Wednesday, September 6, 2023

12 Years Ago

This is a special date for us insecure types - twelve years ago our fearless leader, Alex Cavanaugh, stuck his toe in the water and asked other writers if they wanted to chance a group dedicated to supporting the emotional and mental needs of struggling writers. We did! And so the 

Insecure Writers Support Group was launched. After going back through thousands of posts I found that I had not posted proper on that day, although I meant to, and wrote some kind of ramble a few days later mentioning it, that Alex, in his imitable and kind way acknowledged. 

I have not always posted through these years, but in my defense, I've been more faithful to this group that probably any other one I've belonged to. In fact it has lasted longer than a couple of my marriages (ahem). Back in 2010 when I started a version of this blog, I posted a lot. A lot. Like five times a week. I treated my blog as a journal of my life and it thrills me to look back and read what I was thinking and feeling about. Nowadays I generally post at least once a month, and yes it is my IWSG blog that takes me to my chair and sits me down and says "write something, anything" because the words of our peers clang in our hearts in a most encouraging way.

Following is my first post for IWSG (October 12 years ago). Most things are the same as when I wrote this only I am a published writer (and strangely working on about my 12th book, ha - with only one published!). I haven't smoked even once for many many years and I hardly ever eat bank statements any more. Oh and I now use a different font. 

Dear Journal,
Hi, my name is Jan and I'm an insecure writer. Oh, I know you don't believe me. You think I'm just trying to fit in with the new in-crowd, but you're wrong. I am insecure at writing and perhaps even more with revising. You see, I believe that revising separates the sheep from the goats (hi Elspeth's sheep!!!). I don't know if a writer is a sheep or a goat but today, of all days, insecure writers' day, I'm saying that a writer is a goat and not a sheep. Why? Well because goats eat anything and live off of it. Same as writers. Exactly. Why today, just today, dear journal, I ate an old tire, some sh*t (don't ask, won't tell), and my bank statement. Why? You may well ask. The tire is obvious for you alert journals, the second item I've already said I won't comment on, and the bank statement - that was dessert. If I wasn't a writer and a reviser I might have said that it was desert, but that would be wrong. Why would a bank statement be a big sandy hot area with a cartoon guy crawling across it, saying in balloon speak "water...water...just a bit of water..."?  Some other reasons that writers are goats and not sheep. We smell. It's true. I know we don't like to admit it but when we are deep in revisions, showers are just another pesky thought. Plus we eat popcorn with garlicky oil on it (no - not butter, we're on a diet!) and parmesan with that nice old sock odour. And the third reason we're like goats and not like sheep is that we can't sleep. We're always jumping around on mountains trying to find something, anything, to write about. If we were sheep we'd count ourselves and sleep. I can't sleep - that's why I'm writing this in my journal pretending it is Wednesday - oh - it is almost Wednesday - just 13 more minutes and it will be - then I can put the compost out and maybe go to sleep. I might have a cigarette. On the deck, in the driving cold rain. That would make me feel like a writer and I would definitely smell like a goat. Then I couldn't go to sleep and I could work on fleshing out my main character in the revision I'm doing. Good idea. By the way, Mari and Tartlette, I'm not blunking or drogging or any one of those elvish words. I'm just really really really tired. Because I'm a goat, an insecure writing, revising goat and baaaaaah (oh come on - I heard four goats today and that is just how they sound - the sheep copied them - they ARE sheep ya know).
Sometimes when people ask me what I'm "up to" (very suspiciously I might add) I will tell them I'm a writer and go blah blah blahing about 'what I'm working on' and how hard it is to find 'real publishers' these days. But don't kid yourself, journal, I'm still being insecure when I do that. Yes, I am. I'm blowing a lot of hot air. The thing is that when I'm finally a 'published writer' I won't ever say that. I'll slip it in real cool. "Yes, I'm working on my twelfth book. Uh...well only one's been published, but I AM working on my twelfth book. I'll be so secure. Then every first Wednesday of every month I'll write a Secure Writers' Post. Ha! OK, I'm going out on the deck to smoke now. See you tomorrow, I mean today.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

The fruits of our labour

 Hello fellow insecure writers

Now it is August - such a wonderful time of the year in this part of the world. I can usually walk down the road and down the path to a tiny beach and have a dip in our bay, and the tomato plants are starting to fruit. I have about eight of them and they are over five feet tall and just a bursting with tiny tomatoes or flowers. The basil has gotten over being shy and is getting nice and bushy. The peas are just about all picked and we'll be taking down the old stocks. The garlic is almost ready to harvest too. We already got a huge amount of bok choy and I'm hoping my two or three squash plants will do their thing - early days for them. I'm going to look up what one does with an overly enthusiastic lavender plant too. In the flower bed the daylilies are going gangbusters and the hydrangea is starting to do its thing. The beautiful little snapdragons I started from seed are blooming and my tiny rose bush has two blooms on it. All is happy.

And yet...we have had quite the summer with environmental disasters. In June we had terrible forest fires in an area not to far from us. Many houses were lost but no lives. Our bags were packed for a quick getaway. The air was thick with smoke. And a week and a bit ago we had torrential rains in almost all of Nova Scotia. People were flooded out, many roads are still impassable. We had friends who'd driven from Indiana to an orchardist convention and they had to spend the night at a highway exit - unable to go in either direction. Four people died in the flooding, one adult, one teenager and two small children. Hearts are very heavy.

Because of this, I suppose, I have been struggling with nihilistic thoughts. It has been hard to get to my writing when I cannot imagine that it is of any use in a civilization that seems intent on destroying itself. The worst night of the rain storm I woke to hear the rain beating down as it had been doing for eighteen hours by then and felt such despair. No one alive today who has lived in Nova Scotia for seventy years or more has seen anything like it. The news tells me of people in North America dying from the heat because they are trying to carry on as usual. That notion that we can just keep on is not to me sensible in any way. Today when I sit on my deck and take in all the growth in my garden it is hard to imagine the fury of the fires and the pummeling of the rain. All seems so peaceful and fruitful.

Still, I go to my computer early in the morning, while it is still breezy and cool, and I write. I work on various projects - my second Nell book, and a book that I shelved ten years ago that I now realize is quite pleasing to me, and maybe deserves to be trundled out to the various publishers and so on. So, in fact, sensible or no, I carry on. 

How about you? How do you find strength in troubling times?

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Summertime and the living is...


Yep! It is another meeting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group! 

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The awesome co-hosts for the July 5 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, Gwen Gardner, Pat Garcia, and Natalie Aguirre!

July 5 question - 99% of my story ideas come from dreams. Where do yours predominantly come from?

Hmm...not dreams so much. 

I get my ideas at the Ideal Idea Emporium. I have a loyalty card in fact, because I go there so often. My favourite part of the store is the Rant & Rage Section where I pick up ideas based on my most recent outraged feelings. I am particularly drawn to rants about the environment, human rights, racism, and equality for women. Now you must realize that these ideas are quite raw and need a fair bit of refinement to be usable.

A section of the store that I stay well clear of is Political Correctness Aisle. I find the ideas there quickly get stale and some even spoil altogether. 

I can spend hours in the Eavesdrop Café where for the price of a cup of coffee I can linger and overhear lots of juicy conversations. I go there when I forget that not all people are like me and therefore my characters mustn't be too much like me either. I need some different views, quirky turns of phrase etc...

My all time favourite section is Zeitgeist. That aisle is very odd indeed. It is full of large stoppered bottles that you are invited to open and take whiffs from. Those scents springboard you into ideas that you might not have known were even available but when you get them, you must use them quickly as they very rapidly become known far and wide. 

For poetry inspiration you can not beat the Forest Walk department. I go there when I'm depleted from rage (see above) and need to be reminded that nature heals and inspires.

Sometimes, when I'm really fed-up with my own monkey mind, I go to the Meditation department. You pay a small fee (which is the cost of feeling like if you are not actually typing you are not writing) sit down and settle your mind. When you aren't looking for ideas and in fact want to empty your mind - well, let's just say we are very contrary beasts we humans.

How about you? Where do you go to get your ideas?

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Late Bloomers and the Insecure Writer's Support Group


Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The awesome co-hosts for the June 7 posting of the IWSG are Patrcia Josephine, Diedre Knight, Olga Godim, J. Lenni Dorner, and Cathrina Constantine!

My post: No long answer to this month's question- just for those who don't know it is "if you ever did stop writing, what would you replace it with?" Nothing could replace writing in my life. It is how I find out who I am and how I fit in the world. I do lots of things that I love - painting, gardening, psychotherapy, stitching, cooking, but writing is the rock on which everything else is perched.

Today I want to talk about late bloomers. Maybe it is because I've been gardening or perhaps just the reading I've been doing, but I'm a late bloomer in the world of publishing. I've steadily written for as long as time but having one's first novel published at the age of 70 is something else. I guess I'm thinking about it because my book launched on June 10th last year and just about now my fella, dog and I were travelling the 2000 kilometers to Labrador in order to do so. It was a very heady time for me - fruitional I suppose. In many ways I'm glad I didn't get one of my heart's desires until I was this age. I didn't start dating (dating?) the man I'd been hoping to find until I was fifty (21 years this month) and oh my goodness but he was well worth waiting for. We both needed to ripen a bit to have the sweet time we have. So, sticking with the garden metaphor, I planted lots of gardens both emotionally and creatively before something bloomed good and proper. 

This makes me very interested in other late bloomers or steady producers! I just finished the autobiography of Elizabeth Jane Howard. Last year I read her Cazalet Chronicles - five novels of hefty size that follow the life of a family in England starting just before WW2 is declared. She started that series of books when she was in her sixties and they were her most well-known and popular books. Another of my favourite novelists is Mary Wesley who had a number of children's books published but had her first adult novel Jumping the Queue when she was 71. She went on to become a most prolific writer (may I be so blessed) my favourite of which is The Camomile Lawn. In other art forms we have the very famous Grandma Moses who began her painting career in her seventies. Norman Maclean wrote his phenomenal novel (the only one he wrote) A River Runs Through It when he was in his mid-seventies. Here is a few more - Jean Rhys who had Wide Sargasso Sea published at the age of 76 (not her first but most known). Harriet Doerr finished her Stanford degree at age 67 and won a National Book Award for Stones for Ibarra at the age of 73.  And I could go on!

I went back to university when I was forty. My kids were gone on to lead their lives and I was single and decided that heck I would try. One thing that decided me was that I whinged to someone that I would be 46 by the time I got my degree. "And how old will you be in six years if you don't go back to school?" they asked. Smack!

By the way - a year after having my novel debut I am debuting as an artist at a group show near where I live. Woo hoo!

Wednesday, May 3, 2023



Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The awesome co-hosts for the May 3 posting of the IWSG are Joylene Nowell Butler, Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Meka James, Diane Burton, Victoria Marie Lees, and M Louise Barbour!

May 3 question - When you are working on a story, what inspires you?

Words inspire me, so I looked up the word inspire, or rather its etymological beginnings. I did know but I wanted confirmation. I knew that to conspire meant at its root 'to breath together with another or others'. I knew that 'spire' was a root word meaning spirit, or what animates the biological form. That a scientist of a literal bent would say 'to inspire is to breath in'. When we are inspired it is thought we have breathed in some feeling or thinking that the gods wish us to have. I am not a believer in gods so what do I think I'm doing trying to tickle the muse into releasing some of her or his ideas into the waiting vessel of my (empty?) mind? I do not know. But what I do know is that inspiration can be invited by discipline (the boys in the basement are waiting for you to show up says Stephen King), by honing my craft so when the spirit enters me I'll know what to do with it, and by holding the space ready for lightening, inspiration, gods, the fairies, to strike me. 
Sometimes I'm inspired by great grief, or overwhelming rage, or a sudden burst of empathy and love. All can ignite the bits of dried leaves, twigs and old poems on dry paper I've gathered - but I must tend the flame that ensues. I can't just leave it up to that one strike, that one inward breath. No. I must poke at it, apply more fuel, bits of wood, logs, branches, old cereal boxes, yesterday's manuscript. I must blow gently to get it going and sometimes to keep it going. In this metaphor I must be the tinder, the kindling, the match, the striking surface, the hand that holds and strikes the match, the flame that catches what has been prepared, the roaring fire, the smoldering wet branches, and the glowing coals. All of it. 

What inspires you?