Getting back to work

Joe’s Post #143

Getting back from a writing retreat or a workshop, or even a conference, is a lot like coming back from a vacation with a bad case of the runs. It’s not like you don’t want to get on with life, but sh*t just keeps cropping up.

orange is the new blackBack at home, there’s all sorts of distractions, from Orange is the New Black to a regular life full of ball hockey practices, dishes and yelling at the dog for barking at the cat who’s hissing at the frogs, to bills and fights with Canada Revenue Services.

So while it’s easy to find time to write when you’re on a retreat, or at a workshop, it’s hard to keep that momentum going.

In the last week, I wrote 30 pages. Better than most weeks in 2015, that’s for sure, but far below what I should be doing. And that got me thinking.

How do you keep up the momentum?


For me, it routine is still my best hope, but I can write for 2 hours a day in the morning and produce 2 hours of crap. So that may not be everything.

keyFinding inspiration is the key. I mean, that’s what those other events are for, right?

Can you find it from other writers? Sure. So you need to be part of a group. A fun group that loves to write.

Can you find it from books on writing? Maybe, but it’s just as easy to get bogged down in editorial mode and that could mean you’ll be writing and rewriting and rewriting the same 30 pages over and over.

Can you find it from novels? Ah, that’s the ticket. At least for me. Nothing inspires like a good book.

Can you find it alone? Hmmm. Maybe, but inspiring myself is kind of like trying to cut my own hair. It usually ends in tears and a trip to the doctor to reattach an ear.

So how do you stay motivated?


Internet, your writing friend and foe

Karalee’s Post #108

I’m back from holidays, energized and full of new ideas and ways of looking at my characters. For me a holiday is a change of routine, a gift of time to explore.

And exploring can be anything you want it to be, from bungee jumping to simply sleeping in and reading a new book or rereading a favorite book only to discover something new about it.

My husband and I chose to have a holiday on land on Martinique for a few days before joining friends on their catamaran for the rest of our time away.

The choice was great. On land we were happy campers, driving to see the sights and having the luxury of a somewhat consistent internet connection when back in our hotel room. We could keep up with email and Facebook, etc. Writing was still an option without resorting to pen and paper.

We were away, but not getting away from it all!

Then, when we stepped onto the boat, all our internet connection was pay-as-you-go through my husband’s phone. In effect I was cut off cold-turkey.

At first it didn’t bother me. A couple of days went by with me catching up on sleep, visiting with our friends, playing board games, eating/drinking, and reading real books. Oh, I got the pen and paper out too, and jotted down some ideas.

In effect, I was okay being disconnected from the www.

Then some withdrawal signs crept in. My routine was disrupted. I was used to checking my email and seeing what was up on Facebook. I was used to looking up stuff on the internet.

I wanted access.

And with access denied, my desire was compounded. It made me realize how much time I spend on the internet on a regular basis. Time that used to be spent reading, visiting and interacting with real people, and even doing stuff like cleaning my house and working in the garden. Or writing!

Yeah, writing!

Every day still has 24 hours, so no time to spend on the internet meant I had to do other stuff. It’s refreshing not to be “interrupted” from reading. I read different books, like What Would a Buddha Do? and Living in Gratitude. Guidebooks were pulled out and books on the birds and fauna. I took more time to meditate and roll on my ball to help my back pain (not because I was bored, rather it’s something I normally avoid).

My time was spent visiting, playing games, swimming, cooking and eating, and cleaning up. And reading before sleeping and again when waking.

What pleasure!

I had forgotten how awesome it is to have an old-fashioned holiday!

I wonder how many of us really disconnect from the pull of the internet when we take time off?


Writing Progress: I have had a personal breakthrough in flushing out theme in my writing and I’m looking forward to paying attention to this aspect not only regarding my protagonist’s story, but how my secondary characters’ stories fit in too. Back to writing routine too!

Fun stuff happening: Our middle son is graduating from UBC next month. We’re planning a big party before he takes off traveling May until August. To be young again…

Treats eaten: too many on holidays. Back to less of everything!

Perspective Photos:

boat and nets















Happy writing.


Reading is the best medicine

Joe’s Post #133

Good readsActually, I should say reading good books is the best medicine.

In my newly busy life, I’ve found it hard to carve out time to read (and write, but, ah, yeah, let’s not talk about that). However, for any writer anywhere, especially if you’re in a writing funk as us 5/5/5ers seem to be, then books are the answer.

Why not TV? TV is awesome and fun and easy to do. But that’s exactly why it’s good escapism, but bad for your writing health. Oh, it may give you a few good ideas about story or character or even some pretty visuals, but nothing beats words actually entering your head from your eyes.

But books do take time. I’ve never been a speed-reader so I tend to avoid War and Peace-size books and gravitate towards the ones that are about 400-500 pages. Oh sure, tomes like Game of Thrones sneaks in (you know what, I have to confess I have a soft spot for super chubby fantasy books – 800 pages ones) but mostly what I read can be read in a week.

If I take the time.

Kardashians! Not Cardassians!!!!

Kardashians! Not Cardassians!!!!

So these last few weeks, I’ve made a greater effort to make the time. I’ve not watched Survivor or hockey or anything to do with the Kardashians (not that I ever did). I’ve tried to go to bed a little earlier so I can have time to read.

And it’s working. By reading words well written, I’m getting inspired with ideas and characters and locations and all of that writing stuff. It’s the first step to recovery, I think. It’s that step that hopefully gets me back to the love of writing.

Ah, the Martian Chronicles. So good.

Ah, the Martian Chronicles. So good.

Hey, think back. What inspired you to write? Odds are it was another book. For me, it was grade 7. Mr. Moore’s class. He read to us Ray Bradbury and all I wanted to do was run home and write about martians and aliens. I still do in some way.

Now, however, I have all these voices in my head that say I can’t do this or I can’t sell that. I have to find a way to deal with those voices, but in the meantime, I’m returning to the beginning. To how I got started.

To reading.

So what books inspired you to write?


Best show last week – As per the post, I didn’t watch much but I did spend an hour with Battle Creek. Funny show. Created by the dudes who made Breaking Bad and it features a gung-ho FBI agent sent to a bankrupt small town.

Book that I’m reading at the moment – Finished Brent Weeks. The Way of Shadows, and his next book, Shadow’s Edge. I’m on his last one now.

Pages written on new book  Got 20 fun pages done on characters. Does that count? Probably not, but again, it’s better than nothing.

Social media update – 1 blog every 2 days on my step-dad site about my experience as a chaperone on a grade 7 camping trip.  Fun times, let me tell you. Check it out.

Health  OMG, finally better. Dare I say I’m in good health or am I tempting fate to give me another infection.

Best thing last week  Well, it was actually on March 8th, but my best friend got married. Congratulations Sheila and Gord. Beautiful wedding.

Worst thing  My laptop has problems, again. Grrrrr. I have a loop of word file syncs that somehow shuts down my computer.

A clear and present danger


Paula’s Post #65 — We live in the digital age. A time of ever-increasing distractions. Our iPhones, our iPads, our Fuel Bands and Fitbits, our 1000+ digital cable channels, our Netflix and Twitter and Linkedin accounts… all contribute to a world where the hours of the day are subjected to being sliced and diced like a French chef’s mirepoix, until there is nothing left but a few stray minutes here, an hour or so there.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t shake the vague sense of feeling ‘robbed’ by all these distracting influences.

I know, I know,  I can hear you all now: “It’s your own fault if you can’t turn off your phone for an hour or two – if you can’t push yourself off the couch and pick up a book instead of sitting rooted, like a gnarled old oak, transfixed by the Olympic’s Women’s Parallel Slalom Snowboarding event or the latest episode of Downton Abbey.  

We all make choices, this is true, but there is no disputing the radical changes the digital age has brought to our everyday lives.

Just 10 years ago, I actually visited libraries on a weekly basis. Visited bookstores too, almost as often, checking out with armloads of heavy books from my favourite authors. I recall vowing to purchase Sue Grafton’s alphabet offerings, in order, all the way to Z is for… but alas, faltered somewhere around P is for Peril.

P is for Peril

I was amongst the first to cheer the introduction of the eReader, the device that heralded the dawn of a new age, a utopian future where we could travel through Europe without fear of running out of books to read, or of being charged excess baggage fees when the 17 travel guides we’d squirreled away in our luggage resulted in our suitcases topping out the scales at somewhere north of 50 pounds.

Up until the last decade, for better or worse, actual physical ‘books’ were an omnipresent part of our everyday lives.

Now, with rare exceptions, most of my books are downloaded to my iPad. I still like to buy real hard copies of the reference books that I used in my business and  I think I will always want to buy hard copies of ‘writing’ books, for these I like to index with little stickies and dog ear the pages to mark passages that resonate with a particular sage piece of advice. But now, my purchase of ‘real’ books, as far as fiction is concerned, is more often than not confined to purchasing that special first edition of a favourite author’s book, or better yet, the hot off the presses launch of a writing colleagues debut novel.

To me, this is disturbing.

How could so much have changed in so short a time?

Not everyone is like me. I’m sure many of you are still acquiring books, whether from a genuine preference for the touch and feel and smell of ‘real books’ or from an altruistic need to ‘save’ a dying art form.

When I packed up my house to move last summer, I could have built eight foot walls from the shelves full of books we’d accumulated over the years. Some purchased, some inherited, but either way far too many to move yet again.

In case you think otherwise, there isn’t a huge market for used books – they’re difficult to even give away. But my 5writer colleague Joe was quick to step in, offering to ‘shelter’ several fine books in his collection.

Indeed, I’ve started to think maybe we need to develop ‘book rescue’ organizations, something akin to ‘pet rescue’. Noble undertakings where you offer to provide a home, temporary or otherwise, to save old books from being euthanized at the dump.

But think about it for a minute. Even if you do rescue these books, how many of these books are you actually going to read? Are we ‘book readers’ the last of a dying breed?

What about young people? Are the majority actually reading actual books these days? I know the Hunger Games trilogy and the Divergent series have captivated a certain segment of teen and young adult readers, in much the same way as J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series managed a decade before with somewhat younger readers, but is this an isolated trend?

My sister-in-law Eleanor is visiting this week; a retired high school teacher, she is a life-long reader who still works with young people, tutoring ESL students. Eleanor is a true reader, having read every day of her life, from the time she learned to read. She even admits to feeling upset if she doesn’t read a little bit everyday, if only for ten minutes, before she falls asleep.

But Eleanor readily agrees that she finds it disturbing when she has to almost ‘force’ some of her young adult students to read books, even for pleasure.

I’m beginning to wonder if we may have done our children a disservice, herding them into English class and forcing them to dissect books like specimens in a biology lab. Dictating that a novel must be ripped to shreds until there is nothing left to love. Lost is pacing, plot and most egregious of all, the suspension of disbelief. Who wouldn’t rather play video games?

Perhaps what we need is a revolution in reading. Since it debuted in 1996, Oprah’s Book Club has helped to keep reading fun, social and interactive. She’s even got lists to help introduce kids to the joy of reading.

Yet even here, some have criticized the pop culture, mass appeal of the books Oprah has championed over the years: Scott Stossel, an editor at The Atlantic, wrote:

“There is something so relentlessly therapeutic, so consciously self-improving about the book club that it seems antithetical to discussions of serious literature. Literature should disturb the mind and derange the senses; it can be palliative, but it is not meant to be the easy, soothing one that Oprah would make it.”[1]

Seriously? What a snob!

I don’t know about you, but I want to fall in love with books again. Yesterday, a beautiful 80 degree blue sky day in the California desert, I launched my floatie raft and drifted about my pool. Within minutes though, I was antsy. I knew something was wrong. I didn’t have a book I could take into the pool. Two sat on my bedside table: The Spellman Files, a hardcopy, first edition mystery by Edgar nominated author Lisa Lutz bearing a personal inscription to the friend in my Bocce league who’d lent me this delightful debut novel.

No, no, no, no – definitely not taking that one in the pool.

Ditto for the second book on my night table, The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett, another hard copy first edition debut novel that is winning rave reviews. This book a Christmas present from my cousin Mark.

Not pool fodder, no, no, no.

I finally settled on launching with NumbersRachel Ward’s debut YA psycho thriller about a disaffected teen with an unusual affliction, the ability to see ‘numbers’ attached to people, the numbers the dates of each person’s death. I’d purchased the book when researching the genre for my own 5writers YA novel, but never did more than read a few of the early chapters.

Yesterday, floating on my raft under an azure sky, I lost myself in this little paperback book, if only for an hour or so before yet another social engagement. But that hour was enough to rediscover the joy of reading. I didn’t pick it up at the end of the day, when I was exhausted and destined to fall asleep in a mere 10 minutes or so. No, for once I found the time to read in the middle of the day, my iPhone and iPad safely ashore, I floated adrift and unplugged from the normal distractions of everyday life.

I can’t say it is the best book I’ve ever read, but that is not the point. Yesterday, I cherished the simple pleasure of reading just for fun.

The Atlantic’s Mr. Stossel would no doubt cringe at my choice of reading material, decrying the author’s thin characterizations, familiar themes and simple prose.

Who cares!

If we do not rediscover the joy of reading for pleasure, I fear there is a clear and present danger lying just ahead.

I fear we will have no one to write for.

For you followers of our 5writers blog, I suspect I’m preaching to the converted. If you’re following a blog about writing, your either a reader, a writer, or both. Most likely your spouses and kids are too.

But what about the rest of the people in your little world? Do you know a boy or girl who never reads? A young adult who has yet to discover ‘the joy of reading’? A spouse who may have slipped from grace, distracted by the easy ability to watch six episodes of Breaking Bad in a single evening instead of picking up a book? Even amongst yourselves, are you finding you have too many books you are ‘supposed’ to read, with little time to just read for fun?

If so, I’m suggesting a small experiment. Pick up a book you’d never otherwise read. Read it for fun as quickly as possible. Try not to analyze it. Try just to enjoy it.

When you are done. Give it to someone else.

Bonus points for anyone who can coax a young person, under thirty, into reading a book, just for fun.

Paula’s Post #65.5 — A quick update: Alas, I did not quite manage to get this post posted by Tuesday, midnight, the deadline for my once a week blog offering. As in ‘if this is Tuesday, it must be Paula’s 5writer blog day’.

As we 5writers all know only to well, the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. I’d smugly written this post Monday morning, leaving it to add only the insertion of a number of links to author pages, etc. I figured I had plenty of time to do that Tuesday morning before my flight from California to Canada.

I figured wrong.

Remember, suspense in fiction is created by unexpected events. Events like the misplacement of keys before an international flight. The only set of keys that would let us into our rented postage stamp apartment in Vancouver. The keys we were sure we’d taken down to California, but were no where to be found, despite a massive key hunt. The keys that made us an hour late for our flight (good thing the flight was an hour late too).

But as Will Shakespeare famously wrote: ‘Alls Well that Ends Well’: a good friend picked us up to the airport in Vancouver, stayed with us all afternoon and hung out at Starbucks with us until we managed to track down our property manager and an extra key to our apartment. Our kind friend then joined us for dinner and drove us both to dinner and home, after we realized we still didn’t have a working ‘fob’ that would get us into our locked garage where our car is parked.

The fob is coming at 9 am this morning and we’ll be back in action, even if it looks like I’ll end up with a late start for my journey up the coast to check on our renovations. No bumpy journey is without a silver lining. For me, that was being reminded of the true value of a good friend.

Thanks, Colleen!


The monkey see, monkey do trap

Andel I

Silk’s Post #14 — I can’t write and read at the same time.

This is different from the jokey problem of walking while chewing gum. It’s not that I can’t multi-task, god knows. That’s all I do is multi-task. In fact I think the only thing I do without the distraction of three or four other balls in the air is sleep.

No, my problem is: I mimic.

When I read a good action thriller with lots of short, punchy, three-word sentences, I begin to write short, punchy, three-word sentences. When I read literature with long complex sentences and five dollar words, I start writing unstoppable sentences that turn into paragraphs with a hundred commas. When I read Ian Rankin, I begin to write as though I speak with a Scottish accent, and when I read Bill Bryson I suddenly seem to sound funnier — and slightly, if awkwardly, British. (I only wish I could mimic Martin Cruz Smith).

You see my dilemma?

Writers – and the large galaxy of people who seem to make a pretty good living coaching writers on how to write – are always talking about how important it is to read, read, read if you want to write, write, write. Don’t any of them have my monkey-see-monkey-do problem?

But if I admit it (and you know that’s a writer’s way of warning you they’re about to admit something), I have a deeper problem with reading while I’m writing. It all sounds so much better than my own work. Probably not all of it really is better, but there it is in ink, on a page – and there’s my work in pixels, on a screen. Ink gives a certain je ne sais quoi to writing. A certain intimidation factor. For one thing, it’s no longer deletable, and that seems to add to its substance and legitimacy.

This second reading problem, however, is pretty clearly a psychological one. Writer’s self doubt. The remedy for it would seem to be getting published (though I suspect that from time to time even some well-respected, published authors still wrestle with the dark conviction that they’re actually frauds and it’s only a matter of time before they’re found out).

But back to mimicry.

Agents are always going on about how they’re looking for a fresh voice. By that, I’m quite sure they do not mean writers who’ve cleverly learned how to sound like other writers. (On the other hand, watch how a surprise runaway bestseller will send them scrambling to sign up exactly that … the next J.K. Rowling, for instance).

So what is “voice” exactly? This post is definitely in my voice. You can probably hear me speaking it, see the expressions on my face, and “read” my body language. The eye rolls. The resigned grins. The hand-wringing and the head wagging. The devilish sparkle in my eye. I actually find it easy to project my “voice” when I’m the first-person “protagonist” in expository non-fiction. I’ve been practising it for a long time as a writer in the commercial marketplace.

But applying this to fiction is a very different challenge. No doubt, there’s a little bit of the author in every memorable protagonist, but too much of the author on the page – as we’ve all been warned in the strongest possible terms – is one of the cardinal sins in fiction. “Author intrusion!” must be second only to “cliché alert!” as an often seen, and always dreaded, margin note.

Joe amused and intrigued us with his post about “becoming a 16-year-old girl” so he could write in the voice of his protagonist. And here’s where mimicry can be a boon. Observe, listen and learn from real life, and if you’re a good mimic you can become a character who is nothing like the real you. If you’re really empathic, you can begin to see the world through your character’s eyes and think with your character’s brain.

So this mimicry thing is actually a pretty useful skill. In the right circumstances.

The problem, for me anyway, comes when I’m reading another author and being sucked into the head of someone else’s protagonist while trying to write from the viewpoint of my own hero. It’s like trying to listen to two pieces of music at the same time. I lose my beat. And I’m guessing that when Joe was writing his YA fantasy, he didn’t have a couple of Jack Reacher thrillers on his bedside table for his nighttime reading.

I have heard at least one well-known author claim to eschew reading while writing, to keep the “voice pollution” out of his head. The question then becomes: when do you read if you’re writing all the time?

An interesting dilemma, this monkey-see-monkey-do trap. Can you read and write at the same time?  If not, how do you deal with it?