A Writer’s Life Under the Microscope

Bow River in Banff Alberta - Bruce Witzel photo

The passage of time is an interesting phenomenon – it can meander along, a slow-flowing river, wide and lazy with hours stretching into what seems like days. On the other hand, it can zip past, nothing but the blur of a high-speed bullet train to take one’s breath away.

Since making a full recovery from our so-called holiday – picture air quotes as I type those last three words – time has been that bullet train thing. While knitting on a cute holiday gift idea, I’ve been thinking about what is needed to get busy writing. Mostly because I wasn’t writing and then suddenly, I was.

Fran at the Falls - Bruce Witzel photo

It comes down to this. There is the need for a still point of quiet at the centre of the writer’s being – once reached it will grow and expand to become the place where the voices of the characters can be heard. The writer retreats deep inside and dwells at that centre, emerging only when it is time to take down the words and actions of the characters like some ancient scribe.

When I’m warming up to writing (by writing) I often pose interview questions for myself. Perhaps it’s my delusions of grandeur but I something think of sitting in one of  George’s red chairs on the Stroumboulopoulos show as I answer them. I find it a helpful exercise in clarifying my thoughts and who doesn’t enjoy an imaginary chat with George.

Here are a few questions and answers related to the writing of the fourth book in the Crater Lake Series – No Compass to Right. (Hey fans, did you catch that title reveal? Hope it gets you thinking!)

If there has been a stumbling block with getting started on the fourth book of the Crater Lake Series, how would you describe that block?

First understand this – a writer can only write about writer’s block when it has ended. To even contemplate the act of not writing while in the state of not writing is cruel and unusual punishment.

I thought the series would end at four books. I’ve now committed to at least five books and most probably, six. Expanding the series gives me a chance to play with the storylines for secondary characters like Brigit, Fiona and Nick. More books expand the Crater Lake brand and lengthen the funnel that readers who are hooked on the series move through. That’s all good. At the same time, the rethinking of the story arcs for the main characters has taken a bit of doing.

I’ve also had a struggle with where this next book should begin. Another issue that can only be spoken of once solved! I managed to find my entry point and I know I’m on my way because it feels right.

Are you feeling you have enough material to expand the series to six books?

Definitely … more than enough! The ideas don’t stop. The planning stage has felt like being a weaver in front of an empty loom with coloured yarn piled all around my feet. All I needed to do was pick up the right balls, one by one, draw out the threads and start to create the pattern.

And I know I’ll mess it up. It is only in wildly grabbing at those threads and trying one after the other that the pattern emerges.

Once I really get going, the writing analogy that works for me is a free-form, patchwork quilt. I create a square and another and another. At some point, I begin to lay them out to see how they fit together. As I go, I realize – ah yes – more of this here and less of that there. A small joining square is required. Maybe the whole work would benefit from a border? I decide on a special colour of thread to do joining seams. The book comes together through the act of creating it.  

Is there a danger that beloved character’s will be lost as additional characters are incorporated?

I’m confident this will not happen in the Crater Lake books. These novels have always been about multiple characters, from many points-of-view, taking a realistic look at how people and relationships change over time. New people come and go and sometimes stay. Far from edging out the tried and true, new characters bring the life and vitality of their own stories to compliment, worry, tease and complete the lives of the beloved characters. They are the fuel that makes the beloved characters interesting and real. There is room for many interwoven stories at Crater Lake.

Well, there you have it – I’ve reached for that still point, I can hear the characters’ voices and the pattern of this quilt is coming together. And guess what – just in time for a Christmas break from the work. That’s a writer’s life – our world draws on us as we draw on our world. And down the stream the whole thing winds.

reds rocks ina stream near sedona

Web-less Wednesdays


Be it resolved – I will have web-less Wednesdays. It’s hard to even type those words, but necessary and they do have a certain ring to them. A day’s fast from the internet – from checking my current ranking on Amazon, from dropping into my favourite Facebook groups, from checking out my WordPress stats and reading posts by all the bloggers I follow (and by the way, find totally fascinating), from keeping up with emails, from Tweeting, or popping into Goodreads, or LinkedIn, or any of the sites that have become part of my daily agenda.

No web on Wednesday – period. Wherein lays the anxiety? What do I worry about? That I’ll miss something really important that requires me to reply online within moments of hearing?

Come on – how likely is it that George (@strombo) is going to read one of my tweets (he has over 300,000 followers – can you imagine how fast his Twitter feed must move) and then go to my blog and then follow the link to my book and read it while he is waiting at an airport or flying around the country (seemingly weekly) and then decide that he wants to interview me on his very fabulous nightly CBC George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight Show and I must respond the second he sends me a direct tweet?

Well – he did favourite one of my tweets on the weekend – I said his news website rocked, but seriously, all you guys should check it out – the guy literally has his finger on the pulse of trending.

Someone told me that if I’m going to dream, why not dream big – something like this: The popular US talk show host Jon Stewart asks me to be on his show. But come on – I’m Canadian, hey! And George and I are like connected – he follows me on Twitter. Where there is life (and a Twitter follower) there is hope. After all, I often ask myself – What would George think? (or say, or do, or Tweet, or eschew)

But back to my question – how likely is it that I would need to respond to anything that fast? You are absolutely right – not very damn likely!

A web-less Wednesday means time to spend walking, thinking and reflecting, cooking and taking time to eat what’s cooked with enjoyment, interacting with real people (and maybe even this decrepit old dog), and writing – yes – writing!

I have heard from a few people who say the very best promotion for a first book is to produce the next book in a timely fashion. Without time to just slow down and ponder, I’m not sure how that will happen. Drawing a line firmly in the sand to allow a break from the exciting and hyperactive world that is always streaming on the social media platform seems like a good start. And what’s one day – right?

If you see me on the internet on Wednesday – give me what for and I mean that!

thomas-merton-infinity-quote & loneilness