Thursday, November 25, 2010

Calgary Launch!

I'm super excited to be launching my book at Pages Books in Calgary on December 10th... which accounts for why I'm putting this up three weeks before the event. Yay Calgary! and Pages!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Short Haul: NaNoWriMo

Two weeks ago I wrote about my problems tying up my manuscript in a timely fashion. While I’ve been pushing my poetry around with my fork, however, thousands upon thousands of people are participating in NaNoWriMo—or National Novel Writing Month—where participants have to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I heard about NaNoWriMo too late to consider participating, and besides, as a grad student I am now lacking time to do basic things like laundry and sleeping, so cramming novel writing into my schedule is simply not possible. However, I did have time to pick up Chris Baty’s NaNoWriMo instructional book No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days, and even read about half of it.

Though I haven’t written fiction since my first year of university, NaNoWriMo intrigues me. Focusing on poetry has paralyzed me when it comes to other genres—I assume I can’t write anything but poetry, and feel almost arrogant delving into fiction without making a serious effort to learn about writing techniques first. I’m also just afraid I can’t do it. I have a hard time dreaming up plots, and I can’t write dialogue to save my life. However, I have two ideas for short fiction projects that I would really like to work on that I have shamefully shelved in some back corner of my brain. Well, no more. In December, I am going to attempt this NaNoWriMo thing.

While I can imagine a number of literary objections to NaNoWriMo, there are a lot of things about the idea that I find exciting, if not genuinely helpful. No Plot emphasizes that the book you will write in a month will probably be doomed to mediocrity, but that it will provide you with a complete first draft you can work on afterwards. A fellow writer who has participated in speed novel writing contests suggested to me that this may be less straight forward than it seems, since once written, changing the direction of the book can prove difficult. Because my project idea is a series of interconnected short stories, however, I’m hoping that I may be able to avoid this pitfall and have an easier time making changes to sections without having to rip up the whole book. Even so, I have accepted that my book will not be great… but I do think working on it will make me a better writer.

Since I heard about the contest and resolved to attempt it, I’ve been excited to work on the stories, and have started to sketch out some details about characters and events I’d like to write about. I feel enthusiastic about the prospect of working on the book. As No Plot suggests, casting off expectations of competence and literary merit have allowed me to stop feeling afraid of fiction, and to approach actually writing it. Overcoming this inhibition is the first step for me to actually learning how to write fiction, and even though this first effort may not turn out well, at least I will have tried. Most importantly, however, I am convinced that writing 1,667 words a day every day in December will improve my writing skills. If practice makes perfect, then NaNoWriMo seems like a valid strategy for a beginning fiction writer.

Finally, No Plot emphasizes that NaNoWriMo will help you finish your book by sending legions of guilt monkeys to harass you should you falter or try to give up after committing to the plan. The book also encourages you to brag widely about your novel writing plans so that shame will force you to write, and that’s why I have written this post. Whether I will produce anything of merit is uncertain, but if nothing else, I hope to join the 30,000 people last year who succeeded in their NaNoWriMo efforts.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


can you make it through your abcs? :P sorry the pen leaked a bit so... if it looks like it's probably not a solid wall, it probably isn't.
happy mazing!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Long Haul

When you first start out, it’s all you think about. It’s so exciting, and you spend every waking moment you can doing it. After a little while, things are still going great. You’ve become more familiar, so it’s not quite exciting as it once was, but it’s nice… comfortable. Everything just clicks naturally. A little more time passes and though you still see why you fell in love, you’re getting a bit tired of the same old problems, the same chores. Even the good times are getting a little predictable. You’re not planning on ending it—you have far too much invested, and after all, you still love it deep down. But you have to find something to get you through the grind. You’re in a long-term relationship… with your poetry manuscript.

I am about two years and six months into a book-length project that is nowhere near finished. I love the project, though, and have every intention of completing it. I’ve invested one and a bit years of school-driven hard-work on the book, and one and a bit years of full-time working and slacking off on the project (though in my defense, I did get other poetry things accomplished over the year). Though I am dedicated to the project, it’s slowly becoming a burden. I feel like I can’t in good conscience start another big, research-based project until I finish this one, but I have a long list of new ideas that I want to dive into. If I start something else, I’m afraid I’ll never return to the book. And like I said, I do love the project, and I really, really want to finish it. Breaking up is not an option.

So how do I make it through? First, a little perspective is helpful. Compared to other authors, 2 ½ years is nothing. Many of my favourite writers have spent 10 or more years on their books. If I want to finish the project and do it well, it may take several more years, a fact I will just have to accept. It’s difficult not to feel slightly discouraged, though, if not impatient, which brings me to my second strategy… time management. I’m beginning to think that setting aside 30 minutes every single day, sick or well, rain or shine, busy or bored to work on my book will mean that in another year when I look back on the project, I’ll be able to see the progress I’ve made. Furthermore, I’ve discovered that working on other little side projects reinvigorates me. Instead of sitting down to work on my book and thinking, “oh, this again,” working on other mini-projects gets me excited about writing, and excited about my book.

The one problem I haven’t entirely overcome yet, however, is the loneliness of working on long project outside of school. Finishing the book means many, many more hours of sitting alone in my office, carving and whittling, sanding and polishing, forming and reforming bits over and over again. Having gotten used to a creative writing program where I spent hours every week discussing my work with my classmates or professors, adjusting to the isolation of writing outside of school has been difficult. Of course I still have writer friends to discuss poetry with, but my lifestyle as a writer has changed forever. I’m not quite sure what to do about this problem. If I’m working on a visual piece I listed to CBC podcasts or put on familiar movies to fill the air, but the written components of my work require less background chatter. I think, ultimately, this is one part of being a post-university writer that I will just have to get used to. Though I love giving readings and chatting up friends about what they’re working on and sharing what I’m writing, and though I love writing itself, I will have to get used to spending more time alone with the book. In most relationships, if your partner required that you abandon your social life in order to stay home alone with them all the time, you would probably consider them controlling and obsessive. If it’s your book that requires this, however, I guess you just have to accept it.

So—how do you keep motivated after years of working on a project? What snags have you hit, and how did you overcome them?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Medieval Woman: The 80s Margenalia

My mum picked up a used day book at the thrift store for me because it was full of medieval images of women, which I'm studying in school. It also has writing in it from the original owner up until February of that year. Here's what she left behind.

To Cathy
—I hope 1986 is
your best year yet

101 Dalmations
School Started. Art with Mart.
Laurie left
Grandma Velestuk died. *this entry is crossed out
Staff XmasParty moved to 17th.
Jim left
Grandma died
Xmas Party
left with Mart
Lunch with Dave & Linda
Dinner at the A&W with DRW
Lunch with L&D
Elbow Room with Carole & Dan
to observe drinking behavior.
Scott moved in.
Hockey Game with Mart
Went to the Holy Cross to
visit Vicky Graham. Had Lunch & went
shopping with Dave. Saw Sexual
Perversity in Chicago with Mart.
Little Place for Lunch with
D & L
Ash Wednesday
Visited Vicky
Pancake Thursday
Genie Nominations—no luck.
Laurie came home.
Went out for drinks with
Mart & Carol Hawkwood.
Flowers from Dave.
Vicky at the Sound of Music.
Went to Mart’s. —Carol M,
Simon, John, Nob & Me. 5:30 a.m.
Dave’s interview.
Lunch with Dave, Linda, &
Simon. Shopping with Dave at
Deerfoot Mall.
Lunch with Dave. Shopping at
Chinook. Coldest day on record
for this date. -40ish. Brrr.
Lors I went to Chinook.
Earl’s after work with
Coffee with Dave, everything is
off until April. hmmm…. we’ll
see what happens here.