About Paula Third

Writer, Lawyer, Luxury Real Estate Agent, Tennis Player, Dog Lover, Caffeine Addict, Reader, World Traveler and, above all, Optimist

Battling the monster: writers and mental health

Monster

Paula’s Post #120 – December. A month when we are supposed to be happy. Full of Christmas cheer as we anticipate the arrival of Old Saint Nick and happy times with the family as we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. For those of the Jewish faith, this is the time of Chanukah, the festival of lights, and for those of West African heritage, Kwanzaa. All celebrations; all times of joy.

At least that’s the idea.

But as we know all too well, the spirit of the season collectively known as ‘The Holidays’ is more often than not, just as likely to be fraught with anxiety and depression as it is good cheer and joyful merriment.

Here at the 5writers, we’ve embarked on our own ‘season of angst’ with each of us battling issues, big and small, that seem to be getting in the way of our collective productivity.

If you read my colleague Silk’s post of yesterday, The Art of Course Correcting, you’ll know that as writers, sometimes we must face ‘painful truths’ about the deadlines we set. In our case, our collective realization that ‘the second time around’ we may not have had either the ability or frankly even the same enthusiasm for writing an entire novel in 5 months. In Silk’s words:

Because I know I’m not going to have this first draft finished by our 5writers deadline – artificial as it may be – of February 5th. It’s just not going to happen. So I polled the other 5writers, and it seems I’m not the only one whose productivity has fallen a bit short of where we all should be in our stories by now – if we want to be typing “The End” in exactly 60 days.

Rather than avoid the problem, deny the reality, guilt ourselves into a demotivated state of inertia, painfully wedge enough scraps of writing time into the holiday season to make up for lost time, or just give up … we are discussing a course correction, including a reset of our challenge deadline to April 5th. This would also give us more time for mutual support, including some in-progress critiquing and feedback, and virtual group meetings.

Paths to any goal in life, after all, are just plot lines. They do take twists and turns, with something to learn around every corner. And if you’re afraid to make course corrections, you may never get there.

In my case, I was particularly captivated by Silk’s reference to building in “more time for mutual support”. If you’ve followed the adventurers of the 5writers you’ll know that, more than anything, this is what we are really all about.

While I had to look it up to confirm, the current 5 members of our little writers’ group have been together for almost 6 years. That’s a pretty good run. Some of us have been together even longer. We started as a traditional critique group, exchanging pages by email, then meeting to critique each other’s’ work in day long marathon critique session. These meetings occurred on more or less a regular basis and though often left mentally exhausted, we almost always came away with fresh enthusiasm  and dedication to our craft, each of us committed to becoming better writers.

Flash forward six years and we are struggling.

Although we started out strangers, we are now friends. Friends who, first and foremost, are committed to supporting one another, as difficult as that may be now that we live in five separate places in two different countries.

But that mutual support is what keeps me going, because I know another scary truth: writers are vulnerable.

In his blog, Electric Lit,  Joseph Jaynes Roistano writes:

The idea that creative writing is linked to mental abnormality is ancient: Socrates argues in Phaedrus that poetry is a form of divine madness. The literary world has lost many of its greats to suicide: Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and David Foster Wallace, to name a few. But are writers actually more prone to mental illness—or is this a myth fueled by memorable anecdotes?

In the largest study on this question (including almost 1.2 million Swedish patients), researchers found writers to have more than double the risk of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder compared to a control group of accountants. Writers also faced a greater risk of depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse.

Depression… anxiety disorders… substance abuse… bipolar disorder… schizophrenia – that’s quite a scary little laundry list!

Not content to rely only on Mr. Rositano’s research, I decided to delve a little deeper, discovering another blogger’s contribution and a coincidentally familiar sounding title: In ‘5 Writers Who Suffered from Mental Illness and the Impact it had on Their Art‘, Professor Kim McCann of Southern New Hampshire University explores the lives of five authors who not only ascended to literary greatness, but who, whether privately or publicly, also suffered from what were often debilitating mental illnesses: Sylvia Plath, Ezra Pound, Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf and, yes, not to be forgotten, Ernest Hemingway.

If there is a bright side in all this, at least we don’t write poetry. According to Ms. McCann:

In 2002, Dr. James Kaufman of California State University in San Bernardino conducted a retrospective study of 1,629 writers that showed poets — specifically, female poets — were more likely than non-fiction writers, playwrights and fiction writers to have some type of mental illness. As such, the link between creativity and mental illness is frequently referred to as “The Sylvia Plath Effect.”

What does this all mean?

The heck if I know! But if I’m honest, I also have to admit I’m not the happiest I’ve ever been.

Anxiety? Check.

Depression? Check.

Bipolar Disorder? Maybe, certainly mood swings.

I never embraced the idea of writing as a ‘lonely profession’, much less a lonely avocation.  But quite frankly, right now, that is what it has become for me.

Up until a couple of days ago I was steeling myself for a grueling holiday season of lonely, marathon writing, envisioning a Christmas with the grandchildren where Nana locked herself in her room to write to deadline in an attempt to get back on course to complete my novel in 5 months.

But is this what we all want out of life?

Is this the cruise we’ve signed up for? I confess, I have a secret desire. A desire to poll the top 100 popular fiction writers – those committed to the ‘book-a-year’ deal with their publishers – and ask them, if they had it to do it all over again, would they walk down the same path?

One of the reasons we embarked upon our original five months challenge was to try to simulate the lives of these busy authors and the book-a-year schedule that demanded completion of a first draft in something under six months. Relentlessly, each and every year.

Well, having tried it, let me share with you what I’ve discovered: it’s haaaard!!!

Sure, sometimes it’s fun. In the heady beginning, when you’re fuelled by caffeine, adrenaline and enthusiasm, plotting and dreaming up exotic locales and fascinating original characters. But that ‘creative’ phase quickly wears off. Somewhere around page 80 or 100 or so you realize you have a long way to go. But by then, you’re already looking back and filled with overwhelming doubt about the choices you’ve made and the course you’ve charted.

That’s where I’m at now.

I’m depressed and filled with doubt. Right now, I don’t really want to take this novel any further down the line.

I long for the days when my 5writer colleague Helga and I co-authored a fun romp of a culinary novel, filled with wacky characters, luscious food and layer upon layer of plot twists. If one of us got down or depressed, the other was always there to put a positive spin on things and get our writing back on track. With culinary wiz Helga at my side, we used our husbands as test kitchen dummies and re-created the recipes in the novel in a series of spectacular Italian themed dinners.

I long for the days when my 5writer colleagues met on a regular monthly basis. For the days when, mired in the muddled middle, I had Silk and Joe and Helga and Karalee  to ‘brainstorm’ a way out. Where we shared our doubts and our anxieties in a support group that was as much about real life as it was about writing.

Bottom line, this time around, I don’t think we 5writers have taken sufficient care of our mental health on this challenge. And I say this knowing that I’m not the one in our group facing the biggest challenges at this time.  If I’m feeling this way, how must my other 5writers be feeling?

Pollyanna that I am, even I don’t believe that for every problem there is a solution. And this time around, I admit it, I don’t know what the solution is to the dilemma in which I now find myself.

If I’m going to continue writing, it is going to have to be fun again, because right now, plain and simple, it’s not. At least for me.

But I’m not giving up.

While there may not be one, all-encompassing solution, there are positive steps I can take that can help.

Step 1 – Balance: Was I really, absurdly, contemplating locking myself in a room this Christmas to write, write, write as carols were sung and chestnuts roasted on an open fire? Well to hell with that! Nix that. I will write if I feel the joy and the inspiration this holiday season, if not, forget it. If that means I’m not ‘a real writer’ then so be it, I’m at peace with that.

Step 2 – Read: Perversely, one of the huge disappointments of taking up the ‘writing life’ is the negative effect on the ‘reading life’. If I were to poll the other members of my writers’ group, I bet I’d discover I’m not alone. With only so many hours in the day, something’s gotta give, and that something is the joy of reading. This is not inconsequential: if writing is correlated with negative mental health, reading is correlated with positive mental health. The term ‘bibliotherapy’ first coined during the time of the First World War now encompasses a wide expanse of therapeutic approaches through literature. In this regard, I highly recommend Ceriden Dovey’s fine article published in the NewYorker, earlier this year, “Can Reading Make You Happier?”

For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain. Since the discovery, in the mid-nineties, of “mirror neurons”—neurons that fire in our brains both when we perform an action ourselves and when we see an action performed by someone else—the neuroscience of empathy has become clearer. A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology, based on analysis of MRI brain scans of participants, showed that, when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves. We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings.

Step 3 – Group Therapy. Okay, this one is going to be the the tough one. We 5writers have become most geographically challenged indeed. We’re not quite sure how we are going to get all five of us in a room together for an extended period of time. Admittedly, we may need to explore communicating by Facetime or Skype, but somehow or other, we all recognize that we are at our best as a group. Recapturing that group dynamic will not be easy, but we all feel the need to get back to basics, to get back to 30 pages a month, to get back to a soothing schedule of certainty and the knowledge that we are not alone.

So that’s my self-help prescription for ‘battling the monster’. How about you? If you’ve got any suggestions, I’d love to hear from you, in the meantime, I’m off to read a book.

Reading right now:

The Brutal Telling , Louise Penny’s fifth Inspector Gamache mystery.

Next up:

A Banquet of Consequences, Elizabeth’s George nineteenth Inspector Lynley mystery.

and

Circling the Sun, Paula McLain’s reimagination of the remarkable life of aviatrix Beryl Markham.

How about you? Any suggestions for a little ‘bibliotherapy’.

This writer’s 10 best things about Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Turkey

Paula’s Post #119

So, dear readers, here we are, almost halfway through our second ‘write-a-novel-in-five-months’ challenge.

Crickey!

By my count (and admittedly, I’m not that great at math, so please feel free to contradict me), our challenge encompasses a span of a mere 132 days. Admittedly, a whole lot more generous than the mere 30 allotted to those insane enough to partake in NaNoWriMo.

Counting on my fingers, I’ve pegged this coming Monday, November 30th as the official halfway marker, the 66th day of our challenge. Just a reminder, dear colleagues.

But that’s not the focus of my post today. After the events of the past week, and in keeping with the holiday, I have a very simple post I’d like to share. My own, personal, list of why this 5writer loves Thanksgiving.

  1. Thanksgiving is one of my favourite holidays. It is mostly about eating, drinking and giving thanks, three things I heartily approve of doing.
  2. Thanksgiving is celebrated in both the US and Canada. If you noted my spelling of the word favourite,  you might have been tipped off to my official status. Yes, I’m a dualie – a citizen of both great nations. Thus, I actually get to celebrate Thanksgiving twice: once, in a very Canadian fashion on the second Monday in October; the second, in equally patriotic American fashion, on the 4th Thursday in November.
  3. Thanksgiving is inclusive. While the other major ‘feast’ holidays of Christmas and Easter are, by their very raison d’etre, originally intended as holidays exclusively for those of the Christian faith (okay perhaps in a smaller subset, maybe Pagans too), and while only those of the Jewish faith celebrate Hanukkah and only those of the Muslim faith the end of Ramadan, those of all faiths can and are encouraged to ‘give thanks’ at Thanksgiving.
  4. Thanksgiving provides great fodder for writers. Let’s face it, Thanksgiving put the “D” in dysfunctional, when it comes to family gatherings. I don’t know why, but something in our uniquely western perspective on ‘family’ seems to have us all thinking that only our own families are dysfunctional. Everyone else’s family, we assume, is perfect. At least that’s the delusion we labour under. Then along rolls Thanksgiving and – voila – we see the world as it really is and Thanksgiving dinner becomes a Petrie dish for incubating new and disturbing characters for our novels.
  5. Thanksgiving allows for innovative new traditions. While most Americans will still sit down to a feast of turkey and pie this Thanksgiving, the unique gathering of ‘the clan’ also allows for many new and innovative ways to celebrate the holidays. Here in my ‘snowbird’ home in Southern California, at my house, we’ll likely be starting with a little tennis to burn off some calories before the feasting begins. Others may sign up for 5k Turkey Trots, or simply indulge in a feast of football. And while I may not personally approve, there is no doubt that Thanksgiving now, for many, marks the start of the ‘feast of shopping’. Just not for me. Let’s leave Thanksgiving for feasting and families.
  6. Thanksgiving is not about buying. In a consumer economy driven by shopping, at least the wizards of Madison Avenue have kept to the fiction that all that shopping that’s starting to occur right after Thanksgiving is for the next big holiday, Christmas. That may be a fiction, I realize. Those lining up on Thanksgiving Day to get a jump on Black Friday specials may, indeed, be just selfishly trying to grab something all for themselves. But in this regard, I’m going to be an ostrich and pretend that behaviour is attributable to that ‘other holiday’.
  7. People, generally, are at least a little introspective on Thanksgiving. This year, perhaps more so than on days of Thanksgiving past. While it has become ‘trendy’ to keep ‘gratitude diaries’ these days, Thanksgiving was the original ‘things I am Thankful for’ holiday. This year, in a year where we confront very grim news on the worldwide stage, be Thankful if you and your family are enjoying this holiday with peace and plenty.
  8. Thanksgiving is a time for friendship. While you can’t pick your family (thankfully, I happen to love mine), you can pick your friends. And one of the glorious traditions of Thanksgiving that we try to observe every year is to open our family table to those who are away from their own family, at this special time of year. I bet you do too. What special friends have you invited for Thanksgiving? (I hope you at least picked someone who will provide some interesting inspiration for your latest novel).
  9.  Thanksgiving is for pets. Let’s face it, who doesn’t take joy in watching their puppy hoover back a little turkey?
  10. Thanksgiving is for stories. Since I retired from the prosecution service, I don’t work a regular work schedule anymore. Now, I’m just as likely to work on weekends as on a weekday. But Thanksgiving, at least for me, does not involve ‘work’, and for that I am thankful. That also means that once the last slice of pie is eaten and dishes are loaded in the dishwasher, it is time for stories: movies, bingeflicks and yes, thankfully, good old books, delivered by kindle or otherwise. What are you looking forward to reading this Thanksgiving?

Well, that’s my top 10. Let me know what you love about this very inclusive holiday, too.

But now for the update. I’ve missed a few blog posts. Work has kept me busy the last few weeks, but I have managed a few days to painstakingly grow my word count on the 5writer/5months novel project. So, here’s the update:

Pies eaten this week: As of today? None. But that’s just so I can over-indulge, like the rest of you, this coming Thursday.

Hours of tennis played this week: 12

Rounds of golf played this week: 1

Number of Bighorn Sheep spotted: about 20, they weren’t moving that fast, but I was so enthralled at how close I was to them, I forgot to count.

Word Count: 42,220

Page Count: 223

Reason I’m not celebrating: I’m still revising my ‘old’, unfinished manuscript. When I run out of words to revise… the  really hard part begins.

Movies Seen this Week: 1 – the absolutely excellent Bridge of Spies starring Tom Hanks. I hope he wins an Academy Award.

Goal for the next week: Find a great new book to capture my attention and divert me from the evil that is Netflix.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Please remember that this is a holiday of ‘inclusion’.

Bighorn

Creating time for creating stories

Raindrops

Paula’s Post #118 —

Fellow 5writer Silk posted earlier this week on the occasion of her birthday and now I’m following suit.

Something of a tough act to follow, though.  While she gets to dwell on the mystery of Halloween, I end up with plain old boring November 3rd, which other than having a charming relationship with my surname, otherwise lacks the same pizazz as a Halloween birthday.

And of course, being Silk, she’s entertained us with Life is a Mystery Story, expounding on the theme of a writer’s perspective on ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ and our ever so human need to create stories.

Well, thanks for the reminder Silk, because that’s just what I should be doing right now.

Creating Stories.

The last two weeks have been a trainwreck on the novel writing front, with my days filled with the USTA National Tennis Championships, some minor health matters and our twice yearly, epic transmigration across the vast expanse of the Western United States.

Last Friday, we embarked with the two poodles and headed south to California, with stops in Tumwater WA, Redding CA, and Pismo Beach CA. No common theme, other than  a desire to mix it up and take full advantage of the variety of ‘pet-friendly accommodation’ to be found on Trip Advisor.

If you’ve never travelled with dogs, I can only say it requires a little bit of adjustment. Don’t get me wrong, I love our four-footed friends and watching them snoozing peacefully on the back seat while we careen down the road in scary traffic, double axle behemoths hemming us in on either side is, surprisingly, a rather comforting and calming experience.

And while yes, on occasion one can feel a wee bit disappointed to discover the best inn in town is decidedly pet unfriendly, spending another night in the always welcoming La Quinta Inn and Suites isn’t the worst thing in the world.

For me, the whole trick is keeping it in perspective. This is perhaps akin to the very Pollyanna-ish ‘if life hands you lemons, make lemonade’ philosophy of life, but seriously, it is surprising how often the ‘other fork in the road’ pays unexpected dividends.

If it weren’t for the dogs, we’d probably be like all the other snowbirds, barrelling straight down I-5 South which, at least in the central California sections, is without doubt the boringest drive in the world.

But we have dogs.

And that means we try to keep the days a bit shorter and look for some creative alternatives where the dogs can run and stretch their legs from time to time. Which, come to think of it, is not a bad strategy for their human companions to follow, either.

It’s all in the perspective.

In the end, in my humble opinion, the journey south is 24 hours of driving, no matter how you slice and dice it. If you take Highway 101 instead of I-5, maybe a couple of hours more. But those extra hours offer up towns with such tantalizing names as Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach and Santa Barbara, instead of say … Stockton.

Now, as a writer, if you needed to ‘create stories’ which fork in the road would you rather take?

Exactly!

But fork in the road is where I am at, dear friends, metaphorically speaking. On the writing front, I can count back on my fingers and realize that November 3rd is almost two-fifths into our five months novel writing journey.

Looking in the rear-view mirror I can also see, I’ve just lost two weeks of time (maybe three). Frankly, I’m afraid to peek back to see when, exactly, I actually laid down fresh new words in print.

But with the road trip behind us, I’m settling into our winter home with the days stretching out before me. I’m mentally neatly dividing those days into ‘writing time’ ‘working time’ and ‘tennis time’. Last year, without our 5/5/5/ challenge, ‘writing time’ got the short end of the stick and ‘creating stories’ fell by the wayside, but with this year’s challenge, I remain ever optimistic.

5writer colleague Helga arrives in the desert next week and I’m already planning some marathon, co-writing sessions that will do justice to both our manuscripts and the spirit of NaNoWriMo. While friends and colleagues who commit to NaNoWriMo will be attempting to churn out a whole novel in one month, we 5writers are, comparatively, on easy street.

At the two month mark, I’ve got a head start of 35,000 words and would be thrilled beyond measure to double that in November and hit a word count of 70,000-75,000, heading into December. Which, let’s face it, is bound to be another trainwreck of a month.

So, let’s do the math together.

Today, my birthday – a total write off. That leaves November 4th to 30th, or 27 days.  Only we might as well surgically excise a few more for the festivities of Thanksgiving. So that leaves at best about 25 days. 35,000 divided by 25 = 1,400.

1,400 words a day.

Or, if you’re a binge writer like me, something along the lines of 10,000 words a week.

So, that’s what I’ll be doing this November, creating time for creating stories, with a goal of 10,000 words a week.

How about you? How’s your writing going. If you’re caught up in the madness known as NaNoWriMo, take a break and share some of your strategies for creating time for creating stories. Here at 5writers, we’d love to hear from you!

Update:

Pies eaten this week: 3 – Note: all pizza pies, because that’s the easiest thing to have delivered to your hotel room when you have dogs and don’t want to leave them alone.

Kilometres travelled this week: 2309 – According to Google Maps, the distance between Gibsons Landing and La Quinta, California.

Starbucks visited this week: 7 – I highly recommend Store Locator, when you’re on the road and need re-fuelling.

Blog posts written this week: 1 – Whew! At least I’m caught up somewhere in my life.

Word Count: The same 35,189 I reported in my blog post of October 17th. Ouch!

Birthday Resolution this November 3rd: Create Time to Create Stories.

windmills

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!

.

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!

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.

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?

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.

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.

5/5/5 Taking up the gauntlet

ICS_Pennant_Five.svg

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).