Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wonderland


I haven't had time to write this week and I'm beginning to feel the inner angst that makes my fingers itch and my brain long to be composing and playing with words, sounds. My schedule has been flipped with the absence of school and my only time to write is in the evenings... evenings which have been taken up with other Christmas preparations, meetings and events. When I have a few minutes I'm loathe to begin; by the time I set up and really get into the zone it will be time to come back to the world of the present and resume my tasks. But sometimes it's simply that I'm so tired I'm ready to curl up into the warm cosy covers of my bed and dream.

My dreams in times like these can be a pleasant mix of thought and fantasy. Bits of scenes and people swirling around my conscious mind and gathering into partial sentences and phrases only to dissipate into the next image. I have always fallen asleep to images playing in my head; silent pictures, snapshots, forests, doorways, roads, stormy skies, beautiful sunlit meadows, houses.

This morning, as I sit here one of my dreams drifts pleasantly back to my mind and I relish the soft warm images with contentment. My perceptions seem heightened this morning, or perhaps it's the wreath of sleep still wrapping foggily around my brain. I notice the silence in the dark snow covered street. I love how silent it is in the winter. Sitting up at my computer, the snow outside seems to eat the sound of everything but the muffled tires whose crunch I can barely hear as the the neighbour backs out onto the road. I used to be able to hear the bus long before it came into sight and now I barely hear it as it comes around the corner into view. Winters silent forest is a time of rest for everything and here I am scrambling away with revisions and editing and the creation of new things – a bit of an oxymoron perhaps. But, maybe it's simply that we are meant to rest more in the winter, relax and take a breather from the summer's busy activity. Traditionally one would spend the summer working, planting and gathering in preparation for the winter and I have to wonder with all the modern conveniences if this balance hasn't also been upset.

I look out at my birdhouses in their snowy hats and think of all the people bustling around as they buy Christmas gifts and finish their holiday preparations. My Christmas is plain this year, as always. A few gifts for family and friends. Some baking and a well stocked pantry in preparation for the open house, a new wreath on the door (my one splurge), a tree in my studio, an advent calendar on the mantle and the peaceful white blanketing the streets. Definitely a nice close to the end of a year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Finding a Natural Rhythm

Big Sky - October 2010
"Don't quit your day job." This is the advice many authors, and publishers alike, give to writers. And it is a well known fact that writing alone doesn't always pay the bills.

But, here's the dilemma. If one doesn't quit ones day job, how does one have the time or energy to get a collection of work together? If I was a visual artist it would be difficult to become known without having a collection of work, a show, or something more than a few pieces of work to display. This is also applicable to writers. And to get published one must send stuff out; to send stuff out one must have stuff to send out and at the rate I was going it would take another 3 years to get 10 stories together never mind anything else.
For Sale 

Of course, writing residencies would be perfect and afford me the time necessary to dedicate to my writing and do this – but many require you to have specific publishing credits in order to qualify and these are the very things I need to build. So, how does one keep the day job and amass work without taking a decade to do it and still write what one wants?

At the end of last summer I was forced to make some decisions about work in order to avoid a second burn out and take care of my health. I chose to cut my work load in half and work a 6 – 7 hour work day instead of 12 (at least when school's in). This has enabled me to spend more time on my writing and I have now come up with a system which works for me.

I divided my days into open hours, business paperwork, writing and market research. I'm open 5 hours a day, I spend an hour or two a week on business paperwork, 5 – 10 hours a week (ideally) on writing and 1 – 2 hours doing market research and the rest gets eaten up with errands, volunteer time and my children.

If I find a place I can send something which I already have finished, I do it that day. If I need to do some minor adjustments to a piece in order to send it out, I do it that week. In this way I have recycled, reworked, or finished many of the projects I was close to having done and polished. To date I have sent out 8 things, 3 of which are new pieces.

I have also learnt that regular writing exercises and word play are hugely beneficial in this process. If I find a magazine looking for a postcard story, I rise to the challenge. These shorts take a week or two to finish and allow me to explore different ways of conveying information; they also force me to focus on specifics such as action as opposed to narration, creating the suspense necessary to grab the readers attention and hold it, and including only the details which are pertinent to the story. This makes them pretty tight and helps my writing improve.

And in alternating between finishing projects, plugging away at longer term projects like my 2 novels, starting new short stories and sending stuff out I finally feel I've found my natural rhythm. And that is personally satisfying and relaxing in many ways.

On the dike in Dawson - facing West. July 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wild Things

What's the most wild thing you can possibly think of, I'm talking weird and bizarre. Trust me, this is a good exercise. I stumbled upon this quite by accident. Writing professors are forever saying 'put you characters up a tree and then throw rocks at them,' and I think that phrase has been used so much it's become clich├ęd. This is kind of like the same thing from a different angle.

Take something mundane like a year of the tiger stamp which is currently at Canada Post. It's beautiful in oranges and blacks with a gold foil tiger on it. Beautiful. What if it was enchanted? Or what if the tiger cam to life? How would it come to life? Would there be some kind of ritual or spell? Why would it come to life?

Now you have the makings of a story. One must have characters to make it happen. How are they going to react if it comes to life? Will it be a good thing or a bad thing? How will they defeat it? Maybe the stamp represents some oppressor and the main characters are fighting for their rights. Now you have the beginnings of a possibly political commentary.

Now comes to the fun part, building suspense and putting it all together so that it makes sense. Your plot, characters, and story have just evolved out of a stamp. Cool isn't it? Isn't this something like what nursery rhymes originated as... political commentary children learnt as fun senseless rhymes? That is if my memory serves me correctly.