Slow Living . . . Slow Writing

The universe has such a sense of humor.

A few weeks ago I started reading The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo. Literally within a day of cracking chapter one, I accepted three rush writing jobs. I used to take on quick turnaround projects fairly often, but it’s been a while since I’ve done it. In this case, two of the jobs were for editors I knew and respected (and I’d written for them before so I understood their needs) and both were on familiar subjects. The third job was a referral from another writer on a subject I knew nothing about, and one completely out of my comfort zone. Deciding that I needed the challenge of stretching myself and learning something new, I took it on too.

Soon after, my world became a frantic, one-note song. As Louise DeSalvo waxed on eloquently and with great passion about the joy, the need and the benefits of slow writing, I wrote faster and faster. My focus became insular, my thoughts revolved around the jobs I had in front of me, the looming deadline, the fact that I couldn’t let these editors down. Write, write, write. Quick, quick, quick. One of the jobs became problematic; another simply took longer than it should have because the subject demanded considerably more word space than I’d been allotted.

As one week stretched into two and my deadline loomed closer, my attention to the outside world – family, friends, Team Sheltie, the garden, even the hour I normally devote to making dinner – faded along with my patience, my serenity, my ability to focus on anything beyond the work. My self-absorption was complete.

I saw it happening. When emails and calls to sources weren’t returned as quickly as I expected (or wanted), my inner toddler began to pout. I pacified her, dug deep and stayed in adult mode but, in truth, I expected the world to speed up right along with me.

There’s a reason for that. As DeSalvo points out in her book, we are a society in ‘hurry up’ mode. We’re conditioned to expect, appreciate and reward speed. Rather than putting a letter or a card in the mail and waiting a week or more for it to arrive, emails can be delivered electronically in a minute or two. Text messages are even faster, pinging their arrival in mere seconds. It’s a far different world than it was before air mail. Back then, overseas mail went by ship and could take weeks, months even, to reach its destination. In the sixteenth century, DeSalvo says it could take years to receive a reply to a letter you sent to Europe.

DeSalvo believes we’ve internalized the idea that the only things worth doing are those things that can be accomplished quickly. Writers, particularly those writing commercial fiction, equate their worth with the speed of their output. In the world of sales, reps are rewarded by how quickly they land the client. World leaders are judged on what they can accomplish not just in their full term, but in their first one hundred days.

Don’t get me wrong, fast isn’t always bad. A delicious stir fry can be made and served in fifteen minutes. A heartfelt apology can be delivered in five. Reading haiku takes mere seconds. So does saying ‘I love you.’

I’ll take on tight deadlines again. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, probably from years spent in radio and TV news where putting together a story for that hourly (or daily) newscast was, well, a rush. But I’m not going to ignore or think less of the writing I do that requires time and attention to come to its full potential. I’m not going to stay in hurry up mode as a matter of routine.

As my sat down to write this blog, Mr. Petrol Head gave me a ‘just because it’s Wednesday’ gift: he came home with a Bluetooth speaker, something I’d lusted after for a while. So I’m writing this to music. So far I haven’t heard a single one-note song. One-note songs apparently aren’t all that common. I’m guessing it’s because playing a one-note song – living a one-note song – means missing out on the beauty of life’s orchestra.

And who would want to miss out on that?

Short and Sweet

Since I’m still in the middle of two gnarly deadlines, this week’s blog will be short and sweet.

First up, for those of you who follow the moon, the stars, or just like to be in the know, today marks the new moon at 6 degrees Taurus. All joking aside, the new moon really is a great time to plant the seeds, literally and figuratively, you want to see grow over the next month. So take a few minutes to gather your thoughts, look ahead and make some plans. The moon will support you.

The moon and the stars were on my mind earlier this week when my latest picture book Fabulous Feathers in Her Hair received a lovely review from CM Magazine. In the story, Elly says that when she grows up she’ll live in outer space . . . dance past Jupiter and Mars . . . and send home pictures of all the stars.

There’s been a celestial theme happening this week. Here’s a link to the review if you’re interested.

Enjoy your week . . . and may all your deadlines be smooth ones.

My April Reads

Spring is bursting out all over the place. I love the warmth of the sun on my back as I clean up the pots on the deck, and it’s uplifting to see the tulips blooming in the back yard when I open the door to let Team Sheltie outside too. Like every other spring, I have a long list of garden chores to do. I’ve spent a little time outside lately but not as much as I’d like (or as much as the garden needs). Instead I’ve been slammed with some unexpected deadlines and I’ve been staying inside to meet them. Reading time has been at a premium too. But I always manage to find a few minutes . . . Here’s what I’m reading this month.

At the gym: Talking with my Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater by Gail Simmons

On the Kindle: Beware of Angel by E.C. Sheedy

Before Bed: The Art of Slow Writing by Louise De Salvo

Books read to date in 2017: 25


Writers and Walking

Today is National Walking Day which makes it a perfect time to talk about writing and walking. I’m not talking about the benefits of walking and writing at a treadmill desk, though I love mine and recommend you try one if you get the chance. Instead I’m talking about writers who walk as part of their writing life.

First, a quick reminder of body chemistry. Walking, like many other forms of exercise, improves blood flow. It makes the heart pump faster and that sends more blood and oxygen circulating throughout our body and brains. Scientists also believe that regular walking promotes new connections between brain cells and helps prevent brain tissue from withering with age. In short, walking is good for us. And long before scientists were espousing its benefits, writers seem to know it.

William Wordsworth, for instance, was a celebrated walker; his poetry is filled with walks through forests and up mountains. His friend and essayist Thomas De Quincy estimated that the poet walked nearly 180,000 miles during his lifetime, an average of six and a half miles a day starting from about age five.

Virginia Woolf depended on walks through England’s South Downs to “have space to spread my mind out in.” Henry David Thoreau walked three or four hours a day sauntering through woods and fields to collect his thoughts and help inform his prose. When Charles Dickens couldn’t sleep at night, he’d walk London’s streets until dawn. Even when insomnia wasn’t a problem, he was a walker, declaring “If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.”

Danish writer Soren Kierkgaard wrote in the morning and walked the streets of Copenhagen in the afternoon, mentally composing paragraphs and working through new ideas. After the walk, he’d head back to the desk to get his thoughts down on paper.

Ernest Hemmingway also walked as a way to work out issues in his writing. “I would walk when I’d finished work or when I was trying to think something out,” he wrote in A Moveable Feast. “It was easier to think if I was walking and doing something.”

Henry Miller believed most writing is “done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game or whatever.”

One of my favorite passages on walking is found in If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland (the book is highly recommended, by the way). She writes: “I will tell you what I have learned myself. For me, a long five-or six-mile walk helps. And one must go alone and every day. I have done this for many years. It is at these times I seem to get re-charged.”

More recently, Orson Scott Card was quoted as saying that it’s “worth the time to take an hour’s walk before writing. You may write a bit less for the time spent, but you may find that you write better.”

And if that’s not enough incentive, how about this last quote from the prolific and successful J.K. Rowling who says, “There’s nothing like a nighttime stroll to give you ideas.”

Night or day, walking isn’t only good for you it’s also good for your writing. And that’s something to celebrate on this, National Walking Day.

A Little Tri-State Love

Some books, despite your best efforts, end up a little like the proverbial wallflower at a party. Though they have a great story, a great cover, receive a solid push from the publisher, and they come out ready to shine, they end up sidelined on a shelf for some reason, never really making a solid impression.

Stepping Out was, unfortunately, that kind of book. Released by Orca Book Publishers as part of their Limelights series, Stepping Out tells the story of wannabe comedian Paige Larsson. Laughter is Paige’s currency in life because it takes the sting out of life’s tough stuff; it helps her fit in. But Paige has always used humor to mask the pain of a disability and when she’s given the opportunity to compete in a stand-up comedy competition, using that approach may not cut it anymore.

Last week, Stepping Out received a boost. It made the Tristate Review Committee’s 2017 Books of Note List. This brings it to the attention of readers in the Tristate area of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. With a little luck this means it’ll get off that shelf and into readers’ hands.

Four other Orca authors made the list too.

Becky Cita for Duke’s Den. Following her parents’ separation, Amelia finds herself in a new town with few friends until the new tenants move into her basement apartment with an assortment of rescue reptiles and other unusual animals.

Lisa J. Lawrence for Rodent. Isabelle longs to escape her life, where she is responsible for caring for her two siblings and her alcoholic mother.

Robin Stevenson for Pride: Celebrating Diversity & Community. A colorful and straightforward history of the LGBTQ movement.

Frieda Wishinsky for Camp Disaster. Charlotte arrives at summer camp to find there’s a bully in her cabin. Not only does she have the counsellor in tears, she also picks on Charlotte.

For the full list of the Tristate 2017 picks, go here:


My March Reads

Go pick up a funny book and read it. Please. Or visit a funny website or watch something outrageous on YouTube or tell a joke that makes someone laugh until they snort questionable substances out their nose.

Last Sunday the Canadian cultural scene lost a comedy giant – Bob Robertson. Bob was one half of the Double Exposure team. The other half, his wife Linda Cullen, has been my friend for a long, long time. We weren’t quite in diapers when we met, though there were times we laughed so hard we probably should have been. Linda and Bob were a team for over thirty years and together they brought a tremendous amount of joy to Canadians.

If that’s the mark of a life well-lived, then Bob maxed it out. Below this blog check out an iconic Double Exposure moment.

In his memory and because I need some comic relief right now, there’s only one book on this month’s list. I know Bob would approve.


Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins (My A – Z index)

Here’s a clip of Jack and Rexella. Smell Your End from Double Exposure


Another Lesson from the Garden

Nature is giving me another writing lesson.

She’s behind this year, or so everyone says. Daffodils, normally in bloom weeks ago, are only now starting to open. The buds on the fruit trees surrounding our house are still, with the exception of a few keeners, tightly furled. We live on old orchard land and normally by the end of February we’re cocooned in a frothy haze of sweetly scented blooms that last, if we’re lucky, for three or four weeks. Instead, here it is the middle of March and we’re still waiting. It’s been a rough winter; the wait feels long; people are complaining about Mother Nature.

In fact, Mother Nature is dancing to her own particular tune and her timing isn’t always our timing. Timing in the publishing world doesn’t always fit what we want or expect either.

Last November I launched a Laura Tobias title (Million Dollar Blues if you care to look it up) on Amazon. I knew enough to avoid a December release – holiday sales can be notoriously slow unless you catch a wave between Christmas and New Year’s when people are off work. What I hadn’t counted on was the fallout from the American election negatively impacting ebook sales. It did, across the board, and writers are only now starting to recover. It was a timing issue I didn’t expect, though apparently it’s not the first time book sales have plummeted during election months so it’s something to keep in mind for next time.

In December I submitted a YA novel to a publisher I’ve worked with before, hoping for a sale (obviously) and expecting a quickish turnaround. Not quick (I knew better than to expect that) but quickish since this particular publisher has always been good that way. However, due to a combination of circumstances beyond anyone’s control, things are backed up there too and it’s going to be a while yet before I hear one way or another. It’s not the timeline I had in mind but there’s nothing I can do about that either.

We were at a memorial for a friend last weekend. One of his favorite sayings was some days you get chickens, some days only feathers. To that I would add some days you get silence, other days you get feedback. Some days you get rejections, other days you get acceptance.

And some days you get blossoms, other days only buds.

Buds, however, hold promise. And promises can keep you going when you’re waiting for the timing to turn.


Slaughtering the Goat

If you’re a squeamish, goat- loving vegan this blog may not be for you.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a writer friend. The email, which was sent to a group of us, mentioned the phenomenal productivity of another writer who produces – wait for it – 100,000 words a month.

Yes, a month, and he has the books to prove it.

To which one of the group replied that the only way that would happen for her is if she slaughtered a goat and made a pact with the devil. So from now on I’ve decided to refer to my daily output or writing my words as ‘slaughtering the goat.’

Why is it that we’re never happy with our own pace of slaughtering the goat? Why do we beat ourselves up for being too slow (usually) or too fast (rarely; in fact I’ve never heard anyone complain about writing too fast)? When I stop and think about it, we all slaughter the goat differently and at our own pace. But the goat does get slaughtered. We get there in the end.

I beat myself up for a day or two after reading that email. Why don’t I write faster, why can’t I be more prolific? It didn’t take long for me to stop being so ridiculous. Traveling from one place to another takes time. Seeds grow when they’re ready to grow. Creating anything – needlepoint, art, a sculpted body – takes time too. I don’t expect instant results most of the time.

So why should I when it comes to slaughtering that damned goat?

I shouldn’t, except my writing friends are slaughtering their own goats and I’m peering over my fence watching how they’re doing it and I’m comparing their method to my method and worrying that I’m doing it wrong and being too messy and probably inefficient too. Mostly I worry, like a lot of writers do, that I’m not slaughtering the goat fast enough.

Because you know what they say: if you slaughter the goat slowly, it suffers. And nobody wants to make a goat suffer. That’s bad karma and God knows we don’t need more bad karma.

So what to do? The only thing you can do, I guess. Approach the goat with love. Treat it kindly. Carry out the slaughter the best way you can. And don’t compare how you do it to anybody else. In the end, it’s not about anybody else. It’s a deal between you and the goat.

Writerly Inspiration

I don’t need an excuse to check out author or writing-related sites and you probably don’t either. But if you want to add a new blog stop to your regular roster or you simply want a few minutes away from your WIP, check out any one of the following links. All of these blogs offer up great content; some are inspirational, others are educational and occasionally they’re both.

C.S. Lakin’s Live Write Thrive is a favorite of mine. Lakin covers everything from scene structure and character development to boosting productivity, growing your audience and the power of positive thinking.

Prolific mystery author Elizabeth Spann Craig  is quickly becoming a favorite too. She addresses all things relevant to the writing life: how to make a living at this crazy gig; why she’s gone indie over traditional; top time savers and tips on public speaking to name only a few. She also provides a weekly roundup of the best writing links on the web.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Inky Girl  is the place to go if you write or illustrate children’s books. She shares her original comics (reason enough to pop by, in my opinion), provides information on new releases, sometimes interviews industry experts and is always good for a smile.

A feel good stop high on motivation is Lucy Flint’s Lionhearted Writing Life.  If you’ve ever felt stuck, been derailed or struggled to find a balance between work and play this is the place to check out.

To help give your characters psychological depth, to understand what readers really want, or to find out how to deal with writing fears, check out Tamar Sloan’s PsychWriter. And be prepared to stay a while. There’s a lot of terrific content here.

A book within easy reach in my office is The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I refer to it often and I also like to stop in at their blog Writers Helping Writers where the focus is on helping writers become better storytellers. You’ll find some great resources here.

Who doesn’t love Writer Unboxed and the rotating daily column by a variety of writers? It’s delivered to my in box daily and I’ve come to recognize who posts when and I look forward to the different styles and viewpoints. It’s a fairly interactive community with lots of comments on each post and that’s fun too!

And last but definitely not least is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s  Kris Writes  I love her down-to-earth take and I appreciate the fact that she’s in the trenches trying to make sense of this crazy business. I don’t find her site all that easy to navigate so I subscribe to her blog instead. If you’re unfamiliar, visit her site and scroll back through her posts to find her take on how U.S. election years impact book sales. They should be required reading for indie authors.


My February Reads

In my last blog I mentioned slogging my way through a book I didn’t enjoy all that much. This week’s reading has been much more enjoyable, but then I always love a Kristan Higgins book. And her latest is a real winner.

On an unrelated note, the crocuses are up… an early sign of spring. Soon it’ll be time to sow some seeds and turn the garden beds. I’d better get reading while I still have time. Here’s what I’m into this week:


At the gym: On Second Thought by Kristan Higgins

Beside the fire: The Obsession by Nora Roberts

Before bed: Dying to Wake Up by Rajiv Parti

Books read to date in 2017: 12