Wednesday, September 4, 2019

writing in place




Oh September, how I adore you!  The light, the ever so slight crispiness in the air, fresh notebook head, and so on.

Today is another meeting of the IWSG - and here from their sign-up page they say it best:

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 optional question this month is - If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

I oft fantasize of the best place to write - that magic place where I will sit down on a cloud of ease and the words  will flow out of my fingers - or better yet, I will merely need to think about the story and there it will be - with no carpal tunnel, no fricked up shoulder (don't get me started - going into the third month of rotator cuff shite), no blockages of either a spiritual or intestinal variety - just easy peasy sailing through the plot - imagine!

But when I get real with myself and think about those places that have worked I know - it wasn't the place. Sometimes it has become even a search in the home I'm currently living in. Should I write in the designated office space or on the dining room table (that's where I am right now). Maybe my shrine room? It's full of good vibes.

I've been writing for a long time, over fifty years, and I've lived or visited so many places in that time. I've gone on some glorious solitary writing retreats. The photo of the typewriter above I took in the childhood home of poet Elizabeth Bishop in Great Village, NS. I got lots of a story written there but no magic. Just bum glue. 

I've gone to friend's cabins in the woods or by the shore. I wrote most of the manuscript I'm currently working on in our little house on the beach in Labrador. I've written plays with fellow writers in scuzzy rooms with too many dirty cups sitting about. 

I wrote well at a group writers' retreat in Newfoundland. 

So my answer to the question today is :

The one place in the world I'd like to sit and write in is where I am. I'd like to write right here in Prospect Bay, Nova Scotia, in the house I share with my fella and the pooch. I'd like to push back the vase full of sunflowers and start in. I'd like to get up and wander into the kitchen and do the dishes when I get stuck. I'd like to share the table (which I will be doing as you read this) with my writing pal, Gwen - as I do every Wednesday. I'd like to remember that showing up for the muse is more likely to bring her along than any other temptation one might offer. Sure I liked working on one manuscript in Cuba - how Hemingway - but did I get lots done? No. I did not. I kept my oar in and that is important, but no place has been any better than another. It is down to me. 

Here's a wee cabin owned by a friend in Labrador. You have to take either a boat or skidoo to get there (depending on the time of year). I did NO WRITING in this place but it would be great. No electricity though. Have to use the quill pen.

How about you? Where would you write? Where DO you write?

PS - I have contracted an editor to work with me on my current story Crooked Knife.  I have a few months to get a proper draft completed. Now that's a great fire under my butt.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Jumping In

 

My normal inclination is to leap without thought. Some part of me makes a decision and before another part of me can raise its hand to ask a question or two - I'm sealed, signed and delivered. Lately, I've been looking at the process. It appears to be quick but when I examine it I realize - no, no it isn't. Let's take my most recent choice re my writing. I am hooking up with a professional editor to do a read of the Crooked Knife ms. How did I come to this decision?

My process seems to be similar to the one Bella, our border collie cross, makes when selecting a place to lie down. She circles at least three times before finally committing to her choice.

The first circle I made was to consider which pieces of writing I wanted to engage with. Bright Angel is finished - at least to the best of my ability and that of a mentor I engaged a few years ago. I have a query package I'm happy with. I have had a couple of solid nibbles but no real bites - nothing has happened that makes me want to go back into revising - at least not yet. I have a few other manuscripts in various stages but my interest in them is minimal right now. The two projects that I still feel fired up about are Crooked Knife and my poetry collection Red Rover.  

My second circle was to decide between those two. The thing is I am still engaged with Red Rover.  I send out poems and sometimes the whole collection. Sometimes I get a bite - a poem is  published. It is slow but there is nothing for that - just a dogged (get it?) determination to continue. Those that follow me either here or in my circle of writing pals know that I came to a rather sudden stop with CK. I got stuck somewhere in the morass of clues and digressions. I thought it was due to not enough planning but then I realized it was fear - a fear based on the passion I have for the project and a desire to not mess it up. Having brought that to the forefront of my reasoning self I became somewhat free of the fear. So CK it was.

The third circle in my deliberations was to look online and among my circle for possible help with the messy thing. I contacted a number of professional editors and coaches that seemed suited to the project. One person stood out and I pursued it a bit further but there were a couple of problems. One was the usual - funding my big ideas, especially now when my shoulder pain has put me out of work. The other was the thought of sending an unfinished ms to a stranger. What an excellent exercise that was! I mulled and stewed and then came up with a solution. I would get at the ms myself and finish the first draft all the way through and I would ask for less of the editor's services than were offered. Then leap I did and the editor agreed and now I'm back, fully engaged with the ms and knowing that the deadline I imposed will be workable.

Today I began the work. Huzzah!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Take no prisoners

It's another meeting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group and so, like a criminal returning to the scene of the crime - here I am. For more info on this supportive group for us creative neurotics click the link.



Toni Morrison has died. I don't dare mourn her without sharing what that means with this group. When I think of her and her writing I think of her absolute bravery in refusing to be anybody but herself. When her novels were rejected by the writing establishment in the early days of her writing, she did not bend to become someone else. She knew that what she wrote was challenging to some and incendiary to many. She took no prisoners. Her writing and her living was a constant approach to those who wanted to sleep walk through the racial divide that was and is her country. She told it as she saw it and if people's feelings got hurt, well tough. I saw her call out a British journalist for her racist questions and you could see that journalist rethink her whole life in the moment before she talked again. In a moment she became Morrison's student, humbled and willing to look again. That is powerful. 

In my last post I talked about my feeling of not being a writer anymore. As I explained it didn't mean that I wouldn't write but that I felt the pull to drop the stuff around it. That is still true but I have since realized it wasn't all of the truth. Another part of this has been my stuckness around my novel Crooked Knife. I think my block with it has been that it centers around some issues that I feel so passionately about that I scared myself. What if it was too much - I've seen people's eyes glaze over when someone won't shut up about some social justice issues and I feared that reproach. As well, the story takes place for the most part on a reserve. Was I making hay out of the misery of a people? Was I stealing another people's story? And that is just a part of it - the story behind the story cannot end well. It already hasn't. This novel wouldn't change anyone's mind - or so I thought in those dark hours. 

About a week or so ago I began to see things differently. I saw that none of those were reasons not to tell the story. They might be reasons why no one would pick it up but that is not my concern. At least not now. I do not pretend to know things that I don't know. It is the story of a person like me who longs for the social inequities to end, who is passionate about the environment and for the children who inhabit dangerous places to have refuge. She is passionate and sometimes stupid. Like me. And I realized that I don't need to make excuses or wait for someone else to tell the story that I want to read. 

This is our precious life to use as we see fit. Thank you Toni Morrison.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Writing versus being a writer

It is the first Wednesday in July so it must be a meeting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group!  Every month we meet to support each other or celebrate breakthroughs - yes, the IWSG is big enough to include failure and success. Head over on the above link and sign up or visit other writers as they explore where they are on the writer's path.


And where might I be? Some of my small cadre of followers know that this has been a rocky path for me of late. I think I finally figured it as much as it is going to be figured. I am no longer a writer. But I still write. I've merely dropped the 'r'. I've shed my ego-attachment to the term 'writer'. Tired of living in hope and fear about being considered a real bunny, I've decided that I'm okay being the velveteen sort. I do not need to be published nor do I need to fret endlessly about the manuscripts piling up. They can all be burnt up or whatever the digital version is when I leave this world. I might still send out one or two if I feel like it but when I do it will be with no expectation. I'm going to remember that I love writing and find other ways to share that love. I already send out a post weekly from my blog "Sojourner in Nova Scotia" to a number of pals. I might embark on a shared podcast adventure with some other folks who write. I do have a play that is half-finished and has a home for production when I do get it done. I will not get a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. I will not smoke a pipe. I will not go to the beach to have my book jacket photo done. I will not meet my editor at The Algonquin to go over some last minute details.

Ta da!

How are the rest of you all doing?

Wednesday, May 1, 2019



May 1st - the glorious first of May - May Day - is it a call for help or a workers' holiday? Do we gather blossoms for the May Pole or rise up against the oppression of the proletariat? No, let's not do either. For one thing it might snow and there are definitely no wee May flowers yet (oh how I love their smell!) and for another it is time for another meeting of The Insecure Writer's Support Group!

I'm writing this on the 30th - usually my writing pal and I get together on Wednesdays but this week she has another money gig so we got together early. So here goes.

I'm including the purpose as stated on the IWSG sign-up page.
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!
Okay - confession time. For the first time since I was fourteen years old and I'm 67 now - so for the first time in fifty-three years, I no longer feel like a writer. I don't feel like a stuck writer, or a frenzied writer or an amateur writer or a professional writer or an occasional writer - I plain just do not feel like a writer at all. I'm still a blogger. I write on my blog Sojourner in Nova Scotia once a week. I do write a letter now and then - but I'm no longer waiting to turn into Edna St. Vincent Millay or Brenda Starr, girl reporter, or Margaret Lawrence or Carol Shields. So - not a poet, not a journalist, not a novelist, not a playwright. Nope - not a writer.

I've looked at why that might be and have a few theories but nothing very solid. It is totally shocking to me. And before you take to telling me that I'm simply going through a very natural lull or block - no, I'm not. I've done that lots of times and this is different. This is more like you woke up one morning and you couldn't see, or you couldn't use your hands. Something that has been a huge part of me for as long as I can remember - I know I said fourteen but actually I became a writer in grade two in Osgoode, Ontario, when a teacher praised my essay on our camping trip to the Maritimes.

Possible reasons for this may be the following:


  1. No positive reinforcement from the publishing world. No blame here, but the last time I got some was in the fall of 2017 when I got a poem published and a chapbook shortlisted for a prize. I have sent out a lot of poems and queries for Bright Angel in the last year and it has been reject, reject, reject. I know that is natural but after all this time I don't feel so sanguine about it. I feel rejected if you want to know the truth. I know it is a mug's game but jeesh!
  2. It is the end-days. Again I know this might seem a bit over the top, but hey - this is me reporting from my life. I feel that climate change is inevitable and so is the end of the human habitation of this planet. I hope I'm wrong but right now I think that is a reasonable conclusion to draw. That has led to a bit of an existential crises for me - not in every part of my life, but in the desire to create things for others.
  3. My creative life is flowing well with drawing and painting. I am expressing myself and in an area unbesmirched with the desire for publication and fame. I just do it for me. Maybe I could find that pure love of making again with my poetry - certainly it feels gone with novels and plays for me.
So that's it. That is the fire I'm in right now. I cannot adequately express how bizarre I feel not to be who I believed myself to be. It doesn't matter that no one else necessarily thought that was my identity. It feels so gone that I'm not even grief-stricken - more puzzled. Where did it go?