What Sort of Writer are You?

Little hummer takes a break

Recurring theme – someone asked me a question the other day: What are you working on now? I just stared. With a definite uncomfortable squirm in my chair, I responded, “Nothing.”

In another era, I wanted to be one of those women who had specific days when they did household tasks. You know the type – geez, you might be the type! Bathrooms on Monday, floors on Tuesday, dusting on Wednesday. I was more the madly try to clean up everything on the same day because company was coming woman. I could be seen running around in a state, dusting with one hand and pushing a wet rag with my foot over the dirty floor. Hoping for the best – cleaning with a lick and prayer, so to speak.

When I’m confronted with the question of what I’m currently working on and the answer is – nothing – I get a similar feeling. I want to be one of those writers who writes consistently. Like Stephen Leacock out in his boathouse every single day from eight until noon without fail. But I’m not. I’m the write until I drop and then fall into the doldrums believing that I will never write again type.

At the beginning of my master’s program, I read a book about writing your thesis or dissertation in fifteen minutes a day. It sounded wise but it was something I knew in my heart I could never accomplish.

My grandma used to say – You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. There is truth to the belief that one thing can’t be another no matter the effort put into transformation. I can no more write on a consistent and specific daily schedule than I could clean that way or create a dissertation in fifteen-minute blocks. It simply isn’t me.

When I’m not feeling uncomfortable with this state of affairs, I celebrate it. This is the fallow time. This is the gathering time. This is the time when impressions, ideas and connections incubate and grow until they burst forth in writing fury.

But there is still a part of me that feels like the sow’s ear and not the silk purse. What do you think? How do you manage your writing? Is it a daily, disciplined endeavour or is it an all out writing fury? And let me know how your garden is growing? Ours is doing not too bad Smile 

How is your garden growing

Where do you get your ideas?

Glass half full - Guenette photo

Recently, I was asked this question – How do you come up with the ideas for your books? The person asking was sincere in a desire to understand the inner workings of a novelist’s process. My first thought was that ideas are a dime a dozen. They’re everywhere, free for the taking. As Amy Tan wrote, “It’s a luxury being a writer, because all you ever think about is life.”

Neil Gaimon talks of how every profession has its pitfalls. Doctors are asked for medical advice, lawyers are asked for legal information, morticians are told how interesting their profession must be before the subject is quickly changed. Writers must bear the burden of being asked where we get our ideas from.

I scrambled to pull my thoughts together and make an adequate reply. I considered answering as Hemingway would. “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” From there all will flow. I rejected that idea. By quoting Hemingway I ran the risk of sounding like a literary snob and such an answer would have been unsatisfying to a sincere questioner.

Instead, I talked of how I spend a lot of time getting to know my characters. They are the ones who have all the ideas. I’m with Stephen King when he says that the best stories always end up being about the people, not the events. The only problem with this answer is that it begged the next question. Where do the characters come from?

Where indeed? Even after five forays into creating characters and stories that fill whole books, the process is as much a mystery to me as it might be to someone who has never done it. Fair to say, as Chuck Palahniuk notes, “My writing process isn’t a very organized thing.”

The more I think about how the books came to be, the more the indefinable nature of the work strikes me. It’s almost as if I have fallen victim to a strange reflective amnesia. Where on earth did those first characters in Disappearing in Plain Sight come from? I just don’t know. E.L Doctorow tells us, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights but you can make the whole trip that way.” He might have been wise to add that when looking in the rear-view mirror, one can see nothing at all.

The writing process is a hard thing to discuss. Virginia Wolfe had it right when she reflected that, “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of … life, every quality of … mind is written large in his [or her] words.”

All I know for sure is that all my life I’ve wondered about people. I’ve always been curious and I’ve always been prone to wild bouts of speculation. Questions of ‘what if’ have often driven my thoughts.

Maybe George Orwell has the answer. “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one weren’t driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Orwell could have also noted that having to talk about such a process is worse than going through it!

A new bird in town - Guenette photo

Home and Happy

Clematis in full bloom

Will you look at that clematis in full bloom right outside the kitchen door! Wow!

It’s been two weeks since I came home from my travels in southern Alberta. From the land of rolling fields of canola, rodeo broncs and shiny buckles, cowboy culture and prairie winds to my Vancouver Island, lakeside cabin. I had some wonderful time with kids and grandkids. Life is good.

Kristen and Me

Me and my lovely daughter, Kristen enjoying music in the park.

Canada Day Cuties

My Canada Day cuties – Emma and Brit.

High River rodeo

They’re wearing that Alberta look well – daughter – Kristen, son-in-law – Matt, and granddaughters – Emma and Brit.

So – enough of holiday antics. I thought I’d share a few highlights from the last couple of weeks at home.

Fresh Salad Greens

Fresh salad greens from the garden is a big treat! The lettuce, radishes, baby kale and chives make an attractive side dish.

Garden

Lots of work for the head gardener but it sure pays off.

Lower Garden

Vegetables aren’t the only thing in the garden these days.

Oh my, bear and Buddha

Bear and Buddha – east meets west Smile

Bear and apple tree cha, cha, cha Bear and apple tree – cha, cha, cha. For this dance the bear is definitely leading.

Bleeding Heart

The last of the Bleeding Heart in the woodland garden.

Bad Reviews – How do you handle them?

Misty morning spiderweb - Guenette photo

Okay – let’s be honest, folks …if you’ve ever written anything that you let loose in the public realm, you’ve found out first hand that not everyone loves what you have struggled to produce. It proves that old maxim – you can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you sure can’t please all the people, all the time.

Check out any of your favourite authors on Amazon – I mean the big-name favourites. They will have more than a few stinker reviews. Bad reviews are like taxes and death – inevitable.

So, how do you handle the one and two star reviews that really sting? I know of what I speak. Consider these recent reader opinions of Disappearing in Plain Sight:

Quit reading. Drag-you-drama, vile adults, helpless and hopeless teenagers. Too depressing. No desire to finish this story or follow the series.

Or what about this:

This reads like a first draft by a complete amateur … I tried. I couldn’t … if you told me this book was a high school student’s creative writing homework, I’d believe it.

Ouch! I thought of titling this post – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – after that one!

I read all my reviews … of course, I do. I share the one and two star ones with close friends and family who almost always give me a pep talk that ends with – ignore that review, the person is obviously a troll. I know that assessment is not true but a bruised ego will take comfort where it is to be found.

What I never do is interact with the reader who has given a less than salutary review. A good maxim here is: never explain, never apologize. I proceed from the belief that every review is some reader’s legitimate opinion and thus deserves to be respected. There’s a lot of books available through Amazon and a reader chose mine. This someone read, reacted and recorded his or her thoughts. That’s what the review system is for.

Listen up, now, because this part is important – not all bad reviews are written by people with axes to grind. Don’t take it personally. The best thing to do is accept legitimate criticism seriously and leave the rest.

I do my job when I create a story, do the work of rewriting, editing and formatting to the best of my ability so I can offer my novel to the public. Readers do their job by reading and sometimes sharing their opinions. The system works best when writers and readers stick to their jobs.

Let me know what you think.

Misty morning flowers - Guenette photo

Happy Easter and Welcome Spring

Puffed up Grouse - Guenette photo

Spring must be here when the male grouse goes looking for a mate. I captured a shot of this guy outside my kitchen door yesterday. We see grouse around here all the time. They love to eat the Russian Kale that grows so profusely there is enough for all of us. But this was my first experience of seeing a male all puffed up in this way. A friend on Facebook provided this information:

It’s a Ruffed Grouse. Named after the wonderful ruff around the necks of the males. He’s starting to look for a mate. You will also be hearing a “drumming” sound, which is them beating their wings. Again, to attract a mate.

How wonderful! We’ve often heard the drumming, thrumming sound. Now we know what’s going on out in the wilderness!

Russian kale 2(original), March 20-2017 - briuce witzel photo

Holiday Reflections

Saint Benidict's Anglican Church (2), High River Alberta, Jan. 04, 2017 - bruce wtizel photo

Reasons to spend holiday time staying with family in another province:

Grandkids change so fast. The opportunity to reconnect with where they are in their lives is a precious one. We took Emma and Brit on a snowy outing to the High River Cemetery. More about why in a later blog. Emma was so excited to run between the gravestones and brush off the powdery snow so she could read the inscriptions. She is at that wonderful stage when the ability to read has clicked and she can’t wait to decipher the written word anywhere she finds it. The day was quite cold and when Brit headed back to the car, Emma looked disappointed. She told me, “I don’t want to leave.” I told her we would come back in the summer and spend as much time as she liked. She said, “Can I wear a dress?” I felt that would be perfectly fine.

High River Cemetery

A couple of snow angels visited the High River Cemetery.

A couple of snow angels

Kristen - Bruce Witzel photo

 

 

 

Grown kids still need their moms. Well, they do! Especially when mom can bite her tongue now and then. Listening matters more than always heaving the proverbial two-bits into every conversation.

 

 

 

The opportunity to do things one wouldn’t do at home. For example, watch ten episodes of The Crown on Netflix – I loved it!

The Crown - Goggle Image

Experience a white Christmas. For someone who grew up on the coast of British Columbia and hasn’t strayed far from coastal waves, this was new. As was watching Emma and Brit skate on an outdoor lake and multiple sledding trips down what passes for a hill in High River.

White Christmas - High River. Albe

Emma sledding - Bruce Witzel photo     Brit sledding - Bruce Witzel photo

Brit - winter skate - Bruce Witzel photo

Winter skate - Bruce Witzel photo

Understand what -30 with wind-chill feels like. Britney told us that her school doesn’t let students play outside at recess if it is colder than -20 with a windshield. I guess announcements over the PA system are hard to decipher whether it be at a school or in an airport.

Tsunami warning - Goggle ImagesBe terrified over one’s first experience at a wave-pool. When the waves hit me, I was standing in the worst place possible – near a wall and in the outflow from one of the water slides. Add to my terror the fact that Kristen told me to stay close to Britney. I seriously felt as though I was on the beach as a tsunami rolled in with no hope of keeping my head above the water let alone staying close to anything. Suffice to say, as Brit bounced towards me with a grin and helped me get my footing, I realized I was to stay close to a five-year-old for my safety not hers.

Baking with grandkids. Making and decorating sugar cookies is my Grandma baking specialty.

Emma & Fran decorating  Christmas cookies

Playing cards and games. We discovered Phase Ten this year and enjoyed it. Pass the Ace continues to be a favourite. As usual, I stayed on the receiving end of loss after loss at crib. Good to know all is as it should be with me and the gaming universe. One day, Emma, observing yet another of my losses, patted me on the back and said, “Don’t worry Grandma. I’m on your side because you’re the thunder-dog.” And so I was.

Candy purchases at the Bulk Barn. Hot Tamales by the pound, anyone? This is the sort of good time you had to be there to enjoy!

Getting familiar with a new, family-oriented community. I am helped to put the day-to-day events of kids and grandkids in context with such information. And we did such a good job at this that we ended up in the local High River paper. Can’t complain about that.

New Year's Eve in High River Times

Reasons why it is wonderful to come home:

No matter how comfy the bed I land in, nothing can replace the tried and true of my own bed and pillows.

The opportunity to eat in tune with personal preferences – fresh baked bread, homemade soups and a spicy black bean dip made with balsamic vinegar that is to die for. Unfortunately, Bruce is not a fan of three things – balsamic vinegar, cilantro and lentils. All of which, I love. But I had read in my Bean Cookbook that balsamic vinegar is a bean’s BFF, so I had to throw caution to the wind. The consequence I am willing to live with is that I must consume all the spicy black bean dip on my own.

The off-chance that I may finally return full-time to writing the fourth book of the Crater Lake Series – yippee!

Significant blocks of quiet that allow me the time to enjoy the memories of a great family holiday. Life is good!

Kristen & Matt - Bruce Witzel photo

On the Road Again

Big Hole National Battlefield, Montana - bruce witzel photo

I recently wrote a blog entitled – What kind of a traveller are you? I lauded the many opportunities a trip provides for a tried and true writer’s way to fill the time – people watching. I’ll soon be at that pursuit again, folks.

Bruce and I are in the process of turning our entire home upside down in order to prepare for an extended car trip to points afar. We love the car trips. There is an exhilarating freedom that comes from packing up a vehicle that one could never experience with a mere suitcase. Of course, this freedom can lead to excess.

If there’s one chance in a million we might need it – sure, throw it in! We excel at this type of thinking. We won’t leave home without a very large unopened jar of peanut butter stowed away somewhere. No way we’ll risk the chance of being stranded without a good source of high calorie protein. You just never know!

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We are constantly tuned to arranging the many items in our car in such a way that laying our hands on what we need will be as painless as possible. It takes a few days on the road for true organization to emerge – setting up a roadside picnic in a matter of moments, laying our hands on bathing suits and towels for that wonderful hot springs stop we can’t miss, finding the essential electronics when we stop for the day. But no sooner do we get into the swing of things than the early starts and late stops take their toil on our organizational skills – meagre at the best of times. The well placed suitcases, coolers and organized shopping bags start to shift. Travel guides for the day’s miles to cover and sights to see go astray, a precious chunk of cheese gets lost in the melting ice at the bottom of the cooler, and though I packed at least twenty-five hair ties, the one that is left can’t be found. All part of the joy of a road trip.

Watch for my posts as we travel the scenic byways. We’ll be in the RAV4 with all our gear perfectly organized. Not! My plan is to post every second day, keeping it short – highlights and a couple of photos. Feel free to follow along – we all love a caravan.

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