst of our original 5 months challenge, I expounded on just this theme. I think at that time, I used the ‘Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’ theme song from ‘Rawhide’.

But in retrospect, I think I like the wagon train analogy even better.

Think of it, those wagons are full of your most valuable assets: your characters… your plot… tension and conflict, climax and resolution. Your job, as author, is to get everyone in the wagon safely to the end of the trail, even with those terrible wee beasties, howling in the woods.

Write On! For if you don’t, your first draft will never get finished.

Now, I admit, we are admittedly on the verge of straying into ‘chicken and egg’ territory here.

I hear you.

You say you cannot move forward until you are firmly convinced that you’ve got the right characters huddled in those wagons. And as far as the plot is concerned, how can you ever know that it is all going to work out in the end until you know all the obstacles that might be encountered along the trail? All the antagonists and villains who may be along for the ride?

Well you can’t, of course.

You need to know some of that, sure. But my impassioned argument is that you must, as much as possible, just Write On.

Get the first draft done! Tell the story to yourself, from beginning to end. Find out where your characters want to go, and why. See where they lead you. Maybe you are being led into a swampy quagmire or ‘boxed-in-canyon’.

You can’t know for sure.

But you must keep writing. Because if, in the end, all you do is rewrite and rewrite until your first or second chapter is ‘perfect’, you’ll never get that first draft done.

Now, I still see you shaking your heads.

You think my advice for the day to just ‘Write On’ is just a candy-ass pantser’s approach to writing.

You think that a real writer would have spent hours and hours working out the plot and crafting a rock solid outline, would have no chance of straying into boxed-in-canyon or swampy quagmire.

Well?

That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it?

And the truth is, you may be right.

Because, that, dear writing friends, is the ultimate dilemma.

But I still fervently believe that you have to just Write On, at least in the first draft. Until you get a solid feel for your characters’ dialogue, your characters’ inner conflict and all those other ‘intangibles’ like voice and pacing that every writer knows they must nail, but usually has no idea how to find.

I do think, however, that the faster you can tell the story to yourself, the more naturally cohesive your story should be.

Theoretically, anyway.

Because we are, from time immemorial, natural storytellers. Our stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Our goal, as writers should be to write to that end with as much tension and conflict that we can possibly create in our first draft fiction, without getting waylaid by the temptation to re-arrange commas and semi-colons in the same manner as the doomed passengers on the Titanic rearranged the deck chairs. (And yes, I know that this is most definitely a mixing up of my whole wagon train metaphor, but I couldn’t resist).

So, this week’s post is intended as a gentle exhortation to my 5writers group and also to all our followers, (especially those about to embark on their own epic journey: in the blood sport known as NaNoWriMo): Write On!

Write the first Draft!

Just do it.

PS: You shouldn’t even be reading this post anyway.

Not until you finish your first draft. Remember, the clock is ticking!

.

Postcard from the past

Helga’s Post #117:  Writing this post during a three-week visit from my hometown, Vienna. Not much about writing as such, but paying tribute to the craft with this picture of one of Vienna’s public libraries

imageScant progress on the writing front. Family members, especially those from the ‘old country’ have a way of monopolizing visiting relatives’ time. Not just a day here and there, or a couple of hours every day or two. Oh no, not my family. They go all out: 24/7 with a scant allotment for sleeping.

Trying to catch up on my blogging commitment too is a tricky undertaking. My beloved 94-year old mother hovers over me, checking as I write on my iPad. More than once am I reminded that I will lose my vision, and besides, all this time spent on the Internet is a dangerous habit akin to drug addiction.

But I do have my ways. With Houdini-like skills I manage to free myself from well-intentioned maternal shackles and go on the odd escapade. I head out, ready to rediscover my roots and my city. With an eye towards gathering morsels for my novel in progress I start walking down memory lane….

First stop, my grade school on Grubergasse. The first four years. The building looks smaller now, the street more narrow. This is where I got my first taste for the pleasure of writing. A teacher publicly praising an essay I wrote in Grade two or three. A small gesture, a lasting passion for a young pupil.

Next stop the dance school my parents signed me up for. This is something most teens in Vienna used to attend, regardless of social and economic background. Not only to learn the basics of ballroom dancing, but to get acquainted with social etiquette. The girls, usually at age 16, lined up on one side of the long wall, facing a row of shy pimply boys across the room. The boys had the privilege of choosing a dance partner. Before the first dance, they had to entertain their girl with polite and charming conversation while promenading her around the hall. I seem to recall my partner’s attempts as something like “My name is Fritz and I live in the third district.”

Tracing my steps back through the Volksgarten I look for that hidden alcove. That special bench, the first kiss. Alcove and bench are gone as is the memory of the boy’s name. Onwards along the Ringstrasse to the opera house, recalling my first opera, Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. Not a good choice to spark a passion for opera.

Thankfully, opera is not the only choice of entertainment in the city of music and dance. I was introduced, early on, to jazz by boyfriend du jour, a jazz musician of considerable charm (footnote: he later became a character in my Cold War novel ‘Closing Time’). The venue, a damp cellar deep below St. Ruprecht church. Fans used to sit on roughly hewn benches sucking straws from coke bottles filled with a devilish mix of coke and corn brandy, the drink of choice for jazz aficionados. The place still exists today, many decades later. It’s now the popular Jazzland, the oldest jazz club in Vienna.

Jazz, corn brandy and a musician boyfriend inevitably lead to heartbreak. That too is part of growing up, part of life’s unavoidable experiences. We had better become experts in dealing with it. Losses of one kind or another will become routine throughout our lives, mounting as we get older.
Memory lane is nearing its end. I am getting close to that all important point in time, my life-changing decision to leave my native country for Canada.

But a few more steps remain.

My dad had planned out my career path for me early on. After graduating from business college he ‘pulled strings’ with the Socialist party to get me a job at the nationalized funeral office. ‘You will never be out of a job’ he reasoned.

What? A young ambitious fun-loving woman working in the funeral industry? I had different ambitions.

My departure for Canada was not without drama. And a romance that may have played a part in my decision.

More in my next post.

Always be learning

Joe’s Post #154

IMG_2269 (800x599)As a writer, as a human being, as a full-on weirdo, there’s one thing I should always be doing.

ABL. Always. Be. Learning.

Like the famous speech in Glengarry, Glen Ross. (Parental discretion advised.)

But not, you know, always be closing. Always be learning.

So even when I’m writing on my novel or fixing it or staring at the words I’ve written and wondering what the hell made me think this was a good idea, I continue to try to learn something new that will help me be a better writer, a better blogger or just a more annoying history buff.

This week, I looked at three things I wanted to share.

First, the Writer’s Digest Platform Challenge for October. Check it out. I have a link. Lots of good stuff if you’re just starting out a blog, but also some interesting exercises if you have one up and running.

Here are a few examples. Day 8. Find and share a helpful article. We do this on our blog (or at least share links) but it’s a good reminder to connect with the community at large. It’s something I need to work on with my own blog.

Day 9. Call to Action. I have to confess, this one has me baffled. We’ve not gotten a lot of comments on our blog and when I read other blogs, I see they often do. I’m not sure what we’re doing wrong. Any suggestions? (this is my call to action.)

Day 18. Interview an Expert. Oh, I like this one. Paula talked to an ex-sheriff, but I’m going to task that for next week. Stay tuned. I’m agonna find someone who knows something about something.

sniper 3. Apparently i'm in there somewhere.

Sniper 3. Apparently I’m in there somewhere.

Day 20. Search yourself. Hmmm. Seems Joe Cummings writes travel books. Seems Joe Cummings had a stranger living in his apartment. Seems there’s a Canadian poet named Joe Cummings. So not me. Seems Joe Cummings is an actor in Sniper.

So, yeah, seems I’m a lot of things, but none of them me.

Try justjoebc as a search and see what you find. I dominate that one. Oh, yeah, baby. Yeah.

I think I’ll go back and do up a plan for next week. I should be able to do 2 a day and catch up a bit.

Anyone else willing to give this a try?

Second thing learned.

Black Soldiers in WW1

Black Soldiers in WW1

Watched 8 hours of WW1 footage for my novel. Pretty interesting stuff. I’m going to steal all sorts of facts for my character’s background. After all, that war defined him. But the most interesting thing I learned is that while the US refused to integrate its army into the French army (for good reason), they did integrate their colored regiments, who were treated quite differently in that army than in their own.

Last thing.

I re-learned how important it is to have a support group, a critique group, or just a few writing friends who’ll be there to help you when you need it.

Holland WW2

Holland WW2

See, something was wrong with my first 60 pages. I dunno what the hell it was, but something was nagging at me. Nagging bad. But after spending time with one friend (and Friday, another), I should have it all sorted out.

Funny what a new set of eyes can see that you can’t.

So, if you’re ever stuck, go phone a friend. It’s advice from Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

At that’s it from me for this week.

******

Page count:  90ish (but see that thing about having to redo some of it)

5/5/5 Word count. I dunno. 22,000

Words that will get thrown out: Probably 21,000

Blogs written: 1 (but a burst of 5 starts tomorrow on Just A Stepdad.)

Exercise days: 0 – sick as a dog for most of last week

Movies Seen: Fury Road (with the boys). The Martian (maybe it was that time of month for me, but I teared up a lot). San Andreas (with the youngest boy, a movie that proves if you go by a formula, you’ll suck. Even with the Rock.)

Book I’m Reading: Something From The Nightside by Simon R. Green (a book akin to the one I wrote for the Tor open call).

 

 

 

Binge writing

AmazonBinge

Paula’s Post #116

Binge

informal noun
1. a short period devoted to indulging in an activity to excess, especially drinking alcohol or eating.
“he went on a binge and was in no shape to drive”
synonyms: drinking bout, debauch; More
verb
2. indulge in an activity, especially eating, to excess.
“some dieters say they cannot help binging on chocolate”
synonyms: overindulge, overeat, gorge; 


Oh, my.

I’m laughing so hard, I can hardly type,

I’ve just read Silk’s post for the week, entitled “Writing on the Road Again, Again”.

No, spellcheck, that’s not a repeated word in the title, it’s intentional on Silk’s part. Intended to emphasize the crazy whirl of travel that we all seem to find ourselves caught up in these days.

And while I’m laughing, I’m also shaking my head in wonder. Let’s take a look at my own ‘travel scorecard’.

Since this challenge started six weeks ago, I’ve been away to a wedding in the Okanagan region of British Columbia (but that was just three days, no big deal); spent a week in La Quinta, California, practicing with my tennis team; then four days in Santa Barbara, at the USTA California Sectionals; before returning to beautiful British Columbia (by way of La Quinta (two more days) to enjoy almost a month of glorious fall weather. So how does that stack up 3+7+4+2 = 16 days on the road so far.

But I’m not done yet.

Our win in Santa Barbara means my team is off this week to NATIONALS! Yes, I’m leaving Tuesday for five days in toasty Surprise, AZ to battle a bevy of other crazy old ladies for tennis supremacy. At least in our age group. At least in our division (the lowliest).

But seriously, 55 really is the new 25. Or 35. Oh wait, maybe I’ll get back to you on that, because sometimes my feet and ankles and knees – oh yes my knees – are pretty sure that we’re all of 55 and then some.

But all to say that in reviewing my travel scorecard over the past six weeks, I’m amazed that I’ve made as much progress as I have during this 5writers challenge.

What I think I’m learning is that being a good writer – being a committed writer – is all about ‘sacrifice’. Choosing, as Silk describes, to sit indoors at the kitchen table of the 5th wheel instead of taking that afternoon walk on the beach.

It’s soooooo hard sometimes.

Maybe what we’re all beginning to realize is that this ‘hard’ is not just a 5writer5month thing. Maybe this time it’s really starting to dawn on us that this could be an entire lifestyle thing, if we really want to be published authors. Especially if we want to try to be more than a ‘one hit wonder’ (though right now, I’d bet money that some of us might jump at even that). Because it is hard. For me (and I’m sure this is the case of many if not all the 5writers and many of our writing colleagues) writing involves, as Silk so aptly describes, hard choices.

Looking back, it was almost easier when I was working full-time.

Hard to believe, but when I worked full-time as a prosecutor, I’d come home exhausted. Especially after a day calling ‘the list’ in remand court. An endeavour that required me to take conduct of so many files I actually needed a shopping cart to wheel them all to court.

Yes, you read that right, a shopping cart.

How’s that for a mental image?

But I had only two email accounts back then. One at work, and one at home. Not the six or seven I apparently need to navigate through my life now.

We had cable, but not Netflix. We had kids, but not grandkids. We had AOL, not Facebook.

In many ways, a simpler world.

Back then, flipping open my laptop and writing 30 pages for my critique group was a way to wind down from the crazy day I’d had in court. It was different. It was creative. It was fun.

It’s still fun for me, but now I find I’m battling so very many more choices to carve out a little writing time.

Take this week, for instance. Last weekend was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. That meant making chilli and guests at our house Friday evening. Then shopping and cleaning up the house on Saturday. Then attending dinner at our friends’ house on Sunday. Then cooking for six on Monday, with my sister-in-law, who we love seeing, staying for three days. So of course, we had to go see The Martian on Tuesday, after some tennis practice and before my sister-in-law left on Wednesday. But by Wednesday, I was so behind on my work (not writing work, other work) I had to spend all day on that. Thursday, doggie dentist day (don’t ask) and Friday I caught up with a dear friend I hardly seen all summer. Nothing extraordinary. Likely a week much like your week. But a week sorely lacking in writing time.

So today, Saturday, was a gift. Other than have exclusive dog duty and the electrician here most of the day, I had a full day of precious writing time. A full day. So I sat my butt down and wrote. All day. Because with my schedule, who knows if I’ll have the chance again anytime soon.

Don’t worry, I’m resigned to this now. I’m officially a ‘binge writer’. I don’t mind, I kinda like the sense of accomplishment that comes with chalking up the page count. And it lets me off the hook for a while, because this coming week isn’t a writing week, it’s a tennis week.

That’s just the way it is in my world.

But I’ll be back to my own ‘writing on the road’ and yes, back to binge writing again soon, too.

You can count on it.

Pies eaten this week:   Oh, where to start? First there was the Feta, Pear and Caramelized Onion Strudel I made for Thanksgiving, the Butter Pecan Tarts purchased from the Hospital Auxiliary Ladies at the Gibsons Fall Fair, the enormous Pumpkin Pie from Costco… well, you get the idea. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Turkey Dinners:  2

Tennis Practice:  1

Baseball Games watched:  2.5. Or maybe it was three. The all look alike, mostly. The Blue Jays and the Royals are even wearing the same colour uniform.

Binge Writing Sessions:  1. On the novel and on this blog post, both in one day. Whew!

New pages written:  Hard to say… some old, some new, some tarted up a bit…. but I’m making progress.

Total Word Count:  35,189.

The good news, is that works out to about 35 x 1000 words a day. September 5 to October 17 works out to be about 42 days, which means theoretically, I’m only 7 days behind schedule.

Of course, what I know and you don’t know is that more than half of those 35,000 or so words to date are from an abandoned ‘half-draft’ of a work in progress, I’m going to run out of manuscript soon, and then I’ll be all writing fresh pages.

Yikes.

Bring on the Binge Fest!

On the road again, again

writing-on-the-road

Silk’s Post #142

October 14, 2015 … Sometimes I wonder whether we should be doing a writers’ blog or a travellers’ blog. 5travellers5journeys5months? We 5writers do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on the road. Just take the last three or four months, for instance …

Paula hopped all over visiting family this summer … Cincinnati one day, Florida the next. On her last check-in she was back home in Gibsons, BC, writing as she gazed over the harbour from her beachy retreat. But that was a few days ago, after she got back from La Quinta, CA. Or was it San Diego? Anyway, now I think she’s in (surprise!) Surprise, AZ for a tennis tournament.

Joe is recently back from his proposal adventure in Whistler, BC, where he won the hand of the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world on top of a mountain (then helicoptered back down and took a nap, apparently – hey the air’s pretty thin up there). After his flurry of camping trips and other family travel adventures, I think he’s back home in Langley, BC, writing between kids’ hockey practices.

Karalee had her eagerly-awaited mother-of-the-bride trip to Mexico this summer, then immediately took off for a kayak adventure in Haida Gwaii. What a juxtaposition! It sounds like she’s home now from her business conference in someplace very sunny (Las Vegas?) and her family getaway to the California coast. Writing I hope!

Helga is now back in her elegant and ever-fascinating birth city, Vienna, Austria, spending time with her indomitable mother. I am positive she’s soaking up material for a book to come. But soon after she returns to Vancouver, BC, she’ll be off again to her new winter home in Palm Springs, CA.

As for me, half my summer was spent on the water, sailing the San Juan Islands, WA, then up the BC coast to Desolation Sound and back. And now I’m on the move again, on a camping road trip down the coast to California catching up with family and friends.

As Carole King sang: You’re so far away. Doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?

Well, the answer seems to be “no”.

What is this urge to be in constant motion all about? Are the 5writers going all jet-setty on you?

The reality is that much of this to-ing and fro-ing is about keeping in touch, and sharing activities, with family and friends. The reality is that personal mobility is the new normal. Families living for many generations in the same place used to be typical. Today, it’s much more likely that you have relatives and friends scattered across the country, or the world.

This is just one reason more people travel, more often, and to more places than ever before.

But, with some reluctance, I have to ask this question: When you’re constantly packing, or unpacking, or doing laundry while planning for the next departure, is there really time – and focus – left for writing?

Oh, we’re getting lots of stimulation all right. We’re collecting experiences and studying the great smorgasbord of real-life characters out here. We’re soaking up sights, sounds, smells, tastes, moods, settings that could be used to build memorable storyworlds.

But when will we “settle down” and write about it?

In airport lounges? Holed up in chic but unfamiliar cafes? Huddled near a sputtering campfire while coyotes yip in the distance? By night-light, propped up with random pillows in someone’s guest bedroom? Hunched over the navigation table of a rocking boat? Typing with fingerless gloves, sitting on a cold hockey arena bleacher before dawn? Under a beach umbrella between dips in the water?

It all sounds so romantic, so interesting, so fun, so possible. The Writing Life. We can do it anywhere, anytime.

Sure we can. But do we?

Well, here I am, on the road again. Again. My writer’s nook for today is the table of our 5th wheel trailer while I listen to the Pacific rollers out beyond the pine fringe, beyond the flat, stretches-for-miles strand at Grayland Beach State Park, WA.

And I am writing. Getting it done. Even though all this travel has made my post days late. In part, this is because of being constantly on the move or in the midst of social events. But the other challenge is that getting online while away from home is often like winning the lottery. You really take your chances. As I write this it’s Wednesday afternoon, but I have no idea when I’ll actually be able to post it.

My mission today was to call my inner naysayer a liar. When I sat down to write, that little whiner inside was kvetching:

“Writing on the road is too haaard. I want to go for a walk on the beach. I want to read a book. I don’t feel like working. You can’t send your post today anyway, so what’s the point? Why bother going on a trip to someplace beautiful and then use up all your playtime sitting inside writing? I’m missing all the fun. Writing on the road is too haaard!”

Oh, yeah? Well I did it anyway. Maybe not my most captivating post, but it’s certainly “in the now”. And from the heart.

And I didn’t miss the fun. I made my own.


October 16, 2015 … Friday morning under a fog bank. I’ve finally got a cell signal here at Nehalem Bay, OR where we’re camped just behind the dunes on the spectacular Oregon north coast, where every view around every curve is heartbreaking because you want to stop, right there, and just stare at it for hours. So that’s the good news, and here’s the bad news …

5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:

New pages written:  Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Word count:  Still 9,320

Rewrites:  None

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  Nope

Best new thing:  Being on the road again, again.

Apple progress:  3 dozen oatmeal apple muffins in the freezer. Okay, two and a half dozen … 6 already gobbled down.

Routine. Is it a help or hindrance to writing?

Karalee’s Post #125

To Do BinderRoutine.

It’s important. It allows me to get stuff done during the day. Important tasks, like going to work, writing, having a clean house and clothes, cooking and eating, yard work, sleeping, being social with friends, being a mother and wife in my family.

In its own way each item is important.

Regarding my”routine” writing time, does having a set time stifle my creativity? If I “have” to write between noon and three, can I simply sit down and get to it? Or does worrying that it takes time to get going, and that once I do, I have to stop at a certain time reduce my productivity to nil, like trying to squeeze juice from a dehydrated lemon?

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, the definition of routine is:

Noun 

: a regular way of doing things in a particular order

: a boring state or situation in which things are always done the same way

: a series of things (such as movements or jokes) that are repeated as part of a performance

Adjective

: done very often

: done or happening as a normal part of a job, situation, or process

: easily done according to a set way or method

So apparently, routine is regular, boring and repetitive.

Does it really have to be? I beg to differ.

ClocksWhen I set a certain time to write, sure the time on the clock is regular, boring and repetitive, but what I do during that time allotment can be as exhilarating as I want to make it. My characters can be caught up in a hurricane, go down on a sinking ship, have affairs or a sex change, lie and cheat and play the innocent, get fired or murdered, or race in a police car or a hot air balloon for all that matter. My creative juices can take over, making my fingers fly on the keyboard to keep up with my imagination.

My perspective is what makes the difference. Routine can jump start my creativity. Imagine having a full three hours allotted to the pure joy of writing without the interference of “the rest of the world.” My subconscious is the key. It can be constantly working in the background so when it’s time to write, I write.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Make routine your friend!

My nemesis is actually writing down my To Do list every day and make it part of my routine.

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5/5/5 challenge this week:

Short story word count:   Story 1 –  1000 words total so far. I’m behind and need to step it up. See my nemesis above!

Pies eaten: Hey, it was Thanksgiving last weekend and I was very thankful for the multiple pieces of pumpkin and apple pies.

Gratitude for: Having the family together this week. Two of my children now live on their own and it takes more organizing to make time together.

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Perspective Photos:

Fall Garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

float plane

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

Write for the right reasons

Karalee’s Post #124

Tammy hidingI have let my attention be diverted away from writing, hiding actually, telling myself that everyone self-publishes these days, so the chances of me “getting noticed by the big world out there” is minimal at best.

I’ve also been putting effort into my new business and enjoying getting out of the house and the seclusion of writing and being a stay-at-homebody-mom.

I have no complaints about my privileged lifestyle, yet in these last few months I’ve felt an inner pressure building. I’m full of words and ideas that I’ve let wall up inside like a dam somewhere between my stomach and my fingertips. I’ve also been feeling like I’m letting my writing group down, being constantly late responding to almost all communications.

Procrastination of the guilty kind. It’s like being stuck in the muddled middle of life.

But then our group forges ahead, determined to jump-start our writing that we all love to do, yet somehow we let it take a back seat to other things in life. I’ve made a six word commitment: 5 short stories in 5 months. Six words full stop. I haven’t written another beyond that.

So today I started writing. Deadlines are amazing motivators. I carved out three hours away from all distractions in the house and purposely sat down in new territory.

The words started flowing.

Oh, I looked out the window at Granville Island and took pictures of the spectacular view, but it didn’t distract my thoughts. I was in the groove!

What I noticed was an overwhelming feeling of being in the right place. Not only physically, but emotionally too. Excited peace overcame me. An oxymoron I know, but that’s how it felt. Reuniting with writing has shown me how much I truly enjoy creating something from nothing using the power of my mind.

Right now it doesn’t matter in the slightest if I get published or not. What matters is feeding my passion. That is what is needed to become good enough to be published whether traditionally or by oneself.

Beyond everything else, I need to write for the right reasons!

I give a huge THANKS to my fabulous group for not booting me out and for coming together once again to make personal commitments that give us direction.

And thanks to Elizabeth Lyon commenting on my blog last week. She helped put into perspective that we all have many things in our lives to distract us from writing. Our passion brings us back. You can check out her new book Crafting Titles. I’m going to use it to help me in naming my 5 short stories!

5/5/5 challenge this week:

Short story word count:   Story 1 –  500 words

Blog posts written:  1

Gratitude for: The changing colors of autumn and the beauty of the city of Vancouver.

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Perspective Photos:

heron in flight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tugboat and bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

The muddled middle

Novel From the Middle

Paula’s Post #115 —

October 6th – we are officially one month into our ‘write-a-novel-in-5-months’ challenge.

To recap, all 5 of our 5writers are now fully committed to write either a novel in 5 months (or in the case of one of our writers, Karalee, 5 short stories in 5 months, which I personally believe is even more insanely difficult). We also now have three ‘followers’ who have taken up the challenge to write that novel in 5 months along with us.

How great is that?

For me, this challenge means dusting off a long abandoned manuscript and finishing it. Writing all the way to the place where you get to type ‘The End’.

In some ways, some might say that this makes my 2015 challenge easier than our original challenge in 2012 (in the original challenge, we had a rule that your ‘novel-in-5-months’ had to be written entirely from scratch). This time, we’ve abandoned that rule, but I’m not sure the challenge is any less arduous.

For one thing, there was a reason I abandoned my dusty manuscript. Alas, I was marooned, yes, mired and marooned in the ‘muddled middle’. That hellish place so many of us find ourselves when we set out to tell a story without a clear outline or road map from Point A to Point B to Point C.

So, how to remedy the conundrum of the ‘muddled middle’ now that we are deep into our  5 months challenge?

Well, if you’ve followed this blog from time to time, you’ll know we’re exceptionally talented list makers.

Sometimes, I think we just love to make lists about writing, in order to avoid the actual task of writing. But since my 5writer colleague Silk has cornered the market on ‘Procrastination‘ as a weekly blog topic, I’m going to have to dig a little deeper into how to avoid the ‘muddled middle’, and that means yes, making a list.

Google ‘Muddled Middle’ and you’ll find an elegant excess of advice from published and wanna-be-published authors. Rather than completely reinventing the wheel, I recommend you may want to take a look at:

  1. James Scott Bell: Write Your Novel From the Middle
  2. Chuck Wendig:  25 Ways to Fight Your Novels Mushy Middle
  3. The Now Novel Blog: How to Write a Novel: Story Beginnings, Middles and Ends

When you finish reading all of the above, maybe you can give me some advice? So far, I’m leaning towards Mr. Bell’s suggestion that you consider writing your novel from the middle. This, in essence, is what I’ll be doing now that I am picking up my old manuscript and effectively taking a new ‘kick at the cat’ by starting right in the middle.

While I haven’t yet read Mr. Bell’s book, I think I might order it and take a good long look at what he has to say. I’m intrigued by the premise that you start by addressing the part of the story that causes so many writers so very much trouble.

I’m extremely impressed, generally, with Mr. Bell’s no-nonsense, common sense approach to writing. If you aren’t familiar with his work, take a look at his Amazon page. While I haven’t read all his works, I can highly recommend the critically acclaimed ‘Plot and Structure‘ which is a great starting point for any beginning writer seeking to master the craft.

So, that’s where I’m going to start.

This Week’s Progress Report:

Ferry Rides: 4

Dentist Appointments: 1

Tennis Practice Sessions: 1

Garages Cleaned Out: 1

Days Kayaking: 1

Pages Resurrected from my Dusty Novel on the Shelf: 125

Total Word Count: 24,677

Hours Spent Re-Reading and Copy Editing to achieve this astounding word count: 20-ish

(Note, I fear this is one of my big problems, I dither over periods, commas and exclamation marks, when I should be thinking.. I should be plotting… I should be rushing to do battle with the muddled middle).

So, I still have more reading to do, but what do I think I need to focusing on in the ‘muddled middle’ of my manuscript?

Personal Stakes.

But that’s a topic that deserves a blog post all its own.