Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Conversation over Coffee

Yesterday I met another writer who lives on the Sunshine Coast. He stumbled upon my book, Fouling Out, at a local bookstore, read it and then contacted me via email. This was a first for me. I have had brief conversations with visiting authors such as Richard Scrimger and Linda Bailey at my school, but I am not connected with writers through a writing group or on an informal basis. Although I have a book in print, I do not presume to be someone whom other writers would want to meet. I also remain reluctant to share drafts or ideas with others, fearing a critical comment might cause me to set aside a project.

Ken Budd has a great deal of experience in publishing and writing and I found we had a lot in common. As writing can be an isolating endeavor, I valued the time to chat about our past and present projects. Moreover, the conversation inspired me to get home and write. I came up with twice my normal writing amount for a day!

It is time for me to open up more about my work and to connect with others who are passionate about writing. If anyone has a question, please ask away. Post a comment and I will reply.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The One that Got Away

Okay, class. In your seats. It's writing time. The topic is on the board. Quiet. And...write.

Let's assume the teacher adds a great deal more to set the stage for the writing period. The students are motivated and no one is upset about sticky apple juice residue on his desktop or a precious toy that disappeared from his desk during recess. Everybody writes, right?

We all know that is not reality. Sometimes the ideas don't come or the moment isn't right. Despite the best of intentions, a paper or laptop screen can stare blankly and taunt the writer. I had a staring contest with both yesterday. I lost. First it was the laptop. Blinky, my beloved cursor held steady at his perch in the top left corner. Nothing. Come on, Blinky, shake out that toe cramp and get moving. Still nothing. I left Blinky to work out his issues and surfed the Net. And surfed and surfed. Eventually, I realized my brain was waterlogged and my laptop would not be a creative tool for the day so I shut it down and pulled out the pencil and paper. I could not come up with even a doodle. AHHH!

Producing nothing when you really want to accomplish something is agonizing. I felt powerfully productive the previous day when I took the dogs to daycare. This was the time when I was supposed to build momentum. It didn't happen. Instead, I went out and dug holes in the yard. That felt good. You see, I have a lawn that refuses to respond to a mower. I can mow and mow and mow and these pesky blades of grass keep popping back up, not the least bit scarred. There are hundreds--er, thousands--of these rebel blades. Some are reaching knee height. I keep digging up patches, telling myself the entire lot will one day be a garden. For now, I have blank patches of dirt. They go nicely with my blank pad of paper.

Here's hoping I will have something to show for today. If not a chapter, then a new plot of perennials.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Doggy Distractions

I have accomplished a great deal the past couple of days. I have set up some blog podcast interviews--more on them when the times near--and sent out a flurry of emails to try to promote Fouling Out. I also managed to read through my current manuscript to make further revisions and to reacquaint myself with the characters and plot. (I hadn't worked on the manuscript since March so it was important to refresh before writing the next scenes.)

It has been wonderful working from home. Considering it's a 40-kilometer trek to my job at school, I am pleased to give the car a rest. My dogs, Lincoln and Hoover, are loving all the extra attention. However, they don't know why I spend so much time in my office. There have been blissful moments when I type away and one or both are curled up on the floor near me. Bliss is a fleeting thing. More often, as right now while I am typing, Lincoln is prowling the house and listening for something to respond to with a prolonged series of barks. Bird? Newspaper guy? Kid on a bike? His own shadow? So much material to work with! Hoover, on the other hand, is a quiet dog, but he has become obsessed with the garter snakes in the backyard. He comes into the office and props his head on my lap, brown eyes staring up at me until I give him a pat. The pat is only the beginning. A tummy rub follows and then he scurries to the door downstairs, waiting to be let out so he can conduct another snake census. Inevitably, he finishes his survey and escapes through the fencing to wander out front. I have to track him down and bring him back in. If I am lucky, there is another blissful moment before the routine repeats.

I do love my dogs. Absolutely! However, today is the day when I begin new writing on my latest manuscript. I must establish some momentum. The boys are going to doggy daycare. Hoover will love it. He climbs on my lap in the car as we near Pawsitive Adventures and bounds out as soon as I open the car door. Lincoln, on the other hand, makes me feel like a parent dropping off his child on the first day of kindergarten. When I put him in the fenced area of the facility, he looks back at me and wonders what he has done to deserve this abandonment. (Surely, it isn't all that barking.) As always, I will have to look away and remind myself that the day will pass quickly.

I am writing in my favorite coffeehouse and at the Gibsons library today. No distractions from dogs, phone calls, radio or dust bunnies that I feel a sudden urge to attend to. Hopefully, it will be a productive day!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Time to Get Serious

This is my first full week of opportunity for uninterrupted writing. It is time to get serious. I have been hopping about from essay idea to blog entry to random writing tidbit. It has been a fun couple of weeks. However, while my desk will never be organized, it is time to put aside some of the clutter in my brain.

I will spend the week focused on a novel manuscript that is 2/3 or 3/4 complete. Since I have not visited it since Spring Break, I have printed out the version with the latest revisions and I will start back on page one. (I would love to save a tree and read from the laptop screen, but nothing takes the place of a line-by-line revision with a paper and pen. It's like scrubbing the floor with a bucket and sponge rather than using a mop for the quick clean. Or so I'm told. I should not use cleaning as basis for a metaphor. Write what you know, write what you know.)

With big breaks in my writing, it is important for me to fully review the plot, the characters and the tone before adding a new scene. I feel this gets me motivated, helps the manuscript flow better and reduces the painful, awkward What was I thinking? moments in the next round of revisions.

I hope to have some extra time to pick away at a picture book manuscript this week as well, but I shall be disciplined. No dessert until I've made good progress on the main course.

Friday, July 18, 2008

What's in a Name?

I'm in the midst of writing a short story collection and that means I've got more characters to deal with than usual. As a scenario comes to mind, I begin typing the tale on the laptop. However, there's always a mini mogul as I head out of the gate. What's this character's name? How about Tom? No, I've used that in Fouling Out. Does he need a last name? Sorry to all the Smiths out there, but something else please. And why do all the last names that hit me sound so British, so conservative?

When I used to teach Writers' Workshop in school, I inherited a naming rule that students had heard many times from previous teachers. If a student wanted to use a classmate's name, he had to ask for permission. This rule generated its share of chaos. Invariably, I'd have to break from a conference with one student to deal with the commotion in another area of the room.

"Bob's using my name in his story," Sue complained.

"So. You said I could."

"But I don't want to be the monster's lunch."

"It's his breakfast, stupid."

If Sue wasn't a monster meal, she was stuck on an island with Fred--and no one wanted to be stuck with Fred. Or she'd fallen off a cliff. Again. Often students would counter the student's protest with "It's not you, Sue. It's a Sue I made up."

How many possible names exist on this planet? Didn't Jessica Alba just name her newborn Honor? (We can't forget Ms. Paltrow's precious Apple either, can we?) Eventually, I did something shockingly dictatorial: I banned (BANNED!) the use of classmate's names in creative writing.


"Why aren't you writing anything, Bob?"

"I can't think of a name." Yep, the only names I know are the names of the people in this class. After that, my mind's blank.

I brought in a phone book. Flip and randomly point. Frederick is the first name. Need a last name? Flip and point again. Abbott. Frederick Abbott. Done. (Note: This demonstration came from the use of an actual telephone directory. Frederick Abbott is mine. Do your own flipping!)

Kids liked it. It was a quick "game" they incorporated into the writing process. I've been using that method for my own writing ever since.

Now I know there are people who insist that the name has to fit the character. Sue is just not right. It's gotta be Susie. Better yet, Ethel. (Do you really wish the name Ethel on anyone, fictional or not?) If it's gotta be Ethel, change it when that nagging thought invades her brain. If it was always Ethel, then leave the phone book in the drawer. Get the name down and move on. There's a story to be told.

It works for me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Looking for Levity

Best friend dies. Mother gets beaten by current boyfriend. Yikes! Why so grim? So serious.

It seems that I haven't fully shaken the weight of responsibility from an intense work year and my writing is impacted. I'm supposed to write amusing scenes and use humor for coping when characters get into a bind. That's not happening. I have a choice: go with the grim or find a way to get funny back.

I'm looking for levity. I checked out a copy of humorist David Sedaris' essays, When You Are Engulfed in Flames--okay, not a funny title and the cover illustration of a skeleton smoking doesn't hint of humor, but I've been told he's a humorist and I sure hope I haven't picked the book that will be hailed as "a welcome departure". If I still can't find the funny, I might have to get base and rent an Adam Sandler or Eddie Murphy ode to flatulence. Desperate times, desperate measures.

Of course, if all else fails, I will embrace the darkness and write about it. I just might have to leave a night light on when I go to sleep.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Time Lapse

Oops! Today is Tuesday and I haven't written anything since last Thursday. Is it time to evict this writer in residence? Am I a sham?

Unfortunately, I spent four days at a conference in Vancouver as part of my day job being a school principal. I can't use that excuse again until mid-August. With that commitment off my back, I believe I am ready to fully immerse myself in the writing process.

Let's see what happens!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Does Neatness Stifle Creativity?

I told myself that I'd have an incredibly tidy home office space before beginning my writer in residence term. Didn't happen. The pile atop my filing cabinet is looking secure--nothing will slide off unless there's a 5.0 or greater. The floor has many clear areas. Lots of space for the dogs to curl up. I am in need of more shelving space as there are several books blotting the carpet.

The key surface is my desk. There is a brand new windshield wiper that's been there for two months. (Is it really so hard to replace them? Shouldn't I at least try? I have this vision of driving into a service station for assistance and driving out with a several-thousand-dollar repair bill for a new engine and door handle replacements. Sucker!) Apart from auto accessory, everything else has some logical reason for cluttering my desk--a brochure about a local writers' festival, a dictionary, my Fouling Out binder, a snow globe with my dogs' pictures, and lots of Post-its and tiny notepad sheets with random "nuggets" of writing. I keep the little papers spread out because I've got it in my head that if I put them in a neat pile, I'll only see the top paper and all the other ideas will be forgotten. Now don't try to talk logic with me. I'm rationalizing my mess and I'm fine with that.

If I ever completely cleaned my work area, would I become more productive and clear thinking as a writer? Or would I stagnate in the sterile environment? Would I lose my most brilliant idea ever by taking twenty minutes to clean off my desk? I suspect I'll never know.

I think there are two types of people in the world: the Tidies and the Messies. So much of the conflict in the world comes from a lack of understanding between these groups and a desire of the Tidies to convert the Messies. Has it ever worked? I don't think so. (Show me a convert and I'll suggest the individual has experienced deep psychological trauma.)

Here comes a confession. I have two home offices in my house. Two! Last year, I used the room downstairs for my writing and left the room on the main floor for miscellaneous mess (er, school work, bills, important things that inv0lved lots of papers that defied easy filing). I haven't ventured into the room downstairs this summer. Through fall, winter and spring, it's accumulated a broken weed eater (which I'll never fix but I can't seem to surrender to landfill), stacks of magazines (that I never look back on, but I keep just in case), patio items I no longer like and a large bowl of Halloween candy. (Each year, I panic and think there could be a hundred hungry trick-or-treaters. In reality, I had three. I'll confess that the good stuff's all gone, but how can I throw away candy?)

I could go on and on. You get the picture, don't you? If you're one of the Tidies, I can see your shoulders tightening and your nose crinkling. Shake it off! It's going to be all right. You can limit your visits to cyberspace.

Back to the writing...Where is that idea I'd scribbled yesterday?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Slow but Steady

Well, I managed to finish the second novel yesterday.


Take two.

Okay, so I wasn't anywhere near that productive. It was the first day of my summer writing. Give me some slack. I could blame the dogs, but they weren't any more distracting than usual. No, it's just a difficult transition to sitting at a desk and staring at a (blank) laptop screen. I needed many breaks to stretch and move about. I even gave the microwave a thorough scrubbing!

I did make some headway with my writing. I chose to set the novel aside since getting back to it will require a day and a half of rereading and tinkering before writing anything new. I needed to actually write on the first day so I worked on two short stories. Both were a little grim so I'm hoping to bring some levity to that project with a humorous entry at some point this week. Not feeling funny just yet.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Coffee's On: The Beginning of a Routine

Here goes! My summer of writing begins today. I have high expectations. Now that I have a novel on the market (Fouling Out), I can't hide the fact that I'm a writer. Summer is my prime time for creative output and I have an unfinished novel and five picture book manuscripts that need to be revisited with a critical eye. Over the Christmas break, I began a screenplay (which I'm thinking I'll abandon, but it still requires a passing glance) and I began a short story collection a few months ago. Lots of possibilities!

It all begins with establishing some sort of routine. That's a challenging step since I'm a restless writer. I tend to compose in a series of short spurts, with lots of movement in between. (Thank goodness for all those weeds in the garden. I may finally pull a few!) Still, when I'm not otherwise employed during the summer, there is a "danger" of letting the days get away from me. I can loaf about as well as anyone.

So,...the coffee's on--I'm on cup number two--and the dogs are (momentarily) settled. The laptop is running although the space bar is struggling to awaken. I have a short break planned for a light breakfast in an hour and my swim workout comes mid-afternoon. It's time to pull out a manuscript and try to figure out what to do with it.