Category Archives: Work-Life Balance

Finding Courage in a Harsh World

Many stories, from mystery to science fiction and fantasy have inspired and awed me. But my road to writing has been a tough and painful one. It wasn’t so much inspiration I needed as the courage to overcome an environment that discouraged reading, let alone writing for a living. One author gave me that courage.

Imagine growing up in a family where reading was never encouraged and was viewed as being lazy. Where farm chores and homework were the priorities. My father occasionally read westerns and Archie comics and then only after we were in bed. My mother just read recipes. Now, imagine the frustrations of a child whose imagination is so taken by the Dick_and_Janerich worlds in books that she wants to write but must suppress that desire and limit it only to school assignments.

What did I love to read? I still remember Dick and Jane’s antics in the grade one picture books – “See Dick run. Run Dick run!’ – those first words excited my tiny heart and showed me the power of words on paper. Then came rhyming and Dr. Seuss filled my world – “One fish two fish, red fish blue fish’. nancy drewBy grades five and six, I was sneak reading the mysteries of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys on the bus ride home – a book a day. Somewhere in junior high school, I discovered science fiction, fell in love with it and then got into trouble with teachers because my imagination and verbosity were greater than assignments demanded. When I took a degree in English and drama, I had relatives who shunned me for years.

Perhaps I should have quit then and for a few years life took over and I almost did. But I always dabbled and always loved reading. So, what changed? What gave me the courage to write and to overcome all the discouraging influences? Where did I find the confidence to achieve my goal of mastering and communicating in my second language? Oh yes, English isn’t my first language and throughout my life, I’ve had a desire to master it and rarely feel I have. Yet, one book, one writer gave me the courage to pursue my dream wholly – to throw myself into it with a modicum of hope to succeed. I owe my courage to J.K. Rowling.

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_StoneWhen I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, I thought that if she could do it, so could I!”. Her life story, her courage to write and her perseverance to find a publisher were the inspiration I needed. Since then, I’ve written many wild tales. I can write! My childhood desire to engage in worlds so far removed from reality, to master their voices and breathe life into them in words not my own has blossomed!

Which authors inspire me today? They all do as do the readers who buy their books. Everyone who has the courage to pen their imaginations, to give life to new worlds and voices, and to all our readers who encourage us, I give you my heartfelt thanks.

Cheers and happy writing (and reading too)!

The Great Spring Migration

The spring migration is late this year but I only learned that because someone died.

A close friend’s death pulled me from my concrete world, forcing me to travel across endless prairie, to see spring repaint winter’s stark world with the tender greens waving away the north wind’s last cold breaths. And in my journey to mourn, I see the spring migration – gathering energy to fly to thawing northern nesting grounds by fervently feeding on the last crop’s stubble, not one stray seed left behind. A friend had died and with her, part of my heart died yet here was nature, hopeful, fervent, telling me the cycle must continue, that despite all that happens, life stops for no one.

This journey takes me back to the farmstead home where I grew up – right in the middle of the great spring migration. Flocks of Greater and Lesser Canada geese, cranes and Snow geese formed feathery swarms. Circling gracefully down to water, then like arrows shot into the sky they circle yet again searching for perfect feeding fields.

The choruses of honks and krooos carried by cool spring winds are a music once familiar, now alien, to my ears. These choruses are the excitement of spring, the energy of rebirth and creativity and somehow, through my tears of grieving, I am stilled to peace.

A walk across stubble fields, still too wet for seeding, floods me with memories, once known in my youth but now seem otherworldly. Who was that person who remembers where the trees once grew, where cattle grazed in pastures, where weeds were pulled from garden rows at a nickel a pail? Who is this person who now deigns to wear sandals through straw stubble, ankles scratched – a child of the city now – alien worlds converging, lifetimes past and present merging.

Walking along a windrow, a prairie chicken is spooked from the grass. My partner is now lost in his memories of times hunting before pesticides and farming diminished this delicacy. As we share the past I realize that few words can bring to life the images, the memories, the smells, the aching muscles, the laughter accompanying sliding down haystacks in winter … time has made the once familiar foreign. The migration darkens the sky above us as birds swarm debating if this field will yield enough scattered grain. I feel the noisy migration sweep my old ghosts away for their focus is on today – it is all that matters and all that ever will matter.

At 4 a.m., the winds change and I know, lying in the dark, protected from the diamond sky and sun’s first yawning, that it is time – that this is the last night of honking and krooing wakefulness and that silence will ensue. I leap from my bed to watch the geese and cranes, their last grazing of grain speckled stubble fields completed, rise to the skies, circling, a choir in flight, summoning all to follow, their v-shaped lines flapping arrows aimed at northern nesting grounds.

Then, the earth gasps at the timeless glory of the final migration before relaxing with a sigh. But, the silence I expect never comes.

Instead, I hear the almost quiet – the earth’s soft belches and burps of spring moving to summer. Frogs croaking bass melody day and night, the percussion of duck calls, crows cawing oblivious to the frog’s melody, the crescendo and decrescendo of wind whispering then whistling through budding trees – the new, softer melodies of insects crawling over warming ground, farmers preparing the land for seeding, hoes working gardens. The south wind, carrying the frenzied migration northward now blends these spring choruses to new compositions.

Ah yes, the rhythm, the balance of the earth, timeless beyond man – these things I now ponder. And I also wonder about the worlds I create as I now sit in my walled home, in my city of concrete and asphalt and unearthly noise. Do my characters wander through worlds which gasp, belch and burp? Are they aware of the subtle things which affect their lives? Am I aware of these things? Maybe. Maybe not. But I now know that sometimes we and our characters need to take the time to breathe – to feel the change, to feel the sorrow and the timelessness of life.

Creative Discipline

Creative discipline – that’s an oxymoron for every writer! Creativity conjures images of free flowing thoughts; unfettered imagination spilling effortlessly onto pages and pages. The brilliance of remembered grade school grammar coupled with the adult’s ability to focus childhood imagination – that is every writer’s ability. Turn the tap on when you need it. Shut it off when life interferes. Always the stories will get written.

Or so my family and friends think.

Creativity requires time, space and yes, discipline. My writing got its kick start when I went back to university in my thirties for a degree in Food Science. That coupled with the first degree in English, I can spot an error in any recipe or food safety plan for slaughtering chickens! But, it was those nasty chemistry classes with all their formulas, all those reactions, which gave me the big Aha! and allowed me to write.

Observe. Note. Analyse. Explain. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Isn’t that what most articles on writing ask us to do? What is the character’s reaction to a given situation or action? If they act, what is everyone else’s reaction? What is the character’s ensuing reaction? Like in chemistry class, writers ask the question, What happens when I mix this with that? Explosions? That’s a good thing. A fizzle? Need better chemistry.

What if? is the magical question that blows worlds apart, creating compelling scenarios, challenging protagonists and readers to explore beyond their comfort zones. What if I as a writer don’t answer the phone or check emails regularly? What if I ignore the house work? Put off the laundry? Make a quick something instead of a feast for dinner? Just as for my protagonist, What If? also throws me out of my comfort zone. Yet, I’ve discovered that when I play by What If’s rules, I don’t starve. The laundry eventually gets done. People rarely need an immediate response. And, most importantly, my characters and worlds flourish because my discipline affords them the time to.

So yes, I’ve discovered that creativity needs discipline to flourish. Disciplined blocks of time and discipline to brainstorm What If? Turn the creative tap on and let it stay on. Otherwise, thoughts get lost, diluted or stale. Thoughts need discipline to be created and to appear on the page.

Now when you’re revising or editing, that’s a different discipline and a different blog!

Just remember, we write because words are our air, the page our playground, and our imagination feeds our spirit.

The Lonely Writer …

There is a misconception that writing is a solitary activity. Insofar as the first steps of the process are concerned, it is. The initial draft and the rewrites can only be done by the writer. But check out the thank you or acknowledgement pages of any published book. It lists writing groups, friends, family, editors, research contacts, mentors – in short, it’s a community of support and resources which helped the author create a publishable book.

Support systems are integral to our success. They inspire us. They challenge us to perfection. They nourish our thirst for knowledge on craft and genre. They help us understand the business of writing – how to get the first contract, who to approach and how. And it’s a blessing when that support system is found within your writing group.

Every good writing group has members who help each other, by giving advice on craft and genre. But, most importantly, we need to be with like-minded people – those who understand the writing life – the joys and successes or the struggles and crazy times. These are the people who celebrate with us when the first draft is complete. They share our angst as we rewrite and perfect our work. They commiserate with us through the rejections. They party with us when the manuscript is sold and finds a home in bookstores.

I love the writing groups I belong to. One is this group which founded The Fictorian Era. Although we span three countries, we set weekly goals, support each other through highs and lows, beta read for one another and discuss issues for emerging authors. A local group, Mystery Writers Ink, provides awesome speakers and resources on matters of crime and craft. And, the third group, Imaginative Fictions Writers, is a critiquing and professional development group many of whose members have spearheaded the When Words Collide, a multi genre popular fiction conference for readers and writers.

The support we receive, we must give back. That is the nature of the writing life. We are there for each other. So, look at the writing group you belong to. Does it feed you? Does it inspire you? Then, ask yourself, how can I give back to it? Writing groups function because of dedicated volunteers. But, those volunteers can only do so much without jeopardising their own writing. The old adage, many hands make light work, seems trite, but it’s true. If we all do a little, we all get a lot back.

Just remember, successful authors have a community of support around them ….

Check out:

http://www.whenwordscollide.org/

http://www.mysterywritersink.com/

http://www.writtenword.org/ifwa/