Category Archives: Writing

Why Do Writers Write? 5 Reasons Why I Write.

As a writer I’m often asked why, when the prospect of making any money through writing is a long shot at best, do I continue to write? I suppose the best answer I’ve come up with is, because I have to. What does that really mean though? Of course, I’m not going to die if I never pen another sentence. So, I guess the answer is more that I write because I’m compelled to write.

Writing Makes Me Sound Smart

Whether it be a story, or more specifically, a point I absolutely have to get across, it becomes my mission to communicate said story/point to another person. The time I spend in front of my keyboard is time I use to construct an argument or thought. Although some might suggest my snappy, sarcastic wit demonstrates quickness on my feet, I fear my talent is often limited to sarcastic, snappy jabs and not always to well thought out opinions. Writing makes me sound smart. Akin to the frustration you feel after leaving a discussion (most often a heated discussion) and thinking of all the brilliant things you could have said, writing gives me the Do Over moments where I can formulate brilliant thoughts in the comfort of my own space and at my leisure. As an added benefit, once I’ve written my thought down, they seem easier to access when standing in one of those party circles I dread so desperately – leaving me to sound as smart as I think I am.

I’m Some of the Best Company I Know

I write because I like being alone. I need me time, alone time every day. When I close the door to my office and press the power button on my computer, I’m alone.  Although I LOVE to talk, I don’t always like being around a lot of people. Writing suits me down to my shiny red slippers.

I Like To Visit Parallel Universes

I love creating and sharing the people and place that live in my head. While in elementary school, I had a long walk to and from school. Maybe not your six miles in bare feet kind of trip, but still super far for a little kid. (Google map says we lived 1.4 kms from the school. How can that be? It seemed much further than that.) Of course, we’re talking about the days when parents didn’t drive kids to school. On really, really bad – I’m talking snowstorm from hell kind of days, we might each get 10¢ for the bus, but never, ever in ten years of elementary school, five years of high school, and three years of college, an actually drive door-to-door. But don’t worry Mom, I’m not bitter about all those trips since I used them to create imaginary worlds with imaginary people that were way cooler than the actual world I did live in. Often times, when I FINALLY arrived home, I disappeared into my room and wrote down the stories I had just imagined in my mind. I suppose that’s why I still love walking, because with each step, I continue to slip into my parallel universe.

I’m a Control Freak

I love the control. Writing is about crafting sentences and paragraphs that I can move and manipulate anyway I please. Seeing a mish-mash of words and lining them up to form stories and arguments thrills me. I’m queen of my own word kingdom and I get a charge out of ordering my words around.

I’m High on Dopamine

But…at the end of the day, it seems science knows better than me, why I write. Scientists have shown that high levels of the brain chemical dopamine, paired with low levels of serotonin are strongly associated with creative thinking. To put it in layman’s terms, writing (for me) feels good. Writing excites me, not in the same way George Clooney does, but pretty damn close. Even when the writing isn’t going as well as it could, I’m happy, so don’t even talk to me about the charge I get when my writing is flowing. And as everyone at Casa Overend knows – if Mama ain’t writing, Mama ain’t happy!

Aside from the dopamine, why do you write?


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To Outline or Not to Outline

When a writer approaches their writing station, about to begin work on a new project, the first thing they must do before hammering out a single word, is decide whether they will, or won’t spend time preparing an outline.

The world of writers is divided into two groups; the outliners and the no outliners. I’m a card-carrying member of the second group, the no outliners. Sort of.

Outlines make absolute sense to me. What’s not to love about a roadmap that focuses a writer and keeps them chugging along a clearly defined path. I imagine an outline as the foundation and framework a contractor must build before constructing a deck. (I know of what I speak when it comes to deck building having watched my contractor husband spend hours, and hours, and hours preparing the foundation and getting the measurements of his deck frames perfect.) Outlines are such a smart idea.


I’ve tried to outline, Lord knows I’ve tried. It’s just that I don’t seem to be able to do it. I don’t know my characters until I meet them and I don’t know what they’ll do until I watch them. In most things I do, I tend to be a jump in with both feet, don’t look before I cross kind of person. So outlines don’t work for me. Not yet.

I start a new piece of writing with the first sentence and I freefall my way along until I run out of things to say. Outline free.

Once I have something to work with, then I start moving and shaking things up. When the story is almost there, but not quite, I do a bullet point synopsis of what I have so far. With my project broken down this way, I can usually see what’s missing or where I’ve gone off track. Starting to sound like an outline.

So, basically, what I’m confessing to you (please don’t tell my no outliner compatriots) is I scramble off the no outliners bandwagon and I cross over to team outliners. It is at this stage of the game, that I, in fact, outline what I need to do to fix/finish my project. Not a true first stage outline, more like a mid-stage, almost finished the project outline. Defector.

With four different coloured markers, I arrive at my new best friend, my whiteboard, where I list scenes and plot points I feel are missing or need work. You’ll see I’ve even drawn a floor plan to help me stage a dinner party scene.

When I look at my whiteboard, polishing and finishing my writing doesn’t seem such a daunting task. Having worked with a piece for some time, I have characters I know, and places to bring them. I’m almost where I need to be before I have to reach for the map. Now when I sit at my laptop and consider what scene or plot point I want to work on, it is there in front of me. At the end of each writing session, I stand before my whiteboard and if it has been a good day, I add a tick beside one (on really good days, two) bullet points. When the board is covered with check marks, I’m able to move on from the current chapter.


So the question of whether I outline or not, I guess I’ll stick with sort of.


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Ants, Chopin, Newborns and Windows

I had ants in my office this week. I’m happy to report they’ve finally, FINALLY, vacated the premises, but not before their sheer creepiness drove me from my desk for two days. As I setup a makeshift office on our dining room table, I decided to look at my new surroundings as the change I could make instead of the rest I would have liked to take—yup, I’m still polishing those 75 pages for my final project at U of T. So instead of closing the door to my closet-sized office, and disappearing the world outside, I was forced to work among the masses—it’s not a stretch when I call the other six people, one dog and four cats that I live with, the masses. Have you ever tried to write the great Canadian novel while a darling, two-year-old created her unique interpretation of Chopin a mere five feet away from your work station? Trust me as adorable as it—as she—can be, not much work happens during the ensuing thirty minute performance. But plow through I did. To my great surprise, I did manage to rework a tricky section in my latest chapter and was able to send off twelve crisp pages of prose to my bi-weekly writing circle. Not bad.

As it happened during my week of the ant invasion, I also paid a visit to a dear friend and Doctor of Natural Medicine, who over yet another cup of Vanilla Roobios tea, heard all about my continuing struggles to produce writing that guarantees to soar to the top of any bestseller’s list. Three minutes into my rant, she suggested she could ‘fix me’, claiming she had a suspicion of exactly what was at the root of my woes. Feeling I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, I agreed and scheduled an appointment. Basically, her intention was to tap into my subconscious and help me identify my true attitudes particularly around writing and to help me change any self-limiting beliefs that may be holding me back. As with many alternative methods, this latest treatment at first seemed odd, but after an hour with her, I believe I made some inroads toward understanding and dare I hope, overcoming my fears. (Sorry, as much as I’d love to, I’ll keep the specifics of what we came up with to myself.)

On the morning of day two out of my office (one day after seeing the good doctor), I had what I can only describe as a surreal, out-of-body like experience. As I glanced around the dining room table, I saw pages and pages of my work spread about. On those pages were words, lots of words, and those words were strewn together into sentences, and the sentences were arranged into paragraphs. They were my words. They were words that had never existed in precisely that configuration before. I had created something that hadn’t existed before. Whether those words, in exactly those sentences and those paragraphs, are ever published didn’t matter in that moment, because those little darlings were mine and the gratitude I felt overwhelmed me. They had given me the greatest gift I’ve received in a very long while. Those pages, with all those words on them, gave me hope and filled me with immense pride. They represented a window into my future. Just as when I peered into the wrinkled faces of my newborn babies, I saw the path I will walk for the remainder of my days. I can never stop being a mom now that my babies are here, and I can never stop being a writer now that I’ve sat at a computer and pounded out so many newborn pages filled with newborn words.

This weekend I moved back into my office and it seems, just as my ant problem has disappeared, I feel I’ve banished some old and useless feelings that have weighed me down for too long. The words are definitely flowing more easily and I’m able to ‘stick to it’ longer.

So, thank you ants for forcing me back with the masses, for showing me the benefit of toddler style Chopin and for words scattered over a teak table.

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Where Do You Find Stories?

So suppose you’ve run out of crazy people in your life to draw inspiration for your stories. Where would you look? I’m one of the those fortunate people who has an abundance of crazy around me, and rarely do I have to search out story ideas, but occasionally, when I want to look outside my suburban, middle-class, Canadian life to offer a twist either in character or setting, I’ve hit a roadblock and felt lost for new inspiration.

That’s when my ‘Story Ideas’ file comes in handy. In this folder are pictures and articles I’ve cut out of magazines and newspapers. I’ve also included photos I’ve taken. Here’s one of my photos. This is a carnation I found on the beach. As I snapped the picture my brain went everywhere wondering how that carnation came to be on the beach, and more importantly, why was it left at the beach. You bet I wrote a story about it. Yet another story came to me when I read an article in the newspaper that profiled the smallest retail store in the country. What a great setting for a short story.

My story ideas file has helped me with setting, character, as well as character names, titles and opening sentences.

These pictures and articles act as kick starters, but can also lead to the question; And then what? Don’t forget about what follows. Ask yourself what happened the day after. What happened the day after the carnation was left on the beach, the week after, the month after?  There may be a story hidden in the after events.

As most writers do, I carry a notebook everywhere I go. When you see an interesting sign, or overhear a conversation, jot it down. My notebook isn’t very organized, but I’ve known other writers who divide their notebooks into sections—conversations, observations, signs and billboards. Separating where you record your thoughts will make it easier to locate quirky habits and tics to flesh out your characters, or when you’re looking to incorporate interesting turns of phrasing and dialogue.

The internet is a holding ground for millions of stories. While looking  where other writers find their inspirations, I came across a video featuring Jonathan Harris. In this video Jonathan shares how he collects his stories.  Not satisfied with waiting for stories to find him, he’s developed a computer programme called We Feel Fine. The program snatches sentences that include I feel or I am feeling from worldwide blog postings. Each individual sentence is represented by a floating blob that travels across the screen and that the viewer is able to snatch and read. In some cases, you’ll find accompanying photos. A constantly changing virtual treasure trove of story ideas for a bard like me. I can’t tell you how excited I was to find this program. Although the video is several years old, the website is still available. I’ve bookmarked the page and suspect I’ll never run out of story ideas again.

Stories are everywhere. Establish a story-finding mindset, keep your eyes and ears open and set up a story idea collection to keep your imagination sparked at all times.

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Are You Holding The Map Upside Down?

One evening when I was a teenager, my friends and I were travelling to a party. Debbie was driving. After assuring everyone I was a great map reader, I was given the map and the responsibility of delivering our carload of people safely to the party. Map in hand, I confidently spouted out each new turn, and Debbie trustingly followed my instructions. With every turn completed and no houses in sight, it was quickly determined we were not where we were meant to be. Debbie pulled off the road and clicked on the overhead light. Another friend snatched the map from my hands and to my great embarrassment announced I’d been holding the map upside down.

This weekend, I realized I’ve been holding Barb’s (my third POV) roadmap upside down. Barb has a distinctive voice, but I’ve been so caught up wreaking havoc with her life and looking for cheap laughs at her expense, that I haven’t placed her motivation clearly in my mind. To my annoyance, a writing circle colleague has asked me over and over again—what does Barb want? The truth was I didn’t have a ready answer. I wasn’t confident I knew what she wanted.

People have told me they love Barb, but without a clearly defined theme, I’d begun to worry her character wasn’t strong enough to warrant her own POV.

That was three days ago. For all  her fans out there, I’m happy to report; Barb’s POV is safely off the chopping block. I know what this crazy, misfit character wants.

I’ve typed the answer at the top of my chapter and am now guiding Barb’s narrative and each of her choices with this motivation in mind.

Filmmaker, Andrew Stanton (attached video) says—“A major threshold is passed when you mature enough to acknowledge what drives you, and to take the wheel and steer it.”

Thanks to an upright map, I’ve outlined missing scenes that now give Barb the wheel and steer her through what drives her.

In short, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, if you can answer one very important question: What does your character want?

Here’s a video featuring Andrew Stanton where he divulges what he believes to be the key ingredients necessary for good story telling.

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I’m Taking My Character Out For Drinks.

My novel-in-progress is told through three rotating, first person POVs. I’m currently editing the front end of the novel and will soon submit the first 75 pages to my one-on-one Continuing Studies instructor for his critiques. In May, I’ll present said 75 pages to the certificate program panel.

Chapter one is in the POV of the matriarch, Anne. Chapter two is in Burt, the eldest son’s POV and in chapter three we hear from Barb, the youngest sibling—an attractive, mid-thirties, narcissist personality.

As I read my early drafts of chapter three, I’m pleased to find Barb’s voice is distinctive. However, after completing the master class in novel-writing, I now recognize I haven’t demonstrated what matters to her as a wife/mother/daughter/sister. The challenge with this character is not in plopping her down in the middle of chaos and letting bad things happen in her life. I love writing a character that does everything I wish I could do.

My responsibility in creating Barb’s character is in keeping her real and relatable. It’s not important that readers like her, but it’s paramount that I infuse enough layers to her character that they care what happens to her.

So how am I going to do this?

I’m going to take Barb out for a few drinks, maybe even get her a bit tipsy, peel back her defences and peer behind her eyes. I going to find out how she ticks and identify her vulnerabilities.

What you need to know about your characters. 

In order to get close to your characters, it’s a great idea to take them out and while you’re out, interview them. Don’t think of this as extra work, but as an opportunity to spend time with your characters outside of the confines of your story. Even if none of the details you uncover are relevant to your story, you need to know them to make your characters real and to convince your reader that they can trust you, that you have a handle on your story and all its players.

Your narrative mustn’t simply fill the reader in on the action. It has to shine a light on your characters, not only through what information they volunteer up, but also the information they offer through their preoccupations and perspectives.

Here are twelve questions you may want to ask your characters during the interview process.

  • Are you a cat person, dog person, parakeet person?
  • What is your earliest childhood memory?
  • What’s your idea of a dream vacation?
  • If you could have any other job, what would it be?
  • Whom do you consider a hero?
  • Which do you prefer: rock, opera, or jazz – and why?
  • What do you carry in your pockets or your purse?
  • Whom would you have voted for in the last election?
  • How would you describe your current circumstances to a close friend, before and then after a few drinks?
  • What would you write about in your journal?
  • What is your worst fear?
  • What are you most proud of?


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Aw, Do I Have To? Seven Strategies to Stay Motivated

I don’t feel I was very productive today.  With the day all but gone, an unpleasant, anxious feeling is riding over me. Although I did manage to write for two hours, the beginning of a short story that’s been niggling away at my brain for the past week, and I did watch an interesting video, Antanas Sileika interviewing Jane Urquhart, I didn’t work on my novel. And now I’m feeling guilty.

Since committing myself full-time to writing, I find I’m not always getting as much done as I would like. I’ve heard other writers say that having more time to write, doesn’t always translate into writing more of the time.

So the big question is how do I stay motivated?

Here are seven tricks I’ve come up with to keep myself writing. They really do work—if I let them.

Copy Cat

As Tony Robbins suggests; identify people who are doing what you want to be doing and copy them. Why reinvent the wheel? I’m fortunate to have a number of people in my circle of writing friends who produce magnificent writing on a consistent basis. These successful writers are living proof that it is doable. So I watch, ask questions and attempt to copy them.

Fill the Well

Julia Cameron is a great believer that in order to consistently produce quality art, we have to ensure that we don’t allow our creative well to dry up. For me, I know that when things just aren’t coming, it’s time to grab my camera and spend a few hours taking pictures. When I focus my attention on a caterpillar eating through a leaf, or a single red berry hanging off a bare tree branch (each could be symbols of my writing), I’m filling my well.

Mix it Up

I’ve discovered that by mapping out each chapter as I arrived at it, I’m better able to see what is working and what is missing. I post missing scenes, character and plot points on a whiteboard (more about the wonder of whiteboards in a future blog). Now, when I arrive at my office each morning, I can pick and choose which scene I want to work on. Andrew Pyper has said he uses a similar plan of attack and suggests some days you just want to write the sex scene—so go for it. I give myself permission to write the scene I feel most moved to write (sex scene days are always fun days).

Walk it Off

Nothing beats getting away from my desk and taking a half hour walk. Before I lace up, I read the section I’m working on, drop a notepad and pencil in my pocket and invite my characters along. Each time I do this exercise, I’m amazed how putting myself and my characters in motion brings clarity and energy to my writing.

Road Trip

It gets pretty boring staring at the same four walls every day, so I pack up my laptop and go to a coffee shop, or a park for a few hours. In the nice weather, I write in my gazebo. Writing outside reminds me of when we were kids and the teacher would take the class outside and teach the lesson on the school lawn. I never feel I’m missing out when I can raise my eyes and see an overflowing flower box.

Trick or Treat

Bribery works. On mornings when I feel like stomping my feet and singing the ‘I don’t wanna do this’ song, I imagine a treat I’ll reward myself with at the other end of X hours of writing. In the past, I’ve used the promise of a trip to the bookstore, or an ice cappuccino if I keep my butt in the chair and my fingers flying across the keyboard. Of course, there’s no room for cheating. No work, no treat.

I See

Every morning before I type a word, I meditate. If prayer is speaking to God (or the universe if you prefer), then meditation is listening to God. I’m always blown away by what spontaneously pops into my head when I become still. I also practice visualization throughout my day, imaging my book on the bookstore shelf (I’ll be a few titles down from Michael Ondaatje), who I’ll invite to my book launch (be nice to me or you’re off the list), and I image readers, my readers, waiting excitedly for the release of my next book.

And then there are those days where I’m too lazy to even consider my list, so I schedule in a ‘not in the mood day’. Because let’s face it, some days you just need to clean the damn house!


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Writing Tricked Me!

Have you ever started a story only to find several hundred words in that it has nothing to do with what you thought you were going to write?

While surfing the internet, I came across an interview with Amy Tan, (I’ve attached the video to this post) where she discusses, among other things, the notion that through writing we discover things we otherwise could not express.

I’d agree with Ms. Tan that the craft of writing has a way of tricking you into thinking about things you hadn’t thought about before and that very often we are driven to write a story during periods of great change. In fact, it’s the change that forces questions to the top and that pushes the story to be told.

The catalysis, the change that inspired me to begin my novel was the death of a dear friend, who after years of battling leukemia, received a bone marrow transplant, only to have her body reject the donor marrow and eventually to lose her battle in September ‘03. I thought I wanted to write a story that would bring attention to the need for bone marrow donors and to reflect the courage I saw in my friend. Heidi was an only child with an uncommon pedigree (her parents are German and South African) and without a match in either extended family, she had to rely on a stranger donation. That’s what I thought I wanted to write.

You tricky trickster Ms. Writing!

As it turns out, what I really wanted to write was about a family with several siblings (not an only child) as they came to grips with the life-threatening illness of one of their own, and to watch how they pulled together (or not), pushing aside old hurts (or not) to support each other.

70,000 words in, I’ve discovered I’m writing a story about the relationship between parents and their children, and between siblings. I’m also exploring how easily we misunderstand the people closest to us, and how the people we’ve spent our entire lives with, the people who should know us better than anyone else, are often the people who don’t see us (the real us) at all.

Where did that come from?

As I’ve said in an earlier blog, my fictional family is not my real family, but as I write I do recognize themes present in the Sargent/Murchison/McRobb/Overend clans. Being the only family I know from the inside out, I guess it stands to reason issues (oh we have issues) that my family live with would show up on my laptop screen.

Even more surprising to me as I dig deeper into my characters, is how my attention has focused on the mother/son relationship. Although the mother/daughter relationship is present in my novel, the primary pairing driving my narrative is between Anne (the matriarch) and Burt (her eldest son).

Didn’t see that coming.

Ms. Tan suggests that we do all in fact have a story in us, a story that only we can tell, a story that reflects our unique way of looking at the world that is different from anyone else’s viewpoint.

So I’m not telling Heidi’s story? Interesting.

Now, I hope I’ve had all the surprises that trickster has up her sleeve so I can actually get this novel finished!


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5 Tips for Self-Editing

Are you staring at your prose, aware it could be better, but with no idea how to fix it? Been there, done that.

My task this past weekend was to line edit the first twenty-five pages of my novel-in-progress and I’ll admit it damn near killed me. Although I had already edited my work for plot and character development (the big picture stuff) and felt the writing was all right, I needed to elevate the chapter from all right to amazing. The time had arrived to get out the magnifying glass and zoom in on the small picture stuff.

Here are five tips for self-editing that I’ve put together (with help from the trillion workshops I’ve attended and the billion internet articles I’ve read).

Personally, I like to give my entire manuscript an individual sweep for each point.

Step To It

Whether your inclination is toward writing long pack-everything-in kind of sentences or trimmed-to-the-bone sentences, my advice to you is mix it up. Remember, too much of a good thing isn’t good for you. Like eating hot chili pepper Doritos everyday isn’t good for you, neither is a steady diet of the same sentence structures.

Your sentence lengths should also match the mood you’re attempting to create. Ask yourself, am I writing a lazy-day-at-the-park scene, or run-the-cops-are-coming scene? Lazy days dictate more drawn out prose while chase scenes need urgency. It seems obvious, right?

Was that really necessary?

Do you want your reader to trust you? Then say what you mean and mean what you say!

Is your protagonist waiting on her tardy husband for several minutes, or forty-five minutes? Knowing the dirty rotten scoundrel has left her standing in the rain for forty-five minutes, has more impact than believing it was more than a few, but less than many minutes.

Don’t feed your reader wishy-washy words like very, really, somewhat, likely, just, quite.

Unnecessary and vague words suck the life out of your prose. Stay away from spineless words that slow the reader down and piss them off. Annoyed readers aren’t going to read your story.

Enough with the Adverbs and Adjectives already!

My personal pet peeve!

Adverbs and adjectives are like nice people, but not people you want sitting at your kitchen table morning, noon and night.

As a rule, adverbs prop up weak verbs and are seldom needed. You can eliminate them by using stronger verbs.

Rick ran quickly from the room.

Rick charged from the room.

Adjectives remind me of my husband who has never trusted a recipe in his life and who feels he has to add this and this and this to the pot. Although I appreciate his creativity, his constant inclusion of Mrs. Dash is unnecessary, and dare I say, distracting.

The bright, yellow, ray of warm light filled the room.

Sunlight filled the room.

Say it Again!

It’s easy to do. You come up with a brilliant word or awe-inspiring phrase, and like a catchy jingle, before you know it’s stuck in your head, repeating over and over again on the page. This is where printing your work and reading it out loud will pop up those accidental brain blips.

Not To Be!

This is a biggy and my personal favourite vise.

Watch out for overuse of the verb “To-Be” (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been). This weekend when I did a Find search of my twenty-five page chapter, I found eighty-nine, 89, WASs in my prose. Yikes! Time to seek out and destroy!

Overuse of the verb “To-Be” creates a passive sentence structure which in turn creates confusing, awkward, wordy sentences. You want your sentences to be active, not passive. Trust me.

Active voice = the subject performs the action. The grocery cart hit the car.

Passive voice = the subject receives the action. The car was hit by the grocery cart.

Here are three strategies to help you eliminate the “To-Be” verb.

  • Replace the verb with a stronger verb.

That chocolate cake is good. (passive)

That chocolate tastes good. (active)

  • Rearrange the words in your sentence.

The phone was answered by Nicole. (passive)

Nicole answered the phone. (active)

  • Change another word in the sentence into a verb.

Mike was the creator of the music. (passive)

Mike created the music. (active)

Whatever form your writing takes, I hope these simple principles help you better navigate the scary waters of self-editing.


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It Takes a Village to Raise a Writer

Cottage Office

Last fall, I thought I should quit being a writer. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write anymore, it was that I thought I couldn’t write well enough. I worried I was like the American Idol contestant who thought they were the next Celine only to be told they were delusional and shouldn’t quit their day job.

Trouble was, I had quit my day job.

This past June 30th I began my ‘break’ from a pay cheque and on July 1st arrived at my mom’s cottage with my laptop, thesaurus (I’ll use the internet version, but nothing beats my dog-eared Gage Canadian Thesaurus), a bullet point goals, strategies and writing schedule and, dare I say it—okay I’ll say it—a suitcase of dreams. As luck would have it, the cottage was empty for one glorious week. I set myself up in the screened in gazebo, dialed in CBC Classical and I wrote, most of it pretty good, I thought. When the week was over, I returned home to my home office. As the summer weeks fell away, I continued to write and by the end of the summer, I’d edited 45,166 words—150 pages, of my original 70,000 word first draft. Not bad, I thought again. To keep myself on schedule, I’d arranged to submit twenty pages to my first reader, and either over peppermint tea at one of our houses, or via Skype we worked through the fruits of our labours. (Off for most of the summer, she worked as hard to submit her own twenty pages to me.)

In September, my bi-weekly writing circle resumed and I began another U of T creative writing course, Novel Writing Master Class. Confidently, I emailed out the first instalments of my new and improved chapters. Between both groups, fifteen fellow writers, the word came down—it sucked.

No hyperbole, I was DEVASTATED, CRUSHED, a snivelling, whimpering puddle of pathetic, worthless doggie dodo.

Never before had I worked so hard and never before had my writing received such harsh critiques. How could this be? How could I have gotten it so wrong? I’d quit my job for GD sake. You know what they say; when you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up. But like the Tin Man, my joints had rusted with all the ugly-cry tears I’d split. I needed help getting up.

Lucky for me, my village rallied around—more than one carrying a sharp stick happily used to poke me with. 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, in other words that my novel sucked, were the very people who sent me private emails, called me on the phone, offered to look at my re-writes before scheduled submission and took me out for tea.

Who were these good Samaritans? They were my tribe, my peeps and most of them, the really good ones, had all been where I now found myself, in the pit of despair. Without fully realizing what I’d managed to do, I discovered that over my early writing years I’d built a strong foundation of tribe members who genuinely cared about me and about my work. Equally important, I’d also managed to leave behind a trail of wet blankets, those naysayers who didn’t value my artist view of life.

Wow, I began to think. I really am clever. If all these wonderful writers (and close, supportive non-writing family and friends) thought I could fix my work, then I owed it to them to pull myself together.

This was fixable. It was doable. I’m woman writer, hear me roar.

Not so fast Sparky.

The hard work was yet to come. Since my breakdown, I’ve spent vast amounts of time, sitting at this chair (most of it writing, although I’m pretty wicked at spider solitaire). Some days I’ve had to have harsh conversations with myself and other days recognized I needed to pull out my gentle grandma voice (okay, I’m a young grandma, by Grammy I am). As we speak, I’m now preparing seventy-five pages to submit to my one-on-one instructor and ultimately to the Continuing Studies panel who will deem whether my work, whether I am, certificate worthy. I now feel confident that I am.

To those of you who are at the early stages of your writing careers, I strongly urge you to join a writing circle, go to conferences, take courses, network and build your own tribe. Step out of your writing space and introduce yourself to your village. Because if you are serious about becoming a writer, you will eventually have a dark-night-of-soul somewhere along your journey and you’re going to need your village.

A special thanks to my tribe, but please don’t shut off your phones. I’m up for submission soon and I might be calling!

If you live within driving distance of Durham region, have a look at what the WCDR has to offer new and not so new writers.


Filed under Writer's blog, Writer's journey, Writing