Monday, 29 August 2011

Summer is almost over and September marks the beginning of a new year.

A few days ago, I asked my husband  if he would join me on a new diet, to which he replied that he would "try." "Try," I said, "don't bother." He looked at me, surprised. I explained. "Whenever somebody tells me that they'll 'try' to do something, I already know, they won't do anything more than 'think' about it."
This was the start of a long discussion during which we each listed all the things which we had said we would 'try' versus those we would 'do'.
As it turned out, my lists went something like this. Under the 'try' category, I had written; exercise regularly, get more sleep, spend more time with my friends, go out to dinner more often, do more reading: whereas under the 'do' category I had; finish my book by such-and-such a date, write a minimum of 1000 words per day, and carry a notebook with me all the time. By the time I finished reconstructing these lists, I noticed something disturbing. It seemed that all my determination lay in my accomplishments at work. Meanwhile I was completely neglecting my social life and my health. It was high time, I decided, to make a new set of resolutions and now was the perfect time.

I know that new years begin in January, however, if you're like me, September is the month you think of as the real beginning of a new year. September is when children are off to school and parents everywhere breathe a long sigh of relief. September is when, as a writer, I was able to start focussing on my projects again. So it stands to reason that I resolve to make some changes starting September 1st.

This year, I resolve to not only work all the time, but also to make time to play. I will limit myself to no more than eight hours a day on the computer, and that includes writing, emailing, blogging, tweeting and face-booking. (My anxiety level is already spiking at the thought of limiting my wonderful relationship with my computer. This is, after all, the only relationship where I have all the control.) I will schedule time for exercising. I will go to the gym on Monday's Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 to 10. I will call my girlfriends twice a month and I will read on Sundays.

Notice how I haven't used the word 'try' once in the entire previous paragraph. Theoretically, doing these things will give me more energy and creativity, so even if I work fewer hours, I will be able to accomplish more during my shorter work day. (Amazing how I still manage to turn this into something positive for my career.)


a few

Monday, 8 August 2011


What I discovered on my way to the publisher’s.

Over the years, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting some of Canada’s best writers, two of whom, in fact, were listed for the Governor General Award of Literature. I'd always imagined that these great writers wrote from an almost trance-like state and that the results were instant poetry. I can't tell you how surprised I was to find out that, like me, they too did a lot of rewriting, and that their work was excellent because they did so much rewriting. Okay, I haven’t told you anything new so far. But here’s a question. How many of you know the best method of editing? 

Here is how one writer taught me. Sit in front of your computer, in a quiet room, with a friend who had a copy of your manuscript in hand—hopefully this friend is knowledgeable in grammar, spelling and punctuation—and take turns reading the entire script out loud, ‘one fucking line at a time.’ 

There is something about hearing a text that highlights all the little flubs; be it a word repeated too often or too close together, or a sentence that doesn’t sound quite right. And as soon as one flub is heard, fix it right away. 

I know how difficult it is to read for days on end, which is why I never attempt it alone, because if I ever did, I would invariably find myself speaking lower and lower until I was back at reading it in my mind once again. And reading a text silently simply doesn’t work as well.
One author told me that when he is unable to find anyone to read along with him, he tapes himself and then listens to the recording a few days later. I’m sure that, in a pinch, this can work well too, if you can stand the sound of your voice for that long. I know I wouldn't. Yawn.

Here’s the thing, we’ve all heard the old 80/20 rule. You know, 20 % of the writers make 80% of the money. Well, the same rule can be applied to good writing. Good writing is 20% writing and 80% editing.
Which might explain why so many of us are given to drinking too much.

 Food for thought! I'll drink to that.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

This should make many wannabe authors very happy.

What I discovered on my way to the publisher’s.

The thing is, we don’t have to be geniuses to become successful authors. In fact, we don’t even need to be exceptionally talented. Don’t believe me? It’s true. What we need to be is focused and determined. That means getting up and writing every day, whether we feel like it or not. If that sounds dreary, that’s because it sometimes can be.

Let’s face, we all have days when, try as we can, inspiration just won’t come. Following, I have a short list of things I do on those occasions. Hopefully, some of these will work for you too.  
The first is easy. Go back to the beginning of the writing you did yesterday, or the day before yesterday and start editing. I’m talking about just a superficial editing. The point is not to polish it up to publishing standards. More often than not, by the time you get to the end of your writing, you will be brimming with inspiration and typing away enthusiastically.

When going back a few days back won't work, you might have to go back to the very beginning of your novel. Now this, I’m telling you, rarely fails. You might even find yourself totally involved in the unfolding story and being amazed at how good it is. When that happens, it re energizes me and renews my commitment to the project.  
Now, on the rare occasions when even a full re-read won’t start my creative juices flowing, just leave it for a little while. Please here note that I said ‘a little while’.  That means, fifteen minutes, half an hour; not days and weeks. Go wash the dishes, sweep the kitchen floor. I've done some of my best writing while cleaning cupboards.

If even that doesn’t help, how about making a list of all the events that need to unfold in your story? For example, in my novel Scorpio Rising, I got stuck at one point and no matter what I tried, I couldn’t seem to get beyond this block, so I started making the list.
Brigitte has to find out about Alex’s numerous affairs. Where will she be? What will she wear? Who will tell her? How will she react? And so on…I wrote down all the details.

By the time I finished this list, the scene had almost written itself. All I had to do was put the details in order.    
As Thomas Edison so aptly put it, ‘Success is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration’, which should be very reassuring to us. It means we don’t need to be geniuses, or to be a medium channeling Shakespeare: we don’t even need to have any outstanding talent, to be a successful author. We just have to keep at it. Keep plugging away at it, because as Nike says, ‘just do it’.