Happy New Year and Welcome to 2017!

joywordAt the beginning of a new calendar year we often ask ourselves what we’d like to accomplish in the next twelve months. I do and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. But when I sat down the other day to think about how my next year will shape up, it occurred to me that there’s something I need to do first.

I need to take inventory. Retailers do it, generally once a year. They check out what they have left in stock, look at what’s sold and what hasn’t. Other businesses review their business plans on an annual or even semi-annual basis. Some do a SWOT analysis (looking at their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). I’ve done the SWOT thing with some writer friends several times and it’s a great exercise, especially in a group setting with people you respect and trust. But my next writing retreat is months away so I’m taking stock – taking inventory – on my own this time.

And my inventory list is focusing on joy. Why joy, you ask? Because between Christmas and the New Year I had coffee with an artist friend who confessed she’s feeling burned out. She’s normally the gung-ho sort, always up for a challenge, always creating new things. But she admitted she’s pushing herself to create, and the idea of doing more in 2017 left her feeling exhausted. I can relate. 2016 was a bitch of a year and I felt burned out by the end of it.

I’m pretty sure joy is one of the antidotes to exhaustion and burn out. It certainly helps fill a well that’s close to dry. So if you want to do a joy inventory along with me, grab a pen and paper or sit down with your laptop and open a new file.

We’re going to make a few lists. Don’t groan. It’ll be fun. And since it’s 2017, we’re going to limit each list to 17 items.

List 17 accomplishments you’re most proud of. Do it fast; don’t overthink it. It doesn’t have to be something you accomplished this year. And don’t limit yourself to professional accomplishments either (For example, I’m proud that after ten years we managed to grow a kiwi on our vine in 2016. It speaks to our tenacity and patience).

Note down 17 strengths or things you’re good at, both personally and professionally.

Next, jot down 17 things you love. Come on, this one’s easy. I can think of 17 things I love to eat, for heaven’s sake. Your list might include discovering a new writer. French press coffee. A hot bath on a cold night. The smell of sweet peas. The sound of church bells. The touch of a kitten’s fur.

Then write down 17 things you love to do. Think out of the box. What about travel? Star gazing? Meeting a friend for lunch? Needlepoint? Fixing an old car? Doing your taxes? (okay, maybe not taxes).

Finally, list out 17 places you’ve been that make you happy. If you have trouble with this one, add in a few places you’d love to go that you know would make you happy.

That wasn’t so hard, was it? Now you have a sense of what brings you joy and a written record of your proudest accomplishments. Next week I’ll talk about how to use the joy inventory when it comes to goal setting.

 

Vacation Time

P1000623Heads up: the blog is taking August off though I won’t be. I’ll be working flat out for the next couple of weeks in an effort to conquer my ‘to do’ list.

I’m just about finished another round of revisions on One Good Deed, I have a book proposal to finish by the beginning of September, and a couple of articles to research and write too. I also have line edits to tackle for Million Dollar Blues and I’ll be exchanging emails with Estrella Cover Art as we work to come up with a cover concept. I’m planning to send that story into the world sometime this fall.

It’s going to be a fun (and busy) three weeks. At the end of it, I’ll be rewarding my efforts by escaping up island for a few days at the beach.

Enjoy the rest of your summer. See you in September!

A Promising Start

readingbythefire (2)2016 started in the best possible way – with time to read. The trick is giving everybody else books for Christmas and then making sure I set aside a block of time after the company leaves but before I have to go back to work.

This year the stars aligned and I had some uninterrupted reading time during the holidays. Having a fridge full of leftovers helped, as did having a relatively clean house. Aside from a few visits with friends (at their house!) and making sure Team Sheltie got out for their daily walks, I was able to relax in front of the fire with a few new books. I’ll be tracking the books I read again this year and tallying up the numbers every month or so. I read 79 books in 2015 which is up from 65 books in 2014 but nowhere close to my goal of reading two books a week.

However, I got off to a good start this year and that’s encouraging! Here’s what I’m reading this month:

On the Kindle: Find the Good by Heather Lende

At the gym: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Beside the bed: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Books read to date in 2016: 4

A Final Look at Filling the Well

Here’s a last look at what some writers do when they’re not at their desks, and how that time doing something completely different impacts, informs or deepens their writing.

Lena Coakley: I love swimming, and I find it really helps get me unstuck when I have writers’ block. I’m convinced that the repetitive motion is a form of meditation. For me there is nothing like it to unravel a plot knot or come up with a fresh, new idea. Lena Coakley is the author of Worlds of Ink and Shadow, coming January 2016 from Harper Collins Canada/Amulet Books www.lenacoakley.com

Lindsey Carmichael: I love photography. I have no art skills whatsoever, but I can still create beautiful images using a camera. This visual storytelling is just for me, so it doesn’t have the pressure that comes with writing. But as a nonfiction author, I find that photography has helped me think about how the words I write work together with the pictures that illustrate my books, creating something bigger than either could be alone. I find that while I’m writing, I’m actively thinking about what kinds of images – photographs, charts, diagrams, etc. – could be used to add depth and richness to the story I’m trying to tell. Lindsey Carmichael is the author of Fuzzy Forensics: DNA Fingerprinting Gets Wild (Alopex Editions) www.lecarmichael.ca

 Loris LesynskiWhat often inspires my writing is talking to strangers. I have always done so, but lately I’ve stepped it up considerably, and I strike up conversations (as soon as I gather the other person is receptive) all day long everywhere I go, gently but quite deliberately. It is so much fun, and I’m told delightful, unique and often touching anecdotes from other people’s lives. I do assess the stranger before I say anything, and so far I haven’t annoyed anyone nor come across unstoppable bores. This all makes my day, from stores to library to street corners, much more interesting than it’s ever been, and informs my writing in many ways. Loris Lesynski is the author of Crazy About Hockey (Annick Press) www.lorislesynski.com

Lea TassieI play bridge. Bridge has nothing to do with writing, but it certainly concerns the mind and the mind is key to writing. Bridge is a complex game that requires intense concentration, and that’s the secret. When I play bridge, I don’t think about anything but the game. Nothing else. Not about writing, or food, or sex or the weather. Which means that after, say four hours, my mind is rested. Sure, it’s tired of counting cards and watching my opponents’ faces and bodies for revealing clues about their bidding or strategy, but it’s had a complete rest from writing and the million questions I try to answer every day with my prose. And, having rested, my mind then begins, with renewed energy, to solve old problems or create new plots and characters. Lea Tassie is the author of  Shockwave (Felinity Press) www.leatassiewriter.com

Ann Marie MeyersOf all the arts, singing is the one that engages my five senses fully and resonates within me. Sometimes, I get lost in the music and find myself in a place where everything is possible, where no barriers exist, and where dreams are waiting to materialize. That’s the place I love to be in to receive ideas and to work out snags and plot in my manuscripts. Ann Marie Meyers is the author of Up in the Air (Jolly Fish Press) www.annmarie-meyers.com

And finally, it’s my turn. Like Frieda Wishinsky and Alice Valdal, I find gardening fulfilling on both a personal level and professional level. On August 5th, Frieda talked about some of the parallels between the two activities: starting out hopeful, waiting and editing, never knowing exactly what you’ll end up with. Recognizing and accepting the things we cannot control (weather, slugs, reviews, sales) but persisting anyway. Last week, Alice talked about how gardening reminds her of her true self and restores her spiritual balance. I can relate. Gardening connects me to something far bigger than me and reminds me of what’s truly important in life. At the same time, it’s also grounding and physically fulfilling. Many times an important character insight or the answer to a plot knot comes when I’m digging in the dirt. Gardening also serves to remind me that seedlings need the right conditions to germinate and grow, in the same way fledgling story ideas need space and care;  that weeding (like story revisions) is necessary; that trends come and go but a beautiful garden, like a good story, is always appreciated. Gardening acts as a reminder that showing up regularly is crucial. And it always brings home the fact that most of the fun is in the act of doing regardless of the final outcome.

 

 

More Filling the Well

Taking a break from any kind of work – even writing – is an important part of renewal. This week another five authors share what they like to do in their down time and how it impacts or informs their writing.

Sylvia McNicollLately I have been attending Improv classes with my 14 year-old grandson, Hunter. My acting may not be improving, but I’m collecting some very interesting characters for future reference.Sylvia McNicoll is the author of Best Friends Through Eternity (Tundra) www.sylviamcnicoll.com

Alice ValdalIn answer to your question, I would say gardening. I’m a farm girl at heart and working in the soil, planting and harvesting is about more than growing beans and potatoes for the table. The work takes me home, reminds me of my true self, restores my spiritual balance. I never set out to write about home, but throughout all my writing, that theme repeats . . . coming home, finding home, building home, longing for home . . . it sounds a foundational note in all my stories. So, I garden, and write stories in my head and smile as I remember endless summer days as a child when my only companion was my imagination and we had a great time together.Alice Valdal is the author of The Man for Her (Kensington & Amazon) www.alicevaldal.com

Janet WhyteAs Langara Library’s media technician, I buy all of the College’s DVDs and sometimes catalogue them, too. Through films, I travel around the world and meet people I’d likely never otherwise know. This week, I met a young woman from Guyana who, despite a disabling health condition, works as a bicycle mechanic. I listened to a minister from Toronto who’s been fighting for gay rights his whole life. And I encountered a homicidal stockbroker I’d rather not spend too much time around! The people I learn about through documentary, educational, and feature films diversify my thinking. Sometimes they reappear in my stories, and sometimes they don’t. But they all become part of my world. Janet M. Whyte is the author of Shot in the Dark (Lorimer)      www.lorimer.ca/childrens/Books/2849/Shot-in-the-Dark.html

Lisa McManus LangeThis year I have taken up the sport of archery – something completely different for me. I’m a creative person, not sporty, and little did I know the historic sport would boost my writing. In trying something completely new – something totally different and outside my comfort zone – I have found a confidence and willingness to experiment in my writing I didn’t have before. Although I am a strong believer in the concept of creativity begets creativity, I have come to believe that doing something completely different, and perhaps NOT creative once in a while, enhances my writing output and idea flow.Lisa McManus Lange is multi-published and her next release will be in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible. www.lisamcmanuslange.blogspot.com

 Lee Edward FodiI’ve always enjoyed traveling and exploring new places. I travel to many places for research and, as an author and specialized creative writing teacher, to some exotic places to deliver programs. Experiencing new cultures and settings definitely inspires my own work and provides me with a lot of fuel for the fantasy worlds I construct. Through the years, I’ve become better at becoming a “recorder”. With my camera and my sketchbook, I record everything that is of interest to me—regardless of whether I know exactly what that inspiration will be used for. The other thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that it has become harder to turn off my “inspiration radar.” Last year, I went to Hawaii for an outright vacation with no intention of doing any research or writing. Having said that, I did make sure to pack my notebook since it’s my rule to never get on a plane without it. And it’s a good thing! Once I reached Hawaii, I was so entranced by the variety and scope of the flora and fauna that I was furiously scribbling long passages in my notebook and making detailed sketches for new characters, creatures, and settings. So much for vacation.Lee Edward Fodi is the author of Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen(Simply Read Books) www.kendrakandlestar.com

Helaine BeckerEverything I know about writing I learned from running. I’m a terrible runner, mind you. Slow, and prone to griping. But I run anyway.Every run stinks. I can think of a million other things I’d rather be doing – like, hmmm, lying in bed with a book. But I run anyway.Running hurts. It hurts my tender feet. My wonky hip. My lazy lungs. But I run anyway.And even though I hate it hate it hate it most of the time, I run.Writing is the same as running. It hurts and I hate it and its always a slog uphill. But I keep at it. Because running has taught me success is more about heart than talent. It’s taught me to keep plugging away, and that if I stick with it, I will get where I need to be in the end. And it will feel so, so grand when I do.Everything I know about writing I learned from running. Helaine Becker is the author of Dirk Daring: Secret Agent (Orca Book Publishers) www.helainebecker.com

 

Filling the Well

The dog days of August are here which means many of us are kicking back and relaxing. The importance of having regular down time has been well documented. It improves our physical and mental health, it encourages productivity when we return to work, and it fires our creativity. With that in mind, I thought I’d ask other writers how they fill the well. Stop by on Wednesday for the next three weeks as writers share what hobby or activity inspires, informs or deepens their writing.

JoanstiltsCanada Day 2015 - HawainJoan Marie GalatAs an author and freelance writer/editor, I spend way too much time on the computer. After a number of hours each day, I feel I simply can’t stare at the screen any longer. That’s when I strap on my stilts and go for a walk around the neighbourhood. The act of staying balanced clears my head more completely than any other activity. I return to the screen refreshed and often find a creative writing problem solved just by having taken my concentration off the topic. Joan Marie Galat is the author of Branching Out, How Trees are Part of Our World  (Owlkids)  http://www.joangalat.com/

Frieda Wishinsky: I love gardening. It’s a lot like writing. You start out hopeful, there’s a lot of waiting and editing and you never know what the results will be. Weather, insects and critters may damage your hard efforts. You need to respect “white space” and not overload the garden with “stuff”. But when it’s working, it’s magical, although ever changing. But even when things don’t work out as you’d planned (and dreamed), there’s always the hope of tomorrow, or next week– or next year. Frieda Wishinsky is the author of Avis Dolphin (Groundwood Books) http://www.friedawishinsky.com

Gisela ShermanFor some years now, I’ve really enjoyed acting. Like writing, it makes me dig into character, backstory, motivation and even dialogue. It’s also a nice change to get out from my writing desk and meet other interesting people. I come back replenished. Gisela Sherman is the author of The Farmerettes (Second Story Press) www.giselasherman.com

Ellen SchwartzMy other passion is dance. It’s non-verbal, so it gives me an escape from the words and sentences churning through my brain. And yet it’s expressive in exactly the same way writing is. Dance feeds my creativity. Ellen Schwartz is the author of Avalanche Dance (Tundra Books) www.ellenschwartz.net

Kristin Butcher: A hobby which is as addictive for me as writing is genealogy. I can spend entire days searching for family members—poring over parish records, scouring old newspapers, digging through photos, or tramping through cemeteries. In a way, trying to piece together the lives of people who died hundreds of years ago is like solving a mystery, and each time I stumble across another piece of the puzzle, I get super-excited. Since my favourite books to read for pleasure are mysteries and historical fiction, genealogy fuels my writing fire too. I am forever expanding my historical knowledge and the techniques I’ve learned in genealogy help me to create fictional mysteries. In fact, my most recent book (In Search of Sam) is about an 18-year-old girl who travels British Columbia trying to uncover her father’s past with nothing to guide her but a photograph, an old letter, a half-heart necklace, and a name. Kristin Butcher is the author of In Search of Sam (Dundurn) www.kristinbutcher.com 

 

Summer Immersion

I hope you’re enjoying the summer. We took a quick trip across the water to Vancouver recently.  We saw family, ate at a few great restaurants (Ten Ten Tapas and Espana – both highly recommended) and we rode our bikes all the way around Stanley Park. The weather cooperated and we had a fabulous time. I took no pictures while we were cycling but I remembered to pull out the cell phone during a trip to Granville Island.

From the aquabus on the way there:

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Checking out the bakery. Can’t decide on a flavor?

 

 

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Towering cherry trees.

 

 

 

 

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The only way to eat chocolate. With lavender.

 

 

 

 

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Don’t hate on the geese. They’re parents too.

 

 

 

 

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Making concrete look pretty.

 

 

 
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Peony love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so to bed.june 2015 140

 

The Lost Land of Re-entry

DSC00073Coming home was wonderful. I had an amazing gift waiting. Mr. Petrol Head had dug and turned and weeded and prepped all the garden beds. It took him two weekends and most of a week of evenings to get them ready for me to seed and plant. I hadn’t expected it and I was incredibly grateful as I’d pretty much resigned myself to a smaller garden and a much later start this year. But before I could get outside, I had a few last minute copy edits to finish for Stepping Out, royalty statements to sort through, a number of business issues to deal with and critique pages to read for a writer’s retreat I attended the weekend after I got back.

Re-entry and getting back to the writing routine was taking longer than normal. I didn’t question it; I expected the first week back to be busy. But as I planted the garden, it occurred to me that my resistance was about more than having too much on my plate.

I had some heavily pot bound tomato plants to get into the ground. As I broke apart the root ball, set them into rich, loamy soil and watered them in, I thought about how much they’d appreciate their new digs. Once they got over the initial shock of being transplanted, they’d be quick to take advantage of the unlimited space to grow, sending out new shoots and eventually – hopefully – setting luscious tomatoes we’d gorge on all summer long. Being unconstrained would result in a significant transformation.

I realized I needed a transformation of my own. My trip away wasn’t a rest by any means, but it was enough of a break to point out that I was feeling pot bound too. Boxed in by the never-ending demands of the publishing industry . . . by demands I’d put on myself. I’ve been writing for two decades. My twentieth book will be published next year. The publishing landscape looked quite different when I started out. There was no twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. Blogs were a thing of the future. So were e books. Marketing and promotion was done, for the most part, by publishers. A book a year was considered a respectable output. These days it’s not unusual for writers to produce two, three, even four titles a year. Some of those might be shorter books but the goal is clear: get your name out and keep it there. While you’re at it, make sure you have a social media presence, engage with your readers, market and promote yourself. And make sure you’re reachable by email 24/7 too.

I love to write. It’s as necessary to me as breath. I appreciate email. It’s fun to share on social media. And the changing landscape of publishing is creating opportunities I couldn’t have dreamt up two decades ago. It’s all good.

Except when it isn’t.

Opportunity and possibility often bring growth. Slow, steady growth is a good thing. Wild, exuberant growth may be exciting to watch but it can lead to trouble. When potted plants grow too fast and their roots don’t have enough space, they become pot bound. Eventually the soil becomes so compacted that the roots can’t take up nourishment and they fail to thrive.

The market demands writers grow quickly these days: set daily word counts, produce more books, maintain a mailing list, attend conferences. Do, do, do. Go, go, go. And without enough down time or space in our days to fill the well or feed the muse or simply refuel, we risk getting pot bound ourselves. We risk burnout.

Root disturbance can be a good thing. It leads to change and growth. So now that my outside garden’s planted, it’s time for a little inner root disturbance. It’s time to regroup, rethink, reprioritize. To examine my boundaries and look at what’s important on both a personal and professional level. To incorporate a little more reading time, puttering time, beach time, alone time.

A plant needs space in which to grow. People do too. So this summer I’m giving myself the gift of space. I’ve always seen it as a bit of a luxury. But thanks to another lesson from the garden, I realize it’s a necessity.    root-bound-tomato-plant-224x300

 

The Creative Art of Doing Nothing

stock-footage-time-lapse-with-cloud-formations-moving-away-from-viewer-over-a-field-and-a-small-forrest-full-hdI don’t have much time for lying on the grass and watching the clouds these days. You probably don’t either.  Do you care? Or does some small part of you celebrate the fact that your life is busy, busy?  That it’s always go, go, go?

Benjamin Franklin said, “It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.”  Most of us have taken that attitude to heart. We’ve also adopted the belief that “Inspiration exists but it has to find you working” (Pablo Picasso) and that ‘Idle hands are the devil’s playthings.’  (That quote is so rampant and has so many variables no one is entirely sure where it first came from).

In our culture we celebrate busyness. Busyness equals business.  If you aren’t busy, you aren’t doing business.

Except:

“To do great work one must be very idle as well as very industrious.” Samuel Butler

And:

“Imagination needs moodling – long inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering.” Brenda Ueland in If You Want to be a Writer

Moodling isn’t watching TV or seeing a movie. It’s not surfing the net or reading a book.  It’s not cooking a meal for someone you love or listening to a friend in trouble, or even walking the dog if that dog is anything like my youngest (lovable but demanding) Sheltie. Those things are all worthwhile. But they’re not  moodling.

Moodling is

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. . . watching a spider eat aphids on a rose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

. .  walking the beach with no agenda and only your thoughts for company. Witty's-Lagoon-022s

Blue Night Sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

. . . sitting outside after dark and staring at the stars not because you’re locked out but because you want to lock in. To inspiration. To creativity.  And to possibilities.

 

 

We all need a little moodling time. It’s the best way to let our imaginations soar.

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Getting Out of your Comfort Zone May Help Your Writing

tryingnewthingsquotesI’ve been making an effort to try new things over the last while.  Even things I don’t feel all that confident about. I’ve started using a rowing machine (my body isn’t impressed but  I’m not giving up yet); I’m working on a short story which takes me miles out of my comfort zone; and I’m about to use Adobe Acrobat for the first time to go through a set a page proofs.  Small things, all of them, but the research is clear: doing things differently or learning something new (regardless of whether it’s something significant like a new language or something small like Adobe Acrobat) increases our brain activity and could make us more creative, more energetic, more social and just all around happier.

I’m all for that.

As I learn and stretch and try new things I’ve noticed how much it impacts my writing and helps me see things from a fresh perspective. Writing short stories requires brevity which sharpens my skills. Learning to row has given me insights into a character who plays an important role in a young adult novel I’m writing. Understanding and implementing Adobe Acrobat reminds me of what it was like learning to work with the track change feature in Word years ago.

More than anything, though, change alleviates boredom. The ennui I was beginning to feel at the gym is all gone as I challenge myself on the rowing equipment.  The stress I sometimes feel around writing (deadlines; word lengths; acceptance/rejection) doesn’t apply to the short story I’m flirting with.  I’m writing it just for me. I’m not even sure when I’ll finish it.  Given my tendency to set deadlines and meet them, having a more free flowing approach to a writing project is a new thing for me. It’s taking me totally out of my comfort zone.

And it’s a surprisingly happy place to be.