10 steps to surviving being a writer

Joe’s Post #98

IMG_4367The 5/5/5 writers meet yesterday to reconnect and review the first 10 pages of our novels.  We met at Paula’s new place, an amazing retreat outside of Gibsons (on the sunshine coast.) It was good to reconnect, good to have writing to submit, good to be able to talk about our stories and get feedback.


IMG_4372Writing is kind of a lonely thing to do. For the most part, you live inside your head. Sometimes it’s a nice, warm place full of fluffy bunnies and a young Sandra Bullock. Sometimes it’s a nasty-ass mess clogged with fears, self-doubts and Gollum-voices.

So, here’s 10 steps to surviving being a writer

1)      You are actually not alone. Connect with other writers. Connect at conferences. On-line. In a coffee shop. Create a critique group. A reading group. FB a friend. Use your words out loud. Talk to people. Every writer I’ve ever met or ever talked to has the same problems and doubts and challenges.

2)      You are powerless over agents and editors and we will get rejected. Probably a lot. Accept this. They are not out to make your life hell. They actually don’t hate you. They’re simply people with a job, people making subjective decisions on what they like and they don’t like, and what they hope will sell.

3)calvin and hobbs      Confess fears and failures to trusted friends or family or your pet. It’s ok to have fear. It’s ok to fail. It’s not ok to let either of those get in the way of being a writer. Confession eases the burden on the soul.

4)      Continue to take a look at what you do well and what we don’t do well. Work on the latter. Improving is NEVER a bad thing. But also celebrate the good. Too often we focus only on the negative, that which we cannot do.

5)      Admit to everyone that you are a writer, published or not. It’s ok. You’ll be surprised how often you’re not judged harshly (laughed at, sometimes, but then we shouldn’t be taking ourselves that seriously anyway.) By admitting to others, you’re also admitting to yourself that this is an important aspect of your life. Like donuts. Or Game of Thrones.

6)      Understand there is a difference between hearing criticism about your writing and hearing criticism about being a writer. Ignore anyone who challenges the latter and listen to anyone who’s willing to help you become better at your craft.

7)      Remove that which does not work. Also called, killing your darlings. Ok, so you wrote the world’s greatest sex scene, (I know I always do), but it doesn’t quite fit into your book for 10 year old girls about unicorns…so throw it out. Or keep it for that book you’re writing about Highlanders. Don’t be afraid to toss something away. Hey, if it’s not working, it’s not working. You can always write more words. It’s what writer’s do. It’s not a waste of time. It’s practice.

8)      Read good writers. Don’t read a book that’ll drive you nuts cuz of all the grammatical errors or shallow characters or stunningly bad plots. By bathing in the words of well-written books, we soak up the craft.

9)    Don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Oh, how I should have this tattooed on my body somewhere. No writing will ever be perfect. You can always move a comma or change a word here and there. But at some point, that quest for the perfect sentence, perfect paragraph, perfect chapter gets in the way of actually completing something.

10)   Realize that it’s hard on the people around you. They make sacrifices, too. Someone put the kids to bed, someone cooked supper, someone went to work, someone hugged you when you got your 20th rejection. All so you could write. I mean, hey, that’s pretty cool, but that support and love needs to be acknowledged.

I know there are other survival tips. I would love to hear them.

So, all told, the meeting went well. I loved the feedback and my story will be that much better for it. Back to writing the book.



Freeing the writer within



Paula’s Post #74 – This week, we 5writers are again riffing on a common theme: how to get back to being ‘writers’. How to get out of our ‘everyday’ brains and back into ‘writer brain’. Specifically, fiction writer’s brain.

Joe lamented how he is worried about making the switch back from his easy-peasy blogger persona of the last few weeks to the serious business of crafting fiction.

Fellow 5writer Silk, shared her own ‘true confessions’, admits to being happier and more at ease in ‘editor’ mode than in ‘fiction writer’ mode.


Well, truth be told, I’m still more in ‘unpacking mode’ than in ‘writing mode’. More worried about getting the contents of boxes in cupboards and drawers than the concept of getting words on pages.

Our collective angst this week is the product of the rush toward yet another deadline: the date for sharing our first pages of our new novels. Submissions that were due this past weekend in advance of the 5writer meeting set for my not-quite-unpacked new home on the coast, day after tomorrow.

But like my 5writer colleagues, I dutifully pushed the ‘send’ button this past weekend and, as we speak, my 5writer colleagues are feasting on my pages, eviscerating my words, sharpening their knives, readying to shred my submission like a dog destroys squeaky toys.

But that raises the question of how, in all the chaos of my life of the last few months, I managed to ‘free’ my inner writer long enough to get those words down on blank pages?

Let me recap. For those of you who missed it – my last 20 days have consisted almost entirely of ‘moving’. First, a 5 night, 2500 kilometre road trip from Southern California to Canada. Next up, literally dozens of 40 minute ferry rides across Howe Sound as we’ve moved our worldly possessions from our postage stamp apartment and from our storage facility into our newly renovated, but not-quite-finished home on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.

Sounds hectic, right?

But perversely, in my case, my ‘inner writer’ seems to have been liberated by all this travel, happy to be coaxed from her cave. Most cooperative when something exciting is afoot, when I’m literally ‘on the move’.

For me, there’s something liberating about a ‘change of scene’ that sparks my inner muse. I’m not saying I can’t write in my own home. I can and do. But if I really want to crank up the productivity, there’s nothing quite like a crowded airport departure lounge or a busy train station for activating my ‘writer brain’.

Maybe, it’s just my brain ‘lighting up’, the normal physiological changes that occur with a change of scene. Maybe it is just the free wifi. Maybe it is the enforced ‘stillness’ of waiting: with no distractions, with nothing to do but wait for the plane, or train or, at least in my new world, the next ferry.

Maybe it is the opportunity to observe my fellow travelers, those interesting ‘characters’ from all walks of life that one can analyze like organisms under a microscope as they struggle to cope under the stress of travel.

I’d be interested to know if it is just me or if any of my 5writer colleagues or our followers also find travel ‘liberating’ when it comes to freeing the ‘writer within’.

Stuck in place?

No worries. You can still embark on a ‘journey’ by shaking up your daily routine. Try leaving your ordinary world behind by checking out a new activity: painting or kayaking or a new hiking trail. Or maybe check out the travel channel. Perhaps you could even try reading a new author, perhaps a work of fiction set in an exotic foreign land. Anything to take you out of your ‘familiar world’ and into an unfamiliar world.

Something to shake things up a bit. Something to free the writer within.









The editor lurking within


Silk’s Post #85 — Joe asked an important question in his last post: how do your get out of your head as a writer? He had a pretty decent answer to the question, too. But then, Joe isn’t you. And he isn’t me.

I have a terrible confession to make. In my heart of hearts, I harbour an editor. An editor who continually harasses my writer. Oh, maybe I forgot to mention that I have a lot of personas in there. There’s probably a diagnosis for that – Multiple Persona Disorder or something.

Maybe you have a few of these conflicting personas, too. No? You sure? Well, here’s something I know you have, and it can be just as paralyzing, or liberating: you have a left brain and a right brain. Ever wonder why we were designed that way? You should. We all should. It’s probably really important.

But back to the editor lurking within.

It’s just a good thing I never became a teacher. I probably would have scarred countless students for life, pointing out all their mistakes and deficiencies. It was bad enough that I had a 35 year career as a creative director, where the only people I critiqued (and critiqued and critiqued) were exceptional, professional designers and writers and art directors who had already developed healthy egos (quite healthy in some cases), despite their microscopically thin skins. I knew they were good (that’s why I hired them). They knew they were good. It was all good. I perhaps flatter myself thinking that I spurred them to be better than good with my nitpicking and inspirational pep talks.

But I couldn’t help it. It was that editor inside me. And now, most of the time she has nobody else to work on except … me. (And my 5writer friends, whose blog posts I admit to occasionally “cleaning up”, fixing capitalization errors and removing errant punctuation marks).

Here’s a statement I’ll probably regret making someday: editing is easy and writing is hard. I hope there are no editors reading this, but in case there are, let me amend that claim. Editing can be hellishly hard. But writing is harder by about 400 degrees Farenheit.

So when I get in that stuck state – that mental bog where you know you have to pull yourself out of your head before you get sucked down into the quicksand to die a horrible, plotless death – I have a surefire but ironic cure that works for me. And maybe for no one else in the world.

I find something to edit. Or even proofread. I focus on the easily recognizable, easily controllable minutae of writing and it clears my mind. It’s like washing windows or vacuuming or some other boring, zen-like household task. The process and rules are clear. It takes some concentration and some effort, just enough that you have to dismiss that irritating creative fly buzzing around in your head. And when you’re done, everything looks cleaner, tidier, better. More cared for. More cared about.

When I go back to what I’ve just written and fuss over it, the reason is often that I simply don’t have enough momentum going to get through the swamp that leads forward. So I go backwards and tweak. My editor within is pretty good at tweaking and, oddly, it puts me in a kind of meditative state.

While my left brain is obsessing about commas and nuanced turns of phrase, my right brain sneaks off to its room and locks the door. On a good day, it does the intellectual equivalent of smoking a joint, releasing my imagination and intuition, and exploring intriguing (if often illogical) connections, patterns and directions in my story world.

Of course, it doesn’t work every time. On a bad day, my right brain just sulks.

It’s on the sulky days that my left brain editor becomes a bit messianic, and then progress on my story can grind to a halt. Oh, I may write and write and write, but it goes nowhere. I can’t write anything very compelling from my left brain. Maybe nobody can. That’s just not the left brain’s job. But when my right brain is in a pet, the editor lurking within begins to get a little frantic. Do something! it thinks. So it tries to fill in for my imagination, and of course fails miserably and becomes frustrated.

Its time will come. Later. After the first draft.

Eventually, this “stuck” cycle comes to an end, although sometimes it takes a while. If you define “a while” as anything from a few hours to a few weeks. Maybe this is what people call “writer’s block”.

My “happy place” (I wish no one had ever invented that phrase, it’s such a crutch), is where my left brain and my right brain are in cosmic balance. Where my editor within tends to its disciplined business in my left brain, while my imagination and creativity roam my right brain at will, never giving a fig for punctuation or earth-bound logic, just skipping over swampy literary ground on sure, light cat’s feet.

I need them both, really. Even though I sometimes roll my eyes at my internal editor – or have to push back against it when it tries to take over and become a dictator during the dry spells when my imagination is AWOL. Truth be told, I actually have some affection for both personas.

So how do I get “out of my head” as a writer? That’s a pretty metaphysical question (says my right brain). It’s just a matter of discipline and good management (says my left brain).

My editor lurking within just copes with it by finding something to fix.


Stuttering steps – how to get out of your head as a writer

Joe’s Post #97

out of your headHow do you get out of your head?

Hey, it’s the place we writers live. It’s where we create characters, it’s where worlds are born, it’s where dialogue flows from and where you have to somehow keep a thousand demon voices at bay (and some of those, good writing advice voices).

I have to say I largely failed this week. Oh sure there was a ton of other things happening including a mini-move and getting my house ready for sale (yes, it seems like nearly all of us 5/5/5 writers are moving) but the reality is that I could have given up “24” to write. Given up a bit of sleep here and there. Certainly given up being so OCD about making my house perfect for viewing.

So why was it so tough to make 50 pages this week?

It was more than just the voices that say it’s a waste of time or you can’t write. It’s the voices from all the books I’ve read, all the classes I’ve taken, all the critiques I given and received.

It’s merging character and theme and plot. It’s making the dialogue sing. It’s description  that’s neither too vague nor too literary. It’s balancing out backstory with keeping the reader interested. It’s … well, you get the idea.

But a good part of it was also being rusty. Yup. Rusty. I’d spent the last month and a bit writing blogs. Super fun. Easy for me to write. But writing a novel is another skill altogether.

I had to relearn the process. But I had a case of the stuttering starts.

I’d write a sentence, or paragraph, then go back and fix it, then write a bit more, then go back to the start, again and fix it. This week, I wrote a good 50 pages. The only problem, the actual page count was 27!! Way too much time was spent on going back and forth, rewriting.

So, let me tell you how I got out of this cycle. Be warned that the following information is for advanced writers only or those who struggle with being a goober sometimes.

jamie1) Have coffee. Or whiskey. Or a mocha-chai tea latte with extra tofu bubbles. Whatever. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Think of Bambi or that guy who’s going to play Jamie on Outlander in a kilt. The moment you realize you’re getting into that stuttering start-stop, take a break. Seriously. Walk away for a bit. You need to reboot your mind. But set a time limit. 30 min. Then back to the story. Do NOT read what you just wrote. Continue on from the last sentence.

cat moron2) Do not, I repeat, do not take yourself so seriously. Your dog doesn’t take you seriously, certainly your cat thinks you’re a bit of a joke, so don’t sit down thinking you’re Stephen King or that dude who wrote Kite Runner. At least not yet. (And even when you become Stephen King, I bet you a hundred scary balloons that his cat thinks he’s still a joke.)

3) Let go of that need to be perfect. We are imperfect creatures and we will make all kinds of mistakes. No novel is perfect. Not a one. Mine won’t be. God knows. Yours won’t be. Just write the story you want to tell.

4) This is supposed to be fun, right? Have some fun. The groove will come. Trust me. If you’re scene sucks, have your character say, damn, boi, dis scene like sux, yo. And then do #1 (no, not pee, read my #1 idea.)

editing5) You can always fix what you write. Odds are you will anyway, so just write for the love of God, just write. Get the story down. Work on the technical aspects of the story later.

Hey, I dunno if this will work for anyone but me. But it got me writing today. It’s really about getting out of the analytical side of your brain and into the creative side.

Any other people have ways to do that?

Oh and hey, in other news, the 5/5/5 will be meeting again next week. We all have the first pages of our novels done. We are back to writing, again. And I expect we’ll come out of that meeting with a few more ideas on what we’ll be doing in the future. Having read the submissions, I have to say that all of the writers have always been good writers, but damn, boi, yo, they’re like becoming sick story-tellers, too.


New Facebook page set up: 1. Justjoebc.  Please like it. I am in desperate need of validation as a living being.

Pages Written on New Novel: 27 Not good production, but it’s better than 0 production. Plus, my house looks freaking awesome now.

Blogs Written This Week: All done now. Kinda miss it. More blogs coming. http://justjoebc.wordpress.com

Queries Out this Week: 0 (only so much time)

Rejections: 0.

Queries Still Out There: 0

Hope Meter: 80/100. Dropped to 60. But, as of today, back to 80.

Lost for Words

Illustration: Christian Tate

Illustration: Christian Tate

Helga’s Post # 80:  Few things in life are as frustrating as having to abandon what you love most and yield to what has to be done. The necessities. The drudgeries. The self-imposed tasks of feeding the monster called ‘improving your life’.

Like shelving writing for something as mundane and trifling as selling the house in which we have lived for a quarter of a century. By the time it’s finally ready to be listed I feel like a robot. My office is gone, converted into a bedroom to show buyers there is enough room for an extra kid in the family, should they wish to expand. Trying to double-guess a décor that the average prospective buyer finds alluring feels demeaning, but apparently necessary if you want to sell. As a result, our house has become a stranger. Or, I admit, maybe we are the strangers that don’t fit the mold. In any case, the house is no longer ours, at least in appearance. Twenty-five years of familiarity suddenly a thing of the past. It feels a bit like breaking up a long-standing relationship.

But really, when it comes right down to it, it’s just a place. Four walls and a roof. A tiny spot on a map. When we leave we will take with us those things most dear, our music, paintings, and things collected over the years imbued with memories of places visited and of special events.

And then there is the garden. That’s a little more challenging to part with (although the upkeep is becoming more cumbersome each year). As I have done since we moved here, I get enjoyment from tending to the countless shrubs and perennials planted over the years. I know everyone of them – the rhododendrons, azaleas, weigela , and the tiny fragrant alpines in my rock garden. I know exactly when each comes into bloom, year after year, and which ones will follow. They are like constant and loyal friends. I will definitely miss them. Perhaps another, smaller garden is in our future.

All to say, with these somewhat unnerving and time-consuming events I had to relegate my writing to the proverbial backseat. Am I making excuses for not having written a single word of the new novel that the 5 writers have decided to embark upon?

Before you nod, read on. My neglect only applies to the ‘act’ of writing. While no actual words have yet filled the first blank page, my mind was active and often went into overdrive. There are many hours during a sleepless night that can produce amazing results for planning a new novel. The difficult task is deciding which of the many ideas born at three AM or thereabouts will stand the test of dawn. While I haven’t ‘produced’ a tangible product just yet, meaning I have nothing to hand out at our group’s meeting next week, I did the groundwork. I spent countless hours pondering potential stories and plots, comparing, discarding and in the end selecting a few that spoke to me most loudly in the wee hours of the night.

Isn’t that part of writing? In fact it’s one of the most crucial parts of writing a novel. “To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David McCullough once said.

As writers, we’re likely both devoted to our craft and eternally frustrated by it – and that holds true for even the most talented writers, according to a recent article in the Huffington Post, titled ‘How To Think Like A Writer’. We could all use guidance from the greats on how to hone our powers of thinking and get those creative juices flowing, the article claims. Here are some tips, tricks, quirks and habits – some quite tongue in cheek – that might inspire us to think like a writer:

Study the greats.

Hunter S. Thompson was known to transcribe Ernest Hemingway’s novels in full, just to absorb the words — he typed out The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms in the hopes of absorbing as much wisdom as possible from his literary idol.

Observe everything.

Practice the art of observation daily and everywhere — perhaps a writer’s greatest asset. “Read, observe, listen intensely — as if your life depended upon it,” says Joyce Carol Oates.


Joan Didion 1970 (Julian Wasser/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)


Daydreaming may get a bad rap — but it can help connect you to what you think and feel, the source of all good (and bad) writing. As Joan Didion once pondered, “Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought?”

Write from your own truth.

Gabriel García Márquez used to advise young writers, based on his own experience, to write what they know. “If I had to give a young writer some advice I would say to write about something that has happened to him; it’s always easy to tell whether a writer is writing about something that has happened to him or something he has read or been told.”

Make writing your top priority. Henry Miller

Henry Miller wrote in his 10 commandments for writing that the serious writer must put his craft above all else. “Write first and always,” he advised. “Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.”

Find your creative inspiration, wherever it may be.

Gertrude Stein once said of the writing process, “It will come if it is there and if you will let it come.” Novelist Patricia Highsmith took a stiff drink before writing to reduce her energy, and subsisted on a diet consisting only of bacon, fried eggs, and cereal. Friedrich Schiller, writer, philosopher (1759–1805) kept a drawer full of rotting apples in his workroom, saying that the smell urged him to write.Patricia-Highsmith-in-1962-Talented-Mr.-Ripley-US-1st-Edition

Know what you’re getting yourself into.

Want to live the writer’s life? Great. But make sure you’re not just infatuated with an imagined ideal of your artsy existence. Margaret Atwood wrote in The Guardian: ‘You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.’

Take it one day, or sentence, at a time.

When a writing assignment or grand idea is sitting in front of you waiting to be put into words, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the scope of the undertaking. But like any great work of fiction or non-fiction, there’s only one way for it to be done: One word, sentence, and paragraph at a time.

Just do it.

Stephen King knows a thing or two about being a prolific writer. And it pretty much all boils down to this: “Read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

And do it with joy.

As Joyce Carol Oates advised in rules number 1 and 10 on her list of rules for writers “Write your heart out.”

And that’s exactly what I am planning to do in the months to come.

Pages written this month:            0

Plots created in my mind:            >100

Plots narrowed down:                  ~10

Creating something from nothing

Karalee’s Post #77

The last three weeks have been out of routine for me as I’ve been helping my friend care for her hobby farm while she is away taking her 96 year-old invalid father to Cuba. Silk was saying that 60 is the new 40, but once you are in your 90’s it’s pretty hard to look or act as a 70 year old.

I take my hat off to my friend knowing that she’s in the rare group that would tackle such a task of organizing beforehand and taking care of her father while away. It is definitely a trait to consider in a character I may develop one day.

I’ve taken time to write and I also offered to build a couple of vegetable boxes so my friend can have her first outdoor garden since moving here a good 20 years ago. It is for her  to enjoy as well as her adult children and grandchildren when they have their yearly vacation on the farm.

Today I literally made something from nothing, much like the writing process and starting with the infamous blank white page.

1. Start with an idea and toy with “what if’s” and “where it can take place” and gather information and tools as you start to outline (or write if you are the type that delves right in)






2. Start developing your characters and start building the foundation of your story.







Often at this point for me ideas come fast and furious and it’s exhilarating to start writing and see where they go. During these creative bouts it doesn’t take long to get a good number of scenes written and feel some accomplishment. That’s how I felt when I had my first vegetable box finished. Full of enthusiasm, I sent a picture to my friends on Facebook, much like sending a submission to my writing group.







My visions of grandeur were short-lived when I got feedback that the box wasn’t in a spot that suited everyone that uses that space, so I found out.

That’s what happens in submission in our writing group too. Some things work, others don’t, and not always the same feedback from everyone.

So back to the drawing board and I take down the newly constructed box and move it farther up towards the back of the garage. I also put the second one beside it. Back here is a good spot too as it still gets lots of sun. It’s less convenient for watering and tending to, but on the other hand they are now visible from down in the barn, so the perspective changes and adds to the enjoyment of the property.

The foundation is now complete.

To me this would be like finishing my character development and outline of a book.




For this garden, next comes the soil which needs to be the right texture and mix of nutrients. Then one needs to decide what to grow and plant the seeds or transplant seedlings. When the garden grows, it is for all to enjoy.

In writing a novel, next comes the actual writing and editing, more submissions to our writing group, more re-writing, etc. until I have a finished product. At that point, it will be for readers to enjoy.

I’ve had a day of physical labour. I feel good although tired and I have a blister from screwing in screws.

That’s like writing for me too. Have you ever written so much in one day that the tips of your fingers are a bit sore and feel like you’ve worn the skin off?

Happy writing!




Deja vu all over again


YogiBerra Video

Paula’s Post #73 — This week, we 5writers are focused on New Beginnings, starting with a post of that title from 5writer colleague Joe, who kicked things off by asking the not exactly rhetorical question:”

“How do you begin writing a novel?”

By his own admission, in Joe’s world, (and perhaps universally amongst writers), this can be a daunting and frightening task:

For anyone who’s ever written anything, you know there are 2 scary moments. One is when you actually have to pitch the story to someone or explain to people at a party what you do and what you’re writing. “So, yeah, like I’m a writer and I’m writing a novel about a space vampire who dismembers virgins with laser beams implanted in his penis and…” Yeah. People usually walk away at this point.

blank pageThe other is to stare at a blank page and come up with something amazing. Something someone will want to read (no, HAVE to read). Something vaguely original.


The blank page.

That’s exactly where we 5writers are this week: staring at the blank page.

Staring at blank pages, contemplating new beginnings. Trying to figure out, where exactly, to start our new novels? Like the famous quotation attributed to Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, “it’s like deja vu all over again”.


Because we each faced this same dilemma at the start of our 5writers challenge back in September 2012, when we kicked off this blog amidst our challenge, to ourselves, to each try to write an entire novel in 5months, and blog about it while doing so.

Ah, that seems so long ago now.

But there are other famous Yogisms, as they are now colloquially known. Off beat tidbits of wisdom that make one ponder whether old Yogi might have been a closeted novelist, so closely to they hit home. To wit:

If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up somewhere else.


I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early.

Just think about that a minute. While many consider these vintage Yogi nuggets, malapropisms, for me, and many like me, they hold a deeper truth: if you don’t take care at the beginning of your novel, you’ve little hope of making it to the end.

At least to the end you’ve dreamt about and worked toward for months and months (if not years and years).

So, it is with this in mind that I confess that despite my good intentions, despite having become a reluctant fan of outlining… I’m not working from an outline on my just started novel, set in 19th century Scotland.

I can hear the gasps resonate through cyberspace, even from here. And don’t think I don’t see you shaking your heads, too. And clucking, I’m pretty sure I can hear clucking, – an ominous amount of clucking.

But as Silk noted in her post of Monday: New Tacks for Old Dogs:

There’s nothing like staring at that blank white page, as Joe said in his post “A new beginning”, to scare the bejesus out of you. And there’s no place to go for the words to fill that page but your own brain. When it comes to writing a novel, every writer is a singlehander out on the ocean by themselves.

How true: “no place to go for words to fill the pages but your own brain”.

But our brains are wondrous cauldrons full of inspiration and of ideas, so much more than the bits of cells and synapses that make up the whole, (okay, okay, I hear you – and I know that synapses are made up of cells too – sheesh, is it my fault I’m a bit weak when it comes to anatomy)?

But let me step back a bit and try to explain why I’m not outlining. The novel I’ve decided to write, my new novel set on the Isle of Skye, (or more precisely about characters who leave the Isle of Skye for the far flung corners of the earth) is, to be sure, a work of fiction.

But this work of fiction is inspired by my own family history and the trials (literally) and tribulations of my great-great-great-grandmother, Merion.

In the weeks to come, I may share with you parts of her remarkable story (if you want the whole story, you’ll have to read my book, – once it is done of course).

In the meantime, I’m not using an outline…


I’m not using an outline, at the beginning, because I know where the story starts. Sort of. I know who the principal characters are and I know where they will be going, and even how they will get there.

This doesn’t mean that, at some point down the road, I won’t need to start working from an outline. I will. I’ll need an outline to keep all the details straight, and also to capture all the dramatic story ‘beats’. Because just telling the story, in chronological fashion, may not make a good story.

As 5writer colleague Silk also reminded us last week, fiction is not like reality.

So, for me, starting my new story involves a two-step process.

Step one: ‘telling’ the story to myself. This is the first part of a two-part creative exercise. In ‘step one’ I’m imagining the ‘backstory’ to real historical events that are documented in my family’s history. I know ‘what’ happened, but not ‘why’ it happened, or how the principal actors/characters felt about their world, why they did what they did, much less the reactions of those around them. I know roughly where they lived, but not the details that make good literature: in other words, since I haven’t yet been to Skye, I have to use the internet to ‘see’ what my characters would have seen from the threshold of their cottage, just as I must use my imagination to discern what they must have smelled, how they must have felt and all they must have experienced, through use of their 5 senses.

So, with my historical novel, perhaps uniquely, I am starting out by ‘telling’ myself bits of the story, so I can get the details right. Later, once I have a feel for the characters, )and the world they live in, and how they get along with the other characters in the novel, I’ll be able to go back and craft an outline. That is step two.

But I’m not there yet. I do not know enough to even start. I need to get to know my characters first.

First I must learn a bit more about my characters, and about the Isle of Skye.

I’ll have more to say about that in my next post, but for now, it is back to my unpacking, for we are still surrounded by chaos from our recent move (no quiet writing room yet).

Movers at the house this week: Five (3 that unloaded all our furniture and boxes – two more that had to come back a day later with the missing hardware to put the bed together).

Ferries taken this week: Two (I’m loving my time with out internet, all my best manuscript editing has been on the ferry, my car my new ‘writing room’.)

Seaside Pubs visited this week: One

Islands Sailed Around: Zero (over to you, Silk)

Kayaks lusted after this week: Two. Anyone know anything about a Wilderness ‘Pungo’?

Boxes unpacked this week: Hmm…maybe don’t ask. Oh, and no kidding, I can’t find my pots. You know, saucepans. If you’ve seen them, let me know.

Oh, and if you want a few more ‘Yogisms’ to brighten your day, check out the quotes below.


90% of short putts don’t go in. — Yogi Berra

A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore. — Yogi Berra

Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours. — Yogi Berra

Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical — Yogi Berra

Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it was broken. — Yogi Berra

Don’t get me right, I’m just asking! — Yogi Berra

How can you think and hit at the same time? — Yogi Berra

I couldn’t tell if the streaker was a man or a woman because it had a bag on it’s head. — Yogi Berra

I knew I was going to take the wrong train, so I left early. — Yogi Berra

I really didn’t say everything I said. — Yogi Berra

I usually take a two hour nap from 1 to 4. — Yogi Berra

I want to thank all those who made this night necessary. — Yogi Berra

I wish I had an answer to that, because I’m tired of answering that question. — Yogi Berra

If I didn’t wake up I’d still be sleeping. — Yogi Berra

If the people don’t want to come out to the park, nobody’s gonna stop them. — Yogi Berra

If the world were perfect it wouldn’t be. — Yogi Berra

If you ask me a question I don’t know I’m not going to answer. — Yogi Berra

If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him. — Yogi Berra

If you come to a fork in the road, take it. — Yogi Berra

I’m as red as a sheet. — Yogi Berra

In baseball, you don’t know nothin’. — Yogi Berra

Interviewer: “Why, you’re a fatalist !” Yogi Berra: “You mean I save postage stamps ? Not me.”

It ain’t over ’till it’s over. — Yogi Berra

It gets late early out here. — Yogi Berra

It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much. — Yogi Berra

It’s like deja-vu, all over again. — Yogi Berra

It’s never happened in World Series history, and it hasn’t happened since. — Yogi Berra

It’s not too far, it just seems like it is. — Yogi Berra

Little League baseball is a good thing ’cause it keeps the parents off the streets and it keeps the kids out of the house! — Yogi Berra

Mrs. Lindsay: “You certainly look cool.” Yogi Berra: “Thanks, you don’t look so hot yourself.”

Never answer an anonymous letter. — Yogi Berra

Ninety percent of the game is half mental. — Yogi Berra

Pair up in threes. — Yogi Berra

People don’t go there anymore. It’s too crowded. — Yogi Berra

Phil Rizzuto: “Hey Yogi I think we’re lost.” Yogi Berra: “Yeah, but we’re making great time!”

Slump? I ain’t in no slump… I just ain’t hitting. — Yogi Berra

The future ain’t what it use to be. — Yogi Berra

The only reason I need these gloves is cause of my hands. — Yogi Berra

The other team could make trouble for us if they win. — Yogi Berra

Tom Seaver: “Hey, Yogi, what time is it?” Yogi Berra: “You mean now?”

We have a good time together, even when we’re not together. — Yogi Berra

We have deep depth. — Yogi Berra

We made too many wrong mistakes. — Yogi Berra

We were overwhelming underdogs. — Yogi Berra

We’re lost but we’re makin’ good time. — Yogi Berra

Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel. — Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra on seeing a Steve McQueen movie: “He must have made that before he died”

You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six. — Yogi Berra

You can observe a lot just by watchin’. — Yogi Berra

You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there. — Yogi Berra

A new beginning

How do you begin writing a novel?

outlineFor me, this time, it started with an outline. I wanted to begin actually writing the darned thing earlier, but life intervened. Not in a bad way, mind you (as my 1000 blogs will show), but my time has been limited and I’ve chosen to spend that time doing other things. Blogging. Getting a house ready for sale. Being with my new family.

But today, I finally got my ass in the chair and loaded up a blank screen and began to write.

So I wanted to share the process. Cuz, you know, everyone was just waiting for me to share.

For anyone who’s ever written anything, you know there are 2 scary moments. One is when you actually have to pitch the story to someone or explain to people at a party what you do and what you’re writing. “So, yeah, like I’m a writer and I’m writing a novel about a space vampire who dismembers virgins with laser beams implanted in his penis and…” Yeah. People usually walk away at this point.

blank pageThe other is to stare at a blank page and come up with something amazing. Something someone will want to read (no, HAVE to read). Something vaguely original.

And something that also inspires YOU to write more (also known as Not Sucking Complete Ass.)

Cuz that opening matters. It matters A LOT. (Assuming they get past the concept of the book, which I have to say, has sunk me more often than starting out a story with ‘it was a dark and stormy night, dude.”)

Now I don’t want to get into your head (as I often get into mine), but once someone agrees your premise doesn’t bore them, make them want to throw up or confuse them, most agents, editors and Amazon customers make a decision on your book like this.

Hmmm. First line is great. I wanna read on. Hmmm. First paragraph has me hooked, I’m going to put down my fat-free bagel to read the page. Hmmm. That wasn’t too shabby, what the hell is going to happen? *turns the page* *forgets about bagel*

To help me write, I relied, therefore, on a few of my favourite givers of advice.

Slater said, “Never bore. Never confuse. And always start off with a killer line.”

Scott-Bell said, “Begin your novel with a disturbance to the Lead’s ordinary world. No happy people in happy land. Have your characters in action. Avoid too much description and exposition.”

(He actually says a LOT more but this blog would be 20 pages long if I wrote it all down.)

And this from Clare Langley-Hawthorn: “The openings should establish mood, theme, threat, dissonance, character and world.”

So you see why this is hard. So you see why we can get into our heads as writers and never actually get a word written. So much to do. So little space. I mean, seriously, get that all done in a few sentences?

catI think there’s a simpler way. Just draw the reader in. (le Carré said “the cat sat on the mat is not the opening of a plot. The cat sat on the dog’s mat is.”)

So with that in mind, with my outline printed out beside me, with my cup of coffee steaming into the air, I began to write.

The group will take a look at on the 28th. They will tell me if it works for them.

But more me, it was a good start to what I hope will be a great novel!


So how do you start a novel? What goes into your first pages? What worries do you have?


New Facebook page set up: 1. Justjoebc.  Please like it. Please tell your friends to like it. Please get your cats to like it.

Pages Written on New Novel: 7. The novel has BEGUN!

Blogs Written This Week: Oh this is what I’ve been doing. http://justjoebc.wordpress.com

Queries Out this Week: 0 (only so much time) Just no time. Blogs. Moving. Writing

Rejections for the Last Week: 5 (I gotta assume at this point the 5 still out there have gone from possibles to no way. It still bugs me agents can’t even send a reply, though.)

Queries Still Out There: 0

Hope Meter: 80/100.  If it’s not at 80, how do you even start to write a novel

Writing progress

Karalee’s Post #76


I’m in the East Kootenays for the next couple of weeks helping a friend on her hobby farm. I’m busy feeding horses and walking dogs and taking care of the house while she is away.



I’ve time to write and have been making headway on my new story. For the first time I have an overall feel of how a book needs to come together as I’m writing it. It’s like a breath of fresh air and I see it as a breakthrough for me. All the hard work learning this craft called writing is starting to become general knowledge that I can pull from instead of trying to learn it all as I go.

It feels similar to when I was learning to be a physical therapist in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. Learning every peripheral nerve, muscle and bone took months, but at some point became part of my general knowledge. This was the foundation though, upon which I could then start problem-solving orthopedic injuries, etc. and apply treatments and recommendations to clients.

I feel I am at this point in learning the writing craft and that I finally have a good foundation to build upon.

My foundation also includes an outline so I have an idea of where my story is going and I know where to aim for at the end. Some parts of my outline are in great detail as I visualize the scenes, but others are sketchy and open to my creative juices as I get there.

It is wonderful to have a feel for how the structure works, how the plot can unfold, and how my characters have to be realistic and have the reader care about or relate to them on an emotional level as I’m writing. Now I am more cognizant of not having the amateur information dumps and fillers like I have had before. Note Silk’s last post on this topic. Thanks Silk!

I’ve been concentrating on dialogue lately and this week Brian Klems, the Online Editor of Writers Digest, wrote a column The 7 Tools of Dialogue that is well worth the time to read. I am very glad to say that I am using some of these techniques automatically and that is also good for my confidence.

As I write I’m also keeping in mind what James Scott Bell put so succinctly in his book Plot and Structure. He says that the questions below are what all agents, publishers and readers think about when they open a book:

  • What’s this story about?
  • Is anything happening?
  • Why should I keep reading?
  • Why should I care?

Happy writing!

My news… and some book news


Paula’s Post #72 – So, this will be an uber short post this evening. Sorry, but it has been a long day, in a long week in a very long month in an oh so long year.

Today was ‘Moving Day’ at my house. Moving-in day at our ‘not-quite-finished-being-renovated’ home in the picturesque coastal town of Gibsons Landing, British Columbia. Almost 9 months ago, way back in August, we sold our home in West Vancouver and waved good-bye as the moving truck pulled down the driveway.

At the time, we had no idea where we’d be moving next. Almost everything we owned just went into storage!

But like many a good story, this saga too has a happy ending, and after months of upheaval, we are ready to settle into our new home.

With a jumble of a hundred or so still packed boxes filling the garage, there is much to do before we are ‘settled’, but already we are content. We’ve met new neighbours, caught up with old friends and are looking forward to welcoming more friends, old and new, into our new home.

In future, I hope to once again have a chair, a desk and a ‘writer’s room’ – the lack of which has severely vexed me these past 9 months.

But, all of that is still a dream a vision on a distant horizon, because for the next few weeks, (months?) we will be unpacking and unpacking and unpacking, trying to make some semblance  of order from chaos.

So, not much time for a ‘real’ post today. So rather than not post at all, I thought I’d post not only my little ‘news flash’ about our move, but also some ‘literary news’, together with a question?

Where do you like to get your ‘news’ about authors, books, book deals, writing and all things literary?

My usual source is the New York Times, but from time to time I’ve also consulted and found several interesting articles by combing through everything from the predictable (Publishers Weekly) to the  arcane

Publishers’ Weekly:

Where you can check out a list of the best summer reads of 2014

The New York Times:

Where you can read of the life and death of legendary Canadian author Farley Mowat.

The Guardian:

Where I found a fascinating article on a special inscribed book given by Oscar Wilde to his gaoler.

The Huffington Post:

Where I discovered Dracula’s Castle is for Sale.

WaterisLife is developing a ‘Drinkable Book, that not only will teach water safety, but also can be used to actually treat drinking water to make it safe. Each page can be torn out and used as a filter. The book’s pages are coated in a bacteria killing substance that kills the bacteria that cause E.coli, typhoid and other diseases.

How cool is that?

Oh, and one more cool thing? I hate to admit it, but I suspect we writers can get a lot more accomplished without internet. Before my internet provider showed up earlier this week, I found my self trapped in our empty new home with no TV, no radio and no Wi Fi. I did, however, still have electricity and a laptop.

Pages written this week: 20