As Tudor has already hinted, we are both planning some upcoming life changes that we’ll talk more about on Saturday.
For me, the year ahead will require a re-focussing of time and commitment; I’ll need to stop dancing from one writing project to the next and learn to commit to just one or two.
Knowing that I’ll have to put some of my writing on the back burner for the next while has me a bit anxious, but at the same time it’s helped me sort out what I really do most want to accomplish (and even how I define ‘accomplishment’).
Over the next months, I won’t be looking for fame and riches, but have decided the one daily writing practice to which I do want to adhere is writing a “One good thing” entry.
Let me explain. My son Mark brought me back a lovely Italian leather journal from a recent school trip – so lovely that of course I felt my writing couldn’t possibly live up to its aesthetic standard! So it sat there, untouched, but I felt guilty every time Mark asked me, hopefully, if I had started using it yet.
So I took some colourful, fine felt pens out of my desk drawer and sat down with the journal. I stared at the thick, creamy pages, took a breath and wrote “One good thing today is that I was charmed by the companionship of two old men I saw having coffee together in Tim Hortons.”
That started me on a daily practice of recording one good happening from the day; a quiet moment, a summertime festival, a joke from one of the kids.
Those of you who write memoir pieces know the result is sometimes prose that you’d be leery to share with any of your family members – especially your children! It’s a nice change to write a journal that I’d be happy to leave out on the coffee table, and in fact I’ve written in the front that I’d like it to be given to Mark when I eventually kick the bucket. I hope it gives him a glimpse back at the many happy memories he had a part in.
Of course, others might call this a ‘gratitude journal’, and the positive effects of keeping one are well-discussed. How easy it can be to focus on the negative – writing my ‘one good thing’ book will, I hope, help re-dress the balance.
It will also be interesting to see how expansive my interpretation of the word ‘good’ will prove to be over the year ahead. As was so well described in CBC’s Ideas in the Afternoon program today (Say No To Happiness by producer Frank Faulk), a richly-led, satisfying life isn’t one in which ‘happiness’ is the prime goal, but perhaps one in which one’s (inevitable) suffering is given meaning.
So over the months to come, I may gain the wisdom to see that the ‘one good thing’ in my day was actually the thing I would have most liked to avoid! But right now, I’m enjoying recording the perfect bloom on the delphinium, the glass of wine with Mom, and the fireworks over English Bay.
Whatever your plans for the year ahead, I hope they will include many contemplative, creative pauses of your own.
Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, Memoir, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Writer's Path | Comment (1)
This year Tudor has been an inspiration to us all and an example of the success, synchronicities and satisfaction that can come your way when you enter contests.
I try not to spend too much on contest fees every year (unless they come with a subscription to a journal that I really want), and enter a range of different challenges, from haikus to anecdotes to fiction to memoir.
If you’re like me, you end up with a collection of polished pieces (a feat in itself!), but sometimes I forget to go back and re-purpose them once the contest period is over.
Fortunately, there’s a call for submissions out now that may help you put some of those orphans to use. The folks who publish the “Uncle John’s” readers series are compiling their first ‘flush fiction’ anthology. No, the topic doesn’t have to be bathroom-related, but the word count does have to be less than 1000 words – just the size, perhaps, of some of your previous contest entries.
Submissions must be postmarked by August 31, 2011 – snail mail only. Full details are here.
Good luck – and thanks, Tudor, for keeping us inspired!Filed under Contests, Markets & Events, From Peggy, Organizing our Writing Lives | Comments Off
… or are you? Whether we practice them or not, most of us have become familiar with the benefits of the ‘slow food’ philosophy; how slowing down in our preparation and enjoyment of a meal can improve both the experience itself and our longterm health. How might the same attitude affect our writing?
I had to fill out a permission form today, and instead of grabbing the nearest pen and zipping through it as quickly as possible, ending with an illegible scrawl of a signature, I decided to put my portable Royal typewriter (circa 1927) to good use.
I bought it at a thrift store last summer, and had it re-ribboned and oiled by Polson’s Office Products, a longtime Vancouver business machine company that has seen many of its products become eclipsed by the computer age. They have given up their storefront location (victim as well to the new Canada Line station) and now give old-fashioned, door-to-door service (call 604-879-0631 for info).
Typing, or for that matter, thoughtful handwriting, require two things that any writer needs: patience, and the willingness to be imperfect. It allows me to focus my attention on the physical act of writing, a welcome balance to the cacophony of thoughts whirling through my writer-brain, each pounding on the door in a bid to be let out.
When the writing is slowed, the most authentic, important thoughts rise to the top and the others die away. And by accepting the inevitable blotches and typos that come with manual writing, I am perhaps more likely to stick with that thought; see it through until it is fully, if imperfectly, expressed, rather than continually backspacing to ‘pretty it up’ as I go along and thereby robbing it of some of its raw power or momentum.
If you google ‘slow writing,’ the majority of articles you’ll find deal with how to deal with the problem of slow writing in children or adults. But I have heard of a religious practice in which a scribe forms each letter of a sacred text individually and deliberately, conscious of every curl of his pen as he faithfully transcribes the sentences. The slow reading and contemplation of a scripture verse, or ‘lectio divina’ is a reclaimed meditative practice in many mainstream Christian churches. Why not ‘slow writing’?
We experiment with many things in our writing craft; where we write, with whom we write, when we write, what we write… but you may not have considered varying the speed at which you write.
Summer holidays are a natural time to make a conscious effort to slow down. Instead of sitting down at your desk to your usual 1000-word daily quota, try sitting in the shade with a pencil and limiting yourself to one small piece of paper. Spend the same amount of time as if you were churning out your thousand words, but slow your pace so that you come out with just one page worth. Or try writing a scene of dialogue on a manual typewriter instead of on your computer. Does changing the pace of your writing change its flavour?
Most of us require the speed and convenience a computer lends us. But learning to slow down and enjoy the actual craft of writing, even if only on the occasional summer afternoon, brings a certain magic of its own.Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration | Comments Off
While Tudor and her family swelter in the Ottawa heat, all of us Vancouverites are bemoaning our ongoing gray weather. After a horrid spring, we are experiencing a summer that’s had several false, short-lived starts before lapsing back into overcast skies or rainy days.
We all carry around an ‘ideal summer’ in our heads, based, no doubt, on a combination of childhood memories overlaid with made-in-Hollywood celluloid stereotypes, and are eternally hopeful that this year, when summertime hit, the livin’ will be easy. Beach days will melt into BBQ parties, which will morph into afternoons spent composing inspired poetry in a hammock.
Of course, life rarely delivers on such picture-perfect promises. In the west, we are complaining about the unseasonable chill, while Easterners are wilting in the heat. And I bet you that when the Vancouver sun does arrive for real, it won’t be long before we’re fanning ourselves and complaining about being too hot.
My summer fantasies always revolve around the writing I will do in the absence of the usual commitments that come with the academic year. I picture myself in my yurt, iced tea to the right of me, completed pages of longhand to the left. By the end of the summer, I think, I’ll have a series of essays, or chapters of a book, or …. You get the idea.
But that’s the fantasy. In reality, I am too connected to the people in my household – the busy working husband, the teenagers who either need driving to work or peeling from video screen – to sequester myself in my bower of creativity. I am terrible at writing when I have a houseful of people; like many writers, I feel illogically guilty when I carve out the solitude I need to put words on paper. It’s a purely self-created hang-up, compounded by the pants-kicking I give myself when I DON’T do the writing I had hoped to do. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And, as I say, it’s a mind trip I play on myself.
But even though summers are always less productive than I hope for, they can still be nourishing to the artistic soul. Even though I don’t sit down to my desk much, I find all sorts of ways to slip art into my heart … conversations with the vendors at craft markets, taking in a free concert in the park, walking through a community veggie allotment or formal botanical garden, jotting down highlights from a road trip, or buying a tee-shirt in six different colours.
Today I grabbed a son and my mother and took a 15-km walk through Vancouver, starting in Stanley Park and having a great lunch at a downtown eastside diner before looping back along the waterfront. The people-watching, the flowers, the float-planes, the bicycles built for two, the raccoons, the herons, the statues, the interesting architecture, the smell of the flowers…. all were a feast for the five senses. I may not have written any poetry today, but I sure lived it. Here’s to summer, sunny or otherwise!
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I enjoyed Tudor’s Saturday post on how people think. And I fully agree that fortune favours the prepared – that those ‘spontaneous’ flashes of inspiration generally come to people who have created fertile mental soil through ongoing commitment to their craft.
As much as I could relate to the experience of being an ‘idea-popper’, I could also relate to Tudor’s comment that our societies also need plenty of people to live a more linear mental life, so as to keep the world running smoothly.
What I find hard is having a foot in both worlds. Compared to a (stereotypical) creative artist, I’m pretty boring. But compared to a (stereotypical) suburban volunteer/housewife/freelancer, I’m pretty creative. Depending on the season, my surroundings, and my support group, I lean more or less in one direction or the other ; my artsy side and my linear side compete for dominance. If I lean too far in either direction, I get frustrated.
I am learning that, for me, letting go of ‘linear’ considerations like bill-paying and career glory is maybe the better choice when it comes to my writing life. Because if I make those my goals, my writing time is going to be market-driven and ultimately not the creative outlet I want it to be.
So, having bolstered my creative half by completing the SFU Writer’s Studio last year, this September will see me trucking off to Capilano University to reinforce my linear side – the side I’ll be counting on to do aforesaid bill-paying. I’ll be taking Cap’s Medical Assistant program, and looking forward to exercising a different part of my brain altogether.
Having been self-employed for so long, it is simultaneously thrilling and daunting to contemplate marching to someone else’s drum. But I’m thinking that this new left-brain endeavour will, in its own way, create the structure and support that will free up my right brain writer-self to play as it sees fit – for personal, not just professional, reasons.
That’s the plan, anyway. We all have our version of the struggle to find life/work balance. What’s yours?Filed under From Peggy, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Writer's Path, Uncategorized | Comments Off
Last night I was at the graduation reception for SFU’s Writing and Publishing Program, through which I recently earned a certificate in Creative Writing.
Such events help mark the transition from one stage of being to another – student to graduate – and are useful little psychological nudges that help push us forward into our future.
But most of us, in whatever field, muddle through our adult life with few landmarks to force us to re-evaluate our goals and our direction. It’s easy to keep doing what we’re doing just because we’ve been doing it; our life builds a self-preserving momentum of its own that discourages questioning.
In fact, many of us have a ‘default’ setting that makes us think that change is in some way bad. Leaving a job or a hobby or a project must indicate failure, or fickleness. But I’ve started to realize that appropriate ‘letting go’ is essential in order to keep one’s energy and focus for the things that really are important.
When people email me for writing coaching, I find myself investing a whole lot of mental energy in their needs. If I can help them, I crank out more creative juice on their projects than my own – far beyond the hourly amount for which I can bill them. If I can’t help them right away, I feel guilty, and spend time searching out other resources to offer them. So I am learning to let go of saying ‘yes’ to every job offer, because I’ve learned I want to do other things with the finite amount of time and energy I possess.
Similarly, with my local literary non-profit, the board is learning to re-think some of its plans and previous workshop offerings – we only want to invest our resources in projects for which there is a demonstrated demand, and for which there is enough volunteer support. Learning to say ‘no’ may disappoint a handful of people who were attached to our old way of doing things, but it opens the door to saying ‘yes’ to new projects that will engage a wider, more enthusiastic audience – and feed us creatively, as well.
Letting go can be tough because it often forces us to ‘give up’ on things that we have allowed to define us; things we’ve been proud of. But not everything is meant to be forever. Some things, though we may only realize it in retrospect, are meant to act as a stepping stone to another adventure altogether - if we but allow it.
Here’s a link to Stephen Elliot’s description of letting go of his first novel. Perhaps it will encourage you to think about the attachment you have to your own projects and pastimes. Is there anything there that really isn’t working for you any more? Are there writing projects, or other commitments, that are sapping far more of your energy than they should? What’s your rate of return on them? (And, of course, rate of return can be defined in many ways… from financial, to creative, to community-building.)
Summer is just the time to re-evaluate. Somehow, ‘letting go,’ seems infinitely more possible when we’re lying back with our eyes closed and letting the breeze waft over our face. What future might you choose to create for yourself? What’s holding you back?
Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives | Comments Off
Is image everything, or is it just irritating? I tend to think the latter.
When I see the number of times my (mostly female) Facebook friends update their profile photos, I do find myself wondering (sometimes a tad judgmentally, I must admit) what compels them.
I find that women around my age, in their fourth decade, generally are posting pics that show us what they are DOING – family holidays, interesting garden shots, etc. On the other hand, women still in their first flush of youth are, it seems to me, generally showcasing what they LOOK like. Again and again. And again.
Rightly or wrongly, I thought I was showing a subtle maturity by throwing up a single profile pic that serves on my various web platforms, and then ignoring the whole issue for the next two years. But it seems that I can’t get away from the image question that easily.
First, there is research showing that even we writers, who used to be able to get away with fairly deplorable fashion standards, now have to pull up our sartorial socks if we want to be published, thanks to multimedia marketing demands that reward the more photogenic amongst us (please don’t ask me for details on the report; I deep-sixed it in despair promptly upon reading).
Then there is the fact that, paradoxically, my youngest is accusing me of vanity for NOT updating my shot … in his mind, it means I’m trying to hoodwink the world into thinking I’m forever young(er).
Then there is the whole how-accurate-do-you-have-to-be-to-still-be-considered-truthful dilemma which we memoirists juggle daily. Should my new, vastly shorter hairdo be reflected in my profile pic lest people think the existing long-haired photo constitutes some kind of James Frey-esque sham?
Like I say, image is irritating. But just in case it’s everything, I’ll take the plunge and update my pic … as soon as my son shows me how.
Filed under From Peggy, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Publishing Industry | Comments Off
One thing I learned at the knee of Ivan Coyote (my mentor during my time in the SFU Writer’s Studio) was to consider telling your story in ways that go beyond paper and ink.
For her, that included live storytelling, commissioning musicians to compose songs based on tales from her grandparents’ lives, slide shows behind her on stage, etc. For others, it might mean writing a digital novel with enriched audio-visual content at the click of a mouse. (For one experiment in the digi-novel that didn’t sit well with me, see here.)
For many of us, the thought of imagining new creative, multi-media combinations and collaborations is equal parts thrilling and exhausting. The creative possibilities are exciting; the learning curve and time required to get one up to speed on new technologies and market niches, sometimes daunting.
But if you’re intrigued with the thought of telling stories in new ways, here’s a market for you: Fox and Bee (a two-person creative industry run, literally, out of a cottage) has produced a $2.99 app called In Common: Bikes that pulls together bike lore, quotes, trivia, photos and nonfiction, bike-related stories from all over the world. They’ve even thrown in a bike courier delivery game that’s curiously addictive.
Fox and Bee’s goal is to give us a global sense of how a common object is used in different places and by different people. AND (here’s where you come in), they have a call out for submissions on shoes. You have until July 1 to produce a nonfiction piece that’s between 500 and 2,000 words. Here are the rest of the submission guidelines.
Part of the proceeds from the app go to micro-financing loans through Kiva. That’s just one of the reasons I like the attitude behind this creative duo’s offering … so if you want to be part of the multi-media world (but don’t want to learn the techie part yourself), consider doing some sole-ful writing for Fox and Bee!
Filed under From Peggy, Memoir, Sites We Like, The Publishing Industry, Uncategorized | Comments Off
While driving up to Whistler recently for a ‘me, myself and I’ writing retreat, I used the road time to compose six-word missives about my own father. As you know, words are like cooking – when you stir up something on the stove for a while and let the water evaporate, whatever remains becomes stronger and stronger! Using the minimum number of words to pack the maximum amount of punch is always a good exercise in building your writerly impact – and, in this case, it’s guaranteed to pack an emotional wallop for you, as well.
Some of my favourites on the site (a selection will be harvested and run in a print edition of the National Post) include “Lost you early, now I understand” by Richard Rajotte and “Always there before we needed you” by Sean Cameron. Reading through the entries, you can’t help but contemplate the dad you had, or wished you had, or the parent you want to be.
So, as yet another one of my suggested spring ‘cross-training exercises,’ why not pen a six-word bio of your pater? If you catch the ‘six-word memoir’ bug, you could always expand the exercise and write one for each member of your family … then write them on ribbons and tie them to a ‘family tree’ outside your door. (If you’re brave, have your kids or partner write one about YOU … it’s daunting to imagine how your life will look distilled down into six words, especially when they are written by someone else!)
My six-word tribute?
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You’re missed.
Filed under From Peggy, In the News, Inspiration, Memoir, On Life, Writing Exercises | Comments Off
Back in March I wrote this post in which I waxed rhapsodic about a new literary find, The Sun magazine, which is published out of North Carolina.
This week I introduced one of its sections to my writing group. It’s called “Readers Write” and has, I believe, been a feature of the ad-free magazine since early in the publication’s almost-40-year history. Each month, readers write their true, anecdote-based reflections on a given theme and a wide-ranging selection is chosen for publication. It’s usually the first section I flip to, and I try (usually unsuccessfully!) to ration out the pieces so I can stretch out the reading pleasure until my next issue arrives. Here’s a sample of the current issue’s “Readers Write” section (you can get a taste of the magazine’s essays, fiction and poetry, too, while you’re visiting the site).
After my writing group read through some of the selections in my back issues, we looked at the upcoming themes, and each picked one with a view to possibly submitting a piece to the magazine. We only wrote for 10 or 15 minutes, but made a great start on our stories!