The Year of Making Connections

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

 

ARC Cover Better TogetherAn introvert by nature, it’s not always easy to reach out and connect with other people (you can’t imagine the depth of horror I feel when informed we have a party to go to… Eek! Small talk! People I don’t know!) But, when it happens and I actually get over myself and meet people or spend time with those I already know- there are few things more soul-satisfying and positive than spending time with others. I recognize some aspect of my inner nature does not make it easy to take that first step and make an overture, start a conversation… but my mind (and my heart) also know just how healthy it is to nurture relationships of all kinds, with all sorts of people.

I’ve been working on this for a while, but since we’ve just started a new year, I’ve decided to make this a theme. In the lingo of my yoga classes, I am setting an intention for the year which, hopefully, will become a new habit, a better way of being for the future. Which all sounds a bit airy-fairy, I know. So I thought I’d share a bit of some of what I’m doing/planning to do over the coming year to help make this new reality happen.

Better Together: Creating Community in an Uncertain World could not be arriving at a more propitious time. My fourth in the Orca Footprints series, this non-fiction book for kids will come out early in April (here’s a link to the book’s page at Orca Book Publishers… which reminds me, I should update my books pages here on the author blog… maybe I should add ‘connect with a personal assistant’ to my list of ways to stay on top of my To-Do lists!). The theme of the book is all about making connections, about finding ways to create a sense of community and why people in groups are such a powerful force for good and facilitating change.

Family Cabinet
Many members of our family got together this year in Vancouver, where we took in a Cirque de Soleil show and ate a LOT of popcorn. 

Writing the book was a terrific exercise for me. I began by looking at the most intimate bonds we form – parent and child, siblings, grandparents, best friends – families in all their many configurations. Of course, thinking about family made me very aware of how lucky I am to have a good one! Keeping in touch isn’t always easy with relatives spread out between Canada, Europe, Tokyo and Hawaii. It’s a good thing we all love to travel and are able to do so often enough that various branches of the extended family manage to get together fairly regularly. One day, we should host a massive family reunion somewhere in the middle and get every one together – the Germans, the Brits, the Italians, the Canadians, the Japanese, the Swedes… That would be a mighty fun event.

Kipling Better Together

Anyway, that’s chapter one, which looks at those very first key relationships. Chapter two branches out into neighbourhoods and local community groups, bonding through the workplace, at school, at the local community garden (and, under less pleasant circumstances, the ways communities form when people are thrown together in places they don’t necessarily choose – leper colonies and prisons, for example).

Religion

The third chapter pulls the lens back a bit and has a look at how people group themselves according to religion, race, ethnicity, peer groups of various kinds – and, what can go wrong when a group defines itself in terms of those who are excluded or when two groups decide they have no common ground and must use aggression to decide who is stronger/better/more deserving. Because, of course, the basic human need to form tight bonds has a dark side when we focus more on the differences between groups than on the fundamental similarities common to all people, no matter where we live or what we believe in.

Little Women

The final chapter takes another step back and focuses on global organizations and how they try to transcend borders, nationalities, religious affiliations, and cultural differences to try to work together to meet basic human needs for all. And, it turns out, in a world where it seems at times we are doomed to be unable to get along, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Acts of human kindness, generosity, consideration, gentleness, and cooperation based on a desire to help and nurture are abundant. And, they occur at all levels – from a simple gesture between siblings to UN missions costing millions of dollars and involving people around the globe.

Mind Map

When I sat down to write this post, I did a mind map, sprawling all my thoughts about community and making connections on a couple of pages in my new journal (I start a new one each January). The page is full – overflowing with thoughts and ideas. This post, which I thought was going to be a very general one reflecting all those ideas, wound up being only about one point on the page… which is a good thing, I guess, if I’m ever stuck for an idea for a post I can grab another one!

Note: If you are a children’s book reviewer, contact me and we’ll arrange to send you a digital reading copy…

That Way! (reposted from darkcreekfarm.com)

I am famous in my family for my ability to get lost. Spectacularly lost. Like, in Canmore (a cute town with half a dozen streets, town where I now live, town in which, yes, I still get lost). Before we set off on this trip there were quite a few jokes about how if anyone could get lost on the Camino it would be me.

Ha! I LOVE how incredibly well marked the route has been. Ever since we spotted our first arrow outside the albergue in Sarria we have never faltered. Occasionally there are a couple of options (a slightly more rural path versus following the road for a bit) but mostly every place where one could possibly get confused has a bright yellow arrow or a stylized shell or an official marker or all three…

Where the path crosses a road, motorists are warned to slow down.

Though we are tracking our progress closely using both google maps and the Nike+ Run app (Dani is using the latter to let her know exactly when she reaches each kilometre mark, at which point she snaps a photo – no people and within 10 steps of the km mark) there is really no need for technology when it comes to figuring out where to go.

Of course, the string of pilgrims stretching as far as the eye can see is another indicator we are heading in the right direction!

Now all I need is for the rest of the world to catch on to the idea of superb way-finding assistance… and maybe I need to figure out where in life I want to be going so the yellow arrows will start to appear whenever I need to see one!

T is for Taking Time (To write, in Paris) AtoZ Blogging Challenge

I should know better. You can’t live a whole week and not make an effort to write some stuff down. Like, details. In the moment when life is actually happening. The problem is, the mind is designed to forget. And, rightly so. I mean, there’s just way too much information coming in to possibly absorb and remember it all. If you don’t write it down while it’s going on, poof. All but the vaguest of impressions disappear.

Take time to watch
Step 1. Take the time to watch. Stare out the window. Pay attention. Spy relentlessly.

Being out of my element makes it even worse. I’m making a real effort to see at least one new thing each day I am in Paris. Most days, I wind up discovering a gazillion things.  A whole week without writing stuff down means the end of week summary sounds like a long shopping list. And we all know how interesting (not) shopping lists are to read.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Parc André Citröen

 

Case in point, I had a really busy week last week and didn’t do much journalling. By the time I found a few minutes to write down what I’d been up to it was late one evening and I was too tired to write much so I did this:

  • rode carousel
  • bought fancy cake
  • photos of graffiti
  • Montmartre
  • drug dealer phone
  • remote presentation
  • edits on Love and Belonging
  • photos of Joan d’Arc statue (dancing umbrellas)
  • French lessons (the Camino mag)
  • in search of the best baguette
  • Michael Rosen at Shakespeare and Co.
  • cool paperies – in search of notebooks
  • meet-up Shut up and Write
  • Metro stop a day project
  • outside my bedroom window – life in the plaza
  • working out under the bridge (oh my aching abs)

 

Metro Palais Royal P5027855.JPG
Detail from the Palais Royal Metro station exit… Taking this photo was part of my plan to pop out at one new metro station each day that I’m here in Paris and then record my findings. 

 

Any one of these bullet points could have been expanded into some sort of blog entry or article or at least a decent journal entry but no, instead I fell asleep. And then, the next day arrived and I was up and at ’em and busy living again and adding more stuff to the list.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Had a great time doing research for a possible article, “Best Playgrounds in Paris” but haven’t actually done any writing on the subject… yet. 

 

 

Nikki Working in Paris Mall 1
Step Two: Take the time to write. I’m the one hugging the bagel during a writing session at the local shopping mall. While our apartment was being fitted out with wi-fi, I wound up heading over there to work as they have plugs, free wi-fi and don’t mind if you bring your own baguette. In case you are curious, the mall is called Beaugrenelle and it’s about two blocks from our apartment.

My goal for the days ahead is to slow down and do what I know I should be doing: building time to write about what I’m doing into the schedule every day. Today’s objective is to visit the Museum of the Cinémathèque and then, afterward, to find a café where I can sit down and write a bit about that experience. There. I’ve said it publicly. Now I HAVE to do it.

 

Enemy of Creativity (AtoZChallenge)

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia PlathO

Oh, Sylvia – thanks for saying it. Yes, self-confidence is a key ingredient in the creativity pie.

What does it mean to be creative, anyway? I’ve always thought of it as the ability to make something from nothing – to allow an idea or a thought to bubble up from that mysterious well from whence such bubbles rise and then… to do something with that thought or impulse.

alejandro-alvarez-150148 bubbles.jpg

We all have ideas. Dreams. Thoughts. So what is the difference between someone who then goes on to make something with that raw material and someone who doesn’t? I agree with Sylvia Plath that self-confidence, or lack thereof, plays a big part in the expression of creative projects.

Self-doubt is crippling. The minute you begin to question whether the idea is good enough, whether you are going to be able to find a way to express that idea, whether it is worth playing with, exploring, developing – it’s pretty much game over that that point. The willingness to explore, to set off along hopeless paths, to experiment, to play, to fail – all that is part of the messy creative process. It takes a certain boldness to be willing to be wrong and being creative is a lot about being wrong. Perhaps wrong isn’t quite the write word. But it’s rare when exactly the right expression of an idea emerges fully formed and perfect. In my case, never. As a child, when I was making something or drawing or writing a story it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t come up with something if I just kept going. I created with little regard for how it would all turn out. Like most kids tend to do, I picked up a pencil or a pair scissors and started experimenting.

alice-achterhof-85968 paint.jpg

Somewhere along the line, we learn that there are right ways and wrong ways to create – that one person’s drawing is better than another’s, that a story doesn’t mean the same thing to a reader that one thought it would. And when that door to failure opens, that’s when the doubts creep in. It’s easy to get so intimidated that we just stop trying.

I think that’s what happened to me with visual expression. As a kid I loved to draw, paint, make collages. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point I concluded I could not draw. So, I stopped. For some equally mysterious reason, I decided I could write stories. Looking back, I don’t think I had a particular talent in one direction rather than the other. But what I did have is a complete lack of self-confidence on the visual arts front and a sense of confidence on the writing front. So, I wrote a lot of stories when I was a kid and never really stopped. When I read those stories now they are not particularly good. I’ve read far better stuff rich with real raw talent in some of the student submissions I am lucky enough to get to read now when I teach writing workshops. What I did have in spades was enthusiasm and the belief that my ideas were worth writing down.

I have no idea how many words I must have written before, finally, things started to improve and the creative impulse and dogged persistence merged to produce something worthy of publication. Lots (during my recent move I found hundreds of pages of dreadful drivel, some of which goes back to my earliest childhood scratchings).

These days, I still struggle to shape my sometimes wild ideas into a form that is readable. That process has not become  easier despite the number years I’ve been at it and the number of things I’ve wound up publishing. What has become easier is the belief that if I work at it long enough, rewrite often enough, keep at the shaping and molding and massaging of the article/story/book, eventually it will come together. That confidence in the process, the willingness to be patient is as important as any initial juicy idea or creative urge.

aaron-burden-60068 crayos

Not that long ago I decided to see if this theory about having confidence and forging forward could also be applied to drawing. It’s been an interesting process, hushing the inner child who thought she couldn’t draw (since this is a series of posts about writing I won’t go into a lot of details here…). First, it is possible for someone as ancient as I am to have a change of heart about something I thought was a fact (my inability to draw). Turns out, patience and practice result in some surprisingly not dreadful outcomes. I’ve tried my hand at a few different exercises – from drawing cartoon faces to a few simple sketches to go along with my sailing course notes. No, I haven’t discovered my inner Michelangelo, but I am no longer scoffing at the idea of picking up a pencil or paintbrush and working to find ways to express creative ideas visually. It’s actually been kind of fun at least as much as it has been messy and frustrating.

What about you? How important is confidence in your creative process?

E atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge in which bloggers from all over the world write a blog post every day in April. There are a LOT of other bloggers taking part. Visit the A to Z Challenge blog to see who is posting what each day.

patreon-logo

Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

 

B is for the Beauty of Barf (AtoZChallenge)

With apologies to anyone emetophobic who may be reading
clock type cliff-johnson-20686
There are some writers who agonize over their first drafts. As I understand it, their process goes something like this:
1. Write an opening clause
2. Reconsider
3. Rework the opening clause, add a comma and consider how to continue. For half an hour. Tentatively write the second part of the first sentence and realize that there was a much better way to write the first half.
4. Rework the first half of the sentence. Fiddle about with word choice for another 20 minutes. The chosen words seem ok, but the order isn’t quite right. Rearrange.
5. The first part of the sentence is sounding pretty good but now it doesn’t flow well into the second half.
6. Rewrite the second half.
7. Read both halves together and realize perhaps the opening would be stronger with two sentences.
8. Remove comma, period and capital letter.
9. Both sentences are now too short. The opening is definitely choppy.
10. Enhance both sentences. This takes up the better part of an hour.
11. At the end of all that (and a bit of final tweaking) the opening sounds pretty damned fine. It’s lunchtime but half a paragraph is better than none.
I imagine this meticulous ‘edit-as-you-go’ strategy is why some writers take a decade to get to the end of their first draft. For those who manage to stay the course and actually get to the end of anything by writing this way, wow. Hats off to you! (And please, if you are a writer who works this way, please leave a comment and share how on earth you motivate yourself to keep going and also, how do you cope when an editor makes a suggestion? Or, does this method work so well for you that no further rewriting is necessary?)

Farting Around As I Go is Not For Me

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out I don’t work this way.  I am firmly camped in the school of barf. Now there’s a sentence that might not get past a writer who insists on perfection at every step of the way. Mixed metaphors, images that make little sense, a spare adverb. A certain ‘huh? I think I get what she’s trying to say’ response quite likely to be elicited in the reader. Nevertheless, for the sake of this example, I will press on with this messy first draft and try to describe what my puking on the page process looks like.
1. Even though I’m not exactly sure what I want to say I start writing anyway. No outline. No list of key points. Today, there’s not much more than a vague idea that I want to a) use a keyword that starts with B and, b) write about something to do with writing.
B AtoZ
2. I write the letter b. Book comes to mind. Yep. That’s how bland things looked when I started out. Boring.
3. Stare out the window.
4. Make tea.
5. Stare at the word book on the screen.
6. Delete all but the b.
7. Realize this is so bad it’s making me want to puke. I don’t have forever to write this. Too bad puke doesn’t start with B. But Barf does! Beautiful!
8. I have a title! And from there, I just begin to spew – everything I can think of to do with heaving stuff onto the page with little regard for how it will all hang together.
9. One thought leads to another. I can’t write fast enough to keep up.
10. Stray words slip into the margin to remind me to come back and explore related thoughts later
11. I write without stopping for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes and the basic content of the post is there.
12. I take a moment to reread. Divide the post into two sections. Expand the bit where I imagine how a more meticulous first drafter might handle this challenge.
13. I take out the terrible vomit joke.
14. And that’s it. A sloppy, kinda stinky not quite right draft.
It’s only then that I sit back and reconsider. Sitting back and reconsidering is immediately part of the revise, rewrite, edit, chew over, regurgitate (to stay with my theme) part of the writing process. At this point, the barfing slows down unless I need to add a fresh chunk to the mix.
What’s the advantage to this method? I always have something to work with. I don’t tend to get stuck. I don’t limit my ideas. I allow my writing to be terrible. I don’t worry that the phrasing isn’t quite right or even if I’ve made my point. That all takes place after I have finished with my initial projectile blathering.
broken pencil thought-catalog-217861.jpg
I know that there will be lots and lots of time between spewing out that first draft and the day anyone (even my editor) will get to have a look. I’ll talk about the revision, rewriting process elsewhere (perhaps for the letter R), but what I do know about puking my ideas all over the page is that at least then I have a starting place.
It may be messy and inadequate and confused and incomplete, but it’s somewhere to begin. It’s like having a glorious damp lump of clay sitting on the table in front of me, all bulgy and misshapen. Somewhere inside that lump may be an elegant sculpture waiting for my tools to reveal its hidden form. That’s how the messy first draft feels. Like a voluminous blob of potential
What about you? Are you a spewer like me? Or someone who likes to coax each word, each phrase, each image into being in its most perfect form as you move from sentence to paragraph to chapter to book? Hey – waddya know? Book found its way into this blog post all on its own!
old book ben-white-131958.jpg

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge in which bloggers from all over the world write a blog post every day in April. There are a LOT of other bloggers taking part. Visit the A to Z Challenge blog to see who is posting what each day.

patreon-logo

Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

Welcome to Patreon – Video

I recently decided to set up a Patreon account as a way to help smooth out the fiscal bumps and hollows of a life spent writing. Patreon guides you through the steps of setting up an account and as part of that process they encourage creators to make a short intro video… I am, for a change, playing by the rules… And so, I present to you, my intro video for Patreon:

patreon-logo

Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.

**Also published over on my other blog: Dark Creek Farm: The Further Adventures of a Former Farmer

15 Painful Phases of Writing a Book

Want to know what’s going on in my head during the course of a book’s lifetime?

Scroll down for Fifteen Painful Phases of Writing a Book.

Imagine my delight when Orca Book Publishers let me know that Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet has been long-listed for the 2017 national Green Earth Book Award, awarded annually to children’s and young adult literature that best convey the message of environmental stewardship. (For more details, visit the official website.)

deep roots cover

The book has had some terrific reviews (including this one at CM Magazine) and was chosen by the New York Public Library system as one of the Best 100 Books for Children and Young Adults in 2016. It’s been nominated for a Silver Birch Non-fiction Award (I’ll be heading for Toronto to take part in the celebrations in May and speaking to students at several school and library presentations), which is pretty exciting.

Of course, I am delighted to see a book is finding such a warm response out there in the world. But on the other hand, I’m scratching my head a bit, too. I mean, I’ve written a lot of books now (30 or so, and counting) and I have never  been able to predict which ones will take off and which ones won’t. You’d think that after spending decades writing I would get a feel for when something is decent and not so much. What actually happens is pretty much the same process for every book. Here’s what’s going on in my head at each stage…

Fifteen Painful Phases of Writing a Book

Phase One: Getting Started

I LOVE this project! This is the best idea I have ever had! I can’t wait to get writing! I can’t type fast enough! My ideas are FLOWING! GUSHING! My life is a string of gleeful exclamation marks! My fingers are dancing over the keyboard! Yipppeeee!! (And, yes, I use words like Yipppeeee! in everyday conversation when I’m in Phase One and never again throughout the entire book creation process).

averie-woodard-123973-life-is-good
It’s all good… in the beginning…

Phase Two: Getting Serious

Hm. This is harder than I thought it would be. I’m not quite sure I’m heading in the right direction. Maybe I should go back and start again. No, that would be a bad idea. Keep going. You can write your way out of this.

Phase Three: Mild Panic

What was I thinking? This is awful! Nobody will ever want to read this. I should stop and start a new project. Where is the paper shredder? So boring. It is agony to sit at my desk. My fingers are leaden and uncooperative. Oh, look – Facebook! Was that a dirty dish I heard calling my name? Yes, I think I need a long walk to clear my mind. Oh, man – I’m so tired after that walk. A nap would be the best thing. I will wake up refreshed and ready to get back to work. I feel like death warmed over. Tomorrow will be a better day.

sashank-saye-151587
The dog days of book-writing… Let me sleep. Let the misery end…

Phase Four: Repetitive Face Palm Syndrome Sets In

I have lost it. I can’t imagine I will ever get to the end of this excruciatingly awful project. What made me think this was remotely a good idea? This is so bad. What a mess. I should retire. My favourite coffee shop has a Help Wanted sign in the window. I was a great waitress back in the day. I don’t even go near my desk. What’s the point?

Phase Five: Resignation

Ok, it’s terrible, but I am so close to the end I might as well just finish it so I can start on a new, better project.

aaron-mello-142044-sad
In those dark, dark moments of believing what I have produced is utter garbage, I bribe myself with the promise of a new project that, surely, will be better than the dreck in which I find myself mired… 

 

Phase Six: Submission

Well, it’s done now. Be strong. Click ‘send.’ Aggghhh! Off it goes to the editor. Steel yourself for the worst. Start another project.

Phase Seven: Really?

The editor doesn’t hate it. In fact, there are some redeeming qualities. Yes, some editing to be done, but actually, now that I’m sitting down to work on it again, the edits are doable. and there are parts that aren’t hideous.

Phase Eight, Nine, Ten… : More Editing

Ok, this is getting old. I am now more sick of this project than seems humanly possible. If I have to write another draft I. Will. Die.

hoach-le-dinh-96823
May as well take a long walk off a short pier at this point… 

Phase Eleven: Survived!

Hm. I am not dead. The book is in production.

Phase Twelve: A long time later…

Hey! A box of books arrived in the mail! Did I write that? It was all so long ago… Well, I’ll be… some of this isn’t too bad! Oh dear – I’d change that bit if I could. Too late now… Let’s hope someone else out there reads it and doesn’t hate it.

Phase Thirteen: Reviews, or Silence

With any luck, someone will care enough to read and review the book. I try not to read reviews too carefully – sort of skim through them to see if there’s anything really bad and otherwise file them away and try to ignore them. Ditto with lists of nominations – I have done my best and making it onto long-lists or short-lists is completely beyond my control. This is when I put on my best, ‘whatever will be, will be’ face.

Phase Fourteen: Shockingly short timeframe later…

The book goes out of print. Did it ever exist? Does anyone care? Does anyone else miss the book the way I do now that it’s gone?

Phase Fifteen: Return to Phase One

Because, you know… I’ve got this GREAT IDEA!!

(Images courtesy of the talented photographers at unsplash.com)

patreon-logo

Enjoy the blog? Consider becoming a patron to support the creation of these blog posts, photo essays, and short videos. In return, you’ll have my undying appreciation, but you’ll also get access to Patron-only content, advance peeks at works in progress, and more – all for as little as a buck a month! It’s easy – head on over to Patreon to have a look at how it all works.