B is for the Beauty of Barf (AtoZChallenge)

With apologies to anyone emetophobic who may be reading
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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.
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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!
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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.

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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.

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A is for Authorly Angst (#AtoZChallenge)

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

As writers, we choose our subjects in many ways. As a working author (I don’t have another job other than putting words to paper) sometimes my topic selections are very practical. I’ve written several books in the Orca Footprints series, for example (Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet, Down to Earth: How Kids Help Feed the World and Take Shelter: At Home Around the World). I love the concept of the series (non-fiction titles looking at complex environmental issues and asking the question, what are the things we need to live and thrive on our planet?) so it isn’t a stretch to want to dive into the research and then write books that are meaningful but also attractive and engaging. But truth be told, choosing to write another Footprints title is also very practical. The books have an audience and that means I will receive a royalty cheque and that means I will live to eat another day. Ok, I don’t eat days, but you get my meaning.

Though the process of writing any book is challenging for many reasons (this series of blog posts over the next month will touch on some of them), books like the Footprints titles, or novels for which I have a reasonable idea and a solid plot or a character I like, don’t keep me up at night agonizing over whether I should proceed with the project.

But there are other kinds of stories to tell, those that gnaw holes in your insides until you let them out.

But there are other kinds of stories to tell, those that gnaw holes in your insides until you let them out. Those are the stories that reveal things about you and your life, your beliefs, your fears. They are the stories that weigh heavy, that you agonize over how best to share or whether sharing is even appropriate.

Many years ago I heard an author speaking about stories like that (I sure wish I could remember who it was!) who said that keeping those most powerful of stories inside because we are afraid of revealing too much or because we are afraid that readers ‘won’t get it’ is a kind of narcissism. We imagine that our stories are so out there, so unique that nobody else will be able to relate. The opposite is true. We don’t need to have shared an exact experience with someone else to be moved, to learn, to understand, to appreciate the emotional truth that lies at the heart of the story.

Those are the stories we remember: they are the narratives that have the power to change the way we see the world.

If the story is written with integrity, with emotional honesty, we tap into the deeper emotional truths that make us human. And if we are brave enough to go there, those deeper emotional truths are what make the most profound impression on our readers. It doesn’t matter if one person has survived a bombing and another an attack by a dog and someone else a car accident – the raw underpinnings are the same – fear, coming face to face with our mortality, loss of control, and the randomness of unexpected events are experiences we all share at some point. We connect to these stories at that very basic level. We ask ourselves, what would I have done? We empathize. We imagine ourselves in similar circumstances. We weep. We laugh. We are inspired. Those are the stories we remember: they are the narratives that have the power to change the way we see the world.

For many years I have been careful about revealing too much of my own story or the stories of those closest to me. When I have tackled difficult subjects (suicide, poverty, racism) it has been done in the context of fiction. Now, though, things are changing. I’m getting older (nothing like being on the far side of fifty to make you realize there are a finite number of books left to be written) and I have stories untold inside me. As Maya Angelou says, it’s an agony not to let them out.

The big writing projects on my desk are all non-fiction and they are all causing me a whole new level of grief. I’m working hard in ways I’ve never worked hard before. I’m struggling to find the balance between digging deep and spinning a readable yarn. I’m writing about loss and failure, challenge and adversity, hope and bearing down. These are my family stories, my own struggles, and subjects that have remained tucked away and waiting for later for too long.

These manuscripts wake me up in the middle of the night. But they are also manuscripts that feel really good to finally, finally be getting my full attention.

Do you have a story inside you need to tell? What’s stopping you? Be brave. Let it out. Start today.

A 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.

 

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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.

 

 

A to Z Blogging Challenge – Write On!

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Ok, I’m a little late to the party with my theme reveal post, but despite the fact I am looking at a pretty busy April, I am going to take part once again in the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. This year, I’ll be writing about writing, which will be a real challenge as writing is my life and, like so many things we do a lot of, I confess I find talking or writing about writing a wee bit boring. Hm… I should have saved that for C is for Confession day…

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Some of the things I thought I might investigate during April are favourite quotes by and about writers, writing tips, and updates on various writing projects (I have several of the latter on my plate so surely I can come up with something you won’t sleep through…). If there’s something you might be interested in hearing about, please leave a comment. Unlike some of the very organized participants, I don’t have a master plan going in so your suggestions for topics would be well received!

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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.

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

Two Book Birthdays in the Same Week!

When it rains, it pours, as they say… As if having one book come out this week wasn’t exciting enough, the latest in the Orca Origins series arrived today! Birthdays: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream is a collaboration with my talented daughter, Dani. Dani and I also wrote Take Shelter together and, in fact, have another in […]

via Two Book Birthdays in One Week! — darkcreekfarmdotcom

Deadpoint is Alive!

deadpoint-covers-img_7569It never gets old, the arrival of a new book! Deadpoint was officially released into the wilds today (and, by wilds, I mean your local bookstore, library, or online bookseller…)! I love the quote on the bookmarks, “Fear is not an option.” I even like the punctuation – that period at the end of the statement is just so final. In fact, I think that statement deserves a whole blog post all its own because these days I’m living in a strange state of simultaneous excitement and near panic (kind of like how I feel when I’m climbing, in fact).

Even though the appearance of the book marks the end of one phase of the creative process (I really, truly can’t make any more changes at this point), having the book in hand is also the beginning of a new phase. With any luck, someone will now read it and then, maybe there will be some reviews. Even better, the reviews won’t be awful. There is nothing quite so demoralizing as reading uncharitable words about your baby. I say that even though I try not to take reviews (good, or bad) too seriously. Even though I try to keep them in perspective, it is still MUCH nicer to read a good review than a bad one. That said, write enough books and both good and bad are bound to happen eventually.

The reviews, though, are actually kind of important when it comes to selling books, particularly those like Deadpoint which have the potential to reach an educational market. Schools and libraries prefer not to buy books that are roundly panned. Fair enough. With limited budgets and shelf space, it’s impossible to just have a standing order for every new book that comes out. Teachers and librarians tend to read trade journals when looking for feedback on new titles. The rest of us tend to look at what people are saying on Amazon or Goodreads or Facebook (note: if you are a reader, it actually does make a difference to sales if you take the time to share your thoughts on a book. And, be honest – there’s actually not much benefit to saying you love a book when you don’t. If you hate this one, though, perhaps don’t send me the link… what I don’t read can’t break my heart.)

After a book comes out there’s also an expectation that an author will get out there and talk about it. If the book is for kids or teenagers, school visits and library presentations are the order of the day. I’ll try to do my share of those over the coming months. For non-kid audiences, bookstores are the most likely place for an event. For example, for Victoria-area folks, I’ll be at Russell Books on February 23 along with Miji Cambell and Trisha Cull. Here’s the poster – it would be great to see you there if you are in the neighbourhood! (We will be talking about writing memoirs – and I will touch on how real life had a huge impact on the writing of Deadpoint).

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Deadpoint also got a little early publicity when a few precious copies were given out as prizes at the Night of Lies event in Canmore in November. That was quite the memorable evening, not just because people got a sneak preview of the book, but because that’s where I did a presentation about climbing as a metaphor for relationships in general and, more specifically, climbing partnerships. That in itself wasn’t terribly noteworthy (I do lots of presentations each year), but at the end of this one, I proposed to my now-fiancé, Fabio. It was a good thing he said ‘yes’ as we had several hundred witnesses and a negative response would have been… well, way worse than a less-than-flattering book review.

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These days, there’s also an expectation that an author will do some social media promotion for a new title. I guess this could count as my obligatory ‘the book is out!!’ blog post and if you follow me on Twitter (@writergrrrl) or Instagram (writergrrrl) or Facebook you’ll know I’ve started to let the world know on those other platforms as well.

In fact, the work of promoting a book doesn’t really stop until the book goes out of print. It can be hard to support every title when one has quite a few out, but at the same time, it’s shocking how fast a book can just disappear if you don’t give it a little love and attention.

With all that in mind, may I present to you:

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(If you’d like to purchase a copy, please try to buy this first at your local, preferably independent bookstore, but if you don’t have one in your town, then here’s the link on Amazon. Thanks for supporting your local indies!)

 

 

When the Writing Just Stops

It’s so weird how this happens. I’m beavering away, have lots of ideas, am all eager to work and then… something shifts. The momentum completely stops. And I find myself drifting about feeling like I have never written anything and will never write again.

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This morning I was up early, tossing and turning because I had inadvertently forgotten my phone at the climbing gym last night (Panic! Disaster! Missing limb!). I waited until a reasonable hour and then headed into town (brrr… it was -28C out there!). The climbing gym was still closed, but the very helpful (and sympathetic to my twitchy, desperate state) woman at the main desk at the rec centre took pity on me and let me in and – yes, there it was!

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I embraced the phone and retreated to a table in the still-closed coffee shop to reactivate it  (I had been able to lock it and add an ‘I am lost’ message remotely through iCloud) and then pulled out my laptop. I figured that if I was out and about I might as well sit for a bit and work until the library opened so I could pick up a book that had come in for me.

There followed a great spurt of solid work on a screenplay I’m busy with. I was feeling pretty good at this point. Then I went to the library, grabbed the book, and headed home.

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…and then a very entertaining squirrel sent my day sideways…

And then the wheels fell off! I checked email. I stroked my phone. I answered a couple of texts. Checked Facebook. Had a look at Instagram. Read a few blog posts. Watched a YouTube video about a squirrel trying to break into a bird feeder. I browsed through the library book (which is, ironically, about getting one’s social media footprint under control), and then decided I needed a nap before I could get back to work.

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Yes, I napped (and no, not just for ten minutes). I woke up all groggy and had vague thoughts about about yoga. About my physio exercises for my elbow and shoulder. About writing. And did none of those things.

I drifted around the condo, trying to find a good place to work. The couch was too soft. The dining room table too hard. My regular work space with a decent office chair too boring. I installed the new operating system on my Mac and made some space on the hard drive. That took ages and, conveniently tied up my computer. Work? Impossible.

We were out of bread, so I needed to bake.

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Not that the smell of fresh bread wafting through the house is a bad thing…

And that’s it!! Not much to show for the day!! The evening, which might have been a reasonable emergency back-up plan is shot because we have a Christmas party/bowling extravaganza to attend… So, yes, even bowling is taking priority over getting anything else done today.

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In other ironies, one of the projects I have on my to-do list for today is to work on another module for the Beating Writer’s Block course I’m developing for the online writing school! Maybe I should go back to the units I’ve already finished and do the exercises again myself!

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Or, maybe I should just accept that some days, a couple of pages on the screenplay is all that’s going to happen. And, maybe the fact I was done before the time of day when I’m usually finishing my breakfast cup of tea and arriving in front of the laptop is actually a cause for celebration. Maybe this was actually an incredibly productive day and what I should have spent the rest of my time doing was reading or going for a walk or calling friends or doing a yoga class or anything at all other than trying to work. Ok, maybe not the walk (you did notice the temperature, right?)

Whatever this day might have, could have, should have been, it’s pretty much over now. The good news is that bowling should be both fun and potentially inspiring (just think, what would The Big Lebowski be without bowling? And, yes, as it turns out, there is some bowling in my screenplay so maybe this evening will, in fact be all about research and not a write-off at all!!)

The Dude: Walter, ya know, it’s Smokey, so his toe slipped over the line a little, big deal. It’s just a game, man. —The Big Lebowski

**Most of the photos today came from unsplash.com – that’s how unmotivated I was. Couldn’t even get myself inspired enough to take a photo of my own fresh bread!