Category Archives: Writing

A Village

Every once in awhile, I think I should, must, no other option available, quit writing. It isn’t that I don’t want to write, it’s that I think I can’t write well enough, basically that I suck. On my really dark days, I worry I’m like one of those contestants on a reality talent show who thinks they’re the next Adele only to be told they’re delusional and shouldn’t leave their day job

Recently, I had one of those days after having submitted my latest work-in-progress to my critique group. When word came down—go back, it’s not good enough—no hyperbole, I was DEVASTATED, CRUSHED, a snivelling, whimpering puddle of pathetic doggy dodo.

Never before have I worked so hard to come up with—what I believed I was hearing—such a shitty piece of writing. How could this be? How could I have gotten it so wrong? I’ve quit my day job to give myself the time and space to create literary masterpieces for GD sake.

Then something wonderful happened. My writer friends rallied around me—more than one carrying a sharp stick happily aimed at my ribcage. Some of the very people who were (politely) telling me they weren’t feeling a connection to my characters and didn’t care to turn the page, were the very people who sent me private emails, called me on the phone, offered to look at my re-writes before I re-submitted and took me out for tea. They helped me realize that when I thought I heard, it’ll NEVER be good enough, you loser, what was really being said was, it’s not good enough YET. Who were these wonderful folks? They were my tribe, my peeps. I’d reached out my hand and they’d pulled me away from the cliff. My tribe believed in me. Maybe I didn’t suck

People, all people, need connection in the same way as they need food and water. Connection is a necessity not a luxury. Every one of us, not just writer, but I think especially writers who by the nature of the beast spend a lot of time in their heads, need to know they aren’t alone. This week, I was reminded I’m part of a village.

So, to those of you who are at the early stages of your writing careers, I would suggest you join a writing group and work on building your own tribe. Step away from your computer and introduce yourself to your village. Because if you’re serious about becoming a writer, you’ll absolutely have a dark-night-of-soul somewhere along your journey, and you’re going to need that village. It’s going to take courage and a spirit of adventure, but I promise you will get back tenfold what you give to your tribe and your village.

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Remembering to be Brave

courage

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the universe whispers, it’s always a good idea to listen. For weeks now, a slight whistling sound has passed by my ears.

Maybe because I’m a writer, the universe’s favourite way of getting my attention is to flash words in front of me. Like the time I was desperate to understand my protagonist and while on my daily walk, wondered what kind of music he might listen to. Moments later, I passed a parked car with a license plate that read CCR. Of course, my baby-boomer protagonist would listen to Creedance Clearwater Rival–CCR.

As with the above example, these flashes aren’t always meant to help me sort through monumental personal issues or to solve world problems, but they are signs letting me know whether I’m on the right, or the wrong path. Add my gut to the choir, and I’m usually able to identify which road is which.

So last Friday, when the same word appeared in two random places (top right hand corner of a placemat I’d bought at a second-hand store, and the sticker my granddaughter had placed on her cheek), I took notice.

The word…COURAGEcourage-tatoo.

Ah, the dropped penny. I’ve been thinking a lot about courage and bravery of late. If you read my post from last week, you’ll recall I mentioned my admiration for the courage I’ve seen the musical phenomena ADELE demonstrate throughout her career and to the courage I’ve seen my own daughter muster every day.

Time to figure out how the world was asking me to be brave and what these two young women could teach me about courage?

The how was easy. I knew where I needed to be brave. As a novelist, I live in a world of pretend, but inside that pretend world a lot of real things happen. I write to explain my world, and in order for my readers to believe anything I say, I have to dig deep. I have to be brave enough to pick up a shovel and pitch rocks and dirt over my shoulder.

Each morning, when I arrive at my laptop and open my latest work-in-progress, I do so knowing some real shit’s going to come up. Some days I’m ready for it, other days, not so much. When things became dark for my current protagonist, things became dark for me. I was slipping into that scary place we all fear.

So how can a singer and my daughter teach me to be brave in my writing?

Think I’ve figured that one out as well. Driving to meet my tribe of writers, an impassioned Adele song blasting from my car stereo, I had a sudden realization. I believe everything Adele sings about because she’s bravely willed herself to relive the pain and sadness in order to write authentic songs about pain and sadness. If I’m to be believed and have any hope of moving my readers, I have to do what all great artists do so fearlessly—I have to drop deep into the emotions I’m depicting. I have to feel them. I’m being asked to give a slice of myself in order to produce my art. But here’s the good news. Once I’ve released it, my usual state of sanity (whatever that may look like) will be returned, and I’ll have produced something of value. Bravery is always rewarded. Sure, I knew all that before, but listening to Adele and watching how she’s returned from her sad and dark places, I’m reminded what artistic courage looks like.

And my kid. That’s an easy one. As I watch her make her way, she teaches me that no matter the challenges life throws my way, I can get up. I can get dressed, and I can face the world with dignity. Lucky me. I have a living, breathing example of courage that I can infuse into my characters whenever they are called on to be brave.

Courage isn’t a one shot deal. It has to be revisited regularly. This week, Adele, my kid, a placemat and a sticker have reminded me it’s time for a courage check in.

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Believe it, Feel It, Receive it

abstract-tree-at-sunset

 

Let’s face it, we’ve all heard it—stay positive, keep the faith, things will turn around. Chances are you’ve rolled your eyes at these ‘Little Mary Sunshine’ people and maybe even, while in the throes of not getting what you deeply desired, considered punching them in the throat. Good for you if you didn’t.

I’m pretty sure I was born a glass half-empty kind of person, but over time, and in a desperate effort to stop having a shit life, I began working on becoming one of those other people, you know the happy people.

When I began to learn about the Power of Positive Thinking and the Law of Attraction, about getting real with what I most wanted, and following the simple (I say simple but we all know they only sound simple) principles of Ask, Believe and Receive, a wondrous thing happened—things began to turn around.

Examples—okay I’ve got a few. Once I was able to imagine my life as a full-time writer, it happened. When the time arrived for my husband and me to leave the city and move to the country, in my mind’s eye I saw what we wanted, and viola, the perfect property became available. And when the ache for a better relationship with my only daughter threatened to consume me, things slowly but steadily became easier between us.

Cue the eye roll. Nope. Not going to do it, cause now you’ve got my attention. Maybe this shit works.

Wait. So, let’s give this one more try. After all, there is one thing I really, really want and see no way in hell that it can happen. For the past nine years, I have had a fan crush on a young artist you may have heard of—only ADELE, the most amazing, badass singer on the planet. As anyone following her 25 Tour will tell you, if you didn’t get tickets within the first ten minutes of them going on sale, or you aren’t rich enough to pay the obscene prices scalpers are asking (think 4 figures for floor seats), you ain’t going. Oh, that can’t be right. I’m going. I know it. I feel it.

To put my dream of going to the concert into context, let’s back this truck up a bit. What is my insane devotion to Adele all about?

Billions of fans around the world are in love with Adele, but I’m not a star struck teenager. I’m a middle-aged woman with children the same age as my superstar crush. Why, beyond the fact that Adele can sing her ass off, do I feel so moved by her music and by her personally? Simple. In my humble opinion, Adele is one of the bravest women around today. She’s an inspiration to anyone who has been gifted with an extraordinary talent and possibly felt frightened by that gift. Adele’s fears and self-proclaimed anxieties are well documented, yet she soldiers through to share her heart-wrenching music and her personality and her wit.

And she’s real. Take her for what she is and what she offers, but don’t think for one second that she’ll let you change any part of her that she doesn’t want to change. She’s not having it. How is that even possible in this world of half-naked performers gyrating on stage props and shaking what their mamas gave them to sell their music? How is it that this non-conformist, gimmick-free performer who wears ball gowns and zero cleavage on stage, can have album sales that eclipse anything seen in decades? Because she’s brave enough to say no and strong enough to know who and what she is.

Then there’s the other reason I love Adele. My kid loves Adele.

My thirty-year-old girl is as beautiful as Adele and has talents in equal measure, but she also has a learning disability and a childhood trauma to live with—each have played a part in wearing down her self-esteem and her self-worth. We all know what can happen to a beautiful girl who doesn’t value herself. Life got mean and our relationship was the first casualty. That was then. Now she’s a single mom, raising a seven-year-old daughter. She struggles financially, but has filled her home with love and she’s made valiant efforts toward repairing our mother/daughter bond. I couldn’t be any prouder of her than I imagine Adele’s mother is of her. Hard work and hard conversations over time have aided the healing process. That, and our shared admiration for Adele.

Back to my quest for concert tickets.

With the summer of ’16 drawing to a close, the four dates for Adele’s Toronto concerts were quickly approaching.  What to do? What to do? Right those Power of Positive Thinking and The Law of Attraction things. I got this. I sat down. I closed my eyes and went about trying to make concert tickets appear. Soon afterward—can’t say how long exactly but not more than a few days later—I was driving and heard a TO radio station was giving away tickets. The way had presented itself. Flipping between fits of glee and fits of crying, I spent the remainder of that day phoning into the station. Honestly, do you know anyone who has successfully won tickets from a radio station? Despite the chronic busy signal sounding in my ear, I refused to believe I would not get through. I believed.

For a day and a half, I waited for the predetermined Adele song to play and feverishly dialled and redialed in hopes of being the 25th caller. Not for one minute did I doubt this was the action required to make my desire come to be. I saw it. I felt it.

And here, my good friends, is the rub.

You can ask and you can even believe, but if you aren’t able to feel what it would be like to have your desire met, you are far, far less likely to achieve your dream.

Between phone calls, I let my imagination run wild. I felt what it would be like to pick up my daughter (who else would I bring?) and for us to drive into the city. What it would feel like to sit in our seats and wait for the concert to begin, to see the lights dim and to hear the music begin, to join the audience in cheering and then to see Adele rise up from the stage floor and belt out her monster hit, Hello. I felt it—the joy, the excitement, the wonder, and my kid beside me.

Guess all that feeling and believing combined with a day of rollercoaster emotions were all in preparation for hearing a ringtone. I was caller 25. My kid and I were going to see Adele!!!!

What had I just done? I asked. I believed. I felt. I received. The universe had realigned itself to fulfill a strong desire. I had done that. If I could make that happen, what else could I make happen? ANYTHING.

The concert is in one week. We have tickets for the second show. Woo-hoo. I’m so excited knowing I’ll be in the same room as someone who is doing what they were meant to do and to be there with my amazing, wonderful, beautiful, brave girl. Thanks universe!!!!

 

silhouette-of-woman-standing-on-pier-at-sunset

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Dream to Goal to Strategy to Success

The first question everyone asks each New Year is—did you make a resolution?  For many years my answer was always the same—no. Which I’m pretty sure is exactly why I haven’t achieved my dream as quickly as I probably could have.

Back when I was a kid, I told everyone one day I would write (and have published) a book. Well, here I am several decades later still not having finished my book. The problem as I see it is that although I always knew I wanted to write a book, I never really set it as a goal until fairly recently. Once I finally did decide to get serious and map out how I was going to write said book, things did start to fall into place and I felt myself inching closer to making my dream a reality.

  • I worked hard at learning my craft.
  • I surrounded myself with like-minded people and people who had actually written and published a book.
  • I set a writing schedule for myself.

Great.

And yet, I still haven’t finished my damn book.

Today I sit here knowing that goal setting and strategy planning are all well and good, but when life tries to derail your perfectly laid plans, you have to revisit, adjust and recommit to your strategies. Sitting back and resting on your laurels isn’t an option—ever.

And you have to get specific.

So, to answer your question—yes I did make a resolution for 2013. (I know you’ll keep me honest and hold me to my word.)

I, Sharon M. Overend, resolve to finish my book within the next six months. (For those of you who are mathematically challenged, that means by June.)

Woot?

How?

I hear you rolling your eyes.

Ah, but I have a plan.

My strategy is to polish 10,000 words per month. I currently have 33,000 words in what I would call good shape. By July 1st, I intend to start querying agents and/or publishers.

I have no idea whether I will achieve this lofty goal, but I know that not having a plan will mean another year without my backside in a nice chair and my fingers curled around the expensive pen I promised myself I would buy the day I finished my book, whilst an eager group of fans wait in line for me to sign their copy of my soon-to-be bestselling novel.

That’s the plan.

What is your goal for 2013 and how do you plan on reaching it?

In case you need motivation to get busy writing out your goals and strategies for 2013, I’ve included a You Tube video (sorry it looks a bit dated) from Jack Canfield (yeah the Chicken Soup books guy) to kick-start you.

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How Did You Know That?

I don’t have an inspirational video or photo to support this post. I looked, but suspect it isn’t something writers are always comfortable talking about. Maybe it’s too weird a concept for even us to fully own¸ but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that if you’ve been writing long enough it has happened to you.

You’ve written an original scene, maybe even wondered where it came from and then something in your work materializes in your real life. Cue the Twilight Zone soundtrack.

It’s happened to me more than once. Kind of like when you think of someone and then they call you.

People today are more willing to accept that thought is energy and when you are receptive, you are able to pick up that energy. Like you have a butterfly net just as a butterfly is flying past you. So when you think of a specific person it’s entirely probable that is because they are thinking about you.

Okay, I’m buying it so far, but can you explain what is happening when I name a character and soon after meet someone with that name. I’m not talking about your Mikes and Bobs or Sallys and Sues, I mean unusual names, names you don’t hear every day. Do you think I’m picking up the energy of someone’s path about to cross mine? Maybe yes, maybe not. I don’t have the answer.

I had an instructor once who warned her creative writing students to not get freaked out if they wrote something only to have it happen in their life. She suggested by nature writers are observers and people watchers and that often times we observe and pick up things without realizing we are even looking. Recently, a guest speaker at my monthly writers’ breakfast called it her writer’s brain which saw and processed more than her normal brain could ever hope to absorb.

In other words, you may be watching your sister and her husband and not know that you have picked up the subtle signs that he is cheating on her. Soon afterward, your male protagonist has an affair. Then you hear that your brother-in-law is cheating on your sister. The coincidence may weird you out, but in reality your writer’s brain saw the affair and you plopped it down on the page.

To push this point a bit further, I suspect when I am writing and am in the zone that I have slipped into theta brainwaves. (Theta brain waves, measured at 4-7 Hz, are the brain state of REM sleep (dreams), hypnosis, lucid dreaming, and the barely conscious state just before sleeping and just after waking. Theta is the border between the conscious and the subconscious world, and by learning to use a conscious, waking Theta brain wave we can access and influence the powerful subconscious part of ourselves that is normally inaccessible to our waking minds.) It makes sense that when you are in theta that you are able to access the stuff you didn’t know you saw.

So, I still think I might be a bit psychic, but more likely I have a big, fat writer’s brain.

I would love to hear when and where this has happened to you.

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Inserting A New Routine Into An Old Habit

Well, the summer is almost over and as the cooler nights breeze over my sweaty skin (it has been a particularly HOT summer in The Greater Toronto Area), I am feeling hopeful that I may soon return to my beloved writing. After a challenging few months, my life is slowly but surely quieting, or at least approaching what I suspect will be my new normal and I expect to be pumping out regular posts in the near future. In the meantime, I have once again asked my friend, Heidi Croot, to share what she sees as her biggest obstacle in producing the kind of writing she yearns to produce.

Inserting a new routine into an old habit

By: Heidi Croot

As a business writer struggling to find my inner writer’s voice, I seek advice everywhere, from great authors to beginning writers alike. None of them tells me what I want to hear: that one day I will wake, lift my pen, and begin writing—the business mantle miraculously lifted from my shoulders, the creative mantle just as magically applied.

What every one of them does say, dag nab it all, is “write something every day.”

Much as I might wish otherwise, I know that business writing does not count.

Nor does journaling count: not my type of journaling anyway. Like many writers, I keep a journal for whinging and whining about life’s woes, and occasionally celebrating the many blessings in my life. These entries are rough and personal, meant to bleed off the darkness and stay in darkness. They are not meant for honing.

My other journals are even less appropriate: the one I keep to record my exercise workouts, for example. Another to catalogue what I serve guests for dinner, used to inspire future menus and avoid repeating mistakes. Another to corral compelling quotes from books and magazines. Another to capture elusive ideas at night. Another to keep track of conversations with, and activities in aid of, my mother. My copious travel journals. And perhaps the most functional of all, the journal I’ve been opening in Microsoft Office Word every morning for 15 years to record my business activities, and on which I depend to accurately bill my clients each month.

Clearly, I have journals aplenty in my life, just not one that fosters creative writing.

And that’s when it hits me, like a big wet fish across the chops. I have a habit that works. Why not insert a new routine into a decades-old pattern of activities that I’ve proved can meet my needs?

What, I ask myself, if I were to open a second Word file each morning? What if I call it, simply, Creative Writing: September 2012? What if I leave it open on my desktop—obvious, insistent, tantalizing—until I fulfill my promise to “write something every day”? And what if, at the end of each daily offering, I jot ideas to juice the next day, perhaps even craft an opening sentence if I’m feeling creative?

What if I tried that? After all, if it works for my business, why not for me?

Round one is today’s guest entry for my good friend and mentor Sharon and her blog. Tomorrow I begin in earnest.

Heidi Croot is an award-winning business writer who has been connecting the five essential dots of communication for employees, customers and the community for more than 30 years. As principal of Croot Communications, she writes magazine articles, newsletters, brochures, annual reports, speeches, strategic plans, and more.

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Is writing, writing?

Several months ago, I wrote about the value of surrounding yourself (and your writing) with good and trusted tribe members. Now, I would like to introduce some of my tribe to you. I have asked a few of my writer friends to help me with guest blogs as I take some time to refocus my energy on my family. Today’s post is from a very dear friend, Heidi Croot, who is transitioning between corporate writing to non-fiction and fiction writing. I know if the shoe was on the other foot and I had to transition from fiction to corporate writing, I would feel some of what she has expressed below.

Many of you have asked me what gives? Where are the new posts? How’s the book coming along? Did you ever send in your 75 pages for your final project? The short answer is I have not been able to find much time to write in the last month. Unfortunately, one of our children is unwell and my husband and I are caring for our young granddaughter. It is indeed a challenging time, but I thank everyone who is checking in with us regularly and holding us in their thoughts and prayers. I am indeed blessed to have such a large and supportive tribe and know we will get through this difficult time.

Sharon

Is writing, writing?

By: Heidi Croot

So, here’s the dilemma. And it’s a gnawer.

I’m a corporate writer, a business writer. Have been for more than 30 years. It means I write annual reports, employee newsletters, articles for trade press, even corporate communications plans.

Fine and good.

However, what I want to do, desperately, is break into personal writing: memoir, fiction, poetry.

Isn’t writing, writing?  If I can do it in one genre, shouldn’t I be able to transition easily to another?

Apparently not.

I am paralyzed. Have no idea how to get started on, say, a short story. What would I write about? What on earth would I write about? Does plot piece together like ideas in a non-fiction piece? Who is my character? And what the hell does she want? How do I select point-of-view, describe people’s faces, evoke a setting, create suspense?

I don’t fumble like this with magazine articles. I know exactly what to do. How to begin. How to organize my material (indeed, where to get my material). How to bridge paragraphs. What tone to take. When to use stories or case studies.

I turn to mind-mapping, an indispensable tool of my trade, but it lets me down. I don’t even know what to put in the centre cloud. So I put a question mark. That really helps.

There must be a bridge from genre to genre. Got to find it. Meanwhile, I tear around, choking on my own dust, mild hysteria mounting as I face the prospect of being stuck on this island forever.

Plunge in, just start, practice, practice, practice: I hear you, all you capable fiction writers out there.

I know my voice is in here, somewhere deep, buried under the detritus of dry corporate babblespeak. Going to get me a tractor and clear all that rubble aside. Let the music out. Soon, I’ll do it soon. First I’ve got to finish that business report.

Heidi Croot is an award-winning business writer who has been connecting the five essential dots of communication for employees, customers and the community for more than 30 years. As principal of Croot Communications, she writes magazine articles, newsletters, brochures, annual reports, speeches, strategic plans, and more.

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