If you want to write, if you love to write, if writing is central to your well-being, at some point you need to have a serious think about needs vs. wants.
I’ve talked about this before, but just in case anyone is still unclear, writers don’t make a lot of money. OK, most writers don’t make a lot of money. I’m going to talk more about my big picture thinking on this in Part Two next week, but for now, I’m going to share with you my list of needs vs. wants.
(Oh, and by the way, I’m stipulating to oxygen, food, sleep, etc. – definite needs).
- my family
- time to spend with my family as a family.
- time to read
- time to write (note sometimes I need to write more than I need to read and sometimes vice versa)
- time to run (I guess this means running shoes are on the needs list too!)
(are you noticing a bit of a theme here? Time, time, time. Never enough of it…)
- a place to live where I feel at home
- a (paper) notebook and (good) pen
- my laptop
- clothes that keep me either warm or cool, depending on the season, and that are comfortable
- my bike (this is borderline. I technically don’t actually need it but, since we only have one car, it sure makes my life easier).
- forms of exercise other than running, e.g. riding and skiing. I love doing these things and they enrich me but if I had to choose just one thing I would stick with running, hence these are wants
- my current house in my current neighbourhood. I’m lucky in that I already have this want but, realistically, we are very lucky and could certainly survive (and thrive) in a smaller house in a less expensive neighbourhood
- the ability to buy a new laptop, a new bike, etc. I don’t actually want these things now because I am very attached to my 20-year-old mountain bike and my seven(?)-year-0ld laptop but I like knowing I can replace them if I need to
- extra clothes chosen for colour, prettiness, etc. beyond those needed for basic comfort
- one take-out dinner each week from our favourite Greek place, also a lunch out every couple of weeks
- the continued ability to spend a huge chunk of our summer at the cottage
I’m sure there are more in each category and some kind of blur the lines – I think there’s kind of a “needy want” category and maybe that’s where my riding and my bike fit in.
Interestingly, most of the things on my “needs” list are free. Money-wise anyway. They may take a lot of time and effort but they don’t cost much. It’s the “wants” stuff that costs more in my particular situation.
How about you? What are your needs and wants lists? What do they look like? Don’t fudge or put things where you think they “should” go. Be realistic. What do you really need to be happy? I’ll talk about why I think this is an important exercise in next week’s post…Filed under From Tudor, Inspiration, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Writer's Path, Writing as Career | Comments Off
Tudor: As I hinted in an earlier post, the time has come for a change. An ending of sorts – or at least a suspension – and a couple of new beginnings.
Due to exciting (and time-consuming) developments in Peggy’s life and because I’ve finally pulled myself out of complacency long enough to kickstart my own website (something I’ve been meaning to do for ages), this will be the last post on Two Writers Talking for the foreseeable future.
What can I say about TWT? I can’t say it was everything or nothing I expected it to be, because the truth is, I didn’t have any expectations. If anything can be said to have grown organically, this blog did. Peggy and I decided to move our long e-mail conversations to a more public forum and Two Writers Talking was born.
And kept going. Pretty steadily. For quite a while. An achievement if I dare say so myself.
The one thing I can say for sure is that during the time of TWT I have been struck anew by the generosity of this writing community that surrounds us. Peggy, of course, was generous to agree to write a blog with me. To share her expertise and opinions (and to organize the start-up – that especially!).
A couple of regular commenters have also displayed the generosity I’ve come to love in the writing world. Lee Ann, when I suggested I might pitch a workshop idea to the Ottawa Catholic School Board was instantly supportive. Recently, when I was able to tell her the course was a go, she was happier for me than my own mother (really!).
And Lynn. Oh my goodness. Lynn. I have haunted Lynn’s life these last few weeks. She is more responsible for my new site being up and ready and going and beautiful than I am. Way more responsible. She gave me recommendations at every step along the way, coached me in the few small things I did and single-handedly designed the whole thing. She even stepped in and wrote some inspired bits of content which started out as placeholders but which I’m not letting go of. All this and she still left a detailed and thoughtful comment on last week’s post. I have no idea where she gets the time…
My friend (and talented editor) Gillian, refused payment for line editing my entire manuscript (and it was a great line edit) and I’ve received incredible feedback on my manuscripts; some paid for, some not, but all worth considerably more than what I had to shell out to receive it.
In general I find those involved in writing and the writing world, give much more than could ever be expected. We may be under-paid, we mostly are under-paid, but we certainly don’t underperform.
I’d like to thank everyone who’s inspired me and made me feel supported and included in this great world of writing and I hope to see you all regularly over at tudorrobins.ca.
Peggy: Tudor’s right. It takes a village to raise a writer, and we’ve both been fortunate to be citizens of a very generous, literate village.
As much as we’d like to think that our Writer Self is strong enough to sit alone at our desk to answer our calling – often in the absence of pay, publication, or even mildly interested readers – some days it proves too daunting a challenge. That’s when it helps to get an inspiration infusion from the people around us.
Encouragement comes in different forms. Often all that’s needed is a friend asking us what we’re working on now … and being interested enough to ask a few questions, or say they’d like to read our story when we’re ready.
Sometimes we’re helped by the chance to put our writing to use in a different capacity, one that’s of benefit to others and provides us with some immediate, tangible satisfaction. Just recently, for example, I have been helping to write and edit content for a new, soon-to-launch community website that’s going to be enjoyed by many local residents and give me a change from my usual navel-gaving memoir work. It’s been fun to get back into community reporting and get the immediate feedback I remember from my days at the North Shore News.
I learned from my year at the SFU Writer’s Studio the immense energy you get from being surrounded by people who are enthusiastically committed to their writing life. As any Star Trek conventioneer can tell you, there is something pretty exciting about gathering with others who share your passion for a hobby or vocation that isn’t terribly mainstream!
But sometimes, I think, we can be equally inspired by putting ourselves in a new environment that has little to do with our writing life. After several years of immersing myself in communal and individual writing activities – workshops, writing projects, literary non-profits – I am looking forward to exercising a different part of my brain altogether.
I’ll be taking an eight-month, full-time Medical Assistant course that will plunge me into a new career entirely. I won’t ever leave my writing life behind (in fact, one reason I’m pursuing this program is for the eventual career flexibility that will allow me to incorporate my literary life around what will likely translate into casual or part-time hospital shifts).
But I do look forward to getting away from my desk and learning new skills in a new environment. And I am confident that the energy I get from that will end up fuelling my writing as well. I’m already salivating at the thought of the new, multi-syllabic words I’ll have at my disposal after I finish my medical terminology course! Not to mention the wide range of people and situations I’ll meet over the year ahead – all part of an interesting new landscape that will no doubt have me thinking up plots on my lunchbreak!
Along with my new studies, I’ll be prez of the North Vancouver’s Young Writers’ Club and the Lynn Valley Literary Society, running an adult writing group and blogging for LynnValleyLife when it launches in the fall. So Tudor and I will both be pretty busy, and we’ve reluctantly had to let go of Two Writers Talking for the foreseeable future. But we’re leaving it live so visiting writers, readers and teachers can look over some of the past posts and workshop exercises for what we hope are some timeless tips!
I have loved working with Tudor over the past few years (an inspiring, hard-working writer if ever there was one), and look forward to seeing where her new ventures take her. This isn’t a goodbye from us, just an evolution to the next stage of our lives and the adventures that beckon down the road.
Both of us wish you many adventures of your own, literary and otherwise, in the months ahead. And many thanks for being our ‘village’ – we hope you’ve enjoyed your citizenship here at Two Writers Talking.Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Inspiration, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Writer's Path | Comments (2)
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)
“I’ve decided to become a novelist.”
Cue several mental reactions from me.
(1) “Yes, and I’ve decided to perform an appendectomy.”
(2) “Oh, that was my mistake – I didn’t ‘decide’ to become a novelist.”
(3) “Shut up. No, really SHUT UP.”
Followed by actual reaction which is produce a forced smile and stay very, very quiet until I have counted to 10.
You’d be surprised how often people say something along these lines. Or maybe not. Maybe you’ve heard it too. Maybe you too have sought some sort of relevant education and / or training and have put in long hours at your keyboard / notebook trialing and erroring. Maybe you have sought out other writers’ advice and have read endless books in your genre. Maybe you’ve ripped apart your manuscript and re-written all 60,000 words of it, then ripped it apart again. Maybe you’ve researched the market, learned about query letters and bios and cover letters and partials and fulls and the synopsis; don’t forget the dreaded synopsis. Maybe you’ve jumped through seventeen hoops to meet all the submission guidelines of each and every possible agent and / or editor – “Page numbers in the top left hand”, “Page numbers in the top right hand”, “Indent all paragraphs”, “Don’t indent paragraphs”, “Write a 250-word synopsis”, “Write a 15-page single-spaced synopsis”, “Compile a target market evaluation of the genre you’re writing for and assess how your work will fit into it using comparisons to three other books currently on the market” (yes, I did that one). Maybe you’ve spent hundreds (maybe thousands but I don’t want to think about it) of dollars on ink cartridges and paper and envelopes and manuscript boxes and postage – don’t forget postage – to submit your work all over the great, wide, English-speaking world.
Maybe you’ve done all that, and you still aren’t published, and somebody has walked up to you and said they’re unfulfilled with their career and it’s not all that and they need a change and “I’ve decided to become a novelist.”
And, if all that is true, you’ll know how I feel when I hear it.
So, please don’t say it. Just please, not that. You can try “I’ve decided to work on my writing,” and you can even try “Do you have any suggestions?” To which I will smile – genuinely this time – and say, “Yes, start writing. Put pen to paper. Then come back and talk to me after your first 10,000 words.”Filed under From Tudor, On Life, The Publishing Industry, The Writer's Path, Uncategorized, Writing as Career | Comments Off
This post is a bit of a round-up of mid-summer news; stuff you might want to know.
(1) I still don’t think I’ve managed to process this one completely. Which is kind of nice because every now and then I take it out of the compartment in my brain where it lives and I have a fresh look at it and get newly excited. I found out late last week I was a finalist in the Writers’ Union of Canada’s 15th Annual Writing For Children Competition. This news, in and of itself, is very gratifying and exciting. For some reason I keep getting hung up on the fact I made the shortlist from 680 entries to 118. That alone seems incredible. I still haven’t really zeroed in on the getting to the final 12 bit. What I am extremely pumped about (extremely!) is this part, “the Union will submit the winning story, together with the stories of eleven finalists, to three Canadian publishers of children’s literature for their consideration.” Oh. My. Goodness. What an opportunity. After years and years spent slogging it out on my own, doing the submission thing all by myself, this just seems like heaven to me. Wow.
(2) I’m teaching a workshop! Probably. And maybe even two. It’s all based on enrollment (as in there has to be enough) but the Ottawa Catholic School Board has agreed to my proposal of holding a workshop to help writers enter writing contests and are adding it as a new course in their Fall continuing education catalogue. It’s going to be a two-hour workshop and, I think, pretty affordable at $21.00. Once the course is open for registration I’ll post the details and I encourage anyone interested to sign up, as well as passing the info onto others who might also be interested. I’m pretty pumped on the benefits of entering writing contests these days (see item #1) so can’t wait to share what I’ve learned with others.
(3) Changes are looming for Two Writers Talking. Peggy and I will be giving you more information so stay tuned for that. Can’t say more right now, but will very soon.
In the meantime hope you’re all enjoying your summer!Filed under From Tudor, On Life, The Writer's Path | Comments (3)
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!
Filed under From Peggy, Inspiration, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives | Comments Off
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
Fresh off last night’s Game Seven, I was inspired to ask this question.
Because no matter what you thought of the series and the game and the stuff that happened after the game (and, oh my goodness, I have some strong thoughts about that, many of which start with “what would your mother think of you now?”) there was some pretty transfixing TV viewing to be had last night.
I’m talking about the moments just after the game when the Bruins – the huge, hairy, sweaty and probably very smelly Bruins – were floating on air. Skating on clouds. Shaking hands and smiling and laughing and hugging. Lifting up the Cup and kissing it (and I kept wincing and thinking “ooh, don’t drop it!” because that’s what I’d do if I had to carry something that heavy while wearing skates).
It was a moment. You could see it. You could feel it. It wasn’t staged – you couldn’t stage something like that. It was the culmination of all their professional hopes and dreams and their hours and years of effort. It was IT.
I loved seeing that.
I, personally, have no desire to ever win the Stanley Cup – which is a very good thing. I also have no desire to summit Everest. Or to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I don’t want to win a major award – I’m not saying I wouldn’t enjoy winning some type of award but it’s not a goal of mine.
No, what I want is to nail a publishing contract. I want to know my book is going to be published. All the stuff after would be great too; the first time I got to see the book. The first few sales of the book. The first time I saw another person reading my book. Those would be nice but what I really want – that moment I’m really after – is just signing the contract.
That’s my Stanley Cup. What’s yours?Filed under From Tudor, Inspiration, On Life, Writing as Career | Comments Off