Sunday, 11 December 2011

Is my head in the clouds or stuck in a fog?

What a week. 

I understand that there are advantages to having my head in the clouds.  After all, without lofty goals to motivate me I would accomplish nothing.  Of course, this must be balanced with a measure of reality, or I will not ever be able to feel even moderately successful.

Oh, how I wish this had been a week of daydreaming about the glories of being a successful writer; organizing book tours, discussing movie rights, negotiating the amount of my advances for the grand works that are sure to follow my freshman novel.  What marvelous week it would have been.  I could almost justify that fact that I accomplished absolutely nothing during the course of the last 7 days.

Not a single line composed.

Alas, my head wasn’t floating in clouds of grand illusions.  It was stuck in a fog.  Not just a normal morning time fog that fills the low lying areas  only to quickly burn off with the morning sun.  We’re talking the pea soup, industrial revolution London, stick around for days on end kind of fog. 

You see, I had a head cold.  Surely I would have preferred the flu or perhaps strep throat, but I had a good old-fashioned cold.  My body felt fine but my head was stuffed with cotton.  I couldn’t think straight if my life had depended on it.  So I slept and took copious amounts of cold medicine, the latter only being effective enough to allow me to function in my domestic duties.  Higher level thinking was completely out of the question.

Oh well, these things happen.  What is important is that I do not let it weigh me down.  Now that I am feeling somewhat back to my normal state it is time for me to get back to the task at hand and finish my current short story (which should have been done 2 weeks ago, oh well).

On a side note – I’ve taken a temporary contract working at a local college which means two things.  First, our family will have a little disposable income and we can build up our savings.  Secondly, I will have to commit to writing in the evenings. 

I think I can make this work or at least I had better because…

Come hell or high water, I am starting this novel at the beginning of the New Year!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Reading, Writing & Arithmetic … Wait they said there’d be no Math.

With my Masters happily behind me I decided to do something that I haven’t done in far, far, far too long.  I actually sat down and read a book for enjoyment!

No, seriously.

It wasn’t a textbook or research paper, but an honest to goodness book.   It was such an unusual experience for me. 

“Are you kidding me!” you ask. “You want to write a freaking novel and you haven’t read a real book in a while.  Good luck with that buddy.”

Well, first of all, don’t call me buddy, pal.  Secondly, yes you are correct in your ridicule.  I know I need to read more.  It will help me understand the craft better.  I can examine plot development, characters, writing styles, and a myriad of other valuable aspects of the writing.  But I have a minor problem.

Books are like Meth to me.  I read 2 pages and I can’t stop.  I don’t want to sleep.  I don’t want to eat.  I just need to finish the book! 

You can see how this may be problematic for a stay-at-home dad of 3, who is also trying to write.  Needless to say, 2 ½ days later I finished the 3 books in The Hunger Games series.  Was it the perfect series? No, but I enjoyed it and it is in the approximate age range that I am targeting my finished work.  Did I glean anything useful from my efforts?  Yes, I think I did.  What?  I’ll maybe tell you later.  But first I need to learn how to put down a book and not inhale it.

Let’s shift gears for a second, away from my personal weakness and talk a little about the project I mentioned last week.

I was talking to a guy I know at my church.  At this point I wouldn’t call him a close friend but more of a strong acquaintance, but he is a good guy none-the-less.  Well, it just so happens that he is a professional photographer.  Not weddings or photo journalism, but commercial photography.  He creates images that are used in print ads, magazine covers (he has done a couple for Time and Newsweek) and lately book covers. 

We were talking a few weeks ago about nothing in particular when I asked him how work was going, as he had just come back from a photo-shoot in New York.  He said the shoot went well.  Then he asked me how life was going as a stay-at-home dad and if I was doing anything else with my time.  I don’t know why, since I don’t share my writing with anyone, but I told him I had taken up writing.  I guess I figured that he was a creative person and wouldn’t mock my efforts.  Too my surprise he was actually kind of excited by this.  He told me that he had always wanted to shoot a short film but all he could come up with was the title.  He went on to say that the first thing he wanted to do was shoot a photo book of the story and then someday shoot the film.  He asked me if I wanted to give writing the story a shot.  Nothing was promised but he figured that I might have a better idea of “story” than he did as he operates in a strictly visual world.  I thought for a second and then said “Sure, I’ll give it a shot.” 

So that is what I did.  I wrote the beginning of a short story based on the title he gave me.  I don’t know if it is what he had in mind, but I sent it off to him for feedback.  He is in Maui for a couple of weeks (oh, to be successful) but he emailed me back to say he was excited to read it.

This is a huge step for me as I have never, ever shared my writing with anyone other than my wife and a couple of university professors.  He may hate it, he may like it, or he may have a completely different idea in his mind.  But, I took a risk and some day it might turn into something. 

Let’s see where this road takes me.  At least I have finally gotten off my butt and started my journey.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Some things need to be made a priority.

Writing – 0
Life – 1

There are clearly times when I will have to put my writing behind other important tasks.  Some may say that this is a copout, that if I was truly committed to this task that I would find a way to write regardless.  I say, if I can’t find balance in my life then I am failing as a human being.

I would much rather be known as a failed writer than a failed person.

Okay, maybe this post has started off a little too melodramatic.  Things are actually pretty good for me right now.  In fact, I have been writing every day for the last week and a half.  It just wasn’t my fiction work. 

You see, while I may be a fictional writer of stories, I am also a graduate student completing my Masters of Education.  I am currently enrolled in the final course of my program (I went with a course-based program and not thesis-based) and it is currently coming to a close.  Thus I spent the last week researching and writing the final required paper for the course.  So I have now finished the last assignment of the last course in my MEd, which means I can put another important feather in my cap!

This of course means that I will have a significant increase in the amount time available to engage in my creative writing.

On that front, I have had an interesting opportunity present itself … but I’ll tell you more about it next week.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Not all progress needs to be forward, some can be sideways.

What would goals be if you actually accomplished them on a regular basis?  I mean what can I learn if I am always successful?  Nothing, really.

Take this week for example.  If I had achieved my goals I would have written every single day for at least an hour.  Doing so I would have completed my first draft of the short story that I have been working on and I would be setting it aside to let it ferment for at least a week.  At which time I would then begin the editing and revision process.  While this would be wonderful, it didn’t happen.  In all I wrote for a grand total of one, yes one, day.  In total a mere 500 or so words were added to my work, all of which were on the first day of the week. 

What was I doing the rest of the time when I should have been joyfully hunched over my laptop?  Nothing really.  I didn’t do anything aside from run errands, nap, do laundry, and watch a little TV.  While normally a week such as this would deflate what little positive self-esteem I have, resulting in me questioning my ability to actually pull this writing thing off.  But this time it didn’t happen.

I found myself on Tuesday at my local bookstore chain, Chapters, interviewing for a seasonal sales associate position.  I mean since I have already decided that I am a cliché in many ways, why not try and go for it with gusto.  So there I was, a liberal arts grad student already possessing two liberal arts bachelor degrees, interviewing for a minimum wage job at a bookstore.  The only thing more cliché would be trying to work at Starbucks.  Since I don’t drink coffee and already spend a significant amount of time throwing back venti hot chocolates, I figured I didn’t want to ruin my happy refuge from the boredom of my house. 

But I digress.  Back to the story at hand.  After my interview I wandered over to the writers section of the story to see if they had the 2012 copy of The Writer’s Market or The Canadian Writer’s Market.  After all, I do intend to try to sell this short story I am working on and hopefully a few more.  While searching I saw several self-help books for writing fiction and short stories.  At first I actually chuckled when seeing them and thought how foolish someone would have to be to actually buy one.  But then it hit me … I can always look at one to see if it isn’t a total waste of money.  Now, I don’t know if I will ever buy one but it might help … someday.  I guess the same goes for blogs about writing.  They may not all be a waste of time and good information is still good regardless of the source.

So I flip one open and by serendipitous circumstance I find myself looking at a page title “7 Habits of Effective Writers”.  I quickly scan the bullets beneath the title and one seems to stand out.  To paraphrase, it simply said that I needed to look for the stories that exist all around me.  At first I thought this was foolish as I want to write a fantasy book and the events that transpire in my day to day life have little in common with the world that I am creating in my head.  It was a second later when I found something had triggered in my mind.  It was this thought that changed my perception of the world around me or perhaps better said I changed my perception of my relationship with the world around me.  I need to perceive the world not as a father, husband, school teacher, and passive participant.  I need to observe the world as a Writer.

What changed was how I looked at the people I encountered this week.  I didn’t try and think about their stories or the stories that were evolving around them.  I found I was looking at people and observing their behaviors and physical characteristics, thinking the whole time about how I might incorporate them into the characters in my writing.  It amazed me, as the week progressed, how readily available unique characters are in the world.  I have found at least two individuals that will end up in my novel in some form.

So while I did not make any progress in actual writing this week, I did make progress in my development as a writer and that is important to me.  Progress is progress, even when it is not physically observable. 

Oh … I didn’t get a call back about the job.

Friday, 11 November 2011

New beginnings often require new directions

I am a cliché, wrapped in questions, framed by an enigma. 

Here I sit in my local Starbucks, hugging my paper cup, enjoying its warmth.   It’s mid-afternoon.  My white laptop open and Microsoft Word staring blankly at me, the thin black cursor tauntingly flashing.  Looking around I see at least 3 other people doing the exact same thing.  I am positive that this scene is being played out in countless locations around the globe.  Lowly, liberal arts grads desperately pecking away at what I can assume is the great passion of their life.  Consumed by their desire and a narcissistic drive, convinced that their words are the balm that will cure at least some of the world’s ills.  Not only must we write, write, write but that what we write has worth and must be consumed by the public.  Blogspot and WordPress, the enablers that continue to provide the needed opportunity to be heard and in so give the perceived gift of legitimacy to all that they do.

With so many writers writing, what are the chances that anything I write will see the light of day amongst the general public?  There are those who have studied and practiced this craft for years who still struggle to be published and a great many more who have never made a dime at it.  Why then, should I try?

I came across an excellent video that gave me pause for thought.  It is about a gentleman with a MFA in fiction writing who, upon not being able to sell his first manuscript, quit for 3 months and found a passion for knife making. 

I can relate to him.  Here I am just finishing my MEd and I can’t find work teaching leaving me to try writing.  But if he couldn’t do it, how can I?

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, postulates that it takes 10,000 hours of work to achieve success.  This is mentioned in the above video.  That works out to 4.8 years of 40 hour weeks, do I have that much time available to me?

The answers to my questions are simple but contradictory.  Yes, I should try this writing thing because like so many I have stories that I want to tell, if only to myself.  No, I don’t have 10,000 hours readily available to me to achieve success.  As a stay-at-home parent I have responsibilities that take up a measure of my time and once the children are home from school I am otherwise engaged.   My evenings are spent with my wife, as this is a relationship I will not sacrifice for my writing.  The only time available then is a few hours each day while the kids are at school and my household duties completed for the day.   But that is not a reason to give up.

So I am left tilting at windmills while my inner Sancho Panza records this blog.  But in spite of my madness I have a plan.

So here it is:
1.       Try to write daily to build a habit.  So far I have been moderately successful over the last week, writing at least a couple of hours 4 of the last 5 days.  I hope that as the habit builds so too will my drive to write.  In a perfect world I hope to be writing at least 6 hours a day.
2.       Write a few short stories.  While I still am going to write my novel I feel I need to hone my craft a little more.  There are a few short story ideas that I have had stewing around my head the last couple of years and I feel I need to get them out.  In doing so I hope to improve my writing skills and hey, maybe I could even sell one … maybe.
3.       Think positively.   It is far, far too easy for me to get caught up in negative thoughts about what I am doing.   This is not even remotely beneficial to what I am trying to do.

And so continues the journey.  I don’t know what I’m doing and I have decided to take a small detour towards short stories but, what the hell, I am at least headed somewhere.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Time flies in the midst of chaos.

So here I am again.  

After another absence, albeit a rather long one, I find myself back at the computer searching for meaning and motivation.  So what happened this time?  Did I finish my novel?  Did I at least get started? Did I get run over by a city bus?  Did I find myself curled-up in the fetal position, overcome with self-loathing and crippling anxiety?  Or did the normal trials of life simply get in the way?

The answer of course is that none of the above occurred, well at least not in their entirety.  My absence is due to the confluence of many events relating to life, work, school, parenting and self-doubt that I am certain are the normal barriers faced by all beginning writers.

Details? Surely, you don’t want details? After all there are only two of you following me at the moment.  But oh, I forgot the most important member of my audience … me, not so little and not quite old, me.  After all, the true reason for me starting this blog is to keep a record of my journey for no one other than myself.  It would be great if others could gain a measure of enjoyment or learning from my hapless bumbling, but that is not my absolute motivation.  I am doing this for me!  I need to be able to look back and see where I have been, what I did well, what I did poorly, and perhaps most importantly, that I kept going.

So what actually happened in these long months?  The short answer is … lots.  Some good, others not so.  The long answer is … not really needed.  So I’ll give a somewhat abridged account of my journey.

I have been busy since my last post.  I have completed 3 courses towards my Master’s degree in Education and I am currently finishing my final course towards this end (only one month to go).  Anyone who has done graduate work knows it can become very time consuming and your thoughts can become constantly caught up in your work.  I trained for and completed my first half-marathon.  This is no small feat for a man of my size (6 ft – 230 lbs).  I have been looking for work.  My last teaching contract ended 9 months ago and I invested an insane amount of time since July looking for work.  Alas, I have not found any.  Lastly, I have been busy in my central role of “Dad”.  With summer vacation and 3 active sons much of my time was spent playing with and caring for them.  I know this sounds like I am making excuses but guess what, I am and I’m okay with that.

Alongside all of these activities my self-esteem and self-worth have taken a beating.  While I don’t want this blog to turn into an emotional chamber pot, I think it is normal for a writer’s emotions to play a role in their ability to complete their work.  So now and again I will post an emotional check in.  

But all of these issues aside, I am back and I am committed to posting at least once a week.  Sometimes I may post more but never less.  My promise to you and to myself is that for the foreseeable future I am fully committed to my writing.  My only responsibilities are to my family and to my writing.  This is the benefit to accepting unemployment, finishing this graduate degree and of having a loving wife who has a white collar job and is encouraging me along this path.

More to come.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

What in the world happened to me and what was I thinking?

My return to the blogosphere has taken significantly longer than I had initially planned and the reasons are not what you may suspect. I am certain that many have sat at their computer and promised to themselves and the whole of the interwebs that they were now and shall always be a committed and devout blogger. After all, what would happen to their faithful followers (read immediate family members and tolerant friends), where would they turn to for insight and inspiration? Only to leave their initial few posts buried in the recesses of a computer server.  I think I would not be wrong in saying that starting a blog has become part of the ritual of New Year’s resolutions, joining the company of such lofty aspirations as losing weight, stopping smoking, spending more time on the things that matter most, writing that novel you said you would always write and unlike every year keeping said resolutions. Of course these commitments are tossed to the side quicker than a used tissue during a screening of “Steel Magnolias”.  

But I tell you this has not happened to me and before you can call me out and tell me I’m full of it let me share with you my harrowing tale of overcoming insurmountable challenges and my joyful return to the keyboard.

It all began with a slight cough and within 12 hours I had the worst cold I’ve ever had in my life. Now you may be thinking “What a wimp!” but seriously I have never been so sick. My head was in a fog and my cognitive capabilities were non-existent. I could hardly put together a string of intelligible spoken words let alone do any writing. I slept more than I thought was possible (a benefit of being a stay-at-home dad) and consumed more Tylenol Cold than is probably medically recommended. But, 3 weeks later I finally feel somewhat back to my regular self (please note: I said regular and not normal, as I have never been described as normal). 

I will not continue to inundate you with the details of the fog that has been but I should attend to the actual purpose behind this blog, that is, my journey down the pathway of being a writer.

Between being incapacitated, taking care of a house and co-parenting 3 boys I did have an opportunity to take a few baby steps along my writer’s journey. In one of my more lucid moments I went back to the notes and pages I had written in the past. I reflected on what I read and came to one simple, yet profound, conclusion “What the hell was I thinking???”

Not that I am questioning my desire to write a novel, or even questioning the theme or storyline of my writing.  The criticism that I direct inward is clearly focused on my goals and intent in writing this book. Looking back I clearly have been falling victim to delusions of grandeur. I have wanted this novel to everything to everyone, a best seller, award winner, ground-breaking, deep, cathartic, epic, the next great work of fiction that revives the industry … and so on and so on. I have wanted the plot to be complex with storylines that interweave across settings, time and space.  I wanted to have a something that would turn into a series that sells millions and inspires all (and a great movie series would be all but expected).  

Clearly, this is ridiculous but I would be shocked if it isn’t a fairly common rookie mistake.  Luckily, I now recognize my folly and as one of my favourite childhood cartoon series said, “Knowing is half the battle!”

So where do I go with this knowledge?  Simply put, I go forward.  My goals are now being simplified and refined.  

Goal #1 – Just write the damn novel and don’t get to too fancy.
Goal #2 – Get it out and get it down, you can edit later.
Goal #3 – Expect it to be flawed, but expect it to get done.

Short, simple and doable.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

It has begun.

This is the first step in what I foresee as a very long and winding road. I, The Fictional Writer, am about to begin writing the novel that my wife has been hearing about for over a decade. I've dabbled a little in the past, wrote a chapter or two, tried to develop a couple of characters, and have stopped too many times to count. Well, enough is enough. This time, come hell or high-water, I'm going to write this thing.

This blog, also my first, will be my travel log of the journey, from it's humble beginnings to it's culmination. I hope that point will mean a published work but I am undertaking the journey for my benefit, not the published work.

So it begins.  More to come.