Merry Christmas

Joe’s Post #161

christmas treeSo, sadly, no observational writing about writing. Not this week.

No posts about words. Maybe next week.

No pithy remarks or laugh-out-loud stories (if I even ever write those.)

Nope. All I wanted to do today was wish everyone a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.

I am so grateful to all the people who take the time to read our little blog. I love reading the comments here, or on Twitter or Facebook or Linkedin. I love knowing that we’ve reached a few people and that we’ve been able to share our journey as writers with an internet audience who are sometimes struggling with the same demons we are.

I also want to thank all the guest bloggers. I sure hope we can get a few more on-board for next year, but this year’s crop has been outstanding. Again, what a cool way to connect with other writers, other thinkers, other bloggers.

Honestly, I’ve had a great year this year and if my writing has suffered, it has suffered for a good cause. I’ve managed to rebuild a life with the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and her two boys. I hadn’t expected to ever be happy, again, and here I am. Happy.

So thanks to all our readers, our writers, and our followers. I’m going to go have a quiet nightcap, then head off to bed, satisfied that I have done all my Christmas shopping, that I have some pretty cool presents for everyone … and that this will be the best Christmas yet!

Hugs!

calvin and hobbs

Twelfth month muse

december

Silk’s Post #111 — December first always catches me by surprise and leaves me a little stunned. It’s not like I didn’t see it coming, but when I flip the calendar over to the twelfth month, it always gives me the same kind of subtle flutter of panic as an upcoming deadline or performance.

It’s a psychological thing, the last calendar page. The year is running out. Winter is beginning. Harvest time is past and the few straggling remnants of the growing season – stubborn leaves, a few hardy geranium blooms, abandoned field pumpkins – now look out of place, targets for frost. Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year are just three weeks away. Whatever I wanted to make of this year, I have 30 more days to bring it to fruition.

NaNoWriMo is over (read Chuck Wendig’s great post, “NaNoWriMo Doesn’t Matter” for some morning-after perspective). Movember has been scraped away by thousands of razor blades. The month begins with the sobering World Aids Day. On December 10th, coincidentally designated Human Rights Day, the year’s Nobel Prizes will be awarded. The transition from November to December has been kidnapped by commerce, with the twin post-Thanksgiving shopping sprees, crassly named Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s a sure sign that Christmas-Hannukah-Kwanzaa-Yule – the most emotionally charged season of the year – is noisily approaching, demanding preparation.

December always flies.

Maybe it’s the holiday-dominated social calendar, or maybe it’s the short days, but I’ve learned that much of what I plan to accomplish in December will probably remain on my to-do list when the New Year rolls around. And I hate to admit that “the holidays” has now become, for me, a mixed blessing, an ever-elongating season to “get through”. Oh, I still love Christmas. In fact, I’m kind of a Christmas freak. But it’s a lot of work. I’m starting to understand why many people choose to trade glittery fir trees for swaying palm trees.

The December 1st reality for me, as a writer, is that most of my potentially productive writing days for 2014 are now behind me. I’m not giving up on setting goals and I’m not just making excuses. But I’m facing the truth. I’m not likely to suddenly acquire an extra helping of writing discipline in December. There’s a reason that NaNoWriMo happens in November, not July (its original month back in 1999) or December. Except for Thanksgiving, writing time doesn’t have much to compete with in November. In contrast, December is littered with time-intensive commitments.

But that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for. Renewal of resolve. Repair of failures.

So what can I do to make 2015 more productive, as a writer? The “just do it” prescription is a hollow toss-off. Of course one has to “just do it”. The question is how. And the answer is different for each person.

That’s what I’ll be doing some serious thinking about during December, while I put whatever time I can find into finishing my research and story plan. Personally, I need more than a happy pep talk with myself (c’mon, you can do it!). More than a stern bootstrap declaration (1,000 words a day, for sure). What I need is a project management strategy. A personal script with stage directions.

I’ve been working towards becoming a published novelist for several years now, not without some accomplishments. A lot of that effort has been spent climbing the steep learning curve of craft. But I will not go through one more year without producing a full, final draft of a novel I’d be proud to put in front of an agent, a publisher or a reader.

From my December perspective, with another year coming to an end, I realize that I am also at the “end of the beginning” in my writing career.

My first effort was a story I wanted to write for years. But I didn’t know how to write a novel yet. It sits in my drawer, a first draft of a first book, waiting to be re-written by the writer I’ve become. My second effort was a story I conceived to fit into our 5writers challenge. But it was more like an exercise than a story that had deep meaning to me, and I didn’t know my own voice yet. It also sits in my drawer, half finished, waiting for me to decide whether to resurrect it.

Now I’m working on a story I have passion for, one that delves into human issues I care about. I feel that I’ve finally found my voice, and I’ve learned enough about how to write a novel that I think I can bring sufficient craft to the mission.

2014 is my last year of rehearsals. December will be my last moment backstage – pacing, running through my lines, psyching up, envisioning my performance.

2015 will be my year.

Showtime.

 

May you live in interesting times


life_and_love_quotes___1_by_usagi_san1990

Helga’s Post #65 — It’s curious how something so mundane as a jump from one day on the calendar (December 31st) to the next one (January 1st) can call forth so many weird emotions and memories of years past. Memories we might not think much about during the year, but on that particular day, they rise from somewhere deep in our cranium, their images crystal clear.

Take this one, end of year 2013. I reflect and recall previous end of years that were vital, that changed the course of my life. It’s the end of 1983, thirty years ago. That’s when we married – again – this time to each other, thanks for that. A thirty year roller coaster ride, almost entirely on the high points, when you scream out in anticipation of the heart-racing drop, only to rise again to new heights.

I believe few would disagree that marriage and relationships have much in common with a wild roller coaster ride.

But it’s what has been leading up to that very special day, those years before, that keep playing in my mind, like an LP stuck when the needle hits a damaged groove on the vinyl.

A big house in Vancouver. A really big heritage house in the city’s east end near the harbour, inhabited by an intellectual communal family. A house that welcomed me, newly divorced, and two young sons, into their midst. It was like a warm blanket engulfing the three of us after the confines of a too rigid family structure. Under the protective umbrella of this new community, we collaborated raising children, taking turns cooking and cleaning, taking care of pets, bandaging bloody knees, drying tears, and generally just hanging out on those rare occasions when all of us happened to be in Vancouver at the same time. Talking philosophy and politics long into the night, listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival and B.B.King. It might add flesh to the story to mention that this was a progressive Jewish household that welcomed visitors from such diverse backgrounds as First Nations leaders, Rabbis, Christians, Hindus, atheists and anyone in between, as long as they cared for the planet and believed in fairness for all. Some frequent visitors from that time are now very much in the public eye; one of the most respected Canadian human rights lawyers from Toronto; Members of Parliament; Deputy Ministers; and yes, poets and aspiring writers who have since become bestselling authors.

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Photo credit: Flickr

I recall the holiday season in particular. First, Hanukkah in early December. We all participated in the Festival of Lights. It was magical. I still remember the vast amounts of latkes we consumed. Then, Christmas. Just as we all celebrated the Festival of Lights with candles on the menorah, everybody enjoyed candles on my Christmas tree. My old-country baking of stollen, vanilla crescents and lebkuchen proved very popular. I still remember a Christmas Day morning, when my adopted Jewish family put on an LP on the well-worn turntable: Handel’s Messiah. I can still hear the scratching sound from the smear of peanut butter that somehow got lodged on the precious vinyl. It all added to the charm of our multi-cultural laissez-faire household. A memory I still treasure more than 30 years later.

Fast backwards long before that. A young woman in Vienna, longing to see the new world. Leaving her family’s fold. Getting on a slow boat to Canada. Meeting a young man on that very boat who would become the father of her two children, in short succession. A marriage that served one partner, but unfortunately shackled the other. A recipe for failure.

The woman, still young, escaping by taking up writing. Short stories, poems, diary entries, and later, essays required to graduate from Simon Fraser University. Two young sons watching their mother’s graduation. An admirer among the crowd. A simple wedding ceremony to follow not much later. This time without a veil, but in a blue, just below the knee-length chiffon dress, to a man I still to this day think is way too good for me.

Fast forward. A rewarding career, with the emphasis on that word. Career. Good money, new skills and lots of professional training. Climbing the steep career ladder, pushing against the glass ceiling, occasionally breaking it. But no time for nurturing my creative side. My yearning to write. Not even time for exploring if I had it in me.

Back again to that yearning, ever since I was bed-ridden after a foot surgery as a kid in Vienna: Writing. Illustrated detective stories, drawn and written with a stubby pencil on note-book sized paper, pages sewn together with thin cotton string, recovering in bed. A child’s way of coping, of escaping a dire post-war existence.

A kid on a trip without borders. No TV. No cell phones. No Internet. Only dog-eared books from the local library to keep me company next to the coal-fired stove. Stories like Pippi Longstocking, Robinson Crusoe and Karl May’s Winnetou took me on trips that were every bit as good as modern day kids’ holidays to Mexico or Hawaii with their parents.

Later, much later, I learned to speak English. I had the choice of taking Russian or English at secondary school – I chose wisely. I was hungry to read in my new language: Steinbeck, Graham Greene, Daphne duMaurier, A.J.Cronin, William Somerset Maugham. These were names that enticed me to eventually leave my native Austria to explore the new world.

I haven’t looked back. But I love going back, visiting, challenging myself to call forth my roots, laughing at jokes that we would consider ludicrous over here because no one would understand their context.  Shedding a few tears when a melody awakens those deep-seated memories of early years.

No experience is ever wasted. Well, at least not the ones that don’t damage you permanently. I feel fortunate to have a well to dip into as a writer. We are supposed to write what we know. I’m not sure how much truth this holds. Research can go a long way. But at some point you really do want to write what you have experienced; be that a setting that involves all the senses – sight, smell, sound and feel – a culture, but more than anything, an emotion. How can you write about love without knowing this strongest of all human emotions? Or perhaps it’s hatred that’s stronger than love for some writers. If so, then a story focused on that emotion will be more powerful if you’ve lived through it, if you are a victim of foul play, or abused childhood, or a betrayal beyond any writer’s imagination. This quote by Kurt Vonnegut sums it up well:

“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.”

So I am trying to express some of the feelings I’ve experienced in my own life, those emotions that shaped me who I am today, and reflect that in my writing. If I care enough, perhaps I can create a story that will resonate with my readers.

But I will not write a simple romance. Because there’s no such thing in real life. There will be some happy scenes though, deliriously happy even, maybe happy endings, some sweet, some bitter-sweet, and some open-ended that beg for a sequel.

Like life’s journey, the options for us writers of fiction are endlessly exciting.

But here’s the thing: options are endless, but the writing still has to take place. Those ideas have to make the journey from the brain to the fingers on the keyboard, hard as it may be. As Robert Hass so aptly put it:

“It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.”

And that’s the state I want to be in right now. So I had better get going. Happy New Year, dear friends and loyal followers!

May You Live in Interesting Times

Christmas Writing

shoes at christmasJoe’s Post #75

Writing in the 2013. For Christmas.

chirstmasIn the old days, it used to be Christmas Cards. You know, those funny things made of paper that look like birthday cards. You’d have a long list of friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, evil clowns, teachers… whomever, and you’d sit at a chair with a glass that was 90% rum and 10 % eggnog and you’d hammer them out.

They’d begin nice enough. “Dear Auntie June, missed seeing you this year but I hope you’re doing great. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”  After 5 glasses and 50 cards, you tended to get a bit punch drunk…. or just plain drunk. “Yo, yo, uncle Don, wuzzup? Why doesn’t that Santa dude have any children? Because he only comes once a year, and when he does, it’s down the chimney. bahahaha!”

Now, however, the fine art of writing and sending Christmas cards is nearly lost. Today, we send text messages, emails and post on Facebook. I’m not saying it isn’t nice to wish everyone a Merry Christmas on your timeline, but have we lost that personal touch?

In some cases, maybe, yes. If you just post on your time-line or mass send an email or put up a picture of a tree on pinterest, with or without a picture of you wearing pumpkin underwear, it’s not really making it personal. Unless it’s personally insulting to someone which does actually count.

santa 2However, most of the wishes we send via some form of electronic media are just as good, if not better than the old card method. They can be personal, intimate, naughty or nice (as requrired.)

So, despite the fact I managed to get out a ton of christmas cards this year (sorry, Paula, you’re new address arrived too late), I’m thinking electronic may be the way to go. No more licking envelopes. No more buying a truck-load of stamps. Next year, it’ll be some form of electronic seasons greetings.

May Santa forgive me.

How does everyone else feel about this trend away from pen and paper and towards cyber communications?

A seasonal high note

candle

Silk’s Post #65 — Christmas is not a one-note season. It has a lot of different moods.

There’s jolly, and hectic, and merry, and sentimental, and excited, and relaxed, and uplifted, and joyful … and sometimes even a little blue.

Right now, it’s late at night, I’m far behind on my Christmas “to-do” list (as I typically find myself every year) and my Christmas mood of the moment is reflective. And maybe a bit nostalgic.

They say Christmas is for kids, but really we’re all still kids somewhere in our hearts. Sometimes you have to dig pretty deep to find your inner child, but it’s there. It’s that part of you that still believes. Not just in Santa, but in everything. Every wonderful possibility, every kind of magic, every dream that might come true.

Personally, I stopped believing in Santa at a pretty young age – around five. Maybe I was born a Nancy Drew wannabe, but the evidence just mounted up and it led me to the inevitable conclusion. First, it was clear to me that our chimney would not accommodate a largish man whose belly was described as a bowl full of jelly. Even more problematic, how did he get into the houses and apartments that had no fireplaces at all? Were those kids to go toyless? There were many other clues, such as the obvious fact that there was more than one “Santa” swanning around, and the doubtful idea that he could fly around the whole world in a single night. (Strangely, I never questioned the reindeer-powered sleigh.)

Yet, for several years I went along with the Santa fiction, mainly because it seemed so important to my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles that I believed. I actually remember not wanting to let them down. And now, 60 years later, I still think my instincts were right. Adults wish children to believe what they can no longer believe themselves. It reawakens their own hopes.

Some people feel Christmas has been ruined. Commercialized to death. It’s hard to defend the spectacle of the shopping stampede that the season of joy and peace has turned into. Others feel that the “true meaning” of Christmas as a celebration of the birth of Christ has been lost in the shuffle.

Now, I won’t touch the topic of Christmas being Christ’s birthday with a ten-foot pole. (If I stopped believing in Santa at five, I’ll leave it to your imagination what I believe about the coincidence of Jesus having been born at just exactly the same time as the celebration of the ancient pagan Saturnalia festival).

But I definitely do feel the spirituality of the season. It’s a time for us all to remember how to believe, how to hope, how to abandon our acquired fear of disappointment and care deeply about things that matter to us. About people we love, and even about people we can’t relate to … or might call our enemies.

Though I’ve taken a lifelong detour away from any organized religion, there’s one small part of the Bible that says it all for me. It’s called the Beatitudes and it comes from the Gospel of Matthew, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. I remember every word because I once sang it as a solo with my 160-voice high school chorus behind me. You’ll remember it when you hear the opening words …

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Tonight I dug out the CD an old high school friend had made for me from the LP that was recorded of that performance back in 1966 (thanks, Bill). I was 17 when I sang this and I hadn’t listened to it in years.

It conveys all the hope I want to share with anyone who might be reading this. Here’s the audio file link if you’d like to listen, and I wish you the season of your own dreams.


“The Beatitudes”
North Shore High School Chorus – 1966

4:17 minutes

Juggling all the Jingle Balls

Maui Jingle ball

Paula’s Post #15 – When we started out on this journey on September 5th, 2012, I never would have imagined that I would draw December 25th, 2012, – Christmas Day, – for my weekly blog post. Nor would I have imagined that I would spend this evening, Christmas Eve, pounding out this little post on my Mac, while It’s a Vey Merry Muppet’s Christmas Movie rolled in the background, entertaining one very special two-year old, my little baby grand-daughter.

But then again, life doesn’t always turn out quite how we expect, and our stories shouldn’t either.

Last week, Joe posted that he had completed the first draft of his novel. Joe posted that he was now going to take a couple of weeks off, enjoy Christmas, and worry about the rewrites in January. Joe posted he had 360 pages.

In the vault.

Done.

By last week, I had maybe a third of Joe’s output. Somewhere around 130 pages. I wrote a little comment on Joe’s post, something about being green with envy, (coincidentally, the same colour of the star of tonight’s little dramatic production, one Kermit the Frog).

Muppets

Joe’s post just brought home to me what I already knew: I’m playing ‘catch up’ and will be doing so until the end of this crazy journey. My goal not a polished third draft but a ragged, race-to-the-finish first draft.

I suspect I may not be alone in surging forward towards this more modest goal.

I suspect that, like many others, my schedule for this Christmas season will be unpredictable, just as it’s been for most of this 5writers journey.

My life’s just like that, and Christmas is no exception.

Christmas in our world is the most hectic time of all. Maybe your family is like mine: a blended family with kids and grandkids all over Canada and North America. Arranging Christmas is like playing poker and where the chips fall is just luck of the draw. This year, we drew into a Royal Flush. We have the joy of sharing the week before and the week after Christmas with two of our three baby grandchildren.

Two weeks of toddlers, 24/7, as the saying goes.

Hardly conducive to writing, with most of each day dictated by the play time, meal time and nap time of toddlers (which is pretty much all of the time, or so I’m discovering in my own, naive, ‘straight-to-grandchildren’ kind of way).

So my writing time this Christmas will be confined to a few stolen moments. I’ll be juggling all the Jingle Balls just to find the time to whip off a page or two each day. I’m trying to write at night, but most nights, I find myself nodding off at the keyboard, after just a few minutes. (A special salute to all the young mothers and fathers out there who somehow manage to raise children and pursue a writing career at the same time).

This week, unlike Joe, I’m posting that I’ve NOT completed the first draft of my novel.

But like Joe, I’m also happy to report that I am (mostly) taking a couple of weeks off to enjoy Christmas with my family. I’ll worry about the ‘and then what happened’ in the New Year, when the kids and grandkids have all gone home and it’s quiet again.

Joe’s right.

Spending time with family and friends over the holidays is more important than writing, even if the clock is ticking on this 5writers challenge. Just my opinion, but I feel that if you don’t think that way too, then maybe writing isn’t the best career choice for you. But that’s up to you to decide.

Right now, I have to cut this post short. Nana has cookies and milk to put out for Santa, and some carrots,, broccoli and pineapple (don’t ask) for Santa’s reindeer. I’m feeling pretty peaceful tonight, the tragic headlines of the last few weeks, the turmoil in the Middle East and the uncertainties of the ‘fiscal cliff’ seem very, very far away this evening.

I’m thankful for that.

I wish all a joyous holiday season and a very, very Happy New Year. I’ll check back with you then, since I’m pretty sure my next post day falls on New Year’s Day.

PS – The ‘reveal’ this week:

Words Written to Date: 42,665

Target Word Count: 100,000

Words short of Target: 57,335

Pages Written to Date: 153

Target Page Count: 400

Pages Short of Target: 247

Pie’s eaten (and to be eaten) this week – Many. I hope 🙂