In case you haven't noticed. I'm kind of dreadful at keeping up with blog writing. I've never been a journaler or had a diary. I live through my characters - who lately it turns out, have zero in the way of plot armour at the rate they're being killed off in this first draft! Sorry to anyone overly sensitive about character deaths. It's space. Space is harsh. Anyway! Back to the topic at hand. One of the reasons I've been so dreadful about checking in and uploading handy writing tips and less handy writing thoughts is that I managed to not only get a promotion to the Youth Program Director of the Alexandra Writers' Centre Society this year and went and expanded all the programs, but I also volunteer a ton with other youth writing groups. Which puts me in a bit of a time crunch situation. So much so my writing almost completely fell off the map and I was warn so thin I thought my health was going to give out. So I'm taking a step back from some of my commitments and cheering from the sidelines instead. I'm letting other people who are young but ready take over things and mentoring others to take my place. I'm getting back to writing and HOPEFULLY this blog. No promises. I'll do my best. Stay tuned and see how it goes. Of course you can always poke me and give me a topic to write on. I love to talk writing, so if there's something you want to know how to do, be sure to let me know. I'll do my best to tell you how I do it and we can go from there.
Okay, not the most unique advice out there. But, as a teacher and mentor, I meet a lot of young writers spinning their wheels. They are either waiting for inspiration - those divine days where all you can do is write the muse hits you so hard. Or they have made it to the middle, or three chapters in, or just past the part they had super planned . . . and they're stuck. No idea where the compass lies. Or, after a busy day of school or minimum wage job, they are too tired to even attempt writing. All of these are good reasons not to write and more importantly, not to finish what they've started. However the truth is the blocks to writing are not as solid as they seem.
I've gone through all of these. I've seen the dark days when the muse is gone. When a thirteen hour or even sixteen hour work day, eight days in a row, left me so sapped there was no room in my brain for words. I've had writing rooms so dark and uninspiring I didn't want to go in there and do what needed to be done. I've seen plots and scenes where the characters wander and nothing is happening. I've laid down my pen in defeat.
But that's not how you become a writer.
Luckily for me, I realized something. That annoying phrase those "real" writers were always spouting, "Write every day." was true. That was, if I was going to follow my dream of being a "real" writer, and by real I mean professional. I had to write, every day, no matter what.
So what does it mean, write every day? In my world it doesn't mean pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, nor does it mean a set words or a set amount of hours (unless a deadline is looming. What it does mean is that I am mindful of my work every single day. If I don't have time to throw down with the muse, I'm thinking of the next scene or couple of scenes. I work out problems over dishes, expand characters on the bus, and plot in the shower. Then when I do write - I'm ready to go.
But how does that help the museless, the uninspired, the perpetually exhausted? Well, answer this, "How bad do you want it?" How bad do you want to be a "real" writer? How far are you willing to go to chase that dream, to see this story in print? Because I've been there. I've had the stuck story, the year long writer's block, the exhaustion where I thought I was going black and white like some fuzzed out TV. None of them are a good enough reason not to write. You can make it into an excuse - but it's a lie.
If you're to0 tired when you get home from work, switch your schedule. Write before you leave, then when you get home, have supper and go to bed. I've done it. Working at a daycare left me seeing double. So I started getting up at three in the morning and writing for three hours, then heading to work. Social life? Not much. Finished play ready for stage? You bet. And that was glorious, seeing that thing up there and hearing the applause when the actors took their bows.
If you are uninspired, suck it up. I'm very rarely inspired in the beginning. Mostly I'm tired, and the screen is hurting my eyes, and I don't think I'm going to be able to pull it off. The muse only comes once I get going, and sometimes not even then. Being a professional writer doesn't come by magic, it comes after a long hard slog. So get slogging. Writers don't get finished by whining.
If your story, plot, character has fizzled out - don't stop and try a new story. Finish! Even if it's all coming up crap. Finish. Trust me, it will look better after you complete your project, put it away for a month or two. Or at the very least, it will be fixable. Instead of quitting, look over your plot and ask yourself, "what does my character want, why do they want it, and what is stopping them?" Basic goal, motive, conflict (GMC) stuff. If you have that, then look at the scene you're writing. Each scene will have the same thing (though maybe different from the over arcing plot). Finding GMO will banish pretty much any stalled out scene and evaporate most writer's blocks.
And if that doesn't work, look at your narrative structure and your theme. Do some character sketches. Do some plotting. Story doesn't happen with out pre-work, and sometimes you have to go back and get it done.
But the basic message I want to get across here is this: If you want to be a writer you have to write. No excuses. No whining. No waiting for some tingly feeling that only comes very rarely. Write everyday and finish what you start.
Now get slogging and follow that dream. You can do it. I believe in you.
So today I was at the inaugural meeting for the Ramsay Robot Uprising (http://ramsayrobots.net/about/). It's a super cool project which is going to be part of Beakerhead (http://beakerhead.org/). I volunteered to write the script for this giant scavenger hunt involving robots and theatre.
When asked how long I'd need to write the script, two of the kids present, who have been with me in other projects like DramAntics, quickly piped up, "She only needs one day!"
Thanks for the vote of confidence kids, but I like to sleep too!
Anyway, I'm giving myself a week. I should be able to bang out a decent script in that time and prep for WordsWorth Creative Youth Residency, teach my two young gaffers who I am tutoring, and get started on the preliminary script structure for the DramAntics theatre camp. No problem.
I like sleep - but I don't think I'll be getting a lot of it.
I always both dread and look forward to it. The little tweaks are pretty easy and I love seeing how they tighten up my work and make me look good. That is, if not too many things change. If that happens - then I have to get my nose to the ground and track down the entire plot line to make sure things aren't repeated or lost or dropped.
The other kind of editing is the big stuff. The kind where whole parts or large themes need to change. Where the last half of the novel just isn't right or a whole character (or two) need to be eliminated. Then it's time to reach for both the antacids and the Tylenol.
The trouble with these big edits is that there isn't a map to follow. Sure the editor, if that's whose guiding these edits, may give you some idea of how to proceed. But more than likely, they won't. It will all be up to you to dismantle the novel, rip out parts, remake them, and try to fit the whole thing back together again into a smoothly working machine. Unfortunately at this point things can get irrevocably destroyed - purely because so much is going on.
I always look at writing a novel like weaving. There are a bunch of threads representing plot lines, characters, antagonists, hints, trails, red herrings, etc. And each one has to weave between all the other threads. In the end they have to look like a tapestry with no knots, holes, or threads - which start out but don't go anywhere. And it's hard. Especially when you've finished and the picture looks good until you get a really good look at it and see the flaws (or someone else points them out to you). Undoing the whole thing sets up the chance for tangles and knots. Or worse, a whole thread disappearing. And that's not even taking into account all the new threads coming in.
So I hit the paper. Plot and map. Hope things are going to become clear by the end while I spread each thread carefully out and weave them back in properly. By the end of the process, things generally look good. The panic goes away. The tears dry up. And the novel, that was such a mess just a month ago, looks like a novel again.
I always say, you can't fix what isn't there. First drafts, however abominable, have to hit the page before the real work can begin. But that doesn't mean editing is the easy part. It's not. It's just as hard as the first draft. In fact, I don't really think there are any easy parts to writing.
So what does that make me? I struggle with my writing but I still love it. I get an adrenalin rush every time I figure out an issue, solve a puzzle, or figure out how to really put one over on my reader. I get a buzz when the novel is put back together and all the parts snap into place and start to hum perfectly. When the picture is complete and it's smooth and masterful. For me, writing is like an extreme sport - luckily with only mental danger. I'm not that coordinated.
Yeah . . . Editing, ug! But I love it. I really, really do.
Well a lot has been happening lately. First, Resource Links magazine named Touch one of their “Year’s Best for 2013”. I'm on the list with some other Canadian writers I look up to. It's a big honor.
Then last week I was interviewed by Canadian Children's Book News for their regular column called "Keep an Eye on..." That issue will be out in April. Of course before that my new book, Stupid, will be on the book shelves. It comes out March 1st. The same day, coincidentally, that a brand new parkour gym, Breathe Parkour, opens. They are mentioned in my book. Yes - I can see into the future.
And if that wasn't enough, I signed up for the Scrawl-A-Thon on March 15 where I will write for six hours straight in a room full of rowdy drunken (aren't they all?) writers. I will be posting all my writing that day, hourly or so, on this blog. So check in at around 4 PM mountain time to start seeing stuff. Hopefully a whole story will be told. This Scrawl-A-Thon is a fund raiser for WordsWorth youth residency. If you want to help out by either becoming a participant of by sponsoring me, just give me a shout and I'll hook you up with the details.
Of course during all this I've been working hard on my class materials (mostly bleeding on said materials) for my Drink The Wild Air class. Which is a live action version of the Hero's Journey. It's going to be so much fun, I can't wait. And this ridiculous cold might actually bugger off by the time we go to camp. An added bonus.
Then, last night, the best news ever - I'm going to be teaching at WordsWorth for week one AND week two. I'm so excited. I love that camp.
And just when I caught my breath and thought I couldn't take any more excitement, I get this e-mail from Ontario telling me that my play (which I wrote with the 35th Calgary Girl Guides) called, The Rock 'N Roll Trolls was performed to raise money for a seniors centre. The kids had fun. The audience had fun. And they sent me pictures! I've had the best ever couple of weeks and it's only going to get better I'm sure.
I have been so busy with my writing and teaching careers for the past three or so years that reading has taken a back seat. It used to be when my daughter was younger, that summers spent "supervising" her in the back yard meant that I could get in a few chapters of a novel, or a comic. Now, with her needing space more than anything, I have had made very little time to read, preferring to "get some work done" during the pause between parenting.
This turns out to be a bad thing. Not only for the obvious reasons that I have lost a pleasant pastime but also that my own writing, in the absence of new input, has stagnated. It turns out that in order to improve my own writing I must read works of others. Indeed, for a while I was feeling quite hopeless at how my abilities seemed to be standing still when not that long before they had been growing exponentially. I didn't equate the lack of time spent reading to the lack of my own growth until I was forced by way of becoming Writer in Residence for Open Book Toronto, to read a great number of locally produced books in order to either recommend them or not. Reading pushed away the fuzz that came of burying my self exclusively in my own words and reinvigorated me.
So now I am determined to inhale books. I must, for the sake of my own career, read. It's not a bad vitamin to take. I'm quite pleased with the therapy. I've already reached chapter two in The Great Gatsby just yesterday. I hear it is wonderfully written. So far I am smitten.
So lesson learned. Read to write better. Got it.
Now, back to my book!
My new novel, Stupid, is coming along. I've been working on edits from the reader's report that, due to my unfortunate choice of title, came back at me as the "Stupid Reader's Report". Yeah, the whole novel has been one big accidental joke after another.
I have a week to get it done. I'm almost 1000 words over my maximum count. And I have a bunch of other things also due this week. Not to mention I have to write a twenty minute play in two and a half hours this week as part of the 4play YYC festival. Come on out if you're interested in seeing it. It's going to be amazing.
Suffice to say, I feel like I'm drowning. But I'm also living my dream. Being a writer - if not totally making a living at it. (That would require some big time, best selling type novels and I'm getting to those). Right now I'm really happy to write for kids who need a good novel geared to their reading level. One that doesn't talk down, or try to teach them stupid stuff. One that exists in the real world. I wish they had these kinds of books when I was a teen - instead of those "drugs are bad" after school specials that they passed off as Hi/Lo reading.
I'm not panicking yet though. Deep breathing and moving forward is keeping me going. I'm looking for places in the manuscript to tighten my writing. Taking out all those unnecessary words like that and just I seem to always over use. I'm looking for repetitive phrases where I didn't trust my reader to get it the first time. I'm taking out exposition and putting in dialogue. Tight dialogue.
Tomorrow I start my read through of the book as well as squeezing in reading time with other books like Girl Fight by Faye Harnest too. I vowed this summer to read more, and I have. A bunch of good books including one with poetry (try not to fall over dead at that statement). This will be my second time reading Girl Fight, it's that good. But I'll fill you all my reading come November when I'm writer in residence for Open Book Toronto. You'll love me there. I'll actually be blogging every day instead of this sporadic stuff I manage here. I'm looking forward to it. So I hope you'll join me.
Until then - back to my Stupid book. See, I told you it was an unfortunate title.
Summer is the time for adventures and I’m planning on having a ton of them. I started the summer by teaching at WordsWorth summer camp week one. I ran a class called Action Scenes. We used a lot of stage blood. A LOT. But it was fun. We learned how to write action scenes by toying with sentence length and pacing both on the page and using video. We watched a James Bond scene to see the visual equivalent of short sentences. It was pretty cool and something I just realized days before the class. I love teaching because it’s what helps me to write better.
After getting home I built a bush fort with my daughter. A bush fort is kind of like a tree fort, but on the ground. Anyway, it’s pretty cool and has a secret passage and built in snacks come August. Of course that wasn’t the only thing I was doing (it was mainly an excuse not to weed the garden). I’ve also been working on writing a new book called Stupid. I’ve been doing about a chapter a day, though I’ve hit a bit of a snag lately with my knowledge and my writing has come to loggerheads. So today I’m out to do some interviews in order to fix this issue.
Stupid is about a kid named Martin who has been misdiagnosed as having ADHD when he really has dyslexia. He’s a film maker and really smart – but because of his learning disability, everyone thinks he’s stupid, until he meets Stick. Stick does parkour and thinks Martin’s movie making is brilliant. This is new for Martin and he kind of likes having someone in his life who is on his side. Then bad things happen and Martin’s dad threatens to send him away. I’m about a third of the way through. The outline went through a lot of changes. I had to really focus on the hero’s journey archetype, something I’m still learning. I think really getting a handle on this may help me rewrite my February novel. Once Stupid is done – I’m planning on working on that trilogy once again.
In a week (just over) I’m going to be writing and producing a one act play with the DramAntics kids. This of course means I’ll have a new play to put up on the website for people around the world to use. It’s kind of cool to have my plays out in the world even if I don’t get paid for them. Money has never been the issue for me. I mean I forgot to pick up my check from WordsWorth and only got paid because Lisa Murphy-Lamb, the director, ran out and handed me the check in the car.
So far the play is thus – A giant has been killed, Jack is somehow involved. That’s it. The kids will come up with the rest. I’m looking forward to seeing where their imagination takes them. The interesting thing is we all get to learn how to write a mystery – something I’ve never really done on this level.
And that takes me half way through the summer. I’m doing another camp right before school starts. I wonder what kinds of adventures I’ll have in August. It’s going to be fun – I know that much and I’m looking forward to it.
So there I was Thursday night, finishing packing for the Girl Guide camp,
putting the last touches on the campfire story I was going to tell complete with all the girls’ names when a knock comes on our door. We have to evacuate. The river is rising. The flood is coming. The first thing I grab – not our important papers or even our electronics. No, the first thing is my memory stick with all my novels, plays, works in progress. And the whole time I’m packing and calming my younger daughter and organizing our escape and the pets’ escape with the help of my husband and my older daughter, I’m thinking of the various scenarios and scenes and stories these emotions and actions could fit into. But that’s a writer’s brain for you. You have to write from experience and even if the place is outer space on a ship invaded by monsters where you are madly trying to get to the escape shuttle with all the equipment you can carry – the emotion is the same. The experience is the same. I just didn’t have laser guns. I really should get me some laser guns – or probably more helpful, some kind of super sponge gun
that could sop up that river and get me back into my house.
I can't wait for summer! I have the special privilege of working with young writers while the sun is hot. This particular summer is going to be extra great. I'm working on a new class for WordsWorth Youth Writing Residency - week one (there are only three spots left, so get registered now if you want to go). I'll be doing action adventure writing. To this end I have been procuring cameras, laptops, sound effects, soundtracks, fake bombs, plastic, wood, and cardboard weapons, and small latches with keyed padlocks. It's going to be a blast. Oh, yeah, and I'm bringing a parachute. And after all that I get to write a play with another bunch of talented kids at the DramAntics theatre camp and perform it at the Calgary Fringe Festival. Then at the end of the summer I'll be hanging out at RIO summer camp where I don't even know what to expect as the whole thing is planned by the kids themselves. And in between all that is the People's Poetry Festival in Kensington and the When Words Collide writers and readers conference. So much to do this summer! Insane! I had better rest up now and do my prepping because once July starts, I'll be running.
Writer, Teacher, Mutant. What more could you want?