Four Ways to Organize Your Notebooks

Four Ways to Organize Your Notebooks.

As someone who still hasn’t got the hang of Evernote, I like the simple tips in this article. I already like the different notebooks for different things one – I had one for Sarah Selecky’s excellent course, Story is a State of Mind, and have a fresh new one for my Humber times. I have DA’s little grumpy book for my personal rants and etceteras…

But I need to start colour-coding and leaving space between entries…and a table of contents is good, too.

 

Last lines…

Everyone talks about the importance of the first line in your story, long or short, but there is often such grace in the last line that they need to be mentioned.
The last line can give you a punch, a feeling of “whoa!”, and last lingering taste of the story, that makes it live in your head long after you are done.
The short story “How Far She Went” by Mary Hood, as featured in Janet Burroway’s “Writing Fiction” (2nd edition, pp. 207-213) is an excellent example. The story itself is filled with imagery, familial history, danger, and sadness. It concerns a rebellious teenager who has been left at her grandmother’s by her father. The entire story is worth a read, but my breath caught in my throat when I read this last line:
“The girl walked close behind her, exactly where she walked, matching her pace, matching her stride, close enough to put her hand forth (if the need arose) and touch her granny’s back where the faded voile was clinging damp, the merest gauze between their wounds.”
The whole story, the girl’s turnaround, the meat of what happened, is captured in that line.
The more I read it, the more it hits me. Not a word too many, or a word too few. And yet, everything.

“Read it and weep. I always do.”

Ah, Romancing the Stone, one of my all time favourite cheesy romantic movies, both for the Danny DeVito chase scene, and for the author’s retort to her friend, who accuses her of being a hopeless romantic.
“No,” she says, “not hopeless. A hopeful romantic.”
Yep, I know how that goes. That whole hopeful romantic thing.
Wishing things would mystically turn out, whether romantic things or other life scenarios, hoping for magic instead of dipping my head into the gritty realities of life.
But often, looking about, I see stories that make me weep when I read them, my own or someone else’s.
Sometimes, my life feels a bit like the movie. Somehow I end up on the wrong bus, heading into the jungle instead of where I should be going, being followed by sinister agents, or covered with mud. I place my faith where I shouldn’t, adventure where I would more wisely leave things to the authorities.
In my travels, unlike in the movies, I can see others around me who have much more difficult lives, less romance, adventures I wouldn’t choose, and I marvel at their strength when I feel like I struggle with the small challenges I experience.
I wish for a movie happy ending for everyone, one where the music swells and everyone ends up in the arms of their lovers or being cuddled by their wise parents and grandparents or winning the race or hearing their music or art being praised. It’s that Pollyanna/romantic part of me.
I hope she never leaves.
But sometimes she could use a hug.

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Spring?

wind-05.jpgIt’s the first day of spring, and as the howling “wintry mix” splats against my windows, I can still somehow feel the first tiny tendrils of life returning. This morning, walking around, I could feel the hint of warmth on the breeze, at least until the gale turned around and got cold. I can’t help thinking of the old fable of the competition between the wind and the sun, where they fought over who could get the coat off a man soonest. The wind tried to blow it off, but the man pulled it tighter and tighter around himself. The sun shone down, and the man took off his coat to walk in his shirtsleeves.

The moral of the fable was that kind words and warmth win over bluster and force.

Well, sometimes that’s true.  I wish the weather would figure that out…

I’m gorging on books while I wait for the greenery, filling my head with short stories and novels and poetry and music, topping up my creative juices with learning new tunes on my Uke, doing my various other weird and wonderful creative things. I was lucky enough to spend my past weekend hearing good music, eating good food, and laughing with people I care about. I’m filling up my brain, pushing it til it’s full and writing will spill out.

I’m hoping that, like the seeds underground, the soaking I’m doing will lead to explosive growth.

When spring finally gets here, that is…

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Starting a book and pulling them in…

half-blood-blues-reviewI’m pre-studying various novels as I prep for working on my own. In between research about the time and place, I’m digging through some of my to be read pile – and today I found a real treat. I’ve opened Half Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan. 

Within the first few pages, I was hooked, totally hooked, so much so my plan to do my taxes today is shuffled aside for a glorious immersion in the book.  What caught me so quickly?

The first sentences:

Chip told us not to go out. Said, don’t you boys tempt the devil. But it had been one brawl of a night, I tell you, all of us still reeling from the rot – rot was cheap, see, the drink of French peasants, but it stayed like nails in you gut. Didn’t even look right, all mossy and black in the bottle. Like drinking swamp water.

What devil? Out from where? Why are they drinking French peasant rot? What’s the dialect I’m hearing?

The next paragraph gets better, more atmospheric, more visual. More auditory, even, with more dialect and turns of phrase and phrases that make you go, huh? and want to know more more more. I’m already invested in the main character by the second page, all twitchy and nervous like he is, not sure quite why yet, but wanting to know.

This is how it’s done. Fabulous. No wonder this book won all those prizes – Giller, short listed for Man Booker, GGs, Writer’s Trust…

This one’s a keeper, for reference when I’m writing. If I can only capture a bit of this magic…

Read an ebook week this week!

LadyCheck out this site for freebies and encouragement to try the format, if you haven’t already. As for me, I shall be lodged deeply in “On Becoming a Novelist” by John Gardner.

Best thing is that Smashwords will have a full listing of books whose authors are sharing them for the week, often at deep discounts. From the site:

Read an Ebook Week kicks off this Sunday.  Smashwords is again sponsoring the event for the sixth year running.

Thousands of Smashwords authors will offer free and deep-discounted titles starting Sunday March 2 and running through Saturday March 8.

Readers, starting Sunday March 2 Pacific time, the Smashwords catalog of participating titles will appear at https://www.smashwords.com/books/category/1/newest/1 

Readers and Authors:  The official Read an Ebook Week hub page is at Smashwords and offers access to banners, buttons and badges you can post on your web site, blog, Facebook and other social media outlets to celebrate your participation in this event.  This page will also feature links to promotional or free catalogs to make it easier for readers to find books.  Currently I have links to the Smashwords RAEW catalog, and to free books at Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Diesel.  I plan to add links to other retailers as well.

Authors:  To enroll your book(s) in the promotion, go to https://www.smashwords.com/dashboard/sitewidePromos or click the “Authors, add your books to the promotion” button on the Smashwords home page. 

If you’re interested to learn the story behind Read an Ebook Week, read my 2010 interview with Rita Toews at The Huffington Post .  Please note that the prior web address mentioned in the interview, http://www.ebookweek.com, is now controlled by a squatter and is not associated with this promotion, so please don’t link to or promote the old address.  The Smashwords RAEW page at www.smashwords.com/ebookweek is a better option, and has Rita’s blessing.

The official Read an Ebook Week Facebook page, operated by Ms. Toews, is at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Read-an-E-Book-Week/193882590629749  Show your support for RAEW by “Liking” it on Facebook.

That’s it, gang! Go read!

Sometimes you feel like a star, sometimes you don’t…

ImageSo, very cleverly, I thought, I announced to the world on FaceBook that I’d been accepted to the Humber School and would be studying under the luminescent Donna Morrissey. Clever, I thought, because of accountability. See, if everyone knows I’m writing, I’ll have to bloody do it, won’t I?

Not so cleverly because I’d recently decided NOT to let people know I was writing until I actually had more publications to show them, it having been a long dry spell since the last ones. This being partially because of my initiation focus – I am SO good at starting things, much less effective at seeing them to fruition. How I wish I had the persistence of Judy Penz Sheluk, my writing colleague, who wins my personal award for the least procrastination and most persistence of any writer I know. And she writes wonderfully, too, which must help, but the thing is she also EDITS wonderfully, and that is something I aspire to but rarely reach.

One has only to see my employment history to see that. I get bored easily.

But lately, it’s been bored into my skull (ha ha) that I am going to have to grow up and do some completion tasks. I can do it, I have done it, it is possible, though never ever my preference. No, for me I prefer the climb up to the top of the roller coaster, the anticipation, rather than the end rolling into the stop part.

The Writer’s Union class I went to reminded me it takes years to hone a book. Years and years. And the talk by Donna Morrissey yesterday talked about three years per book. Which on the one hand takes the pressure off a bit, on the other reminds me of all the editing I’m going to have to do, the endless drafts, the living with my characters until they seem like family and the type of family you can only bear to see once a year at that.

But it’s time to take things seriously. So there I went, confessing my admission, not confessing my silly hopes for such a venture which shall remain my own, and I end up getting what I asked for – the class I wanted, the author I wanted to work with (It was either Donna or Helen Humphreys or Trevor Cole – I adore them all, different as they are). And for the story I’m writing, Donna is the most perfect.

And now I feel like the sardine being et here in this photo. Captured by a star, feeling a bit panicked as I go forward. Wondering if I’ll make it out alive.

All I can say is that I am counting on Donna’s sense of humour, dark and funny and wicked, to see her through my struggles…

photo credit: Elton Lin

The lie that tells the truth that tells the lie, or how hanging out with novelists is bound to give you a richer life

too-many-booksAnd isn’t it delightful!

Just reading the Paris Review interview with Julian Barnes, well worth a stop…

There’s something about reading writers talking about other writers that makes me wish I could go back and start my life all over again, waste less time watching the sitcoms on must-see Thursday on NBC back in the day, buy myself a good flashlight, and take to reading Russian novels in the dark under my blankets earlier in life. There’s such tremendous richness out there to read and I will never ever get done with it all. Why did I bother with university, with child rearing, when I could have immersed myself in a solitary world of such glory, me, the book, a light source…

My father would tell me I am too social a creature to hide myself away, and he’s right – I need regular drenching in humanity and nature and moving about life to keep my moods stable, and I wouldn’t have given up my kids for the world.

But there they are. The books. All of them, calling to me, begging me to peek under their covers. And the books I’ve already read, who call to me to visit them again, put my mouth once again under their thirst-quenching prose, gulp them back or sip them, masticate them, laugh and cry with them.

How can I leave Nancy Mitford on my shelf for another week? What of the latest Linwood Barclay thriller? Or the beauty of an author as yet undiscovered, who I just know has a book for me hanging out in Doull’s Bookstore down the way?

It doesn’t matter – short story or novel, these books cloak the truths of life in the cover of a make-believe story, so that as you read them, the truths slip out, unseen, barely felt, until your heart senses them firmly ensconced. The story may slip away, you might have the author’s name on the tip of your tongue at parties and never be able to satisfyingly retrieve it, but when the truths are there (see: Nuala O’Faolin, for example), the feeling stays with you.

And that’s the kind of book I want so much to write – one that does just that, curls up inside someone, providing comfort even after they forget my most common name (though I must say DA Brown will give me a great shelf spot, alphabetically speaking).

And I’ll get right on writing that book, just as soon as I finish reading this stack over here…

Critiquing

Into every Writer’s life, some critiquing must fall.

Fellow writers ask you for feedback, reviews, close reading, affirmation, whatever. And there you are, suddenly out on the end of a very thin branch, trying to determine how best to respond.
Sometimes you get lucky. The stories you are asked to read are well-written, need only a few tweaks, show promise. The requester genuinely wants feedback.

Sometimes you get regimented. The Canadian Authors Association has a great process for critiquing, following careful rules established over years to provide the most information with the least hurt. Everyone plays along and everyone learns.

And sometimes, you are stuck, gawping, at some really inescapably horrid writing, over which you spot the hopeful eyes of the writer, begging you to find something, anything, encouraging to say.
Some people can’t write. They do things like forget the noun-verb-noun basics of sentences. They write vignettes and call them stories (been guilty of that myself). They write chocolate-box stories so ridden with cliche the sugar hurts your teeth and you long for a Thomas Kinkaid painting to cut the ache.

And it never fails. These people are the ones who are most persuaded of their writing skills. They argue, get hurt, stomp off when you ever so gently suggest a rewrite…or they send you hateful emails when you review their self-published books and don’t give 4 stars…

There are only a few folks I trust with giving me feedback on my stories. I recently had yet another bad experience with a critique group and it reminded me of why I am so picky.

And it made me long for a group of kindred spirit writers to talk with.

Check out “Story is a State of Mind”, the intensive program, if you’d like some useful and encouraging feedback. The course, by Sarah Selecky, is one of the most useful ones I’ve ever taken, and I’ve taken a lot of courses. I’m going to miss it, now that I’m done. Great feedback, charmingly given. Just what a critique should be. I’ve taken notes, for the next time some soft writer heart asks for advice.

Writing resistance, or maybe I need to do something else

I spend a lot of time NOT writing.
A LOT.
It frustrates even me. I vowed to focus on writing from September to December and see what I could get done in that time period but I’m flagging already and it’s at least another 2 weeks to December.
My plan was to end up with the start of several things to revise, things I could work on in the gloomy months of January to March before springing springlike into the publishing world in April.
See, these plans are just not working.
When I write, and I get immersed in my little world, I’m amazed what comes out of my head. Some of it seems actually okay. Most of it needs heavy heavy revision.
But my resistance to getting started is growing by leaps and bounds.
It doesn’t help that I live surrounded by many many books I want to read, all of which are better written than I could do.
It doesn’t help that sitting for prolonged periods isn’t great for me (or anyone else), or that it usually sends me off to sleep, perchance to dream, but definitely not to type.
It also doesn’t help that the thought of all the fiddling around to get published doesn’t appeal. The query letters, the sending books around on visits, the waiting, the editing, the fussing. I don’t think I have the interest anymore.
I wish I did.
But it seems wasteful, sometimes, when there are many other things I want to do.
I know I can be a powerful writer. But perhaps there are other ways to use this. I’m writing for Amnesty again on December 10th, for example. I can and do write letters to the editor, comments to the CBC, letters to elected officials.
But the other stuff feels like dithering, and I’m boring myself. I sit at the computer to write, and lose focus almost immediately. I’d rather be exercising or rug hooking or doing anything that involved my body, rather than my head. Or immersing myself in the writing of others.
There’s so much still to learn and know.
But am I simply resisting what I should be doing?
If so, I’m getting pretty darn good at it.
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