Ten Things I’d Love to Say to My Neophyte Writer Self

If there’ s one word I would use to describe myself back then it would be LOST.

Sometime back in the last century I was floundering around, trying to figure out how to escape from my miserable existence as a cog in the government machine. I knew I wanted to write but didn’t have any idea where to start, how to get a book published, how to finish a manuscript. I knew next to nothing.

If there’ s one word I would use to describe myself back then it would be LOST. Nobody I knew in the world of government finance or statistics had any idea what I was on about when I suggested that maybe I should quit my job and try to write full time. Suggestions like that were met with raised eyebrows and a series of questions that began with, “What about your benefits?” and ended with, “Why don’t you wait until after you retire?”

Nobody took me too seriously. Except me. When I say I wanted to be a writer more than anything else in the world, I am not kidding.

Hey there, young, earnest know-nothing Nikki… let’s have a chat…

If I had the power to go back and talk to that much younger, very idealistic me here are just some of the things that I would like to say.

  1. Determination and hard work are more important than raw talent. You can get a long way without being the next Shakespeare, but you won’t get anywhere without good old-fashioned pig-headedness and a willingness to work for hours (weeks, months, years) without necessarily making a ton of fast progress. This whole writing thing? It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. Start at the top. Reach for the stars. Go after a big agent. Try for a large publisher. You have nothing to lose. But at the same time, plug away from the bottom. The brass ring approach is a long shot, but don’t sell yourself short.

3. Be fearless in your writing. If you have anything worthwhile to say at all, you will wind up offending somebody. And that’s ok. Being a good writer is not a popularity contest. If you play it too safe and try to keep everyone happy, there’s a very real risk you’ll waste a lot of time writing forgettable stuff that really didn’t need to be published in the first place.

4. Spend the money on the occasional workshop or writing conference. The contacts and inspiration are worth their weight in gold. Make the sacrifices needed to take your writing to the next level.

5. This relates to #4. Believe that you can do it and that your efforts are worthwhile. That makes it easier to invest a little in your growth and development as a writer even when your time and resources are minimal.

6. Think outside the box. There are lots of free resources — the library, for starters. Make use of them. If you don’t have a lot (any) cash, trade your time or expertise for what you need.

7. Join a writing group. If you can’t find one that is quite the right blend of serious and loving (it’s a fine balance), then start one. [It’s easier now than ever before to connect with other writers in your community. Back in the day, we had to rely on putting up hand-written notices on corkboards at the local laundromat.]

Fortunately, we no longer need to hope that someone stumbles across our hopeful requests for other writers in search of a supportive writing group.

8. Share freely. Don’t be stingy with what you learn. Not only will your connections with other writers get stronger by sharing what you know, there’s a natural reciprocity that comes of genuine relationships. You reap what you sow… and along the way, you’ll make some lifelong friends.

9. Develop a method for cultivating detachment when it comes to harsh reviews, unhappy readers, jealous peers, and anonymous trolls. Enjoy your process. Do the best work you can. Let the chips fall where they may.

10. Never lose sight of why you want to write in the first place. And, don’t think that you are going to write in order to make a lot of money. Chances are, that isn’t going to happen. Maybe not ever. You need to be ok with that and keep writing anyway!

Never stop writing! Nobody else is going to write your story for you…

What would you say to your younger self if you could go back and say hello?

This post originally appeared over on Medium where I’ve been writing quite a bit about writing. I’ve also been pretty busy over on Facebook on Nikki Tate Loves Books (and writing). Come join the conversation over there, too… Want to write some stuff yourself? Download these free writing prompts. Enjoy!

You’ve Finally Caught up to Me

…and all the rest of the storytellers.

story matters most

Here’s the link to my post on LinkedIn about the world finally coming around to the idea that content really is king…  Have a read if you were wondering what has prompted all my recent online activity! And, yes, the blog is in the cue when it comes to getting a little lovin’…

If all else fails and the other obligations keep piling on, April (and another AtoZ Blogging Challenge) is just around the corner. My nightly Pillow Talk broadcasts will be ending soon (I think. That was a 100-Day project over on Nikki Tate Loves Books on Facebook and the 100-Days comes to an end on January 31. I say ‘I think’ because I’ve really been enjoying doing those…). I will miss reading aloud to the world every night at bedtime, but if I cut back on how often I put you to sleep that will open up a sliver of time and mental energy for a little more regular blogging…

What Am I Working On? Well..

While I’m here – super quick update on the current WiP – Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die: Considering the Complexities of Assisted Dying is in the final stages of design, proofreading and production — watch for that later this year from Orca Book Publishers.

The first draft of the Footprints title on global deforestation is due by the middle of this month and then it’s back to work on the Orca Issues book for teens about civil disobedience. Yep, lots going on, but all good stuff.

New Writing Courses About to Launch

And, hey – if you are interested in getting a little writing done yourself, check out this new project of mine. My writing school is about to launch online! I am SO EXCITED about the first class, which is starting in March. It’s been a long time coming, but apparently, 2019 is the year when it’s all coming together!

Repost: Just Before the Muddy Middle

The path to completion is never easy…

Approaching the muddy middle… never a fun place to be. Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

There’s a stage in every writing project where the first draft seems unfinishable. For me, that point is usually somewhere between the 50–75% mark. By then, I’m usually frustrated by how slowly things are going, feel like I’m never going to finish the first draft, hate most of what I’ve written, feel that either I’ll never have enough to say to finish a whole book or that there will be no possible way to wade through all the resources and rough notes to and whittle them down to a reasonable number of words that will fit within the target word count. By that point, I’m usually feeling bogged down by all the reading I’ve done and physically am buried under stacks of printed out articles and teetering piles of library books. The number of tabs open in several different browsers are slowing my poor laptop down to prehistoric speeds.

It’s all rainbows and unicorns around here at the moment. I wish I could hang onto this feeling of lightness and optimism as I approach the book-writing equivalent of the doldrums. Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

But just before I get to that dreadful muddly middle where it seems there is no realistic chance I will ever finish writing the first draft, there’s a lovely stage of enthusiasm and ease that lasts up until about the first third is done. I’m nearing the end of that blissful stage in That Deforestation Book and I thought I’d take a moment to pause, reflect, and enjoy the fact that things are going well.

There are loads of resources out there and I’ve sunk my teeth into several (though finished reading none). I’m finding my research is actually fitting quite nicely into the fairly detailed outline I set up in Scrivener. I’ve been told by my editor to be careful because Scrivener and Word (which is how I’ll eventually need to export the draft before it goes off to the editor) don’t always play nicely together. For the moment, I’ve decided not to worry about that too much because I’m finding Scrivener to be quite helpful and a good fit for the chaotic way in which I write. I jump all over the place in a manuscript when I’m starting out and only later go back and get all methodical and chronological about the material. That’s when I realize just how big the gaps are that I’ve left to deal with later…

Faulkner It May Be Bad IMG_7225 2

For now, though, I am merrily inserting ‘look at this later’ comments to myself when I discover I don’t know as much as I thought I did about specific details (like the percentage of forests in BC that are clearcut each year and how that number has changed over the past 50 years). On the other side, I’m finding resources like the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) document, Global Forests Resource Assessment 2015 which is available as a free Kindle download and which provides an interesting overview of global deforestation (and replanting) numbers over the past 25 years.

Basically, I’m still feeling optimistic and happy about how things are going. I’m approaching the 30% mark in terms of word count and am easily finding material to slot into the various sections. What I also know is that this feeling of ‘I’ve got this’ is about to turn into ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ as I approach the halfway mark and the beginning of the muddy middle.

Wish me luck!

Also reading: Breakfast of Biodiversity: the Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction by John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto [and various other titles procured from the library — love my library!]

Word Count (cumulative): Just shy of 3000 words

Suggestions? How do you deal with that terrible place in the middle of a first draft where things slooooooow right down and it seems like you’ll never reach the end?

Haven’t bought the last book yet? Here’s the link to Christmas: From Solstice to Santa

Pollard vs Coppice – The Pleasures of Research

Wherein a book is nurtured… and willow twigs are bent into all manner of odd shapes… Photo by Nynne Schrøderon Unsplash
If you are following along over on Medium (yes, I know, too many blogs…) you’ll likely recognize this as another in the accountability blog post series. That Deforestation Book, as I’ve been calling it, is coming along slowly but surely. Today’s research dug into the differences between coppicing and pollarding. Both involve lopping a tree off at its knees (or ankles) and then waiting to see what happens. In the case of most evergreen species, not much, but if you try this trick with something like a willow or a maple tree it’s more like, ‘holy crap! shouldn’t that thing be dead?’ because after a relatively short time the tree stump sprouts a bunch of fresh sprouts that rapidly grow into usable sticks, poles, and, left for a few years, fence posts. 

So, What’s the Difference between Pollarding and Coppicing?

The difference between the two ancient practices (according to this BBC article, there are coppiced trees in France that have been coming and going, so to speak, for six centuries!) is that one cuts a coppiced tree right to the ground, whereas a pollarded specimen has been cut a bit higher up. In both cases, the new growth is quick, vigorous, and eminently useful.

Furniture of various kinds made from young, flexible twigs… Photo by Isaac Benhesedon Unsplash

Thin, pliable, young shoots may be used for basket or furniture-making, but if you leave your fresh growth to mature for a bit, it’s possible to produce quite a large amount of usable wood in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to the basic concept, I’ve added some new vocabulary (stool, copse, lop, poll) and found a few decent photos, so that whole section is looking reasonable.

Back in my farm and gardening days, I made good use of my coppiced/pollarded bounty to build gates, trellises, structures for supporting beans, peas, cucumbers… Here, my niece is on an Easter egg hunt, oblivious to the magic of coppiced sticks to her left…
One of the interesting challenges of writing a book in the Orca Footprints series is that the authors must all have some sort of personal connection to the subject at hand. At first glance little old me, a tree lover, might not have an obvious hand in global deforestation (other than the vast number of sheets of paper I print out in the course of writing a book… ), but I’m finding that the connections, in this case, are plentiful. Take coppicing. 

Have I Ever Coppiced a Tree? Why, Yes I Have!

The first time I coppiced a tree was after a wild blizzard on Vancouver Island. A lovely old, but fragile, plum tree split in half and basically disintegrated under the weight of a huge amount of wet, west coast snow. The sprawling wreckage that emerged when the snow melted was heartbreaking, but the debris was also affecting other trees in our orchard as one half of the plum had fallen across a young cherry tree we had planted and the other half had crashed into one of our favourite apple trees. So, we cut the plum tree down thinking that was that. Lo and behold, when spring came a virtual forest of plum tree stalks shot up from the stump. We left the spindly young ones alone for a few years and they put on quite the show of blossoms each spring. Because the original fruiting part of the tree would have been grafted onto rootstock, we never did get any more edible fruit, but the amount of regrowth was truly inspiring and I used quite a few of the new sticks to build some rustic gates and other farm and garden structures.

That was my introduction to the concept of coppicing which, as my father enlightened me at the time, was a common practice back in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. In terms of That Deforestation Book, my fond memories of lopping and chopping have been recycled quite nicely into a sidebar in the pollarding section…

Word count: Running total 2663 (though, that’s a bit inflated because it includes my growing list of references which won’t be included in the final total…Using Scrivener, I’m not quite sure how to exclude a section when doing my word count. If you are a Scrivener expert, do tell…)

Team Canada Diabetes Marathon – Munich 2019

I’m reposting the following in its entirety from my daughter, Dani’s page over on the Team Diabetes website as she says far more eloquently than I could why she is planning to take part in a marathon (!!) next October in Munich. If you are able, please consider making a donation (it can be modest or massive, once only or ongoing… they make it pretty easy to contribute at whatever level you can) to help support her run. Here’s the link to her profile: Dani’s Marathon Page

 

Exciting News!!!!! Write and Paint in Provence!

Just when I thought things couldn’t get more interesting around here, guess who will be co-hosting a super cool creativity retreat in Provence in May???? Yes sirreeeee! Have a look at the listing here...

pool provence

Amazing location (check out that pool!!) – nifty field trips (can you say wine? truffles? ancient markets?) – a chance to try your hand at watercolor painting, journal-writing, pen & ink, or drawing… Work on your novel… or finally try your hand at writing a magazine article… outline a book of family stories for your grandchildren… Wherever your creative heart leads you, that’s where you’ll go… What about a scavenger hunt with your iPhone, honing your photographer’s eye? What would you do with a week (or two, space permitting, you can score a great deal if you book two weeks back to back) in Provence where we’ll feed you delicious local meals, provide you with space, time, and as much peace and quiet or inspiring workshops as you choose?

rachael-gorjestani-282049-unsplash

 

We’ve structured this retreat so people can come and experiment, play, and create with as much or as little involvement from the facilitators as you like. We’re organizing some pretty nifty local field trips, which you can choose to participate in, or not. Everything is included – we’ve made it easy for you to change your mind on the fly, opting in or out of activities as the mood strikes you.

 

tim-arterbury-126157-unsplash
Don’t let that blank page intimidate you! Join us in France and let your creative side come out and play!

 

For more information or to book (spaces are limited and there is a discount if you register early), follow this link:

Book Now

And, watch the blog for more details…

Meanwhile, over on the other blog…

I confess I’ve been terrible about making sure to cross-post my blog entries from over on my other website.

Instead of reposting all the original posts here, I’ll give you a quick summary and some links to get you started, should you wish to head over there and catch up (see the list of links at the end of this post).

 

IMG_4861.JPG
Arriving on the coast… sunshine, ocean – happy to be back!

 

I arrived a couple of days ago to spend some time with family, visit with students at a couple of schools, and meet with my editor, Sarah, about my new WiP, When the Time is Right (about medically-assisted dying).

 

IMG_3090.JPG
I’m not sure I can say it has been a lot of fun to work on this book about dying, but it sure has been fascinating! I’ve learned a lot and feel quite differently now about the subject than I did when I started working on this book a year-and-a-half ago. 

 

 

It’s been a busy few days since I got to Vancouver Island and several things come to mind. First, I really enjoy doing school visits and that’s still true even though I’ve done a gazillion over the years. Why? No matter how often I share my stories, the students never fail to inspire me. Their enthusiasm for reading and writing, their questions and curiosity always leave me reinvigorated and eager to get back to work on the next book(s).

Cliffhanger Front Cover.png         deadpoint cover

So where am I with all my projects? Recent releases include Cliffhanger and Deadpoint, both about mountain climbing and Better Together: Creating Community in an Uncertain World (part of the Orca Footprints series). The next book to come out will be Christmas: From Solstice to Santa which was co-authored with my talented daughter, Dani Tate-Stratton.

 

Christmas Cover
This book about Christmas, its history, and how its celebrated around the world will be out later this year… 

 

Now that I’ve met with Sarah, I’ll get to work on edits to When the Time is Right: Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die for a new Orca series about series, complex subjects for teen readers. Once that’s off my plate I’ll refocus on The Last Leg: Three Generations on the Camino, the memoir I’m working on with Dani and my dad (E. Colin Williams). If you are interested in seeing a few photos from the trip we made in the fall to northern Spain, visit our Instagram feed @thelastlegbook. In 2020, my picture book with Holiday House is scheduled for publication. It’s going to be illustrated by Katie Kath (you can see more of her work on Instagram).  That book (which combines baseball and bricklaying) will officially have the longest lead time of all my books with more than 6 years elapsing between the time I first discussed the concept with my agent to final publication. Patience, as they say, is a virtue!

ARC Cover Better Together

I’m also getting ready to start work on a non-fiction book for teens about civil disobedience and, after that, will return to work on the adult memoir I’ve been plugging away at for years about my mom, the nature of personality, and dementia.

BUSY!

As promised, here’s a list of a few links to posts over on the other blog…

During the month of April I took part in the AtoZ Blogging challenge and actually managed to post every day…

A is for Abessess (I was in Paris when I wrote a few of these, so that was pretty cool… what’s not to love about Paris?)

F is for Feet

Y is for a Year or So of Travels (It has been a great year and a bit of roaming the globe… this post touches on a few highlights)

 

IMG_3135.jpg
My journals and daytimer now include little sketches – that’s a first. Even when the drawings aren’t great, the pages just look more interesting. (This little sketch is from my recent trip to the British Virgin Islands where I was able to combine sailing and climbing. Heaven!)

 

The blogging challenge was lots of fun, so I decided to keep going at the same time as I also challenge myself to learn how to draw. Despite the fact I grew up with an artist (my dad is the painter, E. Colin Williams), I never really explored visual art, preferring to stick with writing.

I am really hoping that if I manage to keep going with this project for the planned 365 days of the coming year that by the end of it I will draw better than I do now… Things couldn’t really get much worse, I don’t think…

Lines (12/365)

Dots, Lines and 3D

Wow. That’s a lot of catching up! I’ll try to be better about posting regularly here, too!

Let me know what you are working on by leaving me a quick note in the comments below. Include a link to your website (or Instagram or Facebook account) so we can come over and visit you, too.